Many an eyebrow was raised when the new sheriff in town placed his twenty-year-old playmaking pivot in between a pair of plumbers on the fourth line. A goal and two assists - and, more importantly, a win - later, pursuing that line of inquiry will have to wait a bit.
Nicklas Backstrom, who had the first multi-point game of his career just five minutes into the second period of Friday's game, showed the patience of a veteran on his second NHL goal, the overtime game-winner.
Was he especially fresh for overtime as a result of his fourth line time (he had 13:45 of ice time - more than two minutes less than he had been averaging per game so far this season, and the least ice he's seen in nearly a month)? Maybe.
Was he feeling less pressure centering this trio than one of the top two on a team that's not scoring? Probably.
Was he a little more confident as a result of the confidence his new coach was showing in him (Nick had 1:22 of time on the penalty kill Friday, which is just 47 seconds less than he had in his first 21 NHL games)? Perhaps.
Whatever it was, it worked. Here's some more of what did - and didn't - work in Bruce Boudreau's Capitals coaching debut:
- Backstrom's pass on the Mike Green goal was brilliant and the finish sensational. It's glimpses like these of kids not yet 23-years-old that give one hope.
- New head coach, new Tom Poti? T.P. had half as many points Friday (two) as he had all season prior.
- New head coach, same Jeff Schultz. A horrendous delay of game when the Caps were already down a man and a failure to tie up Jeff Carter's stick on the Flyers second goal - will Gabby bench this guy?
- On that second Flyer goal, Olie Kolzig has to be set earlier.
- Matt Pettinger missed a golden opportunity to give the Caps the lead in the final minute or so with a short-handed rush that found him alone in the slot. Still, I thought Petty had a pretty strong game, and it's only a matter of time before he gets back on the score sheet.
- I can appreciate sticking up for a teammate, but Chris Clark went a little overboard defending Boyd Gordon (maybe I missed something - visor rule?). His double minor, as KB pointed out, went a long way towards letting Philly back in the game, and is exactly the kind of penalty a team like the Flyers tries to rope you into taking.
- I didn't think Alex Ovechkin had one of his best games (save for more or less creating the game-winner), but his stat line still looks good - assist, +1, 4 shots on goal, 3 hits, 3 takeaways, 1 giveaway.
- Michael Nylander won 10 of 14 draws (71%). As a team, the Caps are ninth in the NHL in faceoff percentage.
- The Flyers give up the most shots against in hockey and take the fewest. Yesterday's totals were just about right on those averages, and if Philly doesn't reverse those two trends somewhat, I can't see them going all that far - Biron is just not good enough.
- Friday marked the Caps' second win all season when allowing more than one goal and first win in a game in which they allowed a power-play goal.
Elsewhere 'Round the Rinks:
The Hockey News ran a nice piece on Boudreau yesterday.... Scott Morrison on Glen Hanlon and Boudreau.... Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this "Great Moment in Biron Brothers History": on this date four years ago, the fantastically talented Mathieu Biron became the first NHLer to score a goal on his brother (Martin) since Phil Esposito did it back in 1980.
- Hart: Nicklas Backstrom (Game-winning OT goal, 2A, +2, 2 SOG, 50% faceoffs won)
- Ross: Jamie Langenbrunner, Nicklas Backstrom, Radim Vrbata (3 points each)
- Norris: Chris Pronger (2G, +1, 4 SOG, 3 blocked shots)
- Vezina: Martin Brodeur (22-save shutout win)
- Richard: Chris Drury, Chris Pronger, Radim Vrbata (2G each)
- Calder: Nicklas Backstrom (Game-winning OT goal, 2A, +2, 2 SOG, 50% faceoffs won)
- Aiken: Johan Holmqvist (L, 4 goals allowed on 22 shots against, including 3 on 12 in the third period of Tampa's 4-3 loss)