It was awesome to have live NHL hockey back in the District again last night. It was a pretty crazy game, especially the third period. First we had "the new guys" - 3 of the 4 trade deadline pickups Joe Corvo (#77), Scott Walker (#24) and Eric Belanger (#18) dresses and played last night as did call-up John Carlson (#74). Milan Jurcina is apparently sidelined for the next 3-4 weeks with a sports hernia, but we know how he'll fit into things and he knows the corresponding points and the system as well, so that shouldn't be a big deal, especially since we picked him back up for what looks like a 6th round pick. All of the new guys looked good, though like Lisa Hillary said to Scott Walker in teeing up her post game interview with him, Walker who was picked up for a seventh round pick made General Manager George McPhee look like a genius. Walker, a 36 year old right wing from Cambridge, Ontario had 2 goals and was +2 in just 10 shifts and 7:33TOI last evening. If that's not bringing some impact to the fourth line, I don't know what is. Up until he scored his first of the night, a backhand that dribbled through Lightning goalie Mike Smith's 5-hole into the net, the kind of gritty play and energy I think everyone hoped he would bring to the team, I was thinking that the guy who looked like he was going to have the easiest transition into a Caps uniform was defenseman Joe Corvo. However, the results at least say of the pickups the one who made the most impact with the least amount of TOI last night was Walker. Speaking of Joe Corvo he was paired most often last evening with Tom Poti and he looked god as did they both look good together. Corvo clearly worked very hard to take time and space from Lecavilier, St Louis and Stamkos when they were on the ice with him and he also was great at mixing it up with Ryan Malone at those times. He played 20:19 in 23 shifts and had 1 SOG, 3 A/B, 1 miss, 1 Hit and blocked 3 shots. It was a solid night and the only time he looked awkward was a power play shift in the first when it was clear the entire unit on the ice hadn't practiced much, if at all together. Things seemed to settle down on the power play after that clearly failed experiment, don't get me wrong the "new guys" bring some interesting new elements to the Caps but it's clear, harvesting that potential for the special teams (power ply or penalty kill) will take a lot more time than the 24 - 35 hours these guys have been wearing Capitals Sweaters.
In my view it's unclear whether either Eric Belanger or Joe Corvo will be the trade deadline pickup to make the most impact. However last evening it was clear it will likely take Belanger a little longer than Corvo to get used to his new teammates and linemates. For most of Belanger's 18 shifts and 14:50 TOI he was paired with Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann on his wings and while it looks like that will gel into a very solid, potent line, there were a few times last night where it was clear they were having to look around to find each other rather than knowing where the other two guys would be.
In an adjacent note, John Carlson was called up from Hershey and he had an excellent game. He finished the game with these numbers: TOI - 14:46, Shifts - 15, +1; 1 shot on goal and 4 blocked shots. He also sprang "Flash" with a really nice stretch pass on a breakaway that unfortunately Mike Smith was able to stop. It was a really good game for him, because for the entire game he played with a lot more maturity then a 20 year old rookie.
With all the attention I'm paying to the new guys, I can't forget to mention that off season pickup and first line Right Wing Mike Knuble had a super game - 2 goals, +1 in 15:43 and 21 shifts on ice. Mike Green was +2 and had 2 assists on the night. Jeff Schultz was +2 on the night as well.
Overall it was clear last night the Caps now have a team loaded with great skaters and they intend to use their skill in this area to create time and space for their offensive game plan as well as to tie up other teams defensively. Through the first two periods the Caps led the game 3 - 2 on the scoreboard and on the ice it seemed like an even bigger lead. However Tampa Bay is a team with some very talented driven players - both veterans and youngsters, namely: Marty St. Louis, Vincent Lacavilier, Steve Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Ryan Malone. They weren't going to make it easy for the Caps and they always seemed to find the energy and a "hole" in Semyon Varlamov's pads somewhere last night so they could stay within one goal. They even tied it up 4 - 4 on a goal by Stamkos, his 38th of the season, at 12:28 of the third period. Luckily that goal seemed to be the one that really woke up the Capitals fully and just 00:41 later at the 13:09 mark when Scott Walker scored his second goal of the game, the ultimate game winner, his 5th goal of the season and his second while wearing a Caps sweater. After that Tampa Bay tried to respond and surge a couple of times but the Caps generally never let them get too fired up or skate freely enough to score. So the game ended up being another two point night for the Capitals, their third and fourth in just two games since the NHL season resumed. Next up the New York Rangers at Verizon Center, tomorrow evening - more on that another time. In the mean time - - -
LETS GO CAPS!!!