Perhaps it was what they needed all along.
The Washington Capitals got an oxygen boost and defeated the Detroit Red Wings last night, 5-3, to maintain their two-point margin for eighth-place and the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They did it by doing things they have not done much over the last several months…
They got out to a lead early. The Caps scored first, which was only the 34th time in 73 games they recorded the first goal of the game. It also happened to be only the 31st time in 73 games that the Red Wings allowed the first goal of the game.
They scored a lot early. The Caps lit the lamp three times in the first period, an unusual event for a team that had only 48 first period goals this season (tied for 26th in the league going into the game).
They made the power play count. The Caps scored three power play goals for the first time this season and the first time since scoring three on seven opportunities in a 5-4 Gimmick loss to Philadelphia on November 20, 2010.
They got two power play goals from Alex Ovechkin. It was the second time in four games that Ovechkin had two goals, but it was the first time he scored a power play goal since February 17th (breaking a 14-game streak without one) and the first time he had two power play goals in a game since he had two in a 7-2 win at Calgary on October 30, 2010.
They got a goal from Mike Knuble for the second consecutive game. Knuble’s first period goal was his third in four games and marked the first time he recorded goals in consecutive games since March 31-April 2 last season. It was also his first two-point game (he assisted on Jason Chimera’s empty net goal) since assisting on both goals in a 2-1 win over Ottawa on October 15th.
They got a point from Mike Green. OK, it was the secondary assist on the empty-net goal to clinch the win in the last minute, but with that assist Green recorded his first point since he had a 2-2-4 night against these same Red Wings at Verizon Center in a 7-1 win last October 22nd. It broke a 15-game streak without a point.
It was the first time the Caps scored five goals in Detroit since November 29, 1989, in a 5-3 win over the Red Wings. That is so long ago that two of the goal scorers for the Caps that evening – Nick Kypreos and Alan May – are now starters in the TV studio. There was even a Johansson who notched a goal that night (Calle) and a Michal (Pivonka). For the record, Geoff Courtnall had the fifth goal, while Bob Mason got the win in goal over Sam St. Laurent.
-- Gotta like the three power play goals. Even the getting a lead early. But even though these were the Red Wings, there was the matter of that third period…the Caps were outshot, 11-3 (only two shots on goalie Jimmy Howard, the other being the empty net goal). There was the matter of allowing a goal in the first minute of that third period, which had the potential to be a momentum-changer.
-- Your number one star of the game skated fewer even strength minutes than Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, Mathieu Perreault, and Marcus Johansson among the forwards. That’s right, Alex Ovechkin skated only 12:33 at even strength. Only seven times this season has he skated less than the 16:59 in total ice time he had last night.
-- Alexander Semin skated a 1:25 shift midway through the third period… and would not take the ice again, out for the last 7:35. It was his second consecutive game with no shots on goal, the first time he has gone consecutive games without a shot on goal since March 31/April 3, 2007.
-- The Caps were credited with only 31 shot attempts for the game (22 on goal, only 14 at even strength). The Red Wings had 33 shots on goal. However, Danny Cleary had eight of them. Pavel Datsyuk had one. The Caps will take that.
-- Alex Ovechkin did not have an even-strength shot on goal until the 8:24 mark of the third period.
-- For the most part, Braden Holtby had a solid game, but the last two goals? It looked as if he was having difficulty locating the puck in close, once not getting his glove hand down in time before Todd Bertuzzi stuffed one in from the paint, and the other when a puck slithered through his legs for Danny Cleary to stuff it in.
All in all, it was a breath of fresh air, so to speak. Given the circumstances – flying in late, playing the second half of a back-to-back, facing a team that had a total of four losses in regulation on home ice all season – it was a fine road game for the Caps. They played with a focus that was absent in the loss to Chicago the previous night. And guys who needed to produce did, and the guys who needed to make other contributions did – Ovechkin’s two goals, Knuble getting one, Roman Hamrlik with four blocked shots, Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson with a pair of assists apiece, four hits from Matt Hendricks, a solid game from Braden Holtby.
One wonders why the Caps cannot display this kind of effort more often on the road. Why they cannot play with the touch of swagger they had last night to skate into the home team’s arena and take charge from the get-go. But, these are our Caps, which means we have no idea which team will show up when they visit Philadelphia on Thursday.
So, enjoy this one for a couple of days, Caps fans.