It may have taken 79 games, but better late than never (and perhaps right on time) for a headline like "Depth players lead Capitals to win."
Not only did the Caps get goals from Tomas Fleischmann (first in 16 games), Keith Aucoin (second of the season), Michael Nylander (second in 19 games), Eric Fehr (second in 17 games) and Brooks Laich, but they got five even strength tallies for the first time since February 1 (and for the fifth time on the season).
The path to victory on Sunday was somewhat circuitous (speaking of Nylander), to be sure, but the team still controls its own destiny with respect to the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and that's what matters at present - five points in three games and second is theirs, no matter what Jersey might do. That the Caps still have something to play for right now is a blessing. Let's see what they do with it.
Some thoughts on the game:
- We could agonize over and/or lament the first two periods, but it's seems a waste of time by now [insert snark about how much time we all spend writing or commenting on a blog here]. Either those weren't the "real" Caps, in which case why bother discussing them at length, or they were, and we won't be discussing much of anything in three weeks. They turned it on when they needed to, and it's reassuring to be reminded that they've got that gear, though it's been forever and a day since we've seen three consecutive periods of it.
- That third period, though... man. The forechecking was exceptional, the line combos working, and an active D helped the cause.
- Speaking of those line combos, I think the Caps may have found their third line in Laich-Nylander-Fehr.
- And sticking with combos, given his recent play (one goal since January) and playoff history (0 goals, six assists, minus-14 rating in 24 career games), Viktor Kozlov looks to be playing himself further out of favor time every night. By the end of Sunday's game, he was skating on the fourth line, and if there was a fifth line, he'd have been there.
- Nicklas Backstrom - yes, that Nicklas Backstrom - has been fantastic in the face-off circle for a while now. How good? In his last 15 games, he has averaged just over 16 draws per game and has won a phenomenal 59.9% of them. That efficiency would have him fourth in the League for the season.
- On the afternoon, the team won 64% of the game's 61 draws.
- What, no assist for Jose Theodore on Slava Kozlov's goal?
- I'm growing less enamored of Tom Poti's play with each passing day. If he is in fact healthy, his repeated failures to clear pucks (including once after a clean face-off win by David Steckel on a 3-on-5) are inexplicable.
- If Alex Ovechkin doesn't get to sixty goals and/or pass Evgeni Malkin atop the list of the League's leading scorers, it won't be for a lack of teammates trying to set him up. He must've whiffed on four or five great set-ups, and still wound up with 11 shots on goal (and another 13 that were blocked, missed or attempted). He's now at 507 shots on goal for the season, a mere 40% more than Eric Staal's 360, which is second in the League.
- Oh, and AO was only credited with one hit in Sunday's game, which simply does not mesh with the game I was watching.
- Ilya Kovalchuk is one of those "worth the price of admission" players, but I actually enjoyed watching Jim Slater as much.
- On Kovalchuk - no Cap skater saw more even strength ice time against him than Jeff Schultz... who wasn't on the ice for the Russian sniper's 42nd goal of the year (but was on the ice for three Caps' goals at even strength, and would have been +3 on the day if not for JT60's generosity).
- Given the juxtaposition between their respective energy levels, you'd think Sergei Fedorov was old enough to be Aucoin's father.
- For my money, John Erskine's in the top six (and pretty easily), leaving the last spot for either Brian Pothier or Milan Jurcina, and Pothier's gotta be ahead right now.
- The only two players on the ice who skated fewer shifts and less ice time than Eric Fehr were Thrasher thugs Eric Boulton and Chris Thorburn. The only player who had more points than Fehr's two in the game was Brooks Laich. No one had a better plus-minus rating than Fehr, and no one had more takeaways or fewer giveaways than Fehr. And he's a forechecking machine... who gets no ice time.
And so ends the home portion of the regular season with a 29-9-3 record, one point shy of the franchise mark for home points (62 set in 1985-86 and tied in 1999-2000) and one win shy of the team record set by the 1985-86 squad.
But that 1985-86 team lost in the second round to a Rangers team that finished the regular season 29 points behind the Caps in the Patrick Division, and the 1999-2000 Caps bowed out after five games, victims of one of those 2-vs-7 upsets at the hands of Ron Tugnutt and the Pittsburgh Penguins, so those teams can keep their records - this one has its sights set higher.