Continuing our intra-SBN relationships, today we stopped by Japers' Rink again and asked them a few questions. With a new writer coming aboard over there, J.P. let her answer our questions.
BSH: 1) You've now won four games in a row after wins against San Jose, Nashville, Atlanta, and NY Islanders. Only the San Jose game was decided by more than one goal, as Nashville took you to a shoot out and the Islanders took you to overtime. Four in a row is four in a row, so what have you learned about the Capitals in that stretch?
CapsChick: Nothing that we didn't already know about this team, sadly. Just like last year, the Caps are still getting up for games against the big teams while playing down to the level of their so-called weaker opponents. The Islanders, Thrashers and Predators all knew that they had to outwork the Caps to win, and they almost succeeded. That the Caps were able to pull out wins against all three just comes down to being a more skilled lineup, but neither the players nor the coach were happy with the efforts in any of those games.
At the same time, if they can get rid of this little mental block that pops up against the lower-level teams, the Caps could be a force to be reckoned with. Even without having played their best hockey, the Caps are near the top of the conference standings and have played their best games against some of the league's best teams.
2) Semyon Varlamov got three of those wins, but he still has a 3.24 GAA with a .884 S%. In his most recent start, he gave up 4 goals on 26 shots. As you said in your "Ups and Downs" this week, Varlamov "has now allowed four goals or more in three of his five starts, but is 2-0-0 in those games." Still a rough start, or sign that Theodore is still the #1?
It's probably a little of both. Varlamov is and will be a very talented goaltender - but what he has in skill and potential, he often lacks in mental toughness. Goals have often come in bunches, or late in games when a lead is well in hand. The bottom line with Varlamov is that he's a 21-year-old kid playing a position that often takes years to perfect, both between the pipes and between the ears. On top of that, Theodore has played really well so far; Varlamov hasn't made a move to steal the #1 spot away just yet, but Theodore is showing no signs of letting it go, either.
3) After the first game between the two teams was an up and down affair, do you expect the same tonight? Do you want the same tempo tonight?
I would, although maybe with a slightly lower PIM count and a little less sloppiness from both teams. That first game was kind of a perfect storm of what happens when two highly skilled teams meet so early in the season - lots of pretty plays mixed with lots of growing pains. I'd expect both the Caps and Flyers to be a little sharper this time around.
These teams are two of the best and it's no accident that the even strength play between them last time out was both entertaining and exhilarating - it would be great to see the same tempo or even to see them both take it to another level. Of course, it all comes down to whether the refs will let them play that way...