Musings from an unexpectedly madhouse rink in Chinatown:
- A season-altering triumph? It sure had that feeling in the immediate aftermath of a cardiac comeback against the ‘Canes. The Caps were three minutes shy of starting off an important homestand with a frustrating loss to their fiercest and most hated Southeast foe. Then, in keeping with his storybook season, Alexander Semin took a struggling team on his back and willed them to triumph with his magic wrists.
- It was a World Championships reunion night at Verizon Center. Back in May, the Russian entry in the IIHF World Championships skated a top forward line comprised of Alexander Ovechkin, Sergei Fedorov, and Alexander Semin. They acquitted themselves rather well in the sense that all three finished in the top 5 in tournament scoring: Semin with 13 points, Ovechkin and Fedorov with 12, in 9 games. All three skated in double-digit plus-minus for the tourney, and Ovechkin and Fedorov assisted on Ilya Kovalchuk’s gold medal winning overtime goal against Canada. Caps’ fans following the tourney on line understandably wondered: would the dominant line in one of hockey’s most prestigious events be reconstituted on the Caps in 2008-09? The answer on Thursday night at Verizon Center finally arrived — yes! And before Fedorov departed the game in the third period with a “lower body” injury, there was ample reason for Caps’ fans to wish that the line remain intact the remainder of the season.
- It really ought to be the best line in hockey. Alluding to the trio’s chemistry, Mike Green in the post-game locker room noted, “They’re best of buds.”
- In light of the way the Hurricanes’ ’07-’08 season ended last spring, with that stunning home ice loss to Florida opening the door for the Capitals to steal the Southeast title and the division’s lone postseason entry with their 82nd game, you could convincingly suggest that last night was Carolina’s biggest game of the young season. The visitors played a simple, largely disciplined game, and they got high-quality goaltending from elite talent Cam Ward. What the ‘Canes failed to do was win faceoffs (winning just 36 percent of the game’s draws), and they certainly failed to contain Alexander Semin when it counted.
- A confession: I arrived at the rink somewhat soured on this team’s long-term prospects, and Thursday night’s high drama late masks for another day still significant concerns. The Caps at times Thursday again got “too cute” with their offensive zone attacks, and the home crowd let them know it — particularly in the third period. The development of a reliable “lunchpale line,” a trio of strong and gritty willing to get dirty in front of the net and in corners shift after shift, would I think go a long way to reorienting this team’s identity and alleviating its startling inconsistency. Who would skate on such a line? Chris Clark for sure. Brooks Laich is another candidate. If he could somehow make a position switch, I’d like to see what Eric Fehr could do on such a line.
- Remember Ovi’s monster night (4 goals) against front-running Montreal at Verizon Center way back in January? Don’t you get the feeling that his countryman Semin, in this ‘I’ve arrived’ autumn he’s authoring, is going to have one of those himself? Or maybe three of them?
- Games like Thursday’s have meaning — even season-defining meaning ocassionally. Fully 30 minutes after the game I walked past ‘Canes’ coach Peter Laviolette in the hall outside the visitors’ room. His team was already on its bus. The coach moved slowly, his shoulders slumped, his expression one of thorough, lasting dejection. I’ve seen a lot of disappointed coaches in that hall the past couple of seasons, but none looking quite as agony-ridden as Laviolette.
- Washington is a town renowned for Redskin quarterback controversies. This autumn, the Capitals have a goaltending one.