With 48 games in 99 days, there’s not a lot of time to digest what happened in any single contest. So as we churn through this compressed Capitals season, I’ll be rounding up my thoughts and analysis of each game here. If you missed them, check out the game story from the Capitals’ 5-1 win over the Devils and more on the penalty-shot stop by Braden Holtby.
>> In recent weeks the improvements in Alex Ovechkin’s game have been quite visible. He’s hustling on the forecheck, making better use of his linemates and creating numerous offensive opportunities. But, as I wrote on Friday, the finish wasn’t there.
Coach Adam Oates believed it would come and he stressed that to everyone who would listen, from reporters to Ovechkin himself. That faith and confidence in his ability from his coach meant a lot to Ovechkin.
“He’s that kind of person who give me belief all the time. Sometimes I have a bad game, I talk to him and he said, ‘It’s okay. Chance is there. It’s going to come.’” Ovechkin said. “After [Thursday’s 3-2 loss to New Jersey] I have two breakaways and I text him. I said ‘Listen, I don’t know. Puck just don’t wanna, don’t go through.’ And he texts me back says, ‘It’s going to come.’ For a player, if you feel that kind of trust from a coach, coaching staff, it’s very important.”
Told of how Ovechkin values his trust, Oates said he feels that way about every player.
“You’re doing the right things. It’ll turn your way at some point. You have to believe in that. That’s almost every life lesson. You got to do it right,” Oates said. “Obviously, he could have had a few the other night, in New York he had 14 shots. I think that means that the guys he’s playing with and himself are doing the right things. He’s getting opportunities. And good things happen sooner or later.”
While it was just one game, his teammates hope the breakout performance helps things come a little easier for Ovechkin.
“He’s pretty tough on himself. He puts a lot of pressure on himself to score and be the guy who leads us that way,” Troy Brouwer said. “So tonight, hopefully it’s a little weight off of his chest and now he’s able to just play hockey.”
Whether Ovechkin’s performance Saturday proves to be the watershed moment for the star winger and he’s able to consistently produce goals moving forward remains to be seen, but for one afternoon it was sure fun to watch.
>> The Capitals had a 2-1 lead early in the third period thanks to Ovechkin’s second tally of the night when John Erskine was whistled for delay of game after shooting the puck over the glass (for more on those penalties, see the next note).
Not only did the penalty kill manage to thwart the threat, but Eric Fehr recorded his first short-handed goal of the season to give Washington a 3-1 advantage before four minutes had elapsed in the frame. Short-handed tallies are always welcome momentum boosters, but it also gave the Capitals a two-goal cushion that allowed them to play with a little more confidence.
“We needed an extra insurance goal there,” Fehr said. “We’ve had a little bit of trouble holding leads in the last couple games, so that was big for us to get a bigger lead and we can keep playing the way we needed to play.”
When Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg went to play the puck behind the net, Fehr stole the puck for a wraparound goal. It was a meaningful tally for Fehr, who prior to this season saw less than two minutes of short-handed ice time in his entire career. He played 59 seconds short-handed Saturday afternoon and has now skated 6:21 on the penalty kill this season.
Oates wanted to find more ice time for Fehr, whose work ethic he’s praised numerous times over the past several weeks, and the penalty kill seemed like the best opportunity to do so in addition to raising his even-strength playing time.
“I just like the fact that the last few weeks he seems to have a lot of jump and making good decisions and involved in the game,” Oates said. “I’ve been trying to find more minutes [for him]. Our power play’s been going pretty good so I haven’t been able to put him there. So he got PK time.”
>> The Capitals took two more delay-of-game penalties for firing the puck over the glass Saturday afternoon. The good news is it didn’t cost them. The bad news is that it’s their 10th such penalty this season, which is ridiculous to think about.
“Well, it was only two tonight,” Oates deadpanned in his postgame news conference and the bench boss said he thought the officials missed another one in the contest – on the Devils.
“I thought [New Jersey] had one that they didn’t call, like the one that we had the other night. I thought that was one, too, and they said no. That was the exact call that happened to us the other night,” Oates said. “It is really weird how that’s happening this year in the league. I don’t know why. I can’t explain it. We will definitely talk about it.”
>> With the Capitals off to a rough start, Verizon Center hasn’t been as raucous as it became known for being over the past several seasons. It’s been more subdued and occasionally a more disapproving red than a rocking one.
As Ovechkin led Washington to its fourth win at home in nine tries so far this year, though, the building was rocking Saturday afternoon and it was good to see it that way.
“To be honest with you, I was kind of forget about what ‘Rock the Red’ means,” Ovechkin said. “The fans a couple games ago, before the game I said ‘You have to cheer us, you have to push us forward’. It’s a hard time for us we need everybody to be involved. Tonight it was that kind of game, we get second goal and they was [ready] for it.”