December 15, 2017

Five Takeaways from the Washington Redskins’ 17-6 loss to the Houston Texans

In a largely underwhelming performance, the Washington Redskins lost their season opener at the Houston Texans on Sunday, 17-6. Here are five takeaways from the game:

  1. Robert Griffin III is still developing, to put it one way. Of course, it’s not ideal for your franchise quarterback that you gave up four valuable draft picks for to still be figuring out his game at the start of his third season. At times, Griffin looked out of place and incredibly indecisive, either not throwing the ball away or tossing it for a very short gain. There were also flashes of brilliance on display, like the long pass to Niles Paul that put the Redskins deep in the red zone before Paul fumbled. You cam probably chalk up some of the performance to an offensive line that didn’t give him much time or space to work with, but Griffin’s game was less than encouraging.
  2. The special teams still look to be suffering from Keith Burns Syndrome. The blocked extra point was just a sign of things to come, as a blocked punt later turned into the Texans’ second score of the afternoon. The return game was strong, save for Darrel Young trying to tackle Andre Roberts on an early punt return. Otherwise, the group looked like they picked up where they left off last year.
  3. The team misses Brandon Meriweather. This may seem like it would have been obvious heading into the game, but on Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 76-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins in the second quarter, Bacarri Rambo misplayed Hopkins badly. Rambo had his eyes on Fitzpatrick has Hopkins caught the ball a yard or two in front of him, side-stepped Rambo and scored. Although the Redskins’ secondary isn’t exactly the Legion of Boom without him, Week 3 against the Eagles can’t come soon enough for that unit.
  4. Alfred Morris was strong again, helping the Redskins on their sole scoring drive with two huge runs. The third-year back had 91 yards on just 14 carries and was one of the bright spots in the loss.
  5. Overall, the performance was discouraging but all is not lost. From a pure numbers standpoint, the Redskins performed well – 20 first downs to the Texans’ 16, 372 yards to Houston’s 316 and barely winning the possession battle, holding the ball for 30:54. The majority of the mistakes were mental, and there was probably some rust to shake off (as evidenced by four straight punts to start the game). Capitalizing on opportunities against the Jaguars, and ultimately winning, will be pivotal to keeping the locker room from going sour so early. That, and winning the turnover battle – the two fumbles cost Washington dearly today.

Caps Quick Take: Game 12 vs. Canucks

The Caps, playing the last of four straight games in western Canada, looked it last night. They were dominated possession-wise by the Vancouver Canucks and lost 3-2, in a score not as close as it would indicate. The Caps were outshot 41-19, and the total shots were even worse: 68-42. Alex Ovechkin, who’s on pace for a record number of shots on goal this season, managed just three, despite the Caps having four power plays (and going 0-for-4).

1) Watching these two teams, it was painfully obvious just how poor the Caps defensemen are at clearing their own zone. They aren’t particularly fast, and their breakout passes aren’t particularly accurate. That leads to getting bogged down in the neutral zone and turnovers. It’s magnified when they play a team like Vancouver (or, Vancouver themselves) since the Canucks are so crisp and such good skaters in their own end. John Carlson really should be better than he is at this stage in his career. [Read more…]

Caps Quick Take: Game 8 vs. Blue Jackets

The Washington Capitals entered Saturday night’s matchup with Columbus with a chance to close out a five-game homestand — one that was disappointing on many levels — on a positive note and head out on a swing of Western Canada (followed by the armpit of America) with an upbeat attitude. The Blue Jackets served the perfect foil in order to for the Caps to regain confidence, as the home team shook up some lines and pairing and came away with a convincing 4-1 win.

1) Martin Erat: 3 assists, +2 in 17:49 on 22 shifts. Enough said.

2) Wait, not enough said. Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich, playing aside the aforementioned Erat, both had goals as well.

3) Marcus Johansson, who has taken a lot of grief in this space, probably played his best game of the season, recording four shots on goal and generally looking involved whenever he was on the ice, and he assisted on Joel Ward’s power play goal in the spot normally occupied by Mikhail Grabovski (and Mike Ribeiro before him).

4) Braden Holtby continues to work in a groove, knocking away 37 or the 38 shots he faced from Columbus. He had a tough time of it in his first few games, but Holtby’s starting to show the form that could very well earn him a spot on Team Canada come February.

5) Washington has scored a power-play goal in five of their eight games this season and scored multiple power-play goals in four of its eight games this season. Alex Ovechkin has scored a power-play goal in four of Washington’s eight games this season. Seven of Ovechkin’s 10 points this season have been earned on the power-play. Both of Joel Ward’s goals this season have come on the power play. Each of Mike Green’s five points this season have come on the power play. Six of Nick Backstrom’s nine point and three of Marcus Johansson’s six point have come on the power play. All of these stat nuggets came directly from the Caps “Player Notes” bullet points from their post-game Notes and Quotes sheet, but that makes them no less poignant.

3-5-0 isn’t the greatest start to the season, but it sure beats 2-6-0, which would have been fairly miserable considering the Caps now head out for their geographically longest roadie of the season: Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Philadelphia. On these types of trips, usually you hope to break even and make hay once you get back home. Washington doesn’t really have that luxury anymore and they really need to come out of this trip with at least six points against some of the softer teams in the Western Conference and the woeful Flyers, who with two measly points are currently looking up at the entire league.

Caps Quick Takes: Game 7 vs. Rangers

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Washington Capitals were satisfied to loft shots from the perimeter against Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. The Rangers outworked the Caps and got a couple of greasy goals en route to a 2-0 win over the Caps in D.C. Yes, it’s the same story we’ve been writing about for the last couple of seasons. When the Caps face a grind-it-out team they usually end up looking out of sorts, lacking hustle and effort, and more often than not end up on the losing side of the ice. The Caps (2-5-0) wasted an opportunity to kick the injured and struggling Rangers while they were down.

1) The Rangers entered this game as one of the worst defensive teams in hockey. People were questioning Henrik Lundqvist’s near future openly in the press. The Rags defense was having much difficulty switching from a zone-based system to more man-to-man with the change in coaching from John Tortorella to Alain Vingeault. So what happens? The Rangers come in here an intimidate the Caps just like they did last spring, forcing the Caps to take poor shots and mostly knock them down before they ever reach The King. Caps were outshot 36-22 and had another 22 shots blocked. That’s being satisfied with taking crappy shots from the perimeter, and no one will beat the Rangers doing that.

2) The Caps won the overall faceoff battle, 37-31, but you certainly wouldn’t have known it by the possession stats. The Rangers dominated the Caps in offensive zone possession, especially in the second period, where it looked like New York could do anything they wanted in the Caps end. Especially brutal was the sequence that led to the Rangers second goal. Adam Oates had John Carlson paired with Alexander Urbom and sent out the 90-19-8 line to accompany them. Trapped in their own end for 1:35, the defensemen finally ran out of gas and both Carlson and Urbom were beaten by their assignments for the second goal. Where were the forwards helping out on defense? LOL.

3) Martin Erat: 6:20 TOI, including 1:16 short-handed, with an average shift of 0:38. That is called wasting an asset, and expensive one at that, both in salary and in cost to trade for.

4) Troy Brouwer made a lot of noise the other night calling out his teammates for lousy passes. We can only assume he lumped himself in there, and should by all rights admonish himself again following this contest. On the play that led to Ovechkin having to take a penalty on a short-handed breakaway, Brouwer tried a blind back-pass from the low slot that led to the Rangers odd-man rush the other way. Later in the game, unpressured in the middle of the ice, his pass in the neutral zone was behind Eric Fehr by a good three feet, leading to another offensive-zone possession by New York. On another topic, I totally think his collision with Derek Stepan was unintentional. Looking at the replay, he didn’t appear to have any idea Stepan was in his path he was so intently concentrating on getting to the bench.

5) Silver lining time? Braden Holtby was very good, except whiffing with the glove hand on the Rangers first goal. He got a very good look at John Moore’s soft wrister and was square to the puck. He tried to make a snap-catch instead of letting the puck get to him and he simply whiffed on it. Other than that, he was rock-solid. Perhaps playing in front of Kevin Lowe (part of Canada’s Olympic management team and Edmonton’s President of Hockey Operations) had something to do with his concentration level. Oh, did you hear the Oilers have interest in Michal Neuvirth?

The Caps are off until Saturday, when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets (2-3-0, tied with Caps at 4 points in Metro Division). I’m sure the coaching staff will have plenty so say this week in practice, but the biggest changes need to come from within. Oh. and maybe moving Erat up a line or two (or three).

Caps Quick Take: Game 6 vs. Oilers

In the third of a five-game homestand, the Washington Capitals finally put some things together, looked cohesive and organized, and won a game in regulation, beating the Edmonton Oilers 4-2. The Caps got first goals of the season from Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward and Alex Ovechkin’s sixth of the season, and Braden Holtby earned his first win of the year, stopping 30-of-32 shots faced. The win moves the Caps to 2-4-0 with the suddenly hapless New York Rangers on tap Wednesday at 8:00 pm.

1) The Caps scored three times on three shots in the space of 3:55 in the second period to effectively end the competitive portion of the evening’s activities. On the first, Nick Backstrom (three assists) hit Ward in Ovi’s spot in the left wing circle and Wardo made no mistake on it, beating Jason LaBarbara before the goalie could slide across the crease on a 4-on-3 power play. Backstrom’s saucer pass through Justin Schultz was a thing of beauty.

2) Brouwer’s power play marker was assisted by Backstrom and Mikhail Grabovski, much like last season with Grabbo playing the part of Mike Ribeiro. The rapid succession of passes and Grabovski’s pinpoint slap pass to Brouwer had the shot off before the Oilers could react. Tic-tac-goal, indeed.

3) The offensive fireworks in the second period came after another sluggish start. The Caps were held shot-less by Edmonton in the game’s first 6:14 and the young Oilers were buzzing through the neutral zone and owning much of the play. Old friend Boyd Gordon put this current team on the board first with his team-leading fourth goal of the season, and the Caps were pretty lucky not to be down more than that by the time Laich tied it at 13:41 with his first goal of the season. The second line really needed this one tonight after looking particularly awkward against Colorado. Major props to Steve Oleksy, who kept the puck in the offensive zone (off a lazy exit pass by Ryan Nugent-Hopkins) and found Laich all alone in the slot.

4) Oleksy, and his partner rookie Nate Schmidt, both had terrific games and looked like a cohesive pair in the third group. Schmidt had a particularly nice sequence midway through the third, where he blasted a shot from the point, then walked in from the blue line on the rebound to get into position for another good shot opportunity when the puck swung around to the other side then back to him. That’s real good “hockey instinct” from the much sought-after former college defenseman.

5) Braden Holtby easily had his best game of the season, turning away 30-of-32. He was the Caps star in the first period, withstanding the Oilers onslaught until his teammates finally found their legs. Holtby seemed composed and relaxed all game, which you can’t really say for any of his previous starts. This is a big year for him and how he follows this effort up on Wednesday against the Rangers will say a lot about the young netminder.

Overall, a sold performance against a young Edmonton squad. The Caps have a chance to continue to wash out the bitter taste of their first five games with the 1-4-0 Rangers in town in two days, then Columbus on Saturday before going out on their tour of Western Canada next week.

Caps Quick Take: Game 5 vs. Avalanche

Much like last season, the Washington Capitals aren’t getting out of the gate very quickly. “Like Groundhog Day,” as Troy Brouwer put it in his post-game comments. Following a dispiriting 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche and former netminder Semyon Varlamov, the Capitals find themselves at 1-4-0 and looking up at the rest of the Metropolitan Division. Well, along with Philadelphia, the Rangers and the Devils, all of whom have one or zero wins to their credit. Yes, it’s early. No, it’s not time to “panic.” But if the Caps don’t get things sorted out quickly it could be a long, cold winter.

1) What in the world was John Carlson doing on Colorado’s first goal of the game? If you answered: cruising in no-man’s land, crossing up his goalie and redirecting what should have been an easy save, you get a gold star. Carlson stopped skating the moment he backed over the blue line and took a single cross-over step to go in the general direction of Alex Tanguay, whose little wrister was completely innocent until Carlson made a half-hearted effort to reach for it instead of, you know, play defense.

2) After a nearly one-minute offensive-zone domination by Colorado on the power play, the Caps finally stopped skating and allowed 2013 No. 1 overall draft pick Nathan McKinnon to drift into the slot and shoot uncontested off a feed from Peter Stastny. This is the third rookie the Capitals have allowed to score their first NHL goals in just five games this season. McKinnon did a loop around Steve Oleksy, who was just hanging around the top of the paint, and the rookie found the soft spot in the box and finished. It was a heady play by a naturally gifted scorer.

3) Tanguay’s second goal — Colorado’s fourth of the night — was all on Michal Neuvirth. Granted, Tanguay was unchecked along the goal line, but Neuvirth can’t allow the puck to slip in short-side there. It was just a lack of focus and attention. This time, it was Nick Backstrom that couldn’t get over to help out after Brouwer failed to tie up Stastny behind the goal. Oh, and Colorado was short-handed on the play.

4) Speaking of Brouwer, he was the most vocal of the Capitals following the loss, criticizing his teammates for their lack of passion, work ethic and will to win. After their fifth game of the season. “Didn’t look like we had any passion in our game tonight,” Brouwer said. “We didn’t get the crowd into it. We made it a boring atmosphere for the fans that were here and as a result, we were flat. It’s looking at yourself and wanting to win. It’s about wanting to work hard, wanting to help your teammates out, wanting to win. That’s all it comes down to. Our talent level is there. Our effort’s not.”

5) Something positive? You say would want the silver lining in this one? Eric Fehr’s line played pretty well and their hard work paid off in the third period with the Caps lone goal of the night. Fehr, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward were the only Caps with a “plus” next to their names after this one. Left-handed D-man Nate Schmidt made his NHL debut and did not look out of place. Alex Urbom tied Tom Wilson for team lead in hits with four.

NEXT GAME: Monday at 7:00 pm against Edmonton Oilers.

Caps Quick Take: Game 4 vs. Hurricanes

If you have a third period lead against a division opponent, and you have any aspiration of making the playoffs and competing to be the best in the league, you have to win those games. Thursday night, the Washington Capitals failed to take care of their business, as they allowed two third period goals, including a power play marker to old friend Alexander Semin, and lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2, to fall to 1-3 so far this season. Not ideal.

1)  Here’s the thing: the Caps dominated the first period in this one, and by every account the score should have been more like three or four to zero after 20 minutes. Alas, Jason Chimera’s fluky marker was the only tally that counted, and the Caps would rue not finishing on a couple more terrific possessions. The third line of Chimera-Eric Fehr-Joel Ward was clearly the best of the crew in that frame.

2) In their first three games the Caps have struggled playing at five a side, but in this one the power play really let them down. Five shots on goal in 6:01 of extra-man isn’t going to cut it. On the other side of the spectrum, the Caps committed seven minor infractions which is bad enough. But John Erskine’s interference — while already down a man — led to Semin’s game-tying PPG.

3) The Erskine/John Carlson duo had a standout game, and not in the good way. They were on the ice for Carolina’s first goal, a puck that bounced off Carlson and redirected over Braden Holtby’s glove hand, while Erskine was tying up no one in particular in front of the Caps net. On Nathan Gerbe’s game-winner, Carlson fumbled the puck in the corner and turned it over, leading to the original shot. Gerbe was on the far post, unmolested and unchallenged by Erskine, who was content to watch pucks bouncing around in the crease.

4) Alex Ovechkin continues to be a dominant force whenever he’s on the ice, despite having only one linemate. Goal, eight shots on goal, two more blocked. The goal was a rarity too, as Ovechkin was occupying the high slot and redirected Steve Oleksy’s shot past Anton Khubodin.

5) Time to play everyone’s favorite game show — Where’s Martin Erat? Tonight, the very expensive fourth-liner skated a season-high 9:15. However, he got just two shifts in the third period for a total of 1:23. The longer Erat plays on the fourth line the worse the trade looks and the calls for a philosophy change will just keep growing louder.

Caps Quick Take: Game 3 vs. Stars

Losing 2-1 on the road against a Western Conference foe in a building you haven’t traveled to in three years isn’t the worst thing in the world. Until you consider that a little more solid effort, especially in your own end, would have stolen a point or two. Things are going to be rough enough in the Caps own division to let little ones like this slip away. Five practice days until Carolina.

1)  The Caps were, once again, completely outplayed at even strength. A lot of that has to do with the fairly lousy play in their own end, sloppy breakout passes and lack of sustained attack in the offensive end until panic set in with about eight minutes to go in the game. If the Caps are still only going to be motivated by urgency and not by competing from the opening drop, they’re going to find themselves in the same situation as last season.

2)  The defense has to find a way to play better. John Erskine was toasted for the first goal, took a bad penalty, and then botched a 2-on-1 coming out of the box. But here’s what you need to know about this game: Erskine tied with Ovi for the team lead in shots on goal, and had one clang off a post.

3)  Martin Erat: 11 shifts, 8:27 TOI. Putting the money aside –which is admittedly a tough thing to do in this situation — Erat has to play more. Has to. Either they need to see some production out of him for justifying trading away Filip Forsberg, or they need to play him to showcase him for a trade. All 8:27 TOI with Jay Beagle as his center is going to do is absolutely suck all of his value. I hardly think Erat will skate on the fourth line in perpetuity, but Adam Oates really should start mixing things up a bit to generate a little more out of 5-on-5 play.

4)  It was a good bounce-back from Braden Holtby, turning away 19 of 21 shots. He’ll win a lot more games than lose with his performance Saturday night.

5)  In the last two games the Caps have played in Dallas, they’ve had a controversial goal waived off and lost by one. This time, Nick Backstrom cross-checked Kari Lehtonen right before the goal. Backstrom clearly didn’t get hit on the play until after he made contact with Lehtonen’s facemask, so it was the right call to waive off the goal, but it’s strange that Backstrom didn’t get two minutes for it in addition to losing the goal. NHL refs, amirite???

Caps Quick Take: Game 2 vs. Flames

Caps come back from 0-3 to win in shootout. Probably not the way they envisioned beating one of the bottomfeeders of the Western Conference, but two point is two points. As with the opener, there was some good and some not-so-good, especially the way the Caps got out of the gate in the first period. You’d think they would have had a little more giddy-up. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Or something like that. Anyway, 5-4 win.

1)  Congrats to Connor Carrick on his first NHL goal. He made a real nice move on the Calgary goalie to get him leaning before tucking the puck behind him. That move would have been pretty by a forward. However, the penalty that landed him in the box was a tough one to take. Carrick is talented to be sure, but he’s going to have plenty of growing pains if he’s going to stay in the lineup this season.

2)  Poor Jack Hillen. For the second year in a row he’s knocked out of action before the first week of the season is over. The team admitted it was a lower leg injury, he could not put any weight on it coming off the ice or going down the runway to the locker room. It make the Caps waiver claim of Alexander Urbom that more critical. If they don’t feel like Orlov or Kundratek can help this team right now, they’ll have to get creative and Adam Oates might have to be flexible about this handedness fetish he has for a little while.

3)  Alex Ovechkin is a stud. He’s picked up right where he left off last season, his third Hart Trophy campaign. Not only is he scoring goals, he’s instigating the action and playing physical. Teams have to account for him every time he’s on the ice.

4)  I’m not impressed so far with Braden Holtby’s performance this season. With eight goals in not quite four periods, it’s be tough to be impressed. Sure, his defense isn’t playing great in front of him, but the first goal he allowed tonight was because he wasn’t on his post. NHL players can slip a puck into the smallest of holes, that’s why you can’t give them any. Holtby thought he had the upper left covered, but he left enough daylight to get beaten.

5)  Marcus Johansson had a nice night. After mostly being a passenger in the opener on the road, MoJo must have liked the home cookin’ he got because he had a pretty good game. His three-assist game was Johansson’s first career three-point game and 19th career multi-point game. He was engaged and played a better overall game that his season debut.

Caps Quick Take: Game 1 v. Blackhawks

After every game this season, in addition to our game story District Sports Page will give you five quick takes right after the final horn. Tonight, the Caps went into Chicago on opening night, watched the Blackhawks raise their banners and succumbed to the defending champs 6-4. It was an entertaining game, but the Caps weaknesses — namely the defense — was evident to all who watched.

1) Backstrom to Grabovski to Ovechkin on the power play. Has a nice ring to it, eh? Grabbo in his debut with a solid goal and two tips for a hat trick. Nit a bad way to endear yourself to your teammates.

2) Despite three earlier power play goals, the Caps couldn’t get one with a 1:38 two-man advantage. Pretty much sealed their fate at that point.

3) On Chicago’s second period power play goal, Eric Fehr got sucked in too deep in the box, and when Marian Hossa was able to get the puck through, Brent Seabrook was able to walk right in and get a clean shot off. He’ll get coached up on that.

4) The big concerns about the bottom three defense are very much still there after one game. Connor Carrick had some good moments, but looked lost an equal number of times and took a penalty. Jack Hillen was invisible, so is that good? John Erskine is just slow, and was burned by Brendan Saad badly for Chicago’s tiebreaker in the third.

5) Marcus Johansson was a passenger tonight. He lazily waved his stick at a puck intended for him in the neutral zone instead of going to get it and it went back the other way for a Chicago scoring chance. Later in the period, be made a bad backward pass that ended up in a two-on-one. This is a critical year for him and he didn’t get off to a very good start.

 

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