The Washington Times - November 21, 2009, 11:47PM

Sometimes covering this team can be tricky. Expectations are so high for the Washington Capitals that a game like tonight can be a cause to shred them for lack of effort, not taking a bad team seriously and whatever else happens in games like this.

That said, how much leeway do the Caps deserve for being seven skaters short and playing back-to-backs for the third straight Friday-Saturday? Does the fact that the effort was better in the third make up for the shoddy work in the first 30 minutes? Or is there no reason (or is it excuse?) good enough to rationalize the top team in the Eastern Conference losing to the worst?


Like I said, this isn’t always easy. Then there was the post-game reaction. Bruce Boudreau actually called it a “good point” saying they were lucky to get one. Brendan Morrison said the team lacked a bit of effort, lacked a bit of energy but did enough to get a point.

Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin ripped himself and his line. He also said the team lacked both the effort and the energy. Who to believe? And in the grand scheme of 82 games, are back-to-back losses to non-playoff teams a concern when the team is atop the conference and has beaten several elite teams not named New Jersey?

Well, besides setting a record for most unanswered questions in four paragraphs, I think that encompasses the quirky nature of this evening. Either you think the Caps should be embarrassed for losing to the lowly Leafs, or you think they deserve a pass because of the injuries/schedule.

The answer is probably somewhere in between. This was a strong effort from Toronto, but it is still the Leafs. Yes, the Caps were tired but they weren’t giving enough effort at the start and especially the first 10 minutes of the second.

So here’s a few more definitive statements after all that waffling:

* Semyon Varlamov was fantastic tonight. He’s been great for four straight outings (110 of 115), but this was his best. He was locked in, and was only beaten by a fluky bounce (or two).

Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t call him his No. 1 goalie, but I would expect Varlamov on Monday in Ottawa and he might get 2 out of 3 for the next week or two instead of the other way around.

* Alex Ovechkin was very critical of himself — “I’m not happy with how I played and I’m not happy with how my line played,” among other strong statements. This is a little out of character for him, but it is commendable.

Two interesting things about Ovechkin’s night:

1) He said after the game that the arena was really hot and “after I took two steps I coudln’t breathe.” Now, before you say, ‘How can a hockey arena be hot?’ I can say that this was the warmest building I’ve been in (and considering how warm it regularly is at Verizon Center, that is saying something). Some arenas I have to wear my jacket the whole game. Others I don’t. Only at Verizon and now here have I ever been sweating during a game. So he might not be crazy.

2) Leafs coach Ron Wilson said Francois Beauchemin came to him at practice yesterday and said, “I want Ovechkin.’ So he played against Ovechkin. A lot. And he did pretty well. How much of that was Ovechkin (he was critical of not moving his legs and skating enough) and how much was Beauchemin is a gray area, but kudos to him for not shying away and putting in a strong night.

* Andrew Gordon wasn’t happy with how he played, but even Bruce Boudreau conceded that he probably wasn’t going to have the legs considering his odyssey from Binghamton to Hershey to Philly to Toronto.

* Boudreau told Mike Green to keep his morning skate short because he might play 30 minutes tonight. Turns out he lied — Boudreau had him out for more than 31 minutes.

* Caps are taking tomorrow off completely, and they probably need the rest. Monday will be four games in six nights, and the Senators are probably a little better than people expected to this point (though they will likely be without Alex Kovalev).