Capitals 2, Maple Leafs 1
Now that's more like it.
After clearly outplaying the Maple Leafs Wednesday night in Toronto and losing, the Capitals came home to Verizon Center last night and claimed two points in a game in which they were outshot 32-20 and in which they twice had the man advantage and saw themselves shorthanded five time. If we're going to be objective, you'd have to look at this game and say the Capitals didn't necessarily deserve two points. Not that they were outplayed or deserved to lose per se (I don't think Toronto played all that well either), but the Maple Leafs were pretty effective in shutting down the Caps offense and without the stellar performance from Brent Johnson Washington's defense wouldn't have looked that great either. But given that the karmic balance after last night was such that the Capitals were probably deserving of two, I won't feel too bad about it.
The story of last night's game goes beyond the Capitals and the Maple Leafs though. Now, heading into the all-star break, the Capitals are the only team in the Southeast Division above .500 and are one point out of the division lead, with two games in hand. I can't speak for any other Capitals fans but if I were offered that scenario at the beginning of the season, I would have taken it. If I'd been offered it Thanksgiving Day I would have asked if you thought I believed in Santa Claus too.
Yet here we are, mid-January and the Capitals are not only poised to take control of the Southeast Division, they are clearly looking like the class of the division, going 17-8-4 since Bruce Boudreau took over while each of the other teams in the Southeast have played well below .500 since then. With Carolina and Atlanta still looking inconsistent at best it would be surprising if the Capitals don't take first place in the division with their two games in hand on the 'Canes. It'd be even more surprising if, once they took the lead, they ever relinquished it.
DMG's 3 Stars
(1) Brent Johnson - 31 saves on 32 shots, .969 save percentage
(2) Alexander Ovechkin - 2 assists
(3) Viktor Kozlov - 1 goal (game winner)
Since Coach Bruce Boudreau stepped behind the bench on Nov. 22, Johnson has been one of the team's best players. He is 5-1 with a 2.05 goals against average and .926 save percentage since Boudreau arrived, and his coach believes he has earned the right to play more down the stretch.
- John Erskine's first period penalty for delay of game was real bad because there's no reason to even come close to putting the puck off the rink when there's no pressure.
- Each Capitals player who took a faceoff (Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, David Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Matt Bradley) was at 58% effectiveness or higher. For the game the Capitals won 33 of 53 faceoffs (62%).
- Milan Jurcina led the Capitals with six hits. Nice to see the big man finally using his body.