Twenty-three days ago in Washington, the Capitals spotted the Calgary Flames a three-goal lead in the first period and managed to rebound to earn a 5-4 shootout win. On Saturday night in Calgary, the Flames managed to rewrite that script, scoring three times in the first period and riding that early advantage to a 5-2 win over Washington.
“We’re taking too long to get into games,” laments Caps coach Adam Oates, “that’s a fact, and it started from the very first whistle tonight.”
As has been the case all season, slow starts continued to plague the Caps in their 11th game of the 2013-14 campaign. The Flames needed all of 64 seconds to get a 1-0 jump over their Saddledome guests. Washington lost a defensive zone draw at the 20-second mark of the first, and it spent the next 44 seconds in futile pursuit of the puck and the Flames in the Washington end. The shift culminated with a Kris Russell goal, his first as a member of the Flames.
“Bad start,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “We were not ready for it. They jump in right away and score on first shift. They have momentum and we make mistakes in our zone. If you compare to last game and this game, it was too different teams. We didn’t make the right decisions with the puck. We can’t play like that.”
For Russell, the goal came on his fourth shot attempt in a span of 45 seconds during that game-opening shift. His first shot was stopped by Holtby, leading to the aforementioned defensive zone face-off loss for the Caps that ultimately led to Russell’s goal. Russell also shot wide and had a shot blocked by Caps’ defenseman John Carlson before his fourth bid, a wrister from the left circle, beat Holtby over the glove hand.
Washington dug its hole a bit deeper when defenseman Steve Oleksy went off for hooking at 2:36 of the first, giving the Flames an early power play opportunity. The Capitals survived that shorthanded situation, but Calgary had eight shot attempts – five that Holtby stopped, two that were blocked and one that missed – during its man advantage.
Just after the seven-minute mark of the first, Flames forward Sven Baertschi skated the puck into the Washington end. The puck pinballed a bit in the high slot, and Holtby stopped a Sean Monahan shot from the middle. Calgary’s Jiri Hudler was able to chip the rebound in from in tight for a 2-0 Calgary lead.
Washington halved the lead at 12:02. Eric Fehr made a strong play along the left wing wall at the Washington line to gain possession and start a rush. Linemate Jason Chimera tried to slide a pass across on the ensuing 2-on-1 rush, but the feed was blocked. The Caps retained possession and worked the puck around down low, and managed to exploit Calgary’s seldom-used third defensive pair of Shane O’Brien and Derek Smith. Chimera snuck behind the duo, took a dish from Mikhail Grabovski, made a power move to the net and deftly roofed a backhander to cut the Calgary lead to 2-1.
“It was a nice play by Grabo and Fehrsie,” says Chimera. “I should have shot the first one on the 2-on-1 maybe, but [the Flames defenseman] made a good slide on it. When you get a goal the night before, you can kind of feel the puck a little better.”
The Caps would have none of that prosperity. It took Flames only 48 seconds to restore that two-goal lead. Ex-Cap Dennis Wideman lofted a wrist shot from the right point, and Flames winger Mike Cammalleri deflected it past Holtby to make it a 3-1 game. At that point, Caps coach Adam Oates lifted Holtby in favor of Michal Neuvirth.
“That’s what lost us the game for sure,” says Chimera of the Caps’ first 15 minutes on Saturday. “I think we started off like that, you can’t get the puck out of your zone, you’ve got to make simple plays and get it out. You know other people are going to be coming hard in their building and they did, and we’ve just got to prepare for it. We didn’t handle it very well, and ultimately they got a goal in.”
Washington started to turn the tide in the second period, and it once again pulled to within a goal. Flames goaltender Karri Ramo made the stop on Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt’s blast from the left point, but Washington winger Aaron Volpatti was there to tuck the rebound in to make it 3-2 with 12:15 remaining in the second period.
“It went out to the point and I just tried to get to that soft spot,” says Volpatti. “Sometimes I find myself a little bit too close to the net. That time it bounced right out to me. Luckily, I got enough on it; I kind of whiffed on it. It went in.”
The Capitals owned a significant territorial edge in the second period, leading the Flames 18-4 in shot attempts through the first 15-plus minutes of the period. The Caps had some good looks at the net, but weren’t very effective at getting shots on net in those situations. Washington had a carryover power play chance that included the first 1:48 of the third period on a clean sheet of ice, but it was never really able to get set and display its potentially devastating man-advantage unit.
“That was a stretch where we played well for a good part,” says Volpatti. “We’ve got to be patient. It’s a long game, it’s 60 minutes. I don’t know if we’re too antsy to get those goals right away. They’re going to come and we know that, especially with this team. We’ve just got to be patient.”
Just after a television timeout midway through the third period, Flames rookie Joe Colborne beat Caps center Brooks Laich on a draw in the Washington end, backhanding the puck to Cammalleri in the process. Cammalleri carried down to the goal line near the wall on the right wing side, and threw the puck on net from a bad angle. It trickled through Neuvirth to give Calgary a 4-2 lead with 9:43 remaining.
Calgary’s Curtis Glencross finished off the scoring at 14:28 of the third. T. J. Galiardi carried into the Washington end in a 1-on-4 situation while the Flames were in the midst of a line change. He managed to retain possession and fed the puck to Matt Stajan who quickly pushed it to Glencross, whose one-timer beat Neuvirth to account for the 5-2 final.
Washington was within a goal of Calgary for most of the second period and a good deal of the third, but despite some good chances it could not manage to get the equalizer.
“When we play right that’s what it looks like,” says Oates of his team’s play in the second period. “We put ourselves back in the game and we go into the third period feeling decent, we get a [power play] to start it. And we give them a freebie [on Cammalleri’s second goal]. It takes the wind out of your sails.”
“That’s something that’s unacceptable for a team like us,” says Caps defenseman John Carlson. “We’re a great team and everyone in there knows that we need to be better off the starts. You see when our game is on that it’s so tough to stop us. I think it’ll be a more combined effort all around and everybody chipping in whenever they can to make sure that we start that off right from the puck drop and not wait for anything to happen.”
Flameout In The First – Through its first 11 games, Washington has been doubled up in first-period scoring by a 12-6 count. Six of those dozen goals against in the first frame have come at the hands of the Flames.
“I think we haven’t been addressing our starts as a group because we’ve been basking in the winning of a few games,” says Holtby, “and tonight cost us. We’re going to have to realize as a group to do something before the game to make sure that we’re prepared because the majority of our games that we’re losing, it’s because of the first period.”
Calgary had the game’s first 12 shot attempts in a span of just 4:25, and Holtby’s strong play helped keep the Caps within a goal of their hosts at that point. Oates pulled Holtby not because he was ineffective, but because he was looking to spark his lethargic team.
“I was looking for a spark,” says Oates. “Three goals, we started lousy. We got one to make it 2-1, and then the third one [went in].”
Having held the Caps up through a few previous slow starts, Holtby was understandably and visibly upset upon leaving the game.
“Of course he is going to be upset,” says Ovechkin. “His family is here. But it is what it is. The coach has to do something. He made a decision and I think we started to play better. It’s not Holts. He tried his best. It was the coach’s decision and he tried his best.”
Déjà Vu All Over Again – For the second time in as many starts against the Flames this season, Holtby allowed three goals and did not survive the first period.
In the Capitals’ Oct. 3 home opener against the Flames at Verizon Center, Holtby was lifted after surrendering three goals on 11 shots in 16:22 of work.
On Saturday night, Holtby’s night was even shorter but he faced more rubber. He allowed three goals on 14 shots in just 12:48 of work.
That’s A Match – Chimera’s goal was his third of the season and it came in his 11th game, matching his total of three goals in 47 games during the 2013-14 season. The first-period goal was also Chimera’s 100th point as a member of the Capitals.
Carry Fourth – Volpatti’s goal was the first from a Washington fourth-liner this season. It was also his first goal as a member of the Capitals and his first goal since he netted one for Vancouver in a 5-0 win over Anaheim last Jan. 25.
First Point – Schmidt collected his first NHL point with the primary assist on Volpatti’s goal.
Coming Up Big In Back – Calgary captain and top defenseman Mark Giordano was placed on injured reserve on Saturday, missing a third straight game and leaving the Flames with a big hole in their backline. Giordano was averaging more than 25 minutes a night and he has two goals and nine points in eight games thus far on the young season.
With Giordano out, the rest of the Calgary defense did a great job of stepping up and filling in. The top pair of Russell and Wideman both finished at plus-5 on the night. Russell had a goal and an assist in 27:12 of work while Wideman had a pair of helpers in 29:17.
The Flames’ second pairing of T.J. Brodie and Chris Butler was also solid. Brodie skated 26:18 and Butler 24:45.
Calgary’s third pair of O’Brien and Smith each skated less then seven minutes and both were on the ice for both Washington goals.
The Kid’s All Right – Monahan was the first of Calgary’s three first-round choices in the 2013 NHL Draft, and he has passed the 10-game mark with the Flames and is expected to remain with the team as an 19-year-old in 2013-14.
Monahan collected his first NHL point – an assist – in Calgary’s season opener against the Capitals in D.C. on Oct. 3, and he has kept scoring consistently since. Monahan had a helper against the Caps on Saturday and now has six goals and 10 points in 11 games. He is tied for the league’s scoring lead among rookies.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears opened up a pair of home games on back-to-back nights on Saturday evening at Giant Center with a visit from the Hartford Wolfpack. Hartford won it, 4-3.
Hershey grabbed a 1-0 lead at 6:50 of the first frame when Jeff Taffe tallied on a power play with help from David Kolomatis and Dmitry Orlov.
Hartford drew even in the penultimate minute of the first period, and it gained a 2-1 lead exactly three minutes of playing time later with a tally that came early in the second.
Chay Genoway made it a 2-2 game for the Bears at 15:40 of the second period, getting help from Connor Carrick and Tyler Ruegsegger. Less than two minutes later, Michael Latta scored to give Hershey the lead once again. Tyson Strachan and Matt Watkins assisted on Latta’s second goal of the season, enabling Hershey to take a 3-2 lead into the final frame.
The Bears were unable to maintain that advantage. With Kolomatis serving a tripping minor in the early minutes of the third, Hartford’s Danny Kristo netted his sixth goal of the season on a Wolfpack power play to even the contest at 3-3.
Wolfpack winger Andrew Yogan’s first goal of the season came at 8:27 of the third, giving the visitors a 4-3 lead and accounting for the last of the scoring on the evening.
Philipp Grubauer made 23 saves for the Bears in a losing effort. Hershey hosts Norfolk on Sunday afternoon at Giant Center.
Hershey is now 1-3-1 on the season and it is now nestled in 14th place in the 15-team Eastern Conference.
Down a level, the ECHL Reading Royals played a pair of back-to-back, home and home games against the Elmira Jackals this weekend. Reading earned a 3-1 road win over Elmira on Friday night. Domenic Monardo, Louie Caporusso and Dustin Gazley scored in support of Riley Gill’s 33-save efforts in the Reading crease.
When the two clubs met again in Reading on Saturday night, the score was the same but this time it was Elmira taking a 3-1 road win at Sovereign Center. Michal Cajkovsky scored the lone Reading goal while Gill made 22 stops in a losing effort.
Reading’s 2-2 mark is good for the top spot in the three-team Atlantic Division.
Reading is back in action on Wednesday night when it hosts the Greenville Road Warriors at Sovereign Center.
By The Numbers – The Capitals were charged with 12 giveaways on the night, with five of them coming in the first period and six in the third … Mike Green led Washington with 25:19 in ice time … Chimera paced the Capitals with six shots on net … Laich led the Caps with four hits … The Caps blocked just seven Calgary shot tries; Wideman blocked six to lead the Flames and Ovechkin had six of his 15 shot tries blocked on the night … Laich won five of 16 draws (31%) on the night, and two of those face-off losses resulted in goals against … Colborne won 10 of 14 face-offs (71%) and Stajan won 10 of 15 (67%).