Varlamov takes on all comers. (Photo credit: Tom Gannam)
[Ed. note: Peter has a fever and is kind of loopy. Go easy on him.]
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.
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.