By Adam Vingan
Dennis Wideman didn’t believe that he had a hat trick Friday in the Washington Capitals’ 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even after the hats rained down onto the Verizon Center ice, he still wasn’t convinced.
“I’ve never had one before,” Wideman said. “Still haven’t had one, but we were working it around pretty good. I had some opportunities on the 5-on-3 and I got that pass in the slot. I was thinking I could maybe get one and then I saw [Nicklas Backstrom] open on the back door and I had to give it to him.”
Wideman adamantly believed that his apparent third goal deflected off Brooks Laich. When asked if that was the case, Laich flashed his trademark smile and deferred.
The official scoresheet still had Wideman as the official goal scorer of the Caps’ final tally at game’s end and if that remains the case – there is a 24-hour statute of limitations of changing such things – Wideman broke many long-standing records while setting personal ones in the process. If the scoring is changed, Wideman still earned his first-career two-goal game.
Yet, with all of the attention paid to Wideman for perhaps the best performance of his career, the Caps as a whole have had unprecedented success recently on the power play. Washington has an impressive 50% success rate (5/10) on the power play in its last two games after having five total in the month of November. The Caps’ power play shot up in the league standings from 22nd to 12th by the end of the day.
“We were due for a little bit of luck, I think,” Laich said. “We’ve had a tough go of it on the power play.”
“Try and simplify things a little bit, shoot it,” he continued in regards to why the Caps’ power play was 4-of-6 Friday. “As a penalty killer, I know that when you shoot pucks from the top, it’s really difficult to defend against.”
Laich might call it luck, but the Caps have been dutifully practicing the power play since Dale Hunter’s arrival about two weeks ago. As the old adage says, “practice makes perfect.”
“We’re practicing it, we practiced today,” Hunter said. “Guys are moving the puck around and trying to figure out where each one is and what’s the opening. It’s just reading the defense they’re giving you and when they give you an opening, you got to take it and got to read it right away. It’s only a split-second decision and they made the right decisions.”
While Laich’s Cheshire grin might have been a form of humility, it – along with the return of the power play – is also a welcome sight and sign of confidence for a Washington team that was seemingly in a “fragile state of mind” for weeks as they failed to string together consecutive wins or solid performances. If you asked the Caps about confidence, however, they’d tell you it never left.
“I had confidence when we were losing,” Tomas Vokoun said. “This is a good team. There is no question about that. It’s just that when things are not going well and people are not playing well, the whole picture is bad, but we have a good team and we know that. It’s just a matter of us playing the right way and doing the right things.”