The Washington Capitals started the 2023-2024 NHL season on Friday, painting themselves as none other than the “Washington Flop-itals” that fans in red know all too well. With a shutout loss (4-0) against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena, the Capitals left their fanbase wondering, “What just happened?!” Washington had been flaunting new head coach Spencer Carbery as a surefire path to a playoff return and someone to help the up-and-coming superstars shine. Unfortunately, the only shining stars in game 1 of the season came from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Home Opener Recap
The first period of Friday’s game saw no offensive action, so Capitals fans could breathe easy knowing that, though disappointing, the game was tied. The second period, however, quickly changed pace, with veteran Evgeni Malkin scoring just 4:07 into the period. Unfortunately, a pair of penalties created a deeper deficit for the Capitals as the period rolled on. Trevor van Riemsdyk’s 2-minute minor (hooking) led to a power play goal by Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. After a handful of shots on goal by the Capitals, Martin Fehervary clocked a 2-minute minor (roughing), handing Crosby another offensive opportunity and a power-play goal. Both goals were assisted by Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin. As the period came to a close, Capitals fans began losing hope, and for good reason. Reilly Smith topped off the Penguins’ win with an even-strength goal at 16:57.
So… What Happened?!
That’s the operative question in the minds of Washington’s fans. With just 19 shots on goal to Pittsburgh’s 35, the Capitals’ offense was nearly nonexistent. A handful of the Capitals’ shots on goal were poorly set up, and the notorious bad blood between the rival teams led to short tempers and too many penalties. A strong Penguins power play unit was the key to Sidney Crosby’s two goals, and while each team received five penalties, the Penguins took advantage of their power play opportunities and were highly successful on the penalty kill. Charlie Lindgren is, arguably, a weaker goalie than Darcy Kuemper, so it was unfortunate that he had to be started during the home opener while Kuemper was out for the birth of his child. Overall, the Capitals looked like the same old Capitals in their home opener and not the primed and powerful team fans expected. With game 2 set for Monday, the Capitals had a long weekend of hard work ahead of themselves.
Capitals vs. Flames Recap
The Capitals hosted the Calgary Flames at home on Monday, and Washington’s fans were a mix of nervous and hopeful. Could the Capitals redeem themselves from their disappointing first game? The outlook was bleak as Adam Ruzicka opened up scoring at 4:47 into the first period. The period rolled on uneventfully, with Washington, fortunately, killing a few penalties. Unfortunately, however, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s 2-minute minor (holding) led to a power play goal by Dillon Dube, furthering the Flames’ lead to 2-0. Washington fans went into the first intermission with their head in their hands, wondering if this is how it always ends for the Capitals. The fanbase was quickly brought back to life as the 2nd period got underway, and newcomer Matthew Phillips scored an even-strength goal (and his first NHL goal) to cut into Calgary’s lead. Young talent Connor McMichael rounded out the second-period scoring with a goal assisted by Matthew Phillips and John Carlson. With a 2-2 tie heading into the third period, the Capitals had work to do, but fans could finally breathe– there would be no shutout. The third period saw no offensive action, nor did the first overtime– leading to a shootout between the teams. Evgeny Kuznetsov’s silky smooth and super slow shootout strategy sealed the deal for Washington, adding a 3-2 win to their season stats.
It was not a pretty win for Washington, but a win is a win. With new Capitals talent being the playmakers in Monday’s game, there is a glimmer of hope that things will change and the Capitals will be headed back to the playoffs again this season. The new season jitters are (hopefully!) out of the teams’ systems, so shake it off, too, Capitals fans. Washington visits Ottawa on Wednesday, October 18th.