After a handful of days off of hockey in favor of merry-making, egg-nogging, gift-wrap-tearing, caroling, or, in the case of Alex Ovechkin, Miami-ing, the Caps took home ice against an all too familiar foe in the New York Rangers, and a completely unfamiliar one in Cam Talbot, who occupied the pipes in favor of Caps-killer Henrik Lundqvist (and certainly not for lack of rest.) Despite a somewhat inauspicious start to the season for both squads, only 4 standing points seperated the 2nd place Capitals from the 4th place Rangers in the
division that shall not be named Metropolitan Division.
As they have for so often during the past handful of years, the Caps and Rags went back and forth, back and forth. This time, the Capitals emerged with the coveted two points.
Ten more notes on the game:
- No way to get the Caps started like an early power play, huh? And what a strong play along the boards by Martin Erat to deliver the puck via backhand special sauce back to Mike Green at the point, who made absolutely no mistake with a (vintage) slapshot bullet short side to give the Capitals an early lead. Whatever you ate for Christmas dinner, Greenie, keep eating it. The assist, by the way, gave Erat the interesting distinction of being the only forward in the league with ten assists and zero goals. Related, who has beer suggestions for JP, whose drinking adjusted the hockey cosmos in the Caps' favor early on?
- If the first period was a bit sluggish seeming, the Caps sure livened things up with a few big hits as things approached intermission time. First was Tom Wilson with a huge smash on Dominic Moore (viewable as a GIF here) and then was Alex Ovechkin with the perhaps more satisfying crunch on Brian Boyle, which created a nice scoring chance for the league's most lethal shooter. That one is visible as a GIF as well, here. Say one things for the guys in red, say they didn't forget how to lower their shoulders this Christmas.
- E.L. James. Nora Roberts. Nicoholas Sparks. Philipp Grubauer. These are the authors of the nation's hottest romances, and so long as Grubauer keeps up his sparkling play in net, Caps' fans (and the organization besides) will continue to flip the pages. Neither of the Rags two goals can really be pinned on Grubauer, and he faced over 40 shots for the third time in only his eight start. Keep on keeping on, kid. And nice win.
- It's not particularly pleasing that the New York Rangers— a team that twice in their ten games before tonight failed to register twenty shots on goal through three periods— were able to put 14 on target before the first stanza had concluded. Granted, the Blueshirts were benefactors of two powerplays, and took a ton of low-percentage shots from the perimeter (a strategy that was effective, you might remember, two consecutive years in the playoffs against Braden Holtby). Still, the Caps continue to play the majority of the game in their own zone, and though the points keep coming, and the importance of each standing point is not to be diminished, they are without question playing with fire.
- Funny thing about penalties, they're not quite so nice when you're the one taking them. After succesfully killing two Rangers power plays in the first period, you might have suspected that damage would await when Nicklas Backstrom took the the box early in the third. Indeed, Benoit Pouliot made the good guys pay with a smart deflection in front of Grubauer.
- Interesting little moment on a Caps' power play in the second period. With Ovechkin off the ice, and Dmitry Orlov manning the halfboards in his stead, Nick Backstrom had the puck on his stick. Presumably due to Ovi's absence, the pass through the high slot to Orlov was wide open, and only a tremendous splits-save from Cam Talbot saved the Capitals' second power play strike of the night. Such a play might cause one to wonder if this bit of personnel confusion opens up that high-percentage play for skaters not named Alex Ovechkin. Then again, perhaps one wouldn't wonder that at all...
- Rumors abound that Dan Girardi — a mainstay on the Rangers' blue line, and blocker of an infuriating quantity of Capitals' shots — is on the trading block. That the Caps' need help in their own defensive ranks is no rumor. It's plenty apparent on the ice. Girardi and his partner Ryan McDonagh skated more than anyone else in the stadium, took a few shots, blocked a few shots, picked up an assist, and registered some absolutely dominant possession numbers. Just sayin'.
- Stop me if you've heard this one before: Nicklas Backstrom came up big in a big moment. With the game tied, and the Caps hemmed in their own zone, Backstrom was able to sneak one through Cam Talbot's seven hole to give the Caps a lead on only their 11th even strength shot attempt on the evening, neverminding the fact that the second period was about to expire. What a fantastic season for Backstrom, who, were he not on a line with one Alex Ovechkin, would certainly be in the mid-season conversation for MVP. That game winning assist wasn't half bad either.
- For all their power play successes, the Caps sure don't mind letting the puck go the other way, huh? Carl Hagelin 's short handed break away goal was the fifth shortie the Caps have allowed on the season. Only Edmonton has allowed more. And for the record, Hagelin's goal was yet another one scored inside of two minutes after a Capitals goal.
- From 2005-2012, the Caps were 185-6-20 when leading after two periods. From 2009-10 through 2011-12, the Caps were 86-0-8 when leading after two. In 2013, they're 30-3-2, with tonight's results very much in question for much of the night.
A win is a win, no matter how you boil it down, but hemorrhaging shots and playing on the wrong side of the ice is no recipe for continued success. The Caps have a good opportunity to reverse some of their ugly trends, as they next take the ice against the most hapless team in the NHL: Buffalo.