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, analysis and various notes on games here. If you missed them, check out the game story from the 3-2 win at the Canadiens and more on the Capitals’ strong second period at Bell Centre.
>> Early on this season, it wasn’t unusual to hear Coach Adam Oates utter the word “fragile” when describing the state of the Washington Capitals. Players still learning the system would deviate from the plan at any instant of adversity over the course of a game.
Coming out with a strong first period only to trail 1-0 heading into the second could have – and a few times did – derailed them. But Tuesday night in Montreal the Capitals offered an example of how far they’ve come this season.
While Washington trailed at the first intermission, the players were confident in their game and believed adhering to their prescribed style of play would pay off.
“We had to stay with it,” Eric Fehr said. “I thought we outplayed them in the first period but didn’t come out with anything and that’s pretty frustrating but we’re playing with a lot of confidence and we were able to overcome that.”
In the second after killing a slashing minor to Alex Ovechkin there was no ad-libbing, no individual trying to play hero and taking on the Canadiens himself rather than as part of the group. The Capitals stuck with their systems, their game plan and eventually broke through. Ovechkin and Fehr scored less than two minutes apart, shifting the balance and rewarding the Capitals’ trust in themselves and their system.
“It’s something you almost have to learn,” Jay Beagle said. “With a new system we would get away from it when we would go down a couple goals early in the season and now we trust in the system. If we go down a goal, we just stick to our system and stick to our game. We know the goals are going to come.”
>> Based on the responses I received on Twitter Tuesday morning, Oates’s decision to start Michal Neuvirth against the Canadiens raised a few concerns from Caps fans all over.
Neuvirth proved those worries were unnecessary as he finished with 27 saves, weathering waves of attack from the Canadiens while displaying his usual calmness in net.
“The last win gave me confidence and I feel good today,” said Neuvirth, who stopped 55 of the 59 shots he faced in consecutive starts. “The guys did outstanding job they block shots we stick to our system and great team effort for two big points on the road.”
While Neuvirth recorded a pair of strong outings, Washington’s net still belongs first to Braden Holtby. This two-game stretch offered a chance to give Holtby some valuable rest before the postseason and a tune-up for Neuvirth, who the Capitals may very well need to call upon for important games in the days and weeks ahead.
>> Ovechkin’s goal to tie the game at 1 in the second period was the momentum changer the Capitals needed. Even with the faith in its system, Washington needed something to go its way at that point in the game.
What better than to watch Ovechkin pass to himself through the skates of Michael Ryder to create space for a shot that knuckled, end over end on its way to the back of the net.
“I didn’t see how it goes,” Ovechkin said when asked if he intentionally shot a change-up. “Backie said it goes up and down. I’ll take it – why not.”
For all the discussion of Ovechkin, from what was wrong last season to how he’s returning to form, I think he’s experiencing the rewards of being willing and able to adapt his game. The changes Oates has worked with him to make seem to be paying off.
There’s a greater unpredictability about his offensive game again and it’s fun to watch what might come next. Will he thread a pass through an opponent’s skates? Will he gain positioning for a last-second tip on a point shot? Or will he follow up when he loses control of the puck on an initial rush and wind up scoring anyway?
>> On Monday, colleague Mark Giannotto wrote about what an eventful week it’s been for Jack Hillen and he added to it with another offensively productive outing. Fresh off a two-assist game against Tampa Bay, Hillen recorded his first goal as a Capital in the third period when he put the puck on net from the point and caught Carey Price screened and unable to adjust.
Hillen almost had two goals in the contest, but Washington’s second tally was given to Fehr who tipped the defenseman’s second-period point shot in front for the 2-1 lead. The 27-year-old blueliner didn’t mind that he ultimately wound up with a primary assist on that tally, rather than the goal itself.
“I don’t really care,” Hillen said. “As long as it goes in that’s all that matters.”
>> The Capitals are scheduled to hold an optional practice at noon Wednesday in Arlington.