Okay, I’ve got to admit that I’m surprised (stunned, even) by last night’s performance by the Caps. Yep, they are still in last place in the Eastern Conference after a 4-3 shootout loss in Detroit, but take a look at the standings. Considering that miserable start …
In the dressing room after the game, there was a sense of disappointment, of course. But I also got the distinct feeling after talking to several players that the result gave them a collective confidence boost. They had gone toe-to-toe with the league’s best team, in the league’s toughest arena, on national television, and came away with a hard-fought point. (Only two other teams have left Joe Louis with something to show for their effort — Chicago twice in regulation and Edmonton in a shootout).
That was Capitals beat writer for the Washington Post Tarik El-Bashir’s reaction last year when the Caps fell to the Red Wings 4-3 in the shootout. The writers were stunned by the Capitals performance, and the players were content with keeping up with the might Wings. This year, things are different…
Last year Alex Ovechkin would get bombarded with questions concerning the Capitals’ playoff chances as the midpoint of the season was approaching. This season, just ‘making’ the playoffs won’t cut it for the Caps and their fans. Players and fans alike will not settle for an overtime loss this time. We want and expect more.
Detroit comes into Washington averaging a league-best 3.31 goals-per-game on the road. Detroit also leads the NHL in goals, powerplay goals, powerplay percentage, and have only lost three times when leading after the first period. Wow. The Capitals, on the other hand, don’t lead in any offensive statistics, but still find themselves five points behind Detroit, and nine behind Boston for the lead in the Eastern Conference.
This game seems like “Playoff Atmosphere Take 5″ for the Caps, who have played in a few games (ugly loss at Philadelphia, last second loss at Montreal, shootout victory against the Flyers, and a low-scoring win versus the Bruins) dubbed by the media as either “must wins” or “tests.”
At this point in the season, I don’t see a game as a “must win” just because of the opponent’s outstanding record, but it will sure be a test. Washington hasn’t won a home game against Detroit since before the lockout. Rastislav Stana picked up his first and only win in a 4-1 victory against the Red Wings in 2003.
The Wings are 3-0 against the Southeast Division on the road and the Verizon Center will be rocking (the red) on Super Bowl Saturday. But this time things are different…Like no Matt Pettinger on the first line this time. We all know the Caps have the potential to beat any team in the league. But which Capitals team will show up? The team that put up a home record of 18-1-1 in their first 20 home games, or the team that has dropped two of the last three at home and is 1-7 in their last eight games against the Western Conference?