Hockey hug - Alex Brandon

Guy behind the glass at left is my favorite. (Photo: Alex Brandon)

With a decisive win over the St Louis Blues on Sunday, the Washington Capitals took the Metropolitan Division lead, vaulted Alex Ovechkin to the top of the NHL scoring leaders list, picked a peck of pickles, padded Braden Holtby’s stats,  improved their power-play conversion rate, got Nick Backstrom an entire apple cart full of assists, Frank Stallone, and fended off a strong possession team desperate for a comeback.

Not bad for a Sunday night.

Alex Ovechkin’s first period: dang. Nick Backstrom tapped the puck to him, and he proved that with a little speed and a little space he is better than any goalie in the league. Then he put a little backhand chip shot on a rebound to make it 2-0 and tie St Louis’ Alex Steen for the league lead. Mikhail Grabovski swatted a mid-air rebound off a Jason Chimera shot to make it 3-0 and get Halak pulled.

Vladimir Sobotka capitalized on a second-power power play to keep St Louis’ league-best power play atop the lists. John Carlson got the Capitals special teams a goal of their own a few minutes later, getting a long bomb past Brian Elliott somehow.

Nothing in the third.

Caps beat Blues 4-1! Caps take the Metro lead! Ovi is Ovi!

  • Jaroslav Halak was pulled after surrendering three goals on six shots. Hold on a second. [Busts out calculator] Yeah, that’s no good. More on this below.
  • The Capitals came out blazing in the first. The Blues are known for suffocating play, but the Caps got 3 goals on just 9 shot attempts in the first twenty minutes. Not so good for the possession stuff, but the Caps made it count when the could. You don’t build a team like this (cc: Toronto), but it’s a fun way to win!
  • Alex Ovechkin was all over the scoreboard in the first, jumping up beside Alex Steen (3 shots, 0 points on Sunday) on the league leaders list, but don’t sleep on Nicky B. Nick Backstrom (3 assists) had a hand in both Ovi goals– first with a great little tap pass, the second finding Karl Alzner in the slot.
  • Speaking of Karl Alzner– and like I said in this week’s snapshot, I love it when that guy shoots. Not only will Alzner eventually break his two-goal best season, but he’ll also facilitate a lot more crash-the-net rebound goals exactly like the one Alex Ovechkin pounced on tonight. Moar!
  • I love how I go on a stat-filled rant about how Ovechkin’s shot totals are more important than Steen’s shooting percentage, and then Ovi scores on his first two shots on net.
  • Caps shooting was sparse throughout the night actually. The Capitals put just three pucks on Brian Elliott in the second period. Usually I’m all puck possession is the only thing! but the Blues are a scary possession team, and the Caps were protecting a lead. Not a huge deal.
  • John Carlson was the first player to score on Sunday whose name is not natively spelled in Cyrillic. Carly’s really heating up, which is great news for a D corps that is usually pretty subdued. Related: Bets on Orlov playing this week?
  • The Caps got in trouble with a couple dumb penalties in the third. That put the Blues on a two-man advantage, but Nick Backstrom got David Backes to neutralize one penalty, and the PK unit shut down the other. Way to get out of Dodge.
  • Yet again, the “second” line is an abomination. Even with Martin Erat down there, the twin black holes of Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich are irresistibly bad. They spent approximately thirty-seven hours in their own zone– subjecting Braden Holtby to tons of abuse in the process. Keeping Brouwer and Brooks together– regardless of who their third is– is a failure of talent evaluation on the Caps bench. Before the game, Caps writer Mike Vogel said an active player would have to get injured or go on a skid to justify a change to the lineup. I’m astonished the Caps don’t recognize the marks of Troy Brouwer’s skid. Eric Fehr would be an instant upgrade.
  • Finally, Braden Holtby is great. With an average goaltender, the Caps would have a losing record. With Holtby, they’re leading their division. Holtby regularly has to stop 30+ shots a night, and he’s doing it with a sassy smile on his unfairly attractive face. Tonight’s game was damn near 50. Holtby rules. Halak drools.

The Caps lead the Metro. Let’s dance.

dance1 dance2

dance3 dance4

dance5 dance6

dance7 dance8

That was fun.

Okay, now let’s talk Halak. Please join me in the wayback machine for a second.

April 2010:

Habs goalie Jaroslav Halak‘s unholy pact with 7th-century Carpathian sorcerer Janko Nepomuk Draždiak seems to have paid off nicely as only one of the Caps FIFTY FREAKING FOUR shots passed him.

February 2012:

But [the beginning of the Caps’ decline] really happened in April of 2010, when the shellshocked Capitals began an 18-month retreat from their offense-first posture. This team has been shriveling like a spent something-or-other since that halak-ing, and it hasn’t ceased yet.

Joe B suit of the night: mid-80s NYC stockbrokers make important eye contact

Joe B suit of the night: mid-80s NYC stockbrokers make important eye contact

Jaroslav Halak’s performance in the 2010 playoffs effectively ended the best era of Caps hockey in the franchise’s history. Within a year of those improbable 217 saves, the Caps stopped playing their style. Within eighteen months, they fired their coach. Within two years, they were at the nadir of Hunter hockey.

It didn’t have to be that way. The best thing the Caps could have done is learn nothing from that playoff series. Instead they changed everything until they no longer resembled themselves.

Embarrassing Halak on Sunday night does nothing to undo the actual damage done to the team in his wake, but it feels like a psychic load has been lifted.

But you didn’t come here to read me get all bittersweet about the SCOAR MOAR GOALS era. Here’s the good stuff.

The Capitals have staked a claim at the top of the Metropolitan Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins have played one fewer game than the Caps, and Wednesday’s game between the two will be huge. I didn’t expect the Caps being this successful in the opening weeks of the season, and that’s because I didn’t take into account a few factors:

  1. Special teams. The Capitals continue to do well a man down despite allowing their only goal-against during a second period penalty kill. They’re also right among the league’s best in the power play, and their shot volume should mean they’ll stick around up there.
  2. Braden Holtby. The PK success owes a lot to Braden, who may be as good as we think he is. We haven’t paid enough attention to him here at RMNB. We’ll remedy that.
  3. Alex Ovechkin. He’s the best scorer in the world. Nuff said.

So yeah: Pittsburgh on Wednesday for the Metro lead. Sidney and Ovi. “Rivalry night” and the unbearable NBCSN coverage team. I’ll be travelling for work, so I’ll be kicking it to John Walton’s radio feed. JEALOUS?

You on the other hand shall have the services of Chris and Ian here on RMNB.

Crash the net.

  • Yo8

    I still wanted a hat trick… :(

  • Jack Conness

    Another great win for the Caps. I’m really liking this Strachan guy. Getting the “butt tap” from Holtby in the middle of the play tells me he must be doing something right!

  • William

    HoltBEAst! Seriously though; Powerplay was very solid (aided by some faulty goaltending on the other side), the defense was decent..at least carlzner did well. The Blues had 45 shots which should tell you something about how the game went.
    But yay caps win ovi scaor! and holts saves yay

  • Jack Conness

    By the way, I really think Carlson should start on the PP over Green (when healthy). His slap shot is lights out and he opens up more room for himself and for Ovi. Teams have learned to drown out Ovi so adding Carlson to the mix makes the PP even more deadly.

  • Chris Cerullo

    Ovie: 2 Steen: 0 :)

    Also. HAHA HALAK.

  • MuzzMuzzington

    That Elliot guy just didn’t believe in Ovechtricks. So much robbery!

  • dylan wheatley

    47 to 20 hahahahah

  • MuzzMuzzington

    Green has been too slow and deliberate with the puck on the PP. When he should shoot quick, he waits for everyone to get back into position then just unleashes a clapper into a shot blocker.

  • Jack Conness

    One last thing…get Brouwer and Laich OUTTA THERE! Fehr is an obvious choice for Brouwer and jeez, Beagle could probably be an upgrade over Laich. Those guys are much better with puck possession.

  • Priscilla Villanueva

    I saw that video debut when I was 9 years old, in the middle of Live Aid. I was absolutely mystified. Wanted that hat trick man….

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    The 80s, man. Who knows.

  • Jack Conness

    Totally agree. Carlson looks great out there with Ovi and Backstrom and moves the puck around quick. He is also lethal from the point, something Green hasn’t been able to show all season.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland
  • Clyde

    I find the 47 shots misleading. Very few of them seemed dangerous as almost all of them were from the outside and there were few second chances. I think the Caps had about as many scoring chances as the Blues.

  • Chris Cerullo

    I agree with this statement.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Shot attempt chart from ExtraSkater http://www.extraskater.com/game/2013-11-17-blues-capitals

    During 5v5, Brouwer was on for 5 Caps shot attempts and SIXTEEN BLUES SHOT ATTEMPTS. Laich was somehow even worse.

  • Chris Cerullo

    But Brooks Laich = Mike Richards/David Backes so that’s not possible.

  • Priscilla Villanueva

    Meanwhile I just saw rick Allen’s drum kit and am now on an 80s hair band kick.

  • jordan

    and their shot volume their should *GRAMMAR

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    You’re probably right. The Blues got pushed outside a bunch. Good Caps D.

  • Matt Lauer

    the second line won’t get better until evgeny kuznetsov gets here. just sayin’. unless they pull off a trade of like brouwer and a pick for hemsky. which would be cool: kuznetsov-erat-hemsky. yum.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    [curtsies]

  • Jack Conness

    Agreed. A lot of their shots ended up in Holtby’s gut and no rebound chances.

  • Adam Schwager

    Brouwer is a great shooter but a bad puck possession player. He lived off of Ribero last year and until the Caps can get a real center in the line (we miss you Matty P.)it’s going to remain in a slump. Laich just can not get it done the way he’s playing.

  • Matt Lauer

    i’ve actually been saying this for years now. so, agreed!

  • Adam Schwager

    Right now with Traktor looking from the outside in we could use Kutznezov ASAP

  • Matt Lauer

    TRUTH.

  • Jack Conness

    Oooo boy, adding Kuznetsov would be golden right now.

  • CapsOilersfan

    don’t want hemsky, i’m from edmonton and watch almost every oilers game. He was a force early on, but has been in a major slump, dosn’t seem like he tries any more and is really injury prone, not to mention his 5 mill cap hit

  • Matt Lauer

    unless he’d find new life on a new team. i still remember watching him during their run to the finals in 2007 (or whatever year it was), been hoping he’d come here ever since.

  • Alex

    Yup

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    you ain’t wrong

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    thanks

  • Jay Prots

    I love the neighborly fellow in the front row. Waving with approval of this division grabbing win.

  • JenniferH

    This was such a freaking awesome game. I really enjoyed watching it. The first line, the third line, the fourth line, the defensemen, my awesome-sauce Braden Holtby-sauce were just fantastic. Ovi was on fire. Steen was shut down. Backsie was Backsie. Carly is coming into his own. Oleksy is making more of the good little moves, and less of the bad little moves. Alzner made some beautiful defensive moves. Overall I was just loving it so hard.

    And I really appreciated the Holtby-praise in this write-up. I don’t think he gets enough credit, but as I said in Ian’s article on his Tatar save, I do question sometimes if it’s just my blind fangirl love when I rave about him. After all I am a Hockey newbie, so I don’t know. I see negativity everywhere (it’s why I love RMNB so much since this site doesn’t go there) so I just don’t know if it’s haters or legit criticism against him. So it was reassuring to read your comments on him as an admirer of Holtby’s play.

  • Jay Prots

    agree, at no point in that game did I feel like we were being outplayed. Eyeball test remains the best statistic.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    AUDIBLE GROAN

  • Alex

    I will take that one step further… I predict Kuzya’s first NHL game will be on Saturday, March 8th against the Phoenix Coyotes at Verizon Center. Just a feeling…

  • Lawrence

    Great recap and what a game, amiright!? I think the whole importance of getting shots on net is a little bit over analyzed, there’s just so many factors in the shot that you can’t rely on the stat as much as you would think, (quality of shot, velocity, blocked shots not getting on net, etc.) For example, even though Holtbeast had a ton of saves today, a lot of them weren’t that difficult of saves, no disrespect to holtby.

    Obviously shot volume has something to do with success, a-la Ovechkin, but he also is getting quality shots off. I think our power play has been successful because of the quality of the shot being put on net, rather then other teams who just want to get pucks on the net and crash it (both have their advantages/disadvantages). For instance with the caps powerplay, the quarterback of backy (or mojo if he shifts over there) often passes (pun?) up on just getting a shot on net to pass and give a more quality opportunity to someone else.

  • Jay Prots

    DOES THE TRUTH BRING YOU PAIN???

  • JenniferH

    Aww, my princess Demi Lovato (I don’t care if I should be too old to be a Demi Lovato fan, girl can sing!) in a Caps post! Awesome!

  • JenniferH

    I was so not happy with Elliot there, man. Such a thief!

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    No, but self-proclaimed truthsayers always do.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    “over analyzed”

    welp

    I’ll just stop then

  • https://twitter.com/_SimeonA703 LBN-3805

    Not a single black person is in that crowd

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Yeah. In a city that was majority black until a few years ago. It’s a thing, not a good one.

  • Lawrence

    Haha! I don’t mean over analyzing by you guys, I meant by everyone that talks about it. It’s a good indicator more times than not for sure, but in today’s NHL the quality of the shot is almost as important as volume imo.

  • Yo8

    Love how she got burn by that guy hahaha! The anti-bullying spoke person girl side by side with the very nasty mean woman. Did she ever stood up to Britney? Because she was kind of suppose to do that according to her commercial.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    Ahh, I hear you.

    So the thing about shot quality (PDO) is that it definitely matters more, but it’s not really something players can reliably control.

    So when you’re forecasting the future strength of a team, shot quality is ALMOST worthless. Shot volume (e.g. possession stats based on shot attempts) are much more useful.

  • Shawn Murphy

    Holtbeast ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE

    wait what?

  • Shawn Murphy

    I bet Ian claps like the middle one

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    “the middle one” is BRITNEY SPEARS

  • Jayleigh Cape

    Yeah, there’s that. And that. And maybe that. But sometimes you just gotta say…. HELLYEAHWEWON!!!! <<< because there's THAT! :)

  • Myan

    Quite a call out of the second line there but I feel like most of us would have to agree. How Laich and Brouwer can keep playing on the second line and get 17:00+ of ice time a game is way over my head. It is a waste of ice time and thoroughly frustrating to watch. How about we give Fehr a shot here? let him come in and shake things up a bit…enough with acceptance mediocrity!

  • katzistan

    C’mon, you guys know Czech isn’t written in cyrillic.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    I’m not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    ooh I did not know that– thanks

  • nicoley-poley

    This was actually the first Capitals game I ever attended, and I couldn’t have had a better time! What a fun way to spend my eighteenth birthday! Great win by the guys. Let’s go Caps! :D

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com/ Peter Hassett

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

  • Matt

    But Erat/Neuvy didn’t score.

  • http://www.russianmachineneverbreaks.com Ian Oland

    SECONDED. Glad you had a great time! Mine 29th Birthday’s on Wednesday. They better beat the Pens or I’m going to haz sadz.

  • Shawn Murphy

    yeah just teasin man, haha

  • Roman Z.

    Spot on regarding the Brouwer/Laich duo Peter!

  • Fedor

    “John Carlson was the first player to score on Sunday whose name is not natively spelled in Cyrillic.” — Vladimir Sobotka is Czech, Czech language uses Latin alphabet (just like about a half of all Slavic languages – Slovenian, Polish, Croatian, Slovakian, etc.)

  • Owen Johnson

    Luckily after AN IMPULSE BUY I will be at the game on Wednesday. Thus I won’t have to hear McGuire jump on the Penguins’ nuts and Milbury try to convince us how bad Ovechkin really is (although that would be fun to hear his excuses now).

  • Owen Johnson

    And Halak getting pulled was the greatest moment of 2013 so far…
    Not just Caps wise.

  • Uncle Phil’s Beard

    Yeah, I’ll probably be skipping Wednesday’s game (or more likely watching with the mute on). I really can’t stand NBC’s coverage. WHEN WILL PIERRE MCGUIRE TAKE A PUCK TO THE FACE, O LORD???? WHEN???????????

  • cmdonohue

    I’m with you on the Brouwer sentiment. I’m not sure how what he’s been doing ISN’T considered a “skid,” as Vogs put it. For the last week or two, he’s been particularly awful. I’d love to see Fehr get a shot with Laich and Erat. I think that would improve the second line tremendously, at least in the short term.

  • prut

    haha, same reaction here

  • Freedoooom

    LOL.

    Carlson: Caps PP 1/8
    Green: Caps PP 20/78

  • 28ISGREAT

    Red really does suit you.