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Caps Hold On, Beat Sabres 4-2

Posted on 18 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals raced out to a 3-0 second period lead on Wednesday night and then hung on for dear life against the Buffalo Sabres in the final minute. Michal Neuvirth was superb once this contest went to 3-2 in the middle stanza and perhaps the best of his 31 stops on the night came with seven seconds left on Derek Roy on the door step. Following the final face-off after that spectacular toe save by #30, Alexander Semin fired the puck nearly the entire length of the ice for an empty net goal that gave the Capitals a 4-2 victory. The win pushes the Caps to a 14-4-1 record and an astonishing nine point lead in the Southeast Division (Tampa has a game in hand) before we’ve even hit the season’s quarter pole. Washington also leads the Eastern Conference by three points over the Flyers, who have also played 19 times this season.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of another win for Coach Bruce Boudreau’s squad:

- The Caps quest for a complete 60 minute game continues but they are getting closer. The first 30 minutes of this tilt were all Washington but the Sabres received a power play on a Mike Green hold at 11:32 of period two and Buffalo tallied twice in 48 seconds to cut a 3-0 deficit to a one goal affair. Things were sloppy in the final 10 minutes of the middle stanza for the Capitals but in period three they started strong and stayed the course until Buffalo pressured late. Brooks Laich totally sacrificed his body to block a power play blast from the slot and Neuvirth made a couple of other key saves on a shorthanded Caps situation in the final ten minutes of the contest. After that Washington was solid and limited the Sabres from any real scoring chances until the final minute push with Ryan Miller (25 saves) pulled for the extra attacker.

“I was really happy..the third period, I thought except for their power play, I thought we were really good defensively,” said Boudreau on how he thought his team did after the Sabres cut their three goal bulge to just one.

- I was quite unhappy once again with the officiating crew for at least the third time in the last five games. Zebras Rob Martell and Kelly Sutherland seemed to have a random number generator deciding when they were going to call a penalty because there was no consistency to the way the calls were being made. The Caps only received two power plays while the Sabres received four yet Washington totally dominated the first 30 minutes. Boudreau stated the lack of consistency as a major reason in why Buffalo was able to climb back into the contest.

“If they they had called the penalties when they were supposed to call the penalties then we wouldn’t have had the power play to go one against. It was a 3-0 game and it was a pure trip behind the net but the refs started reffing the score, then we end up getting a penalty and things turn,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach on the pair of referees who likely left town with a game check they didn’t truly earn.

- After a very strong game on Sunday versus Atlanta, Dave Steckel (1 goal) and Matt Bradley (1 goal, 1 assist) were outstanding again. Against the Thrashers their third man was Matt Hendricks but on Wednesday evening they were paired up with the speedy Jason Chimera (two assists) and the combo clicked. Washington’s first tally, a beautiful feed from Semin to Nicklas Backstrom, was on a 5 on 3 power play. Bradley created the first penalty on Chris Butler to set up that two man advantage on the forecheck behind the Sabres cage and then Semin drew a hook from Tyler Myers. On the Caps second goal Chimera took advantage of a wise and effective pinch on the right wing boards by Karl Alzner and #25 hit a streaking Bradley in the slot. #10 didn’t get much on the biscuit but it slid through Miller to make it 2-0 DC. Then they increased the lead in the 2nd period after some super offensive pressure by both Bradley and Chimera down low resulted in a pass to Steckel in the slot that he banked in off of the right post and the right skate of Miller.

‘”Steckel played a really good game and so did Bradley and Chimera, I thought they were our best line,” added Boudreau on that trio.

- Alzner (1 assist, +2) quietly had an outstanding game. His pinch on the second goal set the whole scoring sequence up and he routinely was in the right position to thwart Sabres attacks all evening. King Karl logged 21:59 of ice time and his former AHL d-partner and now NHL blue line accomplice, John Carlson, played 22:52. 27 and 74, if they stay healthy, look like they could be a blue line pair for Washington for the next 10 years or so.

- Neuvirth is now 12-3 on the season and leads the entire NHL in wins. The first goal that got by him was on the power play by Roy from right in front and if the puck hadn’t nicked Carlson’s stick, I think #30 would have had it with his glove. The second tally by Jordan Leopold came from the slot as well with Washington scrambling around. For a short time after it was 3-2 he gave up some rebounds but then he settled down to preserve the win. 

“I think for him it is from having to go through two championship rounds in the playoffs. He knows when to really buckle down and he’s protected the lead well for us this year,” commented Boudreau on his rookie goaltender, who won two Calder Cups in Hershey the last two seasons.

- Boudreau mentioned that he is tinkering with his lines and tonight he went with 20 year old rookie Marcus Johansson centering Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Knuble. The other non-Steckel lines featured Backstrom with Laich and Semin and Boyd Gordon (Caps are now 11-0 with him in the lineup) with Eric Fehr and Hendricks. Johansson, who is learning and is still a couple of years from physically maturing, was good on face-offs (10-5) and worked hard. However, I didn’t see much chemistry between him, Ovie, and Knuble. On one shift when it was 3-2, Johansson got taken off the puck fairly easily behind the Sabres net and when Ovechkin went for the big hit it allowed the Sabres to have a 3 on 2 break, but fortunately for Washington Jason Pominville shot the puck off of the rink from a wide open position in the slot.

“It is the first quarter of the season and you are trying to find things that are really going to click so that you leave them there. So we are doing a bit of experimenting with the lines. I’ve done the same thing every year then eventually we get to where we are pretty confident with what we have and then we just go with that the last half of the year,” finished Boudreau on his plan for line combinations in 2010-11.

Notes: Next up for the Caps are the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night for the fourth time in 20 games…the game is in Hotlanta and Coach Craig Ramsey’s crew may be without Dustin Byfuglien, who left Wednesday night’s tilt against Florida with a lower body injury…Washington won the face-off battle, 34-33…the d-pair of Tyler Sloan and John Erskine only logged 13:25 and 12:06 of ice time, respectively…Tomas Fleischmann was a healthy scratch.

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Caps Grind Out Win Over Thrashers

Posted on 14 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After a lackluster effort in Buffalo on Saturday night that led to a 3-2 overtime loss and the end of their six game winning streak, the Washington Capitals rebounded with a 6-4 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday evening in front of another sellout at the Verizon Center. John Erskine scored the game winner on a point blast after the Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Matt Hendricks line forced a Thrashers neutral zone turnover. It wasn’t a pretty victory by any stretch of the imagination, but the Capitals grinded it out and as a result they are now 13-4-1 overall and lead the Southeast Division by nine points over second place Tampa, who lost to the Wild at home on Sunday.

This was a wild and sloppy affair primarily because both clubs played on Saturday night and then traveled to DC afterwards. As one would expect in the third game in four nights, there were things to like and not to like in Washington’s victory. Below are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

- The difference in this tilt was the Steckel line as he, Bradley, and Hendricks were on the ice for the fourth and fifth Capitals goals while not being on for a single tally against. Hendricks was also on for Steckel’s empty net goal. The trio, who were a combined +8 in the game, carried the play on their shifts and with the Washington top line looking out of gas the last 30 minutes, it was essential that the Caps get a victory via one of their other units. Steckel was also a monstrous 19-4 on face-offs and all three players logged at least 14 minutes of ice time as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau continued to send them out in the third period. I thought this was Steckel’s best game in over a year and reminded me more of the player who was excellent during the 2008-09 regular season and in the playoffs.

- Erskine not only tallied the game winner, but he was engaged in one of the best NHL fights I’ve seen all year with Eric Boulton. Both players exchanged big blows and the Caps received a power play as a result of the altercation being started by Boulton. #4 was officially named the game’s first star and his defensive partner Tyler Sloan had two assists. Both Erskine and #89 were plus two on the day.

- The Caps third tally, that gave them their first two goal lead of the contest, was a thing of beauty. Alexander Oveckhin (1 goal, 1 assist) took the puck down the left wing boards and he made an absolutely perfect saucer pass in the slot to a streaking Alexander Semin. #28 then faked Atlanta starter Chris Mason to the ice and deposited the puck behind him on the backhand. The Caps top line had a super first period to give Washington a 3-1 lead but after that the unit struggled, especially on the power play (more on that in a moment). That first period was, by far, Washington’s best of the season and it was the first time all year they notched more than one goal in the opening stanza (h/t Capitals Media Relations Department).

- Washington continues to score goals as a result of players going to the net. Eric Fehr set up a superb screen on Mike Green’s blast (1 goal, 1 assist), Hendricks goal came on the rebound of another Green shot, and Erskine’s game winner had both Bradley and Hendricks going to the cage distracting goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who came on in relief of Mason. It is essential that the Capitals continue to score this way as that is what is needed to win in the playoffs.

- Special teams, especially the Caps power play, were not good on Sunday. Green’s first period marker was with the man advantage but after that the Capitals failed to score on two additional power play situations. They gave up Bryan Little’s shorthanded tally, his second goal of the game, that tied this one at four after Erskine’s fight. They also yielded another shorthanded breakaway on that same power play but Atlanta shot the puck wide.  The big problem on the last two Washington power plays were the work of the point men, who showed terrible on ice awareness. Ovechkin was absolutely careless on the fourth goal and he tried to skate into two Thrashers. Green and John Carlson also struggled and did not do a good job of covering for the other point man. The Thrashers were one for two with the power play scoring on a five on three advantage.

- Michal Neuvirth stopped only 23 of 27 shots and he was the victim of a couple weird bounces and poor play by his defensemen. The second Atlanta goal came after Andrew Ladd blew by Carlson and when his partner, Karl Alzner came over to challenge, Andrew Ladd fired the puck on net from a bad angle short side. It was not clear if the puck hit Alzner’s stick but the bottom line on that play was #30 gave up his post too soon. One goal that was not his fault was the first Little tally that made it 4-3. Marcus Johansson, who skated well in the 3rd period, was outworked below the goal line by Anthony Stewart allowing Atlanta to center the puck. Jeff Schultz and Green then failed to cover the slot which provided Little the space he needed to bang the puck by #30. Overall there was a lot of sloppy d-zone coverage by Washington, but in the third period the Caps dominated and they out shot Atlanta, 13-7, with Neuvirth not allowing anything to get by him.

- In summary, the game was not pretty and a very busy November schedule is likely contributing to the sloppiness. The second period was downright awful for DC and Boudreau was clearly not happy with it.

“It wasn’t very good. We made mental mistakes. It was ugly, but the good thing is they righted the ship. We talked about not wanting to beat teams 6-4. We want to shut teams down,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winning coach on the second period and his team’s mentality.

“I think for the rest of the month and maybe even into early December, the schedule is pretty tough. There’s a lot of traveling, we play at home one night and then hit the road or we are the road and coming back home. In that time you don’t get a lot of practice and that can start to show a bit with us; we can get a bit loose out there. We just need to get a good practice in, tighten things up and get back to the way we were doing things earlier,” said Sloan on part of the cause for the uneven play.

Notes: The Hershey Bears knocked off the Binghamton Senators, 8-3, at the Giant Center and Mathieu Perreault had six assists in the victory (first AHL player to do so since 2005 – h/t John Walton). Goalie Semyon Varlamov, down on a rehab assignment, made his first start this year in the AHL and stopped 21 shots. Varly is expected to stay down in Chocolatetown for more work this week because he claims he is not 100% healthy yet (h/t @timleone)…Boudreau cancelled Monday’s practice so the Caps won’t be back on the ice until Tuesday…the face-off battle was a tie with each team winning 37 draws…Washington out shot Atlanta 33-27…Next up for the Capitals are the Sabres at the Verizon Center on Wednesday at 7pm.

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Caps Overtake Leafs in Shootout, 5-4

Posted on 04 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Despite blowing a two goal third period lead, the Washington Capitals rallied to tie the game via an Alexander Semin power play goal with 5:38 remaining and then went on to knock off the Toronto Maple Leafs in a shootout at sold out Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The Caps received a goal and an assist from Semin and two helpers from Alexander Ovechkin while getting 24 stops from rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth in the victory. With the win, Washington moves to 8-4 overall and are now tied for first in the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference with the Tampa Bay Lightning (the Bolts have a game in hand).

Below are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of an entertaining game that was shown across Canada on TSN:

- There are some who will not like this Caps victory at all and pick at the negatives, including a stretch of just over three minutes in the third stanza where Washington allowed three straight goals to lose a 3-1 lead. As Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau stated after the game, it was not the way you want to win, however, the Capitals did a lot of good things in this game and those types of positives will likely pay off down the road. One criticism of the Caps this season and in the past has been that they have a tendency to play too much on the perimeter, at times. In this contest, that was clearly NOT the case as line after line for Boudreau skated hard to the net all evening long. The result was four goals, all of which came in close, but if the puck had bounced the Caps way, and I thought the luck factor was clearly on Toronto’s side for much of this contest, Washington could have had at least six or seven. Here are how the goals were scored:

Goal 1: Mike Green takes a sweet feed from Semin in the slot on the power play and from in close he roofs it by Jonas Gustavsson (26 saves).

Goal 2: Matt Bradley gets the puck deep and then Boyd Gordon makes a great pass into the slot from behind the net where a streaking Jason Chimera bangs it home from the door step.

Goal 3: Washington’s offensive zone pressure results in a turnover and Brooks Laich passes the puck up the right wing boards to John Carlson at the point. #74 fires the biscuit on net and Tomas Fleischmann comes out from behind the cage and tips the puck by Gustavsson.

Goal 4: Another PP marker is notched when Ovechkin fires a shot on net that is partially blocked but Laich out works the Leafs defense in front of the cage and the puck bounces right to Semin on the left post and he roofs it to send the game to extra time.

Bottom line is if Washington shows that kind of desire to get traffic and drive for rebounds then they will score a lot of goals.

“Yeah, we had chances as did they. We went to the net and that’s how you score goals,” started Boudreau,”We talk about it and that is how you score goals. When [Semin] scored his goal on the power play, there is not too many guys in the National Hockey League who can pick it and put it there quickly.”

“That is absolutely right. The puck was bouncing around out there so the only play really was to shoot it at the net and have guys crash. Our forwards did a great job with that plan and I know I hit Brooksie a couple of times and we created some plays. We need more of that,” said #52 when asked if the Caps game plan against Toronto was to storm the crease.

- Neuvirth continues to be a major factor in the team’s early season success. Despite giving up four goals he made the big stops when they were needed. Early in period two, with the Leafs up a goal, he made a point blank save on Clarke Macarthur. In period three, with Toronto leading 4-3, Neuvirth thwarted a Leafs blast and he received some great help from Karl Alzner on the rebound, who batted the puck out of the air and out of harm’s way.  Finally, in the shoot out he stoned Phil Kessel when #81 tried to go five hole and then he shut down Nikolai Kulemin’s attempt setting the stage for Semin to win the game with his blast on Washington’s third shootout attempt (Caps won 2-0).

“You know what, we’ve asked a lot from him this year. We’ve played 12 games and he’s played in 11 of them and if you look he’s never played more than 45, 50 games, including playoffs in his pro career. So we are asking a lot of him right now for a first year guy to come in and stand on his head and he does. That is why he was rookie of the month and probably get more,” added the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning bench boss.

“I think he’s incredible. I don’t want to pump him up too much here and get his head too big but he’s been outstanding for us and as a defenseman I feel so comfortable with him behind us. There is already a mutual bond that we feel that we have with him even though he’s only been here for the period of time he has been. You know he has a bright future ahead of him, as long as he stays focused here he’s going to be a great player for us,” said Green on the play of his rookie goaltender.

- Special teams played a key role in the victory and the Caps killed off three of four Leafs man advantage situations. Washington’s power play is red hot right now and is five for its last seven attempts.

 ”We finally are going back to the basics and creating the chances that we were creating last year. I think at the start of the year we were making the wrong plays at the wrong times and it’s taken almost a month and a half here to click again. It feels good out there,” said the two time Norris Trophy finalist on a power play that is starting to look like the one that was ranked #1 in the 2009-10 regular season.

- Green was -3 on the evening but he was on the ice for the Capitals two power play goals. In addition, he wasn’t the one primarily responsible for those tallies against. On the first Leafs goal, John Erskine leaves his feet in the slot and Kulemin has all day to get Neuvirth to go down and slide with him. That allowed #41 to slip the puck just inside the left post. Goal 2 against was the result of a horrible DJ King giveaway (-2 in just 8 shifts but he did fight Colton Orr in period one) while the third Toronto marker came when Jeff Schultz (-2) incorrectly pinched at the offensive blue line giving Kris Versteeg a breakaway. The final Leafs tally was on a power play and it was Schultz who could not tie up Tyler Bozak just outside the crease, and as a result #42 slid the puck around Neuvirth into the empty cage. #52 logged 30:17 of ice time and nearly won the game in OT but he hit the left post on a 4 on 3 power play ( he told me after the game he was still thinking about that post shot). His regular partner, Sarge, however, had his worst outing of the year. #55 logged 22:34 of ice time and seemed to constantly be indecisive and lack confidence, especially in the third period. Schultz, who had one of his best games of the season in Calgary last Saturday, just didn’t have it on this evening but his teammates bailed him out. Alzner was especially solid in this tilt and earned 22:32 of time on ice [Programming Note: King Karl will be on WNST 1570 Baltimore on the Comcast Morning Show with Drew Forrester in the 9am hour. You can listen live at WNST.NET].

- About those bad bounces I mentioned above, Nicklas Backstrom had an open net on a two on one break after a super Ovechkin feed but somehow Gustavsson dove back and got the toe of his stick on the shot to knock it wide. Eric Fehr also had a great chance that hit the knob of Gustavsson’s stick and deflected high while both Mike Knuble and Green hit pipes. Knuble also beat Gustavsson early on but Leafs d-man Luke Schenn swept the puck away on the goal line preventing a Washington tally.

 ”I’m not worried about [Knuble or Fehr], the media worries about them. Mike Knuble had three goals after 16 games last year and he ended up with 29 and he had a broken hand in between there where he probably could have had 35, he’s gonna get his goals. He gets chances every night and actually they will start going in for him, I firmly believe that. Eric Fehr, I thought played a lot better tonight. Had a couple good shots, had one hit the knob of the goalie’s stick and went wide and he had good energy. Sometimes it is hard to get out of the gate but they’re working at it. I have all the faith in the world in them,” finished Boudreau on two of his right wingers.

Notes: Ovechkin is now 2 for 2 on penalty shots this season and his routine has been to take the puck wide on the left wing boards and then cut in on the goalie. The move has worked and it appears to be giving the Great #8 more options with the puck…Toronto played without defensemen Dion Phaneuf, who severly cut his leg on Tuesday night vs Ottawa and will be out at least four weeks…the Leafs won the face-off battle, 38-31, with Nicklas Backstrom posting a poor 4-13 mark. Dave Steckel was tops for Washington at 8-3…Boudreau pretty much indicated Neuvirth will start again on Friday night vs. Boston at the Verizon Center. The Caps will likely face Tim Thomas, who is 7-0 this season and defeated Washington twice already last month.

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Travel Weary Caps Lose in Minnesota Again

Posted on 28 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

For those of us who have watched sports for a long time, there are certain games on a club’s schedule, in any sport, that you circle on the calendar and say, “You know what? That is going to be a really tough game to win.” For the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, their game in Minnesota against the Wild was one of those such tilts. The Caps, who played a splendid contest in a 3-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night, had to travel to the central time zone and take on a team that was 5-0 lifetime against them in the Xcel Energy Center and hadn’t played since Monday evening’s loss to Los Angeles in a shootout. So, as expected, the Capitals struggled to find their energy for much of the contest and as a result dropped a 2-1 decision and their overall record now falls to 6-4 in 2010-11.

The Caps, who didn’t score until Alexander Ovechkin buried his first tally in six games with just over 90 seconds remaining, have now only scored seven goals in six trips to the Wild’s building. Minnesota goalie, Niklas Backstrom, didn’t face a lot of rubber (only 21 shots) but he did have to make some big saves, including several on Nicklas Backstrom, one of which was the save of the game in the middle stanza with the score 1-0 Wild.

Let’s get to the quotes, highlights, and analysis of a game that, if it was the norm for NHL hockey, would put the league out of business due to boredom (and yes I pretty much blame Minnesota’s style of play for that statement):

- The Caps didn’t show up once again in the first period and got themselves behind the eight ball in a game after the first period for the sixth time in the last seven tilts. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was visibly unhappy after the contest and he let it be known that the effort was unacceptable and he wanted nothing to do with any excuses.

“I can think of  about seven guys, off the top of my mind, right now, that had a disappointing effort for the first 50 minutes. You can’t play 10 minutes in this league and hope to win a game. I don’t know what it is but it’s something that we’ve got to come out better. We can’t let the other team take the game to us. For the first half of the game we looked like we were in quick sand. We weren’t moving the puck, we couldn’t handle the puck. I think we might have had a few excuses about being tired which all it was was an excuse because 18 of those 20 guys have played in the American Hockey League at some point and that’s 3 in 3 nights with a lot of busing and they’ve got to play. So I am not buying any of this excuse about being fatigued, emotionally or physically. I’m not very happy with what happened,” stated Boudreau on why his club fell for the sixth straight time in Minnesota.

- The crew that were the heroes in Raleigh on Wednesday were a big part of the losing equation on Thursday night – the fourth line of Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Matt Hendricks. Steckel had a horror show shift that led to Chuck Kobasew tapping in an Andrew Brunette pass from the left post to open the scoring. #39 had a couple of chances to gather the puck and get it out yet he failed, he also wasn’t helped by some lousy coverage in front by defenseman John Carlson. Then with the game still 1-0 late in period two, Bradley got beat to his own net by the strong skating Eric Nystrom and #10 took a holding penalty. The Wild would score on that power play to gain a 2-0 advantage heading into period three.

- It seems like ages ago that Washington had a potent power play that was ranked #1 in the league in the 2009-10 regular season. The Caps continue to struggle to score with the extra man although the puck movement was better on Thursday. The big problem is still a lack of traffic in front of the opposing goalie and few of the Washington forwards want to pay the price and go to the top of the crease for rebounds and deflections. In addition, Ovechkin continues to play the two full minutes on the point and that is leading to odd man rushes and scoring chances as, and after, the power play expires. Simply put, the Great #8 is out there too long and the opponents are taking advantage of it. I’d like to see Ovechkin moved down low, at least for half of the power play, where he can cause havoc in front with his big body and get some rebound goals. With Carlson up this year from the AHL, his shot should be used more from the point.

- Mike Green definitely makes a difference for the Caps and tonight he logged over 30 minutes of ice time. But he is clearly not 100% healthy and he can’t fire the puck the way he normally does due to his shoulder injury. #52 had a golden chance early on to score but he didn’t get the puck up high quick enough and Backstrom slid over to make the save. Green also took a cheap shot from Greg Xanon in the head that the referees missed. He also continues to take a lot of hits and given that he isn’t totally healthy it seems like it would be better if he could be rested before he gets hurt even worse. With Tom Poti out and a thin blue line corps in Hershey, however, GM George McPhee doesn’t have the luxury of being able to sit #52 out until he is healthy.

- There weren’t many guys who played well on Thursday but the Caps did get another consistent performance from Michal Neuvirth in goal. #30 made only 15 saves but a chunk of them were of the quality variety. It was his strong performance that gave Washington a chance to try and tie the game late. Other than that, there were a lot of passengers and the only guy that Boudreau identified as giving what he had was #19 for DC.

“You are looking down the bench but you couldn’t find enough guys who were going, poor Nicky had to play every second shift,” said Boudreau when asked  by Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) about trying to shuffle the deck late in the game to get his team going.

- Minnesota plays a boring, defensive game and they block a lot of shots but the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner seemed tired of hearing about that and put a good bit of that on his own troops.

“It’s determination on their part. But I know if teams were blocking shots when I played, I’d shoot at their head, they won’t block too many then. We’re allowing them to block shots. Shoot it where they are not. It’s one thing sliding and making a great block save but they are just standing there and we are hitting them in the shin pads.” finished a frustrated Boudreau on his clubs lack of offense.

Notes: The Caps next game is in Calgary at 10pm on Saturday night (CSN)…Tyler Sloan only played 7:40 after a good game on Wednesday. #89 made a turnover early in the game that led to a Mathieu Perreault penalty and after that we didn’t see much of him…Alexander Semin had a SH semi-breakaway in the third period but missed the net…Washington outshot the Wild 11-5 in period three..the Caps only had two power plays compared to five for the Wild…Backstrom was 17-7 on face-offs while Perreault went 1-5 and Brooks Laich was 0-5. Overall the Caps lost from the dot, 34-31.

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Neuvirth Blanks Canes in Caps 3-0 Win

Posted on 27 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Playing in a home opener for the opposition for the third time this season, the Washington Capitals went into a tough building and shut down a speedy Carolina Hurricanes team thanks to 29 saves by goalie Michal Neuvirth plus outstanding play by the Caps six defensemen to win, 3-0. The victory was #30′s first career shut out and he is now 6-2 on the young season. Matt Hendricks tallied first for Washington and then Nicklas Backstrom sealed the deal with a rebound goal followed by an empty netter to silence the Raleigh crowd on opening night in Carolina. Overall the Caps are now 6-3 and head to Minnesota for a tilt with the Wild at 8pm on Thursday night (CSN HD).

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of this one:

- Early on the Capitals dominated the play and it was Cam Ward who looked like he might be the star of the game as he made some big saves on Washington, including a huge one in the slot on Alexander Ovechkin in period two. Ward also would be saved by the post on two occassions. However, when Carolina made their push, it was Neuvirth who would not be outdueled and he made some superb stops down the stretch to hold the fort until the first line finally delivered in the last 10 minutes. He only came close to being beat once, in the second period, and that was because Mike Green fell down and Tomas Fleischmann played a Canes two on one break horribly. Fortunately for the Capitals, Eric Staal hit the post on that rush. The two time Calder Cup champion, who seems to be gaining more and more confidence, owned Staal and the Hurricanes on this night.

- Matt Bradley had missed the Caps last five games due to a lower body injury, but on this night Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau started #10 with his two linemates, Hendricks and Dave Steckel, to open each period and those guys set the tone for DC with their energy and hard work. Steckel’s collision with Ward as the puck arrived just above the top of the crease, allowed #26 to net the game winner into an open cage in period one. Carolina protested but the referee made the correct call and the tally stood. That line was Washington’s best on this evening. Bradley will never be confused with the top skill guys but he is the consumate team guy and a player that leads by example. It will be hard for the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner to break the 39-26-10 line up on this road trip because it was that good on Wednesday.

“It was easily our most complete game by everybody. You get contributions from your fourth line, the penalty killing, you know I thought the goaltender was great. Everybody did a good job. When the fourth line was going, or the energy line, whatever you want to call them, is playing good we can roll all forward lines lines. I don’t think any forward line had over 20 minutes tonight. When we don’t [have forwards playing over 20 minutes] we usually are successful,” said Boudreau on the role his fourth line played and how it impacted the entire team (h/t to Comcast Sportsnet for these Boudreau quotes).

- Getting Green, who only played 5:39 last Saturday night due to an upper body injury, fully back on defense makes Washington a totally different team. He brings that puck rushing ability that gets the other team back on their heels and it opens up the ice for everyone else. In addition, #52′s quickness allows the Caps to keep the puck in the offensive zone more often and that allows them to keep their cycle game going and wear out the opposition defense. When Green is healthy and in the line-up, he is so good paired with Jeff Schultz and as a result Boudreau shrewdly put John Carlson and Karl Alzner back together and that pair might have played their best game of the season. Finally, the Tyler Sloan-John Erskine duo was solid as well, in fact, this clearly was #89′s best game in a long time. Overall, the six defenseman were outstanding.

- Up front, Alexander Semin had his usual good outing against Carolina, although he didn’t get a point. Center Mathieu Perreault, who was the spark plug on Saturday in the Capitals win over the Thrashers in OT, had a rough night with the puck not bouncing his way for most of the evening. But #85 never hung his head when he made a mistake and his hustle is contagious. #28 is clearly a better player with a center is who willing to go into the corners or behind the cage for the puck and help Semin with the cycle game. Perreault seems to be the best fit for that at this time. As for the top line, they had their down moments, like when Ovechkin made a mental mistake and left his point man to deliver a hit that would be whistled for a charge (and luckily not more, it was close to a head shot), but when the chips were down, they delivered with Mike Knuble (two assists) playing his best game of the season. #22 seemed to have his legs back and Backstrom was a two way workhorse all night. If the Great #8 can get more focused in his own end and churn his powerful legs more often on his shifts, the domination plus the goals and assists, will start coming.

- In the end, this was pretty much a complete game for Washington as Boudreau mentioned above and I don’t think it is a coincidence that this solid road performance came after a day off on Sunday and two days of practice. TheCaps were banged up (still are to some degree) and needed to get on the ice and work on their system. On this night it was mission accomplished.

- Now it is on to Minnesota for a contest with the Wild. The big question for Boudreau will be whether to come back with Neuvirth in net or give rookie Braden Holtby his first NHL start. Holtby has been playing well in Hershey and given that the Caps have to play Calgary on Saturday night at the Saddledome, I would eschew the “go with the hot hand rule” and give #30 some rest and allow the Caps 4th round pick in the 2008 NHL draft to get his feet wet in “The Show.” Either way, tomorrow poses to be a tough task for Washington as they travel late into the night before landing in St. Paul. Meanwhile the Wild are resting and stewing after their 3-2 shootout loss to the Kings on Monday night.

Notes: Somebody hosed up in Raleigh tonight because all of the game statistics were not findable on NHL.com nor ESPN.com as of this posting…Forwards Marcus Johansson, Boyd Gordon, and DJ King were not in the lineup for Washington and defenseman Tom Poti was out due to injury as well…The Tampa Bay Lightning knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-3, on Wednesday and lead the Caps by one point in the Southeast Division race (the Bolts are 6-2-1).

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Banged Up Caps Hit the Road

Posted on 26 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

There isn’t anyone named Hawkeye or Trapper on the club, but the Washington Capitals squad certainly is resembling a M*A*S*H unit as they get ready to start a three games in four nights road trip that starts in Carolina on Wednesday night (7pm on CSN), then moves to Minnesota for a tilt with the Wild on Thursday (8pm on CSN) and concludes on Hockey Night in Canada in Calgary on Saturday night (10pm on CSN).

Defenseman Tom Poti will not be in the lineup on Wednesday night, he also missed last Saturday’s OT victory over Atlanta, so Hershey Bears d-man, Brian Fahey, was recalled today. Fahey played in one game already this year, the Caps 3-2 OT win in Nashville on October 16th. Fahey skated less than 10 minutes in that tilt and was a -2. Mike Green, who logged only 5:39 of ice time on Saturday due to a sore shoulder, is hoping to play a full game in Raleigh. In addition, John Carlson is looking to totally recover from his bad wheel (took a puck in the leg in Nashville) and Karl Alzner will be battling jet lag after traveling to British Columbia and back for his grandfather’s funeral.

In goal, Semyon Varlamov is still on the shelf with a creaky groin so Michal Neuvirth will start on Wednesday against the speedy Canes. Dany Sabourin, who was called up from the Bears to back up #30 on Saturday, was returned to Hershey and Braden Holtby (Caps 2008 draft choice) will be making the trip to NC, Minnesota, and then Alberta. Holtby is 4-0-1 this season in Chocolate Town and could make his 1st NHL start on this trip, depending on how things go, according to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

At forward, several guys have been out of the lineup to include Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, and Marcus Johansson. At least one of those is expected to go on Wednesday, with Bradley being the most likely. Center Mathieu Perreault, who was recalled on Saturday and had a dynamite contest playing with Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich, remains up while Jay Beagle was returned to Hershey.

This will be a difficult road swing for Washington. Carolina always gets up for the Caps and they are off to a better start this year than last season, when injuries to superstar Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward caused them to lose 14 games in a row early on. The Wild have an excellent goalie in Niklas Backstrom, who lost, 3-2, to Los Angeles in a shootout on Monday night. Calgary seems intent on getting back into the postseason after missing out last April. Rene Bourque is off to a hot start (tied for the NHL lead in scoring at this posting) and Jarome Iginla seems to be playing better since reuniting with forward Alex Tanguay. On defense, so far Jay Bouwmeester is significantly better than he was in 2009-10 and when he was with Florida he typically matched up against Alexander Ovechkin’s line. In goal, the Flames have the always tough Mikka Kiprusoff to try and beat with the biscuit.

The bottom line is the Caps will have to be ready to play from the get go against every one of these teams on this road trip and the first line of Ovechkin, Mike Knuble, and Nicklas Backstrom needs to break out of its funk. Washington may have lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, but because of their Presidents’ Trophy winning regular season, they have a bullseye on their back right now and teams are gunning for them.

Notes:  The Washington Capitals continue to excel off the ice as well. The club raised more than $35,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) through their Hockey Fights Cancer Night on Oct. 23. The mission of LLS, the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer, is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. LLS funds lifesaving blood cancer research around the world and provides free information and support services.

The Capitals auctioned autographed jerseys that the players wore during pregame warmups at the team’s Oct. 23 home game against Atlanta. The jerseys featured Hockey Fights Cancer patches on the front with the players’ names and numbers stitched in grey on the back. The red and grey jerseys are the same colors as LLS’s logo.

Fourteen jerseys went for $1,000 or more, with Ovechkin’s jersey the top seller at $1,800. Other top bid recipients were jerseys worn and autographed by Backstrom, Bradley, Carlson, Jason Chimera, Green, D.J. King, Knuble, Laich, Perreault, Poti, Jeff Schultz, Semin and Varlamov. There was also a special “Rock the Red” guitar donated by Paul Reed Smith and autographed by the entire Caps team that was auctioned off for $7,000.

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Ovechkin Wins It For Caps in OT

Posted on 12 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

How does that saying go again?

Big players, make big plays in games at big times. Well, that was the case again on Monday night for Alexander Ovechkin as the Great #8, who did not have a very good contest until that point, managed to score with 32 seconds left in overtime to lead the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators. The goal was not of the highlight reel variety but it got the desired result, a win for the Caps. The Russian superstar took a pass from John Carlson in the neutral zone, skated down the right wing, and using Sens d-man Chris Phillips as a partial screen, he managed to sneak a change up by Ottawa goalie Pascal Leclaire via the five hole.

Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said afterwards that Ovie would be one of the first to criticize his overall play in the game but nonetheless, he did what makes him so special, deliver when needed.

“Only Alex [Ovechkin] can play like he did and score the overtime winner and be the hero, but he got the overtime goal and that’s what superstars do,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on the two-time Hart Trophy winner.

The victory pushes the Caps record to 2-1 and their next tilt is on Wednesday at 7pm at the Verizon Center against the New York Islanders.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the 62nd straight sellout at the Verizon Center:

- Through three games of the Capitals season there is little doubt that the team’s MVP so far is rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth (29 saves). #30 was outstanding again on Monday night stopping a Daniel Alfredsson quality chance just 20 seconds into the game and he bookended that with two superb saves on Ryan Shannon in the overtime period to give Washington a chance to win. In between the two time Calder Cup winning netminder made numerous solid saves and both of the tallies he allowed were not his fault.

“I was kind of getting ready for a shootout. But when he scored, I was maybe the happiest guy in the building. That was a huge goal for us and a huge win. They really came hard. I think they had 12 or 13 shots in the first period. They really wanted to win tonight, but they took us to overtime, but we got the huge goal for us,” said Neuvirth on his mindset before Ovechkin scored and his thoughts on the game overall.

On Sunday night I was watching the Calgary Flames-LA Kings tilt on my Centre Ice package and in between the second and third period they had a Flames analyst panel on to discuss the upcoming season. One of the panelists picked the Caps to win the Stanley Cup but then he said that he still had concerns about their goaltending, a common theme heard from people outside the DC market who haven’t watched both Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov play over the last two seasons. Varlamov has been very good in the playoffs, just ask the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins about how good Varly was in that series until game 7 and as for Neuvy, he just doesn’t seem to get the national credit he deserves. In 2008-09 he was the MVP of the AHL playoffs and before last year’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with the Manchester Monarchs all people kept talking about was Kings prospect goalie Jonathan Bernier. That fired up Neuvirth and he went on to outplay the 11th overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft. Bottom line is Neuvirth is a battler and he continues to improve and gain more confidence.

- This contest was a sloppy one and both goaltenders were super, until Leclaire gave up a softy to Ovechkin. Both teams took too many penalties but neither power play could connect, with both squads going 0 for 5 with the man advantage. Last season the Caps were number one in the NHL in power play percentage in the regular season but in the bottom third on the penalty kill. So far this season the PK is a perfect 13 for 13 while the power play has only one marker.

“I was hoping the (penalty kill) would do well. We went through a lot of ideas all summer long. The power play will get better. If you look at our trends over the past three years, for whatever reason in October it hasn’t been solid and then it starts getting better in November and it gets better once we have familiarity,” said Boudreau on his analysis of what is going on in three games with his special teams.

- Both Senators goals were the result of mistakes by Capitals forwards, something that has been a common theme in the first three tilts in 2010-11. On the initial Ottawa goal, Eric Fehr goes for a defensive zone hit and misses Jarkko Ruutu, who then goes to the net and taps home a nice feed from Matt Carkner. Fortunately for Fehr, he would atone for that gaffe on his next shift banging home a great pass from Matt Hendricks in the slot area to give the Caps a 2-1 lead midway through period two. On the second Senators tally, Nicklas Backstrom made a bad decision in the neutral zone and turned the puck over to Ryan Shannon, who fed Peter Regin racing down the slot. Regin would deke Carlson, get Neuvirth leaning to #30′s left, and then bury a pretty biscuit into the top left corner of the cage. Backstrom is clearly pressing as he tried to make a play out of something that wasn’t there. Normally #19 would not have skated back towards the Caps zone on his forehand with a one goal third period lead and instead would have turned up the right wing boards and either carried the puck in or dumped it into the Senators zone. The 2006 first round pick (#5 overall) has 0 points and is only a +1 in three games.

- On defense, Tom Poti was a late scratch so Tyler Sloan suited up and logged 13:40 of ice time. Mike Green had an outstanding game playing 31:53 and he is now +4 this season. He only has one assist in the points department but overall his play has been very solid, especially in the defensive end. John Erskine was -2 but the forwards were the real culprits on the two Ottawa goals, however, #4 did fall down in OT to give the Sens a quality chance but Neuvirth bailed him out. He also was very fortunate to get an even up call with Ruutu with 6:02 left in regulation. Erskine drove the shaft of his stick into the face of #73 but the Senator was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for embellishing the stupid shot that #4 took at him. The physical defenseman typically does a decent job of keeping his head (see his play vs. Sean Avery in the 2009 playoff series vs NY) but on this occassion he lost his composure and nearly cost his team.

Notes: Matt Bradley was injured early and only played 3:23…Marcus Johansson only saw 8:05 of action and had his 2nd bad night from the face-off dot going 2-7…overall the Caps were 22-32 on draws against Mr. Carrie Underwood (Mike Fisher) and company…special thanks to the Caps outstanding media relations department for providing the post game quotes.

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Lead Caps in 7-2 Win Over Devils

Posted on 10 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

When the Washington Capitals are motivated and focused, they are a tough team to beat. Less than 24 hours after basically not showing up in Atlanta in a season opening loss to the the Thrashers, the Caps hit the ice against the New Jersey Devils, a club they went 1-2-1 against in 2009-10, and in a fight filled contest the Capitals buried GM Lou Lamoriello’s squad, 7-2. Leading the way for Washington was Alexander Ovechkin, who scored two goals (including one on a penalty shot) and added an assist, defenseman John Carlson, who tallied a goal and notched two assists, and Michal Neuvirth, who stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced. The very raucous capacity crowd of 18,398 definitely received their money’s worth in this victory, which evens the Caps record at 1-1. The Capitals next game is Monday night at the Verizon Center at 7pm against the Ottawa Senators (7pm on Comcast Sports Net).

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes and analysis of an extremely entertaining contest:

- I know he was only the third star of the night, but if it wasn’t for Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth’s play in the first 30+ minutes of this tilt, Washington may have been the team that was blown out. #30 was super in the cage making some very big stops, including a whopping 17 in period two. The two time Calder Cup champion goalie was fundamentally sound in net and when he did give up a rebound it was either close enough for him to gather or swat away or he was able to get in position for the second shot. Caps forward Mike Knuble gave credit to the young net minder for his play.

“You just have to have him keep you in there a little bit and make some saves until we get going. It was kind of a fluky first goal. I think we helped him on that one and then the second goal was kind of a busted play shorthanded. He played great after that, he had to make some key saves. It was good to see,” said #22, who had an assist on the night, but more importantly was the one who drove to the net and screened Devils goalie Martin Brodeur on the Caps game winning goal that was scored by Ovechkin in the second period.

- The first star of the game was the Great #8, who took four periods this season plus a Saturday morning video session, to get his game going in 2010-11. Ovechkin’s goal at 14:31 of the second period was vintage Ovie as he came down the left wing, cut to the middle of the ice, and used Knuble as a screen while skipping the puck off the ice and by Brodeur. Then just 37 seconds after Jason Chimera gave the Caps a 4-2 advantage, Ovechkin was hauled down on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. Brodeur is notoriously one of the best in the league on penalty shots, as evidenced by his great shootout record, but the Great #8 was able to beat him by uncharacteristically going wide left to start his attempt and when #30 committed and went down Ovechkin slid the puck by him to make it 5-2. Alexander the Great had way more energy on Saturday night than in Atlanta and Coach Bruce Boudreau mentioned after the game that Ovechkin was the focus of a not so flattering video session for the team after the morning skate. 

“The difference was that last night was an embarrassing night for us and we just regrouped and watched video. Everybody played bad last night and tonight we moved our legs and finished our checks, [we] played better in the neutral zone, defensive zone. I think guys like Brads (Matt Bradley), Chimmer (Jason Chimera), Greenie (Mike Green) and (Matt) Hendricks do unbelievable jobs protecting our guys and protect themselves. It was a pretty big step for us tonight,” said the two time Hart Trophy winning superstar on the team’s play on Saturday against the Devils.

- Chimera played a significant role in the win as well, blasting one by Brodeur after he came out of the box for holding at 18:25 of period two to give the Caps a two goal advantage. It was a shot that the future hall of fame goalie typically would stop, but not in this one. Then to start the third period the Devils gave up on winning the game and seemed more determined to get an advantage in the fisticuffs department, especially with Washington heavyweight DJ King not in the lineup. #25 showed, to quote Slap Shot, “some good ole fashioned guts” standing up to Devils tough guy David Clarkson in a bout in the Caps defensive zone.

- With under five minutes to go and the Caps up 7-2 things got really crazy as New Jersey was totally frustrated. First $100 million man Ilya Kovalchuk goaded Green into fighting, then Rod Pelley fought Matt Hendricks four seconds later with #26 landing some good shots on Pelley, who was chippy all evening. Two seconds later Clarkson wanted to go again and Bradley fought up in class, and after taking a couple of punches, landed a solid one right in the mind of #23, flooring the Devils top thug. The Verizon Center crowd erupted but just four seconds later New Jersey Devils Coach John Maclean took it too far losing his mind and the focus of his team. Fourth line stiff Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond followed the smallest and youngest Capital, Marcus Johansson, all the way down the ice and jumped him at the Washington blue line. MJ90′s teammates came quickly to his aid and the Devils goon was given two minutes for instigating, two for slashing, five for fighting, and a game misconduct. Johansson spoke about the sequence after the contest.

“He asked me if I wanted to go at the faceoff. I said no and he chased me down the ice. Im happy the guys stood up for me,” said #90, who was the Caps first round selection in the 2009 draft and the last guy on the team who would be in a fight.

The instigator call on Letourneau-Leblond will result in a $10,000 fine for Coach MacLean and a one game suspension. Bottom line is this play was gutless and MacLean looked like a bush leaguer plus showed his head coaching inexperience. Boudreau was clearly upset with the Devils bench boss and fortunately his young rookie was not injured.

“You know, we had the fewest majors in the league last year. We weren’t sending guys out to fight or anything and that’s why I sent Marcus [Johansson] out. Purposely. You know if we had sent an [John] Erskine or somebody out they would have had a partner. I was just mad, the guy went out there and he was going to grab the first guy he saw. I thought it was great the way our team stood and protected each other, but I mean that was just dumb,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner for NHL coach of the year on the Devils galactically stupid tactics.

 - For the Caps, this was a huge win after some sloppy early play in which they made some terrible passes (Johansson’s backhanded d-zone cross ice pass led to the first NJ tally) and were running around in their own zone. After giving up 27 shots in two periods, they only surrendered six in the last frame and they also showed that you can’t come in and push them around like was the case on some occassions in 2009-10.

“Clarkson had been looking to fight all night and finally found someone to fight. We responded very well. I think we did a great job. I think we probably made a bit of a statement after two games. I feel like we showed the league a little bit that we are not quite the same team we were. I think we are a little bit edgier and a little harder to play against. We can do it on the scoreboard and then we can show up if somebody wants to get physical. We have some players that can respond to that,” said Knuble on the rough stuff when asked if Chimera taking on Clarkson lit a fire under the team.

Notes: Alexander Semin (two assists) outmuscled the New Jersey defense and then set up Tomas Fleischmann (1 goal, 1 assist) in front for the game tying goal at 1:59 of the second period…Johansson was 7-4 on face-offs after losing seven of eight on Friday night..Overall the Caps were 35-28 from the dot…Eric Fehr scored midway through the third period on the power play to break a long drought (38 attempts) that dated back to the season ending series loss to Montreal last April…Broudeur was yanked after two periods and replaced by Johan Hedberg. The goalie known as “Moose” mishandled the puck early in the 3rd period and that allowed Brooks Laich to score an easy shorthanded tally to make it 6-2 Washington…These two clubs meet again on November 22 at “The Rock” and you can probably bet on King being in the lineup for that one…Tyler Sloan, King, and Dave Steckel were the Washington scratches…based on morning reports, it appears that Semyon Varlamov skated again on Saturday and could play next week…The Hershey Bears opened their season in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday night and they lost to the Penguins AHL team, 4-3, in a shootout.

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Backstrom Paces Caps over Bruins

Posted on 29 September 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It is now four pre-season games played for the Washington Capitals and they have resulted in four straight wins. On Wednesday night the Caps completed a home and home sweep of the Boston Bruins, prevailing 4-1 over the B’s in Beantown. Nicklas Backstrom tallied once in each of the first two periods and then Andrew Gordon and Matt Bradley closed out the Washington scoring before Mark Recchi added a late power play goal to wreck the shutout for the Caps goaltending duo of Dany Sabourin and Braden Holtby. Holtby was the victim on the last marker.

After suiting up a large contingent of minor leaguers on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, Boston dressed most of their top guns for this tilt while Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau rested Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Mike Green and his top two goalies (Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth). Thus on paper it looked like the recipe for a Bruins victory, however, when you have the competition that the Capitals have occurring for a few remaining roster spots, you can bet that whatever players are in the lineup will go hard to try and impress the Washington brass. That is what happened on Wednesday night as the Caps dominated much of this contest and outhustled a Boston team that looked ready for their European vacation, er, upcoming preseason game in Ireland on Saturday.

Here are some thoughts and analysis on what I saw on Wednesday night (h/t to the Boston Bruins website for streaming the game):

- It doesn’t matter who plays with Backstrom because he will look good as will his linemates. In this tilt the 22 year old Swede had Eric Fehr on his right wing and young Marcus Johansson on left wing. Both wingers had good contests, although MJ90 wasn’t on the ice on #19′s first tally. Jason Chimera was on and #25 intercepted a pass behind the Bruins net that was very soft thanks to a Fehr hit. Chimera then threw the puck in front of the net to an all alone Backstrom, who easily buried it by Tim Thomas (20 saves). On Nicky’s second marker, late in the second period, #19 tipped a Jeff Schultz point shot down from near the top of the left wing circle. Overall the line was very good at controlling the puck and generating chances. Johansson continues to impress and there is no doubt in my mind that once he physically matures he will be an NHL player.

- Ovechkin, despite not playing, did have an impact on this contest. The opening faceoff was between the Caps Matt Hendricks and Gregory Campbell of the B’s. Campbell had taken what the Caps believed was not a clean run at the Great #8 near the end of Tuesday’s tilt so right off the face-off #26 let Campbell know that his actions were unacceptable. Hendricks dominated the scrap and both headed to the box, given five for fighting. So far in pre-season this Caps team has been “grittier” than the club we saw last season.

- Andrew Gordon, who was outstanding for Hershey last season, put this one out of reach in the 3rd period after Mathieu Perreault and Chimera went to the B’s cage on a 2 on 1 break. Chimera, who was solid all evening, nearly scored on his two attempts on Thomas on the rush, but when the puck bounced up the slot #63 was coming late in the right place and he banged the biscuit home to make it 3-0. Bradley finished the scoring for the Caps after Boyd Gordon made a super play in the lower right wing area and then fed #10 for an easy tap in at the left post.

- Steve Pinizzotto doled out some big hits in this affair but he also took a double minor for high sticking and was also whistled for tripping. It was his last infraction that ended the Caps perfect PK run to start the pre-season. “Pinner” can skate and is physical but he has to be smarter on the ice if he wants to play at the NHL level.

- With Varlamov reportedly not 100%, Neuvirth got the call in goal on Tuesday which prompted Washington to call up Holtby from Hershey to split time in the cage with Sabourin for Wednesday’s matchup. Sabourin was very solid stopping all 12 shots he faced and showed that if he was needed in the short term, he would likely do well. The young Holtby played a strong game too. Braden is very aggressive in net and on one sequence near the end of the 2nd period he came out and challenged Blake Wheeler, who was all alone in front. The former Saskatoon Blade forced Wheeler to try and go forehand and the Bruin bobbled the puck and wound up falling to the ice when Holtby cut off his angle. On the lone Boston goal, however, Holtby was overly aggressive and got himself flopping around and out of position, which allowed old man Mark to score easily from the top of the crease.

- John Carlson was outstanding on Wednesday. The 2010 US World Junior Championships hero was +2 and had an assist on Backstrom’s 2nd goal, but even more impressive was his physical and positionally sound work in his own end in 21:24 of ice time. There is no doubt that having both Carlson and Karl Alzner (+1, 21:14 of ice time) up in DC all season will help the Capitals defense.

Notes: Dave Steckel, Pinizzotto, and Jay Beagle were even on the night while the rest of the Caps were all either +1 or +2. The final shot tally was 26-24 in favor of Boston. Next up for the Caps are the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

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Varlamov Stones Habs, Ovechkin Nets 2 in Caps 6-3 Win

Posted on 21 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

In Varly We Trust. At least that is what Washington Capitals fans think should be printed on their currency as their money goaltender, Semyon Varlamov (36 saves), turned in another stellar performance at the Bell Centre in Montreal to lead the Caps to a 6-3 victory that puts the Canadiens on the brink of elimination. Washington leads the first round series, three games to one, and can wrap things up Friday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center.  If not for #40′s second period, however, the Capitals are probably coming home all tied up.

Alexander Ovechkin notched two goals and an assist and Mike Knuble had two tallies, including a shorthanded momentum turning one timer off of a perfect Boyd Gordon saucer pass with just 11 seconds left in the middle stanza. Montreal had buzzed the Caps net all period long firing 21 shots on goal (and scoring once on a fluky bounce off of the back boards), but when #22 swatted it home to tie it up, the Capitals were in position to take a commanding lead in the series.

“That goal was big..we knew we’d only have to play a good twenty minutes to win at that point,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau after the victory.

“I think it was a pretty good goal. We play great shorthanded…[Boyd Gordon] Gordo, what can you say about him? He is such a hard working guy,” added Ovechkin on the tally that was the turning point in this contest.

The third period was all Capitals as they fired 20 shots on Carey Price (32 saves on 36 shots) but it finally took an Alexander Semin appearance to put Washington ahead with 8:51 remaining. #28 carried the puck up the left wing boards at the end of a long shift, and making his best play of the series, he drew the Habs defenseman to him and slid a pass to the Great #8. From there it was like fishing in your momma’s barrel as Ovechkin flew down the slot and got a quick shot off before Price could get set. The goal put the Caps up 3-2 and stunned the Montreal fans as well as their team.

“Semin was on the ice because of a line change, so I can’t take credit for [putting him with Ovechkin]…they like playing together and they look for each other,” said Boudreau on the third Caps goal.

Montreal was clearly still stunned and when Matt Bradley made a strong play behind the Montreal net and then slid the puck across the crease, Jason Chimera was there to bang it home to make it 4-2 just 52 seconds after the Great #8 tally.

To close out the game the Caps played very smart hockey down the stretch, for the most part, sandwiching two empty net tallies around a bad decision by Tyler Sloan at the Caps blue line. #89, who struggled on a few shifts, slid too close to the left wings boards and that led to a two on one rush which resulted in a Dominic Moore backhanded goal with 78 seconds left.

Here is the rest of the analysis from a victory that gives Ovechkin and company their first 3-1 series lead in their four post season matchups:

Varlamov is now 4-0 at the Bell Centre in his career and looks more and more like the guy who helped the Caps advance to the second round last post season. However, he has a much better glove hand now thanks to some honing of his craft. Varly and goaltending Coach Arturs Irbe have turned what was once a weakness for #40 into an area that was on spectacular display on Wednesday night. It seems it is much more difficult to go upstairs glove side on the young Russian goalie nowadays.

Ovechkin, after being held pointless in the series opener, now has four goals and four assists in the last three games. He was very solid on Wednesday dishing out four hits and his first tally was a power play marker that broke an 0 for 15 drought by the Caps with the man advantage in this series. Boudreau likes to say “Great players make great plays in big games” and the Great #8 did that again this evening scoring the first and third goals. The Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Knuble line was a combined +10. Backstrom had an empty net goal and two assists.

The first two Caps power plays were pretty good but the third one was nearly disastrous. According to Boudreau, Semin waved his stick up to come off the ice and as a result Eric Fehr jumped into the play. But then #28 decided to play the puck and the Caps, who were hoping to get a power play tally to even the game up, instead were called for too many men on the ice and were forced to go shorthanded. It was a boneheaded decision by Semin and he should be buying Gordon and Knuble dinners for the rest of the playoffs for not only killing the bad penalty, but scoring the game tying goal. Semin was not good tonight, except for those nine seconds when he was on the ice with Ovechkin for the third goal.

Montreal scored a power play tally for the fourth straight game (1 for 4) but it gave up a shorthanded goal for the second time in two contests. Washington has been very aggressive on the PK and it has forced the Habs to take shots from bad angles, for the most part. Their only connection was a Brian Gionta put back of a Andrei Markov point blast that banked hard off of the end boards.

What a two game set for Gordon in Montreal, eh? #15 was 8-4 on face-offs in this tilt to go with 13-2 on Monday. He had the shorthanded goal on Monday and then set up Knuble for his PK tally tonight. Gordon and Knuble are a potent penalty killing combo.

Puck possession is made a lot easier when you win the face-offs and Washington dominated from the dot again, going 39-26, on the road, no less. Backstrom was 12-9 while Eric Belanger was 12-7.

Joe Corvo took a cheap shot to the head from Maxim Lapierre in the first period but managed to still log 17:44 of ice time. #77 played one of his stronger games in a Caps uniform and if not for Sloan’s poor play on the third Montreal goal he is a +1.

Speaking of cheap shots and tempers, Price was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after the fourth Caps goal for firing the puck out of the net at Washington. Then he hacked at the back of Backstrom’s legs after #19 deposited the biscuit in the basket on the Caps last empty net tally. Clearly Ovechkin and company are in this goalie’s head.

Notes: Brendan Morrison, who was +25 on the road coming into Wednesday’s game, was an uncharacteristic -2 in the victory in just 9:17 of ice time…Tom Poti was +3 and John Carlson +2 on the blue line…final shots on goal totals were 39 for Montreal and 38 for the Caps but there were wild swings (MTL had 21-9 edge in 2nd pd while Caps had 20-6 advantage in 3rd pd)…Cap killer Tomas Plekenac was held pointless and went -2…Shaone Morrisonn missed the game (either hurt or sick) while d-man Jaroslav Spacek was unable to go for the Habs…Good news down on the farm: The Hershey Bears dominated the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NY Islanders AHL team) outshooting them, 34-7, in a 4-1 victory. Karl Alzner scored his first playoff goal this post season and Michal Neuvirth stopped six, yes only six shots, en route to the series clincher. The Bears won the series four games to one and will take on the Albany River Rats (Carolina’s AHL team) in round two starting on Saturday night at 7pm at the Giant Center.

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