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Caps Bury Avs, 6-1, Green Injured

Posted on 15 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

End of 1st period: Caps 2, Avs 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of 2nd period: Caps 5, Avs 0

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

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

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

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

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

End of 3rd Period: Caps 6, Avs 1

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

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

Here is the post game analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps News and NHL Update

Posted on 12 November 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps News

Alexander Ovechkin continues to improve and if you want some proof all you have to do is check out the outstanding video coverage from Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post. The Great #8 has missed four games after being injured in a scrum against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, November 1st and if he doesn’t play against Minnesota on Friday or New Jersey on Saturday then it will be a total of 6 games. The Caps are 3-1 without Ovechkin and have learned some good things about their team in the face of adversity but Coach Bruce Boudreau and his club likely don’t want to have to play without their superstar too much longer. You can hold it together short term but longer term the road gets difficult. All you have to do is look at how poorly the Penguins played last year with defensemen Sergei Gonchar out the first 4 months of the season and the Pens are struggling again with Gonchar out due to a fractured wrist. Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin is also on injured reserve and Pittsburgh has gone 2-5 in the seven games without both #55 and #71, including a 4-1 loss to the Devils Thursday night.

I didn’t get a chance to include this in last night’s blog after Washington’s 5-4 shootout victory over the Islanders, but I asked captain Chris Clark if he was planning on going top shelf or did New York goalie Dwayne Roloson give him the upper corner as he was skating in on his eventual shootout winning shot.  “I was shooting all the way just because of the ice was getting bouncy, you gotta shoot there sometimes so I had to give it a try,” stated Clark. #17 also mentioned that the primary reason the Caps are 3-1 without Ovechkin is because they routinely have been the first guy on the puck, which is exactly what Eric Fehr said Wednesday night as well.

Caps players and fans are well aware that Boudreau is a very good coach by the mere fact that he took over a team that was mired in last place just two years ago and helped to turn it into a Stanley Cup contender that is coming off of back to back Southeast Division titles. “Gabby”, who Sergei Fedorov apparently compared to the legendary Scotty Bowman for his ability to make in-game adjustments, does seem to have a “magic” touch as evidenced recently by the very successful line juggling he did for the third period of Saturday’s win over Florida and last night’s hook of goalie Jose Theodore at an early juncture in the game (not to mention that very risky yet highly successful switch to Semyon Varlamov after game one of the Rangers playoff series last spring). So where does Boudreau get that “sixth sense” like ability? Well, it isn’t magic or rocket science, Boudreau started as a player in juniors in 1972 (Toronto Marlboros of the OHA) then played in the minors plus the NHL and as soon as his career was over he went into coaching. I looked up his history at hockey db and counting regular season and playoff contests the 2008 Jack Adams Award winner has 2,879 games of total experience. 2,879, WOW! Boudreau has likely “seen it all” and it is no wonder he has a knack for making the right move in many different situations. Like the great Jim Ignatowski once said on one of my all-time favorite tv shows, Taxi, “There is no substitute for experience!”

NHL News

Anyone who has spoken with me recently knows I am still steaming over the incident where the Great #8 was injured against the Blue Jackets. I did not like the mugging and I was even more upset with Columbus Coach Ken Hitchcock’s “hunt down” comment the next day. The Caps don’t play Columbus again until April 3rd so there are no immediate “revenge” type of opportunities. So what am I doing in the interim? I am rooting against the Blue Jackets and they have become one of my least favorite teams (of course the Flyers, Penguins, and Rangers are solidified in the top 3 in those rankings given their respective proximity and long time rivalries with the Caps). As you can imagine, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Detroit Red Wings take Hitchcock’s club apart, 9-1, on Wednesday night.

Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk missed just six contests with a fractured foot and in his return to the line-up for Atlanta Wednesday night he had a goal and two assists to lead his Thrashers to a 5-3 win at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. Atlanta went 3-3 without #17 and they are now 8-6-1 overall.

On Halloween night Kelly Hrudey, who is hands down Hockey Night in Canada’s best analyst, showed some clips of Jarome Iginla against the Detroit Red Wings and pointed out how he was not moving his feet like he typically had done in the past, primarily along the boards. #12 was off to a slow start with only 4 goals in 12 contests and seemed to be trying to play “the easy game.” Well whether Flames coach Brett Sutter talked to him or Iginla saw the Hrudey clip or whatever happened, the Calgary captain is playing super again and has gone on a tear and he has five goals and an assist during the Flames recent four game winning streak, three of which have come away from the Saddledome. The Flames are 11-4-1 overall and trail the Colorado Avalanche by four points but the Avs have played three more contests.

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Caps Knock Off Islanders, 5-4, in Marathon Shootout

Posted on 11 November 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Wednesday night brought on another Capitals-Islanders battle and for the 7th time in the last 9 contests these two teams went to extra time to decide the outcome before a packed house (18,277) at the Verizon Center. When overtime did not yield a winner on came the shootout and it took 11 players for each team but Washington’s Chris Clark scored and Semyon Varlamov (25 saves), who was great in relief of Jose Theodore tonight, slammed the door on Mark Streit to give Washington a 5-4 victory. The win moves the Caps to 11-3-4 on the season, tops in the Eastern Conference, and they are now 3-1 this year with Alexander Ovechkin (upper body injury) out of the line-up.

The Caps, for the 15th time in 18 games scored first, and it took only 8 seconds as Alexander Semin took a Brendan Morrison pass in the neutral zone and blasted a rocket by Dwayne Roloson. The goal tied a team record for the fastest goal to start a game (March 14, 1987 at St. Louis). Semin, who Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said on Wednesday morning was battling through an undisclosed injury, showed talent and determination on that early effort.

But the lead didn’t last long as the Islanders took advantage of a Washington offensive zone turnover and skated back the other way and threw what looked to be a harmless shot on Theodore. But Theo flashed his left pad erratically and threw the puck up the slot and right on the stick of Matt Moulson, who notched his 8th goal of the season to tie this one up just 62 seconds in.

A several minute horror show stretch for the Caps then continued as they made numerous mistakes in their own end, including a Mike Green golden giveaway when he and #60 couldn’t communicate properly on a puck behind Washington’s net, but Theodore did manage to make his only good stop of the night in that instance. Theo, however, then gave up a Streit point shot off of the face-off and it was 2-1 Islanders just 5:10 in. The blast appeared to be a very stoppable shot but it could have hit a Cap defensemen on the way in. Theodore’s night would end shortly thereafter as Semin made one of his patented offensive turnovers when trying to do too much. #28 tried to go horizontally across the blue line through several Islanders and Sean Bergenheim picked him clean. With both Caps defensemen in too far below the blue line (Shaone Morrisonn and Green) in bad position, #20 had an easy breakaway and he faked Theo to the ice and deposited the biscuit in the basket on the backhand making it 3-1 just 6:54 in.

With Varlamov in net Washington settled down and started finding their legs after the 10 minute mark. Then the line that Boudreau put together in the 3rd period explosion against the Panthers last Saturday night, Nicklas Backstrom-Mike Knuble-Tomas Fleischmann, got it going and they cycled the puck for over a minute before Jon Sim held Morrisonn behind the Islanders net and the Caps received what would be the only power play of the first period. The magic line of 19-14-22 went to the bench to rest for the first half of the power play but once they came out Backstrom took over and skated around the New York defense and fed Flash for an easy one timer to make it 3-2. It was Fleischmann’s sixth goal in just seven games this season since returning from injury.

Washington came out strong in the second period drawing two penalties and on the second one Green made a beautiful rush taking the puck around the Islander net and he fed a wide open Semin in the slot. #28 then buried it top shelf for his second goal of the night at the 5:35 mark to tie things up at three. The Caps were thoroughly outworking the Islanders and it finally paid off again when Mathieu Perreault made a nice back check at the Caps blue line that allowed Green to feed Eric Fehr on a rush. From there #16 fed the puck to Clark who then gave it back to Fehr. Fehr then put a nice backhand shot, that afterwards #16 said was intended to be a pass to Perreault, by Roloson to put the Caps up 4-3. Washington dominated the second period outshooting New York 14-8 and it was 12-3 in shots for the period, at one point.

Brendan Morrison took a lazy penalty (stick infraction) to start the 3rd period but the Caps killed it. Washington would then dominate much of the next 12 minutes of play and Semin had a couple of good chances to get the hat trick but Roloson kept the Isles in it. Dave Steckel took a penalty for holding at 4:50 and the Caps held strong with Varlamov making some big saves but then Milan Jurcina took a boarding penalty, and Boudreau said after the contest that the Islander forward embellished the hit, to give the Islanders another shot with the man advantage with 2:46 remaining. This one would cost the Caps a regulation victory as Trent Hunter fired a laser by Varly to tie it up at four with 2:08 remaining and send this contest to overtime.

The overtime did not have a whistle as the Caps controlled much of the play but could not beat Roloson. In the shootout, Backstrom went first and didn’t connect. Jeff Tambellini then led off for the Islanders and he blistered one top shelf by Varlamov putting pressure on the Caps to answer. Semin then came in with alot of speed and faked the Islander net minder to the ice and beat him with a backhand. From there we went to the “Twilight Zone” as numerous Caps and Islanders could not score with Varly having to make the tougher and more spectacular saves (and he showed off his amazing flexibility too). But finally, in the 11th round Clark beat Roloson top shelf and then #40 thwarted Streit to give Washington the victory.

“Once you go to overtime that much you always believe that you are able to catch up but I believe [the players] never thought they were out of it and even after we were down early I never thought we were out of it, it was too early. There were 50 minutes left in the game and we were down 3-1, I thought we had a good chance of coming back,” said Boudreau. 

Here are some quotes and post game analysis from this hard fought victory:

Boudreau’s line combinations seemed to gel tonight but the line of Perreault, Clark, and Fehr seemed to especially make things happen all night even though they were together just under 10 minutes of ice time for the contest. Had the Islanders not converted late, Fehr would have had the game winner.

“I thought we had alot of energy today and we had a lot of scoring chances. It was big for us when we were down, just keep pushing and put pucks on net, I think we had the will tonight to get to the puck and guys were competing hard. Every time there was a loose puck it just seemed that we were jumping on it” started Fehr on his line, “When I got it back from Clarkie I was trying to pass it back door to Perreault on the backhand and I guess the goalie thought I was doing that as well and it just snuck in,” finished Fehr on his goal that appeared to go in off of New York defenseman Jack Hillen.

“He’s a real spark plug. He makes some plays that are really nifty. I don’t want to, five games into his NHL career, make comparisons, but there’s a lot of small players that go side to side and make a great career being as competitive as they were. He looks like he’s got that little something that sparks any line he plays on,” added Boudreau on #85, agreeing that his line was good on Wednesday evening.

The Caps defenseman and Theodore were very shaky in the first 10 minutes but Washington got back to what made them successful on Saturday night after it was 3-1.

“We just wanted to outwork them. They are a hard working team, they’ve shown that against us in the past and it’s cost us. So we wanted to make sure that we worked it and tried to out work their team,” said Fehr who also mentioned “he feels great and strong and that he will be able to play the best hockey he has in awhile.”

“We had some lapses in our play. I don’t think we played our best game that we have in a while. But we showed a lot of character and fought and got the timely goals again and put ourselves in a position to win,” started Brian Pothier on the victory, “We should be closing teams out with a one goal lead with five minutes left in the game, we should be able to shut the door,” finished #2 on the recent trend of Washington taking late penalties in regulation to give up leads.

Theodore did not have a good night giving up three goals on five shots but Pothier said it was a team effort that led to the early hole.

“Unfortunately our goaltender getting pulled [turned it around]. We take that pretty seriously, he is one of our teammates, one of our brothers so to speak and he gets pulled and its embarrassing for him and it is not even his fault. The goals weren’t his fault, they were our fault. You get really upset with ourselves over that and we know we can play better and perform better and we didn’t want the same thing happening to Varly and we stepped up and performed,” finished Pothier on the team’s goaltending.

“He looked a little down and the last time he was pulled Varly came in and shut the door so I thought he would be able to do it again. But Theo’s played so well for us and he will come back this week, play another game, and he will be great for us,” said Boudreau on his goaltending decision tonight and going forward. Boudreau seems to have a pretty good pulse on his goalies and his switch tonight was a big reason why the Caps were victorious.

The Caps, as mentioned above, are now 3-1 without Ovechkin and I asked Pothier about it.

“It says we have a great team [that we are still winning], we have the best player on planet Earth and that always helps when he is in the lineup. When he is not we still have to have a good functioning team and we can score goals, we can prevent goals, and we have what it takes to win and I think we’ve shown that and we just have to continue that,” finished Pothier.

Semin had two goals but also had several missed opportunities and had the costly giveaway that led to the third Islander tally.

“He looked like he wanted to play and when he wants to play he can, he could have had 6 [goals] and he makes some moves and he can shoot the puck and he is scary good when he is motivated. There was the good and the bad, the goal, the giveaway, the miss. He is like alot of us in Washington, at least he is exciting,” said Boudreau on Semin.

The Caps outshoot New York 41-31 and they are 1-0-1 this season with 40+ shots on goal. Washington was 6-7-1 with 40 or more shots last season. Washington won the face-off battle 39-30. Dave Steckel led the way at 11-6 while Backstrom was 10-6 and Morrison 10-7.

It appears that Michal Nylander is destined for the Russian KHL league but nothing official has been announced. Clark did discuss the topic afterwards though when asked about it.

“We didn’t have much of an issue [in the locker room], he was a great guy, he did what he had to do, he worked so hard on the ice and he kept himself in shape. I don’t think he knew what was going to happen. He wanted to put himself in the best position and he wasn’t one of those guys that was sulking and getting mad or sitting in the corner and being that guy. He actually was very professional about it and I’m glad that he finally gets a chance to play because he is a heckuva a player. If he couldn’t play here I’m glad he is not going to another team in the NHL because he is such a good player so it will be good for him,” finished Clark on the Nylander saga.

The Capitals next game is Friday night at the Verizon Center against the Minnesota Wild.

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Caps + Islanders = Overtime Again, but Isles Win

Posted on 30 October 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals brought a six game winning streak into Friday night’s contest against the New York Islanders, a team they had gone to overtime against three of the last four times they have played one another, but tonight they finally were beaten, 4-3 in extra time, on Mark Streit’s blast in the slot off of a great feed from John Tavares. The Caps do pick up a point while dropping to 8-2-3.

Washington struck first on the second half of a double minor for high sticking to Islanders forward Kyle Okposo when an Alexander Ovechkin slapper squeezed through the pads of Dwayne Roloson for Ovie’s 14th goal of the season. The Caps then successfully killed off a Shaone Morrisonn tripping penalty thanks to goalie Jose Theodore alertly freezing the puck after Nicklas Backstrom lost his stick, which effectively gave New York a five on three advantage.

The Islanders then tied things up when Theodore gave up a long range snap shot from the top of the slot to Okposo after Keith Aucoin and Chris Clark could not corral the puck at neutral ice. Okposo carried the puck in to the zone but Morrisonn, who had Milan Jurcina to his right for assistance, backed up instead of challenging the Islander. #26 also partially screened Theo, but #60 still should have had the shot. The soft goal made it 1-1.

Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Alexander Semin had a few chances to score again but they overpassed the puck. Semin gave up a great shot in front on one sequence and then the Great #8 had a two on one break with #28 after a steal and he passed up a glorious opportunity from the slot and the Islander defender broke the attempted pass up.

Mike Green took a shot off of the foot on his last shift of the first period but he returned to start the 2nd period. Early on in the middle stanza, Clark took a tripping penalty off of a defensive zone face-off and other than a nice move by the 2009 1st overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft, Tavares, Washington easily shut down the Isles power play.

A brutal Green giveaway on a fanned pass up the middle of the ice led to a golden chance for Frans Nielsen and he put it top shelf on Theodore to give New York the lead. With the bad state of the ice #52 has to be smarter about the plays he is making directly in front of his own goal. But Washington quickly struck back as Clark intercepted an errant pass by Roloson behind his own net and he fired it in front and Tomas Fleischmann jammed it home for his first goal of the season (only his second game of the year). Theodore then got a lucky break when Tavares hit the right post on a 3 on 2 break. Semin followed that up with his best chance of the game when he got the puck all alone in front of the Islanders goalie but he could not beat Roloson, who came up big for his club.

With under five minutes left in the second period Mike Knuble worked hard to draw a hooking call on Mark Streit and the Caps power play made the Islanders pay. Washington kept the puck in the New York zone for 79 seconds and a dog tired Islander penalty killing group were resigned to standing still like orange cones when a Green slap shot ricocheted off of Roloson’s pads and Fleischmann swatted it home at the right post for his second goal of the night to give the Caps a 3-2 lead. But that advantage vanished quickly as the lack of aggression from Washington’s defense cost them again. Milan Jurcina had position on Nielsen in the slot but he did not force #51 and the Islander slid a low soft shot under Theodore to tie the game up at three. #60 was slightly screened but he would like to have that one back.

The Caps received a scare when Ovechkin took a Backstrom pass off of his skate and limped to the bench but he did not miss a shift and Backstrom was tripped in the corner with 13:06 left to give Washington a power play. Roloson then just got enough of a Green point blast and gloved a backhander from #19 in front as Washington put a ton of pressure on in the first 40 seconds of the man advantage. After the next face-off Knuble was called for goalie interference when Roloson did his best Paul Newman impersonation and on the ensuing power play Theodore robbed Tavares in tight.

On a delayed penalty call, interference on Streit, the Caps came very close to taking the lead with Theodore off for the extra skater but the Islanders finally got possession with 4:20 left. Roloson then made several good saves and the game went to overtime.

In the OT, Morrisonn decided to carry the puck into the offensive zone, instead of dumping it in, and when the biscuit was taken from him behind the Islanders goal he was caught up ice and was out of position. #26 then was beaten badly behind the net by Tavares who centered the puck to Streit for the game winner.

Here is my analysis and comments on tonight’s game:

- Had I known remembered this game was not on TV in high definition I would have gone to the Verizon Center. No HD is just bad news. Thanks for nothing Wizards.

- I thought the worst Capital on the ice tonight was Morrisonn. His hockey sense on Friday was awful. He took a bad penalty early, misplayed Okposo on the first Islanders goal, and had several brutal shifts, including the final one of the game. My question to #26 is this: Why are you carrying the puck behind the opponents net in overtime instead of dumping it in? Morrisonn should realize he is not Green or Tom Poti and needs to stay within himself. The mental mistake set up the entire closing sequence of this contest. The former first round draft pick was -2 in only 14:43 of ice time.

- Washington outshot the Islanders, 40-30, but for the first time in several games the opposing goalie, Roloson (37 saves), outplayed the Caps net minder. Theodore gave up four goals on 30 shots and two of them, despite partial screens, should have definitely been stopped. #60 is 3-2-3 this season and did not follow up Tuesday night’s superb performance against the Flyers with a solid outing.

- The ice, from what I could gather in low definition on televison, looked awful and as a result there were several pucks that were fanned on, including the one Green gaveaway in front for a goal. Semin misfired on several shots and I don’t know if it was the ice or his lack of focus. #28 continues to float at times and he has to be a very frustrating player for Bruce Boudreau to coach. The guy has all of the talent in the world but sometimes he appears to not give a hoot when he is on the ice.

- Much has been made of the fact that the Caps haven’t been giving a 60 minute effort but tonight they outplayed the Islanders overall. As I mentioned above, goaltending was the difference and Washington just made some mental mistakes as well. You also can’t discount the way New York plays.

  • “They work and they play hard. They have lost one of their last six in regulation,” added Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

- Fleischmann, who was only playing his 2nd game of the season, has been really good in both contests and definitely adds some scoring punch to the line-up. For the most part his line, with Aucoin and Clark played very well for Boudreau.

- Backstrom went 10-7 from the face-off circle as the Caps won the overall battle 32-28.

- The Caps power play was really good again (2 for 6) and might have had three or four goals if not for Roloson, who was the clear #1 star of the game, in my book. The Islanders did not score on any of their three power plays.

- I watched the post game covergae on CSN+ and based on some of the questions I heard from the media who regularly covers the team you would think the Caps are 3-10 and in last place. This team has 19 points in its first 13 games and is in first place in the Southeast Division. You cannot win the Stanley Cup in October so people need to relax a bit. This is a very good hockey team that needs to clean up some bad tendencies and perhaps some tweaks to the roster are needed, primarily on defense when salary cap room is freed up, but overall everyone needs to ease up!

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Quick Caps Update: Nylander, Fleischmann, and the Forwards

Posted on 14 September 2009 by Ed Frankovic

I know it has been a purple Sunday for most of you and it was for me too but a couple of things of note happened in Washington Capitals land today that were worth passing along to you hockey fans out there ready to Rock the Red in the upcoming season.

First, forward Michael Nylander met with the media Sunday and says he wants to play in the NHL this year. This is interesting because both Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee told us on Saturday that there was a possibility of Nylander going to play in Europe (and hopefully his $4.875M salary cap hit for the next 2 years). Click for the transcript of Nylander’s interview from Sunday (thanks to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post).

Second, apparently forward Tomas Fleischmann, who scored 19 goals last season and saw significant playing time on the second line and on the power play last season, has a blood clot and will not be practicing until early October. That puts him out until late October, at the earliest. The injury to Fleischmann, who was pretty much a lock to make the team and play 15 to 18 minutes a game, now opens up another forward spot in addition to the one talked about on Saturday. I see this development as an opening for either Chris Clark, Chris Bourque, Keith Aucoin, or even Nylander to take advantage of during training camp and the early part of the season.

Here are the top 2 lines as I see them right now (but this is just my take, not Boudreau’s or McPhee’s):

Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas Backstrom – Mike Knuble

Brooks Laich – Brendan Morrison – Alex Semin

Also, Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Boyd Gordon will very likely be somewhere in the bottom six forwards.

Forwards Eric Fehr (behind due to a shoulder injury) and Fleischmann are injured.

That leaves Clark, Nylander, Aucoin, Bourque,  and Quintin Laing to fight for the final three forward spots. Forwars Jay Beagle, Matthieu Perreault, and Steve Pinnizzotto (for his grit and toughness) would be three additional guys who, if they really wow McPhee and Boudreau in training camp, could conceivably make the opening night roster, but those three seemed more destined for Hershey, at this point. The pre-season games now get more interesting with the Fleischmann injury and the Nylander situation. The first pre-season game is Thursday night at the Sabres and the first home pre-season game is Monday, Sepember 21 against Buffalo again (on Saturday night the Caps are in Chicago to face the Blackhawks).

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Caps News: Veterans Skate and Day 1 of Rookie Camp

Posted on 07 September 2009 by Ed Frankovic

There was quite a bit of activity for the Washington Capitals on Labor Day, the first official day of the 2009-10 season, at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston, Virginia. After the rookies were on the ice in the morning, which we will get to in a couple of paragraphs, 13 veteran skaters, rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, and the Caps website producer, goalie Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt, took the rink over for some action. The skaters participating were Mike Green, Mike Knuble, Chris Clark, Matt Bradley, Brendan Morrison, Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon, John Erskine, Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz, Dave Steckel, Brian Pothier and Jay Beagle.

The players did a number of drills, conducted a half ice scrimmage, and then finished with some skating sprints. Of note was the condition of Green, who appears to be in phenomenal shape. Green struggled down the stretch and into the playoffs last season with an illness and a bum shoulder but he showed no effects of any of that on Monday. #52 participated recently in August in a try out for the Canadian Olympic team, and although he might not make a squad that is predicted to capture the gold medal in Vancouver in February (that is what my sources tell me unless there is an injury or two), the camp clearly helped Green get ready to build on his monster 31 goal, 73 point (in just 68 games) 2008-09 season.

Now to the rookies, who hit the ice today for their opening session of training camp. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was eager to get things going and afterwards quickly summed up his mood and the tone for this camp.

“This is exciting, it is day one, but it is what we do, vacation is over…let’s get back to work.”

And work the team he did, putting them through some very tough suicides at the end of practice that apparently had some rookies struggling to finish. Boudreau felt this end of practice session was an opportunity to see where the younger players were conditioning wise.

“I think [the skate today at the end] is a good test, a good barometer. Every coach has some sort of barometer to see who has worked hard this summer and who took it easier than they should have. Most of our guys were really good with it and a couple of the guys who were late additions probably hadn’t skated as much – you could tell those guys from the guys who knew that they were coming to this camp,” said Boudreau.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, this team has a lot of depth and Boudreau was anxious to talk about it and the impact he sees it having on training camp.

“We think we’ve got tremendous depth. We think the Hershey guys that won the [Calder] Cup last year are going to push these guys really hard. They’ve won the Cup and now they want to make the next step, the NHL. I’ve said this before if you look at the history of teams that won the Calder Cup they always have 4 or 5 guys playing in the NHL in the next year or year and a half, at least,” started the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner, “We’ve got 3 good goalies, 11 NHL caliber defensemen, a multitude of forwards who are ready to make the step and I think there are battles all over the ice, which will make for good stories everywhere.”

Boudreau was asked about goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who played very well last post season, and appears ready to challenge for the number one goalie job.

“I think he looked great. Neuvirth [who was out with the veterans in the afternoon] will be in tomorrow. We are just switching both goalies up each day to get them work since [rookie goalie Braden] Holtby is here as well,” said Boudreau on #40′s first day performance before the conversation turned a little bit light hearted, “you know, he speaks English now…I was really surprised, that is a testament to how bad he wants to be in North America to take the language and learn it as quick as he did. I know I couldn’t do it the other way around…when the goalies are smart it scares me,” finished a laughing Boudreau.

A big topic of conversation was Washington 2008 first round draft pick, John Carlson, who made the jump from the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League to being a significant contributor on the Hershey team that won the Calder Cup in June. Carlson continues to impress with his play and professionalism at the young age of 19.

“You know he’ s worked hard because that was a pretty tough skate at the end and he was easily the one that lasted the longest, all the time. He’s ready to put a push on to make this club,” said Boudreau on Carlson, who if he does not make the Caps can go down to the AHL in Hershey and play instead of London since he was a United States Hockey League (USHL) draftee.

Corey Masisak of the Washington Times and I caught up with Carlson after practice and here are some of the things we discussed with him and his answers:

On the USA World Juniors Camp he attended in Lake Placid back in August:

Carlson – “It was good. I saw alot of old buddies so that was fun and we stayed at the Olympic training facility, which is a first class place so it was a good way to jump start my training being on the ice once or twice a day for nine or ten days. When I got back I had that base and could really start to work more. ”

On if he is more ready for training camp this year than last year:

Carlson – “I didn’t know what to expect and I still really don’t know what to expect but the experience I had in Hershey is going to make me feel a lot more comfortable with learning the systems. Every day I am just going to come in and do my best and try and make an impression and wherever I end up that is the right place for me. ”

Is he focused on making the Caps?:

Carlson – “Obviously when you come into camp your goal is to make the team and it has been a dream of mine to play in the NHL ever since I was 3. It would be a dream come true but I try not to think about that too much. I’m just worried about making an impression day by day.”

Who did he work out with during the summer to prepare for the season?:

Carlson – “Off ice I trained with Rob Schremp (Oilers), Sam Gagner (Oilers), some of the older guys from the [London] Knights this year in Matt Clark and Phil McRae, and when we got on the ice Andy McDonald (Blues), Corey Perry (Ducks), Brian Campbell (BlackHawks), and Drew Doughty (Kings).”

How is the US world junior team going to do this winter?:

Carlson – “They’ve got a good team, it was a good camp, and it was competitive.”

How did you feel about not getting picked for the US World Junior team last season?:

Carlson – “I was disappointed but when you play hockey that kind of stuff happens so I tried not to think about it and just focus on my season and maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t go there. Who knows?”

I also had a chance to catch up with 21 year old Michael Dubuc, who had 35 goals in 49 regular season games for the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) Kelly Cup Champion South Carolina Stingrays. Dubuc impressed me at the July 2008 Caps Development Camp and performed well again in this year’s development camp scoring a lot of goals.

WNST: So is your goal to make the Hershey roster permanently this year?

Dubuc – “Of course, it has got to be, I got cut last year and I needed last year to learn a lot about my game to play at the next level and hopefully I learned a lot of stuff. I am still working on it and the coaches are here to help me work on those things. On my part I had to work hard in the summer to get stronger and faster on the ice. I am going to give it my all to make the Hershey roster this year.”

WNST: You missed some games last season, didn’t you?

“I got hurt twice last year, both times in practice, and it was really unlucky. I ran into a guy in practice and got a concussion one month before the playoffs so that is why I missed some games in the playoffs because I completely lost my game feeling. I played the last two games [of the ECHL finals] and to win a championship, to win the Kelly Cup, as a first year pro it was unbelievable and when we scored that empty net and you’ve been through the whole year with those guys and all of the hard practices you just feel the achievement and there is a smile on everyone’s faces and it is amazing.”

WNST: Is “natural goal scorer” an accurate description of you?

Dubuc – “It is, but everyone in Washington knows that so I have to work on other things. It is fun to score goals but if I work hard it will come. Like you said it is natural but I have to work hard on other things to make it as a hockey player at a higher level. I talked to Bruce [Boudreau] outside and he said ‘Just work hard, you know what you have to do. We know that you can score, keep doing that, but try to get better and keep working hard.’ That is what I am going to do this camp and then Hershey’s camp and hopefully I can get a spot in Hershey, that is what I worked hard for all summer.”

News and Notes: The Caps convention set for September 26th at National Harbor is completely sold out…2005 first round draft pick Joe Finley, who was recently switched from defense to forward, left practice early today. “He said something was going to be sore…which is too bad because he was looking really good. I’d rather have him healthy and ready to go for the rest of camp than ruin him by trying to show something on the first day and hurt a groin or hip flexor or something,” said Boudreau…The Coach has a new weekly blog at WashingtonCaps.com, titled Behind the Bench, “It is something I wanted to do. We did it in Manchester. Washington hockey is pretty hot right now so we want to keep it that way,” added Boudreau….For those of you who are concerned about Washington’s salary cap situation, the team does not have to be under the $56.8M figure until the first game of the season, which is Thursday, October 1st, in Boston. It is not clear where they stand right now but by my calculations they are slightly under, but the only guys who really know for sure are GM George McPhee and Assistant GM/team salary cap guru Don Fishman.

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Caps News and Notes

Posted on 20 August 2009 by Ed Frankovic

TV Schedule Update from the Caps Media Relations Staff

VERSUS will broadcast seven Washington Capitals games to a national television audience in 2009-10, the network announced today. NBC, which will operate under a flexible schedule for eight of the network’s regular-season dates, has five potential Washington games to pick from.

VERSUS, which will broadcast 54 regular-season NHL games, will feature the Capitals seven times this season starting with Washington’ season-opening visit to Boston on Oct. 1. The network will also broadcast the following games: Oct. 6 at Philadelphia, Oct. 27 vs. Philadelphia, Nov. 17 at the New York Rangers, March 8 vs. Dallas, April 5 vs. Boston and April 6 at Pittsburgh.

In addition to the national broadcasts in the United States, 17 Capitals games will be televised nationally in Canada. CBC will televise five Capitals games: Oct. 3 vs. Toronto, Nov. 21 at Toronto, Nov. 28 at Montreal, Dec. 12 at Toronto and Dec. 19 at Edmonton. TSN will televise eight Washington games: Oct. 27 vs. Philadelphia, Nov. 20 vs. Montreal, Dec. 18 at Vancouver, Jan. 7 vs. Ottawa, Jan. 15 vs. Toronto, Feb. 10 at Montreal, Feb. 11 at Ottawa and April 5 vs. Boston. TSN2 will televise four games: Oct. 6 at Philadelphia, Nov. 17 at New York Rangers, March 8 vs. Dallas and April 6 at Pittsburgh.

Washington’s local broadcast schedule will be released in the coming weeks.

COMMENT: With an exciting on-ice product led by the Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, it is not surprising that the Caps will likely be on national TV even more this season.

Bruce Boudreau’s Book Sneak Previews

All of this week our friend JP over at the great Caps site, Japers Rink, has been posting experts from the Bruce Boudreau autobiography (co-written by Hershey Bears beat writer and super nice guy, Tim Leone of the The Patriot News) titled “Gabby – Confessions of a Hockey Lifer” that will be available to the public sometime this fall.  The excerpts have been good but the third installment really hits home as it appears that Boudreau originally was supposed to be on Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Scary stuff. Today’s preview discusses Bruce’s coaching philosophy.

Caps at School Program

The Washington Capitals are bringing the excitement of Caps Hockey to local classrooms with the introduction of Caps at School, a free, online curriculum-enhancing teaching tool for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade classes. Caps at School is accessible to teachers at capsatschool.com and has the potential to be used in every elementary school in Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C.

Caps at School was created to provide Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C., elementary school educators with resources that integrate hockey and Washington Capitals players into teaching lessons for math, language, art, health and physical education. This unique program offers engaging, classroom-ready lesson plans that will capture the attention of students and allow classes that complete the lesson plans the opportunity to win Caps prizes.

Students will learn math using NHL most valuable player Alex Ovechkin’s statistics. Capitals captain Chris Clark will help students hone their reading skills, while Matt Bradley will explain creative ways to be environmentally responsible in a fun art activity. Defenseman Mike Green will help teach different ways to become more healthy and active.

Local teachers can enroll their classes for free and start to download lesson plans immediately at capsatschool.com.

Theodore Family Loses Infant Son

Finally, tonight the world found out some horrible news as Jose Theodore’s two month old son passed away last week. My thoughts and prayers go out to Jose, his wife, and the entire Theodore family.

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Caps: Playing George McPhee / NHL Conference Finals Analysis and Predictions

Posted on 17 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Analysis: Playing George McPhee

Tonight, after hearing the words of Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee on Friday at breakdown day combined with the knowledge I’ve gained from watching this hockey team plus input I’ve gotten from other scouting and knowledgeable sources, I am going to play George McPhee as he heads into the off-season and try and predict some of what he might do and what I would do with this hockey club if I were in his position.

Before we begin, I agree with McPhee and Boudreau that this is a very good team right now and there are a lot of talented hockey players in the organization, many of them aged 25 and under. Clearly the future is bright. However, what the Caps need to do is finally win a Stanley Cup and not end up being a team that makes the playoffs 14 straight years without an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, like they did from 1982-83 to 1995-96 under GM David Poile. Washington is close to achieving their goal but if I am McPhee I need to really adhere to my evaluation process and look hard at the personnel from a players and coaching standpoint to decide if I have what it takes to win it all.

Let’s start with the head coach. Clearly Boudreau is a guy this team likes playing for and his uptempo system seems to fit the talent. Based on what Bruce said on Friday, he has some guys on this team that don’t do what he wants them to do, which is go to the net. This is a problem because I can’t remember a Stanley Cup Champion team made up of perimeter hockey players. Given that combination some personnel moves are in order, and we’ll get to them soon enough. However, during the Penguins series a comment was made to me by an NHL scout who said that the Caps do not play well away from the puck (for the record, the scout criticized the Penguins ability to do this as well). This falls on coaching and personnel. What I don’t know, and if I am McPhee I am finding out, is the team’s lack of ability to play well away from the puck a function of the players not buying in or does the coaching need to improve? In this regard, a head coach and his assistants are responsible for the system. Boudreau is a lock to come back but I am not so sure he and McPhee are sold on the team of assistant coaches (Jay Leach, Dean Evason, and Dave Prior).

Prior is the goaltending coach and Olie Kolzig practically swore by him. Prior seems to be doing things right given that rookies Simeon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth have emerged ahead of schedule but my question to him is what the heck happened with Jose Theodore? Theodore was wildly inconsistent and a major argument could be made that he was the biggest reason Washington is out after two rounds of the playoffs. If he has any kind of a game one against the Rangers then the Caps win that contest, at worst, 3-2, and they probably knock off New York in five games. If they beat the Rangers in five games then some of the injuries we heard about on Friday probably don’t happen and it is more likely that a healthier Caps team would have beaten the Penguins. After all, the beat up squad that expended a ton of energy to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the opening round took the defending Eastern Conference Champions to seven games.

Granted the team in front of Theodore wasn’t totally ready for playoff hockey at the outset of the post season but the Caps played decent enough to win the playoff opener, if not for Theodore. Yes, good came out of that in terms of seeing the future in Varlamov but #60 was paid $4.5M this past season and next to try and help the team win a Stanley Cup. He has failed miserably and if I am Boudreau and McPhee I just don’t know how he could regain the #1 job because even if he plays well in training camp and the regular season next year, like he did from late December to the end of March, who is to say he doesn’t put up another clunker in game one of next year’s playoffs? Was Theodore’s problem technical or was it a mental thing? Prior would probably know best but I’m starting to think it might be mental and if I am the Capitals players, I just don’t have any faith in that guy anymore. Therefore, I think McPhee needs to move him before next season’s trade deadline. The problem, though, is that could be tough given his salary and you are really risking things going with two young goaltenders. All you have to do to find a situation where that didn’t work out was in Montreal this year with Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak. Of course the Canadiens don’t have Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green so that might not be an accurate comparison. If I am McPhee, a Varlamov/Neuvrith combo isn’t such a bad thing next year. Brent Johnson, who Boudreau called “A great team guy,” could be added cheap for insurance too but his durability could be an issue.

Questions were asked about the defense on Friday, specifically if McPhee was going to acquire a free agent to help keep the front of the net more clear. McPhee responded by saying he has alot of good defensemen but reading between the lines and based on what many of us have seen this year, they have a bunch of good defensemen but many of them are very much alike. Tom Poti, Karl Alzner, and Jeff Schultz all have similar styles in that they are good skaters and move the puck well but aren’t physical. Schultz is clearly the weakest of that trio. Green is the #1 defenseman and I see Shaone Morrisonn as being the odd man out because he isn’t a good buy given the money he wants (reportedly in the $3M range). One of my scouting sources does not see him as a good defensemen, and that is wording it nicely. So I think #26 won’t be back. As for Milan Jurcina, this guy really improved this season and deserves to return. He is turning in to a good #5 or #6 defensemen. John Erskine also had a good season but he is injury prone and some of that comes from his physical style and some of it comes from his subpar skating ability. The team has already committed to #4 for two more years so he is definitely back, plus he is physical and the Caps are weak in that area. Brian Pothier has another season under contract at $2.5M, which is too much, if you ask me. Assuming Mo is out, Washington needs another physical blueliner and therefore McPhee can either trade or go the free agent route. Schultz is clearly trade bait along with Pothier and I’d even put Jurcina in a deal with other players if I could get a top 4 defenseman to go with Green, Poti, and Alzner.

At forward, Michael Nylander is not back and he will either be waived or retire (McPhee said a buyout does not make financial sense), so that frees up money right there. The concern is the top 6 forwards of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Viktor Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov, and Tomas Fleischmann are not exactly grind it out and go to the net type of players. I think Fleischmann, if he can build up his strength in the off-season, will score more next season (that pneumonia he had really sapped his energy). I don’t think I bring back Kozlov because he isn’t a big go to the net guy. Washington needs a #2 center, especially if Fedorov is not back (and even so he only played 52 regular season games this past year). There is talk of Brooks Laich jumping up to that role and that wouldn’t be bad but McPhee still needs another forward who can go to the net in his top 6. Do you trade Semin, who has so much talent but prefers the perimeter and appears to be easily knocked off his game due to injury?

Dave Steckel clearly is back and has upside as does Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon. Eric Fehr needs to make the jump to becoming a 20 goal scorer but he can’t stay healthy. Apparently he draws the ire of the coaches too. #16 has the size and skating ability to be a go to the net player but I don’t think he will become a Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, or Bobby Ryan type of player that he was projected to be at one time. So McPhee needs to add another top 6 forward who is more physical and can get the grind out type of goals that a Bill Guerin is giving the Penguins since he moved over there at the trade deadline. Chris Clark is under contract for two more years but I have serious doubts about his ability to produce. His scoring touch seems gone (he did have wrist surgery) and he has lost a step. It is tough paying him $2.6M a season if he isn’t scoring at least 20 goals. I am not sold on Chris Bourque making it as a top 6 forward on this team but he might fit in elsewhere so perhaps he is part of a package deal for a defenseman or forward?

That leaves us with Donald Brashear, whose return Ovechkin lobbied for on Friday. I think #87 intimidated the opposition but he also was prone to bad penalties and his skating ability detoriated after his knee injury. I think McPhee needs a tough guy on the roster to prevent teams from taking liberties with Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green but I’m not sure it is #87 anymore. Perhaps the top 4 defenseman that is added can be the physical intimidator that this team still needs? Or another cheaper tough guy could be added?

Whatever the case, I think McPhee is more active this summer than last but the salary cap will likely limit his options. One of the biggest questions he has to answer is on Semin, who is immensely talented but seems to lack the drive necessary to take the Caps to the next level.

NHL Conference Finals Anaylsis and Predictions

After going 7 of 8 in the first round (only lost with San Jose), I was only 2 for 4 in round two (won with Pittsburgh and Detroit). With four teams left we are pretty much guaranteed the rematch of a somewhat recent Stanley Cup Finals unless Chicago knocks off Detroit and Carolina beats Pittsburgh. Last year we had the Red Wings defeat the Penguins, in 2002 Detroit was victorious over Carolina, and in 1992 the Penguins knocked off the Blackhawks.

Western Conference: Detroit (2) vs. Chicago (4)

Detroit is the defending Stanley Cup Champions and they added forward Marian Hossa to the mix from last year. Chicago is an up and coming young team that clearly aided from the hiring of coach Joel Quennville and more importantly, Scotty Bowman at the executive level. Chicago is fast with forwards Patrick Kane, Martin Havlat, Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews. They have good goaltending in Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet is the expensive backup. On defense, Brent Seabrook has really elevated his game and is logging over 26 minutes a night. Duncan Keith has been strong as well.

The Red Wings, though, are an incredible bunch and with Tomas Holmstrom and Johan “Mule” Franzen up front along with guys like Jiri Hudler and Daniel Cleary they score the ugly goal. The big question has been, where is Pavel Datsyuk? He only has 1 goal and 4 assists in 11 playoff games. I imagine he is nursing some injury. The other question on Detroit is can Chris Osgood hold up in goal? The two time Stanley Cup Champion always appears to be a lightning rod for criticism.

Prediction: The Red Wings are the men and the Hawks are the boys, Detroit in 5 games.

Eastern Conference: Pittsburgh (4) vs. Carolina (6)

This series sees two brothers, Eric and Jordan Staal, facing off against each other. The Hurricanes are the fastest team in the Eastern Conference and they used that speed and the superb goaltending of Cam Ward to knock off the Devils and Bruins in dramatic seven game fashion. Both of those teams did not match up well, from a skating standpoint, with the Hurricanes. However, the Penguins have speed plus experience. Sidney Crosby is the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe trophy right now and if Evgeni Malkin plays like he did in games three and five of the Washington series the Pens will be tough to beat. Their weakness is in goal with Marc-Andre Fleury plus the Sergei Gonchar knee injury has to be a concern. Staal and Erik Cole have been flying on a line together for the Canes and Ray Whitney has had a good playoffs as well. Carolina’s defense is a cast of no names that collectively play well together with Joni Pitkanen being the offensive qb.

Prediction: The Canes are fast but Pittsburgh has too much talent and can keep up with Carolina in the skating department. Penguins in 6 games.

If these predictions hold up, we will have a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.

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Caps On Brink of Elimination Again after Another OT Loss

Posted on 10 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals are now 0-8 in game fives against Pittsburgh in the eight times these two teams have met in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This one though, if the Caps don’t come back on Monday night in Pittsburgh and force a game seven (that would be in Washington on Wednesday night), will really sting all summer long since the Caps had a 2-1 lead going into the third period on Saturday night. The good news is that this Caps team is 6-1 in elimination games over the last two seasons (won on the last night of regular season to make playoffs in 2008, won games five and six before losing to Philly in round one in 2008, and, of course, this year they won the last three games against the Rangers in round one) so you can bet that Coach Bruce Boudreau’s squad will not quit.

It was almost a Caps victory as Washington’s Dave Steckel appeared to be in position to win the game at the outset of overtime but his rebound shot at a seemingly open net went wide (it looked like the puck bounced a bit on him).

Alexander Ovechkin is doing his part right now to try and carry the Caps to the Eastern Conference Finals as he had two more goals along with an assist tonight. Both of the Great #8′s goals were key game tying tallies with the last one coming with just 4:08 left in the contest. Ovechkin was +1 and also had six hits and two takeaways but he did have two giveaways. He attempted 12 shots and five made it on net, three were blocked, and four missed the net. The Great #8 now has 10 goals and 7 assists in 12 playoff games.

Nicklas Backstrom was the best Cap on the ice tonight, making up for a not so good game four, with a goal and an assist plus seven shots on net in 25:25 of ice time.

The bad news is Washington’s Alexander Semin continues to hurt his team in this playoff series. Semin has been nothing like the player who was so good in last year’s first round series with the Flyers and this year’s first round win over New York. In the Penguins series he has 0 goals, only 4 assists and is a -5, not to mention he has repeatedly turned the puck over at the Pittsburgh blue line. Right before the Penguins Evgeni Malkin (game’s number one star) would go the other way and draw a penalty that led to the winning overtime goal, which #71 scored, Semin tried to go through at least three Penguins and ended up turning the puck over instead of just opting for the smart play by dumping it deep.

Ovechkin is the best player in the NHL but he can’t beat the combination of Malkin and Sidney Crosby alone, #28 needs to start showing up by playing smarter and more physical. I watched him take a puck off the back of his leg earlier in the series so he probably is hurting a bit and Pens defensmen Brooks Orpik seems to have done a good job of getting into Semin’s grill, however, this is the playoffs so the Caps need this guy to man up and come back to help them win this series. If Semin can’t help the Caps get it done on Monday night then I see no reason why GM George McPhee should give him the big contract he will likely want after the 2009-10 season.

If the Caps want to win game six they need to clean up some glaring mistakes they are making in their game. Specifically, they are not getting the puck deep in the offensive zone because they are turning it over too much at the Penguins blue line, they are not putting enough shots and traffic on Pittsburgh goalie Marc Andre-Fleury (the Pens have outshot the Caps in every game in this series, it was 42-31 in game five), and they are making costly errors away from the puck that is allowing the Penguins to score. This combination of miscues has combined to cause them to lose the last three games of this series.

Washington blew a one goal lead going into the third period tonight by standing around and not playing away from the puck in the first ten minutes. Ruslan Fedotenko scored to tie it at two thanks to a great drop pass by Malkin, who came flying in the zone with a lot of the speed we saw him display in game three. Then just 6:51 into the third period the Pens took the lead when Simeon Varlamov (38 saves in a decent performance) juggled a Jordan Staal (1 goal, 1 assist) shot and while three Capitals all stood around and seemingly watched, both Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke whacked at it, with Cooke finally putting it by #40.

All too often in this series we’ve seen Pittsburgh score goals while several Capitals were in some position to prevent it. Staal’s opening goal of this contest in the second period was another play where the Caps had numbers on Pittsburgh but for some reason Shaone Morrisonn decided to leave Staal alone in a scoring position to chase Miroslav Satan below the goal line (#81 could not score from there so why Mo left his man is beyond me?). Mike Green, who set up the late Ovechkin tying goal but still is not producing at a level needed for the Caps to win, was not covering anyone at the right side of the net on the play. It is very evident that the Caps struggle to play away from the puck because a team that does that well would not allow these type of goals. In this series, Crosby and Bill Guerin have also had similar goals to the ones described above.

Washington did play some of their best hockey of the series at times but it was not consistent, especially at the start of the third period when the crowd was loud and ready to help the Caps take command of this series. Ovechkin clearly noticed the drop off in play.

“I think we play a good first two periods and in the first 10 minutes of the third period, we just stop playing. We just stop moving the puck at their D[efense]. I think we just try to protect our own end. They made great plays and scored two goals,” said the Great #8.

I asked Ovechkin what his team could do better in the next game.

“We need to just play a simple game. Get pucks deep and put pressure on their defense,” he replied. This is the message Boudreau has been preaching to his team all season and especially in the playoffs but it seems to get lost on the Caps at times, including Ovechkin, who made a couple of bad passes at the Pens blue line. But the Great #8, for the most part, has atoned for those mistakes by scoring or setting up goals, but as I mentioned above the biggest culprit on the turnovers and inability to get shots on net or put the puck deep is definitely Semin.

I asked Crosby why he thought the Penguins were doing such a good job of creating Washington turnovers.

“I think there are different things each and every time.  A lot of which starts with your defensemen; your defenseman has to have a good game.  If they are tight to their boards, it doesn’t give them a lot of space to work with.  Our forwards have to come back hard in order for our [defense] to be able to step up like that. It’s a group effort out there and they [Washington Capitals] have a lot of speed and it’s not easy to do that a lot of times, but between the [defense] stepping up and doing a good job, keeping the gap, and forwards coming back hard, we have been able to do that,” said #87, who didn’t have a point on the night but was the intended recipient of the Malkin attempted pass that Tom Poti knocked into his own net with his stick by diving to the ice.

Poti, who had a good game up until that point, was asked about the play and how it happened.

“Their guy is coming in down the wall. I think he beat our guy [Sergei Fedorov] wide. You know it’s Malkin so you can’t give him too much time and space and it became a two-on-one and I tried to go down to take the pass away and I tried to take away his angle coming into the net and he tried to make the pass and it went off my glove or my stick or something, just a bounce, an unfortunate bounce,” said #3.

He was then asked if he would do anything differently on the play.

“I don’t know. It’s tough because if you give him too much space to come in, he’s a guy who can make that play and score the goal so I don’t think there’s anything I’d do different again. It’s just an unlucky bounce and there’s nothing you can really do about it,” finished Poti, who played 22:49 and had an assist on the first Ovechkin goal in the second period (just 59 seconds after Staal’s initial tally).

In reality, leaving his feet was not the high percentage play at that point so he should have stayed up and protected the ice. Varlamov was in good position to bat the pass the away so this was another example of Washington not playing properly away from the puck. Sure it could be called a lucky bounce but winning teams find ways to create the breaks, in this case with Malkin’s speed, while the losing team can prevent them by playing smarter, and Poti diving on that play was the wrong decision.

For hockey fans, this was a fun game to watch because of the back and forth nature of it. It was unstructured at times, especially in the third period, and I asked Boudreau what his thoughts on it were.

“They had the most come from behind wins in the NHL this year so we knew they were going to come out and be very aggressive and they did. Fedotenko’s goal all of a sudden gave them life and we were on our heels a little bit and once we got behind we played a little bit more relaxed, I thought, we played better. It was an up and down game, it was a heckuva game,” finished Boudreau.

Notes: The Penguins called up Alex Goligoski from Wilkes-Barre Scranton of the AHL with Sergei Gonchar injured. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma opted to dress seven defensemen also inserting Phillipe Boucher and scratching forward Pascal Dupuis. I saw Gonchar walking without a pronounced limp after the game so perhaps is injury is not as serious as originally thought? John Erskine returned to the lineup on defense and Tyler Sloan was scratched. Jay Beagle and Chris Clark all played the fewest minutes of any other skaters at 4:13 and 5:33, respectively. With the Caps trailing in the final 10 minutes Boudreau switched Fedorov back to defense in an effort to move the puck up the ice more efficiently. It seemed to work as the Caps started to carry the play before tying it on Ovechkin’s goal. The Caps won the face-off battle, 33-27. Each team had only two power plays and there were only 16 minutes of total penalties. Eight of them occurred in a scrum between Erskine, Ovechkin, Malkin, and Brooks Orpik at the end of the first period.

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Pens Win 5-3 to Tie Series at Two; Varlamov Struggles

Posted on 08 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Simeon Varlamov is human after all. The young 21 year old goalie finally had a bad game tonight and he was the primary reason that the Pittsburgh Penguins won, 5-3, at the Igloo to tie this series up at two games apiece heading into Saturday night’s game five at the Verizon Center (7 pm). Varly gave up two really soft ones, Ruslan Fedotenko’s long shot that #40 missed with his glove that made it 3-1 Pens in the first period, and then after Washington battled back to cut the Pens lead to 4-3, he gave up a short side marker to Maxime Talbot that all but ended this game with just over five minutes left.

In addition, the first goal scored by Sergei Gonchar from just inside the blue line, after Nicklas Backstrom’s marker gave Washington a 1-0 lead just 36 seconds in, deflected off of Milan Jurcina and went through the legs of Varly. He also wasn’t so strong on the second Pittsburgh goal (Bill Guerin) as he fumbled the puck away after making a superb stop on Sydney Crosby. Crosby was all alone in front after Mike Green turned the puck over to Chris Kunitz and Green then struggled to get back and it was he, Brooks Laich, and Sergei Fedorov all scrambling in front of Varly to help him as #13 buried the rebound. The really odd thing on the whole play is that defenseman Shaone Morrisonn was nowhere to be found in the picture? I’m not sure what he was doing on that whole sequence but a defensive defensemen like #26 needs to be way more responsible.

Goaltending was the big reason the Caps lost this one but there were other weak performances turned in by the guys in white tonight. Alexander Semin (-3) was just AWFUL turning the puck over too much and not getting his shots off or on net. Morrisonn (-2) was brutal and Green (-2), despite making a nice play to set up Chris Clark’s goal that cut the Pens lead to 3-2 in the second period, did not have a good game either. Even Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist) had a subpar game as he only had one assist and routinely could not get his shot off or on net either.

If the Caps want to win this series, they need to get all of the players mentioned above- Varlamov, Green, Ovechkin, Semin, and Morrisonn – having more production and stronger efforts. Green and Morrisonn were routinely hammered by the Penguins forwards in their own zone and they have become turnover prone. Green also tried to do too much carrying the puck into the Pens zone and it led to some odd man rushes for Pittsburgh.

In Thursday night’s blog I listed the eight keys for the Caps to help them win game four. Here is a rundown on how they did against that criteria:

1. Move Your Feet Boys!: The Caps were much better in this department on Friday and even though they were outshot 28-22 they were much more in control of the puck at times and had several chances that they didn’t bury. They will need to do more of this on Saturday and hopefully the great “Rock the Red” crowd on Saturday will help out.

2. Get The Puck Deep!: Washington did do this quite a bit on Friday but they need to do more of it. Semin and Ovechkin were the biggest offenders in this category as they tried to go one on one far too much, especially Semin.

3. Better Breakouts!: Overall there was improvement but the Green giveaway and Morrisonn skateaway led to the second Penguins goal. Pittsburgh did not dominate as much as they did in game three and that was because the Caps were coming out of their zone much better.

4. Get Shots on Net!: The Caps were outshot for the fourth straight time in this series and they only had 22 shots. Fedorov hit the post early on when it was tied and there were other chances that were shot wide. Ovechkin only had 2 shots on net so you know Washington did not get it done in this category on Friday. Washington did a decent job of going to the net at even strength as Clark’s goal was a rebound and Jurcina’s blast was aided by Matt Bradley crashing the crease.

5. Stay Out of the Box!: The Penguins had six power plays, that is far too many. Clark and Tomas Fleischmann both took stupid cross checking penalties and Ovechkin’s trip on Gonchar was a bad penalty as well (Gonchar did not return after the trip and looked to have a knee problem). Fedorov and Backstrom both took penalties in the defensive zone because they were out of position and had to knock Malkin and Crosby down, respectively, to prevent scoring chances.

6. Allow Varly to See the Puck!: Jurcina started the night off bad for Varly by giving Gonchar too much room to shoot, then he screened #40, and ultimately deflected the puck partially so that the young goalie totally missed the shot. The Caps were below average in this category and Varlamov compounded things by giving up two goals on clear shots, something he had not done so far in the playoffs. Afterwards Boudreau said he was going to come right back with #40 on Saturday but if he struggles early Jose Theodore could end up in net. We’ll see if Friday was a just a fluky off performance by the guy who has been great in net in these playoffs. Boudreau says Varlamov is a competitor and he expects a strong game from him on Saturday night.

7. Slow Down Geno!: The Caps did a MUCH better job on Malkin on Friday night. He was not able to come through the neutral zone with the speed he had in game three. Malkin had an assist but was -1. Washington must continue to throttle him on Saturday night.

8. Continue Hot Power Play!: 0 for 4 and it was just terrible tonight. Green, Ovechkin, Semin, and Backstrom were out of sync on the man advantage and this really hurt because the Caps could have tied the score at the end of the third period on their last man advantage. Washington was too intent on passing on the perimeter or trying for low percentage cross ice setups instead of throwing it to the point for a blast and rebound try. If the Caps don’t get the power play going on Saturday they can forget winning the game.

Overall, this was not a dominant Pittsburgh performance like we saw in game three but the Caps did not convert their chances, took some careless penalties, and did not get production from their big guns, especially on the power play. Add in subpar goaltending and now it is a tied series that is a basically a best of three affair that starts Saturday in DC.

Notes: The team scoring first has lost every game in this series. Jay Beagle was recalled from Hershey today and took Michael Nylander’s spot in the lineup (Eric Fehr is still injured). Defenseman Karl Alzner was sent back down to Hershey as well.

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