Coming off a pair of their more difficult-to-stomach losses in recent memory and playing the first of a home-and-home series with the Devils, the Caps were about as desperate as a 9-4-0 team can be in early November... which is to say not terribly desperate. Still, the team that was a 7-0-0 juggernaut just three weeks ago needed to get back on track. They needed their number one goalie to look like one. They needed their defense to tighten up and their offense to light it up. Most of all, they needed 18 skaters committing to their system with discipline and aplomb.
Well, they got some of that. Enough of it, in fact, to win. But perhaps not enough of it to silence their critics, and hopefully not enough to satisfy themselves. This team is still very much a work in progress, but "progress" is better than what they'd displayed lately, so at least there's that.
Ten more notes on the game:
Mike Green's much-anticipated return to the lineup after nearly three weeks on the shelf was derailed early by a questionable (and unpenalized) hit by Ryan Carter late in the first period. He skated two short (by his standards, at least) shifts early in the second, but didn't return after a power-play shift that ended four minutes into the middle period. Wonderful.
- After Tuesday night's comments from Mike Knuble and Wednesday's bag skate, one might have expected the Caps to be come out with a bit chip on their shoulder, out to prove that they are, indeed, not clowns. Instead, the team looked sluggish and uninspired, firing half of their six first period shots on goal in the frame's final nine seconds and winning just five of 16 draws in that opening stanza. Inexplicable.
- Rightly or wrongly, Alexander Semin has earned a reputation as a player who's going to use his stick to defend rather than move his feet at times. So when he lost a puck along the boards in the offensive zone just over halfway through the first period and Nick Palmieri went down as the two jostled for the biscuit in their feet, it wasn't surprising to see the Caps winger get whistled for yet another stick foul. And that seemed to be the straw that broke Bruce Boudreau's back, as the Caps head coach put Semin out for just four shifts in the second period and not a one in the third (this on the heels of quasi-sorta-maybe benching him Tuesday night). Accountability? Accountability.
- Third periods have treated the Caps rather poorly this season, especially lately (three third-period goals against in each of the last two games), but not tonight - the Caps were outshot by Jersey 16-4, but outscored 'em 2-0. The results were good... but it's hard to look past that shot differential.
- Yes, Alex Ovechkin scored a "greasy" goal in the second period from the edge of Martin Brodeur's crease and he'll get a ton of credit for going to the net and putting himself in position to be both lucky and good. But Ovechkin was where he was because he allowed himself to be pushed from in front of Brodeur. If Dennis Wideman's shot was more accurate, it's an unscreened point shot for the Devils goalie to handle easily. You love Ovi going to the front of the net... and hope he stays there going forward.
- If you had Adam Larsson on your "First Swede to Score" card tonight, congrats - the fourth overall pick in this past summer's Entry Draft potted his first NHL goal to open the scoring. Of course he did.
- Second Swede to score? Marcus Johansson who found a seam, then a loose puck, then some open net on the backhand. Eight minutes after Jason Chimera had broken the 1-1 tie with a beauty of a shorthanded semi-breakaway goal, MoJo's sixth tally of the season pushed the lead to two. Ballgame. Err, puckgame.
- Following back-to-back games in which he'd allowed eight goals on just 49 shots against, Tomas Vokoun was sensational, stopping 32 of 33 Jersey shots. The Caps needed a big effort between the pipes and got one.
- As was the case when the Caps were piling up the wins earlier in the season, they got contributions on offense from the rearguards tonight, with each goal being assisted by a blueliner (primaries from Wideman and Karl Alzner and a secondary from John Erskine on the Chimera shorty).
- The Caps' penalty kill was a perfect five-for-five on the night (and, of course, outscored the Devs 1-0) and allowed just four shots on goal against in ten minutes. Guess the key to PK success isn't necessarily Jeff Schultz.
So that was fun. What do you say we do it again tomorrow night, back in D.C.?