Tag Archive | "Fedorov"

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Caps, Bears, Red Wings, and Other Hockey Things

Posted on 02 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps News

For those who missed it, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was on TSN’s Off the Record with Michael Landsberg last week and the biggest news out of the interview, which ranged from the steroid allegations against the Caps to the overblown topic (and I thought dead) of Alexander Ovechkin’s 50th goal celebration in Tampa, was that Washington defenseman Mike Green is believed to have mononucleosis. Thus the so-called “flu” we heard as a reason for #52′s subpar play early in the playoffs is apparently more serious. And given that Green re-injured his shoulder in the Rangers series it is likely that the lack of energy he was feeling from that illness helped contribute to the shoulder situation. What is the bottom line in all of this? Green, who is only 23 years old, needs to take better care of himself in the future.

Another interesting thing in that interview was Landsberg mentioned that Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov were signed to play in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League next season, meaning they will no longer be Capitals. Boudreau didn’t contest the statement nor react to it indicating either the pair is definitely gone next season or he is just leaving that issue for General Manager George McPhee (who is in charge of team personnel) to handle.

Last bit of Caps news before moving on to discuss the Calder Cup, here is a link for the latest update on the steroid allegations that were made by Richard Thomas against Washington last week: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/news/story?id=4220886

Bears News

The Hershey Bears went into a sold out (15,003) arena in Winnipeg last Saturday night and stunned the Manitoba Moose, 5-4, in overtime in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals. Alexandre Giroux had a hat trick, including the game winner, and continues to show why he was the MVP of the American Hockey League (AHL) this past season. Game 2 is on Tuesday night at 830pm. You can watch it live on the internet via http://www.theahl.com/ for only $8. Games 3 through 5 are in Hershey on Saturday, Sunday, and then next Tuesday.

In game 1, the Bears took too many penalties giving the Moose 10 power plays to only 5 for Hershey. In addition, Manitoba’s Matt Pope had a penalty shot 14:14 into the second period with the Moose up 3-1, but Hershey rookie goalie Michael Neuvirth came up big with the save. Manitoba also had a two minute 5 on 3 power play in the final minutes of regulation but could not score. Neuvirth made 26 saves on 30 shots but two of the goals he gave up were on breakaways. Oskar Osala, who has NHL potential, had the other two goals for the Bears.

If you haven’t yet seen the incredibly exciting highlights from game 1 click here: http://ahl.neulion.com/team/console.jsp?catid=2&id=2242

Stanley Cup Finals Analysis

The Detroit Red Wings held serve at home this past weekend to take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals with game 3 scheduled for Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. Much was made, especially by Detroit, of the schedule change that moved the series up for NBC and had the two teams playing on back to back nights in prime time. Many people felt that favored the younger Penguins but the defending Stanley Cup Champions persevered.

Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom returned from a lower body injury and helped to hold Penguins star Sidney Crosby scoreless through the first two games. #87 has been as good as you can be without scoring a point and he had five shots on net in the loss on Sunday night. Crosby has been all over the ice and Wings goalie Chris Osgood, who is a big reason why this series is in favor of Detroit so far, has robbed the superstar on several occasions. Crosby also set up winger Bill Guerin for some “layups” yet #13 has either hit the post or been denied by Osgood.

For some strange reason Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma decided to go back to dressing 12 forwards on Sunday night (he had been going with just 11 since early in the Caps series) inserting the supersoft Pascal Dupuis, who’s turnover to Marian Hossa led to Detroit’s go ahead goal, instead of giving extra ice time to Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (who has been flying around the rink as well). Dupuis tried to blame Hossa for breaking his stick on the play and wanted a penalty. I still haven’t seen where Hossa broke #9′s stick, in fact, it looked to me like Dupuis broke it on Hossa. Regardless of that, if Dupuis was stronger and had more heart he gets the puck out of the zone before his stick breaks. He belongs in the press box, if you ask me.

Crosby and Malkin seem to be the only guys who have really shown up for Pittsburgh and goalie Marc Andre-Fleury displayed in both games that he is definitely the weak link on that team. The goal he gave up off of the backboards in game 1 to Brad Stuart was horrible and the two goals he has given up to Justin Abdelkader (Red Wings 2nd round pick, 42nd overall in 2005 NHL Entry draft) were soft ones. Abdelkader only played two regular season games with Detroit this year as he spent most of his time in the AHL for Grand Rapids (Wings farm team). Detroit’s depth has been another reason they are up two games to none since they have had to play without Hart trophy finalist, Pavel Datsyuk, in those contests.

I still think the Penguins can get back in the series because they have dominated portions of the first two games. However, goaltending and experience (players and coaching) seem to be decidedly in Detroit’s favor. I do expect the Pens to win game three but if they don’t it is time to start the engraving process for the Red Wings and plan the Cup parade and parties.

Finally, a good piece here ( http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/Malkin-Non-Suspension-The-embarrassment-continu?urn=nhl,167172 ) by Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski on the instigator rule and the various ways it has been interpreted since enacted by the NHL head shed in New York.

NHL News

Wild news out of Montreal today as current Florida GM Jacques Martin, who had four more years left on his contract as Panthers GM, stepped down to become head coach of the Canadiens. I have criticized Martin’s poor managing ability in this blog before and you combine that with the word that the Panthers owners are looking to sell the team and you see why the former Ottawa Senators coach wants to get back behind the bench. Martin is a good coach but he has his work cut out for him in one of the toughest cities to work in pro sports.

Former NHL star Joe Nieuwendyk has been named GM of the Dallas Stars since owner Tom Hicks, as I mentioned in this blog before, is holding former co-GM’s Les Jackson and Brett Hull accountable for the Sean Avery debacle. Jackson is going back to scouting and pro player personnel while Hull is being moved to an executive VP position and out of personnel management. This seems like a smart move by a man who sources have told me doesn’t mind spending money but does not like to waste it (and that is exactly what happened in the Avery debacle).

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Caps Making Changes Already / NHL News

Posted on 26 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Busy Caps Day

Lots of news out of the Nation’s Capital today as the Washington Capitals have announced that assistant coach Jay Leach, after five years with the club, will not return next season. Assistant Coach Dean Evason and goaltending coach Dave Prior, however, will be back working for Head Coach Bruce Boudreau in 2009-10. For anyone who followed this blog and the news from Caps breakdown day after Washington’s game seven loss to the Penguins you knew this type of change was coming as both Boudreau and GM George McPhee did not come out and say immediately that the coaching staff would remain intact. Evason did a good job leading the special teams this season, especially with the power play, and Prior has the quick development of young goalies Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth in his corner. Leach, however, was in charge of the defensemen and this group struggled off and on in the regular season and did not do a good job in the Pittsburgh series. As mentioned in this blog before, the Caps were a team that did not play well away from the puck (this analysis came to me from a former NHL assistant coach) and defense was where they were the most deficient in that category. Therefore, it makes sense that Leach will not be back.

It will be interesting to see who Boudreau and McPhee target to come in and help a very young team learn how to play better in their own zone, something that is critical if they want to win the Stanley Cup. The difference between the Caps and the Penguins in round two was Pittsburgh’s ability to prevent the Caps from getting to their net while the Pens did not have those type of problems against Washington.

Next on the news front are unconfirmed reports that forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov are working on contracts to play next season in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Versus, in tonight’s pregame session, reported that Kozlov has been inked already but according to reports from Tarik El-Basir of the Washington Post, McPhee did not confirm any signings for Kozlov or #91 yet. While I am not suffering any heartburn with #25 leaving because it frees up $2.5M of salary cap room for McPhee to use on another forward who goes to the net on a consistent basis, I would be disappointed if Fedorov left. The three time Stanley Cup winner has said he wants to return to the Caps next season and he has been the best influence on Alexander Semin that this organization has ever had. However, if Fedorov wants in excess of $2.5M then I think McPhee needs to pass on the great Russian forward (Fedorov made $4M this past season and played only 52 games but he did close out the Rangers series with his blistering blast by Henrik Lundqvist).

Finally, McPhee also announced today that the Caps have signed undrafted free agent center Jake Hauswirth to a three-year entry-level contract. Hauswirth, 21, is a 6’5”, 210-pound native of Merrill, Wis., who has spent the last two seasons with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). He scored 28 goals and added 24 assists (52 points) in 58 games this season, tied for the team lead in goals and was fourth in points. He led all Lancer forwards and was second on the team with a +16 plus/minus rating. Hauswirth helped lead Omaha to the USHL championship as a rookie in 2007-08, recording 13 goals and 10 assists (23 points) in 57 games. He participated in the Capitals’ development camp last summer and was one of the surprise standouts of that week long session. When I watched him play last July he had a knack for making big plays and the puck seemed to follow him around. Jake will be in attendance at this summer’s camp as well and a spot in Hershey next season seems like a possible fit.

NHL News

More coaching news today as the Edmonton Oilers have hired Pat Quinn as head coach and former Rangers head coach, Tom Renney, as an assistant coach. Craig MacTavish, who coached the Oilers since 2000, was fired after Edmonton missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Quinn, who worked with current Oilers GM Steve Tambellini in Vancouver, has coached the Flyers, Kings, Canucks, and Leafs as well as leading Canada to the gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Renney joins the Oilers after five seasons as Head Coach of the New York Rangers. The Cranbrook, British Columbia native began his tenure with the Rangers organization as Director of Player Personnel before being promoted to Vice-President of Player Development in 2002. Renney was appointed Head Coach with 20 games left in the 2003–04 season. He led the Rangers into the postseason in each of his first three campaigns following the 2004–05 NHL lockout.

Renney began his coaching career in 1990-91 with the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers. He guided the Blazers to consecutive President’s Cup championships as WHL champions and captured a Memorial Cup title in 1992. During his two seasons with the Blazers, he compiled a .714 winning percentage (101-37-6), which ranks first in CHL history. The coach is a very personable guy and was well liked by the New York media.

Very sad news out of Toronto tonight as Peter Zezel, a center who played 15 NHL seasons after breaking into the league with the Philadelphia Flyers as a teenager, has died. He was 44. Zezel struggled with the rare blood disease hemolytic anemia for the past 10 years and died on Tuesday. Zezel suffered from the ailment off and on, but had rebounded after being in critical condition in 2001. He was admitted to the hospital last week for scheduled surgery, but complications developed and his condition worsened.

“Peter will forever be remembered as a great teammate and a wonderful individual who touched the lives of many both on and off the ice,” Zezel’s family said in a statement released by the National Hockey League Players’ Association. “In his typical character of generosity, Peter donated his organs through the Trillium Gift of Life Network.”

The gritty center was known on the ice for his strong two-way game. In 873 NHL games with Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, Toronto, Dallas, New Jersey and Vancouver, Zezel had 219 goals and 389 assists. His matinee idol looks also earned him a small role in the 1986 hockey-based movie “Youngblood” that starred Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.

Zezel was born in Toronto and played junior hockey with the Toronto Marlies before the Flyers chose him with the 41st pick in the 1983 draft. He made his NHL debut in 1984 when he was 19. Zezel was a great face-off man and a good team guy. He played for the Caps for 20 games in the 1990-91 season before being traded to the Leafs. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Zezel family.

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NHL Referees Under Scrutiny/ News from Caps Breakdown Day / NHL Playoffs / Memorial Cup Thoughts

Posted on 16 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

NHL Referees Under Scrutiny

We have seen three playoff game sevens take place in the National Hockey League this week and some of the big time hockey commentators are taking issue with penalty calls in both the Caps-Penguins game on Wednesday and then the Ducks-Red Wings game on Thursday. Don Cherry, Mike Milbury, and Ron MacLean, all of Hockey Night in Canada, have each separately blasted the slashing call on Shaone Morrisonn that led to the opening power play goal by Sidney Crosby in game 7 on Wednesday night. In fact, on Thursday afternoon (the day after the game) during the Hockey Night in Canada Radio broadcast on Sirius 122, MacLean was still adamant that what #26 did was not a penalty. MacLean, who was on air with host Jeff Marek and guest Paul Stewart (former NHL referee), went into great detail on why it should not have been called a penalty. Cherry and Milbury both said between periods of the game on Wednesday that the call had too much influence on the outcome of the game.

Then on Thursday night both Versus commentators, Keith Jones and Brian Engblom, took issue with the slashing call  made on the Ducks Ryan Getzlaf on Tomas Holmstrom that led to the first goal of that contest for the eventually victorious Red Wings.

Clearly slashing penalties, which seem to have gone up in correlation with the number of broken sticks (and that has increased due to these new flimsy and supposedly technologically advanced products), are one thing that needs to be looked at before next season. I asked both Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee about this today at Caps breakdown day.

“This is a really tough game to officiate, I think we have to say that, there is so much going on out there, it is so fast, it is not easy to officiate. What you want them to do is officiate and not try and manage the game and let each game take on its own identity and officiate it. I, like other managers and commentators, worry about some of the penalties that are called. And the first penalty the other night [on Morrisonn], for example, eight minutes left in the first period, there is no score, you got a player on their team that is trying to dump it in at our blue line. Our defenseman comes over and takes a hack at him, the puck goes in our end, that player is going off on a line change, his stick was broken, he drops it, and the referee calls it a penalty. It wasn’t a scoring chance, nobody was hurt, there wasn’t physical contact, but because there was a broken stick the referee called a penalty. Now that I don’t get in an NHL playoff game and it was game seven. So those kinds of things require more judgement and in fact, [the referee] didn’t even have his hand up until the player turned around and started skating to the bench without the stick. They get the first goal and score eight seconds later and it is over. So those things are going to have to be better, no question,” said McPhee, who clearly felt the referees had too much influence on the outcome of game seven on Wednesday.

“I was thinking this thought this morning. There are three or four penalties that they call all of the time because it takes the judgement out. The slash with the broken stick is one of them even though they didn’t call one against Pittsburgh the other night but they decided to call us but that is neither here nor there. The shooting over the glass, the hook on anything on the hands, no matter how slight. So those are penalties the refs know that if they see they can put their hand up and they can’t get called on it. All of the others are judgement calls and I would like to see some sort of variation of letting the refs have some judgement on how hard the slash was because some of these sticks can break if you breathe on them. Some you can use a sledgehammer on them. I wish the referees didn’t have the automatic judgement if the sticks breaks or if he knocks it out of his hands then it is a penalty. But that is not for me to answer, that is for [NHL Director of Officiating] Stephen Walkom to decide and [NHL Director of Hockey Operations] Colin Campbell and we’ll find out if there is a possibility if they could have a good middle ground there,” said Boudreau on how he sees the games are being officiated now.

Breakdown Day

Today was breakdown day at Kettler Ice Plex as the Washington Capitals were conducting exit interviews with the players before they head out of town for the summer. Boudreau and McPhee discussed alot of things about the team and the players were also available as they floated in and out of the locker room.

More Game 7 Thoughts

Here are some excerpts from Boudreau on Game 7 and not moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals:

“I’m not sure why we picked that night to have a clunker…only thing I can think of is it was our fifth elimination game and it was their first and their is such a different feeling of determination and maybe we were a little too complacent in game seven thinking, ok, we are going to stave off elimination again and didn’t have the same feeling as game six. It certainly didn’t feel that way in and around the dressing room before the game. You search for answers and you don’t want one game to ruin a heckuva of a good season.”

“I think we are all bummed out because watching last night we felt we certainly could have beaten either Boston or Carolina, you turn it on and watch it, then turn it off, then turn it on and watch it and get so mad thinking we are capable of beating the next next teams and then it would give me hope saying we are very close. I don’t know what has to be done but I think we are a real good team now with certainly the core coming back, if you look at the Alex’s and the Nicky’s, and the Semin’s and Green’s are under contract so there is high optimism for the future and beyond. At this point, I want to take a day off and then start again.”

“Every year your younger players are going to take lessons and be more mature. You look at Mike [Green] being 23 and Alex [Ovechkin] 23, and Nicky [Backstrom] being 21, and [Alex] Semin 25, these guys are going to take this as an experience and be more mature when the situation comes next year. They understood what it took to get beyond the first round this year, I think, because of the year’s previous experience. I think this experience is going to make them be better and be able to go further in the future.”

Injury and Contract News

Below is a rundown on the players as provided to the media by both Boudreau and McPhee today. Boudreau did comment that “All of our key players had an injury.”

Alexander Ovechkin: Injured his groin in game four of the Rangers series and also hurt his wrist sometime in the playoffs. Both injuries required pain injections before games. Can you imagine what Ovechkin might have done in the Penguins series had he been 100% healthy? The Great #8 had 14 points in 7 games in a losing effort.

Alexander Semin: McPhee said that #28 suffered a really bad sprained thumb in the playoffs and that it had to be frozen so that Semin could play some of the games. He had a tough time holding the stick so that explains a good part of the reason why he became invisible in much of the Penguins series after a decent first round against the Rangers. McPhee was also asked if he will be working on a long term contract for Semin this summer, since #28 only has 1 more year left on his current deal, and the GM was non-committal on whether he would be doing that. In fairness to Semin, he was non-committal on a long term deal for Nicklas Backstrom, who only has 1 year left, as well.

Goalies/Simeon Varlamov: The young goalie will not go down to Hershey to play because Boudreau said he is emotionally spent. He felt that perhaps the weight of five elimination games, and he won the first four, might have finally caught up to #40 in game seven when he struggled on the second, third, and fourth Pittsburgh goals. Boudreau also said it makes no sense to have him go down there and become the backup goalie with the way Michael Neuvirth is playing (had back to back shutouts in games 6 and 7 of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton series to carry Hershey into the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Providence Bruins). McPhee said the number one goalie job will be decided in training camp between #40, Jose Theodore, Neuvirth, and even perhaps Brent Johnson, although Johnson is the only one without a current contract for next season. Theodore apparently told the media (I had left by that point) that he plans to be the #1 goalie for the 2009-10 season. Boudreau says “he sees [the competition] as a great battle.”

Mike Green: He was a hot topic and both McPhee and Boudreau would not elaborate on his injury. They merely said he was having more tests but it appears the shoulder that he originally injured when trying to skate around Chris Pronger and three other Ducks back in November still has not fully healed. It does not look like #52 or any other Capital will need surgery based on what McPhee told the media. I asked Boudreau what Green had to do to avoid the big hits he took this year, especially when he became a big target of the opposition in the playoffs. “I think that is experience. He has seen it now, he knows what to expect and nobody likes to get hit so as quick as he is he is going to have to get quicker,” finished Boudreau on the Norris Trophy candidate.

Other defensemen: Tom Poti played with a fractured foot since game 1 of the Penguins series and John Erskine also suffered a fractured foot (missed two games). Morrisonn had an injured ankle that he suffered in game five of the Penguins series and also was dealing with groin issues. It is no wonder the Caps had a hard time getting the puck out of their own end given that four of their top six defensemen were badly banged up.

Sergei Fedorov: Both McPhee and Boudreau were non-committal on #91′s return but said a lot of that would be up to Sergei. Fedorov told the media that he wants to come back next year and had his agent seek out an extension back in January, which the Caps have delayed until the off-season. It will be interesting to see how much (or little) money the three time Stanley Cup Champion will take to come back and play next season. Boudreau raved about his leadership and apparently #91 still loves being around the younger players.

Viktor Kozlov: Another free agent who really wants to come back and play for the Caps next season.

Donald Brashear: Ovechkin said the Caps need him back or, at a minimum, someone who can fit his role as policeman.

Michael Nylander: Both McPhee and Boudreau described #92′s season as “A tough year.” It is clear Nylander does not fit on this team but McPhee did say it does not make financial sense to buy him out. He also said he wasn’t sure Nylander could come back and play for this team, therefore, the options left appear to be a trade (unlikely given the contract – 2 more years at $5.5 and $3M), send him to the minors, or ask him to retire.

Evaluation Process

McPhee said the evaluation process is that he talks to each player, the coaching staff, and then next week the pro scouting staff comes in to offer their perspectives on things. Once the GM has all of that info he then will start making his decisions on personnel, to include the coaching staff. Boudreau is a lock to be back but as for assistant coaches Dean Evason and Jay Leach there was no firm commitment given to them returning by either Bruce or George. As far as the system goes, Boudreau felt that what he asking of his players does not need changing but some of the guys aren’t getting the message.

“I don’t think it’s systems. We just have to get them to play the systems a little bit better. They’ve learned it for a year now. I’m not in charge of the personnel. But we’ll see what the personnel looks like next year. Sometimes you try to change people and sometimes they don’t want to change. Every team in the NHL would love guys who drive to the net. That’s one thing coaches love. But sometimes you have guys who you know are going to play a little bit on the perimeter. You can tell them until the cows come home but it doesn’t always work. But they have such great strengths in other areas. What do you do? That is not even a system thing because every team, that is what you preach going to the net, going to the net. You either go to the net because you don’t mind it or you don’t,” said Boudreau.

NHL Playoffs

The schedule for the Conference Finals has been released and the Chicago Blackhawks will meet the Detroit Red Wings in game one of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday at 3pm on NBC and on Monday night the Penguins will host the Carolina Hurricanes at 730pm in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals on Versus. I’ll have my series predictions up tomorrow night but given that I’ve been on the Detroit bandwagon all year you can bet I’m picking them.

Memorial Cup

The Memorial Cup, the Canadian Hockey League Championship, began today from Rimouski, Quebec City. All of the games are on the NHL Network so even down here in the United States hockey fans can follow the games. The teams involved are the host team (Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), the Kelowna Rockets (Western Hockey League Champions), the Windsor Spitfire (Ontario Hockey League Champions), and the Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL Champions). Last year the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL won and in game one tonight Kelowna was quite impressive in defeating Rimouski, 4-1. Calgary Flames 2007 first round draft choice (24th overall), Mikael Backlund, had a superb game Friday and I was also impressed with big, mobile defenseman Tyler Myers (12th overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2008 NHL entry draft) and forward Jamie Benn (2007 5th round pick by the Dallas Stars). All of those players are with Kelowna. Windsor has a really good team as well so I expect them to battle the Rockets for the trophy.

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Caps Season Over But Future is Bright

Posted on 14 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

So it is now almost 24 hours since the debacle that was game 7 against Pittsburgh on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center and it is time for the Caps players, organization, and their fans to start putting aside the disappointment and begin focusing on the franchise’s now 35 year old unfulfilled quest: The Stanley Cup.

The Caps are now 2-6 in game 7′s, I have been at every one of them, and I can tell you that last night’s was the worst of the eight games. The only good news is that I feel even better about this team than I did last year when they first made the playoffs and were basically robbed by referees Don Koharski and Paul Devorski in game 7 against Philadelphia.

Here are the positives on this season:

The Caps repeated as Southeast Division Champions (108 points, second highest in team history) and won a playoff series before losing to Pittsburgh in 7 games in round two.

Alexander Ovechkin (age 23) followed up a 65 goal, 112 point full season in 2007-08 (82 games) with a 56 goal, 110 point season in just 79 games and showed he is still the best player in the NHL and he is up for the MVP (Hart Trophy) against Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk.

Defensemen Mike Green (age 23) continued to improve racking up 31 goals and 42 assists in just 68 games, more than a point a game! He is a finalist for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best defenseman.

Alexander Semin (age 25) showed that he can be one of the best players in the NHL and he led the league in scoring in October. Semin had 34 goals and 45 assists in just 62 games. He is as skilled as anyone in the entire league.

2nd year center Nicklas Backstrom (age 21) followed up a great rookie campaign by showing he is a big time #1 center in the NHL with 22 goals and 66 assists in a full season. He is durable, strong on the boards and his skates, and continues to improve in the face-off dot.

Rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov (age 21) emerged on the scene and promptly helped the team win a first round playoff series and was very good in the second round against Pittsburgh. Varly was 7-6 in the post season with a .918 save percentage, including two shutouts.

In addition to the five top young Caps above, the team also has a number of aged 25 and under players that contributed this season in forwards Brooks Laich (25), Boyd Gordon (25), Tomas Fleischmann (24), Eric Fehr (23), Jay Beagle (23), and Chris Bourque (23); defensemen Karl Alzner (20), Milan Jurcina (25), and Jeff Schultz (23); and rookie goalie Michael Neuvirth (21).

The team started 18-1-1 at home and the Verizon Center is as loud as any building in the league, rivaling Chicago for the top spot in that category. The fan base has exploded in the region (Game 7 received a 3.4 rating on Comcast in Baltimore) and season tickets are sold out for next year. Clearly the “Rock the Red” marketing campaign has been a huge success.

The future is bright but this team has areas it needs to improve on if they are going to achieve their goal of winning a Stanley Cup. This improvement will come from the natural maturation and development process that the current young players typically go through and be enhanced by additional coaching attention. In addition, with several contracts expiring (Sergei Fedorov, Viktor Kozlov, Donald Brashear, Shaone Morrisonn, and Brent Johnson) and at least one that should get dealt with via a buyout (Michael Nylander), GM George McPhee will have some salary cap space, something he didn’t have much of this season, to work with to improve this team. However, he will have to give Backstrom big money after 2009-10 and Semin is up as well after next season and will likely want a large chunk of change so George needs to be smart about a budget that could possibly decrease (due to the economy) from the projected 2009-10 salary cap of $54M to $56M to a lower figure in the outyears.

As for the individual improvements, here are my thoughts on some of the players:

The Great #8: Develop a better backhand shot. I’m convinced that if Ovechkin improved his backhand he could possibly break Wayne Gretzky’s single season goal record of 92. Can you imagine how scared defensemen would be if they had to worry about Ovechkin cutting to his backhand a larger percentage of the time instead of primarily going forehand? Alexander the Great also needs to decrease the number of turnovers he has at the opponents blue line.

Green: The great skating, free wheeling #52 can improve his decision making and positioning. Sometimes it is best to dump the puck in instead of trying to go through several opponents and open yourself up to big hits. Who knows how that hit he took from Chris Pronger back in November impacted the rest of his season and the playoffs? Clearly he was injured in the playoffs and was not himself. Good positioning will likely decrease the number of hits he exposes himself too. A summer of watching Nicklas Lidstrom tapes might be some good homework for Greenie.

Semin: Learn to dump the puck more. #28 had far too many turnovers trying to do too much and there was a stretch in January where he routinely took bad penalties after a miscue. Semin is way stronger on the boards than people give him credit for so if he simplifies in some areas he can be a monster force for an entire season instead of in bursts. Some of this has to do with his decision making and some of this is attitude. I’ve heard from sources inside the game that he is prone to not caring about the game, at times.

Varlamov: The athletic young goalie needs to learn positioning better, improve his English so he can communicate with his team, and also get better at stick handling. A goalie who can play the puck properly is like an extra defensemen and that ability can significantly lessen the number of hits his defensemen take from opposing forwards throughout the year. It remains to be seen if Varly can carry a #1 goaltending load but his insane flexibility should help him avoid injuries. But classic butterfly goalies put a pounding on their bodies so workload will be something the Caps need to watch with their young net minder.

Backstrom: Shoot the puck more. #19 has one of the best shots on the team but he typically looks to pass first. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau did get the young Swede to shoot more often but he could fire the biscuit even more frequently. Continue to improve from the face-off dot. Backstrom was so much better at this towards the end of the season. Perhaps a phone call or session with the great Dale Hunter (aka Chum) could take him to an elite NHL level in a very important category. I’m sure teammate Dave Steckel could help him as well.

From a team standpoint, Boudreau and assistant coaches Dean Evason and Jay Leach need to help improve its ability to play away from the puck. Too many times in the playoffs Caps players were in the right area to make a play (i.e, they outnumbered the opponent) but didn’t execute and ended up giving up a goal (either in their own zone or due to misplays in the neutral zone that led to odd man rushes). Boudreau and his staff preached dumping the puck and going to the net. The third and fourth line seemed to get this most nights but the skilled guys weren’t always buying in. It seemed that the team learned some of that as the playoffs went on. The Rangers and Pittsburgh were very good at doing this while the Caps were effective only in bursts (like the 3rd period of game 7 against New York).

During the regular season Washington had some stretches of off nights, especially against Western Conference teams, and often would win games on skill rather than working hard for a full 6o minutes. Next year the Caps need to use the regular season to hone their system and be ready when the playoffs start, unlike this year where it took them two games to get going. Who knows how much of that extra work and pounding hurt them as they moved on the Penguins series? The Caps need to develop a killer instinct and dispose of lesser talented teams more easily by ramping up their work ethic.

Going to the net and paying a physical price is something the Caps are still learning. One could argue that other than Brooks Laich they don’t really have a player that can crash the net or score ugly goals like Detroit has in Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen or the Penguins have in Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, and even Sidney Crosby who converted several “lay-ups” against Washington in the second round. I will guess that a power forward is on McPhee’s shopping list when free agency starts on July 1.

On the flip side, the Caps don’t do a good job of clearing their own net. John Erskine, Shaone Morrisonn, and Milan Jurcina are the more physical defensemen but only #4 really is a force that other teams might fear. Alzner, who is more of a puck moving and solid positioning d-man, is not going to be that type of player when he comes up next year so McPhee will likely be shopping in this market in free agency as well.

Overall, team chemistry is very good because these guys like playing with each other but to win a Stanley Cup takes learning and commitment.  The Edmonton Oilers teams that were led by Gretzky, Mark Messier, Paul Coffey, and Grant Fuhr had two straight playoff years, 1981 and 1982, where they did not advance past the second round before going to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1983 and then winning their first Stanley Cup in 1984. Each year they continued to learn more and more of what it takes to succeed in the season that matters (the playoffs). If this highly skilled Washington team wants to reach the Stanley Cup Finals next year they need to make a full commitment to a stronger work ethic on and off the ice starting now.

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Caps Break Playoff OT Curse Against Pens to Force Game 7 (Updated)

Posted on 11 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Dave Steckel had the game on his stick in overtime in game five and the puck bounced on him and he missed wide with an apparent open net between the Caps and victory. Just over 3 minutes later Evgeni Malkin scored off of Tom Poti to give Pittsburgh a 4-3 OT win over the Caps and take a 3-2 series lead. Tonight, it was redemption for Steckel as he deflected in a Brooks Laich shot off of a face-off win (Matt Bradley made a good play on the boards to get the puck to Laich) past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to give Washington a thrilling, 5-4, OT victory in Pittsburgh to force game seven at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night. This win was huge for Washington as they had lost 7 straight overtime games in the playoffs and were 1-4 in the previous game six contests against the Penguins. The Caps are now 7-1 in elimination games (6-1 in the playoffs) under coach Bruce Boudreau.

This game started poorly for the Caps as the Penguins came out ready to bury them and their season, but thanks to some superb two man short penalty killing by Washington with the Pens up a goal and great goaltending by Simeon Varlamov throughout the period the Caps only trailed by that goal despite being outshot 18-5. As Boudreau mentioned in his post game press conference, he referenced to his players some instances where the Caps had done the same thing to other teams during the season and it came back to bite them because they couldn’t close the deal. The words seemed to work because after that the Caps were a much better team but as Boudreau continues to say, Pittsburgh is really good too so this one naturally went down to the wire (this was the third OT game of the series and fifth one goal game).

The second period was much more Caps style of hockey and not the wide open type we’ve seen where the Penguins seemed to have thrived in generating odd man rushes against Washington (Guerin’s goal in the first period was a two on one with Crosby against Poti). Viktor Kozlov (two goals and +2) scored to tie the game up and then Alexander Semin, who I and many others have called out for not producing so far in this series, delivered with a great effort to draw a penalty, kept it going playing tough on the boards, and then got the puck to Sergei Fedorov who shot and Tomas Fleischmann put in the rebound to give Washington a 2-1 lead. The Caps then could not hold the lead as Mark Eaton scored on a Pittsburgh power play (Brian Pothier was off for interference) with 34 seconds left in the period.

The third period saw the Caps take another costly penalty (Steckel slash) and the Penguins scored on the power play (2 for 5 on the night) to go up 3-2. However, Boudreau’s boys aren’t quitters and Semin delivered again first by drawing a penalty on his nemesis in this series, Brooks Orpik, and then firing from the left wing boards just 58 seconds later with Laich screening Fleury and the puck went in off of #21′s leg for the goal (scoring change came after the game). It seemed to stun the Penguins and then Kozlov struck from a bad angle off of a great play by Nicklas Backstrom to give the Caps a  4-3 lead. The problem though, was Washington seemed to struggle from there appearing to play not to lose, and when Bradley couldn’t get the puck out of the zone, Orpik shot it on net and Sidney Crosby was able to outwork John Erskine in front of Varlamov and tie it up with just 4:18 to go. But that set the stage for the overtime and Washington finally got a couple of breaks as Rob Scuderi hit the cross bar early in the extra session before Steckel’s great deflection.

Here are some other thoughts and analysis on tonight’s game:

Alexander Ovechkin was great again despite not scoring a goal. He had three assists, took five shots, and was +3 overall. He now has 10 goals and 10 assists in 13 playoff games. He leads the NHL in playoff points, is tied with Crosby in goals, and is the plus/minus leader at +11.

Semin played by far his best game of the series with two assists and was +1. He drew two key penalties (although one did not get called due to Fleischmann’s goal while the referees had their right arm up) and was moving his feet. He did a great job back checking Malkin, something he is very good at when he wants to be. He is a highly skilled player that can be great but he needs to put his mind to it and shrug off nagging injuries.

I thought the slashing call on Laich with 2:02 left in regulation was brutal as he only had one hand on the stick when he did it. Chris Kunitz of the Pens has been able to get that call in two key situations this playoffs (he drew a slashing penalty against the Flyers in overtime in the first round). Fortunately, Washington had a great penalty kill and forced overtime.

Chris Clark only played 2:13 (4 shifts) and Jay Beagle only 2:06 (4 shifts) and both were on the ice when Crosby and Guerin got the first goal on a two on one. The Caps need to stop playing with fire so much by giving up odd man rushes. Pittsburgh has been getting them from Washington turnovers at the Pens blue line and also from the Caps making ill timed hits at the red line. I know the Caps want to be physical but they need to be smarter about their positioning.

Malkin had three assists but he was even for the game (he was on the ice on Steckel’s GWG). Crosby was very good as well with a goal and an assist. As I wrote after game five, for Ovechkin and the Caps to defeat a very good Penguins team they need production from Semin and tonight he delivered.

An NHL scout told me before the series that he thought it could come down to goaltending and he said Varlamov is better than Fleury. He also said during game five, with Washington down 3-2 in the third period, that the Caps just need to get pucks on net because Fleury can’t handle the pressure. Shortly thereafter Washington scored before losing in overtime. To me the keys for the Caps on Wednesday will be to not give up odd man rushes, stay out of the box and get more shots on Fleury. Plain and simple, Washington can achieve this by continually moving their feet like Semin finally did tonight.

Programming Note: I’ll be on the Comcast Morning Show at 730am on Tuesday with Drew Forrester to discuss this AMAZING series!

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Caps On Brink of Elimination Again after Another OT Loss

Posted on 10 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 08 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pens Get Back in Series with OT Win

Posted on 06 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Pittsburgh Penguins totally outplayed the Washington Capitals on Wednesday in game three, outshooting  the Caps, 42-23, but because of Simeon Varlamov and a late power play goal by Nicklas Backstrom, his first of the playoffs, this game went to overtime tied 2-2. But after Tom Poti made a bad decision to try and shoot the puck instead of dumping it in behind the Pens net, the Penguins were able to get an offensive zone face-off and when the Caps lost it clean (Sydney Crosby beat Dave Steckel), the puck went back to Kris Letang who fired it on net and it hit Shaone Morrisonn and deflected by Varlamov for a 3-2 win at 11:23 of OT. Game four is Friday night in Pittsburgh with Washington up two games to one in this best of seven series.

The Caps played a better first period tonight and Alexander Ovechkin scored his 8th goal of the playoffs into a vacated net just 1:23 in to the game as a result of a fluky bounce behind the Pens net. Shortly thereafter, Nicklas Backstrom nearly made it 2-0 when he had a great wraparound try but instead of putting his shoulder down and taking that extra half of a stride to get in front for the layup he tried to put the puck in from a bad angle and it went through the crease and wide. The first period was even at eight shots a piece but as things went on Pittsburgh started to dominate.

Pittsburgh would carry the play and shots, 15-4, in the second period as their pressure on Washington was relentless. The Caps could not break the Penguins forecheck and when they got to neutral ice they did not play smart by dumping the puck deep. The Pens tied the game at one midway through period two when Poti pinched at the Caps blue line and Backstrom got caught out of position giving the Penguins a two one break on Milan Jurcina. When Jurcina went down to cut off the pass the puck bounced right back on Ruslan Fedotenko’s stick and he shot it by Varlamov, who was sliding to his right in anticipation of a pass.The Penguins had two power plays in the middle period but Varlamov and some good penalty killing kept this game tied.

In the third period the Caps were a little better but Evgeni Malkin, who was really flying tonight, started to take over and he went through Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Alexander Semin before #28 hooked him to give the Penguins their sixth straight power play of the night. When you play with fire, you usually get burned and Malkin fired a great shot top shelf on a screened Varlamov to give the Pens a 2-1 lead with just 4:59 left. But credit the Caps for not quitting and when Pascal Dupuis was called for interference with 2:28 left the powerful Washington power play got their second chance of the night with Backstrom delivering as he banked it off of Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (21 saves). That sent the game into overtime where Pittsburgh prevailed and Fleury is now 4-0 in overtime games.

Here are my thoughts and analysis on this one:

Pittsburgh absolutely had to have this game and they sure played like it. Varlamov was great tonight and he was the only reason the Caps had a chance. The Penguins did a superb job of coming into Washington’s zone with speed as they were keeping a forward back, typically Malkin when it was his shift, and when the Caps pressured the Pens defense at the red line they would pass the puck back to #71, who then came through the neutral zone like a locomotive. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will have to make some tactical adjustments to interrupt this very effective Pittsburgh method of breaking Washington’s neutral zone defense.

The Caps could not match Pittsburgh’s desire tonight, plain and simple. Ovechkin, Fedorov, and Viktor Kozlov were the only effective ones for the first half of the game but when Fedorov took what looked to be a butt end to the ribs from Hal Gill and missed the rest of the period, Boudreau had to adjust his lines. At that point Bruce went with Semin, Backstrom, and Ovechkin and they had some good shifts and others where they were not positionally sound (especially on the shift where Malkin went through all of them and drew a penalty).

Fedorov did return for the third period but he did not look as strong or effective as he had been before the injury. Kozlov had some good shifts.

If I am the Caps, I am calling up forward Keith Aucoin from Hershey for game four because Michael Nylander was terrible tonight in his 7:27 of ice time. Nylander looked lost out there and seemed to be afraid of being hit. Chris Clark, once again, was not very good and he only saw 6:35 of ice time. Boudreau is basically playing with only 10 forwards with those two struggling and it showed as the other Caps got worn out against the Pittsburgh assault.

Probably the best part of Washington’s game tonight was their penalty killing as they held Pittsburgh to 1 for 7, including a two minute power play in overtime when Brian Pothier put the puck over the glass for a delay of game. Varlamov was the primary reason the penalty kill was effective but Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, and the Caps defensemen did a good job.

Mike Green had an assist tonight on Ovechkin’s goal but he did not factor in offensively, primarily because the Caps could not get the puck into the Pittsburgh end. He also had some chances where the puck rolled off of his stick. Ovechkin also tried to go one-on-one quite a bit but Rob Scuderi and Gill did a good job on him. Boudreau was not getting the matchups he wanted since Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma had the last change. In Washington, Boudreau tried to put the Great #8 against Sergei Gonchar when the opportunity presented itself.

This Penguins domination tonight was just a carry over from alot of what we saw in game two. The Caps escaped in that one but if they don’t start skating and playing smarter they will not win another game in this series. The Penguins are winning the one-on-one battles right now.

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Capital Star Shine Again

Posted on 04 May 2009 by Nicholas Miskelly

Capital Star Shine Again 

Monday night began was a crucial game in this Conference Semi-Final Series between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

 

The Capitals entered the game hoping to hold on to home ice advantage and take command of the series with a 2 game to none lead.  This would put all of the pressure on the pads of the Penguins as the series picks up on Wednesday, in Pittsburgh.

 

With a win in game two, the Penguins would have gotten exactly what they were looking for: a split in Washington, giving the Penguins the home ice advantage.  As the lower seed in this series, if the Penguins were to steal game two they would be heading back to Pittsburgh with the momentum and the advantage of having 3 of the remaining 5 games in this series played on their home ice. 

 

After an entertaining and exciting game 1, we learned one thing for sure: each game could go either way and both teams would have to bring their best if they want to win this series and advance to the Conference Finals.  The question would be which team would want it more, and more decidedly, which goalie would bring their best to the ice.  Would Fleury tie this series for the Penguins or would the red hot Varlamov carry the Capitals to a commanding 2-0 lead. 

 

Just as in game one, the first period of game two got off to a quick start.  Both teams wasted no time in getting the puck moving up and down the ice.  The Penguins had to be aware that one of the reasons they lost the first game was because Washington was the more physical team.  At the beginning of this game it seemed as though the Penguins were determined to change that trend as they came out aggressively and physically, landing several big shots on the Capitals.  One of those hits was by Sidney Crosby which led to an early two on one break.  Varlamov read the play well and was at the post to meet the shot of Guerin and turn it away.

After seeing that save, I was reminded of Varlamov’s ability to consistently send the rebounds of shots that he can not handle off to the side of the ice.  It seems as though you never see him give a rebound up in front of the net.  This is huge for goalies as the first goal the Caps had in game 1 was a direct result of a rebound given up right in the center of the ice.  By continuously sending the rebounds off to the side, Varlamov prevents the Penguins from getting cheep goals, goals which often times decide close playoff games.

 

Just as I was thinking this, the Penguins went onto a power play as a result of Semin loosing his cool. Consequently, they got on the board first.  While I was thinking about how remarkable it was that Varlamov never seems to give up easy rebounds, Gonchar took a shot from inside the blue line and Varlamov knocked it down in front of the net and Crosby was on the door step to put it between the legs of the Caps goalie and give the Penguins the early lead.  This is the kind of easy goal the Capitals need to prevent as Crosby makes a living by scoring around the net.  Varlamov needs to clean up the rebounds and the Capital defenders need to stay physical and make sure they push the Penguins away from the front of the goal, thus preventing cheap goals on deflections and as a result of rebounds. 

 

The Penguins were able to take control of the period as they were much more aggressive and physically dominating in the period.  They were able to land a number of clean checks on the Capital players, which seemed to unnerve the Caps a bit as they took several bad penalties.  The worse of which was when the Caps were just about to head to the power play until Chris Clark retaliated with an elbow to the face of Letang thereby nullifying the penalty to Guerin. 

 

Varlamov was really able to bail out his team and keep the game a 1 goal game as he made several huge saves while the Penguins were on a 5-3 power play.  Varlamov once again proved why Capitals fans are so excited about the future of this team, as they see years of this 21-year-old protecting their net.  His great play at the end of the period was able to finally get the home crowd into the game after Pittsburgh successfully quieted them down.

 

While unable to light the lamp in the first period, it was not due to a lack of opportunities.  They had some good scoring chances; they were just never able to capitalize on them.  This was not the case at the beginning of the second period, as they were able to take advantage of an opportunity as Fedorov quickly transitioned the puck into the offensive end where he was able to hit Kozlov with a pass in the center of the ice drawing two defenders his way.  Kozlov quickly moved the puck to his left where he as able to locate Ovechkin, who sent a missile into the lower left portion of the goal, tying the game at one.  The quick transition offense for the Capitals was able to create a great opportunity, one in which Ovechkin did not let pass.  This was the type of puck movement that the Capitals are looking for and need, if they want to win this series.  Anytime you can line Ovechkin up for an uncontested shot, he will score, as his combination of power and accuracy is unstoppable.

 

The Capitals were able to come out quick and change the momentum of the game.  They were able to control the puck more in what appeared to be a less physical second period while using their speed in transition to generate numerous scoring chances.  They were continuously turned away and just past the halfway mark of the period, Crosby and the Penguins tried to reclaim the momentum.  Once again Crosby was able to light the lamp on a garbage goal knocked in from right in front of the net.  Not to take anything away from the Penguins as they earned the goal with their puck movement, but the Capitals once again let the puck bounce free right in front of Varlamov and the inability to get a body on Crosby cost the Capitals again as they fell behind 2-1.

 

The Penguins were able to carry the momentum for the next five minutes, earning several great chances at taking a 2 goal lead, but Varlamov continued his jaw-dropping performance as he made several great saves.  Steckel took advantage of this great effort by the Caps goaltender, as he put home a deflection off of Sloan to tie the game at 2 with four minutes to go in the 2nd period. 

 

 The third period began tied and if the prior games this season were any indication this would be a good sign for Caps fans.  The Capitals outscored the Penguins during the regular season 10-1 and continued that trend in game 1 outscoring the caps one to nothing.  The Capitals hoped this trend would continue as looked to stay unbeaten against the Penguins this year and open up a 2 game to none lead.

 

The Penguins were hoping to change that trend as they opened up dominating the final period of play.  After killing the remainder of a second period penalty the Penguins went on about a 9 minute attack.  It seemed like the entire portion of this period was spent in the offensive zone for the Penguins and it felt to us Capitals fans that they may have even been on an extended power play.  They kept the pressure on but, as seems to be the theme of every paragraph of every hockey blog I write, Varlamov continued to make save after save keeping his team in the game, tied at 2.

 

After killing the Penguins first actual power play of the period, the Capitals quickly went on the attack after Malkin’s tripping penalty put the Caps on the power play.  They had two minutes but they only need four seconds as Backstrom won the face off in the Penguins zone sending the puck back to his right to Green.  Ovechkin once again got wide open and Green found him.  Ovechkin sent another shot buzzing by the elbow on Fluery’s stick side.  There was nothing he could do to prevent the Caps from taking their first lead of the game, 3-2.

 

Ovechkin broke loose again, showing off his speed in transition as he got the puck around mid-ice, skated into the Penguins zone, and then showed off (what I feel is) the league’s most powerful shot.  Ovechkin sent a shot over the glove side shoulder to seal the game for the Caps and give himself his first career playoff hat-trick.  The Penguins were able to get a power play goal, giving Crosby a hat-trick of his own at thirty seconds to go, but that was too little too late.

 

The Caps and Penguins game entered the final period even.  The Penguins dominated the first half plus part of this period.  They could not get past the great Varlamov.  Just then, like a vulture, Ovechkin swooped in and took advantage of the first Penguin mistake of the period.  That was all they needed as the recent trend of the Caps dominating the score board in the final period against the Penguins continued.  They scored two more times this game which made the season and post season total 13 third period goals for the Capitals to only 2 for the Penguins.

 

That is how you close out a game and with Varlamov consistently keeping this team in the game this ability to close could end this series a lot earlier then most anticipated.  To Pittsburgh we go, Wednesday night, Caps leading 2 games to none.

 

The Caps have the offense that many fear, and now thanks to a 21-year-old net minder, they are the complete team that just might be able to make a run at the Stanley Cup.

 

 

 

 

 

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Caps News, Penguins Series Preview and Bruins-Canes Series Preview

Posted on 30 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

(2) Caps vs. (4) Penguins

Today at Kettler Ice Plex in Ballston, Virginia, the Washington Capitals hit the ice for the first time in preparation for their upcoming series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which starts Saturday at 1pm at the Verizon Center on NBC. The biggest news of the day: Alexander Ovechkin did not practice but he did meet with the throngs of media afterwards (see WashintonCaps.com 365 for the full interview) and when asked about the Great #8′s absence from practice head coach Bruce Boudreau responded, “He’ll be practicing tomorrow (Friday). Sometimes his body gets beat up because he plays so much, he’s just plays a lot so he needs a little bit more rest, so he’s just resting today.”

Naturally the focus of many of the questions from the media were of the Ovechkin vs. Sydney Crosby variety and the Caps and their coach did their best to play down that angle.

“I think we have to just look at it as a team game, Washington vs. Pittsburgh, there will be talk of Ovie vs. Crosby but we have to focus on what we’re going to do and how we’re going to play against them. We just have to focus on our game plan and go out there and get it done,” said Washington forward Boyd Gordon, who will play a very key role in this series on the penalty kill and trying to slow down the Penguins offensive talent.

“Any little thing that is being said is going to be magnified. If Alex says anything about Sydney or anybody it is going to be maginified. I’m sure they’ll be cameras on Sydney, [Evgeni] Malkin, Ovechkin, [Mike] Green all the time if the puck is near them or not. We’ll magnify every situation, I’m sure,” added Boudreau who said “Welcome to the Circus” when describing what the media attention will be like as soon as he found out the Caps were playing Pittsburgh after the series win over the Rangers.

There is no doubt that the level of hype is high in this series and many are saying this is big for the NHL from a marketing standpoint. They could use a good US television contract going forward and this series could help by bringing in the cross over fan who normally would not watch hockey.

“I hope it draws tons of fans. We all love our game so much that we hope it is something that people want to watch on a national level. Anything that is good for our game is great. We want to build it. We want to show the people that don’t know our game how great a game it can be,” said Boudreau.

As for the massive hype impacting the series itself, Boudreau downplayed that.

“I don’t know, the Super Bowl has an awful lot of hype and I think the last couple of games have been pretty good. I think the teams are focused and the hype shouldn’t matter. We’ll be in our own zone, hopefully, understanding what we have to do and I think the guys are focused so as much hype as [the media] want to bring on, bring on,” finished Boudreau.

With that, it’s time to move away from the media fluff and get to the meat of this series matchup, the things I prefer to focus on.

Let’s start with the goaltenders, Simeon Varlamov vs. Marc Andre-Fleury. The Caps rookie, Varlamov (turned 21 on April 27), has played 12 games in his career going 4-0-1 in the regular season and then 4-2 against the Rangers in the first round while Fleury, who was taken #1 overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 (lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games). The advantage, on paper, appears to be for Pittsburgh. Boudreau was asked today to compare Fleury with Henrik Lundqvist, the goalie for the Rangers that the Caps just defeated in round one.

“Lundqvist is great and Fleury’s played great so I guess we’ll be able to know after the first couple of games. I would think that Fleury is more acrobatic and probably more gifted in that sense and Lundqvist is better positionally but that is just off the top of my head. Fleury was taken #1 overall for a reason and Lundqvist is one of the best for a reason. Either way we are not playing bad goaltenders,” said last year’s Jack Adams Trophy winner.

Both teams have big name offensive players that lead their defense and run their power play, Green for the Caps and former Capital Sergei Gonchar for Pittsburgh. Gonchar missed the first five months of the season due to a shoulder injury he suffered in pre-season and when he returned he, along with the addition of forwards Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin at the trade deadline, plus new Coach Dan Bylsma propelled the Penguins to a 18-3-4 stretch run.

“They have a lot of weapons and Gonchar is obviously their quarterback on the point. It’s kind of pick your poison. We’d like to stay out of the box as much as possible. When we get out there [on the penalty kill] we have to get it done and do whatever it takes, block a shot, be in the right position, you have to do the job. He’s a good defensemen. He’s got a good shot and he’s calm and poised with the puck. He fits in well with their team and he does a great job for them on the power play,” said Gordon on #55 and the Penguin power play.

As for Green, he had a goal and four assists in the first round, a series in which he had the flu and didn’t have his full energy back until the last few games.

“I think, as I’ve said all along, that Mike is going to be fine. He puts a lot of pressure on himself because of what has happened this year but again, he played 26,27 minutes a game and we allowed the fewest goals we’ve allowed in a seven game stretch all year. He must have been doing something right. Just because he wasn’t scoring at a point a game pace in the playoffs I’m still very happy with the way he is playing,” added Boudreau on #52.

The Penguins also have Hal Gill (big defensemen), Brooks Orpik (good, physical defenseman), and Rob Scuderi on the back line. Washington adds puck moving Tom Poti and the more physical Shaone Morrisonn to go along with vastly improved Milan Jurcina and John Erskine plus Brian Pothier (out for 14 months with concussion until returning in March). On paper this appears to be a wash or perhaps a very slight edge to Washington, only because of #52.

Up front is where the fireworks start. The Penguins are loaded up the middle with Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal. On the wings they have Guerin, Kunitz, and Ruslan Fedotenko who all can go to the net and create havoc. Another forward to watch is Maxime Talbot who kills penalties, checks well, and is very successful at whatever role Bylsma throws him into. For Washington, they go deep as well with the Great #8, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Brooks Laich, Viktor Kozlov, Chris Clark and then good role players like Gordon, Matt Bradley, Eric Fehr, and Dave Steckel. The Penguins have the advantage at center because they go three deep with top five draft picks but I give the Caps the edge on the wings. Both teams have potent power plays but the Caps were #2 in the league and can throw a variety of looks at you, as confirmed by Boudreau this afternoon.

“We’ve changed our power play so much all year and still been at 25% so I think it is a real advantage for us when we can, as a team, throw out many units doing many things and they’re all quality players so Tom [Poti] hadn’t played the point on the first unit in a long time and he did a great job. He might have to do it again,” said Boudreau.

When you just look at personnel this is a very evenly matched series and Boudreau stressed that his coaching team will highlight certain things about Pittsburgh but the focus will be on his own team.

“We’ve gone through a lot of video and I’m sure they’ve gone through our video and seen our tendencies and individualities and we go over that but we don’t want to harp on that too much. We want to do what we do well. We certainly would be remiss if we didn’t make the players aware of certain things that these players are really good at,” commented Boudreau on the film study of Pittsburgh.

I asked Boudreau about puck possession and how he defines it these days, given that many people consider both of these squads those type of teams.

“I don’t really know, I often wondered, they say they are a big puck possession team and I go, Wow, what is a puck possession team? They call us that all of the time and all I say is dump it in, get it deep. So I don’t know what the deal is. We’ve got guys who are pretty good stickhandlers but then so do they. I mean Detroit seems to have the puck all the time, not because they don’t want to dump it in, but because they are really good. So good teams are puck possession teams because they have it all of the time, that is the way I’m looking at it.”

Analyzing these quotes and info I think the Penguins focus will be on trying to rattle a young Varlamov, who has had nothing but success so far in his dozen games. Bylsma has already said they will try to get him moving back and forth and there is no doubt the Penguins will go hard to the net to create traffic. They may also try to throw pucks off the near backboards and out the far side like Pittsburgh used to do during their back to back Stanley Cup wins with Hall of Famer Larry Murphy running the power play and Mario Lemieux stationed on the opposite side of the net just waiting to one time the puck home. Pittsburgh likes to get out in transition, like the Caps do, and they will seek to create turnovers at their own blue line to try and counter attack Washington and receive odd man rushes.

Therefore, Washington will have to limit their turnovers and play a SIMPLE game like they did in games three, five, and six plus the third period of game seven against New York. Boudreau will be repeatedly telling his players over and over, especially guys like Ovechkin and Semin who fancy one on one moves and cross ice passes at the opponents blue line, to DUMP the puck behind the Penguins defense, then go get it, and outwork them. If I am Boudreau I am going with a strategy on Gonchar that the great Scotty Bowman mentions he used effectively against Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr of Boston: dump the puck behind him and when he goes back to chase it pound him into the glass so that he becomes more turnover prone as the series wears on. The Caps can use their speed to stick handle at times when guys like Gill are on the ice but the type of puck possession strategy that Boudreau described of dumping the puck deep in the corners and half wall seems like the best way to use Washington’s excellent size and speed at forward. Gonchar can be giveaway happy and Caps fans remember all too well former Penguin Martin Straka picking Gonchar’s pocket at the Washington blue line and skating in alone on Olie Kolzig in game six for the series winner in 2001, the last two times these teams met in the playoffs (Pittsburgh has won six of the seven meetings with the only Caps win coming back in 1994).

Series Prediction: This series is an absolute coin toss. Past history between these teams doesn’t matter but playoff experience does so I am going with the Penguins. However, if Washington plays smart with the dump in game (the Alex’s must heed Boudreau’s advice for them to be come out on top) and limits their turnovers and penalties they could win this series instead. I’m picking the Penguins in six but if the Caps manage to force a game seven then Washington wins.

(1) Bruins vs. (6) Hurricanes

The NHL is four for four on good Conference semi-final match-ups as this one pits a very hot and fast Carolina team against an extremely hard working, top seeded in the East, Boston squad.

We’ll start with the goalies, Tim Thomas (Bruins) vs. Cam Ward (Hurricanes). Thomas led the NHL in save percentage during the regular season while Ward got red hot from February on and is playing at the level he was at when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup for the Canes in 2006. Thomas has an unorthodox style that sees him flop and throw his body all over the ice while Ward is the classic butterfly type goalie who goes down to the ice and tries to take up as much net as possible. I think this is a toss up but Ward has been real hot and has major past playoff success.

On defense, the Bruins have a big edge because of Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara who is on the back line with Denis Wideman, Aaron Ward, Steve Montador, and Shane Hnidy. Carolina’s defense will not scare you but they’ve been very effective the last three months. The defensive corps is led by Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo (both averaged 25 plus minutes in round one against New Jersey) and they also rely on their second pair of Denis Seidenberg and Tim Gleason to log around 20 minutes a game. Advantage: Bruins.

Up front for Carolina you have speed. Eric Staal (5 goals against Devils in round one) can skate as well as anyone and he has been on fire since the Canes re-acquired line mate Erik Cole from Edmonton at the NHL trade deadline. Ray Whitney is fast and is a sniper and they grind out goals with Chad LaRose, Jussi Jokinen, and Matt Cullen. Boston is loaded at forward but the debate about Marc Savard being a true #1 center rages on but based on his production he is playing at that level this season. The Bruins can get scoring from lots of players and Michael Ryder (4 goals in 4 games in first round against Montreal) performs well whenever he is coached by current Bruins bench boss, Claude Julien. Former Flames 2001 first round draft pick, Chuck Kobasew (3 points in 1st round), can flat out fly plus they have David Krejci, Phil Kessel (6 points in first round and appears to be finally over mononucleosis), Milan Lucic (brings power and toughness), and Mark Recchi (two time Stanley Cup winner – Pittsburgh in 1991 and Carolina in 2006). I think Staal is the best forward in the series but I give the edge to Boston because of their depth.

Given that Boston only had to play four games in the first round and Carolina went the distance against New Jersey, I expect the Canes to jump out and steal a game in Boston but I see the Bruins coming back and wearing the fast Hurricanes down. Another very close series, I’m tempted to go with a hot Carolina team but I just see too many good things from the Bruins. Boston in seven.

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