Playing for First

The Caps ran into the Red Wings tonight; the only two undefeated teams left. Things weren't looking too good initially; the Wings came out roaring and controlling the play. But the Caps managed to tread water until Bertuzzi hit Carlson going back for the icing touch-up. That boarding penalty put the Caps on the power play, and Greenie managed to pot one twenty-one seconds later.

It was, I think, the best the power play has looked all year; they were moving and passing crisply, and got Detroit thrashing quickly.

Detroit didn't seem too discouraged yet, but a minute later Knuble forced a turnover on a nice forecheck. He passed it over to Semin overlapping around him, who passed it on to MarJo overlapping even further. And from only a couple of feet from the goal line, MarJo buried it in the far side of the net. The team continued the nice play through the end of the period, almost converting on another power play.

Green got his second, again on the power play, about five minutes into the period. That was about where things started going off the rails for the Caps. Detroit largely took over possession again, helped greatly by four Caps penalties that resulted in two 5-on-3 advantages. They scored with five seconds left on the first of those 5-on-3s, and things were not looking so good. The Caps managed to keep Detroit off the scoresheet for the rest of the period, but it was touch-and-go with a large assist from Vokoun (who I think we should call TVo). The period was closed out with some nice pressure from the fourth line, culminating when Hendricks' shot from the point trickled between Conklin's pads and Matty P was there to push it over before Conklin had a chance to see that he'd missed it. Very nice anticipation from Perreault, there.

Unsurprisingly, the third opened with Detroit pushing hard, again, and looking very good. But Greenie intercepted an attempted breakaway pass, and threw it across ice, off the boards, to Laich who charged down the outside. He got a stride on the defender and tossed it across the crease to Ward, who was making a beautiful backdoor cut and pushed it into the net to break things really wide-open. From there, it was basically all Caps, with insurance goals from Perreault (who got a gift when the puck squirted out of a face-off scrum to him with no defender on him; but he finished it beautifully) and Backstrom (on a beautiful deflection while charging towards the net).

So, what was good? The power play was excellent, potting two on four chances. The penalty kill was very good, breaking only on a 5-on-3 (I'd be less pleased if that was against a lesser power play, but Detroit's is always good). TVo, as mentioned, was fabulous; although I'd feel a lot better if he was getting less work (though maybe it just feels familiar to him). There were no big defensive breakdowns again (thank goodness, too, because Detroit definitely would have made them pay, if so). And, as you'd expect with that many goals scored, contributions came from up and down the lineup.

The third and fourth lines both looked great again; I didn't expect it to work too well, but Perreault again looked great on the fourth. He keeps it up, and he'll definitely be playing every night. (And hopefully this will be the last time he gets a long break in the middle of a period, with many penalties in a short span.)

And the ability to just keep rolling the lines kept the Caps fresher than the Wings, which might well have been part of all those goals at the end. (Being a younger team also helps with that.) And I'm loving all the goals with traffic; that's something that the Caps have never really been good at (the exceptions being the couple of years with Ciccarelli, and the year after that with Druce (who seemed to learn it from Ciccarelli).

And what wasn't so good? As mentioned, Detroit controlled possession for long stretches of this game. That happens with any regularity, and the Caps won't be winning games. In particular, no offense to TVo, but he can't be expected to be this good for any length of time. Nobody is that good. And the defense seems to occasionally have trouble with strong forechecks.

But that's about the limit of negativity. There wasn't a whole lot the team could have done better. And it was especially satisfying to do it to Detroit (well, the Penguins would have been even better, but only a little bit).

So now, the team has a couple of days off, then is off on a West Coast swing starting with Edmonton on Thursday. It'll provide a bit of insight into whether Boudreau's coaching has gotten better if they can avoid a let-down (not to mention that Edmonton has some really good, young talent that would love to take advantage of such a let-down).

Update: I just noticed that, after breaking out the beat-down stick on Philadelphia and Detroit (damn, that still amazes me), the Caps now have a really nice goal differential. Let's keep this up!

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