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Capitals vs. Oilers Recap: Top Trio Continues to Click

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The Capitals skate out of Edmonton with their third consecutive victory, this one on the back of strong performances from their top trio and their netminder. You might call that a recipe for success.

Derek Leung

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After going longer than a year without meeting, the Capitals and Oilers took the ice for the second time in ten days tonight. But this time it was on their turf. When these squads met back on October 14, the Capitals were boasting an ugly 1-4-0 record, and in dire need of a victory, which they achieved on the back of a strong second period. They've since strung together a pair of victories, and tonight had the opportunity to claw back to an even 5-5-0. With Edmonton also having found some footing with two consecutive victories, tonight's winner would skate off the ice with a nice three-game win streak in tow.

It was Washington continuing in their dominance over teams from across the northern border, signing a tic-tac of wins with a 4-1 toe.

Ten more notes on the game:

  • When John Erskine took the ice tonight, there wasn't a single defensemen in the entire NHL who has skated more than 50 minutes, who boasted a worse GA/20 than Big John. That means that no other defensemen averages less time between goals scored while he is on the ice. Granted, the sample size is still very small, but if Erskine wants to reinforce the organization's believe that he's a serviceable fourth defenseman, improving from literal worst in the NHL would be a good start. Erskine did improve upon these numbers tonight, but not for lack of tying. If not for some heads up D by Steve Oleksy, and probably some luck, Edmonton would have potted one halfway through the second after Erskine blew a tire behind the goal line, and then Ersk was on the ice when the Oil notched one late and broke the shutout. Yeesh.
  • One line of thinking in terms of how to acquire a more stout fourth defenseman involves trading Michael Neuvirth, who Edmonton just so happened to have expressed interest in. I thought Neuvirth might get the nod tonight in front of his potential suitors, but three solid games from Braden Holtby earned him a fourth consecutive go. It turned out to be the right decision. Holtby was great, and the guys in front of him, unlike Tuesday night, exhibit something resembling competence. The result? A blown shut out with 2 minutes left in the game. Because of course.
  • Tuesday night in Winnipeg was an ugly one for Mike Green. One of the ugliest I can ever remember him having. If you were in Camp Strong Bounceback Performance, well, he took a minor penalty early in the second period, then got waltzed around, then didn't even get his stick close to a passing lane on a two on one that found an iron terminus (though the latter was the result of some sloppy passing by his partner, Nate Schmidt.) Green broke even in possession, and while he wasn't at his best, it was certainly a better showing than his last time out. Then again, what wouldn't have been?
  • Stop me if you've seen this one before: Nicklas Backstrom wins a draw, Marcus Johansson kicks it back to Alex Ovechkin, the puck is in the back of the net before the other center recognizes he's lost the draw. It's great seeing the top line continue at even strength, and admit it, if Ovechkin didn't keep up his 82 goal pace, you were going to feel more despondent than you rightfully should. At this point, it's getting harder and harder to fight off the fantasies of Ovechkin challenging that 65 goal year he had. This trio would hook up for another even strength tally early in the third period, this time with Nicklas Backstrom earning the tally, for his fifth point against Edmonton on the year. It's a shame Nick won't be seeing these guys again this year.
  • Speaking of the top line, that's 5 points for Marcus Johansson in his last 3 games, and 6 points in his last 6. The "passenger" label is probably going to stick to Johansson until he starts lighting the lamp, whether that's fair not. Either way, it looks like Marcus Johansson has got one foot on the staircase leading to a career year, and if he can be the red wine you pair with a delicious cut of steak (representing Backstrom and Ovechkin, obviously), you can label him whatever you damn well please. And with 10 assists, Mojo now finds himself tied for second in the league in assists with a couple o' fellas named Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton. Alrighty then...
  • One more note on Johansson: his no shot, two assist performance is his twenty-second game with at least one assist and no shots. Since Johansson has come into the league, only two players have done this more: Mike Ribeiro and Henrik Sedin.
  • The penalty kill was an Achilles Heel for this squad last year, and went a ways in diminishing the considerable gains the Caps made with their league-best power play. Well, they've got the league's best power play again, and through nine games they had a penalty kill worthy of companionship. Tonight they killed three more, and the penalty kill continues to look like the most improved element of this team's on-ice product from a year ago. This combination of success no doubt earns the approval of one Scotty Bowman.
  • Maybe it's just me, but Mikhail Grabovski sure looks like he might benefit from being on a line with players more skilled than Joel Ward and Jason Chimera. Grabovski ended up on the better side of the possession scales, but it seemed like he was carrying the puck into the offensive zone an awful lot, with space, but with no one to pass too. Adam Oates is no doubt still feeling out his options, and there's no reason to fix what ain't broke, but Martin Erat and Grabovski on a line together feels like an eventuality. Then again, if Jason Chimera keeps picking corners like a did in the middle of the third...
  • The Capitals blueliners have struggled to find their rhythm all year, but John Carlson and Karl Alzner were standouts tonight. They were on the ice for nearly double the shot attempts for vs against, and they claimed both primary and secondary assists on Joel Ward's tally, and were each on the ice for three goals for.. Always nice to see these two guys turn in a great performance. Hopefully these two can work back to the point where this type of game is no longer a pleasant surprise, and is once more the expectation.
  • Tonight was the third time the Caps took the ice for a "Hockey Fights Cancer" tilt. They're now 3-0-0 in these games with that what you will. They're also 4-0-0 when I wear my Ovechkin jersey and take down at least 3 glasses of whiskey. We all do what we can to support the team.
  • Are you really reading the last (and eleventh!) bullet point? C'mon. It's midnight. The Caps won. Go to bed. Go to bed happy. Wake up tired. You've got to do this again on Saturday. And Monday! Go on. Get.
One thing is for sure: things are looking up. The top line is rolling. Braden Holtby seems to have put his ugly start to the season behind him. The special teams are top notch. Not every win is going to be pretty, as the Caps found out Tuesday night, but this was a solid effort, and hopefully they'll continue to build on it as they skate back into their favorite province to take on the Calgary Flames on Saturday night, looking for a fourth consecutive victory.

Game highlights: