Tighten Up – It was a 2-1 game, with a total of 44 shots on goal. It looked more like something the Devils and the Bruins would cook up than a game featuring two of the league’s top eight offensive teams, a game that also happened to feature two teams whose goals against averages reside in the bottom half of the league ledger.
For the Capitals, the main thing was coming out on top. They were on the right side of a 2-1 decision on Thursday against the desperate Atlanta Thrashers. The win ended a three-game skid (0-1-2) for the Caps, but also served as a timely reminder of the type of hockey games they’ll frequently find themselves embroiled in two weeks hence.
Washington came out of the first stanza with a 1-0 lead, courtesy a last-minute goal from Nicklas Backstrom. With Semyon Varlamov making his first start in a week in goal for the Caps, Washington buttoned down its own end nicely. For the most part, the Caps kept the Thrashers away from the middle of the ice and denied time and space consistently. Atlanta could not manage more than seven shots in any of the game’s three periods.
Varlamov was blemished just once on 20 shots, giving up a Tim Stapleton tally late in the second period. Coming into the game, Varlamov had been 1-3-3 in his last seven decisions.
“It was a great confidence boost for him,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “He hadn’t won in a while and held them to one goal. I didn’t think they had a great many chances, but the chances they had were good ones and he was up to the task.”
It took a gritty shift from the Caps’ fourth line to provide the difference; David Steckel and Jason Chimera set up Matt Bradley for the game-winner midway through the final frame. Varlamov and his mates muffled everything Atlanta had afterwards, and the Caps whittled their Presidents’ Trophy magic number down to three.
“I thought as a team, we just decided to shut it down,” says Boudreau. “He [Bradley] has nine goals, which is the most he’s had since I’ve been here. It has been a while since he scored, but he does his job. He comes out and he tries, so I don’t know how you get mad at him or think that he is one who is not doing his job, because he knows what his job is. It’s to prevent other people from scoring, not scoring goals. He did it tonight and well, everyone gets rewarded now and again.”
Washington is now 25-6-5 when leading after the first period. Tonight’s game was the third in the last 10 in which the Caps held a lead after the first 20 minutes.
Fifty Mission Caps – The Caps recorded their 50th win of the season with Thursday’s victory over Atlanta, matching the single-season franchise mark set in 1985-86 and replicated in 2008-09.
Another Notch for Nick – With his 30th goal of the season in the first period, Backstrom became just the eighth Capitals center ever to reach that milestone.
Backstrom is the first Caps pivot to record a 30-goal season in 20 years. Mike Ridley was the most recent, netting 30 goals in 1989-90.
That’s A Match – Green’s assist on Backstrom’s goal gives the Caps’ defenseman 73 points on the season, matching his single-season career high established in 2008-09.
Bradley’s goal enables him to match a single-season career best in both goals (nine) and points (22). Both of those personal standards were set in 2001-02 when he was a member of the San Jose Sharks.
That’s Better – In each of their previous five games, the Capitals surrendered 13 or more shots on goal in the first period. Tonight, it took the Thrashers two full frames to record 13 shots on net.
Sub-Twenty – Excluding games in which one of the two left (or was excused from) the game early, tonight marked the 11th game this season in which Ovechkin and Backstrom both skated less than 20 minutes. Washington is 11-0 in those games, and the Caps are 3-0 against Atlanta in such games.
How Low Can You Go? – Tonight’s game marked just the second time in the last 13 meetings between Washington and Atlanta that the Thrashers limited the Capitals to fewer than four goals.
Shots Down – The Caps and Thrashers combined for just 44 shots on goal on Thursday, the fewest in any Washington game this season. It has been more than two years since the Caps and an opponent combined to record fewer shots on goal. Washington and the Colorado Avalanche totaled 42 shots in a 2-1 Caps win at Verizon Center on Jan. 9, 2008.
Taking A Page – Typically, the Caps are the team that takes a lot of shots but gets fewer than half of them on net. Tonight, the Thrashers held that distinction. Atlanta fired 52 times, but finished with just 20 shots on goal. Sixteen Thrasher tries were blocked, and another 16 missed the mark.
Are You Experienced? – Atlanta blueliner Chris Chelios logged 9:02 on the night, and it was he who was worked down low on the game’s deciding goal. Playing in his fifth NHL game this season and the 1,649th of his 26-year NHL career, the 48-year-old Chelios became the oldest player to play against the Capitals in three decades and the second oldest ever to skate against Washington.
Gordie Howe – who celebrated his 82nd birthday yesterday – played for Hartford against the Capitals during the 1979-80 season.
Happy Birthday – To ex-Caps defenseman, Hockey Hall of Famer and one of the best there ever was, Scott Stevens, born on this day in 1964. To ex-Caps defenseman Nolan Yonkman, born on this day in 1981. And to Caps security representative Jimmy Wiseman, born on this day a few decades back.
By The Numbers – Steckel was the game’s top draw man, taking 11 of 14 (79%) on the night … John Erskine paced the Caps with four blocked shots on the night … Varlamov is now 4-0-0 lifetime against the Thrashers.
Down On The Farm – The AHL Hershey Bears earned some richly deserved love. Blueliner John Carlson was named to the AHL’s 2009-10 All-Rookie team on Wednesday and Bears forwards Alexandre Giroux (first team), Keith Aucoin (first team) and Andrew Gordon (second team) were named to the AHL’s 2009-10 First and Second All-Star teams, as voted on by players, coaches and media in the league’s 29 member cities.
Also, congratulations to Bears forward Cody Eakin, who scored his first professional goal for Hershey on Wednesday against Syracuse. Eakin was Washington’s third-round (85th overall) choice in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He scored the goal in his first pro game, having joined the Bears at the conclusion of his WHL season. Eakin scored 47 goals for Swift Current, tied for third in the circuit.
1 - 0 WSH
1 - 1 Tie