After a tremendously hyped game against Pittsburgh and two days off for the holiday, the fact that the Caps came out a bit sluggish early on is to be somewhat expected. That they shook off the Christmas fog and got down to playing the kind of hockey we like to see out of them was a little less so - although one would hope it would become more normal with each passing game.
The end result? A solid road win and a much-needed goal from a certain slumping Russian, both of which we'll take any day of the week.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The slumping Russian in question was, of course, one Alex Ovechkin. But as dismal as his point production has been so far this year (by his standards, at least) the last few games have seen a return to the Ovechkin of old. Thursday night it was the intensity and physicality; tonight he combined it with the offense we know and love, picking up a point on David Steckel's goal and then notching what would be the eventual game-winner while firing eight shots on net (and attempting five more). That's more like it, sir.
- The other offensive dynamo over the last week or so has been Mathieu Perreault, and he was back at it again tonight, cashing in on some great cycling by his line overall and collecting a nice pass from Alexander Semin for the tip-in in front. The kid's got a nose for the net and it's showing more and more.
- Of course that nose is also probably a little lopsided now, after Tim Gleason's shoulder became well-acquainted with Perreault's face late in the first period. By the letter of the law the initial call of charging (and the five-minute major that accompanied it) was probably the right one - still, on replay it was probably more a result of the three inch height difference between the two and less an actual intent to injure.
- The extended power play that the Caps got as a result, shortened to three minutes after Matt Hendricks was handed a two minute minor for his defense of Perreault, didn't yield any goals. It did, however, result in at least six shots on net and some really good possession - something that had been largely missing in the first period.
- He probably needs to do a better job of tying up Tuomo Ruutu in front of the net, but barring that play Steckel put together a very nice game for himself. Aside from his faceoff prowess - another fine night in the circle, going 11-for-16 - he did a good job driving the net on his goal, made a few very nice passes and skated almost two minutes shorthanded without giving up a goal. Nice night for Stecks...and we're not the only ones who think so.
- During the Caps' recent losing streak, it would have been easy for them to get down after giving up the tying goal in the first period - or been overly uplifted by Steckel's go-ahead goal in the second. None of that was evident tonight, though, as the team seems to have regained that swagger that was missing for most of December. And thank goodness.
- Having said that, swagger and confidence need to be combined with smart play, and mini-implosions like the one that started the third period (giving up a goal followed by back-to-back penalties) need to be avoided. Please.
- Just as the team is starting to settle in, so too are their young goaltenders. Michal Neuvirth was tagged with the loss on Thursday night despite playing well, and Semyon Varlamov came up big at times for the Caps tonight. The first Carolina goal was a product of a poor line change and a two-on-one break, the second an unlucky bounce off of Ruutu right in front, and neither was really his fault.
- Four power play chances given up, four power plays killed off. Yeah, that'll do...
- Mike Green followed up his stellar performance against Pittsburgh the other night with another good one tonight - one that included four blocked shots, at least two of which were of the bone-bruising, cringe-inducing, icebag-requiring sort.
With tonight's win the Caps sweep the Raleigh portion of their season and pick up points in their fourth straight game, extending their record to 3-0-1 since snapping their losing streak a week ago. More importantly, they're starting to find their groove again - and so are the Young Guns.
And with a rematch with Montreal looming, the Southeast Division remaining tight and a certain outdoor game less than a week away, the timing couldn't have been better.