Mike Knuble and company have been willing to do the dirty work to get wins for a change. (Jason Cohn/Reuters)

It was surviving two sustained periods of pressure from the Penguins sandwiched around a pretty good second period. It was surviving Tomas Vokoun flailing around at times like a goaltender from the 1980s, or Ron Hextall in the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals (although I’m not being totally fair, because for the most part he was solid). It was Jay Beagle surviving after Arron Asham turned his face into Moist & Meaty, and it was surviving (yet again) in overtime with a timely goal from Dennis Wideman.

And that’s been the theme so far through these first three games. There have been times where the Caps look like world beaters, and times where they get bottled up and make some bad mistakes. And all that’s okay for now.

■ Photo Gallery: Scenes from Caps-Pens rivalry

As I’ve said many a time, they shouldn’t be playing their best hockey right now, and this is the time, in early October, to work out all the kinks and wrinkles and get things together for when that time does come. If they can grind out wins while not playing at their best, so much the better.

I’ve noticed lots of things that I like so far this year. They’re getting timely, ugly goals that they used to not get very often, as shown by Mike Knuble crashing the net in the second period and having the puck find its way through Brent Johnson, much like how Jason Chimera picked up a goal off a rebound the other night against Tampa Bay. I also like that they’re getting goals off deflections — like Ovi’s goal to put the Caps up 2-1 in Pittsburgh, and Troy Brouwer’s tip-in the other night. In short, they’re doing everything that so many TV talking heads and pundits have been saying they have needed to do for year — crashing the net, being “tough”, checking more, and not trying to beat everyone one-on-one.

There’s one more thing that really stuck out to me about last night’s game. At the intermission interview, when Craig Laughlin asked Knuble about the first period, it seemed like he got a little piqued and he said something like “we know that’s not the way we’re supposed to play.” From his tone, it sounded like some of the veterans and leaders on this team had gone into the locker room and thrown down, and to me, that was more important than any victory over Pittsburgh.

When you have leaders that see how good this team is and can be, and they see that potential being wasted and the team playing like dogs, it’s a great sign that they aren’t afraid to go in and demand accountability (in Game 3 of all games), which is something this team has sorely needed for a long time. I look forward to watching this team grow and gel together, because I think it can be special.