The first period in the Washington Capitals’ season opener against the New Jersey Devils Saturday was ugly – particularly for the Caps. Even though they went 2-0 up in the early going, it was evident that there were some jittery first-game nerves on display at the Verizon Center, especially when the home team coughed up two goals late on in the first stanza. The Caps were out-shot 11 to 6 in a first period that ended 2-2.
“I didn’t like the first period,” stated Caps’ head coach Barry Trotz in the post-game news conference. “We looked like a team that was a little rusty, hadn’t played, and we weren’t playing at game speed.” He went on to say that the Capitals didn’t deserve to be 2-0 up; he’s right. They looked bad.
However, the intermission pep talk and Gatorade kicked in as the Caps were better in the scoreless second period and turned things around by speeding up their play and out-shooting the Devils 11 to 5. Whatever Trotz said to his team during the break paid off and his team’s energy picked up. That set the stage for a good third period in which Alex Ovechkin scored yet another highlight reel goal. With his amazing deke and duck, top-shelf goal, Ovechkin might just have recorded his best goal of the season in the very first game.
Capitals’ Teamwork in the Third
A few more goals were chalked up in the third and the game ended with a 5-3 victory for the Capitals. However, the real story of the game was the synergy and teamwork on display in Washington. The team’s cohesiveness was evident for the second half of the contest and that bodes well for the season. Further, this Devils team is a re-born version of last season’s seventh-placed outfit. Under new coach John Hynes, the Devils look like they’ll compete for the playoffs this season.
Of the new Capitals personnel on display, Justin Williams was the most impressive. He registered two assists in his Washington debut and looked solid on the second line alongside Marcus Johansson and Andre Burakovsky. The other new boy, T.J. Oshie, looked less comfortable and struggled to find his footing. He didn’t make any glaring errors of judgment, but failed to offer the ‘wow factor’ that fans are hoping for – especially since he’s on a top line featuring superstar Ovechkin.
“Our line didn’t play well for maybe two periods,” said Ovechkin immediately following the game. “But in the third [period] we started moving the puck and we controlled the puck. You see the level of scoring chances [increase].” Indeed, once the assist king Nicklas Backstrom is fully recovered and able to suit up, Oshie should find his groove quickly. I still expect Oshie to hit the 30-goal mark this season.
The Defense: Who Needs Mike Green?
Braden Holtby was solid in goal and the first Washington defensive line-up in 10 years without Mike Green (now a Red Wing) didn’t miss him too much. Dmitry Orlov, who missed all of last season through injury, was impressive and recorded an assist; Fellow D-Man Brooks Orpik scored his first goal in 79 games as a Capital, and blue-liner Matt Niskanen also tallied a goal. Oh, and John Carlson picked up two assists. Who needs Green anymore?
All in all, the Capitals looked stiff and nervy for the first period of this game, but by the end of the contest they showed signs of what is to come: Another good season. One down, 81 to go.