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NHL Regular Season Predictions

Posted on 06 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

With the NHL season set to kickoff it is time for my 4th annual regular season predictions here at WNST.NET. The season officially begins at Noon on Thursday, October 7th as the Carolina Hurricanes meet the Minnesota Wild from Helsinki, Finland (VERSUS). Then at 7pm on VERSUS, the Penguins take on the Flyers in Pittsburgh followed by a 10pm matchup between the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks and the Avalanche from Denver. For those with the Centre Ice package, you can catch the Canadiens at the Leafs on CBC at 7pm followed by the Battle of Alberta, Calgary at Edmonton, at 10pm. For hockey fans it is a great lineup of five games on opening day. The Washington Capitals will commence their regular season schedule on Friday night, October 8th from Atlanta at 730pm (Comcast HD). The Caps will play their home opener on Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils (7pm).

Please note that the top 3 seeds in each conference represent the division winners. Now without further delay, below are my predictions by conference and a short blurp on each club:

Eastern Conference

1. Washington Capitals – The Caps will win the Southeast Division no problem and top the conference, and likely the NHL, because they have an extremely talented team that is another year older and hopefully more mature, plus they play in a weak division. Goalie Michal Neuvirth and young defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner are up from Hershey full time while 2009 1st round pick, Marcus Johansson of Sweden, made the squad out of camp and will play 3rd line center. They also added tough forward DJ King for protection for their star players. Will they get 121 points again? Likely not, but this team will still win the East. But as GM George McPhee told us on Tuesday, he doesn’t care about the regular season and he is focused on a long playoff run.

2. New Jersey Devils – Not only did they manage to survive the Summer of Kovalchuk and ink Ilya to a 15 year deal, they added shot blocking extraordinaire Anton Volchenkov and penalty killing ace Henrik Tallinder. Jason Arnott returns up front to go with Zach Parise. They did lose Paul Martin to the Penguins and Martin Brodeur is a year older. GM Lou Lamoriello brought in Johan Hedberg to take some of the load off of the best goalie in the history of hockey. It will be interesting to see how new coach John Maclean runs the ship.

3. Boston Bruins  - GM Peter Chiarelli must thank his lucky stars for Leafs GM Brian Burke. The B’s GM was able to draft future superstar Tyler Seguin with the front end of two 1st rounders Boston received for Phil Kessel last summer. The Bruins are stacked at center ice and still have Zdeno Chara on the back end. I expect goalie Tim Thomas to make a comeback this year and challenge Tuuka Rask for the starting netminder job.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins – Loaded up the middle as well with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal (though Staal is out for awhile due to complications from his 2010 post season foot injury), but this club is weak on the wings. On defense, PP specialist Sergei Gonchar took big money to go to Ottawa but GM Ray Shero went out and signed Martin from New Jersey and Zbynek Michalek from Phoenix. Big question is will Marc Andre-Fleury return to his Stanley Cup winning form after a terrible post season?

5. Philadelphia Flyers – They still are loaded up front with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, and Scott Hartnell but Simon Gagne, who helped turn the Flyers whole post season around in 2010, was traded in a salary cap saving move. Their defense is strong, anchored by Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, and Brayden Coburn plus newly acquired former Bolt Andrej Mezsaros, but their goaltending is weak, weak, weak..especially with Michael Leighton out for at least a month with a back injury.

6. Montreal Canadiens – Jaroslav Halak is now in St. Louis so can head case goalie Carey Price finally reach his potential? Brian Gionta, Michael Cammalleri, Tomas Plekenac, and Scott Gomez, all midget forwards, are the primary scoring threats for the Habs. We shall see how d-man, and playoff sensation PK Subban does in a full season of work at the NHL level.

7. Ottawa Senators – Questions all over the place on this team but GM Bryan Murray and Coach Cory Clouston seem to find a way to make things work well. We will see how Mr. Carrie Underwood (Mike Fisher) does in his first season of marriage.

8. New York Rangers – Oglethorpe??!! That should be the battle cry of the Rangers this year who added to their already large contingent of goons with former Wild tough guy Derek Boogaard. This team struggled to score goals so they added former King Alexander Frolov to the offense to go with Martin “Rubber Band Groin” Gaborik. Goalie King Henrik Lundqvist’s play will likely decide if they are in the post season or golfing come mid April of 2011.

9. Buffalo Sabres – Ryan Miller is GREAT, but even he can’t work miracles behind this defense. 2nd year d-man Tyler Myers is approaching star status but the loss of Tallinder will prove to be too much to overcome.

10. Carolina Hurricanes – I expect both forward Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward to have better seasons after battling early year injuries that derailed their 2009-10, but one look at their defensive lineup makes you wonder how they will manage to battle for a playoff spot? At one point last year they were in the Taylor Hall-Tyler Seguin sweepstakes but then they screwed that up by starting to win games. Caps fans should be happy about that.

11. Tampa Bay Lightning – They added Steve Yzerman as GM but they really needed Yzerman the player. They have a solid defense with 2nd year man Victor Hedman, Mattias Ohlund, and the aging Pavel Kubina plus Steven Stamkos can light the lamp up front. The big questions on this team are: 1. Can the aging Marty St. Louis and Vincent LeCavalier put a consistent year together (I have more faith in #26 to do that than #4), and 2. Can Mike Smith and Dan Ellis stop any pucks? (Likely not very many).

12. Toronto Maple Leafs – Enjoy the party on Yonge Street on Thursday Leafs fans, that is the only time all season you can dream. This team is weak up front and will need a minor miracle to make the post season.

13. Atlanta Thrashers – Don Waddell received a Dilbert like promotion in the front office and new GM Rick Dudley brings in Craig Ramsay as head coach. They traded for Dustin Byfuglien from Chicago but instead of crashing the crease, the big man will likely play defense. Personally, I think once they failed to sign Kovalchuk long term they should have folded this franchise, one with big time ownership problems.

14. New York Islanders – Team injury is in for a long season. D-man Mark Streit is hurt and likely lost for the entire campaign and forward Kyle Okposo injured his shoulder and needs surgery. You need a Ouija board to figure out if goalie Rick DiPietro will ever be healthy and return to form as well. At least they have John Tavares to watch in the dumpy Nassau Coliseum (get this team a new building!).

15. Florida Panthers – Dale Tallon is taking the Caps approach by starting over and building via the draft. The former Hawks GM stockpiled draftpicks and this year they will likely finish last and have a great shot at the #1 pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. I expect goalie Tomas Vokoun to be moved at some point before the trade deadline.

Western Conference

1. San Jose Sharks – Antti Niemi is an upgrade over playoff bust Evengi Nabokov in goal. D-man Rob Blake retired but this club is still loaded with two very good lines that can light the lamp.

2. Vancouver Canucks – These guys are the “sexy” preseason Stanley Cup choice. I don’t see it but their division is weak so they cruise into the playoffs. Will the Sedins be able to match a stellar 2009-10? Roberto Luongo gave up the captaincy in an attempt to focus more on his job.

3. Detroit Red Wings – Do people have jobs anymore in Hockeytown so that they can buy tickets to watch the vaunted Red Wing machine take back their Central division title in 2010-11? If a tree falls in the woods and noone is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Basically the Ken Holland/Jim Nill machine will continue to pump out players from obscure places and field a top notch team. This could be Nicklas Lidstrom’s last season in the NHL.

4. Chicago Blackhawks – The Windy City got the Cup but then felt the brunt of the Cap. Salary cap issues forced GM Stan Bowman to unload eight players from the championship team but they still have Jonathan Toews (3rd best player in the league after Ovie and Sid the Kid), Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. Seabrook is a free agent after this season and will want more money so Bowman’s 2011 summer won’t go well either, unless he pulls a rabbit out of his hat and repeats as Cup champions. But can goalie Marty Turco help this club win another Cup?

5. Los Angeles Kings – Drew Doughty is a phenomenal defenseman and Los Angeles has plenty of young players that should mature in 2010-11. Can goalie Jonathan Quick build on a sensational year or will he be pushed out by the young Jonathan Bernier? Coach Terry Murray is a superb tactician and will have this team in the post season once again.

6. Calgary Flames – I am sure this pick elicited several laughs. A team that re-signed Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay and has serious center ice issues, especially with Daymond Langkow out injured, surely can’t be taken serious for a post season spot, can they? I say yes because GM Darryl Sutter will make some moves to save his job. Plus Jarome Iginla is due for a monster year, if he can find someone to get him the puck. I see Tanguay filling that role.

7. St. Louis Blues – Will Halak be the difference? Team President John Davidson and GM Doug Armstrong are counting on it. Gone are Keith Tkachuk (retirement) and Paul Kariya (post concussion syndrome). Will Patrick Berglund ever reach his potential or did the Blues ruin this kid by putting him in the NHL too early?

8. Phoenix Coyotes – I’ve gone back and forth on these guys. I think they could easily have a downturn and miss the playoffs after losing Michalek to the Pens. But I think Ilya Bryzgalov is the one guy who can prevent that. It will be interesting to see if 21 year old Kyle Turris can produce at the NHL level this year.

9. Nashville Predators – GM David Poile and Coach Barry Trotz can get it done with one of the smallest budgets in the league but this year I think the odds are too stacked against them to make the playoffs. They lost Dan Hamhuis and Jason Arnott and that will be too much to overcome.

10. Colorado Avalanche – Surprise team of 2009-10 thanks to goalie Craig Anderson but I think in 2010-11 they turn back in to a pumpkin.

11. Minnesota Wild – GM Chuck Fletcher added a bunch of grinding forwards in Eric Nystrom (Flames), Matt Cullen (Senators), and John Madden (Hawks). That will make for good defensive yet very boring hockey in the twin cities. Who is going to score the goals?

12. Anaheim Ducks – What? Scott Niedermayer finally retired?? Say it isn’t so! This team is rebuilding and has a great 1st line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan but after that, forget about it!

13. Dallas Stars – I am not a Marc Crawford fan. Every day he wakes up he should thank Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy for winning him his Stanley Cup. Mike Modano is now in Motown and they are relying on the ever-brittle Kari Lehtonen in net. Seems like a recipe for disaster, if you ask me. Is owner Tom Hicks going to sell the team?

14. Columbus Blue Jackets – Coach Scott Arniel has Rick Nash, and that is pretty much all. This franchise is also in trouble financially in Buckeye town.

15. Edmonton Oilers – Well, they named Shawn Horcoff team captain and they have Hall, the 1st overall pick in the 2010 draft on their club, but after that I quote Dr. Seuss to sum up the rest of their squad: Stink, Stank, Stunk!

Enjoy the hockey puckheads!!

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‘Hard Knocks’ with the Caps??!!

Posted on 23 September 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Move over Rex Ryan and the New York Jets, Bruce Boudreau and the Washington Capitals just might upstage you on HBO. Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports and John Collins, chief operating officer for the NHL, announced today that HBO Sports’ groundbreaking “24/7” reality franchise, which has captured 12 Sports Emmy® Awards, will join forces with the National Hockey League to take viewers inside one of the NHL’s great rivalries, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, for 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS:  ROAD TO THE NHL WINTER CLASSIC, an innovative four-episode, all-access reality series.

Here is more from the Press Release:

The HBO Sports presentation debuts in prime time WEDNESDAY, DEC. 15 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT), with an immediate encore at 11:00 p.m., and follows the two clubs simultaneously, chronicling their highs and lows each week.  The teams will meet in a Dec. 23 regular-season matchup on the Capitals’ home ice, leading into episode three of 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS, as the build-up intensifies for the Jan. 1 showdown at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
           
Noted Greenburg, “Taking our reality series ‘24/7’ into the world of the National Hockey League is a perfect fit.  The ‘24/7’ franchise is fashioned on larger-than-life personalities, engaging storylines, and unrestricted access.  With Sidney Crosby leading the Penguins and Alex Ovechkin leading the Capitals, we have all the ingredients for a dynamic show that will take viewers deep inside professional hockey and set the stage for the Winter Classic.”
           
Said Collins, “Teaming up with the 12-time Emmy Award®-winning and much acclaimed HBO ‘24/7’ series gives us an incredible opportunity to bring our fans even deeper inside two model hockey organizations during the regular season as we lead into the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.  In just three short years, the Winter Classic has become so well established on the national sports calendar it’s truly a New Year’s Day tradition.  Uniting HBO’s amazing reality series with one of sport’s greatest rivalries in an outdoor setting in front of 65,000 raucous fans will make this Winter Classic the most anticipated one yet.” 
            
Ensuing episodes of 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS:  ROAD TO THE NHL WINTER CLASSIC debut on subsequent Wednesdays – Dec. 22 and 29 and Jan. 5 – at 10:00 p.m., with an immediate encore play at 11:00 p.m.  The Jan. 5 series finale debuts four days after the Classic, with cameras tracking all the drama and excitement surrounding the Capitals and Penguins on game day.  All four episodes will have multiple replay dates on HBO, and the series will also be available on HBO On Demand.
           
The series will provide exclusive behind-the-scenes access, along with in-depth interviews of coaches, players and front-office personnel, as the Caps and Penguins battle through their December schedules, meeting twice in one week, including the first-ever NHL game at Heinz Field. 

Bravo I say to the Caps, Penguins, the NHL, and HBO for doing this because this is the kind of exposure the NHL needs. I have covered every sport as a journalist and I can honestly say that hockey players are the friendliest and most down to earth to deal with, and no other sport comes close! After watching this four episode series I am confident that you will realize that as well. It is no surprise that Washington is participating given their owner, Ted Leonsis, is a modern media giant and one who recognizes and seizes any unique opportunity to help market his product. But anyone who has been around Caps GM George McPhee knows that he is very guarded in what he typically will reveal to the media, especially when it comes to his players, and for obvious reasons – he doesn’t want to give away any competitive advantage. In fact, when a bogus George McPhee twitter account popped up last week, Caps VP of Communications, Nate Ewell, quickly tweeted “I can think of 29 other GMs who would be on Twitter before George,” causing many who had followed the account initially to quickly unfollow it. (For the record, I would put Flames GM Darryl Sutter right up there with McPhee on having no interest in the social media texting product.)

However, as the Caps GM told the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera today, the positives far outweigh the negatives in deciding to allow this type of unfettered access in his club’s locker room and facilities and the GM is going with the program, literally.

“Frankly, it’s one of the easiest decisions that we’ve made with respect to this stuff,” McPhee said. “HBO’s really good and I said: ‘Let’s do this.’

Of course everyone wants to talk about Ovechkin and Crosby and the misconceptions on both, especially the Great #8, have been posted all over the place since Ovechkin’s teams started losing this past spring, first in the Olympics, then with the Caps in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and finally Team Russia in the final game of the World Championships. Case in point, this blog from Travis Hughes over at SB Nation, who calls the Great #8, “a cocky jerk.” I have never met Hughes but based on what he wrote, I am not sure he’s ever met Ovie because “cocky jerk” is one of the last descriptions I would pin on the Russian superstar after being around hundreds of his interviews over the past several years. In fact, this past Tuesday I interviewed the Great #8 about another one of his WOW! plays, albeit in an internal scrimmage, and instead of bragging about it the two time Hart Trophy winner turned to me and said “It was a lucky shot.” I could recite dozens and dozens of other exchanges similar to that one, but as the saying goes, haters are gonna hate. The bottom line on Ovechkin, for anyone who has been around him any extended period of time, is the guy just wants to win (and by the way he plans on having fun while doing that!). If he really cared just about himself and was the “cocky jerk” Hughes calls him, would the Great #8 really provide, like he did to Slava Malamud over at Japers Rink in this interview, the following answer when asked if he is guaranteeing at least 50 goals this season for himself, ‘No way. I have a different objective. To win.’? 

Anyways, it is clear this is going to be a great thing for the Caps, the Penguins, and the NHL and I can’t wait to watch it come December and then as things build up to the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh on January 1, 2011.

Notes: On Wednesday the Caps announced that goalie Michal Neuvirth was given a two year contract extension (apparently it will pay him $1.1M in each season). Neuvirth (NOY-vihrt), 22, recently won back to back Calder Cup titles with Washington’s AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. He was 9-4-0 posting a 2.75 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 17 games with the Capitals last season. He went 7-1-0 with a 1.75 goals-against average and a.914 save percentage at Verizon Center last season. ..Washington announced more training camp cuts Thursday with Trevor Bruess, Josh Godfrey, Boyd Kane, Johann Kroll, Joel Rechlicz, Dustin Stevenson and Dylan Yeo sent to Hershey (Bears training camp starts on Monday the 27th at 9am)…The Caps won their initial preseason tilt in Columbus over the Blue Jackets on Wednesday night, 6-2, with Matt Hendricks tallying a hat trick. Alex Semin and Tomas Fleischmann also notched three points in the victory. Semyon Varlamov started the game in net and stopped all 20 shots he faced before exiting at the halfway point (replaced by Braden Holtby). Washington’s next preseason game is at Nashville on Saturday night at 8pm. They will open their home preseason schedule on Tuesday, September 28th at 7pm against the Boston Bruins at the Verizon Center…WNST is doing 10 Puck Busses this hockey season, including one to the Winter Classic so please check out details on WNST.NET.

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Caps Re-Sign Eric Fehr for 2 Years

Posted on 08 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Re-Sign 3rd Player in 3 Days

For the third straight day the Washington Capitals have re-signed one of their restricted free agents, and more importantly, avoided arbitration with their second player in two days. Here is the official press release from the Caps PR department:

The Washington Capitals have signed right wing Eric Fehr to a two-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Fehr, 24, set career highs in goals (21), assists (18), points (39), plus/minus (+18) and shots (145) while averaging 12:07 of ice time. He finished seventh on the team in goals and ninth in plus/minus rating. Each of the 105 other NHL players who scored at least 20 goals this season averaged more ice time than Fehr; only Alex Ovechkin (1.90), Alexander Semin (1.71) and Sidney Crosby (1.68) averaged more goals per 60 minutes of ice time than Fehr (1.50). The Capitals were 16-3-1 when Fehr scored a goal and 27-4-3 when he had a point. Fehr scored three goals in the playoffs, third-best on the team, and tied for fourth on the team with four points.

The Winkler, Manitoba, native was the Capitals’ first-round choice, 18th overall, in the 2003 Entry Draft. He has played in 178 career games for Washington, potting 36 goals and dishing out 37 assists. He was also an integral member of the Hershey club that won the 2006 Calder Cup. In 19 playoff games that year, he had eight goals, three assists and scored the overtime game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to lift the Bears to the Calder Cup Final.

COMMENTS: It was Boyd Gordon on Tuesday, Jeff Schultz on Wednesday, and now Fehr on Thursday leaving forward Tomas Fleischmann as the last remaining restricted free agent who filed for arbitration that is still unsigned (Gordon did not file for arbitration but was a RFA). Fehr, who announced the length of the deal via his twitter account @EricFehr16, will receive at total of $4.4M for the next two seasons according to Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post. Fehr made roughly $772K in 2009-10.

#16 was one of the few Caps who had a better than average post season and like Schultz, 2009-10 was a breakout year for him. The man who scored 59 goals in 71 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League in 2004-05, really did not get healthy until November of this past season due to surgery on both of his shoulders after the 2008-09 campaign. Fehr told the media on today’s press conference call that he didn’t have any surgeries this summer and 2010 has likely been the healthiest off-season of his career.

When asked about the length of the deal, the Manitoba native said that both he and the Caps felt it was the right term, at this time. Fehr said he wants to “go out and play and focus on my game and not worry about a contract next year.” If the 2003 first round choice (18th overall) by Washington can stay healthy and get more ice time, currently he is 3rd on the right wing depth chart behind Semin and Mike Knuble, then 30 goals seems easily achievable. Getting more ice time could come via additional power play time or if GM McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau find a 2nd line center they like, they could move Fehr up to that unit on RW and try Semin on the left wing. But those are experiments and decisions that have plenty of time to play out in training camp and/or the regular season. If Fehr does pot 30 goals this season, this contract will be a huge bargain for Washington.

Fehr added that he was happy to see that just about everyone will be back in Washington next season (except of course for some unrestricted free agents that McPhee has chosen not to resign such as Jose Theodore, Joe Corvo,  Milan Jurcina, and Scott Walker) and he was disappointed with the way things ended last year. He noted that he had spoken with some of his teammates over the summer but it was not about hockey, although he said that will kick into gear as training camp approaches.

Hershey Signs Nycholat

The Hershey Bears, who lost forward Alexandre Giroux to the Edmonton Oilers last weekend and will also have to overcome the promotions of Michal Neuvirth, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner to the big club, made another signing today to help bolster their run for their third straight Calder Cup in 2010-11. Here is the press release courtesy of the Bears Senior Manager of Communications, John Walton:

The 2010 Calder Cup Champion HERSHEY BEARS announced today that the club has signed defenseman Lawrence Nycholat. The announcement was made today by BEARS President/GM Doug Yingst.

A member of the 2006 Calder Cup Champion BEARS, Nycholat returns to HERSHEY for his second tour of duty. He skated in 73 regular season games for the BEARS in 2005-06, scoring 13 goals and recording 57 points.  Nycholat also notched 14 points in 16 postseason games, helping the Chocolate and White win the 2006 title.

 

Nycholat, 31, has 50 games of NHL experience with the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche. He played in 18 games for the Capitals in 2006-07, scoring two goals and assisting on six others, and played five games with Colorado during the 2008-09 campaign.

 

Most recently, Nycholat played with the Manitoba Moose in 2009-10, scoring five goals and assisted on 17 others in just 37 games played. He ranks 30th all-time in BEARS history in points by a defenseman, posting the ninth-best single season point total by a rearguard in 2005-06.

 

“Lawrence proved to us long ago that he’s a winner in every sense of the word” said BEARS President/GM Doug Yingst.  “We are very pleased to have his leadership and playmaking abilities back with our club.”

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Ovechkin Wins MVP from Players, Theodore Nabs Masterton

Posted on 23 June 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Ovechkin Players MVP

Well the NHL players got it correctly but the Professional Hockey Writers Association of America (PHWA) blew it when it comes to naming the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award, but what do you expect from a group that has several biased, anti-Ovechkin voters from the Great White North? Alexander Ovechkin was named the NHL Most Valuable Player by his peers (i.e, fellow players) and took home the Ted Lindsay Award (formerly known as the Lestor B. Pearson Trophy) on Wednesday night in Las Vegas while Henrik Sedin grabbed the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP (voted on by the media). Nothing against Sedin or the other candidate, Sidney Crosby, but the Great #8 is the best player in the game and the guys who play it night in and night out certainly recognized that over a bunch of guys who struggle on a daily basis to keep from spilling coffee or soda on their laptops or getting donut crumbs jammed in their keyboards.

For Ovechkin, this was his 3rd straight MVP award from the players joining Wayne Gretzky (1982-85) and Guy Lafleur (1976-78) as the only others to achieve this milestone. Alexander the Great led the NHL in points per game (1.51) and goals per game (0.69). He finished tied for second in the NHL in points (109) and was one shy of the league lead in goals (50) despite missing 10 games. He led all NHL forwards and was second in the league in plus/minus rating (+45), trailing only teammate Jeff Schultz. The Great #8 led the league in shots (368) and even-strength goals (37). He had the fourth-best single-season point total in Capitals history and the franchise’s 10th 50-goal season. His plus/minus rating ranks second in Capitals history. Named captain Jan. 5, Ovechkin led the Capitals to a 30-4-7 record from that point on as Washington captured its first Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the league.

Ovechkin, Green Make 1st All-Star Team

While Caps defenseman Mike Green was denied the Norris Trophy (best NHL defenseman), which went to Chicago’s Duncan Keith, he and Ovechkin did make the NHL’s First All-Star Team, voted on by the PHWA.  The selections are the fifth in a row for Ovechkin and second for Green, making them the first teammates to repeat on the first team since Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey of the Edmonton Oilers in 1985 and ’86. Ovechkin is the first player in league history to be named to the NHL First All-Star Team in each of his first five seasons in the league. 

Theodore Wins Masterton

Washington Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore received the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy on Wednesday night, an award presented annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. The local chapters of the PHWA nominated a player from each team and voted on the winner. Theodore is the first Capital to receive the award.

Theodore and his wife Stephanie Cloutier dealt with personal tragedy last August when their two-month old son, Chace, passed away from respiratory complications related to a premature birth. In November, Theodore started Saves for Kids, a fundraising program that benefits the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s National Medical Center in Northwest, D.C., where Chace was treated and where Theodore and Cloutier spent most of their time during their son’s 54-day life. Theodore pledged money for each save, win and shutout he made during the season, and his donations were also matched by F.H. Furr Plumbing Heating Air Conditioning Inc., a Lennox Premier Dealer. The Capitals fan base and Washington Capitals Charities also pledged their support, and Theodore presented a check worth $35,000 to Children’s National Medical Center on Friday, May 7.

On the ice Theodore played 47 games and had his best season since winning the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2001-02. He posted a 30-7-7 record, 2.81 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in helping lead Washington to the club’s first Presidents’ Trophy. His winning percentage (.761) was the highest of any goaltender in franchise history. He finished the season 20-0-3 with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in games after Jan. 13, setting a team record for most decisions (23) without a regulation loss.

 A 14-year professional, Theodore ranks seventh among active goalies in games played (548) and in wins (245). He is one of seven goaltenders with 30-plus wins in each of the last two seasons.

Theodore, who has been pulled in favor of Semyon Varlamov early in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs the last two seasons, is an unrestricted free agent and all indications are that the Capitals will not bring him back for 2010-11, likely opting to go with Varlamov and two-time AHL Calder Cup winning goalie, Michal Neuvirth, as their goaltending tandem.

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Caps Get Day Off; NHL Playoff Predictions

Posted on 12 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Update

The Washington Capitals players had the day off on Monday but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was out at Kettler Ice Plex studying film of the Montreal Canadiens in preparation for Thursday’s playoff opener at the Verizon Center (7pm on Comcast HD). The Capitals, who finished the regular season with 121 points (54-15-13) will take on a Habs team that struggled in its’ last 10 games (3-4-3) and barely held off a hard charging New York Rangers club (7-1-2 in last 10) for the eighth and final playoff spot. Montreal went 39-33-10 (88 points) and on paper this appears like a mismatch despite the fact that the season series saw each team win a game after regulation had ended with the other two contests being decided by one and two goals, respectively. Many predictions, outside of the city of Montreal, have the Caps winning this one rather quickly.

But the playoffs are a totally different animal and the intensity will be high. There are several things for Boudreau to look at and examine but one of the first has to be to find some weaknesses in a pair of very good goaltenders. Carey Price, who played all four games in the regular season series between these two teams, went 13-20-5 on the year but he had a .912 save percentage. Jaroslav Halak, who pretty much carried Team Slovakia into the final four of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, was 26-13-5 with a .924 save percentage and appears to have won the number one goalie job going into the post season. Both of these goalies are very good and if one stumbles, the Caps aren’t getting any bargains if the other one gets an opportunity. A big key for Washington will be to get traffic on either goalie, fire the puck on net, and go for rebounds, something they did very well at times this season with the addition of Mike Knuble (29 goals).

Montreal struggles to score, tallying only 217 times counting shootout goals, and only six teams in the NHL lit the lamp on fewer occassions. However, their leading point scorer, Tomas Plekenac (25 goals, 45 assists), owns the Caps and he had four goals, an assist, and was +2 in the four meetings between these squads. #14 is a small, shifty center that gives Washington fits and will likely be someone the team focuses on slowing down. The Canadiens had the second best power play in the NHL, behind the Caps, and are ancored by defenseman Andrei Markov’s booming shot. #79 had six goals, 28 assists and was a team high +11 while playing just 45 games (injured for most of the first half of the season).

I will be out at Caps practice on Tuesday and will bring you more information on this matchup before unleashing my series prediction on Wednesday night.

NHL Playoff Predictions

There are seven other series to open the Stanley Cup playoffs, which start on Wednesday night on VERSUS (games also on NHL Centre Ice package). Here is a quick preview and prediction on each matchup:

Eastern Conference:

#2 New Jersey Devils vs. #7 Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers won five of the six games between these two teams in the regular season and Devils goalie Martin Brodeur does have his problems with Philly, at times. But with Brian Boucher in goal for the Flyers because of injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton, I just don’t see Philly being able to stop a team that has Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Patrick Elias, and Jamie Langenbrunner. Philadelphia scored 236 goals (includes shootout goals) and is led up front by Mike Richards (31), Jeff Carter (33), and Daniel Briere (26). However, Carter is coming off of a fractured foot so he is not 100%. The Pick: Devils in 6

#3 Buffalo Sabres vs. #6 Boston Bruins: It remains to be seen if Sabres forward Tim Connolly (missed last 9 games due to a foot injury) will be ready for the post season. Connolly had 65 points and is a highly skilled, but very injury prone player.  In addition, Jochen Hecht and Drew Stafford are both banged up for Buffalo while Boston looks to be without Marc Savard, who has not played since being knocked out by that vicious and dirty hit from Matt Cooke of Pittsburgh. One question I have is how much does Ryan Miller, who has carried this Sabres club, have left in the tank? The Bruins appear to be going with Tuukka Rask instead of Team USA backup goalie Tim Thomas. The Pick: Sabres in 7.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Ottawa Senators: This will be the 3rd playoff meeting in four years for these two squads. Ottawa received a big blow losing forward Alexei Kovalev for the season with a knee injury. The Sens have gotten super goaltending from Brian Elliott and Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson have played exceptionally well in the second half of the season. But the Penguins, who on paper don’t appear to be as good as last season, have just too much for GM Bryan Murray’s club with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal up the middle and Marc-Andre Fleury in net. The Pick: Penguins in 5

Western Conference

#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Colorado Avalanche:  The Sharks, who historically have done well in the regular season and then struggled in the post season, have a super top line of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau. Their defense is anchored by Stanley Cup veterans Dan Boyle and Rob Blake. Between the pipes it is Evgeni Nabokov, who has had his struggles this year and in the Olympics for Team Russia. The Avalanche, who finished last in the West in 2008-09 were the surprise team of the season getting major contributions from rookies Matt Duchense and Ryan O’Reilly. Noone was more important to the Avs than goalie Craig Anderson, who was signed as a free agent from Florida and carried this club on his back. However, the clock has struck midnight for this young team coached by former Capital Joe Sacco. The Pick: Sharks Sweep in 4.

#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Nashville Predators: The Hawks were the chic pick last summer to win it all with young superstar forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. They have a super blue line led by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook but their puck rushing and power play specialist, Brian Campbell, is still out with a fractured clavicle. Chicago has goalie issues but will likely go with Antti Niemi (26-7-4) over Cristobal Huet (26-14-4). Niemi’s save percentage was .912 to Huet’s .895, a big difference. The Predators get great coaching from former Baltimore Skipjacks coach Barry Trotz and former Caps GM David Poile, who with a limited budget to work with, seems to accomplish things with mirrors year in and year out. The Preds have a great defensive trio of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, and Dan Hamhuis that will have their work cut out for them against the high flying Blackhawks. The Pick: Chicago in 7.

#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Los Angeles Kings: Vancouver has the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, Ryan Kesler, and Alexander Burrows up front to go with Team Canada Olympic gold medal winning goalie Roberto Luongo. The Kings, who are guided by former Capitals and Skipjacks Coach Terry Murray are a young team that exceeded expectations thanks primarily to great goaltending from American Jonathan Quick. The Kings have talented and physical 20 year old defenseman Drew Doughty and some skilled forwards in Anze Kopitar and Alexandre Frolov but they also have gritty ones in team captain Dustin Brown and Ryan Smyth. Smyth and Brown are both players who will go to the net for the ugly goals, but scoring on Luongo is very difficult. The Pick: Canucks in 6

#4 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings: Phoenix, along with LA and Colorado, were a surprise to make the playoffs but goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was sensational and former Capital Dave Tippett did a wonderful job of getting Shane Doan to adjust his game to mesh with some younger forwards. The result was the best season in Coyotes history. That won’t matter though as the vaunted Wings are finally healthy and appear to be clicking on all cylinders. Rookie Jimmy Howard has seized the goaltending job from Chris Osgood. Detroit still has Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski on defense and up front Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have really elevated their games since the Olympic Break. GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock also got Johan Franzen back from an ACL injury in early February. When healthy, this team is scary good. The Pick: Wings Sweep in 4.

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Caps Sweep Penguins, 6-3

Posted on 07 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The 10 Greatest Washington Capitals Games

Posted on 01 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps and the NHL recently released a DVD collection of the Capitals 10 greatest games. Due to a lack of sufficent video archives, the list is heavily weighted towards more recent games. As a result of this, On Frozen Blog’s John Keeley and I, just this week, have compiled a list of what we consider to be the 10 greatest games in Caps history, based primarily on a combination of importance and excitement. Officially, here is the criteria that John and I came up with for our list:

Any ‘Best of’ list for a sports franchise in its fifth decade of existence must establish some baseline criteria by which to select 10 standout games. Without one, the list could veer wildly and indiscriminately from games featuring primarily great slugfests to symbolic affairs such as a first game in a new arena. Ed and I have decided to try and identify 10 games that (1) carried inordinate significance for the franchise, and have aged as such, and (2) could offer compelling rationale for favored status among most fans. Mike Vogel, of WashingtonCaps.com, correctly pointed out to us that there are some wildly entertaining Caps’ game in which gloves and sticks were more often tossed about the ice than carried by players in play. But as a best game in franchise history? We didn’t think so. But a primary motivation for pursuing this endeavor is to invite readers’ compilations; we absolutely want to learn what games have meant the most to you over the years you have followed the Caps. We also feel strongly that no Capitals’ losses be included — who wants to watch that?”

As someone who has followed or been around this team since its inception in 1974-75, first as a fan tagging along with my father to game after game that he covered while working for WLMD and then the Prince George’s Post-Sentinel (1974-84), then as a reporter myself for the Post-Sentinel (1984-87), followed by over 10 super years as a team statistician (1987-97), which was succeeded by a period where I was strictly a fan (1997-2007), and concluding with the last few years where I have been blogging about this still Stanley Cup-less franchise here at WNST.NET (2007-present), I have seen so many great contests and have personally experienced the ups and downs that the organization has been through, especially during that 10 year period when I was a Capitals game night employee.

This quick project was incredibly fun and some of the game choices were extremely tough. The highlight of the whole ordeal was chatting with former Caps Coach Bryan Murray before Tuesday night’s Caps-Sens game and then afterwards again with the Ottawa GM about his recollection of some of those great contests, five of which included him as Washington’s head coach. The video of that entire interview with Murray by John and I, will be is now posted at On Frozen Blog here on Thursday afternoon. [Note:  Special thanks to OFB's Andrew Tomlinson for producing that interview.]

I really like the list that John and I came up with and I will go through each game, starting with the 10th best and work my way down to our 1st choice, with some history, thoughts, info, etc. about each contest. At the end of the list I’ll also chronicle some of the ones that just missed out and are what I will call “Honorable Mentions.”

10. Caps 9, Edmonton 2 (2/5/1984) – This dominating win came only a couple of years after the “Save the Caps” campaign that managed to keep hockey alive in this area. If Wayne Gretzky does not miss this game with a shoulder injury I would rank this one higher on the list. This contest was the 5th on Washington’s then club record 10 game winning streak and the 9th in what would eventually be a 14 game unbeaten streak (they tied the Sabres in game four of that run). The Caps were an up and coming club following their first ever playoff appearance the previous spring. However, Washington began the season 0-7 and during that bad start GM David Poile traded defenseman Brian Engblom for now Hall of Famer, Larry Murphy. Early in that season Edmonton smoked the Caps 11-3 in Alberta and also had already come to Capital Centre and won, 7-4. So the Caps came into this one seeking to make a statement against Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson, Grant Fuhr and company. Alot of Caps had big games and my memory of that day was sitting two rows up behind the goal Washington defended in periods one and three. By the way, that year the Oilers would go on to defeat the New York Islanders in the Stanley Cup Finals for their first of four Stanley Cups in five seasons.

9. Caps 5, Montreal 4 in OT (1/31/2008) – This was the night that Alexander Ovechkin had me really believing that he was going to almost single handily carry the Capitals into the post season for the first time since the rebuilding began in 2004. The Great #8 took a high stick to the head from Alexei Kovalev early on then had his nose broken on a hit by Francis Bouillon. But that lit a fire under the best player on the planet and Ovie would go on to make some huge hits and score four remarkable goals (plus he added an assist), including the winner in overtime, after Washington blew a 4-2 lead in the last seven minutes of regulation. For me this was the night that “Don’t Stop Believin’” started becoming the team’s theme song that season. In my blog following that game, I mentioned that the building was only 80% full but if the Great #8 kept playing like that it would be sold out on a regular basis. Right now I think the Caps have sold out something like their last 52 home games (including playoffs)??!!

8. Caps 3, Islanders 1 (4/12/1986) – The first three seasons in which the Capitals made the playoffs they were defeated by the New York Islanders (1983, 1984, and 1985). The 1985 series loss was a heartbreaker as Washington raced to 2-0 series lead in what was a best of five back then. Unfortunately the Isles won the next three thanks to some great Billy Smith goaltending. But in 1986 the Caps were loaded tallying a then club record 107 points (50-23-7). The team lost Bengt Gustafsson on a cheap shot hit from the Isles Denis Potvin in a game in March but the club still had Stanley Cup aspirations with #16 out of the lineup. This win on Long Island was so important because they finally beat Al Arbour’s crew. When John and I were discussing this contest we both remember local DC Channel 20 going into the Caps locker room following the series victory and staying on for what seemed like 45 minutes going from player to player interviewing them during the celebration.

7. Caps 7, Flyers 1 (1/8/1984) – Any time the Capitals went into the Spectrum to face Philadelphia, back in those days, it typically resulted in a defeat, many of which were of the 6-2 variety. The Flyers were always tough and gritty and with a crowd that sat right on top of you it was an intimidating place to play. But Gustafsson, who was sneaky tough and pound for pound among some of the top hitters I’ve ever seen, scored five goals in a Washington rout.

6. Caps 3, Blue Jackets 2 (10/5/2005) – This wasn’t the most entertaining contest to watch but it was Ovechkin’s first NHL game and he put on a show scoring twice. For Caps fans, who were looking for hope following the lockout and after GM George McPhee tore the team down in 2004, this was exactly what the doctor ordered. It was the Great #8′s coming out party and he delivered in a season that would see him win the Calder Trophy for NHL Rookie of the Year.

5. Caps 2, Rangers 1 (4/27/1990) – Who can forget “Druce on the Loose?” John Druce tallied in overtime in game five at Madison Square Garden to put Washington in its first ever Eastern Conference finals. Working for the team during this season, which saw coach Bryan Murray fired by Poile and replaced by his brother, Terry, in January, this was a monumental playoff step forward after a very disappointing 1989. The series clinching win in New York came after Rod Langway was the game four hero in Landover. #5 pinched down on the left wing boards to gather the puck and then beat John Vanbiesbrouck top shelf on an improbable play by a defensive defenseman.

4. Caps 5, Flyers 1 (4/7/1984) – This was a huge playoff win as well as a very entertaining contest. The Caps went into the Spectrum up two games to none and were seeking their first ever playoff series victory. Philadelphia, who was coached by Bob McCammon, was a tough team that had two young twin brothers, Rich and Ron Sutter, that liked to mix it up. The Flyers bench boss tried to initimidate the Caps in this fight filled game and not only did Carpenter and Mike Gartner hurt Philly on the scoreboard, they also each beat up a different Sutter brother! By the way, Caps broadcaster Craig Laughlin had the game winning tallies in the second and third contests of this series.

3. Caps 4, Penguins 3 (5/4/2009) – If this game resulted in a series victory it is easily number one on the list but the night that Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby both had hat tricks only gave Washington a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. The Great #8 put on an absolute show. Crosby notched his hat trick late after Chris Kunitz tried to de-capitate Washington goalie Semyon Varlamov. To read more about that game, here is my blog from that one.

2. Caps 3, Sabres 2, OT (6/4/98) – Some will argue that this game should be number one because it put Washington in their only Stanley Cup appearance. Joe Juneau scored in overtime to send Washington on to a match up with the Detroit Red Wings. I remember watching this one at Mike Herr’s house. Mike was the Caps long time team Opthamologist and also the Caps stats director during my tenure with the organization. Following the previous season, when the Caps missed the playoffs primarily due to injuries, Poile, head coach Jim Schoenfeld, and the assistant coaches were all fired by owner Abe Pollin in a marketing move, led by Susan O’Malley, and replaced by GM George McPhee and Coach Ron Wilson. It was also after that 1997 season that the stats jobs that Mike, Scott Scheuler, Mike Arendes, John Beamer, and I all performed were determined by the NHL to be no longer run by the hockey departments themselves and would be moved under the NHL off-ice officials. The classy Poile made arrangements for all of us to transition into that capacity but I decided it was not something I wanted to do going forward. So while I was quite excited that the Caps, who were totally carried by Olie Kolzig in those playoffs, were going to the finals, the fact that some of the people who built the majority of that team were not around anymore to celebrate with (including the late Jack Button, the Caps Director of Player Personnel who passed away in 1996 due to cancer) made it slightly bittersweet for me personally.

1. Caps 5 Flyers 4, OT (4/16/1988) – Even though this was only a round one victory it was so significant for the Capitals. The previous season they had blown a 3-1 series lead to the Islanders and lost in that 4 overtime classic. After getting 107 points in 1985-86, Washington followed that season up with only 86 and 85 points and the momentum that was built up for five years after the successful “Save the Caps” effort was starting to wane. To make matters worse the Flyers jumped out to a 3-1 series lead but then Washington caught fire burying Philly in games five and six to set up a game seven showdown. In those days the Capital Centre was so dark that the organization asked all fans to wear white to help light the place up. After falling behind 3-0 the building was dead but Washington staged a furious rally before Dale Hunter took a super Murphy pass and went in alone on Ron Hextall to score the game winner via the five hole in overtime. It was magic and Caps hockey was back big time on the radar in this area. The after party at Langways was legendary as fans and players packed #5′s restaurant over on route 450.

As I mentioned above, this was a tough process picking the greatest 10 games and one could argue that John and I left out some good ones. You couldn’t go very wrong arguing for the Caps game 7 victory over the Rangers last April, the Caps win in game 6 in 1994 to gain their only playoff series victory over Pittsburgh, the 5-4 game 1 playoff victory over the Flyers in 2008 where Ovechkin scored that legendary pick-pocket goal, the first ever Caps playoff game win in 1983 against the Isles (Bob Gould had the game winner), or this year’s 5-4 overtime win over Pittsburgh on NBC where Ovechkin notched another hat trick. Going on pure entertainment value, I suggest that you and the boys grab some brews and get a copy of the 1991 Caps-Flyers brawl game where Hunter elbowed Gord Murphy enciting several donnybrooks. That was during the short, but very crazy John Kordic era and I vividly remember going into the locker room to deliver the post game stats to the coaches and written up on the white board in the players dressing room were the words: “We are Heavy Metal.”

The great thing about these lists is every one has an opinion and noone is really wrong. So feel free to let me know what games mean the most to you in the comments section. Also, please don’t forget to check out On Frozen Blog’s post on this process as well as the video from the Murray interview.

Oh and one final thought, it sure would be nice to be revising this list come mid-June with at least a new number one game. I think you know what I mean.

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Awful Opening Period Dooms Caps in Loss to Flames

Posted on 28 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It was a bad Sunday for the Washington Capitals. First, they failed to show up in the first 20 minutes against the Calgary Flames and trailed 4-0 at the first intermission, before eventually losing, 5-3. Second, both of their goalies, who had been near the top of their games recently (especially Jose Theodore) decided to give up a combined three soft goals. Third, after Alexander Ovechkin scored his 46th goal of the season in the second period to reclaim first place in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy, Sidney Crosby tallied twice in his contest versus Toronto to take the lead back at 47. Finally, the loss didn’t allow them to widen their seven point lead on the San Jose Sharks in the battle for the President’s Trophy with just seven games remaining. San Jose, if they defeat the Avalanche on Sunday night, would cut the deficit to just five points, although the Capitals have a game in hand (Colorado leads, 2-1, late in the second period at the time of this post). [UPDATE: Sharks win over Avs, 4-3. Caps lead is only 5 points over San Jose now].

Washington dropped only its fifth game in regulation at home all season (27-5-4) and their overall record is now 49-15-11. The only sliver of good news was the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the New Jersey Devils allowing the Caps to clinch their first ever Eastern Conference regular season title (but that race had been over, unofficially, for weeks).

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a pretty awful performance by the Caps:

The Calgary Flames came into this contest with their backs against the wall after losing at the Islanders on Thursday (3-2) and gettting shutout in Boston (5-0) on Saturday. In between the 2nd and 3rd periods of the loss to the Bruins, Calgary GM Darryl Sutter went on television and blasted his top forwards and top two defenseman for a lack of effort. So given that the Flames were six points out of a playoff spot with only 7 contests remaining, which means they were a serious longshot to make the postseason already, one would figure that Calgary would either come out with guns ablazing or they would go through the motions. In addition, the Flames are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league (29th) so when they get behind they often do not come back to win.

Well instead of the Caps taking advantage of a team that was down and nearly out, they didn’t show up, as if they forgot to set their clocks ahead. But the time change was two weekends ago so Washington couldn’t use that excuse like they could have in Chicago on March 14th. Calgary came out strong by throwing the body around and finishing nearly every check. The Caps looked disinterested and out of it but then what really gave the Flames some serious life was Theodore. #60 badly misplayed a clear, bad angled Rene Bourque shot and Ales Kotalik, who is softer than butter and is flat out terrible, was allowed to skate right in and put the biscuit by Theo for an awful goal. Then after Mike Green was called for closing his hand on the puck Theodore gave up a rebound and that allowed defenseman Ian White to bank the puck off of him into the net from a very bad angle. Just over two minutes later Jay Bouwmeester, who has stunk for Calgary this season and is a big reason why they will be golfing come April 12th, beat Dave Steckel down the slot and he put home a Bourque pass for just his third tally in 2009-10. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau gave Theodore the hook at that point and brought on Semyon Varlamov, but he allowed a late goal by Nicklas Hagman with traffic in front of him (Jeff Schultz did not move his man out) and it was 4-0 after one. Calgary also outshot Washington, 13-4, in that period.

To be blunt and borrow from Dr. Seuss, I can sum up the Capitals first period in three words: Stink. Stank. Stunk.

“We didn’t have any energy – it looked like we were skating in quicksand. Their [the Flames] sense of urgency was so tremendous,” said Boudreau on his teams first period debacle.

 

Last week I wrote that if Theodore continues to play the way he had been playing than the Caps had a super chance to win the Stanley Cup. Well if #60 plays like he did Sunday a time or two more than he may end up being bench door opener again in the playoffs. Boudreau talked about what he saw from his starting goaltender, why he gave him the hook, and what his plan is going forward.

 

“I just thought he was fighting the puck – every shot was fighting the puck. I didn’t think he had it today. He will be back in on Tuesday. He has played an awful lot of good games that have kept us in during the first period. We just weren’t ready to play in the first period. It was indicative of four shots on goal that you are not ready,” said the head coach on his team and Theodore, who managed to not get the loss today because Varlamov gave up the 4th goal, which was deemed to be the game loser since Washington tallied three times.

 

As for Varlamov, he wasn’t too good either and he cannot allow Bourque’s backhander to hit his stick and carry over him and into the net in the second period after Washington cut the lead to 4-1. Before Varly let in the softy, Joe Corvo, who was pinching down on the play, was dumped with no call in the offensive zone slot and then Nicklas Backstrom, who was covering #77′s point, did an “Ole” defensive move on #17 that allowed him to cut right into the slot all alone on that play. So you can chalk a portion of that goal up to the zebras and a little bit more to #19.

 

Steckel would pay back Bouwmeester, who the Flames are stuck with overpaying at $6.6M per season for four more years, late in the second period by knocking home a Quintin Laing pass by Mikka Kiprusoff (31 saves) to make it 5-2.

 

In the third period the Capitals fired 20 shots on Kipper but only Mathieu Perreault, who was on emergency recall with Brendan Morrison (lower body), Brooks Laich (face), Boyd Gordon (back), and Scott Walker (knee) out with injuries, tallied nicely stuffing home an Ovechkin power play point blast to make it 5-3 with 15 minutes to go. From there the Caps turned up the heat and fired alot of shots towards Kiprusoff, hitting him on some and missing high and wide on numerous others. On paper it looks like with all of those shots that Washington “stormed the castle” but, in reality, most of those came from the perimeter and there was a lack of traffic in front of Kipper. To be honest, the comeback reminded me of a few of the games we saw in the second half of 2008-09 (the near comeback appeared better on paper than it really was). Clearly the team missed Laich’s ability to go to the net and his grit. Still with guys like Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, and Eric Fehr in the line-up the Capitals should have had more pressure directly in front of the Flames netminder. Boudreau basically confirmed that the 3rd period seemed to be strong but may have been a bit of a mirage.

 

“It is easy to look like you are coming back when the other team is sitting with a three-goal lead … We didn’t have that step. I don’t know how to describe it … We were on four cylinders instead of eight today,” finished Boudreau.

 

We’ll give Theodore and the team a pass today but this type of performance is unacceptable and if we see this type of effort again then there is cause for concern. Collectively, the Caps players afterwards talked like this game was just a blip on the radar.

 

“In the course of many games it’s {a loss or two} going to happen. They had some funny goals. They got some bounces. You just put that one behind you and live for the next day. It’s no indication of anything. It’s just one of those games you’re probably due for. It’s probably good for us at this point,” said Knuble.

 

“We didn’t start the game well. We knew they would come at us hard. Still, we didn’t give up. In the second and third period we had more chances. It was kind of a tough situation. They’re a team that needs points for the playoffs. We knew they’d come at us hard and we were not ready,” added the Great #8, who with the two points he gained on Sunday now has 100 on the season.

 

“We talked about it before the game. We’ve had slow starts before. That was the difference tonight. Otherwise, we would’ve been right there in the running. We shot ourselves in the foot in the first period. [Day games are] different {from} our usual routine. Usually we have a skate in the morning and we’re able to get some rest and come back. That’s no excuse. We need to be ready and focused and for whatever reason, we weren’t. We’ve been in this position before where we’ve been a desperate hockey team. Three years ago when we needed to make a push and win every game to get into the playoffs we were in the same situation that they’re in. When you play desperate hockey, you’re usually successful,” finished Green, who along with partner Schultz were the only Caps defenseman who were not minus players for the day (both even).

 

Notes: Calgary captain Jarome Iginla (1 assist) took exception to a hit from behind from Backstrom in the third period…Kotalik was +3 on the day, which is indicative of how bad the Caps were on Sunday…In my 30 thoughts blog on Saturday I warned Caps fans about Bourque (1 goal, 2 assists) and he was +3 as well, that guy is good…the Flames only had 9 shots after the first period (22 total for the contest)…the face-off battle was knotted at 33 all…next up for the Caps are the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.

 

 

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My Version of Hockey’s 30 Thoughts

Posted on 27 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada does a nice weekly blog called “30 Thoughts.” With the Caps off until Sunday I decided to bring you the Ed Frankovic version of 30 thoughts but it includes opinions, tweets, stats, left over answers to my questions from Capitals players following Wednesday night’s victory, things to look out for from Calgary, etc.:

1. With the Buffalo Sabres losing 4-2 to the Senators on Friday night, the Washington Capitals just need a single point, either gained themselves or via any New Jersey Devils loss, to clinch the Eastern Conference regular season title for the first time in the history of the franchise. The Caps also have a nine point lead over the Sharks with 8 games left in the race for the President’s Trophy.

2. Caps rookie defenseman John Carlson on playing with Shaone Morrisonn: “He makes me feel really comfortable out there. He’s always talking to me, he’s been around awhile and he’s a great player so it is nice to have someone back there to police me everywhere and it really helps as a young guy.”

3. The Capitals opponents on Sunday afternoon, the Calgary Flames, look like they will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season. That was Darryl Sutter’s first full season as Coach and GM of that club. In 2003-04 they came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup but since the lockout have yet to win a playoff series. I wonder how patient Flames ownership is going to be with the GM after a season that started with such promise turned into a disaster?

4. With the Caps all but locking up the #1 seed their first round playoff matchup will likely be either Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, or the Rangers. My order of who I prefer Washington to play going from best matchup to worst matchup is as follows: Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Rangers, and Montreal. Rationale: Goalie Carey Price gives Washington fits at times not to mention forward Tomas Plekenec is a major Caps killer. Playing a physical New York team with the pesky Sean Avery plus Henrik Lundqvist in net is not appealing at all. I’ll take any of the other three with the Flyers bothering me most just because of past history, although the Flyers appear to be weaker in net with Brian Boucher. Boston scares me a bit because cage minder Tim Thomas could catch fire at any time but the B’s struggle to score, especially if Marc Savard does not return. Overall Atlanta seems like the best matchup.

5. An NHL scout, who is involved in his team’s selection process but will pick nowhere near #1 overall, said if he had the first pick in the 2010 NHL Entry draft he would go Taylor Hall first (Windsor Spitfires of OHL) with Tyler Seguin (Plymouth Whalers of OHL) a close second.

6. So Guy Carbonneau was on Hockey Night in Canada radio today with super host Jeff Marek and talented co-host Scott Morrison and the topic was the NHL disciplinary process, which is not working now with Colin Campbell in charge. Specifically they discussed using a panel that consisted of ex-NHL players, recently retired and older ones, to dole out suspensions. One of the advantages of such a panel is the debate that would take place between guys that liked certain hits and those that didn’t. Instantly former Capital and Hall of Famer Scott Stevens’ name came up as someone Guy would not put on that review crew. I’m not sure if he was joking or not, but it was Stevens, the former Kitchener Ranger, who dumped Eric “Mr. Skate with his head down” Lindros to effectively end his career.

7. I’m tired of hearing the fact that the Caps went 7-3 without Alexander Ovechkin is a reason to not give the Great #8 his third straight Hart Trophy. Four of those wins were versus Florida while the two regulation losses were against New Jersey. With Ovie in the lineup against the Devils the Caps are 1-0-1. Another reason, besides his outstanding scoring statistics, to vote Alexander the Great as MVP again: Leadership. The Caps are a staggering 25-3-5 since the organization named him their team captain.

8. Some excellent Hershey Bears news courtesy of the great John Walton (Hershey Senior Manager of Communications): The Bears clinched the Eastern Conference regular season championship Friday night, defeating the Worcester Sharks 7-2 at the Giant Center. Alexandre Giroux scored three goals, giving him 40 on the season and 100 over the last two seasons. The win was Hershey’s 54th of the season, three wins away from tying the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers for most wins in a single season in AHL history.

9. Eric Fehr on his tip in goal (career high 21st of the season) of Mike Green’s point blast on Wednesday night versus the Pens: “It just hit the back of my stick and I put it in along the ice. I didn’t want to try anything too fancy, it was a pretty hard shot, so I was lucky to get ahold of it.”

10. Caps forward Eric Belanger on his assist on that big third goal in the Caps-Pens contest on Wednesday: “It was one of those things where I got the puck in the neutral zone and I felt tonight my speed was good and I just felt I could go around [the net] and Greenie just opened up for me and he made a great play on the goal.”

11. More John Carlson on playing with Karl Alzner and the comparisons to the Morrisonn pairing: “I think they are both great players and they are pretty easy to play with, so I’m lucky enough to have both of them as my partners and I look forward to keep going.”

12. So you’ve obviously heard about Flames captain Jarome Iginla and his outstanding abilities but here are a couple of players that Washington needs to look out for on Sunday afternoon: 1. Rene Bourque (#17) - The speedy, tenacious, and relentless left wing has 23 goals and 28 assists in 65 games and is having a career year. He gets 1st power play unit time and kills some penalties too. 2. Mark Giordano (#5) – Yes, Ovechkin will see alot of former Panthers d-man Jay Bouwmeester, who has had a down year since going from East to West, but ”Gio” has arguably been the Flames best defenseman this season. His speed and offensive prowess made the trading of Dion Phaneuf a possibility, although if I was the GM I still don’t move #3. 

13. More Belanger, this time on the number of infractions and penalty killing versus Pittsburgh: “I just think it takes away from the momentum on the bench. You try to get going and then you get a penalty so guys are sitting on the bench for a few minutes and then it’s tough. For the guys that aren’t killing it is tough to get into the game. I thought we did a good job tonight but they have some good players.”

14. Former Capitals center Dave Tippett, who was fired by the Dallas Stars last season but is now coaching the Phoenix Coyotes, is my pick as the 2009-10 Jack Adams Trophy winner. Tippett has taken a young team that has had to deal with ownership distractions all season long and has them at 46-23-6, good for 98 points, the third best total in the Western Conference. Meanwhile the Stars will be golfing come April 12th. Bad move by new GM Joe Nieuwendyk to get rid of the successful Tippett, who had a rough 2008-09 due to injuries and the galactically stupid decison by former co-GM’s Brett Hull and Les Jackson to sign Avery.

15. After the Red Wings victory on Friday night, the Calgary Flames are now six points out of a playoff spot with just eight games left. On a related note, I hear Golf Galaxy has a good sale going on Titleist Pro V1′s.

16. Does anyone want to play the super hot and finally healthy Red Wings in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?..I didn’t think so…

17. Former Caps GM David Poile and former Baltimore Skipjacks Coach Barry Trotz have the Nashville Predators, who have one of the lowest payroll budgets in the NHL, poised to make the playoffs. The Preds currently sit 5th overall in the West with a 47-23-5 record.

18. Former Caps Coach Bryan Murray has his Ottawa Senators in good shape to make the Eastern Conference playoffs at 40-30-5. Forward Dany Heatley forced Murray’s hand last summer and #15 was subsequently traded to San Jose prompting many to proclaim that the Sens were destined for a season of trouble. But Coach Cory Clouston has done a superb job and Murray appears to have significantly more job security than he did this time in 2009.

19. The Flames, who lost against the Islanders on Thursday evening, play in Boston on Saturday afternoon. Goalie Mikka Kiprusoff played against New York so it would appear that Coach Brent Sutter will go with Kipper in one game and backup Vesa Toskala in the other this weekend. The Flames-B’s game starts at 1pm so after the puck drops we should have a pretty good idea of who will be behind the mask for Calgary on Sunday at the Verizon Center.

20. Wayne Gretzky said Friday on the NHL Network, in a sitdown with EJ Hradek and Craig Button, that if Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby wins the Hart Trophy this year noone will argue, but in his mind Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov should really be the NHL MVP.

21. More Fehr, on the mood on the bench with the team down 2-0 in the shootout versus the Penguins: “Shootouts are so tough. It is a tough part of hockey to let an individual thing settle it. We just wanted to go out and let Ovie do his thing.”

22. Only one NHL team, the Boston Bruins (183), has scored fewer goals than the Flames (189) this season. Clearly if you are in Las Vegas you should bet the under in their Saturday matinee.

23. Thursday tweet courtesy of Caps Senior Media Relations Director, Nate Ewell (@nateewell), who retweeted the following from @jeffphowe: “Oh boy. Rock-solid BC dman Patrick Wey diagnosed with mono and is expected to miss the entire NCAA Tourney. Huge blow to Boston College.” For those following at home Wey was a 2009 4th round NHL Entry draft pick by the Capitals.

24. More Carlson on playing in front of great goaltending in Hershey and now in DC: “It makes the game alot easier knowing you have a good goalie and every mistake that you make isn’t going to be in the back of the net. I’ve been blessed with a lot of great goalies in this organization.”

25. Friday night tweet courtesy of @CapsMedia: Caps picks Phil DeSimone (2a) and Greg Burke (1a) help University of New Hampshire beat Cornell in the NCAA tourney.

26. More Fehr, discussing the challenges associated with playing the Penguins forecheck: “They were pressuring us pretty well but our D did a good job of getting back, moving the puck up, and giving our forwards an opportunity to get down the ice.”

27. And Belanger on that Penguin forecheck: “[Pittsburgh] is a team that is very patient in the neutral zone, they wait for you to turn the puck over. We knew we had to make sure we got pucks deep and it was one of the elements we talked about before the game.”

28. The Penguins and Devils are battling for the Atlantic Division title and the loser will be the #4 seed in the East. Therefore, if the Caps win their opening round series and both the Penguins and Devils are victorious as well, then Washington will play the #4 seed (Atlantic Division runner up), assuming the Buffalo Sabres win their first round matchup. So in order for the Pens and New Jersey to meet in the second round, and likely wear each other out before potentially facing the Caps in the Eastern Conference finals, Buffalo must lose their series.

29. Friday night tweet courtesy of Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22), former Washington Times Caps beat reporter and now seemingly everywhere freelance hockey writer (somebody hire this Terp alum full time!): Local kid Garrett Roe had 3 points to help St. Cloud State to the 2nd round of the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tourney.

30. After Sunday’s home tilt versus the Flames, the Caps get Ottawa and Atlanta at the VC before traveling to Columbus on Saturday night. Last time the Capitals played Columbus (November 1st), forward Jason Chimera started a scrum with Ovie that resulted in a six game injury absence for the Great #8. That was also the game where former Columbus Coach Ken Hitchcock afterwards said he wanted his team to “hunt down” Ovechkin. Fortunately Chimera is now a Capital but will Washington seek some revenge against Jared Boll, who appeared to cause the injury to Alex via a wrestling move?

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Theodore Leads Caps Over Pens in Shootout

Posted on 25 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

If Jose Theodore continues to play like he did on Wednesday night, then the Washington Capitals and their fans have a date in June with an engraver. #60 continued his dominant run with his 19th straight contest without a regulation loss (17-0-2) as the Caps rallied from a 2-1 third period deficit to knock off the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins for the third straight time this season, 4-3, in the shootout. Theodore made 39 saves and after giving up goals to Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby in the gimmick, he shut the door as Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and then Mike Knuble beat Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury like a rented mule to send the crowd at the Verizon Center out into the streets of DC to celebrate. The Capitals victory takes their overall record to an astounding 49-14-10 (108 points) and their magic number for clinching the Eastern Conference is just three points. In the race for the President’s Trophy they now have a nine point lead over Chicago, who has a game in hand, and a 10 point lead over San Jose. For the season, Washington is now an incredible 27-4-4 on home ice.

Here are the highlights, stats, quotes, and analysis from a contest that definitely felt like a playoff game:

Theodore was brilliant tonight, especially in the first period when he made 17 saves, many of them on quality chances. His pad save on Ruslan Fedotenko was just one of the many outstanding stops he would make on Wednesday. The Laval, Quebec native has not lost in regulation to the Penguins since Jan. 3, 2006, when Theodore played for the Montreal Canadiens. Theodore was 3-0-1 last season against Pittsburgh and is 3-0 in 2009-10. In the words of the great Joe McGrath, Theo “Owwwwwnnnnnssss” the Pens.

“[Jose Theodore]‘s playing great. There are three goals against and they had 42 shots, eerily similar of a playoff game that we would have played them last year where they would out shoot us. I thought below the circles we didn’t clear out well enough, but [the Penguins] were a determined gritty bunch tonight. That’s why they were the Stanley Cup Champions,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the play of his goalie, his team, and Pittsburgh.

Mike Green was outstanding tonight. #52 (1 assist) fired a blast off of a super Eric Belanger feed that set up Eric Fehr’s 21st goal of the season to give the Caps the lead in the 3rd period and he logged 25:02 of ice time, the most of any Capital. Green is super offensively and he now has 17 goals and 54 assists in 68 games to lead the NHL in scoring by defenseman. He is incredibly talented at bringing the puck up the ice, “a one man breakout” as Boudreau calls him, and he is good defensively. “Game over Greenie” was +3 on Wednesday and is now +33 for the season so for anyone who thinks the guy is a liability in his own end, I suggest you print this blog, then fill it with more of the stuff you’ve been smoking, light it, and take some more tokes.

Washington’s penalty killing unit was tested heavily because they were whistled for five infractions and all were good calls (more on the referees coming up). Pittsburgh’s only tally with the man advantage came on a super play by Crosby, who set Bill Guerin up for a layup. But the Caps would break even on the night on Pens power play chances as Semin scored a highlight reel shorthanded goal skating around Letang like he was an orange road cone and then abusing Fleury with a wicked top shelf blast. It was a Harlem Globetrotters type of play and the video of that one should be laid down with “Sweet Georgia Brown” playing in the background as audio. Boudreau said afterwards that he has seen a recent trend upwards in the performance of his 25th ranked penalty killing unit.

“I thought we killed penalties great tonight. We made one mistake and we end up with the wrong guy out there [Crosby] on a two on one. The zone time, over the last 7 games, has been cut down very significantly and that is really important. It’s a good sign,” added the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner.

Now to the officials, Paul Devorski and Ian Walsh, if you want to call them that (I prefer zebras, especially tonight). I cannot argue with any of the calls made against the Capitals, HOWEVER, if they are going to whistle those infractions on Washington then they need to be consistent and call the same thing on the Penguins. These two “clowns” did not do that in this one, fueling fire to the anti-Caps bias that many who Rock the Red feel exists. If Jeff Schultz is going to be called for holding Crosby then the hold/trip on Ovechkin in overtime needs to be whistled as well (there was also a Penguin trip and cross check on the Great #8 that was overlooked earlier in the contest). In addition to that inconsistency, right before Semin was called for high sticking Mike Rupp, #17 clearly hooks him, yet the result is a Pens power play. Then after Tomas Fleischmann tripped Letang in the neutral zone, #58 blatantly interferes and cross checks Fehr before the whistle is blown yet once again only the Capital is sent to the sin bin. There is NO WAY the power plays in this contest should have been 5 to 1 in favor of Pittsburgh! Boudreau was not going to criticize the zebras, because it would cost him money via a fine, however he did not like that his club took five penalties.

“Five penalties is too many. That’s 10 minutes in the box. That means the lines get all skewed and you’re sitting guys that you don’t want to sit for 10 minutes. That’s two games in a row and its stick penalties so that’s something we have to cure,” finished Boudreau on the lack of discipline his team showed overall and with their twigs.

There is no doubt Ovechkin, who is very physical and plays on the edge, is an intimidator. Even the great #87 is no match for the power and force of Alexander the Great and in two instances on Wednesday #8 flat out abused Sid the Kid in the corner. In the first instance Crosby just bailed out and let Ovie have the puck and in the third period the two time defending Hart Trophy winner easily took the Canadian Olympic hero off the puck with a strong shoulder check.

Other guys who stood out for Washington were rookie defenseman John Carlson (17:39), who rang the post at least once in pursuit of his first NHL goal and his partner Shaone Morrisonn, who was physical and had nine hits. Carlson, who is only 20 years old and was drafted late in round one of the 2008 NHL Entry draft, is making a strong case to stay up with the big club for the playoffs. I had a chance to chat with #74 after Wednesday’s tilt:

WNST: Does Wilkes-Barre (Pens AHL team) bring their forwards down on the forecheck the same way Pittsburgh does?

Carlson: Yeah, I think that both of our teams, like Washington and Hershey and Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh, both of their systems are pretty much identical so its a little bit more comfortable for me knowing what is going to happen in little situations like that and it is one less thing you have to worry about. So it was a fun game.

WNST: Pittsburgh’s forecheck seems different than some of the tactics of other recent Caps opponents who tend to back off of an aggressive forecheck and seek to trap them in the neutral zone. Is that the case?

Carlson: Yeah, it just that every different coach has his different style and we got great players here and everyone tries to shut them down in different ways.

WNST: What is it like on the bench in these Caps-Pens games?

Carlson: It’s crazy, it’s always a crazy environment here [Verizon Center] but with Pittsburgh coming in it is a little bit more of a rivalry and you can definitely tell in the intensity of the fans and just the overall feel of the building.

Notes: The faceoff battle was tied at 28 a piece….the Pens played without Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Sergei Gonchar (Ovechkin flu) while the Caps were without Brooks Laich (face), Boyd Gordon (back), and Scott Walker (knee). Healthy scratches were John Erskine and Tyler Sloan for Washington and Eric Godard for the Penguins. Next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at 7pm from Raleigh. The Canes, who have played very well in the second half of the season, seem to finally be figuring out that all their good play is doing is ruining their chance at the top overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Carolina, at one point, was battling Edmonton for the worst record in the league but now currently resides in 27th place. The bottom three clubs have a shot at the top pick in the draft (Edmonton, the Islanders, and Toronto are the current bottom three but the Leafs pick is held by the Boston Bruins).

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