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Caps-Thrashers Live Blog – Thrashers 5, Caps 1 FINAL

Posted on 16 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

With a five game road winning streak for the Caps and a five game overall winning streak for the Atlanta Thrashers something has to give in Atlanta tonight and so far it is Washington who is doing all of the giving. Atlanta leads 2-0 after the 1st period after some uninspired hockey by the guys in white sweaters tonight. Alexander Ovechkin is going for his 50th goal of the season while Washington defensemen Mike Green is out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury and Atlanta superstar Ilya Kovalchuk is out with an upper body injury. Here are some thoughts on the first period, which was too wide open with 26 shots (14 for the Caps and 12 for Atlanta).

Defenseman Tom Poti was just terrible in the first period and directly responsible for both goals. First, he badly overplayed Thrasher forward Rich Peverly at the blue line giving him the inside lane allowing #47 to drive to the net and fire a backhander that Jose Theodore stopped, but because of a screen, he gave up a rebound that was put in by Colby Armstrong. The other defenseman on the ice was Shaone Morrisonn who was also in no man’s land. The second Atlanta goal was a power play one but Poti had two good chances to clear the puck yet gave it away both times and finally Slava Kozlov, after 76 seconds in the Washington zone, ripped one off the post and past Theodore.

Ovechkin totally floated in his own end on the Atlanta first goal not picking up anyone the whole time the Thrashers were in the zone. Had he been strong on the puck at the blue line he would have been able to thwart Peverly’s move on Poti and take the puck but Ovechkin was seen coasting with his legs straight and stick at his waist which is not good defensive position. Here is a SCARY stat: Ovechkin has not been a PLUS player in his last 11 games and he is -6 over that span. The last time he was a plus in a game was against Montreal on February 18th. Ovechkin is -1 tonight so far. Bottom Line: The Great #8 needs to become more responsible in his own end.

Brian Pothier is playing his first game since January 3, 2008 (concussion) and he looked okay except for taking the only penalty of the period when he hooked Brett Sterling in front of the Washington net (and Atlanta scored on the ensuing power play).

Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen saved all 14 shots he faced but the Caps have had little to no traffic in front of him. The Caps need to go to the net harder. Is someone other than the big guns on this team going to score again?

We’ll see if period two is better but I don’t have a good feeling about this game tonight, Atlanta looks hungrier and more focused.

So far the second period has been worse than the first. The Caps have just taken their third penalty of the period on a hook by Alexander Semin (they trail 3-0). It was Semin who turned the puck over shorthanded in the offensive zone that led to the Thrasher second power play goal of the evening as Anssi Salmela skated back up ice with the puck and, you guessed it, Poti and Morrisonn were back, and the duo gave Salmela too much room and he fired it past Theodore. Now on Semin’s penalty Atlanta has made it 4-0 on a Tobias Enstrom blast and the Thrashers are 3 for 4 on power plays. The Caps have yet to DRAW a penalty and I cannot blame the referees as Washington has been downright AWFUL! Oh and Poti and Morrisonn have been on the ice for all four Thrashers goals. Poti was unable to clear out Bryan Little in front of the net on the Enstrom blast.

Theodore was then pulled in goal with Simeon Varlamov inserted and the Caps finally showed some life. Ovechkin drew a penalty and Washington went on the power play for the first time all game but Lehtonen would not allow anything to get past him. Then as the penalty expired the Great #8 went on a hitting spree crushing three Thrashers and that allowed Semin to draw another Altanta penalty in the offensive zone. The Caps peppered Lehtonen on the power play to end the period but between the goalie and the cross bar the Caps could not get the puck by him. Washington has a minute and 21 seconds left on the power play to start period three and if they don’t score they can write this one off. The Caps are now outshooting Atlanta 30-21 but the scoreboard says 4-0 Thrashers. Bad defense for the Caps and timely goaltending by Lehtonen has made this a lopsided affair.

Despite giving a big effort in the third period Washington could not solve Lehtonen until 75 seconds left in the game as Eric Fehr tipped in the rebound of a Milan Jurcina point blast. The fact that the Caps scored a rebound goal and it wasn’t from one of the big guns is one of the very few positives from this contest. On the night Lehtonen stopped 49 of 50 shots and the netminder is now 10-6-2 in his career against the Caps. In the third period, Washington had two more power plays in addition to the last 81 seconds on their second one and it was evident that without Green on the right point and Poti inserted that this configuration is much less dangerous as #3 is no real threat to score with his much weaker shot. Poti’s nightmare evening continued as a defensive zone giveaway by him went right to Eric Perron, who went one on two on Poti and Schultz, fired a shot that deflected en route to Varlamov – who couldn’t handle it, and then Poti let Perron beat him to the puck for the rebound to make it 5-0 with 3:22 remaining. All that was left to decide at that point were two things: a Lehtonen shutout (which was denied by Fehr) and the possibility of an Ovechkin 50th goal (did not happen).

Here are some final thoughts:

The Caps must have believed that Theodore was going to win this game for them tonight because they were terrible in front of him. It wasn’t until Varlamov came in that Washington started playing hard and by then it was WAY too late.

Ovechkin was -2 on the evening and is now -8 in his last 12 games. The last goal was not his fault (you can put that one and many of the goals tonight on Poti) but #8 is still not playing consistently well in his own end. Ovechkin did have 10 shots on goal but he also missed the net on 7 other attempts.

This game was the only one on in the NHL at 7pm and Atlanta came out like it was their Game 7 of the playoffs while the Caps floated through the first 33 minutes. It was downright embarrassing for the Caps and their fans have a right to be mad after a pitiful performance like that on Versus. The Caps are now 43-22-6 with 11 games to go and are back on the ice tomorrow night in Florida. The season series with the Thrashers is now knotted at 2-2 with both teams holding serve at home (Atlanta has put up 12 goals in the two games they played at Phillips Arena).

Sergei Fedorov (illness) and Donald Brashear (knee) did not play on Monday.

Atlanta killed the Caps on face-offs, 39-21.

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Caps Recall Keith Aucoin from Hershey / Caps News

Posted on 14 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have recalled the American Hockey League’s (AHL) leading scorer, forward Keith Aucoin from the Hershey Bears, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Aucoin, 30, is an eighth-year pro who stands 5’9”, 180 pounds. The Waltham, Mass., native has played in three games for the Capitals this season, making his Washington debut on Dec. 4 against the New York Islanders. He has played in 56 career NHL games, recording five goals and 10 assists.

The undrafted Aucoin leads the AHL in points (86) and assists (64) through 63 games and is third in the league with a +25 rating. Aucoin was also named the AHL’s player of the month for October. He has 519 career AHL points in 498 games.

Aucoin, No. 20 with Washington, joined the Capitals organization as a free agent on July 3, 2008, after spending three years in the Carolina organization.

Comment: Aucoin has been recalled because Sergei Fedorov is still battling an illness and is questionable, at best, for tonight based on Tarik El-Bashir’s post in his Capitals Insider blog (he also reports that Donald Brashear is still out with a knee injury).

As for tonight’s game against Carolina in DC, the Caps are  12 points up on the Hurricanes and have a game in hand but just last Tuesday, March 3rd the Canes crushed the Caps, 5-2, at the Verizon Center. Carolina is fighting for their playoff lives so the Caps will get their best effort tonight despite this being their 3rd game in four days. I watched Carolina play the Blackhawks on Wednesday night in Chicago (via the NHL Centre Ice Package), a game they lost in a shootout, but they played well and forced OT with a goal with just 26 seconds remaining. The next night they lost to Dallas in Texas, 3-2, to a Stars team that also desperately needed a win. Forward Eric Staal has been hot lately (he had 6 points in a win over Tampa last weekend), Rod Brind’Amour seems to be playing his best hockey of the season, and goalie Cam Ward has been outstanding over the last three weeks. The Caps, who are 0-3-1 in their last four home games, better be ready to play tonight or this game could resemble the March 3rd tilt.

Here are some interesting notes and tidbits going into tonight’s game: Each of the last four Washington wins have been by one goal. The Capitals had started the season 3-3-3 in one-goal games and are now 17-8-5. The season series between the Caps and Canes is tied at two, with Carolina winning the last two contests. Washington has four players with at least eight power-play goals (Atlanta, Detroit and San Jose can say the same) and five players with at least seven power-play goals (only Detroit can say the same). Alex Ovechkin has a point in each of his last nine games (six goals, six assists in that time), putting him one game shy of his third 10-game point streak of the season. Ovechkin is nearing his third 50-goal season and a career-high in shots on goal. If Ovechkin hits 50 goals, he would become the first Capital to record three 50-goal seasons and only the second active player with three (Teemu Selanne). Ovechkin is also three points shy of his fourth straight 90-point season.

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Caps Beat Flyers, 2-1, in Philly

Posted on 12 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals went into Philadelphia tonight without bruiser Donald Brashear (knee injury) and Tuesday’s hero in Nashville, forward Sergei Fedorov (sick), and knocked off the Flyers in regulation for the first time this season, 2-1. Alexander Ovechkin, who was booed every time he touched the puck by the Flyer fans, had the game winner in the second perioid after Alexander Semin stole the puck behind the Flyers net and centered it to an all alone Great #8, who then deposited the puck top shelf past goalie Martin Biron (28 saves). Ovechkin was all over the ice tonight and could have had several goals including a hit post late in regulation that would have given the Caps some insurance. The Great #8 also set up the first Washington goal by Brooks Laich (17th of the season) on the power play with a beautiful pass to the crease where #21 deflected it home by Biron. Semin was also very good all game, once again.

Washington received great goaltending tonight from Jose Theodore (35 saves), who was at his best in the second period when Philadelphia had 19 shots on net. His sprawling save on Kimo Timonen, who thought he had an open net, was amazing. Afterwards I was surprised to see that Philly had 36 shots for the game as the Caps defense did a very good job against the Flyers forwards by forcing most of the shots from the outside, by clearing any rebounds (and Theo didn’t give up many) and preventing the Flyers from getting to the net (something that Philadelphia has had success against the Caps in the past). Washington also had the puck for a large portion of the game and didn’t allow Philadelphia to get its hitting and cycling game going while the Caps seemed to get their’s going and punish the Flyers defense.

Here are some more thoughts and comments on the game:

Special Teams: Washington did a very good job of stopping a physical, net charging power play and the biggest key was Theodore, who did not give up many rebounds. Also, the Caps did a good job of clearing the puck when they got it except for a brutal giveaway by Boyd Gordon late in the third period. The Caps would kill off all four Flyer power plays and go one for two on their limited man advantage chances.

Another Odd Man Rush: For the third consecutive game the Caps gave up a 2 on 1 rush and for the second time the puck found the back of the net. Philadelphia’s only goal by Mike Knuble was the finish of a beautiful passing play between Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, and then Knuble. Washington was caught on a bad forward change and neutral zone turnover which allowed Philly to get a 3 on 2 odd man rush and when defensemen Milan Jurcina stepped up to play Gagne near the blueline he fed Richards who only had Jeff Schultz back against him and Knuble. As he did on Sunday, Schultz did not successfully cut off the pass, although it was an outstanding one by Richards, and that allowed Knuble to deposit the puck into the empty net.

Missing Pieces and Add-Ins: Without Fedorov the Caps were just awful on face-offs going 16-32. However, without Brashear and “Brooklyn Brawler” Matt Bradley unable to mix it up because of facial cuts, the Caps were not intimidated by the Flyers and, if I am Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, that is re-assuring. As Captain Chris Clark said when he was on the Caps post game show on Comcast after the win tonight, Washington is one of the bigger teams in the league so you don’t have to fight to play tough. Alexandre Giroux was the emergency call up from Hershey and he had some scoring chances but he also took two penalties and was one of the guys who changed too quickly on the play that led to the Flyers goal. Michael Nylander returned from an upper body injury and played 12:08 and my review of him was mixed. #92 did a good job of possessing the puck at times but he made a lazy play at center ice that led to the Flyers going quickly the other way for their only goal.

More Theodore: The Timonen save was great and he also got some revenge on Aaron Asham, who had a big goal in the Flyers win at the Verizon Center back on February 24th, stopping #45 when he was all alone in front of the Caps net in the third period. Theodore, who caught fire down the stretch for Colorado last season en route to leading the Avalanche into the 2nd round of the playoffs, has been very, very good since that game in New York two days before Christmas where he was pulled but re-inserted in a 5-4 Ovechkin led overtime victory. Coming into tonight he had a 1.95 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in his last three games.

Take that Chief: When I was coming home this afternoon Hockey Night in Canada Radio hosts Jeff Marek and Cassie Campbell Pascall were talking with Flyers assistant Coach Craig “Chief” Berube and he was bragging about how well the Flyers play the Great #8 and that Timonen and the Flyers defensemen know how to not give him room and have success. Thursday, March 12th: Ovechkin goal and an assist, Flyers 1. SCOREBOARD Chief!!

What Celebration??: For those Don Cherry worshippers who critique Ovechkin’s celebrations and say he is over the top, tonight’s post goal antics consisted of the Great #8 standing in place, a quick kiss of the glove and left arm raise as a salute to his brother Sergei (died in a car accident), then raising both of his arms as everyone does when they score, and yelling while waiting for Semin and the other teammates to come over for the required celebratory hug. This was a key goal and would be the game winner but there was no jumping into the glass or people falling over. I don’t see how anyone could have a problem with the celebration tonight.

Southeast Division Lead Widens: With the Caps win and the Florida Panthers 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, Washington leads them by 13 points (Panthers have a game in hand) and if Carolina loses to Dallas in regulation (they are down 3-2 late in the third period) the lead over the Hurricanes will be 12 points (Caps have a game in hand on Carolina). Carolina is at the Verizon Center on Saturday night and will be playing their third game in four nights. Washington is now 42-21-6 for 90 points. Boston (97 points) and New Jersey (91 points) both won tonight so the Caps are still the #3 team in the Eastern Conference standings.

Road Warriors: Perhaps Mel Gibson T-shirts should be worn tomorrow at practice since the Caps have now won a season high five straight road games and are 12-3-2 in the their last 17 games away from DC. They have not been beaten in regulation in their last 8 road games (6-0-2). The Caps play 8 of their last 13 games on the road, mostly against Southeast Division opponents, so the success away from home should really help their confidence for this upcoming stretch.

Making the Smart and Simple Plays: For the second straight game the Caps limited turnovers at the opposition blue line by either making good safe passes, shooting the puck, or dumping it deep. These smart and simple plays allow the Caps to get their cycling game going and wear out the opposition. Other than the Knuble goal I don’t recall any Flyer odd man rushes and if Philly got any manpower edge coming out of their own zone the Caps forwards were able to back check quickly and effectively (see the great play Ovechkin made on Gagne to thwart #12’s near breakaway after he had stolen the puck from Mike Green at the red line).

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Caps Back on Winning Track

Posted on 11 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Playing their best game in at least a couple of weeks, the Washington Capitals knocked off the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night in the land of country music, 2-1, in overtime on Sergei Fedorov’s eighth goal of the season. Viktor Kozlov set up Fedorov in the slot after another one of the many hustling and outstanding plays by Alexander Semin on Tuesday night and the 39 year old veteran faked Predator goalie Dan Ellis (42 saves) to the ice and backhanded the puck into the empty net to end Washington’s four game losing streak. With the win and Florida’s shootout loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday the Caps now lead the Southeast Division by 11 points over both the Panthers and Carolina, although Florida has a game in hand. The Caps have 14 games remaining in the regular season.

After Sunday’s shootout loss to the Penguins, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said if you were plotting the recent performance of the team on a graph that the Toronto game was a minor step in the right direction, after two duds against Carolina and Florida, and then the Pittsburgh game resulted in another increase in performance desite the loss. Tonight in Opryland the Caps went significantly higher playing a dominating game (after a horrible opening 50 seconds that led to Nashville’s only goal) by controlling the puck and outshooting the Predators 44-28, including 17-8 in the third period. If not for Ellis this could have easily been a 6-1 Washington blowout.

There were lots of good performances from guys in white sweaters but I’ll start with Semin (1 assist) who, even though he had his six game goal scoring streak stopped, was all over the ice on both ends of the rink and had numerous chances for himself and created opportunities for others. Semin seems to really be maturing and he is augmenting his unbelievable skills with a smart and solid effort each night. I can’t count how many times he back checked hard and disrupted a Nashville rush with his poke checks and pick pockets of Predator puck handlers. If Semin continues to play like this then the Caps are going to be a tough out in the playoffs.

I also thought that defenseman Mike Green had a great game tonight and #52 was more physical on the puck to go along with his usual skating, puck handling, passing, and shooting prowess. Green’s clean hit on Vernon Fiddler in the third period was a text book hit on the wing that ended up taking Fiddler out of the game. In addition, Nicklas Backstrom had an excellent game scoring the Caps first goal on a nice feed from Alexander Ovechkin and he also almost had another goal if not for an acrobatic stick save by Ellis in the third period. Backstrom is such a good two way center and he really allows Ovechkin to use his creativity. Fedorov also had his best game in a couple of weeks and he appeared to be recovered from the bad cold he had on Sunday. #91 was also an impressive 16-7 on face-offs.

In net Jose Theodore (27 saves) wasn’t tested alot, and that is tough for a goalie, but #60 should expect that and be used to it by now playing with this puck possession team that is highly skilled. When called upon tonight Theodore was there and the only goal he let up was the result of Washington running around in their own end and not clearing the front of the net (Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz were the defenseman with the Backstrom, Kozlov, Ovechkin line on that disaster of a shift that opened up the game).

Here are some other thoughts on Tuesday’s contest:

Five for Fighting: Donald Brashear was leveled by Wade Belak in a first period fight, and he may be out for awhile with a concussion as he was TKO’d (UPDATE: Brashear injured his knee and apparently was walking with a limp after the game according to Corey Masisak of the Washington Times) then Matt Bradley was bloodied by Jordin Tootoo in a fight just three seconds later. Finally Belak went after John Erskine in the second period and #4 did a decent job against one of the tougher guys in the league. Although the Caps didn’t win a single fight the Predators tactics failed to take the momentum Washington continued to build throughout the game.

How to play a 2 on 1: On Sunday against the Penguins we saw Schultz struggle on a two on one against Bill Guerin and Sydney Crosby and fail to cut off a pass that led to an easy Crosby goal (although I have to give alot of credit to the guys on offense on that play). Tonight to start the third period Green got caught in the neutral zone allowing the Predators to break in two on one with Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont but Shaone Morrisonn played it beautifully allowing Theodore to focus on the puck carrier, Arnott, and when the Predator tried to pass it to Dumont, #26 was in perfect position to break up the play and send the Caps the other way up the ice.

Puck possession/cycling: The Caps seemed to have the puck all night and they did not make alot of turnovers at the opponents blue line either firing shots, making good passes, or simply dumping the puck deep all evening. We’ve heard Boudreau say that if the Caps play their system they are a tough team to beat and tonight they played it very well (Bruce would probably say “to a T.”)

Great #8: Ovechkin had a great pass to set up Backstrom’s goal but for the second straight game his timing seemed to be off on his shot. The Great #8 had some problems with this as well on Sunday and I initially attributed it to bad ice at the Verizon Center (there were two hoops games on Saturday) but seeing Ovechkin continually fan or have pucks bounce off his sticks this evening I am starting to wonder if this batch of lumber he is using isn’t right. Anyways, whatever it is you can bet Alex will figure it out quickly and get that quick shot going and terrorizing goalies again very soon.

Flash: Tomas Fleischmann, who had a goal disallowed tonight (ruled a kick in), is skating well and getting lots of chances but he hasn’t been able to bury the puck much lately. #14 has only two goals in the 20 games since the all star break but he is+10 in those games. One would have to think that with all of the scoring opportunities he is getting and generating that the puck will start going in for him soon. He is no longer a defensive liability.

As I mentioned to Rob Yunich over at Storming the Crease (www.stormingthecrease.com) after Sunday’s game, the effort against the Penguins was a turnaround one for Washington and it was going to be nice to be able to blog about alot of positives despite that loss. Tonight, the positives weren’t hard to find for the Caps and the end result was a win that only didn’t come until overtime because of Ellis. On my way out of the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon I heard Caps assistant coach Jay Leach talking with WTOP’s Jonathan Werner on the post game show and Leach made a good point about emotion and confidence being such key factors in hockey. The Caps clearly got that going in the right direction on Sunday and tonight they took it to a much higher level and having that confidence will be big going into a tough game in Philadelphia on Thursday night. The Caps are 1-2 against the Flyers this year with the only win coming in a shootout so I know the team is itching to get some pay back for this season’s defeats as well as last year’s playoffs. Game time is 7pm.

Other Notes: The Caps failed to score on three power plays while Nashville went zero for two with the man advantage. Semin had a game high eight shots and four takeaways. Backstrom was only 9-15 on face-offs. If Brashear is out with the knee and with Michael Nylander out as well with an upper body injury the Caps will need to recall a forward for Thursday’s game against the Flyers (since the Flyers are a big and physical team I would expect either Jay Beagle or Alexandre Giroux to get the call up from Hershey).

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Caps Rally But Lose in Shootout, 4-3

Posted on 08 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

After a three game hiatus the Washington Capitals finally looked like the team that raced to a 40-18-5 record before their recent three game slide, and although the losing streak is now officially at four games, the Caps did play with more passion and energy in falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-3, today in a shootout at the Verizon Center. The Penguins, who added forwards Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin in recent acquisitions (and both are playing with Sydney Crosby), have now won six straight games since the Caps pasted them, 5-2, two weeks ago in DC. Washington did win the season series with the Penguins, going 3-0-1.

This game had a definite playoff feel to it with the Pens battling mightily to secure a position in the top eight of the Eastern Conference and the Caps trying to right a struggling ship. Both teams got goals in the first period with Pittsburgh taking the lead when defenseman Tom Poti got caught making a bad play up ice leaving Jeff Schultz alone to face Guerin and Crosby coming in two on one. Schultz, as a defenseman is instructed to do, tried to cut off the pass and let goalie Jose Theodore (19 saves on 22 shots) take the shooter. However, the savvy Guerin made a great pass to Crosby who quickly buried it past #60 to give the Pens first blood. Washington struck back just over eight minutes later when Nicklas Backstrom blocked Kris Letang’s attempted home run pass and #19 then deftly passed it behind his back to a streaking Alexander Semin who beat Fleury with one of the best backhanded moves you will ever see to tie the game up. The big downer for the Caps in the opening period was their inability to convert on three power play chances (including a four on three advantage for 1:57).

In the second period the torrid pace that was seen at the outset of this contest dissipated and the Penguins scored twice in just under three and a half minutes midway through the period to take a 3-1 lead. The first goal came on a four on three power play from Sergei Gonchar with Guerin parked directly in front of Theodore supplying a screen that allowed Gonchar’s wrister to find the upper right corner. Poti was the lone defenseman for Washington on the ice but he did no move Guerin out. Theodore shoved Guerin right before Gonchar’s shot, to no avail, and that shove clearly distracted Theo. Pittsburgh’s third goal was a bad play by Shaone Morrisonn who gave Guerin too much space and mistakenly went for an outside fake that allowed #13 to cut to the inside and fire one past Theodore. Morrisonn has to force Guerin wide in that instance and not give him a direct lane to Theodore. Fortunately for Washington, Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik was called for high sticking Mike Green and just under ninety seconds worth of Washington’s fourth power play was set to carry over into the third period.

The Caps needed just 29 of those seconds to cut this to a 3-2 game as the Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, fired one past Marc Andre-Fleury (29 saves on 32 shots) off of a Green feed to get the Verizon Center crowd back in the game (Brooks Laich did a nice job distracting Fleury as well). Then just 49 seconds later Laich tied it up as Green and Dave Steckel stole the puck from the Penguins behind the Caps net and Steckel fired a long breakaway pass to Laich that sent #21 in alone, and after he almost lost the puck, Laich backhanded it off the left post and into the net for his 16th goal of the season and his career high 38th point (Laich got his 22nd assist of the year earlier on Ovechkin’s league leading 47th goal).

“I forgot our line was up, I didn’t hear Bruce [Boudreau] call out our line so [Tomas] Fleischmann came off and I just sat there and nobody hopped on and I heard somebody screaming my name so I jumped on and I was behind their defensemen and Dave [Steckel] made a great pass to me. I tried to relax going in on the breakaway and I almost threw the puck into the corner but then I was able to get it back and make a move and was able to score. At the time it was a big goal for us and unfortunately it doesn’t go towards a win but still, we’ll take the point,” said Laich on his goal and the game.

After the early Caps fireworks in the third period the game went back and forth and the Penguins received two power plays but Washington did an outstanding job of killing them. Both Fleury and Theodore made great saves to keep this game tied and #60’s best stop of that period was a glove save on Evgeni Malkin with 7:21 to go. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was complimentary of both Theodore and Fleury after the contest.

“He made the big save when we needed it, and that’s what you want him to do.  Goalies are paid to save the puck and sometimes you can let two or three in and still be great, but in the third period with a 3-3 tie he made a tremendous glove save.  And their guy [Fleury] did the same thing, and that’s what good goalies do – they rise to the occasion.  I felt comfortable like, ‘Okay he’s going to be able to do that for us,’” said Boudreau.

After regulation ended both teams traded chances in OT before Crosby was the only one to score in the shootout (Semin, Viktor Kozlov, and then Ovechkin all were stopped by Fleury while Theodore stopped Letang) to give Pittsburgh their first win over the Caps this season. Crosby had a very good game (#1 star) and the Penguins fans who made it into the Verizon Center cheered him on but there were far fewer of them than in years past.

“It’s nice, we’ve got a few fans here ourselves but it seems like there’s a little bit less than there used to be.  [The Capitals] are definitely a tough team to play against at home,” said Crosby.

Even though the Caps lost today this was a good day for Washington as they seemed to be getting closer to breaking out of their funk and Boudreau talked about Sunday’s effort improving on Thursday’s slightly improved play against Toronto (a 2-1 loss without Ovechkin and Poti).

“We played a good game; it was a great hockey game.  To me it’s a 3-3 tie, as you know coaches absolutely hate shootouts when you lose.  The difference in emotion if we score on a penalty shot after the first 65 minutes is played, you know the difference between everyone being euphoric and down a little bit.  I think this was an uplifting game for us, by far the best of the last four,” finished Boudreau.

Notes: The Caps are now 40-21-6 good for 86 points and a 10 point lead over the Florida Panthers in the Southeast Division but Florida has a game in hand. Florida plays Pittsburgh at the Igloo on Tuesday night. Washington is in Nashville to take on the Predators on Tuesday night and after that they travel to Philadelphia for a Thursday game on Broad Street. Boudreau was asked about heading out on the road after going 3-5-1 at home during a stretch when the only road game they played was the 4-3 OT win in Boston on February 28th.

“I don’t know, we love playing at home we just haven’t been successful at home [lately].  I mean I think the change of scenery is more said than it is good.  We are going to be going into a pretty hostile environment for a team that is in ninth place right now, looking to get into the playoffs.  So, their sense of urgency is going to be really, really up there too.  I mean I would rather play at home against Nashville than in Nashville.  And Philly [Philadelphia]…”

More Notes: Washington falls to 3-4 in shootouts this season while Pittsburgh is 5-4. Dan Marouelli and Eric Furlatt were the referees today and as is typical in a Marouelli officiated game both teams had the same number of power plays (four each). I thought the zebras did a poor job today as the two of them missed a Malkin goaltender interference call in the third period as well as a BLATANT two handed slash by Kunitz on Green as time expired in regulation. In addition, the calls made at 8:30 of the third period (Letang, Donald Brashear and Matt Bradley all for roughing) were not accurate as there was no way Pittsburgh should have gotten a power play when Letang startd the whole incident with a slash after he was hit cleanly. As this was occuring I said to the Canadian TSN reporter next to me in the press box if he thought anyone would get a power play from the skermish and he said “No.” But Mariouelli and Furlatt gave Crosby and company a power play anyways, go figure. Because Poti was able to play, Tyler Sloan, who was on emergency recall from Hershey, did not. Michael Nylander, who has an upper body injury, also did not play for Washington while forward Petr Sykora was out for the Penguins with an injury. Green had two assists in a strong performance. As for any talk of the flu bug being the cause for the Caps poor play of late, that does not appear to be the case as only Theodore had it and Sergei Fedorov, who struggled through 14:58 of ice time today, is the only other one who is sick (#91 is battling a cold). Two other sources close to the team said everyone else is healthy so ailments weren’t the cause for the lack of energy and passion in the Florida and Carolina home defeats.

Stats and facts: The Capitals outscored the Penguins 9-1 in the third period of their four meetings this season, have scored at least one power-play goal in 15 of the last 18 games and are 31.4% in that time (22 of 70), recorded their 24th sellout of the season at Verizon Center, breaking the club record of 23 sellouts in a season set on two previous occasions (20 of the last 22 games have been sold out), and have lost four games in a row for the first time under Boudreau. Semin, who is starting to play well on a consistent basis once again, scored a goal for the sixth straight game.

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Caps and Brashear represent NHL in downtown Baltimore

Posted on 05 March 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

For the first time in as long as I can remember — and as you know, I have a pretty long memory — the Washington Capitals did a Baltimore event last night downtown at the ESPN Zone. Left wing Donald Brashear came to the Inner Harbor for a one-hour autograph and photo event and wound up having to stay for 90 minutes because the crowd and line were so overwhelming. My guess is that more than 400 people came by to greet Brashear and talk about “rocking the red.”

As a lifer hockey fan, it was a pretty cool and unique event. Even in the days of Mike Gartner and Rod Langway, the Caps never, ever did events in Baltimore. Geez, their affiliate was here for four years and they barely made a sound inside the beltway here even when the NHL team played 35 minutes away at the Capital Centre.

We’ve been without hockey here for almost 15 years now — since Mike Caggiano and the Bandits pulled the plug — and as the only remaining media entity that still cares about and supports the puck it was a pleasure to have WNST involved. We’ll be doing at least one puck bus to a playoff game on either April 16 or 18. All of our puck buses have been virtual sellouts and the team and its staff have been a pleasure to work with from Ted Leonsis and Bruce Boudreau right on down the line. They’re not only successful on and off the ice and at the gate with sellouts for the remainder of the season, they’ve also been a class act.

There’s actually some whispering about a potential preseason game in Baltimore at some point, maybe even involving the neighbors to the north and Caps’ AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. Or maybe they’d bring down the Philadelphia Flyers? (I’m sure it’s a helluva expenditure to get the ice and rink put together for a one-night appearance and I have no idea how that would do in September at the First Mariner Arena, but let me dream a little, OK?)

After playing three games in four days — and taking the last two on the chin — the Caps thought it was important enough to reach out to Baltimore that they brought Brashear up here on a cold Wednesday night and the fans had a great time. Brashear told me on wnsTV that every single fan thanked him for coming to Baltimore and that there were more fans here in Baltimore than there were in D.C. when he first came to the Caps.

I can’t wait until the next event.

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An Interview with Donald Brashear / NHL News

Posted on 27 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Donald Brashear Interview

After Thursday night’s Caps-Thrashers game I caught up with Donald Brashear, who has 1 goal, 3 assists, and 114 penalty minutes in 57 games this season. Brashear had a nice fight with Eric Boulton of Atlanta on Thursday night in the second period when the Caps were up, 2-1, so I wanted to get his take on that fight and other things going on with the Caps. Here is the full text of the interview:

WNST: It looked like you and Boulton had a pretty good fight tonight and they let you go a bit.

Brashear: Well, it was just a long fight and that’s about it. I was trying to get something going. Sometimes even if we are in the lead and the pace is down I try to get a little bit more life back in the arena but they scored right after [the fight] and we scored right after my penalty was over so it was good.

WNST: Have you fought Boulton before?

Brashear: Maybe only once before. I don’t usually fight him, he doesn’t usually fight. I was just trying to get some action and get things going and our team needs a little life at times, especially when we play alot of games [in a short time] so that is what I was trying to do.

WNST: Your young rookie goalies [Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth] are now both 2-0 at the NHL level. What does the team think about that?

Brashear: Those guys have been called up for a reason, to help out, and when we need them every time they jumped in they did good. That is a key and a plus for our team. We are just happy to have them right now.

WNST: What do you think you guys did well Thursday night as a team?

Brashear: For the most part I think if you look at the game it seemed like a boring game, it was a checking game, and we had to be careful not to have too many turnovers and not give up scoring chances. They were just sitting there waiting for us to make mistakes. I think we stood by our system pretty much the whole three periods.

WNST: It seems like your line and the third line have been doing alot of cycling and creating chances and tonight Eric Fehr got a big goal.

Brashear: That’s good and that is the way it is. I mean, for the most part your top two lines are going to get the goals and get some goals on the power play and the third line will get some goals once in awhile and your fourth line too. That’s what you have to do and the bottom line is you have to make sure we don’t get scored on when we go out. If we can spend some time in their zone and tire those guys out, especially their defensemen that play alot of minutes, then it is a plus for our team when our good players are on the ice.

NHL News

According to Pierre LeBrun (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?entryID=3939771&name=lebrun_pierre) the St. Louis Blues may not be trading Keith Tkachuk after all because they are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. So much for my plan to get him here on a line with Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin to go along with the Alexander Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Viktor Kozlov first line.

Goalie Martin Gerber was put on re-entry waivers by the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. He currently makes $3.7M but on a re-entry move the goalie can be had at a 50% discount. Buffalo and Calgary apparently are interested (Ryan Miller is injured in Buffalo and Calgary’s backup is seldom used and unproven Curtis McElhinney).

Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post is reporting that Boston forwards Marc Savard and Milan Lucic may not play against the Caps on Saturday afternoon at 1pm (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalsinsider/2009/02/boston_globe_lucic_and_savard.html)

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Caps Lose 5-4 in Shootout to Rangers

Posted on 11 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals attempt to sweep the season series versus the New York Rangers for the first time ever in Caps history was denied, 5-4, in a shootout tonight as Ryan Callahan, who was one of the best players on the ice on Wednesday, scored in the fourth round on a shot that hit the cross bar and then banked off of the skates of Caps goalie Jose Theodore (28 saves on 32 shots) and into the net. Brooks Laich’s shootout try to tie the game was then denied by the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist (26 saves on 30 shots). The Caps, who went 3-0-1 against New York season, and are 34-16-5 overall, did get a point this evening, and are now tied for second place overall in the Eastern Conference with the New Jersey Devils, who beat the Islanders, 4-2, on Wednesday night.

Caps defenseman Mike Green continues to be RED HOT and he tied an NHL record for defenseman by scoring a goal in his seventh straight game (tied Mike O’Connell, who did it with Boston in 1983-84). #52 lit the lamp twice in the second period and now has an amazing 21 goals on the season in just 42 games played (Green missed 13 games due to a shoulder injury). The Caps other offense came in the first period from the Tomas Fleischmann, Sergei Fedorov, and Eric Fehr line with both Fleischmann (16th goal of season) and Fehr (7th goal of season) scoring in close while the Rangers got on the board in the first period when Caps defenseman Karl Alzner picked the wrong player on a three on two allowing Callahan to easily score past Theodore. Alzner made a rookie mistake on that play and I’m sure the coaches will show him the film and he’ll correct how he plays those type of rushes in the future.

Outside of Green’s two goals in the second period, the middle stanza was one of the worst periods I’ve seen the Caps play defensively (but not as bad as the Kings game last Thursday) as they turned the puck over numerous times and failed to clear the front of their net as the Rangers employed a tactic that Washington will see more and more of down the stretch and in the playoffs – opposing forwards crashing the net. Alzner and Dave Steckel had horrible periods and at the end of the night young Karl was a minus 2 while Steckel was a minus 3.

After a bad second period, the third period got even weirder as the Rangers were given 9:24 of power play time, including 36 seconds on a 5 on 3, but for the second straight game the Caps were great on the penalty kill and did not allow a goal. Some of the calls were rather shaky, like the diving on Tom Poti and the cross check on Alexander Ovechkin, but anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that I am not a fan of the referees and overall they were pretty bad tonight (Marc Joannette and Dan O’Rourke). The call on Shaone Morrisonn, however, was a good one and #26 continues to take too many bad penalties (he has to learn to be in better control of his body and his stick). Even with all of the power play time New York only had a 9-6 shots advantage which really highlights how great a job the Caps penalty killers did. That is encouraging but the careless penalties do need to stop because a good power play, and the Rangers do not have a dangerous one (worst in the Eastern Conference), would typically bury a team in that situation.

In the first period there were two fights that clearly were negotitated before the puck dropped, something the NHL needs to look into this off-season, with the first being a spirited bought between Donald Brashear and Colton Orr and the second just three seconds later between Matt Bradley and Aaron Voros. Neither fight gave the Caps or the Rangers any type of momentum or advantage.

Overall I thought Theodore was above average tonight and he was out of position on Paul Mara’s goal that gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead but with all of the traffic he was facing in front of him he had to have a tough time playing the angles and challenging the shooters like he normally does. He was very good in the third period when the Caps were shorthanded and needed some big stops.

It will be interesting to see if Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau puts the more physical John Erskine back into the lineup for a game this weekend (Washington is in Tampa on Saturday and then Florida on Sunday) and if defensemen Staffan Kronwall takes the body like his brother Niklas does in Detroit he could help control traffic in front of Theodore going forward. I’d expect to see Milan Jurcina and possibly Morrisonn sit out this weekend if Kronwall or Erskine are inserted because neither of those guys are playing real well right now. Alzner struggled tonight but he is a guy that will bounce back next game.

The other question is will goalie Michael Neuvirth get to play one of the games, which would be his first ever NHL contest? Tampa would seem like the obvious choice for that to happen.

Notes: Alexander Ovechkin extended the shootout by scoring the only Caps goal in the third round in that sideshow circus event that I despise (I still have no problems with a game ending in a tie, but I am a traditionalist). The Great #8 had an assist, five shots on net, and an amazing 13 hits! Forward Jay Beagle, called up from Hershey today, became the 35th player to suit up for Washington this season with Viktor Kozlov still out of the lineup with a bad groin and Alexander Semin missing due to an undisclosed injury. Neuvirth and Steffan could make it 36 and 37 this weekend. Ranger fans clearly do not like defensemen Wade Redden, who was given a ridiculous six year deal at $6.5M a year by GM Glen Sather, and he was booed often by the hometown crowd (many of which were probably in the famed blue seats!). I’d gladly take a matchup between the Caps and the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs but if Washington can finish second they likely would not face New York, who should finish in the top six of the Eastern Conference. It is now only 21 days until the NHL TRADE DEADLINE on March 4th!!!

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Caps Lose in Ottawa / Donald Brashear Interview

Posted on 20 January 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Sens Beat Caps, 3-2

It doesn’t matter how much talent you have in the NHL because if you don’t come to play you will lose and tonight the Washington Capitals only showed up for 20 minutes and gave up three Senator power play goals to lose, 3-2, in Ottawa. On paper this looked like a mismatch with Washington coming in 26 points ahead of the Senators in the standings, but on the ice on Tuesday night it was anything but that.

Ottawa came out flying in the first period and received three power plays as a result of their efforts and Dany Heatley, who I warned about in yesterday’s blog, potted two goals to stake the Sens to a 2-0 first period lead. Ottawa would out shoot the listless Caps, 13-7, in the opening period.

In the second period, the Caps looked like the team that has beaten some of the best squads in the NHL recently, except in one critical area, the power play. Washington was all over Ottawa in the middle period out shooting the Sens, 19-3, and earning four power plays, including a five on three power play for 25 seconds, at one point. Unfortunately the Caps primarily stood around and passed the puck on the perimeter as they have been prone to do at times this year and failed to score with the advantage. Forwards Sergei Fedorov and Dave Steckel, however, did manage to score even strength goals and this game was tied heading into the third and final period before the All Star break.

The Caps should have just headed on vacation then because the way they played from their on sure looked like their minds were elsewhere in the third period as Craig Hartsburg’s squad dominated Washington and out shot them, 18-5. If not for goalie Jose Theodore this game would have been over earlier in the third period but miraculously the Caps were tied with just over three minutes to go when it all really fell apart. Alexander Semin, who has incredible skill but can drive a coach and fans crazy because he gets too cute on the ice in critical times, tried to make a boneheaded cross ice pass in the offensive zone when he should have been shooting and then right after the giveaway he compounded the miscue by blatantly tripping Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson in the neutral zone. With another opportunity on the power play Ottawa closed the deal, although it took a lucky bounce of off a Washington player blocking a shot, and Brandon Bell hit a seemingly open net with Theodore reacting to the original shot to deposit the game winner with 1:22 remaining.

The statistics of the game were the special team numbers with Ottawa going 3 of 6 on the power play while the Caps went a pitiful 0 for 5. This was one frustrating game to watch for Caps fans and probably for Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, who if he had his druthers might want to make the team fly back to DC tonight and practice at Kettler Ice Plex tomorrow because they sure didn’t show up for most of the game on Tuesday night.

After 48 games the Caps are 30-15-3 but if they have one major weakness on some nights it is a lack of intensity and an ability to stick to the hard working style that makes them successful. That primarily occurs when they play a team at the bottom of the standings. The Caps are now off until next Tuesday, January 27th as the NHL heads to the All-Star break after tomorrow’s games. As many of you who read this blog know, I am not a fan of the NHL All Star game and likely won’t be watching because it isn’t real hockey (there is no defense played and no hitting) but the NHL likes to use this game for marketing purposes (Memo to Gary Bettman: the Winter Classic is a much better stage to promote this great game so let’s dump this meaningless weekend for more outdoor hockey).

Notes: Eric Fehr and Michael Nylander were healthy scratches and according to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post, both Nylander and Boudreau are not happy with each other. You can read Nylander’s quotes from today here (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalsinsider/2009/01/morning_skate_update_17.html#more). If Nylander weren’t making $5.5M this year and next plus $3.5M in 2010-11 he could likely be traded, but at his salary it will be tough to move him. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out. Defensemen Tom Poti should be back after the All Star break meaning a roster move is probably needed for the team to stay under the salary cap. The team needs Poti back in the lineup because he is a steadying influence and a good puck mover. It looks like either defensemen Karl Alzner goes back to Hershey or someone gets traded unless another player who makes more money than Alzner goes on long term injury.

Interview with Donald Brahsear

I had a chance to talk with Caps forward Donald Brashear after the team’s 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins this past Saturday night. Here is the full text of the interview:

WNST: Tell me about that game tonight – that was kind of a playoff type game, lots of hitting, lots of action, and intensity.

Brashear: Yeah, that is what it is when you play the best teams and you want to win those games cause in playoff games teams are at their best and if you are not you are not gonna win. You have to win on a regular basis and to do that you have to beat some better teams and some top teams and we are trying to get to the top right now.

WNST: Was it as intense on the ice as it looked from up above?

Brashear: It was intense but at the same time it was both teams playing good systems and waiting for the other team to make a mistake and capitalize. So I think we were the better team doing that.

WNST: The team seems to be able to play a 6-5 game and a 2-1 game.

Brashear: Well what we actually are trying to do is get it down to where we are always trying to play a 2-1 game that will turn into 3-1, 4-1, if we keep playing the way we are supposed to for three periods.

WNST: How are you feeling out there on your line? You, Dave Steckel, and Matt Bradley seem to form a nice trio.

Brashear: I feel great, they are two good defensive players and I can learn a lot from them. They are also good on the forecheck so we seem to complete each other pretty good and are getting some scoring chances here and there.

WNST: So how do you feel about the team so far where it stands?

Brashear: I felt great from the beginning and this is my third year here now and obviously early we were rebuilding and stuff like that but I think we added good pieces to the puzzle and right now we are rolling the way we want.

WNST: What is it like playing here [Verizon Center] with the crowd? Almost every game is a sellout and it is loud.

Brashear: It is a lot different from my first year when there was nobody. We definitely like it and we definitely love the fans getting into it. They are behind us and that is what we need so we appreciate that and it makes us feel a lot better out there.

WNST: Do you all feed off of their energy?

Brashear: All of the time, every team does with their home crowd. Once the crowd gets loud and people start screaming you get little goose bumps and you get a little noise in your ears and it makes you want to get up and cheer a little bit and it gets you going and it doesn’t take much sometimes, just a little spark.

WNST: You played in Philadelphia where the crowd was right on you and were loud. Just in the last year with this changeover here how would say it compares to that crowd?

Brashear: I’d have to say it is pretty close right now. It is fans that want their team to win and you can tell they don’t accept us having mediocre performances. They get quiet when we are not playing well and that is not what we want so we know when they are quiet then we have to get something going.

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Caps Win on Long Island / John Erskine Interview

Posted on 19 January 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Ovechkin, Theodore Carry Caps

There have been two Caps games in Long Island this year and the result is now two games with overtime game winners by the Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, who slammed home a nice pass from Alexander Semin to propel the Caps to a 2-1 win in OT against the Islanders on Monday afternoon. Ovechkin clearly likes playing in New York and his two tallies this afternoon were both on the power play. He has now seized the NHL goal scoring lead for the first time this season with 31, one goal ahead of Jeff Carter of the Flyers.

Ovechkin’s game winner came as a result of several rather stupid slashes by former Cap Brendan Witt. Afterwards Witt was quoted by Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post as not liking the call but anyone who saw the replay could easily see a penalty was warranted. As for Witt, who forced GM George McPhee’s hand by demanding a trade a few years back during the Washington rebuilding days, he has really slowed down and doesn’t appear to be a fit for the new NHL because of his lack of foot speed. Witt, who was a first round draft choice by the Caps in 1993 (11th overall) but sat out a year in a contract squabble, had enormous potential, but in my mind he has underachieved. Missing a year of hockey when he was young is something I believe that helped to put him on the road to a decent career that otherwise could have been great had he not taken bad advice on several different occasions.

Jose Theodore was very good in net once again for Washington stopping 27 of 28 shots and he earned his 200th NHL victory. #60 is now 17-8-1 for the Caps this season and will likely start again tomorrow night in Ottawa with Brent Johnson nursing another injury (Hershey goalie Daren Machesney was recalled for the trip due to Johnson’s undisclosed injury). Theo made several good saves today and, next to Ovechkin, he was the reason Washington was able to get out of Long Island with two points.

For those of you who watched this game on Monday you saw how sloppy it was and the Caps had numerous chances to get a two goal lead but by failing to do so they let the Islanders hang around. Then when the Caps took two bad penalties within four seconds of each other after the halfway point of the third period (a lazy trip by Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin’s inadvertent clear that went into the stands), New York was finally able to solve Theodore via Kyle Okposo’s tap in on a five on three Islander power play.

The sloppy play on both sides involved bad passes and pucks bouncing all over the place which indicated that perhaps the ice was bad at the Nassau Coliseum (which is a far outdated building). This was the Caps third straight win after three straight losses and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau changed his lineup by inserting forwards Chris Clark and Boyd Gordon and sitting Eric Fehr and Dave Steckel. It will be interesting to see what he does against the Northeast Division’s last place Senators (15-21-7) on Tuesday night. Last time the Caps were in Ottawa was on Election Day and Johnson stole the show in net in a 2-1 Caps loss in OT that was won by Ottawa’s Mike Fisher. With Chris Neil likely in the lineup for the Senators, Boudreau can’t sit Donald Brashear so if Steckel is to get back in then either Clark or Gordon will have to come out. Given that Ottawa is most dangerous on the power play with the Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley, and Jason Spezza line the coach will likely need Gordon to kill penalties. But then again Gordon has had a shaky back lately so back-to-back games could be a problem.

Other Game Notes: Defenseman Brian Helmer only played 10:25 of ice time and he really struggled at times. Karl Alzner was solid for the second game in a row and played 16:15. John Erskine was once again paired with Mike Green and played well logging 20:39. Green led the Caps in ice time (25:15). Ovechkin had eight shots on net and the Caps did hold a 38-28 advantage over the Islanders in that category. Brooks Laich had seven shots on net and did appear to go head first into the ice with just about five minutes left in the game so he is someone to keep an eye on tomorrow, health wise. Viktor Kozlov led the Caps in shots on goal with nine. The Caps were 2 for 4 on the power play. Washington is now 30-14-3 (63 points) and this is the fastest that a Caps team has ever gotten to 30 wins, passing the 1984-85 Caps team that got win #30 in game 49.

Interview with John Erskine

As I mentioned in my last blog, I had a chance to talk with defenseman John Erskine after the Caps win over the Bruins on Saturday night. Erskine has played very well since missing 22 games due to a concussion. Here is the text of the interview:

WNST: How are you feeling since coming back from injury?

Erskine: Not bad, I’m still trying to get my legs going there. They have me paired up with Greenie (Mike Green) and when you’ve got a guy like him as your partner its pretty easy, you just give him the puck and he skates it out so it has been pretty good playing with him.

WNST: Have you played with him before?

Erskine: I played with him a couple of years ago in preseason or something and that was about it.

WNST: How would you say both of you have improved your respective games since a couple of years ago?

Erskine: Greenie has definitely improved his and he is a scoring machine out there, especially on the power play. I think, myself, I just got that confidence out there. They are throwing me out in the different situations and they are showing that they have confidence in me and it just works both ways.

WNST: How hard was it sitting out during that stretch with the injury?

Erskine: I missed about six weeks and every game I dreaded watching. I’m not a guy that likes to sit in the stands and watch his team play. To get out there the first couple of games when I came back I had that jump and excitement and was almost nervous.

WNST: What was the game like tonight (the Boston win) because from the fans perspective it seemed like a playoff type atmosphere?

Erksine: We knew it’d be sold out tonight. My intention was to get started, get my head on out there, and get the fans going. They’re number one and we’re number two and we want to catch them so it was definitely like a playoff atmosphere.

WNST: It seems like almost every time this Caps team goes up against a top team the level of play by Washington rises and the energy level is there. Do you guys talk about it or do you guys just like the challenge?

Erskine: I think we like the challenge. We like every challenge but when you are playing those teams and they are ahead of you they are easy to get up for so we just have to make sure that when we are playing those teams below us we get up for those guys too.

WNST: Last thing for you, tonight you were in a scrum in front of the net with Boston’s Marc Savard and the referee came over afterwards and talked to you for awhile, what did he say?

Erskine: He gave me an earful. He said that is my freebie and basically said that is it for the rest of the night. He said if I do that again he’s going to throw me in the box. I just listened to him and every time there was a little scrum I just tried to be careful and once the whistle blew, I just kind of backed off. I didn’t want to get thrown in the box.

That’s it for tonight, after the Ottawa game on Tuesday I’ll have a recap and analysis of that contest plus the full text from my interview with Caps forward Donald Brashear from after the Bruins game last Saturday night.

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