Tag Archive | "crosby"

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Caps Neuvirth Blanks Pens Again

Posted on 22 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

No Sidney Crosby, No Evgeni Malkin, No Mike Green, No Tom Poti, No Paul Martin, etc..it doesn’t matter, it’s the Capitals and Penguins and these two teams despise each other so everyone knew that the VERSUS game of the week was going to be can’t miss action on Monday night, and both teams delivered. Michal Neuvirth, who was called “Shaky” by Pens Coach Dan Bylsma back in December during the HBO 24/7 series, stopped 39 shots to blank the Penguins for the second straight game. I imagine the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup winning coach is regretting ever uttering those words now because Neuvy OWWWNNNSSS the Pens!

The victory for Washington, which completes a 10 day road trip at 3-2, gives them a 3-0-1 record against their archrivals this season and improves the team to 32-19-10 (74 points). They trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by a single point in the Southeast Division race but the Bolts have two games in hand.

Here are the highlights and analysis from an intense hockey game that was decided by an Alexander Ovechkin power play goal:

– The Caps won tonight, but let’s be honest, they did not play very well overall. They were severely outworked by what some may call an AHL team in the first period and as a result were shorthanded three times to just one for Pittsburgh in that stanza. In the second frame they came out and took the play to the Penguins and grabbed the lead on Ovechkin’s rocket. Washington had the better personnel on the ice tonight with all of the injuries for both teams but hard work will even things up quickly, and that is what happened on Monday night. In the third period, the Pens outshot the Caps 14-3, but many of those were from the perimeter as the Capitals were employing their defensive scheme that is working and frustrates the opposition. Overall the shots were 39-24 in favor of Pittsburgh, with the Caps winning the middle period, 14-7 and 1-0 on the scoreboard, which was the final tally.

– As I mentioned above, the Capitals had the better talent with guys like Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom on the ice. The Great #8 turned in a hard working performance while the other two did not play well. Backstrom did have a big shot block in the closing seconds but he just doesn’t look like the strong on the boards and confident #19. I wonder if that shoulder injury he suffered last spring is still a factor or perhaps it is holding back his ability to gain upper body strength because he just doesn’t look like the same elite player? I am a big Backstrom fan and I’d like to be wrong on that analysis and hope that #19 is simply saving himself for the playoffs, but still, his recent play is a concern for me right now. As for Semin, I am not sure he broke much of a sweat in 17 minutes of hockey. He routinely turned the puck over in the offensive zone with too many moves and he was not physical at all along the wall like he can be when he puts his mind to playing hockey.

– But when Neuvirth is playing as well as he did tonight, it doesn’t matter. #30 was outstanding and he controlled the Penguins shots giving up very few rebounds. His positioning was superb as well. In addition, his defensemen were very good in front of him by letting their net minder see the shots or if that was going to fail, blocking them. I thought Jeff Schultz, Scott Hannan, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson were really good on the back end tonight and they had to be. Each played over 21 and a half minutes as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wisely did not put the John Erskine and Tyler Sloan duo out too often (played 12:12 and 11:29, respectively).

– Up front Boudreau got a really solid game from rookie Marcus Johansson, who had the first assist on the Ovechkin power play tally (Mike Knuble had the other helper). MJ90, who is only 20 years old, will occassionally get taken off the puck fairly easily due to his youth and lack of size. However, he is finding a way to fight through that and make a difference. He is a guy who the Caps bench boss is not afraid to put out in his own zone in a close game, which the same cannot be said for Mathieu Perreault (only 8:09 of ice time, but he did get banged up early on too in this one). I don’t think Johansson is a 2nd line center right now and certainly not the guy there for the playoffs, but he can be effective on the 3rd line, provided he still has something left in the tank after this long rookie regular season, which is his first on North American rinks (Sweden has larger rinks and therefore, less contact).

– Boudreau made a very wise move using his timeout with just over 16 minutes left in the third period as his club was running around in their own end and had just iced the puck. After that the Capitals gave up some shots, but not many quality chances as they were content to get the puck to the red line and dump it deep. With that strategy a depleted Penguins lineup had to bring it the length of the ice to score, and they couldn’t do that leaving the fans at the CONSOL Energy center with nothing to cheer for on the evening, other than perhaps a Ryan Craig-Matt Bradley fight, but from my vantage point, #10 defeated the Pens call up in the bout. Craig went after Bradley after the Caps winger absolutely PASTED cheap shot artist Matt Cooke into the right wing boards in period two.

– In summary, this was a win at the end of a long road trip that solidifies the Capitals as a playoff team. Now it is all about positioning in the standings as well as waiting to see what General Manager George McPhee will do to improve the squad before next Monday’s trade deadline (2/28 at 3pm).

Notes: The Caps lost the face off battle 36-33 (Backstrom 13-17)…the Caps thwarted all three Pittsburgh power plays and scored on one of their three. However, before the Great #8’s laser, the Pens had two good shorthanded chances, including a Jordan Staal breakaway…DJ King was a late addition to the lineup because the scrappy Matt Hendricks was out sick (thanks to the awesome WashingtonCaps.com beat writer, Mike Vogel). King played only 4:25 but on one of his early shifts, he and his linemates at the time, Dave Steckel and Bradley, had two good chances to score…Ovechkin had 8 shots on goal, 10 that were blocked, and he threw four hits…the Pens traded d-man Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars today for winger James Neal and blue liner Matt Niskanen. I give the Penguins a strong edge in that move…next up for the Caps are the New York Rangers on Friday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. The Rangers are 2-1 against Washington this year with their last victory coming right before the All Star Break in the gimmick.

Comments Off on Caps Neuvirth Blanks Pens Again

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Not So “Shaky” Caps Neuvirth Blanks Pens, 3-0

Posted on 06 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

During the Capitals-Penguins game back on December 23rd at the Verizon Center, Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma was captured on camera by HBO in their superb 24/7 series as saying that Michal Neuvirth was “shaky.” Well Bylsma’s crew may have won that contest, 3-2, in an extended shootout, but as they say, revenge is a dish best served cold. On Super Bowl Sunday at a sold out and rowdy Verizon Center, Neuvirth (22 saves) and his teammates ICED the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-0, in the second straight strong team performance from the Caps. Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson (shorthanded), and Mike Knuble (empty net goal) scored for Washington, who improved to 29-15-10 (68 points) and remain three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division race. The Caps are a comfortable 10 points ahead of the ninth place Atlanta Thrashers in the Eastern Conference standings and they have a game in hand on Atlanta. The top eight teams in each conference qualify for the postseason.

Below are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the Caps eighth straight victory on Super Bowl Sunday at the Verizon Center (Washington is 14-3-1 since 1988 on the NFL’s biggest day):

– It was important for Washington to follow up a 60 minute Friday night winning effort in Tampa with another strong showing. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau received all of that in this contest’s first 30 minutes as Washington raced out to a 2-0 lead and held a dominating 17-8 advantage on the shots board. For the next 14 plus minutes the Capitals would skate hard and deliver a strong effort, however, their hockey IQ was not good at all. Time after time during that stretch Washington had opportunities for quality chances yet they continued to over pass the puck and failed to get off any good shots on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (21 saves). In fact, from the 9:55 mark of the second period until 4:24 into period three the Caps did not register a single shot on goal. Nicklas Backstrom tried forcing a pass on a two on one rush and Boyd Gordon attempted to pass the biscuit across the slot when he was all alone on #29 were two specific examples of numerous instances during that stretch when a shot on net may have led to a three goal lead. Boudreau’s crew seemed to forget, like they did when up 2-0 on Montreal on Tuesday evening, that the simple hockey strategy of getting pucks deep and to the net were what gave them the lead in those games. Afterwards, Washington defenseman Karl Alzner talked about what the Caps did so well to get the two goal margin and then agreed that the club lost its focus for that shotless stretch before regrouping.

“I think it was just sticking to the system, we did everything the way we wanted to do it. We got pucks in, we didn’t have many turnovers at the offensive blue line, defensive blue line, and that’s what we need every single game. That’s two games back to back where we stuck to everything the coaches told us to do and we got good results,” said #27 on what is driving the team’s recent success.

“We started taking the foot off of the gas a little and they put on a bit of a push. When you have a lead sometimes the tendency is to make nice plays to try to get more points and more goals on the board and that is what was happening. We came back after the intermission and we’ve got a lot of guys who are thinking the right way now, just kind of focus back in together and turn it up again,” added Alzner when asked what happened during the last 10 minutes of the second period.

– Neuvirth, who found out on Saturday night that he possibly would be starting with Semyon Varlamov feeling sick, was poised in the cage and did a super job of not giving up juicy rebounds and he froze the puck when the Capitals occassionally started scrambling around in their own zone. He didn’t have to be spectacular because his teammates were willing to sacrifice their bodies to block shots but #30 was clearly determined to make Bylsma regret his in game comments from that pre-Christmas tilt.

“Of course. I watched every episode (of HBO’s 24/7), but this is hockey. It didn’t really bother me. But now I’m really happy that I shut them down. It’s even better for me right now. Before the game, I remembered when he said that and I kind of looked at him during the warm up and told myself that I got to shut these guys out tonight,” responsed the rookie goalie, who earned his second shutout of the season and NHL career, when asked about Bylsma’s 24/7 captured comments.

– The Caps did right the ship during those last 15 minutes of period three by getting back to dumping the puck deep and forcing a depleted Pittsburgh squad, that was without Sidney Crosby (concussion) and likely Evgeni Malkin for the season (torn ACL and MCL in his knee), to try and go through all five Capitals to score. Washington, who was also missing Alexander Semin, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti, plus lost top defensemen Mike Green for the last two periods due to a shot that hit him near the ear and required stitches, played their defensive system superbly and when guys like superstar Alexander Ovechkin are laying out on the ice to block slappers from the point, you know the team is committed to winning at all costs.

“It’s all about commitment. It’s a commitment to winning. You block shots, one of your teammates goes down, another one picks it up,” commented Boudreau on the excellent defensive effort.

 

– Washington’s power play, which went 0 for 4, did have several good chances to score on Sunday as the Capitals did a decent job of getting the puck between the dots at the top of the point and blasting away. Ovechkin had a few slappers that made their way to the cage and the Caps just missed banging home rebounds from in front. The Capitals had registered man advantage markers in their two previous games and Boudreau felt that this unit was good once again on Sunday.

 

“I thought we could have had three or four. Sometimes you just don’t get it in and you are playing against the league’s best penalty killing team. But we had good chances and bottom line there is Fleury made some great saves there in the end to keep it at two,” said Boudreau on his power play unit.

 

“It’s really tough, guys they sacrifice their bodies all of the time now. They block absolutely everything. So it’s difficult. That is why we are trying to move the puck, spread it out as much as we can and get shots. Nobody likes when we don’t shoot the puck, we can hear that, but sometimes you just can’t do it. You have to shoot it off to the side of the net there or make plays. It doesn’t always work out but you do what you can,” added Alzner when asked about the difficulty in today’s NHL of getting off center point blasts with the man advantage.

 

– There were no penalties called in the first period and with the majority of the action in the Caps offensive zone it was clear that referee Dave Jackson was going to let the teams play in front of him. I was fine with that and I imagine the players and coaches did as well. As for the other zebra, Paul Devorski, one of the worst officials in the league still needs to buy a clue. Specifically, the man who allowed the Flyers to score their first goal in game seven of their 2008 playoff series against Washington because Philly ran Caps goalie Cristobal Huet, still has no idea on how to properly call goaltender interference. On Sunday, Matt Hendricks was shoved into Fleury while Knuble appeared to score the Capitals second goal and #10, instead of waving the goal off due to coincidental contact with the net minder and calling for a faceoff, said no goal and also assessed #26 with a two minute minor for goalie interference. It was a terrible interpretation of the rules, but fortunately for Washington they scored shorthanded on Johansson’s screened backhander with just five ticks left in the Penguins man advantage. Devorski also only assesed Pittsburgh cheap shot artist Matt Cooke a two minute minor when he delivered an ugly knee to knee hit on Ovechkin late in the contest. The Great #8 was luckily okay but one can’t help but wonder how Cooke, who has a history of dirty play, escaped a major and what should be a suspension? After all, Ovechkin received a five minute major, game misconduct, and then a two game suspension for a similar play in Carolina last season.

 

“I’m never going to say anything bad about an official. They are watching from their own eyes, they are seeing what they are seeing and they are making calls that they think are right. I am not always going to agree with them, on the same point, but I didn’t feel like I purposely went into the goaltender, I felt like I was pushed from behind. I don’t think I was in the blue. I think Fleury was out quite a bit out of his crease. That’s the game I play, the style I play, those things are going to happen. It’s tough when we score a goal too,” said Hendricks on the goalie interference infraction he was incorrectly assessed.

 

“It’s Matt Cooke, okay, need we say more. It’s not like it’s his first rodeo, he’s done it to everybody and then he goes to the ref and says ‘What did I do?’ He knows damn well what he did. There is no doubt in my mind that he’s good at it and he knows how to do it and he knows how to pick this stuff. We as a league still buy into this, that ‘Oh, it still was an accidental thing’,” said Boudreau on the dirty play by #24 against his former teammate, Ovechkin.

 

Notes: Despite the fact that everyone who knows anything about hockey and Dave Steckel realizes that the contact he had with Crosby on New Years Day was incidental, Penguins forward Tim Wallace tried to make a name for himself by challenging #39 to a 3rd period fight, which Steckel obliged…the Capitals dominated the Pens from the dot winning 32 of 49 draws. Backstrom was a sensational 14-3…Johansson and Mathieu Perreault, two young small centermen, have had back to back strong contests but Boudreau has often commented that he’s seen flashes of this before and wants consistency from the pair. He also mentioned today that MJ90 has had to deal with numerous differences in the NHL game and he pointed out that in the Swedish league that Marcus played in last season skaters aren’t even allowed to use their feet to win a faceoff…Green was dressed and doing interviews after the victory but I suspect the area where he took the puck will swell and it might be wise to sit him out until he is totally healthy. “He’s day-to-day. He’s got a little bit of a headache right now. You get hit in the head with a puck and you’re gonna have a headache. We’ll reevaluate him tomorrow,” added Boudreau….the Caps killed off both Penguins power plays and are still ranked 2nd in the NHL on the PK (86.3%)…Boudreau improved to 10-1-3 in his tenure against the Penguins and the Capitals are 9-0-2 in the last 11 regular season meetings versus Pittsburgh…Semin is expected to play in Washington’s next game against San Jose at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night. #28 hasn’t played since early January.

Comments Off on Not So “Shaky” Caps Neuvirth Blanks Pens, 3-0

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Bolts Blank Uninspired Caps to Take Southeast Lead

Posted on 13 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

There was a battle for the top spot in the Southeast Division on Wednesday night between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals, but only one team showed up. I am not surprised. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season and getting bounced in the first round by Montreal, the Caps have been inconsistent this regular season and have appeared to basically be in a “waiting for the playoffs mode” with this contest being no exception. When the Capitals want to play, as they will likely do on Friday against the NHL standings leading Vancouver Canucks or next Tuesday night in Philadelphia against the Flyers, they typically can compete with anyone. But the Lightning, who Washington has owned in the Bruce Boudreau era, despite having a great season, just do not get the Capitals motivated, yet. As a result, a tired and uninspired Capitals club fell behind 2-0 in the first period and mailed it in the rest of the game en route to a 3-0 defeat. The Bolts now lead the Southeast Division over the Caps by two points (57 to 55):

Here are the lowlights and analysis from a lackluster Capitals performance:

– It is clear that the Capitals are definitely becoming the Penguins or Flyers to the Lightning. Guy Boucher’s club came out flying while the Caps still looked like they were sleeping following Tuesday night’s OT loss in Florida. Nate Thompson, who isn’t exactly going to challenge Steven Stamkos or Sidney Crosby for any all star spots, cruised into the Washington zone with speed forcing a slow footed Jeff Schultz to back up way too far. #44 then hit the brakes and threw the puck on net and Tom Poti, who really shouldn’t be playing yet because he isn’t 100% healthy, couldn’t handle Dominic Moore in front of the net. #19 then banked one in off of a sprawling Semyon Varlamov for the first marker just 3:58 in to the contest. Varly would then give up a rebound on a Victor Hedman point shot, because he had too much traffic in front of him (3 and 55 didn’t box out well), and Sean Bergenheim batted the biscuit in the basket baseball style to make it 2-0. The Bolts outshot the Caps 14-9 in that first intermission and dominated the play.

– From there, things just got worse for Washington as they didn’t play hard and the referees, Tim Kowal and Steve Kozari, officiated this one like they had money on the game in Vegas. I could try and list all of the missed and incorrect calls but in the immortal words of Mark Ratner from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “That would take too long.” However, the sequence where Steve Downie dropped his mitts early and got two sucker punches in on Scott Hannan bears mentioning; not only because Downie is a gutless thug, but because the zebras, who I termed the Krusty the Klown pair, gave four minutes to #23 and only two to the Lightning pest that you just want to crush with your shoe. The referees were not the reason the Capitals lost on this evening, their lack of effort and the solid goaltending from Dwayne Roloson (23 saves) takes precedence, but the NHL seriously needs to look at many of these crews to try and find some sanity and consistency because I sure as heck am not seeing it in the league so far this season from the zebras.

– The positives for Washington were few and far between:

  • Varlamov did stop 35 of 38 shots. He was totally hung out to dry by Schutlz and Mike Green on the Simon Gagne goal to make it 3-0 late in period two. The former Flyers tally came on a 2 on 0 break after Sarge and #52 lolligagged it from the Bolts blue line after an offensive zone faceoff.
  • The Caps killed off all six Tampa power play chances (9:37 of shorthanded time).
  • Blue liners John Carlson and Karl Alzner logged 25:27  and 24:35 of ice time, respectively, and did not allow a goal. Most of those minutes came against the Bolts top line. Stamkos and Martin St. Louis were both held without a point thanks to the two young defensemen.
  • Alexander Ovechkin (-2, 4 hits, 2 shots on net in 18:38 of ice time) didn’t run out of hockey sticks. Well he almost did as he broke numerous twigs on the night and word has it that the team equipment crew had to run out to the truck to reload on the bench for the Great #8.

– Poti (-2), who only played five minutes and change before leaving with yet another injury, and Schultz (-3) had bad nights on defense. However, as I mentioned in this video that was shot with my media friends John Keeley of On Frozen Blog and Ted Starkey of The Washington Times on Saturday night at the Verizon Center, the Capitals are in good shape from a defense and goaltending posture. What General Manager George McPhee needs to do is go out and get at least one, and likely two, top six forwards to give Washington a better chance at going deep into the post season and competing for a Stanley Cup. With Varlamov and Neuvirth, they have improved in the cage and the defense is much better this season thanks to the emergence of Alzner and Carlson plus the acquisition of Hannan, so that leaves an offense that has been blanked six times this year as the club’s problem point. That is no surprise since last year’s squad finished games five through seven of the Montreal series with exactly one goal in each tilt. The Caps GM has until 3pm on February 28th to make some moves to get this offense going again, stay tuned.

Notes:  Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup after missing close to a month due to injury, and as a result forward Brian Willsie was sent back to Hershey after just one game (1 assist in just over six minutes of ice time)…Each team won 31 faceoffs on Wednesday. Dave Steckel went 5-1 for Washington.. Nearly 500 fans helped the Washington Capitals raise $304,900 for charity at the second Caps Care Casino Night and Auction on Jan. 9 at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. A majority of the money raised will benefit Washington Capitals Charities, which supports community programs in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

Comments Off on Bolts Blank Uninspired Caps to Take Southeast Lead

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Caps Win Winter Classic over Pens

Posted on 02 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals shut the critics up tonight. It is as simple as that. For several weeks all this Capitals team has heard was they are underachievers and were no match for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who started this whole build up to the Winter Classic with a twelve game winning streak while the Caps were mired in an eight game skid that was brought on due to injuries, illnesses, and a system change. But when the HBO cameras close down Saturday night and the 24/7 show airs its final episode on Wednesday at 10pm the Capitals will have finished on a 5-0-1 tear and only two points behind the Penguins for first place in the Eastern Conference. How is that for irony?

This 3-1 victory, in the rain in a city that was apparently overrun with tens of thousands of Caps fans, was as big as they come in the regular season and Washington is now 23-12-5 overall (51 points) while the Penguins, despite all of the hype and accolades, are only 25-12-3 (53 points).

Here is my analysis on the huge win, the Caps 6th straight regular season victory in Pittsburgh:

– Semyon Varlamov was outstanding in net and has now won three games in a row. Varly stopped 32 of 33 shots and as I’ve blogged many times, when healthy he is the Caps #1 goalie. But Michal Neuvirth is a very good goalie too and as I’ve also written numerous times, goaltending is not a problem at all for this club. Varly proved that he could play in the clutch in that 2009 playoff run that ended in a game seven loss to the Pens in round two and tonight he showed how good he is once again. His only issue continues to be durability.

– After the Caps victory over Montreal on Tuesday night, I caught up with Eric Fehr as I left the locker room and he told me he felt as healthy as he’s felt in a long time. Last year when he told me that in early November he went on a goal scoring tear. Tonight he was outstanding and notched two goals playing with Marcus Johansson and Jason Chimera. Could this be a turning point for #16? That line, when put together by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, seems to gel because of the speed of #90 and #25, and tonight they were the Capitals best unit.

– I can’t say enough about the Capitals young defensive pair of John Carlson and Karl Alzner. The two played 26:28 and 24:45, respectively, leading the team in time on ice. You think their head coach has confidence in them? As #74 said afterwards on NBC, he and King Karl weren’t happy with allowing Sidney Crosby two points in last Thursday’s shootout loss at the Verizon Center. Tonight the duo shut down the NHL’s leading scorer and #87 didn’t have too many scoring chances unlike Alexander Ovechkin, who had numerous quality attempts and also had a goal wiped out due to what the zebras deemed incidental contact with Marc-Andre Fleury. Washington’s defense was better on day one with both Carlson and Alzner up to start the season and the addition of Scott Hannan gives GM George McPhee and Boudreau the most solid blue line they have had in years.

– Boudreau commented afterwards that he had spoken with McPhee earlier in the day and they decided that the best strategy was to play a simple, grind it out game given the ice conditions. The players got the message and they routinely sent the pucks deep and made the Penguins have to turn their backs to play the biscuit. Clearly it worked with the game’s turning play being Fleury’s misplay of the puck behind the cage that Johansson then centered to Fehr for the eventual game winner. But for those who have watched the Caps lately, a recent similar pattern occurred once Washington took a lead into the third period: they backed off on the aggressive forechecking and set up a neutral zone wall that continues to frustrate the opposition. In fact, the Capitals actually started doing this in the last couple of minutes in period two. The strategy is working, although the Pens came out really strong early in period three. The Caps are still working on implementing this system change, but the early returns are very good and to quote Boudreau, “gives them another tool in the toolbox” to use.

– The Caps scored a power play goal! The Caps scored a power play goal! Mike Knuble’s rebound conversion from the doorstep was exactly what Washington needed when trailing by a goal (Evgeni Malkin opened the scoring for Pittsburgh). On the night the Caps went 1 for 2 with the man advantage while they killed off all four Penguins power plays so special teams made a big difference once again for the Capitals.

– In summary, this was a great win and those that have stood by their Capitals club through the adversity should feel proud of how this Winter Classic sequence has turned out. The Caps are a much better hockey team then they were a month ago. The critics will continue to point to the past playoff failures but if Washington keeps working and builds on the system change and more defensive posture, the organization might finally have a post season reward that will silence the detractors once and for all.

Notes: The faceoff battle was even at 33 all. Nicklas Backstrom was 10-6 to lead Washington…Olie Kolzig commented afterwards that the key for Varly is to keep his groin healthy, which is tougher given the way he plays with the butterfly. Kolzig, to me, was the shining star of the NHL Network coverage over the weekend…Washington has no time to celebrate though as they have a huge tilt with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday at the Verizon Center. Steve Stamkos and company have been red hot and going back and forth with the Caps for the Southeast Division lead. They also made a big attempt to improve their weak goaltending today by trading for former Islanders net minder Dwayne Roloson.

Comments Off on Caps Win Winter Classic over Pens

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Caps Lose in Shootout to Penguins

Posted on 24 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins played what was likely their most intense hockey game of the season so far in an entertaining contest to watch. However, when it was all said and done, the Caps were defeated in the 7th round of the shootout, and lost the game, 3-2, to their archrivals. Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist for the visitors but Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was the game’s number one star thwarting 32 of the 34 shots he faced. Mike Green and Mike Knuble tallied for the Capitals, on the power play and shorthanded, respectively. After both Alexander Ovechkin and Kris Letang traded tallies to open the gimmick for their teams, Pascal Dupuis became the next shooter to score in the bottom of the 7th round. Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Knuble, Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault, and Green all failed to beat #29 before the Pens sent the Caps home slightly disappointed for Christmas. Washington’s record is now 20-12-5, good for 45 points, which puts them in a tie for first place in the Southeast Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won their tilt in a shootout against the New York Rangers on Thursday night. The Bolts have two games in hand on the Capitals. The Atlanta Thrashers, who lost to the Boston Bruins this evening, are two points behind both teams.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analyis of a game that certainly had a playoff feel to it, as confirmed by Penguins coach Dan Bylsma:

“You talk about the hype and the buildup and the rivalry and the puck drops and it’s exactly what the buildup is.  Sometimes [games like these] are overbuilt but this was a playoff type of game and the building [was] rocking,” said the Pens bench boss on the contest and the atmosphere in the Verizon Center.

 

– The biggest positive of the night for Washington, in my book, was the play of both Green and his defensive partner Scott Hannan. Those two guys have struggled since Hannan was traded to the Caps from Colorado and the power play marker by #52 broke his own 14 game drought. He logged 34:03 of ice time adding eight hits, five blocked shots, and he also had six shots on net. Green also nearly won the game in OT but Fleury managed to cover the puck with his glove after #52 had deked the net minder to the ice and was about to slide the biscuit by him. Hannan was outstanding in his 27:09 of ice time and the duo finally played like the top pairing that the organization expected from them when they were put together after Jeff Schultz went down with a fractured thumb in the Toronto contest. Perhaps they are finally learning each other’s tendencies or getting comfortable playing as a duo? Whatever it was, those two guys were dynamite against Pittsburgh.

“That was his best game in a long time. He was good defensively and he jumped into the plays and made things happen offensively,” started Boudreau on Green, “We were talking in [the coaches room] and that is why we got him,” finished the Washington bench boss when I asked him about the strong play of Green’s defensive partner.

 

– In net, Michal Neuvirth (25 saves) made his first ever start against the Penguins and he was fantastic. #30 gave up Crosby’s super tip just 3:21 in to the game and 17 seconds into period three the guys in front of him did a Keystone cops routine by bumping into each other, knocking over the two time Calder Cup Champion net minder and allowing Chris Kunitz to score from the slot. In between the two tallies Neuvy stopped Evgeni Malkin on a penalty shot and thwarted Crosby on a breakaway. The young Czech net minder is 2-1-1 in this current run as the Washington starting goalie.

 

– The Capitals penalty kill was a major reason why Washington made it to the gimmick. The Caps killed off all five Penguins power plays and they also tied the game up with 5:29 to go on Knuble’s shorthanded marker off of a great feed from Laich. Last season when trailing, an opponents man advantage situation frequently resulted in another opposition tally, however, this season the Capitals are using the PK to stay in games and then use the energy generated from that unit to take back control of the play. The improvement of the shorthanded unit this season is one of the big positives to the first half of the 2010-11 season.

 

“PK did a great job. To get that goal in the third there on the PK that is huge. The system we played tonight on the PK and what Deano [assistant Coach Dean Evason] drew up for us, we executed it and we got the job done,” said forward Jay Beagle, who logged 10:44 of ice time, including 2:46 when Washington was shorthanded.

 

– Washington’s power play, however, was another story. While they did finally connect on a two man advantage in period two, they also failed to convert in the opening frame on a 109 second five on three. Overall the Caps were 1 for 6 on the PP and a big problem is the lack of puck movement. Like standing and dribbling gets you nowhere in basketball, the Caps players are holding on to the puck too long instead of moving it quickly and crisply to get the defenders and the goaltender scrambling around. Simply put, despite the fact that the Pens own the best PK percentage in the league (88%), Washington made it easy for their opponents to look good shorthanded on Thursday night. On the last couple of man advantage situations the Caps did do a better job of passing the puck faster and shooting more often, and if they do that, the power play will get hot again.

 

– The final tallies on power plays in this one was 6 to 5 in favor of the Caps but if you factor in the penalty shot then it is even-steven. The Capitals carried the play for much of the night and should have had a greater advantage in power plays but zebras Kelly Sutherland and Francois St. Laurent saw a completely different game, in some instances, and as is often the case, evened up the calls instead of sticking to officiating the contest correctly.

 

“We knew they were going to get [power plays]. I think we had one more power play than them which would have been the first time in 16 games that we had more power plays than they did. But we knew there were going to be penalties called against us because we knew there was never going to be that big of a discrepancy when playing them,” said Boudreau on the tendency of NHL referees to focus on the numbers of PP opportunities for each team instead of calling things as they play out.

 

The coach nailed it and if you ask me, shouldn’t a guy with a last name like St. Laurent be peddling men’s ties instead of badly refereeing hockey games?

 

– I am not sure what was going on with the playing surface but the ice along the boards adjacent to the Capitals bench seemed to have more bumps and holes in it than New York Avenue. As players attempted to carry the puck out of the zone on that side found out, the routine play was turned into a house of horrors and on several occassions the puck carrier overskated the biscuit. Overall I thought the surface, which I have deemed “Wizards Ice” because it seems that the Caps always play the night following a basketball game, prevented the Caps from some odd man rushes because they had to exit the “bad zone” two of the three periods and in overtime.

 

– Tom Poti was injured in period one and Boudreau termed him day-to-day. #3 only played 5 shifts (3:34) after hitting his head. As a result of Poti’s early exit the Caps had to play with just five defensemen for the rest of the game, but Karl Alzner said that is a situation that you have to deal with and move on from.

 

“It makes it a little bit tougher and definitely you run out of energy, especially if you are trying to match any sort of lines there then it gets more difficult. But that is how you have to play. You have to do it sometimes and it’s easier to keep yourself in the game if you are going every other shift but obviously we’d rather finish the game with six [defensemen],” said the 21 year old defenseman on the shortened bench after Poti’s head injury.

 

– Overall this was another step in the right direction for the Capitals and Boudreau said if they continue to play like they did on Thursday they will win lots of games. I asked Alzner about the mood of the players following the defeat in the skills competition.

 

“It’s the second best result we could have asked for. We played a pretty good game. It was low scoring, it wasn’t one of those run and gun games so we’re working on that. It’s nice that that is coming through a little bit but we obviously wanted to win and keep Crosby off the scoresheet as much as we could but that’s a tough guy to keep off so we did decent, but we can do better though,” finished #27, the Capitals 2007 1st round draft choice (5th overall).

 

Notes: Dave Steckel, who leads the NHL in faceoff percentage at 63.6%, was 13-4 on draws but overall Washington lost the battle at the dot, 37-34…Eric Fehr, who received top line minutes in the last period in Boston and in Ottawa on Sunday, started on a line with Ovechkin and Perreault but after one period was yanked off of it. #16 ended up getting only 9:49 of ice time but he did manage to fire four shots on net in that time…the tripping call on Ovechkin was downright awful and again I put the blame on that one on Wizards ice and bad zebras…Hannan went even on the night and was -8 coming into the game against Pittsburgh…Washington is 7-0-2 in its last nine regular season games against Pittsburgh…next up for the Caps, after two days off for the Christmas break, is a game in Carolina at 7pm on Sunday night against the Hurricanes.

Comments Off on Caps Lose in Shootout to Penguins

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hershey Grads Help Caps Win 2nd Straight

Posted on 22 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

There is a reason the Hershey Bears won back to back AHL Calder Cup titles the last two seasons and a national audience on VERSUS on Tuesday night witnessed it first hand as several Chocolatetown graduates played big roles in the Washington Capitals 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center. Andrew Gordon, who has 16 goals in 26 games for the Bears this year, notched his first ever NHL goal and also had an assist on Jason Chimera’s breakaway marker that made it 3-1. Defenseman John Carlson also scored on a laser and added an assist while goaltender Michal Neuvirth stopped 35 of 36 shots to earn his 14th win of this season. It was the Caps second straight victory following their eight game losing streak and coupled with the St. Louis Blues 4-2 victory over Atlanta, Washington is back in first place in the Southeast Division with 44 points (20-12-4). The Thrashers are a point back with the same number of games played as the Caps while the Tampa Bay Lightning are at 42 points with three games in hand.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game that was close in the first 30 minutes and ended with the Verizon Center chanting “We Want Pittsburgh!”:

– In addition to Gordon, Carlson, and Neuvirth several other Bears from the back to back Calder Cup Championships contributed to the win including defenseman Karl Alzner (+3), Jay Beagle (goal, +1), and Mathieu Perreault (+1). Gordon, Beagle, and Perreault each where involved in a Washington goal simply by going to the net. Gordon’s goal from the doorstep was set up by a super play by Marcus Johansson, Beagle’s tally from just above the crease was the result of a great pass from Dave Steckel, and the smaller Perreault crashed the cage on Martin Broduer (23 saves) allowing Mike Knuble to deflect Tom Poti’s shot by the future Hall of Fame goalie. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau praised the Chocolatetown contingent right out of the gate in his post game presser.

“I thought they all played great, Beagle, Gordo, Carlson, they had lots of energy and they followed direction and they played with passion and enthusiasm. When you do that, usually, no matter what league you’re in you’re going to have success,” said the coach about his players who have simply dominated in the AHL and now are getting a chance to display their merit in “The Show.”

– #30 was super solid in net and he made several quality saves early in the second period when the Devils had their highest points in this tilt. The only shot that beat him was on a Devils power play by Patrick Elias with Dainius Zubrus setting a vicious screen at the top of the crease. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau certainly is feeling confident in Neuvirth right now and you can bet the house he will start against the Penguins on Thursday.

“He was pretty solid. He’s always been a guy that’s gotten stronger as the game goes on and does alot by confidence. The game in Ottawa got him confidence,” said Boudreau on the key to Neuvirth’s recent success.

– The Capitals best d-pair these days continues to be #74 and #27 and they followed up their super game in Ottawa with a tremendous outing on Tuesday. Alzner and Carlson, who were sensational playing together in Hershey, are a perfect pairing that continues to get better. They are positionally sound and the thing they really excel at is getting the puck out of Washington’s zone and in transition with quick and smart passes. Carlson had 23:42 of ice time, including 7:24 on the power play, and despite the fact that the Caps power play stunk in this one (0 for 5), #74 was likely the best player on it because he was shooting the biscuit at the cage instead of trying crazy cross ice seam passes that Alexander Semin kept attempting to execute.

“We’ve been playing good since day one. We’ve been feeling pretty comfortable. We were apart for a while and then got back together a couple of games ago. It’s just a matter of consistency in this game, it seems. Anytime you can play good and contribute, it’s really good,” added #74, who scored the game winning goal for Team USA in the Gold Medal game against Canada in the World Juniors Championships last winter.

 

– Steckel, who is also a Hershey alum but wasn’t on the two recent Calder Cup winning teams but was on the 2006 AHL Championship club coached by Boudreau, is really playing well lately after a subpar 2009-10. #39 was 7-2 on draws and is now #1 in the NHL in faceoff percentage (63.1%) for those taking at least 20 draws this season. His pass to Beagle for the game winning goal was outstanding and it came after some hard work along the boards and in the corner.

 

– I would also be remiss if I didn’t praise the play of the rookie, Johansson. #90, who looked healthy and as a result showed off his ultra fast skating tonight, was paired with the speedy Chimera and the grinding Gordon and they were the line of the game for Washington. The young Swede looked like he was shot out of a cannon on the first goal as he flew down the left wing boards and fed an all alone #63 in front for the first tally. Johansson also set up Gordon for a one timer that Brodeur made his best save of the night on in period two when the game was still close. Former Capital Brian Engblom on VERSUS, after the 2nd period, called #90 the best player on the ice for either team, quite a compliment for the 2009 1st round draft choice.

 

– On the down side, the Capitals power play was simply awful in 8:42 of time, including a lengthy (78 seconds) two man advantage. I put the blame on this on Semin and Mike Green because those guys are not shooting the puck and trying to make too many fancy passes. Boudreau did give Carlson more point time and he moved Alexander Ovechkin down low in an attempt to get him out of his goal scoring slump (2 tallies in the last 18 games).

 

“Well, we were 0-for-5 on the power play, so it didn’t work very well. But we haven’t had any success with him on the point lately either. I am just trying to move things and change things around. I thought if we got shots at the net and he’s right there, maybe he could get a rebound or something, get an ugly goal that would jump start him. That was the thought process,” said Boudreau, who is attempting to win his 4th straight Southeast Division title as the Caps bench boss in as many seasons.

 

Notes: Forward Matt Bradley, a major fan favorite, broke his finger and will miss 2-4 weeks (h/t Mike Vogel, aka @VogsCaps)…Eric Fehr, who played four really good periods in a row with Ovechkin and Backstrom on the top line in the two previous games, missed the contest due to a death in the family…the Caps won the face-off battle, 28-26…Washinton’s PK unit was 1 for 4 and it would have been perfect had defenseman Scott Hannan made a simple clearing play instead of waiting for an extra second in the corner. As a result he was stripped from behind of the biscuit and the Caps failed to clear the zone prior to the goal. #23 continues to struggle in his transition from Colorado to Washington…on Wednesday night at 10pm on HBO, Episode 2 of 24/7, which covers the Caps and Penguins as they head into the Winter Classic on January 1st, airs. It should be a much more enjoyable hour of viewing for Caps fans after last week’s tough one in the middle of the eight game losing streak. Not to mention the Penguins lost two straight games last week…Former Capital and VERSUS studio analyst Keith Jones blasted Semin after the game for his effort. Boudreau characterized #28’s performance with the following quote, “Rusty, but he’ll get better though.” Given that Semin was hurt (lower body injury) and just recovered from the flu we’ll give him a pass for his bad game…Thursday night’s Capitals-Penguins tilt at the Verizon Center should be a great one and it will be time for the Capitals star players like Ovechkin (1 assist, +1, 4 hits), Nicklas Backstrom, Green, and Semin to get it going because the Caps will need them to defeat Sidney Crosby and company. Don’t miss it!

Comments Off on Hershey Grads Help Caps Win 2nd Straight

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Raycroft, Zebras Beat Caps, 2-1

Posted on 03 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Andrew Raycroft of the Dallas Stars stopped 37 of 38 shots and received some help from the referees as an apparent Capitals game tying goal was waved off with eight seconds left in regulation to end Washington’s winning streak at four games. The Caps, who were shorthanded four times in the middle period and twice in the third, lost 2-1 and fell to 18-7-2 on the season. They still lead the Southeast Division by seven points since both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers also were defeated on Thursday night.

Here are the highlights of a tilt that was difficult to watch because the ice in Texas was so horrible and the zebras were nearly as bad:

– On the wiped out Caps goal with eight seconds left, Alexander Oveckin is in front of the cage making contact with d-man Stephane Robidas. Neither player is touching Raycroft and as Washington is about to fire the biscuit into the net, Stars defensemen Karlis Skrastins comes sliding in from the right post and bangs into his own goalie. The Caps score and raise their sticks but referee Dan O’Rourke waved it off immediately and when the face-off was moved outside the Stars zone, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau went postal on the zebras and earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That was simply the culmination of a frustrating night in which it seemed everything was let go in the opening stanza then every ticky tack call in the book went against Washington in the middle frame. The Caps would kill off the first three Stars man advantages but they finally tired out and Mike Ribeiro scored to give Dallas the lead on their fourth power play of the second period.

– The Caps, who outshot the Stars 38-21, would pressure hard in the final stanza and on their second power play of the period and third of the night, they finally scored as Mike Green carried the puck in from the right point and made an outstanding pass to Mike Knuble in the slot, who buried it into a vacant left side of the net. Overall the Stars had six power plays (although the last one was for 8 seconds) while Washington just had three in a disturbing trend that continues to see the Capitals come out on the short end of the stick from the referees.

– Michael Neuvirth got the start in net after Semyon Varlamov had played the previous night in St. Louis (Caps won 4-1). #30 made several big stops in this tilt but the game winning tally is one he would like to have back. Brandon Segal received a cross ice feed from Brendan Morrow and Karl Alzner reached out trying to block the shot and the puck may or may not have nicked #27’s stick on the way to the cage. Nonetheless, the biscuit eluded Neuvirth top shelf and the Stars jumped back in front just 20 seconds after the Caps had worked hard to tie this one up. It was a goal that cannot be allowed in that situation.

– From there Washington stormed the castle but just couldn’t solve Raycroft. They also missed the net several times too. Part of that may have been trying to pick corners because the Stars goalie was playing well and the other part could have been the bad surface. Hockey Night in Canada’s Jeff Marek tweeted that the ice in Dallas was the worst he’s seen all year in the NHL. Passing was difficult and both teams suffered from players overskating the puck or having it stick to the ice. Is Fred Biletnikoff in charge of the zamboni at American Airlines arena? Inquiring minds want to know because it sure looked like the ice was covered with “Stick ‘Em.”

– Scott Hannan made his Caps debut on defense and he played solid, although it was his penalty that resulted in the Stars first tally. #23 blocked four shots in 19:02 of ice time. He looked comfortable in Boudreau’s aggressive system, which is different than the one he played in with Colorado.

Notes: Washington won the face-off battle, 30-28, and this was the 14th straight contest in which the Caps were 50% or better on draws, so much for those struggles from the dot we heard about after just first four tilts into season…Matt Hendricks fought Segal (won the bout, too) and also drew a penalty. #26 does all of the little things and it is clear why Boudreau and GM George McPhee wanted this type of player on their squad…Eric Fehr had the second assist on the Caps only goal…Ovechkin fired five shots on net, had four attempts blocked, and missed the cage on three other tries in 22:27 of ice time…Tom Poti did not play due to a bad groin and John Erskine appeared to injure his leg in the first period. #4 left for awhile but returned and logged only 11:23 of ice time…next up for the Capitals are the Atlanta Thrashers at the Verizon Center on Saturday night at 7pm. Atlanta had their six game winning streak snapped by the Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby’s hat trick, 3-2, on Thursday night.

Comments Off on Raycroft, Zebras Beat Caps, 2-1

Tags: , , ,

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!!

Comments Off on NHL Regular Season Predictions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

‘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.

Comments Off on ‘Hard Knocks’ with the Caps??!!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.”

Comments Off on Caps Re-Sign Eric Fehr for 2 Years