Friday, December 19, 2008

A TWO-point night: Caps 4 - Blues 2

Too &#@* cute.

If not for some fine play by the lower half of the forward lines, the Caps would have let a point or two slip away. The play of the third and fourth lines, though, was enough to push the Caps to a harder-than-expected 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues at Verizon Center.

The stars of this game weren’t the stars, but rather the guys who don’t usually get the ink after the game – Boyd Gordon, Eric Fehr, and David Steckel all had assists tonight, but that doesn’t tell the story. Those three, with Donald Brashear and Matt Bradley, looked like the only guys who wanted to pay a price for 60 minutes. That is not to denigrate the effort of a Viktor Kozlov, who earned the first star on two goals and an assist, or Tomas Fleischmann, who notched his 11th goal. But Kozlov’s second goal was the result of Gordon driving hard to the net with the puck (Kozlov sweeping up the trash that Blue’s goalie Ben Bishop couldn’t pick up), and Fleischmann’s goal – the game-winner as it turned out – was the product of a superb pass from Fehr from along the right wing boards.

As for the stars, this was not their night, despite Alex Ovechkin’s 20th goal. Ovechkin did not have a lot of scoring chances as the Blues clogged his usual skating and shooting lanes. Alexander Semin gave every cause to think that the worst thing that happened to him this week was making that behind the back pass for an Ovechkin goal a couple of nights ago. He spent most of tonight looking to recapture the magic and ended up sending a lot of passes hither and yon, anywhere but onto a teammate’s stick. Nicklas Backstrom completed the hat trick of headscratching by being mostly invisible tonight, despite getting an assist on the first Kozlov goal.

The real star, though, might have been the young man in net playing in his second NHL game. Simeon Varlamov might not have faced quite the same flurries of shots that his counterpart Ben Bishop faced (the Caps had 13 missed shots and 16 others blocked – 15 of those 29 misfires came in the first ten minutes of the game, in addition to four actual shots), but he had to deal with more sustained pressure. He also had the save of the game with under a minute to go in the second period and the Blues trying to halve a 3-1 lead for the Caps. Keith Tkachuk carried the puck down the right side, then cut all the way through the middle of the ice above the circles in the offensive zone. With David Perron standing directly in front of Varlamov at the top of the crease, Tkachuk let fly with a snap shot that somehow Varlamov saw and gloved with his mask in Perron’s belt buckle. Varlamov would also have highlight saves on David Backes and Barrett Jackman early in the third, and would foil a breakaway by Tkachuk with just under six minutes left in regulation, but that save as the second period was dying off killed any St. Louis momentum that they might have had going into the third, had that shot found the net.

It was also a difficult night for the officials. Kelly Sutherland looked for all the world as if he was channeling “Forty Minute” Andy Van Hellemond. Players could club one another, run one another, and generally create mayhem, but the slightest tug on fabric was cause for two minutes. The game almost got out of hand entirely in the third period when Alexander Semin was tripped, then cross-checked to the ice by David Backes. When Bruce Boudreau was told that it was a dive by Semin and responded that “that’s why he’s in the dressing room,” he was whistled for an “abuse of officials” penalty.

It had the look of a game that might have been played circa 2002 when a lot of chippy nonsense goes on, left alone by the referees, then explodes in the third period. It almost did explode when Alex Ovechkin came from the other side of the ice to stand up for Semin. What he was doing in that situation is probably a credit to him as a teammate, but that just isn’t Ovechkin’s job. What is telling about the referees’ performance was that of the ten minor penalties called, all but the abuse of officials and playing of the puck in a restricted zone charged to Varlamov were obstruction penalties – there was not one penalty of aggression called in this game, and there was enough that could have been called on both sides. Sutherland ought to have the price of a ticket deducted from his paycheck for this one.

Here are some interesting (well, at least to us) numbers…

Five power plays, four total shots, three of them by Ovechkin (Tom Poti had the other one). Sort of captures the problem with this game in a nutshell…not enough guys paying a price.

Six… the number of blocked shots by Milan Jurcina.

Three… the number of blocked shots his partner, Karl Alzner, had. Combined, the two had roughly half of the Caps' total (20).

27… that was the number of faceoffs Jay McClement took for the Blues (winning 15). He took all those draws in a total of under 17 minutes of play. Does the term, “one trick pony” come to mind?

Boyd Gordon, who has put together some pretty good games lately, was splattered all over the score sheet tonight… an assist, three shots, a takeaway, a hit, a couple of blocked shots, and eight wins in 14 draws.

Varlamov was excellent in the first couple of periods with controlling the redirection of shots. He looked very purposeful in moving shots off to the corners or to open areas. He seemed to lose a little of that in the latter stages of the game. But the one thing we paid special attention to was whether or not he’d lose his focus after taking the playing the puck in a restricted zone penalty – he didn’t. So far he’s stopped 61 of 64 shots (.953) in two games. We’d say his focus is pretty good.

Mike Green missed large chunks of the second period (he did not play in the last 4:01) and the third period (he sat for the last ten minutes). It appears his shoulder was reinjured. Add that to Semin’s suffering some further abuse to his back, and suddenly that game on Saturday afternoon against the Flyers looks even more challenging.

Speaking of challenging and the game on Saturday, the Caps will be moving up in weight class and had better find a way to set this lackadaisical play aside. It’s one thing to beat the Islanders and Blues with a “B” effort. If that’s the level to which they play in Philly, it won’t be pretty for the visitors, especially since the Flyers were abused by Montreal tonight, 5-2. For now, though, it’s two more points in the bank, five wins in a row, and seven in the last eight games, which is never a bad thing.


Andrew said...

Great game last night! After Semin's injury, you could really feel the buzz and expected the big hits. Random question: The past few home games i've been to, theres been a new goal song for the 3rd goal scored. Last night after flash's goal they played it too. ANY IDEA WHAT THAT NEW GOAL SONG IS???!!

The Peerless said...

I have no idea. My familiarity with songs ends sometime in the 1980's.

Anonymous said...

"When Bruce Boudreau was told that it was a dive by Semin and responded that “that’s why he’s in the dressing room,” he was whistled for an “abuse of officials” penalty."

Interesting... where you there to actually hear this. Or do you use a whisper 2000.