Coming off an impressive comeback win in Hockeytown, the Caps took the ice for a rare fall Sunday matchup against a team that stayed in the West, where they are thriving. St. Louis came into the evening's tilt having lost only two games in regulation. When it comes to taking teams to overtime, the Capitals are a pretty good bet, who've already seen the extra period 7 times on the year.
But it wasn't to be tonight, as the Caps' top line, and a solid outing from Braden Holtby proved too much to overcome, and the good guys sent the Blues packing with a 4 to 1 loss.
Ten more notes on the game:
- The story tonight was that this game featured the two top goal scorers in the League to date in Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Steen. The home crowd didn't have to wait long for their guy to give 'em what they came for, as Ovechkin took a beautiful bump set from his pal Nick Backstrom, and fired one past Halak. What a 'beat. Kinda wish it happened in the final minutes of Game 7 in April 2010, though.
- And then Ovechkin did it again. Remember Mike Milbury's on-air buffoonery? No, not that time. No, not that time either. Yeah, that time. Well Ovechkin's 17th marker on the year was the 41st time he's tickled the twine since. Thanks, Mikey.
- Then again, if you're a Caps fan with a tendency to keep your most horrible memories close to your heart, the bigger story might have been the man in the net across from Holtby: Jaroslav Halak. He Whose Name Has Been Verbed. Tonight that verb was "yanked", "hooked", or "disencumbered", because he let in 3 on the first 6 shots he saw. Sweet catharsis.
- Whispers abounded that Peter Laviolette and Ray Shero had seats in the house tonight, and one can assume it was from those seats they had eyes primarily for a pair of American-born blueliners in John Carlson and Kevin Shattenkirk. In fact, CSN's Chuck Gormley all but confirmed it. Shattenkirk notched an assist on the Blues' power play. Carlson responded with a goal, his fifth on the year. All in all, not a bad outing for the hopefuls.
- The Caps' third line continues to do it, and this time it was Mikhail Grabovski slapping one out of mid-air and past Halak. He was assisted by both his wingers in Jason Chimera and Joel Ward. It continues to seem like an unlikely triumvirate, given Grabovski's skillset and then those of his wingers, but as long as they continue to produce, well, like another first line, these guys should be using the john together. Closeness. It's the stuff of champions.
- As far as periods go, how about that first? The Caps' came into the evening having had the last two evenings off, and with their opponent's having played just last night. And it showed. Three even strength goals, none allowed. It was the first time on the season the Caps have struck thrice in the opening stanza. The first line looked like the superstars they are, and Holtby was sharp. That's a recipe for success, and it showed up on the big board. Hell of a way to come out against one of the League's elite, and hand 'em their worst first of the year, besides.
- Last year, somewhat surprisingly, the Capitals finished in the top 10 in the League when it came to turning on the goal light at five aside. After adding three more to their tab (and doing so against a squad that before tonight allowed the third fewest at five aside), the good guys find themselves back in the top 10. Now about getting them to stop goin' in on the other side...
- High shot volume. If Braden Holtby were a serial criminal, it'd be his calling card. We've been using 30 shots as a benchmark qualifier. The Blues had halved that number by the time the second period was 5 minutes old. And it was shot 16 — their first on what was shaping up to be a listless power play — that put the first chink in Holtby's armor. When all the dust had settled, Holtby had made a regular-season career-high 46 saves. He'll sleep well tonight.
- Nicklas Backstrom's primary helper on Carlson's power play strike was his third assist of the game, making tonight's tilt the 24th time Nicky has notched three or more helpers in his career. Since Backstrom's come into the league, no one's done it more.
- Statement game. It doesn't matter how you come by the points. At least it doesn't in the standings. But after pulling out a squeaker against a team you'd like to see the Caps handle in Columbus, and then clawing their way back from a deficit against a solid Detroit game, tonight was a game the Caps controlled from the outset, and maintained all the way through. They can hang their hats on this one... as long as you ignore that ugly shot differential (and yes, a lot of that is score-effect-related... but not all of it).
It's ever a hallmark of teams that find themselves playing in April and the subsequent months that they strung victories together during the fall and winter. On Tuesday the Capitals will welcome Sidney Crosby and his band of struggling Penguins to the Verizon Center to try for their second four game winning streak on the young season.