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Questions Begin to Mount as Caps Lose to Bruins Again

Posted on 21 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. The Washington Capitals outshot their opponents but lost to a hot goalie.

Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins, who defeated the Caps on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, did it again on Thursday in the Bruins home opener, stopping 38 of 39 shots en route to a 4-1 B’s triumph over an extremely inconsistent Capitals hockey team. The only goal by DC was from Jason Chimera, who tallied into an empty net after the Boston goalie misplayed the biscuit with just over 10 minutes left in the third period. With the loss Washington falls to 4-3 overall and after only seven contests some of the same issues from last spring’s playoffs are showing up in 2010-11.

So without further adieu, let’s get to the highlights, quotes and analysis from the Caps 2nd straight defeat to the Bruins in as many games:

- Thomas was good, but as was discussed on the Caps postgame show on Comcast, where were any Capitals to go to the net and screen the B’s goalie or fight for second chances? I did not see a whole lot of that and that is it what it takes to solve a goalie who is in a groove. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, perimeter hockey does not work and Boston used the same strategy the Canadiens employed last spring. They simply packed their defense in early on and made the Caps try and beat them with shots from the outside. When the Caps made a mistake, the Bruins would then counter attack and seek opportunities. The strategy is a bit of a risky one but when the opponent scores first, the Capitals tend to get lazy and play bad positional hockey that leads to penalties and more goals against. This is what happened on Thursday evening.

- Washington dominated the first 17 or so minutes and couldn’t score, primarily because noone fought for rebounds plus guys like Nicklas Backstrom, who had one of his worst games in a long time, missed glorious scoring chances. Then Matt Hendricks took a bad penalty in the offensive zone  with under two minutes left and when Jason Chimera got sucked to the side boards on the penalty kill, Patrice Bergeron slid a nice pass to Michael Ryder down low and he easily beat Semyon Varlamov (30 saves). That pass was able to be made because John Carlson was too high in the slot battling a Bruins forward, who was already tied up with John Erskine. Thus a 13-8 Caps first period shots advantage went for naught as the Bruins grabbed a 1-0 lead.

- In the second period it was mostly Boston carrying the play as they had an 18-13 shots advantage and tallied twice to give them a 3-0 lead heading into period three. Speedy forward Jonathan Caron scored a huge goal to make it 2-0 after the Caps top line got caught on the ice too long and ran out of gas. Then midway through the period Alexander Semin took a hooking penalty and Nathan Horton blasted one through traffic, something that we aren’t seeing from the Caps power play, to make it 3-0 and pretty much end this game at 12:29 of the middle stanza.

“We got caught out there too long with Nicky’s line, they got one change in while the puck was in our zone, a great one by them, and we were too tired to move and they scored to make it 2-0. Then they scored on the power play to make it 3-0 and it’s pretty tough to come back on a team with a goalie playing like that when it is 3-0,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the turning point in the contest.

- As Boudreau said after the tilt, rookie Marcus Johansson was Washington’s best forward in the game. The young Swede sure can skate and his stick handling is pretty good too. MJ90 continues to get better and he is now playing 2nd line center between the very inconsistent Semin and a struggling Brooks Laich. He was a very respectable 5-4 on faceoffs on the road, where it is tougher to win draws. As for the rest of the centers on Washington, they were downright bad on Thursday. Backstrom couldn’t handle the puck all night and Tomas Fleischmann looks lost as a pivot. Even 4th line center Dave Steckel was a non factor and his stock continues to plummet. Center is still the area of biggest weakness on this Caps team and through seven games that is highly evident. How long does GM George McPhee stay with this crew of center ice men?

“Marcus was probably our best forward and I thought him and Chimera were really skating,” started the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on #90 and #26 before adding, “[changing the lines] is something I’ve got to think about with guys not producing. Is it because they are not playing well or because they are snakebit? I think they can all play better, it is a combination of both,” finished Boudreau.

- One area where the Caps are not struggling is in net. Varlamov played solid and did all he could to keep his team in the game but he was left out to dry too often. Boston had several breakaways and quality chances but #1 stopped most of them. It was really only on the penalty kill where he was unable to keep his finger in the dyke as a shorthanded unit that was 25 for 25 coming into Thursday’s tilt gave up three tallies on just four chances. Add in the fact that the Capitals power play went 0 for 4 with superstar Mike Green out of the lineup and you get a special teams differential of -3. NHL teams rarely win games when on the bottom end of that stat.

“We had lots of chances to score, we just didn’t. Normally our special teams, through seven games our penalty killing has been great, but our power play, which kept us at the top last year, hasn’t come through for us, so we’ll have to work on that tomorrow,” said Boudreau.

Notes: The Caps next game is home against the Thrashers on Saturday night before they embark on a three game road trip…Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon were both scratched due to injury…Washington won the face-off battle, 29-27…Alexander Ovechkin was credited with eight shots and five hits in 25:53 of ice time but he was held pointless and went -1.

Special thanks to Ted Starkey (@TedStarkey) of The Washington Times for forwarding the post game quotes that were used in this blog.

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Ovechkin/Neuvirth Combo Lead Caps Again

Posted on 14 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Watching the Washington Capitals 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night was very “Deja Vu” like as the win followed a similiar story line to Monday night’s triumph over the Ottawa Senators. Rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth made a number of key saves, including a late breakaway stop on Matt Moulson, and then Alexander Ovechkin rose to the occassion to first tie the contest and then help the Caps win it late in regulation. Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) scored late in the second period and then won the game for Washington by firing a power play shot that deflected off of Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) and by Islanders net minder Dwayne Roloson (24 saves) with 3:39 left in the contest. The victory pushes the Caps record to 3-1. They are a perfect 3-0 at the Verizon Center, which was sold out for the 63rd straight contest.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis on Washington’s third straight victory in three tries in DC:

After Monday night’s victory over Ottawa I said that Neuvirth was the team’s MVP through three tilts. You can make that four following Wednesday night’s impressive performance. The two time Calder Cup champion goalie halted 23 of 24 shots and did what Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau always asks from his net minders:  Make the big save when it is required. Moulson will tell you that #30 did that on Wednesday night and his strong goaltending allowed a Capitals team, that seems to have a tendency to play to the level of their competition so far in 2010-11, to come out victorious. In four games wih the Caps this season, Neuvy is sporting a 2.22 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. Neuvirth’s oustanding play while Semyon Varlamov has been out has been huge and some want to declare him the number one goalie, but Boudreau is just happy to have both #30 and Varly.

“It’s not ever going to be a controversy I don’t think, we’re just blessed to have two very good goalies,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner for NHL Coach of the Year.

- As I mentioned above, the Caps are basically showing up intensity-wise at the level of their opponent. As a result, from period to period the effort and quality of play is very inconsistent. In the first period on Wednesday the Islanders carried the play despite just a 6-5 shots advantage but New York led on a Nino Niederreiter goal because both defenseman John Erskine and John Carlson gave the Islanders forwards too much time and space to make a play. Washington would win the second period in shots 15-6 and in the final stanza it was New York who had a 12-6 shots advantage but thanks to Neuvirth the Caps prevailed.

“We dominated in the first and third [periods] but we cost ourselves with a goal there in the second period and that’s something we can’t have,” said Islanders forward Blake Comeau.

“They got a fluky one in the second [period] and in the third period on the power play.  It would have been nice to get a win here.  The guys played great,” said Roloson on his squad’s play and how they lost to the Caps.

Roloson also praised Ovechvin for being able to pick his spots and make it diffucult for him to stop the Great #8.

“He’s so good and he’s got such a great release.  He gets [the puck] in between guys and defensemen’s feet and between their sticks.  He just gets it through there and he shot a couple low tonight which he normally doesn’t do.  The first one tricked me,” added Rolson on Ovechkin and how he manages to fool opposing net minders with his skill and ability.

- Washington’s penalty killing continues to shine, primarily due to Neuvirth, but the aggressiveness of the shorthanded crew is clearly helping the goalies cause. The Caps are now 15 for 15 in that department on the season. The goalie, who needs to be your best PK man to be successful, is making the big save while the defense is doing a good job of clearing any rebounds.

- The early season struggling Caps power play came up big in this one after being ineffective on its initial attempts. With defenseman Mike Green leaving the game in the 3rd period due to an injury, Carlson received first unit power play time and it was his quick pass to Ovechkin in the middle of the point that allowed Backstrom to deflect the winner home. #74, who made some mistakes on defense, did his usual good job in the offensive zone by moving the biscuit quickly before the Islanders penalty killers could set up. Boudreau seemed relieved to win the game with the man advantage.

“It was just a matter of time. With the people you put out there, hopefully they simplify it and they got one at the right time,” finished Boudreau.

- Backstrom had his best contest of the season but his two points came with Ovechkin on the ice. #19 initially started with Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich while Tomas Fleischmann centered Ovechkin and Mike Knuble. In my opinion, the switch didn’t work well as Flash showed no chemistry with either the Great #8 or Knuble. It is nice to try and get Semin going, but not at the expense of Ovechkin, who now has four goals in this young season.

Notes: Tom Poti, Matt Bradley, and Marcus Johansson were all scratched due to minor injuries…2009 1st overall NHL draft pick, John Tavares, did not play for New York due to injury…the Caps were 26-37 on faceoffs with Backstrom going 12-8 while Fleischmann was a horrid 3-10…DJ King dressed for the first time in the regular season and he fought Trevor Gillies (no relation to former Islander great, Clark Gillies) just 2:47 into the contest…the Caps next game is Saturday night in Nashville against the Predators.

 

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Ovechkin, Neuvirth Lead Caps in 7-2 Win Over Devils

Posted on 10 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

When the Washington Capitals are motivated and focused, they are a tough team to beat. Less than 24 hours after basically not showing up in Atlanta in a season opening loss to the the Thrashers, the Caps hit the ice against the New Jersey Devils, a club they went 1-2-1 against in 2009-10, and in a fight filled contest the Capitals buried GM Lou Lamoriello’s squad, 7-2. Leading the way for Washington was Alexander Ovechkin, who scored two goals (including one on a penalty shot) and added an assist, defenseman John Carlson, who tallied a goal and notched two assists, and Michal Neuvirth, who stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced. The very raucous capacity crowd of 18,398 definitely received their money’s worth in this victory, which evens the Caps record at 1-1. The Capitals next game is Monday night at the Verizon Center at 7pm against the Ottawa Senators (7pm on Comcast Sports Net).

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes and analysis of an extremely entertaining contest:

- I know he was only the third star of the night, but if it wasn’t for Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth’s play in the first 30+ minutes of this tilt, Washington may have been the team that was blown out. #30 was super in the cage making some very big stops, including a whopping 17 in period two. The two time Calder Cup champion goalie was fundamentally sound in net and when he did give up a rebound it was either close enough for him to gather or swat away or he was able to get in position for the second shot. Caps forward Mike Knuble gave credit to the young net minder for his play.

“You just have to have him keep you in there a little bit and make some saves until we get going. It was kind of a fluky first goal. I think we helped him on that one and then the second goal was kind of a busted play shorthanded. He played great after that, he had to make some key saves. It was good to see,” said #22, who had an assist on the night, but more importantly was the one who drove to the net and screened Devils goalie Martin Brodeur on the Caps game winning goal that was scored by Ovechkin in the second period.

- The first star of the game was the Great #8, who took four periods this season plus a Saturday morning video session, to get his game going in 2010-11. Ovechkin’s goal at 14:31 of the second period was vintage Ovie as he came down the left wing, cut to the middle of the ice, and used Knuble as a screen while skipping the puck off the ice and by Brodeur. Then just 37 seconds after Jason Chimera gave the Caps a 4-2 advantage, Ovechkin was hauled down on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. Brodeur is notoriously one of the best in the league on penalty shots, as evidenced by his great shootout record, but the Great #8 was able to beat him by uncharacteristically going wide left to start his attempt and when #30 committed and went down Ovechkin slid the puck by him to make it 5-2. Alexander the Great had way more energy on Saturday night than in Atlanta and Coach Bruce Boudreau mentioned after the game that Ovechkin was the focus of a not so flattering video session for the team after the morning skate. 

“The difference was that last night was an embarrassing night for us and we just regrouped and watched video. Everybody played bad last night and tonight we moved our legs and finished our checks, [we] played better in the neutral zone, defensive zone. I think guys like Brads (Matt Bradley), Chimmer (Jason Chimera), Greenie (Mike Green) and (Matt) Hendricks do unbelievable jobs protecting our guys and protect themselves. It was a pretty big step for us tonight,” said the two time Hart Trophy winning superstar on the team’s play on Saturday against the Devils.

- Chimera played a significant role in the win as well, blasting one by Brodeur after he came out of the box for holding at 18:25 of period two to give the Caps a two goal advantage. It was a shot that the future hall of fame goalie typically would stop, but not in this one. Then to start the third period the Devils gave up on winning the game and seemed more determined to get an advantage in the fisticuffs department, especially with Washington heavyweight DJ King not in the lineup. #25 showed, to quote Slap Shot, “some good ole fashioned guts” standing up to Devils tough guy David Clarkson in a bout in the Caps defensive zone.

- With under five minutes to go and the Caps up 7-2 things got really crazy as New Jersey was totally frustrated. First $100 million man Ilya Kovalchuk goaded Green into fighting, then Rod Pelley fought Matt Hendricks four seconds later with #26 landing some good shots on Pelley, who was chippy all evening. Two seconds later Clarkson wanted to go again and Bradley fought up in class, and after taking a couple of punches, landed a solid one right in the mind of #23, flooring the Devils top thug. The Verizon Center crowd erupted but just four seconds later New Jersey Devils Coach John Maclean took it too far losing his mind and the focus of his team. Fourth line stiff Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond followed the smallest and youngest Capital, Marcus Johansson, all the way down the ice and jumped him at the Washington blue line. MJ90′s teammates came quickly to his aid and the Devils goon was given two minutes for instigating, two for slashing, five for fighting, and a game misconduct. Johansson spoke about the sequence after the contest.

“He asked me if I wanted to go at the faceoff. I said no and he chased me down the ice. Im happy the guys stood up for me,” said #90, who was the Caps first round selection in the 2009 draft and the last guy on the team who would be in a fight.

The instigator call on Letourneau-Leblond will result in a $10,000 fine for Coach MacLean and a one game suspension. Bottom line is this play was gutless and MacLean looked like a bush leaguer plus showed his head coaching inexperience. Boudreau was clearly upset with the Devils bench boss and fortunately his young rookie was not injured.

“You know, we had the fewest majors in the league last year. We weren’t sending guys out to fight or anything and that’s why I sent Marcus [Johansson] out. Purposely. You know if we had sent an [John] Erskine or somebody out they would have had a partner. I was just mad, the guy went out there and he was going to grab the first guy he saw. I thought it was great the way our team stood and protected each other, but I mean that was just dumb,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner for NHL coach of the year on the Devils galactically stupid tactics.

 - For the Caps, this was a huge win after some sloppy early play in which they made some terrible passes (Johansson’s backhanded d-zone cross ice pass led to the first NJ tally) and were running around in their own zone. After giving up 27 shots in two periods, they only surrendered six in the last frame and they also showed that you can’t come in and push them around like was the case on some occassions in 2009-10.

“Clarkson had been looking to fight all night and finally found someone to fight. We responded very well. I think we did a great job. I think we probably made a bit of a statement after two games. I feel like we showed the league a little bit that we are not quite the same team we were. I think we are a little bit edgier and a little harder to play against. We can do it on the scoreboard and then we can show up if somebody wants to get physical. We have some players that can respond to that,” said Knuble on the rough stuff when asked if Chimera taking on Clarkson lit a fire under the team.

Notes: Alexander Semin (two assists) outmuscled the New Jersey defense and then set up Tomas Fleischmann (1 goal, 1 assist) in front for the game tying goal at 1:59 of the second period…Johansson was 7-4 on face-offs after losing seven of eight on Friday night..Overall the Caps were 35-28 from the dot…Eric Fehr scored midway through the third period on the power play to break a long drought (38 attempts) that dated back to the season ending series loss to Montreal last April…Broudeur was yanked after two periods and replaced by Johan Hedberg. The goalie known as “Moose” mishandled the puck early in the 3rd period and that allowed Brooks Laich to score an easy shorthanded tally to make it 6-2 Washington…These two clubs meet again on November 22 at “The Rock” and you can probably bet on King being in the lineup for that one…Tyler Sloan, King, and Dave Steckel were the Washington scratches…based on morning reports, it appears that Semyon Varlamov skated again on Saturday and could play next week…The Hershey Bears opened their season in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday night and they lost to the Penguins AHL team, 4-3, in a shootout.

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Caps Lethargic in Season Opening Loss

Posted on 08 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The start of the Washington Capitals 2010-11 season began with a thud on Friday night as the Caps sleep-walked through a 4-2 loss in Atlanta to the Thrashers, a team they beat all six times last year. Michal Neuvirth, who stopped 27 shots, was about the only bright spot for Washington and it was his stellar play in net that kept this from being a blowout.

This game had a bizarre and scary opening sequence as Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec motioned with his left glove to the bench during a stoppage in play and then collapsed to the ice. Pavelec was carted off on a stretcher and a 20+ minute delay ensued and the latest news out of Hotlanta is the goalie regained consciousness and his vital signs are normal. He will be kept in the hospital overnight.

Here are the highlights (lowlights??!!) and analysis on an awful performance by the Caps:

- Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau should start the post game by checking the vital signs of his team because it was hard to find a pulse from pretty much anyone on his entire club. I cannot name one Washington Capitals skater who had a good game on Friday. Only Neuvirth in net was ready for this tilt against a team that had lost eight straight to the Caps.

- It was a lazy and practically brainless effort by the boys from DC. They routinely turned the puck over or missed assignments leading to Atlanta goals and scoring chances. The first Thrashers tally was off of a horrible giveaway by Tomas Fleischmann up the center of the ice, the second goal was the result of an Alexander Ovechkin giveaway on the left wing boards, the third was on a penalty shot by Evander Kane (2 goals) on a questionable call but that was set up by an Alexander Semin soft play in the defensive zone, and the fourth and final lamp lighter for Atlanta ping ponged by Neuvirth off of the leg of Karl Alzner. However, that doesn’t happen if Matt Hendricks stays with his man off of the defensive zone faceoff.

- Ovechkin had a nice assist on Mike Knuble’s goal in the 3rd period that cut the Thrashers lead to 3-2 and gave Washington some hope but overall he was just terrible in game one of 2010-11. He did not appear to be skating hard and lacked energy. When your team captain is doing that it is difficult to criticize the other guys on the ice for doing the same.

- Atlanta is clearly a better team than in 2009-10 and they have some new players and a new coach in Craig Ramsey. But let’s be serious, if the Caps put out a better effort and played smarter hockey there is no way the Thrashers can hang with them. The bottom line is Washington took a page out of a Dr. Seuss book on Friday night and the performance could be summed up with three words: Stink, Stank, Stunk.

Fortunately for the Caps they can get right back on the ice on Saturday night and turn things around quickly as they take on the New Jersey Devils at 7pm at the Verizon Center.

Notes: Brooks Laich had the first tally of the game for Washington on Chris Mason on a pretty passing play right after Pavelec left the ice…20 year old Marcus Johansson was 1-7 in faceoffs. He skated well but was easily pushed off the puck below the circles at both ends…Washington was 0 for 3 on the power play and it looked as bad as it performed in the playoffs last April.

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‘Hard Knocks’ with the Caps??!!

Posted on 23 September 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Move over Rex Ryan and the New York Jets, Bruce Boudreau and the Washington Capitals just might upstage you on HBO. Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports and John Collins, chief operating officer for the NHL, announced today that HBO Sports’ groundbreaking “24/7” reality franchise, which has captured 12 Sports Emmy® Awards, will join forces with the National Hockey League to take viewers inside one of the NHL’s great rivalries, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, for 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS:  ROAD TO THE NHL WINTER CLASSIC, an innovative four-episode, all-access reality series.

Here is more from the Press Release:

The HBO Sports presentation debuts in prime time WEDNESDAY, DEC. 15 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT), with an immediate encore at 11:00 p.m., and follows the two clubs simultaneously, chronicling their highs and lows each week.  The teams will meet in a Dec. 23 regular-season matchup on the Capitals’ home ice, leading into episode three of 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS, as the build-up intensifies for the Jan. 1 showdown at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
           
Noted Greenburg, “Taking our reality series ‘24/7’ into the world of the National Hockey League is a perfect fit.  The ‘24/7’ franchise is fashioned on larger-than-life personalities, engaging storylines, and unrestricted access.  With Sidney Crosby leading the Penguins and Alex Ovechkin leading the Capitals, we have all the ingredients for a dynamic show that will take viewers deep inside professional hockey and set the stage for the Winter Classic.”
           
Said Collins, “Teaming up with the 12-time Emmy Award®-winning and much acclaimed HBO ‘24/7’ series gives us an incredible opportunity to bring our fans even deeper inside two model hockey organizations during the regular season as we lead into the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.  In just three short years, the Winter Classic has become so well established on the national sports calendar it’s truly a New Year’s Day tradition.  Uniting HBO’s amazing reality series with one of sport’s greatest rivalries in an outdoor setting in front of 65,000 raucous fans will make this Winter Classic the most anticipated one yet.” 
            
Ensuing episodes of 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS:  ROAD TO THE NHL WINTER CLASSIC debut on subsequent Wednesdays – Dec. 22 and 29 and Jan. 5 – at 10:00 p.m., with an immediate encore play at 11:00 p.m.  The Jan. 5 series finale debuts four days after the Classic, with cameras tracking all the drama and excitement surrounding the Capitals and Penguins on game day.  All four episodes will have multiple replay dates on HBO, and the series will also be available on HBO On Demand.
           
The series will provide exclusive behind-the-scenes access, along with in-depth interviews of coaches, players and front-office personnel, as the Caps and Penguins battle through their December schedules, meeting twice in one week, including the first-ever NHL game at Heinz Field. 

Bravo I say to the Caps, Penguins, the NHL, and HBO for doing this because this is the kind of exposure the NHL needs. I have covered every sport as a journalist and I can honestly say that hockey players are the friendliest and most down to earth to deal with, and no other sport comes close! After watching this four episode series I am confident that you will realize that as well. It is no surprise that Washington is participating given their owner, Ted Leonsis, is a modern media giant and one who recognizes and seizes any unique opportunity to help market his product. But anyone who has been around Caps GM George McPhee knows that he is very guarded in what he typically will reveal to the media, especially when it comes to his players, and for obvious reasons – he doesn’t want to give away any competitive advantage. In fact, when a bogus George McPhee twitter account popped up last week, Caps VP of Communications, Nate Ewell, quickly tweeted “I can think of 29 other GMs who would be on Twitter before George,” causing many who had followed the account initially to quickly unfollow it. (For the record, I would put Flames GM Darryl Sutter right up there with McPhee on having no interest in the social media texting product.)

However, as the Caps GM told the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera today, the positives far outweigh the negatives in deciding to allow this type of unfettered access in his club’s locker room and facilities and the GM is going with the program, literally.

“Frankly, it’s one of the easiest decisions that we’ve made with respect to this stuff,” McPhee said. “HBO’s really good and I said: ‘Let’s do this.’

Of course everyone wants to talk about Ovechkin and Crosby and the misconceptions on both, especially the Great #8, have been posted all over the place since Ovechkin’s teams started losing this past spring, first in the Olympics, then with the Caps in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and finally Team Russia in the final game of the World Championships. Case in point, this blog from Travis Hughes over at SB Nation, who calls the Great #8, “a cocky jerk.” I have never met Hughes but based on what he wrote, I am not sure he’s ever met Ovie because “cocky jerk” is one of the last descriptions I would pin on the Russian superstar after being around hundreds of his interviews over the past several years. In fact, this past Tuesday I interviewed the Great #8 about another one of his WOW! plays, albeit in an internal scrimmage, and instead of bragging about it the two time Hart Trophy winner turned to me and said “It was a lucky shot.” I could recite dozens and dozens of other exchanges similar to that one, but as the saying goes, haters are gonna hate. The bottom line on Ovechkin, for anyone who has been around him any extended period of time, is the guy just wants to win (and by the way he plans on having fun while doing that!). If he really cared just about himself and was the “cocky jerk” Hughes calls him, would the Great #8 really provide, like he did to Slava Malamud over at Japers Rink in this interview, the following answer when asked if he is guaranteeing at least 50 goals this season for himself, ‘No way. I have a different objective. To win.’? 

Anyways, it is clear this is going to be a great thing for the Caps, the Penguins, and the NHL and I can’t wait to watch it come December and then as things build up to the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh on January 1, 2011.

Notes: On Wednesday the Caps announced that goalie Michal Neuvirth was given a two year contract extension (apparently it will pay him $1.1M in each season). Neuvirth (NOY-vihrt), 22, recently won back to back Calder Cup titles with Washington’s AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. He was 9-4-0 posting a 2.75 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 17 games with the Capitals last season. He went 7-1-0 with a 1.75 goals-against average and a.914 save percentage at Verizon Center last season. ..Washington announced more training camp cuts Thursday with Trevor Bruess, Josh Godfrey, Boyd Kane, Johann Kroll, Joel Rechlicz, Dustin Stevenson and Dylan Yeo sent to Hershey (Bears training camp starts on Monday the 27th at 9am)…The Caps won their initial preseason tilt in Columbus over the Blue Jackets on Wednesday night, 6-2, with Matt Hendricks tallying a hat trick. Alex Semin and Tomas Fleischmann also notched three points in the victory. Semyon Varlamov started the game in net and stopped all 20 shots he faced before exiting at the halfway point (replaced by Braden Holtby). Washington’s next preseason game is at Nashville on Saturday night at 8pm. They will open their home preseason schedule on Tuesday, September 28th at 7pm against the Boston Bruins at the Verizon Center…WNST is doing 10 Puck Busses this hockey season, including one to the Winter Classic so please check out details on WNST.NET.

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Caps Sign Fleischmann to 1 Year Deal

Posted on 27 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

With an arbitration hearing looming on Wednesday, July 28th, both the Washington Capitals and the Tomas Fleischmann camp were able to come to a last minute agreement and avoid what can become an uncomfortable session. “Flash” has signed a one year deal with the 2009-10 NHL President’s Trophy winners, which according to Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post, is for $2.6M. With the inking the Caps have pretty much finalized the roster they will take to training camp and they will likely go into the season with somewhere around $5M in salary cap space giving GM George McPhee lots of room to make changes to his club before the 2011 post season. Below is the text of the Caps press release on this deal:

The Washington Capitals have signed forward Tomas Fleischmann 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.

Fleischmann, 26, set career highs in goals (23), assists (28), points (51) and plus/minus (+9) in 2009-10. He finished sixth on the team in goals and seventh in points and ranked sixth in the NHL with a 19.0 shooting percentage. Fleischmann scored 10 of his 23 goals in the first period and scored eight goals in the 10 games that Alex Ovechkin was missing from the lineup. He established offensive career highs despite missing the first 11 games of the season recovering from deep vein thrombosis in his leg.

The Koprivinice, Czech Republic, native was acquired from Detroit in a 2004 trade and has played 260 career games for the Capitals. He has compiled 128 points (56 goals, 72 assists) and has improved his goal and point totals each year. Fleischmann represented the Czech Republic in the 2010 Olympics and was a key member of the Hershey Bears team that won the 2006 Calder Cup, leading the American Hockey League in playoff assists (21).

MORE COMMENTS: This was a good deal for the Caps given some of the recent arbitration awards, such as Clarke MacArthur’s $2.4M award that the Atlanta Thrashers have walked away from. When I saw that Matt Moulson (30 goals in 2009-10) signed for $2.45M today with the Islanders to go along with Alexander Frolov’s $3M deal with the Blueshirts and Alexei Ponikarovsky’s $3M contract (plus $200k signing bonus) I felt that Flash would receive somewhere between $2.5M and $3M from the arbiter so this move by McPhee makes a lot of sense. By the way, if you would like to hear more about how the Caps development camp went, thoughts on the roster going forward, the Fleischmann situation, and other hot Washington hockey topics please check out Japers Rink Radio for Tuesday night’s show with Stephen Pepper and Russell Waxman, which featured yours truly as a guest.

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Late July Caps & NHL Thoughts

Posted on 26 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

NFL training camps are getting underway this week and that is also an indication that we are closer to the start of the NHL season than to the end of the previous one. Despite the fact that it is late July and most NHL executives are getting ready to go on vacation next week, things are still going on around the league. So without further adieu, here are some thoughts on the Caps and the NHL:

Clearly the biggest news item of recent weeks has been the Ilya Kovalchuk contract signing and then its rejection by the NHL. Today, as expected, the NHL Players Union filed a grievance seeking to get the 17 year, $102 Million deal to be ratified. The big issue is the last 5 years, when Kovalchuk is aged 40 to 44, as it pays him only $550,000 per season during that period. There are many who are insisting the agreement is legally binding but is it really given that it’s a blatant attempt to circumvent the salary cap? I think the league absolutely should have rejected it. After all, if this contract is approved, what is next? Contracts extended until guys are 50? 60? 90? Basically the NHL said to Kovalchuk, his agent (Jay Grossman), and the New Jersey Devils, in the words of John McEnroe, “YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS?!” What pains me even more about the deal is how it is being compared by some to Alexander Ovechkin’s 13 year contract. Again, bring in the McEnroe quote and I’ll even take it one step further and borrow a line from Mr. Hand of Fast Times at Ridgemont High to address those who even try to connect the Ovie contract with Kovy’s, “What are you people, ON DOPE??!!”

Ovechkin’s deal starts with the Great #8 receiving $9M a season in years one through six, then in years seven until 13 he gets $10M annually.  From above, we know that years 13-17 of the Kovalchuk deal pay him $550,000 annually but here are the salaries for the first 12 seasons, in order: $6 million each of the first two years, $11.5 million for the following five seasons, $10.5 million in the 2017-18 season, $8.5 million for the 2018-19 season, $6.5 million in 2019-20, $3.5 million in 2020-21, then $750,000 the following season before the joke gets even worse in years 13-17. The overall annual average hit the mark the Devils needed, $6M per season, so that they could come in under the cap. It is laughable and I am shocked that a team that has won three Stanley Cups would stoop to such low levels to try and obtain their fourth. So shame on the Devils and also on the Kovalchuk camp for agreeing to a deal that is a sham and threatens to make a mockery of the CBA and the salary cap. It is in the hands of the lawyers now but I sure hope that the arbitrator realizes what a disgrace to the NHL this deal is and he upholds the league’s decision to reject it.

Long time Capitals fans received some good news last week when former blue liner, Kevin Hatcher, was elected along with his brother Derian and former Blackhawks star, Jeremy Roenick, to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame. Here is a good chunk of the press release courtesy of Nate Ewell of the Caps outstanding media relations department:

Hatcher, who played 17 seasons in the NHL between Washington, Dallas, Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers and Carolina, will join his brother Derian Hatcher, Art Berglund, Dr. V. George Nagobads and Jeremy Roenick as the Hall’s class of 2010. The five-member class will be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame on Oct. 21 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y.

Hatcher, who was drafted by Washington with the 17th overall pick in the 1984 Entry Draft, spent nine seasons with Washington and enjoyed his best years as a Capital. He recorded 149 goals and 277 assists (426 points) in 685 career games with Washington and captained the team for two seasons (1992-94). Hatcher played in three NHL All-Star Games while with the Capitals.

Hatcher ranks 11th in franchise history, third among defensemen, with 426 points and holds the club record for goals by a defenseman in a season (34 in 1992-93) and a career (149). He had 40 or more points seven times for the Capitals and at least 100 penalty minutes eight times. Hatcher recorded 48 points (16 goals, 32 assists) in 83 career playoff games.

Hatcher also excelled internationally, representing the United States at the 1984 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, the 1987 and 1991 Canada Cups, the World Cup of Hockey in 1996 and the 1998 Olympic Winter Games.

Hatcher will join fellow Caps alumni Bobby Carpenter, Dave Christian, Phil Housley, Rod Langway and Craig Patrick as members of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. The Hall was founded in 1973 and includes 143 enshrined members. Inductees are chosen on the basis of extraordinary contributions to the game of hockey in the United States.

#4 was a dominant force during his time in Washington and during the 1990 season Wayne Gretzky made a comment that he thought Hatcher was the best defenseman in the NHL that year. The Caps might have made the Stanley Cup Finals that season had it not been for a cheap shot to Hatcher’s knee by forward Kris King of the New York Rangers in the Patrick Division Finals. King also injured Dino Ciccarelli, who will be inducted into the NHL Hall of Fame this fall, in that series. Combine that with the Scott Stevens shoulder injury and it was no surprise that Washington could not win a game versus Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals. Hatcher had a staggering 34 goals in the 1992-93 campaign and when his salary demands became very high he was dealt to the Dallas Stars after the 1994 season. I will always remember him as being among the elite group of Caps to wear the red, white, and blue.

At development camp two weeks ago Caps GM George McPhee was asked by Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post if the Capitals were pretty much done in free agency this summer and the GM nodded in agreement. This makes sense given that Washington does not have much salary cap room remaining (I’ve heard estimates of $8M left before the Tomas Fleischmann arbitration decision, that will come shortly after his hearing on July 28th) and the market is not abundant with players in the positions that the Caps appear to need at this time, which are second line center and a right handed shooting defensemen. I spoke with an NHL scout, who does not work for Washington, this past week about the current state of the free agent market and asked him who he thought the best remaining center and righty blue liner were available to potentially fill the Caps needs and he responded with “None.” Based on the words of McPhee and that assessment of the market by an external scout, it appears Washington will at least head into training camp with the roster as it stands now and allow some of their younger players from Hershey and perhaps 2009 1st round draft pick center Marcus Johansson, to take a shot at filling those needs.

Keep in mind that on defense that Washington has only Mike Green and John Carlson as right handed shooters while Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Karl Alzner, Tyler Sloan, and John Erskine are the left handed blue liners who are signed for the upcoming season. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau made it very clear last season that he prefers to have three right handed and three left handed defenseman in the lineup so I would imagine at some point between now and the 2010-11 NHL trade deadline (7 months away) that a right handed shooting d-man will be added. It will be interesting to see how the second line center battle plays out between Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, Brooks Laich, and perhaps Fleischmann. 2010 1st round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov was quite impressive in development camp but he is only 18 and needs to mature physically before Washington even thinks about giving him a shot in “The Show.” The young Russian also is signed to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for two more seasons. From what I’ve seen of both Johansson and Kuznetzov, they have a lot of potential so if McPhee does make a move to add a new pivot, it will be likely be for the short term.

The Caps won the Southeast Division in 2009-10 by 38 points and the Eastern Conference by 18 points before being knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. In their own division, Carolina and Tampa Bay, on paper at least, appear to be the teams that have the best shot at thwarting a record fourth straight first place finish for the Caps. New Lightning GM Steve Yzerman added former Flyers forward Simon Gagne last week in exchange for d-man Matt Walker and a 4th round draft choice. Putting Gagne in with a crop of forwards that includes Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone, and Vincent Lecavalier to go with an improved defense of Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman, Pavel Kubina, and Brett Clark has to give Bolts fans hope. But can they win with Dan Ellis and Mike Smith in goal? They also may have a tough time staying healthy as several of the players mentioned above are heading into the latter stages of their career. If I was wagering in Vegas, I’d still go with the Caps to capture the Southeast crown, once again.

Programming Note: Please listen live to Japers Rink Radio on Tuesday, July 27th at 8pm as I will be making my second appearance on a super radio show that is hosted by Stephen Pepper and Russell Waxman. We’ll be discussing Caps hockey and the rest of the NHL.

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Caps Re-Sign Eric Fehr for 2 Years

Posted on 08 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Re-Sign 3rd Player in 3 Days

For the third straight day the Washington Capitals have re-signed one of their restricted free agents, and more importantly, avoided arbitration with their second player in two days. Here is the official press release from the Caps PR department:

The Washington Capitals have signed right wing Eric Fehr to a two-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Fehr, 24, set career highs in goals (21), assists (18), points (39), plus/minus (+18) and shots (145) while averaging 12:07 of ice time. He finished seventh on the team in goals and ninth in plus/minus rating. Each of the 105 other NHL players who scored at least 20 goals this season averaged more ice time than Fehr; only Alex Ovechkin (1.90), Alexander Semin (1.71) and Sidney Crosby (1.68) averaged more goals per 60 minutes of ice time than Fehr (1.50). The Capitals were 16-3-1 when Fehr scored a goal and 27-4-3 when he had a point. Fehr scored three goals in the playoffs, third-best on the team, and tied for fourth on the team with four points.

The Winkler, Manitoba, native was the Capitals’ first-round choice, 18th overall, in the 2003 Entry Draft. He has played in 178 career games for Washington, potting 36 goals and dishing out 37 assists. He was also an integral member of the Hershey club that won the 2006 Calder Cup. In 19 playoff games that year, he had eight goals, three assists and scored the overtime game-winning goal in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to lift the Bears to the Calder Cup Final.

COMMENTS: It was Boyd Gordon on Tuesday, Jeff Schultz on Wednesday, and now Fehr on Thursday leaving forward Tomas Fleischmann as the last remaining restricted free agent who filed for arbitration that is still unsigned (Gordon did not file for arbitration but was a RFA). Fehr, who announced the length of the deal via his twitter account @EricFehr16, will receive at total of $4.4M for the next two seasons according to Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post. Fehr made roughly $772K in 2009-10.

#16 was one of the few Caps who had a better than average post season and like Schultz, 2009-10 was a breakout year for him. The man who scored 59 goals in 71 games for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League in 2004-05, really did not get healthy until November of this past season due to surgery on both of his shoulders after the 2008-09 campaign. Fehr told the media on today’s press conference call that he didn’t have any surgeries this summer and 2010 has likely been the healthiest off-season of his career.

When asked about the length of the deal, the Manitoba native said that both he and the Caps felt it was the right term, at this time. Fehr said he wants to “go out and play and focus on my game and not worry about a contract next year.” If the 2003 first round choice (18th overall) by Washington can stay healthy and get more ice time, currently he is 3rd on the right wing depth chart behind Semin and Mike Knuble, then 30 goals seems easily achievable. Getting more ice time could come via additional power play time or if GM McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau find a 2nd line center they like, they could move Fehr up to that unit on RW and try Semin on the left wing. But those are experiments and decisions that have plenty of time to play out in training camp and/or the regular season. If Fehr does pot 30 goals this season, this contract will be a huge bargain for Washington.

Fehr added that he was happy to see that just about everyone will be back in Washington next season (except of course for some unrestricted free agents that McPhee has chosen not to resign such as Jose Theodore, Joe Corvo,  Milan Jurcina, and Scott Walker) and he was disappointed with the way things ended last year. He noted that he had spoken with some of his teammates over the summer but it was not about hockey, although he said that will kick into gear as training camp approaches.

Hershey Signs Nycholat

The Hershey Bears, who lost forward Alexandre Giroux to the Edmonton Oilers last weekend and will also have to overcome the promotions of Michal Neuvirth, John Carlson, and Karl Alzner to the big club, made another signing today to help bolster their run for their third straight Calder Cup in 2010-11. Here is the press release courtesy of the Bears Senior Manager of Communications, John Walton:

The 2010 Calder Cup Champion HERSHEY BEARS announced today that the club has signed defenseman Lawrence Nycholat. The announcement was made today by BEARS President/GM Doug Yingst.

A member of the 2006 Calder Cup Champion BEARS, Nycholat returns to HERSHEY for his second tour of duty. He skated in 73 regular season games for the BEARS in 2005-06, scoring 13 goals and recording 57 points.  Nycholat also notched 14 points in 16 postseason games, helping the Chocolate and White win the 2006 title.

 

Nycholat, 31, has 50 games of NHL experience with the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche. He played in 18 games for the Capitals in 2006-07, scoring two goals and assisting on six others, and played five games with Colorado during the 2008-09 campaign.

 

Most recently, Nycholat played with the Manitoba Moose in 2009-10, scoring five goals and assisted on 17 others in just 37 games played. He ranks 30th all-time in BEARS history in points by a defenseman, posting the ninth-best single season point total by a rearguard in 2005-06.

 

“Lawrence proved to us long ago that he’s a winner in every sense of the word” said BEARS President/GM Doug Yingst.  “We are very pleased to have his leadership and playmaking abilities back with our club.”

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Caps Notes: Boyd Gordon Signed, 3 File for Arbitration

Posted on 06 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Boyd Gordon Signs 1 Year Deal

Below is Tuesday’s press release from the Washington Capitals outstanding PR department:

The Washington Capitals have signed center/right wing Boyd Gordon 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.

Gordon, 26, completed his seventh professional season with the Capitals in 2009-10 and registered four goals and six assists in 36 games. His ice time was limited due to injury but he led the team with a 61.0% faceoff rate, which would have led the league had he taken enough draws to qualify. He ranked third on the team in average shorthanded ice time (2:39 per game) and had a goal and an assist, both while shorthanded, in the playoffs. 

The Unity, Saskatchewan, native was the Capitals’ first-round choice, 17th overall, in the 2002 Entry Draft and is the longest-tenured Capital on the roster. He has played in 303 career games for Washington, recording 76 points (24 goals, 52 assists) and just 66 penalty minutes. He was also an integral member of the 2006 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears in the American Hockey League, playing in all 21 playoff games. The former Red Deer Rebel won the Memorial Cup in 2000-01.

COMMENT: Pierre LeBrun of ESPN is reporting that the deal is for $800,000. Gordon had a solid post season and he dominated in the face-off circle and scored a shorthanded goal while also being on the ice for another tally by Mike Knuble. He is a strong fourth line player whose only downside is a cranky back. 

3 Capitals File for Arbitration

On Monday, three Washington Capitals restricted free agents filed for salary arbitration, Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz, and Tomas Fleischmann. Fehr, Schultz, and “Flash” all had career seasons and are hoping to cash in with big raises. The hearings will be held in Toronto some time between July 20 and August 4th and rulings must be out by August 6th. In the arbitration process the player and the club make their respective cases and a third party determines what is considered a fair salary. The player is bound by the result if the club decides to accept the decision. If the club chooses to “walk away” from the arbitrator’s determined figure, then the player becomes an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team. Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post provides some good background info here, including pointing out that the Caps and each player can continue negotiating up until the arbitration date.

There have been some critics of the Caps approach to free agency this summer, not only from the media but by some fans on message boards and social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook. The biggest concern voiced has been the lack of action from McPhee on the free agent front. However, given the numerous players on their roster that became restricted free agents (includes the four players already mentioned plus prospects Jay Beagle, Chris Bourque, Andrew Gordon, Patrick McNeill, and Zach Miskovic) and the Capitals salary cap situation (if all of their players are re-signed, they will have around $4.5M remaining; h/t @tarikelbashir) combined with the high prices and the long terms doled out, it is easy to see why the Caps GM has been quiet  on the free agency front. I said it after day one and I’ll say it again now, so far McPhee’s decision to be prudent in free agency is a wise one.

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Will Caps Keep Momentum in Montreal?

Posted on 18 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After avoiding a potential 2-0 series hole by rallying from a 4-1 late second period deficit to win, 6-5, in overtime on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals head to Montreal for games three and four (on Monday and Wednesday) with the momentum on their side in this best of seven game series. The question now is, can they keep it? The answer is, that depends! There were certainly some positives that Washington can build on but, in truth, there are a few serious issues that need to be addressed if the Caps want to win this series in dominating fashion.

First the positives, the Washington top line of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble was back in full force on Saturday turning in a dominating performance to lead their team to the victory. All three players went to the net and did a decent job of getting pucks deep in the offensive zone and outworking the Canadiens defense, something Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wants the team to focus on doing because the Habs are so effective with their neutral zone trap.

In addition, Boudreau received two super performances from 20 year old rookie John Carlson on the blue line to open his NHL playoff career. #74 makes a mistake here or there, and that is expected from such a young guy, but the kid competes hard, plays physical because he has the body of a 25 year old, and adds another potent offensive dimension to the Washington attack. As good as Backstrom and Ovechkin were on Saturday night, the Capitals do not win game two without Carlson (assist on third goal, scored fifth Washington tally to send game to OT).

Semyon Varlamov came in and made some super stops in relief of Jose Theodore and he looked poised in goal. The Caps players seem to have supreme confidence in #40 in the playoffs and he delivered when his teammates needed him allowing them to come back and be victorious. If Varlamov is healthy, and he was shaking his left leg a bit after an early third period collision, then he would be my choice in goal for game three.

Some other things Boudreau should be pleased about is the team’s face-off domination, led by Eric Belanger (29-7), and the work of his third and fourth lines. In addition, defenseman Joe Corvo had a stronger game two after a subpar performance on Thursday in the post season opener. Finally, the even strength score in this series is 8-6, Caps, and they seemed to have exploited some of Jaroslav Halak’s weaknesses (he goes down early and is vulnerable up high).

Now come the issues that need addressing and I’ll start with the special teams. The Caps have given up a power play tally in each of the first two games while not connecting on any of their seven manpower advantages. On the PK, Washington needs to prevent Montreal from getting those clean one timers from the circles or the point blasts from the center portion of the ice. The Caps penalty kill relies on the forwards to force the shots to come from bad angles but breakdowns have led to two goals, with the most glaring one being Alexander Semin allowing Jaroslav Spacek’s shot to get past him for what ended up being the fourth Montreal goal.

On the power play, Backstrom told me last night that the Canadiens are keying on Ovechkin. Proof of that is the number of shots they are blocking and the Great #8 has had a difficult time getting untracked on the left point. Montreal is keeping both of their forwards up high on the PK so what Ovie and Mike Green need to do is send the puck down low and allow the other three Caps to try and score on a three on two below the circles. Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason also might consider moving Ovechkin down low where he can get some rebounds? In that case they could insert either Tom Poti on the left point, like they did against the Rangers last year, or put Carlson out there. Simply put, the Caps power play has been a momentum killer so far in this series. Evidence of that is right after they knotted the game at four on Saturday, the Capitals received a five on four but they struggled to get set up and shortly after the advantage expired Tomas Plekenac scored to make it 5-4, Habs.

I mentioned the neutral zone trap the Habs employ and you can credit that to some of the struggles Boudreau’s top defensive pair, Green and Jeff Schultz, had on Saturday. #52 and #55 made several bad reads that led to turnovers and those two guys were on the ice for the last four Montreal goals. Green and Schultz seemed to have problems with the speed of the Montreal forwards, particularly the Plekenac, Mike Cammalleri, and Andrei Kostitsyin line. Given that Schultz was on the ice for Plekenac’s game winner in the Canadiens OT victory that snapped the Caps 14 game winning streak back in February, I went back to check the regular season stats vs. the Habs for 52 and 55 to see if this was indeed simply the result of a bad matchup. The numbers, however, did not bear that out at all as Green and Schultz were +5 and +3, respectively in the four regular season tilts. Boudreau said after the game that Green and Schultz need to focus more on playing the man than the puck so we’ll see how that works out in game three. If those two continue to struggle as a pair then perhaps Shaone Morrisonn gets moved back with #52 and Schultz gets paired with either Corvo or Carlson?

The second line is another area of concern and neither Tomas Fleischmann nor Brendan Morrison did a good job at center. Perhaps Belanger gets a shot in Montreal? Another big problem on that unit is the play of Semin, who seems to be allergic to the front of the net. Early on in game one both Brooks Laich and Flash had some scoring chances and if #28 had even just a little nose for the net then he may have had a rebound tally or two. Semin, who seemed to pick his game up once Ovechkin was named team captain in January, has been missing in action in games one and two of the playoffs despite firing 11 shots on goal. Skill isn’t his problem, it is his attitude and compete level, so perhaps #8 will have a little talk with Sasha and tell him to get it in gear starting now?

As for Theodore, I fully expect him to shake off Saturday’s start. That first goal by Gionta was a knuckleball but Theo was not in the proper position on that shot so I still put that one on him. The way players are flying into the crease and crashing into goaltenders many teams will likely need two goalies so #60 must regain his focus and be ready when his number is called again, because it is very likely to happen some time this post season.

In summary, the Caps can probably squeak this series out if they play like they did in the later stages of game two. However, if they want to close things out quickly, get some rest, and prepare themselves for a deep playoff run then they need to get all 20 players clicking on all cylinders like Boudreau desires. Right now, there are several passengers on the train who need to get in post season form quickly. Numbers 28, 52, and 55 fit into that category at this juncture and are the most important ones who must get on board starting on Monday night.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: WNST.NET will be hosting a live Caps “Red Rocks” chat on Monday night starting at 7pm. Please go to WNST.NET on Monday for details and a link to join in.

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