Out at Kettler Capitals this past July during Rookie Camp, Tim Leone of the Patriot News pressed the case for Nicklas Backstrom spending his first year getting acclimated in North America under Bruce Boudreau. Wednesday’s Washington Post Express profiled Backstrom and his flourishing under Boudreau — 10 points in 10 games. Turns out, Tim was right.
I thought it was important to be at Verizon Center for all of this week’s games in order to gain a clear portrait of what a Bruce Boudreau Caps’ team looked like, their having been properly introduced to one another for more than half a month. I wanted to see them live in action and listen to them talk afterwards. Now I’m of the belief that I’m witnessing a notable turnaround in what was initially a terrible season, as well as Boudreau making an indelible impression toward transitioning from interim to unqualified Head Coach of the Washington Capitals.
Yes, that sentiment, that aura, was palpable in Verizon Center late last night. It was there because the Caps have strung together three straight wins over quality opponents; scored 14 goals in the process; done so without their captain, one of the game’s premiere playmaking centers, and one of the game’s best defensive forwards; and authored comebacks in two of the three victories.
Here is a theme quickly taking hold with the Bruce Boudreau Caps: secondary — and tertiary — scoring. Joe Motzko flirting with a hat trick? After the game Boudreau said all the right and polite things about Motzko having “good hands” and contributing to a Stanley Cup winner last season, but in the end, he’s a journeyman forward. But playing for Boudreau, in Boudreau’s system, motivated by Bruce Boudreau, Joe Motzko can hurt you. Tonight, he hurt the Rangers. As did Donald Brashear. And if you take a look back at Bruce Boudreau’s Hershey Bears, and Bruce Boudreau’s Manchester Monarchs, you won’t find rosters laden with top-heavy scoring. I’m not smart enough to be able to tell you why, basically, only Alexander Ovechkin could score under Glen Hanlon this season and why, three weeks later, everybody is scoring under Bruce Boudreau. But it’s happening.
Five goals against Henrik Lunqvist! And Steckel hit a pipe shorthanded, and Ovechkin missed on a breakaway. More musings:
- Mike Green: think Sergei Gonchar but with inordinate defensive ability. In the coach’s post-game presser, Tarik El Bashir asked Bruce Boudreau, “Just how good is this kid gonna be?” For me, the coach’s immediate expression said everything: he got wide-eyed, he smiled broadly, he looked like a child beholding the base of a Christmas tree crammed full of wrapped goodies on Christmas morning.
- Snow held up what would have been the Caps’ second goal of the first period. It was excruciatingly close to clearly passing over Henrik Lunqvist’s goal line. With the poor Verizon Center ice of a week ago, no snow could have accumulated in the crease, and the game would have been knotted at 2 at the first intermission. How could I tell? Hanging over us up in the press box, quite near,¬†are a half dozen sizable high-def TVs.
- Donald Brashear’s assist in the first period was secondary in name only. He threw a terrific check to win the puck along the end boards, then dished a beautiful, hard and flat centering pass in the slot to Brooks Laich, whose hard shot was swatted home by Motzko.
- It’s difficult to overstate how much more dynamic the Bruce Boudreau power play looks compared to its predecessor. No matter what unit of five is out there, they comport themselves with poise and the appearance of cohesion. This, too, I am noticing: a lot more “Ooooohs” accompanying a lot more near tallies from the home crowd during the man advantages.
- The Brashear-Orr slow-dance: watching it made me think that the opponents of fighting have an uphill battle insofar as arguing against its entertainment value. Orr unleashed a flurry of fury early on, most of which didn’t land, then Brashear went bombs away in blowback.
- The Caps’ first minor penalty occurred after nearly 33 minutes of playing time. More discipline taking hold.
- Mike Green’s confidence and virtuosity rushing the puck created lanes for Joe Motzko’s second goal. He could have head-manned the puck to either of his wings on the play, but instead rushed up through the open center of the ice, backing up two Blueshirt defenders. This in turn opened lanes high in the Rangers’ end, within which Green deftly QB’d and Motzko showcased his “soft hands.”
Paul CoffeyJeff Schultz has got some serious point shot MoJo going on. Raise your hand if you thought he’d approach Christmas with more goals than Jordan Staal.
- The snowballing effect of winning: Olie Kolzig spoke after the game about there being some “fragile moments” in the third period of Monday night’s tight 3-2 triumph over the Devils. But he said the Caps applied confidence gained from that experience against the Rangers Wednesday night, when it skated a tight third period conspicuously confidently. Boudreau added that on the bench he could tell the guys weren’t content with securing merely one point, even after falling behind 2-0. This is a different hockey team, folks, badly injured as it is.
- This mini winning streak has vaulted Olie Kolzig’s career record back above .500: 286-285-63-18. Have this feeling it’s gonna stay that way.
- Early in the third period last night Brendan Shanahan pulled up shy of plastering a vulnerable Alexander Ovechkin in the far corner boards when AO had his back turned to play the puck. I had two reactions. One, Shanny knew it was AO. Two, this is precisely the type of respect every player ought to show every other player in this league in such situations. Get word to Sean Avery and the Philadelphia Flyers.
- Alexander Ovechkin was sober and measured in responding to press questions about the significance of last night’s victory. But when alluding to the team’s fans, whom he called “great,” he added, “We need support.” The brand of hockey this team is playing now and the effort it is putting forth merit many more fannies being in the stands Friday night.