For just the second time in its 39 seasons in the NHL, the Caps supplied the opposition for the defending Stanley Cup champion at the champ’s home opener the following season. That game resulted in a 6-4 loss to the Blackhawks in Chicago last night.
While Washington owned a third-period lead in the game and believes it could have and should have earned a pair of points, the experience of getting out of the gates against the league’s best team should be able to help the Caps going forward.
“Any time you face a team of that caliber it’s good,” says Caps goalie Braden Holtby. “It’s a good measuring stick. And we know we can stick with them. That’s about as much confidence as we can get out of a loss as possible. We know we can stay with the Blackhawks, so we know we can take it to most of the other teams in the league and win a lot of games this season.”
The Caps’ power play converted three of its six chances, although it failed to cash in on a 5-on-3 that lasted for 1:26 and could have evened the game at 5-5 in the waning minutes.
“The power play was obviously a strong spot for us,” says Caps defenseman Karl Alzner. “That was great. I thought our neutral zone was pretty good. We had some good offensive zone entries and tracks and there were bits and pieces of everything that I thought we did pretty good. But we need to clean up our decisions with the puck and turnovers.
“A couple of times we were trying to change and we turn the puck over and something happens from it. We can take a lot of good from that game. I think we could have won that game easily. Holtsy did have to make some big saves for us, but I think we should have won that game. When you play that well against the defending champs – who have a good chance of repeating – that’s a good sign.”
Holtby is his own harshest critic, and while he may have had a couple goals he’d like to have back, he also made some brilliant stops in the second half of the middle period. Without those clutch saves, the Caps may have entered the third in a 5-2 hole, an impossible task against the defending champs. As it was, the Caps were only down 3-2 and they managed to take a brief 3-2 lead with a couple of power-play strikes early in the third.
Washington created chances consistently in five-on-five play; it wasn’t as effective defensively at even strength.
“We obviously stuck with them offensively,” notes Holtby. “I thought we had a lot more chances than most teams do against Chicago. That’s really good to see, and it was not only our top line, it was every line. It was good. I think obviously the defensive zone is something that we need to tighten up, but that’s always something that struggles at the start of the season; it’s harder to get in synch. I don’t think we did a terrible job, but against a team with that much firepower you can’t be missing those little 10-foot passes and those little things, and communicating better, myself especially to our defensemen.”
Calgary is up next. The Flames hit town on Thursday for Washington’s own home opener of the 2013-14 season.
A couple of Caps defensemen have some Calgary history, and they still get amped up a little higher for games against the Flames, at home or on the road.
“Yeah, I do,” says Calgary native Mike Green, when asked if he still gets up a bit more for contests against his hometown team. “Obviously I’ve grown up watching them since I was a little guy. I definitely have sort of a nostalgic, sensitive spot there with Calgary.
“It should be a good game; we’re excited. [Tuesday] night was an intense game; the energy was through the roof. The speed was as fast as I’ve ever seen it. It made for a good game. We obviously didn’t get the outcome we wanted, but we feel we’re playing good hockey. So we’re excited to play [Thursday] night.”
Alzner, Green’s defensive partner, played four seasons of junior hockey with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League.
“Every time I play a team from out in Western Canada, I get excited,” admits Alzner. “They’re the teams I watched a lot growing up. I’m playing against guys I know, too; during the lockout I skated with half those guys. I get excited to play against them and I know that if we don’t win, I’m going to hear about it from a lot of the people back home, too. It’s always a fun game for me.”