Happy Hanukkah! Caps beat Blues 4-1

Semyon Varlamov: intense.

Varlamov takes on all comers. (Photo credit: Tom Gannam)

[Ed. note: Peter has a fever and is kind of loopy. Go easy on him.]

Jaroslav Halak gets scored on (Photo credit: Tom Gannam)

Halak defeated thanks to Brooks Laich. (Photo credit: Tom Gannam)

Tonight the Washington Capitals had their first chance to exact vengeance on Jaroslav Halak since he shut the Caps down in the playoffs. Now suiting up with the St. Louis Blues, Halak is the most foreboding embodiment of the Capitals’ postseason woes besides perhaps the Caps themselves. In an uneven effort, the Caps managed to exorcise- at least partially- those Halak-faced demons. But the big story was Semyon Varlamov, who padded his highlight reel with some improbable, firecracker saves.

Brooks Laich scored a PPG on the Caps second shot of the night, a high puck right up in Halak’s face. Boyd Gordon recorded his first tally of the year by Jedi-mind-tricking Halak to bobble the puck in himself for the second time this year. The Blues woke up with a screened spin-shot from Alexander Steen that Varly never saw coming. In the third period, Knuble and Backstrom swapped roles: near the paint, 19 converted the rebound off 22’s high-slot slapshot. In the final minute, with the Blues net abdicated, Alex Ovechkin gave Nick Backstrom the empty-net goal layup. Caps beat Blues 4-1.

Bullets for the Blues.

  • The Caps had a miserable time in their own zone, allowing many second and third and fourth and nth chances for the Blues. The blueliners lost fights in the corners, and the forwards couldn’t break out. Luckily, Semyon Varlamov was there to bail them out every time: 37 saves on 38 shots.
  • The Blues led the Capitals in scoring chances 16 to 11.  The Capitals have the dubious distinction of having two chances both for and against while on powerplay. Varly, meanwhile, has improved his scoring chance save percentage to .895 (.850 is considered good).
  • For the second game in a week, Varly was mousetrapped.
    Mousetrap (noun) – the act of pushing the net up and over the goalie’s head so that he becomes stuck under it not unlike in that popular Hasbro board game.
  • Tomas Fleischmann was awfully quiet tonight. Too quiet…
  • With faceoff specialist David Steckel out, Matt Hendricks (10 for 13) and Boyd Gordon (11 for 17) stepped it up while on the dot.
  • Yeah, D.J. King got the secondary assist on that Boyd Gordon (read: Halak) goal, but does that really count? The oft-scratched brute recorded almost 8 minutes of ice time, but he didn’t get to fight his buddy Cam Janssen, who did not suit up tonight. Kind of makes Bruce looks like a chump for scratching Steckel, eh?
  • Mike Green, who may or may not be injured, had 13 defensive zone starts tonight, but held his own in an otherwise quiet game.
  • Did anyone feel cognitive dissonance when they played Katy Perry songs at a “Blues” game? St. Louis should play music only by people with nicknames like “Catfish” or “the Goose”.
  • On Sunday we said the “playmaking, assist-taking team player” version of Alex Ovechkin may actually be the more exciting version. Is there any better of evidence of that than his selfless pass to Nicky for the empty-netter? An empty net is usually catnip to the Great 8. It’s invigorating to see this emerging maturity in the team’s captain. I don’t care if the goals ever come.
  • Check out Matt Bradley’s face here. Just do it.
Joe B's suit of the night

Joe B's suit of the night

It wasn’t a perfect game by any means. The defensive effort was shambolic, but Varlamov brought out his best goalie work of the year to counteract it. Jaroslav Halak, the goaltender haunting so many Caps forwards’ nightmares, had a little more Mr. Magoo in him than we remembered.  Does that mitigate the sense of relief in beating such a vaunted goalie? Not really, no.

Enjoy this first night of Hanukkah. Tomorrow night the Caps will do battle with the kinda-hot Dallas Stars. We’ll see you then.

Additional reporting by Neil Greenberg.

  • Pat

    Wow………. Brads’ face was awesome in that picture!!!

  • peachy

    supersweet game and recap on RMNB as usual…..love you guys!!
    Thank you Varlamov!

  • http://gunaxin.com Ben Sumner

    D’oh! You stole my idea, using Hanukah in a headline. Foiled!

  • http://www.threewireguy.wordpress.com Threewireguy

    Thanks, as always, guys for keeping me up to date on the latest “Cappenings” as I remain stuck in non-college hockey limbo in Wisconsin. I still haven’t gotten to see any Caps action on TV yet (except for the last 5 minutes of their victory over the Bruins in early November at a sports bar in Spokane, WA of all places) but based on what I’ve read, I’d like to follow up on your observations of Ovie.

    Has anyone actually taken the time in an interview to ask him if he has changed his focus/approach to the game like everyone (aka everyone in the Canadian media) said he would have to do for the Caps to be successful? I’m not hearing a lot about out of control hits putting guys into the boards and Ovie into the box so far this year. I’m no longer seeing game reports that essentially say, “Ovie got smothered holding onto the puck, offense stalls, Caps lose.” The strategy of just laying down in front of every shot, pulling in the D and waiting for the defense to break down that seemed to be working or teams early isn’t working so much. I wrote a while back that I wondered if BB could change their approach enough to create a better “half court” offense instead of relying on the fast break – it seems that he can and Ovie has been a big part of that as far as I can tell.

    Forget Sid the Kid and Little Stevie, you know who Ovie isn’t like? LeBron James. Why? Because Ovie, it would seem, is coachable. Ovie can put his ego aside (on the ice anyway, I mean c’mon…) and allow his teammates to shine as the incredible talents they are. The Heat are struggling because they’ve got three players that everyone assumed would all fill the stat sheets every night. What they actually need is one guy to drop dimes, one guy to make buckets and one guy to bang the boards. But that’s not going to lead to trip-dubs for everyone every night and they are all too used to being “the man”.

    In the Caps season so far, how many players have been “the man” in one way or another on a given night? The percentage of players who’ve had spotlight moments and carried the team to victory is far greater than last year. The whole team is sharing the load, which means GR8 isn’t having to go full out every night to light the lamp to make sure we win. He doesn’t have to carry the whole load, so he isn’t. Some may say that he’s taken a step back in his play. Stepping back so that the talents of others are brought to light is the definition of good leadership.

    So are we going to hear about any of that? Is anyone going to ask those kinds of questions? Or is everyone going to assume that Ovie’s numbers are down because he’s out at a club or making a DVD? Does a captain have to be the team’s points leader in order to be the team leader? How big a part of the Caps’ vastly improved PK is Ovie? It’s hard to practice that with a dryer so maybe it’s not getting the same attention as Sid’s flashier improvement efforts. How much more does NB19 love his team leader after his late game free gift offer from shopping OVC (that would be Ovie with a “C” on his sweater)? How much more is Ovie going to have in the tank come playoff time now that he’s not throwing himself around the rink helter-skelter?

    It’s time, I think, for fans to really put our money where our mouth is. If we’re going to demand a Cup in DC, then we need to worry about wins and team stats only. If our favorite player(s) lose some individual status in the rankings as a result, then we’ve got to grow up and give them credit for how they are helping the team, not our fantasy leagues. I think that as long as we’re leading the freaking NHL in points, still, perhaps it’s time to cut some guys a little slack. I’m not saying there isn’t work to do, but perhaps more work has been done already that we’re ignoring because this team doesn’t look like last year’s. Except in the standings.

    *Note: This post was NOT paid for by Ted Leonsis. =)

  • Melissa

    I couldn’t agree more with Threewireguy. As long as my team is winning and playing well, I don’t particularly care whether OV8 is passing or doing the scoring goals as long as the puck goes in the net more times than the other team.

  • Holly Golightly

    “Yeah, D.J. King got the secondary assist on that Boyd Gordon (read: Halak) goal, but does that really count? The oft-scratched brute recorded almost 8 minutes of ice time, but he didn’t get to fight his buddy Cam Janssen, who did not suit up tonight.”

    Come on, Peter. Kinger actually does something other than fight and you still won’t cut him any slack? Granted, it mostly involved keeping Brewer occupied so the puck could be fumbled by Halak’s shaky hand, but still.

  • Greg

    My favorite aspect of Mr. Ovechkin is his overwhelming happiness when someone else scores (especially Backstrom)… I honestly think he gets MORE excited when someone else scores.

    That pass that lead to the empty-netter, to me, is a defining moment in not only this season but in Ovie’s career. To pass up a so-so look to go for the sure thing during a major goal-scoring drought is the purest definition of team-player… I think this bodes well for their chances this season.

  • jenn

    wouldn’t mousetrap be a verb? you know, since you just used it conjugated into past tense as “mousetrapped” before defining it… just saying. =)

  • Peter

    @Threewireguy,

    Thanks for your thoughts. Well said, and I agree on all points.

    @Holly Golightly,

    I don’t even have a grudge against King anymore, I’m just trying to smoke you out by bashing him all the time. To be fair, he was totally competent in his ice time– I have a hard time seeing how he fits into the Caps system is all.

    @Jenn

    You really wanna play the English game with me? “Varly was Mousetrapped” would be the verb form. Creating the “mousetrap” is the act of mousetrapping. Neolinguistics is a liquid game, so thanks for your input.

  • jacob

    PROSPECT WATCH !!!

  • BobbyG

    I also have to agree with Threewireguy about Ovie’s game. There was a period where it looked like he was struggling but now I see he’s matured as team Captain to realize he doesn’t have to put the burden of his team’s success solely on his own shoulders. He doesn’t care, and neither do I, if he’s leading the league in goals scored. He’s double and triple teamed and that means he has open teammates, and he’s finding them to make passes to set up goals for others to score. Semin has flourished as a result of Ovie’s unselfish play. Ovie has an amazing total of assists to put him among the league leaders in scoring (goals + assists). As long as the Caps keep winning, that’s all that matters.

  • CDizz

    Threewireguy should be a writer for RMNB

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