The Washington Capitals have 27 periods remaining in the regular season.
If they play the majority of them the way did Monday’s first period at Joe Louis Arena, they’ll not only earn a playoff berth, they’ll be a team no higher seed will want to face.
Twenty-four hours earlier, the Caps looked like a team that didn’t want to be on the ice at United Center in Chicago, where they fell behind by two goals after only eight minutes and failed to register a shot for the first 16.
Against the Red Wings, though, they had the look of a team that would not be denied.
Jason Chimera called it the Caps’ best period of the season.
“That may be,” Troy Brouwer said, nodding in agreement.
They blocked shots. They won puck battles all over the rink. They hounded the Red Wings’ puck carriers.
And it all began with the guy who generally gets things going for them.
Alex Ovechkin came out of the dressing room flying. A few minutes later, he drew a penalty when he aggressively attempted to beat two Detroit defensemen on the rush and was struck by a stick across the face. On the ensuing power play, the captain rifled a one-timer past goalie Jimmy Howard.
Much has been made in recent days about how the Caps haven’t been getting many power plays lately. Well, that’s how you get calls.
A few minutes later, Mike Knuble got a scoring chance and buried it, netting his third goal in four games.
Then the Capitals were awarded a second power-play opportunity when Tomas Holmstrom was whistled for goalie interference. And, once again, they made no mistake. Ovechkin went to the net, corralled a rebound and poked it past Howard through a morass of bodies, skates and sticks. The Caps’ lead swelled to 3-0 and the Red Wings’ faithful fell silent.
The pair of power-play goals marked the first time the Caps scored multiple times on the man advantage in the same game since Jan. 9. It was also just the seventh time they’ve done it all season.
They’re 6-0-1 in those games and 24-6-4 when they score the game’s first goal.
“The other team is trying to get the same start,” Coach Dale Hunter said when asked why the Caps can’t produce a start like that every night. “But we came out and the power play was good early. That helped. We jumped on them early.”
Another key to the strong start was Washington’s goaltender.
Braden Holtby made the stops he was expected to make. He even made a few he wasn’t, including a point-blank stop on Daniel Cleary that preserved the three-goal lead.
In all, Holtby stopped all 12 shots he faced in the opening 20 minutes en route to securing his first NHL victory in nearly a year. If nothing else, his performance should have earned him a shot at starting Thursday when the Caps wrap up their pivotal road trip in Philadelphia, assuming Tomas Vokoun still is unable to suit up.
Sure, it was just one period. And it came against a struggling Red Wings team that was missing captain Nick Lidstrom, Darren Helm and Johan Franzen.
But it served as a reminder of what this team can accomplish when it’s prepared to play from the start.