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Harbaugh Named Salute to Service Award Finalist

Posted on 30 January 2012 by WNST Staff

NEW YORK – With Super Bowl XLVI around the corner and the spotlight on the field, the NFL is recognizing excellence off the field by announcing today the two finalists for the League’s inaugural Salute to Service Award presented by USAA.

USAA, a leading provider of insurance and other services to members of the U.S. military and their families, is the NFL’s first Official Military Appreciation Sponsor.

Tennessee Titans owner K.S. “Bud” Adams Jr. and Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh were selected for their exceptional efforts to honor and support members of the military community. The first Salute to Service Award will be presented to one of the finalists at the inaugural NFL Honors event that will air on NBC Saturday, February 4 at 9 PM ET. In addition, a $25,000 contribution will be made by USAA in the winner’s honor to the aid societies representing all five military branches.

“We should never take for granted the tremendous sacrifices made daily by our nation’s military,” said Steve Speakes, executive vice president of USAA’s external affairs and a retired Army lieutenant general. “Together with the NFL, we are launching the Salute to Service Award as a way to recognize those in the NFL community who appreciate and honor that sacrifice, enrich the lives of military members and encourage others to do the same.”

An ardent backer of the military in his 52 years as owner, Bud Adams’ enthusiasm for the military began with his service in the U.S. Navy from 1942-46.  His commitment to supporting the military followed him and the franchise to Tennessee where he focused his efforts on recognizing the service men and women of nearby Fort Campbell, home to the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, as well as the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Night Stalkers) and the 5th Special Forces Group (Green Berets).

Since 1999, more than 11,000 Fort Campbell soldiers have been guests of Adams at Titans home games, and it’s very common for Adams to host military members in his suite and award game balls as a tribute to their service. Adams’ support at Fort Campbell includes directing the team to make several visits during the year where Titans players, cheerleaders, and staff can participate in autograph sessions at the PX, greet patients at the Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, provide programs to the on-base middle school and visit with the on-base high school football team.

Similarly, John Harbaugh’s dedication includes frequent base visits, and he relishes interaction with the military community. His passion for supporting the troops was felt immediately by the Ravens’ organization after being named head coach in 2008. Harbaugh was the main driver in the team’s decision to institute a Military Appreciation Day, an annual event which was established during his first training camp with the team. Since then, an estimated 2,000 service members have enjoyed preferred seating and opportunities to meet with players and coaches during Ravens’ camp.

Away from the field, Harbaugh often recruits Ravens players and coaches to join him during base visits, and even took members of his team to the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, Calif., last December in the middle of the Ravens’ playoff run. He has also spent significant time and funds putting together care packages for soldiers overseas, and caches of school supplies for military families.

In December, 22 NFL clubs nominated for this award coaches, active and retired players, and team executives and personnel who best demonstrated support for the military community. The submissions were evaluated by a panel of judges based on the positive effect of the individual’s efforts on the military community, the type of service conducted, the thoroughness of the program and level of commitment.

The panel of judges, consisting of representatives from the U.S. military, the NFL and USAA, includes:

*         Roger Staubach, Naval Academy graduate, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback and Super Bowl MVP

*         Chad Hennings, Air Force Academy graduate, three-time Super Bowl champion

*         Rocky Bleier, U.S. Army veteran, four-time Super Bowl champion

*         Jim Mora, Sr., Marine Corps veteran, former NFL head coach

*         General Stephen Speakes, U.S. Army veteran, USAA executive vice president

*         Eric Grubman, Naval Academy graduate, executive vice president-NFL Ventures and Business Operations

“Bud and John’s efforts demonstrate how members of the NFL family can inspire us both on and off the field,” said Roger Staubach. “Their service to the military community is a reminder that we can never do enough to show our appreciation for all the men and women in uniform who defend and protect us.”

All Salute to Service nominees are listed below:

KS Bud Adams Jr. Tennessee Titans Founder, Owner, Chairman of the Board

Jared Allen Minnesota Vikings Defensive End

Jason Baker Carolina Panthers Punter

Tom Coughlin New York Giants Head Coach

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

Kris Dielman San Diego Chargers Left Guard

Mark Dominik Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager

Anthony Fasano Miami Dolphins Wide Receiver

Mike Flood Seattle Seahawks Vice President, Community Relations & Special Projects

Drayton Florence Buffalo Bills Defensive Back

John Harbaugh Baltimore Ravens Head Coach

Robert Wood Johnson IV New York Jets Chairman & CEO

Gary Kubiak Houston Texans Head Coach

Lonie Paxton Denver Broncos Long Snapper

Troy Polamalu Pittsburgh Steelers Strong Safety

Marco Rivera Green Bay Packers Guard (Retired)

Joe Thomas Cleveland Browns Offensive Lineman

Charles Tillman Chicago Bears Cornerback

Chad Walker Detroit Lions Community Affairs Coordinator

Washington Redskins Cheerleaders

Roddy White Atlanta Falcons Wide Receiver

Kurt Wisenbaugh Jacksonville Jaguars Manager, Events and Game Operations

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Caps Beat Stanley Cup Champs in OT

Posted on 13 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau felt that his club was fortunate to get a victory against Carolina on Friday night. On Sunday afternoon they clearly deserved to win against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks but due to a soft goal allowed and a late power play tally with the net minder pulled, the Caps needed overtime to defeat the Hawks, 4-3. Mike Knuble scored on a nifty move in front of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford (38 saves) after some hard work and then a sweet pass from Marcus Johansson with 1:09 remaining in the extra session. Washington won its’ eighth straight overall, the fifth in a row since the NHL trade deadline on February 28th, and all three tilts at the Verizon Center on this most recent homestand. The Capitals are 40-20-10 (90 points) with 12 games remaining and they lead the Tampa Bay Lightning by five points in the Southeast Division race (Bolts have a game in hand). They also trail the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Flyers by a single point, but Philly has two games in hand.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game in which the Caps had the lead after 20 minutes for the first time in 14 contests (Caps 15-1-5 when ahead after the 1st period):

– With the playoffs coming up in about a month, we’ve heard Boudreau talk a lot about how important matchups are to his club’s success. The squads that typically give Washington trouble are fast teams, such as Montreal, and Chicago fit that mold today. The Hawks have some great skating players and for the Capitals to get a victory they were going to have to get the puck deep and use one of their biggest strengths, their size.

“I think we are a bigger and fairly strong team, but there are teams that are definitely overall quicker, so we have to play to our strengths to succeed and lately we have been doing that. I think we were overall carrying the play. We played better than them. I mean it might not happen the next time we play them, and they might not be tired from being on the road for eight or nine games, but I thought today that we were the better team,” said Boudreau, providing his analysis of the victory.


“We’ll take the point. We weren’t very good today. They [the Capitals] played well. They played hard. I thought we had a little delay in our game. We were very generous in all the goals that we gave them and could’ve done a better job defending in those situations,” added Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville agreeing with “Gabby” that the Caps were the dominant team on Sunday.


– Let’s get to those Capitals goals as all four came from hard work and the last two were the result of the Caps winning one on one battles below the goal line. Washington fell behind early on a Nick Leddy blast from the top of the slot but after Chicago received a power play the biscuit bounced over the stick of Brent Seabrook at the left point and Boyd Gordon took advantage getting a break down the right wing boards and he lasered one by Crawford for a Washington shorty. Goal number two came from Jason Arnott on the power play with Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin crashing the net down low. #44’s laser from the left point hit the inside of the left post to give the Caps a 2-1 lead. The most important goals though, were the Laich marker in the 3rd period that put Washington ahead and the game winner. Matt Hendricks and Eric Fehr completely outworked the Hawks defense down low and #16 found an all alone in the slot #21 and he buried it. Finally, in OT, Johahnsson did some of his finest work of the year below the circles and fought off a Chicago check then worked his way to the top of the left wing circle where he put a perfect pass on Knuble’s forehand with #22’s back to the cage. Knuble then spun around and potted the puck by Crawford for the win. Those last two tallies were the direct result of Washington using size, speed, and determination.


“Real heads up play by Marcus. It would have been very easy for him to bury his head there and try to jam it through, but I kind of laid my stick to the side and he put it on the tape. It was a very smart play by him,” said Knuble on MJ90, who has stepped up in a big way with Nicklas Backstrom missing his third straight contest (more on MJ90 later).


– With Ovechkin (0 points, 6 shots on goal) and Alex Semin (1 assist, 4 shots on net) unable to light the lamp for Washington this game became all about the Caps grinders and role players. Laich earned his 15th goal of the season and he is heating up at the right time while third line left wing Jason Chimera likely earned the unsung hero of the day award. #25 was very physical all game and his speed and desire to go the net rattled not only Crawford, who will likely win an Oscar next year for his fall and stick throw late in period two that would make Saturday Night Live’s Chevy Chase proud, but also the Hawks number two d-man in Brent Seabrook. #7 stupidly fought Chimera late in period two and with Brian Campbell not taking a shift just after the game’s midpoint, Quenneville was short two blue liners for a good stretch, which clearly worked to Washington’s advantage.


“I thought he was real big factor in the game tonight…He’s a physical guy. He’s the one who sort of instigated that little [dustup] there and he does a good job and takes one of their top defenders off the ice. I think he did a good job,” added Laich on the role Chimera played in the win in just 10:26 of ice time.


– Braden Holtby (27 saves) won his fourth game of the week and in his last seven games in “The Show” he’s turned aside 201 of 208 shots (.978 save percentage). That is amazing for a 21 year old! #70 would probably like to have the first two goals back, especially the second one that Tomas Kopecky scored from behind the goal line when Holtby failed to cover the near post correctly. On the initial tally, Leddy beat him in the slot but Michael Frolik likely screened him. On that play Chicago scored on a 3 on 5 rush, which should never happen. The d-men, Karl Alzner and John Carlson played it right but the forwards did not. Both Fehr and Hendricks got caught out of position and Leddy had time and room to shoot from a prime position. The Caps have been much improved in their own zone but that was not one of those occassions. The back pressure must be consistent otherwise skilled forwards will get the Washington d-men backing up and then cut to the middle to get in the quality scoring areas, like Jonathan Toews did in period one. Overall, Holtby did what he had to do, he made some huge stops, including one on Frolik late in the game after a Dennis Wideman giveaway. Still, I expect to see more of Michal Neuvirth on this upcoming six game Caps road trip.


– As for the 20 year old Swede, I am not sure if the Caps win all four games this week with Backstrom out if #90 is also not in the lineup. Johansson has amped up his game big time and he has four assists in his last five games and is +4. He is a great passer and today he fired seven shots on the cage as well. MJ90 could have had two or three goals and he likely will want the two shots he had alone in front on Crawford back after Ovechkin set him up on the doorstep in the third period. He took two minors but to me they were ticky-tacky calls, especially the one that allowed the Hawks to pull their goalie and get the equalizer. What Johansson did in the last two minutes happened over 20 times previously in the contest with no call but because MJ90 is a rookie and he put his hands up as if to say “I did nothing,” the zebras sent him off. Boudreau after the game labeled the call as “Chintzy” (h/t Sky Kerstein of 106.7 FM in DC). My only advice to Marcus is to keep playing and don’t put your hands up next time because when you are a rookie or a new guy in the league, the referees will try and make an example of you.


– In summary, the Hawks could have been labeled as tired from a long road trip but they hadn’t played since Wednesday so I am not buying it. Washington showed that they can match up with a very good club even without their #1 center (Backstrom), #1 blue liner (Mike Green), and top two goalies (Semyon Varlamov and Neuvirth). With the five point division lead the Capitals now embark on what is a grueling six game road trip. They start Tuesday in Montreal, then have to clear customs and travel to Detroit for a date with the Red Wings on Wednesday before going to red hot New Jersey on Friday for a game against the desperate Devils. Things then pick up again in Philadelphia on Tuesday the 22nd and on Friday the 25th they are in Ottawa followed by a tilt against the Habs on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday the 26th. Simply put, if the Caps come out of this trip with six points they have to be happy and anything at eight points or more could set them up for locking down the Southeast Division and give them a shot at first overall in the East. But that doesn’t appear to matter to a lot of people in the organization, who seem to be focused on getting their players back healthy and then putting things together on the ice for the post season. This team, when healthy, can compete with any club in the league if they buy in to what their coaches are selling.


Notes: The Caps once again captured the faceoff battle, 27-23 and Laich won seven of eight draws…Washington, who came into tonight’s contest ranked third in the league in the penalty kill (85.8%), killed off three of four Blackhawks power-play chances. Until Toews’ third-period goal, the Caps had 12-consecutive penalty kills over their three-game home stand against Edmonton, Carolina and Chicago…the Caps only had two power plays (go figure?) but connected on one in fine fashion. They are 22-3-4 when scoring a power play goal…Scott Hannan was +3 in 18:44 of ice time while John Erskine was +2 in 15:32…Wideman had two assists…the Hershey Bears lost in a shootout to the Norfolk Admirals on Sunday at the Giant Center, 3-2. The Chocolate and White just concluded a very tough 7 games in 9 day stretch at 3-2-2, which was pretty good considering their best goalie carried the load for the big club this week (Holtby).


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Defensive Mistakes Doom Caps in Loss to Bruins

Posted on 19 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

On a night when the Washington Capitals would extend their 2010-11 perfect penalty killing mark to 25 straight successes, the Caps were defeated, 3-1, at the Verizon Center by the Boston Bruins. Tim Thomas was superb in goal stopping 35 shots and his club turned some Washington defensive gaffes into tallies en route to their first regulation victory in DC since 2006. The defeat drops the Caps to 4-2 overall and the two squads will meet again in Beantown on Thursday night.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from Tuesday night’s tilt:

Let’s start with the positives for Washington, because there weren’t a whole lot of them. First is clearly the penalty killing unit that was just outstanding once again. Using more players, the goal is to use four sets of forwards and all six defensemen on each minor, and employing an aggressive scheme has worked magic for assistant coach Dean Evason, who runs the special teams. With the Caps down 2-0 in the first period and Boston controlling the play, Washington’s Alexander Semin was whistled for tripping. Last season that might have spelled doom for the Caps because it often seemed that at critical junctures the penalty killing would fail when Washington needed a stop most. Now early on in this campaign the Caps shorthanded crew is not only thwarting the opposition, but the whole team seems to be getting an energy boost from the work of this unit.

Second, rookie Marcus Johansson had his best game as a Cap and notched his first ever NHL goal at 7:42 of the second period. The tally was set up by a good forecheck by Matt Hendricks and Jason Chimera. After Hendricks forced the puck away from Matt Hundwick, Chimera slid a pass to MJ90 near the right post and the young Swede buried it by Thomas. Johansson, who still struggled again on draws going 2-7, and Hendricks were the only Caps who were in the plus category (+1) on the night.

Third, when previously undefeated rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth left the game in the first period due to a reported illness after giving up the first two Boston tallies, Semyon Varlamov came in and made some good saves on some quality chances. Overall #1 yielded only a third period goal, that he never saw due to net traffic, on 14 shots. It was encouraging to get the Russian goalie back in the cage and he played rather well.

Finally in the positive department is the play of rookie defenseman John Carlson, who logged over 24 minutes of ice time, was not on for a goal against, and was clearly Washington’s best blue liner on a night when they sorely missed the great Mike Green (out day to day with an upper body injury).

The Caps did seem to have some energy and put out more effort at times, but overall it was a mediocore performance, at best. Some might point to the Caps shot advantage of 36-21 as a positive, but I won’t hear it. Washington did not do a good job of going to the net, especially on their anemic power play which continues to spend too much time passing the biscuit on the perimeter. The Caps received a late four minute power play with 1:20 to go so they pulled Varly and had a 6 on 4 advantage. However, Semin was the primary culprit of a crew that seemed to show no urgency or desire to get the puck to the net. Atrocious is what I call that last 80 second sequence and Evason needs to get this power play untracked quickly. My suggestion is to sit some of the skill guys and go with a crash the net and blast from the point mentality.

Tyler Sloan showed on Tuesday night why he is typically in the press box on game night. On the first Boston goal, his partner Karl Alzner pinched in the offensive zone. It was not a smart pinch by #27 but in the Caps aggressive system it is something the d-men are authorized to do. Unfortunately Nicklas Backstrom did not do a good job of covering for Alzner and Boston broke down the ice 2 on 1 on #89. Sloan then proceeded to defend like he had never faced an odd man breakaway in his career. First he failed on the opportunity to press the puck carrier, Nathan Horton, in the neutral zone and then he didn’t cut off the pass to David Krejci on the 2 on 1. It was awful defense and it gave Neuvirth no chance to stop Krejci’s shot. #89 needs to make sure he takes the pass and gives the shooter to the goalie in that situation. Sloan was also on the ice for the final Bruins goal but the primary blame on that one goes to the Caps forwards (Chimera and Eric Fehr) who failed to cover the points.

Speaking of not covering their point man, team captain Alexander Ovechkin was caught once again floating in the d-zone and that allowed Bruins d-man Johnny Boychuck to slide down on the right side and take a cross ice pass from Krejci. Neuvirth came out to cut the angle down on the Bruins d-man and #30 stopped the initial shot but Jeff Schultz was unable to clear the puck or Milan Lucic and #17 banged it home to make it 2-0. Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Knuble would all be -2 on the night and the Great #8 struggled against big Bruins defender Zdeno Chara all evening.

“Sometimes you have tougher nights than others. I thought his effort was there, I just didn’t think things were going well for that whole line,” said Boudreau on the play of Ovechkin and his first line.”

As for Neuvirth, who was outstanding in the first five games, Boudreau didn’t know that his young net minder was carrying any issues into the contest and was surprised when #30 pulled himself.

“After the second goal, he complained of dizziness and a headache. Then he came off, that was the first I knew of it,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on his starting goalie.”

In 2009-10 the Washington Capitals swept the season series from the Boston Bruins, primarily because the Caps used their significant advantage in the team speed department. In 2010-11 that advantage seems to have been reduced as the B’s now have a once again healthy Lucic plus they’ve added Horton and 2010 NHL 2nd overall draft pick, Tyler Seguin, who can flat out fly. In the first two periods the Bruins were able to keep pace with a Washington team that is still faster, but because Boston was more disciplined with their positioning they built an early 2-0 lead.

“I feel we’ve got pretty good balance on our lines. We’re capable of playing an up tempo game,” said Bruins Coach Claude Julien on his squad’s ability to handle speed in 2010-11.

Boston also has to be pleased with the resurgence of Thomas, who underwent hip surgery last spring, and appears to have regained the form that led Boston to the number one seed in the Eastern Conference in 2008-09. He never looked shaky on Tuesday night and didn’t give Caps forwards much to shoot at in a stellar night’s work.

“That’s my style. I had to battle through some screens and there were some funny little tips that you had to stay on your toes for. We did a good job not giving them break aways or odd man rushes or all alone in the slot or anything like that. We did any excellent job. The times that I gave up rebounds, the D [defense] did a good job clearing them out too,” said the Bruins goalie, who is now 3-0 on the season.

Notes: Tom Poti returned to the lineup and logged 20:31 of ice time. #3 played okay but he was out of position on the 3rd Boston goal, which left Sloan having to fight off two B’s defenders in front of Varly…DJ King dressed and only logged 4:05 of ice time. Boyd Gordon was scratched as a result. Word has it he was a healthy scratch and if so that situation should be reversed in Boston on Thursday night (Gordon plays, King sits). Lucic had a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, and fight) and he slugged it out with John Erskine in the 3rd period…Hendricks and Gregory Campbell fought once again, they had a bout 2 seconds into the preseason tilt in Beantown in September. I gave the edge to #26 in this scrap…the Caps narrowly won the face-off battle, 28-27…the Caps attendance of 18,398 gave them their 64th straight home sellout.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Caps forward Matt Hendricks will be on WNST 1570 Baltimore at 925 am on Wednesday with Drew Forrestor on the Comcast Morning Show. Listen Live on WNST.NET.

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Backstrom Paces Caps over Bruins

Posted on 29 September 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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After Vegas, Things Turn Serious For Caps

Posted on 21 June 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After this Wednesday night’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas (7pm on VERSUS) in which three Capitals are up for post season awards (Alexander Ovechkin for Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, Mike Green for Norris Trophy and NHL Foundation Award, and Jose Theodore for Masterton Trophy), things turn very serious for General Manager George McPhee and the Caps with the NHL draft on Friday (7pm on VERSUS) and Saturday (1pm on NHL Network) in Los Angeles followed by the start of NHL free agency on Thursday, July 1st.

Unlike last postseason, where the team felt like they had the correct pieces on board to go deep in the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup yet just needed to build on their previous season’s experience, there is the impression this year that changes will be made personnel wise, based on the talk from McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau since their game seven loss to Montreal. Boudreau blamed the early round defeat on the lack of secondardy scoring and said his club basically became a “one line team” against the Canadiens. The Caps scored exactly one goal in each of the last three contests in the series so there is no doubt he was correct. Immediately after the season I wrote that personnel changes were needed and felt then, and still do now, that Washington’s biggest need is a second line center.

Clearly McPhee won’t be selecting the second line center he needs for next season in the draft itself, but with all 30 GM’s together in the City of Angels it will be a prime time to talk trades. If the GM can’t get the right deal this weekend then he could try and go the free agency route, however, given the Capitals salary cap situation (and only McPhee and Don Fishman really know the exact figures there), finding a second line center for the right price may not be achievable, given how valuable a commodity pivot men are these days.

With Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom locked up long term and a plethora of wingers in the system, Alexander Semin’s name has been bantered about as a possible player that could be moved. #28 is currently signed for one year at $6M for 2010-11 and is coming off a 40 goal regular season. However, the extremely talented right winger has failed to light the lamp in his last two playoff series. In 2009 against the Penguins in the second round, Semin had a valid excuse, he had a badly injured hand.

In 2010 against the Habs, however, the bottom line is he failed to show up for a large majority of the series. The videotape does not lie, and if one goes back and watches each tilt again, it is clear that Semin sleepwalked through the first four games before making a better effort in games five through seven. Even though he improved, it still was an unsatisfactory and “soft” performance. In game six, the Canadiens scored the crucial first goal of the contest on the power play, which was set up by a Shaone Morrisonn cross checking penalty. But #26 never goes to the box if Semin doesn’t let Maxim Lapierre take the puck from him easily on the right wing boards in Washington’s zone to start the sequence. Then, in game seven, with the Caps pressing and desperate to get the first goal, #28 fails once again to go hard to the net, and instead of tapping home an easy tally, his weak deflection goes off of the pipe.

Semin is one of the most controversial figures on the Caps and DC fans pretty much either love him or are staunchly in the “get rid of him” camp. There has never been a question of his talent, but when it comes to desire that is another issue. Complicating matters for the Caps and McPhee is his current contract situation and the mindset of Semin and his agent, Mark Gandler. McPhee, in an interview on WNST on the Comcast Morning Show back in May, stated that he approached the Semin camp about a long term deal with Washington. Their response, according to McPhee, was along the lines of ‘We don’t want one right now, we plan on having Alex score 50 goals next season and then hitting the open market for the big money.’ That interesting position by Semin and company leaves McPhee with three real options:

1. Keep Semin, then roll the dice and hope #28 shows up in the playoffs next year like he did in 2008 against the Philadelphia Flyers (3 goals, 5 assists, +2 ) and 2009 against the New York Rangers (5 goals, 3 assists, +5)

2. Trade him at the draft with the hope that some team with salary cap room will want him.

3. Hold onto him for the majority of the regular season and then deal him at or near the 2010-11 trade deadline.

The potential downside to holding onto Semin for all of next year is that following the 2010-11 season #28 can hit the open market and Washington would receive nothing in return, should he sign elsewhere. With all of the pressure on McPhee and Boudreau to make amends for the early post season exit in 2009-10, giving #28 a chance to be more consistent and produce in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is quite a risk. Even Ovechkin, who is the team captain and likely Semin’s closest friend on the team, couldn’t get the guy to produce when it mattered so what makes anyone think 2010-11 will be different?

So it would seem that moving Semin, if the Caps don’t feel they’ll get the consistent performance they need from him to win in the post season, is the best route to go. The question then becomes, what is the market for #28? Who can take on his contract and what can you get back for him? Last weekend, seeking some info on what the potential return to Washington could be in a Semin deal, I exchanged texts with an NHL scout who has a handle on the trade market. When I floated the idea of the Caps moving Semin, his initial response was “Trade for what? A 5th round pick? He’s a $6 million cap hit then an unrestricted free agent.” After some more discussion, he sent back “Nobody is taking him at $6 million.”

What Washington does have going for it though, is in such a money driven league making the playoffs is crucial to a team’s financial bottom line. Thus a player like Semin, who will no doubt be motivated in the regular season to rack up big offensive figures, could be the difference for some clubs between making the post season or golfing. So taking on a $6M contract would yield more revenue in return should it put a bubble team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The NHL is certainly a salary cap league and it is amazing to think, if the scout’s take on the market is correct, that a former first round pick, who has scored 128 goals in 327 NHL regular season tilts, would have such a low trade value. But that appears to be the state of the enterprise these days and a prime example of that is the Chicago Blackhawks, who due to serious salary cap issues, may be forced to give up a prospect or two just to get another team with cap room to take on a highly paid offensive defenseman, such as Brian Campbell. That scenario, among others for the Hawks, was discussed at length by Jeff Marek and others on Hockey Night in Canada Radio immediately following Chicago’s Stanley Cup victory.

In some ways, moving Semin for a draft pick and clearing $6M could be a shrewd move, especially if the freed up money yielded a Patrick Marleau or another bonafide center. Washington has a couple of right wingers in DC that can go the net, such as Mike Knuble and Eric Fehr, or others in Hershey, who aren’t afraid of causing crease chaos, chomping at the bit to get a shot in “The Show”, such as Andrew Gordon or Jay Beagle or even the speedy and fiesty Steve Pinozzotto. The Bears proved, despite having more talent than any other AHL team, that it takes hard work and a willingness to pay the physical price to win a championship. The Caps need to add more players with that mindset.

Moving Semin could cause some friction with Ovechkin, but if it helps the Great #8 and the Caps capture the Stanley Cup they desperately crave, then that situation is clearly workable. At the end of the day, the decision to move Semin, if it is made, isn’t a personal one and it would be based purely on the way NHL business has to be conducted in the post lockout era where you only have so much money to properly craft a Cup winning club. In order to win a title in the NHL, you have to have talent and the players you put the most money into also have to display an undying commitment to winning that carries through to every other member of that squad. Towards that end, I’ll leave you with the scout’s final thoughts on #28, one that certainly has crossed the minds of many people in and around the Capitals organization.

“Semin is an awesome kid, just not a win at all costs guy!”

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Ovechkin Suspended 2 Games for Hit on Campbell (Updated)

Posted on 15 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The NHL has suspended Alexander Ovechkin 2 games for his hit on Brian Campbell of Chicago yesterday. Ovechkin was given a five minute boarding major and game misconduct in the first period of a contest in which the Caps rallied from three goals down to win, 4-3, in overtime. Campbell reportedly suffered upper body injuries that will likely cause him to miss the remainder of the regular season.

Ovechkin will miss Tuesday night’s Caps game in Florida and Thursday’s tilt in Carolina.

COMMENT: I don’t like seeing anyone get hurt but if you watch the replay again you will see that just before falling something happens to Campbell’s right skate. Jeff Marek, of HNIC radio, said that he watched it frame by frame and that #51 hit a rut. I maintain that had Campbell not hit the rut he would have remained upright and would not have been injured and the Great #8 would not have gotten a penalty nor a suspension. But it is, what it is.

UPDATE: Capitals GM George McPhee has issued the following statement on the suspension:

“We have no problem with the way Alex tried to finish his check. Unfortunately, an injury resulted. We are disappointed with the suspension but do not want to comment further.”

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Backstrom Rallies Ovechkin-Less Caps to OT Win

Posted on 14 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

With the Chicago Blackhawks leading the Washington Capitals 3-0 after two periods the NBC announcers said that the Hawks were making a statement that they were serious Stanley Cup contenders. 23 minutes and 10 seconds of hockey later it was the Alexander Ovechkin-less Caps who made the bigger statement as they rallied with three third period goals and then Nicklas Backstrom won it for Washington, 4-3, on a beautiful move and shot in overtime. Ovechkin was kicked out 12:16 into this contest on an arguable major boarding call against Brian Campbell so Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s crew had to dig deep and find a way to win in a hostile building without the best player on the planet. Washington, who outshot the Hawks 11-1 in the 3rd period in the come back, are now over the century mark in points at 46-14-9 (101 points) and they have a five point lead over the San Jose Sharks in the race for the President’s Trophy (San Jose has two games in hand going into Sunday night’s game vs. Anaheim).

Here’s my thoughts and analysis on this big victory for the Capitals:

Okay, so just how good is Nicklas Backstrom and how much is it going to cost GM George McPhee to sign this incredible player long term??!! My response: As great as I think he is, he is even better and I don’t care what the price will be, you have to pay the man. My gut tells me #19 will get around $6.5 to $7M a season. Ovechkin is the best player in the league but Backstrom, in my book, is easily in the top 10. He is so strong on his skates and he has amazing hands as evidenced by the skill and quick release he showed on his two tallies today. All of us in the MD-DC-VA area who watch Backstrom game in and game out know how good he is and today all of North America witnessed the brilliance that is #19.

More Backstrom: On the shift where he scores the winning goal, the young center actually turned the puck over at his own blue line, and it was a bad giveaway, but instead of pouting, lollygagging, or taking a penalty that another highly skilled forward on the team might have done in that situation, #19 back checked hard and helped to break up any opportunity Chicago had of getting a scoring chance. Then the super Swede took the puck the other way and made Olympian Brent Seabrook look like an orange road cone and Hawks goalie Antti Niemi appear to be nothing more than the shooter tutor to close out a thrilling Capitals comeback victory.

Both Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire said that the major penalty call on the Great #8 was incorrect and the hit on #51, at most, was a double minor for boarding. Boudreau was clearly incensed at the call and told referees Dan O’Halloran and Frederick L’Ecuyer what he thought of their decision (we can all read lips, right?). The good news is Ovechkin won’t be eligible for an automatic suspension as he has gone 41 games without a major for boarding (h/t Nate Ewell) but the bad news is Campbell is hurt. In addition, Caps fans will likely have to hear the words “reckless” and “out of control” once again from some biased members of the media. The Great #8 was finishing his check on the Hawks D-man after he had released the puck but right as Ovie was hitting him, Campbell turned and with the force at which both were going plus the size of Ovechkin something had to give, and unfortunately #51 went flying awkwardly into the boards. To me it is two for boarding but as Milbury correctly pointed out between periods (did I just really say Milbury and correct in the same sentence?), the officials overreacted, likely due to all of the recent uproar over hits to the head (which this one was not). My take on this one:  if the David Koci hit from behind on Mike Green is not a suspendable offense than how the heck is this Ovechkin check worthy of one? But the Caps and their fans are now at the mercy of the league office.

Speaking of rules and officials, Dave Steckel showed today why no touch icing doesn’t have a place in the NHL as his hustle led to the tying goal. #39 made a super play behind the Hawks net and hit a perfectly positioned Eric Fehr in front, who snapped the puck by Niemi for his 18th goal of the season, just 13 seconds after the Great Backstrom had just made this a one score game (which came as a Washington 5 on 3 power play was expiring).

After Brooks Laich legally finished his check on Patrick Kane and sent him flying into the net late in the first period, Hawks Coach Joel Quennville sent out pesky Adam Burish to try and set a tone for his club. Burish proceeded to attempt to run Green through the boards from behind in a much worse fashion than the Ovechkin hit (due to the intent) and then #37 threw an elbow and two cheap cross checks yet only received two penalty minutes from the two zebras??!!

I can’t fault Jose Theodore for any of the Chicago goals and he did make some good saves in this contest. However, after the first period he didn’t have to do much as it was all Caps – they outshot Chicago 21-11 from that point on (30-23 overall for the game). The second Hawks goal came on a 5 on 3 courtesy of the Ovechkin major and a really bad penalty, but correct call, on Alexander Semin. Semin, who had a shorthanded breakaway, tried about eight too many moves, did not get a good shot off, and then went crashing into Niemi to receive a well deserved goalie interference penalty. #28 has to release the puck sooner and make sure he takes a better angle on his way past the goal. Frankly, he looked almost as foolish as he did in last Monday’s shootout loss against Dallas, except this time he couldn’t blame a rut in the ice for his fall on this play in Chicago.

With all of the lineup shuffling that has been going on lately by Boudreau, I would surmise that the 12 forwards and six defenseman that played today are your post season game one starters, assuming everyone is healthy. The only change could be Scott Walker inserted for one of the 4th line guys, depending on the Capitals first round opponent. Walker, Brendan Morrison, Quintin Laing, John Erskine, and Tyler Sloan were the scratches in Chicago, for those keeping score at home.

The Hawks first goal was scored on a 4 on 4 play off of a face-off on a sequence that found Jonathan Toews all alone in front. My first reaction on the play was where was the other defenseman playing with Tom Poti? On replay Joe Corvo goes with his man off the drop of the puck and Steckel did not cover for him. Eddie Olcyzk of NBC criticized #39 but given the system the Caps play perhaps #77 should have been pointed out as the guy at fault? Given that he is just 10 days into the Washington system, I would give him a break on that one if he was really supposed to “stay home” on the play. Next time I get the chance I will ask Boudreau about that play to get his take on who should have been doing what in that situation.

Notes: Chicago crushed the Caps, 30-19, in face-offs…Green had over 30 minutes of ice time, added two assists, and was +2…the Capitals have three more games on the road this week: at Florida on Tuesday, at Carolina on Thursday, and at Tampa on Saturday.

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Hey NHL: Where is the Justice for Ovechkin??!!

Posted on 04 November 2009 by Ed Frankovic

So I have been following all of the coverage surrounding the Alexander Ovechkin injury and the more I read about it the more incensed I have become. So when is the NHL brass going to come out and condemn the circumstances surrounding it?

After all, the most entertaining player in the league is on the shelf, week-to-week, because he made a couple of clean hits and Ken Hitchcock’s Columbus Blue Jackets decided that instead of getting even with a legal check in retaliation they would simply jump the Great #8 while he skated by their bench during a stoppage in play, likely injuring Ovechkin. To me this is just like a couple of thugs hiding out on the street and mugging the pedestrian as he walks by. Once caught they would get jail time yet the NHL, in this instance, so far has done NOTHING!! And to literally add insult to injury Hitchcock is going around in the media bragging about going after a guy who is a major meal ticket for the NHL.

“That would be correct. That’s the name of the game. Why, is that against the rules now?… Run, chase, hunt down, hit, whatever word you want to use that would be correct,” responded Hitchcock when asked if Columbus was targeting Ovechkin.

Well yes Ken, jumping a guy by your bench during a stoppage in play is against the rules and using the words “hunt down” to describe it is even more despicable and is a disgrace to sports and the NHL. In fact, this whole incident, from the punch by Jason Chimera to the mugging by Jared Boll to Hitchcock’s comments, has no place in the league and Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell need to come down hard on the Blue Jackets for this incident IMMEDIATELY, because if they don’t then their game is going to become a joke very quickly.

 “Hunt Down”… are you kidding me? What has the NHL become Wild Kingdom??!!

All the NHL is doing by not doing anything is making Ovechkin, who is selling lots of tickets and driving up TV ratings exponentially for the league, likely have to deal with this scenario on a game-by-game basis going forward. What is he going to have to watch behind his back at every stoppage in play now? It would surely seem so since Hitchcock and company have drawn up this blue print that teams can use without even the threat of an ounce of punishment? Ridiculous, if you ask me.

You want to keep a good product that is gaining serious traction, and that is what the NHL mostly is these days because of the speed and flow of the game, then you need to stomp this type of stuff out now, otherwise we might as well all get ready to go watch pro wrestling instead. This roller derby type of activity needs to be taken out of hockey immediately.

Amidst all of the thuggery around Ovechkin on Sunday I also can’t help but point the finger at Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada, who seems to have incited players to go after Ovechkin with his weekly diatribes against the two-time Hart Trophy winner. Yes, this is the same guy who has ripped European players for years for being soft and now finally the NHL has a megastar in the Great #8 from Russia who hits and scores yet all Cherry wants to do is bash him on Coach’s Corner and say “that somebody is going to get him??” Which way do you want it to be Don??!! Are you happy now that Ovechkin has been injured while being mugged on the ice? Was Columbus’ thug-like actions the “manly” way to try and get back at Ovechkin because he happens to hit effectively while the puck is in play? 

Cherry’s statements are totally hypocritical.  Hypocritical on this issue just like he was on Ovechkin and “show-boating” last year when Alex did his 50th goal celebration. You wanna talk about show-boating? Cherry is one of the all time biggest show boaters ever! All you have to do is break out the old videos from his coaching days or see the “look at me” outfits he wears every Saturday night.

Seriously though, the NHL needs to wake up fast. There are things happening in the game right now that need changing and it all starts with checking. It seems now that if a guy makes a clean hit on a player then immediately he is jumped by one of his opponents and forced to fight. What is that? What happened to the give and take that used to occur within the game in the NHL? If you get hit clean, find a way to either check that player later during play or even better yet, keep your head up, go around him, and score a goal next time you are on the ice. That is a sure fire way to deter that type of activity. This stupid code, and that is all it is, that exists now in response to clean checks needs to be removed, pronto!

And the NHL needs to come out immediately and condemn the actions of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday against the Caps and Alexander Ovechkin as well. Allowing teams to “Hunt Down” star players and then brag about it is no way to have your league operating.

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NHL Referees Under Scrutiny/ News from Caps Breakdown Day / NHL Playoffs / Memorial Cup Thoughts

Posted on 16 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

NHL Referees Under Scrutiny

We have seen three playoff game sevens take place in the National Hockey League this week and some of the big time hockey commentators are taking issue with penalty calls in both the Caps-Penguins game on Wednesday and then the Ducks-Red Wings game on Thursday. Don Cherry, Mike Milbury, and Ron MacLean, all of Hockey Night in Canada, have each separately blasted the slashing call on Shaone Morrisonn that led to the opening power play goal by Sidney Crosby in game 7 on Wednesday night. In fact, on Thursday afternoon (the day after the game) during the Hockey Night in Canada Radio broadcast on Sirius 122, MacLean was still adamant that what #26 did was not a penalty. MacLean, who was on air with host Jeff Marek and guest Paul Stewart (former NHL referee), went into great detail on why it should not have been called a penalty. Cherry and Milbury both said between periods of the game on Wednesday that the call had too much influence on the outcome of the game.

Then on Thursday night both Versus commentators, Keith Jones and Brian Engblom, took issue with the slashing call  made on the Ducks Ryan Getzlaf on Tomas Holmstrom that led to the first goal of that contest for the eventually victorious Red Wings.

Clearly slashing penalties, which seem to have gone up in correlation with the number of broken sticks (and that has increased due to these new flimsy and supposedly technologically advanced products), are one thing that needs to be looked at before next season. I asked both Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee about this today at Caps breakdown day.

“This is a really tough game to officiate, I think we have to say that, there is so much going on out there, it is so fast, it is not easy to officiate. What you want them to do is officiate and not try and manage the game and let each game take on its own identity and officiate it. I, like other managers and commentators, worry about some of the penalties that are called. And the first penalty the other night [on Morrisonn], for example, eight minutes left in the first period, there is no score, you got a player on their team that is trying to dump it in at our blue line. Our defenseman comes over and takes a hack at him, the puck goes in our end, that player is going off on a line change, his stick was broken, he drops it, and the referee calls it a penalty. It wasn’t a scoring chance, nobody was hurt, there wasn’t physical contact, but because there was a broken stick the referee called a penalty. Now that I don’t get in an NHL playoff game and it was game seven. So those kinds of things require more judgement and in fact, [the referee] didn’t even have his hand up until the player turned around and started skating to the bench without the stick. They get the first goal and score eight seconds later and it is over. So those things are going to have to be better, no question,” said McPhee, who clearly felt the referees had too much influence on the outcome of game seven on Wednesday.

“I was thinking this thought this morning. There are three or four penalties that they call all of the time because it takes the judgement out. The slash with the broken stick is one of them even though they didn’t call one against Pittsburgh the other night but they decided to call us but that is neither here nor there. The shooting over the glass, the hook on anything on the hands, no matter how slight. So those are penalties the refs know that if they see they can put their hand up and they can’t get called on it. All of the others are judgement calls and I would like to see some sort of variation of letting the refs have some judgement on how hard the slash was because some of these sticks can break if you breathe on them. Some you can use a sledgehammer on them. I wish the referees didn’t have the automatic judgement if the sticks breaks or if he knocks it out of his hands then it is a penalty. But that is not for me to answer, that is for [NHL Director of Officiating] Stephen Walkom to decide and [NHL Director of Hockey Operations] Colin Campbell and we’ll find out if there is a possibility if they could have a good middle ground there,” said Boudreau on how he sees the games are being officiated now.

Breakdown Day

Today was breakdown day at Kettler Ice Plex as the Washington Capitals were conducting exit interviews with the players before they head out of town for the summer. Boudreau and McPhee discussed alot of things about the team and the players were also available as they floated in and out of the locker room.

More Game 7 Thoughts

Here are some excerpts from Boudreau on Game 7 and not moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals:

“I’m not sure why we picked that night to have a clunker…only thing I can think of is it was our fifth elimination game and it was their first and their is such a different feeling of determination and maybe we were a little too complacent in game seven thinking, ok, we are going to stave off elimination again and didn’t have the same feeling as game six. It certainly didn’t feel that way in and around the dressing room before the game. You search for answers and you don’t want one game to ruin a heckuva of a good season.”

“I think we are all bummed out because watching last night we felt we certainly could have beaten either Boston or Carolina, you turn it on and watch it, then turn it off, then turn it on and watch it and get so mad thinking we are capable of beating the next next teams and then it would give me hope saying we are very close. I don’t know what has to be done but I think we are a real good team now with certainly the core coming back, if you look at the Alex’s and the Nicky’s, and the Semin’s and Green’s are under contract so there is high optimism for the future and beyond. At this point, I want to take a day off and then start again.”

“Every year your younger players are going to take lessons and be more mature. You look at Mike [Green] being 23 and Alex [Ovechkin] 23, and Nicky [Backstrom] being 21, and [Alex] Semin 25, these guys are going to take this as an experience and be more mature when the situation comes next year. They understood what it took to get beyond the first round this year, I think, because of the year’s previous experience. I think this experience is going to make them be better and be able to go further in the future.”

Injury and Contract News

Below is a rundown on the players as provided to the media by both Boudreau and McPhee today. Boudreau did comment that “All of our key players had an injury.”

Alexander Ovechkin: Injured his groin in game four of the Rangers series and also hurt his wrist sometime in the playoffs. Both injuries required pain injections before games. Can you imagine what Ovechkin might have done in the Penguins series had he been 100% healthy? The Great #8 had 14 points in 7 games in a losing effort.

Alexander Semin: McPhee said that #28 suffered a really bad sprained thumb in the playoffs and that it had to be frozen so that Semin could play some of the games. He had a tough time holding the stick so that explains a good part of the reason why he became invisible in much of the Penguins series after a decent first round against the Rangers. McPhee was also asked if he will be working on a long term contract for Semin this summer, since #28 only has 1 more year left on his current deal, and the GM was non-committal on whether he would be doing that. In fairness to Semin, he was non-committal on a long term deal for Nicklas Backstrom, who only has 1 year left, as well.

Goalies/Simeon Varlamov: The young goalie will not go down to Hershey to play because Boudreau said he is emotionally spent. He felt that perhaps the weight of five elimination games, and he won the first four, might have finally caught up to #40 in game seven when he struggled on the second, third, and fourth Pittsburgh goals. Boudreau also said it makes no sense to have him go down there and become the backup goalie with the way Michael Neuvirth is playing (had back to back shutouts in games 6 and 7 of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton series to carry Hershey into the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Providence Bruins). McPhee said the number one goalie job will be decided in training camp between #40, Jose Theodore, Neuvirth, and even perhaps Brent Johnson, although Johnson is the only one without a current contract for next season. Theodore apparently told the media (I had left by that point) that he plans to be the #1 goalie for the 2009-10 season. Boudreau says “he sees [the competition] as a great battle.”

Mike Green: He was a hot topic and both McPhee and Boudreau would not elaborate on his injury. They merely said he was having more tests but it appears the shoulder that he originally injured when trying to skate around Chris Pronger and three other Ducks back in November still has not fully healed. It does not look like #52 or any other Capital will need surgery based on what McPhee told the media. I asked Boudreau what Green had to do to avoid the big hits he took this year, especially when he became a big target of the opposition in the playoffs. “I think that is experience. He has seen it now, he knows what to expect and nobody likes to get hit so as quick as he is he is going to have to get quicker,” finished Boudreau on the Norris Trophy candidate.

Other defensemen: Tom Poti played with a fractured foot since game 1 of the Penguins series and John Erskine also suffered a fractured foot (missed two games). Morrisonn had an injured ankle that he suffered in game five of the Penguins series and also was dealing with groin issues. It is no wonder the Caps had a hard time getting the puck out of their own end given that four of their top six defensemen were badly banged up.

Sergei Fedorov: Both McPhee and Boudreau were non-committal on #91’s return but said a lot of that would be up to Sergei. Fedorov told the media that he wants to come back next year and had his agent seek out an extension back in January, which the Caps have delayed until the off-season. It will be interesting to see how much (or little) money the three time Stanley Cup Champion will take to come back and play next season. Boudreau raved about his leadership and apparently #91 still loves being around the younger players.

Viktor Kozlov: Another free agent who really wants to come back and play for the Caps next season.

Donald Brashear: Ovechkin said the Caps need him back or, at a minimum, someone who can fit his role as policeman.

Michael Nylander: Both McPhee and Boudreau described #92’s season as “A tough year.” It is clear Nylander does not fit on this team but McPhee did say it does not make financial sense to buy him out. He also said he wasn’t sure Nylander could come back and play for this team, therefore, the options left appear to be a trade (unlikely given the contract – 2 more years at $5.5 and $3M), send him to the minors, or ask him to retire.

Evaluation Process

McPhee said the evaluation process is that he talks to each player, the coaching staff, and then next week the pro scouting staff comes in to offer their perspectives on things. Once the GM has all of that info he then will start making his decisions on personnel, to include the coaching staff. Boudreau is a lock to be back but as for assistant coaches Dean Evason and Jay Leach there was no firm commitment given to them returning by either Bruce or George. As far as the system goes, Boudreau felt that what he asking of his players does not need changing but some of the guys aren’t getting the message.

“I don’t think it’s systems. We just have to get them to play the systems a little bit better. They’ve learned it for a year now. I’m not in charge of the personnel. But we’ll see what the personnel looks like next year. Sometimes you try to change people and sometimes they don’t want to change. Every team in the NHL would love guys who drive to the net. That’s one thing coaches love. But sometimes you have guys who you know are going to play a little bit on the perimeter. You can tell them until the cows come home but it doesn’t always work. But they have such great strengths in other areas. What do you do? That is not even a system thing because every team, that is what you preach going to the net, going to the net. You either go to the net because you don’t mind it or you don’t,” said Boudreau.

NHL Playoffs

The schedule for the Conference Finals has been released and the Chicago Blackhawks will meet the Detroit Red Wings in game one of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday at 3pm on NBC and on Monday night the Penguins will host the Carolina Hurricanes at 730pm in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals on Versus. I’ll have my series predictions up tomorrow night but given that I’ve been on the Detroit bandwagon all year you can bet I’m picking them.

Memorial Cup

The Memorial Cup, the Canadian Hockey League Championship, began today from Rimouski, Quebec City. All of the games are on the NHL Network so even down here in the United States hockey fans can follow the games. The teams involved are the host team (Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), the Kelowna Rockets (Western Hockey League Champions), the Windsor Spitfire (Ontario Hockey League Champions), and the Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL Champions). Last year the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL won and in game one tonight Kelowna was quite impressive in defeating Rimouski, 4-1. Calgary Flames 2007 first round draft choice (24th overall), Mikael Backlund, had a superb game Friday and I was also impressed with big, mobile defenseman Tyler Myers (12th overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2008 NHL entry draft) and forward Jamie Benn (2007 5th round pick by the Dallas Stars). All of those players are with Kelowna. Windsor has a really good team as well so I expect them to battle the Rockets for the trophy.

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Massive NHL Blog: Caps Advance, Ovechkin for Hart, and Western Conference Semi-Finals Predictions

Posted on 29 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Additional Caps Advance to Second Round Coverage

As promised last night, there is more to tell after Tuesday’s huge Caps win over the New York Rangers in game seven, a series in which the Caps trailed two games to none and then three games to one, yet still prevailed.

How big was this series win for this franchise?

“It’s huge. We worked so hard this year to get where we are now and to be put back in the same position we were last year [losing in the first round] is not a good building block for us. To get this win and move on to the second round now we are more experienced in that aspect and hopefully we can go as long as we can here but we are definitely more experienced than we were last year,” said Caps defensemen Mike Green (1 goal, 4 assists in round one).

“It’s awesome, it’s a great feeling, we are excited about the next round. You never want to lose, especially in a long series like this coming back and fighting. You never want to feel what we felt last year.,” said Tom Poti, who was one of the stars of this playoff series with two goals, four assists, and was +2.

The key point from the above quotes is the Caps, after a 108 point season, improved on last year’s first round exit. Had they lost this series, GM George McPhee, who was quoted afterwards as saying “we had to win,” would have to give some consideration to the thought that maybe this mostly very young team was better assembled for the regular season given it’s high skill level but lack of playoff results. This is a common thing for a GM to do after multiple frustrating post season losses and you need to look no further than the President’s Trophy winning San Jose Sharks for an example of that happening now.

“The frustration is overwhelming. We owe an apology to our fans and our ownership. … Everything will be evaluated. There’s nothing that’s off the table. This is going to be a tough, painful summer, and it should be,” said Sharks GM Doug Wilson after his team, that led the NHL with 117 regular season points, lost in six games in the first round to the eighth seeded Anaheim Ducks. Wilson, who added Cup winning defensemen Dan Boyle and Rob Blake last off-season plus fired Coach Ron Wilson for not getting past the second round on several tries (he hired former Wings assistant Brian McLellan to take over behind the bench), may have to make some major moves that could include trading superstar Joe Thornton, who has been heavily labeled as a guy who can’t win in the playoffs.

With Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom both just one year away from unrestricted free agency who is to say that a loss this year to the Rangers might have pushed McPhee into a Wilson-like mode? Fortunately for Washington, that scenario appears to be out the window heading into the Pittsburgh series given the Caps ability to have some postseason success.

Coaching played a big role in the Caps series win and the two biggest moves that made a difference, in my opinion, go to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau. First, he yanked Jose Theodore and inserted rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov after just one game. The young goalie only gave up 8 goals in six games and two of those were in garbage time in game six. The players certainly enjoyed having solid goaltending they could count on.

“He’s a great young goaltender and he’s been the difference in this series. Stepping in and playing the way he has has changed the atmosphere on our team. We are very confident with him in the net. For him to come in and play consistently the way he has every game is great. Not many goalies can play as consistent as that every game. It is incredible at his age,” said Green giving #40 a ringing endorsement as the Caps starting goalie.

Then with the 2nd overall ranked power play in the NHL struggling in games four and five (it went 0 for 13) the crafty coach moved Oveckhin down low (a move he did successfully against the Flyers last season) and inserted Tom Poti on the point opposite Mike Green. After that move the Caps were 2 for 4 on their power plays but it could have easily been 4 for 4 if not for Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as Washington had the puck in New York’s end nearly the entire time on both attempts in game seven after going 2 for 2 in game six. I asked both Poti and Green if moving Ovechkin down low changed things and opened things up for them.

“Maybe. It is always fun to play on the power play. Haven’t been on it much the last two years but it is nice to get out there and kind of shake things up a little bit, it helped us win the series, I think. We had some nice chances to score but Lundqvist came up big and kept it tied,” said Poti.

“Yeah, Tom is a left handed pass and he can move it to me a little bit better and I can go back and forth with him and we can create and allow the guys to move around down low alot and tire [the penalty killers] out. Alex [Ovechkin] and Alex [Semin] down low, Alex [Ovechkin] in the slot. He’s a big guy and you see that last game in New York he gets a tip on the puck, he’s got great hand-eye coordination so that was a great adjustment that Bruce did there,” finished Green.

Final thought on the series, it will be nice get away from the over dramatic New York Rangers and my least favorite player in the NHL, Sean Avery. Avery has the potential to be  a very good player but he gets too emotional and crosses the line too much. When #16 plays like he did in game seven he is great for his team but Washington did a good job of not letting his antics get to them.

“Just look the other way. I think that frustrates him the most. Just skate away and don’t play into his own games,” was how Poti described Washington’s plan on playing the pesky and controversial forward.

By the way, Avery did cause some trouble in game seven but it was to broadcaster Ray Ferraro, who was at ice level between the two benches for live reports. Avery, after a first period shift in which he was trying to goad the Washington players into taking a penalty, stormed back to his bench but let his stick fly in the air, seemingly out of control, and it struck Ferraro and the former Whaler and Islander had to grab it and yank it off of him. Ferraro then yelled something to Avery and the loose cannon forward leaned up and said something back to the guy who killed the Caps in overtime back in the 1993 playoffs. I asked Ferraro afterwards where the stick hit him but he declined comment not wanting to be part of the Caps-Rangers story.

Next up are the Penguins and there will be extensive media coverage locally and in the US and Canada. These teams respect but clearly don’t like each other. Boudreau’s “Welcome to the Circus” quote from Tuesday night, when he learned the Penguins would be Washington’s round two opponent, appears to be foreshadowing for the next two weeks.

If you’d like to hear my WNST on-air segment from today with Comcast Morning Show host Drew Forrester, please go to the WNST audio vault (http://wnst.net/wordpress/section/audio/).

Ovechkin Named Hart Trophy Finalist

No surprise here, Ovechkin, who won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP last season when he scored 65 goals, is once again nominated for that trophy. The Great #8 is a finalist with two other Russians, Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh and Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit.

Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association submitted ballots for the Hart Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters announced as finalists. The winner will be announced Thursday, June 18, during the 2009 NHL Awards that will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on VERSUS in the United States and on CBC in Canada. The Capitals are assured of at least two candidates for honors at the show, as Green is a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

Ovechkin could become the first player to win back-to-back Hart Trophies since Dominik Hasek in 1996-97 and ’97-98. The last non-goaltender to win consecutive Hart Trophies was Wayne Gretzky, who won eight in a row from 1980-87.

“It means a lot to me to be up for this award,” Ovechkin said. “I always want to be the best, so this is a great honor. It’s special, too, with three Russians nominated. It is a great thing for our country and our sport.”

Ovechkin led the NHL in goals (56), earning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for the second consecutive season. He also led the league in points per game (1.39), shots (528) and power-play points (46). His 110 points in 79 games ranked second in the league, and his goal total was 10 more than any other player. He finished the season recording eight more points than any other player after the NHL All-Star Game (51; Malkin and Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh were second with 43 each).

Western Conference Semi-Finals Matchups, Analysis, and Predictions

The NHL is in a great position now as there are 8 teams left in the playoffs and in my mind, any of them can win the Stanley Cup this June. In the East you have Boston vs. Carolina and “The Circus” while out west you have the last two Stanley Cup Champions playing each other in Detroit (2008) vs. Anaheim (2007) and up and coming Chicago vs. Vancouver (who have the best goalie in the league in Roberto Luongo according to Yahoo’s puck daddy, Greg Wyshynski).

Tonight, I’ll preview the West:

(2) Detroit vs. (8) Anaheim

Even though I picked the Sharks to beat the Ducks, I wrote back in my first round preview that I thought the Sharks had the worst draw of the top four seeds. Anaheim has a great defense with Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Ryan Whitney, Jim Wisniewski, and Francois Beauchemin (returned from injury in round one). Rookie Bobby Ryan, the number two overall pick to Crosby in the 2005 NHL Entry draft, is tearing it up on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. In net, Jonas Hiller has been superb and the Ducks also have seasoned Cup winning vets in Teemu Selanne and Rob Niedermayer. You want goaltending depth, Stanley Cup winning goalie J.S Giguere is currently operating the bench door and will continue to do so unless Hiller struggles. Talk about a good insurance policy in net.

On the other hand, the Detroit Red Wings are a big red machine (sorry 1975/76 Cincinnati Reds!). On the back line they have six time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom with Brian Rafalksi, Brad Stuart, and Nicklas Kronwall and up front they have Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, Johan Franzen, and the best goalie screener in the business in Tomas Holmstrom. The only possible shaky area is goalie with an aging Chris Osgood, but “Ozzie” has won two Stanley Cups as starting goaltender, including last season.

The Red Wings are great at controlling the puck while the Ducks like to be physical and play the cycle game. This will be one outstanding series but I’ve been on the Wings bandwagon all year so I am not jumping off now. Detroit in seven games.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (4) Chicago Blackhawks

Luongo, the Canucks captain, is the whole key to this team. He is so big and takes up so much net that you have to get him out of position or screen him like crazy to score on him. Because of the outstanding goaltending in Vancouver, the Canucks can take a few more chances offensively with the Sedins (Daniel and Henrik), Pavel Demitra, Ryan Kessler, Alex Burrows, and Mats Sundin (added as a free agent midway through the season). Vancouver’s defense is anchored by the powerful and fiery Willie Mitchell but it also boasts solid two way man Mattias Ohlund plus Sami Salo, Alexander Edler, and Kevin Bieksa. The Canucks had alot of injuries during the season (Luongo missed six weeks plus with a groin injury and the defense had numerous man games lost) but came together and blew by a really banged up Calgary team down the stretch erasing what was a 13 point Flames lead in the Northwest Division in January.

Chicago is a highly skilled team like the Caps. Their captain, Jonathan Toews (pronounced Taze [like faze and daze]), is such a good two way player that goes to the net and gets ugly goals to go with some highlight reel ones as well (who can forget the Carrie Milbank/Eddie Olczyk NHL.com commercial?). Patrick Kane, who missed a game against Calgary due to the flu, is all speed and skill and you add in Patrick Sharp, rookie Kris Versteeg, Martin Havlat, plus big #33 Dennis Byfuglien who is effective when he goes hard to the net and that adds up to some serious offensive firepower. On the backline the Hawks have puck mover Brian Campbell who played well against the Flames plus Brent Seabrook (really stepped up against Calgary), Cam Barker, and Duncan Keith. It is not a real physical defense but it has been effective. In goal soon to be free agent Nikolai Khabibulin has been so good that Hawks Coach Joel Quennville has kept former Canadiens and Caps goalie Cristobal Huet on the bench (an expensive backup at over $5M a season for four years).

To me the key for the Canucks is to dump the puck in and hit the Chicago defense. Vancouver has a good cycle game and will need to generate scoring opportunities from that. Chicago has offense but they will now face Luongo and it will be tough to score. They had trouble against St. Louis scoring but Chris Mason gave up some bad goals for the Blues to allow the Canucks to sweep. This is a hard one to pick but I’m going with a well rested Vancouver team in seven games.

Well, that is it for tonight. If you’ve read this far you are a true hockey fan and I thank you. On Thursday night look for some coverage of the Caps-Pens series as I head out to Kettler Ice Plex to catch up with the Capitals after their practice.

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