By Michael Hoffman
For the Capitals Monday night, it was about working harder and just as importantly in the words of Nicklas Backstrom, ‘working smarter’ than they had in their previous four games.
In that sense, it is not a fluke that all of the Capitals four goals tonight came as a result of crashing the net and setting. In terms of working harder and smarter, it also may not have been a fluke that the effort came without one Alexander Semin.
We’re not saying you scratch him in most games, but keeping the guy with the most questionable work habits out in Semin, surely may have helped to set the tone.
Cody Eakin sure got the message. “It could be you (Being scratched.) at any point and you have to fight for the spot you want to here.” (With a goal and aggressive play throughout the game, Eakin right now is doing just fine in fighting for his spot.)
Most of all though, the Capitals never looked disinterested in this one, (A notable exception to past games.) and despite being down 2-0, they never stopped playing ‘their game.’ We know that this team certainly has the talent to play winning hockey, they just need to play smart. For most of the guys tonight, that simply meant doing more to dump the puck in and take shots on net. “We knew that it with stuck to our game plan for a full 60 minutes we were eventually going to get through and be successful,” said Matt Hendricks.
Throughout the first period the Capitals would persistency pester the crease of Coyotes goaltender Jason LaBarbera. Nothing would go through, and one mistake, a John Carlson giveaway after the puck went slowly back to him after the Capitals won a faceoff in the offensive zone during their first power play would cost them.
Radim Vrbata would take the puck away and score on the shorthanded breakaway to give Phoenix a 1-0 lead. Nevertheless, it was clear that the Capitals were for the most part, setting the tempo.
But despite a fairly steady effort throughout the first 30 minutes of tonight’s game, the Capitals would find themselves down 2-0 thanks to another mistake on the power-play, this time from Dennis Wideman who could not control the puck and hooked Lauri Korpikoski on the breakaway.
Korpikoski would get a penalty shot which he would take advantage of to give the Coyotes a 2-0 lead as Tomas Vokoun disgustedly kicked the puck out of the net.
Vokoun wouldn’t be the only one disgusted as the Capitals faithful at Verizon would openly start booing the team as the Capitals finished their power play with nothing to show for it. Just about ten seconds later, with a thundering screened shot from the blue line, Carlson would make sure that all the booing would cease.
And while the shot and screen were key, the man who didn’t even receive an assist on the goal deserved credit as well. That man? It would be Cody Eakin would pressurred Martin Hanzal into turning the puck over in the corner.
Just over three minutes later, the opportunist Eakin would strike once again.
With the puck being controlled by a Coyotes defenseman behind his net, Eakin and Joel Ward would situate themselves very deep in the Phoenix zone. The pressure would pay off big time as an attempt to clear the zone would come right to Jeff Schultz just beyond the center ice line on the right. Schultz would catch Eakin now out of the Coyotes zone on the far left, and with heavy traffic in front, Eakin made the simple and correct play, firing on net and watching as the puck deflected in for a goal. Like we said, and like the Capitals players will tell you, hard work and smart work does indeed pay off in this game.
We’ve seen the Capitals seem to carry the play and momentum yet lose. It looked like they should have had the final push they needed against Nashville when Troy Brouwer finally struck through against Pekka Rinne with under five minutes left. And yet the Capitals gave a goal and then the game right back to the Predators. In that sense, one cannot underestimate how important it was for the Capitals to take the lead early in the third.
Thankfully that’s exactly what happened as Backstrom would outwork Keith Yandle and Derek Morris in front of the Coyotes net, gathering in a rebound on a Joel Ward shot to give the Capitals a 3-2 lead, 1:52 into the final frame.
The Caps would get one more off a Brooks Laich power play blast that once again was heavily screened and have just enough to survive a late Phoenix rush.
Washington also finished with a fundamentally solid 60 minute effort, and a result that could serve to stabilize what has been a very uneven effort throughout these past few weeks. With four goals tonight, the Capitals also had one more goal then the three prior games that saw them score a combined three goals. As Bruce Boudreau told reporters after tonight’s game, the result had nothing with the Caps being ‘due.’ “I’m a firm believer that you get those breaks when you work hard…It’s not luck.”
We’d love to see the Capitals play through that mantra from this point on, in which case, someone inform Alexander Semin that there’s a new sheriff in town.