The Caps' performance tonight was about as uneven as the horrible MSG ice, with just as many ruts and bumps along the way. But there was more good than bad as the Caps earned their first regulation win in New York since 2004 - and Bruce Boudreau became the fastest coach in Caps' history to 100 wins.
Naturally any night instantly becomes better when someone like Alex Ovechkin makes his return - and it didn't take long for #8 to put his stamp on the game. He capped off a dominant end to the first with a power play goal and threw his body around with reckless abandon, to the tune of seven (credited) hits. The only slightly uncharacteristic stat on the night for Ovie? One shot on goal (along with six that either missed or were blocked).
Of course, in true Ovechkin style, one shot was all he'd need.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps were without Erskine and Ovechkin against the Devils, and thus without any physical presence. With both players back in the lineup, the bodies were flying once more - and it was contagious. Ovechkin's seven hits were complemented by thirty others from throughout the lineup. Although any night when New York's Chris Higgins is credited with seven of his own is a night to question the validity of the stats.
- Which is more surprising - that Nicklas Backstrom finished with an even 50% success rate on faceoffs...or that Morrison won just three of eleven?
- They may have allowed a power play goal to a team that has struggled with the extra man recently, but the Caps' penalty kill was aggressive and effective. Especially good PK performances by Dave Steckel, with his usual calming influence, and Brooks Laich, with his usual awesomeness. Er, willingness to block shots.
- On the flip side, the power play showed no ill effects from getting the world's best player back and struck twice. And the key thing about both tallies was the traffic - Ovechkin's shot went through about 276 bodies (give or take a hundred) on its way in, while Laich picked up another of his typical crease-crashing goals.
- Speaking of Laich, he continues to lead the team in power play goals with five and is now tied with Semin for second among Caps' goal-scorers.
- Okay, that Marian Gaborik guy is pretty good. His game-tying goal in the third was one that only a handful of guys in the league could have gotten - although one of them had a nice view of it from the visiting team's bench.
- Semyon Varlamov performed well but wasn't tested all that much, facing just twenty shots and stopping eighteen of them. He didn't seem all that comfortable in net tonight, though, and appeared to lose track of the puck a little too much - particularly late in the game.
- Let's trademark this thing right now: the Matt Bradley hat trick. That's a goal on Henrik Lundqvist, a fight, and a busted-open face. After all, anyone that awesome deserves his own hat trick.
- The Rangers came out absolutely flying to start the first, with five quick shots - and one quick goal - on Varlamov before the game was five minutes old. After that, however, the Caps took over and didn't allow another Ranger shot on goal until the second period.
- How about the defensive trio of Mike Green, John Erskine and Brian Pothier? They combined for a goal, an assist, a +3, 10 shots on goal, 4 hits and 6 blocked shots. Not bad.
It was a little rocky at times but overall not a bad outing for the Caps, who pick up the two points they needed to reclaim first in the East (for now) and did so with the help of - but not just because of - Alex Ovechkin.
They "blew" a lead, but there's no shame in doing so when the guy stealing the lead is named Gaborik. They played physical, but not at the expense of generally sound, disciplined hockey. They maintained a lead, but didn't play as if they were afraid to lose it. And they come away with a good team victory...no buts about it.