Scoring on the power play has been a regular occurence lately. (CTPost)
The Washington Capitals won their second consecutive game on Tuesday night, knocking off a depleted Carolina Hurricanes squad by a 3-0 score inside Verizon Center. Nicklas Backstrom, John Erskine, and John Carlson scored for the Capitals and Braden Holtby made 33 saves for his second shutout of the season in the win, which raises Washington’s record to a modest 7-10-1, still near the very bottom of the Eastern Conference but only four points out of first place in the Division, which may be the easiest playoff spot in sports. The Caps have now outscored their opponents 8-1 over their last 120 minutes of play and are starting to change the minds of many who thought this team was washed up. Well, changing some minds. But I digress. Quick hits:
It’s so funny to me that three weeks ago, several people were saying the Capitals should trade Braden Holtby and he could not get the job done despite calling for him to play when Michal Neuvirth was in his run of excellent form. Now, Holtby has a firm grip on the Caps’ top goaltending job after seven consecutive starts in which he has stopped 207 of 221 (.937) and is 5-2, as calculated by the admirable Jack Anderson. This is just another example of how lucky the Capitals are to have two young, good goalies that make responsible numbers on the salary cap instead of grossly overpaid older goalies and veteran backups. Holtby has been great and when he slows down, Neuvirth will step in and be good. This after Holtby was signed to a very cap-friendly deal until the summer of 2015 on Monday, and it has been a great two weeks for the goaltending position in this organization.
An absolutely dominant game from Nicklas Backstrom, who was the driving force behind the Capitals’ win this evening and excellent in all three zones. His goal was a bit of a layup, but his pass to set up John Erskine’s goal was a beauty and when coupled with his vision to see the play developing, just shows how good he is. Him getting hot is imperative to anything the Capitals hope to maybe do this season, and I still think he is Washington's best all-around player.
Speaking of Erskine – his deal is brutal. Erskine has done absolutely nothing to warrant a raise over the tenure of his contract. He has been scratched regularly and for long periods. Yes, he provides a physical element and can fight – but that’s not worth giving him a raise, especially when the Caps’ defense needs to get younger, faster, and better at possession; Erskine is or does none of these things. Yes, his goal tonight was great but it doesn’t justify anything. Perhaps McPhee will trade him to a team that thinks that “enforcers win games” and “grit wins games,” therefore allowing someone like Cam Schilling to get the minutes the organization has planned for him. Narratives, I guess.
Mike Green was solid if unspectacular during his return to the lineup following an absence with a lower-body injury. The Caps’ top offensive defenseman showed why he is so valuable to this team, helping them generate a season-high in shots after two games of getting utterly dominated in terms of even strength possession with him gone and then one game of it being more even without him (a blowout win of the Devils). He’ll always have his haters because of how “soft” he is, but Green was a big part of this win and has been producing this year. Oh, and his power play passing is helping the team big time.
Alex Semin was held pointless tonight, much to my relief and the relief of people wishing to keep their sanity across the Internet. No, this is not an indictment of Semin as a player, but rather the opposite - as he is an elite offensive and defensive force at even strength. The Capitals are worse off on the ice now that he is gone. So not only am I happy he was held off the scoresheet because the Capitals won, but I am also happy that he was held off the scoresheet and his team lost because of the scores of insufferable tweets and articles about said points and win that would have been published after the game. Look: Semin is a great player on the ice; this is a matter of little debate. What he did off the ice during his time here is a matter of great debate, but it’s over now. He is in Carolina. Let him play in Carolina and the Capitals play here. Mercy.
Though this was a good win and outscoring your opponents 8-1 over a two-game stretch is always good, especially when those two teams are in playoff position. However, it is important to not get too excited over this win because the Canes were missing two top-six forwards in Jeff Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu and three top-six defensemen in Jamie McBain, Joni Pitkanen, and Tim Gleason. This Carolina team was beat up and out of it, and the Capitals responded just like you would hope they would: by beating the crap out of a weary and hurt team. But we are far away from deciding whether or not the Caps have any reason to “go for it” at all – and that time may not be until the minute the trade deadline passes. I still don’t think this team is good enough to win anything of substance, but we’ll see.
The Capitals will be in Philadelphia on Wednesday night for another big conference game. Puck drops for that one at 7:37-ish.
Harry Hawkings is a college student credentialed to cover the Capitals for RtR. Follow him on Twitter here for all your news needs this season.