The 45-save performance by Pavelec made the performance at the other end by Semyon Varlamov for the Caps seem downright ordinary, but Varlamov probably faced as many quality scoring opportunities in the 33 shots he faced that Pavelec faced in the 46 shots he saw. The difference was consistency. Whereas Pavelec made saves both big and small, Varlamov and the Caps might have been undone by a relatively simple play midway through the second period.
After Rich Peverley redirected a Dustin Byfuglien drive over Varlamov’s left shoulder for the first goal of the game – a goal that Varlamov had little chance to stop – Ben Eager won a battle along the wall for a loose puck (we’ll come back to this idea later). He poked the biscuit out to Nik Antropov at the top of the left wing circle, whereupon Antropov sent the puck deep to Alexander Burmistrov in the left wing corner. Burmistrov walked the goal line, Varlamov hugging the near post as he did so. As Burmistrov closed, it looked for just a split second that Varlamov cheated in anticipation of Burmistrov pulling the puck in front for a deke. It left just enough of an opening above Varlamov’s right shoulder, and Burmistrov picked it, flipping the puck high to the short side and just inside the post to stake the Thrashers to a two-goal lead. With the way Pavelec was playing, you had the feeling it would be enough. Even with Alex Ovechkin breaking his nine-game streak without a goal, it was.
-- The game began with 8:50 of play that was uninterrupted by any whistle. It seemed to go by in a blink.
-- One strange moment in a hockey game… Atlanta on a power play, and Brooks Laich tying up four Thrashers behind their own net and playing keep-away with the puck.
-- It was one of the few moments in which the Caps competed successfully along the boards. All night long it looked to be a case that whenever a Cap and a Thrasher contested along the wall for a puck, the Thrasher would win the battle. It was indicative of a game in which the Thrashers were much more successful in playing the game they wanted than the Caps were in playing theirs.
-- Part of that game the Thrashers played made the 46 shots on goal very deceiving. And here is an example of how… Mike Knuble had three shots on goal all night. Given the nature of Knuble’s game and the total number of shots, you might have expected that he would have had opportunities to whack away from in close. In fact, his shots came from 26, 39, and 28 feet, according to the official play-by-play. Nothing in-close there. Atlanta was content to let the Caps wail away from far out and to tie up anyone in close to prevent rebound shots. Brooks Laich and Eric Fehr – two other players counted on to get opportunities from in-close – had some more success in getting those shots, but not much.
-- The Caps had 15 shots on the power play, nine of them from the sticks of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green. How many times in a season will you see that many power play shots, that many power play shots from the right guys, and none of them go in? Well, against goaltenders not named “Halak” in a playoff series, anyway…
-- Speaking of Mike Green, he’s going to see Pavelec in his sleep for a few nights. He had 12 shot attempts, six shots on goal, and maybe four or five of them being from places Green can be counted on to score.
-- The Caps were credited with 11 hits in the first period. They finished the game with 17. Just an observation.
-- The Caps out-attempted the Thrashers 80-43. That’s like a football team winning the time of possession 40 minutes to 20 and losing 14-10.
-- The Thrashers blocked 20 shots (17 by defensemen), the Caps had four blocked shots. Frankly, we thought the Caps had five (missed one by Boyd Gordon early on), but that is quite a discrepancy.
-- From the “actions have consequences” file… David Steckel skated 10 shifts totaling 6:40 over the first two periods – about normal, even with having taken a roughing penalty (roughing?) in the first period. Then he was whistled for kneeing Tobias Entstrom 2:19 into the third period, after which he was locked up with Jim Slater in an ensuing fight. The Thrashers scored on the power play eight seconds later, ending the momentum the Caps had built late in the second period with dominating puck possession. Steckel’s night was over. He did not see the ice again for the remainder of the game.
-- About the fight. Rule 46.11 says the following:
Instigator - An instigator of an altercation shall be a player who by his actions or demeanor demonstrates any/some of the following criteria: distance traveled; gloves off first; first punch thrown; menacing attitude or posture; verbal instigation or threats; conduct in retaliation to a prior game (or season) incident; obvious retribution for a previous incident in the game or season. A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation shall be assessed an instigating minor penalty, a major penalty for fighting and a ten-minute misconduct.
Jim Slater traveled quite a distance to get at Steckel after the collision with Enstrom. His gloves came off first, he threw the first punch, we’re betting his attitude was “menacing,” it was obviously retribution for a previous incident in the game (that occurring immediately before the fight, albeit to a teammate). If that’s not “instigating,” there is no such penalty in the NHL.
-- The Caps might have had 46 shots to the Thrashers’ 33, but the Thrashers’ shots came from everywhere, or more precisely, everyone. Only two skaters – Niclas Bergfors and Nik Antropov – did not register a shot on goal.
-- Another way in which the 46 shots for the Caps might be deceiving… The Caps won 10 of 22 faceoffs in the offensive end. Not a bad number, but consider that Nicklas Backstrom won only two of 11 draws in the offensive end. Not much ability to run set plays out of that.
-- These teams face each other once more in this regular season – on January 26th in Atlanta – and we wonder if there won’t be some long memories on the part of the Caps. A good number of Caps – Jason Chimera, John Carlson, among others – spent time counting their teeth after taking Thrasher sticks to the face. Atlanta was whistled for two high-sticking calls. It could have been three times that and it still might have been light.
In the end, there is nothing to see here… unless the Caps and the Thrashers were to meet, say, in the first round of the playoffs. There is an uneasy similarity to the way the season series between the Caps and Thrashers is playing out and last year’s season series between Montreal and the Caps. Last season the Caps split four games with the Canadiens (both teams went 2-1-1). It’s true that the Caps did not face Jaroslav Halak in any of the four regular season games last season, but they did face a team that was unintimidated in playing them. This season, Atlanta hasn’t sung from the hymn book this year the verse that the Caps are the gold standard in the Southeast. The Caps have scored only 12 goals in regulation in the five games played against the Thrashers, only one goal in their past two games. You could say it is early in the season, but in some ways – uncomfortable ones – the ground work is being laid for what could be an interesting playoff matchup down the road.