It wasn't too long ago Capitals fans, while growing weary of hearing people dismiss their team's achievements as the product of a weak Division, were worried the quality of competition in the Southeast was low enough that the Caps weren't finding themselves consistently challenged. Atlanta, for one, now looks like they're good enough to at least keep Washington honest and require a decent effort from the Caps for the team to leave with two points, and that's a good thing. It might produce a little more in-game anxiety for us fans, but it also means there's more to feel good about when the Caps come out on top.
Ten more notes on the game:
- It only took one viewing of the replay of the Eric Boulton/John Erskine scrap for me to start planning a rant about how the instigator doesn't get called nearly as often as it should, something that fell by the wayside when it turned out the Caps were going on the powerplay...even if it was for a roughing call I still can't quite figure out. In any case, I'm still not sure justice was done by the NHL rulebook, but I am sure it was in a karmic sense, as Erskine notched the game-winner while Boulton sat in the dressing room with an injury.
- Whenever I hone in on Matt Hendricks for a few shifts, I find myself asking three questions: Why wasn't this guy an NHL regular until he was twenty-eight? Why didn't he have a contract until the last week of September? And why did Colorado ever let him go?
- Pairing up Jason Chimera and Mike Knuble was an interesting move - on one hand, Knuble and Chimera are both large men who use their bodies effectively in the offensive zone and have the potential to create havoc and generate chances; on the other hand neither guy is a great playmaker and Chimera's a heck of a lot faster than Knuble. The biggest upside might be the reduction in Knuble's even strength minutes, which should leave him with more energy in the situations he's most effective. Namely, the powerplay.
- Much was made of the effect Knuble joining the Capitals might have on Eric Fehr, the hope being the veteran net crasher would have the younger winger getting to the blue paint more consistently and effectively, and for the most part, Knuble's influence does seem to have rubbed off on Fehr, who has been spending a lot more time in the face of opposing goaltenders and much less time flinging 50-foot wrist shots over the last couple years. But tonight it was hard to feel like Fehr might not be even more helped by being put on a line with Brooks Laich. Laich, who's never one to skimp on effort and generally provides a very solid forechecking presence, seemed to be keeping Fehr honest and digging on the forecheck and around the net.
- The bad part of the Laich-Fleischmann-Fehr line? Tomas Fleischmann, who looked like he was playing a completely different game from his linemates. Which is shame, because Fehr and Laich looked like the could have done some damage with just a little more help.
- Tyler Sloan's play that wound up resulting in Alexander Semin's goal wasn't what you think of when you think of an assist, but the play itself - getting in front of a shot, corralling it, and moving to a forward in position to start an effective breakout - was one of those solid ones that so often go unnoticed. Nice to see a guy get credit on the scoresheet for a play like that every once in a while.
- Just a night to forget for Michal Neuvirth, who let in one soft goal and had two others bounce in off him on fluky plays. It's not that Neuvy was all that bad, it's that a game like tonight's is one that can throw you off your game if you're not careful. All indications are that Neuvirth has a solid head on his shoulders and doesn't get rattled easily, but it'll still be interesting to see how he looks in the first few minutes of his next start.
- Another guy who might want to put this one behind him? Alex Ovechkin, who, despite picking up a goal and assist, didn't quite look right all night, making several bad turnovers and getting just one shot on net.
- The Capitals have now had a defenseman score in eight straight games, and blueliners have notched a total of eleven goals over that time span. Even better is the fact the team is 7-0-1 in those games. Now, obviously, that's not solely the result of the fact that the defense is getting on the scoresheet, but the offense from unexpected sources certainly isn't hurting.
- I don't want to take anything away from Bryan Little, who made a pretty heady play to find some open space in front and made a nice shot to beat Neuvirth, but Mike Green or Marcus Johansson has to have that space covered in that situation.
Finally, we'd be in remiss if we didn't give a special shout out to defenseman John Erskine, who played a solid defensive game, stood his ground against one of the League's heavyweights, was a physical presence, and notched the game-winning goal, all while rocking an A-plus Movember 'stache. That first star is well deserved, good sir.