(photo by Gregg Forwerck)
Hate to break it to you, but there’s zero chance the Washington Capitals are going to do anything to break apart this team now — not after a come-from-behind 5-3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Tuesday night.
Forget the fact that Carolina is in a free fall — with just one win in their last 10 games. Instead, focus on the fact that the Capitals have picked up victories in six of their last 10 outings and are just three points out of the playoffs heading into trade deadline day.
So if you’re in the group of Caps fans who strongly believe it’s in the franchise’s best interest to trade away second-line center Mike Ribeiro … well … you might want to go dark for the next day or two. Turn off the television. Put away the electronic devices. Go old school and read a book or something.
Because general manager George McPhee is always inclined to believe his squad is only a player away from competing for the Stanley Cup. Now that Washington has pulled back to .500 for the first time this entire season, it’s a safe bet he’s going to continue to talk himself into adding a player or two before he opts to ship assets away.
And seriously, if ever there was a night this season McPhee might feel like having a frosty and refreshing beverage or two it’s going to be tonight — especially after the artists formerly known as the Young Guns (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green) enjoyed “Turn Back The Clock Night” in Carolina.
Ovechkin tallied two goals and an assist. Green, still working the rust off after recovering from his latest injury, scored twice. And Backstrom matched a career high with four assists as the Capitals rallied after trailing early, 2-0.
The last time those three players had such a monster performance during the same game, Bruce Boudreau was still dropping F-bombs from behind the Caps’ bench. Two coaches later, it really does seem like the players have begun to embrace the Adam Oates era.
It’s no secret that anyone who ever stepped onto the offensive side of the rink with aspirations of shooting a puck on net hated Dale Hunter’s system, but the players have had no such qualms about playing under Oates.
The powerplay continues to excel, players are finally getting healthy at the right time and the guys who used to be household names in this town are beginning to regain their swagger. I’m not saying they’re magically going to transform back into the firewagon hockey lovin’ bastards that made want to “Rock the Red,” but they at least have shown their capable of playing solid hockey from time to time.
You’d still love to see this team play more consistent — regardless of whether we’re talking about game to game or shift to shift — and it’d be nice if they did a more respectable job in the puck possession department. But at least the Washington Capitals once again have an identity.
And, just as importantly, the core players are once again leading by example. There’s still plenty of work left to do over the final 12 games of the 2013 season (like, for example, have a winning record for at least one day before the campaign concludes). But it’s encouraging to see the highest-paid players once again carrying their share of the load.
Is this team still flawed? Absolutely. Is this team a lock for the postseason? Absolutely not. But at least they’ve regain respectability after their horrendous 2-8-1 start and are no longer a laughingstock of the NHL. And at least they’re now making it tough for talking heads and so-called experts to bash their effort on a nightly basis.
Ovechkin, who has gotten more than his fair share of criticism over the last few seasons, now ranks sixth in the league in goals and 18th in points thanks to a nine-game point scoring streak. When he plays with this level of confidence and is clearly locked in, the rest of the roster follows suit.
Through this season, Ovechkin has had to learn a new coach and learn a new position after being switched over to the right wing, and instead of sulking or pouting, he manned up and did what was best for his team. That’s what it takes to be an effective captain. That’s what it takes to earn the respect of your peers — both in the locker room and on the other side of the rink.
And kudos to Oates for having the stones as a first-time coach to force Ovechkin out of his comfort zone in hopes of making The Great 8 re-invent himself. Sure, Oates made a name for himself as a Hall of Fame player, but that doesn’t mean he was a lock to be any good as a coach. Just ask Michael Jordan. Or Isiah Thomas. Or countless others.
But he stuck to what he believed in and did what he thought was necessary — even if it meant possibly ruffling the feathers of the $100-million man. And now everyone’s better off because he did so.
I still think the Caps back their way into a playoff spot and then, if they’re extremely fortunate and get the right match-up, are capable of stealing a series. But even if that doesn’t happen, it’s nice to know that not all was lost during the lockout-shortened season.
If nothing else, the Capitals have found their coach and he’s found a way to make Ovechkin play like Ovechkin once again. Honestly, anything after that is gravy for me.