By Buster Williams
Contributor, DC Puck Drop
The Capitals kicked off the 2018-2019 season in sensational fashion, beating the Boston Bruins 7-0 on opening night. It was a night filled with emotion, as the pregame ceremonies included a fantastic video tribute, the raising of the Stanley Cup Banner, and a final hoisting of The Cup itself. The team immediately started the game with an abundance of energy, scoring less than a minute into the game. It was clear the Capitals were the better team for all of that marvelous night. Thanks to the NHL schedule-makers, the Caps were forced to travel to Pittsburgh the following night. Much has been made of this game leading up to the season, as many Caps fans felt it was an unjust assignment, but the Caps played pretty well given the circumstances. It would have been very easy for the team to come out with a lower energy level than Pittsburgh, who were playing their first game of the season. The Caps eventually lost in OT, but put forth a valiant effort and recorded six more goals.
A week later, and again thanks to the schedule-makers, the Caps faced another set of back-to-back games. The first was a Stanley Cup rematch with the Vegas Golden Knights. The Caps rolled to a 5-2 victory, with goals from Alex Ovechkin (2), T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Nicklas Backstrom. At this point, the Caps were on an offensive tear, scoring 18 goals in just three games. That’s when things started to slow down for the team. Over the last two games, they have just two goals, as they lost 6-0 to the New Jersey Devils and 4-2 to the Toronto Maples Leafs. That begs the question – after a fast start, is the “Stanley Cup Hangover” beginning to affect the Capitals?
We’re only five games into the season. The Capitals have a 2-2-1 record, so it’s not all doom and gloom. The offense has looked really strong for the most part, and that’s without the suspended first-liner Tom Wilson. In all likelihood, they will get even more of a boost when he returns to the lineup. The stars of the team have played well. Kuznetsov leads the team with nine points (including an amazing no-look snipe against the Maple Leafs) , and Ovechkin, Backstrom, Oshie and John Carlson have each tallied at least six points so far. Goaltender Braden Holtby looks like himself, as he has made a few sensational saves, including one against the Penguins dubbed “The Save, Part 2.” The two loses could easily be brushed off as just bad games, and one of those was against a really talented team in the Maple Leafs.
The first three games of the season could be considered “high emotion” games. They played the Bruins on banner raising night, their bitter rivals in the Penguins the next night, and a week later they returned to Capital One Arena for the Stanley Cup rematch against the Golden Knights. It’s easy to understand a scenario where the team had added incentive to play with high energy in those games. The schedule has now settled down a bit, and the Caps have looked a bit sloppy in the last two games. Maybe all of the emotion is finally catching up to the team, causing their play on the ice to suffer. They need to get in a rhythm and find a way to play well more consistently.
Stanley Cup Hangover?
The Capitals are much too talented to allow something like a “Stanley Cup Hangover” to affect their play, if it’s even a real thing. Lack of energy or emotion should not creep up too often on a team filled with superstars and veteran talent. The schedule gets a bit easier this week, both in terms of frequency of games and quality of opponents. The next game comes Wednesday in D.C. against the New York Rangers. They will follow that up with another home game against the Florida Panthers, who at the time of this writing, have yet to win a game. We should expect the defending Stanley Cup Champs to bounce back and play two strong games this week. If they don’t, it might be time to dig deeper into what might be wrong with this team. For now, we should exercise patience, and wait for a talented team to find it’s footing early in the season.