Opening on the road is never easy. Opening on the road in a building in which the hosts lost in regulation just six times the previous season, and against a team coming off a 116-pt. campaign, and boasting both Norris and Vezina trophy winners, is a supreme challenge. The Caps on Thursday night offered a statement performance in confronting such a tall order, skating with discipline and patiently waiting for opportune times to strike in whipping a suddenly mediocre-looking Bs team 4-1.
As this week has progressed and more and more media outlets — particularly those in Washington — have come forward with their Stanley Cup contention forecasts, the Caps have emerged as quite a chic selection. Thursday night they performed as if they were aware of it and sought to justify it.
- Am I the only person who thinks the loss of Phil Kessel will prove to be a fairly serious blow to this Bruins’ club? All of a sudden the right side of the B’s offensive flank looks rather pedestrian. Marco Sturm is a real nice hockey player, but if the Bs are down a goal late in a game who do they now have as a go-to sniper type from the right?
- Jose Theodore deserved a shutout Thursday. Only Dave Steckel’s unfortunate misplay of a keep-in attempt high in the Bs zone in the third period kept JT from earning the whitewashing. But Theodore in this opener was night-and-day different from last season’s, no? He played positionally solid, looked quick and confident, and most especially seemed more in sync with his defensive personnel.
- Gosh but did the Caps’ blueliners execute a perfect game plan of chipping pucks out of harm’s way, avoiding getting caught running around out of position, and supporting one another superbly. Shaone Morrisonn I thought played fabulously; Brian Pothier I thought was just about as good. But the whole unit deserves kudos. Coach Woods was brought in this summer to work with the rearguards. I imagine he had to have liked what he saw last night.
- About Brian Pothier: Boston of course was the scene of the near demise of his hockey career two seasons ago. And so I thought it was wonderful Thursday night to see him patrol the Caps’ end confidently, with poise, making precision breakout passes and dodging a handful of heavy hits from a heavy-hitting Bs club along the rear boards.
- John Erskine had probably improved himself 250 percent as a defenseman since he arrived in D.C. In Dallas and on Long Island, in the little amount he played in those stops, I remember him lumbering around making few plays, mostly just trying to spell his teams’ top four guys for a few minutes each night. Today I’m at pains to identify another fringe talent, who arrived in Washington more or less as an afterthought, and who went on to more overhaul his game into the role of genuine contributor as has John Erskine. He skated just under 18 minutes Thursday night and held his own as the Caps’ light heavyweight against Shawn Thornton. Now in his ninth NHL season, he’s a -42 in his career, but tellingly at +1 in each of his last two seasons in D.C.
- For about 180 days now I’ve had a recurring thought about Brooks Laich that frankly I haven’t had the courage to articulate here or even in among blogger friends at Capitals’ training camp. But I’m going to go head and share it this morning: Mind you, this is not a prediction, but I would not drop dead of shock were Brooks Laich suddenly named to the Canadian Olympic team in January. I know perfectly well he’s not one of the 50 best Canadian hockey players (not yet, anyway); but I do believe that he’s precisely the type of hockey player every hockey coach loves, and I do believe that his game — his physicality, his swiftness and sturdiness, his dirty-area ethos, his skill, and most especially his versatility — would well serve the Team Canada cause.
- Did you catch the Denver Post’s Adrian Dater, interviewed by the Versus studio crew, mention Peter Forsberg’s being over in North America now? He first noted that Foppa flew over from Sweden to attend Joe Sakic’s sweater retirement at the Avs’ opener last night. But then, when asked about the sure Hall of Fame center-winger’s chances of skating in the NHL this season, Dater said better than 50 percent . . . and “probably a team in the East” . . . and . . . “keep an eye on the Washington Capitals [for his services].” Smoke, fire . . .
- There is, it seems to me, a telethon donation board quality to Alexander Ovechkin’s goal scoring — glance away from it for a moment and you miss notable numeric change. I glanced at Wednesday’s Washington Post NHL section front and saw a graphic noting Ovi’s having 219 goals in his young NHL career. Make that 221 now. And check back again late Saturday night.
If Thursday night was a statement performance collectively by this Capitals’ team, it may also have been one individually by the planet’s greatest individual hockey talent. This may well be the season by which we’re somewhat able to forecast just how historic a career Ovi is likely to have. Should he put up another 55 or 60 goals we can be reasonably sure I think that he’ll project out to be one of the game’s five greatest offensive performers of all time. But should he go berserk this season, I mean really off-the-charts like the way Wayne said he would a couple of seasons back, well, then I think we need to reconsider just how untouchable 894 goals might be.