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If yours was shaken over the past few weeks and the first game of the Dale Hunter Era did nothing to assuage that feeling, perhaps you'll be able to point to Thursday night as when that started to turn around. The result? Undesirable. The execution? Imperfect. But the overall effort? Encouraging.
Granted, it can certainly be argued - convincingly at that - that these Capitals are at a point where "moral victories" aren't enough. But at the same time, as flashes of what might be become more frequent glimpses, there's reason to believe that the ship has been righted and that good things might be just around the corner. And right now, we've got no choice but to wait for them.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The Caps had a better forecheck against the Penguins than they did against the Blues. Why? Because they were able to break out of their own zone better than on Tuesday night (though they certainly still need work in that aspect of the game). The result is that instead of going for line changes as soon as the puck comes to neutral, forwards could dump the puck in, chase it down and hammer Pittsburgh blueliners. Forechecking often starts in the defensive zone, and comparing these last two games provides some good examples of that... and reason for optimism.
- Hunter and Jim Johnson's defensive system - which is more of a man-to-man scheme than the zone-based style they've been playing - is "going to take months to perfect." Is Dmitry Orlov going to be here when it does? Not if he doesn't learn fast from his mistakes, as his failure to pick up his man (Craig Adams) led to a tap-in for Pittsburgh's first goal after Jeff Schultz was unable to cut off a cross-crease pass.
- If you were wondering whether there'd be any retribution for Aaron Asham's shenanigans after his fight with Jay Beagle the last time these teams met, John Erskine answered that question in a big way right after that Penguins' goal. Mike Vogel put it best: "Erskine schooled Asham, dropped him. Then went to box sans histrionics, schooling him again." As an encore, the burly Caps blueliner pick-pocketed and then blew up Evgeni Malkin in the corner.
- The Caps' best shift of the first period came when the trio of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble was briefly reunited (who could've seen that coming?). C'mon, Dale. You know you want to do it. Just keep 'em together. (On the night, Troy Brouwer skated 7.1 minutes with Backstrom at even-strength while Knuble got 6.1.)
- One thing that Coach Huntsy is apparently going to emphasize more than his predecessor is line-matching. Thursday night, that meant Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich and Joel Ward getting all the Sidney Crosby they could handle. If they played Sid's line even, it would have to be considered a big win for the Caps, especially given how red hot Crosby has been. Well, they held The Kid off the scoreboard and Jason Chimera's (almost literally) unbelievable 2011-12 season continued as he scored the Caps' only goal on a great individual effort. Strong effort from Meat & Potatoes.
- The Pens' second goal was a trifecta of crappy play, from Marcus Johansson getting out-muscled on the puck by Chris Kunitz followed by Erskine falling down and culminating with Tomas Vokoun allowing a fluttering puck to squeeze in between his arm and body. Gotta have that one, Vokes.
- Back to Backstrom, who positively owned the dot, winning 14 of his 16 faceoffs on the night. Overall, the Caps won 69% of the game's draws. And while that number doesn't necessarily indicate "effort" any more than the 43-28 advantage the Caps had in hits, the two stats do tell you something about the game.
- The last time the Caps consistently backchecked as hard as they did Thursday night, Hunter was probably one of the guys doing the hustling. And it wasn't just a few forwards coming back hard, it was all of them. So there's that.
- Shots on goal have been a bit of a concern so far, with the Caps being out-shot 35-17 on the night (and 10-2 in the third period) and now 65-36 in the last two games. Of course, shots in goal are a bigger problem.
- Finally, it's impossible to argue with healthy-scratching a guy who says he'd "think twice" about hitting an opposing player, even if he hasn't been playing poorly (which Roman Hamrlik has). Anyone else have anything similar to say? No?
The power-play still stinks (just one shot on goal in four minutes). They're giving up too many shots and not getting nearly enough. They pretty much spent the last two minutes of a one-goal game unable to get the puck out of their own zone.
And yet, if not for a soft goal-against (or one defensive breakdown), Dale Hunter might have had his first NHL win. But that's coming. Soon. Have faith.