I wasn't able to watch the Caps/Blue Jackets game until it was close to over. Fortunately, the DVR didn't hose me up, and I didn't get any hints before I got the recording started.
I was aware of the line shakeup that happened before the game. So I knew Erat was up to the second (replacing Grabo, rather than Laich, which confused me), Grabo went down to the third, Fehr went down to the fourth. I still don't think they're icing their best team, but it's a step in the right direction (I'd like to see a second of Erat-Grabovski-Brouwer (or maybe even E-G-Wilson), with a Chimmer-Laich-Ward third and Volpatti-Fehr-Wilson/Brouwer fourth. That'd make the third line the checking one, and the fourth a cycling/scoring/energy line). Anyway, my hope is that Oates is still experimenting. If he doesn't consider this a work-in-progress, then I'm going to be a bit disturbed.
Let me just take a minute to talk about Wilson vs Brouwer on the second. Brouwer's a slightly better hitter and shooter (I think; neither is cut and dried), but otherwise inferior to Wilson. I'll have another point in a few paragraphs. But I think Wilson is already better at positioning and overall possession. For sure, neither one is going to be driving the play (this year; Wilson, obviously, still has upside down the line).
Getting to the game, it was interesting. Oates had obviously talked to the defensemen about being more aggressive going on offense. This was apparent as, within the first couple of minutes, Alzner was up on a break and Green tried to break into the O-zone 1-on-4. Interestingly, Alzner's charge worked out better than Green's, in that it did lead to a decent scoring chance.
While the breakout actually looked better in this scenario, it did lead to quite a few chances going the other way, over the course of the game. So, I'll call it a qualified improvement. Meaning, when the wings get better at covering the back end, I'll call this a win. Or maybe it was just a one-game change focused on Columbus. I guess we'll have to see on that.
The other thing I found interesting, strategically, were the power play adjustments. Columbus was playing to keep containment on Ward/Brouwer-Backstrom-MarJo, stretching to prevent the Backstrom->Green pass. It really looked, at least for the first three power plays, that the only thing that could stop the Caps, despite that, was Brouwer (who took a dumb penalty to cancel one of the man-up opportunities. Another facet where Wilson is probably already superior to Brouwer. Especially considering that it was the second time this season). Trouble getting the puck to OV didn't stop them. OV still had some very good chances; the first time the puck got there, he got two good whacks at it. The second, he buried (and this one did go through Green).
Despite those chances, on the fourth power play, the Caps swapped OV and Green. That wasn't horrible, but I'm not a fan of the arrangement. I'd really prefer to see OV shooting from closer. Perhaps it was just an attempt to throw off the Blue Jackets' defense. In which case, ok, but I hope it doesn't become a regular thing (especially for a power play still clicking at one-in-three).
The other main thing to point out was that Holtby's excellent game did a lot to cover up those holes the defensive aggressiveness opened. The Caps did do a pretty good job at keeping play at the correct end of the ice. The downside was that when the Jackets got to the Caps zone, they got very good opportunities. Really, this was a game that could have gone south in an awful hurry with less-than-stellar goaltending.
The numbers look reasonably good, though, for the Caps. With the score tied, at evens (ie: through the first, and the first minute and a half of the second), the Caps were heavily ahead. That first Caps goal, scored on the power play, did not indicate further tilting of the ice, though. In fact, for the next (almost) six minutes, the Jackets had a heavy edge in Corsi and Fenwick (+8 and +9, respectively).
But Erat's line (despite Laich being the center, it was very obvious that Erat was the driver) continued to play very well, and broke through at 7:43 of the second, with a heaping helping of Oleksy curl-and-drag. Oleksy's drive to the net pulled almost the entire defense to his side of the net, leaving Laich open for a tap-in when Oleksy passed across to him.
The rest of the game was played pretty close, possessionally, with the Caps having a one event edge in Corsi and the Jackets having a one even edge in Fenwick (both calculated at five aside). But Brouwer got his second goal (nicely set up by Erat), and OV got that power play to put the exclamation point on the game.
Columbus did claw one goal back with five minutes left, and did force quite a few more good saves from Holtby, but the outcome had long-since stopped being in doubt.
I'd call it Washington's best game of the season, and it's really got me licking my chops at the thought of Erat and Grabovski on the same line, but there's definitely still some holes.
I'm fine with the aggressive defense, but the wings have got to do a better job covering that (Alzner had a second charge, later in the game, that took him all the way behind the net, and nobody covered the point before he got back there. That's no way to win games). Holtby's mighty good, but he can't be relied on for .971 save percentage (nobody can).
In the bigger picture, the Caps said that Wilson will stay up for the season. I'm definitely not a fan of that decision, as long as Wilson keeps getting only six-nine minutes (he got almost nine Saturday, which is 1-2 more than I thought he'd gotten). If he starts getting 11-13 minutes, then maybe it's not a terrible idea. But burning a year of his ELC for so little play is just terrible asset management.
Oh, and I called out Erat and Holtby for excellent play already. Schmidt continued to look good as well; I only saw one miscue by him on the night. And MarJo is definitely looking better this year. It isn't an automatic turnover when gets to the boards. He also doubled his shot count for the season! Volpatti also looked decent, I thought (yeah, my expectations were pretty low, that I feel like mentioning that).
OV had a pretty decent game (which is to say, an inferior game by his standards); he was good, but not dominating. Oh, and his line's first two shifts were... not good. And Carlson worried me when he took a penalty in the first. He gets, by far, the most PK time on the team, so I was a bit concerned with him in the box. Happily, they handled it well.
In fact, I need to give kudos to the PK team. In one of the opportunities, they managed to go over a minute before the Jackets got set up (two chances to play "four corners" in one PK. It was very, very encouraging to see that they got them, and even more so that they took them).
We'll see where things go, but there were definitely some good signs. Five on five play still needs to improve, but it looks like it's headed in the right direction.