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Capitals vs. Blue Jackets Recap: Erat Shines in the Minutes He Deserves

The Capitals finished up their 5 game homestand with an opportunity to notch their first division win of the young season— and their first division win ever against Columbus.

Patrick Smith

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Seven games into the season and the Capitals still hadn't won an in-conference game. In fact, they hadn't emerged victorious against any from outside the province of Alberta. Already with two losses to division foes during the present homestand, the Caps had an opportunity to escape the pattern by giving new division (and conference) co-tenant Columbus an ugly welcome to the district.

It was an ugly welcome indeed. The most beautiful kind of ugly.

Ten more notes on the game:

  • Speaking of the homestand, the Capitals entered the evening on the verge of plucking a grotesque accomplishment down from the shelves of do-not-want. It's been almost three years since that awful 8 game skidmark in the middle of the otherwise pretty clean pair of underpants that was the Capitals 2010-2011 season. The middle of that stretch housed the last time the Capitals lost four consecutive games at home. The good guys thankfully avoided once more claiming that embarrassing accolade, and this bullet serves to remind you: things aren't so bad.
  • After Wednesday night's loss to the Rangers, I used a Lao Tzu quote to cast my ballot in favor of lineup change. Seems the benchboss's timer expired on his opening night lines as well, as he shook things up. The most noticeable changes included moving Martin Erat up to the second line, where he was centered by Brooks Laich, thus dropping Mikhail Grabovski down to third line pivot. Erat looked fantastic in the offensive zone all night, and his efforts were rewarded with a secondary assist when Brooks Laich (who also took well to his new digs) slammed home a rebound off a Steven Oleksy curl n' drag n' shoot. The second line wasn't done, as in the third period Troy Brouwer took a Marty Erat feed and eventually coaxed the puck past Sergei Bobrovski for a three goal lead. Erat added a third assist on Alex Ovechkin's power play goal. There's earning your ice time...
  • The changes weren't restricted to the forward ranks, though, as old pals John Carlson and Karl Alzner shared the ice. Things were going great until late in the third period when Artem Anisimov broke the shut out with Carlzner on the ice (though it looked like both d-men had their men, and Anisimov had slipped free of a defensively-lapsing forward).
  • Tonight marks the first time Tom Wilson takes the ice since the organization's vote of confidence in him. According to George McPhee, the nineteen-year-old is here to stay. Tonight he had a new (and more skilled than usual pivot in Eric Fehr). Early in the first Fehr set an open Wilson up in the slot for probably his best chance of the year, but Sergei Bobrovski made a splendid save to keep Wilson off the scoresheet. Wilson did do this however, which is awesome.
  • We noted on Wednesday night, that Adam Oates's deployment of Alex Ovechkin and the first line was peculiar, as they took more than double the defensive zone draws as they did offensive zone draws. Things were a little bit more even tonight. with the top line taking only two draws in both the offensive and defensive zones.
  • There was one Vezina winner in net tonight, and there was also a goaltender who played at a Vezina level. We said that Braden Holtby's showing against the Rangers was his best on the young season. He took it up a level tonight, with his thirty-eight saves, and many of them stellar. It's a shame Holtby couldn't claim the shutout tonight, because he certainly deserved it.
  • We noted yesterday that Marcus Johansson was on pace for some record-shattering numbers as they pertained to the relationship between his ice time and his shots on goal. Tonight Marcus fanned the coals under our suspicion that he reads the Noon Number, as he doubled his SOG total for the year after just the first period. For awhile there I thought he might challenge his career high of seven shots on goal, which he achieved back in 2011 against Chicago. He ended up with four. Oh, well.
  • To the surprise of pretty much no one, the Capitals scored for the first time in over four period's worth of hockey on the power play. And how familiar was it? If there were no numbers on the back of the jerseys, you could hardly be faulted for thinking it was Nicklas Backstrom to Mike Ribeiro to Brouwer. This year it's been primarily Grabovski in that old Ribeiro spot, but on this go 'round it was Marcus Johansson, and with Joel Ward pulling the trigger instead of Troy Brouwer. If Joel Ward scoring from the patented Ovechkin location at the left circle wasn't proof enough that the success of this power play is as much about the system as it is about the personnel, Joel Ward scoring from the slot is. He's still not forgiven for fanning on Wednesday's 5v3 though...
  • The second period continues to be a polarizing experience for this squad. They won the game against the Oilers in the second stanza, and then lost it in the 2nd on Wednesday against the Rangers. Tonight, the second period once more belonged to the Capitals, as they potted a power play goal, and then one at evens, and allowed none (though they were outshot 15-11 in the middle frame)
  • The same four guys who turned on the red light earlier in the week against Edmonton did so again tonight... Well, it is the eeriest month of the year... (s/t @jrlangier)

A great game from Martin Erat in the minutes he wanted and finally received. A goal from Alex Ovechkin. Two goals at evens from a new-look second line. The finest goaltending performance of the season by far. The first Metropolitan division win ever. Tonight was easily the finest game the Caps played on the year, but in this league, and in this division, you need to string wins together to keep your head above water. The Caps will have an opportunity to build upon this performance next against a familiar foe in the Winnipeg Jets.

Game highlights: