On any given night, there’s a fanboy somewhere, watching a hockey game and saying “Well, we shoulda won that, it was just a fluke we didn’t.”
Caps fans have been saying that a lot lately. Weird puck squirts. Dominating play but no points. Mystical karmic forces aligned against Washington until its NFL team changes its name, or some such.
Point is, if you find yourself resorting to the fluke argument too often, chances are pretty solid you’re really not talking about flukes, but something else. Fixing that something else is starting to become an issue now, and seeing as we’re going up against our Winter Classic rivals tonight, this game needs to provide clues as to what, exactly, needs fixing.
Chicago is a dominating team with a corps of dominating players, despite some of their early going this season. I’d like to say something rude about all those young punks like Toews, Kane, Van Riemsdyk (which always makes me think of hipsters with funny little beards), and even some of the elders, but I can’t. They’re just that good.
The Washington Capitals have been eliminated from playoff contention, and, sure, Friday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks — the 81st game of the season — was literally meaningless. But dammit, don’t tell that to Nicklas Backstrom.
Backstrom had a goal, an assist, and set his focus on recording his first career Gordie Howe hat trick. Angry Swede is angry.
Participants included, in original order, Craig Custance, Tristan Cockcroft, Tim Kavanagh, John Buccigross, Pierre Becquey, Michael Hume, Victoria Matiash, Neil Greenberg, Sean Allen and Scott Cullen. Categories include goals, assists, power-play points, plus/minus, penalty minutes, shots on goal and average time on ice for skaters and wins, save percentage and goals-against average for goaltenders. Slots to fill include nine forwards, five defensemen, one “utility” skater, two goaltenders and a five-man bench.
My philosophy was simple: grab young, healthy, talented players with upside. Let others worry if Patrick Kane would be healthy or if Sergei Kostitsyn can once again score 20 goals on less than 100 shots.
I had the eight pick. With my editor Mike Hume drafting before me (he knows which players I fancy) and Cullen having back-to-back picks behind me I knew I had to make strategic decisions.
Jason Chimera brings the intensity in a second period fight with Brent Seabrook. (Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin)
In dramatic fashion, in front of a national television audience and a sellout crowd at Verizon Center, the Cardiac Caps were once again back at work as Washington pushed their winning streak to eight. Less than one month ago it would have been hard to imagine any of this happening. Nevertheless, the Caps are now just a single point out of first-place in the Eastern Conference.
“Guys have a bit of a swagger right now, back to the way things were,” said Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.
The Blackhawks opened the scoring less than five minutes into the contest. After receiving a feed from Marian Hossa, Nick Leddy put the puck past Holtby. Just under two and a half minutes later, however, Boyd Gordon would knot the game at one. After picking up an errant pass by the ‘Hawks power play, Gordon raced down the wing before firing a slapper past Chicago netminder Corey Crawford for the shortie. Late in the first frame, after John Erskine drew a holding penalty, Washington headed to their recently anemic power play. This time, however, it would be different. New Cap Jason Arnott fired a bullet from the point that found twine, giving Washington their first lead of the game.
Three minutes into the second period, Chicago would tie the game at two when Holtby gave Tomas Kopecky a little too much daylight. Kopecky seized the opportunity, banking the puck off ‘keeper’s back from behind the goal-line. In the waining moments of the stanza, things got physical when Chicago’s Brent Seabrook delivered a hard check behind the net to Jason Chimera. Everyone favorite fire-footed, stone-handed forward took exception to Seabrook, challenging him to a duel. Seabrook appeared to come out with the win in the bout but it was Chimera got the take-down.
“Chimmer, I thought, he was a factor. He did not get a star or anything, but I thought he was a real big factor in the game,” said Chimera’s teammate Brooks Laich. “He was the one that sort of instigated that little rhubarb there. I think he does a good job and takes one of their top defenders off. So I think he had a very good night.”
Six and half in to the final frame, the aforementioned Laich put home Matt Hendricks’ (or more accurately Eric Fehr’s) feed from the corner to put the Caps on top. Washington appeared to be in control until Marcus Johansson was called for hooking at 18:10. “I thought it was a pretty chintzy call,” said Boudreau. On the ensuing Blackhawks power play, Jonathan Toews converted on a mad scrum in front of the net, as the puck bounced in off Holtby’s skate.
In overtime, the Capitals missed numerous chances until, finally, Mike Knuble — with a little help from Johansson — came to the rescue. Ballgame over. Caps top ‘Hawks, 4-3.