Cheryl Nichols of the District Sports Page had a fun observation on Twitter at the end of the Capitals’ 5-4 overtime win last night against the Ducks, in which Nicklas Backstrom had the game-winning goal: “Nice to see Backstrom back to his 2009-10 self. Awesome.”
She’s right. Even better, it’s nice to see the team play with some of the spark that made it so exciting to watch in 2009-2010.
Erasing a 3-goal deficit certainly means you’ve had some holes in your hockey game. No one’s saying the Capitals shouldn’t look at tape from the win and learn a little. But, the NHL season isn’t a month old, and there’s plenty of time to fine-tune play. Meanwhile, it’s nice to see the Capitals play with style, albeit a heart-wrenching, roller-coaster one. I remember last season talking with a longtime Caps fan who remarked that, when watching the team during the 09-10 season, a fan could turn on a game, see them behind and know it was a question of how they would come back, not if they would come back. That wasn’t true of the fan experience in 2010-2011.
Being a ‘fun’ team to watch is a luxury contingent on winning. Fans only tolerate for so long an exciting team that comes up short. But since the Capitals are 8-2, comebacks like last night’s game can be savored for all the drama.
The Caps fell behind 3-0. Then the Rudy line of Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward scored a goal and helped out defenseman Dennis Wideman on a second. Just to make it more interesting, Tomas Vokoun decided to trip Corey Perry and the Capitals ended up shorthanded and then down 4-2 on a power play goal by Perry.
But the roller coaster was just getting started. Troy Brouwer got a third goal for the Capitals, with an assist from John Erskine—playing in his first Caps game of the season. Next came an encore from the Rudy line and the addition of Backstrom, who had the game-tying goal.
The ultimate argument is, of course, if it brings home the Stanley Cup, you can play however you darn well please, even if it would bore Socrates to death. But exciting teams are good for the sport in the long run, and if you can keep some of that with you till you hold the trophy, it’s a double win (see: MLB-champion St. Louis Cardinals, 2011).
And for Caps fans worried about counting wins before they’re hatched, you’ve got to appreciate Backstrom’s honesty after the game: “I think, overall, it’s a little shocking that we won.”
Interestingly enough, there’s been one feature of this team that may keep it from repeating the 09-10 playoff disaster, even if it manages to preserve the 09-10 successes: head coach Bruce Boudreau has shown more openness to keeping top-slotted players–even the Great 8–off the ice if it’s clear productivity is coming from other guys at that point in the game.
And accountability was clear postgame at Verizon Center Tuesday . The Capitals atoned for their poor play with some mea culpas afterwards. Wideman, even though he had a goal, blamed himself for defensive blunders in interviews on Comcast Sportsnet. Brooks Laich, who had three assists, also talked with reporters in postgame interviews about how he gave up a good 2 on 1 chance in the third.
There’s a long way to go for a Capitals team that wants to play a full 60 minutes of quality hockey every night. But there’s also a long way to go in the 2011-2012 season. And a dramatic comeback win–on occasion–is part of what makes the journey worthwhile.