The Washington Capitals had a great week last week; let’s get to some recapping!
First off, they went 3-0 this week against their three Northeastern Division opponents. One of those three was the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins. The Capitals also started to get healthy as they welcomed back four of their starters in Alex Semin, Tom Poti, Mike Green, and Sergei Federov.
The Caps extended their point lead in the Southeastern Division to 8 points with 39. Florida and Carolina are the closest division rivals with 31 points apiece.
The Caps also showed their depth doesn’t just extend to Hershey; it goes all the way into their administrative offices.
Vs. Boston 12/10/08 – The Boston Bruins skated into Verizon Center carrying the most impressive record in the Eastern Conference. The Caps meanwhile came limping in with a mind-boggling 10-players on the injured list. That number dropped to eight just before game-time as Alex Semin and Tom Poti were both cleared to return from their injuries. The difference was night and day.
Alex Who? – Alexandre Giroux! In only his second NHL game, Alex not only notched his first NHL goal, but it was the GWG (game-winning-goal). With Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin also tallying on the score-sheet, that leaves three guys named Alex for teams to worry about when they play the Caps. How would you pluralize “Alex”? Alexes? Alexen?
Believe me now? – I’ve always been a fan of Brent Johnson; largely because he and I share the same last name. I have a custom-made jersey from back when they wore the black home jerseys. Johnson earned his third straight win while facing one of the highest scoring teams in the league by stopping 33-of-34 shots against him. By the end of the night Johnson had stopped and 79 of 83 shots, and had a .952 save percentage and a 1.33 Goals Against Average in his last three games.
Vs. Ottawa 12/12/08 – The Ottawa Senators came into Verizon Center dead last in the Northeastern Division. As the first of two back-to-back games, this had all the makings of a “trap game” as the Capitals had to fly immediately to Montreal after the game. While the Caps were able to welcome back Mike Green and Sergei Federov, they lost Jose Theodore that morning during practice.
The Caps went to Plan B and called on Michael Neuvirth, but he was too far away to make it in time for game time.
The Caps went to Plan C and called on Simeon Varlamov, but even he wasn’t going to be able to make it in time for the start of the game.
Brent Johnson had taken some nasty hits in his matchup versus Boston, so putting him in there with no one to back him up was more than just a risky proposition; the Caps needed a new plan.
Plan 9 from Outer Space – Washingtoncaps.com web producer Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt probably didn’t expect his NHL debut to ever come knocking on his door. A goalie in college, Brett now spent his days amassing video content for the Washington Capitals official website. At 6’7″, Brett is hard to miss in the locker-room, so when George McPhee came looking, I’m sure he was easy to find.
The Greatest Player to Never Play – Brett had stepped in and fielded a few shots with the Caps during practice before, but I’m sure he never thought he’d see the day when he’d skate out onto the Ice during an actual NHL game. Even though no one was unhappy with Brent Johnson’s performance, I think secretly, everyone wanted to see the 26 year-old from Neumann College get at least a few minutes of game time.
At least Brett got a standing ovation from the crowd at Verizon, and his 15-minutes in the spotlight.
My bad – I have to apologize to Brent Johnson the next time I see him. The Caps had built a 5-0 lead and had only five minutes left in regulation. In my excitement I said to my wife “Now all Johnny needs is the shut-out.”
Yeah, I know. With 2:23 left in regulation the Senators finally scored. I jinxed him. Johnny had identical stats on this game as he did versus Boston, stopping 33-of-34 shots. This gave him his fourth consecutive win and brought his four game totals to 112 of 117 shots stopped, for a 0.957 save percentage, and a 1.25 GAA. Johnny was given the first star of the night.
@ Montreal 12/13/08 – I must confess that I wasn’t able to watch this game due to family obligations. I kept up with it by regularly checking my phone for updates. I got word that Varlamov was going to get the start in net, and was a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to see his NHL debut.
Varlamov was the first NHL Player I had ever interviewed, when I met him at the Rookie Game versus Philadelphia. In my first ever report for THN I talked about how good he looked out on the ice, so it was nice to see that my early judgment call was vindicated as Varlamov stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced to help the Caps win a close one versus Montreal by a score of 2-1.
Varlamov’s NHL debut got him a win, and the game’s first star honor.
Coming Up – The Caps have three games this week, starting tomorrow night in New York on the nationally televised Versus Network when they face the 10-18-2 Islanders. Thursday they come back home to face the 16-7-6 Flyers, and then Saturday they’re off to St. Louis (that’s Saint Lewis, not San Lew-EE as some players like to be called) where they’ll face the 12-14-3 Blues in a rare one o’clock game (noon, local time).
The Caps now have more potential injury woes as Tyler Sloan, Sergei Federov and Nicklas Backstrom are all listed as “status pending” by the Capitals as of this morning. The Caps will be looking to extend their three game winning streak, but losing Nicklas Backstrom will make that a considerable challenge.
I guess we’ll see come Tuesday!