Philadelphia – – When the Washington Capitals hosted the Winter Classic in 2015 one of the things I came away with was Barry Trotz has already had a profound affect on the franchise in his first half season.
In the aftermath of the Capitals 6-1 win over the Flyers their locker room was way different from the Capitals playoff locker room of the past. This room still has Alex Ovechkin but he carries himself differently. He’s older, now 30, and he now keeps his emotions in check while having his eyes on the prize – – the Stanley Cup.
The Capitals have lost Brooks Orpik for a stretch of time with an apparent head injury. Ryan White finished a check with him against the boards but the head contact hit the button and the rugged defenseman had rubber legs and needed to be helped off the ice.
In 2013 Boston’s Shawn Thornton punched him in the head and Orpik, then with the Penguins, was stretchered off the ice. There were other times too. This hit wasn’t dirty but it definitely galvanized the team.
“He’s done a lot for our team. He’s a big part of the locker room, he says the right things and I didn’t see the hit but you see a guy go down like that and you want to win for him for sure,” said Ovechkin.
This Capitals team was focused, classy and unified. That wasn’t always the case. Veterans like Jason Chimera showed why they’re important on and off the ice.
“I think we weathered the storm pretty well in the first period. They threw a lot at us. It was an emotional night with the Mr. Snider tribute, pretty classy guy. They wanted to come out hard. We stuck with it and got a huge goal from Jojo [Johansson] in the first there. It was a big goal for us to get back even.”
Chimera then talked about the teams previous history and turned that into something that was pretty awesome.
“It’s history for a reason,” he said, referring to the team’s first 3-0 lead in franchise history. “We’re out to make our own history. We want to keep going. It’s a lot different team than we’ve had in the past.’
The Capitals have size, finesse, youth, experience and great goaltending. Pundits and fans who underestimated this team got a dose of reality in their big win in Philadelphia. You never want to make too much out of a win but this one mattered. This one has set up a blueprint of excellence that this team believes they can follow.
Are they a perfect team? No, but players like Mike Richards, now playing the role of Sean Avery, gives the Capitals another dimension. Twice last night he got in the head of Wayne Simmonds, his only real achievement in this game but it was important. It took him off the ice and he’s one of the Flyers best players again this season.
Mitch Korn, was the esteemed Nashville goaltending coach for 16 seasons. He came over with Trotz and has a profound affect on Brayden Holtby. He preaches head trajectory and tracking the puck and at this point in time nobody sees the puck better in traffic than the Capitals star netminder. Even when he seeming can’t see it he’s in position to stop it. His .969 save percentage speaks volumes.
From this point forward the Capitals should be looked at as the favorite to take the East. Many had them ranked there based on their hugely successful regular season but some relied on their past mistakes in hopes they’d revert back. That’s not going to happen this year. There’s a long road ahead, and
anything can happen, but this team seems capable of handling almost anything.