In some ways, tonight's 5-2 Caps victory over the visiting Senators was closer than the score. The hosts held a 2-0 lead after one period, but failed to extend their lead to three when given back-to-back power plays in the middle stanza before allowing Ottawa to cut that lead in half heading to the third.
But the killer instinct that was lacking in the middle frame showed up in the third (aided by Sens netminder Pascal Leclaire's gaffes on a couple of Nicklas Backstrom tallies), and the Caps are suddenly hot again, winner's of two-straight with victories over a pair of foes from the Great White North. Consider that in the past two games, Washington's cumulative shot total (81) and shot differential (plus-27) represent the second-highest marks in those metrics on the season, and there's every reason to believe that things are back on track after a brief West Coast derailment.
Ten more notes on the game:
Bruce Boudreau may have downplayed the importance of tonight's start for Jose Theodore, but if you believed that, you probably believed people would tune in to watch a star-less hockey game played in a baseball stadium. For his part, Theodore responded with a strong effort, playing his angles well, controlling his rebounds and only being beaten by an unlucky bounce and a bad defensive breakdown. He's got a long way to go to reach "redemption," but tonight's performance had to help his confidence and that of those around him.
- Backstrom was terrific, with two goals and an assist, his fifth multi-goal game of the campaign. And while it's easy to blame Leclaire on each of the Swedish pivot's markers, the threat of the pass from such a superb playmaker had to contribute, at least in part, to the Ottawa netminder's baffling play on the goals. Backstrom is such a good passer that it opens up shots, and the more he shoots, the more defenses have to respect the shot, which opens up passing opportunities. Put another way, he's awesome.
- On a night when the Caps' second-most offensive-minded blueliner - Brian Pothier - returned to the lineup, four other Caps defensemen had helpers, with only John Erskine and Potsy being left out of the rearguard scoring parade (and only Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Schultz failing to register a shot on goal among all skaters).
- Back to Erskine for a moment, five blocked shots and five hits speak to how solid his game was, and drawing a penalty? There's the cherry on top.
Mike Green's first period hit at the Caps blue line look nice, but you know what you can't do when you're standing over someone adjusting your helmet after you've hit them? Play defense. Then again, considering the defense he did play on the first Ottawa goal, maybe more primping would've been preferable.
- Alex Ovechkin's undressing of Matt Carkner on the captain's 27th goal of the year was a thing of beauty, and his two assists, ten shots on goal and plus-four rating also stand out. But perhaps the most impressive part of his game tonight was his backchecking, and that won't show up on any stat sheet. Could one letter make the difference?
Tomas Fleischmann was good in the dot, and he looks comfortable at center (I'll hold off on "great" for now), more like he's willing to try and make things happen rather than let the game come to him. The fact that he's won 18 of 24 on draws doesn't hurt either. With Brendan Morrison continuing to struggle, Flash stepping in (and up) at center is a godsend... at least in the short-term.
Boyd Gordon's an odd one. He can skate, he has good awareness, and every once in a while he pulls out a relatively impressive offensive play like he did on the game's first goal. And yet he's basically a 5-8 goal, 15-20 point guy, tops. I suppose he looked a lot more like he did tonight back in Red Deer... before he became a mid-first round pick.
- If Jason Chimera was looking for a moment to introduce and endear himself to his new home crowd, he probably could have found a spot in the third period when Chris Neil started running around picking on smaller players.
- As good as Alexander Semin was on Tuesday night, he was as unimpressive tonight, finishing with a minus-one rating (one of only two Caps to end the evening on the wrong side of zero, Brooks Laich being the other) and had the worst Corsi rating of any forward in the game not named Jesse Winchester.
A game like Tuesday night's calms the nerves. A game like tonight's continues to renew the confidence. Another couple and full-fledged optimism might even sneak back into our lives. Next up: the Thrashers in Atlanta on Saturday.