We’re four games deep in the 2015-2016 NHL season, and the Washington Capitals are already proving themselves as one of the top teams in the league. With a couple of struggles and unknowns headed into the regular season, overall things appear to be panning out nicely for the Caps organization. So far, the Caps are 3-1-0 on the season with exciting home wins over the New Jersey Devils, Carolina Hurricanes and defending Stanley Cup champs, Chicago Blackhawks. The only L they’ve taken up to this point was a brutal 5-0 shutout loss against the San Jose Sharks last Tuesday.
Here’s everything you need to know and more about week number two.
When the Caps fell to the Sharks, it was because they were without two of their top forwards; star winger, Alex Ovechkin and playmaker, Nick Backstrom. Ovechkin had an alarm clock malfunction and managed to oversleep the morning skate… No joke. As a disciplinary action, Trotz benched Ovechkin for Tuesday nights game against the Sharks, and probably immediately regretted his decision after the Caps found themselves the underdogs headed into the third period with a score of 3-0, getting completely out played and out skated. Backstrom, on the other hand missed the season opener, this game, and Thursday’s game, as he was recovering from a hip surgery undergone in May.
Overall, Tuesday’s game was a poor performance by the Caps who looked slow and worn out against a fast, well-conditioned team. They were unable to get anything going, and just when the Caps thought they were on the board halfway through the game with a rocket from Dmitry Orlov, Jay Beagle’s obligation to screen was considered “goalie interference” on an absolutely pitiful call by officials. So before you go and place all the blame on Holtby for a 5-0 loss, just know that there were many underlying factors which contributed to this loss, including the loose defense in front of him. The last two Sharks goals were empty netters.
On a positive note, defenseman John Carlson played his 400th career game against the Sharks. More remarkably, Carlson has played 380 of those games consecutively. This is the second longest streak in Caps history. Go John go! Also, Caps faithful welcomed back ex-Capital Joel Ward to the Verizon Center for the first time since his departure to San Jose. The Caps showed a classy tribute video to Wardo on the jumbotron, which featured many of his memorable highlights in Washington. Not gonna lie, I teared up.
Thursday night’s game against Chicago was a completely different animal for the Caps. They restored everything they had been lacking on Tuesday evening; the chemistry, the speed, the chances. This was by far their best performance of the season so far as they overcame the Blackhawks with a final score of 4-1. TJ Oshie netted his first regular season goal as a Cap at 8:48 in the first period, thanks to a feed from Evgeny Kuznetzov in the slot. Next to strike was John Carlson, adding to the Caps lead, with the help from Stanislav Galiev and Marcus Johansson early on in the second period. Matt Niskanen tallied next at 2:32 into the third stanza, but Chicago’s Vikor Svedberg responded less than a minute later, finally putting the Hawks on the scoreboard. The final goal was scored late in the third by none other than the Great Eight and that goal provided a cushion, and ensured a Capital’s victory.
Trotz was finally satisfied with his team’s style of play for the first time all season and makes it clear in the following statement:
“I liked our response, [which] was, ‘All right, now we’re taking this thing over,’ ” Trotz said. “We went right back to work, and to me, that was really key. We were saying, ‘You’re not putting us on our heels. We’re putting you back on your heels,’ and I think that was the first time this year, anyway, in game three, that we recognized a key moment.”
The game which rounded out the week for the Caps came on Saturday evening against the Carolina Hurricanes in front of a lively sea of red. Luckily, Backstrom was cleared for contact earlier in the week, and Trotz stuck him in the lineup much sooner than any of us anticipated! This was a nice extra boost of confidence for the Caps going into the game against a team which was already 1-3-0 on the season. For the second consecutive game, Oshie was the first to find the back of the net for Washington on a power play, with an assist from the debuting Nicklas Backstrom. The second period was hard fought, but no goals were produced for either team in this 20-minute stretch. Finally, in the third period, Backstrom wasted no time and scored his first goal of the season at 1:38. The lone goal for the Canes came from Jeff Skinner shortly after, and that’s all she wrote. Carlson and Ovechkin finished out the game with two additional goals and the Caps skated away with another W. Backstrom made a bold statement coming out of the game with a goal and two assists, proving to Coach Trotz that he is fully healed and ready to go. With Backstrom back in the lineup, the Capitals are a significantly better team all around.
Three things I’m pleased with:
1. Braden Holtby is kicking booty. What’s new? He’s picking up right where he left off last season in the playoffs, standing tall and serving as the Caps backbone for success early on in the season. Through just four games between the pipes in Washington, Holtby has blocked 92 shots and has a .920 save percentage. It should be exciting to watch Holtby continue to develop in the crease this season, and have more unreal saves such as these against the Blackhawks:
2. I was very satisfied with the Caps ability to bounce back after a tough loss against the Sharks. They didn’t allow the sting of this loss to get the best of them. Trotz knows what to expect from his club, and stated that they fell greatly below his expectations Tuesday night. Trotz also said that sometimes it’s good to have a bit of a wake-up call, and that’s exactly what the defeat served as. The loss sparked the fire within the Caps to come back and dominate both of their following opponents with scores of 4-1 each time. Hopefully the spark stays ignited this coming week as the Caps take their first road trip of the season to Western Canada.
3. The Caps first line! When we received word that Backstrom would be undergoing a hip surgery over the summer, it was automatically assumed that the Caps’ top line would struggle tremendously from his absence. This was the case for the first two games. The trio of Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetzov and Oshie could not seem to find chemistry or communicate effectively with one another at the end of the ice. It took until game 3 against the Blackhawks when the line finally clicked. The players produced two goals and a total of five points in that game, and it became evident at this moment that the Caps do not need Backstrom on their top line to thrive after all. In his return on Saturday night, we saw him playing alongside Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams on the second line, away from his long-time line mate, Ovechkin. Think about it, if the Caps can afford to put one of the greatest centers and playmakers in the whole league on the second line, how much potential do they have to go all the way this year? I do think that Trotz will play around with the lines a good bit this season, and we will find Backstrom playing between Ovechkin and Oshie sooner than later. It’s a huge sigh of relief that the team finally has a stable top-six to work with, for the first time in I can’t even remember how long.
Don’t miss the Caps as they take a road trip north of the border to visit their Canadian friends (foes?) this week. Tuesday, they take on the Calgary Flames at 9 PM EST, (1-4-0) Thursday, they face the Vancouver Canucks at 10 PM EST, (3-1-2) and Friday their rivals are the Edmonton Oilers at 9 PM EST. (2-4-0)