Please somebody pass the butter—the Washington Capitals are officially on a roll.
The Caps sailed into the Sunshine State and right into the perfect storm—a storm that saw their ship rise instead of sink. Washington arrived in Florida one point behind the Lightning for first place in the Southeast and just six points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the overall lead in the Eastern Conference.
With 17 fathers and two brothers along for the ride on the annual “Mentor Trip,” the Caps sail back to DC with all four possible points, in first place and now sit just two points behind the Flyers for the No. 1 seed in the East.
The Capitals continue to defy experts by winning ugly games, without the benefit of scoring a ton of goals in the process. Many of those same experts are beginning to concede that the Caps are a different team and one that could do some damage in the playoffs with this new defensive style of play.
The Caps have surrendered just eight goals over their last five games and are getting stellar goaltending play from Michael Neuvirth this season, as well as last night from Braden Holtby. Holtby was magnificent in relief of Neuvirth, who did not start the second period after taking a shot off the mask early in the first period.
There was no update from Bruce Boudreau today about Neuvie's condition, or Nicklas Backstrom's, who left the game with a hand injury.
"Right off the bat he comes in and there's a power play," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Holtby. "I think he had three great chances. Gagne had a fabulous chance and when he saved that, you knew he was going to be on. If they had scored on that first or second shot, whatever it was, he could have said 'Man it's my first game back in three weeks.' But it didn't and he's a competitive guy. That's why we're happy we've got three good young goalies." (Washingtonpost.com)
The Capitals have been the cardiac Caps this week. They are tying and winning games very late in the third period and into overtime.
Last night, Alexander Semin tied the game with 5:32 remaining and Alex Ovechkin scored the only goal of the shootout in gaining the extra point and the win. On Sunday, Semin again scored—time in overtime—beating a Florida Panthers team that outplayed the Caps for much of the game.
Last Thursday against the St. Louis Blues, Jason Arnott tallied the game-winner with just 5:19 remaining in the game. Brooks Laich scored the latest goal of the third period last week against the New York Islanders in this recent nail-biting, heart-thumping run. Laich scored with just 48 seconds left in the game and the Great Eight won it in overtime.
The Caps won that game in overtime when Ovechkin traveled the length of the ice, deked a few defenders and beat a stunned rookie goalie (Nathan Lawson) for the win.
Washington has averaged just two goals per game in their last nine, but they are getting points from their top players once again. Ovechkin has 18 points in his last 15 games and is currently riding a five-game scoring streak.
The other Alex has been MVP-like in the last week. Semin has six goals in his last 10 games, scoring the game-tying and game-winning goal in consecutive nights.
Need more proof that Semin is a strong candidate to be Caps MVP this season (I can't believe I said that)? Washington is 16-0 when he scores a goal. He has seven goals (two hat tricks) and nine points in just four games against the Bolts.
Last night against the Lightning, Semin’s curl-and-drag shot that beat 'Bolts goalie Dwayne Roloson was simply magnificent.
Roloson was well on his way to becoming the third goalie in the Capitals' 36-year history to shut them out three times in one season, but Semin stepped up and beat the 41-year-old netminder to tie the contest.
“I was more worried that Roloson was in a zone,” Boudreau said. “I’ve played against him too many times and when he gets in that zone, no matter what happens, he’s impossible to beat.” In case you were wondering, Tommy Salo and Ken Dryden were the others to accomplish the feat.
The Caps were lucky last night at times, but when you play defense as they do, luck is the byproduct of working hard in the corners and along the boards. Washington does those two things consistently and does them well.
Washington caught a break on a goal that was disallowed because the referee said Holtby was interfered with. If you saw the replay then you know Washington got lucky with the call.
Luck is allowing the first goal on the road and coming back to win. Luck is also beating a team that is 25-2-1 when leading after two periods, which the Lightning were prior to last night’s contest.
Washington also works hard in overcoming those stats. Last night, they won their 20th game of the season when allowing the first goal (20-16-4). They also did not allow the Lightning a shot on goal for the final eight minutes of the game. They earned their victory last night and they got lucky too.
There is also some luck attached to the fact that the Lightning and Flyers lost four games in a row at the same time. However, Washington did their part by taking advantage of that lucky break. They won the games that have allowed for these "capital" gains in the standings.
Every year, experts say in order to be a successful playoff team, you must play good defense, have good goaltending, get a little lucky and score timely goals.
Currently looks like a four-for-four scenario to me, Caps fans.
Washington and their 17 fathers and two brothers come home to play the Edmonton Oilers tomorrow night. Before you start thinking this could be an easy win, remember: Defensive teams do not win easy—they win ugly.
Washington is onto something and—for the first time in many years—it appears to be happening at just the right time.