The Washington Capitals did not get the start to their 5-game road trip they were hoping for, dropping a 3-2 decision to the Phoenix Coyotes last night. The team showed signs of life, playing solid team defense for long stretches and limiting their penalties; a solid baseline that is hopefully a portent of better things to come. The Caps and ‘Yotes played a tie game at even strength, with two pairs of even strength goals coming within a minute of each other. The Capitals outshot the Coyotes 31-18 for the game, but some of their best chances went wide of the net.
The Caps special teams lost the game for them. Once again playing without Mike Green, the Capitals powerplay struggled, finishing 0-for-5. They had a few decent chances, mostly off the stick of Mike Knuble, and they seem to be trending the right direction after firing off 14 powerplay shots.
The Coyotes only had one powerplay through 57 minutes and former Hurricane Ray Whitney cashed in to put the Coyotes ahead 2-1. They didn’t have another powerplay until the 17:34 mark of the third period, when an errant high stick from Nicklas Backstrom ended any chance of a Caps comeback.
The Good: The first half of the game. The Capitals and Coyotes played a chess match in the first period, with each side only registering 5 shots. The teams traded goals midway through the second period to keep things even, and it wasn’t until the 37-minute mark that the Caps fell behind in the game. The Capitals need to play a complete game to win against strong opponents, and that includes the powerplay, but they showed they know how to play the right way.
The Bad: The Capitals knew who the Coyotes’ primary scoring threat was going to be, but the red-hot line of Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata, and Martin Hanzal combined for 2 goals and 5 points anyway. While Whitney’s goal was on the powerplay, Hanzal’s goal was not. The Capitals checking line and top defense pairing failed to tie up Hanzal in front of their own goal, and he made them pay.
The Ugly: The Capitals’ goals, but this is a good thing. Rookie center Marcus Johansson put the Caps ahead 1-0 with a fluky goal from behind the net that deflected in off Martin Hanzal; the goal never would have happened if Brooks Laich hadn’t been crashing the net. Matt Bradley made the score 3-2 with a shot through traffic that eluded Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov was the #1 star of the game and had just been named NHL’s #3 star of the week, but these two goals proved that any hot goalie still has to see the puck to stop it, and they’re still only human. The Caps seem to be learning the lessons of “shoot the puck” and “get to the net.”
The other ugly was both former Capitals took penalties. Center Eric Belanger (-1), scoreless on the night after making certain comments to the press, went off for high-sticking less than 30 seconds after his team took the lead. Defenseman Sami Lepisto took a boarding penalty early in the third period with his team protecting a 1-goal lead.