Alexander Semin back in. Joel Ward sitting out. A banged-up blueline. So many storylines swirling around the Caps these days (and those are just the ones directly related to this team), right? The bigger story, however, and certainly the one that commands most of our attention, is what's happening on the ice - and in the last two games the Caps have put together some gritty, hard-working wins when they most needed them.
Tonight's hero was Jason Chimera, who continues to roll through the first quarter of the season with an increasingly impressive level of production. But backing him up was a solid cast of characters who, for the first time in awhile, are looking like a cohesive unit...dare we say it, even like a team.
Ten more notes on the game:
- So when Chimera started the season by scoring four goals in his first five games, the general sentiment among Caps fans was most likely that it was nice but wouldn't last. It couldn't. Well, don't look now, but thanks to his two goals tonight, Chimera's heading into the Thanksgiving weekend with the team scoring lead firmly in hand. Anyone who called that is...okay, no one called that. But it's nice to see, and between his speed and chemistry with his linemates we might be seeing it for awhile longer. And hopefully he celebrates all future goals the way he did tonight...
- Alexander Semin's benching Monday night made headlines, not just in Washington but around the NHL as well - and many eyes were on #28 tonight to see how he would respond. The verdict? Pretty darn well. Semin kicked off the scoring with a laser in the first, was plus-two on the night, and, wait for it...didn't take a penalty. Whether it lasts or not is another question, the answer to which will remain to be seen, but for tonight at least we got a healthy dose of good Sasha. And it's a good thing.
- Since their 5-2 loss to Dallas back on November 8, the Caps have scored just one power play goal, and it was with a two-man advantage Monday night. That's a big 0-for-28 at five-on-four, which is slightly...horrible. It's even worse when you add in the fact that they've also given up three shorthanded goals during that span (including two on Monday to negate that one power play bright spot). It seems like we say this almost daily now, but seriously, get well soon Mike Green.
- Heading into tonight's action, the Caps hadn't lost a game when leading after two; the Jets, on the other hand, hadn't won when trailing after two. Didn't make this one any less nerve-wracking when Winnipeg tied it up late in the third period (on a shot that Vokoun really needed to have), did it?
- Always-dangerous Evander Kane was held pretty well in check tonight, with no goals, no assists and a minus-one for the game. He also got cleaned out along the boards quite nicely by Dmitri Orlov, a hit so awesomely brutal it sent Kane's stick flying into the seats as a (temporary) souvenir for one lucky fan. So you're saying the players were aware of the threat he posed and actually did something to neutralize him? Amazing.
- Chimera's game-winner was a nice capper on a good evening for him, but it was also the result of some excellent play on both ends of the ice. First it was Jeff Schultz doing a great job to break up a two-on-one in the defensive zone; then it was some nice hustle by Chimera and Marcus Johansson, excellent pressure by Johansson to force the turnover, a beauty of a move and a pass by Dennis Wideman to Chimera finishing with a tap-in into the wide open net.
- After giving up two power plays on five power play chances the last time these two teams met, the Caps came right back with a more disciplined game overall and a perfect penalty kill that included a lengthy two-man advantage for the Jets. Of course the highlight of that penalty kill was Brooks Laich, who was missing his stick and decided to relieve Nik Antropov of his stick, as well. Y'know, by mauling him. Might be one of the best penalty-killing performances in a long while, and vintage Brooks through and through.
- Rest assured that Alex Ovechkin is capable of having better games than he had tonight - especially early on, when he seemed to be doing a lot of standing around for no apparent reason. But he definitely turned up the intensity and the energy as the game went on, hitting everything in sight (and yet paling in comparison to Troy Brouwer, who was credited with ten - TEN - hits) and firing five shots on Ondrej Pavelec. And that pass to set up Semin's goal was quite nice indeed, a reminder that among his many skills is the ability to be a pretty decent playmaker in his own right.
- Eric Fehr made his triumphant return to Washington tonight as a member of his hometown Jets, and did...nothing. Good boy.
- Some might look at Dmitri Orlov and see a young, undersized defenseman. Watch him play and you realize that he's much more, and that the kid could be a star in the making; he's very poised, is not afraid to take on guys who are bigger than he is and possesses good offensive instincts. And they certainly paid off in this one - congratulations to Orlov on his first NHL point, well-deserved (and hopefully just the first of many).
So after a bunch of ugly losses, the Caps have now strung together two ugly - but beautiful - wins, on home ice, with and without various players in the lineup. With a tough back-to-back slate coming up against the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Rangers, they'd be wise to keep a little of that ugly handy for the weekend.
Enjoy the two points - and from the Rink family to yours, here's wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!