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Awful Opening Period Dooms Caps in Loss to Flames

Posted on 28 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It was a bad Sunday for the Washington Capitals. First, they failed to show up in the first 20 minutes against the Calgary Flames and trailed 4-0 at the first intermission, before eventually losing, 5-3. Second, both of their goalies, who had been near the top of their games recently (especially Jose Theodore) decided to give up a combined three soft goals. Third, after Alexander Ovechkin scored his 46th goal of the season in the second period to reclaim first place in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy, Sidney Crosby tallied twice in his contest versus Toronto to take the lead back at 47. Finally, the loss didn’t allow them to widen their seven point lead on the San Jose Sharks in the battle for the President’s Trophy with just seven games remaining. San Jose, if they defeat the Avalanche on Sunday night, would cut the deficit to just five points, although the Capitals have a game in hand (Colorado leads, 2-1, late in the second period at the time of this post). [UPDATE: Sharks win over Avs, 4-3. Caps lead is only 5 points over San Jose now].

Washington dropped only its fifth game in regulation at home all season (27-5-4) and their overall record is now 49-15-11. The only sliver of good news was the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the New Jersey Devils allowing the Caps to clinch their first ever Eastern Conference regular season title (but that race had been over, unofficially, for weeks).

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a pretty awful performance by the Caps:

The Calgary Flames came into this contest with their backs against the wall after losing at the Islanders on Thursday (3-2) and gettting shutout in Boston (5-0) on Saturday. In between the 2nd and 3rd periods of the loss to the Bruins, Calgary GM Darryl Sutter went on television and blasted his top forwards and top two defenseman for a lack of effort. So given that the Flames were six points out of a playoff spot with only 7 contests remaining, which means they were a serious longshot to make the postseason already, one would figure that Calgary would either come out with guns ablazing or they would go through the motions. In addition, the Flames are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league (29th) so when they get behind they often do not come back to win.

Well instead of the Caps taking advantage of a team that was down and nearly out, they didn’t show up, as if they forgot to set their clocks ahead. But the time change was two weekends ago so Washington couldn’t use that excuse like they could have in Chicago on March 14th. Calgary came out strong by throwing the body around and finishing nearly every check. The Caps looked disinterested and out of it but then what really gave the Flames some serious life was Theodore. #60 badly misplayed a clear, bad angled Rene Bourque shot and Ales Kotalik, who is softer than butter and is flat out terrible, was allowed to skate right in and put the biscuit by Theo for an awful goal. Then after Mike Green was called for closing his hand on the puck Theodore gave up a rebound and that allowed defenseman Ian White to bank the puck off of him into the net from a very bad angle. Just over two minutes later Jay Bouwmeester, who has stunk for Calgary this season and is a big reason why they will be golfing come April 12th, beat Dave Steckel down the slot and he put home a Bourque pass for just his third tally in 2009-10. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau gave Theodore the hook at that point and brought on Semyon Varlamov, but he allowed a late goal by Nicklas Hagman with traffic in front of him (Jeff Schultz did not move his man out) and it was 4-0 after one. Calgary also outshot Washington, 13-4, in that period.

To be blunt and borrow from Dr. Seuss, I can sum up the Capitals first period in three words: Stink. Stank. Stunk.

“We didn’t have any energy – it looked like we were skating in quicksand. Their [the Flames] sense of urgency was so tremendous,” said Boudreau on his teams first period debacle.


Last week I wrote that if Theodore continues to play the way he had been playing than the Caps had a super chance to win the Stanley Cup. Well if #60 plays like he did Sunday a time or two more than he may end up being bench door opener again in the playoffs. Boudreau talked about what he saw from his starting goaltender, why he gave him the hook, and what his plan is going forward.


“I just thought he was fighting the puck – every shot was fighting the puck. I didn’t think he had it today. He will be back in on Tuesday. He has played an awful lot of good games that have kept us in during the first period. We just weren’t ready to play in the first period. It was indicative of four shots on goal that you are not ready,” said the head coach on his team and Theodore, who managed to not get the loss today because Varlamov gave up the 4th goal, which was deemed to be the game loser since Washington tallied three times.


As for Varlamov, he wasn’t too good either and he cannot allow Bourque’s backhander to hit his stick and carry over him and into the net in the second period after Washington cut the lead to 4-1. Before Varly let in the softy, Joe Corvo, who was pinching down on the play, was dumped with no call in the offensive zone slot and then Nicklas Backstrom, who was covering #77’s point, did an “Ole” defensive move on #17 that allowed him to cut right into the slot all alone on that play. So you can chalk a portion of that goal up to the zebras and a little bit more to #19.


Steckel would pay back Bouwmeester, who the Flames are stuck with overpaying at $6.6M per season for four more years, late in the second period by knocking home a Quintin Laing pass by Mikka Kiprusoff (31 saves) to make it 5-2.


In the third period the Capitals fired 20 shots on Kipper but only Mathieu Perreault, who was on emergency recall with Brendan Morrison (lower body), Brooks Laich (face), Boyd Gordon (back), and Scott Walker (knee) out with injuries, tallied nicely stuffing home an Ovechkin power play point blast to make it 5-3 with 15 minutes to go. From there the Caps turned up the heat and fired alot of shots towards Kiprusoff, hitting him on some and missing high and wide on numerous others. On paper it looks like with all of those shots that Washington “stormed the castle” but, in reality, most of those came from the perimeter and there was a lack of traffic in front of Kipper. To be honest, the comeback reminded me of a few of the games we saw in the second half of 2008-09 (the near comeback appeared better on paper than it really was). Clearly the team missed Laich’s ability to go to the net and his grit. Still with guys like Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, and Eric Fehr in the line-up the Capitals should have had more pressure directly in front of the Flames netminder. Boudreau basically confirmed that the 3rd period seemed to be strong but may have been a bit of a mirage.


“It is easy to look like you are coming back when the other team is sitting with a three-goal lead … We didn’t have that step. I don’t know how to describe it … We were on four cylinders instead of eight today,” finished Boudreau.


We’ll give Theodore and the team a pass today but this type of performance is unacceptable and if we see this type of effort again then there is cause for concern. Collectively, the Caps players afterwards talked like this game was just a blip on the radar.


“In the course of many games it’s {a loss or two} going to happen. They had some funny goals. They got some bounces. You just put that one behind you and live for the next day. It’s no indication of anything. It’s just one of those games you’re probably due for. It’s probably good for us at this point,” said Knuble.


“We didn’t start the game well. We knew they would come at us hard. Still, we didn’t give up. In the second and third period we had more chances. It was kind of a tough situation. They’re a team that needs points for the playoffs. We knew they’d come at us hard and we were not ready,” added the Great #8, who with the two points he gained on Sunday now has 100 on the season.


“We talked about it before the game. We’ve had slow starts before. That was the difference tonight. Otherwise, we would’ve been right there in the running. We shot ourselves in the foot in the first period. [Day games are] different {from} our usual routine. Usually we have a skate in the morning and we’re able to get some rest and come back. That’s no excuse. We need to be ready and focused and for whatever reason, we weren’t. We’ve been in this position before where we’ve been a desperate hockey team. Three years ago when we needed to make a push and win every game to get into the playoffs we were in the same situation that they’re in. When you play desperate hockey, you’re usually successful,” finished Green, who along with partner Schultz were the only Caps defenseman who were not minus players for the day (both even).


Notes: Calgary captain Jarome Iginla (1 assist) took exception to a hit from behind from Backstrom in the third period…Kotalik was +3 on the day, which is indicative of how bad the Caps were on Sunday…In my 30 thoughts blog on Saturday I warned Caps fans about Bourque (1 goal, 2 assists) and he was +3 as well, that guy is good…the Flames only had 9 shots after the first period (22 total for the contest)…the face-off battle was knotted at 33 all…next up for the Caps are the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.



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My Version of Hockey’s 30 Thoughts

Posted on 27 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada does a nice weekly blog called “30 Thoughts.” With the Caps off until Sunday I decided to bring you the Ed Frankovic version of 30 thoughts but it includes opinions, tweets, stats, left over answers to my questions from Capitals players following Wednesday night’s victory, things to look out for from Calgary, etc.:

1. With the Buffalo Sabres losing 4-2 to the Senators on Friday night, the Washington Capitals just need a single point, either gained themselves or via any New Jersey Devils loss, to clinch the Eastern Conference regular season title for the first time in the history of the franchise. The Caps also have a nine point lead over the Sharks with 8 games left in the race for the President’s Trophy.

2. Caps rookie defenseman John Carlson on playing with Shaone Morrisonn: “He makes me feel really comfortable out there. He’s always talking to me, he’s been around awhile and he’s a great player so it is nice to have someone back there to police me everywhere and it really helps as a young guy.”

3. The Capitals opponents on Sunday afternoon, the Calgary Flames, look like they will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season. That was Darryl Sutter’s first full season as Coach and GM of that club. In 2003-04 they came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup but since the lockout have yet to win a playoff series. I wonder how patient Flames ownership is going to be with the GM after a season that started with such promise turned into a disaster?

4. With the Caps all but locking up the #1 seed their first round playoff matchup will likely be either Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, or the Rangers. My order of who I prefer Washington to play going from best matchup to worst matchup is as follows: Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Rangers, and Montreal. Rationale: Goalie Carey Price gives Washington fits at times not to mention forward Tomas Plekenec is a major Caps killer. Playing a physical New York team with the pesky Sean Avery plus Henrik Lundqvist in net is not appealing at all. I’ll take any of the other three with the Flyers bothering me most just because of past history, although the Flyers appear to be weaker in net with Brian Boucher. Boston scares me a bit because cage minder Tim Thomas could catch fire at any time but the B’s struggle to score, especially if Marc Savard does not return. Overall Atlanta seems like the best matchup.

5. An NHL scout, who is involved in his team’s selection process but will pick nowhere near #1 overall, said if he had the first pick in the 2010 NHL Entry draft he would go Taylor Hall first (Windsor Spitfires of OHL) with Tyler Seguin (Plymouth Whalers of OHL) a close second.

6. So Guy Carbonneau was on Hockey Night in Canada radio today with super host Jeff Marek and talented co-host Scott Morrison and the topic was the NHL disciplinary process, which is not working now with Colin Campbell in charge. Specifically they discussed using a panel that consisted of ex-NHL players, recently retired and older ones, to dole out suspensions. One of the advantages of such a panel is the debate that would take place between guys that liked certain hits and those that didn’t. Instantly former Capital and Hall of Famer Scott Stevens’ name came up as someone Guy would not put on that review crew. I’m not sure if he was joking or not, but it was Stevens, the former Kitchener Ranger, who dumped Eric “Mr. Skate with his head down” Lindros to effectively end his career.

7. I’m tired of hearing the fact that the Caps went 7-3 without Alexander Ovechkin is a reason to not give the Great #8 his third straight Hart Trophy. Four of those wins were versus Florida while the two regulation losses were against New Jersey. With Ovie in the lineup against the Devils the Caps are 1-0-1. Another reason, besides his outstanding scoring statistics, to vote Alexander the Great as MVP again: Leadership. The Caps are a staggering 25-3-5 since the organization named him their team captain.

8. Some excellent Hershey Bears news courtesy of the great John Walton (Hershey Senior Manager of Communications): The Bears clinched the Eastern Conference regular season championship Friday night, defeating the Worcester Sharks 7-2 at the Giant Center. Alexandre Giroux scored three goals, giving him 40 on the season and 100 over the last two seasons. The win was Hershey’s 54th of the season, three wins away from tying the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers for most wins in a single season in AHL history.

9. Eric Fehr on his tip in goal (career high 21st of the season) of Mike Green’s point blast on Wednesday night versus the Pens: “It just hit the back of my stick and I put it in along the ice. I didn’t want to try anything too fancy, it was a pretty hard shot, so I was lucky to get ahold of it.”

10. Caps forward Eric Belanger on his assist on that big third goal in the Caps-Pens contest on Wednesday: “It was one of those things where I got the puck in the neutral zone and I felt tonight my speed was good and I just felt I could go around [the net] and Greenie just opened up for me and he made a great play on the goal.”

11. More John Carlson on playing with Karl Alzner and the comparisons to the Morrisonn pairing: “I think they are both great players and they are pretty easy to play with, so I’m lucky enough to have both of them as my partners and I look forward to keep going.”

12. So you’ve obviously heard about Flames captain Jarome Iginla and his outstanding abilities but here are a couple of players that Washington needs to look out for on Sunday afternoon: 1. Rene Bourque (#17) – The speedy, tenacious, and relentless left wing has 23 goals and 28 assists in 65 games and is having a career year. He gets 1st power play unit time and kills some penalties too. 2. Mark Giordano (#5) – Yes, Ovechkin will see alot of former Panthers d-man Jay Bouwmeester, who has had a down year since going from East to West, but “Gio” has arguably been the Flames best defenseman this season. His speed and offensive prowess made the trading of Dion Phaneuf a possibility, although if I was the GM I still don’t move #3. 

13. More Belanger, this time on the number of infractions and penalty killing versus Pittsburgh: “I just think it takes away from the momentum on the bench. You try to get going and then you get a penalty so guys are sitting on the bench for a few minutes and then it’s tough. For the guys that aren’t killing it is tough to get into the game. I thought we did a good job tonight but they have some good players.”

14. Former Capitals center Dave Tippett, who was fired by the Dallas Stars last season but is now coaching the Phoenix Coyotes, is my pick as the 2009-10 Jack Adams Trophy winner. Tippett has taken a young team that has had to deal with ownership distractions all season long and has them at 46-23-6, good for 98 points, the third best total in the Western Conference. Meanwhile the Stars will be golfing come April 12th. Bad move by new GM Joe Nieuwendyk to get rid of the successful Tippett, who had a rough 2008-09 due to injuries and the galactically stupid decison by former co-GM’s Brett Hull and Les Jackson to sign Avery.

15. After the Red Wings victory on Friday night, the Calgary Flames are now six points out of a playoff spot with just eight games left. On a related note, I hear Golf Galaxy has a good sale going on Titleist Pro V1’s.

16. Does anyone want to play the super hot and finally healthy Red Wings in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?..I didn’t think so…

17. Former Caps GM David Poile and former Baltimore Skipjacks Coach Barry Trotz have the Nashville Predators, who have one of the lowest payroll budgets in the NHL, poised to make the playoffs. The Preds currently sit 5th overall in the West with a 47-23-5 record.

18. Former Caps Coach Bryan Murray has his Ottawa Senators in good shape to make the Eastern Conference playoffs at 40-30-5. Forward Dany Heatley forced Murray’s hand last summer and #15 was subsequently traded to San Jose prompting many to proclaim that the Sens were destined for a season of trouble. But Coach Cory Clouston has done a superb job and Murray appears to have significantly more job security than he did this time in 2009.

19. The Flames, who lost against the Islanders on Thursday evening, play in Boston on Saturday afternoon. Goalie Mikka Kiprusoff played against New York so it would appear that Coach Brent Sutter will go with Kipper in one game and backup Vesa Toskala in the other this weekend. The Flames-B’s game starts at 1pm so after the puck drops we should have a pretty good idea of who will be behind the mask for Calgary on Sunday at the Verizon Center.

20. Wayne Gretzky said Friday on the NHL Network, in a sitdown with EJ Hradek and Craig Button, that if Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby wins the Hart Trophy this year noone will argue, but in his mind Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov should really be the NHL MVP.

21. More Fehr, on the mood on the bench with the team down 2-0 in the shootout versus the Penguins: “Shootouts are so tough. It is a tough part of hockey to let an individual thing settle it. We just wanted to go out and let Ovie do his thing.”

22. Only one NHL team, the Boston Bruins (183), has scored fewer goals than the Flames (189) this season. Clearly if you are in Las Vegas you should bet the under in their Saturday matinee.

23. Thursday tweet courtesy of Caps Senior Media Relations Director, Nate Ewell (@nateewell), who retweeted the following from @jeffphowe: “Oh boy. Rock-solid BC dman Patrick Wey diagnosed with mono and is expected to miss the entire NCAA Tourney. Huge blow to Boston College.” For those following at home Wey was a 2009 4th round NHL Entry draft pick by the Capitals.

24. More Carlson on playing in front of great goaltending in Hershey and now in DC: “It makes the game alot easier knowing you have a good goalie and every mistake that you make isn’t going to be in the back of the net. I’ve been blessed with a lot of great goalies in this organization.”

25. Friday night tweet courtesy of @CapsMedia: Caps picks Phil DeSimone (2a) and Greg Burke (1a) help University of New Hampshire beat Cornell in the NCAA tourney.

26. More Fehr, discussing the challenges associated with playing the Penguins forecheck: “They were pressuring us pretty well but our D did a good job of getting back, moving the puck up, and giving our forwards an opportunity to get down the ice.”

27. And Belanger on that Penguin forecheck: “[Pittsburgh] is a team that is very patient in the neutral zone, they wait for you to turn the puck over. We knew we had to make sure we got pucks deep and it was one of the elements we talked about before the game.”

28. The Penguins and Devils are battling for the Atlantic Division title and the loser will be the #4 seed in the East. Therefore, if the Caps win their opening round series and both the Penguins and Devils are victorious as well, then Washington will play the #4 seed (Atlantic Division runner up), assuming the Buffalo Sabres win their first round matchup. So in order for the Pens and New Jersey to meet in the second round, and likely wear each other out before potentially facing the Caps in the Eastern Conference finals, Buffalo must lose their series.

29. Friday night tweet courtesy of Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22), former Washington Times Caps beat reporter and now seemingly everywhere freelance hockey writer (somebody hire this Terp alum full time!): Local kid Garrett Roe had 3 points to help St. Cloud State to the 2nd round of the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tourney.

30. After Sunday’s home tilt versus the Flames, the Caps get Ottawa and Atlanta at the VC before traveling to Columbus on Saturday night. Last time the Capitals played Columbus (November 1st), forward Jason Chimera started a scrum with Ovie that resulted in a six game injury absence for the Great #8. That was also the game where former Columbus Coach Ken Hitchcock afterwards said he wanted his team to “hunt down” Ovechkin. Fortunately Chimera is now a Capital but will Washington seek some revenge against Jared Boll, who appeared to cause the injury to Alex via a wrestling move?

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Hershey Wins Record 20th Straight at Home

Posted on 21 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After winning a Calder Cup AHL Championship last June, the Hershey Bears continue to make history. On Sunday night, before 9,166 fans, the Bears won their 20th consecutive contest at home to set an AHL record by defeating the Albany River Rats (Carolina Hurricanes farm team), 5-3. The Bears are now 43-11-0-2 (88 points) and are at least eight points ahead of every other AHL team.

Here are my thoughts and analysis on this super triumph for the Hershey franchise and Washington Capitals organization:

Francois Bouchard had the two third period goals to win this one for the Bears, with both assists coming from Karl Alzner. Bouchard was excellent all night and that was easily the best game I have ever seen him play at this level. #22 wasn’t a factor in the Calder Cup finals last year and I wondered what was going on with him. Then in training camp I noticed he looked bigger and was encouraged because I always thought he could skate and score but am curious to see if he can handle the physical grind at the pro level. The young man selected in the 2nd round (35th overall) of the 2006 NHL draft won’t turn 22 until April 26th so he has plenty of time to develop and his performance on Sunday certainly got my attention. The game winner was the result of him going to the net and his phenomenal hand-eye coordination. On the fifth and final tally of the game, he took a superb breakout pass from Alzner and just turned turned on the jets, racing up the right wing and he blasted a laser five hole by Andrew Peters.

Alzner was very good as well, outside of getting beat 1 on 1 in the first period one time (but Braden Holtby bailed him out on that mistake). King Karl unleashed the best slap shot I’ve ever seen from him and it hit Peters so hard that the puck bounced up in the air and to Bouchard at the side of the net for the game winning power play marker. As usual, a solid defensive zone pass that was intercepted by #7 was followed up with a great breakout pass by him that resulted in a scoring opportunity in transition. The play Alzner made to set up Bouchard for that final goal reminded me of the super defensive play and breakout pass he made in Edmonton back in December that led to Alexander Ovechkin’s game tying tally that night.

Chris Bourque started this one like he was going to be the game’s first star. He was all over the ice with his speed and controlled the puck with his outstanding skill on several rushes. He scored just 15 seconds into period two. Bourque, who has a very good slap shot and therefore gets first unit power play time on the point, could have had more points but his decisions on when to shoot and when to carry the puck were slightly off. However, I was impressed with his play and the team is now 25-1 in the last 26 games he has worn the Bears uniform, which tells you how much he means to the club.

Hershey outshot the River Rats handily (19-6) in the first period but Peters and some incorrect decisions by the Bears in the offensive zone kept this a one goal game. After Bourque scored early second period I figured Hershey would roll but then they got in penalty trouble and gave up a 1:56 five on three. They nearly killed it before Albany scored with just 15 seconds remaining in the first minor to Oskar Osala. But when Osala scored on a fluky deflection while trying to pass on a two on one just 2:25 later it appeared this contest was on the verge of being a Hershey blowout. Then Holtby gave up an awful bad angled, short side goal that seemed to deflate the Bears while energizing the River Rats. Albany would carry the play in the second, outshooting Hershey 10-5, and outscoring them 3-2.

Holtby (11 saves on 14 shots) was yanked after the third goal and I thought that was more of an indication that head Coach Mark French was looking for a momentum change rather than singling out bad play by Braden, although that second goal #1 allowed was terrible. Fortunately Jason Bacashihua came in and stopped all 11 shots he faced over the last 27 minutes. After a strong first period, Holtby struggled, but one thing I really like about the young goalie is his ability to play the puck. That talent makes him like a third defenseman and he takes pressure off of his blue liners by possessing that skill. Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov, and Michal Neuvirth are nowhere near as good as Braden is at playing the puck right now. Clearly though, stopping the puck is priority number one.

Notes:  Bryan Helmer tied an AHL record by recording his 386th career assist, tying him with Steve Kraftcheck for the most assists by an AHL defenseman. He was also +2 and was named the game’s third star. Jerome Sampson scored two goals for Albany and he abused Bears d-man Greg Amadio on the third River Rat marker that chased Holtby. Hershey was 2/8 on the power play while Albany was 1/6. Hershey plays at Lake Erie Wednesday morning at 10:45 a.m., and in Toronto Thursday night. The Bears return home Saturday against Bridgeport at 7:00 p.m.

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Hershey Wins 11th Straight to tie Club Record

Posted on 09 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears returned to Winnipeg Friday night for the first time since last June, when they knocked off the Manitoba Moose in game 6 to win the Calder Cup AHL Championship, with a 10 game winning streak on the line. Well, it took 7 rounds in the shootout but the Chocolate & White prevailed with a 2-1 exciting victory to make it 11 straight. Hershey goes for a club record 12 wins in a row on Saturday night against the same Moose team.

The first period started with both teams feeling each other out and it wasn’t until about 7 minutes into this one that the first shot on net occurred. For the next several minutes the Bears would dominate and Canucks hot goalie prospect, Cory Schneider, made some very good saves on Keith Aucoin and Chris Bourque. It wasn’t until the Moose received a late power play that they got something going. Braden Holtby made solid glove saves on Michael Grabner from the top of the left circle and then a deflected point blast by former Montreal d-man, Mathieu Schneider, to keep this one scoreless after the opening stanza. Shots were 8-6 in favor of Hershey after one period.

The second period started with a bang for the Bears as Keith Aucion did a super job of tipping the puck to Alexandre Giroux on the left wing at the offensive blue line and #12 then slid the puck directly across the slot to Andrew Gordon, who quickly buried it by Schneider top shelf just 13 seconds in. The teams would trade chances with both goalies making good saves but the Moose would finally get on the board when Bryan Helmer badly misplayed the puck and former Cap Matt Pettinger jumped on it in the neutral zone. Pettinger would go in alone on Holtby and beat him five hole to tie things up.  Shorlty thereafter defenseman Karl Alzner, who was just sent back to the Bears after 14 games with the Caps, sprung Mathieu Perreault in on a semi-breakaway but Schneider denied him. However, the zebras awarded Perreault with a penalty shot in what looked to me like a two minute minor. The 2006 6th round draft pick of the Capitals would make a nice move to the backhand but he didn’t get the puck up and Schneider flashed the left pad to stop him. After two periods the Bears had a slight 22-20 shots advantage.

Period three saw more back and forth action with the Moose getting the only power play of the final stanza when Holtby shot the puck over the glass. But the Bears penalty killing unit was solid and the game remained tied. In the final five minutes Hershey had some good chances but Schneider, who had a stint in the NHL in 2008-09 when Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo was injured, stopped Giroux in close and then defenseman Patrick McNeill from the point. At the game’s end, Gordon almost won it for Hershey but a Moose defenseman batted his shot, that appeared to be heading in, to the corner with his glove.

In overtime, the action went 4 on 4 and it was exciting end to end hockey. The best chance went to Greg Amadio who found himself all alone with Schneider but he could not beat him and off to the shootout this one went. Kyle Wilson, Giroux, and Francois Bouchard scored for the Bears on their first 5 attempts while the Moose answered with 3 of their own. Marty Murray of Manitoba actually had a chance to win it in the bottom of the 5th and he tried a backhand move that had beaten Holtby a couple of times before but #1 made a sparkling glove save. John “Game Over” Carlson then missed and Holtby got even with Pettinger stopping him to keep it going. Then Gordon, who had the only Bears goal in in regulation, went top shelf to put the pressure on Manitoba. When Matt Pope went in and was stopped by Holtby, Bears announcer John Walton let loose with his signature “Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening Manitoba!” and the winning streak is still alive.

Here are some thoughts and analysis on this one:

Holtby (30 saves) was the game’s #1 star and he played well against a veteran Moose team. The Caps 2008 4th round pick in the NHL draft was very positionally sound, controlled his rebounds, and was only beaten on breakaways. He gave up the regulation goal to Pettinger and then the first two shootout tallies via similar backhand moves but credit the younsgter for adjusting and stopping that move later in the shootout when the game was on the line. GM George McPhee has to be proud of the way this young goalie is developing.

The Alzner-Carlson defensive pair was simply dominant. When they were on the ice the Caps Bears seemed to control the puck the whole time much like the 2007-08 Detroit Red Wings used to do. Manitoba has a veteran team with former NHLers in Pettinger, Mike Keane, and Marty Murray so it is not like they were facing a bunch of young guys they have already dominated in junior hockey. I have a hard time not seeing this pairing in the NHL next season for Washington.

Blue liner Schneider, who was waived by the Canucks on December 29th and will turn 40 this June, seemed like he was on the ice all night. They don’t keep ice times in the AHL but he had to play at least 30 minutes in regulation alone. I guess the Canucks don’t have much in the AHL they are trying to develop because the 1993 Stanley Cup winner with the Habs ate up a lot of playing time that could have gone to potential d-man prospects. Defenseman Evan Oberg is on recall to Vancouver with Kevin Bieska out three months due to severed ankle tendons.

Goalie Schneider (33 saves) was the game’s second star and he will turn 24 in March. He would likely be in the NHL if not for Luongo. I have seen him play Hershey three times now and he has been really good in every game. I can’t help but think some other NHL team would want him to be their starter because he looks better to me than some guys I’ve seen on other clubs.

Up front for Hershey, I saw what I expected, alot of jump from Chris Bourque, but he did make a bad giveaway in front of his own net, some good grinding by Steve Pinizzotto, energy and scoring chances from Aucion and Gordon, good hands and passing by the slower Giroux, and a nice skating game from Perreault, although Mathieu did not play as well as I had hoped he would. Noone stood out but when you score only one goal that is to be expected.

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Caps in Philly Tonight; Re-acquire Bourque

Posted on 05 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, who have won four straight games, head to Philadelphia to take on the despised Flyers tonight. Both Corey Masisak and Tarik El-Bahir, who provide outstanding coverage of the Caps on a daily basis, said that Jose Theodore will be in net tonight and that it appears that defenseman Tom Poti will return to the line-up. The odd man out on the backline this evening is Brian Pothier, which seemed to surprise both beat writers. Karl Alzner, on recall from Hershey, will get at least another game and perhaps Monday’s as well before forward Mike Knuble is eligible to come off of long term injury. When that happens, Alzner could be destined for Hershey because of his high salary cap number. But GM George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau don’t have to deal with that situation until Tuesday.

As for the Flyers, well let’s just say the Caps are likely catching them at a bad time as they fired Coach John Stevens yesterday and replaced him with 2006 Stanley Cup Champion Coach (Carolina Hurricanes) Peter Laviolette. The physical Philadelphia crew has lost 7 of their last 10 games and have been shut out in their last two contests. So you can bet that the Flyers will be full of energy tonight as they take on a Washington team that is still without Alexander Ovechkin (serving game two and the final contest of his suspension). If I had to predict the score tonight, I would go with Flyers 4, Caps 2. The game is at 7pm on Comcast in HD. Check back during the game for period by period analysis and then the post game wrap-up.

Caps Get Bourque Back

The Washington Capitals have claimed forward Chris Bourque off waivers from the Pittsburgh Penguins and assigned him to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL), vice president and GM McPhee announced today.

Bourque returns to the Washington organization after recording three assists in 20 games this season for the Penguins, who claimed the 23-year-old off waivers from the Capitals on Sept. 30. 

The 5’10”, 177-pound native of Boston, Mass., was the Capitals’ second-round choice, 33rd overall, in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft and has scored one goal in 12 career games with Washington. He has played four seasons with the Bears and helped Hershey win the Calder Cup in 2006 and 2009. Last year, he recorded 21 goals and 52 assists in 69 games to finish third in the Hershey scoring race with 73 points. Bourque tallied five goals and 16 assists in 22 playoff games, as Hershey won their AHL record 10th Calder Cup.

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Quick Caps Update: Nylander, Fleischmann, and the Forwards

Posted on 14 September 2009 by Ed Frankovic

I know it has been a purple Sunday for most of you and it was for me too but a couple of things of note happened in Washington Capitals land today that were worth passing along to you hockey fans out there ready to Rock the Red in the upcoming season.

First, forward Michael Nylander met with the media Sunday and says he wants to play in the NHL this year. This is interesting because both Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee told us on Saturday that there was a possibility of Nylander going to play in Europe (and hopefully his $4.875M salary cap hit for the next 2 years). Click for the transcript of Nylander’s interview from Sunday (thanks to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post).

Second, apparently forward Tomas Fleischmann, who scored 19 goals last season and saw significant playing time on the second line and on the power play last season, has a blood clot and will not be practicing until early October. That puts him out until late October, at the earliest. The injury to Fleischmann, who was pretty much a lock to make the team and play 15 to 18 minutes a game, now opens up another forward spot in addition to the one talked about on Saturday. I see this development as an opening for either Chris Clark, Chris Bourque, Keith Aucoin, or even Nylander to take advantage of during training camp and the early part of the season.

Here are the top 2 lines as I see them right now (but this is just my take, not Boudreau’s or McPhee’s):

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Mike Knuble

Brooks Laich – Brendan Morrison – Alex Semin

Also, Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Boyd Gordon will very likely be somewhere in the bottom six forwards.

Forwards Eric Fehr (behind due to a shoulder injury) and Fleischmann are injured.

That leaves Clark, Nylander, Aucoin, Bourque,  and Quintin Laing to fight for the final three forward spots. Forwars Jay Beagle, Matthieu Perreault, and Steve Pinnizzotto (for his grit and toughness) would be three additional guys who, if they really wow McPhee and Boudreau in training camp, could conceivably make the opening night roster, but those three seemed more destined for Hershey, at this point. The pre-season games now get more interesting with the Fleischmann injury and the Nylander situation. The first pre-season game is Thursday night at the Sabres and the first home pre-season game is Monday, Sepember 21 against Buffalo again (on Saturday night the Caps are in Chicago to face the Blackhawks).

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Caps Schedule Announced; Restricted Free Agents Signed

Posted on 15 July 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps 2009-10 Regular Season Schedule

The Washington Capitals’ 82-game regular-season schedule for 2009-10 begins on Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Boston Bruins, a matchup of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference from last season. The Capitals will make their Verizon Center debut on Saturday, Oct. 3, when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second game of the season.

The 2009-10 NHL schedule format, similar to last season’s, has the Capitals facing the other teams in the Southeast Division six times each and the remaining Eastern Conference opponents four times each. Washington plays each team in the Western Conference at least once, with two games each against Columbus, Detroit and San Jose. Nine Western Conference teams will visit Verizon Center.

The 2009-10 schedule includes a two-week break for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, which will feature NHL players. The Capitals will be off for 17 days from Feb. 14-March 2. They play the first game after the break on the road (March 3 at Buffalo) but are home for the next five games, the longest homestand of the season. That is one of seven homestands of at least three games on the schedule.

Washington has only three stretches of four straight games on the road, one of which is interrupted by the Olympic break and another where the team will return home between games. The team has 13 sets of games on consecutive days, the same number as 2008-09.

More than half of the Capitals’ 41 home games at Verizon Center fall on weekends, including nine Friday games, six Saturday games and six Sunday games. The schedule features holiday home games on the day before Thanksgiving (Nov. 25 vs. Buffalo), the day after Christmas (Dec. 26 vs. New Jersey) and Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 7 vs. Pittsburgh).

All but six of Washington’s home games are scheduled to start at 7 p.m., with the exceptions all falling on Sunday afternoons.

Television and radio broadcast plans will be released at a later date.

Caps Sign Restricted Free Agents

The Washington Capitals have signed defenseman Shaone Morrisonn and forwards Eric Fehr, Chris Bourque and Kyle Wilson to one-year contracts and forward Steve Pinizzotto to a two year-contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deals were not disclosed.

Morrisonn, 26, completed his fourth full season with the Capitals in 2008-09 and tied his career high with three goals. He also added 10 assists and tied for third among club defensemen with 13 points, one point off of the career high he registered in 2005-06. Morrisonn scored the game-winning goal in overtime on Dec. 23 at the New York Rangers to help the Capitals erase a four-goal deficit and win 5-4. He had his best month of the season in February when he recorded two goals and three assists. He ended the season with a +4 rating, averaged 17:59 of ice time per game and his 77 penalty minutes tied for second on the team. The Caps were 8-2-2 when Morrisonn recorded a point (3-0-0 when he scored a goal).

The Vancouver, British Columbia native was acquired from the Boston Bruins in 2004 and has played 350 career NHL games, 309 of them for the Capitals. He has been a plus player in each year of his NHL career and has 58 points (9g-49a) and 355 penalty minutes. In 21 Stanley Cup playoff games – all with the Capitals – Morrison has two assists and 14 penalty minutes.

Fehr, 23, spent his first full year with the Capitals last season after splitting time between Washington and Hershey of the American Hockey League (AHL) the past three years. He set career highs in goals (12), assists (13) and points (25) while averaging 11:14 of ice time. Fehr’s +8 rating tied him with Alex Ovechkin for the fifth-best mark on the team. Washington was 39-16-6 when he played and only 11-8-2 when he did not play. He tallied two game-winning goals and the team was 10-1-1 when he scored a goal and 16-3-1 when he had a point.

The Winkler, Manitoba, native was the Capitals’ first-round choice, 18th overall, in the 2003 Entry Draft. He has played in 109 career games for Washington, potting 15 goals and dishing out 19 assists. He was also an integral member of the Hershey club that won the 2006 Calder Cup. In 19 playoff games that year, he had eight goals, three assists and scored the overtime game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to lift the Bears to the Calder Cup Final.

Bourque, 23, appeared in eight games for the Capitals last season and scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 30 at Buffalo. He played in 69 games for Hershey and tallied 21 goals and was second on the team with 52 assists. His 73 points ranked third on the team. Bourque played in 22 Calder Cup playoff games, recording 21 points (5g-16a), as he helped lead Hershey to the Calder Cup championship.

The Boston, Mass., native was the Capitals’ second-round choice, 33rd overall, in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He has played in 12 career game for Washington and has one goal. He has 82 goals and 148 assists in four seasons with Hershey.

Wilson, 24, spent his third season with Hershey in 2008-09, finishing fifth on the Bears in scoring with 58 points (28 goals, 30 assists) in 80 games. He was third on the Bears in goals and tied for fourth with seven power-play goals. Wilson added 10 points (three goals, seven assists) while playing all 22 playoff games in the Bears’ run to the Calder Cup.

Wilson, who originally signed with Washington as a free agent in July 2007, has recorded at least 25 goals and 55 points in each of his three AHL seasons. The collegiate standout at Colgate University is a native of Oakville, Ontario, and was originally drafted by Minnesota in the ninth round of the 2004 NHL Draft.

Pinizzotto, 25, played 45 games with Hershey and 11 with the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL last season. He recorded four goals and seven assists with Hershey and four goals and six assists with South Carolina. The Mississauga, Ontario, native had three goals and five points in 21 playoff games to help Hershey win the Calder Cup.

The Capitals signed Pinnizzotto as a free agent on March 16, 2007.

COMMENTS: TSN is reporting that Fehr signed for $771.75K, which is a good deal for Washington. If Fehr can stay healthy he has the potential to be a 20 goal scorer next year. I am curious to see how much Morrisonn was paid, TSN does not have that figure up yet but Corey Masisak of the Washington Times is reporting he will get $1.975M, the same amount he made last season. There is some confusion over whether or not defenseman Jeff Schultz signed his qualifying offer, which included a 5% raise. The Caps Assistant General Manager and salary cap guru, Don Fishman, as reported by Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post, is saying Washington did not get #55’s signed offer by 5pm while Tarik also points out that TSN and two people close to Schultz assert he did sign the offer. Stay tuned on that one. Defenseman Milan Jurcina, who is a restricted free agent, is going to arbitration so we won’t know what will happen with him until that hearing is over or the Caps negotiate something else with him. For Bourque, this is a make or break year for him with the Caps, in my opinion. Wilson is destined for Hershey this season and Pinnizzotto will be there as well, although “Pinner” does have a chance, because of his tenacity and toughness, to see some time with the big club in DC. I have liked him ever since I first saw him play at Caps development camp in July of 2008.

One final note, former Capital great and team captain, Dale Hunter, dropped in at Kettler Ice Plex today and spoke with Mike Vogel of WashingtonCaps.com. You can see the interview here.

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Caps Update and NHL News

Posted on 30 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Update

When the clock strikes midnight tonight it is Canada Day and with that comes the start of NHL free agency. Today Caps GM George McPhee mentioned that he didn’t see Washington as being a big player in that arena because of the lack of success the Caps and most teams have had in free agency as well as his team’s salary cap situation. The Caps do have needs going into next year if they want to win the Stanley Cup and I list them in the following priority order: second-line center, a first or second line power forward that goes to the net, and a physical defenseman.

Last weekend the Caps drafted Swedish center Marcus Johansson with their first round pick, 24th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. This was the third time in the last four years that Washington has selected a center from Sweden with their first selection. Last year they took center Anton Gustafsson, son of former Cap Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, and in 2006 they selected Nicklas Backstrom with the fourth overall pick in the draft. Backstrom is already one of the best centers in the NHL while Gustafsson has struggled to get onto the ice back in Sweden due to injuries.

I spoke with another NHL team’s scouting director this evening and he said that he thought Johansson was a good pick by the Caps and will likely be a 3rd or 4th line center in the NHL. Considering how much of a crap shoot the NHL draft can be this doesn’t seem to be a bad scenario for the 24th overall pick. The scout also said that Johansson is definitely better than Gustafsson.

Forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov are already gone from this past season’s Caps roster and it appears enforcer Donald Brashear won’t be back either. The Caps also qualified eight players yesterday in Chris Bourque, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Steve Pinizzotto, Jeff Schultz and Kyle Wilson while they did not extend offers to Andrew Joudrey, Daren Machesney, Travis Morin, and Sasha Pokulok. Pokulok was the 14th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft so he has definitely reached bust status.

NHL News

Last Saturday morning the Calgary Flames traded with the Florida Panthers for the right to negotiate with superstar defenseman Jay Bouwmeester sending the Cats unrestricted free agent defenseman Jordan Leopold and a 3rd round pick. That move has definitely paid off for both the Flames and Bouwmeester as they have agreed to a reported five year deal worth $6.6M per season. This certainly gets Calgary back in the elite category in the Western Conference just like the Chris Pronger acquisition has shifted some of the power balance back to Philadelphia in the East.

Another big trade occurred today with the New York Rangers shipping center Scott Gomez and his huge contract to the Montreal Canadiens for Long Island native Christopher Higgins. The Rangers also receive former Montreal first round draft pick Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Donatanko while the Habs got forward Tom Pyatt and defenseman Mike Busto in return. With the acquisiton of Gomez, who has 5 years and $33.5M left on the deal he signed with the Rangers in 2007, any talk of Vincent LeCavalier being moved from Tampa to Montreal now goes out the window.

The NHL scouting director I spoke with today said that the Canadiens benefit because Gomez is the best player in the deal despite his high salary while the Rangers were clearly looking to get some salary cap room. He also said that the only real prospect in the deal was McDonagh. I’m giving the nod on this one to the Rangers for clearing major salary cap room but given Glen Sather’s free agent acquisition history he could easily put his team back in the same boat with another high priced signing. We’ll see if the New York GM has learned from some past mistakes.

The Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed free agent forward Bill Guerin to a one year $2M deal as they attempt to make a run at repeating as the NHL champions. Guerin was a big factor in the Penguins resurgence from the trading deadline all the way to their title run. GM Ray Shero will now turn his attention to resigning forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who now has two Stanley Cup rings (Tampa in 2004), and defensemen Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill.

With the Pronger, Bouwmeester, and Gomez moves happening the domino effect could start taking place on Canada Day and there are some big names still available in forwards Marian Hossa (Detroit), Marian Gaborik (Minnesota), Daniel and Henrik Sedin (Vancouver) not to mention Ottawa’s Dany Heatley, who says he wants to be traded out of Canada’s capital city.

I asked the NHL scouting director if the salary cap was slowing down movement (there surprisingly weren’t many trades at the NHL draft last weekend) and he said that was true. I then asked him if we will see some crazy signings like we saw last year, such as the Leafs giving defenseman Jeff Finger for four years at $3.5M a season or Columbus inking defenseman Mike Commodore for four years at $4M annually, and he said that definitely will occur because there are some teams with lots of salary cap space available.

Check back for news and analysis over the next several days as things in the NHL get really interesting.

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Caps Update and Pre-NHL Draft Thoughts

Posted on 24 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

So it appears that Donald Brashear is not in the plans for next year for the Washington Capitals (check out more on that and an update on the Sergei Fedorov situation here). While Brashear did serve a purpose the last couple of seasons in DC by protecting Alexander Ovechkin and many other Caps players he is now 37 years old and following a knee injury he suffered in a losing fight to Nashville’s Wade Belak his value has drastically diminished. The question GM George McPhee has to answer is:

Can the Caps go forward with defenseman John Erskine and forward Matt Bradley as the guys who will take on opponents players and tough guys when they start taking liberties with the Great #8 and some of Washington’s other highly skilled players next season?

Here is my answer: No, I think McPhee needs to add a guy to try and fill the Brashear role next season because Erskine and Bradley aren’t good enough fighters to take on the league’s heavyweights plus both of them have other more important roles on the team than just being a fighter. During the regular season the Caps absolutely need someone who can fight and protect. Come playoff time that skill pretty much goes out the window (As an example of this, take a look at how little ice time forward and resident tough guy Eric Godard, who played 71 games and had 171 PIMs for the Pens in the regular season, received in the playoffs: 0!).

If one takes a look at the coverage and analysis from blogs and national publications about the Caps you will see various need assessments ranging from a second line center to a defensive d-man to a power forward who can go to the net and score the ugly goals. I’ll stand by my assertion that the biggest need is a second line center (I don’t think Fedorov will be back and if he does come back can he be counted on to play anywhere close to 82 games?).

Some of the other things McPhee needs to do this summer is solve the Michael Nylander (as in how can he get rid of this guy and his huge salary cap figure?) and Jose Theodore situations. I am 100% convinced that Theodore cannot be the #1 goalie for the Caps going into next year’s playoffs no matter how well he does in the regular season because the Washington players can’t possibly have any confidence at all in this guy after he opened the playoffs with one of the worst goaltending games in Caps playoff history. Rob Yunich over at Storming the Crease throws out some options on where McPhee could send #60. I think Edmonton or Colorado make the most sense but at $4.5M this might not happen until after the season gets rolling or even closer to the trade deadline. Bottom line in both situations is it doesn’t matter what the Caps get back  in return for these guys as long as they can unload the salary.

On to the 2009 NHL Entry Draft where TSN/NBC’s Pierre McGuire and former Flames GM Craig Button offer up their predictions. As I mentioned in my last blog, Button, who used to run the draft for the Dallas Stars back in the 90’s (he selected Jarome Iginla, Brendan Morrow, and Marty Turco) before moving on to Calgary, likes d-man Victor Hedman to be the first overall pick by the Islanders. McGuire and I see New York taking forward John Tavares.

Once again scanning the national publications and blogosphere several people have the Caps picking forward Landon Ferraro with the 24th selection in the first round on Friday night. Ferraro, who is the son of former Hartford Whalers and Islanders forward Ray, is only 5′ 11″ and 165 pounds. The younger Ferraro is reportedly very fast but given his genetics one can’t expect him to grow into the body necessary to be a power forward (next biggest Caps need behind a second line center). Since Ferraro is a right wing, is small, and the Caps have several other young, small, and speedy forwards in their system already (see Chris Bourque, Mathieu Perrault, and Francois Bouchard), I just don’t see any reason why McPhee and head scout Ross Mahoney would take him. McGuire picks him for the Caps while Button goes with defenseman Dmitri Orlov.

Another popular name associated with the Caps in the first round is Jacob Josefson. Button has him going in the top 10 while McGuirre has him taken by St. Louis with the 17th pick so it is unlikely he is around where Washington is currently slated to pick. However, you never know if the Caps will move up (or down) and last year there were over a dozen trades in the first round so trying to predict who Washington will select is extremely difficult. I would not be surprised at all to see McPhee trade this year’s pick for a player who can help the Caps next season. In fact, what will surprise me most is if McPhee and his staff leave Montreal without making a single trade that will immediately fill in some of the current needs for next season.

All players drafted this weekend will be invited to the 2009 Caps development camp which will be held July 13-18 at Kettler Ice Plex in Ballston, Virginia. Last year defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson and goalies Simeon Varlamov and Michal Nuevirth really stood out while we also got good looks at forwards Oskar Osala, Bouchard, Perrault, Jake Hauswirth and Steve Pinizzotto; defensemen Keith Seabrook and Patrick McNeill; and goalie Braden Holtby. The one player I will be looking at most during that time is last year’s first round draft pick (21st overall), Anton Gustafsson.

The son of former Capital Bengt-Ake Gustafsson did not attend the 2008 development camp and then after just one day of training camp last September he was done with another back injury. Anton, who was signed by the Caps to a three year contract back in May, hardly played at all this past season (27 regular season and 5 playoff games in Sweden) and his stats to date don’t inspire any confidence to me that he can play an 80 game season. Some have Gustafsson rated as the 5th best prospect in Washington’s system behind Alzner, Carlson, Varlamov, and Neuvirth. I talked with the NHL scouting director of one team last year after the draft in Ottawa and based on their due diligence he said there was no way his team would take Anton because they believed much of his injury situation was in his head. Clearly the book is still really out on Anton and he needs to show his skill and his ability to stay healthy at the development camp.

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Hershey Bears Calder Cup Champions; Penguins win Stanley Cup (Updated)

Posted on 12 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears are the Calder Cup Champions after knocking off the Manitoba Moose, 4-1, in game six of their series tonight in Winnipeg. Hershey blitzed Moose goalie Cory Schneider for three goals in the first period and never looked back. Rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, who won the Jack A. Butterfield trophy for AHL playoff MVP, made 24 saves to get the win.  Andrew Gordon, Chris Bourque, Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin scored for Hershey. Congrats to the Bears and the Washington Capitals organization!

Revenge is a dish best served cold if you are a Penguins fan tonight as Pittsburgh held off a furious Red Wings rally to win the Stanley Cup in exciting fashion, 2-1, to avenge last season’s Stanley Cup Finals loss to Detroit. Hockey fans will be watching the incredible Marc-Andre Fleury save on Nicklas Lidstrom with one second left for years to come. Evgeni Malkin was the Conn Smythe Award Winner for Playoff MVP but in my mind, the Pens aren’t anywhere without Sidney Crosby (who was injured in game 7 and barely played after that). Crosby carried this team in the first two rounds, especially against the Caps, and he goes against the opponents best defensive group every game while Malkin gets the second unit.

In Detroit tonight, defenseman Brad Stuart is wearing the goat horns for taking the first penalty (slashing Malkin), then giving the puck away that allowed Maxime Talbot to make it 1-0 Pens, and then pinching at the blue line to set up a two on one for Pittsburgh that they, of course, scored on (Talbot again). I’ve been saying this all playoffs and will say it again – the Penguins are about as good a team as I’ve ever seen at converting two on one breaks.

Btw, please check out my on air discussion with Nestor today in the WNST audio vault (http://wnst.net/wordpress/section/audio/) for my pre game thoughts on the NHL and AHL finals.

For Caps and Baltimore sports fans it was tough seeing Pittsburgh win another trophy but given that the Caps lost two contests in OT to the Pens before bowing out in 7 games should make you and the entire Caps organization realize that they are very close to their first ever Stanley Cup victory. With some salary cap room freeing up from the Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov departures (and hopefully a Michael Nylander release too), Caps GM George McPhee should finally have some cap space to make the moves he needs to put Washington over the top. There is lots of talent in this organization in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL (the Caps team down there, the South Carolina Stingrays, won the Championship as well).

The NHL Awards show is next week from Las Vegas (Alexander Ovechkin should win the Hart Trophy for MVP and Mike Green is up for the Norris Trophy (best defenseman)), followed by the NHL draft the week after in Montreal (June 26 on Versus), and then free agency begins on July 1 so the NHL off-season will start fast and furious.

Congrats again to Coach Bob Woods and the Hershey Bears on their championship!

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