Since December 15, only one NHL team has fewer wins than the Caps' 12 - the Vancouver Canucks. Three months later, the two teams met on Verizon Center ice and both of them looked every bit the part of "one of the worst teams in hockey" for stretches. For the first 40 minutes, it was Vancouver. For the next ten minutes, it was the Caps.
But the Caps had a good start (a rarity lately), a strong second (a rarity lately) and blew a two-goal lead (not at all a rarity lately), but were able to close out the game (a rarity lately) en route to a 4-3 win.
Eleven more notes on the game:
- The Caps opened the scoring just over eight minutes in when Joel Ward and Jason Chimera were able to generate some speed through the neutral zone and carry it in (rather than being stood up at the blueline, as the team was repeatedly to that point) and a pretty Chimera feed to Eric Fehr was shot wide but regained before eventually pinballing around and getting put in by Ward. Precisely the start the team needed.
- Nearly three-and-a-half minutes later - right after a successful Caps penalty kill - Vancouver got on the board when Zack Kassian beat Mike Green out of the corner (after Alex Ovechkin had basically cleared Jay Beagle instead of the puck) and threaded a pass through Marcus Johansson and to some guy apparently named Jordan Schroeder. He beat Jaroslav Halak high glove and the game was tied. Precisely the next few minutes the team didn't need.
- We've talked a bunch in the past about what makes for an effective even-strength Ovechkin, and it largely boils down to having someone else carry the puck through the neutral zone. In fact, that seemed to be at the root of Adam Oates's explanation as to why he hasn't tried Dustin Penner up on the top-line left wing. And yet Brooks Laich is a fit there? With Johansson forced into second-line center duties as Mikhail Grabovski heals up, there's an obvious choice for top-line left wing... and the sooner the team bumps Evgeny Kuznetsov up there, the better.
- Everyone has talked a bunch in the past about what makes for an effective power-play Ovechkin, and it largely boils down to firing one-time missiles from somewhere in the face-off circle to the opposing goalie's right. You've seen it a million times... but it never gets old, and number one-million-and-one came 8:28 into the second period to give the Caps the lead and Kuznetsov his first NHL point (on the secondary assist). Here's to many, many more of all of the above.
- And then came NHL point number two on an unreal fake-shot-slap-pass on the rush that Tom Wilson roofed to put the Caps up 3-1 (see what happens when you play him with skill?). Caps fans of the future will look back at that one with fondness as those two age and take on bigger roles with the team.
- We talked win expectancies earlier today, and (per Extra Skater), the Caps were 74.3% likely to win prior to the Canucks' first goal. The Ovechkin goal bumped it back up to 74.8%, and the Wilson tally pushed it to 92.5%. It was 94.7% at the end of the second period. Why bother watching the third?
- ... Because it's the Caps. Less than five minutes into the third, Shawn Matthias halved the Caps' lead when the sea of red sweaters parted and allowed him to take a feed in the middle of the Caps' zone and unload a low shot that beat Halak. We'll ding Laich for not picking Matthias up on the backcheck... and if it's because he wasn't healthy enough to get back, why is he in the lineup? Also, you may not want to put Connor Carrick's pairing out with the Ovechkin line. Just a thought.
- Three minutes later, the game was tied. I don't want to talk (or write) about it.
- Knock knock. Who's there? Mike Green. Mike Green who? Mike Green put the Caps up 4-3 with a nice, patient shot at the 10:19 mark after Nicklas Backstrom found him high in the zone, giving Kuznetsov his third helper of the night. Nice goal, but two good keep-ins (Green and Jack Hillen) earlier in the shift shouldn't go unnoticed either.
- Our pal Adam Vingan wrote about the Caps' recent face-off woes today, but the Caps were able to turn that around on Friday, winning 60% of the game's draws, highlighted by Backstrom's 13-for-14 night
- Halak made his fourth-straight start for Washington, and was quite good, espcially late. If you didn't think he was brought in the hopes of being The Guy down the stretch... why not? He's now 2-2-0/2.54/.922 for the Caps. By apples-to-orange contrast, in his first four games with the Caps back in 2008, Cristobal Huet was 2-2-0/1.91/.925. Hmm...
The Caps needed this one and they got it. But they need a lot more. Will they get them? Stay tuned.