Well after five games at the start of the season, the Capitals are 3-0-2. My initial reaction remains, anytime during the regular season you can end the night with at least one point, that's a good thing.
As has been said elsewhere, last evening's win was a bit of an ugly win. As with the Canadiens game, while the Capitals were dominant throughout the first period, and in last night's case also pretty much all of the second, they were unable to get that second goal. Brooks Laich almost got it for them in what for my money was his best game of the young season, but he redirected it under the crossbar behind Al Montoya with a stick that when you see the replay was clearly above the top of the net.
While Montoya did give up some rebounds, he and the Panthers were able to recover and keep the puck out of the Panthers net. This gave the Panthers a chance to revert to the dreaded trap, play "not to lose" in the third period, and hope the Caps made a mistake to let them back in the game to steal a point or even better yet two for the night. That seemed like it might happen when they got a power play goal from Brad Boyes early in the third period. Fortunately this team, this coaching staff, this system, and the confidence they have in both each other's abilities and the system's inherent strengths make that a lot less likely this team will snatch defeat from the jaws of victory than it has been for a couple of seasons. Other than one pretty weak call on a retaliation that was pretty weak, and as they all are - foolish, by Jason Chimera, the Caps did little wrong to make sure they didn't beat themselves. Also Chimera redeemed himself, knowing his new coach wasn't going to be pleased with the penalty he took, came out of the box skating fast and smart and drew a penalty of his own that gave the Caps their only full 2:00 powerplay of the game. Unfortunately the Caps did not convert that opportunity to a 2-1 lead but at least it seemed to get them back on track and playing smart for the last ~5:00 of the third period.
I'll only make this comment about the officiating last night - I thought the officiating was pretty bad, and the game was not consistently called through the full 60:00 or did the rules seem to be the same for both teams - 'nuff said on that point. The good news is this Capitals team doesn't seem to care about or get distracted by things like that much at all.
Some comments on individual performances last night:
Justin Peters - AWESOME game;
Al Montoya (Panthers) - Very good game;
Alexander Ovechkin - Good game - also nice to see him out there occasionally on the penalty kill and one of those PK shifts was probably his best of the evening;
Evgeny Kuznetsov - Very good game, nice to see you getting more ice time, though not really happy about the reason since....
Brooks Laich - Best game of this young season for Laich so fair, hope the injury is minor, he recovers soon, and keeps up the confidence to go to the harder areas on the ice like he did last evening - the Caps need him to do that (play more like he did last night and less like he did the first four games of the season, a manner I'd characterize as "tentatively.")
Andre Burakovsky - Good game, he keeps getting better every game and over the next two years he'll only grow and get stronger which is really something to look forward to.
Jason Chimera - good game, netting his first goal of the season and looking better and better as a line with 16 and 42. Fehr's setup of Chimmer for the goal was masterful and gave Chimmer pretty much all day to convert his primary assist. Ward was solid the entire game and in addition to good five on five play with 16 and 25, had a couple of pretty neat shifts on the PK.
The entire Capitals group of Blue Liners had a good game - at both ends of the ice. I can and would only say good things about all six of them. I am really, really loving the fact the team now has the ability to put any one of three defense pairing out on the ice with confidence they can and will deliver.
Marcus Johansson - another really good game he and Burakovsky are really "gelling" well as a line pair regardless of who the third that is paired with them. Marcus is skating more confidently, shooting more and playing harder on the puck than he has ever before (IMO.) That combined with his natural speed, playmaking ability, and creativity - along with being in a role where he is counted on to bring that to a forward line without Backstrom or Ovechkin, seemingly has been a good stimuli to push the young Swede's game up half a level or so.
Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Fleischmann - if the Panthers are to finish this season with more than 78 points, these two guys need to be more visible and more noticeable on the ice and one the post game "event summary." On a whole, despite shuffling their lineup and adding some solid veterans like Shawn Thorton, Brad Boyes, and Willie Mitchell, the truth is this game shouldn't have even been close. Through the first 30:00+ minutes of regulations, there were lots of times the Capitals looked like they were the only NHL level team on the ice, dominating play for literally multiple consecutive shifts. That failure to get the "second goal" in a game like this (or against the Canadiens) is still something the Capitals need to work on. However, two ugly points in October is still two points in April so I'm glad the Caps were able to gut it out and win the gimmick round, also even though I hate the "sudden victory shootout" I will comment that Ovechkin's shootout goal was "sick" though not unbelievable.
Next up a swing through Western Canada and games in Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver starting Wednesday against the Oilers.