If the Washington Capitals can figure out how to play consistently well in the first period, they’ll end up in the playoffs at the end of the 2013-14 NHL season. As it stands now, however, they’ve been outscored 12-6 in the opening stanza, and that is more indicative of a poor campaign. Two Caps players spoke up about the problem on Saturday night following the Caps’ dismal 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames.
“We were a little sleepy out there tonight,” said captain Alex Ovechkin of his team’s first 20 minutes. “Bad start. We were not ready for it. They jumped in right away, scored on first shift. They have momentum and we just make mistakes in our zone. Something has to be happening. We have to score or there needs to be a big play by a goalie,” Ovechkin said.
Ovechkin’s goalie, however, was not looking at himself for answers. Caps’ netminder Braden Holtby was pulled just 12 minutes and 48 seconds into the game, after the Flames found the net three times on 14 shots. Holtby was not happy about being replaced so quickly by Michel Neuvirth with the score sitting at 3-1, and he barked his displeasure towards his bench as he headed for the locker room.
“We’re going to have to realize it as a group and do something before the game and make sure we’re prepared, because the majority of the games we’re losing are because of the first period,” lamented Holtby after the game. “It’s nothing to do with systems, it’s nothing to do with what the coaching staff can do, it’s what we do as professional athletes, professional hockey players. You prepare yourself and we’re not doing a good enough job in here.”
Harsh commentary from the Caps’ goaltender, but necessary words for a team that has looked like they’ve just woken up from a nap each time they’ve first taken the ice this term.
Holtby was not at fault on any of the three goals he allowed, as his defense labored around in front of him, failed on man-to-man coverage, missed blocks, and couldn’t get the puck of that their own zone on all three tallies. The defense was not dictating play, it was reacting to it. That has been the story of the season so far.
The Capitals (5-6-0) need to follow their starting goalie’s advice and play to their strengths right from the opening face off. Had that occurred in every game, they’d currently be sitting atop the Metropolitan Division.