Washington Capitals: Crazy Start To The Season For The Caps
It was a crazy couple of nights to kick off the new season for the Washington Capitals. It started poorly, but finished on a high.
First off on Friday night were the Atlanta Thrashers. After last season’s series sweep, I, like many fans, was confident of a pretty easy for the Caps. But a poor performance all around, with only a few exceptions, resulted in a disappointing 4-2 loss. The night started in very worrying and scary fashion, as only a couple of minutes in Thrashers goaltender Ondrej Pavelec collapsed on the ice, well away from the play and without any apparent cause – which made it all the more worrying. Thankfully, Pavelec is stable and with no serious health concerns, and of course our wishes go to him and those around him. Whilst it’s not an excuse for a poor display, the incident probably had an effect on both the Caps, as well as the Thrashers, but strangely may have been more detrimental to the Capitals’ game as for the rest of the contest the tempo was nowhere near usual for the high-octane offense. However, there were still bad performances throughout the lineup; the defense was very shaky and left Neuvirth, who despite conceding four goals had a very good game, exposed on a number of occasions. In fact Neuvirth’s was possibly the best performance on the team, doing a lot to begin to quell fears of goaltending problems in Washington.
The Caps offense created few chances, and the top line especially looked rusty and lacking intensity. Newcomers Marcus Johansson and Matt Hendricks put up fine displays – Johansson showed great speed on a number of occasions and Hendricks, along with linemates Steckel and Bradley, put plenty of physical pressure on the Thrashers d-men. Overall, though, it was a rusty performance lacking in edge and creativity.
Saturday night’s home opener against the impressive-looking New Jersey Devils started a similar way to how the previous night ended. Few Caps chances in the early exchanges and a pretty low tempo, culminating in Jason Arnott putting the visiting side in front after a bad giveaway by Johansson, though Johansson recovered well from this setback; not losing any confidence. Though John Carlson equalised for the Caps, there was still no urgency or bite in their play; and the Devils went into the first intermission in the lead 2-1.
Whatever was said in the break by Bruce Boudreau, it worked. A complete turnaround in the second period put the Caps 5-2 ahead at the end of the second period. Tomas Fleischmann, who did a lot to justify the organisation’s faith in keeping him on the roster and putting him at second line center, got a goal early in the second, but the Caps really got going in the game when Alex Ovechkin (who else?) banged in his first of the season despite being surrounded by Devils. Then Jason Chimera, fresh out of the penalty box, whipped home a wicked wrister before Ovechkin scored on a penalty shot. The penalty kill, another preseason worry for the Capitals, was once again excellent all night, and managed a goal from Brooks Laich, though credit really goes to New Jersey substitute goalie Johan Hedberg, who presented Laich with an open net to score into. Eric Fehr added made it seven for the team in red to round off a spectacular win.
By the time the seventh goal went in, there had already been one fight; David Clarkson beating up Jason Chimera, but the game exploded afterward the scoring was done. The first two combatants, though, were two very surprising ones. After a bit of lip service and eyeballing, Mike Green and Ilya Kovalchuk dropped the mitts and removed their helmets. There was plenty of dancing around and, once they’d locked onto each other, a lot of spinning, before a few punches were thrown; not a fight of great quality but plenty of spirit from the two superstars. Shortly after that, four seconds in fact, Matt Hendricks and Rod Pelley squared off, both landing some decent blows in an even bout. And barely seconds after the game had restarted Matt Bradley got even for Jason Chimera, leaving David Clarkson bruised from a solid right hand punch to the jaw. Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond wanted to get in on the fun, challenging rookie Marcus Johansson at the next faceoff, but the 5’11 20 year-old, wisely in the face of the 6’3, 210 pound winger, declined. In a ‘gutless’, as Matt Bradley called it, play Leblond slashed and then jumped Johansson, resulting in a big pile-up in centre ice. Johansson was clearly confused by the play but his teammates, young John Carlson especially, were there to step in and defend him.
So it was a crazy couple of nights for the Capitals, starting with a worrying performance, but ending with a promising one. Looking at both games, there are weaknesses and inconsistencies, but it’s clear that if they can fire themselves up, this team can be just as exciting if not more so than they were last season.