1. It was exactly the start they couldn’t afford. Ten minutes into a game against a team playing the second of a back-to-back, the Capital were down 1-0 because of a brutal miscommunication between defenseman Tom Poti and goalie Michal Neuvirth.
Even their answers seemed off. Poti said he thought Neuvirth was going to leave the puck and the goalie thought the defenseman was going to get open for a pass. Neuvirth claimed he left the puck for Poti on purpose and that if the d-man wants a pass in that situation he’s usually in the corner. Okay. Whatever – it was there for the taking by Toronto’s James Van Riemsdyk.
“It was just kind of a miscommunication,” Van Riemsdyk said. “I was skating down and I was going to kind of hold up, but I saw them kind of looking at each other like who was going to take the puck and it was just sitting there so I went to go grab it and was able to just kind of wrap it in.”
Said Caps coach Adam Oates: “The first goal is a huge deflater for us, a miscommunication. Not something we needed at that time… That’s a difficult one. I think Tom normally would scatter, but because he had so much time he was coming back to get it, and I think Neuvy just trapped himself a little bit there.”
2. As for Neuvirth overall, he didn’t play that poorly other than the disastrous miscommunication and the goal by Toronto defenseman Korbinian Holzer. That shot deflected off teammate Jason Chimera – but a good 40 feet from the net. Neuvirth has to stop that puck.
“I couldn’t believe that that one went in,” Neuvirth said.
Yes, other than that Mrs. Lincoln….But I could see Neuvirth (18 saves, 21 shots) getting the start again in Pittsburgh. He’s had a good track record against that club in recent years – 2-0-1, 1.32 goals-against average, .954 save percentage, two shutouts – and he legitimately made some big stops down the stretch to keep Washington close against the Leafs.
“I can’t count the miscommunication as goaltending,” Oates said. “Obviously I don’t want that play, but I can’t blame Neuvy for that because it’s unfortunate it went in. We had plenty of time, we didn’t execute, little miscommunication with him and the defenseman. Other than that, they had two goals.”
3. The Caps need to see more from Marcus Johansson and they did on Tuesday. It was one of the few positives in another disappointing night. He, of course, recorded his first goal of the year by stopping a pretty Tomas Kundratek pass on the power play with his skate and lifting the puck over Toronto goalie Ben Scrivener. Okay – Johansson played just 13:50 and that was his lone shot on goal. But he was noticeable all over the ice, using his speed to go north/south finally.
Are there times where he’s too easily knocked off the puck or out of position? Yes. But he also won both of his faceoffs and wasn’t on for a goal against, either. Baby steps here for the 22-year-old Swede. By the third period Johansson had been promoted from left wing on the third line to that same spot on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro. That’s where he began the season. He’d like another chance to show that he can play there consistently. Didn’t hurt that Wojtek Wolski had an off night. Oates was hoping Johansson’s speed would spark a turnover.
4. Pretty much after every game Oates is asked about the play of Ovechkin. Is that fair? Probably not. But when you’re paid close to $10 million to put the puck in the net those questions will be asked. Ovechkin did have an assist and four shots on goal. The assist was a smart play. He drove into the offensive zone on a power play and drew three Leafs towards him. Immediately sensing that there was an opening, he dished the puck to Troy Brouwer in the high slot.
Backstrom – the closest player to the goal – had the attention of one defender. But the other was trapped. He tried to get a stick in the passing lane, but the gap is too large and he lunged at Brouwer. Instead, the pass to Ribeiro on the right wing was perfect. He had all the time in the world to beat Scrivener. And it all started with Ovechkin making a play. But he didn’t seem to get the touches he had against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh over the weekend. That’s part on him and part on his teammates. Ovechkin doesn’t have an even-strength goal in nine games. He has one even-strength point.
“I think we can do better at it, but he’s got to contribute at that as well,” Oates said. “The game of hockey now, you look all over the league, there’s a lot of guys that don’t have as many [goals] as people think they should. Some guys have a lot, but there’s a lot of players…Teams, coaching, the systems designed against them, playing against the best players every night. It’s not that easy.”
5. One positive: The power play. Washington scored on two of three opportunities. That’s big for a team that entered the night 6-for-37 (16.2 percent) and ranked 17th in the NHL. The Caps weren’t perfect, but they did move the puck well and it was nice to see the second unit score a goal with Johansson (first goal) and Kundratek (first assist) on the ice with Backstrom, Brouwer and defenseman John Carlson. So make it 8-for-40, which is at least a step in the right direction.
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