“There used to be a time when teams would come in here and we’d score three goals in the first period and nobody wanted to come in here.” – Brooks Laich
That’s a very telling quote right there and it explains a good portion of why the Washington Capitals are currently sitting at 10-10-4 and in 4th place in the Metropolitan Division after a 4-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center. Sure the game summary will show that the Capitals allowed three power play goals, so naturally the thing to point at is the penalty kill issues. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a very leaky unit right now, but to me, the problem is bigger than just penalty killing – it’s the way the Capitals are playing the game, especially early on.
Looking at the shot attempt totals for the game, it appears rosy for the Capitals since they won the overall battle, 70-56.
But let’s look at those shot attempts by period:
1st period: Caps 15, Canucks 21
2nd period: Caps 28, Canucks 22
3rd period: Caps 27, Canucks 13
In addition, the first two penalties of the game, in the second period, were against Washington. Troy Brouwer took an unnecessary offensive zone penalty for holding and Jay Beagle was called for hooking in the defensive zone after a series of Capitals mistakes. Both of those infractions, less than three minutes apart in the middle of period two, led to Canucks power play goals and a 3-1 edge for the visitors.
At that point, Washington finally showed some sense of urgency and dominated the rest of the contest. Suddenly pucks and bodies were going to the net, instead of the turnovers that were seen in the early part of the game, where the Capitals routinely attempted East-West passes instead of the North-South variety. The Caps only had 15 shot attempts in period one because they made it too easy for Vancouver and when they had the potential for shots, they tried to make the extra pass or fancy play.
A look at the Capitals giveaways by periods yields six in the first frame, none in the second, and three in the third period. One of those six in the first frame led to 4th liner Derek Dorsett’s goal.
Simply put, this team is killing itself with lousy starts and those are putting the club behind the eight ball in games. If they don’t change things soon, their chances of making the playoffs will drop considerably.
What is especially troubling is the Capitals home record of 5-5-4. That’s atrocious for a building that is routinely sold out. Washington’s terrible play has basically turned the Verizon Center into a library for the first 10 minutes of most games and that’s on the players, both Laich and Braden Holtby made that abundantly clear after Tuesday’s loss.
“That’s not the fans fault. We need to find something to make them get loud in the first 10 minutes…we know this building can be very hard to play in if we create that energy at the start of games,” said Holtby (28 saves).
Energy, that’s a great word. Anyone who has ever laced up the skates knows that hockey is an intense game that requires enormous energy. The Capitals can’t seem to find that coming out of the gate. They sit back and let the opponents dictate the game and a “sense of urgency” often doesn’t kick in until they are trailing. On Tuesday, that is what happened once again. Vancouver is a super hockey club, they are now 17-7-1 and in first place in the Western Conference, but the Caps dominated play once they ramped up their intensity.
Coach Barry Trotz stated afterwards that he has the players as prepared as he possibly can, John Carlson backed that up in his interview with the media after the game, as well. Trotz made it clear that the “sense of urgency” needs to come from the room. Whatever they are doing now, isn’t working. Whether they need to be more boisterous or cut out pre-game soccer or find some better tunes, Laich was very blunt that things need to change quickly.
“Whatever it is, as individuals you have to get yourself up for the games, you’ve got to get intense. Maybe manufacture some intensity in warmups before the game starts. You can’t wait until the puck drops and then try to get yourself into it. Certainly our first periods used to be better,” added Laich.
Washington is playing “the easy game” early on in contests. On rushes up the ice they are trying too often for the perfect play and it’s leading to turnovers that opponents are turning into odd man rushes. Trotz continues to call the NHL a “shoot first” league, but too many times, and especially on the second line, the extra pass is being made and then intercepted.
The Caps are just making it too comfortable for the opposition to come into Washington and play where fast starts used to get the Red clad fans rocking and intimidating the opponent.
“It makes the other team shrink down a bit and possibly come out of their game plan. The games that we have had success in, we have had one or two goal leads in the first period. Stats are overwhelming, I think, for the team that scores first. Whatever it is, we need to figure it out. You can’t play from behind all the time, especially not against good hockey teams. You just can’t play from behind and expect to win in the long term,” finished Laich on the importance of fast starts and the first goal.
Nail meet Hammer.
It’s time for the Capitals players to be prepared to play the game the right way, with intensity, starting with the opening face off.
Notes: Mike Green missed his fourth straight game due to an upper body injury…the Caps won the face off battle, 32-29…Carlson had two goals and an assist in 22:28 of ice time. He was a big reason the Capitals were in the game after the miserable start…next up for Washington is the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Thursday at 7 pm.