|The Caps owe Michal Neuvirth - and the PP - for Monday.|
This time a week ago, the Washington Capitals were reeling, coming off of two consecutive regulation losses to beatable opponents, and were heading out on their hardest road trip of the year. The five game road trip included stops in Phoenix, Anaheim, San Jose, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh, and all of those teams were in the middle of hot streaks. They were in such a bad spot that, last Sunday, I pushed the panic button on them and called for Alex Ovechkin to earn his captaincy by taking control of his team as they headed into the teeth of their season. I said that if the Capitals needed to pick up three or more wins on the trip in order to create breathing room for themselves. I said the power play needed to get on track (for the 100th time). And I also said that if they failed to do these things, they were in big trouble.
More than a week later, I can say with confidence that the Capitals rose to the occasion splendidly. Would I love to get those two games in Phoenix and San Jose back? Sure. But six points out of a possible ten on a brutal road trip like this one is about as good as we could have hoped for - and it's pretty darn good, especially the way the Capitals closed it out with two awesome wins in two tough buildings. In addition to the victories, however, there are several other things that can be drawn as positives from the road trip as a whole:
1) The power play. The Caps' power play percentage was still not good, but they scored three power play goals on the trip and two of them were game-winning goals (go figure). They would have probably had about three more on Sunday, too, had Ryan Miller not been playing his pants off in the first period. The man advantage is beginning to open up more as John Carlson gets better acclimated to running a power play, and it will be helped by the (we hope) impending return of Mike Green.
2) Alex Ovechkin's play. These last five games are the first times in almost three months that Bruce Boudreau has lauded his captain specifically for his work during his post-game press conference. His goal last night was an absolute bomb; you can't even see the puck. He's letting loose with his shot more, exploding off his stride, and having fun out there, as you can see with his puck juggling, through the legs move that started the game-winning rush on Sunday. He even scored some bulldozer-esque "Ovie-goals." Bomb diggity.
3) The goaltending (in Buffalo in Pittsburgh). Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov combined to allow twelve goals on 67 shots over the first three games, but then turned it on and allowed just one (a screened slapper from the slot) on the next 68 they faced. Late in a road trip, with a weary team who is not living up to expectations, those are the games that you can get blasted in. But the Capitals' young duo of goalies shut down two tough opponents and won the Capitals their last two games.
4) The Capitals never quit. In all three games they lost on the trip, they gave up goals late in the game that relinquished a tie, which would have earned them a point. But they kept battling until they very end, and even won in Anaheim - thanks, Curtis McElhinney. It would have been easy to roll over in all three games, particularly against the Ducks, and if they had done that, I might have lost hope. The fact of the matter, though, is that they didn't, and they battled through for some big points.
All of this being said, the Capitals are not even close to being out of the woods. March is going to be absolutely brutal - three sets of back-to-back games, including a road double-dip with the Red Wings and Canadiens in the middle of the month. March also sees the Caps play the Lightning, the Blackhawks, the Canadiens again, the Flyers, and the red-hot Devils, just to name a few. But for now, savor a great weekend for Caps hockey. Good day from the desk of 24/7.
For information on Nicklas Backstrom's thumb injury, click here.
For my recap of the Penguins game, click here.