You know, we would like to think we have a fair command of the English language, but frankly we are running out of adjectives.
Gritty, diligent, hard-working, explosive… we’ll think of some more. But for now, let’s just look at tonight’s 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers and apply some of these adjectives…
Gritty… The Caps knew coming in that this could be a bit of a slog. Tomas Vokoun came into the game as the hottest goaltender in the league – 7-3-2 for January, a 1.41 GAA, a .958 save percentage, and three shut outs. If the Caps were going to solve him, they were going to have to work for it, and that they did, getting two on Vokoun on 26 shots in the first two periods, then two on their first seven shots in the third to break the game open.
Diligent… crashing the net, the forwards getting back on defense (a few times it was Ovechkin covering the man heading to the net, instead of the second defenseman), winning battles along the walls, doing the little things was key to not giving the Panthers many chances.
Hard-working… Name a Cap who wasn’t. Even losing Mike Green to an injury 16:51 into the second period didn’t affect the level of effort.
Explosive… Florida scored its lone goal at the 4:22 mark of the second period. The Caps scored 25 seconds later (again, Wes Johnson barely got the name of the Panther goal scorer out of his mouth on the PA announcement). Then, two goals in less than three minutes early in the third. Consider, this was against a team that allowed fewer than two goals in four of its last five games and has given up more than three goals only once this month.
-- Jeff Schultz completes the set. Every skater who took the ice tonight, except for Schultz, had at least one goal this month. Schultz drove one through a Brooks Laich screen to give the Caps an insurance goal.
-- Coulda-woulda-shoulda… Dominic Moore gets a breakaway in the first half minute of the game, rings the puck off the post. That could have played with goalie Michal Neuvirth’s head.
-- Kanoobie is one happy ugly goal rally mutt. Mike Knuble gets a goal from the door step and another on a wrister, sort of soup-to-nuts, Knuble style. That’s 11 goals in his last 12 games and two game-winners in his last three games. How does that signing look now?
-- The Caps had as many shots shorthanded (five) as the Panthers had on the power play.
-- Speaking of the man advantage, that’s eight straight games with a power play goal (11-for-29/37.9 percent) and have scored at least one in 12 of 14 games in January (17-for-49/34.7 percent).
-- The Caps went 5-for-5 on the PK… that’s 32-for-36 at home this month (88.9 percent).
-- Neuvirth (finally!), Knuble, and Backstrom got the game’s three stars, but here’s a doff of the prognostatorial cap to Brian Pothier, who we thought had a fine game. He moved the puck smartly, had a couple of blocked shots, had four hits, and his two giveaways were inconsequential (in fact, he was credited with a takeaway immediately after committing a giveaway).
-- If you want to quibble about Neuvirth’s rebounds early, go ahead. But since he was pulled from the game the last time these teams met, he is 3-0-0, 1.20, .963 in four appearances. He was 17-for-17 in the third period.
-- Florida isn’t going to last in contention until they can improve their productivity. 17 of 18 skaters managed at least a shot on goal tonight (36 in all). It was only the second time in ten games the Panthers could manage more than 30 shots on goal, for all the good it did them.
-- From our perch, the hit by Dmitry Kulikov on Mike Green was a clean hit, merely unfortunate circumstance that led their knees to collide. In fact, we were more worried that Green was concussed. It was just Green in a vulnerable position, and Kulikov executing a good open ice hit.
-- The evolution of the Caps as a complete hockey team continues. John Erskine finished the game with more ice time (17:43) than did Alex Ovechkin (17:27).
-- Here is another example. The Caps had five players with eight shots on the power play. Two years ago, if the Caps had eight shots on the power play, Ovechkin had six, and Mike Green probably had the other two. Nicklas Backstrom had three tonight (one goal)
-- Jeff Schultz is back on track – plus-5 in his last three games after a plus-1 tonight. But we thought he was struggling to get the puck out of the defensive zone, and we thought he could have moved the puck along the boards more assertively on a couple of occasions. Truth be told, Mike Green was having the same sorts of problems.
-- Are the coaches confident in the defense? The five defensemen who skated in the third all had between eight and ten shifts. There was no shortening of the bench.
-- The win sets a record for wins in the month of January – the Caps are 12-2-0 this month, besting the previous record set in 2000 (11-1-2). The Caps can set a record for most wins in a month in franchise history with a win on Sunday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
-- Alex Ovechkin is a plus-34 after going plus-2 tonight. That is a pace to finish at plus-55, which would be the highest plus-minus since Vladimir Konstantinov was plus-60 in 1995-1996. It would tie for the highest among forwards since Mario Lemieux was plus-55 in 1992-1993. The last time a forward finished higher than the pace Ovechkin is on was 1986-1987… some guy named “Gretzky” (plus-70). He is plus-15 in 14 games this month.
-- There are games when John Erskine scares us a little bit out there. Tonight was not one of those games. His compete level was excellent, hustling on a couple of occasions to keep icing calls from being washed out and winning several chases for the puck along the walls. It was a solid game in doing the gritty things.
-- We see Brooks Laich in interviews, and he is witty, charming, personable. But on the ice, he looks like one fellow you really don’t want to mess with.
-- Did you ever notice at Caps games that the ice is often tilted, that all the goals are scored at one end of the ice?. Lately, the folks in the west end of the arena aren’t getting much action in that regard. It’s all at the east end – the end at which the Caps shoot twice.
-- Oh, and meanwhile, up in Hershey… the Bears had their third straight game with at least eight goals, beating the Baby Pens, 8-6, in Wilkes-Barre. It was their fifth time in six games with at least seven goals (45 in all in those six games). Think those teams don’t like each other? There were two fights in the first 3:07 of the game, four in all, and there were three sets of coincidental roughing penalties. Shoot, goalie Braden Holtby was whistled for two roughing penalties. We’re going to see those two go at it on February 13th, and we can’t wait.
Here in DC, though, it was another multi-goal game for a Cap (what’s that, 437 this year?), two three-point games, ten players on the plus side of the ledger, 11 with hits… it was a good all-around game for the Caps against a team against whom they could have suffered a letdown. Now, they get a chance for revenge against the last team to beat them – the Tampa Bay Lightning, who beat the Caps rather soundly in Tampa on January 12th, 7-4. We suspect the Lightning will have the Caps’ full attention. That is not good news if you’re a Lightning fan.
But first things, first… this was a fine effort all around, for the ninth straight time.