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.