For Caps’ fans, this week was a roller coaster. They started off by shutting out the Lightning in Tampa; then went to Buffalo and got shut out themselves. They came home for a victory over Carolina, and travelled to Toronto for a loss to the Leafs.
The Caps went 2-2-0 last week netting four of a possible eight points. They continued their winning streak over the Southeast division and remain the only team in the league with a perfect record within their own division (8-0-0).
The Caps lost Semyon Varlamov after their game versus Tampa Bay, but also seemed to lose a little bit of their confidence. They played less aggressive on defense (often playing the stick instead of the man) and struggled in their transitions through neutral ice which limited their scoring chances.
Opponents have figured out that the Caps are not a good fore-checking team, so they tend to stack four players across the blue-line to force the Caps to dump the puck in. It’s not without it’s risks, because if the Caps do manage to win the battle for the puck in the corner, they will put on a “passing clinic” that wears down defenders and opens up shooting lanes.
Buffalo and Toronto both played tight on the Caps attackers limiting their passing angles, and intercepting their passing lanes. Carolina tried collapsing in on their goalie to limit how much of the net could be seen. By stacking both defenders and a forward in front of their net-minder, Carolina attempted to create a human shield for their goalie. This is especially risky as it created a virtual shooting gallery for the Caps. I’ll show you what I mean in the recap.
Monday, December 7th, at Tampa Bay – After watching the Caps score a combined 14 goals versus their previous two opponents, the Lightning had to be a little nervous. Add to that the fact that reigning two-time MVP Alex Ovechkin was returning fresh from a two game suspension, and you could just tell this wasn’t going to be Tampa’s night. To their credit, the Lightning played the Caps tough in the first period and both teams only registered seven shots on net apiece ending the period tied 0-0. Then the Second period saw three goals by Washington, including two by Mr. Ovechkin. With no goals in the third, the Caps would go on to blank Tampa 3-0.
Love for the new glove – Varlamov was using a new glove for the first time versus Tampa and it came in…er…handy as he would make several spectacular glove saves versus the Bolts. His new glove resembled a white baseball mitt on steroids and seemed o give him an extra couple of inches of reach out on the tip. Varlamov had a 2.21 Goals against average and a .924 save % coming into the game. His new glove has a 0.00 GAA and a 1.000 save %.
Work the body – The big difference in the game versus Tampa was Washington’s ability to knock guys off the puck. They kept the crease and slots clean, and created turnovers that allowed them to transition through center ice before Tampa could recover. The Caps were able to skate into the attack zone largely unchecked and set up shop where they worked Tampa as if they were on the power play. Even with a three goal lead, the Caps kept up the pressure outshooting Tampa 11-5 in the third period.
Wednesday, December 9th at Buffalo – The story of this night can be summed up by one play. Alex Ovechkin was in the left slot, received a pass that left Buffalo net-minder trapped on the right side and gave Ovechkin a wide open net to shoot at from 25 feet away; and he missed it. Call it luck if you will, but that was one of a few missed opportunities the Caps failed to…er…Capital-ize on. Ryan Miller gave up a few chances early, but came away unscathed. He buttoned things up so well as the game went on that I caught myself ready to call the police with the way he robbed Nicklas Backstrom. Unfortunately, Caps net-minder Jose Theodore wasn’t quite so “dialed-in” as there were a few goals he would have liked to have back. The Caps would fall to Buffalo 3-0 simultaneously ending their six-game winning streak and all of their scoring streaks.
Ying and Yang – While the Capitals were busy shutting our Tampa, the Sabres were being shut-out by New Jersey. The Caps bounced back from their shut-out win, with a shut-out loss to Buffalo.
Holding the line – Buffalo stacked the blue-line four-across and pinched in at the point of attack. The kept the Caps to the outside, and clogged up the middle to limit cross-ice passing. This allowed Miller to stay at home and square up against his shooters, and even still he made some spectacular saves. Many a Capital threw their hands up thinking they scored only to realize that Miller had the puck.
Friday December 11th, vs. Carolina – It certainly looked as if the Caps scoring woes were going to carry over into this game at Verizon Center as the Caps found themselves with a two-goal deficit at the end of the first period. It was Alex Semin who tied the game up in the second period including a goal that was scored with six-tenths of a second left in the second period. Thomas Flieschmann would give the Caps the go-ahead goal early in the third, but it would be Tim Gleason (wearing a gold-fish bowl on his face) who would score short-handed to tie it up forcing an overtime period. Then, 1:16 into overtime it would be Mike “Game Over” Green who would send the hometown fans home with smiles on their faces.
OUCH! Stay away from that man, wouldya? – Tim Gleason was “boarded” by Alex Ovechkin the first time these two teams met which resulted in Ovechkin’s first 5-minute major, and 10-minute Game Misconduct of the season. Gleason didn’t seem any worse for wear from that exchange and left many (including myself) believing that Ovechkin’s punishment didn’t fit the crime. This time, as Ovechkin was warming up for a shot on net, Gleason attempted a poke check that caused the puck to ramp up his stick and catch him with the full force of an Ovechkin slap-shot on the side of his face. He would not return until the third period, and when he did, he was wearing a full-face mask. I’d be willing to bet his head is still ringing today.
Power-Up – After watching his team struggle, Boudreau made a decision to move Alex Semin up to the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. Teams usually “double cover” both Ovechkin and Semin when they are on the ice, but with them both out there together, Carolina just didn’t have enough players to double cover them both.
Saturday, December 12th at Toronto – Washington was supposed to leave for Toronto immediately after playing Carolina. Due to difficulties with their airplane, the team was grounded until 10am the next morning. The Caps went into the game without a morning skate, and at first it looked like they didn’t need one as Washington took an early two-goal lead. Toronto would tie it up in the early stages of the second period, and It was Nicklas Backstrom that returned the lead to Washington just short of the midway mark of the game. Not only would Toronto tie it up again before the end of the second period, they would dominate the Caps in the third scoring three goals and finishing the Caps off 6-3.
Needing a nap – Washington had all the energy early in the game, but the fatigue began to set in as the Caps stopped playing the body and began to rely on their stick-checks. This sloppiness turned into penalties, and odd-man breaks leaving Nuevirth on an island. By the third period the team was on it’s last legs, and had all but given up on the game.
Coming Up – Washington continues it’s road trip this week as they play three games on the road. The first is tomorrow night versus Colorado, then Friday and Saturday night versus Vancouver and Edmonton. Be prepared to stay up late as the Caps games won’t start until 9:30pm Tuesday, and 10pm Friday and Saturday.