Nicky calmly celebrates his second period goal while Ovi spazzes out. (Photo credit: Gregg Forwerck)
Unquestionably, the Washington Capitals came into tonight’s tilt against Carolina facing adversity for the first time all year. They had lost three consecutive games, two of which pathetically, and had generally looked careless and sloppy throughout each. After Monday’s 5-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils, their jolly Captain faced questions about his leadership after showing a lack of tact during Bruce Boudreau’s press conference with Caps media.
The Caps also came into tonight’s game a bit bruised up. They would be forced to pick themselves off the mat without early-season standouts Michal Neuvirth and Mike Green, who were nursing lower-body and upper-body injuries respectively.
So in came the recently-rehabbin’ Semyon Varlamov, Tom Poti, and a reinvigorated Russian Machine.
Tonight, it only took two minutes to realize that our beloved Caps came to play. Alex Ovechkin laid out Chad LaRose with a fiery open ice check. Unequivocally, that hit set the tone of the game.
Nicklas Backstrom then decided to celebrate his birthday in fashion – albeit a day late – scoring in both the first and second periods. Semyon Varlamov made all the big stops when needed and our heroes dug deep and prevailed despite third period momentum-changing tallies by Sergei Samsonov and Eric Staal. Thanks to Brooks Laich, the Caps beat Carolina 3-2. LOSING STREAK OVAHHH!
Your Wednesday night extra-thankful bullets are right this way:
- Matt Bradley spilled blood on the ice in a humbling exchange with Troy Brodie in the first period. The bleeding is nothing new, but boy this guy deserves all the superlatives he gets. Brads is a super-hero, the very definition of a hockey player. When I watched Kevin Kaminiski get repeatedly pummeled as a kid, I always wondered why he dropped the gloves in the first place. It always seemed to zap the team of energy and you always wondered if Killer was actually dead on the ice or not. Eventually, he’d pick himself up and struggle over to the box. The big difference here is that when you see Bradley powerfully stride off the ice with blood rushing down his face, you see a guy who looks like he took the beating of his life and it’s no big deal. Bradley’s fights – especially because he’s so beloved by his teammates – always light a fire under this team and narrow its focus. Tonight was no different.
- That Nicky Backstrom guy sure can play. His first goal of the game was a clever put-back off a powerful Alex Ovechkin shot that Hurricanes back-up goalie Justin Peters simply could not corral. His ninth goal on the season came after he reached into his giant, blue Ikea bag full of tricks. Backstrom shifted around a Tim Gleason poke check, used the faked-out defenseman as a screen, and threw the puck off the post and into the far corner of the net. When Backstrom plays like this, the first line is hard to stop, regardless if Ovi’s on or not.
- Oh, but friends, Ovi was on. With 8 shots through the first 37:30 tonight, Alex Ovechkin matched his single-game high for this season. In Ovi’s 21:55 TOI, he finished the night with 3 assists, +2, 10 shots, and 5 hits. But that wasn’t the whole story.
- Bruce Boudreau asked the left winger before the game to skate on the right side. This change seemed to allow Ovi to simplify his game. And admittedly, Brooks Laich might be a good match for this line while they work out their struggles.
- Semyon Varlamov was sensational, especially when you consider his long layoff from NHL action and his average starts over the weekend for the Bears. At points tonight he was rusty. At others he was impenetrable. The part that matters, however, is that he made the big saves when the Capitals needed him to. As the weeks go by and he gets back into his groove, he must improve upon his rebound control and regain the agility and explosiveness that he’s known for. Then we’ll really have a goalie controversy.
- Though they didn’t show up on the scoresheet tonight, David Steckel (11 of 15) and Boyd Gordon (13 of 17) quietly dominated in the face-off circle. And dude, that’s a big deal. The two combined to win approximately 75% of their draws. Well done.
- Joe Corvo finished the night a -2, the worst amongst all skaters. I guess it didn’t really help that he knew what Ovechkin was going to do. Why did we trade for you again, last year??
- Marcus Johansson played only 8:37 tonight. The only other skater who got less time was Brads (8:23) who missed half of the first period getting stiched up.
Tonight’s game was certainly a welcome change from the past three stinkers we were served with. And Friday, the Caps will have to be on their toes as they host Steven Stamkos and the white-hot Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center at 5pm. That should be one dandy of a game.
Until then, have a great Thanksgiving everyone. And make sure to be thankful. The Capitals are 15-6-2 right now. They have the most points in the league. I know it doesn’t feel that way. But things could be a lot worse!