You would have to go back to March 4th of last season to find a game in which the Washington Capitals scored four or more goals and the names Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin did not appear in the goal scoring column.
The Capitals beat the struggling New Jersey Devils Devils 5-1 before another sellout crowd at the Verizon Center in Washington last evening and won their second straight game. The win was Washington’s first at home win since November 28th and first time they have scored five goals at since the November 26th 6-0 shutout of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
If you missed the game and watched any sports recap shows last night and saw the score scroll on the bottom of the sports ticker, you had to be thinking the Capitals offense is back. Whether the offense has really resurfaced depends on who you ask.
The Capitals would use many of the players that won the 2010 Calder Cup Championship in their top minor league affiliate of Hershey to win this game, and it started with goalie Michael Neuvirth.
Neuvirth, making his career high third consecutive start in goal made 35 saves and with the use of his glove, kept the Devils at bay while his team figured out opposing goaltender and future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur.
The Capitals would begin the scoring with another Hershey call-up and fourth-line player, Andrew Gordon.
Gordon a seventh-round draft pick of the Capitals in 2004 skated hard to the net, beating Devils veteran Patrick Ellias and converting a perfect pass from another rookie, Marcus Johansson. Gordon would tap the puck past Brodeur and the Caps would lead 1-0
The Devils would tie when recently acquired Capitals defenseman Scott Hannan failed to clear the zone during a penalty kill. Hannan turned it over in the Devils zone and Patrick Ellias redeemed himself, tying the game.
Another Hershey Bear and Caps call-up would put Washington in front to stay. Jay Beagle would work himself in front of the net and beat Brodeur five-hole to put the Caps in front, 2-1.
“That’s what we do down in Hershey," Beagle would comment following the game. "It's nothing fancy but scoring is just something that's going to happen if you keep working hard and that's what we try to bring."
Continuing to skate hard and work towards the net Jason Chimera would get the Caps their third goal. With the puck on his stick, Chimera turned on the rockets at the blue line skated and one-on-one past Devils defender Mark Fayne.
Chimera would get hooked from behind, keeping his feet and causing the referee’s arm to rise for the delayed penalty call. Fayne would not have to sit in the box as Chimera would skate in and beat Broduer over the shoulder to give the Caps a 3-1 lead.
Alexander Ovechkin was spotted a few times working his way towards the front of the net last night trying to jump-start his game.
Ovechkin, who has has just two goals in last 19 games, would assist on the fourth.
Trying to skate past the Devils' Colin White, Ovechkin had the puck poked away. The puck was picked up and one-timed by Caps defenseman John Carlson. Carlson's shot was drilled over Martin Brodeur's glove to give the Caps a three-goal advantage at 4-1.
The scoring was closed out by Mike Knuble. Knuble picked up a loose puck from a Tom Poti shot and stuffed it past Brodeur giving the Caps the 5-1 lead with just over seven minutes remaining in the game.
While the Capitals regained first place in the Southeast Division, the fourth time in the last four days the division lead has changed hands, they will need the first two lines to start producing to stay there.
This was a good win for Washington, but they were out-shot for the first time in 10 games and didn't convert a power play opportunity, going 0-5.
Alexander Ovechkin could clearly be seen pressing last night and the other Alexander is flat-out just not playing hard. Nicholas Backstrom seems to be floating instead of skating.
The biggest concern of the three, to me, is Semin.
Semin, while returning from a three-game absence due to injury, looked lazy and committed several turnovers in his own zone, causing several New Jersey scoring chances. He committed his customary lazy hooking penalty, putting the Caps into an early second-period shorthanded situation.
This is not news in Washington. Semin’s commitment has been questioned before, especially during the playoffs.
Boudreau has stated on several occasions that the only way Washington was going to start winning again was to skate hard, work hard and create chances by going to the net. Only Ovechkin has been seen working hard and playing anywhere near the goalie.
Half the team seems to be getting this message—unfortunately, it's the bottom half.
Ovechkin is working harder at times, while Semin and Backstrom don't seem to be buying into this philosophy. Ovechkin, in an attempt to kick-start the power play and his game, was posted up in front of the net during three Capitals chances with the extra man.
The third and fourth lines bailed the Caps out last night, and in Ottawa, for that matter.
Boudreau, in his post-game comments, added about the play of Gordon and Beagle, "I thought they all played great... They had lots of energy, they followed direction and they played with passion and enthusiasm. When you do that, usually, no matter what league you're in you're going to have success."
Did you notice the "they followed direction" part of that comment? That's not for the benefit of Beagle and Gordon—they know they did as they were asked to do last night.
“I think winning rejuvenates guys,” Boudreau said. “It’s been a much happier locker room the last couple of games, so that’s good.”
Yes, winning does rejuvenate, but it’s also important that in winning, the reason your team was losing isn’t masked behind an effort like last night's game.
Yes, it’s a team game and the win over New Jersey is a solid victory. Their third and fourth lines will be needed to win more games, and even a Stanley Cup. They should not have to rely on them like the Caps seem to be doing recently.
Hockey is like any other sport where your superstars have to be super or at least play like the top players they are for a team to win a championship, and for whatever reason that’s not happening.
Scoring just two goals in 19 games is becoming more of way of life than just a trend or a slump. Let’s face it, Caps fans, 19 games is almost a quarter of the season.
One analyst pointed out last night during the game that Ovechkin’s shot and moves have become predictable. He has to change some part of his game.
The good news is great players adjust and Alex Ovechkin will adjust. The same analyst noted that two head-to-head matchups with Sidney Crosby in four games may be just be what the doctor ordered.
Washington fans could be heard chanting, "We want Pittsburgh," in the closing minutes of last night's game. They will get the red-hot Penguins in two of the next four games. Washington will host the Pens tomorrow night and travel to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins in this year’s Winter Classic on New Year’s Day.
If the names Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin do not start appearing in the goal-scoring column, holding onto first place will be a tall order—much less beating the Pittsburgh Penguins.