The Washington Capitals had only a 38% win percentage on the road this season, so getting the W Thursday night is crucial; they just can’t depend on victory away from Verizon Center. But Monday’s home loss to the Bruins was an ugly affair, and the once well composed team fell to shambles. To win Game Four, the Caps are gonna have to dig deep.
I have compiled a series of modest steps the Capitals should take to make it happen. And then we threw in the secret weapon. (Okay, we’ll tell you: more posters.)
A few days ago in a post entitled “How to Solve Tim Thomas in the Playoffs,” I pointed out that the Capitals have had a tough time scoring on Tim Thomas in the regular season. When they did score in regulation, there was an obvious pattern:
In March of 2011, a 22-year-old Saskatchewan native got called up to the Capitals after one of their netminders suffered an injury. Unproven and raw, he seemed at ease as he created a three-way goalie controversy on one of the league’s top teams. In March of 2012, a 23-year-old Saskatchewan native may be doing the same thing.
In his three games up with Washington after Tomas Vokoun went out with a groin injury, Braden Holtby has been stellar and ever improving as he turned a .889 save percentage in the first two months of the year in the AHL into a sparkling shutout performance in front of 18,506 fans (but who’s counting?) in one of his team’s biggest games of the year. With the Capitals fighting for every point as they try to squeak into the playoffs, head coach Dale Hunter may have no choice but to play the hot hand — even if the question was supposed to be settled when the Capitals traded away Michal Neuvirth’s competition before making the surprise signing of Vokoun in the summer.
“From my short stint in pro hockey you realize things change really quickly,” Holtby told reporters after the game. “I was ready, that’s what I’ve been working towards in Hershey all year. I’m trying to make good call-ups count.”
On March 23, 2012, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
Photo credit: Rob Carr
Last time the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets met, Ovechkin got taunted and the Caps lost a slot in the standings. The Caps remembered and came out swinging this game. But then Dale Hunter enacted his formula for something, and everything went to hell.
Thanks to Jeff Halpern, Jason Chimera went cruising along in the O-zone, tucking the puck behind Pavelec with his backhand. Alex Ovechkin recorded two consecutive goals in the second– a subtle wristshot and a loud 6-on-5 one-timer. The Jets rallied back with goals from Maxwell and Little before the second intermission. The Caps had literally no offense (seriously, none) in third until Spencer Machacek tied it up.
Into overtime, where Stapleton won it. Jets beat Caps 4-3 (OT).
The legend of Mike Knuble goes something like this: as the season grows older, he grows more powerful. To Mike, the regular season is like Samson’s hair or Max Damage’s waking life: more makes him more better. His production has traditionally increased in the back half of the season, making him springtime’s sleeper threat.
At the tail end of what may become his worst season in a decade, Knuble is showing that pattern again. With three goals in his last five games, Knuble is no longer among the ranks of potential gameday scratches, and his ice time is finally increasing as well.
But I wonder: is Knuble’s spring awakening revival just a myth? And if there is fact behind the legend, what is driving it? Does Mike shoot more in the thaw? Or is he just getting lucky, exploiting Eostre’s blessing? (Spoiler: The answer is kind of a cop-out).
On March 19, 2012, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
Photo: Dave Reginek
What a game. If the Washington Capitals could play the Detroit Red Wings 82 times a year, we’d be happy campers. After that tremendous 7-1 thrashing back in October, the Caps’ fortunes shifted dramatically. But here we are again– late in the campaign– and the Caps have that spark. If only they could keep it glowing for a full hour of hockey.
Marcus Johansson delivered a perfect pass to Alex Ovechkin, who fired a perfect one-timer from the perfect spot. Mike Knuble made it 2-0 by finishing off a smart passing sequence with Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perreault. Ovechkin got another by skating around the trainwreck in front of Jimmy Howard and wristing it. Kyle Quincey got one back in the second period with a long bomb that rang iron, but Keith Aucoin nullified with a spin-o-rama made possible by Alex Semin.
Just half a minute into the third, Todd Bertuzzi beat Holtby’s slow glove hand to give Detroit some life. Danny Cleary crashed Holtby’s net to make it 4-3, and things got tense. Jason Chimera defused it with an empty netter. Caps beat Wings 5-3.
Mike Knuble, who’s scored at least 20 goals in both his previous seasons with the Capitals, and in every year since the lockout, has been facing down a pretty tough season. He’s scored only four goals, and perhaps more shockingly, played only 61 games, benched by two different coaches for long stretches.
Before Tuesday night’s game against the Islanders, Knuble was on a 32-game scoreless drought, before finally scoring in exactly the fashion that Caps fans have come to expect — working hard, standing in the paint. In the second period, Knuble deflected a puck behind Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov while screening him to score the Caps’ first goal of the night, which eventually ended as a 5-4 shootout victory.
On March 13, 2012, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
Photo credit: Bruce Bennett
The Washington Capitals began their epic road trip with a stop on the Long Island and its New York Islanders. The game saw the worst and best of the Caps, but it ended the right way.
Matt Moulson scored the game’s first goal, a fluke so dumbfounding I feel drunk trying to explain it. Matt Moulson scored a power play goal off of John Carlson. John Tavares notched another power play goal at the halfway point, but Dennis Wideman returned fire a few seconds later. Before a comeback could gain momentum, Tavares found the back of the net again. Before the end of the second, Alex Ovechkin caught a rebound and turned it into goal.
Alex Ovechkin took three stabs at a puck from descending distances before beating Nabokov and tying the game. Overtime was not OV time, so we needed a shootout to make a decision. Matt Hendricks is your shootout hero! Caps beat Isles 5-4 (SO).
On March 11, 2012, In Game Recap, By Peter Hassett
Photo credit: Carolyn Kaster
Sitting just one point behind the division-leading Florida Panthers, Sunday afternoon’s duel between the Washington Capitals and Toronto was a tremendous opportunity to climb the east.
Brooks Laich scored a shorthanded goal (just the team’s third and first by any player not named Chimera) to get on the board first. Mathieu Perreault caught a rebound off Alex Semin’s drive to make it 2-0. Caps beat Leafs.