Custance: Well, Pierre, after a few days in beautiful California it's back to reality here in Detroit. But the good news is, after days of talking about realignment, CBA negotiations, concussions and relocation, the focus is back on the ice. What a goal last night by Alex Ovechkin in an impressive third period for the Capitals, who scored four times in the third to beat the Senators. That's the Ovechkin we've all been waiting for, eh? He slammed on the brakes along the wall to shake Erik Karlsson, then showed great patience in scoring his first goal since Nov. 25.
It was his first goal in a Capitals win since Nov. 11. You could almost see the release of frustration in his celebration. Personally, I was just as impressed with Nick Foligno's one-handed backhand goal in the first that gave the Senators an early lead, but this night was about Ovechkin and the Capitals showing off the firepower we used to see regularly in Washington. The Capitals now have 12 goals in their past three games. Are we starting to see a breakthrough under Dale Hunter?
LeBrun: It's the excitement in Ovechkin's face after he scored that goal that struck me. That's the Ovechkin I remember. The one that seemed enjoy scoring goals more than any other player in the league. That's the fire and passion that's been missing in his game. Before he finally scored, you could tell how frustrated he was. He had a great chance earlier in the third period, a wrist shot from the high slot and couldn't beat Craig Anderson. He looked up to the heavens in disbelief. But he finally got one, and you just have that feeling that perhaps this is the goal that gets him going.
“We played them in Washington on Saturday night, and he played about five shifts that were really good,” Senators GM Bryan Murray told me this morning. “And then last night I thought he skated better and played better. We gave him a bit too much room. But he looked like he was skating better last night for sure.”
Ovechkin insisted afterward that he didn't spear Neil.
“To me it was obvious jab,” Murray said. “I don’t think it was vicious, but he did put the stick to him. No question.”
The kicker, of course, is that Neil got a diving penalty and Ovechkin got nothing.
“Chris Neil is not a diver,” Murray said.
Still, like the rest of us who watched last night, Murray agreed Ovechkin played a great game.
Custance: It's amazing how quickly things change in this league. One week ago we're wondering if the rivalry between Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby is non-existent because of Ovechkin's drop-off. Now the Capitals are scoring again and we may be on the verge of an Ovechkin revival.
Meanwhile, the concerning news from Pittsburgh is that Sid is shutting it down for a couple games. I enjoyed your take on it yesterday. The Penguins are right to be cautious, but the hockey world is definitely holding its breath. I think even the Crosby haters realized how important he is to the game and how much better it is when he's on the ice. It certainly sucks some of the life out of tonight's game between the Penguins and Flyers.
Now the focus turns to Jaromir Jagr playing against his former team, and one whose offer he passed on to instead sign with the rival Flyers. This summer it was fun to imagine the possibility of Jagr playing with Crosby, but his decision to pick the Flyers is certainly working out. He looks pretty good playing with that kid from Hearst.
LeBrun: You mean NHL scoring leader Claude Giroux? Yes, he seems to be doing just fine. But I should bar myself from tweeting about him anymore. I think the whole hockey world knows Giroux and I are from a town of 6,000 in Northern Ontario. Perhaps Jagr was prescient in his decision to join up with Giroux instead of Crosby? I can’t imagine Jagr really knew anything about Giroux to be honest. I think the Flyers simply made a better offer than Detroit and Pittsburgh. But the chemistry Giroux and Jagr have developed alongside the re-energized Scott Hartnell has given the Flyers one of the top lines in the NHL. The only concern, of course, is Jagr’s age and the subsequent groin issues attached to that. Take tonight, for example: It’s the second of back-to-back games. That’s when you worry for Jagr.
The other game we must touch on, Sir Custance, is Minnesota at Los Angeles tonight. That’s our Game of the Week, and our pal Scott Burnside is on the scene in Los Angeles to document the title between the enigmatic Kings and the surprising -- shocking? -- NHL-leading Wild.
Custance: Yes, unlike I was, Scott was smart enough to extend his trip to California. That should be a tightly contested game. The Wild always seem to find ways to win close games after surrendering early leads. I was in San Jose for Minnesota's impressive win over the Sharks on Tuesday, and the confidence in the room was palpable, despite losing Devin Setoguchi and Josh Harding to injuries.
Every time you win a game, you continue to build confidence, said Wild GM Chuck Fletcher, when we chatted after the game. For our team, after a few tough seasons in a row, that confidence is very important.
Fletcher was careful not to heap too much praise on a team that still needs to find more ways to earn scoring chances and spend more time in the offensive zone. But we're nitpicking; this is truly a great story.
Every day is another chance to prove yourself one way or the other, Fletcher said. We have a lot of work ahead of us.
LeBrun: I named Fletcher our top candidate for the GM of the Year Award in yesterday’s Trophy Tracker. And why not after a superb offseason that jolted what was again last season a moribund club. The Wild are third in the league in goals-against per game, and it’s that stinginess that’s keep them in the win column -- that’s for sure. The offense remains ranked only 25th in the league, the power play 19th, and incredibly, they are last overall in shots on goal per game at 26.0 and 25th in shots against per game at 31.5. So they’re getting outshot on many nights but still finding ways to win. To me that shows the resilience this team has. They are truly a team.