Sunday, February 03, 2019

Washington Capitals: That Was The Week That Was - Week 18

Even with only one game on the schedule, Week 18 was a “week” for the Washington Capitals.  It was a good week, it was a perfect week, it was a week unlike any other preceding it this season (that “one game” thing).

It makes writing a summary easy, because if you want to know how the week went, you can go here

Just some thoughts…

-- That they won their only game of the week against the best team in the West – the Calgary Flames – would have been impressive enough.  That they did it without their captain (Alex Ovechkin was suspended under league rules for opting out of the All-Star Game) and losing their third-line center (Lars Eller) to injury having skated barely six minutes for the night made it more impressive.

-- The ornery manner in which the Caps finished the game against Calgary impressed as well.  Brooks Orpik, while a physical defenseman, does not often engage in fights.  Going into the game he had 15 regular season and two postseason fights in a 16-year career.  But he went toe-to-toe with Matthew Tkachuk (seven fights in four seasons going into this game) for a scrap in which he was viewed by some as winning a narrow decisionWhat precipitated the dust-up might have been Nicklas Backstrom drilling Johnny Gaudreau into the back wall at the buzzer, perhaps some payback for an earlier collision.  Even goalie Braden Holtby waded into the scrum of players at the end, evening out the 6-on-5 advantage in skaters that the Flames had.  This was the “playing to the final horn” (and beyond in this case) that has been absent for the Caps disturbingly often this season.

-- There are times when it seems that Evgeny Kuznetsov can flip a switch and turn into “Uber (or the Russian translation) Hockey Player.”  There are also times that Caps fans wish he would flip that switch more often.  Nevertheless, it was in the “on” position against the Flames, the game-winning power play goal in the last minute and an assist earlier in the game to his credit.  What might have been at least as impressive was his ice time.  After skating 6:29 in the first period, head coach Todd Reirden leaned heavily on him after losing Lars Eller to injury.  Kuznetsov skated 10:00 in the second period and 8:07 in the third. Those two periods combined almost equaled his season average ice time (18:54).  The 24:36 in total ice time was a season and career high for a regular season game.

-- More evidence of playing to the final horn.  Calgary went into the game with a plus-39 goal differential in the third periods of games this season, by far the best in the league.  The Flames left the arena holding that same plus-39 goal differential, scoring a game-tying goal 12 minutes into the period, but yielding the Kuznetsov game-winner in the last minute.  The Caps thus avoided losing what would have been a league-leading fourth game in regulation when leading after two periods.

-- While it is nice to get that win coming out of the All-Star Game break and the bye, one should avoid getting too happy about it.  The Caps won their first game coming out of last season’s break, too, a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers.  However, the Caps staggered through a five-week post-ASG stretch in which they went 8-8-2 and did not win more than two consecutive games at any point in that stretch before peeling off a four-game winning streak in mid-March on their way to a 12-3-0 finish to the regular season.  Another reminder that it is a long season.

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