First up, however, is the status of John Carlson. In Thursday night’s postgame Bruce Boudreau said that there would be neither callups nor demotions going forward, meaning, it sure looks like Carly’s here to stay. That means, you would have to think, that the Caps figure to give him meaningful minutes come the postseason. Why scratch him or skate him sub- 10 minutes in a third pairing when he could earn 25 minutes a night leading the Hershey Bears to another Calder Cup?
If you’ve watched the Caps the last two nights you’ve seen a handful of instances in which Carly’s made deft defensive plays in his own end and in the blink of an eye later authored strikes — hard, fast, and flat — up the middle of the ice onto the tape of forward teammates. Always on the tape. Always hard and fast and flat. At age 20, he’s of course not a polished professional blueliner. He just looks that way. What he is right now, however, is one of the best defensemen in the Capitals’ organization. He was I thought the team’s best defenseman on Thursday night.
The Capitals it seems are prepared to carry nine defensemen through the rigors of this spring. One of them, Milan Jurcina, will be sidelined at least a month. Tyler Sloan and John Erskine figure to be longshots to crack the blueline, as long as Carly looks as he has the past two nights. Were it not for the five penalties the Caps took in the second period, Carlson likely would have approached 17 or 18 minutes of ice time. He’s got nine games under his belt with the parent club this season, and he’s skating a +7.
Now then. Scott Walker. Who in your office pool Thursday picked him to be the evening’s first star?I loved what Mike Vogel quipped last night of Walker’s third-period dramatics on Twitter: ‘Walker, Verizon Ranger.’
It’s a good thing Walker and his fellow new arrivals, Eric Belanger and Joe Corvo, had strong outings, cause the incumbent Capitals certainly did not. Few of them could be bothered to defend the ice surrounding the immediacy of Semyon Varlamov’s cage. They took five penalties in just the second period. The newcomers had a nifty night, but there will be assimilation pains in the weeks ahead, as there always is.
“[There were] nerves and apprehension,” Walker said after the game. “[The Caps] are so good, you just wanna go and fit in and keep it going try to help anyway you can.”
“I try to just play, you are a lot better when you just play. You just try to play the game and not think. Most guys have played this game since they were a kid, but you have to play that hard style in the system.
“Once you get the system down in your head it naturally happens. So now I just have to get down that the system I have in [my head] is this one and not Carolina’s. There are a few tweaks, but all in all the game is very similar, there are a few tweaks here and there but it is similar. You get the puck and want to put it in their end.”
Here’s how pretty the Caps are sitting right now: they have four games remaining on this homestand, but they could clinch the Southeast division title in this homestand by winning out and getting a little losing help from their division foes, namely Atlanta. Earlier Thursday Vogs illustrated how formidable the Caps’ perch is in the East on the team’s podcast: if they went 14-5 on their final 19 games the New Jersey Devils could go 20-0 and not catch them. And should the team go 13-5 in their final 18 games they will amass one hundred and twenty points on the season. How many clubs around the league would like to have the kind of goaltending issues some feel is the Caps’ achilles heel with that level of achievement?
Speaking of goaltenders, Nicklas Backstrom sure made like one when his team was killing off nearly 5 minutes of penalty time — more than a minute of it with the Caps down two men — deep into the second period. The Caps were clinging precariously to a 3-2 lead at the time. And there was actually a series when the Caps were effectively defending in front of Semyon Varlamov with just two men, as Backstrom snapped his stick. But the soon-to-be very wealthy Swede used his body as a human shield, blocking three shots and eliciting as long and as loud a standing ovation from the home crowd as any I’ve seen for a Capitals’ player who had not scored a goal. Teams win titles when their stars sacrifice themselves like that.
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Scott Walker, on his relationship with George McPhee:
- “He has always been a guy that has supported me as, a GM, and a guy that looked at me when I was in the minors. He would come down and talk to me. He played a similar style as me, maybe a bit tougher. He gave me confidence when I was in the minors. He moved on, but I did a contract negotiation with him and he said to me, ‘Don’t worry, you are going to score 20 goals in this league one day.’ It didn’t happen for a while and then I went to Nashville and I scored 20 goals and actually George was the first guy I thought of. One time in Carolina I ran into him in the press box, and I said I really appreciated you when you said ‘You are going to be one of the guys to score 20 goals.’ It kind of gives you that confidence, because when you are not scoring and not playing he is a GM and you think he must know something. Seeing as I knew him since I was 15 or 16 he made me kind of comfortable.”