Well last evening's time watching the Capitals was much more what I was hoping for than the twitter feed vigil I spent on Thursday evening while out of town on business. Lots of what I was hoping the Caps would be and do under the Barry Trotz coaching regime was in evidence. The end result was better than I was hoping for as well and that was because Braden Holtby was spectacular last evening else this would have been a different game, one that would have seen the second period start with the Caps up 2-1 at best. But there is no reason to even go there as Holtby blanked the Bruins even if it did require not one but two highlight reel saves to do it. So lets get to the things I saw that I really liked.
1) A balanced defense 5 on 5. As Peerless said over at Japer's Rink and I can say no better:
"Even-strength ice time was parceled out relatively evenly among the top five defensemen, ranging from 15:30 (Green) to 17:19 (Brooks Orpik). Spreading ice time among the three pairs like that (Nate Schmidt was sixth in this group with 13:55) was not something the Caps could do to good effect last season."
In earlier posts this season I highlighted how great a thing this would be - having three pairs of defensemen that the Caps could put on the ice any time in a game without worrying much about matchups to either their own lines or the opponents on the ice with them. Last night I saw that for the first time in a regular season game. Unfortunately what we saw doesn't bode well Jack Hillen or John Erskine as far as for either seeing much ice time this season. What we saw that worked was a FAST and PHYSICAL body of work by all three pairs of Capital Defensemen. My view is what we've seen in the last two seasons from Erskine likely isn't fast enough and so far Hillen hasn't been either physical or durable enough to stay in a lineup that plays this game. However we are seeing that Brooks Orpik is still fast enough to play this game and what he's brought to the Capitals Penalty Kill unit is, IMO, at least enough a part of its success so far this season to be worthy of mention. Matt Niskanen's play is sublime and clearly the addition of both 2 and 44 are providing the relief that 27, 52, and 74 needed to enable them to play the game better than ever. And while were on that point, the return of Mike Green to the lineup added significant Octane to the second power play unit but more on that later.
2) Rolling 4 lines. Look at the TOI numbers on the Event Summary and what do you see. Forwards even strength ice time ranges from a high of 15:13 (The Gr8: Alex Ovechkin) to a low of 06:12 (23 YO Michael Latta in his first game back from IR). Take Latta and Liam O'Brian out of the mix and only two other forwards had less than 10:00 of even strength ice time: NHL Rookies Andre Burakovsky (08:44) and Evgeni Kuznetsov (9:25) but both also had 1:44 of power play time and points on the scorecard. Burakovsky had two assists on the night and Kuznetsov had one assist on the night. These number are much different than game one's TOI distribution both up front with the forwards and back on the blue line. In my view this bodes very well for the Capitals through the season, 82 games is a long haul and this kind of more even TOI distribution should help everyone on the team have a better, longer, healthier season. That's more important than ever given the tempo of play this system demands through the entire 60 minutes of play.
3) Two for Four on the Power Play; four for four on the Penalty Kill. Last season the Caps had a great power play but "not so much" on the penalty kill. I was worried about the power play after the last 2 preseason games and the first game of the season. Last night BOTH power play units scored. So Barry Trotz, I think I see what you did there. The second power play unit - moving Mike Green to basically the same spot Ovi plays on the first unit clearly works. Green's "half wrister" isn't ass spectacular as Ovi's one timer but it was clearly effective last evening and a shooting Mike Green is a dangerous Mike Green. With Burakovsky and Kuznetsov on that unit as well, Green isn't the only scoring threat on that unit - not even close to the only one. As I see it now (hopefully clearly and not through rose tinted shades) Last evening I saw two Power Play units take the ice for the Capitals and on those two units any one of ten (10) skaters could find the back of the net. Given that and the improvements we've been seeing regularly over last season by the penalty kill units, the Capitals' special teams should finish the season with a pretty solid positive goal differential. That's something that despite having a lethal power play last season was sadly lacking.
4) Physicality - the Caps had 23 hits (led by Troy Bouwer, Michael Latta, and Alex Ovechkin with 3 a piece), 14 Blocked Shots, and 7 Takeaways. They did that against a team known for it's physical play and all three of those things. They clearly were not outmuscled by the Bruins and that's a real start at getting to be the gritty tough team nobody likes to play against that Barry Trotz wants them to be - nice to see things like Ovechkin playing fast, smart and physical; Brouwer being the leader in all facets, we need him to be on the second line and Latta being well Latta - I really have loved his game since that Flyers game last season where he was such a sparkplug. Smart play NOT taking the bait from Robinson and getting the instigator minor but still going to bat for your teammate, Michael. Also it was nice to see Mike Green and Matt Niskanen giving it to, vice taking it from Milan Lucic.
There's still plenty to worry and work on for sure.
A) The Caps really haven't controlled the puck as much as anyone would like. Faceoffs ... a "focus area" for Trotz and staff - last night the Caps were only 36% in the faceoff circle. They need to watch lots of film of how Boston consistently win so many faceoffs, and keep working on this aspect of the game.
B) In shooting attempts (SOG, B/S and MS) the Caps were out attempted by the Bruins 58 - 38, as solid and as hard on the puck as the Caps were last evening, they need to be even more solid and harder.
C) While the Caps scored 4 on Tukka Rask, a seldom achieved number, and are definitely shooting from closer in and higher percentage areas, they still could and need to generate more traffic in front of the net 5 on 5. That should come as they also increase and improve their puck possession and attendant offensive zone time but it is still something that needs to be considered by the forwards along with the changes in their approach to a more intense and sustained forecheck.
All in all though the Caps are 1-0-1 after facing two tough opponents and this is a much better start than last season, IMO. Also three points in October are also three points in April as we all learned the hard way last season. Next up an opponent the Caps haven't had much luck with the past 20 seasons - San Jose at Verizon Center on Tuesday evening. Be there or be square...