OTTAWA, CANADA - DECEMBER 7: Craig Anderson #41 of the Ottawa Senators makes a save against Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals during an NHL game at Scotiabank Place on December 7, 2011 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
The Caps have been experiencing their fair share of road woes of late, having dropped five straight away from Verizon Center and just four of twelve overall this season. Combine that with their losing record over the past few weeks, and...yeah, they really needed a win.
Thankfully their captain packed his big boy pants for this one, and along with some timely power play reawakening was able to give the Caps their second win under Dale Hunter.
Ten more notes on the game:
- No one has taken more heat or felt more pressure during this extended slump than the Captain, whether deservedly or not - so it was great to see Alex Ovechkin finally score (and do so in such a vintage Ovechkin sort of way, with the circling and the stopping and the firing). It was the exclamation point on what was a very active game for #8, who finished the night with seven shots, four of which came in the opening frame, and a bit of a dodged bullet when his stick, er, "accidentally(?)" caught Chris Neil in the midsection. Um... tsk tsk bad boy no Ovi no.
- Ovechkin wasn't the only one who at least started the night out well, as his Care Bear linemates Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom had a fair amount of jump in their respective steps early on, as well. And while Semin faded a little as the game went on, Backstrom kept his foot on the gas, picking up the extremely vital game-tying goal in the third and adding an assist on Ovechkin's goal.
- Rebound goals have been rare for the Caps in recent weeks, but they finally managed to corral one tonight, as Jeff Halpern collected a wicked rebound off a Dennis Wideman shot to open the scoring (and get his first goal in a month). Amazing what the simple acts of shooting the puck and driving to the net can accomplish.
- Even paid employees need to actually earn their paycheck, and Tomas Vokoun has been decidedly mediocre of late in that department - although to be fair his paycheck is rather mediocre, as well. At least twice tonight he overcommitted and allowed himself to be pulled out of position, leading to goals... which is frustrating when you see him make plenty of tough saves, including a tremendous stop on Milan Michalek early in the third.
- Letting power play opportunities slip away has become a trademark of this team, but it's twice as frustrating when they do it up two men - and for an extended period of time, no less. There was decent movement, a few chances, good zone time, but nothing particularly inspirational (or ultimately effective) about the five-on-three that was. Too many passes, not enough shots on a goalie who, while good, is hardly Patrick Roy. Hell, at times he's hardly Patrick Lalime.
- All is forgiven, though, because strike up the band and release the doves, the Caps scored on the power play! As in they had more players on the ice than the other team and the puck went into the other team's net! Beauty of a shot by Backstrom to let the Caps - and their fans - breathe the tiniest sigh of relief (before going back to cursing the crappy power play...because it's still bad).
- Troy Brouwer didn't have the greatest of starts to his season, but he continues to make up for it of late and had another fine game tonight. He started with the fight to spark the team a little, then added an assist on Halpern's goal, and capped it off with the eventual game-winner in the third period. Yes, folks, that would be the storied Gordie Howe Hat Trick for #20.
- It's funny how things work in this League. Just as the Caps have been a healer for so many slumping teams, so have the Sens been for the Caps, and it's a codependent relationship that dates back to last season. It was in Scotiabank Place that the Caps snapped their infamous losing streak back in December 2010; almost a year later, they were the team against which Dale Hunter earned his first win in the NHL, and tonight they were feeling generous once more as the Caps break a lengthy power play slump and a two-game skid. Thanks, Sens!
- Of course it wouldn't be the Caps if they didn't at least make this one interesting, and the modus operandi for the evening was a parade to the penalty box with the game still fairly close - the Caps took seven minors tonight, four of which came in the third (and two of which were taken by Joel Ward). That they only gave up one power play goal is a miracle in and of itself.
- No clue as to whether Jeff Schultz's 3:55 of ice time (that's not a typo, folks) was due to him being in Coach Hunter's doghouse or if something else is going on there, but it's shocking regardless. Five shifts in the first period, two in the second, and just one in the third...
So the Caps hang on to win and are now 2-3 under Hunter, back in second place in the division and (hooray!) back in the playoff picture. And while there was a lot to like, and a win definitely feels better than a loss, there was also a lot that reminds us there's still work to be done - and it won't happen overnight.
And once again we must preach patience, optimism and a little dab of faith. Can't hurt.