The Caps failed to score a first period goal on the road for the sixth straight game and after 40 minutes they trailed 2-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
So much for using that start fast formula on the road that they’ve used lately at home that I blogged about last night, eh?!
But since Dale Hunter took over behind the bench this Washington Capitals squad has yet to quit in a game, regardless of the deficit and some lineup juggling by the Caps bench boss ignited a three goal in under three minutes explosion in the final frame. Alexander Ovechkin, who scored the first goal for the Caps, then lasered one by Steve Mason (22 saves) to make it 4-2 and Tomas Vokoun (35 saves) closed the door as the Capitals won their third straight game. It was a huge victory and moves the Caps to 20-15-2 overall. They are now just five points behind Southeast Division leading Florida. Washington has two games in hand.
After Columbus did a good job of shutting down Washington’s top line for 40 minutes, Hunter split them up putting Ovechkin with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer while Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin added Marcus Johansson on left wing. The move gave the Caps energy and took Columbus off of their game plan. On the back end, the defensemen became extremely active and Dennis Wideman (1 goal, 2 assists) turned in a super period paired with Roman Hamrlik. On Ovechkin’s nail in the coffin on the power play, Dmitry Orlov made an intelligent move carrying the puck down the left wing boards and behind the net drawing the defense to him before slipping a sweet pass to the Gr8 who buried it with authority. Make no mistake about this, Orlov continues to get better and deserves to be up with the big club the rest of the season.
I know I mentioned the standings above, but as I’ve pretty much done since Hunter took over, I have tried to ignore them because this club needed to drastically fix its’ play before it could start rising back to the top of the Eastern Conference. After 15 games in under the Capitals legend the team has totally improved on the backend and now that they have corrected that, the offense, as predicted by Hunter, is coming on. Ovechkin, Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom have bought in defensively and they are really starting to reap big rewards for that. The Gr8 is on fire with four goals in his last two games and has nine points in his last six games. Semin’s goal that tied the game was a thing of beauty and he’s had six solid tilts in a row. Backstrom is the team’s MVP so far this season but he’s even gone to a higher level the last couple of weeks.
Another thing to be really encouraged about is the week Vokoun just had in goal. #29 came on in relief on Monday and stopped 16 of 17 shots then went 3-0 as a starter. Vokoun is making the big save at the right time. 14 seconds after Ovechkin tallied to cut it to 2-1, he made a huge stop on Mark Letestu on a quality chance in the slot. If Letestu scores there the game is over. Instead Orlov and Grant Clitsome go off for roughing shortly thereafter and the Capitals score twice on the four on four. I’ve said this so many times, but everything starts for a team in goal and Washington is finally getting some consistent netminding.
For those who watched the post game press conference with Hunter on Comcast, things looked exactly the same from old number 32 for the 15th time despite the dramatic comeback. It was hard to tell whether the team won or lost and Hunts always seems to be on such an even keel. Clearly his club is feeding off of his consistency behind the bench and his competitive drive is contagious.
Winning in Columbus is still no big feat, that Blue Jackets club is pretty bad. The Caps have a Calgary Flames team home on Tuesday before taking off to the west coast to take on some quality Western Conference talent in San Jose and Los Angeles. We’ll have an even better idea how far the team has come after those contests.
Happy New Year!
Notes: The Blue Jackets second goal should not have counted as referees Brad Meier and Francois St. Laurent missed an obvious interference penalty on Derek Dorsett in front of the Washington net. The Columbus pest shoved John Carlson to the ground with the puck on the boards but no call was made. Terrible work from the zebras…the Caps blocked 22 shots while the Blue Jackets only thwarted five. Assistant Coach Jim Johnson says if Washington blocks between 20 and 25 shots in a game that is a good sign…Hamrlik and Wideman were both +3. #44 looks so much better since returning from an early season groin injury. He is a smart player who is excelling in Hunter’s system…Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-31. Jeff Halpern was 8-3…Jeff Schultz had an awful first period giveaway and only played 9:46…Cody Eakin’s recall did necessitate a player going on injured reserve as I mentioned last night, but instead of Mathieu Perreault, the team retroactively put Mike Green in that capacity to meet the 23 man roster limit.