Through three games, all the Capitals were getting out of their third defensive pair was penalties and goals for the opposition. On Wednesday, they got a lot more with the insertion of Christian Djoos.
After an open competition in training camp, head coach Barry Trotz elected to start the season with a third pair composed of Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney. The results were not encouraging forcing Trotz to make one tweak to the lineup for Wednesday's game. He inserted rookie Christian Djoos. In his NHL debut, Djoos would go on to score the Capitals' first goal and assist on the second. His play certainly seemed to catch the notice of his teammates.
"Obviously, it's his first game and it's fun to see him out there," Nicklas Backstrom said. "He's so skilled with the puck. He's got a high hockey IQ so it was nice to see him."
"It's obviously a tough team to step into for your first game," Brooks Orpik said. "I think you can just watch his composure with the puck. he's really calm with the puck, he doesn't panic."
Trotz was also effusive in his praise even as he tried to tamp down the expectations.
"We know that he's a good hockey player," Trotz said. "He's going to have to continue to get stronger and continue to play at this level. YOu can see the instincts are really good, he's got a real good sense for the game. His IQ's really good. But it's a process. It's one game and we'll be patient for sure. But his first game was real good."
Trotz's confidence in the rookie was evident in the third period. Heading into the final frame, Djoos had played only 6:59. That total almost doubled in the third with eight shifts for another 6:20, bringing his total up to 13:20. Ness, by comparison, played 94 seconds in the second period and finished with only 8:21 of ice time.
When asked about Djoos' playing time, Trotz said, "We were chasing a little bit. When they're trying to get matchups I think the first game [Todd Reirden] was probably avoiding maybe a Sidney Crosby, [Evgeni Malkin] matchup for him his first game. As the game went on and we started chasing it, you've got to sort of say what the heck? We've got to get some goals here and that's what he does. He can jump in the plays."
As impressive as he was offensively, Djoos still needs work defensively. One game does not erase the fact that he is undersized at 6-foot, 169 pounds, nor does it suddenly turn him into a shutdown defenseman. Let's not forget, all of his highlights on Wednesday came while he was on the ice on the attack, not from back in his own zone.
But this game was still a step in the right direction for the Caps.
Said Trotz, "All I know is that when [Djoos] was on the ice we seemed to have the puck a little bit more."
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