Saturday, January 19, 2013

2013 Game 1 Recap: Caps at Bolts

First off, let's just be thankful that hockey is finally back after that ridiculous lockout. Today was the first day of the new season, kicked off by the Penguins topping the Flyers in revenge for their first round eviction from the playoffs, while the Blackhawks were busy beating the defending champ Kings on the other side of the country.

Then came our Washington Capitals and their new coach swaggering into the Tampa Bay Lightning's home against their new goalie. It started off well enough, with a 7-0 shot advantage and a couple powerplays. That was about the end of the good times, as Eric Brewer scored on the Bolts' first shot of the game, and the Caps never led from there on out to a 6-3 loss. Here are my five thoughts:

  • Tom Poti returned, and many Capitals fans are happy about this fact. Too many. Don't get me wrong, I am happy for Poti and his success in overcoming a multi-year long injury that had him this close to forced retirement. That's a huge accomplishment, and nothing else I say should take away from that. However, he just is not a very good defenseman, and it was a mistake on Oates' part to play him tonight. He has been gone for two years, and all the hockey he has played was two games in Hershey, where he had a goal and was a -1. That's not enough, given a one week training camp and a glut of available NHL-caliber blue liners, and it wouldn't be enough even if Poti was a high-level player, which he is not. It showed tonight, where he was the only defenseman to finish with a -2 in a game where the Caps let up three powerplay goals, at least one of which Poti was also on ice for. On Brewer's game-opening goal, Poti was parked right in front of Holtby while not trying to keep the Lightning's player out of the crease. It was ugly, and a big part of why that goal was let up. Lots of people are excited that he got an assist, but like it or not, he isn't paid to get points, he's paid to prevent them. Tonight he did not and looked like the worst player in white.
  • Holtby was not on his A game tonight. Probably not even his D game. He was slower to react than usual, and seemed to have a hard time seeing and controlling the puck all night. Goalies have bad games, especially when their defense is playing as horrifically has the Caps' was tonight, but six goals is a lot. That being said, he's still my pick for #1 on this team. I'm a long-time critic of Neuvirth, who I see as nothing more than a capable backup. This team needs a defined starting goalie, and that goalie should (and will) be Braden Holtby. Having a set guy in net gives the team consistency and allows for the skaters, especially the defensemen, to figure out their roles beyond what the coach is calling for. So it was a bad game for the young netminder, but I'm not worried and I'm looking for Holtby to start 30 games in this shortened season.
  • If you had Joel Ward on the powerplay as your pick for the Caps' first goal of the season, you're either a damned fool or a liar. Either way, you were right. Ditto if you had him scoring the second goal and leading the team in shots. Helluva game for him, and I really hope that this play is indicative of his skill level and being a good fit under Oates. He was my pick for the accelerated buyout, but if he can be productive on special teams, he'll earn that $3mil this year and the next two. One of the few bright spots for Washington in their season opener.
  • Speaking of bright spots, newcomers Wojtek Wolski and Mike Ribeiro had strong games. Wolski was the only other Cap with two points aside from Ward, with a goal and an assist. Ribeiro had the primary assist on that goal and looked like he was fitting in well as a setup guy all night. Smallest of small sample sizes, but here's hoping his 29% on the dot is not a sign of things to come, though.
  • The defense on the whole looked pretty awful, but thankfully we saw some good peeking through. Mike Green and his powerful shot were back and leading the game in ice time. John Carlson was a +2 with four blocked shots, and his partner in crime Karl Alzner was even on the night. Roman Hamrlik, the Tampa Bay Lightning's first overall pick 20 years ago in their first season, had an assist and was even on the night. The system still needs some work, but the talent is there and we saw flashes of it. Only flashes, though.
This was sloppy hockey folks, and so were the earlier games, and from what I hear so were the rest of them. It's what we all expected, even if we hoped for something better. Some new faces, yet another new coach with yet another new system... it'll be a minute before it is all sorted out. So get well Jack Hillen (welcome to the team?), and let's go Caps!

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