The hope was that the addition of Brenden Dillon would solve a lot of the Capitals' problems on defense, but that did not happen on Thursday in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Observations from the loss
Defense is still a work in progress even with Dillon
Dillon made his Caps debut on Thursday. One aspect in which he was supposed to help the team's defense improve was controlling the net-front. The Canadiens, however, marched right in front of Braden Holtby and refused to budge. Montreal's first two goals were the direct result of traffic in front of the net. Brendan Gallagher provided the screen for a Shea Weber slap shot goal and then scored himself as he again parked himself in front of the Caps net and was able to win the loose puck off a failed deflection, turn and shoot with three Caps staring at him.
Controlling the front of the net has been an issue for Washington, but Thursday was disturbing considering they added a player in part to address this particular weakness and he and John Carlson were on the ice for all three of Montreal's regulation goals.
Yes, It's Dillon's first game for Washington and some time to adjust is expected, but the Caps need to start clicking on defense. Their wiggle room in the standings is now completely gone and this team needs to string some wins together.
Speaking of a work-in-progress, Michal Kempny was bumped by Dillon to the third pair for this game where he played with Radko Gudas. That experiment should be over. That pair looked awful together. They gave up two breakaways in the first six minutes of the game, the second of which earned Gudas a 10-minute benching. One game is a small sample size, but I don't know that we need to see much more from that combo to know that it just doesn't fit.
An inexcusable mistake
In the midst of a two-month slump and after losing control of the division, you can't have the leader of the defense attempt a bank pass to himself in traffic behind his own goal line. That's exactly what Carlson did in the third period as he tried to bank a pass to himself past Tomas Tatar. Tatar got in front of the puck and the resulting turnover led to Ben Chiarot's goal, giving Montreal its first lead 30 seconds into the third period.
Those are the kind of mistakes you just can't make at this point in the season.
The good news
The news wasn't all bad. It was mostly bad, but there were some bright spots. First, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost in regulation on Thursday so Washington pulled into a tie for first place with its point. Pittsburgh has a game in hand though.
Holtby was fantastic again. He looks like he has completely turned his game around and he was the only thing keeping Washington in it early on and through the entire second period. The thrid line also was pretty good.
At this point in the season, however, with the team in a battle for the division, if the two positives you can take from a game was the goalie played well and the third line was pretty good, that's just not enough.
There was one other bright spot....
One goal away
Alex Ovechkin broke his season-long goal drought and now sits just one goal shy of 700. When the game went into overtime, it seemed like the stars were aligning for another special Ovechkin moment (though the life of every beat reporter flashed before their eyes. Getting 700 in overtime would have been...challenging), but it was not meant to be.
Will 700 continue to hang over his head and drag into another drought or will getting 699 open up the flood gates for Ovechkin again?
With the game tied 2-2 at the start of the third period, Carlson tried to bank the puck to himself through Tatar behind his own goal line. It didn't work. Washington was completely out of position defensively as everyone thought Carlson was going to launch the breakout. All five Caps players collapsed deep into the zone and Tatar kicked the puck out to Ben Chiarot who had about a year and a half to aim and shoot. That goal gave Montreal its first lead of the game just 30 seconds into the third. From there, the Caps played catch up only managing to earn a point thanks to a Tom Wilson goal with 20.1 seconds remaining.
Play of the game
Lars Eller is the tiger, but on this play he looked like a Detroit Tiger.
alley-oop? pic.twitter.com/dMMtZgAN9a— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) February 21, 2020
It wasn't just batting the puck out of the air that made this play impressive, however. Eller shrugged off a hit from Nick Suzuki, skated past Jeff Petry and then batted the puck after Brett Kulak tipped it up. Heck of a play.
The goal fulfilled the legal mandate that states Eller must score whenever he plays Montreal.
Stat of the game
The Caps are the best team in the league with the goalie pulled. Their eight goals with the extra attacker are the most in the NHL.
Tom Wilson scores his 18th goal of the season to tie the game. It marks the eighth time the Capitals have scored a goal with their goaltender pulled.— CapitalsPR (@CapitalsPR) February 21, 2020
Quote of the game
Shockingly, Dillon did not step into the lineup and just fix the defense in his debut. Todd Reirden stressed after the game that it's not on Dillon, but on the entire team to improve as a five-man unit.
"He’s not going to solve all of our problems at the front of the net. So, that’s a group effort and whether that’s a low forward in that situation, whether that’s both of our D, whatever it is, we’re going to have to find people that can clear that area out and those will be the people that are playing in those situations. That’s an area we need to improve on, there’s no doubt about that. That’s winning hockey in this league over the long term in the regular season and certainly in the playoffs.”
Brenden Dillon hat trick— Adam Zielonka (@Adam_Zielonka) February 20, 2020
Well, he was on the ice for three of Montreal's goals, but that's probably not what you meant.
We actually have a player that can protect our goalie and clear the crease in Dillon!— Lisa Desabrais (@LisaDesabrais) February 20, 2020
Um...maybe eventually. For this game, however, you could not have been more wrong.
We score the first goal.— C. Michael Ferraro (@cmferraro) February 20, 2020
We actually score first.— Brock McPeters (@brockmcpeters) February 20, 2020
Hey! That's a win, right?
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