Enjoyable. (Nat Post)
It is already winter in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with temperatures in the mid 20s and snow flurries falling. But the temperature inside MTS Centre Tuesday night was red-hot, as the Capitals and Jets combined for eight goals in regulation and then seven more in the shootout before Washington emerged a 5-4 winner. There were constant lead changes in this game, and Washington got two goals from Alex Ovechkin, one from Troy Brouwer, and Mikahil Grabovski in regulation before Martin Erat won it in the skills competition. With the win, Washington is now 4-5-0 on the year. The Capitals were out shot-attempted 82-53, and put 32 on goal to the Jets' 47.
Alex Ovechkin put the team on his back in this one. Washington’s captain scored two great goals Tuesday as he responded when the team needed him most: as they were getting dominated at seemingly every bounce of the puck. Two goals from Ovechkin have him at nine in nine, a truly remarkable pace. He has come alive under Adam Oates, somehow, in a way that no one expected, and has 50 goals squarely in his target line. He is a joy to watch.
Braden Holtby deserves all of the gold stars for the performance he put on Tuesday night. For basically the entire game, but especially in the second period, he was hung out to dry constantly by his defense and made several brilliant saves to keep his team in the game. The team defense was miserable, as has been a constant theme throughout the season’s early stages, forcing Washington’s young netminder to stand tall – and he did so admirably. Full marks to Holtby as he continues to rebound from the early-season slump we all knew he would break out of.
About that defense – man was it dreadful. There were breakdowns, missed assignments, and excellent chances for Winnipeg on seemingly every other shift. The Jets have tremendous team speed, which wreaks havoc on most defenses, but it seemed that the Caps were burned with a more alarming frequency during this game. It’s true that Washington only has three really top-level NHL defensemen on their team, and two of them, John Carlson and Mike Green, are really struggling – but there has to be some sort of system change coming at this point as the 5v5 chances for the opposition continue to come in droves. Even on the power play, the defensive play was bad; the Jets had SEVEN (thanks, Sky Kerstein) shorthanded shots and a shorthanded goal. This has got to be sorted out soon, as even if the offense continues to produce well, the losses will really start to pile up. You can’t rely on Holtby forever.
The Capitals scored more even-strength goals in this game than they had in any other game this season. We’ve constantly lamented the length of even-strength goals for Washington up until this point, so it was nice to see a marked improvement in that field, even if it did come against a below-average Jets squad.
Marcus Johansson had his best game of the season tonight. Two assists, constant movement and speed, and a newfound desire for shooting the puck marked more improvement for Washington’s still relatively young first-line left wing. Johansson has taken some deserved heat over the last two or three seasons for his lack of production at times, and really looked lost in the offensive zone at the start of this year. But he has been very good over the last week, and for that he earns full marks in my book.
Mike Green did not see a shift following the midway mark of the third period. That's someting to keep an eye on, obviously.
This was just a weird game (yes, I know I have said that a lot this season). No defense on either side and a firewagon game brought me back to 2009-2010, with one major difference: the Caps didn’t have a majority of the chances. This team is going to be tough to figure out for a while, but there will be one constant: offense. The Caps are generating a lot of shots, but giving up a lot as well, which is why their shot attempt charts look like this. That has got to change. But there are positives to build on as the season moves along, especially with some beatable teams coming up on the radar in western Canada. Onward and upward, or something like that.