Wednesday night’s 4-0 loss to the hated Pittsburgh Penguins was more than painful. But as the Washington Capitals ready themselves to face the Montreal Canadiens, they must move past the loss. Today is Friday, not Wednesday. It’s not about losing to the Pens on home ice, or even that they were shut out. Instead, the Caps should be focused on playing their best hockey against the Habs.
Montreal rests at fifth place in the Atlantic Division with one fewer point than the Capitals’ 25. However, the Habs’ most recent effort earned them a 6-2 win over a strong Minnesota Wild team. Fueled by Max Pacioretty’s first-period hat trick, Montreal seized the reins and never looked back. It’s unlikely the Habs will get off to a similarly blazing start, but there’s no reason the Caps shouldn’t give it a go. In addition to starting the game strongly, they must maintain a fast pace and keep their energy high.
Playing a solid first period has been unusually challenging for the Capitals thus far. Occasionally they’ll hit the ground running but lose wind almost immediately. The majority of the time, however, the Caps play a somewhat sluggish brand of hockey. Even if they keep a lid on their opponent’s offense, they’re almost always outshot by a frighteningly large margin. And sometimes, those shots turn into goals.
Washington faces an unusual dilemma in that Montreal is the only other team in the NHL with both special teams making the top ten. Their power play is fourth to the Habs’ second, meaning that the Caps must take extra care to avoid penalties. However, role reversal isn’t particularly comforting. While the Capitals’ penalty kill is ranked fourth in the league, the Habs trail in seventh place. If the play of both teams reflects these numbers, then it’s fair to say that the majority of goals will be coming at even strength.
Ah, five-on-five hockey. It’s another aspect of the Caps’ game that needs work. While the Habs don’t have a pure goal scorer of Alex Ovechkin’s caliber, they have a strong offense in players like Alex Galchenyuk, Tomas Plekanec, and Brendan Gallagher. Let’s not forget P.K. Subban, either – even as a blueliner, he leads the team with 19 points.
Sound familiar? Kind of? Mike Green, Washington’s resident offensive defenseman, will be making his return to the ice. This should bode well for the power play, though John Carlson has been doing a fine job in his place. With Green back in the lineup, Adam Oates will have to make some changes. Who will be the first to go? Probably Dmitry Orlov, seeing as he’s been a healthy scratch in each of his call-ups thus far. Tyson Strachan has been playing a solid game, as have Nate Schmidt and Alex Urbom. Will they all be a consistent part of the Capitals’ defense corps? Not likely, but they’re getting the job done for now.
With that being said, the Caps are not a mediocre team. If that were the case, they wouldn’t have beaten the St. Louis Blues 4-1 on Sunday night. But the Caps can’t continue to dwell on past games, be they wins or losses. As I said earlier, they must put defeat out of their mind. Whether it’s a win over the Blues or a loss to the Penguins, Washington needs to focus primarily on the here and now.