An ugly start to the season continued for the Capitals on Thursday night. Another decent first period mattered little when Tomas Plekanec scored a power-play goal at the end of what had been a nice 5-on-3 penalty kill. Instead, Washington was down 1-0 and immediately went into the tank in a second period that goalie Michal Neuvirth called “a nightmare”.
Pretty much. If it feels like the Caps (0-0-3, 0 points) have been chasing games all season – well, it’s because they have been. In 180 minutes of hockey, they have led for all of 2 minutes, 32 seconds. That’s kind of incredible in a really bad way. They have been tied for 54:43. And they have trailed for 122:45. It’s too simple to say an early lead would fix their problems. Washington is a train wreck on special teams right now (2-for-12 on the power play and 11-for-18 on the penalty kill). The goaltending hasn’t been good enough. And the blueline, especially No. 1 pair Karl Alzner and John Carlson, has made one wrong decision after another. They just aren’t in sync. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln…
Let’s look at Alzner and Carlson. Now, they have been on the ice for a ton of goals already. Washington’s opponents have scored 14 goals in three games. Alzner has been out there for eight of them. Carlson has been on the ice for an astounding nine. That’s 64 percent of the goals the Caps have conceded. Part of their downfall, obviously, is a penalty kill that just isn’t clicking. Carlson has been on the ice for two 5-on-3 penalty kills and another four 5-on-4 PKs. Alzner was also on twice for 5-on-3 goals and three 5-on-4s. Fixing this at the very least starts there. But diagnosing the problem is the hard part.
“I have no idea. I know that I was saying to [assistant coach] Calle [Johansson] that it’s just not going the right way for us. We’re not getting the bounces,” Alzner said. “Plays that I would normally do an easy poke check isn’t happening. And it’s for the both of us. You can’t have two guys where things aren’t going their way together. And so I kind of mentioned it to Calle between the second and third that we’ve got to do something here, either a switch or take us down a little bit because we weren’t contributing to anything good for the team.”
And so head coach Adam Oates did exactly that with Carlson skating with Tom Poti and Alzner paired with Mike Green to start the third period. They didn’t give up a goal so maybe Oates sticks with those pairings in Friday night’s game at New Jersey. He said after Thursday’s loss that it was a possibility.
“They were very solid with each other last year and they know each other well,” Oates said of Carlson and Alzner. “But you also got to have the ability to play with someone else.”
A good example of what Alzner described: The Canadiens’ third goal at 8:39 of the second period. The play starts with Carlson trying to fling a shot from the blueline towards the goal. Unfortunately, defenseman Raphael Diaz easily knocks it down and immediately transitions the other way. Forward Rene Bourque already has a step on Caps forward Mathieu Perreault, whose initial first step is following Carlson’s pass/shot towards the Montreal net.
Bourque takes a short pass from Diaz and motors towards Carlson on a 3-on-2 – but with Tomas Plekanec already behind Washington’s defenseman. Carlson actually stays with Bourque reasonably well into the offensive zone – Plekanec pulls up to keep the play onside and is no longer a factor – but doesn’t finish him off. Bourque shrugs off Carlson’s check, but loses the puck for a brief moment as he approaches the goal line extended. Alzner, playing in front of the Caps’ goal, chooses poorly, skating towards Bourque and the puck and hoping the backchecking forward – in this case Perreault – picks up anyone coming down the middle of the ice.
But Perreault was skating up the left wall and too late sees Alzner abandon his post. He has no chance to pivot and catch a streaking Gionta, who takes Bourque’s pass and slams the puck past Neuvirth. The two other Washington forwards – Alex Ovechkin and Wojtek Wolski – were near the Montreal net at the time of the turnover and had little chance to get back into the play. They simply left the ice on a line change.
“That’s the play that I’ve done probably 20 times a year for the last three years and maybe one time it gets over. And it happened today. And I didn’t have it the game before [against Winnipeg],” said Alzner, who failed to knock down a pass from a similar angle Tuesday against the Jets on a Blake Wheeler goal. “But that’s what I mean. That’s a play that I would do all the time. And it didn’t work, and if it’s not going to work with me going over there, I’ve got to stay back and try to play a different way from now on.”
So is it just timing? Bad angles?
“It’s not just one. It’s making plays at the right time, it’s dumping the puck, even, the right way,” Alzner said. “It’s not having your stick in the right lane. It’s a bunch of things that’s not going right for us. It’s a stretch. Everybody goes through it. It’s unfortunate that it’s the beginning of the season for a lot of us. It would be nice if we could feel good about a game pretty soon here.”
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