A Night for Newcomers

We’ll get to Scott Walker, aka Maurice Richard, in a minute.

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.

* * * * *

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.”
This entry was posted in Bruce Boudreau, Eastern Conference, John Carlson, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to A Night for Newcomers

  1. mostholy2 says:

    As much as I appreciate Nick laying down and making the sacrifice with his body to kill a 5-on-3 PP. I absolutely HATE that Bruce put him out there on the 5-on-3 no matter how well he killed the penalty. The last thing I want to see is Backstrom putting his body in front of a potential 100+ mph puck and risking serious injury.

    He is one of the key pieces of the Caps post-season success. Last thing we need is someone like him going down to win one of these regular season games, particularly with the Caps sizeable lead in the Eastern Conference. We got Walker and Belanger on the team to help improve the PK and provide us with PK depth. Why risk Nick when you have these guys available. A single regular season loss is not worth risking your top line player for.

  2. Eric says:

    If you’re not going to skate players because they might get hurt, you might as well not be involved in hockey.

  3. Eric’s right. Concern about a star player getting hurt is understandable, but answering duty’s call is a must — for everyone. Nick sure answered last night.

  4. Bill says:

    When it comes to cheers for players who hadn’t scored a goal, don’t forget Mike Knuble’s single-handed penalty kill several months ago.

  5. mostholy2 says:

    Well, the difference between “not skating players in case they might get hurt”, vs. unnecessarily putting a star player on a 3-on-5 PK when you have others on your roster and in your system to fill that role perfectly is quite a large difference.

    I’m not saying keep Nick from skating at all in case he might get hurt, but rather don’t put him in those situations unnecessarily. Given the huge advantage that the PP has on a 5-on-3, pretty much the main focus of the players is getting in the way of shots or passes.

    Nick was great in his efforts and “answering duty’s call” and it speaks volumes about the loyalty and devotion of the all the players to sacrifice without question.

    I am just questioning Bruce’s decision-making when he is (IMO) unnecessarily putting Nick in harm’s way to win an uncritical regular season game. We should be focused on the playoffs and success in the playoffs, and not the result of a single regular season game which most likely doesn’t have any affect on our post-season positioning.

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