Well, this series is certainly off to a good start. That was some well-played, entertaining hockey this afternoon at Verizon Center. There were plenty of big hits, big saves and momentum shifts that were highlight-quality material.
Three big reasons why the Washington Capitals are up 1-0 in this series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
1) Simeon Varlamov: Marc-Andre Fleury was OK in net for Pittsburgh, but Varlamov was better. He gave up one bad goal, but given the way the 21-year-old rookie responded to it, the Caps aren’t complaining.
“That goal was just my mistake. That’s all,” Varlamov said. “Games like this, you shouldn’t be hard on yourself. Even after you allow a softie, you don’t have the right to be upset too much.”
His save on Sidney Crosby will be shown on sports highlight shows across the continent tonight, but he also made a few other great ones.
This was a lot more offensive pressure than the Rangers applied. The Caps defense corps did a nice job of limiting second chances and snuffing out attempted one-timers near the crease, but they also got beat for some odd-man rushes.
2) The PK: Man, if New York’s power play was dysfunctional, Pittsburgh’s wasn’t much better. The Caps penalty killers did a great job of creating havoc when the Penguins tried to set up.
After going 25-for-27 in the last six games of the Rangers series, the Caps were perfect this afternoon. If they yield six shots for every five power plays the Penguins have in this series, the Caps are going to win more than they lose.
At the other end, the Caps had only two extra-man chances, but they formed a 5-on-3 and they took advantage.
3) Sidney Crosby: Sure, Varlamov made a save for the ages on Crosby, but he’s got to put that puck somewhere else. Along the ice and dead center was the only place Varlamov was going to be able to get to it.
It goes beyond that one shot though. Crosby had several great scoring chances today. He missed the net twice, he fumbled a potential breakaway.
Maybe it is being too hard on him (on the other hand Ovechkin also had a bunch of great chances and only scored one) but Crosby had most of the really great chances for the Penguins and could have had more.
Here are some other quick notes:
* Varlamov has now tied the franchise record for consecutive wins in the playoffs with four. He also leads the league in GAA (1.29) and his .950 save percentage is just shy of Jonas Hiller and Roberto Luongo at .951
* The third line was really good together again today. David Steckel’s goal was a big one, because the Penguins were setting the pace for most of the opening period.
“We didn’t play well the first 10 minutes. Only one line played well – Steckel, Matt Bradley and Brooks Laich. They scored a goal and give life to the bench. Then we started to move our legs and make [them take] penalties.”
* Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin were all pretty good to great today. Crosby was everywhere. Evgeni Malkin … well, there is always Game 2.
* This defense-first version of Mike Green can also be pretty darn good.
* Washington is now 7-1 in series openers against Pittsburgh.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg, boys,” Brooks Laich said. “We realize they are a very good hockey team. They are who we thought they were. They’re very deep, they play hard, they play aggressive and they’re going to be tough to beat.”