Any time a U.S.-based team gets the opportunity to appear on Hockey Night in Canada, it's an opportunity to send a message to the hockey world. On this Saturday night, it was the Caps' turn to make a statement, and while they certainly were imperfect against a less-than-stellar Leafs team en route to a 4-1 win, they made anyone watching realize that this is a team that can defend its own end of the ice a bit (though they got a bit loose in the third), and has organizational depth to burn in goal.
But more than anything else, Saturday night's win made the League and its fans stand up and take notice of one very important fact: the demise of Alex Ovechkin has been greatly exaggerated.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Ovechkin notched his first hat trick of the season, but did much more than fill the net, as he fired eight shots on goal, blocked a trio of Toronto shots, had two takeaways (and no giveaways), and ended the night with a plus-three rating. Yep, Ovi loves him some Hockey Night.
- The other story of the night was Braden Holtby's often-spectacular night in net. In just his seventh NHL game, Holtby made 35 saves on 36 shots (including an 18-for-19 third), many of them of the highlight-reel variety (just ask Tyler Bozak). In two games since being recalled from Hershey, he has stopped 59 of 61 shots against. Sure, he's faced a couple of lottery-bound teams, but these two efforts are still mighty impressive. Some might even say "legitimately above average."
- Tweet of the Year candidate for Alan May's pregame prediction: "I think #Ovi gets 2 goal minimum & @greenlife52 will be best D tonight." Yes and... well, after a rocky start, Green finished the night with an assist, a plus-three rating and the best Corsi rating on the team, so we'll give May a two-fer there.
- Another "best D" nominee? How about Jeff Schultz, who has been struggling (somewhat mightily) of late, but bounced back with a plus-three effort of his own and made a number of very strong defensive plays that won't show up on any score sheet. Atta boy, Sarge.
- At the other end of that spectrum, John Erskine had a tough night, but still did some of the things that make him valuable to this team, including blocking four shots and letting Dion Phaneuf know what would happen to him if he laid another stick on Holtby.
Matt Hendricks isn't going to make anyone forget Matt Bradley... or is he? Hendy got bloodied a bit in a first-period fight and then scored an unbelievable (literally, given the scorer) breakaway goal to bump the Caps' lead back to two after Toronto had cut it in half. #needsmorehendricks? (Maybe his spot on Japers' Rink Radio this morning inspired him.)
- Sticking with the grinders, Jason Chimera (can we still call him a grinder now that he's getting the plush assignment of riding shotgun with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom?) now has points in a career-best four-straight. I did not see that one coming.
- The power play? Still stinks, going 0-for-2 on the night with just three shots on goal.
- The penalty kill? Still rolling, going 3-for-3 on the night, allowing just four shots on goal (keyed, in part, by a perfect 5-for-5 on shorthanded draws).
Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault combined for no points, a minus-one rating, one shot on goal and 8-for-17 in the dot in 24:40 of ice time. The second-line center problem persists.
So the Caps wrap up what has to be considered a wholly successful road trip (the health of their netminders notwithstanding). They grabbed a point in Philly, then beat a couple of teams that they should beat, with their third-string goalie in net. There's always room for improvement, of course, but the points build confidence... but maybe not as much as the play of the Captain.