On Sunday evening the Capitals bested the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh by a score of 3-2 in regulation. It was an excellent game, the goaltending at both ends was very good. Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin had a multi-point game, a goal (his first in 9 games) and an assist and was a visible presence and team leader all night long. Mathieu Perrault had a goal and got his nose broken in spectacular fashion in just 5 shifts and 3:19 TOI. David Steckel, "the defensive forward", scored a goal, went 11 for 16 in the face off circle and was another force to be reckoned, probably reminding the Hurricanes of their former Captain Rod BrinD'amor during his 25 shifts on the ice. Both Karl Alzner and Scott Hannan looked like the "stopper defenseman" we Caps fans have been looking for in prior games this season - Alzner had four hits tied with John Erskine for the team lead this game in that statistic. The Caps came away with two points and for the first time in over 12 seasons, they have swept the Carolina Hurricanes at home - 3 games, 3 Caps victories. Yesterday's Washington Post, despite a Redskins Win the same day, had the Caps coverage above the fold - on a Monday during football season. All that and yet the follow-up to the game around town and the blogsphere is very muted. Probably because despite all those things, we Caps fans know it is only December and their's no huge reason to get overly excited about any one game or event during the long NHL regular season, as long as your team is on track to make the playoffs and this Washington Capitals Team is that. Or it could be that despite all that we know, the Washington Capitals will close out this month with an under 0.500 record for the month for the first time in 21 months and that means our expectations are basically as close to out of control when it comes to expecting a lot from the team we root for and it's stars as one can get without being ridiculous. In that I think the fan base is no better or worse than this young team is when it comes to what they expect of themselves. More on that thought later.
Tonight, the Montreal Canadeans come to town and the two teams meet for the first time since last spring when the Canadeans beat the Capitals in the playoffs. The Caps come into the game with a 3-4-3 record in their last 10 outings, not having won a game in regulation at home in their last six opportunities, and finding themselves not holding onto the top spot in their Division for a period of over a couple of days for the first time in a long time. The Canadeans come into the game with a4-6-0 record in their last 10 games and coming off a loss immediately after a blizzard in front of a sparsely populated building on Long Island; and having just dropped out of first place in the Northeast Division for the first time in a while this season. In short, both teams are good teams, who find themselves in less than entirely familiar or comfortable situations - in other words, last season aside, both these teams are motivated and should come out firing on all cylinders tonight.
Unfortunately to some degree, for both teams, no matter what happens we fans, and likely the teams themselves, won't be all that happy. In the case of both teams, the expectations are high - and that's okay. Both teams are talented and want to take the next step in their development, and in both cases that is at least a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals this year, so don't be surprised if you see a lot of grit and determination on both sides of the face off circles tonight. That said, in order to make it through an 82 game regular season and the four rounds of playoffs required to attain the ultimate prize in hockey, it's also not wrong or ill advised to find and take at least a little joy in the intermediate goal accomplishments and individual game victories along the way; and it helps to maintain both perspective and sanity for my two cents worth. It's okay to be happy as long as we don't get satisfied. It's okay to be pleased with a good play, check, or game as long as it in no way modulates the "fire in the belly" needed to stay the course and drive to the final - ultimate goal.
Tonight's game is the Capital's chance to finish the month of December with a 5-6-3 record for the month, that would feel a lot better than either a 4-6-4 or 4-7-3 record and it would also mean the Caps are well on their way to regaining the form they had during the months of October and November. In any case, they are now in a three way battle for their division and they are battling an in Conference opponent who is battling for their division lead as well. This is a game that could well matter on a multitude of levels when April rolls around and we all look at the playoff teams and seeding. I'll be there and I''l be psych'ed as always - how about y'all?
LETS GO CAPS!!!