After a deflating one goal loss at home to the New York Islanders, the Capitals finished strong before the NHL took its Olympic break. After missed chances and failed opportunities costed Washington two points, they had two more home games to improve upon.
Winnipeg was a good test to see how the team would respond because the Jets leading into the Thursday night match up were 9-2 under Paul Maurice. Braden Holtby got the unexpected start and the Caps were 4-2 winners.
Washington finished off the week with a 3-0 win over the Devils Saturday night. The game-winning hero in the New Jersey game was defensemen Julien Brouillette, whose first career goal came just under the halfway mark of the third period. Martin Erat scored his first goal of the season on an empty netter and Troy Brouwer did the same for his 100th career goal.
These past two games were big for Washington in several different ways. The team had been playing without some of their important playmakers. Despite not having some of these players, others have stepped up and as a result the Caps have been getting two points to add to the standings.
There has been so much national spotlight on the Capitals goalie situation. It has been a game of musical chairs all season because the coaches had been going with the hot hand. The goalie situation should now be settled going down the final stretch of the season.
Braden Holtby has been the guy the last two post-seasons and needs to be the main guy to help the team push for a playoff spot. His play as of late has been tremendous. He has won four out of his last five starts with two of those being shut outs. His last two games, he has stopped 59 out of the 61 shots he has faced. It is evident that his confidence is coming back when you watch him between the pipes.
In front of Holtby is one of the team’s main problems. The Caps have had to start a large number of different defensemen throughout the season. Some of these young defensemen have played well in the minimal time they have had to and that’s a big reason why Washington was able to finish strong. Luckily for the club, Mike Green and Jack Hillen should be back with the team when the break is over.
Mike Green is an important player to have on the ice. His impact goes across several different levels. He is good to carry the puck through the neutral zone when needed, he is in the second defensive pairing and his offensive presence adds another dimension. When Green is on the ice, he is always a threat to score, teams have to account for that. Washington’s power play has another dimension to it, rather than the one dimension known as the great eight. So now the opposition must respect Green, which gives Ovi better chances to score.
Jason Chimera, Joel Ward and Troy Brouwer are guys who have stepped up lately when it comes to goal scoring. Secondary scoring could be the team’s main problem on a consistent basis. Brouwer has scored 4 goals in his last 5 games and Chimera and Ward both have 4 points in their last 5. When these guys have been doing their job of getting the puck into the net, the wins have been racking up. If Washington wants to make a push for points, this group will need to keep putting up the points consistently.
Mikhail Grabovski is another key playmaker the Caps have been without for quite sometime, but his return is likely to come after the break as well Grabovski is a multi-dimensional player for Washington. He is able to finish plays and also create for others. He will be another dimension to the secondary scoring that the Caps need going forward.
Washington resumes regular season action on the 27th against the Panthers on the road. This is the easiest match up Washington will have early on as the month of March presents a highly competitive schedule. The March opponents consist of teams like the Bruins, Penguins, Flyers and some of the best teams from the western conference.
Adam Oates’ squad made a late season push his first year as head coach, so this is not exactly unfamiliar territory. The significant difference between last year’s push and this year is this season’s finish wont be against the southeast division. If Washington thinks it deserves a playoff spot, they will have to go out and prove it against one of the NHL’s most difficult schedules in the final stages.
The Capitals are only one point out of the final wild card spot and three points out from the Flyers for the 3rd spot in the Metro division. Playoffs are still a possibility, but it is going to take a total team effort. Last season Ovechkin sparked the team with a miraculous goal-scoring tear to finish the season that put his team into the playoffs. It will take much more than just Ovechkin this year.
With important players like Green, Grabovski and even Hillen looking like they will all be back after the break, has the Caps heading into the right direction. There is even rumor that a highly touted Caps prospect by the name of Evgeny Kuznetsov might make an appearance after the Olympic break as well. That may of may not be true, but only time will tell. I can tell you what is true, once the Olympic break comes to a close; the final stretch of the NHL regular season is going to be intense with the feel of a playoff game every single night.