After a complete meltdown--offense, defense, special teams, goalie--in a 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins last night, the Washington Capitals must turn right around and find a way to bounce back for Game Five tonight at 7:00 p.m. at Verizon Center, where they won Games One and Two. The series is tied at two games apiece.

The Caps 21-year old netminder, Semyon Varlamov, finally had an off night in this playoffs, allowing five goals, four of which his coach described as "soft". And he looked shaky on several of the saves he did make.

"He struggled," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He hasn't a bad game. Arguably, there were four soft goals out of the five. But he'll bounce back."

Asked if he would put Varlamov back out there for Game Five, Boudreau replied, "As far as I'm concerned, yes."

Washington was again out shot, 28-22, and took more penalties, 6-4, than their opponent. The Caps were 0-for-4 on the power play.

Alex Ovechkin only managed two shots on goal, and his biggest influence on last night's game was his hit on countryman Sergei Gonchar, which resulted with a knee-on-knee hit that sent Gonchar to the locker room.

Ovechkin was issued a tripping penalty, and it was obvious that Ovechkin was trying to hit Gonchar high, but as the defenseman tried to slip the hit, his upper body got out of the way, leaving his lower body to bear the brunt of the impact.

Pittsburgh players, however, did not like the hit.

"Everyone likes to play hard, and play physical," Orpik added. "But there's a line you can't cross, and a lot of guys in our room felt like the last couple games he was taking shots where he was trying to hurt guys."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said Gonchar was not ruled out for tonight's game yet, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said while Gonchar travelled with the team, he was wearing a large knee brace in the team's hotel this morning.

Washington got goals from Nicklas Backstrom, Chris Clark, and a short-handed marker from Milan Jurcina.

Pittsburgh's goals came from Bill Guerin, Maxime Talbot, Ruslan Fedotenko, Sidney Crosby and Gonchar.

Mike Green had one great move that led to Clark's goal, and registered three shots and three hits, but played poorly defensively and was ineffective for most of the night and was minus-2 in the game. Alexander Semin took four shots and had three hits, but missed four shots and was minus-3.

The Washington Capitals face the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of their best-of-seven Second Round Stanley Cup playoff series.

The Caps lost Game Three 3-2 in overtime on a Kris Letang shot from the point that was redirected by defenseman Shaone Morrisonn over goalie Semyon Varlamov's left shoulder. Varlamov made 39 saves on 42 shots in the game.

Pittsburgh definitely played like the more desperate team, especially after Alex Ovechkin scored less than two minutes into the game. From about the ten-minute mark, the Penguins controlled play and, with the help of seven power plays, really took the action to the Caps.


With the Caps dealing with various injuries, they've had to call on their AHL affiliate Hershey, themselves locked in a tight 2-1 series with the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Baby Penguins, for reinforcements.

The most recent was this morning, when forward Jay Beagle was recalled. Eric Fehr is still suffering from an undisclosed "upper body injury", and center Michael Nylander was ineffective in Game Three, taking a penalty and hardly skating in the third period.

Nylander had only 7:27 of ice time, second lowest on the team to Chris Clark (6:35). He had no shots, no hits, and one of the three registered giveaways on the scoresheet.

Beagle joins defenseman Tyler Sloan, who has been filling in for John Erskine (foot/ankle). Erskine, out since Game One, will participate in this morning's skate and be a game-time decision.

There was late word that winger Alexander Semin did not take part in the morning skate at Mellon Arena, prompting question about his status and Beagle's role in tonight's game.

Karl Alzner, who was recalled as a precaution against Tom Poti's sore groin, was returned to Hershey today. He did not appear for the Caps in the playoffs.


Evgeni Malkin was almost absent from Games One and Two in DC, and much was made about it before Game Three. Malkin didn't disappoint, as he clearly was the best player on the ice in the game.

He had one goal on nine shots and injected himself into the action on every shift. He was able to carry the puck unmolested almost every time he was around it. On his goal, he sidestepped Brooks Laich like a running back avoiding a heavier defensive lineman.

Malkin also got into the physical stuff, crashing into Varlamov and drawing a retaliatory slashing call on the young netminder.


It is well documented that historically the Capitals have had spectacular failure to the Penguins in the playoffs. It's not exactly fair to compare this team to previous models of the franchise, but the media does nonetheless.

Washington has had three playoff series with the Pens where they've enjoyed two-game series leads, only to see their hopes dashed with a late-series comeback.

1992: Caps take 2-0 lead, Penguins rally to take series 4-3.
1995: Capitals take commanding 3-1 lead, Pittsburgh takes three in a row.
1996: Caps up 2-0, never win again.

It's enough to give a franchise a complex.

But it plays more upon the fans' psyche more than the players, many of whom were still in bantam hockey when these series took place.

Despite another outstanding performance by goalie Semyon Varlamov, the Washington Capitals were fairly dominated by the home-standing Pittsburgh Penguins in their 3-2 overtime loss on Wednesday night.

Varlamov, the just turned 21-year old rookie netminder, saved 39 of 42 shots, many in spectacular fashion. But he could not stop the final shot, a slap shot from the point by Kris Letang, that was tipped and redirected past him by his own defenseman, Shaone Morrisonn.

The game-winner came at 11:23 of overtime, at the end of another flurry of shots and extended offensive zone play for the Penguins.

Pittsburgh played most of the game in the Capitals' end, and it really showed on the scoresheet. The Penguins out shot the Caps 42-23 and were awarded seven power play opportunities to the Capitals' two.

Washington was not happy about the imbalance of penalties handed out.

Alex Ovechkin, who had a goal and an assist, said, "I don't want to talk about the referees, too. They only had two penalties, it's kind of a joke."

Coach Bruce Boudreau did talk about the referees. "As far as penalties go, I hope I never hear them [The Penguins] complain about penalties again, picks, and everything else.I think we might have deserved the penalties, but they sure as hell deserved a few more than they got."

He again praised his goaltender though, "When you get a goaltending effort like that, you have to win because they don't come around every day."

The Caps owned play early, controlling the first ten minutes of the game. Ovechkin started the scoring at 1:23 of the first, as Pens' goalie Marc-Andre Fleury misplayed a puck behind his net, which sent the rubber in front of the goal to a charging Ovechkin, in the right place at the right time. Ovie buried it into the open net for his eighth goal of the playoffs.

Ruslan Fedotenko tied it midway through the second. Tom Poti got caught up ice, sending Fedotenko in on a two-on-one with Maxime Talbot against Morrisonn. Fedotenko tried to saucer a pass through Morrisonn, but the defenseman blocked the pass.

Unfortunately, he put it right back on the Russian winger's stick, and he lifted it past Varlamov, who had been sliding over to block Talbot.

Evgeni Malkin, who played a dominant Game Three after disappearing for the first two contests, scored Pittsburgh's go-ahead goal. With Alexander Semin off for hooking, he carried the puck into the offensive zone, deked Brooks Laich, carried to the high slot and shot high against a screened Varlamov for his fifth goal of the post-season, his first in this series.

"He [Malkin] was at another level," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "He was dominant with the puck and he had the goal, which was fantastic."

Nicklas Backstrom netted the tying goal with 1:50 remaining. On just the Caps' second power play of the night, thanks to a Pascual Dupuis interference call, Backstrom had the puck along the goal line, and he banked the puck off Fleury's backside to send the game into overtime.

Pittsburgh was just 1-for-7 on the power play despite the obvious advantage. But where the advantage really showed was in the legs of the Capitals defenders. Washington was noticeably slow to the puck and lost most man-on-man battles, a sign of weariness.

D.C. Sports Bog has a graphic description of the energy level from both teams.

The Caps were outhit in Game Three 44-31. The official scoresheet says that the Capitals committed only three giveaways, but the Pittsburgh scorers are notorious for poor attribution for the visiting teams in this regard.

Both teams complained vociferously about the condition of the ice surface at Mellon Arena after the game, and it was obvious watching the game that the puck was bouncing all over the place.

"The ice was really bad," Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik said, "and something we talked about going into the overtime was just put pucks on net, you never know."

"In overtime ice was just a mess, pucks just bouncing and stuff," Ovechkin said, describing one particular play in overtime where he was trying to get a shot off. "We have 3-on-2, [Hal] Gill goes down and I have probably 100 percent chance to score goals but puck just stopped moving."


Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, May 06, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

Where to start?

In the final indignation, Shaone Morrisonn tipped a shot from the point by Kris Letang past a shocked Semyon Varlamov for a 3-2 Penguins OT win.

Varlamov stopped 39 of 42 shots, including several outstanding highlight reel saves.

The Capitals played poorly all the way around, save for the goaltender. They were beaten to every loose puck. They lost almost all man-on-man battles. They were out hit. They were outskated and outhustled. And as much as they were dominated, they still took Pittsburgh to overtime.

Pittsburgh had seven power plays to Washington's two. Personally, I have no problem with any of it. The Caps did nothing to draw any penalties.

Sloan played well again in place of Erskine, but had one shift where he looked lost.

I've stayed off the Nylander/Fleischmann soapbox, but neither played well. Flash is out of place playing with Semin and Backstrom.

In a seven-game series, you're gonna have a clunker. Let's hope this is a sole clunker. But despite the win in Game Two, they Caps were outplayed for most of that game as well.

To Pittsburgh's credit, they played a buzzing, desperate style of hockey that the Caps just had no answer for tonight.

They say that a playoff series doesn't really start until a home team loses. The Washington Capitals travel to Pittsburgh for tonight's Game Three ready to test that old adage against the Penguins in Mellon Arena.


It seems that the drama, which was all that might have been missing from the first two games of this series, has returned.

After Game Two, when asked why he conferred with a referee during the clean-up of hats after Alex Ovechkin's third goal, Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby replied,
"People kept throwing hats. I was just asking if he could make an announcement to ask them to stop. I mean, the first wave came and then I think they were all pretty much picked up, and then more started coming. So for us, we just wanted to make sure we kept kind of moving and kept the game going, wanted to try to get back in it. So wasn't complaining about anything."
Not complaining, indeed.

Not to be outdone in the sour grapes department, Penguins winger Matt Cooke had this to say about the contact during Ovechkin's power play goal:
"We've talked to the referees, and I know we showed them tape," Cooke said. "It's a blatant play. I'm nowhere near the puck. He [Semin] is not allowed to touch me. It's a penalty. ... Call the game accordingly. The rules are the rules. It's not a guessing game."
Then, from this morning's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said he wouldn't "be surprised," if Ovechkin used an illegally curved blade on his stick.
"I haven't taken a look at it," Fleury said. "The puck sometimes sticks to it pretty good, even if it's bouncing."
Coach Bruce Boudreau's response to the Cooke quote, which probably covers all three instances, was simple.
"It's just jockeying and whining," Boudreau said. "It's enough of it."

Penguins winger Chris Kunitz' cross-check to the head and neck of Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov merited only a fine from the league, on a play that wasn't called a penalty during the game, yet was supposed to be a point of emphasis for the NHL referees this season: deliberate blows to the head.

Varlamov looked like he was temporarily dazed in the replay, but was uninjured from the blow. For his part, Kunitz (sort of) apologized through the media this morning.
"It looks bad on tape," the Penguin said of his hit on Varlamov. "It definitely does. It's not something I'm proud of. You don't want to do that. You don't ever want to injure someone. But it's something where I was going to the net, trying to make space. Unfortunately I hit him. It's something the league is going against right now -- hits to the head. I was fortunate [to not be suspended]."
The Caps were not, and are not, happy about Kunitz' hard play on their goaltender.
"It happened so quick you sometimes don't realize it," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "But if you look at the clip and slow it down, I mean, he's aiming right for the throat."
Ovechkin summed it up best.
"It's a cheap shot and Brash got six games but why not Kunitz? It's all about being fair. It's a serious problem I think. Can you imagine if he gave [Varlamov] an injury, what are we going to do?"

"If it's not going to be called it's going to be a terrible decision and I'm going to be [mad] about it.

Washington played Monday night without defenseman John Erskine, who took a shot off the leg in Game One. He participated in morning skate today, but reportedly was walking with a heavy limp once off the ice. If Erskine cannot go tonight, Tyler Sloan, who received high marks for his work in Game Two, will probably get the call.

Eric Fehr did not practice and was replaced by Michael Nylander on the fourth line. Fehr was hit hard by Ruslan Fedotenko in Game Two and missed most of the rest of the game with an undisclosed injury.

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang left late in Game Two holding his left shoulder. Coach Dan Bylsma said that Letang's injury was a "strength issue", and that he looked stronger in the morning skate. But he called his veteran defenseman a game-time decision.

If Letang can't go, Phillippe Boucher would take his place.

No Suspension for Kunitz for Headshot on Varlamov

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, May 05, 2009 | , | 0 comments »

Colin Campbell, NHL Director of Hockey Operations, has watched the video of Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz intentionally and viciously striking a two-handed cross-check to the head and neck of Capital goalie Semyon Varlamov in the final scramble around the Caps goal that resulted in Sidney Crosby's last goal on Monday night, and has decided, in his infinite wisdom, that Kunitz should be fined, but not suspended, for the hit.

If you haven't seen the hit yet, here it is. Ask yourself what's worse? A player charging a goalie who is already down on the ice looking for the puck and hitting him with a cross-check in the head and neck, or what Brashear did to Blair Betts?

As a goalie, I know what I think is worse.

Memo to Chris Kunitz: Keep your head up tomorrow night.

Ovechkin 3 - Crosby 3.

David Steckel 1 -Rest of Penguins 0

What a remarkable display by the two "faces" of the NHL. Crosby banging three home from the doorstep. Ovechkin unleashing three lasers from the outside. Just remarkable.

The building, once again, was electric. The cheers for Ovechkin's second goal were loud; for the third goal: explosive. And hats came raining down from everywhere.

The Caps were a little fortunate though to still be in this one by the time Steckel knocked a bouncing puck between Marc-Andre Fleury's legs at 15:49 of the second period.

Washington wasn't out shot like in Game One, but the Penguins played for shifts at a time in the Capitals end in the first and second periods, with Pittsburgh really taking play to the Caps.

It's a testament to their young goalie, and perseverance, that the game remained tied after two.

Alexander Semin let his emotion get the better of him, taking a double-minor that let to Crosby's first period goal.

There were 14 minor penalties in the game, including Milan Jurcina's cross-check with 1:41 remaining in the game.

Varlamov made 33 saves on 36 shots. The last goal went off the side of his helmet. But once again, he made some tremendous saves.

It's tough to say that he's making saves that other goalies that suited up for the Caps this season couldn't have made, but you just get a sense with this kid that he knows what he's doing, even when he's flopping around a little bit.

In the post-game press conference, Crosby had this to say when asked what he was talking to the referee about after Ovechkin's third goal:
"People kept throwing hats. I was just asking if he could make an announcement to ask them to stop. I mean, the first wave came and then I think they were all pretty much picked up, and then more started coming. So for us, we just wanted to make sure we kept kind of moving and kept the game going, wanted to try to get back in it. So wasn't complaining about anything."
No, he wasn't complaining about anything. Unbelievable. It's gotta be tough in a town known for Men of Steel to be led by a guy that cries about hats on the ice after a hat trick.

Photos 2009 © Cheryl Nichols. All Rights Reserved.

The Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins at 7:00 p.m. in Game Two of their best-of-seven second round Stanley Cup playoffs series. Washington leads the series 1-0 after beating Pittsburgh 3-2 in Game One.


The Capitals recalled defensemen Karl Alzner and Tyler Sloan from AHL Hershey, where they were competing in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs.

Caps D-men John Erskine, Tom Poti and Mike Green all took shots to various body parts in Game One. Erskine is the most serious of the three. He took a hard shot to the boot and tried to skate this morning but could only make it for a couple minutes before coming off the practice rink.

Erskine is now listed as "questionable" for tonight's Game Two.

Poti and Green participated in the morning skate.

Alzner and Sloan both spent time with the Capitals earlier this season. Alzner had 30 games with the parent club, recording one goal and five assists with a minus-1 rating and two penalty minutes.

Sloan played 26 games with one goal and four assists with a plus-4 rating and 14 penalty minutes. Sloan is best remembered for cleanly laying out Rene Bourque of Calgary in his first NHL game in October.

From Capitals Insider:
"We've only had six healthy defensemen up here and I think we were playing with fire if someone would go down in warm-up," Boudreau said. "We've got John banged up a little bit. He's going to try it and see if he can go. But we figured we take precautionary measures and call up a couple of guys just in case. If we had to go to one, they both know our systems as well as anyone."

Everyone in DC has been patiently the arrival of the Semyon Varlamov era for a while now. But after his save on Sidney Crosby in Game One, the rest of the NHL now knows the name of the 21-year old rookie netminder. Not that they pronounce it correctly.

In the hours since the Caps Game One win, it's all the larger hockey community wants to talk about, even overshadowing media darlings Crosby and Ovechkin.

Publications such as the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, USA Today, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette all have stories up about "The Save" and the mystery of the now-famous young backstop.

His own coach is staying away from him for fear of "messing him up," but Bruce Boudreau let him know through the press how he felt about his biggest save of the playoffs.

"He owed us one," referring to a goal on a soft wrist shot from the point by Mark Eaton just moments before.

Varlamov was philosophical about his Game One experience.

"The first goal could have rattled a 21-year-old goalie, and the second goal could have killed a 21-year-old goalie. But this is the playoffs. You can't really dwell on your mistakes. You have to forget them quickly."

But everyone will remember his effort on the save.

"There was no other option left," Varlamov said. "I had to play it with my stick. There was nothing else I could do. If he put the puck anywhere else, it would be in the net. So, I guess it was lucky."


The Penguins really took play to the Caps in Game One early in the game, registering the game's first six shots on goal. In Game Seven against the Rangers, the Caps didn't get a shot on goal until 13:04 of the first period.

In both cases, the other team had scored before the Caps got their first shot.

So, what gives?

Ultimately, the Caps are doing a lot of damage in the first period during the playoffs. Washington has scored 10 of its 22 goals in the first period, the most in the NHL this playoff season. The Caps are 4-0 when leading after the first and 3-1 when scoring first.

So why has the team looked shaky the first few minutes of the last two games?

Here's one opinion, by Game One hero David Steckel, "It seems like it takes a goal [against] or for the other team to take momentum away from us in the first 10-15 minutes for us to wake up."

"But we can't always start behind the eight ball. We've talked about it until we're blue in the face. It's just about guys being ready and prepared. Whether it's the using the same routine or breaking it up and trying to find something else, we have to do it."

The Caps are notorious slow starters for afternoon games, but coach Boudreau thinks nerves may have played a part in the last couple of games.

"Normally we're one of the best first-period teams in the league. But we're in new territory for a lot of these guys. Especially last game [Game One], we didn't have a clue what we were going to come up against. Maybe now we'll be able to relax a little bit."