Hockey analysts and Twitter alike are abuzz with ruminations on “what’s wrong with the Washington Capitals” and “how soon” they will adjust to coach Adam Oates new style, following a 6-3 loss to division rival Tampa Bay Lightning.
It seems like most people are lumping the idea of chemistry, adjusting to the new system and conditioning into one big reason why the Capitals lost the way they did. In a shortened season, it’s fair to say that any kind of long term adjustment issues could be a serious problem if points are not being gathered in the standings.
When examining the game a second time, chemistry in the new system did not appear to be the problem. Joel Ward made a key point when he said, ” It’s hard to get in rhythm with the lines we worked on all week, when you switch so much between PP and PK.”
In the first period, the Capitals went on the power play three straight times early, limiting the time for some forwards. Good example is immediately following the first PP, which generated some real nice chances, Matt Hendricks is out for his first shift. Showing good jump and aggression, he trails behind a Jason Chimera power move to the net and draws a penalty. Then immediately gets off the ice after a 15 second skate to watch the PP for another two minutes. Next time he gets out, Tampa takes a penalty, Hendricks off the ice.
Point being, The Capitals didn’t play enough 5 on 5 hockey in the new system to ascertain their current level of proficiency. In antithesis to the first period, the second and third periods were laden with penalty kills during crucial moments, almost all of which led to crucial goals for the Lightning. The Caps played catch up hockey almost the entire game.
The more I watched the game, the more I realized this looked like any other Tampa Bay Lightning loss. Washington often dominated 5 on 5 play, Tampa struck like lightning off mistakes during the rush and on the power play and the Caps often looked outmatched against the savvy of Martin St. Louis.
Pretty standard stuff throughout recent matches. Additionally, the Lightning scored on their very first shot of the game and got a 5 on 3 to start the third period, breaking the 3-3 tie that gave Washington road momentum. Washington showed good resolve and clutch goal scoring, but lost. Plain and simple.
The biggest reason why adjusting to the new system wasn’t the takeaway of this first game boils down to three words:
No Brooks Laich.