Credit head coach Adam Oates with Saturday’s dismantling of Columbus as his tactical move of promoting Martin Erat to the second line paid off. Erat had his best game of the season by far, grabbing three assists on the night.
“It was better. I think we still had our moments we obviously have to clean up,” said Oates after his team dispatched the Blue Jackets. “We did some good things … I still think we have too many breakdowns in our own end, but I’m glad the guys got a win.”
Maybe Oates is being cautiously optimistic. His team was dramatically better on Saturday than they were in their previous game — an awful 2-0 defeat against a mediocre New York Rangers team. Against Columbus, the Caps put in a full team effort and made fewer mistakes than in any other game during the young campaign.
Oates would be wise to stick to his recast second line for the foreseeable future. Erat’s new linemates, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, scored a goal each on Saturday. More importantly, each tally was at even strength. The Caps were lacking in 5-on-5 situations leading up to the Columbus matchup.
Another difference that was evident on Saturday was the Caps reinvigorated systems, which were all firing at close to 100 percent. Passes were connecting, the forecheck was solid and there was a clear increase in effort from the defensemen in front of Braden Holtby.
“Our ‘D’ was kind of challenged to play meaner, and they did a fabulous job of it. It makes life a lot easier in our ‘D’ zone,” Holtby said in praise of his blueliners. “We obviously want to clean up some systems stuff, but the way we played, we played extremely hard and generated a lot of offensive chances because of it.”
For his part, Holtby was spectacular in goal on Saturday and came extremely close to recording a shutout. He made 37 saves and will be hoping to get similar performances under his belt during the upcoming road trip.
Even though they’re now a Western Conference team, the Jets are familiar foes for Washington as the franchise spent its recent life in the Southeast Division. Winnipeg will be looking to put one over on last year’s division title rivals, but if the complete Capitals team we saw against Columbus shows up on Tuesday, the road team wins easily.