EVEN LATER UPDATE: Lisa Hillary comments have been clarified. Varly’s involvement in the Olympics is “doubtful”. This is definitely a more pessimistic take than others are sharing, but not completely dire.
LATE UPDATE: During the post-game report on CSN, Lisa Hillary reported that Semyon Varlamov has had another setback in his recovery (groin, then MCL strain). According to CSN, Varlamov will NOT be playing in the Olympics.
Every year, the Detroit Red Wings are a staple of the playoffs. It’s a truism of hockey that to get to the cup you must first go through them. For the bigger part of tonight’s hockey game, it looked like the Washington Capitals were not up to the challenge. But there’s a new truism — one that the Capitals have coined– that strength comes from depth. Through the efforts of low-key players like David Steckel, Matt Bradley, Jose Theodore, and Nicklas Backstrom (okay, he’s a superstar); the Caps came back to win a crucial game.
Let’s review shall we:
- Any sentence about tonight’s game must start with Jose Theodore. 44 saves. One (confounding stat alert) assist. Jose was playing championship-level hockey when the rest of the team still hadn’t shown up. The story of Theo’s season so far is struggle to stay relevant amidst two up-and-coming netminders, lots of sniping by fans and the hockey press, and personal tragedies unfit for discussion here. But I just heard Verizon Center explode with cheers and adoration during Theo’s post-game interview. Moving stuff. Congratulations, Jose. You earned this one. (See if you can bum a ride to the Palm from Brooks or Ovie.)
- The Caps seem to have an unhealthy psychological dependency on their top line. If Ovie, Nicky, and Knuble cannot deliver points, the other nine guys seem to think it cannot be done. That’s how the first two periods went: an attitude of futility on offensive. This was eventually quashed, but that will come a bit later.
- The D wasn’t much better. The Red Wings offense was explosively fast crossing into the offensive zone and uncannily comfortable with their passing lanes. The Wings put 46 shots against Theodore. Seven or eight of those could have been goals if not for the superlative work put forth by the man mentioned in our first bullet.
- At the press conference, Coach Boudreau called his team “resilient”, and that characteristic is personified in Matt Bradley. The second period was a continuation of the first until Matt found a gap in the Wings’ armor. Matt’s goal woke up the team. Without that shot in the arm, there scarcely would have been a game worth watching.
- David Steckel positioned himself terrificly on open ice as Alexander Semin‘s blocked slapper cruised towards him. Without aid of a compass or graph paper, Stecks calculated the angle and sailed the puck ‘neath Osgood’s nether region for the game-winning goal. Let’s take a moment to appreciate that tonight’s victory is made possible by David freakin’ Steckel– who looks like he’s a recurring character on 90210 and possesses an adorable speech impediment. Score one for the little guy!
- The entire PK unit deserves nachos. The Caps gave up five minor penalties (bookended by 4 Knuble PIMs), but allowed exactly zero goals with the one-man deficit. There’s lots of credit to go around here, but let’s make sure Jose Theodore gets the first serving.
- Meanwhile, the power play team was inert nearly all night. I don’t know what practice will be like tomorrow, but I’ve got a feeling that PP drills will be a part of it. At least we had Nicklas Backstrom‘s tying goal to redeem them.
And that’s the story of how you beat a great hockey team. Looking back at the stat sheet, I’m still not sure how the Caps pulled it off. The Wings outshot them 2:1, they carried the puck better, and they moved faster. So what’s the difference? It wasn’t our superstars. This wasn’t the game where The Great 8 singlehandedly carries his team to victory. No, Washington wins because of their depth: a down-but-not-out goalie, a tough team player who is good in the clutch, and a guy who looks like the guy you have to ask to move so you can order a beer at the bar at Green Turtle (mmm… pub fries). Winning games like this– games you have no business winning– is how you become champions, or so I’m told. I hope in addition to two standings points, the Caps take confidence away from tonight’s game.
Thursday night will find the Capitals crossing the Mason-Dixon line to face Sidney Crosby and the Penguins for the first time since the spring. Caps at Pens is the biggest hockey game of the year (sorry, Winter Classic), and we at RMNB will be pulling out all the stops to ruin it for you. Tomorrow night I’ll be posting my game diary …from game 7 of the playoffs last year.
Stay tuned, Caps fans. It’s shaping up to be a great week.