Tonight's game featured two of the best teams in the League right now - and yet there was little to no hype leading up to it, few (if any) mentions of it being a Cup Final preview, and more than a couple of empty seats scattered throughout the Pepsi Center.
Still, the Capitals and their fans didn't need any of that to understand the importance of this game. The first of three games against the Western Conference, on the road, facing a team with more familiar faces behind the bench than on it...this was a test.
And the Caps passed with flying colors.
Ten more notes on tonight's game:
- Making his NHL debut probably would have been enough of a birthday present for Kyle Wilson, who turned 25 today. Two hard-working assists, the game's third star and a Caps win? Icing on the birthday cake - and enough to likely give him a slew of new fans among the Caps' faithful. Welcome to DC, kid.
- Of course, on the end of those two assists was some good net-crashing work by Tomas Fleischmann, who picked up goal #12 and 13 on the year tonight. Coming into this season, Flash had just two career two-goal games; he's got four already this season.
- When this team is clicking, everyone's involved. It was, and they were, as four of the six goals came from the third and fourth lines.
- Jose Theodore made a triumphant return to Denver and came oh so close to blanking his former team, turning aside 27 of 28 shots and keeping his composure while being run more than once. Just the kind of game he needs to get back on track.
- At the other end of the rink, however...yikes. Craig Anderson has gotten a lot of credit this year for leading the Avs back to respectability, and rightfully so, but he was less than sharp tonight. To put it nicely. Very nicely.
- Going into this game, the Caps had nine - nine - defensemen on the roster. By the end of the night only four of the six who dressed remained in the game, with Green getting taken out late in the second (more on that in a minute) and Morrisonn mysteriously absent. And let's not forget the fact that Erskine spent a good chunk of time in the sin bin.
- The shortage of able-bodied men on the blue line led to Brooks Laich stepping in as a defenseman for the third period - and did a nice job of it, too.
- The Avalanche did a pretty good job of doing the impossible - making Alex Ovechkin seem invisible. Of course, they forgot about his two talented linemates, who each picked up a goal. And the other three lines. Six different guys had multi-point performances tonight, and not one of them wore #8.
- It's hard to say that the Caps weren't working hard, because they were, or that they didn't win the little battles, because they did. So it's a little puzzling that they only managed to draw one minor penalty. Less puzzling? They took five of their own. It happens.
- The David Koci / Mike Green / John Erskine incident has riled up the debate once again that the Caps need an enforcer so other teams will stop running our players. I'm of the (somewhat unpopular) opinion that it's not necessary, nor is it a deterrent - guys like Carcillo and Koci aren't going to be deterred by "threat of punishment" because this is the way they play. Furthermore, few if any enforcers kicking around the league today can be had for cheap, and few if any know where the line is between defending teammates and becoming a liability by acting stupid.
Of course, GMGM gets the final word. Discuss.