I almost managed to watch the entirety of last night's Caps-Oilers game live, but some of it was on (slight) tape delay. It was with very mixed feelings that I did so, however.
To start with, the lineup was identical to last game (and that's both good and bad, of course).
The first period very much felt like the Caps were getting their asses kicked, possessionally. It felt like the Oilers had the puck a lot more, and for sure, they kept the Caps penned in several times. Even in those times, though, the Caps did a pretty good job staying with their men. The few breakdowns they had were brief, and Holtby was there to make the save for all of them.
The lone big, bright spot was that the top line looked pretty good (much better than the others, for sure). And they executed their becoming-standard face-off play of Backstrom winning across to MarJo, who touches it back to OV for the shot and score shortly before the end of the period.
I must admit, though, that I was shocked to look, at the end of the period, and see that Corsi, Fenwick, and shots were all tied or only off by one in favor of the Jets. It really felt a lot less even than that. For sure, the Jets had better chances, but Holtby was there to slam the door.
I didn't check the numbers at the end of the second, but it felt more even. Maybe it was just a matter of getting pinned deep fewer times. And the scoring continued to favor Washington, as Ward tipped in a Carlson shot from the point (originally credited to Chimmer, but changed a few minutes later).
And Holtby continued to be up to all challenges to come his way. And the defense felt a bit better; I don't remember so many really alarming chances as in the first.
In the third, the Caps felt more calm; less desperate. And they played well, continuing to create chances. And the top line finished off an excellent shift with a beautiful passing play. OV had the puck on the right, on the outside of the faceoff circle. He threw it all the way across to MarJo, towards the bottom of the opposite faceoff circle. Nicky was in the middle, near the net, and got his stick on the ice in time for MarJo to toss it back to him for a pretty tip-in.
The Caps generated a steady pressure over the next ten minutes or so, eventually leading to a very nice goal from the second line. Grabo carried across the blue line, saw Chimmer streaking ahead on the outside, and put it through the defenseman's legs to Chimmer. Ol' stone hands then put a very nice shot into the top corner of the opposite side to put the final nail in the Oilers' coffin.
At that point, I pretty much stopped paying attention, and the Caps pretty much stopped trying to score. But it mostly worked out. The Oilers were able to get one back, and ruin Holtby's shutout, but the outcome was never in doubt.
Schmidt continues to look good on the back end. He had one small screw-up in the first (actually, I thought the Oiler he was defending tripped him with their skate, but there was no call) that led to a scoring chance, but was otherwise very solid.
And the defense, as a whole, looked a lot better. They were a bit less aggressive, and the forwards did a good job covering when they did go forward. The result was many fewer "ten-bell" saves, and few, if any, odd man rushes or breakaways.
And as a whole, they looked a lot better at even strength. Corsi and Fenwick were split, with both within a few percent of even.
I'd still like to see more chances pinning the other team deep, and less times of them getting pinned, but they didn't look bad even when they did.
The penalty kill got the job done, but did allow an awful lot of shots. They're generally going to give up a goal or two, giving up as many shots as they did. Something else to work on (although, to be fair, the Oilers do do a good job of moving the puck quickly on the power play, which makes things tough on the defense).
The power play wasn't terribly powerful, but did generate a bit of pressure. Given their overall record, we'll give them a pass on this game.
Overall, things were moving in the right direction, but they still need to move a lot further, that way. I'd feel a lot better if they'd come out significantly ahead in Corsi and Fenwick at least once or twice. Saturday, in Calgary, is their next chance. Go Caps!