Washington starts 0-2 for the first time since 1996
It is far too early to panic, but never too soon for concern.
That is where the Capitals are after two consecutive losses to start the lockout-shortened 2013 season, the latest a disappointing 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night at Verizon Center.
For the first time since 1996-97, Washington is off to an 0-2 start. That's less than ideal during a 48-game season where the margin between making the Stanley Cup playoffs or not will be razor thin. It was also the Caps' first loss in a home opener since Oct. 6, 2000.
Veteran forward Matt Hendricks scored a goal and won two fights to try to spark his teammates, but to no avail. The Jets scored four consecutive goals -- two in the first period and two more in the second - to take control of the contest.
"I didn't think we had the energy that we needed tonight," Hendricks said. "One of our keys to success was to put them on their heels, put pucks in their end and forecheck them, get them to turn, get them to work. They played last night. And we didn't make them look like that."
Things started out well. Washington coach Adam Oates wants his players to pressure opposing teams in the offensive zone, and they did just that, with the Jets coughing up the puck one time after another. At 10:02 in the first period, a couple of crisp passes from Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom led to a shot that redirected off Hendricks' skate and into the net for a 1-0 lead.
But the Caps' struggling penalty kill was unable to hold the lead. Evander Kane scored for Winnipeg (1-1-1, 3 points) from a bad angle on the goal line extended less than a minute into a Joel Ward penalty. Later, Andrew Ladd blasted a shot past goalie Braden Holtby (35 saves) from the top of the left circle following a John Carlson delay-of-game penalty. At that point Washington (0-2-0, 0 points) had killed just four of their nine short-handed situations in four periods.
Hendricks' goal, which came during a broken line change, earned him a shot on the top line later in the first period with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Marcus Johansson, who has started the season as the left wing with that group, dropped lower in the lineup for a time.
At one point with 12:24 left in the second period, the Jets had outshot the Caps 20-12. At 14:32 of the second period, Winnipeg tied the game. Kane pushed up the left wing with a burst of speed and Carlson simply couldn't keep up. That gave Kane room for a pass in front of the net, where teammate Blake Wheeler beat Karl Alzner to the spot and smashed a shot past Holtby for a 3-1 advantage.
Things only got worse. Late in the second period a failed clearing attempt by Holtby allowed the Jets to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Eventually a point shot Dustin Byfuglien deflected off Jim Slater's stick as he fought off Backstrom in front of the net. The puck redirected through Holtby's pads with 46 seconds left in the period to make it 4-1 Jets. Only Hendricks decisively beating Slater in a fight moments later briefly energized the crowd before the two teams headed to intermission.
"It is a new system and it's gonna be hard," said Oates, in his first year as head coach. "But we got to fight through that. Still, I thought we could have had better execution. We didn't give ourselves the opportunity to play the team game."
Washington, which failed to capitalize on two power play chances early in the third period, finally added a goal when they were a man up with 1:16 remaining when Troy Brouwer scored on a feed from Mike Ribeiro. But it was too late to make a difference.
"It's early in the season. We didn't get an exhibition game. But it's past learning time," Brouwer said. "We have to know the systems now. We have to be able to go out there and execute. The grace period is gone now. We need to win hockey games."