Three periods of complete hockey from this team that had gone conspicuously long this season without them now arrive nightly, in successive fashion. It wasn’t there to begin the roadtrip in Montreal, but the Caps got the win that night in a shootout. Carolina two nights later was a step in the right direction. And then the last three games, including a brief layover at home against Florida, have been textbook. “No lapses [tonight],” Craig Laughlin told his Comcast Sportsnet audience late in the third period Monday night. It’s a team in a groove alright, and it’s a team having an awful lot of fun playing hockey right now.
- The night’s line for a liberated AO: 2 goals, 7 shots, about a half dozen hits, 22 minutes of ice. Basically, your typical AO brilliant game. He’d caused quite a stir with his reaction to his two-game suspension over the weekend — “maybe it just get me more angry” — but that turned out to be bluster. As we should have suspected. Ovi loves nothing so much as playing hockey, and when that’s taken away from him he takes it personally. That’s a fabulous trait.
- Admit it: when the Caps were awarded the game’s first three power plays — all in the first period — and went 0-for, it just felt like it wasn’t going to be their night, no?
- Tampa entered play last night trailing the Caps by a dozen points in the Southeast. Huge game for the hosts. The ‘Bolts needed their Big Three of Levacalier, St. Louis, and Stamkos to play big in a big game. Did you think they did? Last spring I came to the opinion that just as the wonderful talent Stamkos was ascending into a star NHL career Lecavalier and St. Louis would experience their respective thirtysomething career descents. Last night did nothing to change me of that opinion. There’s a lot of wear on those French Canadian tires, and in Lecavalier’s case, miles still to go on them. Incidentally, Brooks Laich is outscoring him this season.
- Semyon Varlamov = a Lamborghini of lateral speed.
- His play the past few weeks has rocketed him up a number of important goaltending categories. He’s now 7th in the league in goals-against average (2.21), and tallying both his regular season and postseason games the past two seasons, he’s earned four shutouts in fewer than 40 games. And of course he’s not playing behind the ’76 Habs’ blueline. It’s time to get seriously excited about him.
- The development of Eric Fehr (points in seven straight games) is one of the now-not-so-young season’s most important and encouraging storylines. I venture to say that upwards of three-quarters of the Capitals’ fanbase had tossed in the towel on him in recent months, and of course did so loudly reminding of the Caps failure to grab Ryan Getzlaf (Fehr at no. 18, Getzlaf to Anaheim at 19) in the ’03 draft . I never did, partly because out at Kettler in camps I kept seeing displays of so much elite raw scoring ability in Fehr, and partly out of a conviction that you don’t put up consecutive 50-goal campaigns in the WHL without a gifted game. Fehr of course is never going to be Getzlaf , but the wager here is that he’s going to enjoy a terrific NHL career — and at a position of need in this organization. On the whole Getzlaf thingy (and Mike Richards went later in that 2003 first round as well), move beyond it. The Caps did ok with picks like Mike Green and John Carlson deep in subsequent first rounds.
- Craigh Laughlin referenced the Harlem Globetrotters in analogizing the Caps’ passing with the man advantage, and I thought that clever and appropriate. I remember seeing the Globetrotters out at old Capital Centre back in the ’70s, the real Harlem Globetrotters, and they were famous and world-class entertaining for their ball movement, kicking it back and forth from the perimeter to the paint, behind-their-back-passing and sleight-of-hand maneuvering making millions, young and old, smile. I remember the Globetrotters passing up layups in their prolonged exhibitions of ball possession razzle-dazzle, scoring only when they felt they’d entertained long enough. The Caps to an extent do this as well on the power play, almost toying with four defenders in the offensive zone and at times passing up decent scoring opportunities for the perfect one. The Globetrotters of course were being intentionally cute, in exhibitions. While it’s a marvelous testament to their skill level and poise with the puck, the Caps aren’t playing exhibitions, and their downfall at times is being too cute with the puck. But what a nice problem to have.
- When I watched the Adam Oates-Peter Bondra-Sergei Gonchar power play in Washington I was convinced I wouldn’t see its like here again in this lifetime. Ovi-Backstrom-Semin and Green are a whole aesthetic level above, however. Wow.
- The Caps are real good at home (9-2-3) and virtually New Jersey-good on the road (10-3-3). There is now serious separation from the rest of the division (double digits). In the Comcast studio during last night’s postgame Lisa Hillary asked the broadcast team about any concern we ought to have about this team’s peaking too early in the season. Laughlin suggested that there would be brief struggles in midseason, perhaps, and that’s about it, which, given the success the Caps have had while battered by injury, and with Semyon Varlamov’s emergence as a between-the-pipes stud, sounds about right. But I really liked JoeB’s point about strong play early in a season; he noted that recent Stanley Cup winners all had come out of the gates real, real strong.