Nothing typified the Washington Capitals overall play in this 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche better than their performance in the final 40 seconds or so of the game. Granted three offensive zone face-offs, the Caps lost all three draws, and managed just one shot on goal playing 6-on-5 for 30 seconds, then 6-on-4 for the final 14 seconds after Colorado took a delay of game penalty.
In fact, faceoffs were a problem all night, as the Caps managed just 37 percent from the dot, and were a woeful 1-of-9 on faceoffs on the power play.
This game featured more of the 1-2-2 neutral zone defense the Caps have been playing under new head coach Dale Hunter, and other than a fluky goal 2:49 into the game and a wrist shot from the point that got through a multitude of screens, the Caps defense played another steady game. Michal Neuvirth (26 saves) was not as sharp as he was in last week’s shutout of Winnipeg, but two goals allowed on the road ought to earn you a point anyway.
Colorado’s first goal came as a result of Neuvirth losing a funny-angle shot in the crowd, and the second was a direct result of three defenders screening him from a shot from the point. Neuvirth stopped everything he saw last night. When your team is only scoring one goal a night though, those tough goals against just make the job harder.
But the Capitals offensive woes continued, with Alexander Semin’s sixth goal of the season the only shot to evade Colorado goalie J.S. Giguere (27 saves). Semin’s marker, mid-way through the second, was of his effort alone, as he brought the puck into the zone and beat Giguere with a wrist shot the veteran netminder simply missed with his glove hand.
The rest of the night, and especially in the third period, the Caps produced nothing that resembled a planned, cohesive offensive game-plan. Usually, the first Caps player to enter the zone tossed one in Giguere’s general direction and Colorado would simply retrieve it and start back the other way. Passes were sloppy, spacing indifferent. Three separate occasions two Capitals ran into each other as they tried to enter the offensive zone.
Washington has scored 21 goals in Dale Hunter’s first nine games as head coach, an average of 2.33 per game. That’s simply not enough on most nights to scratch out a win. Recently, it’s been even worse than that, as the Caps have scored just one goal in each of the last three games, with losses coming against Philadelphia and last night at Colorado, and a 1-0 shutout win in Winnipeg.
Hunter — and new defensive coach Jim Johnson — has his charges playing more responsibly on defense in his short tenure, but he needs to find a way to allow them to generate more offensive pressure. Occasionally the Caps are going to have a one of their skilled players make an individual effort to score, such as Semin last night. But there simply hasn’t been enough sustained pressure, not enough cycling, and very little puck possession in the offensive end.
The Caps have a long cross-country flight after this loss to think about what went wrong, then a couple of days off before Nashville — another defense-first team — comes to town on Tuesday. The Caps need to start stringing some wins together to get back into the thick of things in the Eastern Conference, but they’ll have to find some offensive consistency to do so.