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Boneheaded Hockey Costing Caps

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Boneheaded Hockey Costing Caps

Posted on 07 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

To win in sports, you not only have to work hard, but you also have to play smart.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center the Washington Capitals had the first part of the above equation firing 49 shots on goal on Carolina goalie Cam Ward (46 saves). However, they failed several times to make the correct decision on “hockey plays” and lost, 4-3, in overtime to the Hurricanes. It was the Caps third straight defeat, in a game they sorely needed, and they stay in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Winnipeg Jets, with 16 games remaining.

Coach Dale Hunter was brought in last November primarily to try and get the Capitals to play better defensively. Hunter instituted a system that was designed to allow fewer odd man rushes against. For the most part it has worked, but on this night, it didn’t matter what system the team was playing because the team had key mental breakdowns in crucial situations.

  • On the third Canes goal Dennis Wideman, with defensive partner Mike Green already up by the opponents cage, chose to take a Baltimore Oriole like swing at a bouncing puck at the Carolina blue line instead of backing up. Naturally #6 missed like the O’s normally do and Brandon Sutter went in on a breakaway to give the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead just 105 seconds into the third period
  • Then after the Caps rallied to tie the game on a beautiful passing play between Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson with just under three minutes remaining, Wideman in overtime decided to go after another less than 50-50 puck in the offensive zone. He was once again unsuccessful and as a result the Canes had a two on one break to score the game winner when Green didn’t play it correctly and allowed the puck carrier to make a pass for an easy shot.
  • You can add to the list a complete defensive zone coverage breakdown that occurred just 40 seconds after the Caps took a 2-0 lead. Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer both got caught watching the puck carrier and Jirl Tlusty received a pass from Jerome Samson for a tap in goal.
  • Less than four minutes after that, Alexander Ovechkin tried too much one on one play in the offensive zone and turned the puck over. The Canes would go the other way and score when Green lost Chad Larose at the side of the net. It was another goal Michal Neuvirth (32 saves) had no chance on. Had the Gr8 simply passed the puck to an open point man, the Capitals likely would have kept possession of the puck in that sequence and Carolina doesn’t take advantage of a bad Caps turnover. Again, another mental mistake.

This pattern is what I call “boneheaded” hockey. What makes it more troubling is it is coming from players who have been in the league quite a bit. Some will try and blame Hunter for this but at this stage the players should know better. Case in point, with the Caps up 1-0 early in period two, rookie defensemen Dmitry Orlov had to make a split second decision on a puck in the offensive zone. #81 correctly chose to back up instead of gambling and seconds later Washington got the puck back and Orlov’s shot was put home by Jay Beagle. Smart hockey there by a rookie, so if he has it down don’t tell me the coaches aren’t teaching it. The mental mistakes are on the players and they have to decrease them drastically if Washington wants to claw its’ way into the playoffs.

This loss puts the Caps 1-2-1 with one game left on this five game homestand. Washington needed a minimum of six points on this stay at the Verizon Center and even with a win over Tampa on Thursday night, they will only get five points. That is not going to be an easy task as the Bolts have been rolling thanks to the play of Steven Stamkos (48 goals). The Capitals may catch a break though, as Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon was injured in a 7-3 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday night. Tampa’s weakness all season long has been goaltending.

So the Caps have a chance to expose an opponents weakness to obtain a key win on Thursday night. But Washington has weaknesses too and one big one right now is bad decision making. It is time for the boneheaded hockey to stop if the Caps want to have any chance of participating in the post season this spring.

Notes:  The Caps were buried from the face-off dot, 44-27, by Carolina…Ovechkin had 20:04 of ice time and five shots on net but he was held pointless for the third straight game…Orlov was slew footed by Jeff Skinner but the zebras missed it and in the melee that ensued, #81 pushed the linesman and received a 10 minute conduct. During that stretch Hunter only had five d-men and with Green and Wideman paired together the Sutter breakaway occurred. 6 and 52 were also on the ice together for the Canes game winner. Those two don’t seem to make smart decisions when paired together so hopefully Hunter avoids that d-pairing in the future…Keith Aucoin had an assist in 5:25 of action…Mike Knuble was scratched…Eric Staal (1 assist) extended his point streak to 12 games but overall Karl Alzner and John Carlson did a very good job of holding #12 in check.

 

 

 

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McPhee Faces Dilemma as Caps Continue to Struggle

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McPhee Faces Dilemma as Caps Continue to Struggle

Posted on 20 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Monday night in Carolina appeared to be a must win for the Caps as the team tries to stay in the battle for the Southeast Division title and a playoff spot. With Mike Green set to play his second game after returning in Tampa on Saturday night there certainly was cause for optimism.

Boy did that go out the window quickly!

Roman Hamrlik took a stupid elbowing penalty then Tomas Vokoun gave up a huge rebound goal just 3:41 into the contest. 88 seconds later Marcus Johansson made a horrible turnover at the Caps blue line and the puck ended up in the back of Washington’s net. Dale Hunter yanked Vokoun in favor of Michal Neuvirth but the team continued to struggle with only #30 keeping it close as long as he could.

Then when Alexander Ovechkin turned the puck over in the offensive zone the Hurricanes received another odd man rush and they buried it with just 30 seconds left in the opening frame. Things would get worse in period two when Washington received a power play as Johansson made another gaffe by blindly throwing the puck to Dennis Wideman at the point and Eric Staal collected the biscuit to score on a breakaway. Game over.

It was about as ugly as it could get in this one as the Caps repeatedly turned the puck over in their own end and looked totally out of snyc. They could not defend an odd man rush successfully and when they received them they struggled to get quality chances. Simply put, this team is falling apart when they need to be winning games in a tight playoff race.

For over two years the team has struggled up the middle of the ice since Sergei Fedorov left after the 2008-09 season. In 2010 and 2011 they brought in Eric Belanger and Jason Arnott, respectively, at the trade deadline to try and fill that hole. Last season the Arnott acquisition showed how much of a difference adding that component makes as the Capitals caught fire down the stretch to grab the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately last year’s #44 injured his knee and his effectiveness tailed off as the post season progressed.

Last summer GM George McPhee made several moves that looked very positive towards helping Washington get over the playoff hump. However, he was unable to land a second line center putting the pressure on Brooks Laich and Johansson to produce behind Nicklas Backstrom. With Backstrom now missing his 21st straight game due to a concussion, the gap up the middle of the ice is getting nearly impossible to overcome. Laich’s recent knee injury only magnified that deficiency as #21 is unable to center one of the top two lines while banged up. It is a major reason why the Capitals have not won two straight games in over a month.

So what does McPhee and Coach Dale Hunter do now? The NHL trade deadline is just a week away (Monday, February 27th at 3 pm). Hunter can only shuffle lines so much and Vokoun, who was playing very well coming into this tilt, can only bail out the club so often. Just a week ago McPhee said he felt that if Backstrom could come back this season that he thinks the team is a Stanley Cup contender. Their play on the ice says otherwise. However, if he could get a decent center in a trade, say a guy like Derick Brassard from Columbus, would that be enough to allow the Caps to sneak into the post season either via a division title or by passing a team like Toronto?

That is a question that McPhee will have to think long and hard about the next six plus days. He has two number one draft picks and a second rounder in what is reportedly a very good draft this June. Does he move any of them for a forward to try and win this season? After all he has 2010 first round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov pretty much ready to play in the NHL next season. Kuzy looks to be a bonafide top six forward, but is he a center?

Much of what McPhee does also hinges on the prospects of Backstrom getting healthy because without him, let’s face it, this team can’t go deep in the playoffs, even if the GM adds another center.

One thing is for certain, the Caps were horrible on Monday night and they had no confidence on the ice the entire game. If the Capitals next three games before the trade deadline (at Ottawa, home against Montreal, and at Toronto) go anything like they did in Carolina, then the GM should probably start playing for next season.

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At Season’s Halfway Point, It’s Time to Grade the Caps

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At Season’s Halfway Point, It’s Time to Grade the Caps

Posted on 12 January 2012 by Ed Frankovic

With the Washington Capitals hitting their season midpoint, it is time for my fifth annual Caps mid-season grades and analysis. It’s been a rollercoaster ride for the Capitals in 2011-12. This Caps squad that added goalie Tomas Vokoun, defensemen Roman Hamrlik, and forwards Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern during the summer, shot out of the gate 7-0 but an injury to Mike Green coupled with some poor defensive zone play and shaky goaltending sent the team reeling for several weeks. That swoon ultimately led to the firing of Bruce Boudreau. Enter new coach Dale Hunter, who changed the defensive system switching from zone to man to man, and the Caps became a team that was better at keeping the biscuit out of their own cage but saw the offense struggle early on while the team focused on a defense first mentality. In Hunter’s scheme, the offense is created from defense, primarily from transition. Over the last couple of weeks the team has executed those tactics much more effectively and the result has been victories in five of the last seven games. The goals against average, which was 3.32 in 22 games under Boudreau, has declined to 2.47 in 19 games with Hunter.

Washington heads into the season’s second half at 22-17-2 (46 points) which is good for 8th place in the Eastern Conference and 16th overall in the NHL. For comparison’s sake, at the halfway point last season, the Caps were 23-12-6 (52 points) but there were some obvious holes on the roster, with second line center being the biggest. On trade deadline day in 2011 GM George McPhee would make some super deals adding defensemen Dennis Wideman and center Jason Arnott and the Caps went on a tear to seize the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the playoffs. However, both Arnott and Wideman were injured down the stretch and Washington couldn’t get past the second round of the playoffs, getting swept by the Bolts in four games. There were some who felt that McPhee needed to make a coaching change immediately after the second round loss to Tampa Bay but the GM said late this fall, just after switching to Hunter behind the bench just 22 games into the season, that he didn’t want all of the blame for the postseason failure to fall on Boudreau. But clearly Boudreau’s message was falling on deaf ears as a team that played super defense in the second half of 2010-11 became irresponsible in their own zone in the early part of this season.

The old adage, “Defense Wins Championships,” is spot on and Hunter has this team more focused in this area but there are still issues, especially when the club goes on the road. Washington is 15-5-1 at the Verizon Center but a terrible 7-12-1 away. If this Caps team is going to make a second half push to climb up the overall standings, then the road record must improve. The Capitals have not looked the same away from DC and their play in their own zone has been atrocious at times, case in point being this past Monday night in Los Angeles. From the defensemen to the centers to the wingers, the Caps must do a better job with their breakouts because they are making far too many giveaways that lead to more shots, chances, and zone time for their opponents. This Capitals team used to pride itself on being a puck possession crew but due to their own zone struggles, they end up wasting lots of time and energy just trying to get past the blue and red lines. That zaps energy and the ability to use their size and skill in the offensive zone.

Injuries have been a factor in the struggles, Green has pretty much been out since the start of the year and as a result Dennis Wideman and John Carlson have had to take on more minutes. In addition, the absence of 52 exposed the lack of speed that Roman Hamrlik, Jeff Schultz, and John Erskine possess. The good news is that Hamrlik has turned his game around with the new man to man system under Hunter but the other two aren’t even getting a sweater with the recent recall of Tomas Kundratek from Hershey. Assistant coach Jim Johnson is clearly trying to find the right combination on the back end and I wouldn’t be surprised if McPhee adds a defensemen at the trade deadline. In addition, the second line center problem has risen to the spotlight again, especially with Nicklas Backstrom out of the lineup the last three games due to the cheap shot to the head he took from Calgary’s Rene Bourque. Once again, I look for GMGM to address the center position, and possibly another forward slot at the trade deadline. The Capitals have two first round draft picks this year so the GM could decide to use one of them to upgrade the current roster.

To sum up the first half of the year, the coaching change was necessary but it clearly hasn’t solved all of the team’s issues and the personnel will need some upgrades by February 27th. Several players also need to execute better than they did in the first 41 games.

Speaking of players, it is time to move on to the individual grades, which are based on the expectations for each at the start of the season (after the opening night roster was announced). They also take in to account each individual’s yearly salary cap hit:

Top of the Class

Jason Chimera (A) – 14 goals and 7 assists put #25 on pace for a career high in offensive production. In addition, his offense has not come with a drop in defensive zone play as he is +6. Chimera has been excellent using his speed to get around opposing defenders to create offense or simply wear down the other team.

Karl Alzner (A) – The defensive defensemen is a +10 with much of his ice time coming against opposing number one forward lines. Sure there have been nights when #27 has had a rough matchup, but all year long he has been the club’s steadiest blueliner. Add in the fact that King Karl is getting more involved offensively, his 1 goal and 11 assists give him 12 points, the same total he had all last season, and he has really amped up his game in just his second full year in the NHL.

Nicklas Backstrom (A-) – Arguably the team’s MVP so far because he is so valuable on a team that is weak up center ice after #19. 42 points in 38 games for a team that has shifted to a defense first mentality is impressive. It is clear that Nicky got himself in supreme shape this past offseason and his strength on the puck is back this season. It is a shame that he is out right now, for who knows how long, due to Bourque’s reckless cheap shot.

Honor Society

Dennis Wideman (B) – with Green out #6 has been asked to be the team’s ice time leader on most nights. He has picked up the offensive slack notching eight goals and 21 assists, which helped put him in the all star game. Wideman overall though, is a -3, and that needs to improve. He has a tendency to overplay opponents in his own zone which breaks down the entire defensive system when it happens.

Tomas Vokoun (B) – 17-10 with a .915 save percentage are good numbers. He’s had some great games, the two victories over Pittsburgh spring immediately to mind, and some poor outings, such as the night against the Flyers when he couldn’t stop a beach ball. #29 was plagued by the bad goal a night blues for a while in the middle of the first half but he seems to be snapping out of it. For the Caps to get where they want to be he needs to be at the top of his game down the stretch and in the post season.

Jeff Halpern (B) – #15 is 217-148 from the faceoff dot (59.4%) and is the team’s best drawman. Slated to play on the 4th line, the Potomac native has worked himself up the depth chart with solid two way play. He has 3 goals and 8 helpers but is a +4.

Dmitry Orlov (B) – started the season in Hershey but because of the lack of mobility on the blue line, the 2009 2nd round pick was summoned to “The Show” and has acquitted himself so well that it is unlikely he goes back to the AHL. He has six assists, but is -3. He has great wheels and a surprising physical presence on the back end. If he can start hitting the net with his shot the Capitals offense would get a great boost.

Marcus Johansson (B-) – MJ90 has had an up and down first half but his numbers are decent: 9 goals and 15 assists. He is a -2 and surprisingly has had some rough nights in his own zone, something that was supposed to be a rarity for the normally solid defensive pivot. This kid will continue to get better and unfortunately he is forced to play center on one of the top two lines too often. In my book he is a third line center and would be one of the best in the NHL in that role, but he also has shown he can be a decent winger, with the right center (Backstrom).

John Carlson (B-) – #74 has been very inconsistent this season. At times he has been one of the best players on the ice and in other games he has looked lost in his own zone. The system change may have hurt him more than any other d-man because he is still learning how to take time and space away from opponents. Offensively though, he has been there with five goals and 17 assists. I’d like to see him get more power play time.

Cody Eakin (B-) – I didn’t expect the 2009 3rd round NHL pick to spend much time with the Caps this year but due to injuries, a friendly contract that allows him to go up and down without having to clear waivers, and his speed, he’s played in nearly half of the tilts. He has been most effective when using his speed to beat opponents and when he hasn’t done that he has looked overmatched and benched in some games, as a result. Personally I’d rather see him play 20+ minutes a night in the AHL to properly develop his game. He just isn’t physically big enough for the NHL, at this time.

Average Joe’s

Troy Brouwer (C+) – #20 has 11 goals and 20 points and has been a real solid net presence. He also has done a good job of being physical in the offensive zone.

Roman Hamrlik (C) – #44 really struggled under Boudreau and part of that was a lingering groin issue. However, with Hunter’s system he is in familiar territory and doesn’t look like he is skating in concrete, like he did early on.

John Erskine (C) – Started the season on IR due to a shoulder injury. Last year he was one of the best players in the first 41 games but when you can’t lift and work out in the offseason due to an injury it really sets you back. #4′s main role appears to be spot starts where his phyiscal presence is needed. His best games seem to always be against the Rangers.

Joel Ward (C) – Needs to score more than five goals in the second half. His skating is a little worrisome, not sure if he was out of shape or he had an injury but he doesn’t look as quick as he did in the 2011 playoffs when he was a Nashville Predator. His +5 rating saves him from a worse grade.

Michal Neuvirth (C-) – #30 really struggled in the first part of the year before improving once Hunter took over. At one point Neuvy was the #1 goalie but he let in a couple of bad ones in Buffalo the day after Christmas and it’s pretty much been the Vokoun show ever since. 5-7-2 with an .886 save percentage are not good numbers at all, although he is over 90% since number 32 took over.

Brooks Laich (C-) – Another guy, because of the holes up the middle of the ice, gets forced to play out of position. I see #21 as a 2nd or 3rd line winger where he can use his size and drive to help the Caps break out of their zone. As a pivot he just doesn’t have the hands to be effective coming out of his own end. You’ll never get a bad effort from the fan favorite but at the dollars he’s making the Caps need more than a point every other game and a -7 rating. More production please Brooksie.

Alex Ovechkin (C-) – 17 goals, 16 assists, -8. We’ve seen good Ovie and bad Ovie this year. Most of the bad came under Boudreau but he has 0 points in the last three games after 9 in the previous 6. The good news is he was all over the ice against the Penguins hitting and creating chances on Wednesday night. That is the Ovechkin the Caps need to win games. If he doesn’t have it, the Capitals usually lose. The Gr8 needs to continue to improve in his own zone, if he bears down more the breakaways and odd man rushes will come in bunches each night.

Not Making the Grade

Alexander Semin (D) – Was super in the first five games before becoming a penalty machine and a scapegoat for Boudreau. Under the new regime he seems more energized and had six really good games in a row before getting injured in Columbus. If he can get healthy again he can be dominant in this system where he is, in my mind, the best winger at getting the puck out of the Washington zone. But only 10 goals in 37 games is not cutting it, the Capitals need more from this supremely talented player who is making $6.7M.

Matt Hendricks (D) – 1 goal in 37 games is not good for this fourth liner. If he plays like he did against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night he’ll get more ice time and his production will improve. He has to play physical to be effective.

Mathieu Perreault (D) – 3 goals in 26 games is way under where I thought MP85 would be. He has not been the sparkplug that he had been in the past and perhaps his size is why he just isn’t going to be consistent at the NHL level?

Mike Knuble (D) – 3 goals in 41 games for the aging winger. #22 has definitely lost a step and that has cost him lots of ice time. Can he find the fountain of youth once again in the second half?

Whereabouts Unknown

Jeff Schultz (F) – Is this the same guy who was +50 just two years ago? #55 has lost foot speed and confidence. He looks clumsy and a step behind when he plays. I am not sure he is with this team much longer and at $2.75M against the salary cap he is an expensive scratch each night.

Incomplete: Mike Green, Jay Beagle, Sean Collins, DJ King, and Tomas Kundratek

Management Grades

Bruce Boudreau (D) - The likeable Gabby eventually ran out of things to tell his club and they tuned him out. He and assistant coach Bob Woods couldn’t get the defense to be better and as a result it cost them their jobs.

Dale Hunter (B) – Dale brought in a radical system change with arguably some personnel that aren’t exact fits. But when you see the turnaround a guy like Hamrlik had and the goals against dropping so significantly, even with some shaky goaltending early in his regime, it was definitely the right thing to do tactically. The team is becoming a harder club to play against but they still lack some sandpaper type grit. He has definitely turned Semin around and Ovechkin is buying in too. His success rides on Vokoun, the play of 8 and 28, and the personnel tweaks he works with McPhee on to upgrade the roster by the end of February. Another Hunter strength is he is a man of few words so his message is easy to receive. He also stays on an even keel, which is good for the players as they don’t waste energy on emotional issues.

General Manager George McPhee (B) – It is hard for GM’s to do anything in the first half of a season but he did the one thing he had to do, switch coaches. Going forward until trade deadline day are critical times for McPhee. He has to find a way to get some better fits for what Hunter wants to do to be successful in the spring. His off season moves are looking better after a rough first 22 games, especially with Hamrlik’s improved play and the fact that Vokoun has stolen some wins. Still, he has that nagging second line center issue that he will have to address again by the end of February.

In final analysis, over the first half of the sesason there were nights when the Caps looked like they can play with anyone in the league, but on other occassions they were run out of the barn. Those games came mostly under Boudreau but Monday’s loss in Los Angeles was a bit of a scare. Hopefully fatigue was to blame for that one. Going forward this team has a lot of work to be done to get where they want to be. The execution needs to be markedly better and personnel moves will be needed if they want to compete with the likes of Boston. If that doesn’t happen then the ownership will likely take some drastic measures after the season is over. I don’t think anyone wants that to happen.

 

 

 

 

 

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Caps Finding Winning Formula

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Caps Finding Winning Formula

Posted on 31 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals are starting to parlay a months worth of learning new coach Dale Hunter’s philosophy into winning hockey games.

On Friday night at the Verizon Center the Caps used the formula that worked well against the New York Rangers in Wednesday’s victory once again versus the Sabres. Washington won 3-1 over Buffalo via a fast start that led to an early goal, solid goaltending, and scoring from their top line in transition. At times the team struggled to get the puck out of its’ own zone against a feisty Sabres crew, but the team persevered by playing decent defensive hockey and Tomas Vokoun (25 saves) made timely saves. More importantly, the Washington number one line of Alexander Ovechkin (two goals), Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist), and Alexander Semin (two assists) is heating up and when the stars start scoring goals, it makes winning much more achieveable.

Hunter spent much of his first 30 days on the job trying to find the right line combinations and he seems to have settled on a strategy that former Caps coach Terry Murray often used back in the early 9o’s by putting his best offensive players together on one line and then loading up another line with solid checkers to match against opponents top unit.

“They’re very good players and they’ve played together before and we put back a checking line together and we put a scoring line together. So it’s just that combination, I guess,” added Hunter on his current line combo strategy.

Former coach Bruce Boudreau would occassionally put 8-19-28 together but it became a crap shoot, because the trio had a habit of not carrying their weight defensively. Hunter seems to have those guys buying into using solid defense to set up their deadly skill that can really shine in transition. All three Washington tallies came on the rush against Buffalo and Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (18 saves) had no chance on any of the goals. The passes that Semin and Backstrom made tonight were of the “Wow!” variety and with the Gr8 potting two goals, you can finally see confidence coming back and the pressure to produce releasing from those guys. Simply put, by playing well in their own end they are setting themselves up to be creative on the rush and the goals are starting to come. When that happens the game is a lot of fun and usually leads to a hot streak.

“We just have to play it simple. We made pretty plays by our simple plays. We just have to continue what we do right now. It’s nice when you make some pretty plays and when you score the goals. Especially when the team needs it. It’s pretty good,” said Ovechkin on why his line is starting to score multiple times a night.

When I watched the line closely the last two games, Backstrom is the first key to the defensive success. #19 is doing a good job of winning the one on one battles with the opponents center. The next critical thing is for the wingers to be in the right spots and make the correct play coming out of the zone. I was very impressed with Semin’s ability to do this on Friday night. He has the skill, but more importantly the patience and smarts on where to put the puck coming out of the zone to generate opportunities. Sometimes he chips it off of the boards allowing Ovechkin to slide over and get the puck and other times the defense becomes so aware of his skill that he simply waits for the opposing d-men to back off and then he either skates it out or finds a seam for a breakout pass. He was the best Capitals winger at getting the biscuit out of the Washington end in this one. As for Ovechkin, his defense is getting better but he is best suited to be the first guy out of the zone for the pass that gets the defense on its’ heels.

This was still no easy victory. The Sabres carried the play from the midpoint of the game until about seven minutes remained in regulation. Buffalo did what a lot of teams want to do to the Capitals, which is get the pucks deep and make the Washington defensemen and forwards chase. Much was made of Rangers coach John Tortorella’s “they don’t want to defend” remark the other night but what Torts was saying was the Caps have great skill up front and are very comfortable with the puck so you have to make them work to get it. Heck what top line in the entire NHL wants to play defense? Buffalo was pretty good getting the puck below the goal line but Washington countered by keeping the Sabres to the outside and the most important aspect of winning hockey, good goaltending, helped get the Caps the results they needed in their zone.

So the Caps have now come out strong in three straight home games but in the two road games last weekend, they fell behind 3-0 and 4-0, respectively. On Saturday night in Columbus they have a chance to show that they can use this formula on the road and be successful. It is one thing to dominate at home and get early energy from the friendly fans, but going on the road and getting a lead is a much harder feat. If the Capitals want to climb up the standings and reclaim their “elite” status, they need to start doing that on Saturday against the Blue Jackets.

Notes: Ovechkin’s first goal, on the power play, was the result of a fortuitous bounce. The Gr8 was passing to a streaking Brooks Laich on the rush but the disc hit a Sabres defender and went by Miller. Good things happen when players put pucks and bodies to the cage…The coaches made a smart personnel change right before the game clinching third goal with 5:50 left in regulation. The Sabres were really on Washington for the better part of the final frame but right after one of his checking lines had a good shift to stem the tide, Dale had the top line on the ice for a neutral zone faceoff, originally with Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik. But then he pulled 44 off and trotted out Dmitry Orlov and #81 would use his great skating ability to get the puck out of Washington’s zone to Semin, who then made a behind the back through the legs pass to Backstrom, who hit a streaking Ovechkin for the nail in the coffin…the Laich, Jason Chimera, and Joel Ward line with the Karl Alzner/John Carlson d-pairing did a lot of the matching up against Buffalo’s top unit of Tomas Vanek, Jochen Hecht, and Jason Pominville in the second half of the game. It was a tough assignment and the Sabres had the puck for most of the time on ice, but they only managed one tally (Hecht from Vanek and Pominville in the second period)…Cody Eakin was in the building and officially recalled from Hershey after the tilt. It appears that one of the forwards is hurt and may go on injured reserve. My guess is it is Mathieu Perreault, who took a stick in the abdomen in Buffalo on Monday…It will be interesting to see who is in net for Washington in Columbus. Vokoun is hot but you don’t want to wear a guy out on back to back nights. In addition, Michal Neuvirth was really playing well before his bad first period on Monday that came after two days of no practice and a horror show travel day. My gut tells me that Neuvy gets the call on Saturday in Ohio…the Caps won the faceoff battle 33-27.

 

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Caps Off to Best Start Ever

Posted on 18 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came in to Tuesday night’s game against the Florida Panthers with a perfect 4-0 record, but they had yet to really play a complete 60 minutes this season. You can cross that off of the list now as the Caps came out and forechecked the Panthers to death in a very solid and dominating 3-0 victory. Washington got an early power play goal from Marcus Johansson, then Alexander Semin rifled one by Jacob Markstrom (29 saves) just 1:49 into the final period, and Jason Chimera hit the empty net to close this one out with 44 seconds left. Tomas Vokoun won his fourth straight game making 20 saves for his first shut out as a Capital. This is the first time in Washington Capitals history that the team has started 5-0.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis of a victory over a team that had pummeled the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-4, with 5 power play goals,  just one night earlier:

- The Panthers had to fly in late Monday night from Florida but that is how the sports schedule works out sometimes. Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau and his team knew this and jumped all over the Cats early on. Florida didn’t have a shot on goal until after the 10 minute mark of the first period as Washington continuously got pucks deep and used their size to cycle the puck on a soft Panthers defense to generate numerous scoring opportunities. The Caps could have had at least three or four goals in the opening stanza but they either fired wide or the Swede, making his first NHL start, denied them with his large frame.

“I think we tried to do that. They were tired. They played two very emotional games against their cross town rival and had to fly here so we thought this was the perfect advantage for us in the scheduling. I’m sure probably somewhere down the road it will reverse itself. We got a break and if you don’t take advantage of the breaks, shame on us,” said Boudreau on how the NHL slate helped his team on Tuesday.

- It was encouraging to see the Capitals simplify their game and not get caught up in to trying to make the perfect cross ice pass. Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer played smart hockey and were physical on a not so big Panthers defensive unit. Washington seems to play their best hockey when they play as a team and don’t get fancy. Their work ethic was outstanding on Tuesday and the score was much closer than the game actually was because at no point did I ever feel like Florida had a chance to win this contest.

“The first two lines got pucks deep, so that really helped. When we get in trouble we try to play too skilled. When we get pucks deep, it’s hard to contain big bodies like Ovi (Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin), Knubs (Capitals forward Mike Knuble) and Semin (Capitals forward Alexander Semin),” said Chimera on why the Caps were so dominant.

“We were getting it and getting it deep and moving it. I thought for the first time this year we could have had 7 or 8. We were missing nets and their goalie played pretty good. I thought it was a well rounded effort by us,” added Boudreau on the victory.

- Vokoun only had to face two shots in the first period but in the next two stanzas he stopped nine each. There were times when he had to make a solid save to bail out a poor defensive play but overall his team was solid in front of him, which allowed him to challenge shooters. The 35 year old on a $1.5M one year deal, since a shaky opening 60 minutes against Tampa, has been everything the Capitals have needed in goal and more.

“He’s pretty solid and when we did have breakdowns he was there to help us out. That is what you need,” commented Boudreau on his net minder.

- Special teams are so important in NHL games and on this evening the Caps were perfect in that department. They only took two penalties, both on Roman Hamrlik (although I thought the first one was a bogus call), and they stymied a highly skilled and dangerous Cats power play. Washington swarmed the puck and took away any space the Panthers had and on both occassions, they weren’t able to get much of a sniff of the net. The only power play the Caps received was quite effective as Johansson buried the biscuit after some solid zone time. The key to that power play was the work of Ovechkin in the slot, who was flanked by MJ90 and Backstrom with Mike Green and Dennis Wideman at the points. When all three Panthers converged on Ovie, Johansson had a lane to the cage and he slid the puck under Markstrom less than five minutes into the contest. Those who’ve followed this blog know that I much prefer Ovechkin down low (slot or half wall) on a 5 on 4 power play because he can use his size in front for screens or in getting to rebounds. With so many good shots on the point now, to include Green, Wideman, Hamrlik, and John Carlson, it makes much more sense for the Gr8 to be down low. I am okay with Ovechkin getting point time in 5 on 3 or even 4 on 3 situations because in those instances there will be more open lanes for his powerful shot to get through. But overall, putting Alexander the Great down low will likely lead to more power play goals for the Caps and Johansson’s marker tonight drives that point home.

- In summary, this was a total team effort, granted it was against a tired club. But the Panthers have some talent, although they appear low on grit. Just about every Washington player had a good game, but Green was superb despite getting slashed in the lower body region by Jay Garrison at the end of the second period. Semin was excellent as well and he’s been the best forward on the top two lines this season. Backstrom is off to a nice start too and #19 looks to be regaining the form he had in 2009-10. It’s only been five games, but the Caps have 10 points. Boudreau, however, knows you can’t win the Stanley Cup in October and he talked about that after the victory.

“When it comes to April and May I’m not going to be able to sit here and say, ‘Hey we were 5-0, we got that record, isn’t that great.’ It is not going to hold a lot of weight. It is nice, but it is just the process of getting where we want to get. Right now we’re looking toward an opponent like Philadelphia who is 4-0-1,” finished Boudreau, noting that the Capitals next game is the hated Flyers on Thursday night in Philly. That will be a can’t miss contest.

Notes: Washington lost the faceoff battle 24-22 but Jeff Halpern was 8-1. MJ90 was a dismal 1-6 from the dot…Matt Hendricks had a game leading six hits…Semin was +2 and had 4 shots on goal in 16:03 of ice time…Mathieu Perreault returned to the lineup and played 9:53 (even, 0 points)…Dany Sabourin was recalled from Hershey to be the back up goalie as Michal Neuvirth continues to struggle with a lower body injury…Jay Beagle is not practicing right now and DJ King was the other scratch at forward.

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Caps Beat Pens Thanks to Vokoun

Posted on 13 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

When Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee signed Tomas Vokoun last July, there was a lot of talk about the Caps getting a goalie who could flat out steal games. Well on Thursday night in Pittsburgh, that is exactly what happened as Vokoun made 39 saves to lead the Capitals to a 3-2 overtime victory. Defensemen Dennis Wideman netted the game winner on Washington’s only power play of the contest after Penguins forward James Neal had tied this one up at two on the power play with 3:45 left in regulation.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game that saw the Penguins dominate most of the contest:

- Michal Neuvirth likely would have had this start given his recent success against the Pens, but when he came down with a lower body injury that forced the Caps to recall Braden Holtby from Hershey today and give Vokoun the chance to get wins in consecutive starts. The 35 year old Czech delivered, building on his great OT and shootout performance in Monday’s 6-5 victory over Tampa Bay. Vokoun didn’t have to be spectacular but he was very solid and didn’t give the Penguins many second chances. If the Caps can improve their play in their own end, and they were pretty bad tonight, just think how good this goalie could be for this team?

- Evgeni Malkin had an outstanding game for Pittsburgh. His two cross ice seam passes set up James Neal’s two tallies. One of the reasons #71 was able to make those plays is because the Washington players were not playing positionally sound or smart in their own end. On the first goal, both Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson chase the puck carrier leaving the back side open. In the first three games we’ve seen opponents exploit the Capitals habit of over chasing and/or watching the puck carrier. The Capitals have to learn to play better without the puck in their own zone and clog the passing lanes and not over commit. I imagine Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe will be showing lots of video on Friday to try and correct these d-zone breakdowns.

- The Capitals players have talked about being the team with the better work ethic in every game. Tonight they were soundly defeated in that category. The Penguins out shot the Caps 12-3 in the first period and 18-3 in the third. It was only in the middle frame that the Capitals had the upper hand, outshooting Pittsburgh, 11-9. I am not sure why the Capitals were so flat early on but one of the reasons for the third period letdown was the Arron Asham-Jay Beagle fight. Beagle had just coincidentally knocked off the helmet of Kris Letang, which would earn him a roughing penalty, and Asham took exception calling on #83 to fight. Beagle, who is definitely not a fighter, but as he told me on media day last Thursday knows he will need to do so at times, was floored with a couple of rights and went to the ice bleeding. He had to be helped off of the rink afterwards but that didn’t stop Asham from making a couple of classless gestures. Asham admitted after the game that he got caught up in the moment, but still, to celebrate after knocking out a non-fighter was totally uncalled for. The fight clearly negatively impacted the Capitals, who had played 25 decent minutes of hockey in a row, since they struggled mightily the rest of the way until overtime.

- Alexander Ovechkin, after a subpar opening two games, made a difference in this one. He deflected in Green’s point shot early in the third period to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead and he drew the only penalty officially called on the Penguins in the game. That came in overtime when he faked Jordan Staal out of his jock in the neutral zone and #11 tripped the Gr8. On the 4 on 3 power play Green hit the right pipe but on the ensuing rush Wideman took a nice feed from Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) and buried it past former Capitals goalie Brent Johnson (16 saves).

- When you are outworked, you normally will find yourself on the short end of the stick in total number of power plays. The Penguins received five while Washington only had one, although I do think the Pens got away with a few things, especially some goalie interference by Chris Kunitz. In addition, Tyler Kennedy did hit Backstrom in the head in the third period, similiar to the Beagle shot on Letang, although #19′s lid stayed on so maybe it didn’t look so bad to the blurry eyed zebras? (Note: the referees initially waved off Ovechkin’s goal, they thought it hit the cross bar). It is hard to argue about the calls against the Caps, they were of the lazy or not too smart variety. Brooks Laich’s cross check on Malkin came after a failed clear. What made that situation even worse was that Green already had lost his stick so what the Caps should’ve done was ice the puck.  Instead they got running around and eventually found themselves shorthanded. The last penalty though, on Troy Brouwer, might have been the worst. The Caps were up a goal and he needlessly hauled down a Pens player in the neutral zone. That one ended up allowing Neal to tie the game. Brouwer did make a nice play on Ovechkin’s goal, he was in front of Johnson battling with Zbynek Michalek providing traffic.

- In summary, the Caps were fortunate to win this contest and move to 3-0. Washington has been playing with fire by going to extra time in each tilt and they have had some very poor play in their own zone. The good news though, is they are getting balanced production in their lineup and Boudreau is not having to put his big guns out on the ice for extended minutes. Green has already seen a reduction in his ice time and that should only keep him fresher and hopefully injury free.

Notes: Steve Whyno of The Washington Times tweeted that Asham had 83 career NHL fights while this was Beagle’s first…the Caps lost the faceoff battle 26-23 but Jeff Halpern went 6-2…Mike Knuble scored the Caps first goal by crashing the net hard…Karl Alzner had another strong game and picked up his third assist of the season…the Penguins were without Sidney Crosby, although he has been cleared for contact effective today, and defensemen Brooks Orpik…Washington is now 11-0-2 in their last 13 regular season games against Pittsburgh (h/t @SkyKerstein of DC’s 106.7 THE FAN)…next up for the Caps are the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night at the Verizon Center.

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Caps Look For Some Revenge Versus Bolts

Posted on 09 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After Saturday night’s thrilling 4-3 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals will take the ice on Monday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center against the team that swept them in the second round of the playoffs last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Naturally, some revenge will be at the forefront of the Capitals players minds but this is a new season, and only the regular season at that, so you can only take so much from winning game two of an 82 tilt season, if the Caps do prevail.

Since training camp opened Capitals players and management have talked about their work ethic and the need to ”bring it every night,” something they have not done consistently in the past. The acquisitions of skaters Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern, Troy Brouwer, and Roman Hamrlik has certainly helped with that so this is a different Washington club than last May, when the Bolts seemed to take advantage of every Caps miscue en route to wins in four close contests. On Saturday versus the Canes the Capitals work ethic was very good but they made several mistakes in their positioning and it nearly cost them the game. Assistant coach for video, Blaine Forsythe, was likely a very busy guy after last night’s game and today going over the errors with head coach Bruce Boudreau and the players. I don’t think energy or effort will be a problem on Monday night given the opponent but the key for Washington will be to play within their system and themselves.

Tampa, who missed making the Stanley Cup Finals by a game, has many of their key players returning in Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Eric Brewer, Victor Hedman, and Dwayne Roloson. St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Roloson, however, are really starting to get up there in age so it remains to be seen how they handle another long season. I expect #26 to pass with flying colors but I have doubts about their goaltender and team captain. One of the players who absolutely killed the Caps last spring was the speedy Sean Bergenheim, but he was a free agent this past summer and took big money to play for the Florida Panthers. Bergenheim was part of a crew of bottom six forwards who made a difference in the series against the Caps, while Washington’s third and fourth lines struggled.

Caps General Manager George McPhee has rebuilt the third and fourth lines in the offseason and much has been made of the Ward, Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera unit. That crew was very good against Carolina but if the fourth line comes out right after that unit and continually lays an egg, then any momentum Laich and company generates is wasted. For one game, the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Halpern held up their end of the bargain in their roughly nine minutes of time on ice together. On media day last Thursday, I had a chance to catch up with Beagle and get his take on the new fourth line and what they are looking to accomplish each game.

“Personally I’m excited to help this team win every night and create energy out there and chip in where I can. In a couple of preseason games me and Hendy and Halpy were saying as that fourth line when we need a big goal in the third, I think we can do it. It’s going to be a gritty, grindy goal and that’s the kind we’re going to have to make and produce. It’s just an exciting time and to be playing with those two guys is awesome. They’re extremely good to play with, talk a lot, and just make the game easy on you. For me personally, they always say we’re not looking for you to put in a lot of goals and a lot of points but when you can it’s a big help for the team. I want to chip in and score some goals this year. I want to make a mark on this team and be a power forward. I got to get more physical and be more physical, fight when I have to, and just try and be an all around player,” said Beagle about what could very well be his first full season in the NHL after playing the last half of 2010-11 season with the Caps.

Vokoun should make his Caps debut against the Lightning on Monday night. Michal Neuvirth was a main reason Washington was able to find a way to win on Saturday but Boudreau prefers to rotate goalies this early in the season. The 35 year old Czech is still learning the Capitals system and given how many mistakes the Caps made in their own end on Saturday night, I expect it to take time for #29 to gel with his teammates and become the dominant netminder he is expected to be. Beagle provided insight into how that transition has been going for Vokoun with his new teammates.

“It’s been really good, he’s looked great in his preseason games and in practice. Every day he’s looking stronger and with the d-core that we have, we got a vocal d-core that talks a lot. As forwards we got to take pride in talking a lot too. If you talk you make the game that much easier, especially in the d-zone if you know where everyone is and if you can share the puck and get the puck out of the zone. Tomas has been doing great, he’s a great goalie, I know even just coming down and shooting on him, [there's] not many holes on him. He’s a very strong goalie in the net and he’s only going to make our team stronger,” finished #83 on the difference Vokoun can make for Washington.

Notes: According to Caps beat writer Katie Carrera of The Washington Post, Marcus Johansson will center the second line with Alexander Semin and Troy Brouwer while Mathieu Perreault will be a healthy scratch (Monday Morning UPDATE: Carrera is now reporting Perreault is in the lineup. MJ90 status is unknown)… Caps beat writer Steve Whyno of The Washington Times reported that Semin will not be suspended for his hit at the end of regulation on Saturday…the Caps have announced that 400 tickets still remain for Monday night’s game. It appears that Washington is making a big effort to make single game tickets available each contest giving that season tickets are sold out for the season.

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More Focused Caps Team Ready for Season Opener

Posted on 07 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals are set to open their 2011-12 season on Saturday night at 7pm against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center. Alexander Oveckhin, who flew back to Russia on Tuesday to attend his uncle’s funeral, has returned and word has it that Michal Neuvirth, who has had good success against the Canes, will get the nod in goal (Tomas Vokoun is expected to start on Monday against Tampa Bay).

A year ago on Caps Media Day, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee stated that he didn’t really care about the regular season and was only concerned with a deep playoff run for his club in the spring of 2011. After the Caps won the Eastern Conference for the second consecutive regular season, Washington was swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the NHL Playoffs this past May. In the following weeks after the loss, McPhee began analyzing what went wrong and he immediately began making some changes. The roster additions (Vokoun, Jeff Halpern, Troy Brouwer, Roman Hamrlik, and Joel Ward) and re-signings (Brooks Laich, Karl Alzner) are well documented, but behind the scenes the 14 year Caps GM began communicating with his players letting him know that this season his club needed to be in peak physical condition when camp opened and being a professional, day in and day out, was going to be expected.

On Thursday, at Caps Media Day, one year later, I had a chance to talk with the GM about the last 18 months since that painful round one playoff loss to Montreal in 2010. Specifically, I mentioned the “just get to the playoffs mentality” in the 2010-11 campaign and noted that being around the team this September and early October that the mood seemed markedly different. I then asked him if he agreed with my assessement.

 ”Yeah, I think you captured it pretty well. I think there was some sort of a hangover last year. We had this fabulous year and it didn’t work out for us, and now we got to go through this again. Maybe we’ve all learned something that it’s about showing up every year, ready to go, business like, and play your guts out and see what happens. I don’t sense any of those issues from last year. There seems to be a different attitude,” said McPhee.

Last season the Caps changed their system mid year to a more defensive posture and they rose to fourth overall in the NHL in goals against average. They were not able to sustain that in the post season, but adding Vokoun and some of the other players should make this club better defensively, which I believe is a major ingredient to a deep Stanley Cup playoff run.

“You have to be good defensively, there is no way around it. There aren’t many teams that win that can’t keep the puck out of their own net. We made a real effort last year to improve in that area and we sure did, it was remarkable how much we improved. We’d like to keep that standard there,” started McPhee on the importance of playing well in their own end, “Obviously the goaltender helps a lot but the other players are all pretty good two way players. They play responsible games defensively but when they get the puck on their sticks they can do something with it, that’s important. They play the game right, but if they get an opportunity, they might score,” finished the GM noting that guys like Brouwer, Ward, and Halpern can light the lamp too.

For a goalie to be dominant and steal games, he has to know how his skaters are going to play in front of him. It may take some time for Vokoun to find that zone but the work put in since last winter by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s club should help. Forward Jay Beagle says that the focus on the defensive zone should never end. He also mentioned that it was up to all players to be good defensively, not just the guys playing on the bottom two lines.

“Last year we were pretty good in the d-zone, we worked on it a lot and I think it is carrying over to this year. The d-zone is a tough thing, you have to work on it constantly and you can’t cheat in the d-zone. If you cheat you are going to get beat and they are going to score a goal. So that is one of the main things is the accountability. Basically accountability has been a huge thing this year at the start. Being accountable for where you are supposed to be and we’re really working on keeping our feet moving. Limiting that player to space and taking their space away, right away, and being more aggressive in the d-zone. It’s going to result in getting pucks out and playing in their end, which is where you want to be playing anyways. If we can get perfect in the d-zone it is going to help us get where we want to be and that is to win a Stanley Cup,” said the undrafted forward who earned a season opening roster spot with Washington for the first time this fall.

Notes: Hershey, who many believe to be the heavy favorites to win the AHL’s Calder Cup this season, opened with a 3-2 victory in Broome County against the defending AHL champion Binghampton Senators. Braden Holtby stopped 27 of 29 shots while Christian Hanson, Chris Bourque, and Patrick Wellar scored for the Bears…Ovechkin and defenseman Mike Green continue their tradition of buying season tickets as part of Ovi’s Crazy 8s and Green’s Gang. Ovechkin has bought season tickets since 2006 and Green since 2008. The tickets are donated every game to Most Valuable Kids (MVK) who distribute them to either injured soldiers or active military members and their families; or to boys and girls, 18 and under, through numerous nonprofit organizations that focus on children in low-income and underserved households.

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Caps Close Out Preseason with 4-1 Victory

Posted on 02 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Preseason hockey ended on Sunday night as the Washington Capitals closed out their training camp with a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks before 18,405 at the Verizon Center. Michal Neuvirth stopped 28 of 29 shots and also received some help from the posts and crossbar while Mathieu Perreault, Brooks Laich, Mike Green, and Jay Beagle tallied for the Caps. Marian Hossa, who was Chicago’s best player on this night, scored the lone goal for the Hawks.

Here are the highligths, quotes, and analysis from a victory that wasn’t as impressive as Friday night’s win over Buffalo:

- Why was this victory not as impressive as the win against the Sabres? The Caps were not as crisp as they were in that tilt and Chicago also didn’t play their best forward in Jonathan Toews and top two defensemen in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Washington’s head coach certainly agreed with that assessment in his post game comments.

“I don’t know. I thought it was a pretty sloppy game quite frankly. I thought the Buffalo game, other than the three or four turnovers in our zone that gave them chances was an emotional game,” commented Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau when asked if this win was the best performance of the preseason.

 

- Perreault continued his inspired play and notched another goal to pretty much cement his spot on the roster. He scored because he went to the front of the net and banged home the rebound of a great point shot by Green. What also helps #85′s cause is that he cannot be sent to Hershey without having to clear waivers first. The key to playing time, as always, for the 2006 6th round pick will be consistency. Perreault put on additional muscle this offseason and that should help prevent him from wearing down as quickly as he’s done in the past.

 

“I think our best player all of camp was Perreault. I think he played with energy every night. I think he was very similar last year but we’ll sit down tomorrow and discuss all of this,” added Boudreau on #85′s training camp and his chances of making the opening night roster.

 

- Neuvirth was very good in this contest after missing last Friday’s game due to a minor injury. He did get some help from the iron but he also was positionally sound and didn’t give up many rebounds. The only goal he allowed was one he had no chance on as Hossa scored on the power play after a Karl Alzner turnover behind the Washington goal. What compounded #27′s mistake was that his defensive partner, John Carlson, chose to go behind the net and leave the front of the cage open with King Karl already there. It was a mental error by Carlson and as a result #81 was all alone at the left post for an easy marker after the change in possession. If Neuvirth continues to play like he did this evening he will get numerous starts despite the fact that Tomas Vokoun has been declared the team’s number one goalie, which is a good thing for the Capitals.

 

“I won two games and I am pretty happy with my training camp. Doesn’t really bother me, I am just going to wake up tomorrow and work hard. If I get the call, I will be ready,” said Neuvirth on his preseason and how he will conduct himself going forward.

 

- Green was super again and completed an outstanding preseason with a goal and an assist in 23:27 of ice time on Sunday. He did take a puck to the hand on a Hawks shot but according to Brian McNally of the Washington Examiner, #52 said he just has a bruise and is okay. His goal came on a 5 on 3 off of a nice feed from Alexander Ovechkin and according to Hawks commentator Eddie Olcyzk, the curl and drag move he made just before releasing the shot gave him a different angle, which put Corey Crawford (32 saves on 35 shots) at a major disadvantage. It was another highly skilled play by the talented defensemen who appears to be in outstanding physical shape for this upcoming regular season.

 

 - The NHL is very focused on limiting shots to the head and Washington had a scary moment when Alexander Semin took a forearm/elbow to the head from Peter LeBlanc. LeBlanc, who was drafted in the 7th round by Chicago in 2006, left his feet slighty on the hit. #28 did have his head down as he had the puck in his skates but there was no need for #72 to hit him up high. I don’t think the young Hawks player intended to hurt Semin, he was just trying to make a big hit, and he doesn’t have a history of bad penalties. However, his lack of skill showed on the play and with hits to the noggin being big no-no’s, I expect the NHL office might make an example of him and levy a suspension. Semin was okay after the hit despite staying down for a minute or so, according to Boudreau, so that was very good news for the Caps.

 

- Another area of the Caps performance that Boudreau likely was not happy about was the power play. The Capitals went 1 for 6 but the lone tally came late in the game with a two man advantage. On Friday Washington did a nice job with the power play by getting the puck to the top of the point and blasting from there with traffic in front while on Sunday they reverted to overpassing and looking for one timers. Ovechkin was on the point on mulitple occassions in the first period and in one instance he allowed Hossa to get a clean shorthanded breakaway. As I’ve written before, I much prefer the Gr8 on the half wall where he can fire away his laser shot or feed the puck to the point and then surge to the cage for rebound goals. Green, in the postgame on Friday, mentioned that the Caps were not going to show all of their power play secrets yet, so hopefully what we saw on Sunday was not how things will be implemented once the regular season commences.

 

- Dmitri Orlov looked pretty good in just over 14 minutes of work. The highly skilled defenseman showed that he does not look out of place at all at the NHL level. His talent is excellent and if he continues to progress in his own end he will get more time in Washington sooner, rather than later. The NHL is very much about skating these days with the post lockout rules and the 2009 second round pick is an outstanding skater. I am never against giving a player more time in Hershey to develop though and the Caps have that luxury with the crew of d-men they already have with NHL experience.

 

- Laich centered Joel Ward and Jason Chimera on the 3rd unit and that line clicked. In addition, #21 was 11-5 on faceoffs. If he can be successful in that slot at center then that allows Boudreau a lot of flexibility in his day to day lineup and gives him a shutdown crew that can also score goals. The success of that line was one of the big bright spots of Sunday’s game.

 

Notes: Beagle’s goal came shorthanded with the empty net. The hard working and versatile #83 is a lock to make the roster…Chicago was 1 for 5 on the power play…Washington won the faceoff battle 29-24…the Caps next game is their season opener at home on Saturday versus the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 pm.

 

 

 

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Caps Knock Off Sabres in Pre-Season Tilt

Posted on 01 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

With just eight days until the start of the regular season, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau dressed a lineup on Friday against Buffalo that will be very close to the one he ices on opening night on October 8th against Carolina. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff played a crew that will very much resemble his regular season roster and the result was an excellent pre-season game that had intensity to it. The Caps rallied with a third period goal with some inspired play and ended up winning the contest in a shootout, 4-3. Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green, and Matt Hendricks notched goals for Washington while Tomas Vanek and Jason Pominville had two tallies and one, respectively, for the visitors. Backstrom won the game in the shootout in the 6th round after Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin scored earlier in the gimmick.

Here are the quotes and analysis from a contest that provided a good benchmark of where the Caps are at with the NHL regular season just around the corner:

- The Capitals were extremely sloppy in their own end for the first 40 minutes and struggled with some turnovers and even worse, poor coverage. Low percentage clear outs were attempted and Buffalo players were given too much time and space on numerous occassions. It was clear that new goalie Tomas Vokoun is still trying to learn how the guys in front of him are going to play in the defensive end. For a goalie, knowing where the shots are going to come from is so critical and #29 is still figuring that out. The good news is that in the third period Washington really was solid in their defensive zone and Buffalo actually didn’t register a shot on net until past the period’s middpoint. Boudreau had a theory as to why things changed in the last portion of regulation.

“On the two goals that were scored against us there is still the newness of communication between Tomas [Vokoun] and the defense and I think on both of those goals, and we talked about it between periods, there was a miscommunication. Whether it was handling the puck, letting it go, defense in front ‘should I block?’, ‘should I not?’ Once we got that straightened around I thought they played a really good third period.”

Ovechkin also talked about the importance of playing well in their own end this year.

“The defensive zone is the most important thing for us. …Every time you have to play careful in your zone. We just give more attention to details in the preseason,” said the two time NHL MVP.

 

- Offensively the Capitals did a good job of putting the heat on the Buffalo defense. The Caps, despite being outshot for two periods, did have quite a few quality chances only to be denied by all world goalie Ryan Miller on a few occassions. Troy Brouwer played on a line with Ovechkin and the two of them did a nice job of forechecking and taking the body, which helped wear down a very good Sabres blue line crew.

“I thought the energy and the forechecking in the first two periods was pretty good as well. We got the results in the third period but I think a lot of it was because we worked hard in the first two periods, but it was consistent for 60 minutes, which we hadn’t done,” added Boudreau.

- The Capitals went 1 for 5 on the power play but there were noticeable differences to the way the unit plays from a year ago. The focus is clearly to get the puck to the top center portion of the point and fire away with traffic in front of the opposing goaltender. The past reliance on slick cross ice passes for one timers with the man advantage appears to be gone. There are still outstanding passes made by highly skilled guys, as evidenced by Green’s superb off the boards back pass to Ovechkin on the Caps second tally, but getting in position for rebounds is clearly now the recipe for success.

“I knew Alex was behind and I dragged the guy to me. I just had to make sure I bounced it hard enough so that he could get it because he is a right handed shot or else it would have been in his skates. He made a great shot and it was laying there and I decided to poke it in,” said Green describing his goal, that was set up by difficult bank pass.

“We are not going to give away any of our secrets. We have our game plan and [crashing the net] is a piece of it but we even have to be better. The fortunate thing is we have a lot of guys who can play. It’s not just one line anymore, it’s two, even three units that can play,” finished the Calgary native on the Caps power play.

“It’s hard to score in this league and when you are playing against Ryan Miller, it’s even harder. So you better go to the net if you want to score,” commented Boudreau on the net crashing strategy.

- Here are some quick thoughts on the performances of individual players in this tilt:

  • Ovechkin was into this contest, especially in the third period when he was throwing his body around. The Gr8 had two assists, although it looked to me like he scored the second goal that was credited to #52 (Boudreau said the same thing after the contest).
  • Marcus Johansson looked very good in this game as he starts his sophomore campaign. He continues to be a dominant skater and he is even stronger on the puck this year.
  • We always hear about how hard Joel Ward works but he is also a very smart hockey player with superb hockey sense. In the third period one of his best plays came in the neutral zone on a cross ice pass. #42 had two cross ice options on the play, one which was very high risk, high reward but needed to be threaded perfectly so it would not be intercepted, or another more orthogonal pass that would be very effective, but safer. Ward chose the later and it resulted in a scoring chance for Washington. The former Predators forward is clearly a guy that can play pretty much with anyone and is going to make his line a positive factor in the game.
  • Backstrom had the first goal after a good feed from Ovechkin and after an even better breakout pass by Brouwer. #19 buried that chance but I still am not seeing the burst of speed and superior skating ability that I saw from him in 2009-10. As for Brouwer, he was excellent in this contest. He went to the net to create traffic and added two helpers. He did have the occassional defensive zone lapse but that was corrected by period three.
  • For the Sabres, Vanek continues to show that he is a top notch player but the man who stood out for them was offseason free agent acquisition Christian Ehroff. #10 was superb running the Buffalo attack and he was +2 with a goal and an assist. If he stays healthy the Sabres should be a force to be reckoned with in the Eastern Conference.
  • The Caps tying goal was a thing of beauty. Jeff Halpern won the faceoff to Jay Beagle, who slid it back to Green at the point. #52 fired the biscuit at Miller while the Washington players crashed the net. The American goaltending star then gave up an uncharacteristic big rebound in the slot that Hendricks slid by the Michigan State alum. It was a hard working tally right off of a faceoff, something coaches love to have.
  • Given what I saw tonight and from preseason observations, I think that the 12 forwards who dressed tonight, minus Cody Eakin, will make the final roster, which is due on Tuesday at 3pm. Eakin needs a full year in the AHL to mature physically and play lots of minutes. Mike Knuble, who was rested on Friday, would be one of the top 12. Mathieu Perreault did not play on Friday but I see him making the club as an additional forward. #85 has had a strong preseason plus he would have to go through waivers if he was attempted to be sent down to Hershey (Eakin can go to the Bears without GM George McPhee worrying about a waiver claim). The six defensemen who dressed tonight, Green, John Carlson, Dennis Wideman, Jeff Schultz, Roman Hamrlik, and Karl Alzner, will be the opening night blue liners unless there is an injury.

Notes: Chris Bourque, Sean Collins, and Patrick McNeill were waived and sent to Hershey…Collins could be recalled for the opener as the seventh d-man if John Erskine is still not ready to play…Washington outshot the Sabres 32-24, largely due to a 15-3 advantage in the third period…the Capitals lost the faceoff battle 33-32 with MJ90 going 4-9…the Caps killed off all four Sabres power plays. Washington’s next and final preseason game is on Sunday at 5 pm from the Verizon Center against the Chicago Blackhawks.

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