No team has any business beating these Washington Capitals when they pump 52 shots on net, literally doubling the shots tally of the opponent, as the Caps did last night in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars, but hockey has a last line of defense, and on Monday night at Verizon Center Marty Turco may well have saved his Dallas Stars’ season with a 49-save, first-star effort. The Capitals had a team record 42 shots on Turco after two periods — the game should have been over at that point. But Turco’s rebound control Monday night was excellent, allowing the Stars to avoid serious swarms of skilled Capitals’ forwards and pinching blueliners making even more work for their netminder.
On any other night, against virtually any other netminder, Alexander Ovechkin’s roof-raising two tallies, which emphatically ended his six-game goal scoring drought, would have earned him the game’s first star and the Capitals another win. But not Monday night. Such is hockey.
“I told [Ovi] this morning, ‘you just have to work harder,’” said Capitals’ head coach Bruce Boudreau. “I thought he was in a mode where he was waiting for the play to come to him instead of going out and creating the play. But you saw in his first two or three shifts in the game he was going out and hitting guys and he had his energy back. When he has his energy, he is what he is: the best player in the world.”
There were struggles Monday night for the Capitals’ defensemen — John Carlson and Joe Corvo in particular. At long last Carlson looked something like his age — at times. Still, he made a lot of terrific passes, skated more than 18 minutes, and perhaps most notably got his nose dirty a bit against Steve Ott near the end of regulation time when Ott was making life a little too uncomfortable for Semyon Varlamov. The Caps could use more of that jam on the back end. That may be one reason Carlson figures to remain in Washington however long springtime hockey here lasts.
Like Carlson, Varlamov didn’t enjoy his best outing either, but whereas Carlson is learning to play defense in the NHL, Varly is playing his way into shape again after a fairly lost winter due to injuries. Boudreau saw progression in his young netminder Monday night, pointing to poise and smoothness in his performance in the first two periods. He certainly didn’t find fault with him on the two power play strikes that earned Dallas a 2-2 tie early in the third period. And even on the third goal he surrendered in the final frame Boudreau suggested that the puck may have been fluttering a bit from a deflection. Still, that’s a shot that has to be stopped in a 2-2 game in the third. Varly knows it.
Eric Belanger centered Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich on Monday night, and Boudreau took note of the speed that line generated all night long. A lot of commentators suggested that Belanger was brought in at the trade deadline by the Caps to center the team’s third line. Maybe, maybe not. The likelihood is strong that as he gets to know the team’s wingers better he looks even better than he has the past two games, which was pretty good.
Said Belanger: “We have to learn to believe in each other and trust each other in the defensive zone, and I think this team has the players to do it.
“They’re fighting for their lives and [Marty Turco] came out huge for them. When you get over 50 something shots, you’re doing a lot of good things. As an example, we were all around their net all night and it [puck] was just bouncing over the stick . . . When the goalie’s on and controls the rebound pretty good I don’t think we could have done more than we did.”
- It was perhaps about time the Capitals’ good fortunes at home ended. Still they managed to string together a club record 13 consecutive wins on home ice. Trouble signs seemed to emerge in the win over New York on Saturday night, a game which could have easily been 6-6 if not for amazing goaltending on both ends. The Caps also struggled against Tampa’s powerplay Thursday night. The penalty kill is a real weakpoint for this hockey club right now.
- Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin both had amazing nights. Both wingers worked hard, and the puck seemed to stick to Semin’s stick after elluding it for much of the month of February (especially in Vancouver) and early March. Blame the skate sharpener for his shootout snafu, but his effort overall was tireless and encouraging. Ovi, Nick Backstrom, and Mike Knuble held the offensive zone for their entire shifts on several occasions Monday night, and the Gr8 was rewarded twice.
- Varlamov looks sharp in his explosive lateral movement, but high shots have been difficult for him to handle, especially his very-Pittsburgh-exploited glove hand of last spring.
- Although Boudreau was critical in his assessment of John Carlson Monday night, he gave him the opportunity to start overtime and double shifted him in the extra period. The head coach described his mistakes as “reckless,” but he strongly hinted that the rookie will be residing at his D.C. area hotel through April and potentially much longer. Carlson did make a few errors in his defensive zone but recovered quickly and didn’t allow chances off those hiccups. In the offensive zone he pinched well and tandemed effectively with John Erskine before his partner took a puck to the face (and didn’t return).
- Monday night’s game represented the third straight against a club in desperation mode — on the outside of a conference’s top eight. It would have been somewhat understandable for the Capitals to let up off the gas pedal a bit after pummeling Turco with more than 40 shots through two periods and enjoying a 2-0 lead. But needless penalties and ineffective penalty killing gave life to a desperate hockey club. “Once they got the first one I knew it was gonna be a dogfight,” Boudreau said.