It’s been a season filled with such statement games and thrilling
performances by the high-scoring bunch. However, entering Saturday night they
still had not proven they could beat the New Jersey Devils, who led the league
in points and were 3-0 against the Southeast Division leaders.
The game represented perhaps the biggest test of the season for the Caps. The Devils
employ a trap system that focuses on counter-attacking and relies on strict
discipline. It’s just the kind of system that has given the aggressive,
fast-paced Caps problems under Bruce Boudreau.
Suffice to say the Caps passed Saturday night’s test with
flying colors, handily beating the Devils 4-1. With the win, the
Caps showed the league, and more importantly themselves, what they are capable
of when they bring their “A” game.
When Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom
are all playing their best, the offense is basically unstoppable. The three
combined for seven points Saturday, showing that even the trap can’t stop three
of the game’s top forwards on the same line when they’re all clicking.
When the Caps get the kind of goaltending rookie Michal
Neuvirth provided, they can be virtually unbeatable. The 21-year old Czech
netminder withstood a furious onslaught from the Devils in the first, after
which the visitors never seemed to be able to get back on track. His rebound
control appears to have improved markedly in a very short period of time.
And when all of the forwards are backchecking and clogging
the neutral zone, the Caps are indeed capable of stifling one of the league’s
best offenses. After the first ten minutes of the game, the Devils were
hard-pressed to generate any type of sustained attack.
The complete dominance the Caps have displayed over their
last two games against division leaders is impressive. They didn’t just squeak
by the Sabres and Devils. They crushed them, outscoring their stingy opponents
by a combined score of 9-3.
The two home wins put the Caps atop the NHL in points.
the way they’ve been playing, it’s tough to argue that they don’t deserve to be
called the best team in hockey at the moment.