It was difficult to know for sure if the Leafs played really well on Saturday night or the Capitals were just a tired hockey club after having played the night before. Nonetheless, the Leafs have now earned seven points in their last four games, against some pretty good opposition—Tampa, Detroit, the Pens and Washington.
It’s always good to see different players contributing on the scoreboard. On this occasion, it was Bozak, Clarkson and Lupul along with Rielly and Franson. (It rarely hurts to have your defensemen chip in offensively, eh?) When various lines are contributing, things obviously tend to go a lot better for any team.
My sense is this may well be what we can expect to see this season—a team that goes on these mini streaks, one way or the other. I guess it’s the nature of a long, 82 game schedule—along with the parity that is so evident throughout the NHL. We can look at the Sabres and Habs this past weekend. Montreal was in first place heading into that back-to-back matchup, and I’m sure most observers assumed they would sweep the Sabres. But Buffalo gave Montreal all they could handle both nights.
I remember so clearly how this used to happen all the time when I was following the Leafs so fervently in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I’d get my hopes up after we beat the Habs, say, in a mid-week game (Montreal games were pretty much always mid-week encounters back then) and it always seemed as though the Leafs were about to turn the corner for good. In the early ‘70s, like today’s Leafs, we had some awfully good players, like an emerging Darryl Sittler (right), but consistency was an issue even then.
We’d look great, then we’d lose to the California Golden Seals or whoever and it was a sudden return to reality.
In any event, the Leafs are making their way up the standings. Considering so many Leafers were expecting the coach to be fired not long ago (and that story line may return yet again), for now, they seem to be a club like many others in the East: capable of making the playoffs, but nothing should surprise us.
My question for the day has to do with Alex Ovechkin.
We all remember when Ovie broke into the league. What a dynamic player. Fast, physical. He had a shot like few others (still does). He seemed to be in constant motion, ever dangerous.
For that matter, with Bruce Boudreau behind the bench, the Capitals were a fun team to watch. Then came that playoff series against Montreal when Halak stood on his head. There’s no way Washington should have lost that series, but ever since then, they changed their style, and became a team that was (in theory, at least) supposed to focus on defense first—because that’s what the “successful” teams were doing.
The Caps have never had that much success again (briefly under Dale Hunter, as I recall), and they, to me, still look like a team seeking an identity they are comfortable with.
Maybe they’ll find it under Barry Trotz, a very good NHL coach. But I wonder if they can ever win with Ovechkin in the lineup. It’s not that he isn’t still an elite player. But while he is capable of scoring 40 goals or more a season, what’s the cost, I wonder, to the psyche of the rest of the team?
For years he has been a guy that collides with coaches. His shifts were too long, he seeed to withdraw when he’s ticked off and play less effectively.
He is the captain of the team, but I wonder if Trotz can get the Caps to play the way he wants them to with Ovie playing the way he does. I loved watching the old Caps play, but I guess “defense first” is the way of the world.
I don’t see the Capitals enough to make a fair assessment. So it’s just an outsider’s perspective, based on what I see having developed over the past few years.
Can they win with Ovechkin?
And closer to home, are the Leafs actually improving—or is this just the mirage we talked about a while back here. Thoughts?