On paper, the Edmonton Oilers team that arrived in DC was a team that the Caps could easily dispose of - thirty points behind the Caps in the overall standings, a -49 goal differential, bottom-of-the-barrel special teams, and their most explosive offensive forward on the sidelines. On paper, it was a team the Caps should have no problem with, even without two of their best players and their third-string goalie in net.
But as we've seen before, what a team looks like on paper often has little to do with how they look when facing the Caps.
So it was a refreshing change to see the Caps come into this game and dominate almost from start to finish, to see the offense wake up and the power play come to life and the team play like they knew they were the better team. They were forechecking and cycling, capitalizing on mistakes and ramping up the offense. And to have it be a game littered with milestones...well, all the better.
Ten more notes on the game:
- There are few things more enjoyable than watching pure, uninterrupted hockey, and the 7+ minutes that started the game certainly delivered, as the Caps and Oilers went almost to the halfway point of the first period before getting a whistle. And the only people who were complaining were the sponsors.
- That Alex Ovechkin struck on the power play wouldn't be all that noteworthy...if it was still last year. But the goal he scored with the extra man to open the scoring early in the second was just his sixth power play goal of the season, and his first of the year at Verizon Center.
- The assist on Ovechkin's first goal was a great cross-ice pass from Jason Arnott that absolutely froze the entire penalty killing squad for Edmonton. And oh yeah, it was his 900th career point. Not bad, old man.
- Not to be outdone by his captain, Eric Fehr made a triumphant return to the ice after sitting out the longest "2-4 weeks" in the history of the earth with a power play goal of his own just five minutes later, the first of two for F16. And oh yeah, one of the assists on that power play goal came off the stick of Alex Ovechkin - his 600th career point. Not bad, ol-...er, young man.
- If Marcus Johansson and Ovechkin had made one more pass on that 2-on-0 break early in the third, it's a safe bet that every single head in the Verizon Center (and thousands more at home) would have exploded. So it's probably a good thing Ovechkin eventually decided to shoot.
- You're a goalie. You've got Jason Chimera barreling in on a semi-break and two much more potent offensive threats (relatively speaking) in Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr lurking. You stand firm, let your defenseman do his job and take your chances that ol' stone hands is going to shoot into your crest, right? Sure. Unless you're Nikolai Khabibulin, that is - then you come way out of your crease to play the puck, fumble it, fall down and allow Fehr to bury an empty-netter. Between that and the penalty for playing the puck outside the trapezoid, not a great night for the Bulin Wall.
- Congratulations to Marco Sturm for picking up an assist on that gorgeous 2-on-1 with Alexander Semin, his first as a Cap, and congratulations to Dennis Wideman for earning his 200th career point on the same play. Cookies for everyone!
- There were a few instances throughout this game where the Caps seemed to be playing a bit fast and loose with the puck, almost as if they knew that any mistakes they made wouldn't cause too much damage - luckily they were right, but against a better team those mistakes end up behind their goalie. But then one would
hope prayassume they know that, too.
- It's very strange to watch a Caps game and not see Nicklas Backstrom for at least a few shifts in a game. 341 games into his already stellar career and this was his first night sitting out - quite a streak, indeed, and Backstrom being out leaves a big void in the lineup. Still, Marcus Johansson was more than capable in his spot tonight, and while it's not the ideal situation it's nice to know that #90 can fill in as needed.
- And finally, a big congratulations to Braden Holtby, who earns his first career NHL shutout and makes it look easy. It probably wasn't his toughest outing, with just 22 shots fired, but he made the big saves when needed - including several in the dying minutes that inflated that shot total just a bit.
It was a night of milestones and flashy numbers. Five goals scored, two on the power play. 900 points for Arnott, 600 for Ovechkin and 200 for Wideman. Sturm gets his first point as a Cap and Holtby his first shutout.
But the most important number? Two. Two points in the standings as the Caps inch closer to the top of the Eastern Conference (and maintain their two point lead over the Lightning), and extend their winning streak to six games. Keep 'er rolling, boys.