After a couple of ugly losses earlier in the week, an ugly win might be exactly what the doctor ordered for a team struggling to find their offense, their health and their identity. And make no mistake about it, this was an ugly game.
Not surprising, of course. The Caps were, for all intents and purposes, going with five defensemen tonight. They were enlisting two Hershey callups to round out the forwards. And they were playing an Atlanta team that has been a pain in the rear for quite awhile now. So yes, it was a frustrating, gritty, hard-working game - with a little flash and a little Flash tossed in, of course.
It is the Caps, after all.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Mike Green played a grand total of 5:24 tonight, which has to be a career low, and all but 25 seconds of that was played on the power play. But with Tom Poti out and Green not 100% yet, this was the only option that eased the burden of the other blueliners while protecting 52 from further injury. Whatever ails him was clearly impeding his usually great shot, but what a difference just having him out there with the extra man makes, eh? Green instantly makes the power play more mobile, more creative, and more than just "get the puck to Ovie and hope he scores".
- Now whether you think Green's waved-off goal was legitimately a kick or not (and I'm of the mindset that it was a redirection, not a kick), according to the letter of the law it was a good non-goal: Rule 70 states that "[a] kicked puck that deflects off the body of any player of either team (including the goalkeeper) shall be ruled NO GOAL." But I can't be the only one who thinks that's stupid, especially since the next section of the same rule allows for deflections off the stick of another player. If it doesn't hit the Atlanta player, it doesn't go in the net period...and if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his [butt] when he hopped, right? C'est la vie.
- Ref-bashing can be fun, so let's continue, shall we? That goalie interference call late in the third was a bit questionable. Hard to see just how Alex Ovechkin could have gotten out of the way of Chris Mason when he was a) coming in at full speed and b) being shoved into Mason by an Atlanta defender. But...sure, yes, bad Ovie. Very bad.
- In the second period I predicted that the top trio of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble would strike before the middle frame was over. In hindsight, not the wisest of guesses considering how the three of them continue to look a bit out of sync - passes just going awry or bouncing over sticks, etc. At least the work ethic was (mostly) there tonight, though, and they do seem close to breaking out. The talent is there, the bounces will come.
- Just what exactly was Dustin Byfuglien doing when he ran into Michal Neuvirth full speed and threw his elbow out? Clearly he was hoping to get punched multiple times by John Erskine and then tossed out. Mission accomplished.
- Not a bad night for Erskine all around, really. Aside from being the only one to offer any sort of response to Neuvirth getting run - seriously, Dave Steckel, no one was scared of your weak cross-check and subsequent falling down action - he logged almost 25 minutes, blocked 5 shots, threw 4 hits and fired 7 shots on or toward the net. That'll do, John. That'll do.
- Amid the ugliness that was this game came the pure skill of Alexander Semin, who simply loves to play Southeast opponents and it shows. He was in great form tonight (a few characteristic turnovers aside) and as a result has his first hat trick of the season.
- A lot of the credit for that hat trick, however, goes to recently called-up Mathieu Perreault, who assisted on two of Semin's three tallies and finished the evening a plus-three. His pass on Semin's third goal was particularly stunning, while his work to fight through a trip and draw a penalty set up Semin's second. It seems we ask this about once every 3 months, but think he wants to stay?
- So far in this young season the faceoffs have been a minor point of concern - but the burden doesn't sit entirely on the centers, as the wingers have consistently sat back and assumed someone else would battle for the puck. Tonight Eric Fehr showed just what can happen when the wingers chip in, though, as Tomas Fleischmann's overtime winner was a direct result of Fehr jumping in, corralling the puck, making a nice play to get it to the net and allowing Flash to chip the rebound up over Mason.
- I know we're all hoping for the top line to get their defensive games in gear...but you have to wonder at the mindset of having those three out in the final minute of a one-goal game. Backstrom lost his man, Kane tied it up and this game went longer than it should have as a result.
With every game, with every period, you can feel things starting to gel a bit more. There are frustrating moments and bumps in the road but they seem to be decreasing by game - maybe that's just the viewpoint of a hopeless optimist, but it certainly feels like that's the case.
Regardless, the Caps come out of this one with a big two points and more importantly, a win before heading out on the annual "Horse Show" road trip. For a team that has seemed fragile at times this year, the importance of that shouldn't be underestimated.