Welcome to the first edition of the ‘Washington Capitals’ 3 Up, 3 Down’ column for the 2022-23 season. This is the start of a weekly series that will be released each Monday, reflecting on the highs and lows from the previous seven days.
After starting the season with back-to-back defeats, the Washington Capitals have work to do in the second week of the season. They were knocked off course by the Boston Bruins in their home opener, stumbled versus Ilya Samsonov and the Toronto Maple Leafs in game two, but started to turn the tides with a win over the Montreal Canadiens last time out.
With that said, here are some of the positives and negatives from the week that was for the Capitals and their fans. There’s plenty to discuss.
Plus One: Capitals Were Impressive in Second Period vs. Canadiens
Let’s start on an uplifting note: the Capitals were impressive in the second period versus the Canadiens. They were poor in the opening frame but recovered by scoring three unanswered goals to put the game out of reach.
T.J. Oshie’s strike was an important moment for the Capitals, who had failed to score on their previous nine power play attempts because it proved that their five-on-four schemes are still effective. As is often the case, he found twine by scooping up a rebounded shot from Alex Ovechkin:
“I think we were moving the puck around better, a little crisper, little more direct,” Oshie said of the power play. “Pretty lucky positioning on my goal. Had to go switch out sticks mid-play there and walked right into a puck sitting there for me.”
Mantha’s go-ahead goal was another momentum-shifting incident for the Capitals. Joined on the second line by Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov, the 28-year-old beat Sam Montembeault with a well-placed effort from between the circles.
If the Capitals translate their second-period effort versus the Canadiens into 60-minute performances, they will be fine this season. But that might be easier said than done.
Minus One: Capitals Have Received Suspect Goaltending
Darcy Kuemper suffered on his debut for the Capitals, allowing four goals on 29 shots versus the Bruins. He was beaten by a no-look shot from Patrice Bergeron in the first period – which just about summed up his first appearance for Washington:
Charlie Lindgren also marked his debut with a mistake, albeit in an otherwise solid performance. The 28-year-old made 36 saves on 39 shots versus the Maple Leafs, but also allowed Auston Matthews’ winner to slip through his glove:
However, Kuemper proved his bounce-back ability by making a handful of important saves in the Capitals’ win over Montreal and approaches the second week of the season with confidence in his stride.
“I think you could see [the urgency] from the puck drop,” Kuemper told reporters in D.C. “Obviously, losing the first two is not what we were all hoping for, so I think you saw a little bit of digging in and making sure we got this one.”
After a rocky start, the Capitals need their netminders to produce consistent performances. Kuemper and Lindgren have crucial roles to play this season and their first week on the job didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Plus Two: Capitals’ Penalty Kill Has Potential
The Capitals’ penalty killers didn’t start the season brilliantly: they allowed power-play goals in each of their first two games and continually left their netminders exposed. But they bounced back versus Montreal, limiting the Canadiens to only four shots through three periods of five-on-four action. Washington also created a couple of chances to score while shorthanded, with Conor Sheary finding twine shortly after exiting the penalty box:
If the Capitals carry their penalty-killing success into the second week of the campaign, they will boost their chances of sticking around with the league’s contenders. In a stacked Metropolitan Division, Washington’s defensive efforts are more important than ever.
Minus Two: Alex Ovechkin Has Started Slowly
Ovechkin is yet to record a point at five-on-five and has produced three underwhelming performances to open the campaign. While he isn’t the Capitals’ only struggling superstar, his uninspiring form is especially problematic because the squad is built around him.
Washington’s status as a playoff club is inextricably linked to Ovechkin’s ability to put the puck in the net. If he doesn’t find his feet quickly, the Capitals could find themselves cut adrift in a competitive playoff race.
“I think execution [is the problem],” Ovechkin said after the team’s defeat to the Maple Leafs. “I hit the crossbar on the first power play and we missed an open net in the second period. It’s execution – we just have to fight through it. It’s a start we didn’t want to have. It’s a wakeup call: we just need to get better.”
In fairness to the Russian, he has a point. He rattled the crossbar in Toronto and was on the receiving end of a ‘no-goal’ call versus the Canadiens. If not for the finest of margins, he could have three points in as many appearances.
But hockey is ultimately a game of millimetres and puck luck. Ovechkin needs to take a forward step in the second week as a result.
Plus Three: Capitals’ Fourth Line Has Stepped Up
Peter Laviolette went out of his way to compliment his fourth-line forwards after the Capitals’ first win of the season, praising Nic Dowd and Sheary for their efforts at both ends of the ice.
“We need everybody contributing,” Laviolette said in his postgame press conference. “Everybody’s got to be pulling their own weight. Conor’s been, he’s been really good in the games so far, so has Nic and his line. That line has been good and Shears has been good on that line and they can control play, they’re good defensively and when they chip in offensively, that’s a good sign.”
According to Money Puck, Washington’s fourth line of Sheary, Dowd, and Garnet Hathaway have upheld an expected goals share of 55.6 percent. Remarkably, that’s a team-leading figure for forward units with at least 20 minutes of ice time. Impressive.
Minus Three: Connor McMichael’s Diminished Role
Connor McMichael hasn’t played a single minute for the Capitals this season – which is problematic. In the offseason, Washington’s front office implied that the 21-year-old had the opportunity to play a more prominent role this term. So, has he missed the chance or did it never exist?
McMichael didn’t set the world on fire in preseason, but few expected Aliaksei Protas to replace him altogether. Laviolette isn’t fazed by the situation, though.
“Connor is here,” the Capitals’ head coach explained. “He’s going to be in competition to be in that lineup and make a difference [at some point]. We’ve got some young players here still. He’s still young. There’ll be a battle.”
In the second week of the season, the Capitals must make a decision on McMichael’s short-term future. It’s time for them to put him on the ice or return him to the American Hockey League. Healthy scratching him doesn’t suit anyone.
That’s it for the first edition of Capitals’ 3 Up, 3 Down. After a rough start to the season, what are you looking forward to in week two? Join the conversation in the replies!