Saturday, April 21, 2012

Who are these Caps?

The Caps went ahead 3 games to 2 in the series against Boston today with a gritty, gutsy performance.  After giving up two goals at the end of the 2nd period to let Boston tie the game at 2-2, I worried that the Caps would fold mentally.  I'm a long-time Caps fan, that's why I think these things.  I like it when they prove me wrong like they did today.

Today's game belonged to the heart and soul guys.  Mike Knuble and Jay Beagle scored and Troy Brouwer blasted the game winner against Tim Thomas.  Beagle deserved his first playoff goal for his constant hustling throughout this series.  And, it was great to see Knuble pot one.  Alexander Semin also contributed the first goal while displaying his otherworldly puck handling skills.

Like many Caps fans, I had my doubts about Dale Hunter's system because it appeared to have neutered the offense for long stretches of time.  Watching his game management, line matching and overall strategy in this series against Boston though, I'm becoming a believer.  The Caps are playing competitive playoff hockey, unlike in years past, and they're pushing the defending Stanley Cup champions hard.  Stellar goal tending from the 22-year old rookie Braden Holtby has helped the cause, too.

Other highlights and things I'm happy to see:
  • Alexander Semin appears to be one of the Caps that has benefitted most from Hunter's coaching.  The enigma is playing Selke winner like, blocking shots, making smart defensive plays and scoring three goals in the series.
  • Braden Holtby is a stud in net.  He lets softies in here and there, but he also makes the big saves when needed.  He made a smashing rebound save while sliding into the splits near the goal post to stop a Boston shot today.  Holtby also plays with fire in his eyes for anyone that gets near his crease.  He's fun to watch.
  • Karl Alzner and John Carlson are back together and playing stellar defense.  Carlson appears to have removed his head from his rear end, where it was stuck for most of the season.  And, GMGM needs to resign Alzner ASAP.
  • Hunter sat Jeff Schultz in favor of rugged defenseman John Erskine who hadn't played since February.  Schultz withers under playoff pressure where Erskine gets under the skin of his opponents and keeps players out of the crease.  Boston hasn't been crowding Holtby's crease and taking shots at him since #4 has been in the line up.  He makes mistakes, at times, but I'd rather have him out there than Schultz to play against the larger and more aggressive Boston players.  
  • Troy Brouwer is becoming one of my favorite Caps for his gritty playing.  He is, without a doubt, one of the best trades GMGM has made in the past few years. 
  • Alex Ovechkin gets the toughest assignment, of course, trying to make space for offense while fending off the Bruins defenders Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. Ovie has 27 hits in 5 games and two of his hits against Seidenberg were featured in the Top 10 Playoff Hits review I saw today.  He has a goal, two assists and several blocked shots.  Ovie is playing a team game and that's what he needs to do.
I said I was numb to Caps playoff hockey in my last blog post.  I lied.  87 seconds left in the game today and my heart starts pounding.  Not to mention that I yelled at the TV when the Caps couldn't clear the defensive zone and starting giving up the neutral zone. 

Tomorrow is a huge game for the Caps.  Both teams look tired and they play another game 24-hours after the one today.  It's not going to be easy.  The team that can muster the most effort, after a grueling series, so far, will probably prevail.  I hope it's the Caps.

Let's go Caps!

p.s.  One of the things I'm not happy about - the awful officiating and inconsistent punishments being handed out during the playoffs.  The violence and shots to the head must be eliminated from the game, but that won't happen if the players don't understand what is, and isn't, a penalty.  When Shea Weber rubs out Henrik Zetterberg into the boards and gets fined $2500, but misses no games, and Nicklas Backstrom gets a 1-game suspension for a less egregious cross-check, there is something wrong. Those are just two examples. 

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