As the Caps have demonstrated time and again this season, on many nights they don't have to be at their best to bank points in the standings.
Sure, there was a lot to like in last night's 4-3 win over Atlanta - the power play, Alex Semin's effort and Michal Neuvirth's game jump to mind - but certain problems lingered and against a better opponent, could have proven costly (then again, against a better opponent, the Caps might well have put forth a more robust effort). But on the Caps did what they had to do and end the night two points richer.
Some thoughts on the game:
- Alex Semin had his most focused and complete game in weeks, with a beautiful goal, a pair of assists, seven shots on goal, two takeaways, no giveaways and 2:14 of shorthanded ice time. That last stat may be the most important in many ways, as giving Semin PK duties (which he happens to perform quite well) seems to tighten up the rest of his game (in a good way).
- Michal Neuvirth, in only his second NHL start (yes, Tampa and Atlanta still count as NHL teams) was very solid. His rebound control was fantastic and he made all the saves he needed to make. He was beaten twice on wristers, but a little more decisiveness and confidence and he'll probably be stopping those. Did he earn another home start on Sunday? I sure think so.
- The Caps had the Thrashers on the ropes at 2-0, but let Atlanta get back to 2-2. One more goal with the two-goal lead and it would've been game over, early.
- Perhaps someone smarter than I can explain this sequence of events: Rich Peverley gets his stick up under Alex Ovechkin's visor (and somehow, two referees miss it); Ovechkin tussles with Marty Reasoner; Donald Brashear then fights Eric Boulton. How on earth is Brash "doing his job" there?
- The defense in front of Neuvy - with one glaring, horrid "parting of the Red Sea" exception on the Peverley goal felt like a flashback to the last Kings game - was solid, allowing just 13 even strength shots against all night.
- Sergei Fedorov put on a clinic in the faceoff circle, winning 15 of 21 (71%) of his draws. As a team, the Caps won 60%, and even Nicklas Backstrom was on the right side of 50% (4-for-6).
- The Caps' power play - 3-for-7 on the night - was the difference, thanks in no small part to a 13-for-19 (68%) success rate in the dot.
- It's hard to envision Michael Nylander getting back in the lineup any time soon without an injury necessitating it. The team is simply better without him.
- Perhaps related to that last point, David Steckel had another outstanding game and is showing that he can be a third-line center.
- Matt Bradley led the team in hits in just 6:59 of total ice time.
- Speaking of ice time, why is Tomas Fleischmann getting more than five minutes more of it than Eric Fehr? And if your answer is "special teams," I'll re-ask the question.
- One last point on ice time - the Comcast folks (I believe it was Lisa Hillary pre-game) made the point that some of the Caps' penalty woes are the result of players taking extra long shifts. Well, it may not have resulted in penalties on Thursday, but it resulted in at least one goal - the Todd White shorty after Ilya Kovalchuk beat an exhausted Mike Green on a puck along the boards - and Ovechkin's 1:16 average shift time for the game is simply absurd. Keep an eye on that.
- Viktor Kozlov had a good first game back from his groin injury, and actually was probably the best guy on his line - quiet night for AO and Backstrom (with the exception of AO's amazing jump to the inside/shot from his duff move).
- Milan Jurcina and John Erskine were used sparingly and their spots picked carefully. This is what it will look like when the games matter, you'd think.