The Heart Transplant Patient Is Doing Just Fine

No. 1 defensman already out. No. 1 netminder knocked out early from a laser to the ‘noggin. No. 1 center shelved early on as well. No problem.

There were about 30 compelling reasons to expect the Tampa Bay Lightning to deliver an inspired performance with first place in the Southeast on the line in Monday night’s matchup with the Caps, and for the Caps, playing the second night of a back-to-back on the road against a comparatively rested hosting foe, to struggle. The Caps on their previous visit to the St. Pete Times rink had handed the ‘Bolts their hat (5-2, February 4). Surely Tampa wanted to atone for that. And early on, the Caps saw more key pieces skate off to the dressing room. Tampa doesn’t much do national TV, and Monday’s was a national television appointment. It was a big game. Pierre McGuire was in the house.

A victory like Monday’s by the visitors, under the circumstances the Capitals confronted, wouldn’t have been possible 10 days ago, we allege. At least, there was precious little precedent for it through the season’s first 60 games. But that’s why surgeon George McPhee took a scalpel to his roster last Monday. Down 1-0 in the third period last night, with a host of key pieces out of the lineup due to injury, the Capitals skated in statement fashion coming home, and thereby boarded a plane home with their fathers in possession of a sweep of the state of Florida, in possession of first place in the Southeast.

Speaking of heart transplants, the new EKG on Alexander Semin is mighty healthy. You get the sense with Semin that perhaps he’s not so much “mercurial” or “erratic” but rather that he just needs something large and special and good to happen for him to unleash the full compliment of his prodigious talent. And perhaps it also doesn’t hurt to have the game mean something. It also probably doesn’t hurt that he now has a legit second-line center helping him out. Sunday night in Sunrise Semin scored an overtime game-winner to catapult his hockey club into first place for the first time in months. Monday night offered the residue of that heroism: Semin was the best player on the ice sheet last night, and his game-tying goal late in the final frame seemed in its virtuosity and swagger to assure the Caps of leaving town with two points. The Capitals are a vastly different looking hockey club when Sasha skates with swagger.

* * * * *

If you want the identity of a fella who’d finish last in his class at medical school: Lightning coach Guy Boucher. To be fair, Boucher is an NHL rookie bench boss. But also to be fair and accurate, were he otherwise, what he did with his shootout lineup in his team’s biggest game of the season last night might have been a firing offense.

Managers pay elite talent hockey players seven or eight million dollars a season, or more, principally because of their production, but also because they’ve demonstrated a penchant for coming through when it counts most. Last night, wholly cognizant that last season’s Eastern conference representative in the Stanley Cup finals only qualified for the postseason because of shootout victory in game no. 82, Boucher allowed his big guns — St. Louis and Stamkos — to sit on the pine while the likes of Dominic Moore and Adam Hall (???) tested their penalty shot acumen on Capitals’ rookie netminder Brayden Holtby. And Boucher opted to bring a quasi washed up Vinny Lecavalier in to the contest too late in the proceedings. It was beyond stunning and shocking; for Lightning fans, it had to be appalling.

* * * * *

Goals may be scarce in the Capitals’ boxscores these days, but the wins are there, and so is the conspicuous depth of talent in goal, lavishly on display in Washington’s 2-1 shootout win over the Tampa Monday night. You want to know why George McPhee refuses to deal any of his three prized young netminders, ever? Nights like Monday. But also: like all Caps’ fans, McPhee probably still has no idea who among Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, and Braden Holby is going to emerge as go-to guy in crunch time. And all three might.

* * * * *

We no longer have firing squads, meaning, almost certainly we are stuck with Pierre McGuire on Versus telecasts the remainder of the season and beyond. So insufferable. Often speaks apparently merely to hear his own voice. National Football League national telecasts had his ilk back in the day in Howard Cosell. Pretty sure Pierre could be lodged down at ice level for a late September exhibition game between Columbus and St. Louis and swear we were witness to “playoff atmosphere.”

* * * * *

Capital Braden Holtby’s most valuable asset as a goalie may be his ability to rebound from scarring experiences. His shootout debut with the Capitals earlier this season was the unfortunate kind of unforgettable, but he more than made up for that last night when he stopped Tampa’s final shooter, Vincent Lecavalier, stone cold on the goal doorstep.  Three saves by Holtby and one dirty goal by Ovechkin in the shootout sealed the outcome. Holtby’s development, however, is far from unexpected. Boudreau said back in 2009 during Development Camp that Holtby reminded him of Semyon Varlamov, who, at that point, was the darling of the Caps’ fanbase thanks to his uncanny ability to rise to the occasion in big games (in his case, the 2009 playoffs).  Holtby is showing that same almost unteachable asset as he spends more time in Washington: he gets called off the bench to start the second stanza after Michael Neuvirth took a puck to the mask in the game’s opening minutes (Neuvirth for his part deserves an iron man shoutout for finishing the period after that incident) and follows up with some spectacular highlight reel saves, including a stick save on Simon Gagne that pretty much defied the laws of physics.

The only downside to the Holtby storyline Monday was that his dad wasn’t able to join many other Capitals’ proud Papas on the annual father-son roadtrip, and see the game in person, since he was apparently on his way to Hershey when Holtby got the callup.

So this is playoff hockey: allow the other team to score just one goal, don’t score a goal until the third period, and then duke it out in overtime, with power play goals becoming an extinct animal? The power play remains a singular area of grotesque concern for Bruce Boudreau. But for what it’s worth, Chicago finished the regular season last year 16th on the power play before going on to claim the Stanley Cup (although that’s still nine spots ahead of the Caps this time around). This year, Chicago is first in the league in power play like the Caps were last year.

The usually durable Nicklas Backstrom left the game, and the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera reported afterwards that Backstrom fell on his left hand (fractured thumb) but that he wanted to return. Backstrom’s hand has been of concern lately, but it sounds like there’s nothing wrong with his work ethic. According to Carrera, Boudreau said Backstrom would be fine.

* * * * *

Can the Capitals keep the Dads in tow for the next three months?

This entry was posted in Alexander Semin, Braden Holtby, Eastern Conference, George McPhee, Hockey hearts, Michal Neuvirth, Morning cup-a-joe, National Hockey League, Nicklas Backstrom, Semyon Varlamov, Shootouts, Southeast Division, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The Heart Transplant Patient Is Doing Just Fine

  1. sonja says:

    Holtby = stone cold goalie = amazing and phenomenal learning curve. He was a pleasure to watch last night (speaking as a goalie mom 😉 )

    Pierre is definitely hockey’s version of Howard Cosell, without the iconic voice or presence. This makes him simply annoying. However, he is more tolerable and balanced when Pittsburgh is not on the ice and he doesn’t sound like a 14 year old talking about her crush.

  2. penguin pete says:

    last night’s game was fun to watch, though that’s easy to say for someone without any emotional attachment to it.

    i often think about this blog watching a caps game, predicting the morning’s mood as another shutout loomed, almost (i said ALMOST) happy that headlines would be saved by semin.

    the caps are playing great hockey right now, and it’s certainly a good time to ramp things up. as a pens fan i certainly wouldn’t want them in the first round, or any round for that matter, and i can’t imagine a fan of any other team feeling any different.

    and sonja, i appreciate and share the disdain for pierre, but you really need to hear him do a flyers game, as mike richards is easily the greatest hockey player in the world. pierre’s world.

    hope, for you guys, the news continues to be good here, though i wouldn’t mind reading ovi’s index finger fell off so he couldn’t flap it around after scoring in one of those god-awful shootouts….

  3. The Horn Guy says:

    Howard Cosell at least added flavor and insight into his rambling broadcast stylings, and peppered his inanity with true knowledge of what he spoke. That’s something Cueball McGee will never have.

    Love the headline, BTW.

  4. Justin says:

    At first glance, it’s understandable to have a strong WTF reaction to Boucher not putting St. Louis and Stamkos out for the shootout, but it seems he was just playing the numbers. For all of their insane puckhandling, playmaking, and laser sight-goal scoring skills, they have yet to convert on a single shootout attempt for the year. I’m sure you knew that and still said WTF, but I digress.

  5. OrderedChaos says:

    Thanks, all, for the terrific comments!

    @ Pete: We appreciate you thinking of OFB during games. I hope that’s not like thinking of baseball during… never mind.

    Our post-gameday coverage tone is certainly impacted by the Caps’ play the night before, but we strive to be appropriately enthusiastic regardless of the result — always supporting the team, but also presenting analysis that’s uncomprisingly fair. Revel in the good, plainly point out the bad.

  6. penguin pete says:

    @Ordered Chaos: The blog is great, and I hope my words did not give you a different impression. In fact, I wish you guys would ditch this Capitals stuff and make an NHL blog, offering your fantastic insights to larger audiences and allowing them (and me!) the opportunity to be more involved in the conversations here, rather than being the token “not too much of a jerk penguin guy”.

    regardless, i come here several times a day AS A PENS FAN, which, if isn’t proof that a great group is putting this together, i don’t know what is.

  7. Pete, that looks like a brazen attempt to extract free beer from the blog. 😉

  8. OldPhil says:

    Agree with Justin on the Bolts’ shootout picks; Stamkos, MSL and Vinny are 0-for-16 this year. Sometimes you gotta try something different (like maybe the Caps’ power play!)

  9. Oh for 16 tells me they’re due.

    Recall the prolonged shootout slump Ovi endured. His coach didn’t give up on him.

    In your team’s biggest game of the year you go to your money players. End of discussion.

  10. Oh for 16 tells me they’re due.

    Recall Ovi’s prolonged shootout slump. His coach didn’t give up on him.

    In your team’s biggest game of the season you go with your money players. End of discussion.

  11. OldPhil says:

    Or, since they’ve been so bad this year in the gimmick you try something else. Per the SCOTUS, discussion continues.

  12. HBH WC says:

    Pete, you are sooo right about McGuire and his man-crush on Richards. Every time the Phliers are on TV with PM “Betwixt da Glass” I need to turn the sound down.

  13. HBH WC says:

    One more thing. Even though I’m a Caps fan (well I’m mostly a Bears fan and over half of the Caps are Bears) I’m also a fan of the game of hockey. The sooner Sydney comes back the better hockey will be.
    BTW, I still have my Alex Kovalev #27 Pens jersey hanging in my closet. I hope he can help.

  14. @ Pete, no offense taken, clearly. We always appreciate your readership, and your comments.

    @ PHIL, You’re right: The debate is a worthy one. Ride the cold (but best) horse until it becomes hot, or go with the unknown quantity? While I lean towards the former, it’s by no means a given.

  15. Dougeb says:

    Another nice piece from OFB. I read you folks daily — even aboard cruise ships (much to my wife’s chagrin). At least she won’t find me in the ship’s casino — reading hockey blogs and keeping up on the Caps. Hmm…maybe I ought to be found in the gym, working out (not).

  16. @ DOUGEB You rock, sir! Hello to the wife. Mrs. OC and I are fans of the cruise ships as well — 6 so far (including one to Alaska).

  17. Doug, I echo Mike’s appreciation. That’s deeply flattering. And in the same vein (sorta), we once heard from a seaman in the United States Navy — a big Caps’ fan who grew up in the region — who told us that one of the first things he did when his sub surfaced was power up his laptop and get briefed on the Caps by OFB (among other sites, I’m sure). That blew my mind.

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