What is important to pull from last night’s victory is not so much that the Washington Capitals crushed the Florida Panthers, but rather the way they went about doing it.
Six different players lit the lamp and 11 players had points on the evening. It may be easier to count who didn’t show up on the scoresheet than who did. Brendan Morrison turned in one of his most impressive performances of the year with one goal, two assists, and six shots. Meanwhile, Brooks Laich added an equally impressive night with two goals, one assist, and eight shots. In fact, only one line didn’t have anyone show up on the scoresheet, and that was the fourth line composed of Quintin Laing, Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley.
It wasn’t just the offense that turned in a stellar night. Jose Theodore, despite giving up three goals, had another outstanding performance between the pipes. He stopped 34 of 37 shots, and a couple of the goals could be attributed to sloppy defense. One thing that seems to have changed with Theodore as the year has gone on is his style in net. While he is still a butterfly goalie, he seems to be playing a little bit looser, and more by instinct. Quite honestly, it just looks as if he is having a blast out there, which is what sports are supposed to be, fun. One of the best parts about watching Jose recently is that he has consistently been throwing down the double pad stack like he is Ed Belfour or Jimmy Craig. Who doesn’t love a tribute to the glory days of pre-lockout hockey?
Meanwhile, at the other end, one of the league’s best goalies, Tomas Vokoun, who boasts a .925 save percentage at home, was chased out of his net in last night’s second period.
It may be unfair that Ovi has to sit out two games, but in reality it may help the team. Head Coach Bruce Boudreau and GMGM have both said they are going to try to get everyone playing time. With Ovi sitting, it provides an opportunity for more players to play and for Bruce to try different lineup combinations. Let’s be frank, Alex could probably use the rest anyway coming down the stretch run.
Last night was the Caps’ sixth straight win over the Panthers, sweeping the season series, but what is more important is that it was Jason Chimera’s second straight rock solid game. The winger has been a solid addition to the team, but he has yet to turn in that string of outstanding performances. With his big frame, rocket shot, and quick feet, Chimera is a valuable asset for the playoffs. If we would all take a trip down Memory Lane to the playoffs last year, Matt Bradley was one of the Caps’ most clutch players, winning a couple of games for them. Chimera could be that this year, if he were to heat up right now and carry the momentum through the playoffs, and the Caps would have a legitimate scoring threat on every line.
In short, this was nothing but a team win. Losing Ovi is bad for his public perception, but at this time of the season it’s not so bad for the Capitals. The team has already clinched the division and has all but locked up a top seed in the playoffs. Sure they haven’t won the President’s Trophy yet (Dallas pounded San Jose last night), but here’s a question: do they really want that since only three teams who have won it have gone on to win the Stanley Cup in the last 10 years? Oh, and two of those teams were the Red Wings.
The Caps are now 6-1-1 since resuming play from the Olympic break. A helpful break indeed, when you think back to how they limped into it.
Juggling lines and playing without your best player and still winning proves one thing: the Caps don’t have to rely on just Ovi. The Washington faithful sort of knew that, but they thought they knew that last playoff season. The Rangers and the Penguins largely shut down Ovi and Semin last spring, and the team struggled to score. Obviously there were injuries and things like that, but in short they shut down two of the team’s best scorers. This year is a much different team and it showed on the ice last night.
Obviously it will help matters when Alex returns after Thursday’s game, but for now let’s bask in the glory of our ability to experiment on the fly — and still succeed. Bruce Boudreau sure seemed like he was having fun behind the bench last night, or at least sort of looked a bit happier than usual. A game like Tuesday night’s called to mind the not so infrequent upsets we see at this time of year, when one non-contending team has a roster full of guys playing for jobs for next season while the other is just trying to keep the good Mojo and remain healthy — except that the Caps didn’t come out flat and afford the ‘Cats any hope of an upset. They got on ’em early and often, and perhaps better, kept the foot on the gas.
Washington is a legitimate Cup-contending hockey team, they are a more complete team than they were last year, and their play looks as if it is only going to improve. Winning with out Alex is just one way to boost confidence and hone the details.
So I am sorry you had to sit Ovi, and I certainly don’t agree with Colin Campbell (I could write a book about how much I disagree with him), but it may have been for the best, as we now know what the team is made of. And that is nothing but resiliency. And quality depth.