Right, not many of you. As surprising as this scenario may have seemed two months ago, that’s exactly the reality a desperate Caps team faced as they entered this afternoon’s content, six points behind a first place, but barely above .500, Winnipeg team.
The result? A very impressive 3-0 win, one that was more reminiscent of Tuesday’s victory over Carolina than of Wednesday’s nightmare outing in Philadelphia. Braden Holtby notched his third shutout of the season, Mike Ribeiro added a goal and an assist, and Matt Hendricks provided continuous offensive spark throughout the game. The win leaves the Caps - still mired in last place in the Eastern Conference - within striking distance of a Southeast Division title, where they are merely four points behind the Carolina Hurricanes (pending their game against Florida tonight).
Ten more notes on the game:
- Braden Holtby followed his shutout performance on Tuesday night with a stinker in Philadelphia, getting pulled halfway through the game. His response today was exceptional, as he notched 35 saves and posted his third shutout of the season. Most importantly was Holtby’s performance in the first period, when the Jets took it to the Caps but couldn’t solve the Caps goaltender. Simply put, Holtby's play kept the Caps in the game, and that's why he earned the #1 star.
- The Caps were dominated in the first period, getting outshot 15-5. They returned the favor in the second period, outshooting the Jets 13-4. It would be the Jets taking it to the Caps in the third, outshooting them 16-3. But it would be the Caps being more opportunistic, netting two goals. I'll take that trade any day.
- Erskine-to-Ribeiro-to-Hendricks for a 1-0 lead?!? Did that really happen? If anyone – and I mean anyone – predicted that trifecta teaming up for a goal at any point this season, you need to head to Vegas immediately.
- You’ve got to feel a bit for Chris Thorburn, who tried to block Troy Brouwer’s shot but re-directed it past his goalie for the Caps second goal. Thorburn did the right thing and sacrificed his body, but don’t feel too bad for the Jets. This goal was scored solely because of Backstrom’s textbook face-off win right to his winger, which caught the Winnipeg defense completely off guard and allowed Brouwer time to get a good shot off. (Technically, Brouwer should have shot it faster, but he’s not exactly known as a sniper.) Props to Backstrom, who's emerged from a quiet start to the season to put up 16 points.
- Speaking of Brouwer, nine goals in 20 games is an impressive scoring pace. Maybe, just maybe, McPhee was right that a certain someone’s goal production could be replaced by less talented sources.
- Waiver wire claim Aaron Volpatti suited up for his first game for the Caps. He went up against Winnipeg’s tough guy, Anthony Peluso, took a decisive loss in his first bout, and skated a whopping 5:24. (Why again do the Caps need him?)
- Because of Volpatti’s entrance into the line-up Wojtek Wolski was scratched. And Marcus Johansson (remember him?) continues on nacho duty (although I’m not sure the ‘Peg’s nachos are any good). After you get past Ovechkin, Backstrom and Ribiero, the Caps really lack offensive skill and creativity. Although neither Wolski’s or Johansson’s play has been anything special, maybe it’s time for coach Adam Oates to reconsider. The Caps will not be able to "grit" their way by better skilled teams like they did today against Winnipeg.
- Don’t give Ondrej Pavelec too much credit for stopping Jason Chimera nine minutes into the second period. The Chimmer shot it right into his glove despite having half the net wide open. Thus, the Chimmer remains goal-less on the season.
- Hometown boy Eric Fehr continued his solid play of late, skating 19:26, putting up three shots and notching an assist. That makes eight points in nine games.
- Lots of credit to the defense for today’s shutout, especially playing without an injured Mike Green. But let’s single out one specific player… Tomas Kundratek. You haven’t heard his name called out much, have you? That’s a good sign for a rookie defenseman. In his past ten games, he’s averaged 17+ minutes, put up four assists, played both PP and PK, and is +2. Not bad for a rookie with minimal expectations. Keep up the good work, kid.
The Caps win again, making them 6-3 in the last nine games. Perhaps that pace is too aggressive to sustain over the final 28 games, but it’s not that far off the pace the Caps will need to play to ensure a playoff spot for the sixth straight season. The schedule won't get any easier. The next one up is against a good Bruins team Tuesday night at Verizon Center.