After Monday night’s loss to Buffalo the calls of the Washington Capitals demise were all over twitter and the blogs.
This team is too soft, their stars can’t play Dale Hunter’s system, the team needs a major trade to shake things up, blah, blah, blah…
On Wednesday night at the Verizon Center the Caps showed their critics that they are still a team to be reckoned with as they defeated the current Eastern Conference standings leader, the New York Rangers, 4-1, on the strength of hard work and skill. They received solid goaltending from Tomas Vokoun, they potted a couple of gritty goals from the Jeff Halpern and Marcus Johansson line, they were superb at killing penalties, and lastly their top line took over when needed as Alexander Semin scored the third and fourth goals to close out John Tortorella’s squad.
It was a much needed victory after a couple of tough losses on the road that were sandwiched around the holiday break. Combining tonight’s effort with last Tuesday’s win over Nashville and the way they played in the third period against New Jersey on Friday, I still think this team is close to running off a nice winning streak very soon.
Sure they have some issues that need to be worked out. They can’t make some of the turnovers they made in the last 20 minutes with a two goal lead. Dennis Wideman had a couple of those and he also took a bad penalty. In addition, the power play can’t allow two odd man rushes when the team is up by a deuce in the final frame. That might be a better time to move Alexander Ovechkin (two assists, +1) off of the point and just go with two defensemen. In addition, Vokoun (31 saves) did yield some rebounds, but I’ll attribute that to rust and when he did leave pucks lying near the goal, his defensemen won the battles to the puck and cleared it.
Hunter’s style is to play solid, hard working defense that creates offense in transition. On Wednesday night the Caps did this expertly with Johansson’s goal coming off of pressure in the neutral zone and Semin’s two tallies stemming from good defensive plays, the first of which was by Ovechkin. After Monday’s loss the Gr8 said the way his team came out was unacceptable and in this game he worked hard from the opening face-off.
In hockey, everything starts from the goaltender out and when the Rangers had some chances early, Vokoun was there. That gave the Capitals confidence and they quickly built off of the play of #29. Goaltending has been the Caps biggest weakness this season and if they can find some consistency there, then the wins will really start coming. Both Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth have shown recent signs of breaking out. #30 had that bad first period on Monday but as I blogged post game, the crazy travel day likely effected the whole team and in hindsight, probably Neuvy the most.
So Washington moves to 18-15-2 overall and 6-6-1 under Hunter. As I’ve written many times since the coaching change, this is going to take time and fans need to be patient, but I have the utmost faith in Hunter to get this team playing the way it needs to in order to win in the spring. A game like tonight only cements that further for me. Remember, it’s a work in progress and Rome wasn’t built in a day.
So to those who were out on the ledge, come on back in now, this team still has it and I believe time will show that they will be back among the NHL’s elite if they get solid goaltending and stick to what Hunter is selling.
Notes: Semin is clearly buying in and his last four games have been at high levels…Karl Alzner was +3 tonight while the Rangers big offseason acquisition, Brad Richards, was -3…Nicklas Backstrom centered the Alexes and had a nice assist on the third Caps goal and was +2…the Capitals took five penalties but their PK was outstanding…Martin Biron started for the Rangers and made 19 saves…the Capitals outhit the Rangers 22-15 and won the face-off battle 28-23. Both of those stats are ones I consider to be effort barometers…Washington was 0 for 2 on the power play but Troy Brouwer fanned with an open net on a beautiful passing play from Backstrom and Ovechkin in the first period.