The mediocrity that characterized the first month of the Washington Capitals' 2013-14 season has been well documented... and has helped them fit right in with most of their new Metropolitan Division brethren. Throw out the Pittsburgh Penguins (if only...) and it's a grouping of teams that entered Tuesday night with a combined 35-51-10 record and a woeful minus-61 goal differential, with half the teams already at least 14 goals on the wrong side of zero.
All of that added up to the Caps - the 7-7-0 Caps who have yet to be above .500 this season - having a chance to grab sole possession of second place in the Division with the a win over the team that held that position entering the evening's match-up at Verizon Center, the New York Islanders. And that's exactly what they got, thanks to a second-period onslaught en route to a 6-2 win that was close... until it wasn't.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps got off to a solid (but ultimately fruitless) start that got derailed by a Mikhail Grabovski high-sticking penalty that he took while being hauled down by John Tavares behind the Islanders cage. New York dominated the ensuing power-play in terms of possession - both shots and zone time - and, wouldn't you know it, Tavares scored just as the power-play had expired, an even-strength goal in technicality only. If ever there was an unsuccessful successful penalty kill, that was it.
- That goal would be the only first-period tally, but it was actually one of the stronger periods of the season for the Caps at five-on-five, from the top line on down, including three shots on goal from the blueline (Nate Schmidt had a pair). Evgeni Nabokov was up to the task (for the moment), but the Caps' approach was more threatening than they've been in most of the season's opening stanzas. It would be foreshadowing.
- Speaking of Nabokov, earlier today we highlighted how well he and Braden Holtby had played against the other's team, and, for a while it looked like another goalie duel might be in store. But, well, Nabokov couldn't hold up his end of the bargain, and it got bad for him in a hurry in the first half of the second period. The Isles came out with a monster shift from their top line to start the frame, but a careless clearing attempt and a nice individual effort from John Carlson at the point resulted in the Caps blueliner getting an unscreened shot from the top of the faceoff circle that beat Nabby clean.
- Alex Ovechkin returned to the lineup after missing two games over the weekend and the Caps captain didn't look even a tiny bit rusty in his first game in more than a week, as he came out guns a-blazin', firing seven shots at the New York net (one of which made it on net) and making his presence known. Then, with the Caps on the power-play shortly after the Carlson goal, the reigning MVP took a Nicklas Backstrom face-off win and got an off-speed pitch past Nabokov to make it 2-1 Caps.
- As we pointed out last week, the Caps giving up a goal in short-order after scoring one of their own has definitely been a thing early on, and it would be again just 17 seconds after Ovechkin's goal, with Kyle Okposo re-tying the game. Seriously, though, Caps - stop it.
- And then... floodgates. Two minutes and change later, Nicklas Backstrom bounced a pass off of Troy Brouwer to Marcus Johansson on the power play (like he didn't mean to do that), and Johansson scored his last goal since mid-April. Eighty seconds later, a strong net drive by Tom Wilson was foiled, but the rookie managed from his backside to get a pass out to Alexander Urbom who, well, Urbombed a shot past Nabokov. It was the fourth Caps goal in 5:04 of game time and the Isles' back-up goalie must be really terrible, because no change in net was made. (And congrats to Wilson on that first NHL point - here's to many more now that that monkey is off the back.)
- Another power play, another Ovechkin goal, this one late in the second and assisted by Johansson and Backstrom (and beautifully, at that... and another three-helper game for Backstrom). Amazingly, that's two five-goal second periods in the Caps' last three games.
- The Caps added a third-period power-play goal when Wilson redirected an Ovechkin pass for his first NHL goal. That gave the Caps four power-play goals in the game... which is as many power-play tallies as Bruce Boudreau's Anaheim Ducks have scored all season.
- As hard as it is to believe, Adam Oates has managed to replace has averaged fewer shots per game in Martin Erat. But volume shooting isn't Erat's game and it's not what makes him a valuable top-six caliber forward, his puck possession skills and two-way acumen are. Erat-Backstrom-Ovechkin looked every bit as good as you'd hoped they would, but that was never really in question, was it? The question was where that would leave the second line, and the jury's still out on that one.
on the top line with someone who actually
- Back to Holtby, it's hard to complain about his game - he was very good when he needed to be and gave his team the chance to do what they did. And hey, he didn't get brutally assaulted while a referee actively prevented anyone from stopping it, so that's pretty much a win in and of itself.
Since returning from their big West Coast swing, the Caps have run off three-straight wins, two of them in convincing fashion and all three with solid defensive efforts. And while it might be too early to say they've turned the corner, it's not too early to say they're a winning team. Because they are. And that's nice... for now.