Last night's game was thoroughly enjoyable. It was a wonderful roller coaster ride full of excitement because this game had it all: solid defensive play, heart-stopping goaltending, good and bad penalties, awesome special teams work, and above all else, goals, goals goals. By more than just the top two lines, in fact the Bruce ended up rolling all four lines towards the end of the game. And I loved every single minute of it....so you know what's coming up next......
That's right, it's time for a reality check, folks. Yes, I'm excited that the Caps have won their first seven out of the gate. Of course it's kick-ass that they beat, no make that trounced, the Detroit Red Wings, long regarded as a Western Conference contender---and looked damn great doing it. The power play clicked, they killed off a 5-on-3, and when they needed it most, Evil Kounevil came up huge.
But this is still only October my fellow Caps fans.
Trust me, I want to go crazy right along with everybody else and proclaim the Caps' supremacy over the hockey world as we know it. But we all know it's not the truth. Not with the playoffs still so far away. Listen, I'm not trying to be a downer here. But it is good to throw cold water on something before it gets overheated. A 7-game win streak to start the season is a beautiful thing to be sure. A 7-game win streak in late April, May and/or June would be even sweeter.
Shouldn't make a difference you say? Every game is the same, you say? Not hardly. Only the newest of followers would dare think that and if that's the case you would be forgiven. (Yikes, I forgot this was Sunday!) I don't think it would be wise to start believing that this team can just steamroll into April and do what it did last night.
Here's some reasons why: First and foremost, it's a long grind just to even get to the Road to the Cup. We're still in the third week of the season for crying out loud! Little things like slumps, injuries, trades, and a whole lot of other good and bad things can and will happen over the course of an 82-game season. I know I'm probably preaching to the choir (there I go again, must be my Baptist upbringing), but it's all too easy to get over excited when in reality, nothing has been won yet.
Another reason is that there is still much tinkering to do. Last year the Caps finished second in penalty killing. So far this year, they are something below the middle of the pack. A decent PK should click at about 83 to 85% of the time and the Caps are off that pace, but not by too much. They have their masterful moments, and then their not-so-great moments. Steady goalies like Vokoun and Neuvirth will help a lot. But the key to any successful penalty kill is speed. (You heard it here first, SPEED KILLS...penalties) Speed and skill to match to be precise. Marcus Johansson leaps to mind as one such player, Brooks Laich is another. And with our endless cadre of D-men who can handle such duties, there's no reason why this penalty kill unit shouldn't be at least humming along at 84% or better, but 90% is the ultimate goal come playoff time. Work on it, boys.
So while you can easily say that this team is good...okay very good, there is still room for improvement--and a whole season's worth of time to get better. That is something we can all get excited about.
But lest we forget, some kind words for the worthy opponents.....
Detroit's Ian White was one of only two Red Wings (the other being Darren Helm) to finish at Even for the game. Not bad for being on the wrong side of a 7-1 loss. And with a 21:51 TOI total to boot. I've said it before, this guy is good. Under the guidance of the legendary Nick Lidstrom his learning will be complete. White will be a good Padawan learner, so hopefully Justin Abdelkader won't turn into Vader.
And speaking of the the Sublime Swede, much was made of his 1,500th game last night. Not many have reached that milestone so the fuss was warranted. More so in Lidstrom's case because the guy is a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame. Once again, we Caps fans showed our class by saluting a legend properly. Awesome sauce, Caps fans...who says we don't know hockey?
I'll close with a non-hockey note--did you see the broadcast crew, the coaching staff, and the players rocking the lilac last night? Of course it was all for Hockey Fights Cancer, always a worthwhile cause. Anthony Holley, a 12 year old cancer survivor and Caps fan dropped the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. It was great to see him be able to take in the whole experience on the ice surface. It's what the game's all about.