By Rodger M. Wood
While the Caps were coming off a three game losing streak with consecutive wins over the Canadiens and Maple Leafs, there was a lot of doubt GM McPhee was right when he predicted the Caps were a “good” team” that could beat any team in the league after he didn’t make any additions to the team by the February 27th trade deadline.
Currently on a four game win streak against Tampa, the defending Stanley Cup winning Boston, Toronto, and New York Islanders and since the trade deadline with an overall 5-2-1 W-L record, good for 11 vital points of 16 possible in a tight Stanley Cup Playoff position race, the Caps are surging toward a playoff berth again.
They are a point behind Florida for first place in the Southeast Division and an automatic 3rd seed berth in the Eastern Conference playoffs and 3 points ahead of Buffalo and 4 points ahead of Winnipeg in the race for the 8th and last seed in the Eastern Conference.
While they are still missing potent offensive center Niklaus Backstrom (he was back on the ice skating at the Kettler Center yesterday before the Caps practice), and defensemen Mike Green, who will return to the lineup at Winnipeg Friday after serving a three game suspension, they are playing enough fired up hockey to win their last four games against the Lightning, Bruins, Maple Leafs, and Islanders.
One of the spark plug for the Capitals winning ways is again Alex Ovechkin. Skating hard like only “Alex the Great” can when he is on his game, Ovie led the Caps back from a 4-1 deficit to the beat the Islanders 5-4 with his 28th and 29th goals of the season in regulation and a shootout goal in overtime, and in the first game of the winning streak against the Lightning with a dramatic 27th goal in overtime.
Center Brooks Laich is also hot, scoring the winning goals against Toronto and Boston and playing good two way hockey in regular and special team shifts. (I often wonder why the Caps don’t take the captain pressure away from Ovie and bestow it upon Laich, who I think may handle the pressure better)
LW Alexander Semin, C Marcus Johansson, C Mathieu Perreault, RW Jay Beagle and Hershey call up RW Keith Aucoin are making strong offensive contributions, each scoring a goal in the past four wins.
LW Jason Chimera, C Matt Hendricks, and RW Troy Brouwer are keeping the opposing first line forwards honest with their tough play. While Chimera and Brouwer have been shut out, Henricks chipped in a goal in the Bruins game and a shootout goal to beat the Islanders in the overtime shootout.
While Caps defensemen have been adjusting to Coach Hunter’s defensive schemes and playing better defense, rookie defenseman Dmitri Orlov has been getting better and better each game he’s played. When Mike Green was available, Caps coach Hunter sat out veteran defensemen John Erskine and Roman Hamrlik in deference to the 20-year rookie, who has repaid his coach’s confidence with hard hip checks on opposing forwards and savvy offensive play, scoring a goal against the Islanders, and assisting on Ovie’s winning goal in the Islanders games and two goals in the Bruins game.
The improved Caps will be sorely tested in tough road games next week against the Black Hawks, Red Wings, and Flyers, however, if they win a couple games, they may just be on their way to proving they are indeed the good team McPhee predicted.