In Tuesday night's uneven win over the Boston Bruins, many of the Capitals were either invisible or standing out for all the wrong reasons.
Tom Poti was standing out for all the right ones.
In just over 21 minutes of work, Poti racked up 2 assists (both of the above average kind), fired three shots on net and finished an impressive +4. It was enough to earn him the second star of the game - but more importantly, it was the continuation of a stretch in which Tom Poti is playing some of his best hockey as a Cap.
"My legs are going really good this year. Last year, it was rough getting around the pond out there. Lately they feel good and I'm trying to create things when I can." - Tom Poti
Poti has had his ups and downs this season, battling inconsistency, mental gaffes and injury. But since returning to (we assume) full health and taking on the permanent role of alternate captain on January 5 he has become one of the more consistent, steady and effective blueliners for the Caps. His coach has noticed, pointing out that "[h]e's played differently since he wasn't just an 'A' because someone was injured, that he was an 'A' full time. He took off. Whatever it's been, it's good."
It certainly has been - here's a quick breakdown of what he’s done:
- In the last 15 games, he’s been on the ice for just ten goals against – and only four of those came at even strength. That's with Poti averaging just over 21 minutes per night.
- The six power play goals for which Poti has been on the ice have come while putting in more penalty-killing minutes than anyone else on the team, spending an average of 3:41 per game patrolling the shorthanded beat. Not only is that the most on the Caps, it also puts him at ninth in the League - on a team that's been fairly disciplined this year.
- And oh, yeah, one of those PPGs came on a 5-on-3 against the Caps in which he was the only defenseman on the ice.
- Poti has been a plus or even for every game but one during this 15-game stretch, getting tabbed with a -1 in the win over Detroit. In his first 33 games he was a combined +4; since, he’s +17. A boost from the overall surge in offense by the team, sure, but he's also helping to generate some offense of his own while playing solid D in his own end.
- Speaking of generating offense...in the first 33 games of the year Poti had just nine points - all assists. Since then, he's accumulated two goals and eight assists in less than half as many games, including two of his three multi-point games for the season.
Aside from the numbers, Poti is simply showing more confidence with the puck. He's more willing to jump into the play and use his underrated skating and shooting skills; both of his assists last night were both timely and skilled, reminiscent of a certain sidelined defenseman also known for jumping into the play. Poti's pass to Boyd Gordon was in particular a thing of beauty, threaded through three Boston defenders and right onto Gordon's stick.
And yes, folks, he's even getting better at the simple yet oh-so-beautiful clearing of the puck.
The importance of an improved and more confident Tom Poti shouldn't be underestimated, especially as we inch ever closer to the postseason. He's demonstrating the type of leadership and level of play that George McPhee envisioned when he signed him to his deal several years ago, all at a time in the season when his best can solidify the defense for a long playoff run. He's also the closest thing to a shutdown defenseman the Caps have right now, facing the League's best night after night.
Poti's worn the scapegoat moniker a time or two, and often done so for good reason - but he's an experienced veteran D who seems to be getting better with age. And that's a good sign for this team down the stretch.