So far this season, the defense has been a huge concern (albeit in a small sample size). For the first 4 periods of the season, they were atrocious, allowing 8 goals, including at least 5 that weren’t the goalie’s fault. Two examples from last night’s game:
- Calgary’s first goal featured blown coverage from Jack Hillen. Capitals goalie Braden Holtby had no chance at stopping the shot, especially since he’s not overly quick from the glove-side to begin with.
- Calgary’s third goal (scored by Jiri Hudler) at first appears to be a very soft goal allowed by Holtby. However, upon closer inspection, Holtby was being screened by John Carlson and Flames center Mikael Backlund. Holtby literally didn’t even see the shot from Hudler. Connor Carrick should have been all over Backlund, but he wasn’t until it was too late. You can’t let guys camp out in front of the goalie like that. Carlson should have been more aware of where he was on the ice.
The Capitals allowed another goal in the second period that was again the fault of the defense- John Erskine went out of his position to hit Calgary center Ben Street, and despite good hustle from Eric Fehr and Mike Green to try to make up for Erskine’s mistake, the guy that Erskine should have been covering- Lance Bouma, was able to score. Michal Neuvirth is also to blame for playing that puck, but if Erskine plays his position better, the goal definitely does not happen. To further complicate things, Hillen suffered a lower-body injury in the first period and will be out for a while.
With all that said, there are some good things that happened on Thursday night that the Capitals can build on:
- Connor Carrick played noticeably better when paired with John Carlson or John Erskine. What can we make of this? Carrick plays better if he’s paired with a larger, more physical defenseman. It’s worth noting that recent waiver claim Alexander Urbom fits that description and he’s left-handed. Oates likes to make his pairings by handedness, so Urbom is a natural candidate to be Carrick’s linemate. Erskine would also be a good fit, but in that scenario, Carlson would lose his line partner. Carrick deserves a ton of credit for adjusting well to his linemate Jack Hillen’s injury and stepping in when needed on the penalty kill.
- Karl Alzner and Mike Green continued to play well together. I think they are perfect for each other- each of them makes up for the other’s shortcomings.
- The Capitals did extremely well on the penalty-kill, holding the Flames to just one power play goal in 5 opportunities (including a 5 on 3 chance). Alzner, Carlson, and Carrick were the stand outs.
- Mike Green was his usual self running the Capitals powerplay. He played a huge part in their success (2 power play goals in 3 chances). Moved the puck very well and got some good shots off.
So how should the Capitals defensive pairings look down the road? Here’s my prediction:
I wouldn’t be surprised if Adam Oates split up the two rookies, pairing Urbom with Carlson on the second pairing and pairing Carrick with Erskine on the third pairing. Judging by what I’ve seen the first two games, I think that one of those two solutions should fix the problems. For now, I think the Capitals will be fine. If this continues, obviously changes will need to be made.