It took 37 games, but the Washington Capitals are finally in first place in the Southeast Division after a 2-1 shootout victory over the speedy New York Islanders. The Caps, who started 2-8-1, are now 18-17-2 (38 points) and are tied with the Winnipeg Jets in the division (the Caps have a game in hand).
So that’s 16-9-1 over their last 26 games and with the addition of Martin Erat and the return to health of Mike Green and to some extent, Brooks Laich (more on that in a moment), I can honestly say I think this Washington Capitals club can be a called a “good team” for the first time in 2013. But there are still 11 games to go and it is up to this squad to maintain that label, win the Southeast Division title, and keep improving for the post season.
As for tonight’s win over the Islanders, man they are one tough match up for Washington. New York leaves town with a 2-0-1 season record against the Caps and they nearly got all six points by rallying and tying the contest on another late game defensive zone breakdown by the Capitals. But these Islanders are a different club in 2013 and they are a team on the rise. They have speed, skate extremely well, and pass the puck efficiently. John Tavares is a bonafide star and the addition of Evgeny Nabokov last year in goal has helped cover up some of their holes on defense. The future looks bright for that squad and they have a very good chance to make the postseason this year.
But back to Washington, Green had the game’s only goal and #52 continues to play at a very high level. He is showing once again that he is the #1 defensemen on this club with his play at both ends of the rink. He looks confident on the ice and when he is on, the Caps can play with just about anyone. Pray for his continued good health, Caps fans.
Speaking of health, it is very obvious that Laich is not 100% and I suspect he will need some type of surgical procedure when the season is over. Unfortunately he took a shot in a spot you don’t want to get hit in mid game and according to Coach Adam Oates was achy all over. Smartly, team trainer Greg “Smitty” Smith and Oates decided to shut #21 down with nine minutes to go in the game. Laich eats rocks for breakfast but even he has to be having a hard time playing through this injury he suffered overseas during that ridiculous lockout.
Alexander Ovechkin had a strong game despite only having two shots on net. He was on the ice when Green scored and his shootout attempt was the only one that found the back of the twine. It was a sick and unbelievable backhander top shelf on Nabokov that had the Russian goalie shaking his head. Not many players can do what the Gr8 did there. Unfortunately Ovechkin’s nine game point streak was snapped but the Gr8 would tell you he could care less on Thursday night because his club gained two points and finally took over the division lead.
The biggest reason the Capitals won is none other than Braden Holtby. #70 made numerous big saves and he was rock solid in the shootout. Holtbeast is the team’s MVP this season so far. The guys love playing for him and his stickhandling ability makes it very hard on opposing teams to dump the puck in on the Caps. That skill is very underrated.
So all seems right in the world again in Caps land. Washington is back in first in the Southeast and they have momentum. Once Erat gets some practice time to adjust, he should help this club even more. He had a solid first night’s work in a Capitals uniform playing on the third line with Mathieu Perreault and Joel Ward. I am looking forward to seeing him with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, at some point.
Summing the night up, it was a big two points against a squad that gives the Capitals fits. Washington controls their season the rest of the way so hopefully they seize the opportunity. It looks very optimistic right now as long as they don’t suffer any major injuries.
Therefore, Caps fans may want to start clearing their May calendars, something they probably weren’t thinking about doing three weeks or so ago.
Notes: The Islanders late third period pressure saw them jamming the boards on Washington’s breakout. The Caps didn’t adjust to that tactic quick enough and the Islanders finally made them pay on the tying goal…Green logged 26 minutes to lead Washington in ice time…Eric Fehr returned to the lineup and played only 7:22…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 28-22, with Backstrom going 12-6…shot attempts were 59-50 in favor of New York and shots on goal were 36-22 for the Islanders. They easily could have won this game if not for Holtby, although Nabokov made some quality saves on his end too…the Caps are in Florida on Saturday to take on the Panthers before returning home on Sunday to face the Lightning, who believe it or not, are still in the Southeast Division title race.