Welcome to a regular feature that appears once a week with takeaways from the past seven days of the Capitals’ 2011-12 season. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Do judge the latest game by its score. While nothing changes the fact that the Red Wings are indeed a talented, well-coached team, don’t believe the talk from the Capitals that they got lucky to hand Detroit a 7-1 thrashing Saturday night — at least, not completely.
Washington benefited from the schedule-makers, of course, considering that the Red Wings were playing in the second of back-to-back games and didn’t arrive in the DMV until late Saturday night. The Capitals also got to face Ty Conklin as opposed to No. 1 Jimmy Howard, and received a sublime 60 minutes from Tomas Vokoun to aid their own cause.
Goaltending was a significant part of the difference, but so was special teams, with Washington’s two power-play goals to Detroit’s one. So was the way that the Capitals’ third and fourth lines forced turnovers, created offensive chances to score timely goals (see Mathieu Perreault’s tallies) and, in the case of the former, shut down Detroit’s trio of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Danny Cleary, while the Red Wings saw some of their role players take penalties and cough pucks up. Then there was the way the Capitals didn’t let up in the third period and still commanded a game while holding a lead, rather than waiting for an opponent to come back and snatch that advantage away.
So while there were lucky bounces — including Datsyuk’s shot hitting Cleary’s skate rather than the net less than six minutes into the contest — the Capitals needed their best all-around game so far to capture the impressive win.
Shh — did you hear that? It was Nicklas Backstrom racking up the quietest 10 points in seven games for the team lead. After being one of many Capitals who saw his offensive production drop off last season, Backstrom, who had career lows in points (65) and assists (47) in 2010-11, now has points in each of the past five games and six of seven on the year.
Against Detroit, Backstrom was in prime form during the Capitals’ first power play when he helped engineer a series of passes that led to Mike Green’s goal. Backstrom sent the puck off the boards to Alex Ovechkin below the goal line, but the captain quickly sent it back once he drew a pair of Red Wings toward him. The 23-year-old Swede had space and time to see Green making his move from the point down inside the left faceoff circle, where Backstrom placed the puck for a perfect one-timer.
It is a small sample size, but having Backstrom in vintage form only makes the Capitals’ power play and offense as a whole more lethal.
Last season’s trade is even more valuable now. With an assist against the Red Wings, Dennis Wideman tied his career-long points streak at seven games, a mark he set in 2009. The Capitals may have never truly realized how much Wideman could add to a healthy blue-line corps given that his own season ended in late March when he suffered a hematoma in his left leg.
With Wideman back in the lineup, even with a full complement of defensemen around him, the 28-year-old averages the third-most ice time on the team with 20:59 per game. Where his impact is most visible, though, is on the power play.
Wideman brings a quick-release shot on the point on the man advantage. He also gives the Capitals the benefit of a defenseman on the blue line in case the play goes the other way and it allows for more opportunity to move Ovechkin away from the point. He is averaging 3:04 on the power play per game, fourth-best behind only Ovechkin, Backstrom and Green.
“Obviously it’s more important to say how much we missed him last year,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Wideman. “No one realized how much we missed him when he was out.”