Simeon Varlamov is human after all. The young 21 year old goalie finally had a bad game tonight and he was the primary reason that the Pittsburgh Penguins won, 5-3, at the Igloo to tie this series up at two games apiece heading into Saturday night’s game five at the Verizon Center (7 pm). Varly gave up two really soft ones, Ruslan Fedotenko’s long shot that #40 missed with his glove that made it 3-1 Pens in the first period, and then after Washington battled back to cut the Pens lead to 4-3, he gave up a short side marker to Maxime Talbot that all but ended this game with just over five minutes left.
In addition, the first goal scored by Sergei Gonchar from just inside the blue line, after Nicklas Backstrom’s marker gave Washington a 1-0 lead just 36 seconds in, deflected off of Milan Jurcina and went through the legs of Varly. He also wasn’t so strong on the second Pittsburgh goal (Bill Guerin) as he fumbled the puck away after making a superb stop on Sydney Crosby. Crosby was all alone in front after Mike Green turned the puck over to Chris Kunitz and Green then struggled to get back and it was he, Brooks Laich, and Sergei Fedorov all scrambling in front of Varly to help him as #13 buried the rebound. The really odd thing on the whole play is that defenseman Shaone Morrisonn was nowhere to be found in the picture? I’m not sure what he was doing on that whole sequence but a defensive defensemen like #26 needs to be way more responsible.
Goaltending was the big reason the Caps lost this one but there were other weak performances turned in by the guys in white tonight. Alexander Semin (-3) was just AWFUL turning the puck over too much and not getting his shots off or on net. Morrisonn (-2) was brutal and Green (-2), despite making a nice play to set up Chris Clark’s goal that cut the Pens lead to 3-2 in the second period, did not have a good game either. Even Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist) had a subpar game as he only had one assist and routinely could not get his shot off or on net either.
If the Caps want to win this series, they need to get all of the players mentioned above- Varlamov, Green, Ovechkin, Semin, and Morrisonn – having more production and stronger efforts. Green and Morrisonn were routinely hammered by the Penguins forwards in their own zone and they have become turnover prone. Green also tried to do too much carrying the puck into the Pens zone and it led to some odd man rushes for Pittsburgh.
In Thursday night’s blog I listed the eight keys for the Caps to help them win game four. Here is a rundown on how they did against that criteria:
1. Move Your Feet Boys!: The Caps were much better in this department on Friday and even though they were outshot 28-22 they were much more in control of the puck at times and had several chances that they didn’t bury. They will need to do more of this on Saturday and hopefully the great “Rock the Red” crowd on Saturday will help out.
2. Get The Puck Deep!: Washington did do this quite a bit on Friday but they need to do more of it. Semin and Ovechkin were the biggest offenders in this category as they tried to go one on one far too much, especially Semin.
3. Better Breakouts!: Overall there was improvement but the Green giveaway and Morrisonn skateaway led to the second Penguins goal. Pittsburgh did not dominate as much as they did in game three and that was because the Caps were coming out of their zone much better.
4. Get Shots on Net!: The Caps were outshot for the fourth straight time in this series and they only had 22 shots. Fedorov hit the post early on when it was tied and there were other chances that were shot wide. Ovechkin only had 2 shots on net so you know Washington did not get it done in this category on Friday. Washington did a decent job of going to the net at even strength as Clark’s goal was a rebound and Jurcina’s blast was aided by Matt Bradley crashing the crease.
5. Stay Out of the Box!: The Penguins had six power plays, that is far too many. Clark and Tomas Fleischmann both took stupid cross checking penalties and Ovechkin’s trip on Gonchar was a bad penalty as well (Gonchar did not return after the trip and looked to have a knee problem). Fedorov and Backstrom both took penalties in the defensive zone because they were out of position and had to knock Malkin and Crosby down, respectively, to prevent scoring chances.
6. Allow Varly to See the Puck!: Jurcina started the night off bad for Varly by giving Gonchar too much room to shoot, then he screened #40, and ultimately deflected the puck partially so that the young goalie totally missed the shot. The Caps were below average in this category and Varlamov compounded things by giving up two goals on clear shots, something he had not done so far in the playoffs. Afterwards Boudreau said he was going to come right back with #40 on Saturday but if he struggles early Jose Theodore could end up in net. We’ll see if Friday was a just a fluky off performance by the guy who has been great in net in these playoffs. Boudreau says Varlamov is a competitor and he expects a strong game from him on Saturday night.
7. Slow Down Geno!: The Caps did a MUCH better job on Malkin on Friday night. He was not able to come through the neutral zone with the speed he had in game three. Malkin had an assist but was -1. Washington must continue to throttle him on Saturday night.
8. Continue Hot Power Play!: 0 for 4 and it was just terrible tonight. Green, Ovechkin, Semin, and Backstrom were out of sync on the man advantage and this really hurt because the Caps could have tied the score at the end of the third period on their last man advantage. Washington was too intent on passing on the perimeter or trying for low percentage cross ice setups instead of throwing it to the point for a blast and rebound try. If the Caps don’t get the power play going on Saturday they can forget winning the game.
Overall, this was not a dominant Pittsburgh performance like we saw in game three but the Caps did not convert their chances, took some careless penalties, and did not get production from their big guns, especially on the power play. Add in subpar goaltending and now it is a tied series that is a basically a best of three affair that starts Saturday in DC.
Notes: The team scoring first has lost every game in this series. Jay Beagle was recalled from Hershey today and took Michael Nylander’s spot in the lineup (Eric Fehr is still injured). Defenseman Karl Alzner was sent back down to Hershey as well.