When your undisputed leader and captain is Alexander Ovechkin, your team is going to be known for its offensive prowess. And rightly so. For the ninth time in 10 games the Washington Capitals scored at least four goals, beating the upstart Phoenix Coyotes 4-2 at sold-out and loud Verizon Center.
But quietly, the Caps defense and special teams have been getting the job done. They killed off all five Phoenix power plays -- including one late in the third period -- and went two-for-seven on the power play themselves.
Alexander Semin had another excellent game, figuring in all four scores with a goal and three assists. His goal was another things of beauty, as he took a pass from behind the crease and lifted it over Ilya Bryzgalov's left shoulder into the top corner of the net.
The shot resembled a game the Caps play toward the end of practice on occasion, where they take two hockey sticks and thread the shafts through the net, creating two triangles in the upper corners of the net.
Semin's shot tonight went into a triangle smaller than what they get in practice.
He also made several excellent passes to set up his teammates.
"He's so skilled," Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's one of the few people that I know of ... that can pass it from one side of the ice to the other side in the air and it lands flat all the time. It never bounces."
But back to the penalty kill. Referee Bill McCreary insinuated himself into the game tonight, calling a total of 14 infractions, and the Caps needed to be sharp a man down. They even had a five-on-three at one point they successfully killed off as well.
The Capitals have now killed off the last 14 power plays against, covering their last four games.
Forward Eric Fehr, who had a goal and assist, spoke about the penalty kill. "It was huge for us. At the end, the last couple of minutes there, they were making some big stops and that's what we needed to keep going tonight."
Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn pointed out some reasons why the kill has been so effective lately.
"Guys were getting pretty disappointed the way it had been. We know that it can win us games and we're taking a little more pride in it, doing the little things; blocks, getting it deep, and going over a lot of video and just keep working on it."
As for the power play, Washington leads the NHL at 26 percent, and have made good on 44.4 percent in their last eight games.
Goalie Michael Neuvirth got the call in goal, in a move that surprised the 21-year old netminder, but something Boudreau had planned last week.
"I wasn't really feeling very good before the game, and I didn't really expect to play because [Theodore] was playing really good now," said Neuvirth, who had been pulled in each of his last two starts. "I was shaky at first, but I settled down and just played my game."
"I thought he played really good," Boudreau said. "I thought he was a little nervous at the beginning of the game. He really smothered pucks in the third period and allowed our centermen to win a lot of face-offs so we could get line changes and weren't caught out there too long. That was a real big factor."
Thus ends a pretty big week for the Capitals. In the space of seven days they've won four games total, over both of last year's Stanley Cup finals teams, an arch rival, and a hot upstart.
Boudreau remarked last week how these four games would be a litmus test for this team, a measuring stick for getting to where they want to be as a franchise.
Well, this team has now won six straight games, and nine of their last 10. Their record sits at 33-12-6-72, first place in the Eastern Conference by three points over New Jersey.
I'd say if the last week was a test, they passed with flying colors.
There's no practice Sunday, a day of rest for a team that had a rough, but successful and fulfilling week.
Notes: Brooks Laich scored on the power play, and Ovechkin added his 34th of the season, an empty netter on a pretty lob feed from Semin, to seal the deal. The Caps now have eight players with 14 or more goals on the season.