The Washington Capitals are the league’s best team and lead the Eastern Conference by 16 points halfway through the season. They are dominating for a lot of reasons. You could point to the Caps’ league-leading power play and fifth-rated penalty kill, Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin being Braden Holtby and Alex Ovechkin, the rise of Evgeny Kuznetsov, or Brian MacLellan’s ace offseason acquisitions of Justin Williams and TJ Oshie.
I think one thing that sets this Caps team a part is the selfless brand of hockey they play.
We got another glimpse of this Tuesday during the second period of the Caps-Blue Jackets game. With the Caps up 5-2, future Lady Byng candidate Marcus Johansson forechecked in the corner with Blue Jackets defenseman Justin Falk. Falk, potentially trying to spark his terrible team in a hopeless game, began mauling the peaceful Swede. Then suddenly, Falk’s gloves were off. He wanted to fight Johansson. I’m not sure why. Johansson has zero career fights.
And that’s when fourth liner Michael Latta sprung into action.
Risking an ejection (for a third-man in penalty) and a bruised face, Latta fought the 6’5″ defenseman, making sure his more talented teammate didn’t get injured.
It’s an unselfishness that reminds me of another great team: the President Trophy-winning, 2009-10 Washington Capitals.
That Capitals team went on a franchise best 14-game winning streak after the moment above. Caps’ fourth-line forward Matt Bradley stopped a fight between face-punching extraordinaire Steve Downie and Hall of Fame goal scorer Alex Ovechkin. Bradley then fought Downie himself.
These are the types of plays that bring teams together. It also shows that every Caps player knows and embraces their role. There’s a trust all throughout the lineup. And if the players forget any of these things, they have a head coach in Barry Trotz that is so meticulous, he’s put plaques on the wall inside the locker room so they never do.
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