Two games into the most hyped second-round playoff series that anyone can remember, something somewhat remarkable is happening - the series is actually living up to that advance billing.
The media-created and force-fed rivalry between Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby has turned into an unreal game of one-upsmanship; the unheralded rookie goalie who has played more in the NHL's second season than in its regular season is on fire; the team that's getting secondary scoring is winning the games; and the chippiness that was missing in Game 1 was present early and often in Game 2 (though it tended to be a bit one-sided).
The story of Game 2, however, was Simeon Varlamov giving his team a chance to win and the League's reigning MVP cashing in on that opportunity. And while there's obviously much to love in the result for Caps fans, there's also plenty of room for improvement. Some thoughts on the game:
- Varly was once again out of his mind last night, and really gave the Caps a chance to win. He had a couple of brilliant stops on Crosby (who could have had five or six goals), a save on a re-direction that even in slo-motion looked quicker than anything we've seen from any other Caps goalie in ages, and continues to play with phenomenal poise for a kid his age despite having to deal with much more traffic in Game 2 than in Game 1 (including a filthy crosscheck by Chris Kunitz moments before the Pens' third goal).
- On the tie-breaking goal in the third period - the Ovechkin power-play tally - Alex Semin ran some major interference on Matt Cooke that should have been called and would have been the perfect hat trick penalty for Semin after a pair of retaliatory minors in the first period that led to the Pens' first power play goal in three months or so. But it wasn't called - missed and wrong calls were common theme on the night both ways - and it was just about game over.
- When Alex Ovechkin saw that he was one-on-one with Sergei Gonchar with a one-goal lead and less than five minutes left, he must have taken the briefest of moments to lick his chops before using his fellow countryman as a bit of a screen and ripping a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury's glove. And then? An offensive onslaught of chapeaus.
- If Varly and AO were the headline, the subhed was the Caps' domination in the faceoff circle, as they won 62% of the game's draws and didn't have a pivot under 50%. The Caps' puck possession wasn't great on the night, but without those big faceoff numbers, it would have been downright revolting.
- Staying in the dot for a minute, the Caps were led by David Steckel's 77% efficiency, which, when you consider that he also scored a goal,drew three penalties (including the one on which the "real" game-winner was scored and a questionable Kris Letang trip), and led the team in short-handed ice time (including time on the massive 3-on-5 kill), certainly deserves significant recognition. He was a beast.
- Remember the Caps' discipline problems? Sure you do. They were present in a big way on Monday night, and I'm not sure any of the seven minors the Caps took were even "decent" much less "good" penalties, with the worst being Chris Clark's retaliatory elbow that negated a power play with the Caps down a goal in the first. Psst... Chris... That "C" on your chest means you don't do things like that.
- I wonder if anyone is regretting picking Evgeni Malkin first on their Hart Trophy ballot right now - and if they might be having a similar regret about writing Mike Green's name for Norris. I could care less about Geno, but Green lost Crosby twice in front of the net - and twice the puck ended up behind Varly. He has to be better. Much.
- Since length of shifts was the topic du jour yesterday, we'll note that AO's goals ended shifts at 37, 52 and 21 seconds and that his monster shifts of 2:26 and 2:31 ended in big fat zippy.
- The Caps did a better job of limiting odd man rushes against, but the shot allowed total was still too high.
- Let's hope Eric Fehr (and Kris Letang, for that matter) make a speedy return to this series. John Erskine, too (though Tyler Sloan played well in his limited ice time).
After all that - two hard-fought one-goal wins highlighted by other-worldly saves and timely goal-scoring, but with flaws aplenty - all the Caps have done so far is what they were supposed to do: win at home.
They (whomever "they" are) say that a series doesn't begin until a team loses a game at home. Let's then hope this series gets started on Wednesday night... in Pittsburgh.
Win one game. Do it
four three two times.