For the first time since the season-opening 7 game winning streak, the Washington Capitals entered the night carrying a three game winning streak. The Caps are also carrying their unbeaten streak against Canadian steams since Dale Hunter stepped behind the bench. And, for the first time in almost two months, the Capitals got to put their undefeated record with Mike Green in the lineup on the line. Tonight, the Calgary Flames came into the Verizon Center looking to end all of those streaks. Behind a strong opening 40 minutes and another solid game from Tomas Vokoun, the Caps would keep their streaks alive and fend off the Flames.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Vokoun didn't have a ton of tough work early in the game, but he did have to step up and make a few big saves during the first 40 minutes. In the third period, though, he had to shine. The Flames came out harder than the Caps and put together several quality chances. After some early help from the post, Vokoun locked it down for the rest of the period and made sure there would be no late comeback. In his last 5 appearances, Vokoun is 4-0-0/1.25/.954. That'll do.
- On the other hand, with a two goal lead at home you'd really like to see the Caps come out and choke the life out of the opposition. With a chance to show off their new defensive responsibility under Coach Hunter, the Caps got caught running around in their own end for most of the final 20 minutes. That won't get it done when the Caps start facing quality teams.
- Knowing that Mike Green hadn't played in 23 games, and that he had a groin injury that even limited his ability to skate at all, you had to expect some rust. And it was there. He showed some flashes of that smooth skating puck mover that almost literally transforms the look of the Capitals singlehandedly, but he wasn't the impact player he normally is. Green skated under 16 minutes tonight, looked to shy away from some contact, and he wasn't able to join the other (healthy) Young Guns on the scoresheet, but he made it through the game in one piece, and for now that's what matters. Baby steps.
- Everyone has seen it seemingly a million times (especially the Flames...), so why did it seem so surprising to see Alex Ovechkin convert a power play one timer from the top of the circle? The Captain has now been on the ice for 11 of the last 13 goals the Capitals have scored. It's been a great couple games for Caps fans to watch, but where'd the secondary scoring go?
- Sticking with high scoring D and hot offensive players, Dennis Wideman has also been on the ice for 11 of the last 13 Caps goals, and hasn't been on ice for a single goal against during that time. It's classic "when it rains it pours" behavior with Wideman, so hit the beach and enjoy the sunshine.
- We know Rene Bourque has no honor. We know Rene Bourque is dirty. We know Rene Bourque has no respect for whatever semblance of The Code still exists. But that elbow he threw at Nicklas Backstrom's head was straight up gutless. Shanny has had some questionable decisions of late, but this one seems like a slam dunk. Gotta be at least two games. On a night when Iggy and the Stooges came to play the VC, Bourque was the biggest stooge of them all.
- At the end of the game the Caps ended up with 24 blocked shots. The Flames ended up with 19 shots on net. Jim Johnson has been pretty open about the coaching staff's desire to block a lot of shots, but that's still a curious/impressive number. It would seem to indicate that the Caps aren't winning the possession battle, but it was also a huge factor in keeping the Flames' shot total under 20, which is always a good sign. Of course, now that Vokoun is stopping pucks like fans had anticipated, maybe the Caps can leave some of those shots to the 'keeper and save their ankles for another day.
- Going into the coaching change we all knew there would be growing pains and a big adjustment. It's hard to predict which players will struggle and which players will thrive, but I don't think many people could have seen John Carlson's struggles coming. He has already enjoyed great success under Dale Hunter in the OHL, but now he's been on the ice for the last 6 goals against. Even worse, he seems to be bringing some kryptonite to Karl Alzner's game. Someone tell Carlson that just because it's World Junior Championship season doesn't mean he needs to drag down all the Canadian studs.
- On the other side of the adjustment coin, Roman Hamrlik and Dmitri Orlov have continued their strong play under the new coach. Harmlik is a bit less of a surprise, the guy has played over a thousand NHL games and is transitioning back to a system that he's very familiar with. But Orlov was billed as raw and undisciplined in his own end, and after a brief taste of NHL competition he was asked to play a more demanding man-on-man style of hockey in his own end. The kid has poise and he's not afraid to challenge NHL players. His development is going to be fun to watch.
- Nick Backstrom had a phenomenal night, again, putting up 3 assists and handing out several clinics on puck control and possession. Even on a night when Ovechkin had a strong game, it was the other top line that was the best on the ice for the Caps. Backstrom worked great with countryman Marcus Johansson, no doubt inspired by Sweden's huge victory over Finland earlier today. Johansson is never going to lead the team in headlines, but he used his speed effectively tonight and was a factor in all 3 Caps goals.
And so the Caps continue to win some games and make up ground in the standings. But as with their last significant winning streak, happy results are hiding some troubling trends. For the 8th straight game the Caps have failed to get 26 shots on goal. 26 shots on goal per night would be good for dead last in the NHL. The margin for error is slim, and when the goaltending comes back down from .950 and Alex Ovechkin isn't shooting like it's 2009 anymore, the Caps will need something more. For now, they'll just take the bounces and the points, start making up ground on the Florida Panthers, and look forward to the next game.