Points this time of year are at a premium for the Caps, not just to catch up to teams in front of them (and potentially leapfrog the Panthers for first in the division), but also to put more distance between themselves and the teams behind them - like the Leafs.
Between that and the fact that this was the crucial last home game before a tough road trip, a win - and a good one - was going to be key. And the Caps did exactly what they needed to do, getting the job done on home ice and continuing their strong play of late to take down the Leafs while setting the tone for the road trip ahead.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Not too many chances on the power play for the Caps - just the one, about halfway through the first period - but the Caps had about as good a performance with the extra man as you can have without scoring a goal. The Caps spent the entire two minutes in Toronto's zone, taking advantage of what seemed to be a pretty passive Leafs' PK to pass the puck around with lightning speed and create multiple scoring chances. Where has that been all year?
- It may not have worked out with the extra man, but Brooks Laich made sure to make the Leafs pay shorthanded, picking off a neutral zone drop pass to create a semi-breakaway and score his fourteenth goal of the season. Amazingly enough (or not), he is just the second Cap to score a shorthanded goal this year.
- Great insight on that play during his Intermission interview, by the way, as Laich talked about having seen that exact drop-pass in Toronto's shootout loss last night - and mentioned that it was also highlighted by assistant coach Dean Evason and video coach Blaine Forsythe this morning. Smart hockey minds create a smart hockey play.
- Having taken it to Toronto through the first twenty minutes, the Caps probably expected the Leafs to come out hard with a much better performance in the second. They wouldn't be disappointed, as the Leafs seemed refocused and reenergized after intermission and came at the Caps in waves, capitalizing on a few ill-timed turnovers by the Caps as well.
- Today's game was a great team win, but it also served to spotlight just how good Alexander Semin has been of late. He was easily the best player on the ice this afternoon, picking up an assist and creating a number of chances despite only having one shot on goal. Even his offensive zone penalty - his first in ten games - wasn't a lazy stick penalty so much as it was his skates getting caught up with a Maple Leaf's skates. He gave Toronto's defense fits every time he was on the ice, which opened up room for his linemates...
- Like Mathieu Perreault, for example. He was smart enough to camp out on the side of the net just waiting for a rebound, and it would come when Semin carved a path through traffic in the offensive zone and got a shot toward the net. As a result he was able to pounce on the bouncing puck, giving the team a bit more breathing room down the stretch.
- Even the good all-around team games have their negatives, and if you wanted to find one today you need look no further than the faceoff circle. The Caps were absolutely throttled on faceoffs, winning just 38% of their draws... thanks in no small part to former Cap Dave Steckel, who won 8 of the 10 he took.
- At what point did it become legal to throw your broken stick toward an attacking player? We're looking at you, Mike Komisarek.
- Fitting that Michal Neuvirth would mark his 100th career game with a shutout, celebrating the special milestone in style. He wasn't tested all that often, turning aside just 23 shots, but he made some big saves to keep the Caps on the right track. He even saved his best save for late in the game, as he made a great read on a Matt Frattin timing play for the big left pad stop with a little less than 8 minutes left in the game.
- Sometimes the puck goes in the wide-open net...and sometimes it gets rolling on you and bounces just wide. Had the Caps not been up by two it might be more painful, but as it is you just have to feel for Marcus Johansson (and his dearly departed stick, RIP) after that whiff that could have made it 3-0. Kid'll be seeing that one in his nightmares for sure.
So the Caps hit the road with a three-game winning streak under their belts and a one-point gap between themselves and first place Florida. They're in a good position as far as making the playoffs, up four points on both Winnipeg and Buffalo, but we've seen how quickly that can change - and the next week and a half is going to be a tough test. Whether or not they're up to it remains to be seen, but if they keep this up they've at least got a fighting chance.