With their 5-1 victory over Anaheim last night the Capitals won their eighth consecutive game, a feat last accomplished by this organization in March of 1989. That’s bypassing two full decades to get back to. As winter was transitioning to spring then, there is a strong likelihood that I wore a navy blue Members Only jacket to one or two of those home wins at Capital Centre during that streak. But of greater interest about that marvelous March: the Caps outscored their opponents 43-17. The 2010 Capitals in this eight-game super stretch have outscored the opposition 44-18.
Near the end of his press conference Wednesday night Bruce Boudreau was asked about historic winning streaks, and if he and his team are thinking about — targeting, perhaps — the team’s all-time best mark: 10, accomplished in the 1983-84 season. The coach feigned ignorance, but there seemed to be a slight twinkle in his eye amid the discussion, as if he were telling a white lie while wanting the matter to remain very much in the room. Bruce Boudreau coached the Hershey Bears; you can be certain that he has a sensitivity for historic achievements by hockey clubs.
- I was very much interested in Randy Carlyle’s impressions of the Caps in the postgame, as he sees so little of them; found his team in a position to win Wednesday going into the final frame; only to see a Red Tsunami Wave envelop his road-weary club in the final 20 minutes. “Skilled players that want to play with the puck,” he characterized the Caps, “so don’t let them play with the puck.” He lamented his team’s cycles of circling as the Caps played with the puck, most particularly in the first and final frames. On the performance of his backup goaltender, JS Giguere: “He carried our hockey club.”
- Giggy had the giggy going all right through two periods Wednesday night. After 40 minutes he’d stopped 34 of 35 Capitals’ shots, and the Capitals’ final shift of the second period, which featured the former Conn Smythe winner highway robbing Alexander Semin twice from point-blank range, probably left most of the Red Army believing that this just wasn’t going to be the night for the home team. The Capitals’ second line may not have had, or will have again this season, a shift as dominant in puck control and volume of quality opportunities as was that last one in the second stanza.
- Every Capital skated a plus or even on the night. Ovechkin is now three points back of the scoring lead, and just one behind Patrick Marleau for tops in goals. All six Caps players who took faceoffs Wednesday night were 54 percent or better (Flash was tops at 62 percent). Alex Semin moves from 16th to 13th in points and enters the top 10 in goals with his two markers last night.
- Gabby, on Semin: “He sure is playing hard. Not a lot of negative things about Alex Semin you can say right now . . . He comes to play every night and he’s doing it with a smile on his face.”
- At about the midway point of Wednesday night’s first period Alexander Ovechkin threw a hard check deep in a corner of the Anaheim zone, landed on the ice, and came up seemingly favoring an arm/shoulder. He completed his shift at a stoppage and took some moments skating around a bit in front of the Capitals’ bench, trying, it appeared, to gain some equilibrium or comfort before heading off the ice. The Russian Machine of course seldom breaks down, but the moment got me thinking: so close to the Vancouver Olympic Games, what would the Washington Capitals tell one of their front-line Olympians were one to get dinged up a bit and were it clearly in the best interests of the team to get that player 17 days of R&R for healing?
As luck would have it, I shared the press box men’s room with Capitals General Manager George McPhee during Wednesday’s first intermisson. Guys generally don’t talk much in there — it’s a Code thing. We spend our time in there a little differently than do women in their room. But were you in my position, with an intriguing question weighing heavily on you, and the foremost expert quite near you to answer it, wouldn’t you have spoken up in that moment? No? Rigid adherence to the Code? Well, for some years now George McPhee has been exceedingly gracious with access and time for me, at Verizon Center and Kettler. And always he’s offered me thoughtful and sincere and at times deeply reflective substance in his replies to my queries. So, I dispensed with the men’s bathroom code and asked.
(We were at the faucets, by the way.)
I posed to him the hypothetical of one of his front-line guys, designated for duty in Vancouver, getting rather seriously dinged over the next week or two, presenting a clear-cut case of management wanting to “shut him down for seventeen days.” Would he have that confrontation-conversation with the player, even one as central to the Games’ hockey marketability as Ovi?
“Yep,” he said, without hesitation.
“It’s Caps first, country second, right?”
In hindsight, the GM’s reply struck me as sensible and predictable — NHL clubs after all are these players’ employers. For the Games, they are according their employees a supportive leave of absence. Still I found appreciation for and clarity in the firmness of George McPhee’s reply: most all of us will enjoy greatly the Olympic hockey contested in a few weeks’ time, but they are a very temporary respite from the ultimate hockey task on the calendar. The Capitals’ general manager I’m sure wants his players to perform magnificently at the Olympics, but he wants more — much more — to win a Stanley Cup this season.
I exited Verizon Center at the press entrance near 11:00 Wednesday night just as Alexander Ovechkin motored up the ramp from the arena’s parking garage. An enthusiastic band of about a half dozen Ovi supporters, most bearing his red sweater, greeted him in unison at the top of the ramp with “We love you, Ovi.” The captain rolled down his window, turned and smiled at his admirers, and replied, “I love you too,” before speeding off into the victorious night. Our captain has the best vanity tags in the history of the Greater Metropolitan region, without question: OV GR8. As I watched his car become small down 6th Street I had the thought, it is very good to be Captain Ovi these days.