March 7, 2013; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Capitals defenseman John Erskine (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal on Florida Panthers goaltender Jacob Markstrom (35) in the first period at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Capitals Are Picking Up Steam

The Capitals and the Panthers are both in the basement of the East, and last night’s game could have been every bit as delightful as if it were being played in 2005. Instead, it turned out to be… exciting? (In theory, at least; in fact, it’s surprising how unexciting a 7-1 game ends up being.)

I am very skeptical of the Capitals’ ability to maintain a lead for any length of time (with good reason, I think), so the 4-goals-in-10-minutes were both pleasing and worrying. That leaves us with 50 minutes in which to drag our feet and make lazy turnovers and commit stupid penalties. If any team can manage to lose the four-goal lead, it’s the Capitals. Luckily the Panthers’ goaltenders were conspiring with us for a spectacularly poor outing, though perhaps we didn’t need much luck. Hearteningly, the Caps did not let up on the gas (the 3rd period bagel-defense goal cannot, I think, be faulted), and Holtby was excellent, which is probably more than could reasonably expected for someone making his 11th consecutive start.

That is, then, two exciting (or at least encouraging) games in a row: one in which we never give up and come back in the most inspiring way, and one in which we take control of the situation and never lose it. Could this be the Capitals team that we have wanted, and expected to see? Is there something to be said for Adam Oates’ new system?

These 22 games would normally be a quarter of a season — this year it’s just under half. Time is of the essence for the Capitals to truly get their act together and force their way into the playoffs. On the flip side, the shortened season has made it easier to move up and down the standings, as teams see divisional rivals more frequently. The Southeast is still awful, with the Capitals, the Lighting, and the Panthers holding 3 of the bottom 4 spots, but the Capitals are also a mere 4 points out of playoff contention. With half the season to go, it’s still anyone’s to take. In fact, the Capitals are only 6 points out of leading the Southeast — though again, that’s a testament to its weakness more than anything.

Finally: does anyone else want to anoint John Erskine as this season’s Jason Chimera? His numbers are not as prolific as Chimera’s last year, but with 3 goals in 16 games (3-2-5, so far!), this could shape up to be his best season yet, topping 2010-11, when he had 4 goals in 73 GP (4-7-11). And fun fact: the Capitals have never lost a game in which Erskine has scored! That’s the beauty of a defensive defenseman (with a soupcon of goon): his goals are luxuries, not necessities, and they are omens of good tidings. May we see one again against the Islanders!

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Tags: Jason Chimera John Erskine

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