Caps and NHL News and Analysis
After Tuesday night’s loss to the Florida Panthers the Caps are now 2-5 with defensemen Mike Green out of the lineup. As mentioned in this blog several times in the past, you just can’t win when you start losing defensemen because they are a precious commodity. Green is the Caps #1 defensemen and Tom Poti is #2 so with both of them out Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has his work cut out for him because after those two guys there is a bit of a drop-off. I think eventually defensemen Karl Alzner will get to the top level but remember, he is only 20 years old.
Speaking of Caps defensemen, I did get a chance to talk with Sami Lepisto after Tuesday night’s loss, specifically about the Washington power play, which tallied twice in the Florida game after a brief two game drought.
“We got a lot of chances. We worked on it and watched video and saw how Florida plays PK and we found a lot of seams that led to decent chances but we just have to get the puck to the net,” said Lepisto.
I then asked Sami if the coaches requested him to shoot more or if there was any discussion of another point shot.
“Yeah, obviously when there is a chance to shoot my shot is never a bad option. For me I’d rather give the puck to Ovie (Alex Ovechkin) or Flash (Tomas Fleischmann) – those guys can really shoot the puck. It was working pretty good today, we just got to make more goals,” finished Lepisto. The Caps have to be careful not to be too predictable on the power play and everyone knows with Green out they are trying to set up Ovechkin’s blast from the point. Boudreau has repeatedly said he wants more shots and traffic in front of the opposition goalie.
I was impressed with the Panthers the other night, particularly their defense. They have some good ones back there with Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan McCabe. If that defense stays healthy they could make some noise in the division, especially if the Caps can’t get healthy. I think Peter DeBoer is a good coach and if he can keep this team going through their injuries up front they could make things interesting for the Caps and Carolina in the Southeast Division. The big question mark is Bouwmeester, the 3rd overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry draft, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season and word has it he wants out of Florida.
Speaking of Carolina, the Hurricanes fired coach Peter Laviolette today and replaced him with former Coach Paul Maurice (who is probably relieved to not have to deal with the Toronto media anymore after his recent stint with the Leafs before being fired after last season). Maurice coached in the Hartford/Carolina organization for eight plus years and will now deal with a market more focused on college basketball. Hall of Fame forward Ron Francis was made an associate coach so it will be interesting to see how this changes things for the Canes. The Caps are in Carolina on Sunday afternoon.
Sean Avery publicly apologized today for his ridiculous comments in Calgary on Tuesday and he will get his day in front of Gary Bettman and the NHL office on Thursday. Avery’s pal and GM Brett Hull will be present as well. I think Avery will get three or five games but ten isn’t out of the question for remarks that crossed the line and were VERY BAD publicity for the NHL. The big question though is will his organization and teammates in Dallas take him back? Dallas foolishly signed Avery to a four year, $15.2M contract this summer and with all of their injuries (Captain Brendan Morrow is done for the year with an ACL injury) they are in a bind. Big contracts are such a risk in the salary cap era. I can’t see him back in Dallas and I don’t know who will take on this walking and talking freak show.
Speaking of big contracts, Michael Nylander continues to struggle in Boudreau’s system. Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post was asked about #92 during his session with Jeff Marek and Kelly Hrudey on Hockey Night in Canada radio on Tuesday and Tarik said that Nylander is more of an east-west guy in a north-south system (and I agree). Tarik also thought that with Sergei Fedorov likely playing his last year that the Caps will need a #2 center next season (and Nylander is signed here for two more years). Here is my point: if Nylander is such a vital #2 center than why isn’t he producing while Fedorov is out? 14 points (2G, 12 A) in 24 games is not on par with what the Caps are paying him. Nylander should have had an easy goal in the 1st period the other night against Florida but took too long to control and shoot the puck which allowed Panthers goalie Craig Anderson to slide over and make a save on his shot. Nylander has a no trade clause for this season but I really think that if GM George McPhee can find a way to move #92 and his contract then that would free up money for him to get another solid defensemen and eventually get a future #2 center. There are rumors that Edmonton is shopping both Lubomir Visnovsky ($5.6M) and Sheldon Souray ($5.4M) and Oilers GM Kevin Lowe almost had Nylander signed before the Caps ended up getting him in the summer of 2007.
Sitting to my right in the press box on Tuesday night were Mark Howe (scout for the Detroit Red Wings), Chuck Fletcher (assistant GM in Pittsburgh), and Al Macissac (Director of Player Evaluation for the Chicago Blackhawks). Nick Beverly (scout for the Nashville Predators) had a seat reserved for him but he didn’t show up. The Penguins don’t play the Caps or Panthers at all this month so perhaps the Penguins, with all of their injuries on defense (Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney are out), are interested in Bouwmeester? They’d have to clear some cap room for that deal to happen.
For those of you who have the NHL Center Ice package I recommend taking in a Chicago Blackhawks game if you get the chance just to listen to play-by-play man Pat Foley, who is one of the best in the business. As a hockey junkie, if I am not at a game or listening to HNIC radio, I am watching a game and tonight it was Chicago-Anaheim. The Blackhawks, who were booed by their fans at times when they couldn’t clear the puck from their own end, rallied and scored the game winner with just over a minute left and won 4-2 (empty net goal). Naturally, the fans went nuts when the Hawks won.
Speaking of crowds, the Caps attendance on Tuesday was the lowest of the season and it was abysmal from an energy standpoint until late in the game. Boudreau said the team feeds off of the crowd so hopefully the fans will be loud from the beginning against the Islanders on Thurday. The players need to come out hard too because the fans feed off of their energy, it is a two way street!
Don’t forget that Thursday night’s game at the Verizon Center against the New York Islanders is $1 Hot Dog night! Also, after the second period WNST’s Nestor Aparacio and some other local media personalities will be taking part in the hot dog eating contest against Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas.
Hershey Bears News: Interview with Coach Bob Woods
Tuesday night after the second period of the Caps game a few of us who cover the team had a chance to talk with Hershey Bears Coach Bob Woods. Here is how the session went:
Q: A nine game winning streak, you have to feel pretty happy with what is going on up in Hershey?
A: It’s been an exciting start of the year there, we had a great start, had a little bump in the road there, got maybe a little bit complacent, things were happening too easy and we got in a little bit of a rut. But the guys have responded here with, like you said, the nine straight wins. There is a lot of confidence right now and hopefully we can keep things going.
Q: You have four defensemen; four of your six are up here (with the Caps). What four guys have stepped in and how are you doing it? You lose four defensemen and that is pretty big.
A: When you think about it you got (Dean) Arsene out, so it is probably five of our top six who are out and if you think about it, it was just opportunity. You have Patty McNeil and Sean Collins who were both not playing earlier in the year that definitely had great camps and should have been in the lineup, so they’ve stepped in and filled that void. We’ve called up a few guys from South Carolina in (Sasha) Pakulok and (Josh) Godfrey who have stepped in and then we got Patrick Weller out of Reading who has filled the void as well. So they are playing well and I can’t ask for much more.
Q: Oskar Osala. What is going on there?
A: It was exciting watching him in the summer camp and then the rookie camp this year, and he is just one of those guys. Any time you see a guy that big that can skate that well, and he’s got a great shot, it’s exciting. He’s having a lot of success down there. That whole line of him, (Mathieu) Perreault and (Francois) Bouchard really have been consistent for a young group and they are scoring pretty well every night. Oskar is a guy that I think you are gonna see up here in the near future.
Q: Have you been asked about (Goalie Simeon)Varlamov yet?
A: Varlamov, you know he had that injury in camp there and I think he probably came back a little bit too quick the first time but we took the time, took a good two weeks to make sure he was 100 percent and ever since then he has played the way that I think everybody expected to see him play. Again, he’s another guy that’s got a bright future and it is probably only a matter of time before he gets his chance.
Q: Has (Varlamov) adjusted to the North American style of play with a lot of shots?
A: Very much. He’s a guy that is just such a competitor, he plays hard every day, every practice, he doesn’t like to get scored on. We are helping him with taking English courses two or three times a week so he’s doing every thing that he can to get himself acclimated to the States. And again he’s just a great kid to have around. I know the guys think highly of him and I think he’s excited about what he is doing and where he’s going.
Q: I took a look at the stats today and it seems like you are getting scoring from everyone?
A: That is probably one of the biggest strengths of our team is that we have depth from all four lines. Again, it is pretty tough for other teams to shut us down because any line can score. If I look at my lineup, I can almost use all four lines on a power play. That is the talent that we have. They are just a good group. They are a fun group, they got great character, they love to work hard and to me it makes things easy. Again, they’re exciting to be around.
Q: How is (forward) Steve Pinizzotto doing?
A: Steve’s done really well. You know he’s a kid that came in last year from not a highly touted school (Rochester Institute of Technology) and I think it was an adjustment for him, just to play more of a systematic game. I think the way he plays he can be a force out there as far as his physical play, he’s willing to drop the gloves and he’s got that offensive ability that you can chip in as well. He’s a player if he keeps doing what he is doing then I can only see him getting better.
Q: What do you think Osala has to do to get to this level? What is his weakness, if there is one?
A: He’s young and he’s going to make the little mistakes. He’s just the type of kid that wants to get better all the time. He is starting to understand things more and he knows when he makes a mistake. I don’t even have to say anything half of the time. He comes to the bench and he pretty well knows what I am going to say and to me that is something. It shows he is coachable and he has the attitude that he wants to get better and he wants to be at this level and he knows what he has to do to get there.
Q: We talked about Simeon, how about (goalie) Daren Machesney?
A: Machesney, you know what, he had a rough start and he got away with some stuff early because we were scoring so many goals. I think some bad habits creeped in and he’d probably be the first guy to admit it. The last three games I think he’s had two shutouts out of the three starts and the goaltending has been great for us. We’ve seen our penalty kill has gotten a lot better, our goals against is no more than two a night and that is what it is going to take if you want to go a long way in the playoffs.
Q: Do you talk to (GM) George (McPhee) or (Coach) Bruce (Boudreau) regularly at all, especially with all of these injuries?
A: I talk to Bruce probably once or twice a day. It is just the relationship that we have, we are both interested in what is going on up here and what is going on down there. Bruce still cares about the Hershey Bears and he hasn’t forgotten about us. I think that is important. He’s got to keep tabs on what guys are doing down there so when we get into these type of situations he is right on top of things. George is the same way. We had a good talk before the game today just about all of the personnel down there and we send in all of our reports, they watch the games on line, so they are keeping tabs. When you are having the type of success that we are having it is exciting and again it is exciting to see these guys get the opportunities.
Q: How have you been able to maintain your pace with all of the call ups and all of the injuries?
A: I think it is just the depth. We have a lot of good players in our organization and we said that right at the start of training camp. Really it is guys who are comfortable with the system – we are all on the same page. We use the same system so no matter if they are going from South Carolina up or going down or up from Washington. It is an easy transition because guys know what they are doing and there is not that adjustment period.
Q: Is Oskar Osala ready to play in this league?
A: I think he is close. I think he has everything you need — size, the tools, he’s got that great NHL shot, he’s big and physical. I think most teams in the league, if you ask them, they don’t like playing against him down low because he is just a force to try and control.