Tag Archive | "crosby"

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Ovechkin-less Caps lose to Canes in OT, 4-3

Posted on 18 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Carolina’s Ray Whitney blasted one off of Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov from the slot in overtime to defeat Washington, 4-3, in Raleigh on Thursday night. The Capitals, who were once again without team captain and two-time defending NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin due to his suspension, took a 2-1 lead after two periods, primarily by limiting the number of Hurricanes scoring chances. However, they came out and played a klunker of a final period and were lucky to get to overtime thanks to Eric Fehr’s career high 20th goal with just 10 seconds left in regulation. Despite the loss Washington gets a point to move to 104 (47-14-10) for the season and they lead second place Pittsburgh by 15 points in the Eastern Conference standings with just 11 games left. Can you say that race is pretty much over? As for the President’s Trophy, the Caps are eight points up on San Jose, who have just one game in hand after losing, 3-2, late Thursday night in Vancouver.

Here is the analysis and some quotes from Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau from a game that was one of the more boring contests this season, except for Fehr’s 20th:

The Caps played well defensively for two periods (only gave up 14 shots and a few scoring chances) but looked disinterested and lost at times in period three. There was definitely a win for the taking and Washington left a point on the table, according to their coach.

“I’m not saying we deserved to get two (points) but we should have gotten two…We held them to only 15 shots in the first two periods and I don’t know what happened in the third period,” said Boudreau about the uneven effort from his team.

Outside of some solid defensive zone play in the first two periods, there was not a whole lot of good for the Caps in this one. Here are some things I liked:

- Center Brendan Morrison had another good game and it was his alert play on Brandon Sutter in the slot that set up Fehr for his 20th tally of the season to send this one to the extra session. I liked the way those guys played together and you can add their left wing, Jason Chimera, to that equation. My only criticism of 9 and 16 was a long shift they took in overtime. If Morrison can perform at this level in the post season then the Caps, with Eric Belanger now in the mix, are much stronger up the center of the ice than they were heading into the 2008-09 post season.

- Joe Corvo tallied twice and logged over 25 minutes of ice time. He and Mike Green did a good job on the points on the power play. Overall the Caps moved the puck well on the man advantage (1 for 3) but couldn’t hit the net on some good chances. Had they connected more in the second half of period two the outcome is likely different.

- The penalty kill, which got plenty of work thanks to some shaky officiating (more on that in the bad section coming up), was really good despite giving up a goal on five Canes chances. The only tally was on a nearly two minute five on three for Carolina and had Matt Bradley not missed a clear he usually makes, Eric Staal doesn’t get a tap in that Varlamov had no chance on.

Now for the bad, and there was a good bit of it:

- The effort was not there in the 3rd period, as I mentioned above, but had Varly made a save on Brett Carson’s unscreened shot with just under eight minutes left, shortly after a brutal Nicklas Backstrom giveaway, the Caps would have likely won this contest. #40 is not making the big save when needed and I was surprised that he did not deny Chad LaRose on his breakaway that gave the Canes the lead with just 95 seconds left in this one.

- Speaking of that LaRose breakaway…that one came on a 4 on 4 situation where both Green and Corvo were on the ice pressing for the winning goal. The two offensive minded d-men were pinching down, with Green in the slot but they were okay position wise because Belanger was manning the left point. But for some reason #18 decided to go charging down the slot when he clearly should have been covering for #77 and that allowed Jussi Jokinen to send #59 off to the races. Boudreau, who didn’t look very happy after the game, thought that was a major mental mistake.

“We definitely have to smarten up,” the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner commented on his team’s struggles in 4 on 4 play.

- On the winning goal, I thought both Jeff Schultz and his defensive partner, Green, looked bad on the play as Staal and Whitney criss crossed nicely to confuse the duo. When #55 chased #21, Whitney cut to the middle and #52 lollygagged it across the slot. #13 then fired a laser that Varly couldn’t handle to end the game. The poor coverage there seems like something Boudreau will want to address in a video session.

“There’s lots of good video, plays where we didn’t do the right things,” finished Boudreau on just Washington’s 4th defeat in 20 games vs. Southeast Division foes in 2009-10 (16-3-1).

- Perhaps the guys that I thought were the worst on Thursday night were the two referees, Steve Kozari and Tom Kowal. The call on Mike Knuble for goalie interference was simply atrocious as #22 was clearly cross-checked into rookie Justin Peters (25 saves) and the double minor high sticking infraction on Shaone Morrisonn was practically identical to the single minor whistled on Sergei Samsonov. Where is the consistency zebras? In addition, on the sequence that preceded the winning goal, Backstrom was hauled down in the neutral zone without a penalty being called. I also felt that they let some clear interference go on Carolina but what do you expect from two inexperienced referees in a road game for Washington? On Hockey Night in Canada Radio on Tuesday afternoon (Sirius 127), host Jeff Marek and co-host Elliotte Friedman chatted with New York Post writer Larry Brooks and @NYR_Brooksie stated that he thought the biggest problem in the NHL right now is the officiating. Larry feels that the pace of the game is too fast for the guys in striped shirts and I definitely agree.

The Capitals now head to Tampa to take on the Lightning on Saturday night before playing 7 of their final 10 games at the Verizon Center.

Oh, I just thought of another good thing, perhaps the best news of the night: Now that this one is done, Washington gets back team captain Ovechkin on Saturday night. The Great #8, despite missing 10 games, is just a goal behind Sidney Crosby in the Rocket Richard Trophy race (45 to 44). Ovie also still leads the NHL in points by two over Henrik Sedin. Washington definitely needs Ovechkin and anyone who thinks this team plays better without him should be sent to the nearest clinic for a mandatory drug test.

Notes: Corvo’s two goal game was the Capitals league leading 50th such occurrence (multi-goal contest by a single player) this season (h/t @washcaps, @capsmedia)..Washington won the face-off battle 32-28 (Backstrom went 12-4 while Dave Steckel was a poor 7-13).

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Lightning Edge Caps, 3-2

Posted on 12 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Antero Niittymaki stopped 28 shots on Friday night at the Verizon Center to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 3-2 victory over the Caps, who finished this five game homestand at 3-1-1. For the most part, the Capitals did not work hard against a Bolts team that is fighting for their playoff lives, and therefore they came out on the short end of the stick in this contest. The loss drops the Caps to 45-14-9 (99 points) and it was the first time they’ve lost at home in regulation in 2010. The Capitals still have a 14 point lead in the Eastern Conference standings since the Pittsburgh Penguins were defeated for the fifth time in five tries this season against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. The Pens have scored just three goals in those five contests so clearly they will want to avoid a potential playoff matchup with New Jersey. Sidney Crosby did score his 45th goal of the season to take the lead, by one, over Alexander Ovechkin in the race for the Rocket Richard trophy. Ovechkin had assists on both Caps goals versus Tampa.

Coming into Friday evening’s game against the Caps, Tampa Bay goalie Antero Niittymaki was 4-0 in his last four outings vs. Washington and #30 did it once again to DC on this night. The net minder held the fort for the Bolts over the first 30 minutes while the Caps fired shot after shot on him, including 12 straight to start the second period. However, all Washington could garner to that point was a Tomas Fleischmann power play one-timer off of a super Ovechkin feed at 16:54 of the opening period. It was the sixth straight game that the Caps opened the scoring.

After Tampa tied it late in the first period (Brandon Bochenski snapper inside the far post), the Caps put on the heat to start the middle stanza but could not score. Then the tide turned after a lazy play by Alexander Semin that gave the Bolts an offensive zone face-off. #28, instead of taking one more stride to get to the red line, shot the puck into the Lightning zone before hitting the mid stripe forcing a tired Washington crew to take a d-zone draw. Nate Thompson won the face-off to Stephane Veilleux and he sent it back to defenseman Matt Walker. Walker’s point blast then deflected off of the skate of Brooks Laich and up past Semyon Varlamov (24 saves), who was down in the butterfly position. The tally gave Tampa life and they started to dominate play for the rest of the period. Less than 4 minutes later another Walker point shot hit off of the elbow of Vincent Lecavalier, who was working hard to get to the front of the net, and it went by Varlamov to make it 3-1. The officials initially waved the goal off, they thought it hit a high stick, but a video review correctly reversed the call on the ice. Washington would add a power play marker by Laich with 8:51 remaining in the contest but despite having the puck most of the way down the stretch they didn’t battle hard enough in front of the Tampa goalie to get a good chance at an equalizer.

“It was probably the best road game we played all year. Not just because we beat Washington. The overall game. They came pretty hard beginning of the second period, first ten minutes, but other than that we were in total control the whole time. Guys played hard. They got two nice power-play goals, but they’ve got all those guys out there, so it’s going to happen. We didn’t get rattled. We played a really good game,” said the Finnish net minder, who the Caps will likely see in Tampa next Saturday night.

Here are my thoughts, analysis, and some quotes from a game that was not very entertaining to watch:

Ovechkin had 1 shot on goal and only two hits. He did have two power play assists but at even strength his line could not get going prompting Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau to move Semin up to replace Mike Knuble in the latter half of this contest. Lightning coach Rick Tocchet credited defenseman Mike Lundin with shutting down the Great #8 but Ovie just didn’t seem his usual self on Friday either.

“He did a really nice job. [Alex] Ovechkin’s the best player in the world. You’ve got [to] play on your toes against him. You can’t play on your heels. Lunds [Lundin] was gapping up well with him. Give Lunds [Lundin] lots of credit. He did a nice job,” said Tocchet on the play of his 6-2, 197 lbs d-man.

The line-up shuffling continued on Friday in an attempt for Boudreau to get everyone game ready for the post season and this iteration resulted in two of the top six Washington defensemen sitting in the press box in Jeff Schultz and John Carlson. Seventh on the depth chart, in my opinion, is in Hershey (Karl Alzner) so John Erskine and Tyler Sloan got some action and neither was very good. Yes, they could use rust as an excuse but it is clear there is a drop off in ability with #4 and #89 compared to the rest of the blue line crew. In addition, Boyd Gordon and Eric Belanger were scratched up front, along with the other standard forward scratch, Quintin Laing. Boudreau said after the game that he has no idea when the shuffling will stop but given that the playoffs are still a month away it does not make sense to have the same five guys sit every game.

Varlamov took the loss in net but the only goal you could conceivably blame on him was the first, and even I won’t go there. The first tally was on a 2 on 1 break as Mike Green got caught at the red line before Varly was beaten on a nice shot by Bochenski. Some will argue he should have come out and challenged more but #40 had to wait to figure out what his lone defenseman, Shaone Morrisonn, was going to do on the play: cut off the pass or take the shooter. #26 was a little hesitant with his decision forcing Varly to hang back a hair too long. But let’s be real, the culprit on goal number one was Green. As mentioned above the second and third goals were both deflections from guys in front of the Caps goalie so putting the loss on #40 seems rather ridiculous to me and the head coach confirmed it afterwards.

“You want to blame that one on the goalie? Come on?!…We got outworked,” finished Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

Outworked is correct and that was the reason Washington lost, plain and simple. Next up for the Capitals are the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday at the United Center at 1230pm on NBC. This should be a good one, except for the commentary from Mike Milbury.

Notes: Forward Eric Fehr had his legs taken out from under him in the second period and he was helped down the tunnel to the dressing room but he later returned, although he didn’t have the same jump he had before that play occurred (and the referees missed a penalty there too). The Caps won the face-off battle, 32-18. Washington was 2 for 4 on the power play while the Bolts failed on their only attempt. Tampa is in 10th place in the East, four points behind 8th place Boston and one point in back of the 9th place Rangers. Tampa forward Steven Stamkos, who has 42 goals and is right on the heels of Crosby and Ovechkin, was held without a point for the first time in 18 contests.

Comments Off

Tags: , , ,

In the Ovechkin vs. Crosby Debate Let’s End the Mudslinging

Posted on 15 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Anyone who watched February 7th’s Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins game on NBC saw a hockey game for the ages. Sidney Crosby, captain of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pens, scored the game’s first two goals only to see Alexander Ovechkin, the two time defending NHL MVP, notch a hat trick and add an assist to propel the Caps to a thrilling, 5-4, overtime victory. Last season the Penguins eliminated the Capitals in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a series many hockey people were waiting to see since Crosby was taken first overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft after the Great #8 was drafted first overall in 2004. It was a tremendous battle with both Ovechkin and Crosby playing at the top of their respective games and the end result had #87′s crew winning out in a seven game marathon.

So with last year’s playoff series of the decade followed by last week’s regular season classic the Ovechkin vs. Crosby rivalry has reached a new pinnacle. Guess what though? Over the next two weeks that discussion is about to go worldwide as Crosy, who is Canadian, is favored to battle Ovechkin’s Russian squad for the gold medal in Vancouver on Sunday, February 28th. It might even go higher in May if these two clubs meet again in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Crosby, after notching a tally in his Valentine’s Day tilt against Nashvillie, has now tied Ovechkin for the NHL goal scoring lead (each has 42 this season) so that will further add fuel to the fire.

Personally, I think the rivalry is great and the fact that people want to argue about Ovechkin vs. Crosby is super for hockey and the NHL much like Gretzky vs. Lemieux turned people onto the game in the 80′s and 90′s. However, with the increasing interest in the NHL could this battle among the players respective camps become an even bigger story approaching the lines of Jack vs. Arnie or Tiger vs. Phil in golf or Manning vs. Brady in the NFL or Yankees vs. Red Sox in baseball or Magic vs. Bird back in the 80′s for the NBA? I’m not sure, because let’s face it, in the United States hockey is not really on the front burner but it is growing in popularity. One place this story is front and center, though, is in Canada. The people of the Great White North absolutely love hockey and with one of their own as a horse in the race naturally most Canadians tend to be in the Crosby camp. I have no issue with that, I will be the first one to tell you that you have to support your country. Crosby, who is a very skilled and fundamentally sound hockey player, was annointed the “next coming of the Great One” when he was very young and most Canadians could not wait until he reached the NHL. They are estactic that he is finally going to play for their country in the 2010 Winter Olympics. I can’t blame any of them for enjoying and taking pride in all of that.

Ovechkin, on the other hand, is a human highlight reel who is clearly the most entertaining player in hockey and arguably one of the best in all of sports today. He is that rare breed of athlete that possesses incredible skill but also has power and can bring the physical play that attracts many to the great game of hockey. Some of the goals he has scored in the NHL are legendary. Let’s be honest, he likely has saved hockey in the Nation’s Capital (granted hockey is a team sport so the other players, the coach, GM, owner, etc. deserve credit too) and even though Washington will always be thought of as a football town and home of some fabulous basketball history, the popularity of Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals has NEVER been greater in its 35 year existence as evidenced by the fact that the Caps now sell out every home game for the first time in their history. Television ratings are through the ceiling and just last week while trying to extend their 14 game winning streak they set another regular season viewing record on Comcast. You want to know how popular Ovechkin is? Many Caps fans are actually going to root for Russia in the Olympics! That seems insane based on what happened in Lake Placid in 1980 but it is true, granted the fact that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the world has dramatically changed since then helps make that much more possible. But still, people in DC rooting for Moscow’s team, who would ever think it? But on Sunday there was host David Gregory of Meet the Press, who is a Caps season ticket holder, asking Vice President Joe Biden about this very topic on the show. Incredible stuff.

Both athletes are fantastic players and are also leaders as evidenced by the fact that each is the team captain of their respecitve clubs. Clearly if you polled all 30 GM’s in the National Hockey League they would say you can build a team around either one of them. But in today’s society where competition is king, and personally I love competition, saying both are great just doesn’t seem to satisfy some people and many are asked to take sides. There is nothing wrong with that, these debates fuel interest in the NHL, and they are fun. I’ve had the very lucky pleasure of watching and interviewing both of them in person. Both are stand up guys who realize they need to talk to the media, who are the conduit to the fans, whether they win or lose on that day. Crosby and Ovechkin are incredibly polished when answering questions and almost always provide a response that is respectful to their opponents. Both players are great, Crosby has a Stanley Cup and Ovechkin has two MVP trophies. Both of those facts will be used in arguments as to why one is better than the other. The Crosby camp will point to their championship while the Ovie supporters say look at the individual hardware he has won. Neither is wrong.

What has gotten me upset about the debate though, is when someone in the media starts supporting one of the two by bashing the other. Given that hockey is fighting to regain its spot in the Big Four, I think it hurts the game when some big time media members take shots at one of the two in order to pump up the other (such as Mike Milbury’s “Hey Ovie, I’m still your daddy” comment in support of Sid after the first period of last Sunday’s game on NBC). Milbury says he was joking but when the game turned the Caps way did he ever make a joke back in support of Ovechkin?

It is okay for fans to do this, because fans are exactly that: fanatics, but for hockey media people to continually go down this route really hurts the game. In a blog I did back in December about the flack Ovechkin was taking from Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry for his style of play, it was pointed out that there was definitely a bias against the Great #8 (see quote from NHL Network analyst Craig Button). I then took Button’s remark a step further and said that the bias was a result of Ovechkin’s nationality and I think that stems from the fact that some Canadians don’t want a non-Canadian to be the centerpiece for what that nation considers to be their sport (although Russians would argue hard on that point, but that is a blog for another time), especially given that the Olympics are in their country this year. It seems that the diatribe against Ovechkin by Cherry, ironically, started 12 months ago with the Winter Games approaching (the former Boston Bruins coach blasted Ovie last February for, of all things, celebrating goals!).

To be fair though, there are MANY Canadians who love Ovechkin. On Washington’s most recent trip to Vancouver last December the Great #8 was reportedly, at that point in time, a bigger story than the event going on there right now. I am a regular listener to Jeff Marek’s daily Hockey Night in Canada Radio show and I can tell you that he is one prominent Canadian media member who is an Ovechkin fan. But Jeff is a Crosby fan too and he gets that promoting both is best for the sport. If you pinned Jeff down in the “who is better” debate, I am sure he would pick one or the other but rest assured, he probably wouldn’t do it by blasting the one he didn’t pick. When Cherry goes on his Ovechkin rants, especially the ones where he says “somebody is going to get him”, he not only shows his bias and looks foolish, but he hurts the game and pushes it more towards the pro wrestling realm. I say, if you want to pick one then argue your case taking a factual or analytical approach, such as:

Crosby is a center while Ovechkin is a left wing so you best build a team up the middle, or

Ovechkin plays more physical and a team needs to have that presence on its club so picking him makes most sense, or

Crosby has won a Stanley Cup so he is number one, or

Ovechkin has won two MVP’s so he is better, etc.

That is the way to debate it because the Ovechkin supporter could say, yeah Crosby has a Cup but that is because Pittsburgh picked in the top five in the NHL Draft five consecutive years in a row (from 2002 to 2006 they picked 5th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, and 2nd, getting Ryan Whitney, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Crosby, and Jordan Staal, respectively) while the Crosby camp could say, well if Sid didn’t have Malkin he would have been the MVP, etc. Keeping it at that level is more civilized then saying Ovechkin is dirty or a showboat or Crosby is a whiner, because in the end, the negativity only hurts hockey.

Let’s face it, hockey fans are a very unique crew and even Caps and Penguins fans or Leafs and Canadiens fans, despite their disdain for each other’s teams, are able to unify in a debate in support of their sport against someone who chooses to bash it (and believe me, in the US it happens often). If those types of fans can do it, then why can’t some of the media, who like to go the player bashing route, do it too? If the media is going to make things better for hockey overall, and it is in the best interest for those who cover the sport to help grow it, then in the Ovechkin vs. Crosby debate shouldn’t we decide to end the mudslinging once and for all? I don’t know about you, but it sure makes sense to me.

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , ,

Ovechkin Gets Hat Trick in OT Comeback Win vs. Pens

Posted on 07 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, who are the highest scoring team in the NHL and came in to today’s contest having potted at least 32 more goals than any other NHL team, surprisingly had gone all 58 games this season without a hat trick by one of their players. Well that streak ended today in dramatic fashion as the best hockey player in the world, Alexander Ovechkin, scored three goals to help the Caps rally from 2-0 and 4-1 deficits and also added an assist on Mike Knuble’s overtime game winner as Washington defeated their archrival Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-4, on national television (NBC) at the Verizon Center. This game, which if not for NBC would have likely been delayed or even moved to Monday because of #Snovechkin, was one for the ages and you can bet that some regular season non-Winter Classic hockey viewer ratings records may be shattered. The Caps have now won an amazing 14 straight contests, improved to a mind boggling 41-12-6 which is good for 88 points, and widened their lead in the Eastern Conference standings to 14 points. Anybody not think this team is for real?

Here are the highlights, quotes, analysis, and more statistics on a streak that is now tied for the 3rd longest in NHL history:

Well we have to start with the Great #8. What a performance today?! Memo to the Penguins: Cheap shotting (see Craig Adams hit from behind in the 1st period that went unpenalized) or trying rough up Ovechkin (see Brooks Orpik all game long) is only going to make him madder and cause you to pay more. Perhaps you should call the Montreal Canadiens about a certain game on January 31, 2008 to find out why you should leave Ovie alone? 

Alexander the Great’s rival, Sidney Crosby, came out hot in this one scoring the game’s first two goals prompting NBC’s Mike Milbury to joke after the first period about Crosby still being Ovie’s daddy. By the end of the Ovechkin dominated 3rd and overtime periods, I still did not hear Mike crack any jokes back at Sid. Perhaps he will say something on HNIC Radio this week when he is on with super host Jeff Marek to save face? I doubt that though, because Milbury is buddies with Don Cherry, who has been overly critical of Ovechkin, so we likely won’t be getting a Crosby joke or a mistake admission by Milbury. The former Islander GM, who made some brutal trades as GM (see Roberto Luongo),  just looks foolish and more biased every time he keeps taking shots at the two-time defending MVP.

The Great #8 credited the crowd for the third period comeback but after Eric Fehr made a superb individual play to make it 4-2 late in the second stanza, Ovechkin took this game over and showed everyone who really is Big Daddy. Alex, with his four point day, has 42 goals and 44 assists this season to lead Henrik Sedin of Vancouver in the scoring race by eight points despite missing eight contests. Crosby is third with 74 points. In the plus/minus category, the Great #8 sits at a league leading +41 while Crosby dropped to +7. The argument to all of this from Crosby and non-Ovechkin fans is that Sid leads in Stanley Cups (1-0) but something tells me the Caps day is coming. By the way, you might as well award Ovechkin with his third straight MVP trophy because the club is 17-1 since he became team captain. Afterwards, the Great #8 was his typical honest and classy self:

“It’s always nice to win, especially when you are a little bit frustrated in the first [period]. Game [didn’t] go well for us right away. It’s nice to come back and win in OT especially. It’s always nice to score goals, especially in this type of big game. They are going to play hard against us. They played great. We made a couple of mistakes and they have very good skill out there.  So we just come here and know that we still have lots of time to come back and score lots of goals. We just go out there and play. [Due to the weather] The crowd wasn’t getting in during the first period. You can see the crowd pushing us in the third period and we just keep going, keep going and it’s pretty sick,” said Ovechkin on the victory, his scoring, the Pens play, and the help his squad received from the fans who fought through the snow for the opportunity to ”Rock the Red.”

 

As for the NBC broadcast, they clearly love the Penguins but hey, so does the NHL because Crosby is Canada’s golden boy. But Ovechkin has numerous fans in the Great White North despite what you might believe based on some select TSN and CBC announcers. NBC pretty much talked the whole time about 87 or 8 and I thought over-discussed the bad travel night the Penguins had getting to DC. Pittsburgh played in Montreal on Saturday afternoon, flew to Newark, New Jersey and landed around 9pm, then endured a nearly five hour bus ride to DC before arriving at 2am Sunday morning. That stunk for them but you couldn’t tell they got little sleep by their fast start. In the 3rd period, however, the Caps took over and some of that could have been Pens travel fatigue. Both Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau addressed the issues with the weather and travel and its impact on arguably the most exciting NHL game this season.

 

“I don’t think [the travel] had anything to do with it. I thought our team had plenty of jump. Our guys felt good. I don’t think it was a factor at all … We had a travel day. Most of these guys have done that quite a bit in their career in the American [Hockey] League or growing up. I don’t think it was at all out of the ordinary for any of these guys. It wasn’t what we expected when they put the schedule together, but it happened and it wasn’t out of the ordinary,” said an admirable Bylsma, who seems to have the perfect demeanor to coach the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

 

“[The snow] hurt us worse, we are out shoveling all day, worrying about who is going to be coming to the game and your focus is not on the game. They skated yesterday and we didn’t have practice so that is why we struggled early,” added Boudreau.

 

Throughout this season, and especially during this history making winning streak, the Caps have dominated third periods outscoring opponents by an incredible 30-6! The question on the Caps, primarily because of the perception that Washington is weak defensively, has been “Can they play the 2-1 game come playoff time?” I think last year’s game seven win over the Rangers proved they can prevail in that type of contest but some will still argue against me. However, I pose this question, what team is best suited to come back from a two or three goal deficit? I say the Caps as they proved in their come from behind win over New York on Thurday and today’s rally against Pittsburgh. To come back you need offense, but you also have to be able to play defense and have good goaltending. The Caps were shoddy, at best, on defense at the beginning of this one but their goalie, Jose Theodore, continues to play his best hockey in a Washington uniform and he kept the team in it until Ovechkin and company could take over.

 

“We were playing pretty bad, the first 10 mintues was the worst our defense has played in so long. But I thought the last half of the game we were really good,” started Boudreau, “Theodore played great. Couldn’t do anything on the first two [goals] I didn’t think, you know [Sidney] Crosby’s goals, and then there were bang-bang goals in front of the net. A sign of a good goaltender to me is when it’s tied at the end or you’re up by a goal and somebody can preserve that one goal lead or preserve it so it gives you an opportunity to win it. And he did. He made some great saves at the end and even when it was 2-0 and 5-on-3 he made that great save and didn’t allow Crosby to make it 3-0. I thought that was very important,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner on his goalie, who won his 10th straight contest making 31 saves.

 

Pittsburgh, despite blowing a three goal lead, still received a point so the day was not a total loss for Bylsma’s squad. In fact, despite some of my complaints with the NBC broadcast, the crew that had the worst day was definitely the referees. Tim Peel and Frederick L’Ecuyer should not be allowed to officiate any playoff games after this one. They had very little pulse on the game and by not acting on some dirty hits allowed parts of this contest to turn into a chippy affair. They made some correct calls but they also missed several things and made some bad ones such as:

 

  • The Adams hit on Ovechkin in the first period that should have been a five minute major for checking from behind. Can you imagine the uproar if Ovechkin had done this? What made it worse was the zebras gave Knuble an instigator penalty, which carried a 10 minute misconduct with it, for going after Adams when a roughing call was more appropriate.
  • Right before Alexander Semin, who did not have one of his better games, was called for a high stick on Sergei Gonchar, a Penguin put a wrestling hold on Brooks Laich without being whistled
  • How do you call 10 minute misconduct penalties on both Nicklas Backstrom (1st liner, +2, two assists) and Tyler Kennedy (3rd liner, at best)? Each should have received no more than two minute minors. Sending them both off for 10 minutes gave a huge advantage to Pittsburgh. These officials clearly were not cognizant of what they were calling and the impact those penalties could have on the game.
  • Semin also took a vicious cross check to his jaw from Evgeni Malkin in the third period that went unpenalized.
  • Jeff Schultz (+3 and a sweet assist to set up an Ovechkin breakaway goal) was whistled by the back referee at center ice for slashing Matt Cooke when #24′s stick clearly broke on its own. What made this call worse, besides the wrong referee signaling the infraction when out of position for the call, was that it gave Pittsburgh a power play in a tie hockey game with just over four minutes remaining. That is bush league officiating there.

More Thoughts & Notes: The Caps, after smoking the Pens in Pittsburgh on January 21 on face-offs, lost the battle at the dot 39-34 on Sunday… Despite Crosby’s two goals, the Penguins top player today was Jordan Staal (two goals, +2, in just under 20 minutes of ice time)… Michael Rupp, who was acquired by Pittsburgh as a free agent from the Devils in the off-season, looked pretty good yet only played a surprising 6:28..Tom Poti and Semin were having poor games, for them, until the 3rd period and OT. Poti assisted on the second Ovechkin goal (what hands by the Great #8 there!) that made it 4-3 and #28 drew the high stick on Orpik that put Washington on the game winning power play (Orpik, according to Corey Masisak, called Semin ”a baby” after the game and said “he has no respect for him”)..Eight times in their 14-game winning streak the Capitals have won despite allowing the first goal, improving to 15-6-2 when their opponent scores first (.652). No other team has won more than half its games in that scenario..when Crosby made it 2-0 in the first period, how many Caps fans flashed back to game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference semi-finals, a contest that Pittsburgh would rout Washington in, 6-2, to advance to the Stanley Cup semi-finals?..Down on the farm in the AHL, the Hershey Bears rallied from a 3-0 hole thanks to a Mathieu Perrault hat trick and an assist en route to a 5-4 victory over the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. D-man Bryan Helmer had the game winner and Semyon Varlamov stopped 26 of 30 shots in a re-hab assigment. The Bears have now won 17 straight home games and 10 in a row overall (22 of last 23 as well). Yes, that is 24 straight combined for the Caps organization at the NHL and AHL levels, WOW!

 

At the end of the day though, this one was about a rivalry that continues to intensify, was magnified in front of a national television audience, and likely stole some thunder from Sunday night’s Super Bowl, which is big for the NHL.

 

“I am pretty excited and I am really excited for hockey that that game was put on TV today. That’s what people pay to see; when superstars shine and there’s tension and excitement and there’s physical play, you can see the passion on both sides. That’s what hockey’s all about,” finished Boudreau.

 

The Caps go for 15 straight on Wednesday night in Montreal.

 

Comments Off

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

Ovechkin Leads Caps over Penguins, 6-3

Posted on 21 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time since May 13, 2009, a blowout loss in game 7 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals faced the Pittsburgh Penguins and despite spotting the Pens with an easy early goal (a Jose Theodore giveaway), the Caps carried the play much of the evening against the home Penguins en route to a 6-3 victory. The Capitals, who were tied at three after two periods, struck for three final stanza tallies. Alexander Ovechkin was dominant in this contest with two goals and an assist and he ran his record as Washington Capitals captain to 8-1. The Great #8 showed everyone in the league that he once again is the NHL MVP tonight, not just for his scoring but because of his two way play. Ovie was fantastic in every zone on Thursday night and you could see he really wanted this one. The victory is Washington’s 5th in a row and they are still in first place in the Eastern Conference at 32-12-6.

Let’s get right to the highlights and analysis:

MVP, MVP, MVP: Check out Alexander the Great’s stats tonight: 2 goals, 1 assist, 8 shots on net, 7 hits, and +2 in 20:39 of ice time. Ovechkin set up Mike Knuble for the Caps first goal, which was key after Theo literally gave the Penguins an easy one to take a 1-0 lead, by abusing defenseman Kris Letang and driving hard to the net. The Great #8′s shot bounced off of former Caps goalie Brent Johnson’s pads and #22 banged it home. Ovie then had a power play goal to tie this one at three in the second period and he finished the deal with an empty net goal. He was all over the ice on Thursday night.

Special Teams Perfect, on paper: The Caps power play (2 for 2) was a huge factor in the win as Ovechkin’s tally on the Capitals first man advantage knotted this one up for the third period and then Nicklas Backstrom’s sweet upstairs goal from in close gave Washington an early 5-3 final stanza advantage. On the penalty kill, the Caps were successful on all four Penguins power plays, although Kris Letang’s goal that made it 3-2 for Pittsburgh, was scored one second after rookie John Carlson came out of the penalty box (Carlson was recalled on Thursday morning to replace an injured Mike Green). It was clear that better ice made for improved passing for the Caps on the power play and they really had the Pens on their heels. Conversely, the Penguins had moments where they were very good on the man advantage but Theodore came up big when he had to, especially on Sidney Crosby early in front with the score 1-0. Overall though, Washington did a good job of keeping the Pittsburgh power play on the perimeter.

Goaltending Edge for Washington: Despite Theo’s stick handling gaffe and the bad rebound goal he gave up that resulted in Nik Johnson’s first goal of the season, #60 (35 saves) was fairly solid in the win. He did have a couple of other instances where he did not control the puck well on shots but the key was he compensated for that by making some big stops at critical junctures in the contest. At the other end, with Marc-Andre Fleury out due to a fractured finger, Johnson (28 saves) got the call for the Pens and after a decent start, I did not think Johnny was very good. His biggest mistake was going down and giving up the short side on Backstrom’s power play goal that cemented this one for Washington. To be fair though, one goal that went by him, Eric Fehr’s tally in the second period, was knocked in past him by his own defenesman, Brooks Orpik.

Winning the Draws: The Caps destroyed the Penguins in the faceoff circle, 41-25, and that helped them control the puck for most of this one. Brendan Morrison was a perfect 8-0 from the dot while Tomas Fleischmann was 11-5. Crosby took 30 face-offs and was a pitiful 10-20.

Defense Strong: Washington’s defense was still strong without their ice time and production leader, Green. I thought all three pairings were strong and even though Karl Alzner was -2 and Jeff Schultz -1, they were good together. They each received a minus on Theodore’s blunder early on and they were the pair on at the end of the Pens power play that resulted in Letang’s goal. The ice time was fairly well distributed with Tom Poti leading the way with 22:27 while Tyler Sloan had the fewest minutes, but he still logged 16:32. I thought Washington’s defenders did a good job of stepping up in the neutral zone and at their own blue line to take away the Penguins speed and transition game. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was likely proud of his so-called “much maligned” D on Thursday night.

Game Winning Goal: Alexander Semin only played 15:42 but his lone point came on a good defensive play followed by an even better saucer pass that sent Fleischmann in on a breakaway. #14 froze Johnson and beat him upstairs to stun the home Penguins just 2:32 into period three. Flash now has 17 goals in just 39 games this season.

Overall, this was a big win for the Caps on enemy ice. It was clear that Washington wanted this one and had their legs from the get go, unlike Tuesday’s tilt against the Red Wings (Theodore won that game). Earlier in the week Boudreau called the three contests against the Flyers, Detroit, and the Penguins as a measuring stick and with a 3-0 record you have to concede that his Caps rose to the occassion, for the most part. Next up are the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The Coyotes, who are coached by former Cap Dave Tippett and are led by goalie Ilya Brzgalov, have had a very good season and will be the fourth tough challenge in just seven days. Phoenix is a good hockey team, but they do not have the recent playoff track record like the Flyers, Wings, and Pens, so Ovechkin and company must try to avoid an emotional let down.

That is it for me tonight, sorry for the lack of quotes, but it has been a long day but a good one for me. The Caps victory was the icing on the cake for the Frankovic family this evening as Christian Edward Frankovic was born today at 4:58 pm at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore. Yes, my son is now officially 1-0 against the Pens, have a great night!

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Mid-July NHL Off-Season Analysis

Posted on 12 July 2009 by Ed Frankovic

This year I have had to wait a little longer to bring you my analysis of the NHL’s free agency signing period, which began on July 1, because with the salary cap not going up drastically for the first time since it was instituted coming out of the lock out in 2005, there are still general managers making moves, as evidenced by the Caps inking of center Brendan Morrison this past Friday night.

Despite the fact that the salary cap increased just $100,000 to $56.8M next season, there are still teams who have been very active and spent a lot of money, such as the Blackhawks, Rangers, Maple Leafs, and Canadiens. However, the interesting thing that is happening this summer that has not occurred in years past is there are some familiar players who have not been signed yet, such as forwards Alex Tanguay (made over $5M last season in Montreal and has had his named bantered about in Nashville) and Maxim Afinogenov (Buffalo), and those guys are running out of time to find a chair before the music eventually stops.

Below is a summary of what several teams have done so far and my thoughts on the impact of those moves. I am including in this analysis any trades and significant 2009 draft choices. In general, my opinion is that the teams that did not spend a lot of money this summer on free agents did well.

Chicago Blackhawks – GM Dale Tallon has been wildly active and his biggest move was the signing of former Detroit Red Wings forward Marian Hossa to a 12-year, $62.8M contract. Hossa has been on the losing end of the last two Stanley Cup Finals and will be playing with his fourth team (Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta) in the last three seasons. They also re-signed some of their current young players giving forward Kris Versteeg a three-year, $9.2M deal and defenseman Cam Barker a three-year, $9.25M extension. 23 year old forward David Bolland, who had 47 points and was +19 in 81 games for the Hawks in 2008-09, also received a five year contract at $3.375M a season. Tallon added forwards Tomas Kopecky ($1.2M) from Detroit and John Madden ($2.75M) from New Jersey. This all comes after the GM inked goalie Cristobal Huet to a four-year deal at $5.625M a season and defensemen Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal at $7.143M a season last summer. The biggest loss was goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who bolted to the Edmonton Oilers, and they also lost forwards Martin Havlat and Samuel Pahlsson in free agency to Minnesota and Columbus, respectively. Chicago went to the Western Conference finals last season before losing to the Red Wings and they should do well in the upcoming regular season, but I have serious doubts about Huet’s ability to carry a team deep into the playoffs. The other big problem for Chicago is after the 2009-10 season they will have to give their two best forwards, Patrick Kane  ($3.725M) and Jonathan Toews ($2.8M), long term contracts with significant raises in order to keep them. Kane and Toews will likely both command around $6M a season. Overall, I don’t like what Chicago did because they spent a lot of money that very well could impact their ability to lock up their two young superstars (Kane and Toews) long-term plus they still have questionable goaltending in Huet.

Montreal Canadiens – GM Bob Gainey came into this summer with 10 unrestricted free agents and five restricted free agents on his roster. To date Gainey has not re-signed any of those 10 UFAs and included on that list were top name players Alexei Kovalev, Tanguay, Mike Komisarek, Robert Lang, and Saku Koivu. All but Tanguay are signed by other teams. Gainey has taken the unorthodox route of over turning his roster via trades and free agency. He traded forward Christopher Higgins to the Rangers for forward Scott Gomez, but at $7.35M over the next five seasons. He then gave $6M a season for five years to Mike Cammallieri (scored 39 goals in Calgary last season) and $5M a season for five years to Brian Gionta (spent his first 7 seasons in New Jersey). To quote an NHL scout, “Gainey basically replaced a bunch of small forwards with a bunch of small forwards.” On defense he lost Komisarek to the Leafs but added Hal Gill from the Penguins for $2.25M a year for two seasons and Jaroslav Spacek from the Sabres for three years at $3.833M a season. He also signed forward Travis Moen (third line player) and journeyman defenseman Paul Mara. Overall, I am not sure what Gainey’s long term plan is as this team has gone from a early round playoff out to one that I see just fighting to get into the post season in 2009-10, at best. If I am a Habs fan I view this off-season as a colossal disaster and with the long term contracts this organization has gotten themselves into I don’t see a bright future any time soon.

New York Rangers – When GM Glen Sather worked in Edmonton he routinely complained about having to manage a small market team. However, Sather always seemed to overcome those problems and annually had the Oilers in contention for the playoffs and often with a decent chance to go deep into them. In 2000 the former great Oilers coach became President and GM of the Rangers and the Blueshirts promptly missed the playoffs their first four seasons despite the fact that the GM took advantage of the large budget afforded him. With the salary cap in place since 2005 Sather would appear to be more constrained but that hasn’t stopped him from getting the Rangers tied up in some outrageous contracts such as the deals given to Gomez, Wade Redden, and Chris Drury. New York was basically in salary cap jail coming into this off-season but thanks to Marcus Naslund retiring and the Gomez trade it looked like Sather might finally be able to back up his statements about giving the younger Rangers players a chance to develop and play. That plan lasted less than a day as Sather couldn’t resist throwing around more money and signed often injured forward Marian Gaborik, formerly of the Minnesota Wild, to a 5 year deal worth $37.5Million. Gaborik, when healthy and motivated, can be one of the best players in the league but the problem is that doesn’t happen very often. Sather also overpaid for former Sabres forward Ales Kotalik (three -year, $9M deal) and former Caps enforcer Donald Brashear (2 years for $2.8M total). Higgins, obtained in the Gomez trade, should do well in New York given that he is a Long Island native. The Rangers also lost Mara, Nik Antropov, and Colton Orr via free agency. I didn’t like the Rangers team last season and I don’t like it for 2009-10 either. The best thing they have going for them is goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who single-handidly took the Caps to a seventh game in the first round of the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs – When Brian Burke took over as GM of the Leafs mid-season in one of the worst kept secrets ever, you knew he wasn’t going to stand pat and just build through the draft. Toronto has a massive fan base,  loads of financial resources, and with that comes the pressure to win right away. Fortunately for Burke he inherited arguably the Leafs best draft pick of the last 10 years in defenseman Luke Schenn (drafted fifth overall in 2008). After that Burke was smart to announce that anyone else was available via trade. The savvy GM then was able to get Thrashers GM Don Waddell to take on defenseman Pavel Kubina and his $5M salary for next season and in return received 1999 first round Atlanta draft pick in Garnet Exelby (he also received Colin Stuart in the deal). Then Burke used the cap room afforded him to sign former Canadiens defenseman Komisarek to a five-year, $22M deal and former Ducks d-man Francois Beauchemin for three years at $3.8M a season. In Tomas Kaberle, Schenn, Komisarek, and Beauchemin the Leafs have a very good top four group of defensemen. The next three best defensemen on the roster are Exelby, Mike Van Ryn and Jeff Finger but those seven total close to $23M in salary cap space so look for Burke to deal another one of that crew either before October or during the season. The Leafs still have the expensive Vesa Toskala (one more season at $4M)  in net but Burke also just signed Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who led Farjestads to the Swedish Elite League championship this past spring, to a one year deal at $810,000. This could turn out to be a major steal in the long run. Of course the Leafs still are weak up front. They drafted forward Nazem Kadri of the London Knights with the 7th overall pick in the 2009 draft and he could turn out to be a first line player, although I have concerns about his size. Overall I think the Leafs really improved their team and you can bet that Burke will continue to make changes. But Leafs fans, who are prone to overestimating their own team, should not even think about a parade on Yonge street any time in the next two seasons, at least. Making the playoffs in 2009-10 would be a major step up for Toronto and with head coach Ron Wilson’s defensive philosophy they could pull it off.

Philadelphia Flyers – Approaching the 2008-09 season trade deadline back in February there were talks that Philadelphia was making a run for a front line defenseman and Jay Bouwmeester of Florida was the name frequently linked to them. Then on the eve of the 2009 NHL Entry draft GM Paul Holmgren sent forward Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Luca Sbisa (Philly’s first round pick in the 2008 draft), their 2009 and 2010 first round draft picks, and a conditional 3rd round pick to Anaheim for defenseman Chris Pronger and forward Ryan Dingle. Next Philadelphia promptly signed the soon to be 35 year old Pronger to a seven year contract extension that averages $4.9M a season. Pronger will count $6.25M against the salary cap in 2009-10 since he is still in the last year of his previous deal. With a big three on defense of Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn the Flyers have an outstanding trio on the backend but they are still weak in net. Holmgrem gave up on free agent goalies Martin Biron and Anterro Niittymaki and signed former Senators goalie (and some would say head case) Ray Emery for one year at $1.5M and the aging Brian Boucher at $925K a season for the next two years. Those moves are head scratchers, if you ask me. The Flyers also added bottom six forward Ian Laperrierre, who can mix it up when needed, for three years at $1.16M a season. Because of salary cap issues the Flyers had to let Mike Knuble go in free agency (Washington). Still on the books is the injury prone and pesky Danny Briere at $6.5M a season for six more years, something Flyer fans can’t be happy about. Overall the Pronger move makes Philly Stanley Cup contenders next season but the price in the long term may be too costly given that they will likely go three years (counting Sbisa) without a number one pick in a salary cap era where building through the draft is a must.

Calgary Flames – Calgary was in such salary cap jail last spring that when they suffered a rash of injuries in March and April they could not field a full team in several games down the stretch which cost them the Northwest Division title and helped put them on their way to a first round playoff exit. GM Darryl Sutter, who is starting to feel some pressure to get his team into at least the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004, took a lot of heat for what some see as salary cap mismanagement. However, Sutter has continued to be aggressive in the off-season and fired coach Mike Keenan and replaced him with his brother and former Devils coach, Brent. Then he pulled off a major coup by trading a third round pick and Jordan Leopold to Florida for the rights to Bouwmeester. Sutter subsequently signed one of the best defenseman in the league to a five year deal at $6.68M a season. To make salary cap room for Bouwmeester they traded defenseman Jim Vandermeer to Phoenix in return for forward Brandon Prust and they didn’t attempt to re-sign Cammalleri. Calgary now has a top four defense of Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf (who struggled under Keenan but should return to top form under his former junior coach at Red Deer in Sutter), Robyn Regehr, and Cory Sarich but it comes at a price of almost $21M in salary cap space. With forwards Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, and Daymond Langkow plus goalie Mikka Kiprusoff accounting for nearly $22.5M in cap space, Calgary is a top heavy team that will need to stay healthy and find the right role players to help them win in the playoffs. Still with the Bouwmeester signing the Flames are a major contender in the Western Conference.

Ottawa Senators – It is never good to be boxed into a corner by a star player but that is exactly what has happened to Ottawa GM Bryan Murray who had to be shocked to hear that superstar Dany Heatley wants to be traded despite counting $7.5M against the salary cap the next five years. Heatley, after playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, began the 2007-08 season with a six year contract extension but he now wants out. Murray, who had to pay Heatley a $4M bonus when he exercised his no trade clause and refused to be moved to Edmonton on July 2nd (despite wanting out of Ottawa), says he will now keep the 28 year old forward to start next season unless he gets a premium deal. Murray did sign Kovalev for two seasons at $5M each and re-signed tough net crashing forward Chris Neil for four years at $8M total. Sens fans are counting on Pascal Leclaire to be the #1 goalie after he was acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline in February. However, the Ottawa defense remains weak with Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips leading the way. Their future totally depends on what happens in the Heatley saga.

Washington Capitals – GM George McPhee said prior to July 1 that the Caps would not be big players in free agency and he was correct. The Caps did sign net crashing forward Knuble for two years at $2.8M a season and potential second line center Morrison for only $1.5M for next season. Those moves aren’t headline grabbers but they are low risk ones that could yield good results. Washington lost 39 year old Sergei Fedorov and underachieving forward Viktor Kozlov to the Russian league but with them went $6.5M in salary cap space. McPhee says the team will continue to build from within. GMGM will likely spend the next couple of months working on a long term deal for Nicklas Backstrom, who at just 21 years old is already one of the top centers in the NHL. The question mark over the next 12 months is what to do with the up and down Alexander Semin. Semin has the talent to be one of the best players in the league but his motivation, at times, and ability to play through injuries has held him back. There is also the danger that Semin could bolt back to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The Caps lost tough guy Brashear in free agency and that is a void in the line-up right now but McPhee seems resolved to going without an enforcer stating recently that you only need one for about 10 games a season. Any deal to unload Michael Nylander and his $4.875M salary cap hit for the next two seasons would be a very good one and unreliable goalie Jose Theodore has one more year in DC at $4.5M unless McPhee can move him, but I don’t see that happening until the 2009-10 trading deadline. The Caps did not spend much money so I see their off-season as a good one that could get better if #92 or #60 is somehow dealt.

Pittsburgh Penguins – The Stanley Cup Champion Penguins won their title and now because of the salary cap are paying the price, especially on defense as Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles) and Gill (Montreal) both left for new deals. The good news is GM Ray Shero convinced forwards Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko to come back for one year at $2M and $1.8M, respectively. However, I was not a fan of the decision to sign restricted free agent Alex Goligoski, an offensive but slow moving defenseman, to a three year deal at $1.833M a season. They also signed defenseman Jay McKee, who was bought out by St. Louis, for one year at $800K. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar is under contract for one more year at $5M but they have the physical Brooks Orpik locked up for five more years at $3.75M a season. Pittsburgh is clearly weaker on defense since the Stanley Cup Finals but their goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, proved to be a big time netminder in the playoffs and with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Chris Kunitz signed for at least three more seasons this club will be contenders for the Cup again unless the injury bug hits hard.

Detroit Red Wings – Could the Wings finally be on the way down? They were beaten in the Stanley Cup Finals by the Penguins, then lost Hossa to the Hawks and Mikael Samuelsson to the Vancouver Canucks. Forward Jiri Hudler, who played well crashing the net for Detroit last season, has signed a disputed contract to play in the KHL plus Kopecky bolted to Chicago with Hossa. So that is four of their top 12 forwards gone, if Hudler isn’t legally dragged back to Motown, but they still have forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Johan Franzen signed under long term deals. Superstar defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom is under contract for just one more year at $7.45M and this could be it for him in the NHL as he will likely either retire or head back to play in Sweden after next season. Chris Osgood is still the #1 goalie for the next two years but he is aging. Basically GM Ken Holland has his work cut out for him but he and draft guru Jim Nill always seem to find good players to plug any holes.

Los Angeles Kings – Signed defenseman Scuderi to a four year, $13.6M deal away from the Pens and also traded defensemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing plus a 5th round draft pick to the Avs for crease crasher Ryan Smyth. If the Kings can get some good goaltending next season (could young goalie Jonathan Bernier finally be ready?), Terry Murray’s young team could make the playoffs.

Vancouver Canucks – Re-signed the Sedin twins (Henrik and Daniel) at $6.1M each for five seasons and inked Samuelsson away from the Wings so they are hoping the Swedish connection works. Goalie Roberto Luongo is under contract for one more season at $6.75M and they have goalie Cory Schneider waiting in the wings in Manitoba of the AHL should they not be able to re-sign the superstar goalie (but if they can’t keep Luongo they might as well pack it in for good). Schneider will spend next season in the AHL again as GM Mike Gillis signed Andrew Raycroft to be the back up at $500K for one season. I can’t see this team going deep in next year’s playoffs as they are currently configured.

Columbus Blue Jackets – Re-signed superstar forward and 2002 1st overall NHL Entry draft selection, Rick Nash, to a eight year, $62.4M contract extension that goes into effect for the 2010-11 season. This move alone saves a franchise that had trouble generating interest until their first ever playoff appearance this past spring. GM Scott Howson also signed third line grinder and former Stanley Cup winner (Anaheim) Pahlsson for three years at $2.65M a season as well as getting Pittsburgh backup goalie Mathieu Garon for two years at $1.2M a season, which seems a little high considering that their #1 goalie will be 2008-09 rookie of the year, Steve Mason, who will count only $905K against the cap the next two years and will receive the bulk of the workload.

As for the rest of the NHL, here are some moves that I like, don’t like, as well as some things to keep an eye on before training camps open in mid September.

Like:

Tampa Bay Lightning – Signed defenseman Mattias Ohlund from Vancouver for seven years at $27.M total. This expensive move is a good one primarily because the Lightning are counting on the Swedish veteran to tutor 2009 first round pick and second overall selection, defenseman Victor Hedman, who also hails from Sweden. With last year’s number one overall pick, Steven Stamkos, and Hedman the Lightning have two players to build around plus they still have team captain Vincent LeCavalier locked up for 10 more years (and the Habs have no salary cap space to try and obtain him).

Colorado Avalance – Signed goalie Craig Anderson at $1.8M a season for two years. The Avs aren’t going to contend next year, especially after Joe Sakic retired, and they traded Smyth so this is a good chance for them to see if Anderson can be a bona fide #1 goalie. The other goalie will once again be the inconsistent Peter Budaj, who was re-signed for $1.25M for next season.

Florida Panthers – They lost Bouwmeester and pretty much gave away any chance they had of making the playoffs next season with that move but I did like the signing of former Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen at three years for $1.2M a season.

Dislike:

Minnesota Wild – Rookie GM Chuck Fletcher did a good thing letting Gaborik hit the open market but giving the often injured forward Havlat a six year, $30M deal was a mistake. Other than goalie Nickas Backstrom I do not like this team’s roster at all as it currently stands.

New York Islanders – This once proud franchise continues to make boneheaded decisions. They have goalie Rick DiPietro signed for 12 more years at a $4.5M annual cap hit yet they decide to sign 39 year old goalie Dwayne Roloson for two years at $2.5M a season????? Does that mean DiPietro is still in bad shape??? Well at least I liked that they selected John Tavares first overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft so Islanders fans will have something to watch and cheer for next season. Too bad they can’t seem to get out of that dump of a building in Uniondale (Nassau Coliseum) but perhaps with Tavares in the fold they can figure out a way to change that?

Things Still to Watch in this off-season:

Boston Bruins – Phil Kessel, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (right after the Caps took Backstrom), is an unsigned restricted free agent whose name was bantered about in a draft day deal that went bad between the Bruins and the Leafs. The Bruins reportedly will re-sign him but they do have some salary cap issues to deal with in order to get the forward who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery inked long term.

San Jose Sharks – Will GM Doug Wilson stand pat after seeing his President’s Trophy winning team get knocked out by the Ducks in the first round of the playoffs? Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been heavily criticized for not delivering in the post season so is Wilson willing to roll the dice on those two guys again next season?

New Jersey Devils – With the reportedly homesick Brent Sutter now hired by the Flames who will GM Lou Lamoriello get to coach his squad next season? As I’ve blogged before, Dave Tippett would be a great fit there but there has been some talk of former Devils forward John Maclean taking over behind the bench.

Phoenix Coyotes – Off the ice the ownership situation is still up in the air and the NHL is trying desperately to keep the team in Arizona. On Saturday Coach Wayne Gretzky finally got involved in a situation that is not looking too good.

Comments Off

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

Caps Name New Assistant Coach: Hershey’s Bob Woods / NHL News

Posted on 23 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Name Assistant Coach

Washington Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau’s named his new assistant coach on Monday and he is a very familiar name to the media and fans: Bob Woods. Woods is fresh off directing the Caps farm team, the Hershey Bears, to the 2008-09 Calder Cup. According to Boudreau, one of the main criteria in the selection was a former defenseman and since Woods is one and is very familiar with the d-men in the organization, especially young players Mike Green, Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson, it helped him a great deal. Also, the fact that he has worked with Boudreau before easily made him the front runner. This is Boudreau’s first chance to put his stamp on a coaching hire since he took over in November 2007. A new head coach in Hershey has not been named yet. Here is the official press release from the Caps:

The Washington Capitals have hired Bob Woods from the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Hershey Bears as an assistant coach, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Woods, 41, served as Hershey’s head coach last season and guided the Bears to a Calder Cup championship in six games against the Manitoba Moose. He was an assistant coach with the Bears and helped current Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau lead the Bears to a Calder Cup title in 2006. Woods was appointed head coach of the Bears when Boudreau was hired by the Capitals on Nov. 22, 2007.

The Leroy, Saskatchewan, native compiled an 83-47-15 (W-L-OT) record in 145 regular season games with Hershey and was 17-10 in 27 Calder Cup playoff games. Prior to joining Hershey as an assistant coach for the 2005-06 season, Woods was the head coach of the ECHL’s Mississippi Sea Wolves from 2001-05 and compiled a 169-94-25 (W-L-T) regular-season record.

Woods was selected in the 10th round, 201st overall in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils. He played 13 seasons of professional hockey, including 10 in the ECHL and was a player/assistant coach with Mississippi from 1998-2001. He was a member of the 1999 Kelly Cup championship team that was coached by Boudreau. The 1998-99 season was the only year that Woods and Boudreau spent together in Mississippi.

He retired from competitive play after the 2001 season and at that time was the ECHL’s all-time leader in games played with 559 (record has since been broken). He also set an ECHL record on March 14, 1998, as a member of the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks when he fired 17 shots on goal against the Louisiana IceGators. Woods was named second team defenseman on the ECHL’s 15th anniversary team in 2003 and was also named second team defenseman on the Hockey News’ 50th anniversary All-ECHL team in 1997. He scored 176 points in 209 games with Mississippi and the Sea Wolves retired his number in October 2002.

Woods also played for Hampton Roads, Johnstown and Mobile in the ECHL and for Hershey, Portland and Utica in the AHL. He won the 1997 Calder Cup with Hershey, making him involved in the organization’s last three Calder Cups. He is the only player in Hershey’s 71-year history to win a Calder Cup as a player, assistant coach and head coach.

COMMENT: Having interviewed Woods on several occasions since last summer I think this is a good move. Boudreau should be able to bring in someone he is very comfortable working with since he inherited current assistant Dean Evason and former assistant coach Jay Leach. Woods is a very personable and sharp guy and the Caps need someone to help them with their defense, especially the young players. The fact that Woods won the Calder Cup this spring made it easier for him to leave and his goal was to get to the NHL and someday he hopes to be a head coach in the league.

Other Caps Tidbits

The NHL draft is this weekend in Montreal. Round 1 is on Friday night and will be shown on Versus starting at 7pm. Rounds 2-7 are on Saturday starting at 10am on the NHL Network. The Caps currently having the 24th pick in the first round. By the way, for a nice preview of the draft the Caps Media Relations website, Welcome to the Show, has a ton of information. So thanks to Nate Ewell, Paul Rovnak, and their staff for making it accessible to the media and fans.

Also, McPhee said today that he does not think the Caps will be participating in the Winter Classic on January 1, 2010 in Boston. Word has it that the Philadelphia Flyers will be chosen because NBC pushed for them instead of the Caps. The NHL apparently wanted Washington in the game because of the Alex Ovechkin factor – he draws lots of fan interest. Personally I think NBC is making a huge mistake choosing the Flyers over the Caps but the NHL has made a deal with the devil in NBC and are stuck with them.

NHL News

The Calgary Flames still have not named a head coach yet but all signs point to GM Darryl Sutter hiring his brother, Brent (coached the Devils the last two years), to take over for the fired Mike Keenan. I first brought you this scenario in this blog. While I think Sutter will do a good job, I believe the better hire for Calgary would be to go with Dave Tippett, the former Capitals player who was recently fired in Dallas by new GM Joe Nieuwendyk. I spoke with an NHL scout this week who is very familiar with Tippett and he says he is a good man and a good coach. If Calgary doesn’t hire the former Cap, and it looks like Brent Sutter is their man, some NHL team would be wise to snag him up. As much as I wouldn’t like to see this because he would contend with the Caps, Tippett would be a GREAT fit in New Jersey. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello is still without a head coach since Sutter resigned after New Jersey lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round. Former Devil player and current assistant coach John Maclean has been linked to the job by some media outlets.

Tippett made the playoffs in each of his first five seasons before missing this past year. He led the Stars to two division titles and took Dallas to the Western Conference Finals in 2007-08 before losing to Detroit. However, Tippett was stuck with having to deal with Sean Avery after co-GM’s Brett Hull and Les Jackson signed the whacky forward despite protests from Tippett and several top players including Mike Modano, Brendan Morrow, and Marty Turco. Avery, as everyone now knows and I warned about in this blog last summer, wrecked the Dallas locker room. Tippett not only had to deal with the Avery situation but also a season ending ACL injury to Morrow in November after the team captain only played 18 games plus the Brad Richards wrist injury in February. The Stars turned things around for awhile despite the distractions and injuries but ended up finishing in 12th place, eight points out of the playoffs. I think Nieuwendyk made a huge mistake by letting Tippett go. There will be a GM who will get smart and hire Tippett, at some point, and end up looking like a genius.

Back to the NHL draft, I still think the New York Islanders should take London Knights forward John Tavares with the first overall pick in the 2009 Entry draft on Friday night. The next two projected best players are defensemanVictor Hedman of Sweden and forward Matt Duchene of the Brampton Battalion. However, former Flames GM Craig Button (now with the NHL Network) believes the Isles should pick Hedman because New York needs a top defenseman to go up against guys like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Ovechkin on a regular basis. Another draft eligible defenseman that I really like is Spokane’s Jared Cowan, who won the Memorial Cup in 2008 and looked like a sure top five pick until he injured his knee last winter. Cowan is big (6′ 5″ and 220 lbs.) and could really skate before his knee injury so it will be interesting to see if he remains a high pick despite possible questions on his health.

This will be an interesting draft weekend as it seems to be one of the few times during the year that trades actually occur. I would not be surprised if McPhee makes a deal to get the Caps either a second line center or a physical defensemen. To me the bigger need right now is a second line center since Michael Nylander appears done and Sergei Fedorov is an unrestricted free agent. The Pittsburgh Penguins are loaded at center with Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal so to compete with them next season Washington needs to get better up the middle of the ice.

Comments Off

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Ovechkin Should Win Hart; Caps Re-sign Laing; Caps Re-Runs Air Next Week

Posted on 17 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

NHL Award Show in Vegas

Alexander Ovechkin has already won the Richard Trophy for the leading the NHL in goals (56) during the 2008-09 season and on Thursday night in Las Vegas the Great #8 will seek to add the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) and Pearson Award (NHL’s most outstanding player as voted by fellow members of the NHL Players Association) to his trophy collection. I’m not in Vegas to wager on this but my money is on Ovechkin to capture both awards over Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh and Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit.

Mike Green, who told the Washington Post and Washington Times yesterday that he was suffering from an undisclosed illness in addition to shoulder trouble in the playoffs and that he would take better care of himself next season, is up for the Norris Trophy against Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit and Zdeno Chara of Boston. Green had an incredible regular season scoring 31 goals and adding 42 assists in just 68 games plus he broke the NHL consecutive game goal scoring streak by defensemen with tallies in eight straight contests. My money is on Chara to win this one ever so closely over Green. By the way, if you follow my blogs then you know that “the mysterious illness” Green likely suffered from was mononucleosis as reported by Bruce Boudreau on TSN earlier in the month (you can read that blog here).

Also, for those interested in watching the award show with a bunch of Caps fans, my fellow bloggers and all around good guys John Press (Japers Rink) and Greg Wyshynski (Yahoo’s Puck Daddy) are hosting a party at Bailey’s Pub and Grill in Ballston Mall. For info on it click here. It sounds like it will be a great time and these guys know hockey and are both very personable.

Caps Re-Sign Quintin Laing

The Capitals re-signed penalty killing and shot blocking specialist Quintin Laing to a one-year contract today. It is a two-way contract in that Laing’s pay is based on whether he is up with Washington or down with Hershey in the AHL. Here is the press release from the Caps great PR staff:

The Washington Capitals have re-signed left wing Quintin Laing to a one-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Laing, 30, played one game for Washington last season. He was recalled by the Caps from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League on March 19 and played the entire game (10:19) at Tampa Bay despite suffering a torn spleen on his second shift in the first period. Laing ended the game with a +1 rating.

The 6’2”, 210-pound native of Rosetown, Saskatchewan, spent most of the season with the Calder Cup champion Bears. He tallied 25 points (9g-16a) in 55 regular-season games before his recall. Laing missed more than two months with his spleen injury, but he returned to the Bears during the Calder Cup playoffs and had two goals and two assists in nine games.

Laing was drafted by Detroit in the fourth round of the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, 102nd overall. He has played in 43 career NHL games (40 with Washington and three with Chicago) and has one goal and six assists. He was signed by Washington as a free agent on July 18, 2006.

Caps Re-Runs Next Week

Want something good to watch on television next week? I suggest you turn into Comcast to catch the replays of 5 Caps classic games from this past season. You can see Alexander the Great rally Washington over the Rangers in Madison Square Garden in December, then see the Great #8 score his goal of the year against Montreal in February, next catch games 5 and 7 of the Caps-Rangers series, and close it out with the Caps Game 6 win over the Penguins in overtime. Here is the lineup courtesy of the Caps PR department’s blog, Welcome to the Show (click here):

The below games air during Caps Week, June 22-27. All games begin at 7 p.m. following Geico SportsNite.

June 22, Capitals at Rangers: Biggest Comeback in Team History (12/23/08)

Alex Ovechkin and Shaone Morrisonn led the team to this incredible come-from-behind victory, the team’s first in Madison Square Garden in five years.

June 23, Canadiens at Capitals: Ovechkin Shines in Capitals Shootout Victory (2/18/09)

The Capitals took the shootout victory as Ovechkin tallied one of the most amazing goals of his career.

June 25, Rangers at Capitals: Game 5 of the First Round Series (4/24/2009)

Down 3-1 in the first round, Matt Bradley scored twice and Simeon Varlamov posted another shutout.

June 26, Rangers at Capitals: Game 7 of the First Round Series (4/28/2009)

With a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line, Varlamov led the team to a Game 7 victory.

June 27, Capitals at Penguins: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals (5/11/2009)

Facing elimination again this postseason, Dave Steckel led the team to overtime victory to force a Game 7.

If Comcast had televised Game 2 of the Penguins series instead of Versus Caps fans likely would have be getting the Great #8′s hat trick in which Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby complained to the referees about a “second wave” of hats coming down on the ice.

No, I’m still not happy about the Penguins Stanley Cup victory and apparently neither is Boudreau or several Caps according to this post. Ataboy Bruce!

Comments Off

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

Hershey Bears Calder Cup Champions; Penguins win Stanley Cup (Updated)

Posted on 12 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears are the Calder Cup Champions after knocking off the Manitoba Moose, 4-1, in game six of their series tonight in Winnipeg. Hershey blitzed Moose goalie Cory Schneider for three goals in the first period and never looked back. Rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, who won the Jack A. Butterfield trophy for AHL playoff MVP, made 24 saves to get the win.  Andrew Gordon, Chris Bourque, Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin scored for Hershey. Congrats to the Bears and the Washington Capitals organization!

Revenge is a dish best served cold if you are a Penguins fan tonight as Pittsburgh held off a furious Red Wings rally to win the Stanley Cup in exciting fashion, 2-1, to avenge last season’s Stanley Cup Finals loss to Detroit. Hockey fans will be watching the incredible Marc-Andre Fleury save on Nicklas Lidstrom with one second left for years to come. Evgeni Malkin was the Conn Smythe Award Winner for Playoff MVP but in my mind, the Pens aren’t anywhere without Sidney Crosby (who was injured in game 7 and barely played after that). Crosby carried this team in the first two rounds, especially against the Caps, and he goes against the opponents best defensive group every game while Malkin gets the second unit.

In Detroit tonight, defenseman Brad Stuart is wearing the goat horns for taking the first penalty (slashing Malkin), then giving the puck away that allowed Maxime Talbot to make it 1-0 Pens, and then pinching at the blue line to set up a two on one for Pittsburgh that they, of course, scored on (Talbot again). I’ve been saying this all playoffs and will say it again – the Penguins are about as good a team as I’ve ever seen at converting two on one breaks.

Btw, please check out my on air discussion with Nestor today in the WNST audio vault (http://wnst.net/wordpress/section/audio/) for my pre game thoughts on the NHL and AHL finals.

For Caps and Baltimore sports fans it was tough seeing Pittsburgh win another trophy but given that the Caps lost two contests in OT to the Pens before bowing out in 7 games should make you and the entire Caps organization realize that they are very close to their first ever Stanley Cup victory. With some salary cap room freeing up from the Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov departures (and hopefully a Michael Nylander release too), Caps GM George McPhee should finally have some cap space to make the moves he needs to put Washington over the top. There is lots of talent in this organization in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL (the Caps team down there, the South Carolina Stingrays, won the Championship as well).

The NHL Awards show is next week from Las Vegas (Alexander Ovechkin should win the Hart Trophy for MVP and Mike Green is up for the Norris Trophy (best defenseman)), followed by the NHL draft the week after in Montreal (June 26 on Versus), and then free agency begins on July 1 so the NHL off-season will start fast and furious.

Congrats again to Coach Bob Woods and the Hershey Bears on their championship!

Comments Off

Tags: , , , ,

Friday Night Hockey Blog: Bears News, Stanley Cup Analysis, and Other Hockey Stuff

Posted on 05 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Hershey Tied with Manitoba

The Hershey Bears lost a heartbreaker Tuesday night in Winnipeg to the Manitoba Moose giving up the winning goal with less than a minute to go in regulation. The Moose would add an empty netter to close out the Bears, 3-1, in game two to tie this best of seven series at one game a piece. The next three games are in Hershey on Saturday, Sunday, and Tuesday. If either the Bears or Moose don’t sweep the three contests then the series goes back to Winnipeg for games 6 and 7 (Friday, June 12th and Sunday, June 14th). I’ll be covering games 4 and 5 so please look for blogs after those contests with quotes from players, coaches, and possibly even Caps personnel (GM George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau will be in attendance).

Meanwhile, some good news out of Hershey today as defenseman Karl Alzner participated fully in practice for the first time since he was injured in the second round of the playoffs against Wilkes-Barre Scranton (Penguins farm team). Tim Leone of the Patriot News has a good write-up on today’s practice at http://blog.pennlive.com/patriotnewssports/2009/06/defenseman_karl_alzner_concuss.html.

Forward Oskar Osala (Caps 4th round choice, 97th overall in 2006 NHL Entry Draft) has had a very good regular season with the Bears notching 23 goals, 14 assists and was +11 in 75 games and in the AHL playoffs he has continued to play well scoring six goals and four assists in 18 games while going +8. Osala had two goals in Hershey’s thrilling Calder Cup Finals game 1 victory, 5-4, in overtime. Check out yesterday’s chat transcript with the 6′ 4″ and 220 pound left winger at http://www.theahl.com/headlines/index.html?article_id=10177. Osala confirms, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, that he needs to improve his skating if he is to consistently play in the NHL.

Also, John Walton, who is Senior Manager of Communications for the Bears and is the team’s radio play-by-play voice, posted a nice blog on the Calder Cup finals travel situation at http://johnwaltonhockey.blogspot.com/2009/06/thursday-thoughts-heading-to-game-3.html. Neither team seems to have gained any advantage over the other based on their respective long journey’s from Winnipeg this week.

For those who don’t know much about the Moose, they are the AHL farm team for the Vancouver Canucks. One of their most familiar NHL prospects is their goalie, Cory Schneider, who came up to the big club back in late November when superstar Roberto Luongo went down with a groin injury. Kelly Hrudey of Hockey Night in Canada Radio thinks that Schneider (Vancouver’s 1st round draft choice in 2004, 26th overall) is the real deal and will one day be a regular starter for an NHL team. This year Schneider went 28-10 in the regular season for Manitoba and is 13-4 in the current playoffs. The 23 year old net minder, who was 2-4-1 in eight appearances with the Canucks, is an American born in Massachusetts and he played at Boston College for three seasons. Their other top prospects are 19 year old center Cody Hodgson, who was a first round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry draft (10th overall), and 21 year old right wing Michael Grabner, who was also a first rounder in 2006 (14th overall).

The Moose are a much older bunch than the Bears with some familiar hockey names like 42 year old Mike Keane (current team captain who won Stanley Cups with Montreal, Colorado, and Dallas), 34 year old Jason Krog (22 goals in 220 games at the NHL level), 33 year old defenseman Nolan Baumgartner (Caps first round pick in 1994, 10th overall), and 27 year old forward Michal Ouellet (played for the Penguins, Lightning, and Canucks).

Winning this series will be a tough task for Hershey because of Manitoba’s experience.

Stanley Cup Finals Analysis

As I predicted in this blog on Monday night, the Penguins were victorious in game three and put themselves back in the series. Thursday night, Pittsburgh took things another step further by striking for three goals in five minutes in the second period to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead and eventual victory. The Pens power play is a blistering 4 for 9 in the Stanley Cup Finals while the Red Wings went 0 for 4 in game four and gave up a short handed tally to Jordan Staal that tied the game at two. That play seemed to be the turning point in the series as Staal badly undressed Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski en route to the goal that got Mellon arena rocking and gave the Pens some serious momentum.

I am not happy about saying this but right now Pittsburgh looks like the better team, especially with 2008-09 Hart Trophy finalist Pavel Datsyuk still out with a foot injury for Detroit. Chris Osgood, who was outstanding in goal in games one and two gave up some softies in the next two contests at the Igloo while his counterpart in net, Marc Andre-Fleury, turned in superb performances in Pittsburgh. Game five is Saturday night at 8pm on NBC.

Home ice has been a real advantage in this series because the host coach gets to put his players out on the ice second and that worked well for Wings coach Mike Babcock in Detroit when he was able to put top defensive pair Nicklas Lidstrom and Rafalksi out against Sidney Crosby. In Pittsburgh, head coach Dan Bylsma had the last change and he had the luxury of putting either Crosby or Evgeni Malkin’s line out against the players he desired. Malkin leads the NHL playoffs in scoring with 35 points but right now Crosby is my Conn Smythe winner for playoff MVP. His passing has been incredible and it seems every time he is involved in an odd man rush the Penguins score. He rivals Wayne Gretzky for scoring efficiency on two on one breaks, in my opinion.

I think the game five winner takes the Stanley Cup and if I was in Vegas would wager on the Pens at this point, despite my pre-series pick of Detroit in six games. Pittsburgh appears faster and they continue to do a very good job of protecting the front of their net, something I thought they might have more trouble with against the Wings.

Other Hockey News

The Colorado Avalanche have hired former Capital, Joe Sacco, to be their head coach next season. Sacco played three seasons (1999-2002) in DC.  The Avs, once one of annual members of the NHL elite, have been a mess the last several seasons. Ian Ceverny, who covers Colorado for the Denver Examiner, has an interesting read on this situation at http://www.examiner.com/x-7651-Denver-Page-One-Examiner~y2009m6d5-Avalanche-tab-Sacco-as-next-fall-guy. Still no word on whether soon to be 40 year old Joe Sakic will be back with the Avalanche in the fall.

Finally, I had mentioned in one of my blogs recently that an NHL scouting director told me that the best head coach available but not behind an NHL bench was Jim Playfair. Playfair, who is extremely loyal to Flames GM Darryl Sutter, has been named head coach of the Flames farm team, which just moved recently from Iowa to British Columbia. You can read the story at http://theahl.com/news/league/index.html?article_id=10179

Comments Off