Few bright spots in Washington Capitals' game 1 loss to Montreal Canadiens
Don’t reach for the panic button just yet. While the Washington Capitals dropped the first game of their series against the Montreal Canadiens Thursday evening, all is not lost and there were certainly a few bright spots.
Sure, the top line played perhaps its worst 60 minutes of hockey all season, but other members of the team stepped up. Washington’s third line, composed of Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr and Eric Belanger, was the heart and soul of the team all night. Not only was the line on the ice for Washington’s first goal, but they also had one of the first scoring chances of the game, when Fehr fired home a shot from the slot. Together, the three embodied what playoff hockey is. They played with a physicality that the rest of the team did not and used their speed to their advantage. Head Coach Bruce Boudreau had positive things to say about them following the game.
“I thought the first period they were really good, they scored a goal,” Boudreau said. “ I thought they were as good as [Montreal's] third line and I think Belanger was 18-3 on faceoffs, which is quite impressive, and one of the reasons why you end up with control with a lot of the puck.”
Boudreau pointed out Belanger’s play in the faceoff circle and it was perhaps one of the team’s strengths all night. In fact, he probably played himself on to the second line for Game 2, with his 86 percent faceoff percentage. Not only did he win faceoffs, but he quarterbacked the rush well, something Tomas Fleishcmann, the current second line center, could not do.
The poor defensive play is a weakness that will most likely be overshadowed by the top line's failure. In particular, the NHL's top +/- man, Jeff Shultz, had a pretty rough night. He forgot the defensive system, was out worked and just got flat out skated around. This should be no surprise however, as Shultz was benched early in the series against the New York Rangers last year and never saw the ice again. It may be too early to bench Shultz now, but be sure to keep an eye on him Saturday.
Shultz wasn’t the only poor defenseman on the ice. Joe Corvo, who was obtained in a trade at the deadline, looked out of sorts at times. He did score a goal in the first period, but also took a late penalty that lead to the tying goal in the third and was on the ice for the overtime winner. The big defenseman is just a few adjustments away from being one of the team’s best. If he can fix his mistakes in the defensive zone he should be a top threat next game.
The truth is, that no matter how well the third line plays and if the defense improves, Alex Ovechkin and the top line must score. The captain was held to no shots last night and a team’s best player needs to make an impact. Game 2 is suddenly a must win affair for the Caps and Oveckin must show up. Role players are important to a team's success in the playoffs, but they cannot carry a team, that's what a superstar and captain must to. Washington is only as good as it’s leader and right now he is missing in action.