Now THAT was more like it!
Except where has this team been all season? Nice of them to show up now, but we could have used this kind of effort and result about a week and a half ago. It was probably as close to perfect as the Caps have gotten so far this season.
I know what you're thinking. "The scoreboard says perfection to me." Look, I want to believe it too. And yes the scoreboard from the game looks very good. But the standings still look like crap. Come April, that's the only listing that really matters, not the score of an early-season division game. However, if the Caps can manage to string more games like this together, things may well indeed look better come April. Extra added bone for you glass-eternally-half-full people: the Caps now have just as many wins as do the defending Cup champs the Los Angeles Kings.
Oh yes, Braden Holtby was indeed the star of the game, and believe me I will give him his due. But what impressed me even more (if that was even possible) was the total team effort. Going up and down the lineup, I can't see anybody that had a bad or mediocre game. Or for that matter anyone who was even invisible for stretches--that's the key, everyone contributed in different ways. If I have any complaints it's that they collectively gave up too many shots (27) for my liking. As is his job, when the Caps' defense did falter, Holtby was there.
Think about it, though. No one really had a bad game. If you watched, you could tell the effort was there by the play when the Caps didn't have the puck. They hounded any Florida puck carrier relentlessly, earning themselves periods of sustained pressure. Sometimes the Panthers found themselves trapped in their own zone for up to a minute or more because of the Caps' consistent forechecking pressure. It truly was a thing of beauty.
Individual performances that stood out:
Tomas Kundratek is starting to impress me. He's beginning to look more comfortable out there. Though he logged the least TOI out of all six Caps defensemen, he hardly looked out of place, especially in the transition game. If he continues this kind of play, they might not miss Dmitry Orlov as much.
Can it be that we are finally seeing the real "Real American Hero" John Carlson this year? That shot of his made an appearance, leading to the game winner. Plus smooth skating and puck handling, like what we saw in last year's playoffs. More of that, please.
Matthieu Perreault (1G, 1A) or Marcus Johansson (healthy scratch)? Right now I'll take Perreault, at least he knows what to do with the puck when it's in front of the net.
John Erskine made it back into the lineup after serving a three-game suspension. It was for a high elbow that bloodied and eventually gave a concussion to Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds. Erskine didn't provide eye-popping stats on the scoresheet--when does he ever? But he made a valuable contribution nonetheless. After starting with a flourish, the Caps seemed to be losing momentum early in the first period as the shots began piling up. That's when Erskine decided to tangle with the Panthers' George Parros, one big hombre to say the least. Not that Erskine is a shrinking violet himself, as he would prove.
They fought at center ice and it looked like Parros had him at first after a few right hands when Erskine lost his balance and was on his knees. But then a split second later, Erskine bounced back up and began swinging. One of his punches made a solid connection to Parros' left cheek that appeared to have staggered the bigger man. From then on, Parros hung on to Erskine's sweater and eventually wrestled him to the ice. But Erskine had stood his ground and provided a much-needed wake up to his team and the crowd. Job well done.
Joel Ward has been an unstoppable force in front of the net at times. Maybe he's not supposed to be carrying some of the offensive load, but he is anyway. Added a goal and an assist to bring his point total to eight for the season, tying him for second best on the team. He also leads the Caps in plus minus with a +5 rating. As dismal as this season has been so far, that should tell you something.
Of course I would have to mention that Alex Ovechkin finally broke through and scored a full and even-strength goal last night. We can only hope that the curb-stomping in Pittsburgh (and in the hockey media as well as from, ahem, some bloggers) has finally awoken this sleeping giant. You want to lead this team? Shoot more, hit more, and be where you're supposed to be on the ice and to hell if the Canadian media doesn't like it.
Troy Brouwer got a side-of-beef goal for the opener (and eventual winner) and added a fabulous power play marker not long after that to give him the team lead in goals. Along with Ovechkin, let's all hope he's finally getting into the season and that it's not too late. In addition to his hitting, we definitely need to see him on the scoresheet a little more often.
Braden Holtby, Braden Holtby...wherever it was you went to, we are so glad you're back. Twenty-seven times Florida shooters came at him. All 27 times he turned them away. One of those 27 was a key stop on a two-on-one on a shot from the Panthers' petulantly persistent Kris Versteeg in the first period. No telling how the game would have gone had he not snapped his glove out and snared it with ease. His confidence increased as the game went on and the team's did as well. To top things off, he added a totally sweet assist on Troy Brouwer's power play goal in the second, helping his own cause. After a terrible start to the season, a shutout is just what the doctor ordered.
Yes indeed the 0 looks terrific if you are a Caps' fan. But another "O" that's looking good is Capitals Coach Adam Oates. Because you see, the end result of this game was a result of playing his system the way it was meant to be played. When it is played the way it's supposed to be, you will get timely shots on net, ample scoring chances, sustained puck possession and all the good things that come with that. Did anyone else notice that on all of the goals, the eventual scorer was at exactly the right place at the right time? Even on Brouwer's fluky game-winner? Not unlike a chess game where you put your pieces in place, then strike. Sound familiar? Can we now stop to admire the brilliance of this man instead of calling for his head?
Hell, even Jay Beagle had a quality scoring chance (that unfortunately he whiffed on) what does that tell you?
So we are at the first quarter pole and though it's been a rough start, it does look like maybe just maybe the Caps have turned a corner. There's 36 games left and if they can turn in the kind of effort they did last night for the majority of those 36, we just might have ourselves something here. The key word being effort--they have to show up. But if it's anything I've learned in life, effort isn't much without first believing. And this is a team that is finally looking like they are starting to believe.