It seems as if Santa delivered in a big, big way for Simeon Varlamov: He has been recalled by the Washington Capitals for Friday's game against Buffalo.
I imagine Varlamov's Christmas list was something like:
1. (MOST IMPORTANT SANTA!) Play for Capitals again
2. Stolichnaya Vodka
3. Rosetta Stone - English Edition
4. Play for Capitals again (I'm serious, Santa!)
5. A new cell phone to answer Ovie's calls!
All joking aside, it's unclear if Varlamov will actually suit up for any games over the weekend and, after the Capitals' heroic come-from-behind win, Theodore has earned the right to start Friday.
Right after the game Caps fans would love to forget, it seemed as if we were going to have another game we would love to forget. Now it's the game we won't stop talking about and, to thicken the plot even more, the Capitals are two points away from second best in the East.
The Capitals revisit the Sabres, the team who blanked them 5-0 on Nov. 1, and hope to right the wrongs of that game.
It's the day after Christmas and, with Capitals fans packing the house in the new Capitals gear Santa brought them, the Buffalo Sabres will likely be greeted by a loud, proud Red Army of fans.
Washington Capitals (21-11-3, 45 points, 1st in SE, 2nd in EC, last game 5-4 win over NYR)
Buffalo Sabres (16-13-5, 35 points, 3rd in NE, 8th in EC, last game 4-3 OT loss to Pittsburgh)
The story so far...
It's unclear exactly who will be back, who will start in net and which call-up will wear a sweater as of writing this pre-Cap. Tonight's game follows a statement win in which a depleted Capitals team overcame the odds to steal a win from an opponent who took the game away in the first period. Games such as the win against the Rangers can set the tone for the rest of the season, get cold players hot and ignite long streaks of winning. The Capitals need to take the momentum and emotion from Tuesday's win and come out hard and strong in the first period, something they haven't done in the past two games.
Players to watch
WSH: Alex Ovechkin + BUF: Thomas Vanek
Tonight's an easy matchup to keep your eyes on. The game features Alex Ovechkin, third-best goal scorer in the league (22) and Thomas Vanek, second-best goal scorer in the league (24). The last time these two met, Alex Ovechkin was in Russia and Thomas Vanek punished the Capitals with two goals. With the 5-0 loss lingering in the back of the Capitals minds, and Ovechkin itching to chase down goal-scoring leader Jeff Carter (26), I'm expecting a "dueling banjos" of a matchup, "any goal you can score, I can score better" type of night.
You make the call
While the Capitals might be surging after their dramatic win over New York, the Sabres are steaming over a questionable call in their last game against the Penguins. In overtime, Sidney Crosby deflected a shot into the net, but the goal may actually have been played with a high-stick. After minutes of deliberation in the war room in Toronto, the goal counted and the Sabres were handed a loss. After the game, an analyst on NHL Network said, "Different rules for different players." So it's your call now; here's the replay, you make the call.
Running and stumbling
The Sabres started the season hot, real hot, 6-0-2 hot. Then, in November, their fortunes began to change; they went 3-9-1. In December, they righted the ship and are now 5-3-2 in their last 10 games.
Getting to know you: Thomas Vanek
That "all-imporant" goal
The Capital have an .800 winning percentage when scoring first, while the Sabres only win .556 percent of the time when scoring first. The Capitals haven't scored the first goal in a matchup since their meeting with St. Louis.
The rookie and the sophomore
Some stat trends to keep your eye on tonight. Karl Alzner is a plus seven in his last 10 games in spite of Tuesday's and Saturday's matchups. Nicklas Backstrom is as hot as ever; he has three goals and 13 assists in his last eight games. This year, the NHL All-Star game will feature a new format for the "young stars" game. Instead of Western Conference rookies versus Eastern Conference rookies, it will now be rookies versus sophomores. We just may get to see Karl Alzner try to frustrate Nicklas Backstrom, or Backstrom make Alzner look silly come late January if they make the teams.
An interesting detail...
According to the Capitals game-day preview, Simeon Varlamov will be wearing No. 30 tonight. In his last appeance with the Capitals, he wore 40. Don't read too much into it, but Alzner started in Washington as No. 47 and now has his usual No. 27. Typo? Or small, insignificant sign that Varlamov is here for an extended stay?
One more time, please?
A highlight reel we can all enjoy...that is, when it's past the two-minute mark.
LET'S GO CAPS!