The calendar turned a page yesterday, but the Washington Capitals are still playing from their November playbook as they lost 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins last night at Verizon Center. Jason Chimera scored the lone goal for the Caps to continue his hot start to the season. It was the first time the Caps had lost to the Penguins in regulation in more than three years.
In the Caps’ second straight loss under new head coach Dale Hunter, the team played a physically aggressive game but were badly outshot, 35-17 for the game. “We played too much in our own end,” said Hunter after the game. “We have got to get the puck out much quicker.”
Call it “Dale Hunter Hockey” as it is emerging over the past four days. It starts with solid defense, the relentless pursuit of the puck, lots of hard hitting, and battles in the corners. The Caps had a strong forecheck all night, getting to the offensive corners and winning position battles. But they failed to control the puck and were not able to convert the aggressive play into scoring chances. Passes did not connect. Very few shots were directed toward the goal.
I am reminded of the days when Ollie Kolzig would routinely face 40 shots a night backstopping a scrappy, tight-checking team. I miss Bruce Boudreau already.
The Caps got off to a slow start as the Penguins recorded the first seven shots of the game, including a goal by Craig Adams of the Penguins fourth line. After that, Tomas Vokoun made some key saves to make up for the Caps’ frequent defensive breakdowns as the Caps were outshot 13-4 for the period. The Caps had a hard time generating much offense. “We’ve got to do a better job of getting pucks to the net,” said Chimera. “We had a lot of cycle time, but didn’t get pucks to the net. We kind of waited for perfect plays. We’ve got to throw pucks to the net.”
Chimera knows what he is talking about. Early in the second period, he snuck out of the corner unopposed and lifted a backhand shot past Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game at 1-1. The Caps created more opportunities and were able to sustain pressure, but came up empty. Nicklas Backstrom hit the crossbar on an open net shot and Cody Eakin hit the post. Meanwhile, the Caps’ two power plays in the second period looked disorganized and failed to convert.
The third period was a completely different story. On a strong individual effort, the Penguins Chris Kunitz stole the puck from Marcus Johansson, knocked down John Erskine, and fired a shot that beat Vokoun over the shoulder. After that, the Penguins limited the Caps to two shots on goal in the entire third period. “You need more shots on net to win a game,” said winger Joel Ward, who plays with Chimera and Brooks Laich on the third line. “It’s a tough bounce we had in the third, starting on the PK [penalty kill]. We kind of managed to do that, we just didn’t get enough momentum going for it.”
- Jason Chimera used to have a reputation for “stone hands” meaning he did not have a scoring touch around the net. Ever since he scored the overtime winner against the Rangers in the playoffs last spring he has evolved into an effective goal scorer and one of the Caps most effective and reliable players. He now leads the team with 10 goals in 24 games this season.
- How is this for change? Instead of committing a penalty, Alexander Semin drew a penalty with some tenacious play. Minor victory.
- Dmitry Orlov, the 210 lb., 20-year-old rookie defenseman had an up-and-down game. He looked lost in the defensive zone, but lead the rush on the power play and made a couple of nice passes. A work in progress.
- Mike Knuble started the game on the fourth line, but was moved to the first line half way through the first period. On his first shift with the top unit the Caps immediately pressured for the first time and recorded the teams first three shots on goal.
- Roman Hamrlik was a “healthy scratch” for the first time this season. Hamrlik is a great shot blocker and has been effective on the PK this season. But he has been a general liability at even strength with the worst plus/minus rating on the team at -10.
- Back-to-the-future note: all three of the Caps coaches used to play for the Caps. This kind of home-grown movement probably would work best if the franchise had a, you know, winning tradition.