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Caps Bring Back Jeff Halpern

Posted on 01 July 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have re-signed forward Jeff Halpern to a one year contract at a reported $825,000. This signals the end of Boyd Gordon’s tenure with the Caps, who apparently has just signed with the Phoenix Coyotes. The former #11 is a center and will likely anchor the 4th line.

Below is the full press release from the Capitals:

The Washington Capitals have signed free agent center Jeff Halpern 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.

Halpern, 35, played 438 games for the Capitals from 1999-2006 and captained the team during the 2005-06 season. The 5’11”, 198-pound center has recorded 214 points (87 goals, 127 assists) in his career with Washington, including a career-high 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) during the 2003-04 season. In 17 playoff games with the Capitals, Halpern has tallied four goals and five assists.

The Potomac, Maryland, native collected 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 72 games with the Montreal Canadiens last season. He logged the second-most shorthanded minutes (2:20) per-game amongst Canadiens forwards and helped lead the team’s penalty kill unit which ranked seventh in the NHL. Halpern also finished second on the team in faceoff percentage (56.9%) and registered one goal in four playoff games.    

Halpern has collected 342 points (142 goals, 200 assists) in 792 career NHL games with Washington, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Los Angeles and Montreal. In 34 career postseason playoff games, Halpern has recorded seven goals and six assists.

Halpern first joined the Capitals as an undrafted free agent on March 29, 1999, and made the NHL club as a rookie in 1999-2000.. He has represented the United States in the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and five World Championships (2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2008). While in Washington, Halpern was an active member of the community, helping launch Halpern’s Hometown Heroes to benefit local charities.

Halpern played youth hockey for the Little Capitals and former captains Rod Langway and Dale Hunter were among his favorite players. He played junior hockey in Canada and prep school hockey in New Hampshire before enrolling at Princeton University in 1995-96. One of only four players to be named Princeton’s MVP three times, Halpern was the team captain as a senior. He finished his college career ranking first all-time at Princeton in games played (132), third in career points (141) and assists (81) and tied for fifth in career goals (60).

 

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Caps 2nd Round Opponent Still TBD

Posted on 26 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

It was another of day of rest for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning, when GM George McPhee, Coach Bruce Boudreau, and the rest of the players wake up, their second round playoff opponent is still to be determined. With the Philadelphia Flyers knocking off the Buffalo Sabres in game 7 on Tuesday night and the Montreal Canadiens forcing a game 7 on Wednesday night with the Boston Bruins, the Caps can still play either Montreal, Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh in round two. The Penguins and Lightning will also play a game 7 on Wednesday. It will be a night of channel flipping and can’t miss hockey.

The good news in all of this: whatever team Washington draws for the second round will be worn down while the Capitals will likely have had nearly a full week of rest. If Montreal manages to win in Beantown, then the Caps get a rematch from last season’s post season debacle. However, if the higher seeded Bruins prevail, the Capitals play the winner of the Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh battle. Sidney Crosby (concussion) is still out for the Pens and it doesn’t look like he will be back this weekend since he has not fully practiced with contact yet.

This has been one exciting playoff year and Washington has given themselves a huge advantage by closing out their series with the New York Rangers in just five games. That feat was the quickest the Capitals have ever gotten out of the first round since the NHL expanded the opening round format, in 1987, to a best of seven from a best of five. The Caps had first round three game sweeps of the Flyers in 1984 and the Islanders in 1986. Since then they’ve needed at least six games to claim a first round series until 2011.

On Tuesday, the Capitals took the ice for their first full practice since Saturday (Monday was an optional skate). Mike Green and Mike Knuble both participated in the full practice while Alexander Semin missed it with the flu, according to Boudreau. In addition, Dennis Wideman skated in full pads for about 50 minutes on Tuesday with the first 45 of them prior to the full squad hitting the ice. Special thanks to Mike Vogel (WashingtonCaps.com), Steve Whyno (The Washington Times), Katie Carrera (The Washington Post), Sky Kerstein (106.7 The FAN in DC), and Dave Nichols (Caps News Network) for providing all practice info via twitter and blogs.

With Wideman not fully practicing yet, one would have to surmise that he likely won’t return to the Caps lineup until game two of the second round, at the earliest, and he was reportedly “a little lightheaded” at one point today. Knuble stated after the skate that he was day-to-day so who knows if he would play if a game one was on Friday? One thing is certain though, the Caps earned this rest and they needed it. Now they just have to wait to figure out who they will play in round two.

Notes: With the Hershey Bears losing in OT in game six on Sunday night, they were eliminated from the post season. It was a sad night in Chocolatetown and their shot at a 3rd straight Calder Cup has ended. Tuesday the Caps recalled goaltender Braden Holtby to help out at practice and remain sharp in case he is needed going forward. Tim Leone of The Patriot-News and Penn-Live.com tweeted that forwards Mathieu Perreault, Steve Pinizzotto, and Andrew Gordon (when healthy, sprained ankle) plus d-man Patrick McNeill will also be recalled by Washington for what could be a long playoff run. The other good news out of Hershey today was that the Caps and the Bears have extended their working agreement for another season (through 2011-12).

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Caps Dominate Game 5, Win Series

Posted on 23 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

There would be no stopping the Washington Capitals on Saturday afternoon in game five against the New York Rangers. No slow start, no lack of aggression, and no let up on New York. The Caps totally dominated the Blueshirts en route to a 3-1 victory and won the series four games to one. Michal Neuvirth stopped 26 of 27 shots (140 of 148 in the series) and Mike Green, Alexander Ovechkin, and Alexander Semin scored for the Caps, who came out on fire in front of a raucous crowd at the Verizon Center. Washington will now get some much needed rest, because as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau stated after the contest, “We’ve got a lot of guys hurt,” to sit back and wait to see who they will face in round two. If Buffalo defeats the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon, the Capitals would draw the Sabres, who are the lowest remaining seed in the Eastern Conference.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game and series that was extremely physical:

- The stat of the post season for Washington, so far, is 15 for 15. That is how many straight playoff series that Neuvirth has won in North America. The 22 year old rookie looked composed in the cage in every contest and rarely gave up rebounds. #30 did a super job of covering the puck and getting faceoffs any time the Rangers started getting sustained pressure, something he said he was instructed to do.

“Yeah, that’s what the coaches told me, they want me to freeze puck every opportunity I have to freeze the puck, so I think I did a pretty good job today with it,” said the young Czech goaltender, who won back to back Calder Cup titles with the Hershey Bears the last two seasons.

- While Neuvirth was very good in goal, he also was aided by outstanding team defense for all but one period in the five games (second period in game 4). The Capitals have dramatically improved in this area thanks to better personnel and a new system that Boudreau put in back in December. All of the Caps have signed up to play more responsibly and Washington became a stronger shot blocking team that learned to play better away from the puck. Both Boudreau and Ovechkin talked about that improvement following the series victory.

“I think they really bought in. I think from that 7-0 game on, and I haven’t checked the numbers, but I bet we had the best goals against in the league because these guys want to win. When they heard that this is the way we think we have to play to win they all said let’s do it because we want to win. So I think it’s come a long ways,” said Boudreau on Washington’s great team defense.

“You can see how we sacrifice our bodies, Mike Green blocked the shots, everybody block the shots, it was very important for us to don’t give them any chances to score goals and to give them momentum, because after 1-0 you never know what’s going to happen. We score second goal and then we play very well defensively,” said the Great #8, who scored another one of his patented highlight reel goals to make it 2-0 just 7:04 into the middle frame. 

- As Rangers Coach John Tortorella stated after the series, his team is still in a building mode and they only had one style of play to take in order to try and win. That was to be physical, dump the puck deep, and try to wear down the Capitals in their own zone. While New York had some games where they had periods of puck possession advantage, they never really generated a lot of offense. When the Caps moved their feet and were the aggressor, this was a major mismatch, which was evident in period one when the Capitals poured 13 shots on Henrik Lundqvist. If not for King Henrik standing on his head, Washington would have been up more than 1-0.

“Just being down 1-0 after that first period just felt like a good result the way [the Capitals] were playing. We just had a tough time getting in  front and creating great chances,” said the star Swedish goalie.

- Kudos to the Capitals star players for stepping up in this series and leading the way, which allowed their teammates to follow suit. Both Ovechkin and Semin had three goals each, Green was superb on the backend, and Nicklas Backstrom was an absolute beast of a two way forward in this series. In fact, in the history of the franchise, this might be the best group of centers that the Caps have ever had in Backstrom, Jason Arnott, rookie Marcus Johansson, and Boyd Gordon. Perhaps an argument could be made for the 1991-92 quartet of Michal Pivonka, Mike Ridley, Dale Hunter, and Dave Tippett, but nonetheless, this team is dominant because they are so solid up the middle now since the acquisition of #44 to go along with MJ90′s continual improvement. Boudreau certainly credited his star players as a major reason for the Capitals success against New York.

“They were all vested today. You could tell from the first shift on…when your best players are your best players the rest of the team just sort of picks up from it, and they play accordingly. I thought our best players were our best players tonight,” concluded Boudreau.

- Finishing this series so quickly is likely to pay dividends this spring for the Caps. The next round probably won’t start until next Friday (4/29) and that gives time for injuries to Mike Knuble, Green (puck to the head, but according to Boudreau could’ve come back and played, if needed), Arnott, and anyone else nicked up to heal. In addition, if  d-man Dennis Wideman is recovered from his leg hematoma, then Boudreau will finally get on the ice, for the first time this season, Green, John Carlson, and Wideman. That is three fast skating, puck rushing defensemen, which makes the Capitals a very deep and dangerous team going forward.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle, 31-25 and Gordon was an outstanding 12-3…Carlson and Karl Alzner were superb in shutting down Marian  Gaborik again (1 goal in entire series) and they played 26:31 and 24:28, respectively, in game five…Washington’s first goal, a vitally important one, came on their first power play and it was the only first stanza marker for either team in the series…Johansson had two goals and two assists in his first playoff series. He continues to get better and better and his speed is phenomenal. He could have had another assist in the 3rd period but Jason Chimera missed a wide open net off of a beautiful feed from #90…Brooks Laich assisted on the first two Caps goals…New York broke Neuvirth’s shut out bid with just 32 seconds left with the goalie pulled and John Erskine fighting with Ruslan Fedotenko…New York went 0 for 2 on the power play and 1 for 20 in the series. The Caps PK drastically improved in the regular season and was excellent all series…I haven’t heard the VC that loud since the last five minutes of game seven in 2009 versus the Rangers. The crowd was into it and the players said that the energy the fans brought helped them prevail.

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Caps Win 7th Straight

Posted on 12 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

There is an ultra fine line between winning and losing in the NHL and sometimes you need the bounces to go your way. On Friday night at the Verizon Center the Washington Capitals caught some breaks and won their seventh straight game against a desperate Carolina Hurricanes team, 2-1. Alexander Ovechkin notched his 28th goal of the season just 47 seconds into the third period to tie the contest and then Matt Hendricks potted a rebound of a Jason Arnott breakaway to win it for Washington 7:24 into the final stanza. Braden Holtby (40 saves) finally allowed a goal, after 144:24 of shutout netminding this week, to Tuomo Ruutu on a screened shot in the slot with 36 seconds remaining in period two but held on for his seventh win and #70 is now 7-2-2 this season. The victory combined with Tampa’s 2-1 loss to Ottawa gives the Capitals a four point lead in the Southeast Division. The Caps are now 39-20-10 (88 points) with 13 contests remaining while the Bolts still have a game in hand.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the Caps fifth victory over the Canes in five tries in 2010-11:

- Both teams missed some golden chances throughout the evening, with Eric Staal’s deflection while all alone in front of the net in the third period likely being the most crucial wide shot of the evening. The Caps, who successfully killed all five Carolina power plays, appeared to give up the game tying tally to Staal late in the contest but the referee blew the whistle when he thought Holtby had covered the biscuit after a Canes rush. In reality, #70 did not have the puck, he bobbled it, but the official was behind the rookie goalie and from his angle thought it was frozen. Carolina was not happy, but on replay it was also pretty clear that the Capitals players heard the whistle and stopped playing.

- Carolina, who is currently in 9th place in the Eastern Conference and fighting for their playoff lives, carried much of the action. They played hard and used their speed to generate more quality chances. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau certainly noticed that and talked about the fortuitous nature of the Washington victory.

“I don’t know why, but I thought we were a little lucky tonight. They are overdue to beat us. Sometimes it’s a great matchup and sometimes you are hoping you don’t play them in the playoffs,” started Boudreau, “I didn’t think we were very sharp. They had 40 shots on goal, I think they carried the play to us. They were beating us to the puck. We made the plays in the third period that you had to make to win and that was it. They are probably pretty frustrated over there right now,” finished the Caps bench boss on the nature of the victory.

“They work very hard, I think they are well coached, they play us very well, I think they matchup very well against us. We seem to get in some penalty trouble when we play against them and they are very opportunistic. Tonight Holtby played great for us again…I think their speed, their defensive core, especially with [Joe] Corvo out there, he basically turns into another forward a lot of times. So it’s tough to keep your eye on him, you gotta really be aware when he is on the ice,” said Hendricks on why Carolina is a tough team for Washington to defeat.

- Holtby has really matured this season and he has been very good positionally in goal on this most recent recall. The few rebounds he allowed were typically in areas of little danger and his stick handling has helped generate offense, on some occasions. However, as the Caps bench boss mentioned after the tilt, sometimes #70 can get a little too courageous with the puck.

“He’s making it tough [to take him out of the lineup], three really good goalies. He obviously doesn’t want to leave the net, he ‘s doing a good job. I thought he was getting a little too brave sometimes tonight but I think he’s a young guy. In two or three years when he has all of his confidence about him every time he steps on the ice, that puck handling is going to be such an added bonus because he’s really good at it,” added Boudreau on the goalie the Caps drafted in the fourth round of the 2008 NHL entry draft.

- The Hendricks goal was his first after a long scoreless stretch and it was of the lunch pail variety. As Arnott came out of the box #26 went down to the ice and blocked a Canes point shot. The puck went out to center ice and #44 corralled it and headed in alone on Cam Ward (24 saves). Ward made the first save but Hendricks alertly followed the play and banged home the rebound for the game winning tally. Afterwards #26 talked about the goal.

“I knew the clock was ticking down there on the penalty. I was one of many guys sacrificing, blocking shots. I just got a fortunate bounce and that’s kind of the way it worked out. I got all of the confidence in the world in Arnott but I just knew if there would be a rebound I wanted to be the first one to get it. I just wanted to get [the puck] over his pad,” said Hendricks describing his game winning goal.

“That’s what he does, he’s going to get those dirty goals in the crease, he’s not going to get the end to end goals. I think it was his first one in 16 games or something like that so we are happy for him because he works really hard all of the time. So he deserves some success offensively,” added Boudreau on #26, who recently was rewarded with a two year contract extension after coming to training camp last September without an NHL deal.

- Carolina presents matchup problems, at times, for Washington and there were numerous instances where the Caps would send the biscuit up the boards only to see the Canes there to gather in errant passes. That pressure led to the high shot total for Coach Paul Maurice’s squad.

“A lot of times coming up the wall is the safe way but there are times we went D to D and their center sat low in the middle, it’s very hard to defend. But teams do it against us and I’d like to see us do it more but the times we did it we got it out no problem,” said forward Mike Knuble (1 assist) on Washington’s strategy to break the puck out of their own zone against a pressuring Hurricanes club.

- Without Nicklas Backstrom, their #1 center, and Mike Green, their #1 defensemen, the Caps managed to scrape out a win at home and keep their winning streak going. It wasn’t pretty but it is apparent this Washington squad is more comfortable this year playing from behind.

“We probably weren’t as sharp as we could be and they came out with more urgency then we did, they are battling for a playoff spot. It takes Ovie to get one shot, then a guy coming out of the penalty box and somebody’s on a breakaway and there’s two goals,” said Knuble summarizing the victory.

 Notes: Marcus Johansson (1 assist, +1) had another strong outing logging 17:26 and his drop pass set up the Ovechkin goal…Washington lost the faceoff battle 31-30. Boyd Gordon was 6-4…Dennis Wideman played 22:13 and was +2..the Caps were 0 for 2 on the power play and the configuration used most often was Arnott and Wideman on the points with Ovechkin on the left half wall, Alexander Semin on the right side, and Brooks Laich in front of the cage…Ravens coach John Harbaugh was at the game and when shown on the in house video screen there was a mixture of cheers and boos from the crowd…the Caps face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks at 12:30 pm on Sunday at the Verizon Center on NBC.

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Caps Reclaim 1st In Southeast Division

Posted on 06 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Semin’s line didn’t have a single shot on goal the entire game in regulation,  but all it took was one in overtime. Semin worked a nice give and go with Marcus Johansson early in the overtime period and #28′s laser through the five hole on Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen gave the Washington Capitals a 3-2 victory just 48 seconds into the extra frame. Goalie Michal Neuvirth (32 saves) was outstanding, including making a huge glove save on Marty Reasoner in the dying seconds, and he has put the Caps back into first place in the Southeast Division for the first time since January. Washington is now 36-20-10 (82 points) heading into Monday night’s 7:00pm 1st place battle with the Tampa Bay Lightning (81 points) on VERSUS.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from another one goal victory by Washington (Caps are now 19-7-10 in 1 goal games):

- Semin was once again playing with Jason Arnott and Brooks Laich and the chemistry those guys had in the first two games together just wasn’t there on this night. Perhaps it was simply the matchups, but a unit that created numerous quality scoring chances and had the game winner on Thursday night against the Blues just could not get untracked against a young, scrappy Florida club. But Semin delivered when he had to and his goal came with MJ90 and not any of his regular mates. That’s two game winning goals plus an assist on Arnott’s GWG on Thursday in the last four games for Semin, not too shabby!

- Neuvirth continues to make the case that he should be the Capitals #1 goalie come playoff time and his season record is now 22-10-4. He didn’t have a chance on either goal against since one was on a two on one break and the second was on a Panthers 5 on 3 power play from right in front. He continues to get better with his positioning and his rebound control.

- Johansson was my “Hard Hat” player of the night. The young Swede was all over the ice using his speed and he hustles. He is still learning where and when to pass and how to position himself, but he had it down pat on the game winner getting the puck in a perfect place for Semin to slam the biscuit home for Washington. MJ90 blocked a shot while shorthanded in period one by sprawling out on the ice and he had to go to the locker room favoring his right leg. It looked like a potential break or fracture but the smallish kid showed he is a battler and came back to play a strong final 40+ minutes. Without him the Caps don’t win. Way to go Rook!

- Boyd Gordon also had a superb outing and he was chosen as the official Capitals “Hard Hat” player of the game (h/t Mike Vogel, aka @VogsCaps). He threw his body around to block shots while the team was shorthanded and his work on the second Caps goal, which he scored, was yeoman-like. Gordon was only 8-9 on draws though.

- It looks like Nicklas Backstrom’s injured thumb is feeling a lot better because his tally, Washington’s first goal, was a super shot top shelf off of an even better feed from Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist) after the Great #8 outworked the Florida D behind the Caps net. It was Backstrom’s 17th marker of the season to tie the game up at one just over two minutes after the Panthers drew first blood. Given that he was 11-6 on face-offs, you can probably bank on the fact that he has put the dirty Kris Letang slash behind him physically.

 - The Caps didn’t play a very good first period, getting out shot 16-6, but they came on strong in period two and grabbed a one goal lead. In the third period they implemented the defensive system they have been working so hard on and it nearly worked. The Panthers didn’t have a quality scoring chance until they received a five on three power play late in the contest. Boudreau, for the most part, rolled his lines but the Gordon-Matt Hendricks-Matt Bradley unit seemed to get more ice than usual in that frame since they are really good at getting the puck to center and then throwing it deep in the opponent’s zone. It is a playoff type strategy that has been working well for Washington.

“Until we got two minors, I don’t think they’d had too many chances in the third period and we were understanding what we had to do and I thought we played a pretty solid period. We weren’t really trying to score,” commented Boudreau following the victory.

Overall, I like the defensive posture rather than playing barnyard hockey, like this team did a lot of last year, but there is one problem in letting off the gas totally on offense: you sometimes put the fate of the game into the hands of the referees, and that is not a good thing.

- As for the two clowns in striped shirts tonight, Ian Walsh and T0m Kowal, they were horrible and they played a part in both Florida tallies. On the first Panthers goal, Dennis Wideman has his shot blocked at the right point by Mike Santorelli. It was a clean block but #13 followed through and took Wideman out and instead of what should have been an automatic interference call, Michal Repik and Bill Thomas get a two on one break on John Erskine, which they bury. Erskine and the Caps would be victimized again by bad officiating as #4 was called for tripping when he went to the ice to block the passing lane and slid into the rear boards with just under four minutes remaining. Erskine never touches Keaton Ellerby, who jumps in the air and avoids the Caps defenseman but falls to the ice. The zebras incorrectly rule tripping and Florida gets a cheap power play. Then Wideman gets correctly called for slashing setting up the two man advantage that the Cats use to tie the game up at 17:24 and send the tilt to OT. What is more amazing is that Florida had six power plays to just one for Washington on Sunday after the Caps only had one power play against St. Louis on Thursday night. The imbalance is maddening and the Capitals bench boss was not thrilled about it afterwards.

“I’m glad we just answered, seven penalties to one, quite a discrepancy,” started Boudreau in his post game presser talking about winning the game despite the penalty imbalance, “Everybody complains about our power play and rightfully so, it’s not doing that well, but it’s really hard to get a consistency or momentum on it when you are getting one power play a game. I know we deserved some of those penalties but they deserve some that they didn’t get either and I don’t understand the discrepancies, it happens way too often,” finished the Caps coach on the disturbing trend.

I said this after Thursday’s contest and I’ll say it again, you want to really tell me that the Panthers only committed one stinking penalty all night??!! No way, and it is frustrating, especially when you see Ovechkin get dumped right off of the face-off down the stretch directly in front of the referee. The officiating continues to make no sense, and anyone who watched the Flyers-Rangers first period on Sunday knows what I am talking about. I have no idea why Brian Boyle was given an instigator in his fight with Jody Shelley today but I guess that is what you have to expect with the NHL zebras these days??!!

Notes:  The Caps lost the faceoff battle, 33-32…John Carlson (23:49) and Karl Alzner (23:03) led the Caps in ice time. Wideman (22:37) and Scott Hannan (21:54) were the next pair with the most playing time…Boudreau only played Ovechkin 16:53 and Backstrom 17:51 so it looks like he was saving his big guns for the big matchup with the Bolts on Monday. The lack of power play time diminshed their totals as well (thanks blind zebras!)…The Great #8 had four points in the last meeting between the two Southeast Division leading clubs in Tampa in early February…Tyler Sloan played 12:42 in place of a scratched Jeff Schultz. No word on if #55 is nicked up or if Boudreau didn’t like the matchup for Sarge against a faster Florida team in the first half of back to back tilts…the Caps only had 25 shots on net…special thanks to Comcast for running Boudreau’s post game presser which allowed me to re-publish his quotes.

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Caps Skate By Isles, 2-1

Posted on 21 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have been accused in the past of being unable to win 2-1 games. Cross that item off the criticism list because the Caps raced to an early 2-0 second period lead, allowed a breakaway tally by  Michael Grabner in the middle frame, then put their defensive system to work in the third period en route to a 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night. It wasn’t pretty hockey and it was boring to watch, at times, but there are no style points in the NHL and as a result, the Caps exit Long Island and the Nassau Coliseum with the two points they wanted to grab on the second tilt of their three game road trip. The win pushes the Capitals overall record to 26-14-8 (60 points) and they still trail Tampa Bay by a point in the Southeast Division since the Bolts knocked off the Atlanta Thrashers, 3-2, in a shootout.

Here are the highlights and analysis of an “ugly win” over the young and pesky Islanders:

- Last time Braden Holtby was recalled to Washington he started with a bang by winning his first two appearances (one in relief and one as a starter), played well in an OT loss in Buffalo, and then imploded in two road tilts at Atlanta and New Jersey. #70, after those two defeats back in November, went back to Hershey and worked hard on his game posting several shutouts with the Bears while awaiting his next recall. Well the phone rang once again and Holtby was coming up to “The Show.” To top things off, he would start in his first contest with the Capitals on this recall due to minor injuries to Michal Neuvirth (sent back to DC after Tuesday’s OT loss in Philly) and Semyon Varlamov (dressed as the backup goalie on Thursday night). The result was a very solid 24 save effort from the young goalie from Saskatchewan. Holtby did not make some of the mistakes he made in his last two disastrous NHL starts, such as overplaying the puck or over challenging the shooters, and he looked very comfortable and in control during all 60 minutes. The only tally he allowed was to Grabner on a breakaway at 5:15 of the second period. Kudos to Braden for keeping a good attitude and showing once again that he has NHL game.

- Towards the end of the second period in the OT loss to the Flyers on Tuesday, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau put Jason Chimera on the top line with Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and it worked well against a very good Philadelphia club. On Long Island on Thursday, the Caps bench boss kept that trio together and it paid dividends as the Great #8 set up both Chimera (1 goal, +2) and Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist, +2) for easy goals. For the most part this line dominated on the ice, except for some shifts towards the end of period two and in the final stanza where I thought Ovechkin (2 assists, +2) tried to do too much himself in the offensive zone and he also floated a bit in his own end. However, when the Capitals needed a key defensive play late in the game, the Great #8 cleared the puck off of the boards and down the ice without getting whistled for icing. That play by the team captain sealed this victory. For Backstrom, his tap in from the crease on a rebound of Ovechkin’s power move and shot on net, was his first tally since December 1st in St. Louis when had two goals (a 21 game drought). Adding Chimera to the line has been a great move because #25′s speed seems to open the ice up for the other two. In addition, Chimera is not afraid to go to the net and that is where he scored the Capitals first goal on Long Island.

- The Caps were fortunate to only give up one goal and once again they can thank their stellar penalty killing unit. Washington took six careless minors but the shorthanded crew was outstanding only allowing eight shots on goal over the 12 minutes. The Islanders moved the puck well, at times, on the man advantage but they could not solve Holtby. New York took only two penalties and they held the Caps to just four shots on those two man advantage situations. It is a good thing the Capitals did not need a power play goal to win on Thursday because once again they struggled to get pucks to the net on their PP opportunities.

- On the backend, the Capitals got very good performances from all of their blueliners. The Mike Green-Jeff Schultz pairing logged the most ice time and weren’t on for a goal against. John Carlson had an assist on the Caps second goal but was beat on the Grabner breakaway and #74′s usual partner, Karl Alzner, was +1 in 17:51 of ice time. Scott Hannan (+1) had his 14th straight contest with the Caps without being a minus player. If you watch #23 closely when he is playing you will see that he is a great communicator and is often talking to his d-partner. Hannan does a great job with this and he appears to be getting more and more comfortable with his role on this team. Finally, John Erskine was even (other d-man on the ice on Grabner’s goal) in 15 minutes of action dealing with a minor lower body injury (d-man Brian Fahey was recalled from Hershey in case #4 could not play).

- From the dot, the Caps once again dominated winning 34 of the 55 faceoffs taken. Boyd Gordon went 12-2 and Backstrom was 10-4. #1 NHL faceoff man, Dave Steckel, won four of his five draws. Only Marcus Johansson (-1) at 0-6 and Jay Beagle (1-4) struggled on draws.

- In summary, a win is a win is a win, and the Capitals will take it. However, if they are going to compete against the elite NHL clubs they need to find a way to get more offense going. They should get a boost once Alexander Semin returns to the lineup but the glaring need on the club still remains the second line center position.

Notes: Tomas Fleischmann, who was traded to Colorado in exchange for Hannan, was declared out for the rest of the NHL season Thursday due to a pulmonary embolism. Flash had been scoring consistently for the Avs…forward DJ King played only six shifts and logged 3:25 of ice time…next up for the Caps are the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday at 7pm. The Leafs have given the Capitals fits over the last two seasons and both contests this year at the Verizon Center went to the shootout.

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Caps Rally, Defeat Sens, 3-1

Posted on 16 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

With 20 minutes to go in Sunday’s contest against the Ottawa Senators, the Washington Capitals were trailing 1-0, and were staring at the possibility of their seventh shutout loss of the season. However, the Caps ramped up their intensity big time, became more physical, and played arguably their best 20 minutes in a long time, scoring three goals, including John Carlson’s game winning goal on the power play, en route to a much needed 3-1 victory. The win halted a three game losing streak and vaulted the Capitals (25-14-7) back into a tie for first place in the Southeast Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning (26-15-5). Both teams have 57 points.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the victory, the Capitals league leading 13th win of the season after allowing the first goal to their opponent:

- Carlson was voted the number one star of the game, but my top performer was Michal Neuvirth (22 saves). #30 was one of the few players to show up when the puck was dropped and the only tally he allowed, to Mike Fisher in a goal mouth scramble after Mike Green failed to clear the biscuit from the door step just 1:12 into the game, was not his fault. With the Senators carrying the play in the first period, they outshot Washington 9-5, Neuvirth shut the door on Ottawa giving his club a chance to regroup for period two and get their legs going. But the second period was a struggle early on again for the Capitals and in that stanza the two time AHL Calder Cup winning goalie made the save of the game on Filip Kuba. Kuba pinched down into the slot and he took a perfect centering feed on his forehand and fired it towards the top left corner of the cage. The calm and collected Neuvirth quickly lifted his blocker and deflected the puck to the corner to thwart what would have been a seemingly insurmountable two goal hole for Washington. You’ve heard me say this many times this year and I will say it again:  the Capitals do not need another goalie because Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov have been outstanding this season. Varly is 8-6-2 with a .926 save percentage while Neuvy has gone 15-6-4 with a .912 save percentage. Those are some fantastic numbers.

“Our defense did a good job clearing pucks after that (the first Ottawa goal), not giving any second opportunities and Neuvy (Michal Neuvirth) held the fort,” commented Brooks Laich on how his team was able to stay in the game until they could break things open in the third period.

 

- The third period effort is something that many fans expected to see more of from Washington this season. The Caps skated hard and their aggressive forechecking in the offensive zone was back. In fact, the first goal was set up by a big check on Erik Karlsson by Alexander Ovechkin behind the Sens net. Karlsson, while being hit, sent a wobbly pass to Chris Phillips on the other side of the cage, but with Marcus Johansson bearing down on him he tried to hit Daniel Alfredsson up the middle of the ice. However #4′s pass missed #11 and went right to Laich in the slot and #21 buried it top shelf, far post to tie the game up. That goal, Laich’s first in 13 games, really energized the Capitals and their fans as the building started rocking again.

- Just 43 seconds later Milan Michalek cross checked Karl Alzner in the back in the Caps zone sending #27 flying head first into the boards. It was an extremely cheap and dangerous play and Alzner stayed down for an extended period, then went down the tunnel after being helped to the bench. Clearly the call should have been a five minute major for boarding but the zebras, Ghislain Hebert and Bill McCreary, only gave Michalek two minutes for cross checking. Washington’s struggling power play then finally found a  way to connect as Nicklas Backstrom won the faceoff back to Carlson and #74 blasted it by Elliott (23 saves). The goal, which only took two seconds of time, came just 45 seconds after Laich had tied things up. The Caps would then add an insurance goal with 6:29 left when Jason Chimera scored from the goal line by banking the puck off the back of Elliott, who went down too soon on the right post. That tally involved a lucky bounce but the hard work of Alzner on the boards provided #25 with the opportunity to send the puck on goal.

“Sometimes you try to bank it off them (the goalie) and that time I did and fortunately it went in. Nine times out of ten, it doesn’t go in. Fortunately it worked out,” said Chimera on his sixth goal of the season.

 

- Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau once again mixed up his lines with Eric Fehr out of the lineup due to a shoulder injury (likely 3-4 weeks) and Andrew Gordon recalled from Hershey. Boudreau put Johansson with Ovechkin and Laich and that line played fairly well, especially in the third period. Johansson was +1 in a career high 22:16 of ice time. He had a couple of golden opportunities, including a perfect set up from Ovechkin in the slot, but he couldn’t connect. MJ90 is getting better along the boards, he actually was credited with two hits in this tilt, but the one thing he needs to really work on is his shot. We need to see more of it and the shots need to be quicker, harder, and on target.

- In addition to the forward line juggling, two of the defensive pairs were switched with Jeff Schultz going back with Green and Scott Hannan played the right side while John Erskine was flanked to his left. Hannan had another strong game in 17:32 of ice time. The 52-55 pair looked like it was headed for a disastrous night after allowing that first goal just 72 seconds into the game but they steadied themselves as the contest went on. The best defensive pair was once again the Carlson-Alzner duo. #74 was +1 in 21:07 and had the game winning goal while King Karl was +2 and had an assist in 19 minutes and 50 seconds of ice time. Alzner, who was shaken up a bit from the dirty hit by Michalek, did come back in the game missing at most one shift.

- One thing Washington did well the entire contest was win faceoffs. The Caps, who are ranked third in the NHL from the dot at a 52.8% success rate, won 43 of the 62 draws in this game. Boyd Gordon was an amazing 8-0 and Backstrom went 13-6. Faceoffs played a huge role in the outcome and the Senators bench boss took notice.

“They [face-offs] are huge. Both [third period] goals were off of a lost face off,” said Ottawa Coach Cory Clouston.

- So a bad week for the Caps, one in which they went 1-2-1, ends up on a high note. They still are not scoring many goals and this was the 16th time in the last 17 games that they have failed to notch more than three tallies but over the last 14 games they’ve only given up 28 goals (just two per game). There are 43 days left before the trade deadline for GM George McPhee to set his roster up for a long playoff run. Based on what I’ve seen over the first 46 games, I think the team is solid in goal and on defense but the forward crew needs upgrading in order to get two lines scoring, something you absolutely have to have to advance in the post season.

Notes: Along with Fehr being out, Alex Semin, Matt Bradley, Tom Poti, and DJ King were also out of the lineup due to injury while d-man Tyler Sloan is in Hershey for a conditioning stint…Green led the team with five hits but he also got rocked hard by Nick Foligno into the back boards right before he took an interference penalty with 33 seconds remaining. Hopefully #52 didn’t reinjure his shoulder on that hit…the Caps now embark on a three game road trip with the first stop in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. I will be covering the game in person and will bring you quotes, highlights, and analysis from a battle against the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference…by the way, please check out Japers Rink Radio, I was on with hosts Stephen Pepper and Russell Waxman for the last 25 minutes of this past Saturday’s show. We touched on all things Caps hockey.

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Bolts Blank Uninspired Caps to Take Southeast Lead

Posted on 13 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

There was a battle for the top spot in the Southeast Division on Wednesday night between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals, but only one team showed up. I am not surprised. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season and getting bounced in the first round by Montreal, the Caps have been inconsistent this regular season and have appeared to basically be in a “waiting for the playoffs mode” with this contest being no exception. When the Capitals want to play, as they will likely do on Friday against the NHL standings leading Vancouver Canucks or next Tuesday night in Philadelphia against the Flyers, they typically can compete with anyone. But the Lightning, who Washington has owned in the Bruce Boudreau era, despite having a great season, just do not get the Capitals motivated, yet. As a result, a tired and uninspired Capitals club fell behind 2-0 in the first period and mailed it in the rest of the game en route to a 3-0 defeat. The Bolts now lead the Southeast Division over the Caps by two points (57 to 55):

Here are the lowlights and analysis from a lackluster Capitals performance:

- It is clear that the Capitals are definitely becoming the Penguins or Flyers to the Lightning. Guy Boucher’s club came out flying while the Caps still looked like they were sleeping following Tuesday night’s OT loss in Florida. Nate Thompson, who isn’t exactly going to challenge Steven Stamkos or Sidney Crosby for any all star spots, cruised into the Washington zone with speed forcing a slow footed Jeff Schultz to back up way too far. #44 then hit the brakes and threw the puck on net and Tom Poti, who really shouldn’t be playing yet because he isn’t 100% healthy, couldn’t handle Dominic Moore in front of the net. #19 then banked one in off of a sprawling Semyon Varlamov for the first marker just 3:58 in to the contest. Varly would then give up a rebound on a Victor Hedman point shot, because he had too much traffic in front of him (3 and 55 didn’t box out well), and Sean Bergenheim batted the biscuit in the basket baseball style to make it 2-0. The Bolts outshot the Caps 14-9 in that first intermission and dominated the play.

- From there, things just got worse for Washington as they didn’t play hard and the referees, Tim Kowal and Steve Kozari, officiated this one like they had money on the game in Vegas. I could try and list all of the missed and incorrect calls but in the immortal words of Mark Ratner from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “That would take too long.” However, the sequence where Steve Downie dropped his mitts early and got two sucker punches in on Scott Hannan bears mentioning; not only because Downie is a gutless thug, but because the zebras, who I termed the Krusty the Klown pair, gave four minutes to #23 and only two to the Lightning pest that you just want to crush with your shoe. The referees were not the reason the Capitals lost on this evening, their lack of effort and the solid goaltending from Dwayne Roloson (23 saves) takes precedence, but the NHL seriously needs to look at many of these crews to try and find some sanity and consistency because I sure as heck am not seeing it in the league so far this season from the zebras.

- The positives for Washington were few and far between:

  • Varlamov did stop 35 of 38 shots. He was totally hung out to dry by Schutlz and Mike Green on the Simon Gagne goal to make it 3-0 late in period two. The former Flyers tally came on a 2 on 0 break after Sarge and #52 lolligagged it from the Bolts blue line after an offensive zone faceoff.
  • The Caps killed off all six Tampa power play chances (9:37 of shorthanded time).
  • Blue liners John Carlson and Karl Alzner logged 25:27  and 24:35 of ice time, respectively, and did not allow a goal. Most of those minutes came against the Bolts top line. Stamkos and Martin St. Louis were both held without a point thanks to the two young defensemen.
  • Alexander Ovechkin (-2, 4 hits, 2 shots on net in 18:38 of ice time) didn’t run out of hockey sticks. Well he almost did as he broke numerous twigs on the night and word has it that the team equipment crew had to run out to the truck to reload on the bench for the Great #8.

- Poti (-2), who only played five minutes and change before leaving with yet another injury, and Schultz (-3) had bad nights on defense. However, as I mentioned in this video that was shot with my media friends John Keeley of On Frozen Blog and Ted Starkey of The Washington Times on Saturday night at the Verizon Center, the Capitals are in good shape from a defense and goaltending posture. What General Manager George McPhee needs to do is go out and get at least one, and likely two, top six forwards to give Washington a better chance at going deep into the post season and competing for a Stanley Cup. With Varlamov and Neuvirth, they have improved in the cage and the defense is much better this season thanks to the emergence of Alzner and Carlson plus the acquisition of Hannan, so that leaves an offense that has been blanked six times this year as the club’s problem point. That is no surprise since last year’s squad finished games five through seven of the Montreal series with exactly one goal in each tilt. The Caps GM has until 3pm on February 28th to make some moves to get this offense going again, stay tuned.

Notes:  Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup after missing close to a month due to injury, and as a result forward Brian Willsie was sent back to Hershey after just one game (1 assist in just over six minutes of ice time)…Each team won 31 faceoffs on Wednesday. Dave Steckel went 5-1 for Washington.. Nearly 500 fans helped the Washington Capitals raise $304,900 for charity at the second Caps Care Casino Night and Auction on Jan. 9 at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. A majority of the money raised will benefit Washington Capitals Charities, which supports community programs in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

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Penalties, Special Teams Cost Caps in OT Loss

Posted on 12 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth received his first start since the Christmas break but his outstanding play (37 saves) was not rewarded as the Caps took too many penalties that resulted in three power play goals for the Florida Panthers, who won, 4-3, in overtime at home on Tuesday night. Washington rallied from an early 3-0 deficit in this one, but their inability to convert on the power play, and their own penchant for heading to the box on this night, eventually cost them. Nonetheless, the point they picked up moves them to 24-12-7 and puts them in a tie with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division with 55 points. On Wednesday evening the Caps and Bolts will face off in Tampa with the victor taking over the top spot in the division.

Here are the highlights and analysis of Washington’s first of six games on the road in the Sunshine State this season:

- I get it, the Southeast Division is better this year, but if you don’t show up in the first period, and the Capitals as a group collectively failed to move their feet in that opening stanza, you are going to make it easier for a less talented team to gain a victory. That is what happened on Tuesday as Washington was outshot 20-7 and fell behind 2-0 heading into the first intermission. The Nicklas Backstrom boarding penalty, after a questionable delayed infraction on Mike Knuble was being whistled, was a terrible one, although David Booth did a nice job of selling it. Florida scored on the ensuing 5 on 3 when Karl Alzner left his feet (bad move) to try and block the pass and Mike Santorelli banged it home from the doorstep. Santorelli has been very impressive in these two games between the two squads. That makes two games in a row that #19 has taken a bad boarding penalty and he needs to clean that up.

- The Panthers scored three power play goals but the improved Washington shorthanded unit was put in BAD spots on all three. The first two were 5 on 3 tallies and the third, the game winner in OT, was on a tougher to defend 4 on 3 marker. However, the Caps had that thing killed off until Matt Hendricks decided to try a fancy and stupid backhanded play up the right wing boards. The result was a turnover and disaster as the Panthers won the game just seconds later. That whole power play was set up by another bad backhanded play, that one coming from Mike Green, who for some crazy reason backhanded the puck right up the slot forcing #52 to then take down Corey Stillman as he was about to get a quality chance in front. Simply put, the Capitals were lazy on those plays and several others for getting rid of the puck on their backhand in dangerous situations. They should know better and I hope Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau goes through the tape tomorrow morning and shows his crew ALL of the lazy plays that allowed a less talented Panthers team to steal a victory.

- I said this a few games ago and I will say it again: Blow this power play configuration up! Simply put, the top skill guys for the Capitals are downright horrible with the man advantage because they do not want to work hard and simplify in those situations. Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green all want to continue to try and make the perfect play instead of getting the puck in the middle of the ice at the top of the point and blasting away. I watch game after game of other teams doing this, it is no secret how to score and Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason keep telling those guys to do what I am saying, but they aren’t listening. My opinion:  Sit those guys on the bench and send out some guys who will shoot the puck and crash the net. You can’t get any worse results right now. Washington’s power play carded a big freaking donut hole on Tuesday in five chances. That is UNACCEPTABLE!

- On the positive side of the ledger, the team came back hard and gained a point, but it never should have been like that at all and the players can thank one guy, Neuvirth, for that point because it could have been worse than 3-0 at the game’s midpoint. Marcus Johansson (2 goals) had a super game as well using his speed to help get Washington back in this one. The night would have been perfect for #90 had he gotten more wood on a point blank shot from right in front of Tomas Vokoun (30 saves) in the last 10 minutes. MJ90 would have had a hat trick and the Caps would have likely stolen a victory but #29 got his glove on a shot that the young Swede would love another crack at.

Notes: The Caps have lost their last five contests that have gone to the extra session (three OT losses & two shootout defeats)…Alex Semin, who was hurt (lower body) in last Saturday’s game against Florida, did not make the two game road trip and Brian Willsie was recalled from Hershey. #24 had an assist in 6:15 of ice time…The Caps lost the faceoff battle, 34-32, and top draw man Dave Steckel was only 11-9. Many of the losses were at the beginning of special teams play giving the Panthers an advantage right off the bat in each of those situations (Backstrom was a pitiful 5-12 on faceoffs), allowing the Panthers to win the special teams play, 3-0…D-man John Erskine (-1 in 13:27) returned to the lineup in place of Tom Poti, who was deemed a healthy scratch, but healthy he ain’t, #3 is still trying to get his wheels back…Knuble had the Caps second tally on a super feed from the Great #8…Ovechkin and Green were announced as participants in the NHL All Star game today while goalie Braden Holtby, blue liner Lawrence Nycholat, and winger Andrew Gordon, all Caps players with the Hershey Bears, were named to the AHL all star squad.

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Hershey Grads Help Caps Win 2nd Straight

Posted on 22 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

There is a reason the Hershey Bears won back to back AHL Calder Cup titles the last two seasons and a national audience on VERSUS on Tuesday night witnessed it first hand as several Chocolatetown graduates played big roles in the Washington Capitals 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center. Andrew Gordon, who has 16 goals in 26 games for the Bears this year, notched his first ever NHL goal and also had an assist on Jason Chimera’s breakaway marker that made it 3-1. Defenseman John Carlson also scored on a laser and added an assist while goaltender Michal Neuvirth stopped 35 of 36 shots to earn his 14th win of this season. It was the Caps second straight victory following their eight game losing streak and coupled with the St. Louis Blues 4-2 victory over Atlanta, Washington is back in first place in the Southeast Division with 44 points (20-12-4). The Thrashers are a point back with the same number of games played as the Caps while the Tampa Bay Lightning are at 42 points with three games in hand.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game that was close in the first 30 minutes and ended with the Verizon Center chanting “We Want Pittsburgh!”:

- In addition to Gordon, Carlson, and Neuvirth several other Bears from the back to back Calder Cup Championships contributed to the win including defenseman Karl Alzner (+3), Jay Beagle (goal, +1), and Mathieu Perreault (+1). Gordon, Beagle, and Perreault each where involved in a Washington goal simply by going to the net. Gordon’s goal from the doorstep was set up by a super play by Marcus Johansson, Beagle’s tally from just above the crease was the result of a great pass from Dave Steckel, and the smaller Perreault crashed the cage on Martin Broduer (23 saves) allowing Mike Knuble to deflect Tom Poti’s shot by the future Hall of Fame goalie. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau praised the Chocolatetown contingent right out of the gate in his post game presser.

“I thought they all played great, Beagle, Gordo, Carlson, they had lots of energy and they followed direction and they played with passion and enthusiasm. When you do that, usually, no matter what league you’re in you’re going to have success,” said the coach about his players who have simply dominated in the AHL and now are getting a chance to display their merit in “The Show.”

- #30 was super solid in net and he made several quality saves early in the second period when the Devils had their highest points in this tilt. The only shot that beat him was on a Devils power play by Patrick Elias with Dainius Zubrus setting a vicious screen at the top of the crease. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau certainly is feeling confident in Neuvirth right now and you can bet the house he will start against the Penguins on Thursday.

“He was pretty solid. He’s always been a guy that’s gotten stronger as the game goes on and does alot by confidence. The game in Ottawa got him confidence,” said Boudreau on the key to Neuvirth’s recent success.

- The Capitals best d-pair these days continues to be #74 and #27 and they followed up their super game in Ottawa with a tremendous outing on Tuesday. Alzner and Carlson, who were sensational playing together in Hershey, are a perfect pairing that continues to get better. They are positionally sound and the thing they really excel at is getting the puck out of Washington’s zone and in transition with quick and smart passes. Carlson had 23:42 of ice time, including 7:24 on the power play, and despite the fact that the Caps power play stunk in this one (0 for 5), #74 was likely the best player on it because he was shooting the biscuit at the cage instead of trying crazy cross ice seam passes that Alexander Semin kept attempting to execute.

“We’ve been playing good since day one. We’ve been feeling pretty comfortable. We were apart for a while and then got back together a couple of games ago. It’s just a matter of consistency in this game, it seems. Anytime you can play good and contribute, it’s really good,” added #74, who scored the game winning goal for Team USA in the Gold Medal game against Canada in the World Juniors Championships last winter.

 

- Steckel, who is also a Hershey alum but wasn’t on the two recent Calder Cup winning teams but was on the 2006 AHL Championship club coached by Boudreau, is really playing well lately after a subpar 2009-10. #39 was 7-2 on draws and is now #1 in the NHL in faceoff percentage (63.1%) for those taking at least 20 draws this season. His pass to Beagle for the game winning goal was outstanding and it came after some hard work along the boards and in the corner.

 

- I would also be remiss if I didn’t praise the play of the rookie, Johansson. #90, who looked healthy and as a result showed off his ultra fast skating tonight, was paired with the speedy Chimera and the grinding Gordon and they were the line of the game for Washington. The young Swede looked like he was shot out of a cannon on the first goal as he flew down the left wing boards and fed an all alone #63 in front for the first tally. Johansson also set up Gordon for a one timer that Brodeur made his best save of the night on in period two when the game was still close. Former Capital Brian Engblom on VERSUS, after the 2nd period, called #90 the best player on the ice for either team, quite a compliment for the 2009 1st round draft choice.

 

- On the down side, the Capitals power play was simply awful in 8:42 of time, including a lengthy (78 seconds) two man advantage. I put the blame on this on Semin and Mike Green because those guys are not shooting the puck and trying to make too many fancy passes. Boudreau did give Carlson more point time and he moved Alexander Ovechkin down low in an attempt to get him out of his goal scoring slump (2 tallies in the last 18 games).

 

“Well, we were 0-for-5 on the power play, so it didn’t work very well. But we haven’t had any success with him on the point lately either. I am just trying to move things and change things around. I thought if we got shots at the net and he’s right there, maybe he could get a rebound or something, get an ugly goal that would jump start him. That was the thought process,” said Boudreau, who is attempting to win his 4th straight Southeast Division title as the Caps bench boss in as many seasons.

 

Notes: Forward Matt Bradley, a major fan favorite, broke his finger and will miss 2-4 weeks (h/t Mike Vogel, aka @VogsCaps)…Eric Fehr, who played four really good periods in a row with Ovechkin and Backstrom on the top line in the two previous games, missed the contest due to a death in the family…the Caps won the face-off battle, 28-26…Washinton’s PK unit was 1 for 4 and it would have been perfect had defenseman Scott Hannan made a simple clearing play instead of waiting for an extra second in the corner. As a result he was stripped from behind of the biscuit and the Caps failed to clear the zone prior to the goal. #23 continues to struggle in his transition from Colorado to Washington…on Wednesday night at 10pm on HBO, Episode 2 of 24/7, which covers the Caps and Penguins as they head into the Winter Classic on January 1st, airs. It should be a much more enjoyable hour of viewing for Caps fans after last week’s tough one in the middle of the eight game losing streak. Not to mention the Penguins lost two straight games last week…Former Capital and VERSUS studio analyst Keith Jones blasted Semin after the game for his effort. Boudreau characterized #28′s performance with the following quote, “Rusty, but he’ll get better though.” Given that Semin was hurt (lower body injury) and just recovered from the flu we’ll give him a pass for his bad game…Thursday night’s Capitals-Penguins tilt at the Verizon Center should be a great one and it will be time for the Capitals star players like Ovechkin (1 assist, +1, 4 hits), Nicklas Backstrom, Green, and Semin to get it going because the Caps will need them to defeat Sidney Crosby and company. Don’t miss it!

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