The Capitals just managed to squeak by the winless Arizona Coyotes 2-0 on Friday thanks to a third period power play goal from John Carlson and an empty-netter from Alex Ovechkin. Against a struggling team and a goalie who has yet to record an NHL win, Washington was unable to pull away. What looked like a laugher on paper turned into a very narrow win as the Caps improved to 5-0-3 on the season.
Here are some observations from the game.
Karel Vejmelka was the starting goalie for Arizona. This is his first season in North America and it has been a struggle. Coming into Friday's game, he had a 0-3-1 record with a 3.15 GAA and .899 save percentage. He was impressive against Washington with 30 saves, but the Caps did themselves no favors by not getting in his face or generating traffic in front of the net. Vejmelka had clear sightlines for the majority of the shots he faced.
Vejmelka was impressive to be sure and he made a number of huge saves. He was particularly strong with the glove, but the Caps made his night far easier than it should have been with no consistent net-front presence.
Let's talk about the power play
It's not good right now. Yes, the lone, non-empty net, goal of the game came on the power play, but they went just 1-for-6 on the night against the worst penalty kill in the NHL.
The Caps snapped a five-game drought in which they went 0-for-15 on the man advantage on Wednesday. On Friday against the worst penalty kill in the NHL, one killing off just 44.4% of the power plays it faced, Washington could not score on five power play opportunities.
A positive was that Ovechkin looked like he had more space on the power play than at any other point this season, but that may be more a product of the opponent.
The biggest problem for the power play this season has been break-ins. For the most part, they were able to get it into the offensive zone with relative ease against Arizona. The issue this game was the same at 5-on-5 in that they were not able to get any traffic in front of the net. It's no coincidence that the one goal that did get through was a Carlson shot that caught a deflection through traffic.
Most goalies will tell you it is better to be busy than not. Games can be hard when a goalie is facing few shots. You have to give credit to Samsonov for being able to get right into the action over the few flurries of shots he faced from Arizona.
The Coyotes were officially credited with their first shot on goal 4:30 into the first period. Their next shot did not come until 12:23 later. At the end of the first, Washington was outshooting Arizona 14-4. The final shot tally was 16 and Samsonov was able to turn them all aside to record the fourth shutout of his career.
Samsonov's biggest save came in the second period. The Caps held an 18-6 lead in shots about eight minutes into the period and Samsonov flashed a confident glove on Lawson Crouse to keep the score at 0-0.
With both T.J. Oshie and Nic Dowd out, the Caps had four rookies in the lineup -- Brett Leason, Hendrix Lapierre, Connor McMichael and Martin Fehervary -- for the first time since April 7, 2019. Leason was recalled on Friday and made his NHL debut, logging 8:40 of ice time and 1 shot on goal.
Ovechkin's empty-net goal was No. 739 for his career, pulling him to within two of Brett Hull for fourth all-time. It was his ninth goal of the season which leads the league.