The Caps may have ended their five-game homestand on a high note, but prior to Saturday's win over Columbus, Verizon Center was anything but home sweet home. So after a string of disappointing performances in front of their own fans, it was time to hit the road and kick off the season's longest road trip - first up, a trip to the place where the Caps turned their fortunes around last season, the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
It'd be an understatement to say this was not the prettiest of games - and not even in a "this game is ugly but a good road game" sort of way, as the Caps' defense and Ondrej Pavelec conspired to keep this one interesting from start to finish (especially in the second). But it would be the Caps celebrating at the end, as against all odds they captured the two points.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The game didn't get off to the smoothest of starts, with the Caps escaping the opening frame locked in a 0-0 tie only because of some good goaltending and a heap of luck... and in spite of concerted efforts by Mike Green and John Carlson to play the worst possible defense. Neither of the Caps' top offensive d-men seemed to have their feet under them from the get-go, with flubbed passes, blown clears and an inability to adjust to fleet-footed forwards like, say, Dustin Byfuglien nearly costing the Caps early and certainly costing them as the game went on. Perhaps that's why Green in particular was stapled to the Caps bench after the halfway point of the third period...
- One guy who might have appreciated a bit more from a few of his blueliners was Braden Holtby, who was hung out to dry multiple times in a game that featured plenty of chances and little in the way of defense. And yet he stood tall for the Caps, facing down 47 Winnipeg shots - including wave after wave of odd-man rushes, shorthanded breakaways, overtime and a shootout. Hard to blame him for the bit of frustration he exhibited in that middle frame after the way his team played in front of him, as the Jets fired 19 shots on Holtby in the second period alone - or for the relatively leaky shootout performance. But plenty easy to give him credit for the two points they packed away at the end of the night, that's for sure.
- While Braden Holtby held down the fort at one end of the rink, the other end set the stage for the captain to put his team on his back as he's done so many times before. Down by one and with the Caps flailing, Alex Ovechkin dragged his team back into a tie and then put them on top (albeit briefly) - first cashing in on a breakaway that twisted Ondrej Pavelec around so much he lost his stick, the second on a sneaky shot off the faceoff. All told Ovechkin finished the evening with seven shots on net, another five that missed, two goals and a pretty captain-y performance all around.
- Before the game Adam Oates had mentioned the fact that the Jets were a frustrated team and the Caps could use that to their advantage. And yet for much of the game the Caps were the frustrated, disorganized group being taken to task by a more composed Jets team. So... good call, Adam.
- The Caps had 7:40 of power play time against the Jets, firing eight shots on net and cashing in off of one of Nicklas Backstrom's more ridiculous toe-drag assists (which is saying something). Of course they also gave up seven shots and a goal... on those same 7:40. Oof.
- But no, seriously, that play by Nicklas Backstrom. Beauty.
- After a rough couple of games (and a bluffed chance in the first period), and a handful of points limited to the power play, Mikhail Grabovski finally joined the even strength scoring party, picking up his first goal since opening night to give the Caps the lead early in the second. It was the product of a good, hard-working shift all around by the third line, capped off with what Grabovski has proven is an excellent nose for the net. Worth noting that it was just the Caps' second even-strength goal on the road this season (although it would thankfully be followed by a few more tonight).
- If you were perhaps participating in some sort of game that requires one to imbibe whenever the Caps gave up an odd-man rush (not that we would ever condone that sort of thing)... farewell to your liver.
- One of the more frustrating aspects of the Caps' struggles early last season was their seeming inability to push a game far enough to gain a point. So many close games, so many opportunities, and so many points squandered because they couldn't manage to stay deadlocked long enough. It's something that has continued this season, as well - so even in a gong show of a game like this (or especially in a gong show of a game like this), it was nice to see the Caps pick up a much-needed point for once...
- ...and it was even nicer to see them take the second, even if it was in the shootout. Holtby wasn't as flawless in the extra extra frame, but with Martin Erat and Nicklas Backstrom taking care of business, he didn't have to be.
So many things still to work on, so many questions still abound... but the Caps have two points to take with them on the plane and that's not nothing.
Let's just hope they get in the air as soon as possible before someone notices they've been stolen.