Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, April 08, 2011 | , , , , , | 2 comments »

So over on Twitter today there's been raging debate on who folks think Bruce Boudreau should go with in goal for the Washington Capitals for Game One in the playoffs.  Essentially, who is this team's playoff goalie?

Japers' Rink asked the question today too, and provided the stats for an analytical approach to evaluating the decision.

Does Boudreau go with Michal Neuvirth, who the Caps have ridden to 27 of their 48 wins this season and won two Calder Cups?  Or should he go with the goalie with better statistics this season (in many fewer games) and that he's trusted more in the playoffs the last two seasons, Semyon Varlamov?

It's an interesting debate, because both goalies are immensely talented.  And as 50 Mission Caps points out, because of the motivational factor and psyche of the team, you can really only switch goalies once in a series, because as they put it:
"...the whole point of changing your starter in the playoffs is that it gives your team an excuse for games they've already lost. It's not actually about goaltending, it's about giving your team amnesia, or some sort of get-out-of-adverse-momentum free card. Under no circumstances is this to become a rotation by whimsy, or gut feel, or coin flip. Give your 'tender and your team a fighting chance. The minute you start to flip-flop back and forth, it stops being about a fresh start and starts being about your lousy goaltending. And no one wins in the playoffs with lousy goaltending."
Should this decision be made on statistics?  Should it be made on tenure?  Should it be made on gut instinct?

Or is it a matter of style preference?

Neuvirth is a technical goaltender, cut from the cloth of classic goalies like Ken Dryden, Bernie Parent and Olaf Kolzig.  Varlamov is an extremely gifted athletic goalie a la Dominic Hasek.  Heck, the Caps even have their crazy psycho goalie in Braden Holtby along the lines of Billy Smith and Ron Hextall ::shudder::.

Personally, I prefer the technical goalie.  I think they are more dependable and night after night give a more balanced performance.  Athletic goalies are spectacular to watch when they are on, but hold on to your hats if they aren't "feeling right" that night.  Again, it's a matter of preference.

All three goalies are ridiculously talented at such a young age and gives the Caps a stable of goalies that every team in the league should be envious of.  But we're not debating the long-term solution of Caps goalie for the next ten years.  We're talking about the next ten weeks or so.

So, who you got?

by Cheryl Nichols

The 2010-2011 Southeast Division Champion Washington Capitals hosted the Florida Panthers for the last regular season game at the Verizon Center.  The Caps wrapped up Fan Appreciation Week with a 5-2 win over the Panthers.

The Caps jumped on Florida early with two power play goals in the first period, and made sure they stayed down, adding two more before garbage time late in the third.  Mike Knuble redirected a Brooks Laich pass for his 24th of the season to start the scoring.  Jason Chimera (10), Sean Collins (1), Matt Hendricks (9) and Alex Ovechkin (32) all tallied for the red.

With the win, the Capitals now have a four-point lead over the Philadelphia Flyers for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Caps can clinch the top spot in the East with a Philadelphia loss on Friday in Buffalo or by earning a single point in Saturday’s regular season finale in Florida.

While it wasn't too shocking to see that Alex Semin was scratched again after missing the last game, it was a bit of a surprise to see Jason Arnott and Scott Hannan scratched.  Caps Head Coach Bruce Boudreau did not ask them if they wanted to sit, he just thought that they needed to rest. He said after the game, "We still have to wait to see what’s at stake on Saturday before we start taking anything for granted. We are watching the scoreboards and seeing what’s going on."

The power play finally looks on track. The Caps have scored five power play goals in their last three games. Knuble and Chimera's goals both came on the power play goal in the first period of last night's game, when the Caps really took control against an overmatched Panthers squad playing out the string.

Sean Collins scored his first goal of the season -- his second career goal  -- in the second period assisted by Ovechkin. Collins' previous NHL goal was over two years on Jan. 1, 2009 against Tampa Bay and was also assisted by The Great Eight.  "I always want to be on the ice with him [Ovi]," Collins said.  "When I get the puck usually my first option is to look for Ovi."

All Photos 2011 © Cheryl Nichols Photography/Caps News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Semyon Varlamov made 31 saves and looked great in net, earning first star honors from the media.  Boudreau was asked about his confidence in this year's goalie situation going into the playoffs and he said, “We can put one of three guys in and I know we are going to get a good game. I’m not knocking anyone else, but that is the way I feel.”

In the clubhouse after the game, a couple of players expressed their thoughts about the playoffs.  Brooks Laich explained, “We’re prepared for Saturday’s game and after that, we’ll do a little scoreboard watching to find out who we’re going to play. Monday and Tuesday we’ll have some solid practices and ramp it up for Wednesday or Thursday, whenever it is.”  He went on to say, "“We feel [like] we have a very good hockey team. We’ve shown it in the past few years in the regular season, but now we have to take the next step and that’s playoff success.”

Brooks Laich stretching during pre-game warmups (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
Are the Caps ready for the playoffs? Matt Hendricks believes yes. "“I think so. We had a real big hiccup in the first period. We gave up way too many opportunities, but we had Varly [Semyon Varlamov] in net and he did a great job keeping us in the game. After that, I think we took over and controlled it.” 

And about retaining the Eastern Conference title?  “That is definitely one of the long term goals we set out at the beginning of the season and to be this close with 60 minutes of hockey left, it’s worth going for.”

Washington closes out the regular season home schedule with the best winning percentage on home ice (25-8-8) and the least home losses (8) in the NHL. The Caps have finished in the top three in home record in each of the past three seasons, pacing the league with a 30-5-6 record last year and finishing third in 2008-09 (29-9-3). Their 84 wins at home in the last three seasons are tops in the league during that span.


Defenseman Mike Green, who has missed 25 of the last 27 games with concussion-like symptoms, could return to the ice for Saturday's game in Florida.  He's cleared all the tests required by the NHL for his return per the league's protocol, but the Caps elected to keep him out of Wednesday's game. 

Getting the playmaker back on the blue line and power play should provide a boost to the team as they enter the playoffs.


3. Semyon Varlamov.  31 saves on 33 shots.  The two goals came late and at extra-strength.  Saved everything he should have.  Looked lke he was moving around fine.
2. Brooks Laich.  Two assists, plus-2.  He had his wheels going tonight and dominated in the dot, winning 9-of-12.  He's a center.
1. Alex Ovechkin. Goal, two assists, plus-2.  His playmaking of late has been beyond superb.  The pass he made to Collins was like he had eyes in the back of his head..

The playoff scenarios are still wildly in flux, but one thing now is for certain.  The Washington Capitals will hold one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference, courtesy of their fourth straight Southeast Division title, after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in a shootout before a capacity crowd at Air Canada Centre.

Mike Knuble, the fourth shooter for the Caps, scored the only goal of the penalty shot phase to deliver the win.

The loss officially drops the Leafs out of the playoff race for the franchise-record sixth consecutive season.

The win, coupled with the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 loss to Ottawa, gives the Capitals a two-point cushion with two games remaining in the Eastern Conference.

As for the game, there really wasn't a whole lot to talk about, unless you want to discuss Toronto's rookie goalie James Reimer.  The Caps put 41 shots on goal, including seven by Alex Ovechkin, but could only manage to get two past Reimer, Ovechkin's laser beam on a five-on-three, and John Erskine's floater from the point that deflected off Luke Schenn and into the net.

Ovechkin's goal was the 300th of his already illustrious career, and he could have had several move were it not for the stellar play of Reimer.  Ovechkin had a shot flick off a post in the third period after Remier got just enough of it with his glove to deflected it out of the way.

Reimer's play the last month of the season has been a bright spot in another lost season in Toronto, but not bright enough to lift them into a playoff seed.

The Capitals, however, shook off their doldrums of December and January and now sit in the driver's seat in the conference and for the moment own the second best record in the league.  It's quite a difference from the losing streak when talk radio hosts and certain segments of the fan base were calling for coach Bruce Boudreau's head on a platter.

Now, as the second season approaches, it seems like their leader is healthy and, well, leading the way.  Boudreau is resting forwards a game at a time as we go.  And hopefully some old favorites can get some PT against Florida this weekend and bolster a depleted blue line.

Hang on to your hats.  This is where it really gets fun.


Alexander Semin was not a factor in last night's game as he stayed behind in D.C. nursing an undisclosed ailment.  Boudreau said during the morning skate that if the game had been a playoff game Semin wouled have been in the lineup.

The enigmatic winger had goals in three of his last four games after being held scoreless in seven straight.


GM George McPhee told reporters in Toronto that D Mike Green, who has missed the 24 of the last 26 games with concussion-like symptoms, could return to the ice for Wednesday's game with Florida.  McPhee indicated that Green has passed all the tests mandated by the league for his return, but the team is weighing their options when to insert him back into the lineup.


3. Sean Collins.  I'm going to give Collins some props here.  He was plus-1 and was not the worst defenseman on the ice.  Played a well-managed 10:49.
2. Michal Neuvirth.  The kid just keeps doing his job.  Two goals on 21 shots, and the second goal was the result of his defenseman -- in this case Jeff Schultz -- flat getting beat.
1. Alex Ovechkin.  His goal was a thing of pure power, and he had great legs and hands in this one.  His stick-handling displays on a couple rushes were breathtaking.