The Washington Capitals had a disappointing start to their 2023-24 season, suffering a 4-0 loss at home against their rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. This defeat came after the Penguins’ own loss to the Chicago Blackhawks just three nights before. The Capitals had a solid first period, but then allowed three goals in under eight minutes during the second period and conceded another goal late in the third.
This game not only marked the beginning of the season but also the start of a new era for the Capitals, with Spencer Carbery taking on the role of head coach. Carbery and the team were clearly disappointed with the outcome of the game and discussed their performance postgame.
“It’s probably the worst start we could have scripted,” said Carbery, visibly deflated. “We were hoping to generate some momentum on home ice, but that didn’t happen.
“While there were some positive aspects such as O-zone possession time, shot attempts, and controlled entries, when we assess the overall performance, it was extremely disappointing.”
Nicklas Backstrom, who played most of the game on the Caps’ first line alongside Alex Ovechkin and TJ Oshie, did not hold back in his evaluation of the team’s performance.
“I think the first period was okay, but we made mistakes that cost us throughout the game,” he said. “We had poor execution and puck management. Against a good team like the Penguins, you can’t afford to give them those opportunities.”
Backstrom believed that the loss reflected a larger pattern of the team’s play as they try to recover from missing the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
“I think we need to be smarter with the puck and improve our execution,” he explained. “It’s tough to see when we’re not able to execute our game plan.”
Defenseman John Carlson also criticized the team’s execution and their failure to capitalize on scoring opportunities.
“There were moments where we had the Penguins on the ropes, but we didn’t take advantage of those situations,” he noted. “If we don’t seize those moments and put them under pressure, one small mistake or good play from them can turn the game around and we end up wasting a perfect opportunity.”
Regarding scoring chances, Carlson added, “In the first two periods, we had plenty of chances to score. But when we didn’t capitalize and they made big saves, they gained momentum. We need to be better in those situations.”
While the scoreboard didn’t reflect it, the Capitals seemed confident during the first period before their performance declined. They had 72 percent of the game’s scoring chances in the first twenty minutes, but that percentage reduced to 42% in the second period and a disappointing 30% in the third.
“When you quickly find yourself down 3-0 in a matter of minutes, it’s tough to come back,” stated Charlie Lindgren. “We were going back and forth with the Penguins in the first period, but they took control in the second.”
Ovechkin took responsibility for the first goal against, acknowledging his mistake in failing to clear the puck from the defensive zone. Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins’ center, scored his first goal of the season less than five minutes into the second period, putting the Capitals in a tough position for the rest of the game.
“First of all, it was my fault for that goal,” said Ovechkin. “The puck came off my stick, went to the blue line, and they took advantage of it. We played well in the first period, but then they scored and we didn’t. That was the turning point of the game.”
The Capitals’ weaknesses were particularly evident in special teams play. Two of the Penguins’ goals came on power plays, while the Capitals failed to score on three power play opportunities and only managed a single shot.
“Our special teams didn’t perform well tonight,” Carbery admitted. “The Penguins executed their plays effectively, and our power play entries, especially on the left side, were problematic. Our penalty kill also put us at a disadvantage.”
Just before the game started, there were some changes to the lineup due to Darcy Kuemper’s absence following the birth of his first child. Backstrom praised Lindgren, who unexpectedly started in goal that night.
“He did great,” Backstrom said. “He made some excellent saves. We all knew he was capable of performing at this level. He remains calm and collected in the net.”
Despite the disappointing score, Lindgren remained positive about the opportunity to play that night. He appreciated Kuemper’s support and highlighted the significance of participating in such a storied rivalry.
“I received great support from my goalie partner, who informed me yesterday evening that I would likely be starting tonight,” Lindgren shared. “I give credit to him because he’s got his first baby on the way and he was still thinking about me. I’m genuinely happy for the Kuempers, and it’s wonderful to see them starting their family.
“When I found out I was playing, I was excited. I grew up watching this rivalry between Pittsburgh and Washington. I remember visiting NHL.com and seeing Alexander the Great versus Sid the Kid. Being a part of that game and participating in the home opener was a special experience. The fans were fantastic from the beginning, and they really supported us. I truly appreciate that.”
Now, the Capitals will focus on moving past their mistakes from the first game. After a day off, they will prepare to face the Calgary Flames at 7pm on Monday.
“We didn’t achieve the desired result,” Ovechkin admitted. “But we are going to analyze the video and come back stronger in the next game.”
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
Sarah Anderson dives into the fast-paced world of NHL hockey. Her coverage includes game analysis, player spotlights, and the latest news from the ice. Sarah’s dedication to the sport ensures that hockey enthusiasts stay informed about the NHL’s thrilling action.