For almost sixty minutes tonight, it looked like the Caps were going to fall to another shutout at the hands of Nathan Lawson. For almost sixty minutes, it looked like the Caps were once again going to be victims of a deadly combination of bad luck, bad bounces, bad shots and a goalie playing above his level.
Man, what a difference a few minutes makes...
Ten more notes on the game:
- There is simply nothing more beautiful than watching Alex Ovechkin take the puck end to end and score a goal that few can score. It's something we haven't seen as often as we'd like this year but it's been coming out more and more lately, and it emerged at the most opportune of moments tonight as the Captain ended it all in overtime. Quite a goal, indeed.
- Less than 10 minutes into the game, the Caps held a 10-1 advantage in shots on goal. It's a nice stat in and of itself, but it's made nicer by the fact that each of the new guys chipped in for a shot - Marco Sturm getting his on a breakaway, Jason Arnott almost cashing in on a nice timing play from Laich and Dennis Wideman firing a bomb from the blue line.
- Marco Sturm's debut in a Caps sweater was very much trial by fire, as he found himself immediately skating alongside two of the game's best in Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom . And for the most part he seemed pretty comfortable there, collecting an Ovechkin pass for a breakaway chance early on and looking quite capable of keeping up with his young linemates. His time on the top line was short-lived as a lack of offense led to the inevitable line shuffling, but a nice debut nonetheless.
- His former teammate in Boston, Dennis Wideman, had an even better start with his new team. A shaky first few shifts and a bad turnover aside, Wideman quickly settled in, fired three shots on goal, laid out four hits, blocked a shot and finished a +2 on the night. He also made some nice plays in his own zone and showed a decent level of snarl (although that hit on John Tavares while on the penalty kill was probably worth two in the sin bin). And his 26:44 of ice time was the highest on the team by almost five minutes.
- Rounding out the trio of new Caps, Jason Arnott made a splash in his own right and seemed to have chemistry with Brooks Laich right from the start. The two connected on a timing play with Arnott in front of the net early in the game that almost beat Lawson - a bit of foreshadowing for the eventual game-tying goal, the product of an absolutely beautiful pass from the brand new #44.
- How about that Laich goal, by the way? Yet another one from right in front of the net for Brooks, something that's been missing from his game until recently and something that was missing from the team all night long. Not a surprise that all it took to beat Lawson was someone parked in front of him.
- The struggles of John Carlson continue. A bad bobble of the puck in the neutral zone led to the Islanders' only goal and he had numerous other sins covered up by a combination of Karl Alzner playing much better and Michal Neuvirth being Michal Neuvirth.
- The first period was all about the cycle game for the Caps, much of it fueled by the new players, and it was a huge reason why the Caps held a lopsided advantage in shots through twenty. It tapered off as the game went on, however, and the second and third saw a return to the old Caps - too many one-and-done chances, too many shots from the perimeter, and too many chances for Lawson to see the puck. He played well, but the Caps didn't exactly make it difficult for him.
- At the other end of the ice, Neuvirth once again stood tall and kept his team in it long enough to win - which unfortunately had to be almost the entire game. The margin of error for the Caps' goaltending is so slim it's almost unfair, as giving up just one goal in a game should be more than enough for the Caps (or any team, really) to win on any given night. That it came down to the wire despite a dominant performance by their young goalie...well, just par for the course at this point.
- One of the biggest things David Steckel brought to the lineup was his faceoff ability...and yes, it's an aspect of his game that will be missed. As a team tonight the Caps were a less than inspiring 31-for-67 (46%) in the dot; it was a slightly better result in the defensive zone, with the Caps winning 11 of 22 faceoffs, but 8 of those 11 wins were courtesy of Boyd Gordon - and it was Gordo's numbers that made those faceoff percentages look even remotely passable.
- Nice to see that the goal horn still works at Verizon Center. Not so nice to hear it go off when a shot is clearly fired high and wide. Just cruel, goal horn guy...just cruel.
This was an ugly win, and not the kind of game you'd like to see when welcoming new players to town - it probably didn't inspire much confidence that they'd come to a team that could contend. That they pulled out a win is something of a miracle and thanks in large part to the contributions of these new players.
And yet assessing this team based on this game alone would be somewhat incomplete. They remain the same team largely because the new guys haven't had a chance to make their mark yet; Sturm, Wideman and Arnott were brought in for what they bring on the ice but also partly for their experience and, especially in Arnott's case, their leadership ability. Hopefully it's the stuff off the ice that will contribute as much to this team as the stuff on it.