(photo by Eliot J. Schechter)
Don’t look now, but the Washington Capitals have doubled their win total thanks to back-to-back victories over the Florida Panthers. Whether or not that’s a product of the Caps finally starting to resemble a unit that has actually played hockey before or if they’re simply benefiting from playing a mediocre Panthers squad in consecutive outings is up for debate.
Rather than kick a team in one of the rare moments when it’s not down though, I’d prefer to simply share 10 random thoughts after Washington’s 6-5 come-from-behind overtime victory.
- Without a doubt, center Mike Ribeiro has been the team’s best player in 2013. Even though the Caps have struggled to score goals consistently this season, Ribeiro has been the most reliable weapon on offense. Not only that, but the 33-year-old has saved his best work for Washington’s powerplay (four goals and six assists). Best of all, after starting the season with just one goal in his first eight games, Ribeiro has found his scoring touch as well — collecting goals in four of the last five games.
- It should be noted that Ribeiro is in the final season of a five-year, $25-million contract. If I could offer one piece of advice to general manager George McPhee, it would be the pay the 12-year veteran now, because chances are, he’s only going to get more expensive the longer the season goes.
- After failing to score more than three goals in the first 10 games of the season, the Capitals have 11 goals in their last two outings. Again, let’s not spend too much time dwelling on whether that’s because Florida blows or the Caps are rounding into form. Instead, let’s simply commend the team for turning back the clock to the Bruce Boudreau firewagon hockey days and making games fun to watch again.
- It wasn’t all that long ago that defenseman Karl Alzner was referring to the Capitals as “mentally weak.” Well, it’s easy to keep your foot on the gas during a 5-0 blowout, but it’s another thing entirely when you’re down 5-3 with just over five minutes remaining in regulation. Rather than shutting down and accepting the loss, the Capitals rallied back to force overtime and send a message to a divisional rival that they’re tired of simply rolling over and playing dead at the first sign of adversity.
- One of the reasons they were able to mount the comeback was because the Caps stepped up their game in key situations. As noted by the talented Mike Vogel, the Capitals were clutch in the face-off dot when it mattered most. They were a perfect 4-for-4 on powerplay face-offs and 11-for-12 (92 percent) on shorthanded draws. And as Vogel noted, Washington’s game-tying goal came by Ovechkin came after a powerplay face-off victory.
- With seven points (three goals and four assists) in his last five games, captain Alex Ovechkin appears to finally be getting the hang of the transition to right wing. It was also nice to see Ovechkin willing to drop the gloves to send a message to opponents that he’s tired of standing around watching his underachieving squad get pushed around. It’s one thing to try and deliver a big body check from time to time. Preparing to throw down sends a message to opposing players (and not to mention his teammates) that Ovechkin is willing to do whatever it takes to get his team out of the basement and back into the playoff hunt.
- Two questions: how old is goalie Braden Holtby’s kid now and is it sleeping through the night yet? The only reason I ask is because Holtby seems to be missing his mojo this season. I speak from experience — that lack of consistent sleep will absolutely throw you off your game.
- Sure, defenseman John Erskine couldn’t have been happy when a puck deflected off of him and past Holtby for a Panthers goal. But on the bright side: the Capitals are undefeated when he scores a goal, so that play in the early stages of the contest essentially guaranteed Washington’s eventual victory.
- For those individuals who dislike the “bandwagon” fans who showed up for the “Rock the Red” era, please feel free to go back and look at the half-empty building the Florida Panthers play in. As someone who attended more game at the old Caps Centre than I could possibly remember during my childhood, I’ll tell you that it’s much more enjoyable when the building is packed with people who care.
- That being said, if the newbies would knock off the bushleague chants (“It’s all your fault!”) it really would make the gameday experience at the Verizon Center even more enjoyable.