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Game 7: Calm Before the Storm

I got to the Verizon Center two hours before tonight’s game and when I showed up, the atmosphere outside of the building was already electric. There were marching bands, men on stilts, people painting their faces, and of course – an overabundance of both red and facial hair.

Both teams are on the ice working out the final kinks before tonight’s epic seventh game. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be donning their road-whites. Washington, as you’d anticipate, is wearing it’s home-reds. The drop of the puck is just under 15-minutes away. Here are a few of the better pre-game nuggets from today’s press packet.

Evenly Matched Clubs
– Five of the six games played in this series have been decided by a goal or less (three have gone to OT).
– Both teams have held a lead at some point in all six of the previous contests.
– No team has led by more than two goals at any point in the series.
– No two-goal lead has lasted for an entire period at any point in this series.

Star Power
– Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have had a hand in 15 of Washington’s 20 goals in the series.
– Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have earned a point in 15 of Pittsburgh’s 21 goals in the series.

Power Play (Dis)advantage
– The Caps have had 19 extra-man chances in the first six games. The ‘Pens have had 30 in the same span.
– The biggest eye-popper in the PP debate comes in the 3rd period where PIT leads 11-3 in PP chances.
– WSH is 5-for-19 (26.3%), PIT is 7-for-30 (23.3%) in man-advantage situations.

Shooting Breakdown
– The Penguins have out-shot the Capitals in all 6 games in this series (226-159 advantage overall).
– WSH held the Rangers to 23.7 shots a game in the first round. PIT is averaging 37.7 this round, though.
– Still though, Simeon Varlamov didn’t’ allow more than 3 goals in the playoffs until the past two games with PIT.

Fun Fact
– This is the third straight series the Capitals have played in that has needed a seventh game. Before last season’s first-round matchup with Flyers, Washington hadn’t played in a game-7 since back in 2005 against the Penguins.

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We’ve Got A Series

It took a scintillating performance from a goaltender who isn’t even old enough to drink and a pair of goals from the second best Alex on the team, but the Washington Capitals finally found a way to beat the New York Rangers.

Simeon Varlamov, who was making just his seventh career start and second of the playoffs, couldn’t have been sharper in his inaugural road playoff appearance. The young Russian spent the early part of the first-period turning away shots while the fans at Madison Square Garden showered him with taunting chants. Read the rest of this entry »

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Varlamov Gets the Call

Simeon Varlamov is starting in net for the Washington Capitals in game 2 of their first round series against the New York Rangers. Varlamov, only 20-years-old, has only started five games as an NHL goal-tender.

The move was made just four days after Jose Theodore, Washington’s starting goalie throughout the season, struggled in a 4-3 loss. Theodore’s lackluster effort was cited — by both fans and the local media — as the reason for Washington’s game-one loss.

Varlamov has played well and seems to take better angles and move better in the net than Thedoroe, but his sample size as an NHL net-minder is miniscule. There was a sense of shock in the press box when Varlamov, and not Theodore, led the Capitals on to the ice in warmups. Read the rest of this entry »

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Random Thoughts From Verizon – 03/05/2009

The crowd at the Verizon Center is spread out and more docile then normal tonight. Some might blame this on the fact that the Capitals have been outscored 12-3 in their last two games. I’m not some. I’ll blame tonight’s turnout and calmness on the fact that it’s a weeknight. Oh, and of course the small fact that that the Leafs are in town. (Sorry Mark Solway).

Here are a few thoughts from tonight’s festivities to this point…

Alexander Ovechkin isn’t in uniform tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Instead the NHL’s leading goal scorer is wearing a suit. I saw him get off the elevator on the sixth-level of the Verizon Center just before the National Anthem. He’s likely going to take the majority of the game in from General Manger George McPhee’s box.

The Capitals and Flyers are scoreless midway through the second period. The game’s most intense moment to this point came at the 8:27 mark of the opening period, when Ben Ondrus and Matt Bradley dropped the gloves for a center-ice fight. No huge punches were landed during the bout, but if you were to go to the cards Bradley would have probably won narrowly by decision.

Toronto defenseman Jeff Finger was helped off the ice early on in the second-period. Finger took an errant John Erskine pass to the face before collapsing to the ice. There was a brief stoppage in the game while the Verizon cleanup crew tried to clean the blood off the ice from where Finger had fallen down. Tonight marked the defenseman’s 49th game of the season.

The Washington Capitals entered Thursday night’s game without the services of their best player. Alexander Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading goal-scorer, missed the game after taking a puck to the foot during practice on Wednesday.

The Capitals knew that they weren’t going to have Ovechkin’s offensive wizardry and theatrics before the game began. The team did not know, however, that it would also be without its most stout defender – Tom Poti – who re-aggravated a groin injury and skated off the ice less then 10 seconds into the game.

Ovechkin watched the game from the General Manager’s suite. He couldn’t have liked what he saw, a 2-1 loss at the hands of a Toronto Maple Leafs club that entered the night ranked 11th out of 15 Eastern Conference teams.

“It was tough being out there without those guys,” said right wing Eric Fehr, who was one of several Capitals who spent most of the evening out of position. “We know what kind of players both of them are, but you’ve got to try to not miss a beat.”

That’s easier said then done. Ovechkin and Poti are Washington’s only players at their positions who log more than 20-minutes of ice time a game.

Being out-numbered didn’t keep the Capitals from playing a more sound game on Thursday than the team had in its previous two outings, though.

Coming off of back-to-back losses in which Washington had been outscored 12-3, the Capitals were able to keep Toronto off the board for more than 46 minutes. The problem for the gentleman in red was that they weren’t able to light the lamp until the game’s final minutes.

“It seemed like we had our chances,” said 23-year-old defenseman Jeff Schultz. “It was just one of those nights where we couldn’t finish.”

Not until it was too late, anyways.

Alexander Semin gave Washington it’s only siren-sounder when he beat Martin Gerber with only 39 seconds remaining. Semin’s 27th goal of the season extended his goal-streak to five games. Nicklas Backstrom registered his 52nd assist on the even-strength strike.

The goal cut Toronto’s two-goal advantage in half and quieted an outbreak of late-game boos from the 18,277 on-hand at the Verizon Center. But it proved trivial in the end.

The Capitals are now 0-3 in the month of March. Washington will get two days off to think about its recent struggles before it welcomes the Pittsburgh Penguins for a nationally-televised meeting on Sunday afternoon.

When he met with the media this evening, Ovechkin wasn’t yet sure about his status for Sunday.

“We’ll have to see,” Ovechkin said when asked if he was going to be ready to help his teammates try to sweep the Penguins in the season series. Then he paused for a moment and cracked a smile as he added one final word to his answer. “Probably,” he said.

There isn’t a team in the NHL Ovechkin likes playing – and performing well – against than Pittsburgh. The last time the two teams met, almost two weeks ago in DC, Ovechkin and fellow superstar Sidney Crosby got tangled up in front of the Washington bench while each of the player’s was skating off the ice at the end of their shifts.

Because it’s the Penguins, you can expect to see Ovechkin on the ice this weekend. He’ll be doing his best to irritate Crosby, and to score his 47th-goal of the season. I’d be surprised to see Poti back in the lineup, though.

“Sunday is going to be big for us,” Fehr said. “We’re struggling right now but this is something that every team is going to go through during the season. We’ve got to find a way to break out of this.”

Getting Ovechkin back out of a suit and back on the ice would be a step in the right direction.


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