GAME 26 REVIEW: Caps Shootout Winner in Montreal

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, November 28, 2009 | , , , , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals stormed out of the gates, going up 2-0 midway through the first period.  But the homestanding Montreal Canadiens scored three straight goals in the second and third periods and looked to be controlling the game. 

But Eric Fehr snuck a rebound attempt underneath Carey Price with 11.4 seconds remaining with the Caps playing six-on-four, and Nick Backstrom beat Price with a snap shot in the third round of the shootout to lift the Caps over the Canadiens, before a raucous, sellout crowd at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Things got off to an encouraging start for the Capitals (15-5-6).  Fehr and Alex Ovechkin scored 1:12 apart in the first period to take a serious 2-0 lead, and minutes later, Ovechkin came in alone on a breakaway on Price.  The "Great 8" put a quick deke on the netminder and went to his forehand, but Price was equal to the task, keeping his team in the game long enough to get them started.

Montreal (12-12-2) answered pretty quickly in the second period.  With Jay Beagle in the box for a "light" tripping penalty, Jaroslav Spacek landed a blast from the point to cut the deficit in half at 5:40. 

Ten minutes later, Tomas Plekanec lifted a backhand past Semyon Varlamov (21 saves on 24 shots) after a scrum in front of the net.  Plekanec got behind Karl Alzner in the confusion, but it was a hiccup in the rookie's otherwise terrific game, just his second of the season.  In 16:57 of total ice time, he had an even rating, and assisted on Fehr's first goal.

Montreal took the lead at 5:34 of the third, with Travis Moen getting credit for a tip-in of Marc-Andre Bergeron's booming slap shot from the point.  The goal came at the end of a power play, one where the Caps played over a minute down two men.  They killed off the five-on-three, but long their energy just at the end of the shift to give up the big shot.

Things looked bleak in the dwindling minutes of the final frame.  Price came up huge on several occasions, but he himself almost made the fatal mistake.  With less than two minutes remaining, he tried to clear a puck along the boards, but sent it right to the tape of Brendan Morrison. 

The veteran pivot put the shot on net, but Price got just enough of it to push it out of the goal.

The Caps would get the last, best chance though.  With Varlamov off for the extra skater at the 1:30 mark, Washington got good pressure on the Montreal net.  At 19:44, Paul Mara was whistled for high-sticking, giving the Caps an offensive zone draw.

Nick Backstrom got tied up on the draw, but turned his body into Plekanec and kicked the puck back to Mike Green at the point.  He sent the puck across the rink to Ovechkin at the opposite point, who unleashed a blast that Price turned away.

But Fehr was in the right place at the right time, and slid the puck just underneath Price for the equalizer.

Overtime was scoreless, then both goalies stopped the first two shooters in the shootout.  Varlamov then stoned Plekanec after the Canadien went way wide and then tried to go short side, but the young Russian netminder got his left pad down to close the door.

Backstrom then got his chance, and he did not disappoint.  He went straight at Price, and fired a snap shot stick side that left the goalie defenseless.

The Caps now head down to Carolina to take on the Hurricanes Monday night at 7:00 pm.

1. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 1)
2. R. Hamrlik - MON (Goals: 0, Assists: 2)
3. E. Fehr - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)

GAME 25 REVIEW: Varlamov Blanks Sabres 2-0

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, November 26, 2009 | , , , | 0 comments »

Washington, DC -- Semyon Varlamov made the saves, Alex Ovechkin and Eric Fehr scored the goals, and the Caps' penalty killers put the clamps on in the third period, as the Washington Capitals shut out the Buffalo Sabres 2-0 before a capacity crowd at the house that Abe Pollin built, in the first hockey game since the Capitals' original owner passed away Tuesday.

The young goaltender made 25 saves for his first career regular season shut out, many in spectacular fashion, especially in the third period.

Varlamov needed to be on his game, as did the Caps penalty killers, in the final frame.  Their leader, Alex Ovechkin, drew a five minute boarding major, with the accompanying game misconduct that went along with it.

Ovechkin ran into Patrick Kaleta just 3:38 into the third period from behind, sending the Sabre into the boards face first.  The replay showed that Ovechkin hit Kaleta in the shoulder, but the hit was hard enough at full-speed to earn the call, much to the chagrin of the Verizon Center faithful.

"I just go take a hit and [Kaleta] just fell into the boards. ... Max, it's got to be 2 minutes," Ovechkin said.

"We just watched it a half a dozen times...Kaleta saw him coming," coach Bruce Boudreau explained after the game.  "It might have warranted a two minute minor, but I don't think it warranted anything more than that."

Regardless, Ovechkin would watch the rest of this one from the locker room.

The Caps killed the five minute major, and was given a brief reprise as Craig Rivet took a two-minute tripping penalty in the middle of it. 

"You lose the most prolific scorer on the planet Earth, which is tough," defenseman Brian Pothier said. "But you have to kill a five-minute penalty. As Ovie's skating off the ice, we're telling him, 'We've got this one for you.' He does so much for our team. Every night, he bails us out. We could sure do it for him."

They also killed a two-minute delay of game penalty on an especially lazy play by Mike Green behind his own net, as he lofted the puck off the ice.

Behind the killers, Varlamov was rock solid.  He was tight on the posts and even made a couple of nice glove saves as the time ticked away.

"Varly was solid," Boudreau said. "It was like he was saying, 'I'm not going to let this happen to me again in the third period.'"

Ovechkin opened the scoring in the first period, taking a puck between the Caps' circles, carried into the offensive zone, skated across the high slot, and flung a wrist shot past Sabres goalie Ryan Miler (22 saves).  It was his 17th of this campaign.

Eric Fehr got the insurance goal at 13:38 of the third.  Brendan Morrison won an offensive zone draw back to Mike Green, who slapped a pass to the end boards, where Morrison gained control.  The pivot then skated the puck behind the net and found Fehr standing on the doorstep, unmolested by Sabres defense. 

Fehr banged the puck past Miller for his fourth goal of the season.

But the 21-year old netminder was the biggest story of the game.  He is 4-0-2 in his last six games with a goals against under 1.50.  He seems to have wrested the mantel of No. 1 goalie from Jose Theodore, who was not playing at the top of his game even before his recent sabbatical.

Varlamov, through an interpreter, was succinct in his assessment of his performance, "I've gotten over being nervous."

Music to Caps fans' ears.

The Washington Capitals, as they have so many times this season already, dominated through two periods, taking a 3-1 lead into the final frame against the Ottawa Senators Monday evening.

What followed was "a collapse by 20 guys and I don't know how else to sugarcoat it," according to coach Bruce Boudreau after the game. 

Ottawa scored twice in the third to tie and Mike Fisher, the NHL's No. 3 star of the week last week, batted home a centering pass from Chris Phillips past Semyon Varlamov (33 saves) in overtime to seal Washington's fate.

The Capitals (13-5-6), tied for the lead in the Eastern Conference with Pittsburgh, lost for the fourth time in five games (1-2-2) during a very trying time on the schedule, and with the accumulation of injuries across the team.

Missing again from the lineup were Alexander Semin, Milan Jurcina, Boyd Gordon, Shaone Morrisonn, Tom Poti, Mike Knuble and Quintin Laing.

No one wants to blame injuries and the schedule for the recent troubles, but reasons are different than excuses.

"I don't think the problem was physical," center David Steckel said. "I just think mentally we shut it down."

"It's a tough loss. I still can't really believe that we let it slip away," said Jay Beagle, who registered his first NHL goal to give the Caps a two-goal lead.  "I scored but at the same point you're disappointed with the loss so it's kind of a bitter feeling."

Washington has allowed a power play goal that has tied or been the go-ahead goal in the third period eight times this season, and unfortunately the trend continued.

Three penalties in the third period made playing with the lead more dangerous than it should have been.  Ottawa tied it up with Alex Ovechkin in the box for a questionable roughing call.  "I think he just go low and I just hit him," Ovechkin said. "But I don't take a penalty."

The Caps could do nothing with a gift later in the period, as the Senators were whistled for too many men on the ice.

"They wanted it more.  We take three dumb penalties, they get the momentum, they get the crowd into it and we leave our poor goalie out to dry," Boudreau said.

"What happens a lot to us is that we go two periods without a penalty and then all of a sudden it's, well, 'We got to call something on them.' And you get a cheap one. But at least two of them were deserved."

Washington outshot Ottawa 25-15 through the first two periods of play, but the table was reversed in the third, as the Sens dominated, beating the Caps in shots 18-3.

The Caps got first period goals from Chris Clark (2) and Brendan Morrison (8) to take the early 2-1 lead, and Beagle got his first in the second period, which should have made things comfortable in the third period.

But it seems like lately, when things should be comfortable, that's when the Capitals have their most trouble.

The Caps are off until Wednesday night, when they host the Buffalo Sabres at 7:00 pm at Verizon Center.
1. M. Fisher - OTT (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
2. P. Regin - OTT (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
3. M. Green - WAS (Goals: 0, Assists: 1)

Mike Green assisted on Morrison's goal, extending his point streak to seven games.