For significant stretches the past couple of seasons the Washington Capitals have made a habit of “playing up” to a strong opponent and “playing down” to an inferior one. Friday night was more of the latter. The Caps had defeated Atlanta in all eight of their previous meetings.
Friday night’s season opener started in stunning fashion with a collapse by the Thrashers’ starting netminder Ondrej Pavelec. A little over two minutes into the game, positioned outside his crease with the draw in the Capitals’ end, he seemed to motion to the Thrashers’ bench as if he was in trouble, and a second later he was flat on the ice, frighteningly motionless. He remained that was for some minutes before being removed on a stretcher. Reports suggest he’s okay now; he was kept in an Atlanta hospital overnight for observation.
Friday night kinda looked like Montreal II, didn’t it? Inferior opponent, blocking shots all over the ice, doing the things necessary to win . . . while the Caps seemed content to mostly play a perimeter game. The Thrashers blocked 23 Caps’ shots.
The Thrash are improved — how couldn’t they be? — but last night they competed against an opponent largely disinterested in doing the things necessary to win an NHL game. Wasn’t there a movie, or perhaps a comic book, titled ‘The Invisibles’? Here’s our list of invisibles who wore white sweaters Friday night:
- Eric Fehr . . . just AWOL.
- Tomas Fleischmann . . . He appeared to pick up where he left off versus Montreal in April — one lone shot attempt from the second-line center.
- Nicklas Backstrom . . . just out of synch, ineffective.
- Ovi, during the game’s first 30 minutes: a wee bit of banging in the game’s second half, a nice assist on Mike Knuble’s goal, but otherwise of little impact.
In the opening game of the season the Capitals were largely lifeless. And on the bench, Craig Ramsey’s system sure seemed to confound Bruce Boudreau.
Two years ago, when the Caps opened up with a stinker in Atlanta, they had an excuse. It was Jose Theodore’s first game as a member of the Caps, and he definitely let in some softies. This year, there are no such excuses. Michal Neuvirth gamely kept the Caps in it, making numerous high-quality stops, but ultimately he had little support in front of him. It was not a night that bolstered confidence in the new-look Capitals’ blueline.
John Erskine also made his presence known with some strong physical play — he cared last night, and he stood up for his netminder. Alexander Semin made an amazing knee-high snare of a cross-ice pass from Fleischmann to earn an assist on the Caps’ first goal.
But overall, the Caps’ limp debut is best forgotten, by fans and team alike.