The Capitals looked sluggish to start on Saturday and never recovered in a shocking 5-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils.
Observations from the loss
You knew the Caps were in trouble in the very first period, or at least we would have thought they were in trouble had they not been able to overcome sloppy starts in the past. The bottom line is that they just were not sharp to start the game and they cannot always just bank on being able to flip that switch. Washington did it against the Ottawa Senators, but could not against the Devils.
The Caps have now allowed the first goal in 12 of their last 15 games. They have got be better at the start.
Just as Braden Holtby needed a reset earlier in the season, Jensen may need one now. New Jersey's first goal was the result of him pushing up too far in the neutral zone to catch a puck on the wall and missing, allowing a 2-on-1 in the other direction. Later in the period, he simply fell over while trying to defend on a play. There were other moments when he had the puck and looked jumpy around the forecheck. This is not encouraging as it came in the wake of Wednesday's dreadful game in Philadelphia.
This is another situation in which having only six defensemen on the roster hurts. I know some fans out there want Jensen out of the lineup altogether, but he looks like someone who could use a few nights off at the very least. He is not going to get that, however, because there are no extra blueliners on the roster.
Why have only six when they could afford to keep Christian Djoos or bring up a prospect like Martin Fehervary? That tells me they are banking as much space as possible just in case they want to make any moves at the trade deadline. With the deadline still over a month away, Jensen will likely have to settle down on the fly because he is going to be a regular in the lineup until the team has another body to plug in his place.
Speaking of resets, Holtby may need another one. He has registered a save percentage below .900 in each of his last six games. If you want to say it's not all his fault, that's fair, but whether because he is not playing well or because the team in front of him is not helping, he is struggling right now.
The power play
Jakub Vrana scored in his first game on the top unit, but it was another total bust of a night for that unit. Washington went 1-of-5 on the man advantage and gave up a shorthanded goal. They should have actually given up more than that as they gave up a number of odd-man breaks, but were bailed out by a few saves from Holtby.
It's bad right now.
The top unit seemed to be moving the puck a little faster with Vrana in, but I did not see anything to suggest that his addition would solve what ails that unit. On the second unit, Evgeny Kuznetsov clearly made the second power play unit more dangerous, but there was just not enough offensive talent for him to work with. Instead of trying to set up T.J. Oshie or Alex Ovechkin, he was passing cross-ice to Brendan Leipsic. Perhaps both units will get better over time -- it is a small sample size -- but the Caps traded goals on a double-minor and did not score on a two man advantage so it was one step forward, two steps back.
We have not seen much line shuffling lately, but now is the time to do it. The team is struggling and needs to shake things up. Having only 19 skaters on the roster makes it more difficult, but there are definitely moves Reirden can make in the lineup to try to wake the team up a bit.
What's the deal with Simmonds and Hathaway?
I will have to ask Garnet Hathaway if he has any history with Wayne Simmonds because boy does he seem to get under Simmonds' skin. The last time these two teams played, Simmonds had Hathaway pinned on the ice so Miles Wood could wail on him.
This resulted in matching minors. pic.twitter.com/2MhLcuS9vP
— JJ Regan (@JJReganNBCS) December 21, 2019
On Saturday, Simmonds pushed Hathaway into goalie Louis Domingue, then reacted angrily for Hathaway daring to touch his netminder...which he had just pushed him into.
Oh crap, I just shoved this guy into my goalie. What do I do?
"HEY MAN! GET OFF MY GOALIE!" pic.twitter.com/ZRtP6EeJHQ
— JJ Regan (@JJReganNBCS) January 12, 2020
Just like in Wednesday's loss, the turning point on Saturday was a shorthanded goal given up by Washington.
Down 2-0 in the second period, no one was hitting the panic button. The Caps are more than capable of mounting a comeback that early in the game, especially against a bad team. Their opportunity came when Miles Wood hit Richard Panik with a high-stick and was assessed a double-minor.
The Caps were given a chance to get back into the game, but it was the Devils who took advantage first as Blake Coleman scored shorthanded. Vrana would score on the back end of the double-minor, but there was barely any momentum to gain from the goal since it just ensured the team broke even instead of trimming the two-goal deficit.
Play of the game
Coming into Saturday's game, Vrana had 19 goals, all of them at even strength. Washington's lone goal was his first power play goal of the season.
Vrana takes advantage of chaos in front of the net to put the boys in red on board!! pic.twitter.com/pKmtfnFDT8
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) January 12, 2020
Stat of the game
John Carlson recorded a primary assist on Vrana's goal, continuing his spectacular season.
John Carlson picked up a primary assist on Vrana's goal, his 42nd assist of the season, which leads all defensemen and is tied for third among all players in the NHL.
— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) January 12, 2020
Quote of the game
Todd Reirden didn't hold anything back.
I just think we're going through a time in the season right now where we're not executing and we're not out-working the opponent. If you're not going to do those things, then you're not going to have success in this league. It doesn't matter if you're playing the best team in the league, the worst team in the league, anywhere in between, that's not our identity. That's not why we were first place. That's not acceptable, that type of play. We don't give ourselves a chance to work hard because we don't manage the puck properly. Far too many turnovers, whether it's 5-on-5, it's power play, it's penalty kill getting a clear on the full ice. That's crept into our game and needs to be better if we're going to have success.
The Capitals come out flat and dig themselves a hole in the first period.
— Scotty (@Scotty_Jan) January 11, 2020
Yep, you pretty much nailed it.
Devils commit new "Dang it" moment
— Eddy DRG (@DrgTwo) January 11, 2020
That was pretty much the entire game.
Section 200. He mooved.
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