By Reed S. Albers
A common problem for the Caps this season has been that after a 7-0-0 start to the season, the team simply can’t re-create the winning streak magic they once had.
It’s been a win one, lose one type of December and for a hockey team on the cusp of a playoff spot, it’s not acceptable. That’s why the team’s current three-game winning streak, starting with a 4-1 win over the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers on Wednesday night, is so important.
For the first time in two months, the Capitals look stable. The team looks like they have direction and they are skating with a purpose that isn’t just “learning the system” or “trying to be better”.
Now add in that the team’s offense is back (11 goals in three games) to tic-tac-toeing goals in and feeding Ovechkin the puck and you have a bona fide reason for turnaround hopes in 2012.
As fans revel in a short break between games and enjoy watching the Winter Classic in Philadelphia, here’s a look at some of the engines who drove the Caps this past week.
1. Alex Ovechkin – five goals, two assists, seven points
A week where Ovechkin finishes with five goals in four games? Dare we say it? He’s back…oh we won’t go there yet. Consistency is the key and while it’s a minor holiday miracle Ovi’s got his scoring going again, it’s whether or not he can keep it up in the coming weeks that matters now. Something tells us he won’t just disappear though, so optimism is more than welcome.
2. Nicklas Backstrom – one goal, four assists, five points
If Ovechkin is scoring, that means Backstrom is playing the role of “X” in the equation that equals pucks in the net for No. 8. Sure enough No. 19 has been that X-factor for the Caps. He’s on a four game scoring streak with five points in that stretch, and he also notched the game winning goal against the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
3. Alex Semin – three goals, two assists, five points
Welcome back Semin, it’s been awhile since you’ve been here. Loved and hated by fans for his on-and-off play, the Sasha who has endeared himself to the Caps faithful showed up this week. Five points in three games is a promising sign from No. 28, but as it is with Ovechkin, consistency will be the key to future success.
4. Tomas Vokoun – three starts, three wins
Goaltending hasn’t been the highlight of the year for the Caps, so it’s a pleasure to not just see three solid nights of net minding in a row, but also one goalie delivering it. Vokoun has a three game win streak and it would be hard to not give him the start on Tuesday against the Calgary Flames.
5. Karl Alzner – even rating, two assists, two points
We’ve given the offense enough love to start the New Year, so why not toss a little towards the guys who don’t thrive on glory stats. Alzner’s the team leader in plus-minus and though his Saturday night minus-two against Columbus is a sore spot, his overall play this week has been phenomenal. He’s among the team leaders in ice time and one of Dale Hunter’s go to shutdown guys.
6. Dennis Wideman – one goal, three assists, four points
That start of December wasn’t his best hockey (but was it anyone’s?), but in the past week Wideman’s play has elevated. He finished a plus one after the Boxing Day Massacre against the Sabres and against the Columbus Blue Jackets was instrumental in the team’s third period come back with one goal and two assists.