When the Washington Capitals play as a cohesive unit - twenty men reading off the same sheet of music, anticipating one another's actions before they happen, creating chances where none seemed to exist and enveloping opposing forwards before they can get to within spitting distance of the crease - it's a truly beautiful sight to behold.
Last night wasn't that. Not by a long shot.
And yet, the Caps turned it on when it mattered and pocketed another two points in the standings with a win over a decent team that probably played with as much effort and emotion as their coach had hoped in the wake of the shakeups of the past few days.
We've talked ad nauseum about this team's focus (or lack thereof), so we'll skip that for now and get right to some post-game thoughts:
- The Caps - or should I say, individuals - spent far too much time trying to beat Canadiens at the blueline rather than getting the puck deep and going after it, and, with one notable exception (see next bullet), there was little in the way of going to the net and creating traffic in front of a goalie whose confidence was shaky at best coming into the game.
- Alex Ovechkin's goal? Seriously? I don't know what part of it I enjoy the most - the self-pass/spin-move at center ice to get around Roman Hamrlik, the shot itself or the celebration.
- Nicklas Backstrom had a strong 65 minutes (including a power-play goal, three hits, three takeaways, no giveaways and four shots on goal), but in many ways his shootout goal encapsulated what Nick is when he's at his best - calm, confident and quick... and not taking a faceoff (he was just 6-for-18 on the night).
- Of all of Bruce Boudreau's line combos this season (now numbering in the thousands, I believe), Brooks Laich - Michael Nylander - Matt Bradley might be my least favorite.
- David Steckel was 7-for-11 in the dot (64%) and his win (with help from Laich) late in the third led directly to his tying goal. Not Breaking News: winning offensive zone faceoffs leads to scoring chances. At some point, Steckel might have to take Backstrom's o-zone draws for him then swap out for the line's rightwing du jour (preferably not Alex Semin) when he gets a chance. There are simply too many opportunities falling by the wayside.
- Speaking of faceoffs, maybe we jinxed the penalty kill earlier in the day yesterday, but two of the Habs' three extra man tallies came within ten seconds of the start of the respective power plays, thanks to faceoff wins rather than a poorly executed, set-up penalty kill.
- Sticking with faceoffs for one more bullet, I don't for the life of me understand why Tomas Fleischmann was sent out to take an offensive zone draw in OT. The result, predictably, was a loss.
- Three hooks and a delay of game penalty. Blech.
- Jose Theodore wasn't at his best and would surely like the Tomas Plekanec goal (that beat him short side from a bad angle) back, but he was money when it mattered after that, through the rest of the third, OT and the shootout.
- Tom Poti played well, assisting on the Steckel goal and earning a +2 rating, but on a night when the PK surrenders three goals, it's hard to say he (or Boyd Gordon or Steckel) really did his job.
- Nice job by Donald Brashear to not engage Georges Laraque early on when the Caps had the mo'.
But two points are two points, and the Caps have another desperate team - the Avs - coming to town tomorrow night, so fire up the ol' "gotta play sixty minutes" cliches and "we need to be better disciplined" speeches and see if they work this time. Maybe fifteenth time's the charm.