Welcome to the latest edition of our ‘3 Up, 3 Down’ column for the 2022-23 Washington Capitals. This series will be published each week, reflecting on the highs and lows from the previous seven days.
Are the Capitals in trouble? Because it feels like they could be. They’re 3-3-0 after the second week of the season, have suffered a serious injury in the top six, and were overwhelmed by a team that failed to qualify for the playoffs last season. But it wasn’t all bad news for the team from D.C.
The Capitals started the week with a comeback victory over the Vancouver Canucks but were then defeated 6-2 by the Ottawa Senators. On Saturday (Oct. 22), they had a slow start versus the Los Angeles Kings but recovered with four third-period goals to secure the win.
With that in mind, here are three positive and three negative developments from the week that was for the Capitals and their fans. There’s plenty to unpack.
Plus One: The Screaming Engle Returns
It speaks volumes that we’re starting out with jersey news, doesn’t it? Anyway, the Capitals unveiled their new Reverse Retro 2.0 threads on Thursday (Oct. 20), and it would be fair to say that Adidas hit a home run with the team’s new kit:
The Capitals’ Reverse Retro jerseys are black, blue, and copper and feature the old-school screaming eagle logo. Also of note: the sweaters include Capitol Building shoulder patches. They will wear the uniforms seven times during the regular season, starting on Nov. 5 when they host the Arizona Coyotes:
- Nov. 5 vs. Arizona Coyotes
- Nov. 25 vs. Calgary Flames
- Dec. 9 vs. Seattle Kraken
- Dec. 23 vs. Winnipeg Jets
- Dec. 31 vs. Montreal Canadiens
- Jan. 3 vs. Buffalo Sabres
- Jan. 14 vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Minus One: Connor Brown Placed on Injury Reserve
The Capitals moved Connor Brown to the injury reserve list on Wednesday (Oct. 19) after he suffered a lower-body injury in the second period of the team’s comeback win over the Canucks. Surgery is thought to be an option for the 28-year-old.
“Any time you hear somebody’s out long term it’s not good,” head coach Peter Laviolette said in his press conference at practice on Wednesday. “We were really excited to have him here and be part of our organization. Disappointing for us, disappointing for him. It’s unfortunate.”
Brown headed straight down the tunnel after a hit from Noah Juulsen sent him into a collision course with the boards. After the impact, he immediately reached for his right knee and didn’t put any weight on his leg as he made his way to the locker room.
The Capitals traded a second-round pick to the Senators for Brown this offseason. MacLellan acquired the Canadian to provide injury cover for Tom Wilson, who is out until at least mid-December with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Now without Brown, Wilson, and Nicklas Backstrom, the Capitals have to fill their top six with players that started the season on the fringe of the squad, including Connor McMichael.
“We’ve been doing it for a while now,” Laviolette said of replacing injured players. “Guys are going to have to step up and fill different positions. There have been a couple guys sitting out really excited to get in there so one of them will get a crack at it.”
Brown’s injury is terrible news for the player – who is in the final year of his contract – and the franchise, which finds itself under pressure after an up-and-down start to the season.
Plus Two: Capitals Show Resilience in Comeback vs. Canucks
The Capitals scored four unanswered goals in the final period versus the Canucks, overcoming adversity in a game that had seen several fluky shots hit the back of the net. Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and John Carlson all recorded at least two points in the final 20 minutes alone.
“We find ourselves down going into the third period and turning the puck over too much and it keeps us from playing fast and getting into their end,” Laviolette told reporters in his media availability. “I thought in the third period we straightened out and played a really good third period — maybe our best third period of the year and our best offensive period of the year. We were on the attacking and we were pushing the whole time.”
Most importantly for the Capitals, their key players were clutch performers, as Carlson tied the contest at four-apiece with a well-placed shot from the right circle, which deflated the Canucks.
“I think I was looking for Kuzy coming out of the corner for the most part, so I think that kind of at least made [Thatcher Demko] lean a little bit because he’s pretty big,” Carlson said of his strike. “Not the easiest shot to make on a huge goaltender like that. Looking for someone coming off the backside first and then shooting it second.”
If the Capitals want to stick around in the playoff picture, they need their top players to produce. Monday’s win over the Canucks proved that the core is still capable of performing at the highest level.
Minus Two: Senators Collapse Paints Worrying Picture
The Capitals started on the front foot versus the Senators, but quickly fell away in periods two and three. They were out-worked and out-played by a team on the rise – the kind of squad they would’ve beat in previous seasons.
“We want to give [our opponents] no time and we want to play fast,” Senators head coach D.J. Smith explained. “I thought we were slow and allowed them to be above us in the first period. In the second and third, we just turned it up and stayed on them. That’s exactly the way we want to play.”
By contrast, the Capitals left the arena unhappy. “I thought we reacted to them in the second period,” Laviolette said in his post-game press conference. “If you’re initiating, you can get the other team to react and I thought we reacted to their physicality.”
In the final two periods, the Senators dominated the Capitals in shots on goal by a margin of 37 to 12. Ottawa also inflicted more hits than Washington and neutralized the likes of Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. It’s still early in the season, but the manner of the loss was concerning. They must respond with improved performances in week three.
Plus Three: The Final Period vs. the Kings
The Capitals are incredibly stubborn. They refused to quit despite trailing at the start of the final period versus the Kings, once again proving their ability to bounce back.
“It’s not ideal but it wasn’t like we were playing down,” Darcy Kuemper said of the situation heading into period third. “Overall, I liked us from start to finish – we have the ability to not get the outcome we want and still pour it on in the third. It’s about having a little bit of maturity when things aren’t going your way and realising that you’re still in it.”
Nic Dowd scored the momentum-shifting goal, as he seized control of a bouncing puck in the offensive zone and put his quick release into action to beat Jonathan Quick from close range. It was the kind of greasy goal the Capitals needed while trailing by two.
Shortly after, Lars Eller fired the Capitals into their first lead of the game with a smart shot from the right circle. It was an important moment for the Dane, who has seen his ice time dip to start the season. From there, the Capitals tightened their grip on the game and eased their way to victory over the Kings. They must replicate their fine work from the third period in their next game versus the New Jersey Devils.
Minus Three: The Opening Two Periods vs. Kings
While the Capitals deserve credit for turning their fortunes around in the final period, they are fortunate to not be limping into the third week of the season with a record of 1-5-0. If not for two third-period comebacks in the space of a week, they would be in an unenviable situation toward the bottom of the standings.
The Capitals’ inability to stitch a complete performance together is a concern amongst the players, with defenceman Dmitri Orlov commenting on the situation after the team’s win over the Kings.
“We have to be better,” the Russian blueliner explained. “I think we have to play a full 60 minutes or at least try it, especially after bad game in Ottawa. First two periods, we [were] outplayed and I think today was a good start. In the second period, we give up a couple goals and in the third we were good and make some plays when we need to and when not we just get deep.”
Laviolette added: “There was definitely room for improvement after two periods and I thought we did that. That was a big third period to come back from 2-0 going into the third.”
The Capitals won’t always be able to fight their way out of trouble this season. In the third week, they must focus on delivering strong performances from start to finish.
That’s it for the second edition of Capitals’ 3 Up, 3 Down. How are you feeling ahead of the third week of the campaign, with the team poised at the .500 mark? Dip into the replies to join the conversation.
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Luke is an award-winning freelance sports journalist from London, England. In addition to his work on the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators for THW, he covers the Elite Ice Hockey League for British Ice Hockey and world soccer for numerous publications, including on Substack. To stay up to date with his content, follow @LukeJames_32 on Twitter.