The opening game for the Washington Capitals was quite a memorable one. There was grit, there was an All-Star fight, and the Caps won in a lopsided 7-2 decision over the New Jersey Devils. It was the first glimpse we got of a changed Caps team. As I wrote back in October, it was a big statement game for the Capitals. Not only would it inevitably set the tone of their season as the home opener, but it was the first time in a long time we saw the Caps stand up for each other as a team.
Here’s a refresher on what happened that night in Chinatown: once the Devils realized they weren’t going to win, they began targeting the Caps’ young guys, most notably when Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond went after rookie Marcus Johansson. Here is how it unfolded.
Leblond had challenged Johansson at the faceoff, Johansson declined, and Leblond went after him anyway. Everyone stepped up in defense of the new Swede, including fellow rookie John Carlson. With players like Matt Hendricks and John Erskine stepping up in addition to regular fighters like Matt Bradley and D.J. King, this game was the first of many where that sense of team was put to the test. And when called upon, the Caps have answered that bell every time this season.
That isn’t the only aspect of that game which foreshadowed their season. After the first period of this game, the Caps trailed 2-1. They would go on to score four goals in the second, and not allow the Devils back into the game by scoring two more in the third. That business-like approach with the killer instinct is another distinction between last year’s team and this year’s.
Of the seven goals the Capitals scored in that game, pucks were sent across the line by six different players. The Caps have had to rely much more on a “scoring by committee” approach this season, as stars like Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom spent much of the first half of the season relatively unproductive.
Mike Green led all players in that game in ice time with 25:30. When healthy, Green has been playing similar minutes throughout the season. He spends an average of 25:11 on the ice per game, good for 10th in the league, despite missing 30 games due to injury. Michal Neuvirth also got the win, stopping 31 of 33 shots in the process. Needless to say he’s continued his high performance with the Capitals this year.
There were many things to like after this game. There were many signs that this team had changed, that this year was going to be different. There was a different attitude, a different feel, a certain swagger that was lacking last year. There was hope that this was the sign of something new, and hopefully better. The beginning of the season always holds promise, but it is not nearly as often that a team fulfills that promise. They took the back roads to get there, but 78 games later, that promise has finally been fulfilled for the Washington Capitals.