New Capital Dennis Wideman said Tuesday after a 2-1 overtime win against the Islanders that it was the type of game that could turn things around, good news for a team hoarding untapped potential for much of the season. Thursday, the team started proving him right, beating the St. Louis Blues 3-2 at Verizon. Even better, the second line combination of Jason Arnott, Brooks Laich, and Alexander Semin has everyone salivating over early-achieved chemistry and its production capability.
— Semin’s thought process on the ice is still like the riddle of the Sphinx to many here in Washington, but Arnott seems to have figured it out. This second line combo of Semin, Laich, and Arnott is responsible for two of the Capitals’ last five goals, with Arnott scoring the first goal of his Washington era on Thursday off a pass from Semin. Arnott told the media the line is establishing some chemistry. “We’re talking a lot on the bench,” Arnott said of the team. “Even with Sash – we’re talking to him, and he’s talking to us.” (Arnott needs the memo about Semin not understanding English pronto, apparently.) OFB’s puckandbooks also makes the point that Arnott, whose skating is still impressive, is well poised to help Semin based on past history — Arnott’s work in Nashville during the 2007-2008 season helped foster another young Russian’s talent, Alexander Radulov. Consider this quote from a 2008 NHL.com column talking about Radulov’s development and how the trio of Arnott , J.P. Dumont, and Radulov became “one of the most productive lines in the game that season” :
That roll [on the team] became clearer when Arnott showed him [Radulov] the importance of give-and-go plays and learning his defensive responsibilities at the pro level — on the ice and on tape.
“I told him we were there to help make him a better player within the framework of the team,” Arnott recalled. “I told him to give the puck to J.P. or myself and then keep his head up and drive to the net and if he was the open man, he’d get the puck back. Once he saw that work, he started showing us that he could really pass in the same give-and-go way of thinking with us driving to the net.
There’s also Arnott’s line time on a Stanley-winning cup team in New Jersey with Patrick Elias and Petr Sykora, a line the New York Times said mid-season “has been the team’s premier line for the past couple seasons,” despite hitting a few bumps that year.
— It’s only been two games, but watching Arnott center the second line makes you wonder why the position seemed so hard to fill for much of the regular season. Both vets and the young guns say they’re happy to have his veteran leadership, and Boudreau is happy to have his expertise on the ice. “For example, things that we haven’t seen too much — if we have a two on one . . . we usually go straight to the net,” Boudreau said. “But he opened up and got ready for the shot . . . when Semin gave him a really good pass, he didn’t have to make a play, he just had to shoot the puck ’cause he was already in a shooting position.” The result was Arnott’s first goal as a Capital.
Nicklas Backstrom confirmed that Arnott’s already spoken up on the team, despite being on it for less than 100 hours. “He’s always saying smart things,” the young Swede noted.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Arnott speaks with the gravitas of having his name engraved with Lord Stanley.
— Don’t think “identity crisis,” think covert operation, according to Backstrom. People, including and especially this blog, have been talking about the Capitals’ “identity crisis,” considering they’ve gone from first in the league on power play and President’s Trophy winners in 2009-2010 to some scoreless Sahara for much of the season, but Backstrom is okay with it when it means other teams not knowing what to expect. “If people don’t know what to expect from us, I mean, that’s good,” he said. “That’s good, because we know what we can do, and we’re keeping that for ourselves.”
–The Capitals are starting to get quality and not just quantity in their shots on goal. On Thursday, Mike Knuble was consistently back by the net and barely missed a wide-open net off a pass from Wideman, who continues to give the team great looks on the power play. Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott are making textbook passes. Brooks Laich’s beard is clearly putting him in a playoff mentality – he’s visible again going to the net and has two points in his last two games.
— Boudreau seemed back to 2009-2010 form in the press conference, generous with words, although he hinted he wasn’t pleased that Washington went 60 minutes with only one power play. “I would have liked to had another power play, because, I thought our power play is so snakebitten now,” Boudreau said. “I thought it looked good for the one that we had. But, you know, hopefully next game.”
At 80 points, Washington is only one point behind both Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, 3 points behind Boston, and only 6 behind Philly for first in the East.
Next up: two road games in Florida beginning at the end of the weekend, with Capitals’ fathers making the trip for the annual Father-Son roadtrip. Here’s hoping Jason Arnott’s dad is on, so he can see what many of us in Washington have this week — his son is making a difference.