A little less than a week ago, the Caps traveled to Sunrise to take on the Panthers in a game that would determine who would sit atop the Southeast Division. It was an important game, one that could have given them some breathing room in first, a game that should have had built-in energy and focus... and instead the Caps came out flat, lost and found themselves on the outside looking in once more.
Tonight they had a chance to redeem themselves for that performance, the loss still fresh in their minds and a slim one-point lead now in the hands of the Panthers. And redeem themselves they did, jumping out to a lead before the game was a minute old, establishing an energetic game early on and never looking back.
Ten more notes on the game:
- May it never be said that Mathieu Perreault doesn't take advantage of his opportunities... or at least that he hasn't lately. With injuries comes extra ice time and the chance to play a bigger role on the team, and he's made the most of both, picking up five of his eight goals on the season in the two weeks leading up to tonight and adding a ninth just thirteen seconds into this one. Credit Alexander Semin for setting up the play, Jason Chimera for the beauty of a pass from behind the net and Perreault himself for getting open (and being small enough to hide behind two defenders).
- As good as Perreault has been of late and as much as he's stepped up, he can't make up for the talent of his team's captain; luckily tonight he didn't have to, as Alex Ovechkin showed up to play and picked up his first goal since coming back from the suspension... and then added another one for good measure. Both tallies were of the "vintage Alex" variety, marking his first multi-goal game of 2012 and coming out of ten total shot attempts (with five that hit or got past Scott Clemmensen).
- Getting outshot in a game is hardly new for this team these days; still, it never quite sits right to watch the shot counter tick up and up and up for the opposition while the Caps' shots are few and far between. Even with a respectable start, firing 18 shots on net through forty minutes, they still gave up 27 over that same stretch and were outshot 10-2 in the first half of the third. Naturally some of that was because of the healthy four-goal lead they carried into that third, but still.
- If you saw Brooks Laich's injury against the Bruins Sunday afternoon, you might have thought he was done for at least a few weeks. If you heard about him being unable to put weight on his leg in the locker room after the collision, you might have thought he was done for the year. And yet here he was, not a single game missed and back in the lineup. He clearly wasn't 100%, his ice time was limited and his impact on the scoresheet minimal, but there was something truly badass about his presence nonetheless.
- Chimera had what was easily his best game in a long while tonight (despite taking an ill-advised retaliatory penalty late in the third), as he set up the game-opening tally and added a shorthanded tap-in of his own early in the second period. And led the team in shots by a wide margin with eight. And won all three faceoffs he took. We understand Chimera's parents were in town to take in their son's performance... wonder if they'd be interested in making Washington their winter habitat.
- Knowing how to take control of a game early used to be something the Caps did without a second thought. Holding off the opponent and piling on the offense, instinctual. It's been missing of late, however, so to see this team jump out to a lead - and then continue to build on it and put pressure on the Panthers, even while giving up the requisite barrage of shots-against - brought back fond memories of pre-Trapitals hockey. Ah, memories.
- No one would argue with the fact that Joel Ward has been less than impressive over the past two months...so if you were wondering who that guy was in the #42 jersey barreling his way around the offensive zone at the halfway mark of the game, you weren't alone. That was an absolute beast of a shift by Ward and his linemates that earned a well-deserved round of applause from the Verizon Center faithful, and was really just the icing on what was an all-around solid, physical game for Ward. More, please?
- Even in a slightly lopsided contest, you don't want to be giving the other team chances to get back in it - especially a team with a top-10 power play, and especially when you're a team with a bottom-10 penalty kill. It ultimately didn't end up hurting the team but discipline is still important. Yeah, we're looking at you, Dennis "two trips to the sin bin" Wideman .
- Every goal counts the same regardless of the situation in which it's scored. Still, it was nice to see the Caps capitalizing in a variety of different ways - they scored in transition, scored off a nice offensive zone cycle, picked up a power play goal and even tallied shorthanded for just the second time this year.
- Seems this is the case more often than not these days, but yet another stellar performance for former Panther Tomas Vokoun. His team got him the lead and he did the rest, turning aside all 42 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season (and second in the last three games).
What goes around comes around, and the Caps find themselves back in the lead in the Southeast - the hope now is that the cycle ends and the Caps find some momentum, start building a cushion for themselves. It starts with one win, preferably a strong one like this; then it's up to the team to find a way to make one good win into two, then three, to find some consistency in a season that continues to be lacking in that area. The home stretch only gets more difficult.