Can putting a letter on one player's sweater change the collective personality and character of a team?
Luckily for the Capitals, that's not what they needed when they named Alex Ovechkin captain prior to Tuesday night's 4-2 win over Montreal. What they may have needed, however, was a reminder of what propelled them to a terrific first half - playing at high speed, aggressively, with a willingness to shoot, and with world-class scoring ability - and no one embodies those characteristics better than their new captain.
So for one night, at least, the team embraced the personality of its captain and then some, and reminded us - and, no doubt, themselves - of the way they win games. These are the same Caps, in body, that left for California little more than a week ago, but these aren't the same Caps that we saw out there. Hopefully those Caps stayed out West. And hopefully these Caps continue to play follow-the-leader... because there are few leaders as worthy of being followed.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Reasonable minds can differ as to who should have gotten tonight's start in goal for the Caps, but there can be no arguing this point: Michal Neuvirth was good, and perhaps never better than when he was called upon to make three stops early in the third period while the Caps held a two-goal lead... and a man advantage. Neuvy stopped 12 of 13 shots in the third (the same line he had through two periods), and despite being the "less athletic" of the young netminders, had a couple of sparkling stops when his team needed 'em.
- In a span of 11:07 of the second period, the Caps scored as many goals - three - as they had in the previous 132:52. They added an insurance tally in the third and were buzzing Carey Price on several other occasions. The 43 shots on goal they took were the most in a game since Dec. 3 (44) and the second-most this season.
- Yesterday we talked about Mike Knuble and what he brings to the Caps. Well, maybe you saw some of it just prior to Tomas Fleischmann's power play goal when Knuble got away with a whack that broke Andrei Markov's stick - it was a veteran play that led to an extra man tally... because he got away with it. But he wasn't so lucky in the third period, getting whistled twice for minors, one of which led to the Habs' second goal. That lack of discipline is simply inexcusable from a guy like Knuble.
- Speaking of Flash, his "debut" at center was had to be considered a success despite a bad deflection past his own netminder in the second period. Flash ended up with a goal (albeit on the PP as a winger), and two helpers, a plus-two rating, three shots on goal, three takeaways, no giveaways, and he even won six of his nine draws on the night.
Alex Semin was the best he's been in weeks, scoring twice, attempting 14 shots (eight of which were on goal), and playing with noticeable passion and intensity (read: sticking up for himself). Guess he was happy for his comrade, eh?
- Further to that last point, there were a lot of Caps sticking up for Caps all night, which was a heart-warming sight. When Tomas Fleischmann is pairing off with Hal Gill, it's a beautiful thing (so long as no punches are thrown, that is).
Tom Poti had another relatively strong game, but continues to have trouble clearing pucks on the penalty kill, and it burned him in the third.
- Where's that Jason Chimera we were promised?
Quintin Laing drew two penalties, which is about as offensively (albeit indirectly) productive as you can ever expect him to be - the second led to the power play on which Flash scored.
- As for the captain [sidenote: really weird to type that and not be writing about Chris Clark], he was pointless and had only three shots on goals, but had six hits (including a with-the-puck beauty on Max Pacioretty) and a game-high (tied with Flash) three takeaways. Hey, whatever it takes to win.
So Alex Ovechkin's Caps are 1-0-0. Or is that 25-11-6? Either way, they seem to have righted the ship. Maybe all it needed was a captain at the helm.