Shhhh! Don’t make any sudden moves. You’ll spook them, these Washington Capitals who have won four straight games. Treat them like deer at a wilderness stream, or depending on where you live, like deer in your backyard: Stand perfectly still and completely ignore them.
The Capitals used to be Washington’s ace in the hole, the go-to winter team when all others had fallen short. Then came this season, which started with promise then fell down the rabbit hole — or maybe just one of our ubiquitous potholes — but nonetheless, off the rails went the Caps and their once-crowded caravan.
Bruce Boudreau tried and failed to apply some discipline to this high-strung bunch and was sent packing. (After being out of work about 10 minutes, he was back in the NHL. Maybe Gary Bettman should be put in charge of the nation’s unemployment problem.)
So Dale Hunter took over a team apparently bruised by criticism and unwilling to listen to advice, a team of delicate geniuses, as it were. Those who expected a quick fix were disappointed: A month seemed the least it would take, given the skittishness of these colts, and we’ve just passed that mark. That month passed during the end of the four-month eclipse that is the Redskins, which blots out the sports sun in Washington every year.
But the cover of the Redskins is gone, and the Wizards are the Wizards, and pitchers and catchers have yet to report, so attention will now turn to the Capitals, who might finally be ready for it. It’s possible, just possible, that the Hunter Way is working, that the Caps have gotten back on track and that we are seeing the Boys of Winter return to the days of yore, yore being the past few years when they dominated January, February and March.
Hush! Don’t mention April! Too late. There they go, back into the trees.
Well, now that they are gone, we can talk about the good signs in Tuesday night’s victory over Calgary: the long-awaited return of defenseman Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin’s seventh goal in seven games, Tomas Voukoun stopping 18 of 19 shots. The Caps scored twice on the power play, which last year frequently stymied them.
Of course, these being the Caps, there was some bad news as well: Nicklas Backstrom was elbowed in the head by Rene Bourque and left the game as a precaution late in the third period. (Unless he was engaged in the Chicken Dance, there was zero reason for Bourque’s elbow to be raised that high as he approached Backstrom at speed. The league on Wednesday suspended Bourque, who had an earlier infraction this season, five games for the hit.)
The Caps can ill afford to lose Backstrom for a long stretch, but all hockey teams face injury. The important thing is, they are winning again. They are reclaiming their place in Washington’s sports hierarchy.
It’s too soon — much too soon — to speculate about whether they can move up a notch, whether this is finally the year they can do more in April and May than baffle themselves and their fans. For now, keep watching for signs of improvement. Just don’t look directly at them.