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Another Lackadaisical Performance Dooms Capitals In Home Opener
By ZAC BOYER | firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON – It had been a little over eight months since the Washington Capitals hosted a game at Verizon Center, and the anticipation of the hockey-starved crowd rolled to a boil as players took the ice for the first time. It was a half-hour before the game began and the applause was loud, the ovations deafening.
But by late in the second period, not long after Jim Slater flipped the puck past Braden Holtby for Winnipeg’s fourth goal of the game and the public address announcer called Slater’s name, nobody in that crowd could even care to chant the customary “Who cares?”
So it was for the Capitals, who dropped a 4-2 decision to the Jets on Tuesday – their first loss in a home opener since 2000. It also marked Washington’s first 0-2 start to the season since 1996-97, and it’s becoming apparent that the adjustments to head coach Adam Oates’ style of play, in combination with an overall lack of conditioning due to the 119-day lockout, are continuing to be a factor.
“It is a new system, and it’s going to be hard and we’ve got to fight through that, but still, I thought we could have had better execution,” Oates said. “I thought we didn’t give ourselves the opportunity to play a team game. We turned it over at the blue line too many times. Just too many subtle things that I thought we could have done better to help ourselves.”
Washington figured it would have a chance early against the Jets (1-1-1), who were coming off a shootout loss in Boston the day before. Indeed, Matt Hendricks got the Capitals on the right track 10:02 into the game by deflecting a pass from Nicklas Backstrom past Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, but as was the case in a 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday, the penalty kill unit struggled.
Winnipeg scored a pair of power play goals over the next 6:24 – one from Evander Kane, another from Andrew Ladd – to assume the advantage. The first, an intended pass from Kane across the red line, deflected off the back of defenseman John Carlson’s left skate and past Holtby. The other, perhaps the only goal of the game solely on Holtby, was off a pass from Nik Antropov that Ladd put in from the left slot with eight seconds left in the power play.
“I don’t know if there is an issue” with the penalty kill unit, Holtby said. “Last game in Tampa, it was the first game of the year. You can’t really put too much on that. Then today, a lucky one went off Carly’s skate and one that I’d like to have back. Those aren’t factors of the PK. That’s just plays in the game.”
Washington had opportunities early in the second period but was undone by carelessness. It spent much of its first power play in the defensive zone and generated just one good opportunity, a wrister by Alex Ovechkin.
Kane then recovered a loose puck in the Jets’ defensive zone four minutes later, took off up the left side past Carlson and sent a cross to Blake Wheeler, who beat Holtby gloveside. And with 45.6 seconds left in the second period, Slater added the Jets’ final goal on a pass from the right point by Dustin Bufyglien, twisting it around Backstrom just in front of the crease.
“I don’t think we were hard enough on the puck getting it out,” said defenseman Karl Alzner. “We were trying to chip and chase, kind of get some speed and stuff. … They were doing a good job cycling, hitting the high guy. We got caught running around quite a bit out there, way too much.”
Hendricks tried to ignite his team, and the crowd, for a third-period rally by engaging Slater in a fight as the second period ended. Oates shuffled his lines, searching for an answer, and was only rewarded when Troy Brouwer scored on a power play goal with 1:16 to play.
The end of the game also brought about an unsportsmanlike conduct call and a 10-minute misconduct on Mike Ribeiro, who said afterward he was sent off for objecting to what he perceived to be a high-sticking call.
Pavelec had 32 saves, while Holtby finished with 35. Backstrom assisted on both goals for the Capitals; Tobias Enstrom had three assists for Winnipeg.
And so a home opener that was supposed to happen Oct. 12 against New Jersey came 102 days later – with a result that was equally as unexpected.
“It’s nothing major happen,” Ovechkin said, trying to temper the attitude. “We lose it, and it’s just the beginning of the year. Of course, we want to take that kind of points, but we’re gonna try next game.”
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