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Capitals vs. Canadiens Playoff Preview

Posted on 14 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

In the history of the Washington Capitals franchise they had never sold out every home game in the regular season. In 2009-10 the Caps did that and set a single season attendance record in the process. Coming into 2009-10, the Washington Capitals had never finished first overall in the NHL standings nor won the Presidents’ Trophy. This season the Caps did that going 54-15-13 (121 points) and became the first non-original six team to exceed the 120 point threshold. In their first 34 seasons of existence, the Capitals franchise had never won a Stanley Cup. In 2009-10…wait…hold on..hopefully we’ll need a couple of months before being able to cross that final item off the list.

Seriously though, if you start thinking too much about winning the Cup before the first playoff game even begins, and not on the process involved in winning a single post season game, then the next thing you know you’ll find yourself buying Titleists at Golf Galaxy. Fortunately the Washington Capitals coaches and players seem to understand that heading into their third straight playoff appearance, as evidenced by Alexander Ovechkin’s quotes here, (courtesy of Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post).

The good news out at Kettler Iceplex on Wednesday was the participation of center Nicklas Backstrom, who returned from an illness. However, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and the rest of the organization plus its fans received a new scare when goalie Jose Theodore took a shot off of the inside of his left knee and left practice. Afterwards, Boudreau said that #60 was okay and would be fine for Thursday night when the Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens take to the ice for Game 1 of their first round Stanley Cup Playoff series at 7pm at the Verizon Center.

This series is an interesting match-up and the first ever post-season meeting between these two clubs. Here is my preview, analysis, and series prediction:

Offensively, there was no equal to the Caps in the regular season as Washington averaged 3.82 goals a game (313) compared to just 2.56 a contest (210) for Montreal. However, when it comes to the power play, the Canadiens gain alot of ground as they have the second best power play percentage in the league to the Capitals (25.2% to 21.8%). What stands out even more in those numbers is Montreal’s road power play percentage, 28.3%, the best in the league (Caps were 2nd at 24.8%). Clearly Boudreau’s crew needs to stay out of the penalty box in this series.

Defensively, Montreal has a slight advantage allowing just 2.66 goals a contest (218) to 2.77 allowed (227) by the Caps. Digging into those numbers, the Caps averaged 32.8 shots on goal a game while allowing 30.8. Montreal’s numbers show that they only potted 28.6 a game while surrendering 32.1 per contest. So the Caps gave up fewer shots a game than Montreal but allowed more goals.

The Caps, as Brooks Laich told me yesterday, like to play “pressure hockey” and when they do that they are awfully tough to beat. Washington brings speed and power up front and a back end that moves the puck well up the ice. The Canadiens don’t have the power of an Ovechkin in their lineup so they rely on a number of smaller forwads who are extremely fast such as Tomas Plekenac (25 goals, 70 points), Brian Gionta ( 28 goals), Scott Gomez (59 points), and Mike Cammalleri (26 goals). On the blue line the Canadiens are led by Andrei Markov (34 points) who missed 35 games and that was part of the reason this club is just the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

In net, the Canadiens have two very good goalies in Carey Price (5th overall pick in 2005 NHL Entry Draft) and Jaroslav Halak (goalie for Slovakia in 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver). Price played all four games versus Washington in the regular season but he has lost the job, for at least game one, to the Slovak. The Caps counter with the Theodore/Semyon Varlamov tandem. #60 has been outstanding since mid January and if he continues to play at that level the Caps are going to be awfully hard to beat.

Montreal will clearly try to win by drawing penalties on the Caps and taking advantage of their super power play while counting on Halak and/or Price to hold the fort in goal. They also hope that Theodore is rattled by playing against his former teammates. On the other hand, the Caps were the best team in the league this season and are MUCH healthier going into this post season than in 2008-09. Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green is in significantly better physical and mental shape and Jeff Schultz, who was injured in a poor first game one against the Rangers last post season, had a breakout campaign on the blue line. Simply put, the Capitals defense is performing at its highest level in the Boudreau era.

The playoffs are a grind and Washington has a lot more depth thanks to the super trades GM George McPhee made during the season adding forwards Jason Chimera, Eric Belanger, and Scott Walker plus defenseman Joe Corvo. Boudreau mentioned after practice yesterday that in the last two or three games that #77 has started to play at the level he expected of the defenseman (Corvo was +2 in last Friday’s game against Atlanta, his first plus game as a Cap). So overall, Washington seems to be positioned to play its best hockey in the post season while the Canadiens struggled down the stretch.

But anything can happen in the playoffs where a hot goalie can even up matchups that, on paper, appear to one sided. Next to the hot goalie, the key is to get contributions from your role players. Who can forget Matt Bradley’s big first goal in game five against the Rangers last post season that jump started the Washington rally from three games to one down? Caps forward Mike Knuble, who played on the 1997-98 Stanley Cup winning Detroit Red Wings, knows all too well about the need for that, as he told a few of us in the media on Tuesday afternoon after practice.

“You need a couple of guys that can get the ugly goals, they are the ones that help you win in the playoffs. Superstars get all of the attention but third and fourth line guys are the ones who get the timely, ugly goals. That is how you win series’,” started #22, who notched 29 tallies in his first season with the Capitals, most of them from right around the net.

“That’s what the playoffs are, guys who maybe are not known more start heading to the net, and score some timely goals that way. You don’t need guys to change their whole style but at times maybe do something a little bit out of character, blocking shots, finishing checks more, going to the net when they’re usually not a guy who bangs around the front of the net, that is where you are going to be rewarded,” continued Knuble on what it takes to win playoff games.

“The grinder guys like Darren McCarty, Kris Draper, Marty Lapointe, Kirk Maltby, all of these guys that were not the stars, they just contributed scoring timely goals, played a simple game, and were solid by bringing their level of play up as high as they could, played their career best. That’s all we want out of everybody, play your career best,” finished the right winger who figures to not only add those important close in goals, but provide post season leadership.

The Pick: This is the best Caps team I have ever seen. Yes, there is pressure on them from the fans, but nowhere near the heat they are putting on themselves. The Caps cannot wait to hit the ice for the Stanley Cup playoffs and silence their doubters. The key for them is to take it one shift, one period, and one game at a time with a focus on playing their system, no matter what the score of the contest. I believe their experience will show up in this series and to quote The Who, they “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Caps in Five.

Notes: The Caps AHL farm team, the Hershey Bears, rallied from a late third period two goal deficit to win their post season opener in overtime, 4-3, against Bridgeport (Islanders AHL team). Game two is Friday night at the Giant Center at 7pm. The Washington Capitals have released their official iPhone application, which was built in conjunction with Advanced Mobile Solutions Worldwide and currently is available at the Apple iTunes App Store. To check it out just click here. This is the first of a suite of smartphone applications that will be released by the Capitals with Android and Blackberry platforms available in the near future.

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Caps Ready for Canadiens after Shootout Loss (UPDATED)

Posted on 11 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The regular season is finally over and after Philadelphia defeated the New York Rangers, 2-1, in a shootout on Sunday evening, to grab the last playoff spot, the eighth seed was finally set and it will be the Montreal Canadiens who will take on the Washington Capitals in a round one series that will start at the Verizon Center. The Capitals had four close regular season contests with the Habs with Washington winning 4-3 in OT and 4-2 while Montreal won 3-2 and 6-5 in OT. It was a series that saw each team winning a game on the other team’s home ice. Montreal’s Carey Price played all four contests in net while the Caps started Michal Neuvirth in three of the games (Jose Theodore relieved him in the 6-5 OT loss) with Semyon Varlamov starting and winning the other tilt in overtime in Montreal. Washington had trouble with Canadiens forward Tomas Plekenac so #14 will be a guy the Capitals will have to pay close attention to. This is the first ever playoff matchup between the Caps and the Canadiens.

UPDATE: The NHL just announced the days and times for the Washington-Montreal series:

Thursday, April 15, 2010                7 p.m.                Montreal at Washington                        
Saturday, April 17, 2010                7 p.m.                Montreal at Washington                    
Monday, April 19, 2010                7 p.m.                Washington at Montreal                
Wednesday, April 21, 2010                7 p.m.                Washington at Montreal                
*Friday, April 23, 2010                7 p.m.                Montreal at Washington                
*Monday, April 26, 2010                7 p.m.                Washington at Montreal                
*Wednesday, April 28, 2010        TBD                Montreal at Washington    

* – if necessary

In other Eastern Conference match-ups the #2 seeded New Jersey Devils will take on the #7 Flyers, #3 Buffalo takes on #6 Boston, and the despised #4 Penguins battle the #5 Ottawa Senators. In the West it will be the #1 seeded San Jose Sharks against #8 Colorado, #2 Chicago taking on #7 Nashville, #3 Vancouver getting the #6 Los Angeles Kings, and #4 Phoenix will take on the #5 Detroit Red Wings. I will have my playoff preview and predictions posted on Monday night.

Now to today’s tilt. I think the last thing Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau and Boston Bruins Coach Claude Julien wanted in a totally meaningless game was overtime and then a shootout but it took that to decide the fourth and final 2009-10 regular season meeting between the two squads, with the B’s coming out on top, 4-3 (the Caps won the first three games). Alexander Semin scored his 40th goal of the season early on while Alexander Ovechkin was held pointless and did not win the Art Ross Trophy (most points) for the second straight season. In addition, Steven Stamkos potted an empty net goal and Sidney Crosby scored twice  in his meaningless game against the New York Islanders to overtake Ovechkin by one (51 to 50) to tie for the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals). With the shootout defeat, the Capitals end the 2009-10 regular season with a franchise high 54-15-13 (121 points) and were the first non-original six team to reach the 120 point threshold (only Montreal (4), Detroit (2), and Boston had done it previously). Boudreau was certainly impressed with the effort he received from his club all season.

“They lost 15 games out of 82, they never quit. Getting points in 67 of 82 games is great. They are a great team. Today’s shootout loss, not withstanding, we’d won 5 in a row, lost only 2 regulation games since the Olympic break…so there is a lot to like about the character and ability of this team because there seems to be a lot of people who don’t believe in this team,” said Boudreau, noting that he hears some of the critics who dismiss his teams chances of winning the Stanley Cup.

As for today’s contest, Julien rested some of his top guns, including 2008-09 Norris Trophy winning defenseman Zdeno Chara and 2010 Team Canada gold medal winning forward Patrice Bergeron while Boudreau put out Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley in the shootout instead of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, or Semin, as he would normally do in a game that meant something. The Capitals also spent most of their efforts trying to set up Ovechkin for goals, even when that wasn’t the smart play. But there wasn’t a lack of intensity in certain stages as evidenced by Mike Green throwing caution to the wind and sliding on the ice to block a late Boston slap shot with his pants (luckily they are well padded) or Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who has a Hanrahan type edge to his cage minding, nailing Chimera several times with his blocker after #25 was shoved into him by a Bruin on a scoring chance in the early stages of the game.

“Boston looked like their whole concern was to not let Alex score and our guys were also looking for him. We’ll get back to normal this week,” added Boudreau on the different flow of Sunday’s tilt.

“The last couple of games we didn’t play our game, we didn’t finish our checks because we want to save ourselves, I think. I think, I hope, we’re going to play our way in the playoffs,” commented Ovechkin about a post season that finally has arrived.

“It didn’t effect Boston’s seed and it didn’t effect ours, so why not give some guys who’ve worked their rears off a chance to get in the limelight? We didn’t succeed but I’d do it again if I had to,” finished Boudreau on his unusual shootout choices.

As for Varlamov, he got the loss but made 35 saves, his highest save total since recording a career-high 38 stops on 11/21 at Toronto. Varlamov fell to 3-4 lifetime in shootout games. In the shootout both David Krejci and Miroslav Satan beat Varly with dekes after #40 got caught out too far from the cage. Boudreau, who still has not revealed his starting goaltender for the Montreal series and likely won’t until close to puck drop for game one, had the following comments on Varlamov’s performance against the B’s.

“The second and third goal that went in, you said, ‘Should he have had them?’ They were both good shots. He made some big saves. I got all of the confidence in the world in Varly. Until he tired out, he was tremendous in the playoffs last year,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on his young goaltender.

As for Green, he played superb all year but seemed to take his entire game to another level down the stretch, especially in his own end. #52 recorded his career-best 57th assist on Knuble’s third-period goal. Green also finished the season with a new career high with 76 points (19 goals, 57 assists). He lead all NHL defensemen in goals, assists and points plus he finished +39 overall. The “One Man Breakout” talked afterwards about the Caps season and where he sees them heading into the postseason.

“I think there’s been expectations all season. We’ve done a fairly good job of trying to achieve them. The bar’s set so high for us now that we have to make sure that we stay intact and reach our goals. Since training camp, our goal has been a Stanley Cup. The real season starts now,” started Green, “I think we’re more hungry, we’re more focused and you can really sense that around the dressing room guys really want this. It’s obviously a different game in the playoffs and we have to adjust,” finished the man who should win the 2009-10 Norris Trophy after narrowly missing last season. 


Notes: Jeff Schultz was +2 today and ended up leading the league in that category at an astounding +50! Let’s hope he stays healthy this post season because he makes a huge difference on the blue line for the Capitals…The Capitals finished the season with an NHL-leading 313 goals (not counting shootout “goals” reflected in the standings) and are the highest scoring team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins (362). Washington leads the league in goals per game (3.82), even-strength goals (233), power-play goals (79), home goals (156), road goals (157), first-period goals (92), second period goals (103) and third-period goals (112)…Chimera played in his 500th NHL game…The Capitals closed out the year with the NHL’s best home record at 30-5-6. They set the team record for points at home (65) and tied the team mark for home wins, set in 1985-86. Washington hosted sellouts for all 41 home games and a club-record 48 games in a row dating back to last season (56 in a row including playoffs). The Caps broke the club total attendance record this afternoon (749,357).


Hershey Bears News: The 2009 Calder Cup Champion HERSHEY BEARS announced today in conjunction with the American Hockey League that the team will face the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the 2010 East Division Semi-Finals. The announcement was made today by BEARS President/GM Doug Yingst.


The BEARS will begin its Calder Cup title defense Wednesday night at Giant Center, hosting the Sound Tigers at 7:00 p.m. Game 2 will also be held at Giant Center Friday night before the series shifts to Bridgeport Saturday for Game 3.


The full schedule of the 2010 East Division Semi-Final between the BEARS and Sound Tigers is as follows:


Game 1:            Wednesday, April 14       Bridgeport at HERSHEY    7:00 p.m.          Giant Center

Game 2:            Friday, April 16               Bridgeport at HERSHEY    7:00 p.m.          Giant Center

Game 3:            Saturday, April 17           HERSHEY at Bridgeport    7:00 p.m.          Arena at Harbor Yard

Game 4:            Sunday, April 18             HERSHEY at Bridgeport    3:00 p.m.          Arena at Harbor Yard

*Game 5:          Wednesday, April 21       Bridgeport at HERSHEY    7:00 p.m.          Giant Center

*Game 6:          Friday, April 23               HERSHEY at Bridgeport    7:00 p.m.          Arena at Harbor Yard

*Game 7:          Saturday, April 24           Bridgeport at HERSHEY    7:00 p.m.          Giant Center


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Caps Sweep Penguins, 6-3

Posted on 07 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

In a game that meant so much more to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals went into the vaunted “Igloo” and despite having to play the Pens and the referees for the 15th straight time, the Caps still managed to come out on top, 6-3. Alexander Ovechkin continued his resurgence just in time for the playoffs notching two goals and he now is tied with Sidney Crosby (1 goal, 2 assists) for the NHL goal scoring lead at 48. Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay is just one goal back. Ovechkin is also tied with Henrik Sedin of Vancouver for the Art Ross Trophy race, at 106 points, pending Vancouver’s late game vs. Colorado. The Capitals won every regular season meeting between these two teams (SWEEEEEPP!) in 2009-10 with all four contests coming since January 21st. Washington now has a staggering 118 points (53-15-12) and will finish the regular season with games against the Thrashers on Friday and Boston on Sunday at the Verizon Center.

Here are the highlights, some quotes from Ovechkin, and analysis from what I hope is the last game ever between the Caps and Pens in Mellon Arena (i.e, I wish the Pens bad luck in the playoffs):

STAT OF THE NIGHT: For the 15th straight game between these two squads, the Caps did not receive more power plays than the Penguins. In fact, in ONLY four of those contests have the number of power plays for each team been even! That is ridiculous and clearly shows an officiating bias. The shots on Tuesday were 29-28, in favor of Pittsburgh, but the Penguins had four power plays to just one for Washington (the Caps scored just 4 seconds into their PP chance on Ovechkin’s first goal). In addition to being shortchanged on power play opportunities, both blind zebras, Greg Devorski and Ian Walsh, missed a nasty elbow by Max Talbot to the head of Alexander Semin (scored his 39th goal of the season and added an assist). The Caps did get a big break though on a quick whistle that negated what would have been a Penguins goal in the second period.

Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom (3 assists), and Mike Knuble (28th goal of the season) had their second straight good game and appear to be heating up for the playoffs. The Great #8 logged 19:12 of ice time while Backstrom played 20:35 with the difference being #19’s 1:25 on the PK. Knuble played 17:33 so Caps Coach Bruce Bourdeau continues to do a good job of not overplaying his top line down the stretch.

“I think that power play goal gave me more [relief]. I had lots chances to score goals the last four games and they didn’t go in.  Finally it goes in and the last 10 minutes I just felt unbelievable ,” said the Great #8, who also praised Crosby’s play, character, and leadership after this one in addition to recognizing the Caps defense and goaltender for super play (“Varly today played unbelievable.”). By the way, Ovechkin’s second marker came into an empty net with just 0.2 seconds remaining.

Semyon Varlamov (26 saves) was very solid tonight and it was hard to fault him on the three goals allowed. The first was a laser by Crosby on the power play after Tyler Sloan gave #87 far too much room coming off of the right wing boards. The middle tally by the Pens was a Jordan Leopold point blast that was heading wide but hit Shaone Morrisonn (-2 on the evening) and bounced right through Varly’s pad while the final Pittsburgh goal was another Leopold rocket after a Caps giveaway. On that shot Morrisonn dove to the ice late and didn’t allow #40 to pick up the shot. The back-to-back wins were the first ones since December 3rd & 7th, right before he started with all of the injuries. Boudreau has to feel very good about where his goaltending is at with just two regular season games remaining. Jose Theodore is on fire again and if he somehow struggles the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach knows he has a surging Varly he can put in the cage as well.

Resiliency was the key word of the night for Washington. First, they lost defenseman John Erskine to a lower body injury (h/t Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post) in the first period and #4 logged only 3:52 of ice time. After that they had to go with just five blue liners. Even more impressive was their ability to respond so quickly to Pittsburgh tallies. After Crosby’s PP marker made it 2-1 at 6:18 of the second period, Tomas Fleischmann scored just 21 seconds later on a wicked top shelf wrister that chased Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to the showers (9 saves on 12  shots). #29 proceeded to lose it in the tunnel after Coach Dan Bylsma gave him the hook. Then after Leopold put one byVarly just 49 seconds into the third period, Ovechkin responded with his power play rocket by former Capital Brent Johnson (13 saves on 15 shots) just 1:51 later to restore a two goal Washington lead.

Another key tally was Matt Bradley’s 10th of the season with just two minutes left in the second period. That goal, off of a nice passing play with Quintin Laing and Dave Steckel, came after a long stretch where the Pens were dominating play and gave Washington momentum heading into period three.

Jeff Schultz is back. #55, who seems to play his best against the Pens (+12 in last 8 games versus PIT; h/t @JapersRink), was so solid in his own end tying up several Pens around the net all game and earning a +5 for the evening (he leads the NHL at +44, h/t to Corey Masisak). In addition, Sarge added two assists and wasn’t prone to some of the sloppy giveaways he had been making over the last month. Schultz logged 25:00 of ice time to lead all Caps (Tom Poti had 24:55).

Notes: Mike Green was a scratch and apparently is “dinged up” but could have played, if really necessary..El-Bashir is reporting he will play Friday against the Thrashers…Evgeni Malkin (sick) missed the game for the Penguins as did noted head hunter, Chris Kunitz (undisclosed)..Pittburgh won the face-off battle, 29-24, with Backstrom going 8-5, Jay Beagle 7-3, and Fleischmann 3-10. Crosby was 16-12 for the Pens…Karl Alzner was recalled today but was scratched…Kris Letang and Bill Guerin were both -3 for Pittsburgh, who are now two points behind the New Jersey Devils in the race for the Atlantic Division title (NJ defeated ATL, 3-0, on Tuesday night).

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Bradley, Varlamov Help Caps Beat Thrashers, 2-1

Posted on 01 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals faced another desperate team on Thursday night, in the Eastern Conference ninth place Atlanta Thrashers who were just two points out of a playoff spot coming into this contest, and they managed to get some super timely goaltending from Semyon Varlamov (19 saves) along with a big third period goal from Matt Bradley to win, 2-1. This victory halted a three game losing streak for Washington, although one defeat came in a shootout while another was in overtime, and gave them win #50 on the season. This is the first time in franchise history that the Capitals have had back to back 50 win seasons. Washington’s overall record is 50-15-12 (112 points) and they need just three points, gained via themselves or missed ones by the Sharks, to capture the franchise’s first ever President’s Trophy. 

The Caps are now 32-1-1 when they hold an opponent to two goals or less (the regulation loss was in LA, 2-1, in January) and are 34-7-6 on the season when they score the first goal of the game.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a game that was atypical of past Caps-Thrashers tilts:

I’m gonna start with Mike Green because he deserves the most praise tonight. Watching this contest I only felt comfortable when #52 was on the ice when it came to the Caps blueliners. Green, who has been overly criticized for his defensive zone play over the years, has taken his game to another level since the Olympic break and he has been ultra consistent on a game to game basis. The Calgary native continues to rack up the points to lead the NHL by d-men (18 goals, 55 assists) and his rocket of a shot on a nice Alexander Ovechkin feed was tipped home by Nicklas Backstrom to give Washington a lead late in period one.  Here are the stats on #52 tonight: 24:20 of ice time, 1 assist, four hits (led the team), and was +1 (now +35 on the year). Afterwards Green spoke to Comcast’s Lisa Hillary.

“When you pay attention to detail and you do the simple things, which is what is asked of us most nights, you come out successful like that. Tonight, I thought the last seven minutes of the game we really played tight defense as as team. We were protecting the lines, we were getting the pucks deep, guys were coming off hard, that is what it is going to take to win in the playoffs,” said Green, who just seems so focused on the ice right now.

As for Bradley, it had been 25 games (last goal vs. Wings on 1/19) since he tallied, and you could kind of see it coming the way he was working hard and being one of the FEW guys on the team who was going to the net. The Professor notched his ninth marker of the season to go with 13 assists and he has matched his career high with five games remaining. The fan favorite is a guy that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau likes having on his team as well.

“He’s got nine goals, which is the most he’s ever had since I’ve been here and it’s been awhile since he scored. He does his job all of the time and he comes out and he tries. I don’t know how you can get mad at him or think that he is one who is not doing his job, because he knows what his job is, to prevent other guys from scoring, not scoring goals but he got one tonight and everyone gets rewarded now and again…He knocked [Thrashers 48 year old defenseman, Chris Chelios] off of the puck. I don’t think Chelli saw him coming and he did what he was supposed to do, he took it to the net, and I don’t know how it went in but he snuck it underneath him some how,” said Boudreau on the Professor, who beat Atlanta goalie, Ondrej Pavelec (22 saves), via the five hole.

As I alluded to above, this was not the usual wide open, end-to-end hockey contest between the Caps and the Thrashers. Atlanta brought a simple game plan and intensity to this one but they still can’t knock off the Capitals. They are 0-5 against them this season.

“They play normally a very aggressive style like us but they’re battling for their playoff lives. I think they thought if we were going to go chance for chance than we have more scoring power than them so they can’t afford to do that. They were smart, John [Anderson, Thrashers head coach] comes prepared,” said Boudreau on Atlanta’s style of play in game five of their six game regular season series.

With only 42 shots on goal total and numerous whistles, Boudreau said there were 44 of those in the first two periods alone, this one had a post season feel to it.

“I thought it was a playoff game, it was tense and there wasn’t a lot of shots but those are the hardest games to play…we beared down and proved we could play defensive when we want and had to and tonight was one of those nights,” added a pretty satisfied coach on his club’s effort on Thursday night.

Varlamov seems to be gaining ground fast in the goaltending competition and he was very solid tonight stopping Maxim Afinogenov on a breakaway in period one and making a few other key saves on quality chances by Atlanta, including one from Tobias Enstrom from the slot. I can’t remember a single rebound that was put in harm’s way in this game by #40 and he just looked very confident between the pipes, despite some iffy plays, at times, by defensemen not named Green.

“Great confidence boost for him. He hadn’t won in awhile. Held them to one goal. It was a tough one that beat him. I didn’t they think had a great many chances but the ones they had were good ones and he was up to the task,” remarked the coach who rode Varlamov in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“I know it’s probably tough for goalies to go in and out of the lineup like that. We see how hard he works in practice and he’s ready to play. Tonight, when he needed to make a big save he did and that motivates us to play harder,” added Mike Knuble on the play of Varly.


Now about those other defensemen. Tom Poti and Shaone Morrisonn gave a textbook demonstration on how NOT to play a 2 on 2 break and the decision to jump in the air for the puck in the first period by #3 allowed Afinogenov to get his breakaway. Sometimes I wonder what Poti is thinking out there? Joe Corvo was abused badly by Enstrom and it led to a great scoring chance in the slot. Also, I felt that Jeff Schultz continues to struggle a bit with his decision making and lack of speed. How do we get back the pre-March version of #55? Only the combined mental mistakes by #3 and #26 cost Washington a goal though.


“We just got pulled over to the boards a little bit. It was a give and go and I didn’t think it was necessary for Tom [Poti] to come that far across and the guy jumped behind him and got a play,” commented Boudreau on a terrible defensive play by both Poti and Morrisonn.


Washington only had 20 shots and a big reason for that is the forwards seem to be stuck in “Drop Pass City” right now. There are too many cross-ice and back pass attempts when a simple shot and then a drive to the net for a rebound would be more appropriate and effective. The perfect case in point was the sequence in the second period where Backstrom made a nice play in the offensive zone, peeled off looking to pass, and dropped it for Ovechkin (1 assist), who was opened up for a one-timer. The problem was that play had to be timed perfectly to work and when the Great #8 fumbled the puck in his skates, he tripped Afingenov, who did sell it pretty well too. What Alexander the Great should have been doing was driving to the net and the super Swede could have then fired one on goal and hopefully off of Pavelec’s pads for a rebound.


One of the reasons Ovechkin is stuck in the mid-40’s in goals is because he is not going to the net to get the tap-ins that he has tallied on in the past (see OT winner vs. Montreal on 1/31/2008). In addition, Ovie is becoming very predictable with his moves. He is getting the puck in the neutral zone and then cutting laterally across the blue line and time after time he is being met by a wall of defenders that would make the Redcoats in the Revolutionary War proud. This same move continues to lead to turnovers or poke checks that send the Caps back into the neutral zone or forced to defend an odd man rush. Simply put, the ultra strong and powerful Ovechkin needs to do what he has done in the past and used a couple of times on Thursday: either drive hard to the outside and around the defender or make a head fake, take one stride max, and fire the biscuit on net using his opponent as a screen. I would prefer more of the former because he hasn’t used that technique too often lately and it would prevent the opposition blue liners from cheating positionally. Overall, the top line and whatever line Alexander Semin seems to be on has to get away from turnovers at the opponents blue line before the playoffs start. The Penguins feasted off of Washington turnovers in the final five games of last season’s second round playoff series.


I thought the hit by Colby Armstrong on Mathieu Perreault was downright dirty and #20 has a reputation for doing these things. It was far worse than what got Green suspended for three games back in January. The play, however, did not lead to a Washington power play as Morrisonn was called for roughing.


“It was a pretty clear, solid elbow to the face…It was flagrant, it was an elbow to the head,” said Boudreau on the dirty play by Armstrong.


Overall, despite some of the things I wasn’t too happy about, this was a major step in the right direction towards post season hockey for Boudreau’s crew tonight. Backstrom felt like things were good but he said there are still improvements that can be made.


“We were a little bit sloppy the last couple of games. I think we were better than the {few} games before. We still have some things to work on and get ready and work a little bit harder. We need to play better like {we played} earlier this season,” added #19, who notched his 30th goal of the season, which seemed to bring out a larger than normal celebration from one of the best centers in the league. Could Nicky have a bonus clause in his contract for hitting the 30 mark?


Notes: The Caps will practice at 11am on Friday at Kettler Ice Plex and then head to Columbus for a date with the Blue Jackets on Saturday night…Dave Steckel was 11-3 on face-offs, including a clean win with 12 seconds left that allowed Green to easily wheel the puck around the boards and run out the clock…the Caps were 32-28 overall from the dot (Backstrom was 6-11)…Washington only received one power play and failed to score while the Thrashers went 0 for 3…Rookie defenseman John Carlson missed the game with an injury.


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Semin Gets Hat Trick but Caps Lose Again

Posted on 11 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Olympic Break can not come soon enough for the Washington Capitals. After their 14 game winning streak was snapped in Montreal on Tuesday night in overtime the Caps had to face a very hot Ottawa Senators club (winners of 12 of 13 prior to this one) on Wednesday evening and despite a hat trick from Alexander Semin they were defeated 6-5 at Scotiabank Place. The Capitals are banged up (Tom Poti, Shaone Morrisonn, and Jason Chimera all were out with injuries/ailments) and a tired team at this point but they still have a 14 point lead in the Eastern Conference with 21 games left in the season. They fall to 41-13-7 (89 points) and will play in St. Louis on Saturday before the NHL shuts down for the Vancouver 2010 games.

Let’s get to the highlights, analysis, and quotes:

I am going to make this blog shorter tonight because Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has been saying for two weeks that his team needs some serious practice time to get back to playing their system and the last two nights have proved him totally correct. So for me to sit here and nitpick this guy or that guy, especially after the team just won 14 straight games, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Let’s start with the total team defense: It was atrocious. Too many giveaways, bad decisions, sitting back too much, etc. You name it and the Caps did it wrong at some point on Wednesday night. Poti and Morrisonn, two of the regular d-men, were out with a groin injury and the flu, respectively, plus John Erskine is playing dinged up. Add in that Karl Alzner, who was recalled from Hershey today (along with forward Chris Bourque) had to endure a day of planes, trains, and automobiles, and you can see why the mental focus and execution was not there. Still no excuse and those in the camp of “Caps need to add a defenseman before the trade deadline” have gained alot of ammuniton after the last several games.

Semyon Varlamov (22 saves) played his first game since December 7th and outside of the first 18 minutes in the second period, he struggled big time giving up some goals in which he was not screened. He did not get much help from his defense and two of the goals were power play tallies (Ottawa scored on both of their man advantage situations while the Caps did not score on either of theirs). Boudreau lit into both his defense and his goalie after the game.

 “Our thought our defense was horrible and our goaltending was horrible. You can use whatever term you want I don’t think [Varlamov] was ready to play. The puck is going through the legs, he’s been making that save since he was 7 years old so unless his memory bank has lost it he should have made the save,” started Boudreau, “The giveaways part from our defense were more horrible than the goaltending and I didn’t think the goaltending was good,” finished Boudreau on the defense and goaltending.

Washington has been extremely sloppy lately and Boudreau has noted, on several occassions, even during the winning streak, that the team was trending down (he talked about this after the victory over Tampa Bay on January 31) and bad habits were become more and more apparent.

“[Bad habits] have been creeping in for about 7 games now and I’ve been telling them every friggin night about bad habits. The break can’t come soon enough for me, where we can get 5 or 6 good days of practice and get back on track here. It’s tough to practice when you have 3 games in 4 nights,” added Boudreau on the problems and the solution to correcting them.

Semin, who was pretty much a no show in Montreal and didn’t do alot against the Penguins on Sunday except draw a penalty that set up the game winning goal, was on tonight. #28 scored three goals on Ottawa’s Brian Elliott (19 saves), added an assist on Tomas Fleischmann’s tally (the Caps first of the evening), and fired nine shots on the cage in just over 18 minutes of ice time. He also had 6 shots blocked something that the Senators defense, especially Anton Volchenkov (11 blocks), do very well while the Caps didn’t work hard enough to put themselves in position to thwart shot attempts.

The shots on goal in this one were low (28-24 Sens) because Ottawa did such a good job of not letting Washington get the puck through to Elliott, who was not on his game either. Boudreau commented on that as well.

 “Their goalie wasn’t very good either but they got more shots so they scored more goals,” finished Boudreau on the sloppy contest.

Clearly there is no need to panic, but team defense is something Washington will need to pay more attention to if they want to win the Stanley Cup. Brooks Laich has repeatedly talked about his team sticking to its system if they want to get where Pittsburgh got to last year. Right now, Washington is nowhere close to playing their system. The only reason they’ve been able to win or stay in games the last two nights has been because of their high skill level and great goaltending (up until tonight). At the end of the day, I thought Alan May of Comcast summed up the Caps situation, in respect to getting ready for the post season over these last 21 games, best.

“It is time to put an end to the madness in the d-zone,” said May.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin, who played 29+ plus minutes in Montreal logged nearly 27 minutes in Ottawa & looked tired. He had an assist, but only had 1 shot on goal and took a bad penalty in the 3rd period for interference (slid Mike Fisher’s stick away from him while it laid on the ice)..Fleischmann (-3) was on the ice for all four even strength goals (thanks for that one Japers Rink!)..Flash also struggled in face-offs going 2 and 9 and Ottawa’s second tally by Milan Michalek came after #14 lost a draw to Jason Spezza..Spezza had a goal and two assists but was a -2..Washington has hat tricks in three straight games (Ovechkin, Laich, Semin) but surprisingly have lost the last two games. Before those two losses the Caps had won the previous eight games in which they notched a hat trick (h/t to Caps Sr. Media Relations Director Nate Ewell for that stat)…the Caps-Canadiens game on Tuesday night set Comcast viewing records in the greater DC/Baltimore area scoring a 5.8 rating, which translates to an average audience of 148,00 households.

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Theodore Steals Win for Caps over Red Wings, 3-2

Posted on 20 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Jose Theodore put on a goaltending clinic tonight and he deserved all three stars in this one as he stopped 44 of 46 shots allowing the Washington Capitals to rally with two goals within 46 seconds in the last seven minutes to knock off the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2, at the Verizon Center. In a game that was totally dominated by a team that has played in the last two Stanley Cup Finals but has been battling a rash of injuries all season (and they are starting to get healthy), Washington took advantage of #60’s ability to somehow keep them in this one and Nicklas Backstrom scored on a power play and then Dave Steckel batted in a deflected Alexander Semin blast for the game winner. This victory moves the Caps to 31-12-6 and they are 17-3-3 on home ice. They are in first place in the Eastern Conference and should the Buffalo Sabres not win Tuesday night in Anaheim the Capitals will have sole possession of the #1 seed.

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

Last Wednesday night during the Caps-Panthers game, with Semyon Varlamov injured and Michal Neuvirth yanked for the second straight evening and losing his confidence, some fans suggested on Twitter that Washington should bring up rookie goalie Braden Holtby from Hershey. My response was simple:  It is time for the guy who is making $4.5M to step up. Well #60 has absolutely done that and he is 4-0 in his last four games. His rebound control has been superb, something that plagued him a lot this season, and he is finally making the big stop when it is needed. He thwarted Todd Bertuzzi on a breakaway in the first minute of this one and would make several ten bells saves in the opening period to keep Washington in it.

“That is probably the best I’ve seen him. I’m watching him and going this is how he must have been when he won the Hart and Vezina in Montreal that year, cause without him it very well could have been 6-0 in the first period,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the play of his goaltender against Detroit.

“It’s pretty good but I try never to get too high or too low on myself. Like I said before, when I wasn’t playing, my confidence was still pretty good because I was working hard, practicing hard. I’ve been in that type of situation before. I’m going to approach every day the same way and not get too high or too low after a game,” added Theodore on the win and his state of mind before and after tonight’s stellar performance.

Boy was Detroit, who were playing without Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, and Jason Williams, very good on Tuesday. They outskated Washington for the majority of the game. If not for Theodore they win this one going away.

“Well today was like men vs. boys, I don’t think we touched the puck. They came out with a vengeance and I am thinking this is how Stanley Cup Champions, that are desperate do, and it is a bar that we have to get to. We were just fortunate our goalie was great in the first period. And 5 out of 6 [first periods] we haven’t been good but 41 of 48 we probably have been good in the first period so it is something of a phase we are going through but we will turn it around,” said Boudreau on the opening stanza.

With the win on Sunday against the Flyers and tonight’s victory over Detroit and then Thursday’s tilt in Pittsburgh, Boudreau feels like this week is a good measuring stick for his Caps team. They were dominated on Tuesday, but at the end of the contest, they were victorious and it helped him assess his squad.

“I think we are resilient. We could have given up a few times. I think we also need to know that we have to play much better if we want to win the whole thing because that team played like they were in the seventh game, I hope they played like it was the seventh game of the playoffs, because if they can play a lot better then we are in trouble. I thought that was the best team we’ve played all year and I am shocked that they are in ninth place right now…I’m just glad they are in the West,” started Boudreau on his team and the Red Wings,  “I think we are a good team and you have to rise to challenges and this is a good week for challenges. It was a gritty win and you have to find a way and people have to step up. It can’t always be Ovie and good teams find guys that step up, tonight it was Theo, Steckel, and Bradley,” Boudreau said.

After Theodore, the Caps really can thank their penalty killing for giving them a chance to win holding the Detroit power play scoreless on five attempts. 12 Washington players logged at least one minute of PK time so it was a collective effort that all starts with the goaltending.

“I thought our penalty killing was superb tonight and good goaltending usually equals good penalty killing,” added Boudreau.

The Caps almost lost this one in the last 10 minutes when an Alexander Semin (1 assist) giveaway allowed Valtteri Filppula to hit a streaking Brian Rafalski all alone in the slot and he blasted one five hole by Theodore to give the Red Wings a 2-1 lead with 8:53 remaining. Semin had the most glaring miscue but Ovechkin compounded the error by abandoning his defensive responsibility (covering the right point man). However, after Backstrom tied the game, Semin took a drop pass from defenseman Karl Alzner, on a very smart rush up the ice by #27, and he fired it on net. It didn’t get there but Steckel finished it for the game winner.

“It is just getting cute in our own zone and we preach about that stuff all of the time. The skilled player and the great skilled players like Semin and Ovie they think they can make every play, because thye’ve made every play, so I don’t think he is thinking at that point that this is a tough play to make, I mean there were about four mistakes on it, not just him not getting it out, but he redeemed himself, as I knew he would,” said Boudreau on the play by Semin

Detroit was playing their third game in four days but they didn’t seem worse for the wear. The Caps just couldn’t keep up and they got away from their system, which is to dump the puck deep, hit the defense, and cycle the puck to set up scoring chances. But the Red Wings stymied that plan and put on a clinic of their own.

“If you don’t get it deep, then they get their transition going, and they can make four passes within 15 feet, they are a well oiled machine,” said Boudreau on the Red Wings.

The Steckel winner doesn’t come unless Backstrom makes a great rush up the ice to abuse Brad Stuart, the goat in game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, and then beat Wings goalie Chris Osgood (20 saves) five hole on the power play. Prior to that goal Washington’s power play was putrid going 0 for 3 without a shot on net.

“It was just a great play, he dekes the defenseman and puts it exactly where he has to put it. Great players rise to the occassion. Our power play was pretty dormant for the most part. But one thing you have when you have skilled players teams don’t like giving you any chances because if they give you a whole bunch of chances eventually you are going to win. Tonight we didn’t get a lot of chances but the right guys had the chances at the right times. When we tied it a 2-2, I thought we’ve put ourselves in a position to win this thing and maybe we didn’t deserve to win this thing and guys that work really hard all night, like Steckel and Bradley, usually get rewarded and Stecks got one,” finished Boudreau.

So what did Detroit Coach Mike Babcock think of his team and the Capitals?

“I thought we played real well, real hard. We basically, in my opinion, dominated from start to finish tonight.  They’re an opportunistic team and they have a real good offensive flair.  They were able to capitalize.  I thought their goalie was outstanding but I like the way we played.  We played fast. We were pretty much on top of them from start to finish.  To me, it was a pretty good game by our team.  If we continue to play the way we’re playing then we’ll be just fine,” said Babcock.

Other notes:  Alexander Ovechkin was held without a shot on goal for just third time in his career (thanks @JapersRink)…Bertuzzi went to the net with a vengeance most of the game but he is not Holmstrom and his boneheaded trip of Mike Green gave Washington its fourth power play and that allowed Backstrom to tie the game up. …The ice looked absolutely horrible on Tuesday with the puck bouncing all over the place. It clearly impacted both teams power plays…The Caps first goal was a thing of beauty as Green, who was shaken up at one point in the second period, made a super cross ice pass to Boyd Gordon, who then made an even better backhanded saucer pass to Matt Bradley, and the Professor buried it to get Washington even in a game they should have been getting blown out of…Alzner, in his first game back from Hershey only logged 11:23 of ice time, but he contributed in a key way on the game winning goal.

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Caps Blasted in Tampa, 7-4

Posted on 12 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

13 is indeed the unluckiest number. The Washington Capitals had defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 12 straight times under Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau but tonight they came out flat in the opening period to fall behind 4-1, rallied to tie it at four goals apiece in the middle stanza, before giving up the final three tallies to lose 7-4. This defeat ends Washington’s three game winning streak and drops their overall record to 27-12-6 and now 9-2 against Southeast Division foes.

Let’s get right to the highlights (or mostly lowlights for Washington), quotes, and analysis:

Oh, where to start in this one…the Caps missed their regular morning skate because apparently they can’t make ice when it is actually cold in Florida (the literally stinking circus was a factor in the bad ice too based on Joe B’s commentary). Whether that led to the poor first period effort and bad mental focus, I have no idea? The team did not move their feet in the first period and they took STUPID penalties all game. Brooks Laich goalie interference, poor decision, result: Steve Stamkos goal; Tom Poti lazy cross-check, result: another Stamkos goal; Laich trip, result: St. Louis GW goal. The first six penalties Washington took were totally dumb and unnecessary and the Lightning scored on 4 of those 6 power plays (they would go 4 for 7 on the night).

“Obviously in the last two games we didn’t come prepared to play and that has got to be my fault..we got lucky in Atlanta because the goaltending was great and then we took over but today the penalty killing obviously struggled and they got four on us. It is difficult to come back when a team gets a 4-1 lead on you in the first period,” said Boudreau following the contest.

CSN+, or CSN- as I call it, picked Mike Green (2 goals) as the player of the game. I don’t know what contest they were watching but #52 was -3 and was brutal in his own zone. But Green wasn’t the worst defensemen on the ice, that award goes to Shaone Morrisonn who was just terrible going -3 in just over 14 minutes of ice time. In fact, he was so bad he was on the ice for none of the Caps goals and all seven of the Lightning goals (thanks @JapersRink)!! Tyler Sloan was awful as well looking incredibly slow against Tampa, especially in the first 25 minutes. #89 had not played since December 28th (a 6-3 loss to Carolina) so he has an excuse but does this guy really belong in the NHL instead of Karl Alzner right now? For that matter isn’t 27 a better option than 26 given the potential upside of the 5th player taken in the 2007 NHL Entry draft? Defenseman John Erskine did not play due to injury and the team not only missed his defense but also his toughness, but more on that later.

The best Caps defenseman tonight and player of the game, if I was picking:  Jeff Schultz. #55 had 1 assist, was +2, wasn’t on the ice for any Tampa goal (including the power play tallies), and took 0 penalties in 23:44 of ice time. Too bad Boudreau couldn’t put Sarge on for the entire game because it seems the other team never scores when his number is called. Schultz plays an ultra simple and positionally sound hockey game.

Now to the goaltending. Michael Neuvirth (11 saves on 15 shots) got the start and made some great early stops to try and keep Washington in it but the poor effort was too much to overcome. Mike Knuble’s boneheaded cross ice pass in his own zone led to a 2 on 0 Lightning break that was easily finished by Vincent Lecavalier for the first marker and the 2nd goal by Stamkos was off of a Foster blast that rebounded to him from the backboards. However, #30 did give up a bad goal on the 4th tally and he allowed a huge rebound up the slot on the third Tampa lamp lighter. Jose Theodore (18 saves on 21 shots), who played the last 40 minutes, made some good saves for most of the second period but the shot from St. Louis was a long, unscreened one he could have stopped but I have to give most of the credit to St. Louis for that laser. The sixth goal, however, is one that Theo definitely needs to prevent. It was another point blast that he just couldn’t handle and there did not appear to be any significant screens. I really thought #60 was going to come in and be the hero tonight but it was not to be once again for the inconsistent guy who was supposed to be the team’s #1 net minder.

“I thought Neuvy kept us in the game and he was really good and he didn’t deserve to get this kind of treatment in front of him. I kept thinking about the Carolina game last year, he got rattled and had his confidence shaken so I wanted him pulled before that occurred,” started the 2007-08 Jack Adams trophy winner on his decision to bring in Theodore after the first period, “That goal at the end of the second period really hurt. If we go in after two tied then we are okay but we had the push and it just wasn’t far enough. When you make that push you have to get over the hump,” said Boudreau describing the momentum killer that was St. Louis game winning goal that made it 5-4.

I could deal with the bad effort to some degree, but what I really did not like was that Lightning thug Steve Downie, who likely learned from his head coach and chief punk Rick Tocchet, kept taking cheap shots at Alexander Ovechkin (2 assists, -1, 6 PIMs) after the Great #8 hit him clean while the non-skilled joke of a hockey player had his head down. Downie responded with two punches to the grill of Ovechkin but somehow they both received two minute minors (I think referees Mark Joannette and Francois St. Laurent were drinking between periods with the guy from CSN who picked the Caps player of the game). To top it all off, Downie then comes out of the box and backhand slashes and spears Ovie. The two then square off to fight, and that is something Downie wanted, but anyone in the Caps organization did not wish to see. Luckily, Matt Bradley, who had just come onto the ice surface on a line change, raced in and dropped the gloves and had a spirited bout with the Bolts agitator. It was actually one of #10’s better all time fights. Shortly thereafter Dave Steckel dropped the gloves with a much more experienced fighter in Zenon Konopka and after a good first punch by #39 he got hammered. That is where the Caps could have used Erskine and I have no clue where Jason Chimera was while all of this was going on down the stretch? I thought he was here to add some toughness? Boudreau addressed the altercation involving Ovechkin as well as the late game festivities.

“No, not at all, and you’ve been around this team long enough that you knew’d Matt Bradley would step in. Last thing we want is Alex fighting,” commented Boudreau to Washington Post beat writer Tarik El-Bashir when he asked the coach if he was surprised that #10 jumped in to prevent the Great #8 from fighting Downie, “They were taking liberties with Alex and we were trying to stand up for him as much as possible,” finished Boudreau on the end of the game fireworks.

Back to the referees. Bradley was given 27 minutes in total penalties at the end but the Caps coach is claiming that was incorrect.

“He got the extra 10 minute misconduct for leaving the bench and we said no, he was already out there on a line change, so [the referees] said that the league can rescind that if that is the case,” added Boudreau on the penalties assessed to the ultimate team guy, Bradley.

In summary, this game was a stinker but luckily the Caps are right back on the ice in Florida on Wednesday night to take on the Panthers at 730pm. Fortunately we get that one on Comcast HD because the Caps play matched the quality of the tv feed on Tuesday night (crappy).

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Caps Bury Avs, 6-1, Green Injured

Posted on 15 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals went in to Denver on Tuesday night to take on the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center and they rolled to a 6-1 victory. Unfortunately the Caps had some more injuries as Shaone Morrisonn left after just 4:12 of ice time and then Mike Green was run into the glass on a cheap shot by David Koci. #52 hit his head hard, was cut, and did not return.

Washington pushes its league leading point total to 48 with a 21-7-6 overall record. Colorado is one of the biggest surprises in the league this season and they came in to this one on top of the Northwest Division with 44 points, although second place Calgary with 42 points had three games in hand. Jose Theodore was the victor (27 saves) in net for Washington against one of his old teams while former Florida Panthers goalie Craig Anderson, who came in to this one as a major reason for the turnaround in the Mile High city with a 16-7-5 record, took the loss for the Avs.

Here is the period by period and post game play and analysis:

End of 1st period: Caps 2, Avs 0

In his first NHL game, on his birthday, and on his initial NHL shift Kyle Wilson sets up Eric Fehr for a right wing blast and when Anderson couldn’t handle the rebound Tomas Fleischmann banged it home for a 1-0 Caps lead. Wilson almost got his first NHL goal on the very next shift but missed a wraparound try after a nice move down the left wing boards.

Theodore would be tested at the 12 minute mark with Chris Stewart all alone in front but #60 stayed his ground and stopped him. Washington promplty went the other way as Wilson was sprung for a breakaway but Anderson stoned him as Brett Clark appeared to trip #57 and he crashed into the Avs goalie, no call though.

Lots of end to end flow in this one and finally the Avs obtain the first power play as Brooks Laich is called for boarding Darcy Tucker with 5:15 left in the opening stanza. Washington would kill this penalty no problem and then Karl Alzner, freshly recalled from Hershey, backhanded the puck out of the Caps zone right to Nicklas Backstrom. #19, who seems to have eyes in the back of his head, sprung Alexander Ovechkin on a two on one with Mike Knbule and the Great #8 made a super pass to #22 and he beat Anderson on the backhand.

The Caps nearly went up 3-0 but Laich’s apparent goal on a Semin rebound was deemed to have been kicked in, although it was very close. #21 appeared to be trying to stop the puck with his skate and it was close to being on the ice but because it came up slightly off of the surface there was no joy for Washington.

On the ensuing shift Fehr was whistled for holding putting the very fast Avs back on the man advantage.  The Caps did a nice job killing the majority of this one and 23 seconds will remain on the board to start period two.

Overall, this was another very good period by Washington, other than the two penalties. Now the big question, can they keep it up in period two? All season long the Caps have typically come out hot in period one but rarely have they blown any team out. I have seen the Avalanche play several times this year and a two goal deficit is nothing for them. Also, the home squad is used to the thin Colorado air while the DC crew will have to learn to deal with it and potential fatigue as this one goes on. By the way, Alzner is a +2 in his first period back and his seemingly simple but important backhanded pass to Backstrom set up the sequence that would lead to Knuble’s tally.

End of 2nd period: Caps 5, Avs 0

Colorado nearly scored as the Fehr penalty expired and Paul Stastny had #60 beat but his backhander missed the cage. Washington would get a three goal lead as Chris Clark and Matt Bradley totally outworked the Avs on the left wing boards and when #10 fired a hard shot that Anderson could not handle, Dave Steckel put it in the net for his 2nd goal of the season. That was a text book hard working tally there.

A brutal Jeff Schultz giveaway leads to a Colorado chance for Cory McLeod but he crashes into Theo before Green inadvertently puts the puck in his own net so the goal was correctly waved off. The Caps took advantage of the good fortune as Wilson stole an errant John-Michael Liles breakout pass and he fed Flash for a tap in to make it 4-0. Wilson is having a great debut. It appears GM George McPhee and Head Coach Bruce Boudreau have timed another Hershey call up perfectly.

Hard work continued to pay off for Washington and the fourth line as Bradley made it a blowout at 5-0 by banking one off of Anderson’s pads from below the goal line. #10, #39, and #17 were relentless in their pressure on Colorado’s defense there and they were rewarded once again.

Bad things then happened as Green was run hard into the boards by David Koci and it was a total cheap shot. John Erskine stepped in and took on Koci while #52 laid on the ice after hitting the rock hard Colorado glass. Caps fans have to hope Green did not suffer a concussion on that play. Erskine was given two for instigating, five for fighting, and a 10 minute misconduct while Koci was given five for boarding, five for fighting, and a game misconduct.

A great period for Washington until the cheap shot on Green. With Erskine out for 17 minutes in penalties, Green out with an injury (he was reportedly bleeding), and Shaone Morrisonn gone since the first period, likely due to injury, the Caps only have 3 defenseman left in the game until #4 comes out of the box (Alzner, Schultz, and Tom Poti). Brendan Morrison took some shifts on D on the power play at the end of period two but expect Laich to go back and play defense in this final period. Green has been getting run alot lately and on Sunday in this blog I suggested the idea of adding an enforcer with the freed up salary cap dollars that GMGM now has available.

End of 3rd Period: Caps 6, Avs 1

The big story in the third period was the lack of defensemen on the Washington bench and matters got worse when Poti took a delay of game penalty. But the Caps killed it off with Alzner and Schultz taking some longer than normal shifts. When Semin was called for a holding penalty, Washington went shorthanded again and the Avs scored to make it 5-1. Colorado then received their third power play of the period as Schultz was whistled for cross-checking as T.J. Galiardi scored their first goal (and Boudreau did not like the call and let the officials know that). The Avs nearly scored again but Theo did a nice job of holding the left post on a stuff attempt.

Erskine would return with roughly six minutes remaining and when Adam Foote was called for interference on Laich (and I thought it was more of a rough) the Caps made it 6-1 when Backstrom received a tap-in set up by Fehr and Poti with 2:36 remaining.

Here is the post game analysis:

Washington played an outstanding road game tonight by creating turnovers and limiting their mistakes. They also took advantage of an off night by Anderson in goal for Colorado. Wilson had quite a birthday night playing in his first NHL game and adding two assists in 11:15 of ice time. My guess is he won’t feel so bad shelling out a bunch of money at the team dinner that the Caps rookies will pay for on Wednesday night. McPhee and Boudreau consistently do a good job of finding the right player to call up from Hershey when one is needed and tonight it was #57’s time to shine.

The Caps are now 6-0 with Alzner in the line-up and as I mentioned above, his simple play on the second goal will not show up on the score sheet but it set up the whole sequence. King Karl was +2 in 21:35 of ice time.

Erskine had a big night on defense as well going +3 and taking on Koci after the cheap shot on Green. #4 played 17:11 despite having to sit in the penalty box for 17 minutes.

All season long the debate has raged on about whether Washington needs an enforcer or not. Would one sitting on the Caps bench have prevented Koci from running Green? Nobody knows for sure. Do suspensions deter these type of hits? Nobody knows that for sure either. There is not a clear cut argument on either side and this debate has been going on alot this year, especially on Hockey Night in Canada Radio, and it isn’t just about fighting, it is about the on or over the edge type of play that goes on in games today. There has been talk that coaches should be held accountable in the way the game is played because they can threaten 3rd and 4th line guys with a roster spot if they don’t play that type of style. Is that true? Once again, nobody knows for sure. Anyways, I am going to leave you with 3 stories tonight, two of which I’ve heard on HNIC recently and the third from Comcast analyst Craig Laughlin from his playing days (he told this story several years ago on the air).

First the Laughlin story: The Caps were in Philadelphia and #18 went in and hit star Flyers defenseman Mark Howe into the boards. On Laughlin’s next shift he was lining up for a face-off and out skated Philly enforcer Dave Brown. Brown says to Laughlin, “You will never hit Mark Howe again.” Laughlin’s response: “Okay.” So Joe Beninati then asks Locker if he ever hit #2 again, and Craig starts laughing and says “No!”

The next story comes from a discussion between former Penguins/Oilers forward Craig Simpson and former Islanders/Kings/Rangers goalie Glen Healy. Simpson and Healy were asked recently on HNIC if the dirty hits that go on in the game now went on back when they played and the answer was a resounding Yes! Both said that the big reason was the lack of video coverage of games, especially on the west coast. Simpson and Healy said if a game got out of hand in a place like LA then guys would take runs at each other because they knew the entire East Coast and NHL office were asleep and they would have no way of seeing the coverage until at least the next day and sometimes not at all. Nowadays any cheap shot or hit ends up on YouTube nearly instantaneously. Simpson also said that Marty McSorley would routinely make it known to the opposition that he would run roughshod over their skill players should Wayne Gretzky be touched by anyone.

Finally, this one came last week on HNIC about a particular game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Vancouver Canucks. Resident Vancouver tough guy Gino Odjick was making a habit of roughing up and running Leafs forward Doug Gilmour throughout the first part of a particular contest and Toronto captain Wendel Clark, who basically ate rocks for breakfast, had seen enough. So the next time Pavel Bure of the Canucks is lining up for a face-off #17 skates out next to #10 and says, “If you don’t get Odjick to stop that crap then you are going out of here on a stretcher.” I don’t remember Bure being carted off so I assume the message was received. It should be pointed out though that Clark, even though he was as tough as nails, could also play so he was not a 10 minutes or less a night guy.

Anyways, this debate will continue to rage on and if there was an easy answer I would bottle it and sell it. The emotion in me, especially when I see a thug like Koci take out a star player like Green, is to retaliate eye-for-eye style. But does getting an enforcer who will only play 8 minutes a night make sense? I don’t know but most nights I could make the argument that some forward, regardless of their toughness quotient, plays less than 10 minutes anyways. That is just the nature of the game with all of the power play situations that occur in most contests. McPhee likes to point to Detroit and their lack of a tough guy last season (although Aaron Downey did fill that role on many nights) but the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins still have Eric Godard in their line-up during the regular season this year like they did in 2008-09. But Godard did not play at all in the post season. GMGM said in training camp that you need an enforcer for 10 games a year. McPhee also said he did not want to spend over $1M for that type of guy (and that made sense given Washington’s salary cap situation plus the number of minutes a game that type of player would contribute). The question now is, given some of the shenanigans we’ve been seeing lately against the Caps players combined with the extra cap room, does the team add some toughness for protection to get through the regular season?

Programming Note: I will be on live with Drew Forrester at 930am on Wednesday on the Comcast Morning Show. Listen live on 1570 AM in Baltimore or anywhere else via WNST.NET (just click the Listen Live button).

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Semin Scores 2, Green Wins it in OT for Caps, 4-3

Posted on 11 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps came back home on Friday night, after a 2-1 road trip, for a single contest before heading out for 4 more in a row on the road, against the Carolina Hurricanes at sold out Verizon Center. Alexander Semin tallied twice to erase a 2-0 Canes lead and then Mike Green, who had a bad giveaway that allowed Carolina to tie this one up late, scored from the slot off of a nice Nicklas Backstrom feed to win it for Washington, 4-3, in overtime. This was the second meeting of the season between these two teams, who just played a week ago Monday in Raleigh. Washington won that one, 3-2, despite Alexander Ovechkin being ejected early in the first period for a knee to knee hit on defenseman Tim Gleason and the Caps are now a perfect 8-0 against the Southeast Division. Overall the Caps are 20-6-6 in 2009-10.

Here is the period by period play, analysis, and post game quotes:

End of 1st Period: Canes 2, Caps 0 

For the second straight game, and just the 10th time in 32 games this season, Washington gave up the first tally of the contest. Green was roughed up high with a punch to the face (no penalty zebras?) and shaken up in the offensive zone and then struggled back up the ice. When the forwards didn’t help out, the Canes had a two on one on John Erskine and he played it horribly allowing the pass to occur for a tap in goal for Jiri Tlusty, his first of the season, past Jose Theodore just 2:01 into this contest.

After some sustained pressure by the Caps,  the Canes would go up 2-0  as Eric Staal scored on the rebound of his wraparound as Theo did not hold the left post. Another brutal goal given up by #60 on only the third Carolina shot.

Overall there was a major lack of energy on the ice and in the building tonight in period one. The Caps outshot Carolina, 14-4, but Cam Ward was solid in net and Washington did not go to the crease area with much vigor. Mike Knuble returned for the first time in 10 games, but it was clear his broken finger was still bothering him a bit and his timing was off. Mathieu Perreault is back from food poisoning and he has brought some spark. Matt Bradley also returned for the first time since last Saturday’s punch from Daniel Carcillo and then the birth of his son, Henry, and he showed a little bit of jump. I would imagine that after 4 straight scoreless periods Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau is going to let his troops have it between periods. Washington needs to find some emotion.

End of 2nd Period: Caps 2, Canes 2

Green, after getting roughed up high before the first goal of the game, seems to be on a mission to hit every Carolina player in sight this evening. About 3 minutes into period two, the ultra slow Erskine made a turnover in the neutral zone and Carolina had a two on one rush but Milan Jurcina blocked the Hurricane shot to end the threat. Erskine is really struggling against a very fast Carolina team.

At the 11:46 mark, referees Stephen Walkom and Don VanMassenhoven finally called the game’s first penalty with Ray Whitney going off for hooking. Ward would make a great toe save on a one timer by Ovechkin on the only real Washington threat as the Caps once again overpassed with the man advantage. With the building and the Caps seemingly dead, the home marketing staff broke out the “Unleash the Fury” montage in the second period in an attempt to get the crowd and the home club going.

It worked as the fans got loud and the Caps came out with one of their best shifts of the game and when Jeff Schultz made a great keep in at the left point he was able to get the puck to Ovechkin at the top of the left circle. The Great #8 fired a beautiful cross ice pass to Semin and #28’s shot was even prettier finding the top shelf to make it 2-1. Washington then followed that goal up with more energy and the line of Perreault, Eric Fehr, and Tomas Fleischmann buzzed in the offensive zone and were unlucky to not tie this one up.

Unfortuately the Caps were then hit with a too many men on the ice penalty and Tuomo Ruutu kicked one towards the net and in off of Green but the referees immediately waved it off. After a lengthy review the call on the ice stood and Washington killed off the remainder of the penalty. With 30 seconds left in the period Boudreau put the big line back out and Ovechkin set Semin up for a nice one timer but Ward made the save of the night. The puck went back down in the Washington zone and Backstrom sprung Semin on a semi-breakaway with Gleason trying to catch #28. Semin used one of his patented curl and drag moves but the puck rolled in on Ward, who misplayed it, and he put it right back on Semin’s stick. The Hurricane killer would bury it with 0.6 seconds left to tie this one up.

Boudreau switched up his lines for the second period moving Semin up with Ovie and Backstrom and putting Knuble with Brendan Morrison and Eric Fehr and it seemed to get the team going. This should be a good third period with Washington playing well but Theodore is the wild card in this one as he has not looked comfortable in goal at all.

End of 3rd Period: Caps 3, Canes 3 

Washington came out on fire for period three and on a delayed penalty call Perreault made a beautiful pass to Flash as Ovechkin was streaking to the net and #14 buried it by Ward to give Washington its first lead of the night. Superb play by #85 who has brought all kinds of energy to this one. The Caps continued to pressure and Ovechkin made a nice a long pass to Semin and #28 nearly beat Ward for the hat trick.

A bad Brooks Laich giveaway on the boards led to a Hurricane opportunity and he compounded things by taking a hooking penalty. #21 is having a rough night. Carolina put some serious pressure on and Theodore made his best save of the night by far on Staal from the right wing circle. The Caps were able to kill the penalty and they went the other way with Tomas Fleischmann firing a quality shot on #30 and Bradley appeared to have an empty net but Jay Harrison blocked the tap in and Ward covered the puck.

The Great #8 then drew an interference penalty on Joni Pitkanen and Semin forced Ward to make a big glove save early. After Fleischmann nearly scored Green made a bad giveaway that sprung Gleason for a breakaway and he beat Theodore up high to tie this one up. Bad play by #52 and his goalie didn’t bail him out either.

Perreault almost scored on a wraparound but Ward would not be fooled and shortly thereafter the Caps almost took the lead as Morrison set up Knuble in the slot, but Ward made the save and #22 shoved the rebound wide of the net. The teams clamped down in the last three minutes and the game headed to overtime.

On the second shift of OT, Backstrom sacrificed his body to block a shot and that started a rush the other way. Ovechkin and Backstrom went in two on two with Green trailing the play and #8 almost scored. Ovie and Backstrom kept the pressure on and #19 found an all alone #52 in the slot and he buried it stick side to give Washington the victory.

Here are the post game quotes and analysis:

Semin OWNS (cue Denny Demieux Slap Shot voice) the Hurricanes and he now has 21 goals and 15 assists in 25 games against the Canes. Boudreau’s decision to move #28 up with Ovechkin and Backstrom after the 1st period was another shrewd coaching move by the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner and I asked him what he said to the team after the opening period, other than making the line combination switch.

“It wasn’t much. I just don’t think we played good. There were four 3 on 2’s and we were circling everywhere and even though the shots were pretty one sided I think on the basis of scoring chances they had as many as we did, so we just got to get back to it and play the way we can. We weren’t getting the puck deep and we were trying to be fancy and when we are trying to be fancy nothing works,” said Boudreau on his first period adjustments.

“I’m obviously disappointed after the Buffalo game, the way we played, and we had a slow start again tonight but the good thing with this team is – and it starts with Bruce – there’s never any negative energy and we always stay positive and when we do that good things happen.” said #52 on a big reason why the Caps were able to erase the two goal hole they dug themselves in the first period on Friday night.

“We outshot them but we were lazy and I think it is the culmination of not practicing, we haven’t had one in a week, and it is playing five games in seven nights. It is more that than any mental lapses,” said Boudreau on the poor first period.

Green had a crazy night but at the end of the day he was the hero instead of the goat. I will take #52 on my team any time and his play this year is likely making the big wigs for Team Canada think hard about whether or not they will choose the talented blue liner for their Olympic squad. Green was on the ice for 6 of the 7 goals on the evening and he logged 29:01 of ice time.

“He was the first one that came up to me after the game and apologized. I said ‘No need to apologize,’ Really good players, if they are having a bad game, still have a tendency to step up and be in the limelight at some point, on a positive note,” said Boudreau on Green who was roughed up before the first Carolina goal. “It was a pretty good punch..he said he was dazed, he blacked out for a second and that is why he didn’t get up because I gave him crap for staying [down] on the ice. He struggled a little bit and our power play struggled a bit but in the end, Nicky [Backstrom] made a good play to him and he scored a goal,” finished Boudreau on the 2008-09 Norris Trophy finalist.

Back to Semin, who was +2 on the night while Ovechkin and Backstrom were +3 (and #19’s diving shot block set up the whole game winning sequence). #28’s goal at the end of period two, off of a great Backstrom feed, are the kind of tallies that can really energize a team and that was the case on Friday.

“As I was skating forward, I looked at the clock and there were five seconds left and I was contemplating whether I should shoot or what. And I just stopped and I got a lucky bounce and I saw the goalie down so I just shot the puck,” said Semin on his tally that tied the game with less than a second remaining in the second period.

As I mentioned during the live game blog above, the video montage at the game’s midpoint helped Washington and Boudreau confirmed that after the contest.

“Dean [Evason] made a really good point, he said whoever is doing the video board, did the “Unleash the Fury” in the second period and it got the crowd into it, which is a tremenous thing, you know, because we were dead emotionally, I think, and that is what happens when you play alot of games,” added Boudreau on one of the intangibles that home ice can bring to the game.

Perreault, back after eating some bad food and missing a game, had a decent contest and he always seems to be around the puck making things happen.

“He was -2 in the first period but I thought he brought energy when he was out there and he made a nice play on the third goal. You know he still has a long ways to go, I think it was his first point in nine games. When he is skating and on you, and he is very tenacious, it really lifts the other guys up,” said Boudreau about #85. I will point out that the two goals Perreault were on against were not his fault. The zebras should have called Carolina for roughing Green before the first tally and Theo can’t give one up at the side of the net by coming off of his post.

This was the second straight rough outing for Theodore (16 saves on 19 shots) and #60 really is struggling to find some consistency this season.

“I don’t think the 3-0 loss had anything to do with his performance tonight, he didn’t look comfortable on a lot of shots, let’s put it that way,” finished Boudreau on the game winning goalie.

As for the win, it was good for the Caps but they head to Toronto, where they struggled in a back to back situation a few weeks ago but Semyon Varlamov got the team a point in a shootout loss. Washington faces another tough travel night.

“We want to get out of here. Last time we didn’t arrive until 230am in the morning because there was a huge traffic jam and we are trying to get out of here to get as much rest as we can but with Hockey Night in Canada we should have a little more life than the last time we were there,” said Boudreau on Saturday night’s game in Toronto. Expect Michal Neuvirth to get the start between the pipes in the Big Smoke against an improved Leafs team.

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Semin, Varlamov Help Caps Bury Panthers, 6-2

Posted on 03 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

With Alexander Ovechkin serving game one of his two game suspension for his hit on Tim Gleason, the other Alex, Alexander Semin, returned tonight from a wrist injury after missing seven contests and lit the Florida Panthers up for four points (two goals, two assists) in a Caps 6-2 romp at the Verizon Center. Semyon Varlamov (26 saves) received the start vs. Scott Clemmensen of Florida but the Panthers goalie didn’t make it to the end of the first period.

Below is the period by period play and analysis followed by post game analysis.

End of 1st Period Play and Analysis: Caps 2, Panthers 0

In the first 10 minutes Varlamov made some good saves on Florida chances after Caps giveaways, including a dandy one on Nathan Horton in the slot. At the other end the Caps over passed the puck instead of firing on Clemmensen and going for rebounds. Shortly thereafter a Panthers giveaway up the boards went right to Semin and he skated in and snapped one by the Florida goalie to make it 1-0 Caps and it was the 21st time out of just 28 games that Washington scored first.

Tomas Fleischmann then found the recipe for breaking out of a scoring slump (0 goals in his last 7 games): playing against Clemmensen! His wrister from the high slot beat #30 upper right and Panthers coach Peter DeBoer decided he’d seen enough of his starting cage minder and put in Alexander Salak with his team down 2-0 just under 12 minutes in.

Washington totally dominated the remainder of the period getting 18 shots on net to just 6 for Florida. The Caps nearly made it 3-0 on several occassions in the remaining 7 minutes but couldn’t get to any of the juicy Salak rebounds or missed the net. Overall, after a lackluster first 10 minutes, the Caps woke up and their breakout passes were crisp and on the tape leading to several strong scoring opportunities. The biggest negative of the period was Washington’s struggling power play, that went 0 for 2 on back to back chances. The only other thing that bugged me was the play of Alexandre Giroux, who just can’t skate, causing him to fail to convert on some good chances his linemates set up for him.

End of 2nd Period: Caps 4, Panthers 0

Florida came out very hard on the opening shift with Horton and Bryan McCabe getting some chances and John Erskine took a holding penalty. Washington, however, would be the team to take advantage as Matt Bradley scored shorthanded on a long shot from just inside the blue line to make it 3-0. Salak looked like a bad college goalie on that one. The Panthers were called for back to back penalties (Dave Steckel was hooked on a breakaway and then Greg Campbell high sticked Mike Green) giving Washington a 25 second two man advantage and they took only 11 seconds to score as Semin made a beautiful pass to Nicklas Backstrom, who slammed it home at the right post to make it 4-0 just over five minutes into the second period. The Caps failed to score on the reminaing power play with several shots being deflected just wide.

But Florida continued to mail it in and Washington received another power play at 9:39 when Backstrom was hooked in front of Salak. The Caps would fail to score, and even worse, Jeff Taffe decided to be one of the few Panthers to go hard up the ice and he went around Brendan Morrison like an orange road cone, forcing #9 to hook him but not before Taffe made Varlamov deny him in front. But it was Bradley and Steckel again with another great start to a Washington shorthanded situation and that allowed the Caps to eventually kill off the penalty. Karl Alzner was whistled for a rare penalty, a high stick, but Varlamov would deny any Panthers chances again.

The energy level after the Caps made it 4-0 seemed to drop in the entire building and the last five minutes or so was simply bad hockey to watch. The Panthers did get the last six shots of the period to make the on goal total, 31-19, Washington.

End of 3rd Period: Caps 6, Panthers 2

Things got crazy to start the 3rd period as Giroux made a totally clean hit on Dmitry Kulikov behind the Florida net and for some reason Mike Duco decided to jump #33 at center ice. It wasn’t like Giroux hit Kulikov dirty or took a run at him, because #33 is not that type of player, plus he can’t skate very well! Duco received a two minute penalty for instigating, a five for fighting, a ten minute misconduct, and a game misconduct. Right after Washington got on the power play the Panthers were called for another infraction and Semin earned his third point of the night setting up Morrison for an easy slot blast by Salak to make it 5-0. After a Caps interference infraction (Chris Clark) the teams went four on four for two minutes and shortly after Washington went back on the power play, Clark set up Semin for his second of the night (and 11th of the season) to make it 6-0.

The only thing left to decide was whether Varly would get a shutout and that was ended at 16:39 when Stephen Weiss went in one on two on Alzner and Brian Pothier and #9 shot the puck and then got the rebound to make it 6-1. Alzner needed to force Weiss and #2 made the mistake of leaving his feet, going down to one knee, and that allowed Weiss to get the biscuit that ricocheted off of Varly’s pads and finish off a brutal defensive and goaltending play (bad rebound allowed by #40). Florida would make it 6-2 as a Bryan Allen point shot was deflected off of Milan Jurcina in front and by Varly.

Here is the post game analysis and some quotes from Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau:

This was a simple case of a rested team going against a tired one as the Panthers played in Florida on Wednesday (they beat Colorado, 6-5, in a shootout) before flying to DC in the middle of the night. The Caps, after surviving some early giveaways, took advantage of Florida and dominated this one outshooting their opponents, 44-28. This win improves Washington to 17-5-6, good for 40 points and a nine point lead over second place Atlanta, who has three games in hand but were beaten, 4-1, by the Islanders on Thursday. The Caps continue to be a perfect 6-0 against Southeast Division opponents this season.

“I liked the way we followed the game plan in the beginning. We thought they’d be tired. If we attacked them early and got them down they might not have the strength to come back and I don’t know if that was the reason, but it worked well,” said Boudreau on the win.

Washington is now 3-0 against a Panthers team they struggled with in the past. The primary reason for the change, if you ask me, no Jay Bouwmeester for Florida as the all-star defenseman demanded to be moved and now plays in Calgary. With Bouwmeester bailing, former GM Jacques Martin packed up and left too and is now coaching the Montreal Canadiens. This opinion is harsh, but given that Florida has had to let top players Roberto Luongo, Olli Jokinen, and now Bouwmeester go over the past few seasons they might as well shut this franchise down.

“No excuses, I think we played the first eight minutes of the game then they took over. They beat us to all loose pucks, they won the all the puck battles, [and] it was a mess from there on in. There was a lot of frustration in the 3rd period. The game was over before the penalties started. The penalties are just frustration because we were losing all the puck battles, and losing all the races for pucks. It was an ugly night,” said Florida Coach Peter DeBoer, who really does not have much to work with talent wise, especially with #1 goalie Tomas Vokoun out because Keith Ballard accidentally whacked his own teammate in the head with his stick in frustration on Monday night.

Boudreau, who noted that the Caps still haven’t played a game yet with a full line-up this season, continues to get good goaltending and even though this was a laugher Varlamov made three saves early in the game and that allowed Washington to find their legs and get untracked. Varlamov, who is now 11-1-2 this season, wasn’t to blame on the last two goals (although the rebound on the first was not good) but Boudreau was not happy about them.

“Both goals shouldn’t have happened. The second one was tipped and you could see it was. The first one we made a mistake on it and we ended up costing us. It’s too bad because [Bradley] just had a great chance to get one and what often happens they come down and score a goal,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner about the two goals that were allowed late by his club.

The power play, which has struggled recently, was better tonight in the last two periods and went 3 for 12. The Backstrom goal, off of a phenomenal Semin feed, was the play that all but ended this one after Bradley’s shorthanded marker gave the Panthers little hope of coming back. Semin was the first star and he made a huge difference tonight for Washington.

“Well it was my first game after injury and it’s always difficult to come back and play your first game. But the team played well and they helped me get back to my game. And I really didn’t think about it being the first without [Ovechkin], I’m just glad to be back,” said the immensely talented winger who makes one wonder how good he could be if he was motivated like the Great #8 seems to be on a day to day basis.

“He was well rested and he should have alot of energy,” added Boudreau when asked about #28’s performance.

Boudreau took exception to the Duco jumping of Giroux, especially since #33 delivered a clean hit to the Panthers young defenseman, Kulikov.

“Normally I would not have put [the top guys] back out on the ice, I would have rolled [the lines]. But when they are going to be stupid, and attack Alex [Giroux], it is almost what the game has come to, you get a good hit, and not a hard hit, and you take exception to a hit. I mean hockey used to be that you hit a guy hard and that’s what it’s all about. Now you hit a guy hard and you think you have to retaliate. It’s stupid, it’s a dumb thing and it took their team totally out of a chance to win,” finished Boudreau.

Next up for the Caps are the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday night, without Ovechin. The Great #8 should return on Monday night in Tampa Bay.

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