Thursday, January 10, 2008

Learning to win

It's all well and good when your team can come out, score five or six goals, and come out with a victory. But in the NHL that is far more often the exception than the rule. Most nights games are decided in the trenches, with the team that makes the fewest mistakes coming away with the victory.

Yesterday, the Caps showed that they can play a solid defensive game without two of their best defensemen, and two men known far more for their physical play than their scoring touch tallied goals that will never be seen on anyone's top 10 goals of the week. And while the Avalanche were able to hold the Caps top two lines scoreless, they still left the Verizon Center without a point.

In the past couple weeks, the Caps have shown us that they can win pretty. Last night, they showed us they can win ugly, too. And though it may not have been the most beautiful game to watch, coming away with two points in the standings certainly makes it feel a little more pretty.

The Caps defensive corps was solid but unspectacular, which is all they needed to be against Colorado's depleted lineup. Short of one poor decision by Shoanne Morrison (which allowed Marek Svatos to skate in alone and beat Olie Kolzig with a tremendous wrister) the defense played a strong positional game, and got some serious physical play from an unexpected source. Oft scratched defender Steve Eminger was a sight to behold last night, throwing his body around with vigor and purpose.

It's safe to say that Eminger would not have been scratched for almost the entire first half of the season if he had shown that hard edge last year. If he keeps playing the body like he did last night, at very least he should be rotated into the active roster on a regular basis. I'd go so far as to say that he should be starting in place of Jeff Shultz at this point, who has been overpowered by opposing forwards in front of the net for most of this season.

Brooks Laich's breakaway was certainly no thing of beauty, but his one timer off a great pass by Matt Bradley sure was. Despite the fact that the goal was eventually credited to Donald Brashear, Brooks should be commended for his strong effort on the night.

Even though Colorado's power play has been awful without Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth, the Caps penalty killers cannot be praised enough for their tremendous effort and willingness to give up the body to block several Colorado shots from the point. Quinten Laing in particular deserves kudos for keeping the Avs from getting the puck deep by sacrificing his body.

And even though he faced only 19 shots, Olie Kolzig came up big when it mattered most, making two strong saves in the last minute to preserve the Caps victory.

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