What We Learned: Time to admit Capitals are the team to beat

Puck Daddy

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

There were a few of mitigating factors in Washington's riotous 7-1 win over the only other undefeated team in the NHL, as Red Wings fans are quick to point out.

First, it was the latter half of a home/road back-to-back, which can be tough on any team in the League, let alone the oldest one. Second, the Red Wings started backup Ty Conklin in net, opting to let Jimmy Howard play the previous night's game against Columbus, a 5-2 win.

And yes, that's going to make any team, no matter how good, vulnerable to a loss. But even when your team isn't as great as the Red Wings' first six contests — in which they outscored their opponents 18-7 and only once had a winning margin of fewer than two goals — would lead us to believe they are, surrendering seven goals is a laughably bad performance.

Of course, no one held a gun to Mike Babcock's head and told him to play his starter during the game in which you or me or some species of dog could have backstopped a Detroit win. The Red Wings would have piled five past Columbus and picked up a 'W' regardless of Howard's involvement. And so for Conklin to get the start in a game that had to have been viewed as less winnable and less important, well, it doesn't make much sense.

But he started and that's that. Seven goals later, the Washington Capitals proved they were the best team of the season's early goings by a country mile. The raucous outburst not only pushed their season's point total to 14 out of a possible 14 (at this point last year they had just eight), but also ballooned their goal differential to plus-16. The next-closest team in the league is Pittsburgh at plus-8.

The Caps have trailed at the close of the first period just once (in a 3-2 OT win over Pittsburgh), and they've never trailed through two. All this comes despite a very shaky start. Their first three games went to overtime, and they allowed 10 goals in those. But now they're starting to get their feet under them and have, for now, done what it would appear they failed to do last year.

(Coming Up: Fire Jacques Martin; the Blackhawks' defensive breakdown; Gionta's hit on Reimer shows NHL doesn't care about goalies; the Flyers need eyes on sticks; the worst team in the NHL; the Rangers' hot tub problem; Khabibulin veers wildly from expectations; the Islanders need help; why the Sabres could roll; a trade that somehow gets Vinny to Montreal, Luongo to Tampa and Cammalleri to Vancouver; Pronger blows up Backes; beauties from Staal and Grabo; and Dany Heatley is stupid.)

Washington had long been known for its high-flying, awe-inspiring offense, but when it was determined that the team's over-commitment to scoring goals had led to a fatal inability to prevent them, coach Bruce Boudreau overhauled the system ahead of last season. The results were still the same — they won the East for the second year in a row — the output was not. The Caps finished with 224 goals, 19th in the league, but allowed just 197.

Now, they seem to have figured out a way to do both, getting production up and down the lineup (yes, that was Mathieu Perreault converting a Nicklas Lidstrom turnover off the draw into a goal) despite the perceived-as-poor 2010-11 seasons and heavily-publicized slow starts from Alexes Ovechkin and Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green. Those four guys now have a combined 6-11-17 in their last three games.

And after all the agent-harumphing at the beginning of the season, Tomas Vokoun has settled into the role most expected of him the second he signed in Washington at the cut-rate one-year deal: that of an outstanding starting goaltender. Michal Neuvirth's only game of the season was the first one, and he was perfectly fine, but Vokoun's GAA and save percentage since seem to improve every night. Yes, the D is giving up a lot of shots — as Vokoun has made 92 saves in the last three games — but you can probably count the Grade A chances on one hand. Vokoun has stopped the vast majority of them.

No surprise, then, that they've won those last three contests 15-3 on aggregate. The total amount of time they've trailed during those games is just 3:15.

Red Wings fans are mostly right in one regard though. The game probably wouldn't have been quite so out of hand had they not played two nights in a row. But they're not the first team to suffer through this alleged injustice at the hands of the NHL and they're certainly in for more of them this year. But it's great teams like Detroit and Pittsburgh and Washington, who exploit vulnerable opponents, no matter their quality.

Could Howard have put up enough of a fight against the onrushing flood of goals allowed to keep that game even remotely close? Would an extra day of rest have given the Wings' creaky forwards a better chance to generate more than two good scoring chances? Tough to say, but it seems awfully unlikely.

Mitigating factors having been acknowledged, the Capitals humiliated the Red Wings on this occasion and look poised to hang that type of disquieting scoreline on teams of all quality between now and April.

You have to be a little lucky to win seven in a row, and you don't necessarily have to be good. But anyone who looks at Washington and sees anything besides a team that's going to win their division by a furlong, and make a very strong case for both the President's Trophy and Stanley Cup, is deluding themselves.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Andrew Cogliano's two favorite musical artists of all time? Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. But before you go thinking that not all hockey players are required by law to have horrible taste, his favorite show is "Entourage."

Boston Bruins: The Bruins' offense looked pretty good for a little while on Saturday. A very little while. Their only two goals of the game came just 29 seconds apart. Through eight games, they have just 19 goals, 10 of which came in their only two home wins.

Buffalo Sabres: Worth noting that the Sabres are 5-2-0 despite playing five of their first seven on the road and now have a five-game homestand coming up. They could really put some distance between themselves and the rest of the Northeast already, especially given that the teams they host include Columbus, Florida and Calgary.

Calgary Flames: The Flames are working hard but just not getting results, and somehow this is news to those is Calgary. Who here could have predicted that they just weren't good enough to compete consistently in this League? Oh, everyone. Right.

Carolina Hurricanes: Paul Maurice on his squad's 5-3 loss to Winnipeg of all teams --"We put two games worth of horse[-expletive] play in there and I think they have to be responsible for part of that, too." But now the 'Canes get to come home because the State Fair ended. That's true.

Chicago Blackhawks: Joel Quenneville was really quite upset about the team's 5-4 shootout loss to Colorado because he thought that all four goals against were the result of breakdowns in situational defending. No kidding. Not sure how you lose Gabriel Landeskog to triple-cover Ryan O'Reilly but that's what happened on the tying goal.

Colorado Avalanche: See?

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Teams can't let that happen with less than two to go.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus is making a very strong case for "Worst Team in the League" right now. Can't buy a win. Not even after being up with 40 seconds to go. Against Ottawa. Granted, everyone's hurt. They need to trade for a goalie ASAP. Hear one might be available in Vancouver.

Dallas Stars: Glen Gulutzan thinks his team played their best game of the year and still lost 1-0 to white-hot Los Angeles. They blocked more shots (27!) than they allowed (24) and won 59 percent of the night's draws.

Detroit Red Wings Presented by Amway: Jonathan Ericsson beat up Derek Dorsett pretty good on Friday.

Said Mike Babcock: "Obviously, he has a skill set in that area. Every time I see him do it, I think if I was him I'd like doing it. He's very good at it."

Edmonton Oilers: Nikolai Khabibulin has the best GAA in the league right now, having just shut out the Rangers and allowed one goal in a shootout loss to Minnesota in his two most recent starts. The number of people worldwide who thought that was possible: zero.

Florida Panthers: Panthers chief operating officer Michael Yormark, who last year infamously called out George Richards for saying the team wasn't very good, is at it again on Twitter. "Booth trade is all about NOW! Cats get two proven nhl players who can help us NOW!" Never mind the shot across David Booth's bow, I'm not sure which two players he thinks the Panthers got, but the ones they actually received were Mikael Samuelsson and the recently-benched Marco Sturm.

Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick has pitched three straight shutouts for the Kings, a franchise record. He hasn't allowed a goal in 188:10, but he's still two away from Brian Boucher's record.

Minnesota Wild: Looking for a bargain on tickets? Go check out a Wild game and you're very likely to get some free hockey. Five of their last six games this season have gone to OT or a shootout. And hey, they've even won two of 'em!

Montreal Canadiens: Hey is Jacques Martin gonna get fired? You can't pin it all on the coach, right? Well the team took a pair of too many men on the ice penalties in Saturday's OT loss to Toronto, and even if the Leafs didn't score on either, that indicates a team that just doesn't have its act together.

Nashville Predators: Big-time stop by Jonathon Blum here.

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Note that Jonathon Blum is a defenseman.

New Jersey Devils: On Friday night, Jacob Josefson slid into the end boards and broke his clavicle (he's out three to four months) and skated off under his own power without play stopping.  That's crazy.

New York Islanders: The Islanders went to Florida and left with just three goals and, of course, no points. They have just four goals all season for which John Tavares was not the scorer or setup man.

New York Rangers: John Tortorella on why the team hasn't gotten Wojtek Wolski back from his groin injury: "We can't get him out of the tub." To be fair to Wolski, though, he might be trying to find a way to make it a Hot Tub Time Machine so he can go back to the time when he was a relevant NHL player.

Ottawa Senators: Don't look now but the Sens have won two in a row. Okay, they were only against the Jets and the Blue Jackets, but still, two wins!

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers are committing a lot of stick infractions — seven high sticking penalties, six trips, etc. — and they're paying the price through giving too few minutes to their non-penalty-killing stars. "When the penalty kill is on the ice too much it keeps the Girouxs and Brieres and the Jagrs on the bench and their legs tighten up," Peter Laviolette said. "If we can keep the penalties to one a period that would be a good thing."

Phoenix Coyotes: In a trade that will shake the league to its very foundation, the Coyotes acquired AHLer Brock Trotter for Petteri Nokelainen and Garrett Stafford as the Canadiens try exceedingly hard to shake things up without changing anything at all.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Real nice goal outta Jordan Staal. Real nice.

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San Jose Sharks: As you've probably heard by now, Joe Thornton used his return to Boston to reveal he was cheering for the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals last spring. For this courtesy, he was not brutally savaged by any Boston reporters with agendas.

St. Louis Blues: David Backes got lit up pretty good by Chris Pronger, which I think was a mistake by the Flyers captain. This is just gonna end up getting some Canadian player killed in the run-up to the next Olympics.

Tampa Bay Lightning: I guess this goal from Martin St. Louis is pretty good.

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That's not just any old goalie he completely undressed, either.

Toronto Maple Leafs: If this clear headshot by Brian Gionta had been on a forward in open ice, instead of a goalie in his crease, he'd have gotten rung up for a game or two. The league doesn't take goalie safety seriously, and that's a sad fact.

Vancouver Canucks: With that kind-of-unbelievable David Booth trade, the Canucks are very close to having an All-American second line. Oh, except this country has disowned Ryan Kesler for saying he almost feels Canadian.

Washington Capitals: Tomas Vokoun on facing a boatload of shots in recent games: "Well, at least I'm used to it."

Winnipeg Jets: The Jets' win Saturday came behind a five-goals-in-15-minutes stretch. It took them three games, one of which went to a shootout, to score their previous five.

Gold Star Award

Congratulations to Joe Thornton and Hal Gill for playing in their 1,000th games this week.

Minus of the Weekend

Say Dany Heatley, what're you gonna do to Ryan Kesler if he's not carrying the puck and you're in OT against the reigning President's Trophy winner and you're like 10 feet away from the play? Two-hand his stick so hard it breaks in half? Yeah!

Play of the Weekend

What a goal by Mikhail Grabovski. Just, man, what a goal.

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Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User "Miller Time" proves the Vancouver Province just didn't go far enough with a swap involving Roberto Luongo and Vinny Lecavalier.

To Mtl
Vincent Lecavalier
Jannik Hansen
Brett Clark

Roberto Luongo
Scott Gomez
Keith Ballard
Montreal's 2nd round pick

To Vcr
Mike Cammalleri
Dwayne Roloson


There's a whole ocean of oil under our feet! No one can get at it except for me.

Ryan Lambert publishes hockey awesomeness rather infrequently over at The Two-Line Pass. Check it out, why don't you? Or you can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter if you so desire.

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