It was only a matter of time before Nicklas Backstrom snapped his early-season scoring drought. Unfortunately for the New York Islanders, that breakout happened tonight, as Backstrom put together a monster night that included an interception of an Islander pass and primary assist on the Caps' first goal, the deflection of an Alex Ovechkin shot past Dwayne Roloson for the game-winner, and a 60% night in the faceoff circle in the Caps' 2-1 win. Imagine the night Backstrom might've had if he'd started the night on the top line...
Ten more notes on the game:
Michal Neuvirth continues to impress, especially on home ice. Wednesday night's 23-for-24 effort (in the young netminder's fourth game in six nights) was by no means a flawless effort, but enormous stops on Frans Nielsen and Matt Moulson in the third period gave the team in front of him the chance to take the night's two points.
- Bruce Boudreau is in mid-season form in terms of screwing with the media. He's shuffling the lines! No he's not! Yes he is! Ultimately, his little chemistry experiment didn't work, and Backstrom was back on the top line for good early in the second period.
- How about that penalty kill? After a three-for-three performance against the Isles, the unit is a perfect 15-for-15 on the season. Perhaps even more impressive than that number, the Caps have only allowed 15 shots on goal in those 15 disadvantages. I'd say the new system is working.
John Carlson had a rough night, especially in the early going, when he lost Nino Niederreiter on the latter's first NHL goal barely three minutes into the game and then took an interference minor a half-dozen shifts later in the first period. He and defense partner John Erskine were manhandled in terms of Corsi Rating on the evening as well. (Also of note, Carlson was badly beaten wide by Michael Grabner in the third, too, but added a secondary assist on the game-winner.)
- As mentioned above, Backstrom won 60% of the (20) draws he took. The rest of the team? 32.6% on 43 faceoffs, including Tomas Fleischmann's 3-for-13. Faceoff wins equal possession, and if the Caps can't get better in the dot, they'll be fighting an uphill battle.
- Jeff Schultz has now skated 84:35 on the season, including 14:51 shorthanded, and has yet to be on the ice for a goal against.
- In one of the more significant changes made over the summer, the Caps' power plays this season are being sponsored by Constellation Energy. As a Marylander, I'm deathly jealous of the team's ability to dump Pepco for someone else. Zing!
- Considering how much Boudreau has "hidden" Karl Alzner so far this season, it was interesting to see him on the ice at the end of the game. Granted, Mike Green was in the locker room with a presumed injury (we hold our collective breath, btw), but it was still a curious choice by Gabby, and hopefully one that translates into confidence for King Karl.
- If you had "2:47 of the first period of his first game" in your "When D.J. King will have his first fight as a Cap" pool, you win.
Zenon Konopka certainly has an interesting set of skills - he led the League in fighting majors last season, and also won 62.3% of the 462 faceoffs he took. He didn't get in a fight on Wednesday night, but did win 80% of his 20 draws on the night. Fascinating.
The Caps' three-game homestand ends with three wins, albeit the results of three fairly uneven efforts. And in a season where "how" matters as much as "how many," there's plenty on which to work, which is good. Six points are nice, of course, but it's how the team adjusts, or, in the case of the penalty kill, maintains that will ultimately determine how good this team really is. We all know how good it can be.