When the Capitals wound up drawing the Canadiens in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, it seemed like the consensus was Montreal stood little chance of making it a competitive series, let alone advancing to the second round. In short order, #CapsInThree became a fairly popular Twitter tag, pundits were almost unanimously picking Washington, and even SBN's Canadiens blog, Habs Eyes on the Prize, seemed less than optimistic about Montreal's chances. Nonetheless, it seemed pretty clear that two potential wrinkles - a bad Washington penalty kill, and a hot goaltender for the Canadiens - could present problems for the Capitals. And they're exactly what did our guys in tonight.
By just about any metric, the Capitals controlled this game. They out-shot the Canadiens, 47-38, they out-hit the Canadiens, 37-24, they were 45-27 in the faceoff circle. . . but a bad Tom Poti clear after a bad Nicklas Backstrom penalty let the Habs get on the board first, and a stellar Jaroslav Halak made getting the offense's puck control and scoring chances to add up to anything on the scoreboard a challenge.
Ultimately the Canadiens did exactly what they needed to do to beat a better opponent, and I suppose in that there is a silver lining. Montreal played a perfect game for this situation, the Caps did not, and the Habs still barely came out on top. If we can take anything positive away from this game, it's that.
Ten additional thoughts on tonight's game:
- Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green accounted for 75:35 of ice time (including 18:46 on the powerplay) and finished with a combined eight shots on goal, zero points, and a minus-one rating. That includes zero shots on goal for Ovechkin, who was shut down better than anyone in the Montreal dressing room could have hoped for. It goes without saying that if the Caps can't get those guys can't get going, they're in a lot of trouble.
- As a whole I thought John Carlson's first NHL playoff game was a very good outing for the young man, especially considering his age and position. But, John, buddy, I don't think I'm the only one wishing you'd taken a shot on that two-on-one late in the third.
- Mike Knuble's reputation is as a big, strong forward who generates most of his offense within ten feet of the opponent's net, and with good cause. It is, after all, how he has fashioned a career for himself in the NHL. But the presence of mind and the deft touch he showed in that drop pass to set up Nicklas Backstrom's third period goal were attributes you'd more likely expect to see out of a guy like, well, Nicklas Backstrom.
- Three bigs hits for Caps when they were actually being lined by Canadiens players: Brooks Laich on Scott Gomez, Nicklas Backstrom on Jaroslav Spacek, and Mike Green on Tomas Plekanec. Obviously it's just one game, but that bodes well for the long-term physical battle of this series.
- Joe Corvo's first-period goal was awesome. Not awesome in the sense that it was a highlight reel goal where he blasted a hundred-mile-per-hour slapshot past the netminder or deked out several opposing players and picked the top corner, but awesome because it was a smart play where a guy made the most of an awkward situation. The Capitals are big enough, quick enough, and good enough around the net that getting the puck through traffic to the goaltender is going to create scoring chances, either via a screen, tip, or rebound, or by giving the forwards a chance to cycle the puck. For a guy who has been much maligned in his career for making mental mistakes, that was a pretty savvy play.
- Speaking of which, seeing the first goal of the postseason go down as Corvo from Eric Belanger and Jason Chimera must make George McPhee pretty happy. Or, it probably did for a little while.
- Interesting night for the top defensive pairing. We figured Mike Green would be better suited to play well in this postseason this year than last year given his health, and we figured he would be paying special attention to his defensive game, but no one expected him to be as tentative as he was tonight. As for Jeff Schultz, given his playoff history and on-ice demeanor, I admit to being a little worried about how he'd fair in the playoffs. But, aside from one bad shift in overtime, Sarge was very solid.
- When Travis Moen hit John Carlson on that icing call midway through the third period, I thought to myself, "That's crap. That should be a penalty, but it's not going to get called because it's the third period of a playoff game". Obviously I was wrong, and I couldn't be happier about. That type of play is exactly the kind of thing we don't need in the game.
- It certainly looks like Jason Chimera's combination of speed, strength, and work ethic are going to be a problem for Montreal in this series, as evidenced by the early penalty he drew and the way Canadien defensemen - particularly Hal Gill - were playing so far off him. That's part of what's so great about Chimera's game: even when he's not putting up points he's contributing by wearing out the opposition. That's a great guy to have on your team, especially when you consider the grind of the postseason and the fact that guys are a lot more likely to get paid for getting on the scoresheet than they are for doing the smaller, unpleasant things that so often win games.
- Finally, I think it's only fair to give a shout out to Jose Theodore. The stat line isn't spectacular, but Theo made some big saves to bail out his team and weathered the overtime storm with a lot of poise. It's a shame the guys couldn't pull one out for him.
One game in the books. Still sixteen wins to go.
Remember, even in the postseason, it's a marathon, not a sprint, and the Caps have enough talent that this could wind up being little more than a small bump in the road.
(Knock on wood.)