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Senators Blank Caps, 2-0

Posted on 25 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Absolutely nothing went the Capitals way on Friday night in Ottawa. Craig Anderson made several good saves plus was a little lucky when he had to be, Washington made some huge defensive gaffes, and the officiating was downright horrible. When you add that all up it leads to a Caps shutout loss, 2-0, to the Senators. The defeat drops the Capitals record to 43-22-10 (96 points) but they still lead the Southeast Division by seven points as a result of Tampa’s 4-3 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game in which the NHL Director of Officiating, Terry Gregson, should be pretty embarrassed about:

- Anderson (31 saves) was very good for the Sens but he was also the beneficiary of some overpassing by Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin on a Washington power play in the second period when the game was scoreless. In addition, rookie Marcus Johansson rifled one through #41′s pads in the third period but the puck just trickled wide and an Ottawa defender scooped it out of harm’s way. Still, the journeyman goalie, who recently signed a big four year contract ($12.75M total) to stay in Ottawa, was very solid and calm in net and was easily the game’s number one star.

- The Caps made some big mistakes in their own zone and it cost them on both Ottawa goals. On the first tally, Scott Hannan chased Jason Spezza the wrong way around the Capitals cage and that allowed #19 to put a pass in front to a streaking Colin Greening out of the corner. Greening badly beat Caps d-man John Erskine to the front of the net but the puck hit both of his skates and then he interfered with Semyon Varlamov (21 saves) as he knocked the puck in the cage with his skate for an Ottawa 1-0 lead at 12:25 of the middle frame. Referee Stephane Auger called it a goal but then huddled with the other zebra, Kelly Sutherland. After they conferred with the league in Toronto, the goal stood despite being obvious goalie interference, which apparently is not reviewable. On the second Senators goal, early in period three, Karl Alzner blindly throws the puck up the boards right to Milan Michalek, who feeds it to Erik Condra in the slot. #38 then slid one by Varly as he went down too late into the butterfly position. There were other poor plays by the Washington defensemen on this night that didn’t lead to goals. Overall I would grade the defense as “below average” in this contest. They only gave up 23 shots but they made some big mistakes that will cost them in the post season if they don’t clean it up.

- As for the offense, the Caps did have the 31 shots but there were not a lot from in front of the cage. The Capitals showed some very good puck movement on their first two power plays and Brooks Laich looked excellent on the right point, but Semin made several wrong decisions with the biscuit that prevented Washington from lighting the lamp. On one sequence #28 held onto the puck below the goal line and skated up the right wing boards when Backstrom was wide open in front. He also was a victim of too many moves and over passing on some down low two on ones with the man advantage. Backstrom also tried to force a pass when he had a great chance on Anderson with the game scoreless. The Capitals routinely didn’t get pucks deep and cycle the Senators defense, who likely would have tired having played in New York the night before. Simply put, this was a LAZY offensive effort by Washington, in my book.

- Varlamov, who started for the first time since winning in Buffalo on February 20th, was good in goal. He had to face some quality chances and he did fairly well. He’d probably like another shot at the 2nd goal but Alzner did help Michalek put that one on a tee for Condra. Michal Neuvirth was slated to start this game but came down with an illness and it is possible that Braden Holtby could be recalled for Saturday’s game in Montreal either to start or backup Varly.

- As for the officiating, it was definitely the worst Caps game I’ve seen called all season. I’ve already talked about the mistake on the Senators first goal, which was the result of goalie interference, but there were two other BLATANT mistakes made in this game. First, Matt Hendricks took a stick to the head early on but after an initial high sticking penalty was called on David Hale, and it should have been a double minor since #26 was cut, the referees took #36 out of the penalty box. Shortly thereafter Al Koken of Comcast interviewed assistant coach Bob Woods on the bench who told him that the referees thought that Hendricks was cut with a skate. If you ask me, not only were the four referees blind for missing that, but they are also stupid. If a skate was up that high around Hendricks head and caught him where he was cut, he likely would have lost his eye and bled pretty badly. The other big miss was on a clean shoulder check on Patrick Wiercioch by Matt Bradley above the goal line. Wiercioch went down hard and slid into the boards. Somehow the referees called it boarding prompting Hockey Night in Canada’s Jeff Marek to question that logic via Twitter. Bradley also got jumped for the clean check by Zack Smith and the Caps would have had a power play if boarding wasn’t called on #10. Finally, the game was also called very inconsistently with hits and holds not very clearly defined, which had to make it tough for the players to know what the rules were on this given night. After the game on Twitter, HNIC’s Cassie Campbell stated how bad the officiating was and referenced the no call on the high stick to Hendricks. Gregson and the NHL cannot let this type of officiating happen starting April 13th.

- The Caps are now 3-2 on this six game road trip and they once again played without Alexander Ovechkin, Jason Arnott, Mike Green, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti. On Monday we should know more about the status of those five with Green’s injury being the most concerning. Saturday’s tilt in Montreal is the final meeting between the Caps and the Canadiens in the regular season (Caps are 2-0-1). Right now the Habs sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and both teams could meet again in the first round of the playoffs depending on what happens down the stretch.

Notes: Dennis Wideman led the Caps in ice time with 24:25. Laich led the Caps forwards playing 23:30…the Capitals were smoked on faceoffs, 32-19. Johansson went 1-9 and Backstrom was 7-13…Washington had five shots on net on their three power plays. They only gave up four shots while shorthanded on three attempts.

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Caps Get Big Road Win in Buffalo

Posted on 20 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came to play in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon, but so did Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. In a town that the Caps have an awful record playing in, it took a third period power play goal from Marcus Johansson to finally get a victory in Buffalo over Miller, who made 37 saves, several of which were of the ten bell variety in the first period when Washington was storming the castle. The former Michigan State goalie is one of the best in the league and it was play like we saw today from him that allowed Team USA to nearly defeat a much better and stronger Team Canada in the Winter Olympics last February. But much like Team USA’s fate, the Sabres fell as well and the Capitals improved to 31-19-10 (72 points) overall and trail the Southeast Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning by just three points. The Caps are also 12 points ahead of the tied for ninth place in the Eastern Conference Sabres and Atlanta Thrashers.

Here are the highlights and analysis of the Caps eighth victory in nine Sunday games this season:

- The Caps scored a power play goal! Repeat, the Caps scored a power play goal!! And it was the game winner as well. Granted they had four power plays in the first period, including a 94 second two man advantage, that they did not score on so it is not like this struggling unit is anywhere near fixed. Washington’s game winner did not come via an in-zone set up, rather it came off of the rush as Alexander Ovechkin carried the puck in and fired it on Miller, who gave up a rebound. Mathieu Perreault (1 goal, 1 assist) alertly fired it quickly from the left wing boards and Marcus Johansson went to the net and tipped it in with 9:50 remaining. On the day this unit was 1 for 5 in 7:31 of power play time and that is just not going to get it done when the chips are on the line for Washington. Yes they miss Mike Green, but John Carlson is not a big drop off and my problem with this unit is the lack of traffic in front and the minimal movement from the five guys on the ice. If Ovechkin was switched down low on the half wall and replaced by a to be brought in strong left handed point shot, then I think this unit would improve quite a bit. Some options could be d-man Bryan McCabe of Florida or forward Alexei Kovalev of Ottawa. Both are expected to be moved by the trade deadline on February 28th.

- Washington dominated this game for the first two frames but there was the nine minute stretch to start period three where Buffalo really came on strong. However Matt Hendricks, like he has done so many times this season, made a play to turn this game around. #26, who has a great on ice work ethic, dumped the puck in on the right wing boards and former Cap Shaone Morrisonn took his second penalty of the game with a lazy play like he had done for the Caps too many times over the last several seasons before being let go via the free agency route. The Sabres had outworked Washington up to that point of the final stanza and the hard work of Hendricks turned the whole period around. Johansson’s power play goal ensued to set up the victory. Kudos to Hendricks, who brings the intangibles and energy to this club.

- Once Washington got the lead, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wisely shortened his bench and the Sabres saw a steady dose of Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Boyd Gordon down the stretch (5 or 6 shifts each in last nine minutes). The 39-10-15 unit stifled any Buffalo attacks and it was Steckel who won the last face-off with four seconds remaining to close the victory out for the Caps.

- Semyon Varlamov (28 saves) was very solid in net and his best save of the game was likely on Mike Grier on a reboud attempt in close when the outcome was very much in doubt. The one tally he allowed was a Buffalo power play goal in which Scott Hannan skated in his sight line and Jason Pominville snapped one by him on the high glove side. The goaltending for Washington continues to be very good and I will be very surprised if GM George McPhee makes any type of major goalie move at the deadline. He may get some depth for Hershey, but I don’t see him wasting salary cap space on goaltending when the team has other more pressing holes.

- Carlson led the Caps in ice time (24:29) and because so much of that came on the power play, the blue line duo that saw the most ice time was Hannan (20:38) and Jeff Schultz (22:07). Karl Alzner only played 15:43 because his partner needed to rest after each power play. However, at the end of the game, when it mattered the most, it was 27 and 74 out for the last 37 seconds of this contest.

- In summary, this was an important victory for the Caps as they move to 2-2 on their 10 day, five game road trip which wraps up in Pittsburgh on Monday night (730pm on VERSUS). They performed well against a Buffalo team that was desperate for a victory, yet the Capitals outplayed them for the majority of this contest. They still have issues, like up the middle of the ice where the smallish and young Perreault and Johansson just aren’t consistent enough for the post season plus the power play is in peril, but they still have Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin who are elite players in the NHL and when they want to play, they can carry this club.

Notes: Mike Green missed his fourth straight game on this road trip and fifth contest in the last six…Tom Poti is still out injured as well so the blue line continues to be filled with a few players who aren’t good puck carriers/movers…Washington lost the face-off battle, 29-24 (Backstrom went 7-12)…Ovechkin and Semin made some nice defensive plays in the final period but the Great #8 was also guilty of some floating in the neutral zone or in his own end, at times…Tyler Sloan did block three shots in just over 15 minutes of ice time, but Brooks Laich and Bradley had the most important ones of the game in the third period…Perreault took a bad hooking penalty in the third period and his defensive zone play is his biggest weakness. If only Johansson had Perreault’s offensive skills to go with MJ90′s fairly strong defensive prowess you would likely have your number two center, but that is not the case. Johansson will eventually be a strong third line center, he is only 20 years old. But the future is now for the Caps and since this is a wide open Eastern Conference, the need to upgrade at the trade deadline at the center position is vital for a long playoff run and shot at the Stanley Cup.

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Caps Lose in A Tale of Two Alexes

Posted on 15 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Despite outshooting the Phoenix Coyotes, 31-18, on Valentine’s Day, the Washington Capitals dropped their third straight game, 3-2, in the first of a tough five game road trip. The Caps, who have just three goals in their last three games, played without defenseman Mike Green who was a late scratch due to an inner ear issue that no doubt is from the puck he took to the head against the Penguins just eight days ago. Washington is now 29-18-10 and falls to 6th place in the Eastern Conference playoff race and are just eight points ahead of the 9th place Atlanta Thrashers.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game that seemed to follow the usual Caps script these days: No Offense!

- To me this game was “A Tale of Two Alexes.” Much may be made of the fact that both Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin took their option this morning and did not participate in the pre-game skate. There will be criticism of both for doing that and some will argue that the Great #8 is the team captain so he should be out there every time the club hits the ice just to set an example. But Ovechkin plays more minutes than any other forward and he needs his rest, especially when the Capitals are about to play three games in four nights. If he hadn’t played hard tonight, the detractors might have a case, but despite scoring no goals in 25:52 of ice time he was by far the Capitals best player. Ovie had six shots on net, five blocked, and four that missed the cage. He also set up the snakebit and struggling Nicklas Backstrom for several golden chances. The Great #8 was skating hard and hustling, he made several takeaways in his own zone (despite the fact that it appears that noone was really keeping those stats in Phoenix). He didn’t dilly dally with the puck on the power play like he has done a little too much of this season, instead he was cranking up the slapper and letting the biscuit go. Simply put, if more guys gave the effort he put out on Monday night the Capitals likely win. But several did not, especially Ovechkin’s best buddy on the team, Semin. #28 will show up on the ledger with an assist, although it was a garbage one on Marcus Johansson’s fluke goal, and at +1. But Semin only had two shots on net and he had numerous giveaways (again, forget looking at the official stats on NHL.com from Phoenix). In fact, he worked so little that Caps assistant equipment manager, Craig “Woody” Ledyig, probably doesn’t even need to wash his jersey for Wednesday night’s tilt in Anaheim.

- The Caps had five power plays in this contest and believe it or not, they were pretty good except for one big detail, which we’ll get to in a minute. The team moved the puck well on the ice setting up 14 shots on net! Many of those blasts came from the point and that is something they haven’t been doing enough of lately. However, the point shots were rarely followed up with rebound attempts and I’ll put the blame on that on the aforementioned right winger who logged 6:45 of man advantage time and the struggling #19 (6:34 of power play time). Both guys are positioned on the half wall and when the puck gets to the point and is shot, they need to go to the cage for a rebound attempt, that is how you score on a good goalie like the game’s number one star, Ilya Bryzgalov (29 saves). I get that Semin probably isn’t happy with the lack of a real second line center to play with but on the power play he needs to work harder. Most of the other Caps did grind with the man advantage and they were outnumbering the Coyotes in the zone, which led to so many shots, but sooner or later some of the skill guys need to show some grit and go to the high traffic areas and score. I just don’t see Semin doing that and for that reason alone, he should have his ice time reduced on the power play.

- It is hard to totally fault Michal Neuvirth (15 saves) on the three goals he allowed as you can point to blatant mistakes made by the players in front of him on each goal, but #30 needed to stop one of the first two markers given the Caps offensive struggles. On the first Phoenix tally the Coyotes used their excellent speed and a slow Caps d-man to tie up this tilt just 49 seconds after Johansson’s goal from behind the Yotes cage. Winger Radim Vrbata flew down the left wing and the ultra slow Jeff Schultz gave him way too much room while backing up. That allowed #17 to slide the puck into the slot where Ray Whitney deflected it to Martin Hanzal. #11 then took advantage of poor coverage from Dave Steckel to score in tight and even the game up. Goal number two was the result of bad forward positioning while shorthanded but I thought Neuvy could have had Whitney’s shot. On the third goal, Neuvirth had no chance as John Erskine pinched at the offensive blue line leaving Tyler Sloan back on a two on one break and when #89 failed to cut off the pass, Vernon Fiddler had an easy goal.

- In summary, this game was typical of so many we’ve seen from Washington this year following the playoff loss to Montreal last spring. The club fires a ton of shots at the cage and incorrectly blame a hot goalie afterwards. The truth of the matter is goals are mostly scored in close in the NHL and this team just doesn’t have enough guys who want to get there and pay the price. Then, with two of their better skaters and puck handlers out on D in Green and Tom Poti, they have some lower level blue liners get exposed and it costs them the game.

Notes: Matt Bradley had the Caps other goal on a Coyotes turnover. That tally came just 40 seconds after Phoenix made it 3-1…Washington won the faceoff battle, 40-35, and Backstrom was 16-10, if only he could bury some of his numerous chances…Ovechkin also had three hits…disappointed to see Schultz get two and a half more minutes of ice time than Karl Alzner. #27 is a much better skater than #55 and the Coyotes are a fast team. Perhaps it was a function of Alzner’s d-partner (John Carlson) getting so much power play time making it hard for Coach Bruce Boudreau to put Alzner back on with #74 immediately following the five unsuccessful power plays?…Wednesday night’s contest from Anaheim is on CSN at 10pm.

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Caps Smoke Bolts in Tampa, 5-2

Posted on 05 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Not so fast, Tampa Bay Lightning, on claiming that Southeast Division title just yet. Your daddy, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, just came to town and his club laid another rear-end whipping on you by a 5-2 count, behind a four point night from Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 3 assists, +3). Nicklas Backstrom also had four points (2 goals, 2 assists, +3) and Semyon Varlamov (23 saves) recovered from allowing a bad goal on the first shot he faced to get the victory as Washington pulled within three points of the first place Bolts. The Caps are now 3-1-1 against Tampa this year and Boudreau is 18-3-1 against them since taking over as the Capitals bench boss on Thanksgiving in 2007.

Below are the highlights and analysis from a Caps game that the NHL Network’s Billy Jaffe afterwards called “One of the most complete games they’ve had in a while.”:

- We’ll get to the Ovechkin/Backstrom show in a minute but this night, that started ominously with Washington outshooting the Bolts 10-1 but had the Caps trailing 1-0, turned around thanks to a Dale Hunter like move and performance from Matt Hendricks. Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson had owned the Capitals in his first two games against them as a Bolt keeping them off of the scoreboard for all 125 minutes played. But #26 changed that by running into the Lightning goaltender at the 8:21 mark and the 41 year old goalie snapped by punching Hendricks with his blocker numerous times to set up a 4 on 4 situation. Actually, according to the rulebook Roloson should have been given a major and kicked out for attempt to injure (h/t Caps VP @nateewell) but it turned out to be good he stayed in because he lost his focus after the altercation. Just 48 seconds later Roloson had trouble with a Mike Green shot and Backstrom put in the rebound as he and the Great #8 were crashing the net. That goal knocked the Roloson monkey off of the Caps backs. Hendricks also held his own in a fight with Tampa’s top pscyho and chief punk, Steve Downie, at the 10:39 mark.

- Now on to the 8 and 19 show. The Capitals top line, which featured Jason Chimera (1 empty net goal, 1 assist) back on the 1st unit, abused a very slow and methodical Lightning defense all game. Chimera’s speed was a huge difference and both the Great #8 and Backstrom were as focused as I’ve seen them in months. That line continuously cyclced the puck well and generated pressure and scoring chances. Ovechkin also scored his first power play goal since October (he scored two in Calgary) and it came from the half wall, a position I have been calling for him to play more of on the PP, with Mike Knuble doing a super Tomas Holmstrom like screening job in front of the Tampa net. #22 was battling with the talented yet slow Victor Hedman and it rattled Roloson. That marker made it 3-1 Caps less than two minutes after the Capitals took the lead for the first time. Then after Tampa scored on the PP late in period two to make it 3-2, Ovie would set up Backstrom’s second tally of the night with just under eight minutes left in regulation. Alexander the Great took a Chimera feed and fired the biscuit on net and then crashed it for the rebound. When all three Bolts, including Roloson, went to Ovechkin, #19 skated down the slot all alone and fired the biscuit into a vacated cage. The final tally for that line came with the empty net and Ovechkin unselfishly fed Chimera for a wide open goal that closed out the scoring. Simply put, if Ovechkin and Backstrom play like that on a consistent basis, this team is very hard to beat.

- While the top line was sensational, there was a lot of good work from the supporting cast. In particular, Boudreau received a strong performance from his second line and the second Washington goal was a thing of beauty. All three Caps forwards, Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, and Brooks Laich were working hard on the left wing boards and #83 managed to get the puck in the left wing circle to #85 who made a gorgeous pass to #21 in the slot. Laich then made an even prettier backhanded shot upstairs past Roloson that gave the Capitals their first lead of the game 6:38 into period two and it was one they would never relinquish. #85 only logged 12:53 of ice time but it was of the high energy variety, something he has to bring every night if he is going to stay in the NHL.

- Steven Stamkos, who is leading the NHL in points, was hardly noticeable thanks to an outstanding defensive job by the John Carlson (1 assist in a team leading 26:49 of ice time) and Karl Alzner (19:40 of ice time) duo. Both were +2 on the night and they held Stamkos (0 points, -2) to just one shot on net in this tilt! #74 and #27 are only 21 and 22 years old, respectively, yet they are routinely called on by Boudreau to match up against the opponents top line and they are getting the job done.

- Washington, who won despite two of their top three right wings, Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr, still out of the lineup, played a very smart game. They routinely got the puck deep in the Tampa zone and abused a subpar Lightning defense. In addition, with the Bolts playing a 1-3-1 neutral zone configuration, the Caps blue liners were patient and did a good job of not forcing passes. Guy Boucher’s club prefers to sit back and counter attack against the Caps but Boudreau’s crew did not allow the Bolts to have much success with that plan on Friday night. Simply put, Boudreau outcoached the rookie NHL bench boss on this night.

- Varlamov was super solid after giving up the first goal to Teddy Purcell (1 goal, 1 assist) from a bad angle just 3:21 into the contest. There were a few flurries against #1 in the first period and during the second but he stayed calm in net and didn’t give up any quality rebounds. Credit the defense for protecting the front of the cage as well and the whole team deserves kudos for being mentally strong and not letting the bad first goal get them down.

Notes: The Caps outshot Tampa, 36-25 in an excellent 60 minute effort…Washington also buried the Bolts in the face-off dot going 41-27. Marcus Johansson (10:53) and Jay Beagle (1 assist in 11:44 of time) were both 7-1 while NHL leading draw man Dave Steckel went 6-1…Matt Bradley fought Adam Hall in period one after the Hendricks-Downie bout…Ovechkin had four hits, including a good one in the opening frame against cheap shot and skate away artist, Mattias Ohlund…Tampa’s Brett Clark deflected a Purcell shot on the PP past Varlamov to end a Washington string of 27 straight penalty kills in the second period…both teams went 1 for 4 with the man advantage…the Caps are now 11-3-2 when Ovechkin scores a point on the road…next up for the Caps are the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center on Sunday at 1230pm on NBC. Both Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee) are expected to miss the game for the Pens…the Hershey Bears, who lost goalie Dany Sabourin for 2 to 3 months due to a knee injury, knocked off the Albany Devils, 5-3, in Atlantic City on Friday night. Brian Willsie had two goals and Todd Ford, on recall from the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL, made 21 saves (h/t to my main man John Walton from the Bears for the info on this victory).

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Caps Rally, Defeat Sens, 3-1

Posted on 16 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

With 20 minutes to go in Sunday’s contest against the Ottawa Senators, the Washington Capitals were trailing 1-0, and were staring at the possibility of their seventh shutout loss of the season. However, the Caps ramped up their intensity big time, became more physical, and played arguably their best 20 minutes in a long time, scoring three goals, including John Carlson’s game winning goal on the power play, en route to a much needed 3-1 victory. The win halted a three game losing streak and vaulted the Capitals (25-14-7) back into a tie for first place in the Southeast Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning (26-15-5). Both teams have 57 points.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the victory, the Capitals league leading 13th win of the season after allowing the first goal to their opponent:

- Carlson was voted the number one star of the game, but my top performer was Michal Neuvirth (22 saves). #30 was one of the few players to show up when the puck was dropped and the only tally he allowed, to Mike Fisher in a goal mouth scramble after Mike Green failed to clear the biscuit from the door step just 1:12 into the game, was not his fault. With the Senators carrying the play in the first period, they outshot Washington 9-5, Neuvirth shut the door on Ottawa giving his club a chance to regroup for period two and get their legs going. But the second period was a struggle early on again for the Capitals and in that stanza the two time AHL Calder Cup winning goalie made the save of the game on Filip Kuba. Kuba pinched down into the slot and he took a perfect centering feed on his forehand and fired it towards the top left corner of the cage. The calm and collected Neuvirth quickly lifted his blocker and deflected the puck to the corner to thwart what would have been a seemingly insurmountable two goal hole for Washington. You’ve heard me say this many times this year and I will say it again:  the Capitals do not need another goalie because Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov have been outstanding this season. Varly is 8-6-2 with a .926 save percentage while Neuvy has gone 15-6-4 with a .912 save percentage. Those are some fantastic numbers.

“Our defense did a good job clearing pucks after that (the first Ottawa goal), not giving any second opportunities and Neuvy (Michal Neuvirth) held the fort,” commented Brooks Laich on how his team was able to stay in the game until they could break things open in the third period.

 

- The third period effort is something that many fans expected to see more of from Washington this season. The Caps skated hard and their aggressive forechecking in the offensive zone was back. In fact, the first goal was set up by a big check on Erik Karlsson by Alexander Ovechkin behind the Sens net. Karlsson, while being hit, sent a wobbly pass to Chris Phillips on the other side of the cage, but with Marcus Johansson bearing down on him he tried to hit Daniel Alfredsson up the middle of the ice. However #4′s pass missed #11 and went right to Laich in the slot and #21 buried it top shelf, far post to tie the game up. That goal, Laich’s first in 13 games, really energized the Capitals and their fans as the building started rocking again.

- Just 43 seconds later Milan Michalek cross checked Karl Alzner in the back in the Caps zone sending #27 flying head first into the boards. It was an extremely cheap and dangerous play and Alzner stayed down for an extended period, then went down the tunnel after being helped to the bench. Clearly the call should have been a five minute major for boarding but the zebras, Ghislain Hebert and Bill McCreary, only gave Michalek two minutes for cross checking. Washington’s struggling power play then finally found a  way to connect as Nicklas Backstrom won the faceoff back to Carlson and #74 blasted it by Elliott (23 saves). The goal, which only took two seconds of time, came just 45 seconds after Laich had tied things up. The Caps would then add an insurance goal with 6:29 left when Jason Chimera scored from the goal line by banking the puck off the back of Elliott, who went down too soon on the right post. That tally involved a lucky bounce but the hard work of Alzner on the boards provided #25 with the opportunity to send the puck on goal.

“Sometimes you try to bank it off them (the goalie) and that time I did and fortunately it went in. Nine times out of ten, it doesn’t go in. Fortunately it worked out,” said Chimera on his sixth goal of the season.

 

- Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau once again mixed up his lines with Eric Fehr out of the lineup due to a shoulder injury (likely 3-4 weeks) and Andrew Gordon recalled from Hershey. Boudreau put Johansson with Ovechkin and Laich and that line played fairly well, especially in the third period. Johansson was +1 in a career high 22:16 of ice time. He had a couple of golden opportunities, including a perfect set up from Ovechkin in the slot, but he couldn’t connect. MJ90 is getting better along the boards, he actually was credited with two hits in this tilt, but the one thing he needs to really work on is his shot. We need to see more of it and the shots need to be quicker, harder, and on target.

- In addition to the forward line juggling, two of the defensive pairs were switched with Jeff Schultz going back with Green and Scott Hannan played the right side while John Erskine was flanked to his left. Hannan had another strong game in 17:32 of ice time. The 52-55 pair looked like it was headed for a disastrous night after allowing that first goal just 72 seconds into the game but they steadied themselves as the contest went on. The best defensive pair was once again the Carlson-Alzner duo. #74 was +1 in 21:07 and had the game winning goal while King Karl was +2 and had an assist in 19 minutes and 50 seconds of ice time. Alzner, who was shaken up a bit from the dirty hit by Michalek, did come back in the game missing at most one shift.

- One thing Washington did well the entire contest was win faceoffs. The Caps, who are ranked third in the NHL from the dot at a 52.8% success rate, won 43 of the 62 draws in this game. Boyd Gordon was an amazing 8-0 and Backstrom went 13-6. Faceoffs played a huge role in the outcome and the Senators bench boss took notice.

“They [face-offs] are huge. Both [third period] goals were off of a lost face off,” said Ottawa Coach Cory Clouston.

- So a bad week for the Caps, one in which they went 1-2-1, ends up on a high note. They still are not scoring many goals and this was the 16th time in the last 17 games that they have failed to notch more than three tallies but over the last 14 games they’ve only given up 28 goals (just two per game). There are 43 days left before the trade deadline for GM George McPhee to set his roster up for a long playoff run. Based on what I’ve seen over the first 46 games, I think the team is solid in goal and on defense but the forward crew needs upgrading in order to get two lines scoring, something you absolutely have to have to advance in the post season.

Notes: Along with Fehr being out, Alex Semin, Matt Bradley, Tom Poti, and DJ King were also out of the lineup due to injury while d-man Tyler Sloan is in Hershey for a conditioning stint…Green led the team with five hits but he also got rocked hard by Nick Foligno into the back boards right before he took an interference penalty with 33 seconds remaining. Hopefully #52 didn’t reinjure his shoulder on that hit…the Caps now embark on a three game road trip with the first stop in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. I will be covering the game in person and will bring you quotes, highlights, and analysis from a battle against the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference…by the way, please check out Japers Rink Radio, I was on with hosts Stephen Pepper and Russell Waxman for the last 25 minutes of this past Saturday’s show. We touched on all things Caps hockey.

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Hershey Grads Help Caps Win 2nd Straight

Posted on 22 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

There is a reason the Hershey Bears won back to back AHL Calder Cup titles the last two seasons and a national audience on VERSUS on Tuesday night witnessed it first hand as several Chocolatetown graduates played big roles in the Washington Capitals 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center. Andrew Gordon, who has 16 goals in 26 games for the Bears this year, notched his first ever NHL goal and also had an assist on Jason Chimera’s breakaway marker that made it 3-1. Defenseman John Carlson also scored on a laser and added an assist while goaltender Michal Neuvirth stopped 35 of 36 shots to earn his 14th win of this season. It was the Caps second straight victory following their eight game losing streak and coupled with the St. Louis Blues 4-2 victory over Atlanta, Washington is back in first place in the Southeast Division with 44 points (20-12-4). The Thrashers are a point back with the same number of games played as the Caps while the Tampa Bay Lightning are at 42 points with three games in hand.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game that was close in the first 30 minutes and ended with the Verizon Center chanting “We Want Pittsburgh!”:

- In addition to Gordon, Carlson, and Neuvirth several other Bears from the back to back Calder Cup Championships contributed to the win including defenseman Karl Alzner (+3), Jay Beagle (goal, +1), and Mathieu Perreault (+1). Gordon, Beagle, and Perreault each where involved in a Washington goal simply by going to the net. Gordon’s goal from the doorstep was set up by a super play by Marcus Johansson, Beagle’s tally from just above the crease was the result of a great pass from Dave Steckel, and the smaller Perreault crashed the cage on Martin Broduer (23 saves) allowing Mike Knuble to deflect Tom Poti’s shot by the future Hall of Fame goalie. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau praised the Chocolatetown contingent right out of the gate in his post game presser.

“I thought they all played great, Beagle, Gordo, Carlson, they had lots of energy and they followed direction and they played with passion and enthusiasm. When you do that, usually, no matter what league you’re in you’re going to have success,” said the coach about his players who have simply dominated in the AHL and now are getting a chance to display their merit in “The Show.”

- #30 was super solid in net and he made several quality saves early in the second period when the Devils had their highest points in this tilt. The only shot that beat him was on a Devils power play by Patrick Elias with Dainius Zubrus setting a vicious screen at the top of the crease. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau certainly is feeling confident in Neuvirth right now and you can bet the house he will start against the Penguins on Thursday.

“He was pretty solid. He’s always been a guy that’s gotten stronger as the game goes on and does alot by confidence. The game in Ottawa got him confidence,” said Boudreau on the key to Neuvirth’s recent success.

- The Capitals best d-pair these days continues to be #74 and #27 and they followed up their super game in Ottawa with a tremendous outing on Tuesday. Alzner and Carlson, who were sensational playing together in Hershey, are a perfect pairing that continues to get better. They are positionally sound and the thing they really excel at is getting the puck out of Washington’s zone and in transition with quick and smart passes. Carlson had 23:42 of ice time, including 7:24 on the power play, and despite the fact that the Caps power play stunk in this one (0 for 5), #74 was likely the best player on it because he was shooting the biscuit at the cage instead of trying crazy cross ice seam passes that Alexander Semin kept attempting to execute.

“We’ve been playing good since day one. We’ve been feeling pretty comfortable. We were apart for a while and then got back together a couple of games ago. It’s just a matter of consistency in this game, it seems. Anytime you can play good and contribute, it’s really good,” added #74, who scored the game winning goal for Team USA in the Gold Medal game against Canada in the World Juniors Championships last winter.

 

- Steckel, who is also a Hershey alum but wasn’t on the two recent Calder Cup winning teams but was on the 2006 AHL Championship club coached by Boudreau, is really playing well lately after a subpar 2009-10. #39 was 7-2 on draws and is now #1 in the NHL in faceoff percentage (63.1%) for those taking at least 20 draws this season. His pass to Beagle for the game winning goal was outstanding and it came after some hard work along the boards and in the corner.

 

- I would also be remiss if I didn’t praise the play of the rookie, Johansson. #90, who looked healthy and as a result showed off his ultra fast skating tonight, was paired with the speedy Chimera and the grinding Gordon and they were the line of the game for Washington. The young Swede looked like he was shot out of a cannon on the first goal as he flew down the left wing boards and fed an all alone #63 in front for the first tally. Johansson also set up Gordon for a one timer that Brodeur made his best save of the night on in period two when the game was still close. Former Capital Brian Engblom on VERSUS, after the 2nd period, called #90 the best player on the ice for either team, quite a compliment for the 2009 1st round draft choice.

 

- On the down side, the Capitals power play was simply awful in 8:42 of time, including a lengthy (78 seconds) two man advantage. I put the blame on this on Semin and Mike Green because those guys are not shooting the puck and trying to make too many fancy passes. Boudreau did give Carlson more point time and he moved Alexander Ovechkin down low in an attempt to get him out of his goal scoring slump (2 tallies in the last 18 games).

 

“Well, we were 0-for-5 on the power play, so it didn’t work very well. But we haven’t had any success with him on the point lately either. I am just trying to move things and change things around. I thought if we got shots at the net and he’s right there, maybe he could get a rebound or something, get an ugly goal that would jump start him. That was the thought process,” said Boudreau, who is attempting to win his 4th straight Southeast Division title as the Caps bench boss in as many seasons.

 

Notes: Forward Matt Bradley, a major fan favorite, broke his finger and will miss 2-4 weeks (h/t Mike Vogel, aka @VogsCaps)…Eric Fehr, who played four really good periods in a row with Ovechkin and Backstrom on the top line in the two previous games, missed the contest due to a death in the family…the Caps won the face-off battle, 28-26…Washinton’s PK unit was 1 for 4 and it would have been perfect had defenseman Scott Hannan made a simple clearing play instead of waiting for an extra second in the corner. As a result he was stripped from behind of the biscuit and the Caps failed to clear the zone prior to the goal. #23 continues to struggle in his transition from Colorado to Washington…on Wednesday night at 10pm on HBO, Episode 2 of 24/7, which covers the Caps and Penguins as they head into the Winter Classic on January 1st, airs. It should be a much more enjoyable hour of viewing for Caps fans after last week’s tough one in the middle of the eight game losing streak. Not to mention the Penguins lost two straight games last week…Former Capital and VERSUS studio analyst Keith Jones blasted Semin after the game for his effort. Boudreau characterized #28′s performance with the following quote, “Rusty, but he’ll get better though.” Given that Semin was hurt (lower body injury) and just recovered from the flu we’ll give him a pass for his bad game…Thursday night’s Capitals-Penguins tilt at the Verizon Center should be a great one and it will be time for the Capitals star players like Ovechkin (1 assist, +1, 4 hits), Nicklas Backstrom, Green, and Semin to get it going because the Caps will need them to defeat Sidney Crosby and company. Don’t miss it!

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Caps Lose 7th Straight in OT

Posted on 16 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

This is surely a test from the hockey gods because given the way the Washington Capitals played on Wednesday night, there is no way they should have lost to the Anaheim Ducks. But somehow the Caps did, falling 2-1 with 57 seconds remaining in overtime on a Ryan Getzlaf tally to extend their losing streak to seven games. Jonas Hiller (31 saves) and his good fortune were the keys to a Ducks victory and Washington’s record is now at 18-11-4, for a total of 40 points. With the Tampa Bay Lightning defeating the Atlanta Thrashers (2-1) in a shootout on Wednesday, the second and third place teams in the Southeast Division played a Caps worst case scenario “three point” tilt, and now both teams trail the Capitals by just two points in the standings. However, the Bolts have two games in hand while the Thrashers have just one.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from what should have been a Caps victory, if not for the lucky golden horseshoe that Hiller is holding onto right now:

- With Alexander Semin out of the lineup, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau took a different approach for this contest against the Ducks, who have arguably the best forward line in the NHL in Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry, by matching units all evening. This strategy, which Boudreau has rarely used with his talented Caps club but has been employed by many hockey coaches for years, is one that takes on a playoff game mentality and if not for a hit crossbar and a lucky stick save, the game plan would have produced a victory for Washington. The 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner attempted to put out Brooks Laich, Dave Steckel, and Matt Bradley every time the Getzlaf-Ryan-Perry unit was on the ice at even strength. For the most part it worked, although it was one of the Ducks big guns who scored the game winner. Still the Caps bench boss, despite the OT loss, was pleased with the effort and the way his club stuck to his script.

“They did the game plan to a tee. They were very focused. I thought we played very good. Sometimes you play very good and you lose. We got a point for the psyche, which is very big,” said a hoarse Boudreau, who then went on to talk about how hitting the 40 point mark was really good for the team from a mental standpoint.

“I look back to the Pittsburgh series where they were our checking line. I knew that if I gave them a job they would come out and do it. They were plus one until the overtime,” added Boudreau on the play of the 21-39-10 line, who played solid defense and also scored the lone Washington tally.

- Another side effect, and an advantage, of playing the line matching strategy, is that the entire bench has to be completely focused on what is going on in every situation in the game because they may have to jump on the ice in a moments notice. It is like a chess match and that type of style, which is draining if done night in and night out, will force players to become stronger upstairs. Boudreau commented on that following the tough loss.

“You are always on your toes, you are looking at what is going on. It makes you get mentally stronger whether you like it or not. We played a strong 3rd period, that tells me we are getting mentally stronger,” added the three time Southeast Division winning coach on the strategy and the improvement he saw in his squad on Wednesday night, this coming after a week in which he criticized the mental toughness of his team and its’ seeming desire to want to “feel sorry” for themselves when things went bad.

- For the first 30 minutes, this game was all Washington. The Caps outshot the Ducks 17-7 in the opening stanza but Hiller made some big saves. In period two, the goalie who carried Switzerland into the final four of the 2010 Olympic games, received some help from the iron on an Alexander Ovechkin breakaway and made an amazing stick save on Nicklas Backstrom when it appeared he had an open net to conclude a three on one break with Mike Green and Mike Knuble. In both situations, luck was clearly on his side and someone is intent on making the Caps suffer a little longer with this losing streak.

“I thought we did everything we could. When Alex hits the cross bar and Nicky, their goalie making a big save, and the chances we had to get to 2-0 or 3-0, it’s tough,” commented Boudreau on the bad fortune his team had early on when they totally carried the play.

- Backstrom was the best Caps player on Wednesday night and it was apparent that he is finally close to fully recovering from the flu bug. #19 set up the first Caps goal with a strong rush down the left wing boards around Lubomir Visnovsky. The Swede hit a charging John Carlson in stride but #74′s shot was blocked right to Laich in the slot. #21 then backhanded it home off of the left post at 14:22 of the opening stanza. Backstrom, who was 9-2 on face-offs, was the one who set up Ovechkin for his breakaway and as mentioned above, Hiller flat out robbed #19 on a 3 on 1 break with a lucky stick save that even Ducks coach Randy Carlyle commented on.

“When you go on the road, your goaltender’s got to find ways to give you a chance and he did more than his share of that. He gave us a chance and made some big stops. Particularly the one on [Nicklas] Backstrom – he was able to bat it out with his stick,” said the 2007-08 Stanley Cup winning coach and former Capitals assistant.

 

- Semyon Varlamov (22 saves) got the call in net for Washington after his worst performance of the season in New York on Sunday. #1 was fairly strong in net. His best save of the night was likely on Visnovsky, who had an easy lane to the cage after d-man Karl Alzner mistakenly left his feet in his own zone. That gaffe by #27 combined with Green battling to Varly’s right with a Ducks forward, allowed #17 to come down the slot, but the young Russian net minder made a superb pad save. The two tallies he allowed were not totally his fault. The first was a rebound in front on an Anaheim power play. The puck was fired on net by Cam Fowler and it hit #52′s skate and bounced right on Joffrey Lupul’s stick. Before Alzner could do anything the former Flyers forward deposited the puck by Varly. So when the bounces are not going your way, things like that happen, and clearly the Capitals are getting NO breaks right now. On the game winner, Getzlaf outworked Carlson on the boards and then he passed #15 off to Scott Hannan, but #23 was once again a step too slow and the superstar Ducks forward beat Varlamov in close. I am not sure how much of the shot #1 saw because of Hannan’s slow reaction.

- For anyone who watched the first episode of the HBO 24/7 series following the Caps loss, it was obvious that part of the Capitals problems right now is the change in style they are undergoing. The organization, after dominating in the regular season and then failing in the first round of the playoffs last season, is attempting to play a tighter, more defensive brand of hockey in an effort to gain more balance. For the second time in three games (with Saturday’s game against Colorado being the first), the Caps body of work on the ice seemed to be trending up.

“I thought if we can play like that, what did they have 21 shots? If you play like that, you are going to win a lot of hockey games. We have to win the 3-1 games and the 2-1 games. It might not look pretty and we won’t have a 60 goal scorer but we’ll have a 50 goal scorer. And he played tonight and he’ll get 50,” said Boudreau on what he thought of how his team played, the transformation they are going through, and the impact it will have on Ovechkin’s season goal total.

In addition, Boudreau said that he won’t always go this route against an opponent and it will all depend on his lineup and the matchups.

“It gives us the ability to play both ways. We might want to play, say against Boston, the other way because we have had success that way,” finished the head coach who has come under fire from some in the local and national media/blogosphere (but not in this blog).

Notes: 24/7, which is covering both the Caps and the Pittsburgh Penguins in their build up to the Winter Classic on January 1st,  revealed that Green missed the last two games due to a sprained MCL. #52 had a good game against Anaheim and logged over 29 minutes of ice time…the Caps won the face-off battle, 29-23, however Mathieu Perreault went 1-9…Alzner was paired with #52, logged 23:37, and was +1…the Caps went 0 for 2 on the power play. Next up for the Caps are the Boston Bruins in Beantown on Saturday at 7pm. Washington will practice for the next two days and Boudreau was happy to have that break after a tough loss saying ”I think it is important for us to have 2 days before our next game.”

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Caps Fall to Avs, 3-2

Posted on 11 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time in the Bruce Boudreau era the Washington Capitals have a five game losing streak as the Caps flu ridden team dropped a 3-2 decision to the Colorado Avalanche at the Verizon Center on Saturday night. Once again the opposing goalie was the story as Craig Anderson stopped 40 shots and the Avs net minder was very fortunate to escape with a victory as the Capitals misfired on several good chances. Washington completes a four game home stand at 0-3-1 and their overall record falls to 18-10-3.

Here are the highlights and analysis from a good effort by the Caps that didn’t get the desired result:

- The Caps worked hard and arguably deserved to win but there are three plays that cost them a victory and they were all bad ones by Washington. First, Michal Neuvirth gave up an awful bad angle goal to Kevin Shattenkirk less than three minutes into this tilt. Second, Tom Poti is horribly out of position on an Avalance rush and Ryan Wilson comes down the slot all alone on #30 and beats him. Finally, with the score 2-1 Colorado, Alexander Semin, after taking two whacks to the midsection from John-Michael Liles, responded with a dirty and cheap shot cross check to the neck/back of the head of #4 and was whistled for a five minute major and a game misconduct. Argue all you want against that call and you will be wrong on that one, it was a stupid and selfish retaliation penalty. The Avalanche would score once on the long power play and that goal was the final difference.

- Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist, 5 hits, +1) was a force in this one and he, along with Matt Hendricks (1 goal and 4 hits), set the tone for Washington with their physical presence and determination. For many Capitals this was their best tilt of the disastrous home stand and their head coach certainly recognized it.

“That looked more like our team tonight…it is on the upswing, not on the downswing. If we have an effort like that tomorrow we might get rewarded for it,” started Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, “You could tell the difference with Alex, he was skating, he was moving and he was hitting. I thought he did a good job that way,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on his team captain’s strong effort against Colorado.

- Clearly the team missed the services of defenseman Mike Green, who is out with the flu, and it was rather apparent that Nicklas Backstrom is still struggling healthwise too. #19 was a terrible 4-15 on face-offs and he was uncharacteristically taken off the puck behind the net on several occassions, something that is a rarity. Boudreau was quick to give his #1 center a pass despite the lack of production.

“Backstrom could be better, he tried, but he’s coming right out of the sick bed,” finished Boudreau.

- Despite the fifth straight defeat there is no need to panic right now. Those calling for drastic measures should calm down. It is December and the Caps are banged up and not healthy at all at this point in time. Once this flu bug goes away, we’ll get a better idea of where the Caps are when they take on the Penguins twice in nine days between December 23rd and January 1st. If Washington doesn’t fair well in those tilts, then we can start talking changes, but I don’t expect the Caps to get beaten by a Pittsburgh club that might be peaking too early.

Notes: Next up for the Caps are the New York Rangers on Sunday at 7pm from Madison Square Garden and you can bet the farm that Semyon Varlamov will be in goal for Washington…I expect Semin to get at least a fine and perhaps a suspension for his dirty hit. There is no excuse for his actions on that play…Washington was outdueled, 36-31, from the face-off dot due to Backstrom’s struggles, which stem from his lack of strength due to the flu (perhaps someone else should have taken some of those draws?)…team guy Matt Bradley fought heavyweight Cody McLeod after #55 raced a good distance and hit him on the boards (no call from the zebras though for charging). #10, after being scratched against the Panthers, was -2 but that was the fault of Neuvirth and Poti…Marcus Johansson was scratched and his play has tailed off again, but he is a rookie…Mike Knuble had a goal and an assist and could have had more points since Ovechkin was a wrecking ball and constantly fed the puck into the crease area…that is it for tonight, sorry for the short blog, I have the flu too (was in Caps locker room following Thursday’s tilt).

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Caps Shutout in 4th Straight Loss

Posted on 10 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals clearly have a motivation and confidence problem right now. Against the Florida Panthers, a team that Washington defeated all six times last season, the Caps came out strong in period one drawing five power plays and fired 18 shots on Cats goalie Tomas Vokoun but they couldn’t get the puck by him. As a result the team got frustrated and started doing too many individual things and when Florida scored with one second left in the second period to snatch a 1-0 lead, the currently mentally fragile Capitals crumbled in the final stanza en route to a 3-0 defeat. The loss drops the Caps to 18-9-3 overall and they still have a  six point lead over both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division, but both teams now have two games in hand.

Here is tonight’s recap including quotes and analysis from a tilt that was played in front of the quietest Verizon Center crowd in recent memory:

- The biggest problem on Thursday night was Washington’s power play. For the evening it went 0 for 8, including not converting on two 5 on 3 opportunities, one of which was for 1:53 midway through the first period. Early on the Caps were trying to swing the puck down low in an attempt to beat Vokoun in close. Eric Fehr, who had 6 shots on goal in 11:43 of ice time, had numerous chances to get one by #29 but couldn’t convert. After the first few power plays the Caps then started getting too cute and pass happy instead of firing the puck from the top of the slot with traffic in front. By the 7th and 8th iterations the man advantage units had totally deteriorated into an individual event where one Capital after another tried to skate through the Panthers defense on his own, without any success. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau discussed the problems on the power play after the game.

“The intentions were good at the beginning, then when you don’t score on the power play when you have the opportunity, you could see at the end of the first period that we started to do things as individuals instead of collectively.  When that happens, it’s tough, it’s no excuse,” started Boudreau on his usually potent power play crew, “Just stand in front of the net and shoot the puck was the message and then we still get too cute. There were so many times we had good opportunities to shoot with guys in front of the net and we are trying to make the play and the play’s not there,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams trophy winning coach on why things went bad with the manpower advantage.

- As bad as Washington’s power play was, their penalty killing was super in period two when the Caps had to kill off three infractions, including a 1:18 five on three against. Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon, and Tom Poti did outstanding work and it appeared that the effort on the PK might spur the team to the first goal. However, with one second left in period two the Cats scored after Karl Alzner and Nicklas Backstrom were beaten badly down low on the right wing boards. A wild goal mouth scramble ensued and Steve Reinprecht buried one from the slot with four Caps around him. That type of goal just can’t happen. First #27 and #19 need to be smarter that late in the period and not over commit going for the steal. At that point in time, they should have been focusing on keeping the Panthers on the perimeter, because a takeaway wouldn’t have given them any time to go the other way to score. This was simply a case of two young players not paying attention to the game situation and then a collective lack of effort in front of Semyon Varlamov (29 saves) on the rebounds.

“It was obviously a huge goal because it gave them light. After the first period we were talking about how often a team outshoots one 18-6 and it is five power plays to none, the other team comes out and they are going to get power plays in the second period and it usually turns. I thought we did a really good job of holding them off on the 5 on 3 and the penalty, but you’ve got four guys down there and nobody touching anybody, they are going to score. Once they believe that, at the start of the third period, they dug in their heels pretty good and they hadn’t beaten us in awhile and they were a determined group. We were looking like we were feeling sorry for ourselves,” added Boudreau on the Caps solid penalty killing and then how the late second period tally impacted his team’s mindset.

- Washington, after blowing a three goal third period lead in their shootout loss to Toronto on Monday, came out strong in period one but as the game wore on they seemed to lack interest and lose confidence. For those of you who follow my blogs or my tweets on Twitter (@Emfrank123), you are aware that in the notes section of the Leafs summary blog I wrote that this team needed a challenge game against the Pittsburgh Penguins to get themselves dialed in for 60 minutes. Then on Thursday morning I predicted that the Caps would not be 100% focused against Florida. The result of this tilt furthers my case, but what is now happening is that the loss of confidence is causing the players to mope and feel sorry for themselves instead of getting them to fight back strong.

“We could call it snake bitten, we could call it you’re facing adversity and not being able to handle the adversity, not fighting through it. Feeling sorry for yourself. I came in between periods, 2nd and 3rd, everybody was hanging their head and we were down 1-0. My job at that time was not to give them crap but to let them know they’re good and don’t feel sorry for yourself. Dig your heels in and come back and it’s one shot…once it was 2-0 you could see the shoulders sagging on the bench and they just didn’t believe they were going to come back tonight,” said Boudreau on his team’s frail mental state during this recent four game slide.

“I liked the beginning of the game, I liked our energy, the way we played. We were going to the net hard, we were working hard. You don’t get that many power plays without working and effort but the puck is not going in the net right now and we’re gripping the sticks tight. We are getting down on ourselves. It is just part of the game. It is almost like a slump in some sort of way, not scoring on the opportunities we are getting,” said forward Matt Hendricks on what transpired on Thursday night and why the team is not converting.

- Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green all had one of their worst games of the season on Thursday and the Caps simply can’t win when those guys aren’t going. Boudreau tried moving Alexander Ovechkin around and he switched up his lines in the third period to try and jump start the offense, to no avail.

“Our top six forwards weren’t very good. But our bottom six forwards were working their hardest and getting opportunities so I wanted to get at least one of those guys on with the other guys and maybe it would rub off and the energy would rub off. But quite frankly if your best players aren’t your best players, we’ve been shut out three times in the last 11 games, which has never happened, you are not going to have success. We have one goal or less in five of the last 11 games. You have to get production out of your best players and it is not happening right now,” stated Boudreau on the reason for lack of offensive production.

- As I alluded to above, I think a big part of the problem is a motivational one that is out of Boudreau’s control. All season long the Caps players have been hearing that it doesn’t matter what they do in the regular season, because they will only be judged by their success, or lack of it, in the post season. As a result, I believe that the Capitals are not focused, except when they feel challenged. Some of their best games this season were the two battles with the Flyers and the 6-0 white washing of Tampa when the Bolts came in on fire with a five game winning streak. Honestly, tilts against the Thrashers, Leafs, and Panthers aren’t going to get the blood of the Capitals players boiling. However, with each lackadaisical effort, the opportunity for a Lightning or Atlanta squad to hang around in the division race becomes greater, something the Caps bench boss is keenly aware of.

“We are in a dogfight in the conference and the division. It is not going to be a cakewalk and every team that plays us in the division is ready for us. Every team knows that they’ve got to check this guy and check that guy and we have to as individuals change a little bit of the way we play. That is why I was putting Alex from left wing to right wing because they had [Mike] Weaver out there every time against him. We have to find a way to get around that,” commented on Boudreau on what his club needs to do to defend their Southeast title for the fourth straight season.

- Going forward I am not sure a tilt against the Avalanche on Saturday will be the silver bullet this club needs and the Penguins aren’t on the slate until December 23rd. However the Caps are reminded of that by the fact that HBO cameras are currently following them everywhere, so next week’s first episode of 24/7 ought to be akin to a Washington funeral the way Boudreau’s squad is playing. But the former Slap Shot extra has a plan to try and turns things around and it starts with Friday’s practice.

“I gave them crap after the Leafs game. So you can’t just keep going and beating a dead horse. Tomorrow, I think obvioulsy we’ll practice the power play and penalty killing. Other than that we’ll have our individual meetings, maybe there is something there that I am missing right now and we’ll get to the bottom of it and we’ll get out of it. When we get out of it hopefully we’ll have learned by it,” finished Boudreau on his plan going forward for the Capitals.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-27, on Thursday night…Matt Bradley and DJ King were the forward scratches while Jeff Schultz and Tyler Sloan are on injured reserve…John Erskine and Fehr were my choices for top Caps of the evening as both worked extremely hard despite the loss…Washington outshot Florida 36-32 but the Panthers had a 26-18 advantage after the opening frame.

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Caps Trade Fleischmann for Scott Hannan (Updated)

Posted on 30 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Press Release on Trade:

The Washington Capitals have acquired defenseman Scott Hannan from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for forward Tomas Fleischmann, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Hannan, 31, is an 11-year NHL veteran who has played for Colorado and the San Jose Sharks. The 6’1”, 225-pound defensive defenseman has played 775 career games, recording 30 goals, 150 assists, 456 penalty minutes and a +22 rating. This season Hannan has six assists and a +1 rating while playing all 23 games for the Avalanche.

Hannan has played at least 71 games in each of his 11 pro seasons, including 97.2% of the games since he made the NHL full-time in 2000-01. He has averaged 18:37 of ice time per game this season and 22:02 per game in the course of his career. His teams have made the playoffs eight times in 10 seasons prior to this one, playing a total of 73 playoff games.

A first-round pick of the Sharks, 23rd overall, in the 1997 Entry Draft, Hannan broke into the league after an all-star career with the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. He was a teammate of current Capital Matt Bradley with the Sharks and signed with Colorado as a free agent on July 1, 2007.

COMMENT: As I blogged last week, Fleischmann was given the chance to become the number two center but didn’t really produce and the play of rookie Marcus Johansson had basically made “Flash” expendable. The 31 year old Hannan is a defensive defensemen who had his best seasons with the San Jose Sharks. Personally, I think he will help the Capitals defense and provide some much needed depth.

UPDATE: The media had a chance to participate in a conference call with Scott Hannan this afternoon and here are some of the things the defenseman, who will wear #23 for the Caps, had to say:

On his emotions and initial thoughts on the trade:

- “I’m really excited to go to a first place team and compete for the Stanley Cup.”

- “I like being with a team that I can fit in with and I look forward to stepping into a good team in Washington.”

- “You have conflicting emotions when trades happen, Colorado’s been good to me.”

On how his play has been impacted going from San Jose to Colorado and now to Washington:

- “I think my style of play has stayed the same [since his days with San Jose]. I am a defensive player, I kill penalties.”

- “I was fortunate to learn from a lot of players that were [in San Jose and Colorado].”

On the timing of the deal and when he first learned of it:

- “First I heard of the trade was [Monday], I am not sure I saw a trade coming but any time you are in the last year of a deal these things can happen.”

On the differences between the conferences from a style of play and in terms of travel time:

- “I think things are more open in the East and tighter in the West. I am looking forward to the [shorter] travel.”

 

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