Thursday, November 8, 2007

Blocking the Shot, Stemming the Tide, Stopping the Bleeding

Perhaps in March and April, when the Caps are jockeying for playoff position, we will look back to Dave Steckel’s stick-less blocking of a shot while killing of a 5-on-3 power play as the turning point of the season. It could be the sort of moment that turned around the entire momentum of the season and not just this utterly perfect upset game in Ottawa. It topped even their home-opening shutout win of Carolina as far as complete efforts go, and definitely tops that win as far as potential season-long implications. It all goes back to that play. It was shades of six years ago and a different sport, when Lavar Arrington returned an interception for a touchdown to turn around the season of a Redskins team that at that point was 0-5 and disintegrating (interestingly enough, also with many calls to can the coach). Of course, that Skins team finished at .500 and out of the playoffs and the coach was canned, so perhaps an imperfect comparison, but the similar premise remains.

It was that “full 60 minutes” we’ve heard so much about, and it was never more evident than during the third period, when instead of sitting back and simply trying to survive an aggressive and desperate Ottawa attack, the Caps took shots of their own, eventually being rewarded with a vintage Ovechkin goal and a much-more-comfortable three-goal lead.

We’re sometimes asked what possible positives we can glean from seemingly completely negative situations (there have been some tough ones. In this situation, though, we need to ask: what possible negatives can be taken from tonight? A brief lapse late in the second period to give up the lone Ottawa goal? Nothing overwhelmingly terrible there, really. A bad penalty or two? Maybe, but that can even lead to the great positive of 5-for-5 penalty killing against that 50-goals-in-14-games Ottawa attack. The 2-on-1 break by the Senators eight seconds into the game? Again, it only reminds us that Olie made the save and went on to make many more in probably his best game of the season. So really, what awfulness can be spun from tonight, when the Senators were handed their second (and worst) loss of the season?

More good stuff:
-The much-needed re-emergence of Viktor Kozlov. Three points and the kind of bull-your-way-to-the-net goal that we need to see a lot more of
-Niklas Backstrom: temporarily tired of dishing assists, he finally gets the first of no-doubt many NHL goals
-The afforementioned Dave Steckel. Sure he finished -1 for the night with no points, but that blocked shot sans stick on the 5-on-3 was worth more than anything on the stats sheet could show
-Power Play. 1-for-4 and consistent pressure. Just like their now-second-best game of the season vs. Carolina at home

So yeah, that was enjoyable to watch. A truly major early-season upset. On Frozen Blog puts it in proper historical context.

Time now to build on this and continue the climb back to Eastern Conference relevancy. Next up: Tampa Bay, who are only two points ahead of the Caps. I'll be watching while enjoying my Family 4-Pack. The Lighting, incidentally, are 1-7 on the road so far (finally winning tonight at Carolina).

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