In a game that lived up to much of its overwhelming early-season hype, the Caps and Flyers entertained a nation or two of hockey fans and delivered roller-coaster rides of emotion to their respective fan bases before birthday boy Danny Briere got free on a goal-mouth scramble and beat relief netminder Jose Theodore at 3:52 of overtime.
The Caps balanced their brand of explosive offense (five goals against a team that had yielded just two in their first two games of the season) with their brand of poor discipline (nine minors against the team with the sixth-best power play of a year ago) and came away with a point in a tough barn. But if there's such thing as a good loss, this wasn't it, as Saturday night's third-period stumble turned into something a bit more disconcerting in tonight's middle stanza, with whispers gaining volume regarding the youngster between the pipes.
Ten notes on the game:
- Semyon Varlamov can't be blamed for all of the goals he allowed, but it's pretty clear that the book on him is exactly what we began to see in the Pittsburgh series last spring (if not earlier) - get him moving laterally and shoot high glove. As Corey pointed out, Varly has now given up three goals in a period in five of his last six outings (including the pre-season and playoffs), and Bruce Boudreau rightly called him out on it post-game, noting "[He] has got to be mentally tougher to play. Right now ... they score in bunches on him." So Varly took the League (or, more accurately, the Rangers and Pens) by storm and now seems to have been figured out a bit. Your move, kid.
- When Boudreau reshuffled his defense pairings, the duo of Tom Poti and John Erskine raised an eyebrow, and tonight we were made painfully aware of why. The answer to "Why is Erskine playing so much?" was an easy one: because he was Poti's partner. The answer to "Why is Erskine Poti's partner?" is still baffling. Erskine ended up with more minutes than Shaone Morrisonn and Jeff Schultz, was minus-two on the night (and was on the ice for all three Philly power play goals) and committed a pair of penalties. Just a bad, bad night for Number Four.
- On a positive note, Schultz's season debut? Plus-one, four blocked shots (twice as many as any other player in the game), a handful of good things that don't show up on the scoresheet and 2:36 of shorthanded ice time during which the Flyers failed to score.
- On another positive note, Alex Ovechkin had his third consecutive three-point game to start the season (but wasn't credited with a single hit), Alexander Semin had a pair of goals (to go along with three giveaways and a hooking penalty), and Nicklas Backstrom continues to quietly amaze, with another three helpers.
Brendan Morrison may not have "kicked" in his goal, but he definitely kicked in his goal.
- To my untrained eye, it looked as if Mike Green was a little contact-shy after taking that early hit.
- If I'm Boudreau, I request a pre-game conference with the officials prior to the next Philly game to review what is and isn't goaltender interference in a Caps/Flyers game, because it appears to be different than it is in games between other teams.
- It was nice knowing you, Boyd Kane.
- A couple of helpers, plus-two and a fight (if you can call it that) for Matt Bradley would have no doubt made him hard hat-worthy had the Caps taken that extra point in OT.
- Nice to have that Jose Theodore safety net for the moment, isn't it?
The Caps return home to face the Rangers on Thursday night and all eyes will be on the Washington net. If it was my call, I'd throw Varly back in there - if there's one team against whom and one building in which he should be able to regain some confidence, it's the Blueshirts that he so thoroughly dominated just six months ago and Verizon Center. It's way too early to panic... but it's not too early to re-focus.