The last two times the Capitals and Thrashers met, the games quickly turned from one-sided routs into close, nail-biting affairs. Defensive breakdowns, sloppy play with the lead, bad goaltending - you name it, the Caps did it, trying as hard as possible to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
So you'd be forgiven if, when the Caps jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first, you watched nervously and waited for them to blow it.
Ah, but that was the Caps of Fall 2009. The new, improved model has developed a keen ability to not only shut other teams down when they have the lead but completely take them out of the game - and not stop until the final buzzer.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Mike Knuble was struggling a bit of late, with just two goals in the last month going into Thursday's Ottawa game. His goal against the Senators got him back into the scoring - and his two goals tonight got him back into what he does best, which is scoring the "so ugly they're pretty" goals. Both were the result of Knuble driving the net, once on a great deflection and once off his skate.
- In the three games since Alex Ovechkin was named the 14th captain in franchise history, he has just one goal. More amazing is the fact that the team has scored 17 goals in those three games, including 8 tonight, without the explosive offense of #8. Pretty sure he's not complaining, though.
- It's doubtful that Atlanta's gameplan tonight was actually to have three or four guys swarm the puck carrier, leaving the rest of his line blissfully open - but that's kind of what happened nonetheless. But hey, I'm not a coach. Maybe against a team with fewer offensive weapons that would work. Sure.
- With this kind of run support, the casual observer might assume that Michal Neuvirth didn't have to be stellar tonight to earn the win. But the Thrashers do have quite a few offensive weapons in their arsenal and there were times when he did have to come up with a big save. The one goal that did get through needs to be stopped - but the rest of the game, he was stellar.
- Tom Poti, Brian Pothier, Mike Green and Jeff Schultz combined for a goal, seven assists, ten shots (of which Green had exactly 0) and a +10. Not bad, huh?
- Speaking of Tom Poti, he's been shooting the puck more from the point, providing more offense from the defense and making it easier for, say, Mike Knuble to go to the net and tip his shots in. And his goal tonight was a thing of beauty, the kind of back-door play that until now had only really been seen from Mike Green.
- The Tomas Fleischmann-as-center experiment is a great success, and has enabled Bruce Boudreau to keep consistent lines together for more than one game, which is huge. Hell, he's kept the same lines together for more than one period - that alone is pretty huge.
- Disciplined play has been a key for this Caps team, and they continued to maintain that discipline tonight. Just three penalties for Washington tonight, with none after the second period - and all three were killed off. They even cashed in on a shorthanded chance and picked up two power play goals for complete special teams perfection.
- The only line that seemed to struggle tonight was the Jason Chimera-Brendan Morrison-Eric Fehr combo, which only cashed in late in the game on Chimera's first as a Cap. That's not to say they should be broken up; when Chimera fully meshes with Bruce's system, he could be a key to jumpstarting the other two. And until then, might as well keep the three guys who are ice cold together so they don't drag the others down with them.
- Through twenty minutes the Caps had only registered seven shots on goal - which wasn't that troubling since three of them went in. It became even less troubling as they picked up 30 more through the rest of the game...and added five more goals.
So far, so good - the first three games of the Ovechkin era have been perfect displays of a team executing their system to near-perfection. The defense has been solid, the goaltending stellar and the offense...okay, so it's not like that needed work in the first place. And not surprisingly, it's resulted in three wins.
The momentum from these wins will be important as they continue on through a jam-packed January. The confidence, important for a young team learning how to win. And the wins?
Well, they're always important.