Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Take a deep breath. Exhale. Believe.
Despite the Capitals 3-2 loss Thursday night at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, there is plenty of room for optimism among Caps players and fans. Here is why:
1. The Crowd Was Electric. Impervious to the ghosts of playoffs past, the sound and fury generated by the home crowd was reminiscent of the “We Are Louder” Playoff Game 5 against the New York Rangers in April, 2011. Caps fans will continue to transmit their positive energy to be absorbed by the players.
2. Ice Littered with True Grit. The Caps brutally emerged from the locker room. Fans witnessed vicious hits. They saw their share of players’ selfless body-numbing blocked shots without regard for the physical consequences. The home team out-hustled the Pens to chase down loose pucks. The Caps gave no quarter to the Pens when it came down to the checking game—whether of the fore or back variety. The Pens count on their finesse game. They will wilt when confronted with the painful reality of what the Capitals are capable of dishing out.
3. Statement Made and Delivered. A mere 17 seconds after the initial puck drop, the Pens were reeling courtesy of Evgeny Kuznetsov’s skilled and graceful goal. Be attentive to Kuznetsov—we are privileged to witness the ascent of his star as he transforms into the NHL’s elite.
4.The Great 8 Delivers. Impatient to face the Pens for the third consecutive playoff series, Captain Alexander Ovechkin came to play. He scored early in the third period to gain his 100th point in his playoff career. Do This: Watch Ovi’s body language and facial expressions. Gone, or nearly gone, is his youthful exuberance of prior years. Appreciate his leadership and energy on display.
5. Goal Tending As It Should Be. Okay, maybe Braden Holtby would like to have stood on his head for another save or two. But, the goals registered against him—except maybe for one–were products of fluky bounces and deflections. Stung by his late season vagaries, this goalie is playing for his reputation and legacy. He will leave nothing on the ice this time.
6. The Underappreciated Pillars. Okay. So they don’t garner the headlines that some do. But pay attention to the strong foundation enabling the shock and awe offense of the Washington Capitals, especially the power play. Without denigrating one iota the productivity of John Carlson, focus your attention on two relatively unsung D-men heroes, namely Matt Niskanen and Dmitri Orlov. Solid. Unflappable. Unselfish. Just the kind of senior leadership the younger guys can aspire to. And while you are at it, how about some love for Michal Kempny? From seemingly out of nowhere he has bolstered the defensive corps. Look for Michal to have a game-changing impact before this series is over. Make no mistake, he is not just another rent-a-player.
7. The Intangibles. Sure, the Caps lost a tough one on Thursday. But who amongst the faithful (really) thought the Caps would sweep the Penguins? Except for a five-minute stint early in the third period, the Caps dominated play in most aspects of the game. No finger-pointing, blame-gaming, posturing, or excuse-making after the game. No heads down on the bench or in the stands. No sense of panic. No over-gripping of sticks. No “here we go again.” So Caps nation—get a grip. Create some good karma. Believe in the good guys. Let’s make the DMV a whine-free zone.
When the Caps win, you can remember that you read it here!
By Jim McCarthy
Jim McCarthy, a consultant to government contractors, has been a Caps fan since 1974. He can even remember the Kansas City Scouts! Jim is an occasional contributor and advisor to NoVa Caps.