Three-Game Themes After an Opening Weekend of Play

Michael Nylander's Successful Penalty Shot (photo: Mike Rucki/OFB)
Three games in an 82-game season plus weeks or months of postseason amount to little more than a single frame in a two-hour drama reel, and yet I looked to Columbus weekend 2008 as an opportunity to survey for some important early impressions and themes for the Capitals in 2008-09. For instance: could the Caps carry over the great karma with which they ended ’07-08? Would there be a hunger for success early on? Would players who last season offered partial glimpses of important potential open the new campaign with some swagger in their stride? Perhaps most importantly, would we see signs suggestive of the Caps staking a claim to elite status in the league? Here’s what I’ve seen thus far — and share with me your own observations:

  • Semin the Star Is Born. The skill set in Alexander Semin, we knew, was there. What’s been missing prior to this season has been game-to-game consistency, a sense of being dynamic and dazzling shift after shift. Also: being more than a one-zone force. Through three games Alexander Semin has been the Capitals’ MVP — indeed, were he to continue his present play Verizon Center’s chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” would have to be directed at another Russian. His emergence by itself suggests a better balanced Capitals’ attack. At this level of performance he is a certifiable All Star.
  • The Most Entertaining Team in Hockey‘ indeed!
  • Stars — and Others — Shall Do More. Bruce Boudreau appears to have inventoried his team’s individual talents and demanded more of them: Alexanders Ovechkin and Semin to the penalty kill (joined even Nicklas Backstrom), Sergei Fedorov rotated from forward to defense. It is strategic thinking outside the proverbial box, and it’s suggestive of the coach having great faith in his players and delivering fresh challenges to them. Some nights we’re likely to see Alexander Semin wearing a post-game hard hat, others, Milan Jurcina perhaps lauded for his success on the power play. Jurcina? Well, in being paired with Fedorov on the blueline against Vancouver, Boudreau seemed to saying, ‘I’m going to find a way to get Jurcina’s huge slapshot unleashed.’ It was more of a snapshot Jurcina uncorked from the blueline last night, but it found the back of the net. Whoever is paired with Fedorov can expect to be set up for success there. Speaking of Feds, that $4 million resigning this summer is beginning to look like a bargain.
  • Emergence of Secondary Scoring. The Capitals may have the most dangerous second line in hockey. Also, the third. Scoring this season¬†should often come in waves, and there will be nights like Monday when the first line is well checked (Willie Mitchell’s work on Ovi Monday night was reminiscent of Kimmo Timonen’s shutdown success in last spring’s playoffs) but serious damage is done behind it.
  • Campaign Season Slogan — Green for Norris! Mike Green is years away from realizing his full potential as an impact no. 1 defenseman, but his production through three games (5 points, good for second on the team in scoring) adds an exclamation point to the preseason forecasts for him for a full year in Bruce Boudreau’s system. He’s going to pile up points this season, and combined with his flair for Lights Out! drama, breathtaking agility, poise, and puck-rushing, he’s a virtual mortal lock to be a Norris finalist. If he manages to skate something approaching a +20 in 2008-09 (he’s already a +3), the Reign¬†of Lidstrom could come to a sudden end. ¬†
  • Swarming Team D. After opening Friday’s dismal team defensive effort in Atlanta, who would have imagined that the same Caps’ team could outshoot a quality western conference foe to the tune of 30-5 50 minutes through game 3? The Sedins had zero shots on goal between them. Saturday night Jose Theodore faced only 21 Chicago Blackhawk shots. On Monday, Brent Johnson faced¬†less than¬†half that total. The Capitals received a rude awakening in their own end last Friday night, and ever since both forwards and rearguards have skated with a shutdown commitment in their own end. Bruce Boudreau’s defensive philosophy is to have his players well positioned and to block and deflect pucks and to pounce in swift counter-attack. It’s a philosophy that requires a buy-in by all five on the ice. Games two and three this past weekend were textbook illustrations of it. ¬†
  • Wanted: One Hero Between the Pipes. Here the grade is incomplete. Johnny wasn’t challenged — bloggers could have tended goal at Verizon Center Monday night — and Jose Theodore displayed nerves and unsteadiness in his new surroundings (then settled down in periods 2 and 3 Saturday night). Make no mistake, the Capitals will require premium goaltending both to win the Southeast and advance deep in the playoffs this season.
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This entry was posted in Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Brent Johnson, Bruce Boudreau, Michael Nylander, Morning cup-a-joe, Sergei Fedorov, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Three-Game Themes After an Opening Weekend of Play

  1. Leigh says:

    Watching Semin on the ice so far this season, I can’t help but grin. The guy finally looks like a man out there and appears to care every single shift he’s out there. I’ve felt all along that if he played with even 75% as much heart as Ovy plays with, Semin could be a better overall player.

  2. Victor says:

    I’ve been trying to figure out why Semin has done a 180 from being a talented but flakey slacker to someone who will scare the the bejeebers out of the opposing team, and all I can think of is this turnaround started with the Caps getting Fedorov. Maybe he was Semin’s childhood hero…heck, maybe Semin had his poster on his wall…but I think if the Caps are going to try to build a (dare I say it? Yep.) dynasty, Fedorov has to be part of it. I think he’s been a steadying force for Semin and thank GMGM for it.

  3. Johnny’s 100th NHL win came in the same game the team set a franchise record for fewest shots allowed (10). Still, nice to see him hit that milestone.
    After the game, a marching band performed by the 7th & F Metro entrance to a large, exuberant crowd of Caps-clad fans. A festive ending to a terrific night.

  4. Tap o’ the stick to Harrison Keith, who captured some video of the post-game celebration here:
    http://harrisonkeith.com/archives/257

  5. Victor says:

    One goal on ten shots did a number on his save percentage.

  6. VT Phil says:

    Actually Victor, his save % went up. He let in 3 goals on 14 shots in Atlanta.

  7. Sombrero Guy says:

    For a long time, it looked like we’d have more goals than they had shots.

  8. Harrison says:

    I wish I could take credit for taking that but I just found it. It was a crazy scene though.

  9. m says:

    RUSSIANS FTW
    the new russian four!

  10. Todd says:

    Great post. I think the sheer force of the offense is going to hold cover over some shaky defense for the first-half of the season. What I’ve noticed during the first two games at Verizon is that oftentimes it doesn’t appear the Caps have a lockdown defender and it leaves a bit too much ice for the opposition. The team defense was much better last night than v. Chicago but I think we’re still very susceptible. Of course, when you’re flooding the opponent’s zone with great line after great line it makes it hard for anyone to get up a head of steam. I totally agree that Federov was the key for this team. If you take the time to watch him skate a shift you’ll see how controlled his movements are and just how beautifully he sets up and leads the team on the ice. Also, I don’t think we should overlook the return of Cap’n Clark and M. Nylander – they’ve added some muscle and grit to a team that was very good last year.

  11. Jimmmy Jazz says:

    You know it’s early in the season when “Green” and “Norris” are spoken in the same breath. Congrats to Johnny for win no. 100.

  12. @ m: For The Win! Love it. Penguins are teh suck! QQ! 🙂

  13. pig pile says:

    agree completely with Todd….Fedorov is so fluid (he gave away a few passes…but what he brings so far outweighs those few errors). I feel completely comfortable when he is back there on defense, anyone notice he doesn’t seem to allow himself to get hit—as some folks on the message boards were commenting how long he would be able to take the ‘punishment’ of playing defense for extended periods of the season. at this early stage (and it is very early, to me….$4 million seems like a bargain for what this guy does for this team….after he retires he should be offered a job by the organization so he can filter his ‘demeanor’ down….and keep semin happy. LOL

  14. Grooven says:

    In addition, with Fedorov on the ice, there were a couple of plays where the Capitals suddenly had four offense and one defender. And that ploy turned into a goal too. Just one more option in the mix.

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