Seemingly unable to score a goal from further than two feet out, the Pittsburgh Penguins continued where they left off last season – with a win against a lackluster and too-penalized Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at the Capital One Arena. With six penalties in the first two periods, the Capitals all but handed the Penguins (2-1-1) the win; a more disciplined approach would have resulted in a better day at the office for Washington.
The Capitals Penalty Kill Implodes Against Penguins
The Capitals (2-1-1) again illustrated how much they miss all of the players who moved out of D.C. during the offseason. Last season, penalty-kill specialist, Jay Beagle, was partnered with Daniel Winnik – but the latter left the Capitals during free agency. Winnik’s replacement, Devante Smith-Pelly, is getting way too much ice time on the penalty kill – a role that he is not accustomed to. So far this season, Smith-Pelly has averaged a staggering 4:24 ice time during shorthanded situations – almost four times than his penalty-kill average ice time last term with the New Jersey Devils. When Smith-Pelly and Beagle aren’t killing penalties, Lars Ellar and new Capital Alex Chiasson are – although Chiasson will likely not play a part once suspended strongman Tom Wilson returns after his four-game punishment.
“Let’s be real. We’ve got to get our penalties down,” stated Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz after the Penguins game, eluding to his team’s third-most-in-the-NHL minor penalties tally (20). In that regard, the Capitals have started this season where last season left off – they finished last term with 312 minors for the third-most in the NHL.
Also missing from the Capitals’ penalty kill is defensemen Karl Alzner (now with the Canadiens) who has Dmitri Orlov filling his P.K. skates this year – again, a role that Orlov is not familiar with. The new system worked well in the first three games as the Caps allowed only one goal during 14 shorthanded situations; Wednesday night, however, it imploded and allowed three goals. The Caps spent the entire game attempting to claw themselves back into contention.
The Capitals had a hard time clearing their own zone Wednesday, allowing the Penguins to do what they do best – score goals from near Braden Holtby’s feet. That’s taking nothing away from Pittsburgh; they’ve won two consecutive Stanley Cups by perfecting an in-your-face game plan that has paid dividends. The big problem on Wednesday was with the Capitals allowing the Penguins too much offensive zone time.
“I think it starts with execution in our own zone,” said center Nicklas Backstrom. “If we’re executing plays, we won’t take these penalties, I think. We’re getting stuck in our own zone, and obviously, [the Penguins] got to play there and that’s what they’re good at.”
Highlight Reel Potential: Holtby and Djoos
It wasn’t all doom and gloom on Wednesday night, though. There were two eye-popping incidents that would make any Capitals fan smile. With 9:33 left in the first, Holtby looked up to see the Penguins’ Carl Hagelin speeding toward him with the puck. Holtby charged out of his crease and prevented Hagelin from shooting. The netminder then found himself practically on the blue line with the puck – which he covered – resulting in a delay-of-game penalty. Despite the subsequent penalty-kill situation, it was a sight to behold and not the first time Holtby has performed such heroics.
The other highlight for the Capitals was a sublime goal from the point by defenseman Christian Djoos who was making his NHL debut Wednesday. As DcPuckDrop predicted after the Caps-Lightning game earlier this week, Djoos was given a jersey in place of Aaron Ness. With less than a minute remaining in the second period, Djoos found some space on the right wing and slotted home from an Ellar pass. It was a memorable first-ever NHL goal from the offensive-minded D-man and likely one of many to come. He followed up the goal with an assist on Alex Ovechkin’s eighth goal of the season.
“First game in the NHL, and you get a goal and an assist,” Djoos said after the game. “That wasn’t my plan really when I showed up at the rink. I was going to play good and play a structured game and detailed game, but happy with the goal and the assist. But couldn’t get the win, so not good enough.”
That’s a great attitude to adopt; the Capitals have proven that they’re able to win big in games, but the discipline must get reined in for the club to get on any kind of winning streak.
Next up for the Capitals is a tricky trip to the surprisingly good New Jersey Devils (3-0-0) on Friday.