Before there was last night's listless loss in Atlanta and before last spring's collapse at the hands of a white-hot goalie, the Caps played six months of hockey that looked a lot like the final 40 minutes of Saturday night's home opening rout of the New Jersey Devils.
But while the "scoring in bunches" looked familiar to Caps fans, the "... and we're not going to turn the other cheek anymore" attitude that closed out the evening was new (and that was with newly acquired enforcer D.J. King sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch). "Stay Angry" indeed.
Goals. Saves. Penalty killing. Dominating face-offs. Team toughness. It's one hell of a recipe for success in this League.
Ten more notes on the game:
John Carlson scored the Caps' first goal and added a pair of helpers - all at even strength - in just 14:51 of total ice time. Your move, P.K. Subban.
- To say that Marcus Johansson had a bad first period might be an understatement - his giveaway on a pass to the middle of his own zone resulted in the Devils' first goal, and his over-commitment below his own goal line contributed to the Henrik Tallinder shorty. But remember - what really matters is where MoJo's game is in April, not October. Rookies make rookie mistakes, so expect some bumps along the way.
- Sticking with the rookie theme, Michal Neuvirth wasn't quite as sharp early as he was for most of Friday night in Atlanta, but he was stellar in the second period, stopping all 17 shots he faced while his offense exploded for four goals in front of him. Oh, and he's now 2-0-0 in his career against Martin Brodeur.
- Oh, hey, Alex Ovechkin. Missed you.
Nicklas Backstrom ended Anton Volchenkov's night early when a slapshot off the Swede's stick caught the Russian blueliner up high and broke the latter's nose. Perhaps most interesting about the play was Backstrom's shot choice - according to Behind the Net, in his first three seasons, Nick only attempted 50 slappers at five-on-five, with only 35 ending up on net and not a single one beating the opposing goalie. It's a safe bet that Anton Volchenkov would've preferred to have seen a wrister from Backstrom in that instance, too.
- The Alexander Semin-Tomas Fleischmann-Brooks Laich line was clicking again, for the most part (and never better than on Flash's second-period tally), but Semin's discipline left something to be desired, for a change, and his lack of hustle after being sprung from the penalty box was another contributing factor to the Tallinder goal.
- Back to Flash, in addition to his goal, he had a beauty assist on Jason Chimera's goal, but only ended up taking five draws on the night, which is awfully low for a second-line center. Interestingly enough, Johansson took 11, winning seven. If Flash can't take defensive zone draws (because he doesn't win a high enough percentage of them - Boyd Gordon took half of the D-zone faceoffs on Saturday), and doesn't take offensive zone draws (because Bruce Boudreau likes to put his top line out for O-zone faceoffs), Fleischmann isn't going to end up taking a ton of faceoffs this season... which is a good thing.
- And back to Chimmer, what a teammate that guy is. Yes, he got his lunch fed to him by David Clarkson in their third-period tilt. But the Caps' grinder was a physical presence and an agitator all night (questionable penalty notwithstanding). And when it was time to go, he went, which set an example for his teammates to follow.
- Neither Mike Green nor Jeff Schultz showed up on the score sheet (other than their combined plus-three rating)... but neither did Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise or Travis Zajac, against whom the Caps' top defensive duo matched up with most often at even strength. That's a trade Caps coaches and fans will take any night.
- Finally, who needs a snarling blueliner when you have Mike Green? He ended the night with a fight and game-high six hits and three blocked shots. Atta boy, Norris.
A lot went right for the Caps on Saturday night, and, most importantly, it was the result of hard work and good execution (and just a little bit of luck, which never hurts). But, like Friday night's loss, this is just one game, number two of 82. Unlike Friday night, however, these Caps are the team with whom we saw for the better part of last season... and hope to see for the rest of this one.