And, how’s that Caps’ defense look right about now?
For a team that was rather thoroughly maligned for its defensive play upon arriving in Montreal on Sunday, the Capitals in game 3 gave a doozie of a debunking of that slur. Did you notice how seldom Habs’ forwards were able to get off shots off of the rush and instead often peeled back looking for trailer help? That’s prima facie evidence of exceptional defender positioning but also deft stick defending of additional attack space.
A great road team all season long, the Capitals on Monday night may have saved their best effort to date in ’09-10 on enemy ice. Knowing that 22,000-plus would welcome them in “Ole, ole, ole” fashion, but not necessarily with a booing of our national anthem, the Capitals as a team limited quality chances against youngster Semyon Varlamov in those vital first five to seven minutes of the opening frame. Then they executed the remainder of the period with textbook road hockey: by chipping pucks short and crisply off near boards and out of harm’s way, preventing Montreal from establishing its dazzling cycle game down low.
- By chipping pucks out of harm’s way as successfully as they did Monday night, the Caps were able to establish speed on the puck in the neutral zone, in counter-attacks, and when they have that, they’re lethal.
- Montreal played superb road hockey in games 1 and 2, and nearly left D.C. with two victories. Washington, unlike Montreal, has difference-makers throughout its lineup, and their heroics in game 2 got the series squared. Their compliments — the Capitals’ third- and fourth-liners — blew open game 3. Boyd Gordon got things started by persevering in tight on Halak and getting the Caps on the board short-handed. Matt Bradley’s final-minute tally Monday added, for this blogger at least, welcomed added rudeness by the guests for having been treated so shockingly inhospitably.
- Speaking of great grinding, Jason Chimera authored a perfect pest’s effort in game 3. Like Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich, he’s driving hard to the net, and using his size there to great effect. He’s also employing that get-under-your-skin ethos in tight (Knuble is magnificently as well) that drives the opposing defense and its goaltender bonkers, and like last night, draws penalties. Chimera right now is looking like the savviest of trade deadline acquisitions by George McPhee.
- Monday night’s second period reminded me of the third period in Chicago on St. Patrick’s weekend, when the Caps imposed their will on the Hawks, silencing cold a throaty throng and swiftly reversing a game’s momentum. It’s a thing to behold, when this Capitals’ team gets it MoJo going and goes tsunami, line after line, on quality clubs on their home ice. No other NHL club can do it with the lethal and spirit-sapping swagger that the Caps can.
- No game this season could have prepared Semyon Varlamov for what he would face in Monday night’s opening 20 minutes, and yet he authored what was easily, given the stakes and circumstances, his most impressive outing of his young career.
- Mike Vogel noted during the game that the Caps’ 4-0 lead represented the largest enjoyed by any team thus far in the 2010 postseason.
- Eric Fehr has spent a fair portion of the past seven years listening to critics question his selection in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. He had a goal and assist Monday night hard on the heels of a pivotal tally against Jaroslav Halak when the Caps were down 2-0 in game 2 on Saturday. He sure seems to like playing the Habs, and Washington’s hockey fans ought to freshly celebrate Fehr’s perseverance in overcoming a remarkable litany of serious injuries to emerge as a productive power forward, one who is likely to improve even more in the years ahead.
- You know, most every memorable postseason run has a defining moment relatively early on, and John Carlson’s series-saver in game 2 may prove to be that for these Capitals. Where would they be this week absent his precocious last-minute heroics (again)?
- The much lauded Bell Centre crowd chose to boo the American anthem. Comcast Sportsnet’s Lisa Hillary, on the air live in the postgame: “I was embarrassed to be a Canadian.”
- What’s so jarring about this attack on our anthem — and Monday was hardly an exceptional outburst; the attacks date back some years now, and they’re most venomous in this Canadian city — is that 98.9 percent of Canadians are warm and genial and American-loving neighbors. Something profoundly sinister occurs up in Canada with a distinct and vocal minority seemingly in the isolation of the contemporary hockey rink. You want to approach these attackers, place your arms on their shoulders, look them square in the eye, and ask, ‘Is it really the case that you detest my nation and me, neighbor? No nation more aided my citizens on September 11, 2001. Would you do it again?’ The guess here is that the silence from Canadian media on this matter will be defeaning on Tuesday. The warriors on the ice in the NHL’s postseason surrender their hate at series’ end and honorably line up at center ice to shake hands. Some level of leadership up North is badly needed to suggest that hockey fans in Montreal follow this example.
- The Capitals killed four of five Montreal extra-man advantages Monday, but the first three Habs’ power plays — all killed by the Caps — were terrifically important, as the game then was very much still in doubt.
- The power play remains in a power outage — it’s in serious blackout, at 0-for-14 on the series — and a lot of that has to do with Alexander Semin’s struggles thus far. The LA Kings lead among the 16 clubs in the postseason operating at an amazing 58 percent efficiency. Two other clubs have like the Caps taken the collar a man up, Nashville and Buffalo. Right now, though, winning is what it’s all about.