We came in to tonight's game with cautiously low expectations, prepared for - or perhaps even expecting - a letdown. After all, even though the Coyotes have played very well this season and the Caps' collective confidence should be high right now, it'd be pretty understandable if the team were drained from its games against Philadelphia, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. Plus, to be honest, it's not exactly unheard of for the Capitals to take a lesser opponent for granted and end up getting burned because of it. Nonetheless, the Caps pulled it out tonight, not just winning the game but excelling in the faceoff circle, in the hitting game, and on special teams - areas that require hard work, perseverance, and concentration.
What that means is that the team may have done more tonight than just pick up two points from a Western Conference foe - they may have indicated that they're growing as a team; becoming more willing to put forth an honest effort night in and night out. 'May', of course, being the key word in this situation. Just like it would be a mistake to draw too many conclusions from a January win over the Penguins, it'd be a mistake to declare the Caps' consistency and effort issues dead after one game, no matter how encouraging.
Ten additional thoughts on tonight's game:
- Solid game after sitting a few for Michal Neuvirth, who looked quick and positionally sound all night. That said, his rebound control's going to need to better on most nights if he's going to succeed in the NHL.
- The Caps are a very, very skilled team. They are not, apparently, skilled enough to pass their way through a trap at will, as their ten first period giveaways will attest.
- Sami Lepisto's return to the Verizon Center was more or less uneventful, though not particularly strong, and the blueliner finished with a pair of penalties and a pair of giveaways. Lepisto could still end up being a serviceable NHL blueliner, but it was a good move on the part of the Capitals to move him when they did.
- Speaking of the first period, the official scorekeeper recorded 27 hits between the two teams, including three for Alex Ovechkin and four for Shaone Morrisonn in the first twenty minutes
- Speaking of Morrisonn, his recent run of solid play continued tonight, finishing +1 with an assist and five hits.
- And speaking of recent runs of solid play, Alexander Semin again had himself a very nice game, playing a role in all four Capitals goals. I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll end up saying it again: Semin's so talented that when he has control of the puck within ten feet of the net, I simply assume a Capitals goal.
- Mike Green is a fantastic skater, a solid puckhandler, and one of the most dynamic players in the NHL. All that having been said, he needs to break his habit of trying to beat guys one-on-one coming out of the defensive zone, especially when a team has shown a willingness to commit a second forechecker to him when the first one causes him trouble.
- One quick note on the officiating: the decision to call Ed Jovanovski for roughing in the third period, even with the Capitals already up a man, was a good one (as well as a reminder to the consequences of having an early nineties style "crease clearing" defenseman). The decision to not make a call on Shane Doan's upending of Tom Poti was a bad one - to say the least. For all intents and purposes, that play was a slewfoot on the part of Doan and, even though it wasn't executed using his leg, and penalty should have been the same.
- While we're on the topic of Doan: you know "team toughness" is spreading when Jeff Schultz is the guy being sent to the box with Doan on a matching roughing penalty.
- The fact that Dexter's trying to sell me a minivan makes the experience of watching a Capitals game more unsettling that I ever would have imagined it could be.
So have the Caps turned a corner, and are they to the point where they're no longer going to take opponents for granted? Tuesday's game against the Islanders should help to answer that question.