While it's certainly good to be back recapping games, I had certainly hoped for better. To say the Capitals defecated all over themselves would only be a slight understatement, unfortunately. Overall, the only good thing I can take away from this is that the curtain was finally raised on this season. We can now see what the Caps' have to offer.
And folks it's sad to say, but it's not much.
I can't really break out the "I-told-you-sos" though this might be an appropriate alternative. But I can't since I never bothered with a season preview or anything like that. Now if I had, what I would have said as this was my observation was that this team was headed for failure. Adam Oates has the potential to be a great coach. But he needs to figure out a scheme that suits his personnel better. The up-tempo style he wishes to implement requires a commitment from everybody. And even when they all buy in there are still risks.
Case in point was Cory Conacher's goal in the third. Braden Holtby was having more than an off night anyway (more on this later), but he was pretty much left out to dry on this one. And it was far from the only incident where a Cap would get caught out of position, thus creating the dreaded odd-man rush. Here's one last hint--try not to let Steven Stamkos alone in front of your net...with the puck! If your defensemen are going to jump in on the play, they have to be smarter, faster, or both. Or get help from the forwards somehow. None of that happened.
The Comcast folks described Oates' philosophy as defense-first. Really? Well I can't say I saw a whole lot of that last night. They ended up giving up a total of 34 shots last night. Not good at all, even if your goalie is on fire, which Mr. Holtby was most certainly not. What I did see was a fair amount of jump on the offensive side. At least Captain Ovechkin looked to be on his game again, hitting and shooting. Only one problem: no goals, no assists and therefore no points in over 25 minutes of ice time. And as we all know, when your best player isn't on the scoresheet (for the right reasons anyway--nice diving penalty, Alex) it's awfully hard to win.
Much has been made about the Caps supposedly being able to get their Power Play on track this season. And so far they're off to a decent start, converting one out of four last night. However, special teams has another side to it and that's the Penalty Kill. Two goals allowed on six power play chances is not good at all. If the Caps expect to keep up, this has to get better and in a hurry.
Speaking of being shorthanded, there is one great way to not allow power play goals--and that's to not put people in the penalty box in the first damn place. Can we say lack of discipline? Two tripping calls plus a roughing minor in the third when you're trailing? Terrible.
All right, on to what was supposed to be a strength but was clearly the biggest weakness last night--goaltending. To be sure, neither goalie looked all that sharp last night. The Lightning's Anders Lindback looked shaky and a bit shellshocked after the first period, but held his ground and kept his team in it. Braden Holtby on the other hand just looked shaky. Yes he was screened on a couple of goals, but still didn't seem to have his angles covered. And having that much trouble with your sight lines even after some games in the minors is more than a little concerning.
Yay--Tom Poti made his way back into the lineup after a two-year absence and got an assist.
Boo--He looked a step slow and ended up a minus one.
Games like last night are why no one should have penciled in Holtby as the outright number one this year. And that's because this is the kind of thing he did last year. It also gives fuel for those that argued it was the previous coach's system that helped him and not his own stellar play. Can Holtby bounce back and prove he can handle the more wide-open style or will he end up riding the bench until the playoffs? Yes of course it's far too early to say "goalie controversy," but at the same time, there are only forty-odd games to work with. That leaves next to no time for a bad slump.
Again, if there's anything good to take away (other than we have actual NHL hockey again) it was the fact that a lot of the guys had a good amount of jump in their legs at least in the early going. And who knows? A better bounce here, one less penalty to kill there, the game might be different. At the very least there was no sign of the lack of effort that was painfully obvious at times last season. These guys know the intensity level has to bury the needle right from the off.
Look, I get the fact that they have only been a team for six days, and they sure played like it. But there's not a whole lot of time to work out the rust. Worse, there's precious little time to make adjustments for a system that may or may not work for this team. For example, the coaching staff may want to rethink the ideas of seven defensemen or Ovechkin on the Penalty Kill. But kinks like that have to be worked out on the fly if they want a shot at the playoffs. It's too early to panic, but it's certainly not too early to be concerned.
One down, forty-seven to go. Next is the home opener is Tuesday night against Winnipeg.