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Will This Late Rally Be A Turning Point in the Caps Season?

Posted on 12 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It was 5-3 Florida with just over five minutes to go and the Washington Capitals were likely staring at a 3-9-1 record in this lockout shortened 48 game season. 

The Seth Jones talk appeared all set to begin.

But somebody forgot to tell Adam Oates’ club that.

In a furious and spirited rally, the Capitals received late goals from Eric Fehr and Alex Ovechkin and then Nicklas Backstrom set up Troy Brouwer on a breakaway in overtime with one of the prettiest passes you’ll ever see. #20 was stopped by Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen initially but the power forward alertly hit the brakes and banged home his own rebound for a wild 6-5 Caps victory in Florida on Tuesday night.

It was the Capitals second straight victory, their first on the road this season, and also the first time they’ve won when having to kill more than three penalties in a game.

They were terribly sloppy in their own end, especially in the second period, but somehow they killed off all five Florida power plays and went 2 for 3 on their own man advantage situations to scrape out a win.

Braden Holtby was the victim of some crazy bounces but he battled hard in the net and made some dandy saves when the Caps needed them most, including a huge stop on a Florida 3 on 0 in the middle frame. Basically, Holtby gave his club a chance and Washington delivered.

So the Caps stay alive and move to 4-8-1. They have a long way to go to climb back into the playoff race and their play is wildly inconsistent on the ice.

But one thing we saw tonight that you can’t question is this club’s heart. They played the last five plus minutes and overtime like they knew they had to find a way to win the game. If you play hard like that and go to the net, good things are bound to happen. That is how Washington came back.

Sure they are still scary in their own end in too many instances. They make too many turnovers, get out of position too easily, and aren’t physical enough in their own crease and slot areas. They must improve on that to salvage a season that has gotten off to a terrible start.

They still don’t have two top lines to consistently throw at the opposition and on defense they are hurting with the loss of Dennis Wideman to offseason free agency and Dmitry Orlov still out injured, so the margin for error is razor thin. They have to stay out of the box, get good goaltending and the effort has to be consistent to beat the better teams. Fortunately Florida is not one of the better clubs so the Caps managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat and get a much needed victory on a night when their play was very uneven.

But winning the way they did in the last five minutes could provide a valuable lesson about sticking together, working hard, and not quitting.

The Caps showed resiliency and that has to give some cause for optimism.

So the question is, will this late rally be the turning point in the Caps season?

Stay tuned…

Notes: Washington’s next game is Thursday at 7:30pm in Tampa…The Caps scored two goals directly off of faceoff wins. Karl Alzner and Ovechkin had those tallies…Backstrom (2 assists) was 19-10 on draws and Mike Ribeiro (1 goal, 2 assists) was 8-5…Jason Chimera was -3 in just 5:43 of ice time. #25′s play has really dropped off, which is something the Capitals do not need. Chimmer needs to get back to skating and playing hard…John Erskine had two goals bank in off of him but Washington is now 4-2-1 with #4 in the lineup.

 

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Caps Get Much Needed Blowout Victory

Posted on 09 February 2013 by Ed Frankovic

The Florida Panthers should reconsider playing hockey at the Verizon Center going forward.

After getting absolultely smoked by the Washington Capitals, 5-0 on Saturday night, they are now 0-4 and have been outscored 16-2 by the Caps in those games.

It was a victory that this Caps club desperately needed. They played with energy, determination, and heart. They got super goaltending from Braden Holtby and they only allowed two power plays to the Cats.

Coach Adam Oates shook up the lineup at forward sitting underachieving Marcus Johansson and putting Mathieu Perreault on a unit with Joel Ward and Eric Fehr. Boy did that move pay dividends as the 42-85-16 unit was all over Florida with a ferocious forecheck and pressure that led to two goals for that line. Ward now has five goals on the season and is tied with Troy Brouwer for the team lead.

Brouwer also had a big night with two tallies, including one going in off of his rear. But good things happen when you go to the net, something this Washington club needs to do more of if they want to climb their way up the standings.

On the back end, the defense received a boost from John Erskine’s return to the lineup after serving a three game suspension. The loss of #4 forced Oates to put in either Tom Poti or Roman Hamrlik and at this stage, neither one of those defensemen looks like they are NHL calibre anymore. Erskine was solid in 17 minutes and change and he had a spirited first period fight with Florida tough guy, George Parros. Perhaps that bout gave Washington a bit of a spark?

Whatever the case, the whole team looked good and Alexander Ovechkin finally notched an even strength goal. The Gr8 was physical and engaged and looks like he is sick and tired of losing because his intensity has gone way up over the last two games.

So the Caps move to 3-8-1 after this whitewashing of a Florida team that looked totally lost. The Caps get them again in Sunrise on Tuesday in another must win for Washington.

It is only one victory, albeit an impressive one, but the Capitals have dug themselves quite a hole and they will need to play like this each and every night for a sustained period to get back into the playoff race. It certainly won’t hurt if the opponents continue to play poorly like the Panthers did in this one.

Notes: Holtby’s great pass on a bad Florida change set up Brouwer’s 2nd tally, a power play goal…Washington won the faceoff battle, 25-24….every Caps player had at least 10 minutes of ice time with Mike Green logging the most at 24:11. Oates had to be pleased that his team stayed out of the box and he could roll all four lines.

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With Caps Struggling Will McPhee Make A Move to Help Oates?

Posted on 24 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

We are only three games into a 48 game season and the Washington Capitals look like a broken hockey team.

After coming out and playing a solid first period, the Caps got into penalty trouble and gave up two goals to the Canadiens in the first five minutes of period two.

Gone went any confidence this team had built up in the opening frame and anyone who has ever played hockey knows that confidence is one of the most important attributes you need to play the game.

From there it just snowballed as Montreal expanded their lead to 4-0 after 40 minutes. With Washington’s shut down defensive pair from last season, Karl Alzner and John Carlson, struggling mightily, it becomes harder to turn things around. Coach Adam Oates response in the third period to that problem duo was to move Alzner with Mike Green and Carlson with Tom Poti.

Up front, there isn’t much good news either. Alexander Ovechkin still doesn’t have a goal and the power play can’t finish. There were some good chances but the forwards aren’t paying the price in front of the net to either deflect pucks home or put away rebounds that were there for the taking by Carey Price. Currently this forward crew is playing too much on the perimeter and appears soft. There isn’t enough hitting and looking at some of the players on the forward roster, that is not surprising.

In net, neither goalie looks totally sharp but with the continual breakdowns in front of them, their confidence has to be shot too.

Clearly the Brooks Laich injury is a big issue but a single hockey player can’t fix this mess right now. Unfortunately, Oates doesn’t have the luxury of having a few days to work things out in practice as Washington plays six games in the next 10 days.

So the coach’s only option now is to mix the combinations up and perhaps put some of the current scratches back in the lineup. I imagine we will see Eric Fehr at forward and perhaps John Erskine and/or Jeff Schultz on defense in New Jersey on Friday night.

Oates also has to find a way to get the players to work harder and smarter, then somehow hope they get some positive results and regain their confidence.

If that doesn’t happen, this could get ugly fast. A loss to the Devils would put the Caps at 0-4 in this short season with a hot Sabres team coming in to the Verizon Center on Sunday.

Two Sundays ago after the team’s initial practice, Caps GM George McPhee, when asked by the media if he was going to make any moves stated,  “I like our team.”

I wonder if he’d still give the same answer after watching these first three games?

To me, the results speak for themselves.

So the question now is will McPhee make a move or two to try to shake things up and get this season back on track?

Notes: Joey Crabb scored late in the final period to close the book on the Caps 4-1 loss…Carlson has been on the ice for 9 of the 14 goals against this season…Washington did win the faceoff battle, 30-25, so they got that going for them…Ovechkin had one hit and three shots on goal in 22:26 of ice time. The Gr8 needs to find a way to be more physically involved.

 

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Predicting the Caps Season Is As Clear As Mud Right Now

Posted on 18 January 2013 by Ed Frankovic

 

The Washington Capitals start their short but jam packed 48 game season in Tampa Bay tomorrow night when they take on the Lightning (7 pm CSN).

Since the magical run in the spring of 2008, I’ve felt like I’ve had a pretty good read on this team and could accurately say before the season started that the Caps were definitely a playoff team each of the last four campaigns.

Last year’s club struggled through a coaching change and key injuries to Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green before squeaking into the dance and then coming a game away from a date with the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Championship.

This season, I have no idea how this team, with a new coach and system, will respond in a season where taking a game or two off is just not an option.

Hockey starts in net and Washington will go with youngsters Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Personally, I am pretty confident in that duo right now, especially given the way those two compete. Holtby’s ability to play the puck certainly is an advantage I expect coach Adam Oates to put to use frequently.

On defense, Dennis Wideman departed in free agency (Calgary) but with a healthy Mike Green and an emerging John Carlson, they didn’t need him at the dollars he was looking for and received. With Karl Azner in the mix as the Caps most solid defensive defensemen to go with the aging, but savvy Roman Hamrlik, Washington has a decent top four. After that it is a crap shoot with Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, Jack Hillen, and a 35 year old Tom Poti, who miraculously is back after missing two years due to groin and hip injuries. Dmitry Orlov would probably be my number five d-man on this club, but he is hurt right now. So this defensive crew could be really good or teams could expose the third pair, if it doesn’t step up. Any two week or more injury to either Green, Carlson, or Alzner could be devasting.

Up front, the Capitals have three legitimate top six forwards in Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Ribeiro. Luckily two of those three are centers, something the Caps haven’t been able to say since 2009. The question though, is who is going to be the wingers to fill out the top two lines? Troy Brouwer, because of his net presence is clearly the best answer on the roster. Brooks Laich would be your next best bet but he is out injured and may not play for the first two weeks. General Manager George McPhee is taking a flyer on forward Wojtek Wolski, who was signed off of the scrap heap this past summer. Wolski is 6-3 and 210 and he will need to play “big” if he wants to stick around in the top six.

Third year man Marcus Johansson is on the top line right now with the Gr8 and Backstrom. MJ90 has a lot of speed but he puts no physical fear into opposing defenders and he was often rubbed off of the puck easily in the corner in his freshmen and sophomore campaigns. Playing the third year Swede on the top line is asking a lot of the youngster.

I really like the third line of Jason Chimera-Jay Beagle-Joel Ward, especially now that we know Ward is not dealing with the hernia injury he had in 2011-12. The fourth line features heart and soul hard worker Matt Hendricks and likely a rotation of two of the following three players: re-signed Eric Fehr, Mathieu Perreault, and Joey Crabb.

Clearly this team will need above average to excellent seasons from Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green if it is going to win the Southeast Division. None of them had even average seasons last year, although Green and Backstrom had injury excuses. So to predict this team is a lock for the postseason is no sure bet.

Many of the so-called experts are already giving the Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers since they added forward Rick Nash while giving up pretty much nothing. We all witnessed how smart the experts were in the NFL last week when Ray Lewis and company went in and won in Denver when practically every talking head out there had a “Brady vs. Manning” AFC Championship matchup set in stone. Yes, the Rangers look good on paper, but you have to play the games.

The bottom line is the Caps could be really good or they could fall flat on their faces. McPhee has been consistent this week in saying “I like our team.”

Well the games start tomorrow, then come rapidly at a fast and furious pace, so Caps fans are about to find out if their GM is on the mark.

 

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Will Donald Fehr Wreck the Caps Off Season?

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Will Donald Fehr Wreck the Caps Off Season?

Posted on 17 May 2012 by Ed Frankovic

“We’re getting too down. As soon as we get a goal scored against us it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world. It’s just one goal. It’s bound to happen every game. We’re killing our momentum by having them score and then giving up another one.”

“We were too slow. We were soft. We weren’t making the smart plays, helping each other get open. If you’re not working hard for each other you’re not going to be successful.”

Those are some really telling quotes there, aren’t they? While doing some end of season spring cleaning, I stumbled upon the quote sheet that the Caps super PR department distributes after games and the above were from November 25, 2011 after the Caps lost, 6-3, to the New York Rangers. Those two quotes were from the always honest and straight forward Karl Alzner.

The night after that contest Washington would get blown out, 5-1, in Buffalo and that would spell the end of the Bruce Boudreau era and bring Dale Hunter into the fold.

We all know what happened from there in a roller coaster season that nearly put the Capitals into the Eastern Conference Finals before a tough end in New York last Saturday night.

Unfortunately, Hunter announced on Monday that he is heading back to Ontario to be with his family and to work with his London Knights franchise. Selfishly I would have loved for Dale to stay here and coach this team because I felt that when he took over he was the right guy for the job and I still believe that. It is clear that this team came together under ole number 32 like they haven’t done in recent years. Reading those two quotes above from Alzner should remind EVERYONE just how far this hockey team came in the nearly six months Hunter was behind the bench.

The Caps no longer were mentally weak and found ways to come back from some crushing defeats (see late season loss to Buffalo, games one, three, and six to Boston, as well as games three and five to the Rangers). They also became a tougher team to play against and the word soft could only be used to describe perhaps a couple of players instead of most of the team. Washington’s players certainly learned to stick together and play for one another and at the end of the season I will say that this club overall became greater than the sum of their parts, which in the past often didn’t seem to be the case.

But the season is over and Hunter is gone. There were lessons learned that should be carried forward and that locker room unity we saw hopefully continues next fall, if there is a 2012-13 hockey season, but more on that in a minute.

Every season hockey rosters turn over and with free agency coming on July 1st, the Caps will no doubt undergo some changes. I would bet my last dollar that both Alex Semin and Dennis Wideman won’t be back. Add goalie Tomas Vokoun to that list too. Right there that is over $11M in salary cap room for General Manager George McPhee to work with. There will be other changes too and it is well documented in this blog that McPhee’s number one player issue is improving the middle of the ice. We all saw how inconsistent the Caps were when Nicklas Backstrom went down for 40 games. They nearly missed the playoffs because they had a hole at the number one and two center positions. Finding a true second line center isn’t easy and many Caps fans were hoping that 2010 first round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov might be the answer to that next fall, or at the very least he could come over and play on one of the top two lines as a winger. That isn’t happening. Kuznetsov, who turns 20 on Saturday, is staying in Russia. He can make more money there in the KHL and the uncertain NHL labor situation (the CBA expires on 9/15/2012) definitely didn’t help the Capitals cause.

The importance of quality centers cannot be overstated. There is no doubt that good centers help puck possession and other fancy stats. The Caps struggled in that area simply because they had pivots who could not break the puck out of their own zone very well, especially when #19 was injured. Hunter knew he had issues there and I firmly believe he put in place a strategy that gave him the best chance to win with the absence of strong centers. That was to focus on their own end and try to generate scoring chances via transition. He nearly pulled it off and if Alex Ovechkin or Troy Brouwer score from in tight in overtime in game three or they survive the last 25 seconds of game five they defeat the Rangers and instead they are the ones facing the New Jersey Devils.

Just look at the difference Brad Richards has made for a Rangers team that Washington manhandled in the first round in the spring of 2011! The bad news is there are no players like Richards on the free agent market this year, so McPhee has his work cut out for him.

Speaking of the market, does anyone have any idea how that will shake out this summer? After all, the head of the NHL players union is game killer Donald Fehr (see 1994 MLB strike and World Series cancellation) so you can bet that the NHL owners won’t be giving their GM’s a whole lot of rope to play with in the summer given the economic uncertainty facing the league with no collective bargaining agreement in place after September 15th.

So Fehr alone could wreck McPhee’s chances of retooling the Capitals this summer and getting them ready for a Stanley Cup run in 2013. It will not be a fun NHL offseason from that standpoint alone. McPhee does have two first round draft picks in this June’s NHL Entry draft so he needs to use those to help re-stock the prospect pipeline. He could package one of the picks in a trade to obtain a top six forward, but that seems to be a less likely scenario.

But given all of that, there are still places where this Caps team can improve on over the summer and it starts with each individual player. Regardless of who the next coach will be, every guy who wore a red sweater this past season needs to remember what brought them post season success: hard work, sticking together, and defensive hockey. The days of wide open play are over. The Caps kept doing that towards the end of the Boudreau era and all it led to was what I call “Odd Man Rush City” for the opponents. You can’t win that way in the NHL and even the Edmonton Oilers learned to play the right way before winning their first Cup in 1984. Defense wins championships, plain and simple.

You do need offense though and one way to improve that is by GMGM finding another top center. Washington needs two scoring lines and they didn’t have that this season. The result is it makes it much easier to defend Alexander Ovechkin. Hunter tried putting Backstrom with Semin on the second line to try and balance things out. It was a move that Boudreau smartly used in 2008 and 2009, but he had Sergei Fedorov to center the Gr8.

Ovechkin is at the top of my list of who can definitely improve next year. Better personnel will help him right off of the bat, if those moves can be made. But the Gr8 also can help himself by applying what Hunter was trying to teach him: good defense leads to more offense. Ovechkin needs to work on his defensive game regardless of the system implemented by the new coach. Pavel Datsyuk and Fedorov are great offensive talents but they both are/were very good defensively too. There is no reason why Alex can’t get better in his own zone. If he gets rid of the straight legged and gliding posture, bears down more, and does extra film study of opposing defenders to learn their tendencies, I am willing to bet that the Gr8 could score 10 more goals next season just by going from defense to offense more efficiently. His size and speed are some of his greatest assets and if he used them better in his own zone he could become the most dominant player in the league, once again. But Ovie has to want to do that and put the work in, plain and simple. Maybe he should give Ray Lewis a call to learn about work ethic and the benefits of film study?

Marcus Johansson is next on my list. MJ90 had a rough playoffs and was moved off of the puck too easily by the Rangers. Given that he was on one of the top two lines, that really hurt Washington’s chances to win the series. I’d much prefer him on the third line where he could really be effective and not have so much pressure on him, but with the lack of talent in the top six forward area, Marcus was forced to play up. He’s only 21 and he has great speed, but he needs to build strength and be stronger on the puck. The playoffs are all about winning the battles on the wall and he was not equipped to do that this spring.

We saw lots of promise out of Braden Holtby and Dmitry Orlov and both must avoid the sophomore slump. Alzner and John Carlson became a flat out dominant pair on the ice and they will be expected to do that and more next season. Carlson deserves first unit power play time, in my opinion. He has a great shot and isn’t afraid to use it. #74 was super in the playoffs and I see no reason why he can’t continue that level of play next season. Brooks Laich is a rock for this team but he needs to score more, hopefully the new coach gets him more power play time.

Right down the roster every player must find a way to improve while staying within the team structure. That brings us to the most important off-season decision that is non-player related, hiring the next head coach. The new bench boss must be a guy the players respect. Hunter certainly commanded it for his reputation as a player but also because every guy on the roster was held accountable, regardless of their contract or star power. That must continue.

McPhee smartly said he will take his time with the decision but there are some names out there that immediately bubble to the top of the list based on discussions I’ve had with people very familiar with the NHL coaching landscape: Craig Ramsay, Mike Sullivan, Jim Playfair, and Mike Eaves. Ramsay, Sullivan, and Playfair all have NHL head coaching experience while Eaves has been coaching at Wisconsin since 2002. Take a look at their respective coaching records yourself and you will be impressed with each candidate. McPhee certainly couldn’t go wrong picking any of those four, but perhaps he goes a different route and chooses someone with more ties to the Caps organization, such as a Terry Murray or Adam Oates?

It will be interesting to see what McPhee does, and this is a critical decision for him with this hockey team coming off of some positive playoff production.

There is a good vibe to this hockey team right now despite a disappointing end to the season, but the 2012 summer holds a lot for the Washington Capitals with so many important things on the agenda to address.

It is imperative they do the right things this summer. Let’s also hope that the NHL labor negotiations, and particularly Fehr, don’t wreck what is a very crucial off-season for the Caps.

 

 

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Trey Miller Shines In Navy Spring Game

Posted on 14 April 2012 by WNST Staff

Blue Defeats Gold, 21-0, In Annual Spring Football Game

ANNAPOLIS, Md.-Blue quarterback Trey Miller ran for two touchdowns while completing seven of nine passes for 104 yards to lead the Blue to a 21-0 victory over the Gold on Saturday afternoon at  Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Miller scored on option runs of five yards in the first quarter and 14 yards in the second to give the Blue a 14-0 halftime lead.

“Trey has improved tremendously this spring,” said Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo.  “He has a great temperament and is an extremely hard worker.  This is his time.”

Blue fullbacks Noah Copeland and Prentice Christian combined to rush for 129 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.  Copeland led the way with nine carries for 66 yards, while Christian contributed 63 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.

“Noah just continues to work every day,” said Niumatalolo.  “Coach Judge says he is always taking notes in meetings and has never taken the fact that he’s the starter for granted. He is a lot tougher than what we thought.  He’s like Jessica Sanchez on American Idol. You look at her and she’s so little but when she sings she has such an incredibly powerful voice it shocks you.  That’s Noah.  He may not be the size of an Eckel or a Kettani, but looks can be deceiving.  He’s powerful.”

Nose guard Travis Bridges led the defense with seven tackles and a sack, while linebacker Brye French added six tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.  Defensive end Josh Dowling-Fitzpatrick caused a fumble that was recovered by outside linebacker Keegan Wetzel and also recovered a fumble.

“Travis Bridges has all the tools to be a very good nose guard for us and Brye French was probably the MVP of the spring,” said Niumatalolo.

Fullback Mike Patrick led the Gold with 52 yards rushing on seven carries.  The Blue held the Gold to 115 yards of total offense.

Outside linebacker D.J. Sargenti led the Gold with 10 tackles, two tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks.  George Jamison and Jerad Fehr added five tackles each for the Gold.

“All in all it was a good day,” said Niumatalolo.  “We got a couple of guys banged up which tempers things a little bit, but I’m pleased with where we are heading into fall camp.”

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Caps Trade Fehr to Winnipeg to Clear Cap Room

Posted on 08 July 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Fresh off this week’s signing of recently acquired winger Troy Brouwer to a two year, $2.35 per season deal, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee has traded right wing Eric Fehr to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2012 4th round draft pick and minor league forward Danick Paquette (played in ECHL in 2010-11). Fehr, who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and has battled injuries throughout much of his career since being drafted in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft (18th overall), was slated to make $2.2M in 2011-12. Given the minimal return in the trade, it is clear that this deal was largely about clearing room to get Washington under the salary cap.

The 2011-12 NHL salary cap is set at $64.3M per team. Using the individual player information from capgeek.com the Capitals now have 22 players on contract for a total of $63,905,128. This includes the $233,333 that is on the books for this season for the Tyler Sloan buyout (the same number will be applied to the Washington salary cap total in 2012-13). However, that does not include restricted free agent defensemen Karl Alzner, who is still yet to re-sign with the Caps. If you assume that defenesemen Tom Poti and his $2.875M salary will not count due to either his retirement or being placed on long term injured reserve (LTIR), then that puts Washington at $61,030,128, which would be $3,269,872 below the salary cap with King Karl still to sign. Given that I expect #27 to garner at least $3M per season, this will have the Caps right up against or slightly over the salary cap once his contract situation gets finalized. Teams are allowed to carry 10% over the salary cap limit until the first game of the regular season giving McPhee time to make other moves, if necessary. Note, however, that the capgeek numbers are not official and McPhee and assistant GM Don Fishman are the ones that possess the exact salary cap figures for each player.

Notes: The Capitals will host Caps Development Camp next week at Kettler IcePlex starting Monday, July 11th and ending with Fan Fest and a scrimmage on Saturday, July 16th. All on ice activities are open to the public and the full schedule and roster can be found here at washingtoncaps.com. Confirmed attendees are top prospects forward Cody Eakin (2009 3rd round pick) and defensemen Dmitri Orlov (2009 2nd round pick). 2010 first round selection Evgeny Kuznetsov, who attended last summer and was arguably the best player on the ice, will not be present next week…Below is the full press release from the Caps on the Fehr trade:

The Washington Capitals acquired a fourth-round draft pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and right wing Danick Paquette from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for right wing Eric Fehr, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Paquette, 20, recorded 20 points (13 goals, seven assists) and 179 penalty minutes in 59 games with the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL last season. The 6’1”, 210-pound forward helped the Lewiston MAINEiacs win the QMJHL championship in 2007 and collected 175 points (94 goals, 81 assists) and 691 penalty minutes in 251 career QMJHL games with Lewiston and Quebec. He was originally drafted by the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise in the third round (64th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

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Caps Makeover Continues: Vokoun Signed in Net

Posted on 02 July 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Yesterday was Canada Day and Washington Capitals GM George McPhee made the Caps one of the big NHL winners on the Great White North’s holiday with his acquisitions of forward Joel Ward, d-man Roman Hamrlik, center Jeff Halpern, and two draft choices (a 1st and 2nd round pick) for a restricted free agent goalie (Semyon Varlamov) that possibly could have been had for just a second round pick via an offer sheet. Late that afternoon, as part of his job, McPhee stated that he was done with his moves in his chat with the media. But the man who has been the Capitals GM since 1997 was simply just keeping a poker face and playing his cards close to the vest. Those who read my blog know that he wasn’t done and this morning owner Ted Leonsis confirmed that the team was still likely to make some trades and maybe sign another free agent (I tweeted this info on twitter last night and this morning, so for Caps updates please follow me @EdFrankovic).

Today, on McPhee’s birthday, the Capitals signed free agent goalie Tomas Vokoun to a one year deal for a measly $1.5M. This is an amazing signing, given the price. Vokoun is a very good goalie, maybe not as naturally talented as Varlamov, but he can steal games for a team and it is something you need in the post season (see Thomas, Tim – Boston Bruins). He shut out the Caps twice last season and has thwarted them several times in the past, so the organization knows how good he can be. This move also provides some insurance in goal. Yes, the Capitals could have gone and would have likely been comfortable with just Michal Neuvirth and Braden Holtby in net, but with the price so low and injuries likely to happen at some point, this move makes perfect sense. Holtby needs to play and another year with the majority of his time in Hershey won’t hurt him either. Neuvirth was very good in the post season but in the Tampa series he never flat out won a game when Washington desperately needed it. Vokoun, who is 35 today and has played 13 years in the NHL, is clearly looking for a chance to win a Stanley Cup before his time is up and the Capitals give him a great chance to do so.

So are the Caps done now? I still say, NO! The biggest reason is the salary cap, but a clear locker room transformation is occurring as well that is contributing to these acquisitions and decisions to let others leave. So far Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, Varlamov, Marco Sturm, and Andrew Gordon have signed elsewhere. In addition, it is evident that Scott Hannan and Jason Arnott very likely won’t be back. McPhee still has to sign defensemen Karl Alzner and forward Troy Brouwer (acquired for the Caps 2011 first round pick at last weekend’s draft in Minnesota), who are restricted free agents. King Karl, who made in the $1.7M range last year, is set up for a huge raise and I can’t see his new average annual salary at lower than $3.14M per season. Why do I say that? Because for that figure or less, Alzner could be signed by another team now to an offer sheet and all Washington would receive in return, if they chose not to match, would be a second round pick. McPhee is too smart to let that happen. Leonsis blogged this morning that both King Karl and Brouwer will be inked. Brouwer counted $1.025M against the cap last season and I expect him to garner in the $2M plus range going forward.

The issue with those signings is that the Capitals go over the $64.3M salary cap once they ink both #27 and Brouwer. The Caps can exceed the cap by 10% ($70M) up until game one of the regular season, but clearly someone has to be moved out, even if Tom Poti and his $2.8M salary cap hit is off of the books due to retirement or long term injured reserve (LTIR). We’ll get to who the likely trade candidates are in a minute, but besides the dollars, an interesting thing is going on with the Capitals here, the team is bringing in veterans who are leaders to counter balance a young locker room. In addition, these are guys who have playoff or big game experience. Brouwer won a Stanley Cup in Chicago in 2010, Hamrlik (chosen 1st overall in 1992 NHL draft by Tampa) has a Gold Medal from the Czech Republic in the 1998 Winter Olympic games, Halpern is a former Caps team captain, and Ward has 17 points in 18 playoff games the last two seasons, including a great second round series versus the Canucks this past spring.

In addition, Brouwer, Ward, and Halpern are guys who can score from the tough areas in front of the opponent’s cage, something Washington did not have enough of on their roster after Mike Knuble and the recently re-signed Brooks Laich (6 years, $27M). Hamrlik should help a struggling power play as well since he has a decent shot that can be launched from the left point. The Caps did not have that type of left handed defensemen on last year’s roster. These are positive moves on the ice and off of it and if guys adopt #21′s work ethic, this team could be extremely good when it matters.

The previous two off-seasons the Capitals didn’t make many moves expecting that growth from within would help improve the club. That worked, but only in the regular season as evidenced by a Presidents’ Trophy (2010) and an Eastern Conference regular season title (2011) before first and second round playoff losses, respectively. This year McPhee, who along with Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau is likely feeling pressure to produce in the post season, isn’t taking any chances by standing pat. He is being aggressive, but also smart at the same time. The types of players he is bringing in signals that his most recent post season analysis dictated that he add leadership, work ethic, and grit to go along with some highly skilled players. But like I said above, his work is not done yet, there has to be some subtraction to make the numbers work.

Will it be Alexander Semin and his $6.7M salary? After all, #28 hasn’t delivered in the playoffs the last three years other than against the New York Rangers. As talented and skilled as he is, the types of goals he scores from October to early April don’t seem to occur in the playoffs when the game changes. He also isn’t known as the hardest worker, so could a Semin trade become addition by subtraction? There could be merit to that statement. Other candidates to be moved are Mike Green at $5.2M (entering last year of his contract), Jeff Schultz ($2.75M cap hit), and Eric Fehr ($2.2M).  I don’t see Green getting traded since the team needs guys who can move the puck on the back line. As for #55 and #16, possibly, but moving only one doesn’t seem to make the math totally work, after all, McPhee also likes to have some salary cap room to work with during the season. So if it isn’t 28 or 52, then both Sarge and Fehr would probably need to be moved to make salary cap room.  But if Semin is traded, even for just a draft pick (and hopefully a #1), that should free up more than enough salary cap room for Alzner and Brouwer and might even allow GMGM to go after a second line center.

In summary, I applaud these moves by McPhee. The Caps, on paper, have become a better team. But the club is not done, so stayed tuned as the makeover continues in preparation for a training camp that is now just over two months away.

Notes: I will be on with Drew Forrester on the Comcast Morning Show on WNST on Tuesday, July 5th at 925 am talking about the Capitals and other things happening around the NHL. Listen Live on 1570AM or on WNST.NET…forward Chris Bourque (Caps 2004 2nd round draft pick and three time Hershey Bears Calder Cup winner) has been re-signed by the team today. He is expected to play in Hershey but could be an injury call up…defensemen Sean Collins was re-signed yesterday and will play primarily in Hershey as well…Below is the Capitals full press release on the Vokoun signing:

The Washington Capitals have signed free agent goaltender Tomas Vokoun to a one-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We are excited to add an elite veteran goaltender to the Capitals,” said McPhee. “We now have a nice blend of talent, depth, experience and youth in the goaltending position.”

Vokoun, 34, completed his 13th NHL season while posting a record of 22-28-5 with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in 57 games with the Florida Panthers. It marked the eighth consecutive season in which he has recorded 20 or more wins and the third-straight season he has registered a save percentage of .920 or higher. He finished the season ranked sixth in the league in shutouts (6), 10th in save percentage, 12th in saves (1,616) and tied for 19th in goals-against average.

“I’m very excited to join the Washington Capitals organization,” said Vokoun. “It is a terrific team with a lot of talent and I look forward to doing everything I can for us to reach our ultimate goal in winning the Stanley Cup.”

The 6’, 215-pound netminder has played the fifth-most games among active goaltenders (632) and ranks 39th all-time in career NHL wins (262), 17th in saves (16,957) and 27th in shutouts (44). His .917 career save percentage is tied for sixth in the NHL among active goaltenders and he ranks eighth in wins, fifth in shutouts and 18th in goals-against average (2.56). Vokoun is tied for the best save percentage (.922) in the NHL since the 2005-06 season and is also tied for the fourth-most shutouts in that span (32). The two-time NHL All-Star (2004, 2008), has finished in the top ten in save percentage in five of the last six seasons. In 11 career postseason games with Nashville, Vokoun is 3-8 with a 2.47 goals-against average, a .922 save percentage and one shutout. He is also currently ranked sixth in playoff save percentage among active goaltenders that have appeared in at least 10 games.

The Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, native led the Czech national team to a gold medal during the 2010 World Championships, posting a record of 7-1 with a 1.57 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. He also helped backstop the Czechs to a gold medal in the 2005 World Championships and was awarded the Directorate’s Best Goaltender Award while being selected to the tournament All-Star team. In addition, Vokoun captured a bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics and represented the Czech Republic in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. In total, he has represented his country at two Olympics (2006, 2010), one World Cup (2004), four World Championships (2003, 2004, 2005, 2010) and one World Junior Championship (1996), posting a 31-12-1 record with a 1.80 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in international play.

Vokoun was originally selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the 9th round (226th overall) of the 1994 NHL Entry Draft.   

 

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Caps Re-Sign Laich / GM McPhee Talks Moves

Posted on 28 June 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee re-signed hard working and fan favorite forward Brooks Laich to a monster six year, $27.5M deal today. Below is most of the official press release from the Caps, followed with info from GMGM’s press conference, and then my take on what may transpire over the next few weeks for Washington.

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“We are very pleased to have Brooks Laich continue his career as a Washington Capital,” said McPhee. “Brooks has excelled as one of the League’s finer two-way players and is just entering his prime. His combination of size, speed, versatility and leadership makes him a valuable part of our club.”

Laich, 28, finished fourth on the Capitals in points (48), fifth in goals (16) and third in assists (32) while posting a plus-14 plus/minus rating and collecting 46 penalty minutes. For the third time in his career, he played in all 82 of Washington’s regular-season games and finished second on the Caps with 207 shots on goal. In addition, Laich closed out the 2010-11 campaign fifth on the team in hits (113) and won 51.3 percent of his faceoffs. He scored his 100th career NHL goal on Mar. 15 at Montreal and finished second on the team in points during the playoffs (7) while leading the Caps with six postseason assists in nine games. Laich also finished first amongst Capitals forwards in average shorthanded ice time per game (2:18) and was instrumental in leading the Caps penalty kill unit that ranked second in the NHL during the regular season.      

“I’m thrilled to make the commitment to remain a Capital,” said Laich. “It is a wonderful organization with terrific fans and I’m very happy to continue to call Washington home for many years to come.”

The 6’2”, 215-pound center set career-highs in goals (25), assists (34) and points (59) during the 2009-10 season and scored 20 or more goals in three straight seasons from 2007-2010. In 475 career regular-season games, Laich has recorded 237 points (100 goals, 137 assists) and is a plus-14. In 37 career playoff games, he has tallied seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points.

The Wawota, Saskatchewan, native is second among active Capitals players in franchise games played (474), fifth in points (237), third in goals (100) and fifth in assists (137). Laich is 15th amongst his 2001 draft class in points but is one of only three players in the top 15 to be drafted later than the third round.

Laich was a sixth-round draft pick (193rd overall) by Ottawa in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He was acquired from Ottawa along with the Senators’ second-round draft pick in 2005 (traded to Colorado) and future considerations for Peter Bondra on Feb. 18, 2004. 

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Laich has really turned himself into a very good hockey player with his drive and hard work. He was set to become a free agent on July 1st and several teams would likely have bid on him. McPhee spoke to the media this afternoon (video available on washingtoncaps.com) and talked about the importance of signing his own players. He also highlighted #21′s ability to play center, something he thinks we’ll see more of in 2011-12. Laich made $2.4M last season, so this is a hefty raise, but given that the salary cap is going up close to $5M per team and there are several clubs that aren’t even at the cap floor of $48.3M, the deal doesn’t look as bad given what the open market might have resulted in contract-wise for #21.

McPhee also mentioned that there is a lot of talking going on between teams in the league right now but he is not imminently close to any deals. He did say that he thinks that prices will be way up in free agency so he doesn’t expect the Caps to be players there in a thin market, he sees the more likely scenario of Washington making a trade with another club. As for the Varlamov situation, the GM said that the club will either have three goalies next season, meaning Varly re-signs with the Caps, or they’ll go with two (Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby).

The Laich signing ($4.5M per year cap hit) gives the Caps some high cap figure players towards the $64.3M ceiling to include Alexander Ovechkin (~$9.5M), Nicklas Backstrom ($6.7M), Alexander Semin ($6.7M), Mike Green ($5.25M), and Dennis Wideman ($3.9M). Tom Poti ($2.875M), Jeff Schultz ($2.75M), Eric Fehr ($2.2M), and Mike Knuble ($2.0M) are also signed for at least the upcoming season and will make over $2M. Karl Alzner, Troy Brouwer, and Varlamov are the next three guys who would likely be over $2M if they are re-signed. Washington could get some salary cap relief if Poti is unable to recover from his groin problems that plagued him significantly last year (potential retirement?). However, #3′s status will not be known until training camp. McPhee felt that the Capitals are in good shape with the salary cap and they have flexibility to do what is needed to be done to try and win a Stanley Cup.

Both Green and Semin head into the last year of their current deals in 2011-12 so the threat of possibly losing an asset next summer begins looming with both players. McPhee historically has done a good job of not giving up high end players without receiving something in return. I would imagine the team may still be looking for a center if Jason Arnott is not back, as I expect to be the case. Backstrom is the clear #1 and Marcus Johansson is a natural fit to be a super third line center. Putting MJ90 on the second line could put too much pressure on the young Swede so it seems like Laich is the fall back #2 center if another pivot is not added.

More depth on defense is also a likely possibility, especially if unrestricted free agent Scott Hannan is not re-signed. GMGM talked again about the injuries on defense being a big reason for the second round playoff loss to Tampa, so one way to avoid that next year is to find more puck movers in case the injury bug hits again, which seems to be a frequent situation with #52 come post season time.

The GM talked last Saturday after the Brouwer trade about adding more guys with Cup experience so I don’t think he is done putting the 2011-12 club together yet. Clearly the next two weeks are going to be interesting times for Capitals fans, so stay glued to the internet for any breaking Caps news!

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Caps Giveaway Game 1 To Tampa, 4-2

Posted on 30 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

All week long, while waiting for their round two opponent, the Washington Capitals talked about maintaining their focus so they would be ready for game one of the next series. If this was school and I was the teacher grading the Caps on their performance towards that goal they would not get a passing grade. The Capitals started slow, came on strong for twenty minutes, then completely got away from playoff hockey, and as a result lost, 4-2, thanks to two late second period tallies by the Lightning. Steve Downie and Steven Stamkos notched those markers and the Bolts now lead this best of seven series with game two set for Sunday night at the Verizon Center at 7 pm.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game that the Capitals basically gave away to Tampa:

- A lot was made of Tampa’s 1-3-1 defensive scheme and how the Caps needed to be patient against it. In order to defeat that scheme, I blogged that Washington needed to find a way to enter the Bolts zone with speed and make sure they put the pucks in the correct areas on their dump-ins. They also could not turn the puck over and allow the Lightning to get breaks and odd man rushes in transition. In fact, a couple of very smart hockey fans over at Japers Rink posted a great blog on how to technically defeat Coach Guy Boucher’s scheme. For the first 30 minutes of game one, the Caps seemed to be following the necessary script but then something happened that sent Washington into a downward spiral midway through period two. Instead of being content passing the puck D to D like they did in a win in Tampa in February, which forced the Bolts to send a forechecker in and open up the neutral zone, the Caps decided to attack the 1-3-1 without being responsible. As a result, the Bolts started getting chances and got the momentum necessary to regain control of the game.

“We went away from our patient game and tried to lure them in and kind of open up some seams, but I think we got the lead and we just figured we need to get more and more instead of kind of protecting,” said Caps defensemen Jeff Schultz on how Washington got away from what had been making them successful recently.

- Schultz hit the nail on the head as the Capitals played more like last year’s team or more like a game from November from there on out in the middle frame. Washington got too fancy with the puck trying drop and low percentage passes, had too many individual moves in the neutral zone and blue line that zapped them of speed and often lead to offsides calls, and made too many turnovers. Washington stopped moving their feet and as a result their physical play dropped off and they took some lazy penalites. All three Caps second period infractions could have been avoided had the player kept working and played smarter (Boyd Gordon’s slash, Matt Hendricks interference, and Jason Chimera’s rough).

“I think we play very well, the last 10 minutes of the first period and the first 10 minutes of the second period. When we get the lead, we didn’t play our game, I think we play too cute and we took lots of penalties and that cost us. It’s over and we have to prepare for next game,” said Caps captain Alexander Ovechkin on what led to the demise and where his mindset was following the contest.

- Tampa’s special teams have been outstanding in this postseason and they killed off all five Capitals power plays while scoring on one of their four attempts. That goal edge to the Lightning was the difference in the game (Tampa’s last tally came into an empty net). Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was disappointed in the lack of shots his team took on the power play while Boucher credited his club’s attention to detail for thwarting the highly skilled Capitals attack.

“There’s always the luck element in there. Our players put a lot of work into the details. They really do. They spend a lot of time watching video by themselves or in little groups on top of what we made them watch. They figured out a lot of the small details that make you successful. You look at their power play, they still had a lot of time of possession in our zone,” commented the Tampa coach on the key to his club’s special teams success while pointing out that there is still work to be done by his crew.

- Boucher, just two days into the series, has picked a theme with the media and stuck with it. He has likened his team’s chances against the Caps to that of David vs. Goliath. He continually praises the Capitals players calling them extremely skilled, a juggernaut, powerful, etc. So far, his rhetoric is working because his club won the majority of the battles to the loose pucks on Friday while Washington must have been reading the press clippings and blogs. The Caps played rather stupidly when they got ahead, as if they thought they were the high powered Edmonton Oilers of the 1980′s, and they also forgot about what it takes to win in the playoffs. Their hits were down and their turnovers were up, which is a recipe for the golf course if it continues.

“You can’t play river hockey and I’m looking and thought this isn’t the way we play, it was reverting back to an older day,” finished Boudreau on why the Caps were not successful after seemingly taking command of the play near the game’s midway point.

- Another game and another injury on the blue line for Washington. John Carlson was shaken up late in period two and only logged 36 seconds in period three. #74′s ice time total was just 14:39, way down from the norm. Boudreau stated that he was “day to day” and that the loss of Carlson cut his offensive ability from the back line nearly in half. That left Mike Green as the only puck rushing defensemen, making it easier for the Lightning to channel their top defenders to the times when #52 was on the ice. Green’s ice time, 27:05, led the Caps and 11:25 of it came in period three. That is way too much, but with the Capitals down a goal, Boudreau didn’t have any options.

- In summary, this was a really poor effort on Washington’s part. They forgot what made them successful in the opening round and didn’t stick to their game plan when they were on the verge of locking this tilt down in period two. It was a lazy and low hockey IQ type of performance, plain and simple. The Caps cannot play that way and win against an opportunistic Tampa club that has the skill to make the Capitals pay for mistakes, unlike the Rangers, who worked hard but just couldn’t finish. Those last 30 minutes were nothing like what we saw from Ovechkin and company in the last 52 minutes of game four and much of game five of the opening round. It was a real stinker and as one of my friends from Canada texted me near the end of the game, “The Caps were lazy and lacked intensity. The Royal Wedding was more entertaining than this hockey game.” I think that pretty much sums up my thoughts on this clunker too.

Notes: Simon Gagne was hit clean by Scott Hannan in period one, lost his footing, and fell to the ice hitting his head in the process. He did not return. In addition, Pavel Kubina hit his head on the glass as a result of Chimera’s roughing penalty and did not return…Ovechkin was not good at all getting only two shots on net. He had seven attempts blocked and he tried too many one on one moves that went nowhere. His best play was a feed to Nicklas Backstrom in the slot but #19 missed wide. Backstrom is struggling big time and if the Caps are to prevail in this series, he must get going offensively…Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr scored the Washington goals…Marcus Johansson set up the tally by #16 and was one of the better Caps on the ice…Washington won the face-off battle, 35-30. Brooks Laich was 6-3…Michal Neuvirth (21 saves) made some great stops in net. About the only thing I could fault him on was the first Tampa marker where he seemed to have the puck covered at one point and then lost it.

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