Postive Signs from the Start of Washington Capitals' 2013-14 Season
That is a far cry better than last season when it took the Caps five games just to get that first W.
Even though only two games have been played, those were two of the most action packed and dramatic regular-season games a fan could hope for.
The Caps played well on opening night against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, but some defensive lapses and a soft goal allowed by Braden Holtby allowed the Hawks to escape with the 6-4 win.
On Thursday, the Caps played their home opener and fell behind the upstart Calgary Flames 3-0 and then again by a 4-1 score. The Caps, however, fought back and captured a thrilling 5-4 shootout victory.
There is much to talk about as far as the Caps are concerned after just two games.
Let's take a look at four positive signs from the start of the Washington Capitals 2013-14 season.
The Power Play Is Still Lethal
One of the concerns heading into this season was whether or not the Caps power play could possibly put up numbers this season like it did last year.
During the shortened 2012-13 season, the Caps power play was the best in the NHL, operating at a phenomenal 26.8 percent efficiency rate. The power play was one of the things that made the Caps so dangerous and it helped them to dig out of that dreadful 2-10-1 start.
The question for 2013-14 though was whether the Caps power-play performance from last season was a one-hit wonder sort of affair or whether they could build off of it and excel in this area yet again.
So far, the Caps power play looks even more dangerous than it was last year. Yes, I know...two games is hardly much to sample. But the Caps are right now operating at an efficiency rate of 55.6 percent, and they are quickly the NHL leaders in this category very early on.
The Caps have converted on five of nine power-play opportunities so far, and when you watch how the team approaches the power play, there is every reason to believe that they are going to be near the top of the NHL in this statistical category all season long.
Alex Ovechkin remains the most dangerous power-play expert in the NHL, and it is obvious very early on that he is going to score a ton of power-play goals this year.
Nicklas Backstrom's vision and passing look even better than last year and, as he showed against Calgary, he can score power-play goals as well.
But the difference maker might just be Mikhail Grabovski. Of the Caps five power-play goals, Grabovski has been involved in four of them with two power-play goals and two power-play assists. Grabovski is finding a way to get to the net, screen the goalie and look for deflections.
Grabovski is a difference maker in just two games, and anyone who has watched the Caps power play so far this very young season can see what a difference Grabovski is already making.
The only downside to all of this is that the Caps are still struggling to find their scoring touch when it is five-on-five. The Caps cannot run the risk of being too dependent on their power play because, as we saw in Game 6 of the 2013 playoffs against the New York Rangers, if power-play opportunities are scarce, the team will have to find a way to score at even strength.
For now though, the Caps power play looks every bit as dangerous as it was last season and, perhaps, even more so.
The Kids Can Play
One of the bigger surprises leading into the opening game against the Chicago Blackhawks was the three rookies that made the opening night roster.
Many people expected Tom Wilson to make the team. The additions of Michael Latta and the surprise of the preseason, Connor Carrick, were not expected.
After two games, I think it is safe to say that the kids can play and have the potential to all be really good.
That is not to say it has all been good. Not at all actually. But there is some real potential there for all three of these young men.
Latta played a little over six minutes against the Blackhawks on opening night. He did not make anything happen, but he did not make any mistakes either. He did not play against Calgary, but I expect we will see him back on the ice soon as he is a very scrappy and energetic player.
Wilson has played about six minutes in each of the games against Chicago and Calgary. He has yet to score a goal—but he sure made his presence felt against the Flames.
Just after Jack Hillen suffered a serious knee injury, Wilson came to the defense of his fallen teammate and got into a fight with Lance Bouma. The fight ended with Wilson on top of Bouma and, in my biased opinion, I think Wilson got the better of the exchange.
What you have to love about Wilson is how you can already see him emerging as the enforcer the Caps will need now that Matt Hendricks is in Nashville. John Erskine is good at this role too, but Wilson has the size and potential to really excel as part of the fourth line—or at least until he discovers his scoring touch and gets moved up to the third line.
Then there is Carrick.
Carrick's first game against Chicago was a rough one. There is no nice way to put it. He logged just shy of 11 minutes of ice time and had a minus-two rating. He and Erskine were burned pretty badly on the game-tying goal by Brandon Saad.
Against Calgary though, the 19-year-old really stepped up his game, especially after Hillen went down. Carrick would end up logging over 17 minutes of ice time in just his second game. He ended up with an even rating for the night.
And along the way, he scored his first NHL goal, beating Karri Ramo with some moves that I am sure made Alex Ovechkin smile a bit. Carrick also had four shots and two hits for the game. That's not a bad outing at all for the rookie.
With Hillen now gone for at least a few months, Carrick's role on the blue line is likely going to increase. The kid will have to grow up fast, as will all of the Caps' rookies.
So far, they all seem up to the task.
Alex Ovechkin and Mikhail Grabovski Are Dialed in
It would be hard to imagine two guys getting off to a hotter start than Alex Ovechkin and Mikhail Grabovski.
As far as Ovi is concerned, it was to be expected but perhaps not quite to this extent. Last year's Rocket Richard winner is already off to a flying start with three goals in just two games.
That is an infinitely better start then Ovi had last season when it took him five games to get his first goal, and he had only two goals through the first 10 games.
Watching Ovi play now, it sure seems as though he has embraced his new role as the Caps right winger on their top line. Not only has he embraced it, but he is flourishing in it.
He is no longer relying on sheer speed and skill to overwhelm defenders. He simply understands his role, knows where to be to maximize his effectiveness and is getting the job done.
Just like last year, Ovi is dominating on the power play. Two of his three goals have come on the power play, and he was directly involved in Nicklas Backstrom's game-tying, power-play goal against Calgary.
Grabovski's success, on the other hand, is a bit surprising. Not too many players register a hat trick with their new teams on opening night, and against the defending Stanley Cup champions no less. But Grabovski did just that against the Chicago Blackhawks in the season opener.
His contribution to the power play has yielded immediate benefits and having Grabovski on the power-play unit with Ovechkin, Backstrom and Mike Green is going to cause a lot of problems for opposing penalty kill units.
Right now, Ovechkin and Grabovski share the NHL lead for goals, with three each, with Radim Vrbata of Phoenix. They are both in the Top 10 in assists with two each. They are tied for the league lead in points with five each.
Ovechkin and Grabovski are off to absolutely sizzling starts. If they can keep this up, the Caps might have a much more successful season than anticipated.
An Early Showing of Heart and Determination
Last season, when the Caps got off to that terrible 2-10-1 start, there were several games where once the team fell behind, they seemed to stop trying. I am not saying they quit. But there sure seemed to be a lack of heart and determination with the team to fight back and rally.
This was very evident in two ugly losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins within a four day stretch in early February of 2013.
As the season wore on, however, the team showed a ton of heart and fight in numerous games. It was one of the reasons why the Caps were able to rally as strongly as they did to capture a Southeast division title and a playoff berth.
The game Thursday night against the Calgary Flames was an early season barometer of where this season's version of the Caps are as far as how much fight and determination they have in them. If the game against Calgary was any indication, then the Caps have a lot more heart early on this season than they did last season.
They fell behind 3-0 to the young Flames very quickly and could not seem to get anything at all going. But they kept fighting and eventually caught a break on the Connor Carrick goal.
They gave that goal right back and fell behind by three goals again. But thanks to the heroics of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps rallied for a win.
They even did it after having to pull an ineffective Braden Holtby.
Even in the season-opening loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Caps demonstrated some grit and resilience. The Caps rallied from a one-goal deficit three different times and actually took the lead before the Blackhawks finally overcame them.
Whether this determination persists all season long remains to be seen and we will see what the Caps have in them on Saturday against the Dallas Stars.
But, for now anyway, the Caps look to have a lot more heart and determination at this point in the season than they had at the same time last season.