Earlier today I wrote, "There are a lot of ways to be a productive hockey player". By the same token, there are a lot of different ways to win a hockey game. Some nights it takes dazzling offense. Some nights it takes a team gritting their teeth and willing themselves to victory. Some nights it takes one guy putting the team on his back and carrying them to a win. And some nights - like tonight - it takes a team filling out its roster with AHL call-ups rallying behind a bad call (more on that in a bit) and playing smart, aggressive, defensively-sound hockey, including killing off a five minute major by drawing a penalty of their own and not letting the opponent register a single shot.
While the Caps' forechecking was solid and their offense pressure was consistent, the bulk of the praise for this game has to go to the defense corps, all of whom played well. Mike Green was all over the ice creating chances in the offensive zone, Brian Pothier played with controlled aggression and was a constant disruption to Buffalo's offense, John Erskine was quietly efficient, Karl Alzner looked like an old vet, and Milan Jurcina played his size. It's hard to ask for anything more from the group.
Finally, Semyon Varlamov was simply outstanding, something that had as much to do with his mental game as his physical one. After the Alex Ovechkin penalty, the ensuing powerplay, and the raucous atmosphere it would have been understandable for even the most veteran of netminders to get a little anxious. But Varlamov stayed calm and collected the entire time, which was exactly what the team needed. The effect that has on a team can't under underestimated, and Varly's quiet confidence played a bigger role in tonight's win than it'll get credit for.
Ten additional notes on tonight's game:
- Not only should the boarding call on Alex Ovechkin not have been a been a major - I'm not even sure it have even been a penalty. Patrick Kaleta may have gone into the boards face first, but Ovechkin hit him shoulder-to-shoulder.
- I've been accused of being a referee apologist in the past, and constant complaining about the officiating is one of my pet peeves, but Paul Devorski and Kelly Sutherland were awful tonight, committing a number of officiating cardinal sins. Letting the game be played like it's 2003 and hooking's not in the rule book: check. Making a call based on a result (Kaleta's injury) rather than the play: check. A questionable make-up call soon after: check. The only way they could have made it worse would have been to get perturbed at one of the teams and start making calls out of spite.
- Karl Alzner went from the AHL to playing 20:15, second-most among Capitals defensemen. If you think he's been in Hershey for reasons that have anything to do with anything other than the salary cap, your argument just got substantially weaker.
- Brian Pothier's second period hip check on Clark McArthur was pretty sweet. Of course, it would have been even better if it didn't look like he gave himself whiplash on the play.
- It might be beating a dead horse, but it's simply unacceptable to watch a guy crash the net as hard as Steve Montador did to end the second and have the other team instigate the scrum after the whistle.
- Coming in to tonight's action Paul Gaustad was first in the NHL in faceoff percentage at 63.3 and David Steckel was second at 61.4. Steckel won four of five head-to-head draws, but Guastad can always look on the bright side: he was one of five against Stecks; the rest of his team was oh-for-nine.
- He's been cold recently, but Nicklas Backstrom really turned it on after Ovechkin was shown the gate. He may not have gotten on the scoresheet for his trouble, but that's the kind of play that can help bust a slump.
- Since his last goal, which came on the 14th when the Caps played the Devils in Newark, Tomas Fleischmann's played five games and has just one assist and seven shots. C'mon Flash, where's the guy who was making things happen every shift?
- If I were Bruce Boudreau I'd implement a rule barring Semyon Varlamov form handling the puck more than three feet away from the blue paint, effective immediately.
- Only one Capitals - Eric Fehr - had an average shift length of over sixty seconds. Jeez, the guy scores one big goal and he thinks he's one of the young guns...
Just two days after "a total collapse by 20 guys" the Capitals came out and simply got the job done on a night they could have used injuries, Ovechkin's ejection, or their recently grueling schedule as an excuse and simply did what they needed to do to get the two points. That doesn't make the leads they've blown or the games the coasted through any more acceptable - but it sure does feel good, doesn't it?