Rookie defenseman Christian Djoos recorded a goal and a primary assist in his NHL debut on Wednesdaynight. But it wasn’t enough for the Capitals as their previously stellar penalty kill surrendered three goals to the Penguins, who skated away with a 3-2 victory at Capital One Arena.
How it happened
Kris Letang and Patric Hornqvist scored power play goals as the Penguins seized a 2-0 midway through the second period.
Djoos’ first career shot—a one-timer—in his first career game gave the Caps hope, cutting the Pittsburgh lead in half with 53 seconds remaining in the middle frame.
The Pens’ potent power play, however, was not done.
Conor Sheary struck on the man advantage just 38 seconds into the third period to give the Pens all they would need.
Alex Ovechkin’s league-leading eighth tally—Djoos set it up with a nifty cross crease pass—pulled the Caps to within 3-2 with 7:09 left to play. But that’s as close as Washington would get, despite a late push.
What it means
Given the history between these rivals, nothing really matters until they meet in the postseason. The loss was, however, Washington’s first in regulation this season.
The Djoos is loose
It was, shall we say, an eventful night for 23-year-old Swede. He was in the box for tripping when Hornqvist scored. But the left shot blue liner atoned for the error by firing a one-timer past Matt Murray (20 saves) from the right side.
“We know he’s a good hockey player,” Trotz said. “He’s got 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 is really good. But it’s a process; it’s one game. We’ll be patient, for sure. But his first game was real good.”
Trotz added: “Whenever he was on the ice, we seemed to have the puck a little bit more.”
Djoos became the second Capitals rookie to score in his debut in just four games, joining Nathan Walker, who tallied against Montreal. Djoos was the third leading scorer among blue liners in the AHL last season, racking up 13 goals and 45 assists in 66 games.
“I thought he was awesome,” veteran Matt Niskanen said. “A lot of confidence. Wasn’t afraid. Moved the puck really good out of his own zone. And scored his first goal in his first game—pretty unbelievable.”
Other than the loss, Djoos felt his debut went well.
“First game in the NHL and you get a goal and an assist? That wasn’t my plan when I showed up at the rink,” he said. “I wanted to play a good, structured game, detailed game.”
The Caps took six minor penalties, marking the third time in four games that they’ve taken at least five. They lost Monday in Tampa because they gave up a power play goal in OT. On Wednesday, Pittsburgh’s first two goals came on the man advantage. Interestingly, the Caps were the most penalized team from Jan. 1 through the end of the regular season last year (180). But they also accumulated more points (71) during that same span.
“Every time we started getting any rhythm we took a penalty,” Trotz said. “The first four games I said to the guys, let’s be real: We got to get our penalties down. …Today they got three power play goals.”
Holtby did what?
In the first period, Holtby made the gutsy decision to bolt out of his crease and challenge the speedy Carl Hagelin, who had turned on the afterburners and in pursuit of a potential breakaway. Holtby and Hagelin got to the puck around the same time and the Caps’ netminder executed a perfectly soccer-style tackle on Hagelin. Holtby, however, was given a minor penalty for “delay of game—illegal play goalie”. In keeping the puck away from Hagelin, he landed on the puck and, after pulling it from underneath his body, then used his catching glove to pass it to a teammate.
The referee told Trotz “if there wasn’t a Penguin around him, I probably wouldn’t have called it,” Trotz told reporters. Asked what he’s thinking when Holtby is racing out of the net, Trotz cracked, “Get to the puck before them. That’s it.”
Welcome to the league, rook
Before Djoos aced his first test on the ice, he came onto the ice alone. The Capitals got the rookie with one of the oldest, but best, and funniest, and easiest, tricks in the book:
still love ya, dude 😂 pic.twitter.com/1tu2ahWzuD— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) October 11, 2017
The Caps are slated to practice Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. On Friday, Tom Wilson, who sat out the fourth game of a four-game suspension against the Penguins, will be eligible to return to the lineup in New Jersey. The Caps come right back Saturday night in Philly.