Take the stats sheet with a grain of salt on this one. Wednesday saw one of the Capitals’ best third period performances, at least effort-wise, so far of the season.
Going into that period against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, the Capitals were beating the black and gold in just about every statistical category, including the most important—the scoreboard, which had the Capitals leading 1-0 thanks to a Jason Chimera goal (he needs three more goals this season to tie his NHL career-high). There was one big exception to that rule: the shots on goal, which the Penguins were leading 20-12.
But the Capitals in the third played anything but sit back and protect the lead (narrow though it was) hockey. At one point, they had closed the shots on goal gap to only 2. They played like the team down by one, and seemed to find that next-level energy gear which has often eluded them this season—an encouraging sign after their two disappointing performances in second and third periods out on the West Coast.
And it’s an example of how the stats sheet doesn’t always tell the full story. Though by the end of the third period, the Penguins were able to pass the Capitals in hits by one and end up with a final shot total of 30-21, it still wasn’t enough. In fact, there was one shift in the third period where the Capitals stayed so long in Pittsburgh’s offensive zone that the crowd roared with approval as loudly and sustained as if Ovechkin had just scored.
The Capitals players themselves felt it was one of their best third period efforts of the season, too.
Capitals forward Jay Beagle said that between the second and third, head coach Dale Hunter told the team to stick to their game plan: keep Pittsburgh in their zone.
“He came in and he just said, ‘Keep playing our game … be smart on the wall and get it [the puck] out, and make it come 200 feet,’” Beagle recalled.
Straightforward, and the Caps executed.
Hendricks responded in the affirmative when asked if it was the team’s strongest third period performances.
“I think it was a combination of us executing really well, great goaltending, and them being tired. Back to back games is hard to play, especially with the travel. So we executed our game plan, we tired them out through the course of the game, and by the third period, you could really tell they were struggling,” Hendricks said.
Of course, one good third period does not the rest of a season make, but it’s a new look at what ‘exciting’ Capitals hockey might look like under the new regime.
The excitement wasn’t limited to the third period, though. Hendricks and the Penguins’ Craig Adams dropped gloves before the game was three minutes old. And the crowd responded enthusiastically.
“I figured that them riding a losing streak that their scrappers were going to try to get the energy going in their favor. Adams came right at me right away. I figured we were on a two-game losing streak, we’re at home,” Hendricks said, and then finished with a line that probably isn’t used much to describe fistfights: “It was a great time.” [He won the fight, of course.]
On a personnel note, there were other observations to keep in mind, particularly as Dale Hunter gets to know his team and personnel better: Jeff Schultz and John Erskine were both scratched, and, even more important, there was an abnormally high amount of team scouts present at Wednesday’s game.
As far as the debut of defenseman Tomas Kundratek, who was called up from AHL Hershey yesterday, Hunter gave what seemed like a positive assessment for the young player: he said Kundratek kept it simple and didn’t make any mistakes.