Strong start leads to ekeing out victory

Before the Sunday tilt with the Maple Leafs, I was certainly feeling like this was the Caps best chance to pick up some easy points, as the Leafs are a terrible team, possessionally.  But a team PDO of 102 will certainly mask a lot of deficiencies and lead to a lot of points in the standings.  So I was definitely feeling like the Leafs record is not terribly indicative of their overall talent.

And the first period certainly seemed to bear that out.  The Leafs only managed four unblocked shots, which did give them one goal.  But Washington had eighteen, which led to three goals of their own and a nice lead (especially as Toronto's goal was scored well after Washington's third).

Those Washington goals came from Brouwer and Ward on the power play (Ward's goal had the second power play unit on ice to start the power play, for unknown reasons, but which featured a really pretty setup from Penner, parking himself in front of the goalie).  Chimmer had the other one (the second, for those keeping score at home), and his skate tapped in a shot from Ward that beat Reimer between the pads.

The first fifteen minutes of the second period was about the mirror image of the first, as the Leafs had sixteen unblocked shots to the Caps two (three power plays helped in that cause).  Happily, Halak was up to that challenge, and stopped all but one.  That led to a lot of time for the Leafs to try to get a tying goal, but play was largely in the Caps favor.  In fact, the Leafs weren't able to pull Reimer until very close to the end (last 30 seconds or so), because the Caps kept the puck down at the other end.

It was good to see, especially as Brouwer finally managed to ice the game with an empty netter that slid in with a screen from Backstrom (who generously didn't touch the puck on the way) with four seconds left.

Overall, a good game, with Halak doing an excellent job holding off Toronto's big push in the second.  Ward and Brouwer also each hit twenty goals on the season.  And 5v5 close Fenwick was almost 57/43, which is great.

The power play looked decent, with two goals in four chances.  But that came on only seven shot attempts (five on net) in five and a half minutes, which isn't terribly good.

The PK got the job done again, holding Toronto off the board in their three chances.  But that was with fourteen attempts (eight on net) in six minutes.  That's not a sustainable way to kill penalties.  Very lucky there.

Other than that, the broadcast did have a couple of interesting notes.  May and Locker were sharing coloring duties, which was pretty good.  What I found interesting, though, were the three different age cracks May got in on Locker.  Anyway, it also had me wondering if they're looking at replacing Locker; I can't say as I would mind, if so.

The other interesting part was talking about how many of the players (all but three, although I forget the three) use skates with a quick-release mechanism on the blades, to make changing blades about a six second operation.  That can certainly be helpful, but I wonder if it helps explain the several instances I've seen, this season, of players losing a skate blade.  I particularly remember watching Oleksy struggle over to the bench when he lost his blade back at the end of October.

Anyway, it was a good game, especially to see the players working hard all night.  I still don't understand why Beagle and OV are frequently together on a line, as it seems frightfully ineffective.  I also don't understand why Holtby is in Oates' dog-house again (still?).  All signs point to him being an excellent (read: above league-average starter), and I hope his confidence has been unaffected by being sat so many times.  I'm not even convinced that Halak is better than Holtby, let alone enough better to justify this kind of workload distribution.

Anyway, now comes the real gauntlet for the season, with four games against California teams followed by a final game against the Bruins.  They need to win at least three of those games to have even a tiny shot at the playoffs, and that's a tall order, given what we know of the teams.  First up, the Ducks, tonight.  Go Caps!

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