Tag Archive | "boudreau"

Washington Capitals v Ottawa Senators

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A Season Changing Goal for Ovechkin?

Posted on 07 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

In the world of sports, often times we see plays made, typically by superstars, that change the course of a game or even a season.

Who can forget Jack Nicklaus’ near ace on the 16th hole at Augusta in 1986 that led to his Masters win or Mario Lemieux’s goal against the North Stars in the 1991 Stanley Cup Finals?

Tonight Alexander Ovechkin may not have made a play that carries the significance of what Nicklaus or Lemieux did, but for the Gr8 and the Washington Capitals, his highlight reel tally in the third period, that broke a 2-2 tie to lead the Caps to a 5-3 victory in Ottawa, could be one that turns the whole season around for Ovechkin and his club. It was a vintage Ovechkin goal at a crucial time. The Caps were possibly on their way to their sixth straight road defeat, losing their fourth game in five contests under new coach Dale Hunter, and falling to .500 on the season. But as the saying goes, “Great players do great things at big times” and Alexander the Great delivered when his team needed him badly. It was Ovechkin’s first goal under Hunter and only his ninth of the year in 27 games.

What makes this goal even more special is that Ovechkin played perhaps his best contest of the season. He had numerous scoring chances but Senators goalie Craig Anderson repeatedly denied him, including twice in tight after the Gr8 had skated around Senators defensemen. The key words in that previous sentence were “skating around Senators defensemen.” You see the Gr8 has been criticized for trying the same move over and over that routinely has led to blocked shots or poke checks by opposing defensemen, which often send the puck back the other way. Hunter appears to be getting Ovechkin to buy into the idea of using his speed and size to go wide on opposing d-men. As a result, the Gr8 had seven shots on net in eight attempts, many of which came via going down the boards instead of cutting to the middle after crossing the blueline.

When you go back and watch some of Ovechkin’s best goals, many of them have come off of the rush via defensive zone turnovers. The ones against Montreal in 2008 and Buffalo in 2009 come quickly to mind. But something happened to the Gr8’s ability to go from defense to offense during the latter stages of Bruce Boudreau’s tenure in DC and everyone started wondering what has happened to the Gr8. But under Hunter, we are starting to see the Gr8 improve his defensive zone effort and create plays in transition. He still has a ways to go in that end but this is very encouraging.

Not to get lost in Ovechkin’s heroics on Wednesday night were several other comeback performances from the Caps and that to me shows that this club is working hard and more importantly, getting mentally tougher. When the Senators scored two late second period goals to go up 2-1, how many Capitals fans thought, “Here we go again?!” It was easy to think that way given how the team had fallen into a pattern of giving up goals in bunches to lose games over the last month or so.

But on Wednesday, this team took on the resolve of ole number 32 and kept battling. John Carlson didn’t let a poor play on the Senators second goal bother him (to be fair, Dennis Wideman was the primary culprit on that Sens tally) and he finished with a goal and two helpers. Tomas Vokoun (31 saves) had been really struggling and he was partially to blame on all three Ottawa tallies but when Joel Ward took a bad penalty late in regulation he and defensemen Karl Alzner played incredible while shorthanded to preserve the victory. Is this a game that #29 can build off of to get on a run in net? Hunter sure would like to see one of his goalies step up and take over.

Not to be lost due to all of the talk about rebound performances, though, is the play of Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) and Alzner (27:40 of ice time, +2). #19 and #27 have been the leaders from the Capitals this season from an effort and consistency standpoint and Hunter is smart to increase the number of shifts they get, because when you are trying to turn things around, you have to play the guys who are getting it done the most. Dale’s decision to put Alzner back with Carlson has helped #74 improve his game and they are once again Washington’s best defensive duo.

After a great first period by Washington that yielded no goals, the premise of another Caps disappointing road loss appeared on the horizon after 40 minutes with Ottawa up a puck. But a sweet goal by Backstrom off of a feed from Brooks Laich evened it up setting the stage for Ovechkin’s master piece that will make all of the highlights on television and the internet Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

It was a goal the Capitals had to have. It is also the kind of tally that can bring a struggling player new found confidence. It is the type of play that often changes the entire attitude for a team and provides them with a spark necessary to go on a winning streak.

Will this goal by Ovechkin against Otttawa be just that? Stay tuned.


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Top 10 Baseball Distractions

Posted on 29 November 2011 by Glenn Clark

Honorable Mention: Auto Racing-NASCAR Awards Show (Friday 9pm from Las Vegas live on SPEED); Golf: PGA Tour Qualifying School (Saturday & Sunday 4pm, Monday 3:30pm from La Quinta, CA live on Golf Channel), PGA Tour Chevron World Challenge (Thursday & Friday 1pm live on Golf Channel Saturday & Sunday 12pm live on NBC. All golf from Thousand Oaks, CA); Women’s College Basketball: Big Ten/ACC Challenge-Michigan @ Maryland (Wednesday 7pm Comcast Center), Maryland @ American (Sunday 1pm Bender Arena); Tennis: ATP Tour Davis Cup Final (Friday 8am Saturday 10am Sunday 7am from Seville, Spain live on Tennis Channel)

10. Andrea Bocelli (Friday 8pm Verizon Center); Erykah Badu (Friday 7pm Rams Head Live); Dashboard Confessional (Saturday 7pm Recher Theatre); All Mighty Senators (Saturday 7pm 8×10 Club); Aaron Neville (Monday 8pm Rams Head On Stage); Robin Thicke (Wednesday 7pm 9:30 Club); String Cheese Incident (Wednesday 8pm Lyric Opera House), Ryan Adams (Sunday 7:30pm Lyric Opera House); J. Roddy Walston & The Business (Friday 9pm Ottobar); Mac Miller (Thursday 7pm Fillmore Silver Spring); Ra Ra Riot (Friday 7pm Ritchie Coliseum College Park); Tori Amos (Monday 8pm D.A.R. Constitution Hall); Adele Live at Royal Albert Hall available on CD/DVD/Blu-Ray/iTunes (Tuesday)

I really shouldn’t like Robin Thicke all that much. I just can’t help myself…

Dude, Ryan Adams has made so many great tunes but are any of them greater than this?

I feel like I should be a bigger J Roddy Walston fan than I am…http://wnst.net/wordpress/wp-admin/post.php?post=185164&action=edit

I don’t know if Adele sounds BETTER at Royal Albert Hall…but I know this much…no CHANCE she doesn’t sound amazing…

9. Washington Monument Lighting (Thursday 7pm from Mt. Vernon Place live on WBAL11), Mayor’s Christmas Parade (Sunday 2pm Hampden/Medfield); Gary Valentine (Thursday-Saturday Baltimore Comedy Factory); Steve-O (Thursday-Sunday DC Improv); Jim Norton (Thursday-Saturday Magooby’s Joke House)

Is there any chance that when Stephanie Rawlings-Blake flips on the lights at the monument the scene looks anything like this?

And since I’ve already invoked Christmas Vacation, I think it’s only appropriate that we do this…

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Dale Hunter: The Right Guy at the Right Time

Posted on 29 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

“The reason for the change was we weren’t winning, obviously. This wasn’t a slump, you can ride out slumps. This was simply a case of the players were no longer responding to Bruce. When you see that, as much as you don’t want to, you have to make a change. Bruce did a terrific job here, we’re proud of him, proud of the work he did for us, but when the players weren’t responding you have to make a change.”    – George McPhee

George McPhee’s statement on the rationale for firing Bruce Boudreau needs no deciphering. It was pretty clear that after four years, it was time to move on. Boudreau did a lot for the Washington Capitals, he was a huge factor in taking this franchise to unprecedented levels, and I know, I’ve been watching this team since its’ inception in 1974-75. Unfortunately, in the hockey business the shelf life of a coach is often short. I’ve seen some great coaches fired from Bryan Murray to Terry Murray to Jim Schoenfeld and Ron Wilson. It is the nature of the business. Bruce did great things for the Caps, but he couldn’t get them over the hump to win a Stanley Cup. He is a class guy and never dodged a question as head coach. He is a super nice person and Capitals fans should be thankful for his time here. He’ll do well wherever he goes next, whether it is another coaching job or television.


On the flip side, if there is one guy that is the correct fit to coach the Washington Capitals right now, it is Dale Hunter. The 19 year NHL veteran and former team captain was the heart and soul of this franchise from 1987 to 1999. As a player he was a tireless worker and you never questioned his work ethic. He had skill, he had grit and as McPhee said today, “He could be downright mean.”

It’s no secret that the pre-Hunter Capital teams of the 1980’s were talented but soft. Washington would reel off five or six wins in a row but then they’d have to go to Philadelphia to play the tough Flyers and the result would often be the Broad Street Bullies running the Caps out of the Spectrum via a 6-1 or 6-2 score. Simply put, the Caps were intimidated by Philly back then, but that all changed when #32 was traded to Washington in 1987. In April of 1988, in Hunter’s first season with the Caps, he would score what I still say was the most important goal in franchise history, his 1988 game seven playoff OT breakaway tally on Ron Hextall.

Another reason he is the best guy for the job is because he is a Cap, and always will be. #32 said today that he’s been rooting for the Caps ever since he left and that he’s taped every game so he can watch them on his bus rides in the Ontario Hockey League. McPhee said Hunter has had offers to coach other teams but has turned them down and Dale confirmed that in his post practice press conference.

“I really enjoyed the junior league and coaching 17 and 18 year olds…but it would take the Washington Capitals to stop me from doing that,” stated Hunter on why he took this position, basically his dream coaching job.

The Capitals right now have all kinds of skill and talent but they have clear holes in their game. To fix them they will need to get back to basics, which means working hard. Hunter did that night in and night out as a player and he will demand that from this hockey club. He can be called a players coach but he also lays the law down.

“I’m a players coach but the players will know when I’m mad at them,” added Hunter.

I’ve known Dale since he came to the Caps. 1987 was my first full year doing statistics for the team and right off the bat, after every home game, he started asking me how he did on face-offs. That tradition would continue through 1997 when my position transitioned to the NHL when the season ended. Back then, the ice time, face-offs, hits, giveaways, etc. weren’t published like they are now on the internet. In fact, GM’s and coaches did not want any of those figures given to the players for fear of their agents using the data in contract negotiations. However, because of the type of player Hunter was, GM David Poile and the various coaching staffs had no issue with me providing #32 his face-off stats each game. They realized he only wanted to know because he cared so much about winning and would use the information to help do whatever it took to get better. The interesting thing about those post game exchanges I had with him was that he always pretty much knew how he did before I even gave him the numbers. When he was good, it was “I got them tonight, didn’t I chum?!” and when he had a rough night, it was “I was horsebleep tonight, eh chum?!”

During the games, I frequently had the task of delivering the statistics to the coaches between periods. Several times when I’d come out of the coaches office there would be ole number 32 by the stick rack in the hallway at the old Capital Centre fidgeting with his lumber for the upcoming period. Occasionally Dale would ask for outside input on the game and a few times I’d mention the lack of hits, knowing full well that he knew that meant the team needed to play harder. His frequent response was “no hits, eh chum?!” More often than not the team would come out with more energy the following period. Clearly he is a leader.

On another night between periods in an early season game, Dale was having a tough time from the dot and I caught him, once again, by the stick rack searching for answers. I mentioned the rough stats he’d had in the previous 20 minutes and he grimaced, then slipped off his glove and showed me what was a fractured thumb. #32 would go on to play with that ailment for pretty much the rest of the season but noone outside the team ever knew. Dale didn’t want to give the other team an advantage and he certainly did not want to make any excuses for his performance. He is a results oriented person.

Why am I telling you these stories? Because it sums up Dale Hunter and what he is about. He is a straightforward, simple man of very few, but powerful words. He knows his business and he pays attention to detail. As McPhee said today, “He knows two things, farming and hockey, and he’s good at both.”

Yup, there is no doubt about that, in my mind.


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Sounding off on Boudreau firing and 2nd coming of Hunter

Posted on 28 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

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Capitals fire Boudreau; hire Dale Hunter as head coach

Posted on 28 November 2011 by WNST Staff

The Washington Capitals have parted ways with long-time head coach Bruce Boudreau after the team’s fortunes have turned sour this month with shaky performances and road struggles.

After 22 games (12-9-1), longtime Caps legend Dale Hunter will take over the reigns as head coach with team holding onto the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference standings with 25 points in a very crowded race.

Boudreau’s assistant coaches, Dean Evason, Bob Woods and Blaine Forsythe, will remain in their posts under Hunter.

Hunter has coached the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League for more than a decade. He reached 300 and 400 career wins faster than any coach in league history and he just won his 450th game this Saturday against Erie.

Hunter makes his NHL coaching debut Tuesday when Washington begins a three-game homestand against the St. Louis Blues. The league’s two newest head coaches, Hunter and the Blues’ Ken Hitchcock will face off. Hitchcock was hired to replace Davis Payne on Nov. 6.

WNST still has “Rock The Red” seats left on our bus for the game tomorrow night.

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Ville Leino, Roman Hamrlik

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Caps Pathetic in Loss to Sabres

Posted on 26 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Buffalo Sabres were missing nine regulars and had a lineup that more resembled the Rochester Americans, their AHL team, as they faced the Washington Capitals at the First Niagara Center on Saturday night. Sounds like a recipe for an easy Caps win, right? Well in the words of the great Sundance Kid: “You figured wrong, Butch.” Tomas Vokoun had a terrible game in net and Dennis Wideman and Roman Hamrlik (both -3) continued to struggle on the back end and the Sabres worked harder than Washington to blow out the Caps, 5-1. The loss drops the Capitals to 12-9-1 overall after a 7-0 start.

This was a Sabres team that got blitzed by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday, 5-1, so you knew Lindy’s Ruff’s club would come out hard but Bruce Boudreau’s crew didn’t respond. The work ethic was downright awful and the Sabres seemed to win every loose puck battle. Last Saturday night, after the Toronto Maple Leafs blasted the Capitals with a depleted lineup, I blogged that Caps GM George McPhee, Boudreau, and Alexander Ovechkin needed to have a “clear the air” meeting to turn this ship around. I have no idea if they had that session or not, but after two solid efforts at home on Monday and Wednesday they have once again gone the other way with two straight weak outings and this looks like a rudderless outfit.

Usually a team, when struggling, gets a strong effort from its’ captain but Ovechkin was -4 tonight and had only two shots on net. He was lazy in the defensive zone and he didn’t appear to break a sweat. His performance was downright pitiful and if there is still a rift between him and Boudreau or other players on the team, then shame on the organization for not dealing with it and correcting the issue.

As for Boudreau, I don’t know what has happened to him. He used to be great with his strategy but lately he’s become gun shy and is not using his talent properly. With the Sabres down players it seemed like the tactic for Washington would be to press the play and open the game up, but that was not the case, as the four time Southeast Division Champion coach explained after the contest. When asked about the lack of Caps forecheck, he said “The plan was to make it a 2-1 or 1-0 game because we’ve been so poor defensively.” Wrong answer in my book, when you have guys like Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Alexander Semin you have to be aggressive and get a lead, even with the problems the club is having on the back end.

Even with the bad effort, if Vokoun (23 saves) doesn’t give up a terrible third goal right after Jason Chimera scored his ninth goal of the season on a beauty of a penalty shot, then Washington might have come back. But on a Sabres three on two Zack Kassian got his first NHL goal when he beat #29 five hole. It was a shot that could not go in and it came after he failed to glove a high blast that led to the 2nd Buffalo tally in period one. On the fourth Sabres goal, Adam Luke scored on what was pretty much a one on five coming out of the corner and Vokoun didn’t have good position on that one either. The team is not playing well in their own end but they are also not getting consistent goaltending from Vokoun or Michal Neuvirth right now.

I could sit here and blog more about player X or how a particular play was executed improperly, but at this point, it has gone far beyond that. This team has lost its’ confidence, is clearly mentally weak, and is not playing hard. Hockey is an emotional game and if you don’t bring it with you when you come onto to the ice you will lose every time. Right now the Capitals look like a team that is not having fun and is lacking all emotion. There is too much talent on this team for it to play so poorly, even without Mike Green. The excuses need to stop and someone needs to step up and be a leader to get this untracked.

Notes: McPhee was in Hershey for the Bears game on Washington Capitals night so he didn’t see this debacle live…the Caps won the faceoff battle 32-26…Karl Alzner and Chimera were the best Caps, not many others had a good game…Washington was 0 for 4 on the power play and gave up another shorthanded goal..the Caps next game is Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues at the Verizon Center.

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Ruslan Fedotenko, Michal Neuvirth, Alexander Semin

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Rangers stuff Caps in afternoon special

Posted on 25 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were on a two-game winning streak thanks to a renewed work ethic in victories on Monday and Wednesday. On Friday afternoon at the Verizon Center, John Tortorella’s New York Rangers club came in and schooled the Caps in the effort department en route to a 6-3 victory. Ruslan Fedotenko had two goals, high-priced free agent Brad Richards had a tally and an assist, and Ryan Callahan had three helpers as the Blueshirts top line went +3 in an impressive performance. New York is now 11-5-3 while Washington falls to 12-8-1.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from a contest that saw Washington revert to the form they displayed in their recent four game losing streak:

– When coaches talk about getting the puck deep and putting pressure on opponents’ defensemen being a key to success all one has to do is watch what Tortorella’s crew did to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s defense in this one. The Rangers aren’t a fancy team at all, they work hard, and on Friday they got pucks in behind the Washington net and just made the Capitals life miserable in their own zone. Dennis Wideman had what was probably his worst game as a Cap with five giveaways and he and his partner, Roman Hamrlik, were both -3 and benched after just two shifts in the third period. John Carlson and Jeff Schultz also had some misplays but those two, after a shaky first 25 or so minutes, rallied to be +1 for the contest. Washington’s best blue line duo was Karl Alzner and rookie Dmitry Orlov but you can’t win with one pair playing well for the whole game. What was hard to watch were how the mistakes seemed to keep on coming and many of the Capitals player didn’t move on from them and keep working, instead choosing to sulk and lose confidence.

“We’re getting too down. As soon as we get a goal scored against us it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world. It’s just one goal. It’s bound to happen every game. We’re killing our momentum by having them score and then giving up another one,” said King Karl when asked about trying to find ways to respond to quick goals allowed.

– After Wednesday’s victory over Winnipeg I talked about the Capitals excellent performance with puck support. On Friday, it was not good and the Rangers won the game on that alone. On the pivotal fourth Rangers goal, which came after the Caps had all of the momentum, Hamrlik needed to just take a strong step forward to push the biscuit outside the Washington zone but because his skates have resembled cinder blocks lately, he backpedaled and that allowed one of the Blueshirts lesser lines to score when Wideman got beat in the corner and then #44 couldn’t cover anyone in front of Michal Neuvirth (27 saves on 33 shots). Hamrlik is now a team worst -7 and likely deserves a game in the press box, if John Erskine is healthy enough to play on Saturday in Buffalo. Simply put the Rangers determination resembled the personality of their fiery coach in this tilt.

“I thought our forecheck was better and our back pressure was better. I thought we were up in fives and back in fives. It was one of our better games out of the past four or five…I thought we just played better defensively, it just doesn’t mean in our end zone. Playing away from the puck I thought we did a pretty good job of that…our whole focus was to play better away from the puck and tonight I thought we did,” said a pleased Rangers bench boss.

– Remember when the Capitals rallied from a 3-0 deficit to silence Madison Square Garden in game four of last season’s first round playoff series? Well when Troy Brouwer and then John Carlson scored midway through period two the Caps were in position to do that again. The crowd was really into it and the players seemed to be getting energy from the fans. Washington put pressure on the Rangers and Alexander Semin had a golden opportunity to tie it up but fired high on Henrik Lundqvist (18 saves). But Brian Boyle would score that key goal I mentioned above at 16:49 to really take the air out of the building and then just over four minutes into period three Wideman tried to do too much in the offensive zone and Richards got the fifth Blueshirts tally in transition.

“Not so much last year, I thought that was a big part of it when they scored those goals to get back in the game because it’s such a team that can score in bunches. I thought we handled ourselves very well. That’s a very important part of the game was not getting scored on again for it to tie. We found a way to score a couple. Nothing was said, we’ve had enough meetings the past couple of days to talk about how we need to play, we just went out, and I think they allowed themselves to play tonight. That is why they were skating, it was a more fluid game for us,” said Tortorella when asked about the quick Caps goals and if anything was discussed on the bench about it, especially given Washington’s big comeback from last year’s post season.

– As the Alzner quote hinted at above, this team is mentally weak right now. There are several guys who can’t hold it together when things go wrong. Semin is culprit #1. He once again took a LAZY penalty by putting his stick in Callahan’s gut instead of moving his feet and afterwards #28 was pretty much a no show. He took long shifts and only had 1 shot on goal following his hooking minor. He was -2 and on the Richards goal he didn’t backcheck hard after Wideman and Hamrlik made mistakes. In addition, the Caps had a 3 on 2 late in the middle frame and he stopped at the blue line, which allowed the Rangers to break up the rush easily. Somehow though, Semin had 47 more seconds of ice time than Alexander Ovechkin (1st goal at home in 2011-12, 8 hits, four shots on net)? This makes no sense to me. The Gr8 still has his poor defensive zone moments but his effort was good while Semin’s was terrible after his penalty at the 8:56 mark of the opening frame.

“Well he definitely was a main factor in our first goal and he scored the third goal. He set up a couple really good plays. If that’s getting him out of his little funk, then that’s a bright spot out of a not necessarily bright game,” commented Boudreau on his captain’s play versus New York.

– Speaking of bright spots, Orlov was my Caps first star. The young Russian logged 17:33 of ice time and was super solid with three hits and an assist. He also used his superior skating and positioning to spring Jason Chimera for a first period breakaway but King Henrik would not allow #25 to beat him again. #81 did have four giveaways but for his 3rd NHL game I thought he was fabulous and he has played better than Hamrlik, Schultz, and Erskine this week.

– In summary, a trend that was going up for Washington took a big nosedive on Friday. The work ethic and mental toughness of the previous two games went out the window. It will be up to the coaching staff and the team’s leadership core to get the club to re-focus and tackle a Buffalo Sabres squad that was beaten soundly (5-1) by Columbus on Friday night. So you can bet that Lindy Ruff’s crew will be ready to go on Saturday night in Buffalo. Will the Caps show some grit and desire and bounce back? Stay tuned.

Notes: Mike Knuble’s ice time was cut from over 20 minutes on Wednesday to just 11:57 on Friday. He was -1 and took a minor penalty…Neuvirth wasn’t very good in net but the skaters in front of him were worse…I expect Tomas Vokoun to start on Saturday and Washington needs a strong outing from him…Johansson had a brutal giveaway that directly led to the Rangers third goal but he worked hard on his next couple of shifts and played a big role in Carlson’s goal. Unfortunately MJ90 was saddled with Semin in period three and finished -3 on the night…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:11…the Caps were buried on face-offs, 37-28, with MJ90 losing 14 of 20 draws and Brooks Laich losing 13 of 19…Laich was put on defense in the third period when 6 and 44 were riding the pine and was on the ice for the 6th NY tally. Boudreau said afterwards that his move “backfired”…the Caps did have 40 hits to 28 for the Blueshirts.

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Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom

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Chimera Wins It For Caps in OT

Posted on 23 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Jason Chimera tapped home a great Dennis Wideman feed 1:52 into overtime for his second marker of the night to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thanksgiving eve. Chimera, who’s season high for goals is 17 when he was with Columbus (2005-06), now has eight in just 20 games (h/t John Walton). The hard working, up tempo victory for the Caps is their second straight win and improves their record to 12-7-1. They are 8-1-1 at home this season.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of the Caps 116th straight sellout at the Verizon Center:

– Oh, where to begin?! There were so many players that performed well on Wednesday that there is no doubt that this was one of the best team efforts of the season. The Caps were moving their feet and pressing the pace all 60+ minutes. It was a fast game and the Capitals showcased their speed. Their puck support and positioning was outstanding, for the most part. The team clearly built on the things they did right on Monday night and they used their size to wear down the Jets. The Caps were credited with 35 hits compared to 27 for Winnipeg and they outshot them 37-25 on the night.

“[The Capitals] played with a lot more emotion. They got energized by scoring early. They got energized by the crowd. They got energized by physical hits. They played hard and they played with some emotion to the game and it showed,” said Winnipeg Coach Claude Noel after the contest.

– Alexander Semin (1 goal, +2) was put in the press box on Monday night and he responded with arguably his best game of the season. He did not take a penalty and skated hard on every shift. He also scored the first goal after a super backhanded feed from Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist, +1, 5 shots on goal, 4 hits). John Carlson also should get credit there for a super long break out pass. It actually looked like #28 was having fun in this game and he appeared confident on the ice. He gets a chance to build on this strong performance on Friday, against a New York Rangers team he has historically owned.

“I think he was in the game today. He used his size [and] his skill. You can see how he was a little bit hungry today, ” said Ovechkin on the effort of his Russian teammate.

– In the post lockout NHL I maintain that there is no substitute for speed. Solid skating allows a team to gap up and support the puck, and Washington was very good at this in this game. Up front the Caps have several who are fleet afoot to include Chimera, Marcus Johansson (1 assist), and Cody Eakin but it is on the blue line where they have struggled recently without Mike Green. Since Dmitry Orlov has been called up from Hershey for the last two games, that has started to change. #81 is an outstanding skater and he was even better in his second NHL game. He had the hit of the night, a great hip check on Blake Wheeler, and he also got his first NHL assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal that made it 3-2. After 11 minutes and change against Phoenix, the young Russian blue liner received 14:31 of ice time and he was +1. The future looks really bright for the 2009 2nd round choice, who will make his share of mistakes, but his presence and speed has resulted in far more good than bad in the two games he’s been up in “The Show.”

– Jeff Schultz is a lightning rod for criticism from Caps fans and he has struggled quite a bit recently, however, the last two games he has upped his play and his breakup of a Winnipeg two on one tonight in OT directly led to the winning goal. #55 has had two straight solid outings. He only had 13:28 of ice time, but he was a +1.

– Washington’s penalty kill played a huge role in the victory as they successfully killed off an 80 second five on three penalty in the middle frame. Schultz, Brooks Laich, and Matt Hendricks did some great work, that included a long stretch where #21 didn’t have a stick. But Tomas Vokoun (22 saves) made some big stops during that time, including one on Nik Antropov in tight, to preserve the Caps one goal lead at the time.

“Big turning point in the game. I thought. You know it got the crowd really engaged in the game and it got the bench really up. They did a great job out there. [Assistant coaches] Dean [Evason] and [Bob Woods] Woody do the video with them. [Explaining] what to do and [what] the [visiting] team’s tendencies [are], but it’s something you can’t practice because it is all about blocking shots and the last thing you want your team in practice to do is break an ankle or something blocking shots,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the importance of that successful shorthanded situation.

– On the down side, Vokoun looked shaky at times and he was out of position on the third goal. He also caught a break when Evander Kane hit the crossbar shortly after the Jets tied the game at three. On the Jets first goal, Ovechkin made a bad decision to chase the puck in the neutral zone when Roman Hamrlik was already there and that led to a two on one break that Andrew Ladd buried. Winnipeg’s second marker came from a d-zone giveaway and then a fortuitous bounce that gave Kyle Wellwood an open net. In that instance Vokoun was a little overly aggressive going down on the original shot.

“It’s been tough with all kinds of rebounds going right to their [Winnipeg] sticks. They made a nice play on their first goal, two-on-one. The second goal, it goes right to their guy and he puts it in an empty net and before you know it they have two goals and have barely touched the puck. Those are tough games for goalies. We battled hard all game,” commented the Czech net minder on his evening.

– At the end of the night though, this was an even better victory for Washington than Monday’s against the Coyotes. The work ethic was there for the second straight game and the team was able to keep up a feverish pace for the entire contest. They still have some things to clean up, especially in their own zone with coverage, but overall they are definitely getting better and a big part of that is the skating, which leads to hits that wear an opponent down and puck support which creates turnovers and transition.

Notes: Mike Knuble appeared to give the Caps a 4-2 lead but his goal was washed out when the zebras ruled that Hendricks had incidental contact with Ondrej Pavelec (33 saves)…Kane has been a Caps killer over the last 7 contests between these two teams but tonight he was held in check. #9 went -1 in 18:49 of ice time with only two shots on net. Washington did a great job of shutting him down…Joel Ward was scratched for missing a team meeting (see Accountability)…Mike Green is still out injured and has not practiced with the team since going down 12 days ago…the Caps won the faceoff battle 31-26 with Jeff Halpern winning seven of his nine draws…Troy Brouwer had 10 hits…Zach Bogosian hit Eakin in the head in the second period with a hard shot up high. #4 made the hit with his arm tucked in but it looked like a head shot to me…the Capitals were 0 for 3 on the power play…Johansson’s hustle was a big factor in the OT winner as he beat a Winnipeg player to the biscuit, which cleared the way for Wideman (team leading 26:10 of ice time) to have an open lane in the slot.

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Brooks Laich, Troy Brouwer

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Caps Work Ethic Back in Win Over Coyotes

Posted on 21 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After giving up two shorthanded goals to the Phoenix Coyotes to fall behind 2-0, the Washington Capitals roared back with a strong effort scoring four straight times and then hung on for a 4-3 victory at the Verizon Center. Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist and the Caps outshot the Yotes, 31-23, in a much needed win that snapped a four game losing streak. The Capitals are now 11-7-1 and will seek revenge against the Winnipeg Jets, who ripped them in Manitoba last Thursday, on Wednesday night in DC.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis of a win that was Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau’s 200th NHL victory:

– After two terrible efforts, this game was going to be all about work ethic and Washington brought that on Monday night. It is so important in hockey to move your feet and as result the Capitals had five power plays to just two for Phoenix in the game. In the first 40 minutes the Caps outshot Phoenix 25-12 but because of some problems on the power play, the Coyotes managed to be tied on the scoreboard. But anyone watching this contest could see that the Capitals had amped up their skating and were taking control of this one. Backstrom’s great individual effort outworking the Coyotes defensemen behind the net and then going to the top of the crease to bang home a Joel Ward shot gave Washington the lead just 1:52 into period three. The Capitals would then add a five on three marker from Brooks Laich to get a two goal cushion and set the stage for a much needed victory.

“Any kind of win, when you’ve lost the last four games in a row is what you want, so we’ll take anything… I am a firm believer that you get the breaks when you work harder then your opponent,” stated Boudreau on the victory that was aided by some good bounces on the first two Washington tallies.

– Alexander Semin, who had taken a minor penalty in seven straight games, has been a lightning rod for criticism over the last few years and tonight he was a healthy scratch for the first time in the post lockout era. It was a message sent to the player and the rest of the club that lack of effort will not be tolerated. Washington started winning the physical battles again and they also were getting to the front of the opponents net, something they did very well when they were rolling earlier in the season.

“He’s taken penalties seven games in a row. At some point you have to be accountable for your errors. I don’t like doing things like that to guys that are so talented. I thought it was a decision that had to be made for the group. Everyone is on alert and we’ve got to play the right way to be successful,” reasoned Boudreau on why #28 was planted in the press box on Monday night.

– Defensemen Dmitry Orlov (11:56 of ice time) had his NHL debut playing with the steady Karl Alzner and he did a nice job. He made some mistakes, including not clearing the front of the net on the third goal, but he moved the puck and doled out some nice hits (credited with three), including a solid neutral zone smash on rock eating Phoenix forward Shane Doan in the middle frame.

“I was very happy with him. He looked very composed. He did a great job, he didn’t try to do too much in his first game. He played smart. He took a lot in in the last 24 to 48 hours in English and he played it right,” said Boudreau on the Russian youngster who was the Caps second round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

– Skating is so important in the NHL and the Caps have guys who can flat out fly in Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson, and Cody Eakin. Chimera was on a line with Laich and Mike Knuble and those guys wore down the Phoenix defenders. Knuble had a well deserved season high 20:47 of ice time. MJ90, Eakin, and Ward were downright dominant in the second period and they were a big reason why Washington won this game.

– The Washington power play still is a sore spot right now. Radim Vrbata scored on a breakaway when John Carlson tried a cross ice pass and #17 picked it off and went the other way to score easily on a frozen Tomas Vokoun (20 saves). Then at 7:34 of the second period Dennis Wideman hooked Lauri Korpikoski (two goals) on a shorthanded breakaway and #28 received a penalty shot. He easily beat the Caps netminder and at that point it looked like Washington might lose its’ fifth straight. But then a red balloon floated down towards the ice at the Verizon Center, perhaps as an omen, and the game started to turn. Carlson blasted one that was deflected by a Coyote en route to going by Jason Labarbera (27 saves) just a second after a Phoenix penalty ended and that energized Washington. Eakin then scored on a rush as the puck hit a couple of Phoenix players on the way into the cage. The problems on the power play for Washington stemmed from a lack of puck movement and shots but after the 2nd shortie they got the message and good things happened. On the five on three marker Troy Brouwer did a great job of screening at the top of the crease. The stats will show a 1 for 5 efficiency but it was really two for five, but of course they gave up the two shorthanded goals.

– Overall, the Caps just needed a win to get their confidence back. To me the biggest positive was the work ethic. They skated hard and when they did that they carried the play. I’d like to see them not be so passive when they get a lead late. Washington kind of hung back a little too much and Phoenix had a chance to tie this one up when they had no business still being in the game, at that point. The Capitals made some mistakes, but for the most part they got back to the basics of skating, winning the one on one battles, and getting to the front of the net. That is a recipe for success in the NHL. It was far from a perfect game, but if they bring that attitude and effort on a consistent basis they’ll find that they gain confidence and then the glaring mistakes become far less frequent because they are playing hockey the proper way.

“It’s one win, it was against a good team. They played hard. But when you are hopefully getting out of a funk it doesn’t go from low to high, it takes little steps. Hopefully on Wednesday we’ll be better than we were today,” finished Boudreau on a night the organization can breathe a little sigh of relief.

Notes: Alexander Ovechkin had 18:15 of ice time, was +1, and had an assist. He worked harder in this one but there is no doubt he can play even better…Matt Hendricks fought Kyle Chipchura late in period one and that seemed to send a spark through the Caps team…the face-off battle was a draw at 27 apiece but Backstrom went 8-5…Brouwer had his best game in weeks and led the team with six hits…Mathieu Perreault only played 6:51 but did draw a first period penalty…Wideman led the Caps in ice time with 26:18 logged.

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Onus on McPhee to Correct Caps Issues

Posted on 19 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals went into Toronto to face a depleted Maple Leafs club on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday looking to snap a three game losing streak and they were blasted, 7-1, in what was clearly their worst performance of the season. Caps killer Joffrey Lupul had a goal and three assists and Phil Kessel also potted one and added a helper. Jonas Gustavsson made 40 saves for Toronto but by the time he needed to make them his team was already comfortably ahead. Washington has now lost four straight contests and is 10-7-1 overall after starting with seven straight wins.

Rather than do a detailed look at this game like I normally do, tonight I am going to focus on the big issues facing this team:

– We will address the problems on the blue line next, but the effort hasn’t been there the last two games and has been missing in noticeable stretches all season. To me the first order of business for General Manager George McPhee is to sit down with head coach Bruce Boudreau and team captain Alexander Ovechkin to have a “clear the air” meeting because it looks like the entire hockey team is not listening to either one of its’ leaders right now. Boudreau’s constant line shuffling is not getting results and when the team captain is not giving 100% every shift the rest of the guys will start to take them off at some point, too. This team looks rudderless right now and if there is any strife in the locker room or between coaches and players it needs to be worked out, pronto. A Leafs squad that had several AHLers on it made a team some have picked to go to the Stanley Cup Finals look like the 1974-75 Caps. The horrible play on this recent road trip has to be a major concern.

– I know I’ve written several times that the Mike Green injury is a big blow to this Capitals team but you can’t put all of the their problems on one player. #52 is the best d-man on the Caps, he stabilizes the blue line and they are 8-0 with him in the lineup. However, when he went out last February the Caps played great hockey down the stretch (16-3-1) and overtook several teams to capture the Eastern Conference #1 seed. So what has gone so wrong this season that they can’t overcome the absence of the One Man Breakout? In the playoffs against Tampa when both Green and Dennis Wideman were out, the Lightning used their speed to go by some of the slower Capitals defensemen. Right now teams are taking advantage of Jeff Schultz, Roman Hamrlik, and to a lesser degree John Erskine. Schultz may have hit rock bottom in this game tonight with a horrible giveaway that started the whole debacle. Wideman is not playing like he did before his awful hip injury last spring and Karl Alzner has been the only defensemen who is performing above expectations. Boudreau did make a good move putting John Carlson back with Alzner tonight because #74 had his best game in awhile, but that just left an awful pairing of Hamrlik and Schultz, which Toronto coach Ron Wilson took advantage of fully.

– Special teams have just been atrocious during this bad stretch, especially the power play. There is far too much overhandling and passing of the puck and not enough shots on goal with traffic. The coaching staff needs to put guys out there who will simplify their game and outwork the opponent. I don’t think a guy like Alexander Semin fits that bill right now. The penalty kill has regressed primarily because of the poor play by the defensemen but the forwards aren’t doing their part either. On the Leafs sixth goal tonight Nicklas Backstrom did a super job of screening Michal Neuvirth (who was in the game because the team stunk in front of #1 goalie Tomas Vokoun early on).

– Overall, there is so much talent on this team that something is clearly wrong. The coaches and players don’t appear to be on the same page. McPhee has put together, on paper, what looks to be the best team he’s had in several years but the sum of the parts is far less than the whole right now. It is his job to find out where the problems are and correct them.

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