The Caps were given Monday off after playing three games in four nights (and four in six as well) and have moved Tuesday’s practice at Kettler Ice Plex forward to 9 am in an attempt to beat another snowstorm that is headed into this region on Tuesday afternoon. Washington plays in Montreal on Wednesday, Ottawa on Thursday, and finally St. Louis on Saturday before stopping for the Olympic break. Five Capitals will take part in the Olympics (Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Semyon Varlamov with Russia; Nicklas Backstrom with Sweden; and Tomas Fleischmann with the Czech Republic).
The Caps have won 14 straight and can tie the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins for 17 victories in a row if they defeat all three opponents this week but with each contest on the road it will be a tough order, especially the back to back tilts in Quebec Canada.
Effective this Friday, February 12th, the NHL will not allow any trades again until March 1, which is after the Olympic break concludes. The actual trade deadline is Wednesday, March 3rd so there are exactly 7 days left before no more deals can be made. There has been much talk of the Capitals needing to add a goalie or a defenseman from fans and media locally as well as around the league. Personally, with Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov, and Michal Neuvirth in net I see no need for GM George McPhee to go out and acquire a veteran goalie, such as someone like Marty Turco. On defense, Washington has nine players that are NHL calibre defensemen to include Mike Green, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Brian Pothier, Shaone Morrisonn, John Erskine, Karl Alzner, Tyler Sloan, and John Carlson. Therefore, unless McPhee is presented with a great offer I can’t see him making a move on the blue line.
What I do see a need for, however, is another center because after Backstrom on the top line, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has been going with Tomas Fleischmann on the 2nd unit and Brendan Morrisonn on the third. Both guys have played well this season but have slowed their scoring pace recently. It should be noted that #14 and #9 are not big, physical centers and do have some recent injury history. Therefore, I believe McPhee needs to acquire another pivot for depth as well as in anticipation of a potential matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who go Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal, 1-2-3, respectively, at center. The NHL Playoffs are a two month ordeal for those that reach the Stanley Cup Finals and with the level of intensity the post season brings, injuries are bound to happen so a team must have solid depth to win the Cup.
The good news is McPhee has lots of salary cap space to work with and he can take on a rental or a two. The bad news is the crop of potential centers seems pretty thin because good ones are hard to find and teams typically hang on to them once they get them. I have gone over the NHL center list several times and just don’t see many available fits for Washington. Three weeks back I mentioned a guy like Shawn Horcoff, who can skate and is big, would be a nice fit but immediately dismissed it due to his contract and price. The Michigan State alum is locked up long term and making too much money to go after (signed through 2014-15 at $5.5M per season). I did see two names on the list of players who are unrestricted free agents that might be good stretch drive and playoff rentals but they are admittedly past their prime. Mike Modano (39) of Dallas and Doug Weight (38) of the Islanders have extensive playoff and international experience and are still good pivot men. The question is would they be available (Weight likely will be while Modano is a question mark) and would they fit in a locker room that has extremely good chemistry right now? Mike Comrie (28) of Edmonton is another possible option but he isn’t exactly a big center (only 5 foot 10). Comrie, who has already played for 5 NHL teams (Edmonton, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Ottawa, and the Islanders), just recently returned to the line-up after he missed numerous games due to a bout with mono. For the record, I have no inside information that the Caps are even interested in any of these players, this is merely my look at a position that appears to be one of need for Washington.
Roster decisions at this time are tough ones and that is why McPhee gets paid the big bucks, to figure out the right moves (or correct non-moves) necessary to bring a very talented Capitals team their first Stanley Cup.
Bob Gainey resigned as GM of the Montreal Canadiens today and will be replaced, apparently long term based on what he told Jeff Marek on Hockey Night in Canada Radio today, by Pierre Gauthier. Gainey was in the last year of his contract and I had heard rumblings of him stepping down from a source close to him as far back as December 2008 so I was not surprised at the news. Gainey will remain on as an advisor for the Habs and he has to be happy that they went with his replacement choice in Gauthier. Gauthier was GM of the Ottawa Senators from 1995-1998 and GM of the Anaheim Ducks from 1998-2002. In the summer of 2003, Gauthier joined Montreal as Director of Professional Scouting and then in the summer of 2006, he was named Assistant General Manager while keeping the responsibilities attached to professional scouting.
It has been mentioned for weeks on hockey radio shows and web sites that the Penguins are looking for some wingers to go with their talented centers and today speedy left wing Ethan Moreau (34) of Edmonton is rumored to be possibly heading to Pittsburgh in a deal. However, that same source (@NHLSourcesSay on Twitter) said the deal may be held up by the Pens additional interest in Leafs left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky (29). Rumors are just that, so you need to take them for what they are worth (sometimes not much), but I will be surprised if the Penguins don’t add a forward or two to help their struggling power play since they could use some players who go to the net.
It has been a week since the Calgary Flames completed two huge trades sending Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and prospect Keith Aulie to the Maple Leafs for Ian White, Jamal Mayers, Matt Stajan, and Nik Hagman in one deal and then Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the Rangers for Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik in the other, and the moves still don’t make alot of sense to me from a Flames standpoint. I know things weren’t working for GM Darryl Sutter’s team but outside of gaining about $4M in salary cap space next season I don’t see how he improved his hockey club? Phaneuf, who has had a couple of rough years, is still a phenomenal talent. Prust is a tough guy who everyone on the team seemed to really like and he brought energy and effort game in and game out. None of the guys Sutter received in return are what I would call positive “difference makers.” I consider Kotalik as one of the worst players in the league when you factor in his current contract (signed through 2011/12 at $3M per season). The guy can’t skate at all and is too streaky. One would have to think Sutter’s job could be in jeopardy if these moves, which smell of panic, don’t work out.
Ovechkin, Backstrom NHL Stars of Week
Fresh off yesterday’s Super Bowl Sunday hat trick performance that propelled the Washington Capitals to a thrilling 5-4 come from behind victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins on NBC, Alexander Ovechkin has been named the NHL 1st star of the week. This is the second time in four weeks and the third time this season that the Great #8 has won the 1st star. It’s the 13th time in his career that he has been named either one of the Three Stars of the Week or NHL Player of the Week. Teammate Nicklas Backstrom has been named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week for the second week in a row; it’s the third time this season and the fourth time in his career that he has been one of the three stars of the week. Toronto Maple Leafs goalie, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, was the second star of the week. Below is the press release from the NHL:
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom have been named the NHL ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending Feb. 7.
FIRST STAR – ALEX OVECHKIN, LW, WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Ovechkin led all NHL scorers last week with 10 points (seven goals, three assists) as the Capitals went 4-0-0, extending their franchise-record win streak to 14. Ovechkin notched one goal in a 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins Feb. 2, recorded two goals and one assist in a 6-5 win over the New York Rangers Feb. 4 and tallied one goal and one assist in a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers Feb. 5. He finished the week by recording three goals and one assist in a 5-4 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Feb. 7. Ovechkin, who has tallied goals in each of his past five games, leads the NHL in goals (42), points (86) and plus-minus (+41). The Capitals 14-game winning streak is a franchise record and matches the third-longest winning streak in NHL history. The last streak longer than 14 games was the Pittsburgh Penguins’ NHL-record 17-game winning streak in 1992-93.
SECOND STAR – JEAN-SEBASTIEN GIGUERE, G, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in a trade Jan. 31, Giguere became the first goaltender in Maple Leafs history to record shutouts in his first two games with the club. He recorded 30 saves as the Maple Leafs defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-0 on Feb. 1 and again stopped 30 shots for his third shutout of the season and 34th of his career in a 5-0 victory over the Ottawa Senators Feb. 5, snapping the Senators’ franchise-record 11-game winning streak. Giguere has posted a 6-8-5 record with a 2.83 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in 22 appearances with Anaheim and Toronto this season.
THIRD STAR – NICKLAS BACKSTROM, C, WASHINGTON CAPITALS
Backstrom matched Ovechkin with 10 points last week (two goals, eight assists), climbing to fourth place in the NHL scoring race (25-48–73 in 59 games) and extending his point streak to eight games (4-13–17). Backstrom began the week by notching one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins Feb. 2. He tied a career high with five points (one goal, four assists) in a 6-5 win over the New York Rangers Feb. 4, tallied one goal and one assist in a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers Feb. 5 and collected two assists in a 5-4 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Feb. 7.