If you asked a Capitals fan to summarize what made the team successful this afternoon, you'd probably get a variety of different answers sharing only one trait: length. Because today's game wasn't about any of the Young Guns stealing the show, a goaltender grabbing two points for his team, smothering defense, or exceptional special teams play. It was about the team coming together and playing effectively to a man and in all situations - the kind of play it's going to take if the Caps want to be a serious Stanley Cup contender. Against the NHL's elite it's not going to be enough to hope that an individual effort or domination in one facet of the game is going to be enough to make up for sub-par play in other areas. Rather it's going to take solid play from all nineteen guys and a full sixty minute effort. That's why games like this afternoon's are encouraging if you're a Caps fan: every one is a small step closer a Caps Cup win.
It's also why a Washingtonian pressed for time could have whittled their description of the win down to a single sentence and still captured the essence of the game by simply saying, "The Caps were the better team."
Ten additional thoughts on this afternoon's game:
- Brooks Laich's first period goal may have looked simple enough given that it was essentially a shot into an open net from less then ten feet away, but looks can be deceiving. To nudge the puck with enough force to get it away from Ray Emery while also keeping it under enough control to corral it and put it in the net took a fair amount of skill. That's great for Brooks too because a goal like that is not only one that stops the slide on the stat sheet, it's one that gives you confidence. Confidence that can lead to, say, winning the puck of an opposing player and burying a shorthanded semi-breakaway with a nifty move and a pretty backhand shot.
- When Mike Knuble signed with the Capitals last July plenty of fans (myself included) immediately started having visions of an Alex Ovechkin-Mike Knuble wing pairing racking up goals, as the former created space and commanded attention and the latter found his way in to the holes in the defense and picked up rebounds off Ovechkin's many shots and drives to the net. That plan hasn't quite materialized the way we might have hoped for much of the season, but now that the two are clicking it's better than we could have asked for.
- Alexander Semin's first period behind-the-back cross ice pass to Nicklas Backstrom was so pretty it deserves special recognition of its own. So, there: recognized.
- Speaking of Semin: it may not be entirely fair to speculate with only limited information, but if Sasha's taking cortisone shots in order to get himself in the lineup, it's hard not to wonder if he - and the team - wouldn't be better served by giving him time off to rest.
- The Caps did a solid job denying the Flyers shooting opportunities. Although the Flyers got a solid 33 shots on net, they also missed the net 20 times and had 18 shot attempts blocked.
- One word for Alex Ovechkin's penalty shot move on Ray Emery: pwnd.
- Matt Bradley's never going to be a premier penalty killing guy, but his combination of speed and agressiveness while the Caps were down a man is refreshing to see out of a team who penalty killing forwards all too often have too little of both.
- Two blocks, two takeaways, three hits, and a plus-2 rating all indicate a strong outing for John Carlson, who's looking more and more likely to be on the team's opening night roster for the 2010-11 season.
- We didn't mince any words over the last week or so when we thought Tyler Sloan looked overmatched and out of place, so it's only fair that we give him the credit he's due after today's performance. It wasn't anything spectacular, but if Sloan can take advantage of his skating ability, draw penalties, avoid making mistakes with the puck, play tough in front of his own net, and occasionally activate in the offensive zone whenever Bruce Boudreau puts him on the blue line, we'll be more than happy.
- One final thought on the balanced nature of the Caps performance: the team scored goals at even strength, shorthanded, on the powerplay, and via penalty shot. Solid.
Here's hoping that team effort carries over to Tuesday, when the Caps see a Detroit team that, despite their average record so far in the 2009-10 season, are still good enough to exploit their opponent's weaknesses.