Five Points, a Double-Doink and Cobra Kai Start the Caps’ Season

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Posted January 18, 2021

Tom Wilson has played great in the first three games of the season. (Caps Outsider)

With two wins and an oh-so-close loss to open the season, the Caps got a taste of what this coming season will be all about: Tight, intense games, with little room for error.

The season started Thursday night in Buffalo, in which the Caps handled the Sabres for a 6-4 win on the road in Peter Laviolette’s coaching debut with the team. The team looked resh, and had no problem scoring and saw impressive play from core players. Veterans such as Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and John Carlson all made their way onto the scoresheet. 

It was also that night that Coach Laviolette introduced a new tradition that has changed the Caps culture and helped give the team a new identity. Based on the hit Netflix special “Cobra Kai,” Laviolette awarded headbands to the best offensive and defensive players of the night. 

With 3 points (1g, 2a) in the game, Oshie received the black “offensive” headband while Brenden Dillon, who scored his first goal with the Caps in the game, received the white “defensive” headband. 

On Friday night, the Caps played their second game in their doubleheader against the Sabres in which they won 2-1. Goals from Jakub Vrana (his second in two games), and Tom Wilson would seal another two points, but the real story was the play of Vitek Vanecek in his NHL debut.

Since last season’s bitter end in the first round of the playoffs, the Capitals have looked more aggressive on both ends of the ice. From experienced veterans to fourth line players, the Caps have seemed to regain their toughness under Laviolette. 

On the defensive end, that same aggressiveness has been present, especially from new players such as Zdeno Chara. The long-time Bruin was key on defense and made his presence felt. 

Key stops from Chara around the net has been a huge help to goaltenders Ilya Samsonov and Vanecek. In the first two games, Laviolette tested both goaltenders as impressive play from each has stirred a battle for the position of starting netminder. 

Samsonov picked up the win on opening night in which he saved 22 of 26 shots from the Sabres, whereas Vanecek earned his first career win the next night, saving 30 of 31 shots against Buffalo. 

With an undefeated start to the season, the Caps headed to Pittsburgh to face archrival Penguins on Sunday. After two tough losses to the Flyers, the Pens were desperate for a win. 

The first of eight games of  Caps vs. Penguins did not disappoint; however, it ended in a Caps loss, 4-3 in a tight shootout.

Earning his second starting nod of the season, Samsonov played well for a young goaltender, with key stops and 24 saves from 27 shots. He also had several notable saves in the shootout, particularly a stop on Crosby.

Once again the Caps looked aggressive with strong play from Tom Wilson, Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin. Wilson added physicality for the Caps while Backstrom scored his second goal of the season.

Meanwhile, Ovechkin notched his heavily anticipated first goal of the season and 707th of his career making him one tally short of tying Mike Gartner for seventh on the all-time goals list. 

The game was competitive throughout; however, the loss didn’t come without controversy. The first being a goal from Penguins’ Center Colton Sceviour in which Samsonov left his post and let in a goal which appeared to hit off the crossbar. After video review, the score was still awarded to Sceviour with the refs claiming the puck had hit the net camera. 

Perhaps not as controversial but still noteworthy was Ovechkin’s shot in the late third period that hit off the crossbar twice and almost gave the Caps a 4-3 lead. The “double-doink”, as it is called, nearly gave Ovechkin his second goal of the game and the Caps their third straight win. 

It was also in this game that the Caps once again demonstrated a key weakness in giving up power plays. In their first three games, the Caps have been penalized 13 times, 5 in each of the last two games. 

On the flip side, the Caps have been strong on the penalty kill, only allowing one power play goal thus far and none in their last two games. 

The Caps power play unit has also looked to be in rhythm with Backstrom’s second period goal against the Penguins coming off a beautiful set up during the 5-on-4 for Washington. 

While there are certainly areas for improvement, the Caps looked revitalized to start the season. Core players are stepping up, puck movement has looked polished and the aggressiveness on both ends of the ice has been at full force. The Caps also earned 5 out of a possible 6 points so far and ended the week on top of the East Division. 

In the upcoming week, the Caps will be back in action on Tuesday in Pittsburgh for the second game of their doubleheader against the Penguins. 

After a short break, the Caps will resume play on Friday in their home opener against the Sabres, their third against Buffalo and the beginning of a 6-game home-stretch for the good guys. 

Lastly, the Caps will end their second week of the season next Sunday at home in the second game of another double-header against Buffalo. 

In a second week that essentially mirrors the first, it will be crucial to see if the Caps can mirror their point total, or better. 

Look for continued improved play as Laviolette will once again have his team ready to go this week. 

If this first week is any indication on how this season will play out, there is a lot to be excited about. Laviolette has this Caps squad looking ready to win now.