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Caps Donald Brashear Suspended Six Games

Posted on 27 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals Forward Donald Brashear has been suspended 6 games for his actions before and during Game 5 on Sunday. Here is the NHL write-up on the suspension:

http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=420354

Comment: It looks like Chris Clark will play on Tuesday night in Game 7. I was surprised at the five games for his hit but the league is focused on head shots and #87 struck Blair Betts from behind in an unsuspecting manner. The fact that Betts is injured significantly likely played into the length of the suspension.

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Caps Chase Lundqvist Again, Force Game 7, 5-3

Posted on 26 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Crank up Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, the Washington Capitals have overcome the odds and forced a game seven on Tuesday night with a 5-3 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden this afternoon. Last season the Caps forced a game seven against the Philadelphia Flyers after being down three games to one and lost in overtime. Can the Capitals, who have waited a year to avenge that game seven loss, pull off the feat this year and give Caps owner Ted Leonsis his first ever playoff series win? If they play like they did in the first two periods of today’s game they should be able to do it as they chased Rangers goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, to the bench after 40 minutes for the second straight game. The Rangers added two goals in the last period, including one with five seconds left to make the score look closer but credit New York for not quitting and with some help from the referees they may have grabbed some momentum those last 20 minutes, however, the Caps clearly quit skating for the majority of that stanza.

This contest had a crazy twist coming in to it with Rangers Coach John Tortorella suspended for the game for squirting water at a fan to start an altercation and then he hit a woman on the head when he threw a water bottle into the stands with 6:33 left in game five. Prior to that game Tortorella, ironically, had preached discipline and composure to his team and had scratched pesky forward Sean Avery in game five for taking some bad penalties in the third period of game four. Avery dressed for game six and former Caps Coach Jim Schoenfeld was behind the bench as Rangers interim coach replacing the former Stanley Cup winning coach (Tortorella, who won the Stanley Cup with Tampa in 2004, will be back for game seven).

Washington’s defense was the key today as they produced the first three Caps goals, all in the first period. The first was triggered by game five hero Matt Bradley, who forced an offensive zone turnover with some great forechecking and Brooks Laich and Dave Steckel then set up Milan Jurcina for a blast that beat Lundqvist short side to give the guys in white a 1-0 lead. The Rangers then struck back on a power play goal by Scott Gomez, their first in 19 attempts, to tie it up and for the next couple of minutes the game was looking like it could go either way when Washington received a power play after Paul Mara held Laich.

Washington’s power play had gone ZERO for 13 in games four and five but the Caps finally received a good bounce as Alexander Semin’s shot ricocheted right off of a Rangers skate to Mike Green in the right circle and he roofed it over Lundqvist for his first goal of the playoffs to ignite the Caps. Green apparently has been battling the flu bug and before the game he told NBC’s Pierre McGuire that he was finally getting his energy level back. The Rangers then had another power play chance when Tom Poti put the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty but Washington killed the infraction thanks to some good goaltending from Simeon Varlamov (29 saves). When Poti came out of the box he, Dave Steckel, and Boyd Gordon had a three on one because Mark Staal pinched in the offensive zone and the three Caps passed the puck beautifully around Joe Girardi setting up Poti to stuff the puck over Lundqvist for a 3-1 Caps lead.

In the second period the Caps dominated play by possessing the puck for long stretches of time but with just over nine mintues gone the game’s deciding point came as the Rangers Nikolai Zherdev missed a partially open net that would have made it 3-2 and Washington took the puck down the other way in transition. Viktor Kozlov then abused Staal with a great move and put the puck upstairs past Lundqvist to make it 4-1. Then the Great #8 sealed the deal by deflecting a Poti point pass/shot under Lundqvist with just 3:16 left in the period on the power play. That made it 5-1 and the Caps power play was a perfect 2 for 2 on the afternoon. At that point Washington seemed to not want to take any chances and just get ready for game seven.

Here are some other thoughts on the game:

The Caps power play did get a lucky bounce on the first goal but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau switched things up a bit putting Poti on the point with Green and moving Ovechkin down low several times and that opened things up for Washington’s defense to shoot and create.

Poti, one goal and three assists, was outstanding today and hopefully his creaky groin is okay for game seven. He may have tweaked it late in the contest.

Washington clearly was trying to beat Lundqvist high glove side and they were successful doing that today. Because of the size of Lundqvist’s pads he is tough to beat on the ice unless you get him moving. The question now is can Washington find a way to force King Henrik into a third straight bad game? Lundqvist has never lost a first round playoff series.

Varlamov was a little shaky in the first period giving up some rebounds but he takes up a lot of net and was very solid when he had to be. He could not be faulted on any of the three New York goals (the Rangers second tally was on a 5 on 3 power play after John Erskine was incorrectly, in my opinion as well as Mike Emrick’s (NBC play by play man), called for a holding penalty on Nik Andropov on a clean check).

Washington took four penalties in the third period and faced two lengthy 5 on 3′s, including one with just over five minutes left and the game still 5-2 but Dave Steckel, Laich, and Poti were outstanding killing it by winning a defensive zone face-off and then ragged alot of time off the clock before firing the puck down the ice.

The Caps did not turn the puck over at the Rangers blue line and did a good job of dumping it deep behind the New York defensemen. If they continue to do this in game seven they will have success. They need to avoid blind passes/careless backpasses that could give the Rangers the ability to get their good transition game going. Today it was Washington’s transition game that was superior.

New York has trouble scoring, they have only 10 goals in this series, so the Caps can’t take penalties, such as Brashear’s late hit on Blair Betts today, that give the Rangers an advantage. Washington is superior at five on five and the only reason this thing is tied up is because of Lundqvist and a bad first game in goal by Washington’s Jose Theodore.

I’m sure the Verizon Center will be raring and ready to go on Tuesday night. The Caps have not come back from 3-1 down to win a series since 1988 against the Philadelphia Flyers. It is time for the guys in red on Tuesday to win one for their owner and for themselves. This will be one tough game and you can bet the Rangers will be ready.

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Caps Get Ready for Rangers / Series Analysis and Prediction

Posted on 13 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Monday at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston, Virginia the Washington Capitals hit the ice for their first playoff practice of 2009 with a goal of winning the Stanley Cup this spring. Defending Hart Trophy winner Alexander Ovechkin addressed the team’s ultimate goal after practice with the media and the Great #8 basically said that just winning one or two series is not good enough because they want to win the Cup, but to do that they have to focus first on just beating a very good New York Rangers team (you can see the Ovechkin interview at WashingtonCaps.com). Caps Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, along the same lines,  mentioned the following on the Rangers and the overall goal in his post practice news conference, “I was just watching a couple of their games right now and [the Rangers] are going to be a very difficult opponent…our goal has always been to win the Cup, and it was last year, the people that said [last year] was a successful season were the media, we didn’t say it was a successful season, because we didn’t finish our goal. We thought we should have beat Philadelphia last year and we didn’t. So I think all people with a lot of character want to win the Cup when they get the opportunity. Now that it is down to 16 teams anything less for any player or any team in this league would be a disappointment.”

Things appear vastly different for the Caps going into the playoffs this season from last year emotionally and physically. Instead of having to win almost every game down the stretch to make the playoffs and paying the physical and mental toll that goes with that grind game in and game out, Washington enjoyed a very solid regular season that landed them the second seed in the Eastern Conference. As I’ve mentioned recently, they were able to play what I will call “stress free” hockey the last 10 games before the quest for the Cup will begin this Wednesday. I asked Caps forward Brooks Laich today how this year is different from last season.

“I think we are more relaxed and I think we are more prepared. This year heading into the playoffs we were preparing for the playoffs where as last year heading in we were just trying to get there. Every day was a struggle to get there and we were finally there. This year we’ve had some time to think about it, work on our game leading up to the playoffs, and I think we are a more confident group this year. The experience gained from last year should do wonders for our group this year,” said Laich, who set a career high for goals and points this year with 23 and 57, respectively.

Laich then expanded further on those thoughts comparing last year’s playoff series to how they are approaching the match-up with New York this upcoming week.

“We won the first game last year and we didn’t play real well in that one then we lost the next three and we didn’t play really well until our backs were up against the wall and it was win or go home. For some reason we just relaxed, we weren’t squeezing our sticks so tight, we just relaxed and played and had a lot of fun and then we started to be successful. I think that is what we are going to do this year. We are not going to go in and try and be overly intense and then get out of position and make mistakes. We are going to relax, we are going to play our game and hopefully that will be enough,” added Laich.

#21 was also asked about the wait just to get to the playoffs.

“It has been a long wait. Knowing that you are going to be in, we knew a couple of weeks ago we were, but we still had stuff we wanted to play for, like 2nd in the conference which we did, but it is always in the back of your mind – let’s get this thing going. I think the guys are really excited and we had a good practice today. We like the match-up, the Rangers are a very good hockey team, and it is going to be a long series,” finished Laich.

As for Mike Green, the leading goal and point scorer among all NHL defensemen this season (31 goals and 42 assists), I asked him if the wait has been tough and if the playoffs were on his mind for awhile.

“Yes, last year every day we were fighting and this year you are resting and thinking about that first game so, yes, we can’t wait until Wednesday. Last year it seemed like we were playing playoff hockey from a month left in the season and this year maybe we are a little more rested and maybe mentally not as tired as were last year but we can’t use that as an excuse last year, no matter what we have to make sure we are working hard and doing the right things to move on. I think we are all just excited to get started,” said Green.

Green then talked about what the Caps needed to do to be successful against the Rangers.

“This year we are confident but not over confident like we were last year. We learned last year how tough the NHL playoffs are and a lot of us had never been in the playoffs before…they are a good team and they’ve got some good players over there that are pretty dangerous. As long as we play good defensively we usually don’t have a problem scoring goals. We know [NY goalie Henrik] Lundqvist is gonna play well but as long as we play defense we’ll be fine,” finished Green.

On the topic of experience, I chatted with three time Stanley Cup Champion Sergei Fedorov to find out his thoughts on this team and what they gained from last year’s playoff series.

“Well certainly we didn’t get up to the goals we wanted to get last year but certainly we got that experience playing in the playoffs, so I think is going to be very positive for us and I think it is going to help us,” started Fedorov, “Obviously when you win once or twice you always want to win it again. It is a precious trophy and the hardest trophy to win. I think we do have nice chemistry, in general, guys like each other and like to play with each other and work together. We’ll see how it is going to go. I’m sure the first round will be nerve racking but if we are willing to work hard like we did in the regular season I don’t see why we can’t win,” added #91.

I also asked Fedorov about the World Championship he, Ovechkin, and Semin won with Russia last year and if that could help the team this year.

“I hope so, but the format is much different. In the world cup you just play straight 10 games every other day and the quarter finals just appear out of nowhere, then semi-final, and all of sudden final. [Stanley Cup] Playoffs are obviously different, you have your opponent and you know them inside out and play them until you win four games out of seven, so you know your opponent much better than in the world cup,” finished Fedorov, who certainly will play a key role in how far Washington goes in the post season.

Backstrom improves at the dot: I had a chance to talk with Nicklas Backstrom on Monday about his recent improvements on face-offs, he is a remarkable 55-19 in his last four home games, and here is what #19 had to say.

“I don’t know, maybe I try to do something different. I try to shift a little bit more and it works sometimes,” started Backstrom, who was then asked if any of the other players, such as Fedorov, gave him any tips, “Actually no, I just have been mad at myself for struggling before. It is something that is going to be important in all situations and everyone knows,” finished Backstrom.

Whatever he is doing, it is clearly working, and perhaps just the extra focus and effort is the real reason for his huge improvement.

Roster notes: Everyone was skating for the big club this morning including Boyd Gordon (missed several weeks with a fractured finger), Donald Brashear (out since Nashville game due to knee injury) and Chris Clark (wrist surgery). Clark is still expected to be out until the second round (he is unable to fully shoot the puck) but Gordon and Brashear are available for Game 1 against the New York Rangers on Wednesday at the Verizon Center at 7pm. Forward Keith Aucoin, who had a nice recent stint with the big club, was assigned to Hershey on Sunday since Gordon is now healthy. The only other injury note is that Tom Poti is still nursing a sore groin and is questionable for Wednesday’s series opener.

Caps-Rangers Series Analysis and Prediction

This series pits the number one penalty killing team in the NHL in the Rangers and the number two overall power play from the Caps. Here are some thoughts from a couple of players on that topic.

“Two things, they are aggressive and great goaltending,” started Laich on why New York is so successful while shorthanded, “they don’t get out of position, they have smart forwards, they have reliable defensemen, and you have to beat Lundqvist to get the goal, so it is going to be a good match-up of our power play versus their penalty kill,” finished Laich.

“It will be interesting to see how it plays out. We rely on our power play, if we struggle we usually don’t get a lot of momentum but I think everyone will raise their game for the playoffs,” said Green.

The Caps were 3-0-1 against New York in the regular season but most people know that really doesn’t matter and Green confirmed that with the following.

“I think the playoffs is a whole new season. I don’t think we are going to talk about our record against them during the regular season because it is a long season and teams get tired at different times so maybe that was the case [for the wins against the Rangers] but everyone is going to be rested come Wednesday,” said the Norris Trophy candidate.

What I like about Washington: Their skill and team speed. The Caps have never had a team with this much speed and offensive talent with guys like Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Backstrom, and Green. Add in guys like Fedorov and Laich to go with role players like Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr (Stat of the day: With Fehr in the lineup the Caps were 39-16-6, as opposed to their 11-8-2 record when he did not play), Matt Bradley, and Boyd Gordon and you have a great group of forwards (#2 in the East in goal scoring). I also really like Jose Theodore in net and anyone that lists him as the number one concern for this team heading into the playoffs has not really been paying close attention to Caps games. Theodore has been very good since December 23rd (the 5-4 comeback win against the Rangers).

The concern about the Caps: Team defense. Washington has shown to be loose in their own end, at times. This typically happened when Washington was not playing against some of the better teams in the league. When Washington played clubs like the Rangers, Bruins, and Devils they were good, for the most part, defensively. They will need to play at a high level in their own end to win this series.

What I like about New York: Great goalie in Lundqvist. Playoff experienced forwards in Scott Gomez (two Stanley Cup wins with New Jersey) and Chris Drury (Stanley Cup victory with Colorado) and a head coach with a Stanley Cup ring and a system that works in John Tortorella. They have been hot down the stretch (12-6-1)  and as Boudreau pointed out today they played a real tough schedule over the last 10 games. They are also more physical since Tortorella took over so they may try to play that angle against the Caps with Sean Avery, Colton Orr, and Brandon Dubinsky. They also added big forward Nik Antropov  (6′ 6″, 230 lbs) at the trade deadline and he is very skilled and tough to move in the corner or in front of the net.

The concern about the Rangers: Goal scoring, they only had 210 goals, by far the fewest of any Eastern Conference playoff team. They also have the worst power play in the league at 13.7%. The Rangers did manage to score eight goals in the two games at Madison Square Garden but only tallied twice at the Verizon Center.

Analysis: Much has been made of Avery’s potential impact on this series and several media members asked the Caps players and coaches if he will try and rattle them. Avery will do what he does best, as Boudreau put it, but given how much damage he has done to the league he needs to be really careful because he is on a short leash and anything close to the line will result in the referees sending him to the box giving an edge to a Caps team with a potent power play. The Caps need to not get caught up in his taunts and mind games and just play hockey. This will be a really close, hard fought series but I think Washington has just enough firepower and skill to squeak this one out, but it won’t be easy. The Caps home crowd could be the difference maker in this playoff series.

“Everyone knows the Rangers are a good team and it is going to be close games. Hopefully we can have some home advantage,” added Backstrom.

Prediction: Caps in 7 games.

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Caps Clinch Second Place; Set Team Record in Win

Posted on 09 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

With their 11th straight win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2, on Thursday night the Washington Capitals have clinched the second seed in the Eastern Conference and will be get home ice in at least the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, should they keep advancing. In addition, with the victory the Caps now have a 50-23-8 record for 108 points, the most in team history (the 1985-86 team had 107 points in just 80 games).

This win rendered Saturday night’s final regular season contest in Florida meaningless for Washington and it won’t have any implications for the Panthers (beat Atlanta 3-2 on Thursday) either as they were eliminated from playoff contention when the Rangers won and Montreal gained a point on Thursday night. The Rangers and Habs are tied for 7th place in the Eastern Conference so the Caps still don’t know who they will face in the first round of the playoffs, but it will be one of those two teams.

This game started poorly for the Caps as Tampa scored just 36 seconds in on a quick shot by rookie Steven Stamkos (22nd of season). Stamkos outraced forward Tomas Fleischmann to a puck that was sent into the slot area after defenseman Brian Pothier was beaten to the puck by Tampa. The other defenseman on the ice, John Erskine, was out of position on the right wing boards. Mistakes like these by Washington need to be gone come Game 1 of next week’s playoffs.

For nearly the next seven minutes this game was all Tampa as they outshot the Caps 11-1 but Jose Theodore (22 saves on 24 shots) was very solid in goal to keep the guys in white in it until they could get their legs going. Finally a rush up the ice by Alexander Ovechkin drew a Matt Smaby holding penalty and Evgeny Artyukhin compounded the miscue by mouthing off to referees Don Koharski (working the last game in his 32 year career!) and Wes McCauley to draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

It only took the Caps 26 seconds to tie this game up on the 5 on 3 power play as Brooks Laich put in a layup in front of Tampa goalie Karri Ramo from Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green just over nine minutes into the contest. After that the game turned Washington’s way and in the second period they appeared to break this one open with two goals in 31 seconds as Laich got his 22nd goal of the year in the slot on a beautiful top shelf wrister and then Dave Steckel buried his eighth goal of the year going to the net and receiving a great centering feed from Matt Bradley.

Tampa then put up a fight in the latter half of the second period but as the game went to the 3rd period the Caps really dominated play again. However, that is where Ramo (29 saves on 32 shots) kept his team alive thwarting several good chances by Washington, including numerous Ovechkin shots (11 on the night but he had 0 points). The great goaltending by Ramo would pay off as Matt Pettinger scored on one of the five shots the Lightning had in the final period with just over 7 minutes to go in the contest (Caps outshot them 15-5) giving Tampa hope for their first win against the Caps under Coach Bruce Boudreau.

But Washington was strong the rest of the way and Green sealed this one with his 31st goal of the season into the empty net with just five seconds left. Green had a goal and two assists and now has an astounding 31 goals and 42 assists (73 points) on the season in just 67 games! Can you say Norris Trophy worthy?

As for Theodore, this was the 500th game of his career and he is now 215-213-30-44 overall to go two games over .500. He had not been over .500 in his career since being 5-4-2 back in 1997. The 30 represents the number of ties in his career and 44 is combined overtime and shootout losses. #60 is 32-16-5 with a .901 save percentage this year for the Caps but he is 24-10-4 since December 23rd.

There isn’t much more to report on this one as the Caps appeared to come out unscathed injury wise in the contest. Tom Poti (groin) and Donald Brashear (knee) missed the game but Poti is due back for game one of the playoffs. The team is unsure on Brashear but he may be needed to go against George Laraque if the Caps get Montreal or shut up pesky Sean Avery or minimize tough guy Colton Orr in the event that New York comes to the Verizon Center next week. The Caps won’t know their opponent until Sunday evening after the Flyers-Rangers game unless the Canadiens lose in regulation to the Penguins on Saturday night. A Penguin regulation win on Hockey Night in Canada gets Washington a series with New York.

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Green Scores Twice, Ovechkin Once in Cap Victory

Posted on 01 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Mike Green scored his 29th and 30th goals of the season in the third period and Alexander Ovechkin added his 54th of the season in the second period as the Washington Capitals rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to complete a four game season sweep of the New York Islanders on Wednesday night, 5-3, at the Verizon Center. The win combined with New Jersey getting buried by Pittsburgh (6-1) for their sixth straight loss gives Washington a three point lead over the Devils for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference with just five games to go in the regular season. This victory also gives the Caps 101 points and it is only the fourth time in team history they have eclipsed the century mark. If the Caps get at least seven points in their remaining five games they will set the franchise mark for total points in a regular season beating the 1985-86 team (107 points).

This game started slowly for Washington and once again a shorthanded bad clear (Tom Poti) led to an opposing goal as a screened Jose Theodore was beaten by Kyle Okposo’s top shelf shot for the first tally of the evening. Then to start the second period the Islanders made it 2-0 as Poti and Jeff Schultz had another poor defensive zone shift that allowed Frans Nielsen to put one in off of his skate while charging to the net.

But things then began to change when John Erskine stepped up in Donald Brashear’s absence (knee injury) and fought Joel Rechlicz 100 seconds into the second period. That brought some adrenaline to the Caps along with a Schultz fight and even though Green was correctly called for charging Andy Hilbert to put Washington shorthanded (even though several Islanders jumped Green and Schultz had to fight Tim Jackman when the Islander instigated – that sequence should have been an even up call causing Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau to shout “What the #$%& are you guys looking at?” to the referees) you could sense that the Caps were now into this game.

On the ensuing Islander power play the Caps did a good job of preventing New York from making it 3-0 and then Sergei Fedorov took over at the end of the penalty kill and finished his great shift with an unbelievably great pass from behind the net to a wide open Ovechkin who shot it in off of Islanders goalie Joey MacDonald. The Caps then kept the intensity up and Eric Fehr pressured New York into a bad defensive zone pass that went right to Keith Aucoin in the slot and his first shot ricocheted off of MacDonald’s pads back to Aucoin who buried the puck for his first goal of the season (he had five tallies last year in Carolina).

With the game tied 2-2 it looked like this would be a repeat of the early December Caps 5-2 victory where the home squad scored three goals in the final period to break open a tight game but when Michael Nylander made a bad kicking backwards pass to Green and Shaone Morrisonn, it was intercepted by Richard Park and he went in alone on Theodore and beat him top shelf on a beautiful back hand move. Suddenly it was 3-2 Islanders early in the final period.

But Washington put the heat on and shortly thereafter Alexander Semin almost tied the game with two great chances but MacDonald was lucky and good to preserve the New York lead. The Caps would tie it as the Islanders, who tried to take take advantage of no Brashear with some chippy play all night, crossed the line and were caught by the zebras for roughing giving the Caps a power play. Green then got his 29th in the slot on a great feed from Semin and then just 83 seconds later Green put in the game winner (his 30th) on a point shot that MacDonald had trouble with because Tomas Fleischmann went to the net and screened the goalie (in fact, it was close to #14′s goal as he swatted at the puck and looked to just barely miss it).

Here are some other thoughts on the game and notes on the Caps on a busy day:

Goaltending: Theodore was good tonight even though he gave up three goals on 27 shots. Each of the three goals were the result of defensive zone breakdowns and there were many others that lead to quality chances. Since December 23rd #60 is now 22-10-4 and his save percentage over that span, before tonight, was .911. He recorded his 30th win of the season, the third 30-win season of his career. He is now .500 for his career (213-213-44); the last time he was .500 in his career was Nov. 9, 1998.

Fleischmann: While #14 did not have a point for the 14th straight game this was one of his better games in weeks. He went to the net hard and did a good job of backchecking on several occassions. He is due to score and my biggest complaint is that he needs to be more careful with his defensive zone passes. I have a feeling this guy breaks out soon and the playoffs would be a perfect time.

Fedorov and Backstrom: I thought both of these guys were big keys to the game tonight setting the pace up the middle of the ice for Washington. Fedorov brought the Caps back in it in the second period and he was 11-7 on face-offs. It was his best game in weeks but he has been battling the flu. As for #19, this kid just keeps getting better and better and now has 22 goals and 60 assists (82 points). He is SO strong on the puck along the boards thanks to some great lower body strength. He is one of the most underrated players in the league, in my opinion. Backstrom also was 16-8 from the face off dot on Wednesday (Washington was 45-24 for the game).

Concern area: I continue to be worried about the Caps play in their own end. It seems that there are several times in a game where they just are running around with no thought to proper positioning. They also have sequences where they are very careless with the puck. Clearing the front of their own net has not been their strong suit lately and come playoff time guys will have to start blocking more shots. In fact, Green was just a guest call in tonight on the NHL Network’s “On the Fly” show and indicated that defensive zone was the one thing they really needed to do better in when asked by Hall of Famer Larry Murphy if there was a concern area (For those those who missed it, you can catch it on replay in the AM on the NHL Network).

2009 Masterton Trophy: Brian Pothier has been nominated by the Professional Hockey Writers Association for the 2009 Bill Masterton Trophy that typically is awarded to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” #2, who scored his first goal in 14 months against Tampa last Friday night, missed all that time due to post-concussion syndrome. Pothier will go up against Southeast Division rivals Rod Brind’Amour of Carolina, Slava Kozlov of Atlanta, Richard Zednik of Florida, Cory Murphy of Tampa Bay and several other to be named players from each team in the NHL.

Caps Sign Draft Pick: The Washington Capitals have signed forward Stefan Della Rovere to a three-year entry-level contract beginning next season, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. Della Rovere, 18, will join the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and could make his debut Wednesday night at Charlotte. He is also eligible to return to his junior team next season. Della Rovere captained the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this year and recorded 51 points (27g-24a) and 146 penalty minutes in 57 regular-season games. He played in all five playoff games for the Colts, recording two goals and two assists before the team was eliminated in the first round by the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors. Della Rovere was named to the 2009 OHL Eastern Conference All-Star team, where he recorded one goal.

The 5’11”, 200-pound Richmond Hill, Ontario, native was a member of Team Canada that won the gold medal at the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa. He also participated in the 2008 ADT Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Canada/Russia Challenge, an annual six-game exhibition tournament between all-star teams representing the three leagues of the CHL and a select team of Russian junior players. Della Rovere was Washington’s seventh-round choice, 204th overall, in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Next up for the Caps are the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night at the Verizon Center. The Sabres are five points out of the playoffs with six games to go and after tonight’s overtime loss in Atlanta are on the verge of being eliminated. The Capitals practice on Thursday at Kettler Ice Plex will be at noon and will likely be an optional one.

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Caps Hold 2nd Place in East / Hockey News

Posted on 31 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Update

The Caps get back on the ice on Wednesday night against the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center at 7pm. Washington has not played since Alexander Ovechkin’s two goal and two assist performance led the team to a 5-3 victory over Tampa last Friday. The Great #8 now has 100 points on the season (53 goals, 47 assists). While the Caps were getting rested, something they really needed, and hopefully healthier (Defenseman Mike Green is close to getting over the flu and hopefully other players fighting that virus are recovering as well, however, Donald Brashear’s knee still isn’t ready for action yet), the New Jersey Devils managed to lose to both Carolina and the Rangers giving the Caps a one point lead on second place in the Eastern Conference standing with six games to go in the regular season. As I wrote a week ago (http://wnst.net/wordpress/edfrankovic/2009/03/23/caps-have-inside-track-on-2nd-in-the-east/), the Caps had the inside track on 2nd place and they still maintain that advantage.

The Caps last 6 games are:

NYI, Buf, Atl, @Atl, @TB, @Fla

New Jersey’s road is a little tougher:

@Pit, TB, @Buf, Tor, @Ott, Car

If Washington can go 5-1 they should easily get 2nd place and even 4-2 might be enough.

Today Washington recalled forward Keith Aucoin from Hershey for Wednesday’s game. Goalie Simeon Varlamov was sent down after Friday’s contest to play two games in Hershey (won 7-2 on Saturday against Bridgeport making 38 saves and then lost 1-0 to Wilkes Barre but made 36 saves on Sunday night) and then was recalled on Monday (Tarik El-Bashir’s Capitals Insider Blog is reporting Varlamov may get the start on Friday against Buffalo and will likely play one other game before the end of the regular season).

The Caps are 3-0 this year against the Islanders but the two wins in New York came in overtime and the win at the Verizon Center in early December was the result of a three goal third period that broke a 2-2 tie. My prediction: this will be another close game and the Islanders did give the Flyers fits on Saturday (lost 4-3 in a shootout) so Washington needs to be ready to play when the puck drops.

Hockey News

Down on the farm: The Hershey Bears now hold a three point lead over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the AHL East Division of the Eastern Conference. The Bears have six games left while Bridgeport only has four remaining (the AHL only plays 80 games vs. 82 in the NHL). Hershey’s next four games are on the road (including Friday at Bridgeport) before they close out the season at home.

Speaking of the AHL, the long time home of the Philadelphia Flyers in the NHL and now the AHL home of the Phantoms, The Spectrum, is supposed to be closed this year (but there is a rumor going around that due to economic reasons it may stay open longer). So for those fans who enjoyed seeing hockey in that building, and I know I did attending nearly every Caps game there from 1987-1996 (the Flyers then moved across the parking lot to the Wachovia Center), you still have a chance to go up and see a game. Hershey plays at The Spectrum on April 10th.

Frozen Four: The four teams to advance to the 2009 Frozen Four at the Verizon Center on April 9-11 include two first-time Frozen Four participants and two who will be making their first appearance in the NCAA semifinals since 1997. Bemidji State, Boston University, Miami and Vermont will compete for the first-ever NCAA Division I championship awarded in the District of Columbia after winning their respective NCAA regionals this weekend.

The matchup for the first semifinal on Thursday, April 9, features the two newcomers, Bemidji State and Miami, facing off at 5 p.m. Both were the No. 4 seeds in their four-team regionals. The second semifinal faces off at 8:30 p.m. and features two Hockey East teams that last reached the Frozen Four in 1997: Boston University, the tournament’s top overall seed, and Vermont. The semifinals will be carried live on ESPN2 (HD).

The national championship will be held Saturday, April 11, at 7 p.m. on ESPN (HD). The semifinal and championship games, to be held at Verizon Center, are already sold out.

NHL Eastern Conference Update: Both the Montreal Canadiens (8th place) and the Florida Panthers (9th place) won on Tuesday night so the Habs still lead the Panthers by a point (88-87) and have a game in hand. Florida is two points behind the 7th place Rangers and both have five games left. The Buffalo Sabres (10th place) have 82 points and have seven games left but probably need to win all of them to have any chance of getting into the post season. The Flyers, who have seven games left, have the inside track on 4th place while the Hurricanes and Penguins are battling it out for 5th place.

NHL Western Conference Update: If the playoffs started today all five teams in the Central Division, once thought by some to be the weakest division in the league, would make it in. San Jose and Detroit are in with the Sharks looking like they will get the top seed and then you have Vancouver, Calgary and Chicago who are pretty much in followed by sixth place Columbus who appear to be on the verge of making the playoffs for the first time EVER in eight NHL seasons. Earlier in the season I called the Blue Jackets the surprise team and when they added rookie goalie Steve Mason they became an even bigger success and story. Nashville (7th), St. Louis (8th), Anaheim (9th), Edmonton (10th), and Minnesota (11th) are all within three points of each other.

Programming Note: For those who missed Drew Forrester’s interview with Caps defenseman Brian Pothier from Tuesday morning please check it out in the WNST audio vault.

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Ovechkin, Backstrom Carry Caps Past Lightning, 5-3

Posted on 27 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin notched his 52nd and 53rd goals of the season plus he added two assists and Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and an assist as the Washington Capitals knocked off the Tampa Bay Lightning for the fifth time this season and the tenth straight time overall, 5-3, at the Verizon Center. With the win the Caps moved within two points of clinching their second straight Southeast Division title.

Tonight’s game winner was also a special one as defenseman Brian Pothier scored his first goal of the season by firing the puck at the net and it deflected off of the Lightning’s Vinnie Prospal and past goalie Mike McKenna with 15:30 to go in the game. Good things typically happen when you shoot the puck. Ovechkin’s goal into an empty net then sealed the victory with seven seconds left.

Even with the win, I still didn’t like the way the Caps played most of the night, especially in their own zone, and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will have plenty of mistakes on video to show his troops that will need to get corrected over the last six games of the regular season heading into the playoffs.

Here are some more notes and thoughts on this game:

Goaltending: Caps goalie Jose Theodore (33 saves) was great early on stopping several quality chances and he also thwarted Martin St. Louis on a clean breakaway in the second period. He also made some good stops down the stretch in  a tie game but he just did not look comfortable in the goal this evening. Prospal’s goal to tie the game at three early in the third period was just awful. I have no idea where #60 was looking on that play. Also, he struggled with his rebounds, at times, and was very lucky that Evgeny Artyukhin cross checked John Erskine to wipe out an apparent game tying goal by Jeff Halpern. As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows I am a Theodore supporter but tonight he was not consistent at all.

Power Play: The Caps power play was really good in the first period scoring three times to make Tampa pay for taking some stupid penalties but they did not connect after that (except for a waved off goal late in the contest) and were 3 for 9 for the game. Several of the power plays looked out of sink and clearly the fact that Alex Semin was out with the flu impacted the overall chemistry. The Caps plan seemed to be to go to the net and get rebound goals and they did an okay job of that in the first period but they must do it more consistently.

Defensive Zone: I grade the Caps a D- in their own zone tonight. They routinely had defensive coverage breakdowns, did a poor job of clearing the front of the net, the forwards were weak on the boards at getting the puck out, and their were too many bad passes. If Washington plays this way in their own zone in the first round of the playoffs they will get creamed unless Theodore stands on his head. The Caps were just not smart defensively in their own zone. Also, what was Erskine doing retaliating to Artyukhin’s cross check with one of his own? #4 lost his head which cost Washington a power play and just 29 seconds later Prospal tied the game.  Boneheaded plays like that can cost you playoff games.

Nylander: I thought #92 was terrible tonight. There were two times in the third period where instead of passing the puck to a wide open Ovechkin in front of the net he chose to hold onto it and the Caps didn’t even get a quality scoring chance on the shift. If the Great #8 is going to the net Nylander has to get him the puck (Backstrom does not make these kind of simple mistakes). No wonder he only has 30 points in 65 games and tonight he played 5:02 of power play time without a point. I would rather see Eric Fehr out there crashing the net instead of Nylander with his weak shot and tendency to hold onto the puck too long.

Other stats, notes, and thoughts: Brooks Laich had 3 assists and as usual crashed the net hard. The Caps outshot Tampa, 39-36. Martin St. Louis was great for the visitors with a goal and two assists. Vincent Lecavalier had some chances but I thought he floated most of the evening (perhaps he wants to go play in Montreal?). Forwards Keith Aucoin and Oscar Osala were recalled from Hershey and played tonight with Semin and Donald Brashear still out of the lineup. Jeff Schultz was the defensive scratch and based on the way most of the defenseman played tonight I don’t think Boudreau can afford to scratch him  and his +13 rating again anytime soon.

The Caps are now in second place in the Eastern Conference with 99 points but the New Jersey Devils are playing in Chicago tonight (tied 2-2 midway through the 3rd period). The Devils, counting tonight’s game in Chicago, have three games in hand. Washington is now off until Wednesday, April 1 when they face the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center for the second of four straight home games. The final 3 games of the regular season are on the road. This four day break will give the Caps some time to rest and recover and more importantly, give Boudreau some extended video and practice time. Washington typically plays very well after Boudreau gets to have a few practice sessions in a row.

Final Note: I’ll be chasing a white ball in Myrtle Beach the next four days so I’ll be off the blog until Tuesday night.

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Caps Clinch Playoff Berth! / NHL News

Posted on 25 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Last season the Washington Capitals waited until their last game of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot. This year they did it with seven games to go and on a night they weren’t even playing as the Florida Panthers were defeated, 5-3, by the Buffalo Sabres tonight, meaning no team currently out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture can catch Washington. The Caps still will need a couple more games, at least, to clinch the Southeast Division title as the Carolina Hurricanes won their ninth straight home game tonight in beating the just as hot Ottawa Senators, 2-1. Carolina is now 41-28-7 (89 points) with six games left while the Caps are 45-24-7 (97 points) with seven games left. According to the Caps media relations department Washington only needs four points to clinch the division (any combination of Caps points or points lost by Carolina). The Caps are next on the ice on Friday night at the Verizon Center against Tampa Bay (Washington is 4-0 against the Lightning this season).

Forwards Steve Pinizzotto and Chris Bourque and goaltender Daren Machesney were returned to Hershey today while goaltender Simeon Varlamov was recalled.

The Caps have announced another signing today and below is the complete press release:

————–

The Washington Capitals have signed free agent defenseman Zach Miskovic to a one-year entry-level contract for 2009-10, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy terms of the deal were not disclosed. Miskovic will join the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL) this season on an amateur tryout agreement.

Miskovic, 23, was a first-team All-ECAC Hockey selection this season as a senior at St. Lawrence after earning third-team honors in 2007-08. He shared the team lead and led all NCAA defensemen in goals with 16 in 38 games. Miskovic, who played all 154 games in his college career, scored five power-play goals this season and a team-high four game-winners, while adding nine assists for 25 points.

A 6’1”, 195-pound native of River Forest, Ill., Miskovic had eight goals and 21 assists as a junior and was named the Saints’ outstanding defenseman. He won the Clark Cup (playoff champion) and Anderson Cup (regular-season champion) as a member of the United States Hockey League’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders in 2004-05, prior to attending St. Lawrence.

Miskovic joins an organization that has seen six former college free agents contribute with the Capitals at the NHL level this season: Keith Aucoin, Jay Beagle, Sean Collins, Graham Mink, Brian Pothier and David Steckel.

—————

Back to the big club now, for those of you who missed McPhee’s on air session with Drew Forrester today, please check out the WNST audio vault as McPhee and Drew discussed several topics, including the increased fan scrutiny winning brings (McPhee is okay with that), the Karl Alzner situation (McPhee wants him to develop properly), the trade deadline (McPhee didn’t want to mortgage the future for one run at the Stanley Cup this year), and many other interesting topics. The GM also mentioned that every game next season will likely be sold out for the first time ever in franchise history (my dad wrote back in the 70′s, when the Caps were first in the league, that the day would come when the Caps would achieve that but he and I both didn’t think it would take this long – better late than never though!).

Today Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau gave the team off from practice to rest and hopefully get rid of the terrible flu bug that is running through the team and hockey staff. The team did have a morning meeting with Boudreau. Much has been made of the team’s up and down play lately and forward Brooks Laich was quoted after Tuesday night’s shootout loss in Toronto as saying that the team needs to up the effort level.

As I wrote in my blog on Monday (http://wnst.net/wordpress/edfrankovic/2009/03/23/caps-have-inside-track-on-2nd-in-the-east/

), I like the Caps chances in the post season and their ability to raise the level of their game when they are challenged. I also like the fact that they are playing stress free hockey right now and are not wearing themselves out as they did last year or how teams such as Pittsburgh or Carolina may be doing it now by playing at such a high stress and energy level night in and night out (they can’t afford to lose). That kind of effort eventually wears a team out and leads to injuries (and Carolina’s Eric Cole left tonight’s game in the third period with an undisclosed injury).

One final Caps note: If Washington does face Carolina in the playoffs, consider me old school, but if I’m Boudreau the first time Canes Coach Paul Maurice puts defenseman Joni Pitkanen on the ice I send out a hopefully healthy Donald Brashear and have him run #25 cleanly and as hard as possible into the glass as many times as he can to send a message that he and the Canes aren’t going to get away with their cheap shots on guys like Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin, or Alex Semin in the series like they’ve done the last two times they played the Caps (Brashear missed both games). I still can’t believe Pitkanen’s shot to Green’s head last Saturday night only drew a two minute penalty.

NHL News

Florida is now very likely to be missing out on the Eastern Conference playoffs as they blew a 3-1 third period lead in Buffalo tonight. GM Jacques Martin is really going to feel the heat going forward from his fan base for missing the playoffs and for not getting anything for superstar unrestricted free agent defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester, at the trade deadline on March 4th. Martin gambled that the Panthers could keep #4 and make the playoffs with the hope that progress might convince the Edmonton native to stay in Florida, even though he has publicly said he prefers to play in a more hockey focused city. Martin, who tends to have unrealistic expectations for what he should receive in a trade as evidenced by what he went through with Olli Jokinen last season, has to be on the hot seat big time.

The Calgary Flames, who beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings on Monday night (5-3), were shutout in Pittsburgh tonight (2-0) and now only lead the Vancouver Canucks by three points in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference with nine games to go, however, the Canucks have a game in hand. The Flames are really missing injured forwards Todd Bertuzzi (knee surgery) and Rene Bourque (knee injury) but both should be back in time for the playoffs so if Calgary can hang onto the division title and the third seed they could be a team to watch in the post season. Vancouver is very hot though and may overtake Calgary in the division.

Speaking of the Penguins, they are now 13-2-3 since Head Coach Michel Therien was fired and replaced by Dan Bylsma. According to former Penguin and current broadcaster Phil Bourque, who was on Hockey Night in Canada Radio today with Jeff Marek and Kelly Hrudey, the players who received the biggest boost to the canning of Therien were forwards Jordan Staal and Sydney Crosby who were absolutely miserable playing under the defensive minded coach’s system. My only question to GM Ray Shero: What took you so long to fire him? The player revolt started at the outset of the season and it continued all year. Shero’s late action almost cost the Penguins a playoff berth. However, Shero deserves alot of credit for the Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin acquisitions which make the Pens very difficult to defend up front.

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Canes Sink Caps, 4-1

Posted on 21 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Bad defensive zone play, a red hot goaltender, not shooting the puck, not going to the net, and some poor officiating, in that order, did the Washington Capitals in on Saturday night as they lost to a streaking Carolina Hurricanes squad, 4-1, in Raleigh. This was the Hurricanes eighth straight home win and they needed this victory more than the Caps, who dominated the first period but could not solve goalie Cam Ward (31 saves on the evening) in that opening stanza.

Let’s start with the bad defensive zone play because all three Carolina goals came as a result of turnovers and defensive zone breakdowns; they were not the result of offensive and neutral zone turnovers that led to odd man rushes. On goal number one by Rod Brind’Amour, Mike Green (who definitely favored his injured left side all evening) gave the puck away behind the Caps net allowing Jussi Jokinen to gather the puck just above the goal line to the right of Jose Theodore (26 saves on 29 shots on Saturday). Green’s defensive partner (Erskine) then made the wrong play going to Jokinen, who was in NO position to score, and vacated the front of the net allowing Brind’Amour to streak into the slot wide open and one time it by #60 for a 1-0 Canes lead. Erskine needs to read the play better in that situation.

After Green tied the game late in the second period on one of the very few times Washington threw the puck on net and received a rebound from Ward (Backstrom’s low shot caromed off of the goalies pads and out to Green, who one timed it top left corner by Ward), more defensive zone missteps would cost Washington the game and allow Carolina to tie the overall season series with the Caps at three (although Carolina did get 7 points to the Caps 6 since game five was won by Washington in a shootout). Shortly after a Washington power play had expired Carolina got the puck in the offensive zone on a Washington turnover as Brian Pothier and John Erskine fumbled it behind the Caps net allowing the puck to go to Eric Staal in front, who blasted one off the pads of Theodore, and with none of the defensemen or forwards picking up Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen in front of the net, he patiently waited for Theo to go down and then roofed a backhander into the goal for the eventual game winner.

The final major defensive breakdown gave the Hurricanes their insurance tally at 13:43 on a four on four situation. Ray Whitney brought the puck in the zone with Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Green back for the Caps and it ended up on the left wing boards with Washington in initial good defensive posture. But then Viktor Kozlov, for some strange reason, decided to leave Canes defenseman Anton Babchuk at the front of the Caps net and Denis Seidenberg wisely fired the puck to him and once again, a Hurricane waited Theodore out and backhanded the puck by #60 to make it 3-1. I have no idea what Kozlov was doing there because he was in good man to man coverage and then took off from the player he was responsible for watching?

Clearly the number one star of the night though was Ward who made numerous good gloves saves, including a big stop on Tomas Fleischmann in the third period, who is pointless this month now in 11 games. The former Conn Smythe trophy winner is in a groove but the Caps made things easier for him tonight as they routinely passed up good shooting opportunities by opting for curl and drag moves and cross ice passes for bad angled one timers. Backstrom passed up several good chances, as did Semin, and although Michael Nylander’s curl and drag move worked the other night in Florida, he had two times that I can vividly remember that had he taken the puck hard to the net then Washington would have likely gotten a quality scoring chance. On Saturday night the Caps, for some reason, decided once again to not shoot the puck low at Ward and go hard to the crease for rebounds. The only time they really did this they got the goal from Green. You can bet that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will harp on the bad defensive and offensive decisions by his players in Saturday night’s loss.

As for the officiating, it wasn’t very good and I knew it wasn’t going to be as soon as Comcast’s Joe Beninati announced we had zebras Dan Marouelli and Bill McCreary, two dinosaurs who have never been very good referees in my book. The first call I really did not like came in the third period when Jokinen hooked Fleischmann on a good Washington chance but when #14 fell to the ice he was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for diving. On the replay Jokinen clearly hooked Fleischmann and it looked to me that Tomas hit a rut or Jokinen’s stick clipped his skate causing his fall because with Semin wide open in the slot I HIGHLY doubt he was looking to dive (as evidenced how quickly he fired the puck to Semin from his knees – if he was diving he would not have been looking to complete the play).

Next came the HORRIBLE call of the night with the Caps down 3-1 when Pitkanen took a two handed cross check to Green’s head as he was going around him, knocking #52 to the ice. When Green got up and started jawing at Pitkanen it was the Hurricane who initiated the contact that caused the scrum that eventually resulted in Green getting two minutes for roughing while all #25 of the home team walked away with was a two minute high sticking call. I’ve watched this sequence THREE times now and I still have no idea how this was an even up call!!! Pitkanen’s shot to Green’s head should have been a FIVE minute major, especially since blows to the head are supposed to be heavily enforced these days, and I counted two shots from Pitkanen on Green while #52 only got in one good glove punch. What was Marouelli and McCreary watching? They are terrible, but unfortunately those two clowns will probably officiate at least one Washington playoff game.

Beninati and Craig Laughlin in the Comcast broadcast booth, two great guys who I’ve known for years and who really know hockey, then gave Green a bit of the gears on the air for not keeping his head and costing Washington a power play but I think if those guys watched this thing again, like I was able to do, they’d agree more with me (that the zebras blew this one). Pitkanen should have gotten a major and then he initiated the contact and the scrum that ensued, not Green.

Shortly thereafter, Brind’Amour boarded Ovechkin from behind and the Great #8 slammed his head into the glass but luckily was not hurt. Even though #17 was not intending to hit him from behind he should have gotten a five minute major but the guys in stripes only went with two minutes. Joe Corvo’s empty net shorthanded goal sealed the deal for Carolina.

Here are some other thoughts on the Caps:

I’ve noticed over the last five games that Washington has played without Donald Brashear, and especially in the two Carolina games, that the opposition has been taking more liberties with the Washington skill players. It seems opponents are feeling braver without the fear of #87 coming out and pounding them to oblivion. Matt Bradley, who will drop the gloves but rarely wins the bout, can’t police things for this team on his own. I think Washington is missing Brashear’s toughness right now.

Overall, I thought Erskine had the worst night on defense for the Caps. Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing #27, Karl Alzner, coming up from Hershey and getting some work before the playoffs but right now the Caps seem set on the seven guys that are up with the big club in Green, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Morrisonn, Pothier, Erskine, and Milan Jurcina (scratched on Saturday). Pothier wasn’t very good tonight as well.

Sergei Fedorov (-2) did not have a good game and he looked listless at times. I wonder if he isn’t fully recovered from that flu bug yet?

The Caps next game is Tuesday in Toronto against Martin Gerber, who beat the Canadiens, 5-2, tonight. Gerber stoned the Caps back on March 5th (2-1 Leafs win). The Florida Panthers were knocked off by Columbus, 3-1, tonight reducing the Caps magic number for clinching a playoff spot to just five points (any combination of Caps points or Florida missed point opportunities). The Caps lead in the Southeast Division is 11 points over Carolina with eight games to go so the magic number to clinch that title, and get at least the third seed, is six points.

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Caps and Mike Green Update

Posted on 20 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps News

Mike Green appears to be a game time decision on Saturday night in Carolina and kudos to Corey Masisak of the Washington Times for finding out that it is “clearly a rib/abdomen/side issue for Green.” Also here is what Masisak wrote about the situation from Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s perspective:

Boudreau said they wanted Mike Green to take the day off and then see where he is at tomorrow. He said if it were up to Green, he would play but the team wants to make the best decision for the rest of the season and the playoffs.

The good news is regardless of whether #52 plays on Saturday it doesn’t appear to be a more serious shoulder injury. My guess is he sits on Saturday at Carolina meaning John Erskine gets back in the lineup. Also John Walton, the Director of Communicatons for the Hershey Bears, is reporting that forward Chris Bourque has been scratched for Hershey tonight and he was seen headed to the airport. Looks like Bourque will be called up for Saturday’s game and will occupy the spot vacated first by Boyd Gordon due to a finger injury (out two to three weeks) and then by Quintin Laing as a result of his very unfortuante spleen injury that will end his season. Laing is a nice team player and a guy the Caps organization could have used in the playoffs either in Hershey or Washington.

Below is a press release from today by the Caps:

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The Washington Capitals have signed free agent center Trevor Bruess to a two-year entry-level contract beginning in 2009-10, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy terms of the deal were not disclosed. The Capitals expect Bruess to join the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL) next week on an amateur tryout agreement.

Bruess (pronounced BRISS), 23, has spent the past three seasons with Minnesota State of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). The 6’0”, 200-pound Minneapolis native was an assistant captain for the Mavericks in 2008-09. He had 12 goals, 17 points and 117 penalty minutes in 35 games on the season, leading the team in penalty minutes and finishing tied for third in goals.

Bruess led Minnesota State in points (30) and assists (21) as a sophomore in 2007-08 in 38 games. His nine goals included a team-high three shorthanded goals, one power-play goal and one game-winner. He won the team’s Hardest Worker Award for the second year in a row and led the team in plus/minus rating (+22). In three collegiate seasons Bruess posted 24 goals and 61 points in 110 games.

Bruess joins an organization that has seen five former college free agents contribute with the Capitals at the NHL level this season: Jay Beagle, Sean Collins, Graham Mink, Brian Pothier and David Steckel.

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So I am looking at the Eastern Conference standings tonight and with the Caps sitting on 96 points and Carolina having 81 points with 10 games left (they are playing the Islanders in Raleigh right now and are tied 4-4 in the third period) and Florida having 80 points with 11 games left the Caps only need to get to 102 points to clinch the Southeast Division even if one of those two teams won out the rest of the way. You could see the Caps clinch the Southeast Division as early as next Friday, if things go correctly for Washington.

There were articles and coverage galore on Ovechkin’s 50th goal celebration from Thursday night. Clearly the guy is getting people to talk about hockey and even though I wasn’t a fan of it, I am not appalled by it. However, I did notice that Ryan Malone said he took exception to the celebration. Here is what he said:

“I was in the [penalty] box at the time, but you remember something like that and make sure he pays the right way,” Malone told the Tampa Tribune. “He’s going to do what he’s going to do and it’s up to us to react the way we should.”

Sounds like Malone, a former Pittsburgh Penguin, might go after Ovechkin the next time these teams play (Friday, March 27th). I’m pretty sure that Matt Bradley and Donald Brashear will make sure noone takes any liberties with the Great #8.

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