Last season the Washington Capitals waited until their last game of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot. This year they did it with seven games to go and on a night they weren’t even playing as the Florida Panthers were defeated, 5-3, by the Buffalo Sabres tonight, meaning no team currently out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture can catch Washington. The Caps still will need a couple more games, at least, to clinch the Southeast Division title as the Carolina Hurricanes won their ninth straight home game tonight in beating the just as hot Ottawa Senators, 2-1. Carolina is now 41-28-7 (89 points) with six games left while the Caps are 45-24-7 (97 points) with seven games left. According to the Caps media relations department Washington only needs four points to clinch the division (any combination of Caps points or points lost by Carolina). The Caps are next on the ice on Friday night at the Verizon Center against Tampa Bay (Washington is 4-0 against the Lightning this season).
Forwards Steve Pinizzotto and Chris Bourque and goaltender Daren Machesney were returned to Hershey today while goaltender Simeon Varlamov was recalled.
The Caps have announced another signing today and below is the complete press release:
The Washington Capitals have signed free agent defenseman Zach Miskovic to a one-year entry-level contract for 2009-10, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy terms of the deal were not disclosed. Miskovic will join the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL) this season on an amateur tryout agreement.
Miskovic, 23, was a first-team All-ECAC Hockey selection this season as a senior at St. Lawrence after earning third-team honors in 2007-08. He shared the team lead and led all NCAA defensemen in goals with 16 in 38 games. Miskovic, who played all 154 games in his college career, scored five power-play goals this season and a team-high four game-winners, while adding nine assists for 25 points.
A 6’1”, 195-pound native of River Forest, Ill., Miskovic had eight goals and 21 assists as a junior and was named the Saints’ outstanding defenseman. He won the Clark Cup (playoff champion) and Anderson Cup (regular-season champion) as a member of the United States Hockey League’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders in 2004-05, prior to attending St. Lawrence.
Miskovic joins an organization that has seen six former college free agents contribute with the Capitals at the NHL level this season: Keith Aucoin, Jay Beagle, Sean Collins, Graham Mink, Brian Pothier and David Steckel.
Back to the big club now, for those of you who missed McPhee’s on air session with Drew Forrester today, please check out the WNST audio vault as McPhee and Drew discussed several topics, including the increased fan scrutiny winning brings (McPhee is okay with that), the Karl Alzner situation (McPhee wants him to develop properly), the trade deadline (McPhee didn’t want to mortgage the future for one run at the Stanley Cup this year), and many other interesting topics. The GM also mentioned that every game next season will likely be sold out for the first time ever in franchise history (my dad wrote back in the 70’s, when the Caps were first in the league, that the day would come when the Caps would achieve that but he and I both didn’t think it would take this long – better late than never though!).
Today Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau gave the team off from practice to rest and hopefully get rid of the terrible flu bug that is running through the team and hockey staff. The team did have a morning meeting with Boudreau. Much has been made of the team’s up and down play lately and forward Brooks Laich was quoted after Tuesday night’s shootout loss in Toronto as saying that the team needs to up the effort level.
As I wrote in my blog on Monday (http://wnst.net/wordpress/edfrankovic/2009/03/23/caps-have-inside-track-on-2nd-in-the-east/
), I like the Caps chances in the post season and their ability to raise the level of their game when they are challenged. I also like the fact that they are playing stress free hockey right now and are not wearing themselves out as they did last year or how teams such as Pittsburgh or Carolina may be doing it now by playing at such a high stress and energy level night in and night out (they can’t afford to lose). That kind of effort eventually wears a team out and leads to injuries (and Carolina’s Eric Cole left tonight’s game in the third period with an undisclosed injury).
One final Caps note: If Washington does face Carolina in the playoffs, consider me old school, but if I’m Boudreau the first time Canes Coach Paul Maurice puts defenseman Joni Pitkanen on the ice I send out a hopefully healthy Donald Brashear and have him run #25 cleanly and as hard as possible into the glass as many times as he can to send a message that he and the Canes aren’t going to get away with their cheap shots on guys like Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin, or Alex Semin in the series like they’ve done the last two times they played the Caps (Brashear missed both games). I still can’t believe Pitkanen’s shot to Green’s head last Saturday night only drew a two minute penalty.
Florida is now very likely to be missing out on the Eastern Conference playoffs as they blew a 3-1 third period lead in Buffalo tonight. GM Jacques Martin is really going to feel the heat going forward from his fan base for missing the playoffs and for not getting anything for superstar unrestricted free agent defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester, at the trade deadline on March 4th. Martin gambled that the Panthers could keep #4 and make the playoffs with the hope that progress might convince the Edmonton native to stay in Florida, even though he has publicly said he prefers to play in a more hockey focused city. Martin, who tends to have unrealistic expectations for what he should receive in a trade as evidenced by what he went through with Olli Jokinen last season, has to be on the hot seat big time.
The Calgary Flames, who beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings on Monday night (5-3), were shutout in Pittsburgh tonight (2-0) and now only lead the Vancouver Canucks by three points in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference with nine games to go, however, the Canucks have a game in hand. The Flames are really missing injured forwards Todd Bertuzzi (knee surgery) and Rene Bourque (knee injury) but both should be back in time for the playoffs so if Calgary can hang onto the division title and the third seed they could be a team to watch in the post season. Vancouver is very hot though and may overtake Calgary in the division.
Speaking of the Penguins, they are now 13-2-3 since Head Coach Michel Therien was fired and replaced by Dan Bylsma. According to former Penguin and current broadcaster Phil Bourque, who was on Hockey Night in Canada Radio today with Jeff Marek and Kelly Hrudey, the players who received the biggest boost to the canning of Therien were forwards Jordan Staal and Sydney Crosby who were absolutely miserable playing under the defensive minded coach’s system. My only question to GM Ray Shero: What took you so long to fire him? The player revolt started at the outset of the season and it continued all year. Shero’s late action almost cost the Penguins a playoff berth. However, Shero deserves alot of credit for the Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin acquisitions which make the Pens very difficult to defend up front.