With Hockey teams, it’s all about chemistry. With some players, you can’t detect their impact by the score-sheet alone; only by their absence. The Caps have gone two weeks without their star left-winger Alex Ovechkin, and won four tough games without him.
The Caps even missed the services of Mike Green for a couple of those games, and didn’t miss a beat.
The injury bug finally caught up with them when Mike Knuble was injured Friday night and absent from Saturday’s game in New Jersey.
Knuble hasn’t been the prolific scorer that Ovechkin is, but he’s a hard worker. He wears down opponents. He finds the open slots, controls and moves the puck well, and if he sees a few inches of daylight, he’ll score on you.
The Caps still got good pressure on New Jersey. I don’t want to take anything away from the team. They fought hard against a rested New Jersey team, and a future hall-of-fame netminder in Marty Brodeur, but they missed Knuble who plays well from in front of the crease gobbling up rebounds for either redistribution, or second chance attempts.
Hopefully he feels better soon; and with that, let’s get to some recapping.
Wednesday, November 11th, vs. NY Islanders – :08 seconds in and the Caps were up 1-0 thanks to Alex Semin. Six minutes later the Caps were down 3-1 and Jose Theodore was replaced by Semyon Varlamov. A period and a half later, the Caps were up 4-3, and with less than three minutes left in regulation, the Islanders tied the game on the power-play and forced overtime. After a scoreless overtime period, the game came down to a shootout. The Caps elected to shoot first. After the obligatory three rounds, both teams had scored a goal. With each stop of a Caps’ shot, it put all the pressure on Varlamov, as the Islanders could end the game with their next goal. Verizon Center was on it’s feet, and in the 11th round it was Chris Clark that finally put the pressure on New York when he scored. Semyon held his team’s fate in his glove literally as he caught New York’s final shot and ended the game with a big win and a big grin! Washington would win 5-4.
The goal that tied the record – Alex Semin’s goal in the first :08 seconds tied a Caps record for the fastest first goal of a game that dates back to March 14th, 1987.
Note to the fans – Shootout goals do not count for season stats or hat-tricks. Alex Semin’s goal during the shoot-out was in fact the third time he had put a puck in the net, but it doesn’t count as a “hat-trick.” This can actually have the unintended consequence of icing your own goalie, as he waits nervously while all the hats are cleaned up off the ice. Thankfully; it didn’t take long for the hats to be cleared, and I think Varlamov has ice in his veins.
The Goalie of record – After giving up three goals in the game’s first six minutes, Jose Theodore was given the night off. When Alex Semin tied the game at 3 early in the 2nd period, it became Varlamov’s game to lose. He played 57 minutes (including OT) and stopped 25 of 26 shots surrendering his only goal while NY was on the power-play. Words cannot accurately convey how spectacular he was in the shoot-out.
Friday, November 13th, vs. Minnesota – Coming into Verizon off a tough shootout loss in Tampa, the Minnesota Wild should have been exhausted. They started off strong outshooting the Caps 7-1 in the first half of the first period, but after that it was all Washington who outshot Minnesota 32-9 over the next period and a half. Cal Clutterbuck, who torched Washington last season for two goals, got his third against the home team as he put Minnesota on the board first just 1:31 into the second period. It was the first time in eight games that Washington hadn’t notched the game’s first goal. Defenders Mike Green and Brian Pothier scored two for the Caps to put them back on top and it was Brooks Laich with the empty netter that put the game out of reach. Minnesota would fall 3-1.
Varly is Gnarly – Varlamov stopped 55 of 57 shots in the 117 minutes he played this week. He is now 11-1-1 in regular season games, and 7-1-0 this season. He has a .912 save percentage and a 2.67 goals against average in his games this year.
On the bright side – The loss of Mike Knuble comes just as the Caps are about to welcome back Alex Ovechkin. This should leave room on the roster for the Caps latest call-up, Mathieu Perreault. In Perreault’s six games he has 2 goals and 3 assists and a 22% shooting percentage.
Saturday, November 14th, @ New Jersey – Washington entered New Jersey tied for first place in the Eastern conference. Washington was riding a four game winning streak; New Jersey had won their last eight straight. Just as the game was five minutes old, the Caps had a 2-0 lead; unfortunately it would be all New Jersey from there. Bruce Boudreau was looking for his 100th career victory but would have to wait a little longer as he watched New Jersey score five unanswered goals over the next 38 minutes. Washington, who had played pretty disciplined hockey over their last four victories, began to come apart as they pressed for answer goals. The Caps gave up several odd-man breaks, breakaway goals, and started committing penalties that greatly hindered their come-back effort. In the end, the Caps fell 5-2 and slipped to second in the Eastern Conference.
Random Scoring Stats – For the fourth time this season, the Caps scored on their first shot of the game. For the first time the season, the Caps found themselves down by as many as three goals.
Reaching a milestone – Caps’ Captain Chris Clark played his 500th game Saturday night.
Coming Up – The Caps are hanging around in Jersey waiting for their matchup Tuesday versus the Rangers. Then they come back for a Friday night game versus the Canandiens, and immediately head to Toronto to face former Caps Coach Ron Wilson and his struggling Maple Leafs.
New York is always a tough opponent for Washington, especially in New York, but it is looking like the Caps are going to get some high powered help with the return of Ovechkin. Having a few days off before facing Montreal should help the Caps, but the overnight flight to Toronto could make that game a little more even than it would be ordinarily.
If I’m Coach Boudreau, I start Varlamov versus New York and Montreal, and give him a break Saturday by starting Theodore versus the Leafs.
All in all, it’s been a good week for the Caps, but now I’m off to write a ‘Skins blog as they finally put together a game to be proud of this week!