Thursday, January 20, 2011

Checking In On The NHL With Just 10 Days Before the All Star Game

Well fellow Cap fans here we are on the precipice of the event which generally is used to mark the middle of each NHL Regular Season - the All Star break, even though in the Washington Capital's case they are now six (6) games past that actual point as are most other teams in the league as well. Today, Thursday, January 20th, 2011, the Caps are in the middle of a three game Eastern Conference road trip/swing before returning to Verizon Center to face the New York Rangers on Monday evening. Tonight the Capitals will face the New York Islanders in Uniondale and then they travel to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs on Saturday evening.

There's a great interview with Semyon Varlamov over at Japer's Rink and if you haven't read it you should. There were three of his answer's that really impressed me, they aren't fancy or wildly expressive, that's not the reason they impressed me. Here's the excerpts:

How did you get beat in overtime?

"Their defenseman rolled up to me and shot under my glove. I didn't have time to react."

In the last game against Ottawa the team started out down 0-1 but scored two goals in 45 seconds. Tonight you were down 0-2 and scored two goals in 40 seconds. What's going on with Washington?

"The fact that we are playing badly the first two periods. We aren't scoring. Only then do we start saving ourselves. We need to give it our all for the entire sixty minutes. We are constantly allowing the first goal. But this is a very powerful league. To fight back, you have to break through the other guy's defense-you have to put forth a lot of effort. It isn't always successful. So we need to score first and carry the game. Then everything will be okay."

What do you think of Sergei Bobrovsky and his debut season in the NHL?

"I know Sergei well, we ran into each other on the national team. Bobrovsky is having a great season. He's a great guy! If you make it to the NHL in your very first season you've already played 28 games, then that shows that the guy is talented and he works a lot on himself and his mistakes. And you can achieve a lot of success if you don't stop."

To a fair degree the answers to these three questions reflect a couple of things about Varlamov that make me like him even more and make me continue you think he could very well end up really being "The Guy" here in Washington. Those three things are: 1) mature intensity, no excuses about why he got beat on an OT goal, just a direct factual answer - but underneath I sense he's been looking at that goal in his mind and thinking about what he'd do differently next time so he would have enough time to react, 2) clear understanding that even as talented as he and the rest of the Caps are, they need to work ev ery minute of every game like they can be beaten, and 3) he doesn't measure himself against others, that's why he can be both brutally frank and still be happy to see another peer like Sergei Bobrovsky do well. Anyway tonight's goaltender match up is probably Varlamov vs. DiPietro though it is possible that the Capitals might start Braden Holtby who was just called up from Hershey, and the Isles may also be without "DP" as he didn't skate today and was listed as "sick" and I don't think that's in the good way like when Alexander Ovechkin often uses the word as slang, so Nathan Lawson may be in net for them. Tonight should mark the return of Kyle Okposo and Frans Neilsen to the Islander's lineup while it looks like former Capital Milan Jurcina will not be available. For whatever reason, it always seems like the Islanders play well and hard against the Capitals regardless of how the rest of their season is going, so let's hope that tonight is one of those night's where as Varlamov said, the Caps play solid hockey for all sixty minutes.

More on the current health situation and development of Neuvy and Varly from Katie Carrera of the WaPo here - it's an article worth the read IMHO.

So with four more games before the All-Star break, the Capitals find themselves with two goaltenders who could and hopefully will make good use of the break and in the thick of a tightening contest for superiority in the Eastern Conference - right now the only team of the top nine in the Conference with any "breathing room" are the Philadelphia Flyers who the Caps battled back against before ultimately succumbing in OT on Tuesday evening with a league leading 30 wins and 65 points. There are only nine (9) points separating the second place team in the Conference (really Pittsburgh with 62 points) and the 9th place Carolina Hurricanes with 50 points, additionally the 10th place Florida Panthers (46 points) and the 11th place Buffalo Sabres (45 points) also can't really be counted out since they have three games in hands (while the Hurricanes have two in hand) on the eighth place Atlanta Thrashers (53 points). The Capitals (58 points) are battling for first place in the Southeast Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning (59 points); while the Penguins (62 points) and the Flyers (65 points) are battling for first place in the Atlantic Division, though the third place New York Rangers (57 points) also aren't out of that hunt either. Rounding out the top nine teams in the Eastern Conference are the defensively stingy Boston Bruins atop the Northeast Division with 59 points in 46 games played and the 7th place Montreal Canadeans with 56 points in 47 games played. All in all the remainder of the season, as well as the few weeks remaining before the trading deadline should be very interesting to follow when it comes to the NHL's Eastern Conference - welcome to parity.

For the Capitals it all continues tonight in Uniondale ...


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