Monday, March 8, 2010

Varly Meets Marty: Caps Take on Seldom Seen Stars

The Capitals hit the ice tonight for a game against veteran goalie and his Dallas Stars team mates in hopes of extending their celestial home win streak. Washington, 25-3-3 at home, has a club-record 13 straight wins –one shy of matching the NHL’s best home winning streak since 1975-76. They haven’t lost at home in the new year, since a Dec. 28 loss to Carolina, and are 75-20-9 at home under the leadership of bench boss Bruce Boudreau. Hockey Mom heard another juicy stat today on the drive home. The boys are a whopping 30-points ahead of Atlanta to lead the Southeastern Conference. The last time a team had that much of a point differential to lead their division was 14 years ago with the Detroit Red Wings! Not sure how I remembered that one, but for some reason it stuck with me. With my harried schedule, I often feel like Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man"; I can name almost every goaltender along with their respective team from memory but can't remember to pick up paper towels on one of my twenty-something trips to the grocery!

Despite Jose Theodore's solid performances in his last few outings, Semyon Varlamov got the nod in net tonight to face veteran Marty Turco on the other end of the ice. Up until this evening, Alex Ovechkin had not garnered a point for the third time in his last four games. But the Capitals' dangerous offense continues to sizzle, bolstered by a streak of secondary scoring. Tonight was defenseman Tom Poti's turn to light the lamp to get the home team on the board first. Alex Semin was working it and doing his darnedest to snag a goal in the first - good to see the Vancouver hangover is starting to wear off there. Turco had to stand on alert as the Caps took 19 shots to the Stars' five in the opening period. End of the first: Capitals 1 - Stars 0

Sometimes when two teams don't see each other often, the games tend to get a bit chippy. That wasn't the case tonight and the first power play of the evening came late in the second period courtesy of the Stars' Karlis Skrastins (try saying that name in succession after a few celebratory cocktails) took a seat for hooking. He was soon joined by team mate Stephane Robidas after he took a delay of game and the guys in red were gifted with a brief 5-on-3 man advantage. Just as the Stars got a man back for 5-on-4, Ovechkin found his Midas touch and smoked Marty Turco with a blazing wrister. That tally put Ovi at 43 for the season, just one behind that guy that lost his stick and gloves moments after winning Canada's Olympic gold medal. By the way, if you've seen said stick and gloves, Reebok Canada is offering a $10,000 reward. End of second: Capitals 2 - Stars 0 (shots on goal: 42 Caps to the Stars' 16 - whoah, way to make Marty Turco work up a sweat!)

The opening minutes of the final period saw Dallas on the power play as Mike Green was whistled for hooking. Former Bolt Brad Richards wasted no time getting his team within one on his power play goal. And less than two minutes later, Matt Bradley took exception to a ref's accusation of holding and reluctantly took a seat in the box. Once again, the Stars converted on the power play with a goal from Trevor Daley and we had a 2-2 tie game.

But despite being drastically outshot, the tenacious Stars team silenced the sold-out Phone Booth when James Neal's goal went five-hole on a shaky Varlamov, giving the underdogs a 3-2 lead at the 7:53 mark. Happy to report they weren't quiet for long, as who else but the Great8 faked out Stephane Robidas to net one of his signature beauties -  to tie the game, along with tying with "that other guy" for leading goal scorers with 44 on the season! Unfortunately, the Caps did not score again before the final horn and this one was going into overtime.

OT saw some fine scoring chances by both teams and Turco was on his game in stopping a couple of hard-charging Ovechkin attempts. Alas, neither team scored in OT and we had to go to the dreaded shoot out for a final decision. Nick Backstrom had a last minute deke to score first for the Capitals. On the other end, Brad Richards made a similar move to trick Varlamov. Alex Semin tried his own swifty move, but wins the klutz award as he stumbled into the boards after his shot. Brendan Morrison and Brooks Laich were unsuccessful in their shoot out attempts and Dallas' Loui Eriksson netted the game winner to claim the 4-3 victory. The Caps were beyond strong offensively against this rarely-seen Stars club, but still some holes in the defense and another not so strong performance from Semyon Varlamov. Meanwhile, give credit to Marty Turco who was outstanding for his team.

And by now, you've probably all seen the heinous hit by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke on Boston's Marc Savard. Cooke, you'll recall, donned a Caps sweater for a brief period last season. Savard is one of the top five players in terms of points for the Bruins, who are hanging on for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Word as of now is that Savard suffered a grade two concussion and there is no definitive timetable for his return - a huge blow to both him and his team mates. One can only hope that Colin Campbell throws the book at Cooke for his most recent trangression. All of the NHL GMs are in Florida for their annual meeting and the topic of head hits is front and center on their agenda. These hits seem to be getting more severe in both intensity and resulting injuries and the league has to take action now before the unthinkable happens. This post over at Gross Misconduct Hockey pretty much sums up HM's personal take on the issue...

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