The Penalty Kill is Killing the Caps: Caps Drop to Jets, 4-2
(Photo by Brendan Sheridan/HS)
Tuesday night’s home opener against the Winnipeg Jets couldn't have had a better start. The Caps, who seemed out of rhythm Saturday against the Lightning, looked to have bounced back well and were playing head coach Adam Oates’ new system perfectly. They were creating turnovers, moving the puck up the ice, and getting scoring chances. It culminated in a hard shot from the point deflecting off of Matt Hendricks’ skate, then knee, then stick, finally coming to rest in the back of the net.
That would be the highlight of the game for the Capitals. The problem was there were still fifty minutes of playing time left. The Caps took a penalty midway through the first period, and much like last game, they looked confused and out of place. It didn't take long before the Jets capitalized and tied the game. Another penalty followed by a goal and the Caps were trailing and never led again.
Matt Hendricks commented postgame on the level of play, "It was a little surprising. We have been talking since we got back in town about how much we missed Verizon Center and our fans, playing in front of them and the support they give us. I thought guys worked hard, but we need a little bit more energy.”
The new head coach’s system is designed for quick turnovers in their defensive end followed by explosive breakouts the other way, which should lead to scoring chances. The trouble comes when the defense can’t force the turnover and the team is caught in their defensive end for too long. This is generally the case when a team is forced to kill a penalty and it exposed a great weakness in the Capitals new game plan. Tampa Bay took advantage of this last game and Winnipeg followed suit tonight. There is nothing to make us think that Thursday night’s game against the Canadiens will be any different.
There is another issue troubling the team with this new system and that is lack of stamina. We all know that the lockout has caused many players to take time away from the ice and from the weight room, but Oates’ system relies on speed and endurance to be successful. The hardest players hit by this are the defensemen. No longer can they sit at the blue line and quarterback the plays. This system requires that one of them jump up in the play as a fourth forward and if there’s a turnover they have to double time back or hope the center can backcheck hard and cover their empty position. Hard to do when you’re out of shape.
There was one bright spot in Tuesday’s 4 -2 loss and that was Matt Hendricks. He got the Caps off to a good start with his goal and he would get on the score sheet again with two fights later in the game. The first came right before the end of the second period when the team was already down and looked to be giving up. Hendricks won that fight easily. The second time he decided to dance he picked a much larger opponent and at first it looked like he made a mistake by dropping the mitts. Joel Ward told reporters after the game that "Hendy [Matt Hendricks] brings it every night. He is a solid player obviously and he brings a lot of energy. He was just trying to do his best to get the team going a little bit and we just had a few lapses and they just capitalized.”
Not a lot to say good about this game other than seeing that the Caps are at least improving. It’ll be interesting to see what Coach Oates decides to do over the next two days as he prepares for Montreal’s arrival. Maybe some conditioning work, maybe some line juggling. One change he is sure to make is resting their starting goalie, Braden Holtby and giving backup tender Michal Neuvirth a shot in the crease. This is going to be a whirlwind season thank to the lockout and Holtby is going to need all the rest he can get.
Images from the night
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