Déjà Vu All Over Again – Two years ago, a strong Washington team rolled into Atlanta for its season opener and was humbled in a decisive 7-4 loss to the Thrashers, playing in their first game under a new coach. Tonight, the Caps got their 2010-11 season off to an inauspicious start with a 4-2 setback at the hands of the Thrashers in Atlanta. It was the first game for Craig Ramsay as Atlanta’s bench boss.
“We didn’t play our game at all,” says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “They just outworked us. It shows we have to play better, especially in our zone.”
“I think we got outworked,” says Caps forward Brooks Laich. “I think that’s the difference in the game. We’ve got to hustle a little more and win more battles. Credit to their guys. They did a great job. That’s an improved hockey team over there, a young and hungry hockey team and they did a good job tonight.”
“They just outworked us,” echoes Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “You get rewarded when you outwork teams. They outworked us and they got rewarded.”
Washington took to the ice as a team that was anxious to get the season underway so that it would not have to discuss last season anymore. The Caps scored on their first shot on goal of the night to take an early 1-0 lead when Brooks Laich converted a pretty passing play from Alexander Semin and Tomas Fleischmann.
That was as good as it got for the Capitals.
A Fleischmann turnover in the defensive zone led to an Evander Kane goal at 7:57 of the first. Ramsay told reporters on Friday morning, “The most important thing is what we do. We know what they can do, but what can we do? That’s to get it down in their end and do everything we can to make sure we play in their zone. If we can spend some quality time in the offensive zone, then we can certainly be successful.”
They did and they were.
The score remained even at 1-1 for almost 28 minutes. Once again, the Caps were done in by sloppy play in their own end. Seconds after Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth robbed Andrew Ladd, the Caps were unable to clear the zone. Atlanta defenseman Johnny Oduya kept the puck in at the right point and fired a shot. Ladd deflected it past Neuvirth to make it 2-1.
A few minutes later, the Capitals were again scrambling around in their own end, trying to contain the scrappy Thrashers. Caps blueliner Mike Green swept the puck with his hand, but did so when the disc was in the blue paint of the crease. A penalty shot was awarded, and Kane cashed it in at 18:54 of the middle frame to push the Atlanta lead to 3-1.
Washington closed to within one at 3-2 courtesy of a textbook feed from Ovechkin to Mike Knuble on a 2-on-1.
Just over three minutes later, the Caps had a chance to get even when they went on their third power play of the night. Washington’s extra-man unit was not sharp in three chances in the opener, and that late opportunity went by the wayside.
“The power play you want to start with shots, especially early in the year,” explains Laich. “The timing is still a work in progress. Power plays work because people are in positions and passes are on tape and timing, and you know where people are and we’re still working on that. But that’s when you’ve got to shoot the puck and go to the net. It’s the main key to power plays. They didn’t give us any second chances when we did have a shot. They cleared the puck to the corner; we didn’t get any second chances.
“Our power play has got to be better. It’s got to win us hockey games.”
The Thrashers’ Freddy Modin closed out the scoring at the 15-minute mark when he beat Neuvirth on a deflected shot.
Scary Moment – All the hoopla and pageantry of opening night gave way to silence and shock just 2:25 into the game when Thrashers starting goaltender Ondrej Pavelec collapsed and lay still and prone on his back between the circles in the Atlanta end. The Atlanta training staff rushed to Pavelec’s aid, and the game was held up for several minutes while the 23-year-old goalie was tended to.
Pavelec was lifted onto a stretcher and taken to a nearby hospital. By game’s end, the Thrashers reported that the goaltender was stable, awake and alert, and asking about the score of the game. He was to be held overnight for observation.
Eight Is Enough – Prior to tonight’s Atlanta victory, Washington had won eight straight games over the Thrashers. Atlanta’s most recent victory over the Caps was a 5-1 triumph at Philips Arena on March 16, 2009.
Openers – The Capitals dropped to 17-18-1 in season opening games with Friday’s loss to Atlanta. The Caps are now 6-12-1 in season openers on the road.
New Blood – Forwards Matt Hendricks and Marcus Johansson made their Capitals debuts on Friday night in Atlanta. When they pulled on the sweater and took the ice, they swelled the ranks of those who have played for the Capitals to 460 different players.
How Swede It Is – Johansson becomes the 16th Swedish-born player to play for the Capitals. He is the third Swede with his surname to play for the Caps. Defenseman Calle Johansson is Washington’s all-time leader in games played at 983. Forward Jonas Johansson played in just one NHL game, the final contest of the 2005-06 regular season. He is one of 15 players who played but a single game for the Capitals.
Team Turnover – Of the 20 players who suited up in Thrashers sweaters for Friday night’s season opener, only 10 were in the opening lineup for Atlanta in the 2009-10 season opener.
Citizen Kane – Thrashers sophomore left wing Evander Kane was the best player on the ice on Friday. He scored twice, including a penalty shot goal. Kane narrowly missed a hat trick on at least two occasions, and he led the Thrashers with seven shots on goal and five hits.
Kane had 14 goals (seventh among NHL rookies) and 26 points in 66 games for Atlanta as an NHL freshman last season.
Chicago Hope – Four of the newcomers to the Atlanta roster were obtained from the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Defensemen Brent Sopel and Dustin Byfuglien and forwards Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager made their Thrashers debuts on Friday.
Sopel single-handedly accounted for eight of the Thrashers’ blocked shots despite finishing fifth among the six Atlanta defensemen in ice time at 16:44 on the night. Sopel skated 7:00 in the first period, the most for any skater on either side.
Byfuglien paced all Atlanta rearguards with three shots on goal and he also contributed two hits in 19:05 of work.
Ladd scored his first goal as a Thrasher and had three shots and two hits in 17:18.
Eager had two shots and a hit in just 8:13 in his Atlanta debut.
By The Numbers – Tom Poti led all Capitals with 26 shifts, but had his team’s sixth highest ice time total at 18:49 … Ovechkin led the caps with eight shots on goal … Laich scored the Caps’ first goal of the season for the second straight campaign.
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1 - 0 WSH
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1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 ATL
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3 - 1 ATL
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