Four in a row. But what price victory?
The Caps came away with another signature Dale Hunter win--making the most of opportunities, keeping your end clean (for the most part, anyway), timely saves, and quality special teams work. It was a good overall effort that led to a 3-1 win.
And the lineup even had a bit more color in it with the return of Mike Green. More on this later. But the game's results might prove a bit more costly than we'd like. The Caps were already somewhat banged up with Alex Semin listed as day-to-day with an upper body injury. This forced them to ice seven defensemen including the returning Green. After last night, though another forward, Nicklas Backstrom would fall to the injury bug although certainly not by his own doing.
Let's go ahead and get the bad stuff out of the way. Backstrom was taken out of the game in the middle of the third period for precautionary reasons. This of course as a result of a flagrant elbow to the head delivered by Flames winger Rene Bourque. What that means is, they don't want to take any unnecessary risks if the worst (i.e.--the "C" word) should happen. He is to be evaluated and there is no word yet if he will make the upcoming western road trip.
I will say this about the hit--it was a blatant elbow to the head. No getting around that. Therefore it's a clear violation of Rule 48, is it not? Regardless of the outcome of that debate, it was a clear intent to injure. And I don't buy the whole "What, me hit him?" act he tried to pull after the game. If you look at the hit, he even tries to create some plausible deniability by looking away from Backstrom, yet his elbow is clearly at chin-height. This one should be a no-brainer for the disciplinary office--it's not as though Bourque doesn't have a history.
What truly hurts is that Backstrom has been the gasoline to Washington's offensive engine. He leads the team in both points and assists, collecting three last night.
On to better news--once again the Captain started things off with a bang; a power play goal. He was set up by a perfect feed from Marcus Johansson. This one was another Ovechkin classic--a sweet one timer from his natural wing. This gives him power play goals in three straight games. How do you say "welcome back" in Russian?
In the second period, on their very next power play chance, they converted again with Troy Brouwer doing the dirty work in front of the net. One wonders whether or not that's where Mike Knuble's minutes have gone. Well there was no need to wonder last night as Knuble got 24 shifts totaling 18 and a half minutes of ice time. No doubt that will be ramped up due to the injuries to Backstrom and Semin.
Speaking of Knuble he ended up finishing a plus one in those 18 minutes of action. But he also took two bad penalties in the third. You know better than that, Knuubs.
Calgary managed to pull within one on a Curtis Glencross goal. I was iffy when I saw that the autodraft had put him on the Bumblers. Now I don't regret it at all as he leads the Flames in goals for the season. Later, however, Dennis Wideman iced it with a goal of his own off of another fantastic pass from Marcus Johansson.
Should Backstrom (God forbid) look to miss some time, he could look to inherit the #1 center slot.
A lot of eyes were on Mike Green as he made a return to the lineup. The plan was to ease him back into shape, hence the seven D-men. Ease they did as he got 15:43 of ice time. Unfortunately like another Mike, he also took a pair of bad penalties. One of those was a holding penalty--evidence that he is literally not quite up to speed as yet. But fear not as he should be getting his legs back eventually. Hell, I'm just hoping he avoids injury for the next few weeks.
Overall the defensive effort was excellent, save for a few lapses in the second and third periods. Still, they only allowed a total of 19 shots on goal for the game. And where they leaked, Tomas Vokoun easily bailed them out. The only thing missing? The fourth and final goal which never came. My office mates are unhappy today as there will be no discounted Papa John's pizza.
Okay, so for the time being anyway the Caps are over whatever funk caused them to be unable to string together more than back to back wins. (Remember--it's not a streak unless it's at least three!) However, new challenges stand in the way. First, how does Coach Hunter plan to juggle the lineup in light of the dearth of bodies? Second, we all know the Caps haven't done very well on the road this year. Can they turn that around now that it looks like they're back on track?
Here's a fun question--how long before we see an Ovechkin hat trick? He's clearly got his shot back and it seems like only a matter of time. And MJ90 seems a capable replacement for Backstrom as evidenced by the opening goal. The Captain never seems to have a shortage of praise for Jojo as he calls him. Chemistry...always a good thing on a hockey club.
Westward, we go.