As the Olympic rust continues to shake off and the new additions to the team continue to find their place in the lineup, the Capitals have managed to put together a modest winning streak of three games, all by different means. There was the total team effort against an Olympic hero. There was the squeaker of a win filled with defensive miscues and offensive prowess from unlikely sources.
Tonight it was a performance by the man who wears #60 between the pipes that carried the team, with a pair of Erics - one familiar, one new - stepping up to provide the offense. It wasn't the riveting, end-to-end hockey we've become accustomed to and there were mistakes and stumbles along the way, but it was a solid effort and a big two points.
Ten more notes on the game:
- Jose Theodore was absolutely tremendous tonight, looking calm, well-positioned and square to the puck all game long. Rebounds were controlled, scrambles nullified, and many saves made that could easily be categorized as being of the "how-the-[Franceschetti]-did-that-not-go-in??" type. A huge shutout for Theo, his first of the season, third as a Cap and 29th of his career.
- One of the jaw-dropping saves Theodore was forced to make came because of a horrific play by Shaone Morrisonn where he just lobbed the puck into the slot - and right onto the stick of an incoming Ranger. It was either a product of some miscommunication between Morrisonn and John Carlson or simply one of the most boneheaded plays ever. Either way, good job by Theo to bail out his D.
- The Caps did a pretty good job of shutting down Marian Gaborik and Olli Jokinen; each registered three shots on goal but neither seemed to be a big factor tonight. The same can't be said for guys like Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky, who combined for 11 shots on goal and created many of the goalmouth scrambles.
- Shutting down the top line was apparently a theme tonight, with the Caps' big guns being similarly silenced by the Rangers' D. Ovechkin and Backstrom continue to look a step off as they readjust from the Olympics, and while Ovie peppered Alex Auld with his usual 7 shots, most of them landed squarely in the New York goalie's chest.
- A bright spot for the top line - Mike Knuble, who continues his stretch of strong play alongside his young linemates. He didn't really show up on the scoresheet but he was solid defensively and even blocked a couple of shots.
- Hard to believe that the Caps actually held the power play advantage in a game officiated by both Bill McCreary and Chris Rooney, isn't it? We'll pretend it's merely because they were so disciplined, taking just two penalties to the Rangers' four and killing both of them off beautifully.
- The fourth line of Scott Walker, David Steckel and Matt Bradley had a nice night, including a dominant shift to close out the second period that included some good scoring chances. Of course, had Henrik Lundqvist been in net instead of Auld you know Bradley would have buried one of them. C'est la vie.
- Speaking of Auld, give the guy credit for a very solid performance in which he allowed just 2 goals, neither of them softies. His first game as a Ranger came two days after his counterpart was peppered with 55 shots - and as a result, he was being thrown in to face the most offensively explosive team in the League. Not an easy task, but he held his own.
- Joe Corvo's first game as a Cap started out a bit rocky but finished strong; tonight was solid all the way through, with his second straight 20+ minute performance and his first assist as a Cap to boot.
- Continuing the trend of the new guys getting on the board, Eric Belanger cashed in on a beautiful pass from Brooks Laich - after an equally nice play to hold the line by Alexander Semin - and picked up his first goal as a Cap. To that point he'd seemed to be having the hardest time adjusting to his new linemates, but that play was a promising sign of things to come. Next step: stop getting thrown out of the faceoff circle.
So Theodore continues to stake his claim on the #1 spot and the newest Caps continue to ease their way into the lineup. There will be more and more nights like this down the stretch - teams battling for playoff spots, battling for playoff positioning, all putting up their best effort against the best team in the League. There will be more close games, more nights where team defense and goaltending will be just as important - if not more so - as the dynamic offense possessed by this team.
Tonight was a playoff-type game, in style if not in intensity, and the Caps rose to the challenge. With 17 games left until the postseason, that's a great sign.