Still not pressing the panic button over here at Blueliner's Bunker (AKA my humble abode). In fact, I may have pulled my hand away from the big red switch of AAAAAAAAGGGGHHHH! for the time being. Yes the playbook that had appeared in the previous three games yet again reared its ugly head. To explain:
1. Play well enough in the first 10 minutes or so as a start.
2. Give up a goal and fall behind after said good start.
3. Get yourselves into penalty trouble and fall even further behind.
4. Get a late goal to make it look somewhat respectable.
But this time Coach Oates was able to find that spark that had been eluding him and his team so far. At least between steps 3 and 4. The Caps stuck to their guns and through a lot of determined and gritty play, eventually forced overtime on a Mike Green goal with 2:56 left in the third.
Game Extended, Green. Not as good as "Game Over, Green" but I will take it. Let's hope this means he's back for good. His shot and skating certainly look like it.
As Coach Oates mentioned in his postgame presser, both goalies played very well last night. But Michal Neuvirth was on fire last night. The Caps found themselves in penalty trouble early in the extra session that forced them to kill off a dreaded 4-on-3 against one of the league most consistent, if not dangerous, power play units in the Devils. Neuvirth was amazing, covering as many angles as he could. The ones he didn't he recovered with near-perfect lateral movement.
By the way, the Caps performance on that very same penalty kill is yet another reason for hanging on to optimism. They did everything right blocking shots and standing their ground, and when they did lapse, Neuvirth was there to make the key stop. Inevitably, they would kill off the disadvantage, even surviving Jay Beagle's stick breaking. And though he would eventually give up the winner off Ilya Kovalchuk's patented sharp angle blast, Neuvirth did well for himself by finishing with 32 saves, eight of which came in the OT session.
Whoever picked the three stars last night, a suggestion: lay off the controlled substances. Are you serious? Jacob Josefson as the third star? And neither one of the goalies who each put on a spectacular show as one of the three stars? Come on.
Faceoff performance has been something of a weak spot (among others) but was much improved last night. All but two Caps either broke even or won the majority of their draws...except for two. Mike Ribeiro was one of them. Can you guess the other? I'll give you a hint, his name rhymes with "Choke-Man-Son." No, not the assistant coach. Ribiero can at least be excused as he potted the first of the Caps' two regulation goals. The other.....yeah, not going there today. We've beaten that horse to death.
What I liked was the surge in the Caps' effort in the last period. Though they were down by two, they upped the intensity of their attack. This in turn led to a couple of power play chances, one of which would be converted by Mike Ribiero. In all, they would launch 13 shots at Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur, one short of their combined total from the first two periods. It was a hell of a lot more fun to watch than their usual half-assing that we've been treated to in the previous games.
Of course there's still more work to be done. Though the Caps got the loser point, they remain, well, losers. Four games in and one point and no wins to show for it isn't very good, but it can be turned around. And the Caps seemingly are on the way to doing that. But they will really have to start earning it as the road gets increasingly tougher: back home against a gritty Buffalo squad, then a quick road trip into Canada to play Ottawa then Toronto. Good things are starting to happen, let's see if they can keep it going.