Puck Drops 3/6: RMNB Gets You Ready For Caps vs. Rangers

Will Sean Avery be a prick tonight?

Will Sean Avery be a prick tonight?

The Capitals, who are 24-3-3 at home this year, currently have a club-record 12 straight wins and look for (unlucky?) number 13 tonight against the New York Rangers at 7:05pm. Unfortunately for the Capitals, against them tonight is the dreaded reverse-lock. For those who don’t know what that is, that’s when a scenario presents itself where conditions seem so perfect for a win – that it’s fair to assume the other team will do so because of unforeseen happenings. Why do we feel that way? Well, John Tortoralla has decided to rest Henrik Lundqvist tonight (Matt Bradley’s Best Friend), and is instead giving the keys to backup goaltender Alex Auld. Auld’s numbers on the year are: W/L: 9-6, GA: 3.00, SV%: .894 and his career numbers against the Capitals are W/L: 3-4, GA: 2.73, SV%: .896. Um, weak. Bruce Boudreau will counter with our time-traveling buddy Jose Theodore.

Anyways, since the reverse lock may be in effect – look for a 5 goal game from a gentlemanly Sean Avery who’ll concentrate more on forechecking than being a complete prick, and zero points from Marian Gaborik, who’ll be in the lineup for the first time since February 12th. And oh yeah, a 45 save shutout from Alex Auld.

Back in reality land, Tarik El Bashir has the Capitals Forward Lines for Tonight’s Game:

1st Line: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Knuble
2nd Line: Laich-Belanger-Semin (Belanger promoted)
3rd Line: Chimera-Fleischmann-Fehr (Flash back to center)
4th Line: Bradley-Steckel-Walker (Bradley returns!!)

Also, our partner Michael Hoffman, who will be supplying us quotes for the rest of the year, asked Bruce Boudreau about Alex Ovechkin’s slump since returning from the Olympics. Here’s what he had to say:

“Every year I’ve been here, Alex has had a little bit of a stretch where he just can’t find the net and then the next thing you know once he gets one in, he gets ten in four games. That’s the way’s he’s been and this is his little funk. I expect him to come out of it very soon.” – An Ovechkin goal scoring slump? Coach Boudreau isn’t concerned

Will Ovi come out of the slump tonight? Will Sean Avery be an a-hole? Make sure to watch the game on CSN and follow the Russian Machine on Twitter for all your updates.

Also, below the jump are your must reads before tonight’s game. We will be referring to them as Puck Drops for now on!

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Do The Caps Have The Goaltending To Win The Cup?

Is Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov enough to win a cup?

The Washington Capitals added depth on NHL Deadline Day, acquiring forwards Scott Walker and Eric Belanger, and blueliners Joe Corvo and Milan Jurcina, who returns to Washington after being traded, along with then team captain Chris Clark, to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Despite these moves paying off immediate dividends, questions remain about the Caps goaltending: specifically, is it enough to keep pucks out of the net in the playoffs?

“No matter how fearsome their attack, they’re just OK at keeping pucks out of their net. They’ll enter the playoffs, likely as the top seed in the East, entrusting the most critical position on the ice to the likes of Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov and/or Michal Neuvirth.” – NBCSports.com

So what type of goaltending does it take to win the Cup, and do the Caps have it?

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Aaaaaaand We’re Back! Caps Beat Sabres 3-1.

Alex Ovechkin celebrates the Capitals 3-1 Victory with Jose Theodore

Everything is right in the world. Let’s put behind us the Olympic tournament, the three-game slide, and the trade chaos. For the next few paragraphs, let us just enjoy the Washington Capitals’ solid 3-1 win over Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres. It wasn’t a barnburner or anything, but after the last few weeks we can appreciate a win that is not coincident with hypertension.

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Blues Beat Caps 4-3 (SO). Can We Go On Vacation Now?

mike-knuble-screens-goaltender

Cam Jannsen destroys Matt Bradley. Quentin Laing regulates. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) (Top: Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)

Cam Jannsen destroys Matt Bradley. Quintin Laing regulates. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson) (Top: Mark Buckner/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Caps desperately wanted to break their two-game slide that has followed their epic winning streak. They played a disciplined, almost subdued games tonight, but that restraint did not bring them a win. Tied from the end of the 2nd period, tonight’s game in St. Louis went all the way to the shootout, where David Perron deflected a puck off of Jose’s back for the winning shot. Blues beat Caps 4-3.

At least we got a point.

Here come your last bullets for a few weeks:

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Anatomy of a Winning Streak

The Russian Machine takes a look back at the Caps 14 Game Winning Streak

On January 12th, 2010, the Washington Capitals got smacked down by the Tampa Bay Lightning. That game was marked by a lack of focus, weak goalie performance, and an insufficient will to win. It was only Alex Ovechkin’s fourth game as Captain, so the loss might have hit him hard (see Bradley stealing his fight). Something about that 7-4 scrubbing might have woken the team up.  Maybe that loss was the impetus for the 14-game winning streak that followed.

In honor of The Streak (R.I.P.), the Russian Machine takes a fond look back at how it all came together.

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Alex Ovechkin shoots through a maze of Rangers and Capitals players

Alex Ovechkin Is Party Now. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) (Top: Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

Alex Ovechkin Is Party Now. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II) (Top: Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

[Ed. note-  two big, honkin chunks of news about Semyon Varlamov and Nicklas Backstrom are broken below!]

(Hold on a second. I need to pop a handful of beta-blockers before I’m calm enough to write about this game rodeo.)

Alright. The New York Rangers looked like they could be the team to end the storied streak of hockey this year. Not the Capitals 12 wins in a row; I’m talking about my still-undefeated Russian Machine “Ovie’s bedroom eyes” shirt (now 10-0-0).  Congratulations to all other lucky shirts out there as well. Eh, @ngreenberg?.

The Rangers were a driven team at MSG tonight. Led by the scary fast Marián Gáborík, they looked like they could score every time they were in the offensive zone.  Now we know how every other team’s fans feel.  The Rangers effortlessly scored on their first three power plays and led the Caps for all but ten seconds in the first two periods.

I’ll be honest: there were moments of doubt.  Other Caps fans must have felt fleeting flashes of lapsed faith, too, but then we remembered who we’re dealing with. The Capitals of 2010 are the deepest team in the NHL. If there’s a crisis, all they need to do is summon one of their many miracle workers.   Tonight it was unconquerable D-man, Tom Poti.  Tom delivered the tying goal less than a minute into the third period, and Nicklas Backstrom followed him five minutes later with the game winner. The Caps would hold on to win their 12th game in a row.  Tonight marks the first time in over a decade that a team has strung together that many wins.

Folks, I’m burying the lede. The big story tonight is Alexander Ovechkin scoring his 500th career point. He is only the ninth player to do so in his first five season, and the very first Russian on the list. And AO did so in his typically pivotal fashion– closing a two-goal gap at the end of the second period. Without that performance, this game would have been over.

We’ve got some big news for you behind the jump. Come on feel the noise.

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First, a little mood music:

Now, where were we? Ah yes. The Washington Capitals have just broken the consecutive win record set by Craig “Pig Pile” Laughlin and the the 1983-1984 team. It’s a historic night for the organization, the boys, their dads, the coach, and their fans. But it would not have been possible without the marvelous game given to us tonight.

The Bruins have been bruised this season. Their reputation for low scores and anemic defense might have lu11ed some into false optimism, but not us. We know how Boston wanted badly to end their losing streak, and they sure showed that passion in the first period. The visiting Caps trailed 1-0 going into the first intermission, and the fans were already atwitter with bad tidings. Someone must have said something stirring in the locker room, as the Caps of the 2nd and 3rd periods were a who11y different creature: one with hustle and an unerring determination to win. Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, and Boyd Gordon scored crucial goals that propped up the team for this momentous win. Caps beat Bruins 4-1.

God help us; they’re going to celebrate in New York City.  Bu11ets!

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Russian Machine Sometimes Breaks: Surfing the Zenith

The period after Christmas and before the break is typically when teams struggle the most.  It’s odd then that Washington Capitals have made January their most winning month.  The last thing any team wants to do is peak too soon, especially before the end of the regular season. After winning seven thunderous games in a row, it’s about time the Caps come back down to Earth and mount another surge for the post-season. To ensure that, here are some injury updates:

  • Jose Theodore skipped the final period of last night’s Islanders game. As per usual, the Caps staff declined to describe the nature Theo’s injury beyond the perfunctory “lower-body injury.” I’ve reviewed the game tape, but I’m unable to ascertain the nature of the injury. As such, Russian Machine has commissioned his (smokin-hot) wife Stéphanie to investigate Jose’s lower body more vigorously.
  • Our spies at Kettler shoe-phoned to inform us that Semyon Varlamov is skating today. Semyon’s lower half has completely failed him since December; we hope his junk is still under warranty. It’s encouraging that Varly is skating, but he is definitely not taking shots. The Olympics now seem unlikely, and our heart aches for Varly. It’d be selfish of us to be glad that Semyon will get more rest before the playoffs when it comes at the cost of such a big personal goal. Therefore, we must hope either that his recovery drastically hastens, or that he’s still a superstar goalie in 2014.
  • As the previous two bullets have made clear, the Capitals now have a full-blown goalie crisis. What a world away we are now from the halcyon “Which awesome goalie shall we play tonight?” days of November. To fill the ranks, the organization has recalled Braden Holtby from the Hershey Bears. It’s one of our distinct pleasures as Caps fans that we get to see promising players from the organization’s stellar farm club. In the last few years, we’ve enjoyed standout performances from Matthieu Perrault, Karl Alzner, Semyon Varlamov, Captain America, and many more. I’m not well educated on the Bears, so I’m spending some time today learning about Braden, and I like what I see (.935 save % on 506 SOG). Let’s just hope he doesn’t hang around D.C. too long.
  • Exchanging a Top Gun high five with Holtby somewhere around York, PA, is Karl Alzner, who has been returned to Hershey’s care. Karl has only an even +/- from his recent four-game stint, but we recall fondly his crucial assist on David Steckel’s GWG. Plus, Karl got to hang out at Casino Night (check out Emily Karol’s terrific story if you haven’t already).
  • Brian Pothier. I don’t really have any news on the dude, but then again I’m not a real journalist. Let’s just assume he’s going to play tonight.
  • He’s not on our team, but Jack Hillen‘s faceblock last night was too monstrous not to mention.  After attempting to catch an Ovechkin slapshot with his teeth, Jack fell to the ice with a bloody, wet thud.  The Islanders report that Hillen broke his jaw and several teeth.  He’ll miss 6-8 weeks, but Quentin Laing has already promised to send over a dandy protein milkshake recipe.  Poor guy.

Tonight’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (24-22-7) begins at 7 PM. Russian Machine has a correspondent on location to document. Will the goalie problems discussed above end the Caps winning streak? Will Braden Holtby submarine some dude at center ice? Will Matt Bradley (whose jersey, it seems, I must now buy) secure a hat trick? Tune in and find out.

Sweet Revenge! Caps Beat Pens 6-3

Nicky Backstrom keeps the power play perfect

Nicky Backstrom keeps the power play perfect

“Can’t lose.” – Me, 22 hours ago.

It’s hard not to sound like an amateur here. There are expectations when committing a game to print.  We must write with a detached, sober tone befitting the excellent journalistic standards demanded by our audience.

Well, screw that noise. Tonight’s game deserves hollerin’, and hollerin’ is what we will give it. It’s not often that the Caps get a chance to redeem themselves against their biggest rival. It’s been only eight months since Washington sputtered out in that notorious game 7, and the memory is still fresh in our minds. But like Ray, Egon, and Venkman before them, the Washington Capitals have exorcised the ghost of that loss in tonight’s stunning 6-3 game.  Vindication is the word you’re looking for.

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Caps Beat Wings 3-2 Thanks to Theo!

Jose Theodore Shuts Down Red Wings, Caps Win 3-2

#needsmorebradley We think yes.

#needsmorebradley We think yes. (AP Photos)

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:

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