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.
That was fun.
Okay, now let’s talk Halak. Please join me in the wayback machine for a second.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.