At rare times this season, the Washington Capitals have looked downright unbeatable. They’ve shown the ability to control a game on both sides of the ice, allowed their goaltenders to settle in through limiting shots and the superstars have, at times, lived up to their billings.
At other points in the year, the Caps do the exact opposite.
They can’t get shots on net, they leave the goaltender out to dry and the nightly efforts of players such as Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin become fodder for hockey columnists across the net.
Then there are games like the Caps’ 5-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night where they are both teams in 60 minutes.
Coming off a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night, with an effort that could be graded among the poorest of the season, Washington entered an arena that hasn’t been kind to the team for years.
The Caps hadn’t won at Joe Louis Arena since 2003 and the Red Wings owned a 28-4-2 home record prior to faceoff.
None of that seemed to matter as Alex Ovechkin scored two power play goals in the first period and Mike Knuble scored his sixth goal of the season to give Washington a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
Worst lead in hockey? You bet. Enter the Mr. Hyde Caps for the third period. Holding onto a 4-1 lead, the Caps were a mirror image of their first period performance.
The Red Wings outshot the Caps 11-3 and scored just 36 seconds into the period with a soft goal. The aggressive forecheck turned into a passive, hold on for dear life defense and if not for a timely penalty to Henrik Zetterberg with just over two minutes remaining, the Caps might have been destined for overtime.
Washington won 5-3 and now trails Southeast Division leading Florida by three points, but the lesson from tonight’s game is obvious.
There are three teams in the No. 8 seed race for the Eastern Conference – Washington, Winnipeg and Buffalo — but it’s not the Sabres or Jets keeping the Caps from running away with a playoff spot and putting fans at ease.
The toughest opponent the Caps battling with down the stretch are themselves. Until the Caps can find a way to be consistent on a nightly basis, the roller coaster ride that is the 2011-12 season will remain scary.
Hold on to your butts.