January 23, 2020

GAME 8 RE-CAP: Caps get trapped in Edmonton; lose 2-1

Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle both scored power plays goals and Nikolai Khabibulin made 34 saves to lead the home-standing Edmonton Oilers over the Washington Capitals 2-1 in a penalty filled game, sending the Caps to their first loss of the young NHL season.

The Caps fall to 7-1-0 in their first eight games and remain in second place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind Pittsburgh, who have  played four  more games than the Caps.

There were a total of 15 minor penalties called in the affair by referees Stephane Auger and Dan O’Halloran with nine on the Caps, including all five in the second period.  Nine different Capitals players were whistled for an infraction.

It comes as little surprise that the Oilers got both their goals playing with the extra-man, because at full strength the Capitals dominated the game in every facet — except the scoreboard.  Washington outshot Edmonton 28-12 at even strength — and 19-6 in the third period —  but was able to beat Khabibulin just once, a first period slap shot by Karl Alzner from the blue line, his first goal of the season.  In addition to the shots on goal, the Caps had another 18 shots blocked — and 23 missing the mark.

The story of the game was the Edmonton netminder — and the penalties.  Khabibulin is off to a great start this season, with a 4-0-2 record, a sparkling 0.97 GAA and ridiculous .964 SV%.  The Russian goalie has allowed just six goals total facing 169 shots in six games.  He was no less stellar Thursday night, time and again robbing the Caps, who once again did a good job getting to the net and getting shots on goal.

But the Caps power play managed just five shots in six PP attempts, and perhaps it was in that facet of the game where they missed Mike Green the most.  Green missed the contest with a leg injury and his absence on the power play was certainly apparent.  Green’s three power play goals — representing his total goals for the season — lead all NHL defenseman, and no insult to any of the blueliners on the Caps, but he’s a singular talent from the back line in terms of his offensive prowess.

With all that said though, it’s tough to play anywhere, let alone on the road three time zones from home, and be forced to kill so many penalties, especially in succession the way the Caps had to Thursday night.  At one point in the second period, the Caps were whistled for seven straight penalties and were shorthanded for 11:07 over the second and first part of the third period.  Obviously, this neutralizes the Capitals in multiple ways, as they play shorthanded, but also keeps the most dynamic player in the game off the ice for long stretches of time.

The Caps weren’t going to win 82 games this season, and you have to give Edmonton a little credit for playing the game they needed to in order to beat a more offensively gifted team.  They muddied the waters enough and the Caps took the bait, with the referees complicit in the game plan.  The Oilers are surviving on defense and special teams, and it’s a formula that has them out of the box at 5-2-2.  Not too shabby.

The Caps played hard and well, they just fell into one of those traps you see during the season.  They move on to Vancouver in a marquee matchup against the Canucks Saturday night.  Vancouver is uncharacteristically struggling a little bit to start the season at 4-5-1 with a minus-5 goal differential. Regardless, the game will feature two of the games’ strongest attacks, and will be a good opportunity to see if the Caps can bounce back after their first taste of defeat this season.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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