Monday, March 14, 2011

After a 4-3 OT Home Win It's Off to Montreal for the Capitals ...

Well the Capitals rose to the occasion yesterday and notched a two point overtime win over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. In doing so they stayed on track as the hottest team in the NHL and they remained a perfect 7-0-0 for the month of March. Now they will be heading on to the road for the next six (6) games. First stop Montreal to take on the Canadiens at Le Centre Bell. But before we figuratively shuffle off to ... Montreal, Sunday's win against the Blackhawks deserves one last look and discussion.

Well since the Caps won and we can finish up with the good, let's start with the, well, not so good. The biggest "not so good" item I have and really the only one of note is that the Caps started the game a little too slowly and also a little too "discombobulated". They once again allowed an opposing team to come "into their building" and start a game with a lead. The Blackhawks got on the scoreboard first with a nice counter-punch to a Capitals rush down the ice that missed coverage/slow back-checking by what I've come to call a "frankenstein line" of forwards 21-26-16 gave too much time time and space to, resulted in the Blackhawks scoring on a shot that a) they should have never been given and b0 Braden Holtby probably wants back. In any case, the result was that after 4:46 of the first period, the Capitals trailed the Blackhawks 1-0. The first period was the Capitals worse but as the period progressed they seemed to come alive and get things going, even though as I watched the game I noticed that during the first period Dennis Wideman wasn't totally in synch with his partners or game and didn't really get so until the second period. He was not alone in this even though a couple of guys stepped up and made sure that by the end of the first period the Caps had "righted the ship" and had a 2-1 lead. Also throughout the game, the Capitals just took too many penalties compared to the Blackhawks. The Caps gave the Blackhawks 4 power-plays while they only had two of their own. The good news there was the Caps penalty kill unit was once again excellent allowing the Blackhawks only one power play goal while also scoring one shorthanded goal themselves.

The good news for the Caps and Capitals fans: well first off there was a lot to like about this game and I won't cover it all here. My favorite items to mention were/are:
a) the Capitals power play was 1 for 2 yesterday and their puck movement in the offensive zone was excellent.
b) Boyd Gordon, Eric Fehr, Matt Bradley and Matt Hendricks' play was excellent and that meant that Chicago couldn't just focus on the top two lines, by the end of regulation this meant Chicago was more worn-out than they would otherwise have been.
c) 21-44-28 is an awesome second line and that looks like something that will continue to be huge the rest of the way until the Capitals are forced to hang up their skates at the end of the post-season.
d) Marcus Johansson continues to mature rapidly and generally play excellently. What do I mean, take this game. It was MoJo90 who took a penalty at the 18:10 mark putting Chicago on the power play and enabling them to overload the Caps 6 on 4 and score the tying goal to send the game into overtime. Then it was MoJo90, who shook that off and came back at ~3:30 into overtime and did excellent work with John Carlson and then Dennis Wideman and Scott Hannan to put the puck on Mike Knuble's stick on the doorstep for the game winner. That's maturity and that's "redemption."
e) Finally, what's to like - ninety (90) points in 70 games played - on pace for a 105 point season. The Capitals now sit in second place in the Eastern Conference with 90 points while the Flyers are in first with 91 points - of course the Flyers have two games in hand and appear to be back to playing 0.500+ hockey, so while the Caps are in the race for the Conference, we still have a way to go to attaining that mantle, but it is nice that we have a viable chance to do so.

Final comment on the Chicago game - yesterday, the two hottest teams in the NHL met on national TV. The Capitals were 9-1-0 in their last 10 games before yesterday and the Blackhawks were 8-1-1in their last 10 games coming into the match-up. At the end of the game, the Capitals were still the hottest team in the NHL with a 9-1-0 record in their last ten games while the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks were 7-1-2. I'm happy and if you're a Capitals fan, I think you should be too.

Now about tomorrow night's game in Montreal. Montreal is a hot team playing well right now, they are 7-3-0 in their last ten games. They've played their last two game son the road, loosing to Saint Louis on Thursday 3/10 4-1 in regulation and beating Pittsburgh 3-0 on Saturday. They will be coming into the game well rested and it will be very important for the Capitals to come out ready to play and skating hard and fast. Another thing EVERYONE on the Capitals team - both coaches and players - need to to is forget about the so-called winning streak. In fact forget about any sort of streaks including "hot goaltenders" etc. too. Just set up a game plan that all can believe will win and go execute. Oh and don't get too cute.


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