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The 10 Greatest Washington Capitals Games

Posted on 01 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Awful Opening Period Dooms Caps in Loss to Flames

Posted on 28 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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My Version of Hockey’s 30 Thoughts

Posted on 27 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Theodore Leads Caps Over Pens in Shootout

Posted on 25 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

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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.

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