Saturday, December 13, 2008

A TWO-point night: Caps 2 -- Canadiens 1


What a week it has been, and that doesn’t even include what’s gone on down on the ice. As far as that goes, the wheels keep on turnin’…Caps keep on burnin’. Simeon Varlamov (or “Var-ma-lov” if you are Craig Laughlin or Lisa Hillary on Comcast Sports Net) notched his first NHL win in his first NHL start after sitttin on his first NHL bench last night, holding the Montreal Canadiens to a single goal in a 2-1 win.

As good as the Varlamov story is, though, the one tht is almost as good is Michael Nylander scoring a goal so ugly it was supermodel gorgeous. Perched at the side of the net with the clock winding under three minutes in regulation, Nylander whacked at a loose puck from behind the goal line while falling down, and it found the back of Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak’s leg before sliding into the net. When you haven’t scored a goal in almost two months, this is exactly the kind of goal you end up scoring.

So…what happened out there?

- More injuries, for one thing. Nicklas Backstrom did not play in the last 9:28 of the game. Tyler Sloan never made it out for the third period, and neither did Sergei Fedorov.

- You really get the feeling the Alexes like visiting Montreal. Neither Ovechkin nor Semin had a goal tonight, but they were buzzing all over the place. In a way, it was a role reversal for the pair, as Semin was the big shooter (eight attempts, three shots on goal), while Ovechkin was sprinting up and down the ice as if it was a track meet.

- Boyd Gordon, David Steckel, Michael Nylander – 28 of 34 faceoff wins. It’s hard to do that well against air. On the other side, Matt D’Agostini was the only Canadien who won a majority of the draws he took…he won his only faceoff.

- Montreal finished their franchise record seven-game home stand 2-for-33 on the power play (6.1 percent). They were 0-for-8 tonight and only had seven shots to show for it.

- A really odd pair of numbers – 13 and 0. The first is the number of minor penalties called in the first 50 minutes, the latter the number in the last ten. Maybe that’s a good thing…the Caps were whistled for eight of those 13 minors. Still, did Bill McCreary and Dan O'Rourke decide to catch the end of the game on Hockey Night in Canada?

- Alexandre Giroux has a streak going…missing an open net last night, and missing a close in breakaway tonight. Next goal he gets will probably pinball off three bodies and a post.

- Montreal had 12:25 of power play time; Tom Poti was on the ice for 7:41 of it. He also had a hit, a takeaway and three blocked shots…he had a fine game.

- The 8-for-8 in penalty killing was the first time the Caps have been perfect in killing so many penalties since skating off 9-of-9 against Carolina in a 6-2 loss on January 26, 2007 (which came the game after the Caps killed 10-of-10 in a 4-1 loss to Florida…nice to see a win for a change under such circumstances).

- The goal is four feet by six feet. That’s all a goaltender has to defend. So if you’re thinking “lucky” with the posts that Montreal hit time and again…they’re scored as misses.

- The Caps just abused Montreal’s offense in the last seconds as the Canadiens couldn’t so much as gain full control of the puck long enough to pull Halak with any time left to do any damage.

- No one is going to be accusing of Varlamov of being one of those goaltenders who is too deep in his net. He was out challenging shooters all night. Even on the Patrice Brisebois goal, he was far out to cut the angle. Give Brisebois credit; he just leaned into one and put it in the only place it could go to beat Varlamov – water bottle over the left shoulder. Did he scramble a lot?...yeah, but he didn’t let this being his first game turn him into a passive goaltender.

- Nylander’s game-winner makes for 13 Caps with game winners in 17 games not decided by a shootout.

- Karl Alzner led all Caps defensemen in ice time in the third period (8:35). He’s making it very hard to make a decision to return him to Hershey.

The Caps have now won five of six, including games against two of the top teams in the East – Boston and Montreal. This game was the first of a run of four road games in the next five, so the schedule isn’t getting any easier, especially given the Caps’ struggles on the road this year. But with games against the Islanders and Blues coming up this week, it is an opportunity to put a hammerlock on the Southeast Division race, where the Caps now have an eight point lead over second-place Florida, which visits Vancouver and Carolina this week, and third-place Carolina, which hosts Montreal and the Panthers before heading to Boston next Saturday.

In the meantime, this was a nice one in a string of them lately. It was a game made more satisfying by the circumstances – skating into a difficult rink and sustaining a new wave of injuries, yet still coming out on top. Oh, and there was that new goaltender, too…Var-la-mov. Remember it.

Nicely done, boys.


Michael Eason said...

On the post game show, you could just see Smokin' Al cringe every time Lisa Hillary butcher the name. I was laughing like hell.

Anonymous said...

Everytime Locker said Varmalov I would just shout back.."VAR LA MOV!!" and my roomate would ask why the idiot canadien was saying it wrong. "the names on the back of his jersey isn't it"