Mikhail Grabovski was on target three times in his Capitals debut. Thank you Nonis. (AP)
On the day the Federal Government shut down because of bickering in Congress, it was immediately apparent that the defenisve corps of the Washington Capitals was apparently a federally funded entity. In Chicago, Illinois to open their season against the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, Washington fell 6-4 in a highly entertaining and wide open contest. Getting three goals from prize signing Mikhail Grabovski and one from Alex Ovechkin, the Caps were plagued by defensive breakdowns, turnovers, and a bit of shoddy goaltending and could not draw even with Chicago despite looking great on offense. With the loss, Washington is 0-1-0 on the season.
Washington’s defense left a lot to be desired on Tuesday night, and I fear that this will be a common refrain this season – at lest at the start of the campaign. No one really played well, but Jack Hillen and John Carlson made some errors that led to big chances (and some goals) for the Blackhawks. Defensive struggles are to be expected against a dominant offensive team like Chicago, but the breakdowns were alarmingly apparent, especially from the bottom pair. One of those rearguards on the third unit was Connor Carrick, who in his NHL debut just 33 miles from his hometown wasn’t great and made some errors along with Hillen. Let’s just say this defense has a ways to go – and it should start with the recall of Dmitry Orlov. Enough with the John Erskine experiment, already. Turnovers and this defense have the potential to kill a promising season.
I’ve written about this already, but it’s hard to describe just how important the addition of Mikhail Grabovski has the potential to be for this team. Washington’s new center, cast off by Toronto’s silly management, was dynamic all over the ice on Tuesday, picking up a multi-point game that included a mesmerizing goal on a two-on-one and two tips inf front of the goal as he opened his Washington account in style. Grabovski is motivated, he’s playing in good situations, and he’s incredibly talented; this is a great combination and perhaps it could help Washington finally achieve that Stanley Cup.
About these lines – I don’t really like them. I know, I know, it’s game one. But there are several things wrong with the current unites in my opinion. For one, Marcus Johansson wasn’t very good tonight and did not make a compelling case to remain on the top unit. Meanwhile, Tom Wilson saw extremely limited action on the fourth line despite the fact that the Capitals threw away a perfectly good player to get him on the roster. If Wilson is going to play, I want him to play – anything else is a waste. I’d also like to see Martin Erat on a scoring line, playing him with Michael Latta is wasteful as it keeps him from being able to create. The one line that played very well as the third trio of Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, and Eric Fehr – all three impressed me.
The power play was obviously a huge x-factor on Tuesday night, with three goals coming from the man advantage unit – and they were all beauties. Constant passing, movement, flow, and creativity were omnipresent for Washington as they changed the flow of the game while a man to the good. Video coach Blaine Forsythe, who is now a full-time assistant, has been credited with developing the isolation system that helps keep Ovechkin alone and the other players free to pass around the perimeter – and you saw a clinic of that on Tuesday.
Braden Holtby was very good at times during the season opener, but cost his team the game with a goal that absolutely cannot go in late in the third. The second goal he allowed wasn’t great, either. But have no fear…he will bounce back.
Overall, a game with good and bad things from Washington as they got their season underway with a tough loss inside a very tough Chicago barn. The power play was good, the offense seemed to click, but the defense and turnover ratio were just atrocious and the goaltending let the Caps down when they needed it most. Hopefully, the Caps can get on track when lowly Calgary comes to town on Thursday night in DC’s home opener.