The firewagon is back!
OK, not really. But it sure did seem like it last night, didn't it? Shades of the old Bruce Boudreau run-and-gun-and-trade-goals-til-you-outscore-'em Capitals. When you knew they had enough firepower to make a comeback, no matter the score? Yeah we might not have known it, but that's what we saw.
But while it's good to know that this Caps team is capable of winning games like that, hopefully they won't have to rely on it too much. Especially if the games go into overtime. Why? Because as was pointed out yesterday in the Noon Number column over at Japers Rink, the Caps have a long way to go to be part of the playoff hunt this season. And winning in overtime only helps a little since their opponents still get the loser point.
Not to mention the fact that under Oates' system, complete lapses and breakdowns are supposed to be near non-existent. Last night I lost track of how many times there were either missed assignments, lackadaisical defensive zone coverage, and worst of all, really bad line changes. Make no mistake, while Troy Brouwer's winning goal was a thing of beauty begun by Nicklas Backstrom's brilliant pass, the Caps were damn lucky to win that game with how they played at times.
One half of the previous game's fight card, George Parros, saw his ice time cut down to a microscopic 4:02. Unfortunately the same was not the case for the other half, John Erskine. He played over 19 minutes and managed to score two goals--for Florida. Granted they were both the fluky kind that makes one wonder whether or not somebody replaced the puck with something out of a Disney movie. One goal went in off his elbow and the other off his skate. Ersk, just a hint....you need to do a little more than play "Head Shoulders Knees and Toes" in front of the net. Just saying.
Braden Holtby didn't have a great game, but he was hung out to dry on several goals. But he did have that key save where he strrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeettttttttttcccccccchhhhhhhed himself out to stop a two-on-one. The play had resulted after the first of several horrid line changes that left a whole lot of empty ice with no Caps defensive coverage in it. Bottom line--if Holtby doesn't make that stop, the Caps most likely lose. He may not have played well enough to earn a star, but he did save the game and the two points. Most importantly, he didn't allow a single goal during the five (count 'em) power plays the Caps allowed. Confidence builds when you know you can rely on your goaltending at critical times.
I've ragged on Eric Fehr this season a bit, but I will give him credit--he played a nice game last night. He collected a crucial rallying goal and added an assist. He and Joel Ward could make for a very effective one-two punch on the team's two-way line going forward.
How about those unexpected goal scorers? Matt Hendricks showed his sweet handedness by roofing a blind pass from Ovechkin. (Mrs. B's reaction--"That was cool!" Indeed.) Karl Alzner blasted one off of a quick faceoff win for his first goal in....well, forever. More on Ovechkin later, but is anyone outside of Caps Nation noticing that he's on a three-game goal scoring streak as well as a five-game point scoring streak? So is Mike Ribiero for that matter. In fact "Ribeye" is on pace for a 60-point season, something that's good enough for an 82-game season, but absolutely eye-popping in a 48-game schedule.
After a start that had many questioning his health, Nicklas Backstrom is quietly moving his way up in the scoring leadership on the team. He now has 10 points which is good for third on the team. And how about that zing of a pass that sprung Troy Brouwer for the game winner?
Wasn't all that impressed with Jason Chimera or Jeff Schultz last night. Chimera ended up with a minus three rating which was bad enough. Add to the fact he accomplished it in only 5:43 of ice time is enough to make you retch. And Schultz continues to prove that the Sheldon Cooper method of playing defense is ineffective. For those of you who have long been critics of Schultz, you know what I mean. If not, perhaps this will explain.
Not sure if it actually amounted to much, given the back-and-forth nature of the game, but kudos to all the Caps faceoff takers who collectively went 44 wins against 24 losses at the dot.
Good to see that Alex Ovechkin seems to be in full-on "I'm-mad-as-hell-and-I'm-not-going-to-take-it-anymore" mode. I refer of course to his handling of Florida's fake tough-guy, Kris Versteeg. The perpetually petulant punk dared instigate some rough stuff with the Captain and was promptly put in his place by the former MVP. In addition to being tossed around like rag doll, Versteeg also got an extra two minutes in the box for his phony attempt at bravery. (!!!!!!) Doubly sweet was the fact that the ensuing power play resulted in the first goal of the game for the Caps.
Despite that he could have had an even better showing what with that shot that rang off the post (which apparently never went in). He also could have ended the game with at least an even rating had he not flubbed that clearing attempt that led to the Panthers' opening goal off the stick of ex-Cap Tomas Fleischmann. (but not before bouncing off of John Erskine's aforementioned anatomy).
What was NOT good to see was that none of Ovechkin's fellow Caps could be bothered to jump in to back up their Captain. Ben Raby actually made this rather astute point during the wrap-up of last night's radio broadcast of the game. He pointed out that Matt Bradley once leaped in to spare Ovi from having to fight Steve Downie a few years ago during a game against the Lightning, and left it at that. Good on Ben for pointing that out, but I won't leave it at just that. What the hell is that? You're supposed to be a team--back up your mates no matter what. Those who were on the ice at the time need to be hauled onto the carpet for that. They ought to be ashamed of themselves and are most likely part of the problem and not the solution going forward. At the very least respond in kind and go after one of their top players. But nothing of the sort happened. And it's telltale signs like that's proving that this team hasn't yet come together as a team, which is sad.
So yes, we can all be happy with the two points and their first win away from home. But there's still far too many rough spots in need of ironing for my liking. In other words, don't go celebrating just yet. Not at least until they get within sniffing distance of the division lead. This team is far from being back, but at least they're headed in the right direction.