Alexander Ovechkin is on fire and all of the national media critics who trashed him this year have egg all over their faces right now, especially Mike Milbury and PJ Stock. The Gr8 poured in three goals and added an assist as the Caps raced out to a 4-0 lead before giving up a tally with 32 seconds left to hang on 4-3 against the Florida Panthers in Sunrise on Saturday night.
Ovechkin now has 23 goals and 18 points in 38 games (tied for 7th in NHL scoring). He is second to Steven Stamkos (25 goals) in the NHL goal scoring race and in an 82 game season his goal total projects to just under 50. Yeah, he’s washed up and the team shouldn’t give him the puck.
The victory over a Florida squad that had won three in a row coming in pushes the Caps to 19-17-2 with 10 games left. Washington has 40 points, as does Winnipeg, but the Jets only have eight games to go.
Piece of cake for the Capitals to win the Southeast division, right?
Not so fast. For all of the good that happened in this one, there was one big bit of bad news. Trade deadline acquisition Martin Erat had to be helped to the dressing room after Panthers defensemen Erik Gudbranson boarded #10. The result was a five minute major and game misconduct for the Florida player but for Washington, it could be worse as Erat looked like he was in pain and the injury could be more than just a minor one. This comes on the heels of Brooks Laich missing Saturday’s contest.
So just when it seemed that Washington had a really solid forward lineup with balance, injuries to Erat and Laich have thrust that into turmoil once again. It’s no coincidence that Ovechkin’s hot streak (13 goals in 13 games) occurred once the Caps overall team started returning to health. Opponents could not totally focus on the Gr8 when Adam Oates had a full lineup but if 21 and 10 are out awhile, it will make it easier for opposing head coaches to do that now.
But before getting discouraged, Mike Green’s great play, after returning to 100%, is as big a factor as any of this as #52 is such a key in Washington’s breakout and he is superb at the point on the power play. The Caps had three PP goals in this one, two of which were by Ovechkin. The Gr8 has 14 PPG’s this season to lead the NHL and noone else even has 10.
In addition, you can’t discount the play of Marcus Johansson, who once healthy, has been a different player. MJ90 once again looks like the guy who showed such promise in the spring of 2011. He is a great skater and is a good passer, but he doesn’t have a great shot and he doesn’t always look to shoot. If he can keep playing at this level, and that is asking an awfully lot of him, then Washington should be able to hold off the Jets in the division race.
But the Caps can’t afford another big injury. They also need to tighten up their defensive zone when leading. Too many times they are giving up goals in front when they have players in position to make a play. In fairness, the team let down a bit after being up four pucks and Braden Holtby will likely tell you the first and third goals were on him.
Still, the Capitals top line is rolling. Nicklas Backstrom had three more assists and he has six goals and 33 assists for 39 points (tied for 11th in NHL) in 38 games. #19 has looked more comfortable and back to his usual dominant self since being reunited with Ovechkin a few weeks ago.
So there is still a lot to be positive about with this Capitals team despite the concern once again at left wing due to injuries. But Washington doesn’t have much margin for error due to their poor 2-8-1 start. They’ll need to keep the hammer down and ride the hot hand of Ovechkin down the stretch.
Where’s Milbury?! Hahahahaha
Notes: Oates was able to spread out the ice time with the big lead which should help Washington in their last back to back game of 2013, Sunday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center against Tampa…Green led the team in ice time with just 22:32…the Caps were 3 for 5 on the power play while Florida was 1 for 2…Washington outshot the Cats, 31-30, but Florida had a 16-5 third period edge when the game was pretty much over…shot attempts for the game were 58-45 in favor of the Caps…the face off battle was won by Washington, 29-26.