What we learned from Caps-Habs
Washington's goalie situation is far from settled after José Theodore's shaky job
The Habs need to continue to pressure the Caps' defensemen and force mistakes
Maybe it was a sense of urgency which filled the Caps during the third period
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals certainly know how to put on a show. After a disappointing overtime loss in their home building in Game 1 two nights ago, the Caps eventually woke up and eked out a 6-5 overtime victory Saturday over the Montreal Canadiens at the Verizon Center. Here are a few quick thoughts:
Is it just me? Or is José Theodore sounding a lot like déjà vu? After giving up a couple of softies -- two goals on two shots -- the goalie got yanked just eight minutes into the game. The first goal, a Brian Gionta wrister that beat Theodore just a minute into the game, was an inauspicious beginning; Andrei Kostitsyn's score six minutes later was all Bruce Boudreau needed to see. This is now the second straight season in which Theodore has been removed. Last year, against the New York Rangers, the netminder was benched from the second game. Rookie goalie Semyon Varlamov, meanwhile, has turned into the spring understudy. In relief, he stopped 19 of Montreal's 22 shots. Boudreau says he hasn't thought about who will start in Montreal on Monday, but subjecting Theodore to his former city after a game like Saturday's doesn't seem too fair. "[The two early goals] were more of a deflating thing on the bench than I thought we needed the change," he said. "The first one was a knuckleball ... and I thought we made such a bad play in the second goal. [Andrei] Kostitsyn is in between the circles with a wristshot. So I don't know if in the real world Theo had much chance on either one of them. But I do know that we had expended an awful lot of energy in the first eight minutes of the game and we were down 2-0. So I thought that might be a lift for the crowd and a lift on the bench."
Despite the win, the Capitals weren't without their deficiencies. Defensive mistakes nearly cost them the game -- many times. One must wonder if R.J. Umberger was watching with a smile on his face. The Columbus Blue Jacket center spoke his mind about Washington's deficiencies candidly earlier this month, saying, "They play the wrong way. They want to be moving all the time. They float around in their zone, looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes. A good defensive team is going to beat them [in the playoffs]. If you eliminate your turnovers and keep them off the power play, they're going to get frustrated because they're in their zone a lot." From R.J.'s mouth to Habs' ears, it seemed. When the Canadiens put pressure on Washington's defensemen -- who are seemingly always looking to stretch the ice and look for the streaking forwards -- they're forced to make decisions faster, and more likely to rush it and turn the puck over in the neutral zone. At times, they were static in front of their net, while Montreal's forwards buzzed and made plays around them.
Montreal winger Andrei Kostitsyn had a career night. Kostitsyn, who had been relatively quiet (eight points since the Olympic break) since returning from January knee surgery, exploded Saturday night, playing with two of Montreal's top scorers in Michael Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec. Kostitsyn, 25, recorded a hat trick and added an assist on Plekanec's go-ahead goal late in the third for his first career four-point night. Montreal's top players carried their team and the loss, while likely hard to swallow, at the very least demonstrates to them (or rather those people watching them) that Game 1 was no anomaly.
The Caps' second and third lines kept them in it during the first two periods. Then the top line took over as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom each picked up three points in the third frame, and were on the ice for the winner. Something seemed to change going into the third -- though it's not clear what. But it definitely looked like Ovechkin, who was active hitting in the opening minutes and then seemed to fade, came out in the third with a mission. He didn't really explain what changed ("I think we just have more power than last game," was his best attempt at an explanation). But he added: "We just have to shoot it from everywhere." Considering he was held shotless on Thursday, everyone knew he'd come out firing. He and Backstrom led the Caps with six shots each.
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