Tag Archive | "boudreau"

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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.

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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

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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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Caps Pathetic in Loss to Sabres

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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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Rangers stuff Caps in afternoon special

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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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Chimera Wins It For Caps in OT

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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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Caps Work Ethic Back in Win Over Coyotes

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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

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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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Caps Disintegrate in Winnipeg

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Caps Disintegrate in Winnipeg

Posted on 17 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Winnipeg Jets scored three goals in the second period to turn a close hockey game into a comfortable 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in Manitoba on Thursday night. Alexander Semin tallied for the Caps just 3:53 into the game but Evander Kane, who is a Capitals killer, scored twice to start the party for the Jets. The Caps are now 10-6-1 and have lost three straight games.

Here are the lowlights and analysis from the Capitals first game this season against the former Atlanta Thrashers:

- The problems for Washington start on the blue line. The Capitals are 8-0 with Mike Green in the lineup and now 2-6-1 with the Calgary native out injured. #52 is the Caps best d-man and he is excellent at breaking the puck out of Washington’s end. With him missing the Caps have to rely more on Dennis Wideman and John Carlson to move the puck. Karl Alzner is a good first pass guy but not a puck rusher, but he has been the best Capitals d-man lately. Roman Hamrlik, John Erskine, and Jeff Schultz are subpar skaters and their lack of speed is getting exposed by other teams. Tonight Kane had all kinds of room and dominated, like he did against Washington last season when the Thrashers won all three games against the Capitals that were played in Atlanta.

- On the first Jets goal, Carlson had the puck in the left wing corner and instead of making an easy pass behind the net to his partner at the time (Wideman) for a simple break out, he sent the biscuit to Marcus Johansson in the slot. MJ90 had Bryan Little right on him and the Swede fumbled the puck. Then as he was tripped to the ice he mistakenly fired the disc up the boards where several Jets were waiting. Winnipeg then had a clear lane to the cage and Kane scored easily.

- Goal two resulted from Joel Ward over handling the puck in the corner and turning it over. However, Kane wasn’t in a great position to score and had a bad angle but somehow his high shot beat Michal Neuvirth (27 saves) short side. #30 should’ve had that one and he went down way too soon. It was a terrible time to let in a softie.

- The Caps then got into penalty trouble but somehow they managed to get a two on zero shorthanded break with Brooks Laich and Jeff Halpern skating in on Ondrej Pavelec (31 saves). In that situation the puck has to go on net but somehow #21 shot high and the Jets went the other way with the biscuit. Blake Wheeler then went past Hamrlik like he was an orange road cone and when Schultz was too slow to get back to help, #26 slammed it home. Neuvirth wasn’t good on that one either. Erskine then got into a fight with Chris Thorburn but 13 seconds later Hamrlik took another penalty. Winnipeg scored on a goal mouth scramble as Schultz managed to cover noone to pretty much end this one.

- Washington did have a chance shortly thereafter to try and get back in the game when they had over a minute of 5 on 3 time. But their power play, which was a putrid 0 for 5 on the night, overpassed the puck. The Caps talked earlier in the season about simplifying their manpower advantage situations by looking to move the puck to the point and then firing it with traffic in front, but recently they have gotten away from that and the poor results speak for themselves. The Caps penalty kill also regressed allowing two goals in five attempts.

- Semin’s goal was a nice one, but it should not have counted because Washington was offside. #28 played hard early but then he took a bad penalty in the middle frame when he said something to the zebras after he felt an infraction should have been called on Winnipeg. From there on out his work ethic tailed off big time.

- In closing, after a strong effort on Tuesday night for 55 minutes in Nashville, this team has disintegrated. Washington is making poor decisions on the ice and they are playing with no confidence. The third period pretty much turned into a glorified scrimmage and some of the Capitals seemed to lose their drive. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau needs to do something to get this team going pronto. The only defensemen who is playing up to his capabilities right now is Alzner and the forwards aren’t doing their jobs either. I expect a major re-shuffling of the lines and blue line pairs for Saturday night’s game in Toronto.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle 35-26 with Nicklas Backstrom going 15-8…Carlson led the team in ice time logging 25:06…Erskine only played 10:58…the Caps are now 1-4-1 in their last six games.

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Shorthanded Caps Lose in Shootout

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Shorthanded Caps Lose in Shootout

Posted on 13 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

On the last two Saturday night’s the Washington Capitals have raced out to 2-0 first period leads and on both occassions, they’ve ended up losing the game. This time, at least they weren’t defeated until the gimmick, losing to the New Jersey Devils, 3-2, when David Clarkson beat Michal Neuvirth (17 saves) in the fourth round. Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera tallied for the Caps in the first period but then the Devils got goals from Petr Sykora and Ryan Carter in the middle frame. After a scoreless third period and overtime the teams went to the shootout where Alexander Ovechkin and Zach Parise tallied before Clarkson’s game winner. The defeat drops the Caps to 10-4-1 (21 points).

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a contest that was not easy to watch:

- The shots on goal total in this one was 19-17 in favor of New Jersey. A combination of things conspired to make this a non-aesthetically pleasing tilt. First, the bad Verizon Center ice which was rough due to a concert on Friday night then a Georgetown basketball game on Saturday afternoon. Second, both teams played each other the night before in Newark and with the Capitals shortening their bench on Friday due to Mike Green’s injury and Alexander Semin and Cody Eakin’s benching they were tired. What added to the fatigue was the fact that Green couldn’t play and d-man John Erskine’s shoulder acted up, forcing him out as well. With Jeff Schultz back in on defense, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau chose to move Brooks Laich to defense to get six warm bodies on the blue line. That put Mathieu Perreault back in the lineup up front. But #85 had no jump and actually lost a key faceoff that put the Devils back in the game. As a result, he along with a fading Cody Eakin, didn’t skate in period three either (both had just over five minutes of ice time in this game). In addition, defensemen Roman Hamrlik left in period two with an undisclosed injury and did not return. Third, the Devils are very good at blocking shots but Washington was just out of sync for most of this game. Finally, throw in some poor officiating (Brian Pochmara, Mike Hasenfratz) and you had a recipe for bad hockey.

“I was starting to get a little tuckered at the end, but I think that when stuff like that happens when there’s injuries you just have to try to not push it too much, try not to get out of position, try not to get caught and conserve where you can. That’s a team that, no matter what, keeps on coming. Even if we got that third one, they would still be coming. They never give up,” said Caps d-man Dennis Wideman on the role of fatigue in the Caps defeat.

- The Caps came out fast in this one getting nine shots in the first 16 minutes (h/t @TedStarkey). They were skating well and going to the net early on. Chimera’s tally went in off of his shin pad on a John Carlson point blast while Brouwer stole the puck from Adam Henrique and scored on a breakaway. After that it seemed like Washington’s skates were being sponsored by a cinder block company because they looked really slow and for nearly 21 minutes between periods two and three they didn’t even have a shot on net! Late in regulation they started getting it together but old Caps nemesis Johan Hedberg (15 saves) robbed Brouwer and Jeff Halpern in the third period and then stoned an all alone Wideman from 20 feet out in overtime. The “Moose” was a big reason the Devils left town with the two points.

“It’s a double-edged sword.  Will you take a point? Yes. When you have a 2-0 lead, will you take a point? No. The goals that they scored were mistakes on our part. If we wouldn’t make those mistakes, it probably would have been a 2-0 game,” said Boudreau on Saturday’s result.

- Both the Caps and the Devils went 0 for 5 on the power play, although Chimera’s goal came right as Anton Volchenkov’s penalty was expiring. New Jersey’s power play looked better getting six shots on goal to Washington’s four. The Caps struggled to get set up with the man advantage and with Laich on the right point instead of Green, things just aren’t the same. Hopefully #52, who is listed as day to day, is back on Tuesday for the game in Nashville. If he can’t go and either (or both) Hamrlik and Erskine are out, Washington could recall 2009 2nd round draft pick Dmity Orlov from Hershey. The young puck rushing blue liner would certainly help the offense and the power play, but he is clearly still learning how to play defense in the North American game. The other left handed defense option from Hershey would be Patrick McNeill.

- Semin, in my opinion, didn’t respond too well to his benching on Friday night. #28 had one shot on net and no hits. He took another minor penalty and continued to not move his feet and shy away from contact. In the gimmick, he fumbled the biscuit and didn’t even get a shot off. I’ve seen enough in his time with Washington to see that things just aren’t going to change and General Manager George McPhee might be wise to just move him now since he is an unrestricted free agent after the season. Bottom line is I can’t see the Caps winning a Stanley Cup with the inconsistent winger on their roster. Boudreau wasn’t publicly harsh on him afterwards, but if he was unhappy with him, I doubt he’d say anything to diminish any trade value Semin might have.

“I thought he tried really hard. I mean, he got a penalty early, he went for the puck. That wasn’t a lazy penalty… I thought his effort overall, he tried really hard and he was engaged in the game,” said Boudreau on Semin’s performance in the loss.

- Neuvirth made some very good saves in this contest and can’t be faulted on either tally. He was very sound in his positioning, which helped him rob Sykora up high in tight in period one. He got beat by some nice moves in the shootout but overall was one of the better Capitals in this game.

- Ovechkin had a mixed bag of a night. He was skating hard and was a physical force on the ice (11 hits). However, he was terrible with the puck trying too many curl and drag moves instead of just firing the biscuit on net or getting it deep. Volchenkov did a nice job on the Gr8 in this tilt.

“I have opportunities to shoot the puck and score, but sometimes I make it too quick and make not good decisions. My job is to score goals, not to make hits. The second period I had probably three chances to score but I didn’t do the right thing,” said Oveckhin when asked to assess his play.

- So the Capitals get a point but they should’ve put this game away early in the second period. Now they head to the road for three games starting in Music City at 8pm on Tuesday against the Predators. Nashville is a gritty, grind out it out club that has super goaltending (Pekka Rinne). Coach Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the NHL so the Caps will have to play a lot better than they did this week if they want to get two points.

Notes: I wouldn’t be surprised if Eakin is sent back to Hershey, he looks overmatched right now and playing five minutes a game is not helping his development. I’d like to see Chris Bourque brought up if a forward is needed…Wideman logged 33:52 of ice time to lead all players. Carlson played 26:50 and Karl Alzner 23:34. Laich played over 23 minutes, including time at forward on the penalty kill. Hamrlik played 9:44 before leaving due to an injury that Boudreau said was caused by a New Jersey cross check (h/t Katie Carrera of The Washington Post)…Mike Knuble only played 12:04 and seems to be in the Boudreau dog house too…the Caps won the faceoff battle 35-33.

 

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