Not that I haven't enjoyed the Capitals' first sweep of a back-to-back set in forever, but I was just waiting until the end of last night's game just to be sure. In fact, I'm not convinced the Caps have turned a corner just yet. The reason is because there are still a lot of holes in their game and how they approach it. Does that diminish the result? Hell, no, it was four big points. But there are now 20 games left to play. That's a max of forty points to be had if they somehow run the table, which they damn near need to do to lock up home ice. And guess what? Even after all these two wins they are still on the outside looking in.
The Caps hosted Montreal in the first part of the back to back set. Matthieu Perreault, as has become his custom, had a good game against Les Habitants and opened the scoring on a classic back-door tap-in. This puts him on pace for nearly 20 goals for the year. Jason Chimera used his speed to score on a breakaway later in the game and chipped in with the assist on Perreault's goal.
Nice to see the Captain back on the scoresheet after his one-game absence. It was scary to be sure, but a 90% Alex Ovechkin is better than a 50% Alex Ovechkin. He got the second of two goals scored 16 seconds apart early in the second period. It was a one-timer that came as a result of some nice passing from Dmitry Orlov and Marcus Johansson. Jason Chimera's breakaway started the rout. That biscuit must have had butter on it, because it just did slip through Carey Price's pads.
Michal Neuvirth once again looked good in a rare start, stopping 30 of 31. Quite a few of these were of the highlight variety, as were some stops by his opponent at the other end, Carey Price. Neuvy has proven he can handle a consistent workload, could he be the Caps' goaltending answer going forward? He could hardly be blamed for the the one goal that they did score. A certain player wearing the number 8 on his back and a "C" on his front had something to do with it. But at least he called himself out on it. Accountability is a good thing.
Now as wonderful as it was to see a complete game from the Caps, it has to be said that it came against a team that in a bigger tailspin than they are. The Canadiens' defense looked befuddled all night. Montreal's woes have been well documented and after the trade of Hal Gill, it's clear that they've pulled up stakes on this season and are looking to move on. Two points is two points, but there's still a lot of work to do. Most of it against teams far better than Montreal.
Next up was last night's game against the Leafs.
Marcus Johansson showed me something last night. Now if only he could show us all every game. He got the opener 32 seconds in with a wraparound. He's shown that he's at his best when he gets to use his touch in close to the net. The secret to the play, however, was the quick line change by Dale Hunter. The top line didn't start the game, but came over the boards about 20 seconds in shortly after the Caps got their first breakout. Even though they had the last change as the home team, the Leafs seemed caught off guard and the Caps took advantage. Nice bit of coaching, Dale.
I had to admit I was concerned as the game went on. It was after all the back set of consecutive night games and the Leafs looked like they had more jump in their skates. Matthew Lombardi in particular was flying.
Speaking of flying, about two minutes later Alex Semin gave a great solo effort as he took a shot on the left wing, swept around the net, stole the puck from Luke Schenn on the right wing and flung a wrister past James Reimer to make it 2-0. I had to wonder--where the hell has this been all year? While the Leafs were the better skating team, the Caps were the better in terms of stickwork.
The second period was just as good. Jeff Halpern got a workman-like goal on a rebound, breaking a 32-game drought. Three and a half minutes later, Keith Aucoin got his first of the year with a tap-in. This capped off a gorgeous tic-tac-toe passing play started by Ovechkin. Aucoin already had an assist on Marcus Johannson's opener. For his efforts, Messrs. Beninati and Laughlin named the mighty mite the game's winner
of the local steak dinner.
Then came the third period. Even a team that has stumbled a bit like the Leafs is capable of a comeback. Sure enough, Colby Armstrong picked Dmitry Orlov's pocket and scored five minutes in. It was one of 11 shots Michal Neuvirth ended up facing in the third period alone. Yuck.
Later on , during the Caps' lone power play chance, he showed his frustration after former Cap David Steckel of all people (you could hear the skates going KA-THOOMPA, KA-THOOMPA, KA-THOOMPA) was allowed to get a clear shot on a breakaway. Rightly so as the Caps exhibited perpetual head-in-ass syndrome coupled with disk-a-trek-a-phobia. Defensive and disciplinary breakdowns are not going to get you a lot of wins, especially if they've happened in the third period. We've talked about this before and it happened again. A pair of slashing penalties in the third--not the kind you need to take when protecting a lead. You can't just coast anymore in this league, not during a game, not during a season. The margin for error is just too damn thin.
As it turned out Neuvy was once again more than equal to the task. I don't want to start giving Coach Hunter too much credit but his "show me you belong on the ice" strategy appears to be working. Of course, I figured that's what Mike Knuble was doing, but he was yet again a healthy scratch. GMGM may have said he's not going anywhere, but what is the point if he's not going to play?
I like Matt Hendricks a lot, but he does NOT belong on the ice in the last minute of a game when protecting a lead. It's a puck, not an Indian rubber ball.
One power play chance for the whole game? Seriously? Not that they needed more as it turned out, but come on.
The Caps did manage to get 36 shots on net, but gave up 30 themselves. As inconsistent as the offense has been, the defense needs to tighten up more.
He didn't score, but Jason Chimera got another breakaway powered by his natural speed. A return to his early season form where he dominated the team scoring race would be nice.
I get that Mike Green is still working on getting back into game shape. But he needs to get out of the habit of taking penalties. At least he went from a stick foul to a restraining foul last night so that's progress.
This of course was their last game before tomorrow's trade deadline. I don't pretend to have any clue what George McPhee's intentions are, nor should anybody for that matter. I do know that these last two wins don't necessarily mean that the Caps have righted the ship. Short of Nicklas Backstrom waking up miraculously without concussion symptoms it appears that something needs to be done. If anything perhaps just as a reminder that these guys cannot take anything for granted.
So depending on what, if anything, gets done on Monday we could see a new look for the Caps when they hit the ice at the ancient Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum come Tuesday. Just hope they continue to win the game they need to win.