Breaking the losing streak in Ottawa Sunday night was crucial for the psyche of the Washington Capitals, but one could argue that it would have rang empty had they lost to the Devils Tuesday night. Thanks largely to the efforts of the third and fourth lines, the Caps skated away from Verizon Center with a resounding 5-1 victory.
The Caps’ stars couldn’t generate any offense but thankfully the 2009-10 Hershey Bears led the scoring. Andrew Gordon struck first for the Caps, tapping in a gorgeous feed from Marcus Johansson. Hershey grinder Jay Beagle then gave the Caps a 2-1 lead and the team never looked back, with rookie John Carlson adding a goal on a wicked slap shot. Also chipping in on the score sheet were Jason Chimera and Mike Knuble.
No big guns? No problem. For now.
Odds and Ends
– Rookie Marcus Johansson had his finest NHL performance to date. Not only was he strong defensively, as usual, but his stick handling and strength with the puck were on a whole different level. While his speed and passing ability generated the Gordon’s first career goal and put the Caps ahead, perhaps more encouraging was the way in which he held the puck along the boards and ultimately drew a penalty in the first.
– A slew of rookies and grinders have lifted the Caps out of the doldrums for the last two games, which is great. But here are some troubling trends that need to go away soon: Alex Semin with no goals in eight games, Nicklas Backstrom with 0 goals in 9 games, Alexander Ovechkin with two goals in eleven games. That’s far too little production from three of the best players in the world. Here’s to hoping they break out on Thursday, because as excited as we all are about Mattheiu Perreault and Gordon, they ain’t winnin’ any games against a team like Pittsburgh by themselves.
– There’s no dancing around it – the goaltending throughout the losing streak was brutal, so the fact that Michal Neuvirth is starting to round back into form is a welcome change. He stopped 35 of 36 shots tonight and has now stopped 52 of 53 shots in his last five periods of play. The defense in front of him did well to force most of those shots to the perimeter, but Neuvirth’s positioning was much sharper and more compact than it had been in recent weeks. If the big guns continue to find ways not to score, he’ll have to carry a large portion of the load.
– Young defensemen usually have a steep learning curve in the NHL so it wasn’t fair to expect John Carlson and Karl Alzner to become a shut down pair this season. But it’s starting to look like that might happen by March. The two have performed extremely well of late despite the losing streak and tonight they were a combined +7.
– Speaking of defense, Scott Hannan was tied for the team lead among D in short-handed ice time with Mike Green and looked far more comfortable out there. He made relatively quick decisions and tied up his man in front of the net several times to prevent rebounds from turning into goals.
While the Devils are the second worst team in the NHL, no wins can be considered easy for a team that’s fresh off an eight game losing streak. The fact that the Caps were able to pummel the Devils in such resounding fashion is massive, because for two weeks this team had no swagger.
Now they, and the fans, seem to have regained some semblance of attitude as they face a larger-than-December showdown with the Penguins Thursday. Bring it on.