“I would say some of our mistakes are pure effort.” Adam Oates, on Caps troublesome 0-3-0 start.
The Washington Capitals haven’t started out 0-3 since the ’93-’94 season. The 2013 version equaled that mark, though, suffering from the same malaise that plagued them in their first two games. A promising first period gave way to a four-goal second frame, and the Caps never could muster a counter-attack as they fell to the Montreal Canadiens, 4-1, before a frustrated Verizon Center, which emptied out after the horn signalling the end of the second period.
The Caps surrendered two power play goals, took six minor penalties in all, could not muster any sustained offense, and looked generally inept defensively, especially their top defensive pair, John Carlson and Karl Alzner, who were on the ice for all four Montreal goals and were eventually split up in the third period. What’s worse, the team admitted to being deflated after allowing two quick goals on the same power play and never recovered.
Washington has been outscored 14-6 this season and are the only team in the Eastern Conference without a point after three games. They have allowed seven goals in 18 power plays against, while going 2-for-12 on their own power plays.
The word “embarrassing” was bandied about in the locker room following the debacle, with good cause. “I think it’s embarrassing the way we played,” center Nick Backstrom (0 goals, 2 assists, team-worst minus-3 through three games) said. “We’ve really got to regroup and talk about this and play the way we should tomorrow. The good thing is we’re playing tomorrow again so we’ve got to be better.”
The lack of effort was noted by head coach Adam Oates, who did not mince words in his press conference after the game.
“I would say some of our mistakes are pure effort,” Oates siad. “It’s very upsetting. I’m not pushing the panic button, but obviously it’s upsetting. We’re pros, you’ve got to be a pro, and you’ve got to do your job.”
Joey Crabb, the team’s lone goal-scorer on the night, concurred. “Some of those little breakdowns that we’ve had are not really working or paying attention to getting into the right spot. We’ve got a lot of skill on this team and that’s something that you can’t control on a lot of teams, but what you can control is your work ethic and how hard you play. Obviously we know what we got to do.”
The Caps looked good in the first period, winning faceoffs, getting a few quality chances and generally playing competitively with the Montreal, skating to a 0-0 draw after 20 minutes. But at 1:51 of the second, team captain Alex Ovechkin (-1, 3 SOG, 2 blocked, 3 misses) took an interference penalty on a backcheck, needlessly dumping countryman Andrei Markov to the ice. Just 24 seconds in to the penalty kill, Troy Brouwer lofted a puck off the ice for a delay of game.
The Caps were game for most of the resultant 5-on-3, but with just four seconds remaining in Ovechkin’s infraction, Tomas Plekanec took a nifty pass from Markov and whipped it past Michael Neuvirth (18 saves on 22 shots) and into a gaping net to get the Canadiens on the board first. Markov followed suit not a minute later, beating Neuvirth with a wrist shot to make it 2-0.
At that point, it might as well have been 10-0.
“I think we were playing really well and when they got those couple power-play goals it took the wind out of our sails,” Crabb said. “When things aren’t quite going your way and then something like that happens, then sometimes it’s hard to get going and keep your momentum going. If the bounces would’ve gone our way and we would’ve been up one, two midway through the game then I think it would’ve been a different story.”
Later, Rene Bourque (yes, that Rene Bourque) outskated John Carlson to a puck along the left wing and found a wide-open Brian Gionta crashing the net for the Habs third unanswered goal of the game. The play started in the offensive end, when Carlson lobbed a lazy shot from the point — which was easily blocked and turned around the other way, rather than dump the puck safely behind the net and force the Caps to put effort along the boards.
The final goal of the period came from a shot from the point by Josh Gorges, not known for his high offensive skill. But Neuvirth was completely screened by Francois Bouillon on the play, with nary a Caps defenseman in the area.
The Caps lone goal came with less than three minutes remaining in the game. Jason Chimera did good work behind the Montreal net to control a puck and found Crabb alone at the top of the crease, who beat Carey Price (30 saves) to avoid the shut out.
Symbolic of the Caps lack of offensive pressure for the third straight game, the Canadiens blocked 19 of the Caps shots, who remain satisfied to lob pucks toward goalies from 30 feet without any semblance of traffic in front of the net. The lone time they had someone willing to stick their nose in there they were rewarded, though it was much too late.
The Capitals don’t have much time to dwell on the 4-1 loss, or the 0-3-0 start to the season, as they immediately trek up to Newark to face the New Jersey Devils Friday night.
For raw audio from the Caps locker room, please click here.
Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards. Previously, he wrote Nats News Network and Caps News Network and spent four years in commercial 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.