Caps searching for answers
The other day, Capitals forward Troy Brouwer wondered if Adam Oates might shuffle his forward lines in an effort to jumpstart a sputtering offense.
“When it’s not working, it’s not working,” Brouwer said.
But what if a team is generating enough scoring chances, but they’re not going in?
When the Caps face the Edmonton Oilers tonight at Verizon Center [6:30 p.m., CSN] they will look exactly as they did Saturday night when they were beaten 5-1 by the Colorado Avalanche.
Aside from Braden Holtby [0-3-0, 4.04 GAA] replacing Michal Neuvirth [1-1-0, 3.32 GAA] between the pipes, the Caps will go with the same forward lines and defense pairings.
“Some decisions are tough,” Oates said. “I don’t feel we played that badly. The score obviously wasn’t great, but there were a lot of things we did well and I don’t want them to think we’re pushing the panic button.”
After scoring nine goals in their first two games, the Caps have managed just four in their past three games, consecutive losses to Dallas, Carolina and Colorado.
Through five games, Brouwer, Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson, Joel Ward and Marty Erat all are looking for their first goal of the season.
Laich said he appreciates the patience Oates has shown with the Caps’ second line of im, Brouwer and Mikhail Grabovski, who has not scored since the season opener.
“Sometimes the worst thing you can do is keep throwing fuel on the fire, especially if you’re a little frustrated and upset at how things have gone. Nobody else coming down on us going to fuel us any more or kickstart us any more That’s our responsibility.”
Grabovski said he believes the Caps have gotten more offensive chances every game but they need to be better in their defensive zone. He said changing linemates doesn’t always provide the best results.
“It means he still believes in the lines and the players,” Grabovski said. “We just need a little bit of luck and we’ll be all right. I think it’s coming.”
Like the Avalanche two nights ago, the Oilers [1-4-0] are one of the youngest and fastest teams in the NHL. But they’ve been outscored 25-17 and sit in last place in the Western Coference.
“Lot of speed, lot of skill, lot of turnovers, probably,” Grabovski said with a smile.
The Oilers have three former No. 1 overall picks on their roster, but tonight one of them, second-year right wing Nail Yakupov, is expected to be a healthy scratch for the second straight game.
The first player taken in the 2012 draft, Yakupov has no points and is a minus-3 in his first four games. He netted 17 goals in 48 games as a rookie last season.
The Caps have allowed the first goal in three of their first five games and have allowed their opponents to score on one of their first four shots in four of their five games.
Tonight, Holtby will look to reverse that trend in pursuit of his first victory of the season after allowing 13 goals in his first four starts.
“You can’t replace that feeling, the confidence players have knowing that if they make a mistake another guy’s got their back,” Oates said. “Just like some guys haven’t scored yet, some pucks haven’t been stopped yet.”
The Caps had some difficulty handling the Avs’ speed on Saturday. A big reason, Laich said, was because they had trouble completing their own passes out of the defensive zone and that resulted in turnovers the other way.
Those turnovers led to goals, which led to frustration, which led to players questioning each other’s work ethic. Oates has seen that domino effect many times in his career and said it can all be reversed with clean, sharp passing.
“You can always tell when the team is going on all cylinders because they talk on the bench,” he said. “We don’t have to say a word. The flipside of that is true, too. When we’re all fighting and making bad plays, now we’re all yelling at each other. The anxiety builds up and you look terrible.”
Oates said he sensed his team’s frustration level reaching a boiling point Saturday night, which is why he told them to go home and relax on Sunday. The Caps’ mood at Monday’s morning skate was remarkably upbeat for a team with four losses in its first five games.
“If anything I wanted to give them a breath of fresh air,” Oates said.