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Bad Opening Period Costs Caps 8th Straight Loss

Posted on 19 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came within one of setting a club record for shots on goal in a period (26) on Saturday night in Boston, and still lost. Thanks to a terrible opening first stanza in Beantown, one in which the Bruins scored three goals on 11 shots, a furious Caps rally came up one goal short and the result was Washington’s eighth straight defeat. Patrice Bergeron, Andrew Ference, and Blake Wheeler all tallied for Boston while Matt Bradley and Karl Alzner lit the lamp for DC in a tough 3-2 defeat. The Caps now drop to 18-12-4 and have given up the Southeast Division lead to the Atlanta Thrashers, who thrashed the New Jersey Devils, 7-1, this evening. Atlanta now has 41 points and Washington is one back, but they are also tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who also have a game in hand on both teams. So technically, the Caps are in third place in the Southeast Division and reside in 7th place in the Eastern Conference.

Here are the highlights and analysis from another close Capitals loss:

- I don’t know what was said by either the coaches or the players before the Caps came out for period one, but whatever it was it should never be used again. Washington played scared and tight in that opening stanza and just about every Capital was making mistakes, primarily because they were trying too hard and over thinking. Time after time there were one or two Capitals in position to make a play and they couldn’t come up with it. It was simply bad hockey and it cost Washington the game. I will label that opening 20 minutes the “Diamond Period” because to borrow a phrase from Ferris Bueller, the way the Caps played in that frame, had you stuck a lump of coal up the rear of each Capital, by week’s end that is what you’d have from each of them, a diamond! You simply cannot win playing hockey if you are afraid to make mistakes!

- Okay, now that the rant is over, this entire game turned after Michal Neuvirth (18 saves on 21 shots) stopped Tyler Seguin on a breakaway when it was 3-0 early in the second period. If #19 scores it is game over but the Caps went down the other end and it was the line of Dave Steckel, Matt Hendricks, and Bradley that put Washington on the board and back in the game. All three players in the offensive zone did their jobs and #10 found a nice seam in the right wing circle and put one inside the far post by Tim Thomas (39 saves) at 2:18 of period two.

- In the third period the ice was totally tilted with the Capitals rushing the puck into the Bruins zone over and over, but Thomas stood strong. Alzner finally got one by the current front runner for “NHL Comeback Player of the Year” when his blast hit a Boston d-man in front while he was jockeying with Nicklas Backstrom. That tally came with 5:28 remaining and Washington kept pouring it on, but when #30 stopped Alexander Ovechkin on a backhander with 10 seconds left the storybook comeback was thwarted and the losing streak continues on.

- The most baffling thing to me right now is why Ovechkin can’t score a big goal when the Caps need one??!! I thought for sure the Great #8 would tally with the Capitals throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Thomas, but despite seven shots on net and six hits, he could only muster a single assist on Alzner’s goal.

- I think it is no coincidence that since Jeff Schultz fractured his right thumb in the second period of the Maple Leafs game (third loss of this current streak) the play of the team has declined. Mike Green has been paired with just about everyone on the Caps roster and he has struggled (he’s also missed two games with a sprained MCL). #52 was on the ice for all three Bruins tallies, the first while paired with John Erskine and the last two with Scott Hannan, who has been absolutely awful since coming over in the trade for Tomas Fleischmann from Colorado. #23 is now -9 in his eight games with the Caps but to be fair to him, injuries to #55 and some of the others have put him in a difficult role while learning a new system. Green was -2 and misplayed the two on two that resulted in Bergeron’s early goal, but Neuvirth needed to make that save as well. On the third Bruins goal, the two time Norris Trophy finalist was outworked behind the Caps net but had Backstrom stuck with Wheeler in the slot that goal does not happen.

- So on to Ottawa the Caps go on Sunday night for the second half of back to back tilts (faceoff is at 730 pm). The question now is what Capitals team shows up? Is it the one that played the last 40 minutes tonight or is it the one that got bombed in New York last Sunday night? If it is the latter, I would have to think that some changes will be seriously considered, if not made.

Notes: Bradley fought tough guy Adam McQuaid at the 8:17 mark of the opening period, right after Boston had made it 2-0…the Caps were without injured forwards Alexander Semin and Boyd Gordon while Mathieu Perreault was a late scratch due to the flu…Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau juggled his lines in period three and Andrew Gordon saw one shift with Backstrom and Ovechkin before Eric Fehr, who was supposed to be the healthy scratch, was put up there. #16 did a decent job on that unit…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-25, with #19 going 14-8 while Marcus Johansson lost six of seven draws.

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Flu Bug Still Present, Caps Recall More

Posted on 15 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Press Release from the Washington Capitals:

The Washington Capitals have recalled right wing Andrew Gordon and center Jay Beagle from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL), vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. The Capitals also assigned defenseman Brian Fahey to Hershey.

Gordon, 25, is a fourth-year pro who has played four games for the Capitals in his career. The Porters Lake, Nova Scotia, native has collected 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) and 12 penalty minutes in 26 games with Hershey this season and currently ranks second in the AHL in goals and fifth in points.

A seventh-round choice, 197th overall, in the 2004 Entry Draft, Gordon wears No. 63 for the Capitals. He scored 50 goals for Hershey last season (37 in the regular season, 13 in the playoffs), one of two AHL players to score 50 goals total. He played in the 2010 AHL All-Star Game and was named to the postseason AHL Second All-Star Team. In addition, Gordon played three seasons of college hockey at St. Cloud State (WCHA).

Beagle, 25, has played in one game (Oct. 23 vs. Atlanta) for Washington this season, registering two penalty minutes. The 6’3”, 210-pound native of Calgary, Alberta, has collected 11 points (7 goals, 4 assists) and 20 penalty minutes in 21 games for the Bears this season.

Beagle has appeared in 11 career NHL games for the Capitals, posting two points (1 goal, 1 assist) and six penalty minutes. He also played in 66 games for the Bears during the regular season last season, collecting 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) and 25 penalty minutes while also recording nine points (2 goals, 7 assists) in 21 playoff games. Beagle, who wears No. 83 for Washington, was signed as a free agent by the Capitals on March 26, 2008.

Both players will be available for tonight’s game against the Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center.

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COMMENTS: The good news is that defenseman Mike Green is healthy again (missed last two games) so Fahey was returned to the Bears. However, it appears that Alexander Semin is down with the flu now, he didn’t practice yesterday, so Gordon, who played on Sunday against New York but was sent back down to Hershey on Monday, is back up again. Defensive forward Boyd Gordon is also injured and with Beagle being recalled others must still have the flu bug as well. The Caps are playing a very tough team in the Anaheim Ducks tonight. They have a very good goaltender in Jonas Hiller (starred for Switzerland in the 2010 Winter Olympics) and a top forward line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan. All three were also in the 2010 Olympics and they are big, powerful forwards so the Capitals defense has it’s work cut out for them.

The Ducks are 16-13-4 overall and currently reside in 6th place in the Western Conference. They have won their last two games and are 6-3-1 in their last 10 tilts. The Caps seek to halt a six game losing streak against Anaheim at the Verizon Center tonight (CSN HD, 7 pm).

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Caps Shutout in 4th Straight Loss

Posted on 10 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals clearly have a motivation and confidence problem right now. Against the Florida Panthers, a team that Washington defeated all six times last season, the Caps came out strong in period one drawing five power plays and fired 18 shots on Cats goalie Tomas Vokoun but they couldn’t get the puck by him. As a result the team got frustrated and started doing too many individual things and when Florida scored with one second left in the second period to snatch a 1-0 lead, the currently mentally fragile Capitals crumbled in the final stanza en route to a 3-0 defeat. The loss drops the Caps to 18-9-3 overall and they still have a  six point lead over both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division, but both teams now have two games in hand.

Here is tonight’s recap including quotes and analysis from a tilt that was played in front of the quietest Verizon Center crowd in recent memory:

- The biggest problem on Thursday night was Washington’s power play. For the evening it went 0 for 8, including not converting on two 5 on 3 opportunities, one of which was for 1:53 midway through the first period. Early on the Caps were trying to swing the puck down low in an attempt to beat Vokoun in close. Eric Fehr, who had 6 shots on goal in 11:43 of ice time, had numerous chances to get one by #29 but couldn’t convert. After the first few power plays the Caps then started getting too cute and pass happy instead of firing the puck from the top of the slot with traffic in front. By the 7th and 8th iterations the man advantage units had totally deteriorated into an individual event where one Capital after another tried to skate through the Panthers defense on his own, without any success. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau discussed the problems on the power play after the game.

“The intentions were good at the beginning, then when you don’t score on the power play when you have the opportunity, you could see at the end of the first period that we started to do things as individuals instead of collectively.  When that happens, it’s tough, it’s no excuse,” started Boudreau on his usually potent power play crew, “Just stand in front of the net and shoot the puck was the message and then we still get too cute. There were so many times we had good opportunities to shoot with guys in front of the net and we are trying to make the play and the play’s not there,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams trophy winning coach on why things went bad with the manpower advantage.

- As bad as Washington’s power play was, their penalty killing was super in period two when the Caps had to kill off three infractions, including a 1:18 five on three against. Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon, and Tom Poti did outstanding work and it appeared that the effort on the PK might spur the team to the first goal. However, with one second left in period two the Cats scored after Karl Alzner and Nicklas Backstrom were beaten badly down low on the right wing boards. A wild goal mouth scramble ensued and Steve Reinprecht buried one from the slot with four Caps around him. That type of goal just can’t happen. First #27 and #19 need to be smarter that late in the period and not over commit going for the steal. At that point in time, they should have been focusing on keeping the Panthers on the perimeter, because a takeaway wouldn’t have given them any time to go the other way to score. This was simply a case of two young players not paying attention to the game situation and then a collective lack of effort in front of Semyon Varlamov (29 saves) on the rebounds.

“It was obviously a huge goal because it gave them light. After the first period we were talking about how often a team outshoots one 18-6 and it is five power plays to none, the other team comes out and they are going to get power plays in the second period and it usually turns. I thought we did a really good job of holding them off on the 5 on 3 and the penalty, but you’ve got four guys down there and nobody touching anybody, they are going to score. Once they believe that, at the start of the third period, they dug in their heels pretty good and they hadn’t beaten us in awhile and they were a determined group. We were looking like we were feeling sorry for ourselves,” added Boudreau on the Caps solid penalty killing and then how the late second period tally impacted his team’s mindset.

- Washington, after blowing a three goal third period lead in their shootout loss to Toronto on Monday, came out strong in period one but as the game wore on they seemed to lack interest and lose confidence. For those of you who follow my blogs or my tweets on Twitter (@Emfrank123), you are aware that in the notes section of the Leafs summary blog I wrote that this team needed a challenge game against the Pittsburgh Penguins to get themselves dialed in for 60 minutes. Then on Thursday morning I predicted that the Caps would not be 100% focused against Florida. The result of this tilt furthers my case, but what is now happening is that the loss of confidence is causing the players to mope and feel sorry for themselves instead of getting them to fight back strong.

“We could call it snake bitten, we could call it you’re facing adversity and not being able to handle the adversity, not fighting through it. Feeling sorry for yourself. I came in between periods, 2nd and 3rd, everybody was hanging their head and we were down 1-0. My job at that time was not to give them crap but to let them know they’re good and don’t feel sorry for yourself. Dig your heels in and come back and it’s one shot…once it was 2-0 you could see the shoulders sagging on the bench and they just didn’t believe they were going to come back tonight,” said Boudreau on his team’s frail mental state during this recent four game slide.

“I liked the beginning of the game, I liked our energy, the way we played. We were going to the net hard, we were working hard. You don’t get that many power plays without working and effort but the puck is not going in the net right now and we’re gripping the sticks tight. We are getting down on ourselves. It is just part of the game. It is almost like a slump in some sort of way, not scoring on the opportunities we are getting,” said forward Matt Hendricks on what transpired on Thursday night and why the team is not converting.

- Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green all had one of their worst games of the season on Thursday and the Caps simply can’t win when those guys aren’t going. Boudreau tried moving Alexander Ovechkin around and he switched up his lines in the third period to try and jump start the offense, to no avail.

“Our top six forwards weren’t very good. But our bottom six forwards were working their hardest and getting opportunities so I wanted to get at least one of those guys on with the other guys and maybe it would rub off and the energy would rub off. But quite frankly if your best players aren’t your best players, we’ve been shut out three times in the last 11 games, which has never happened, you are not going to have success. We have one goal or less in five of the last 11 games. You have to get production out of your best players and it is not happening right now,” stated Boudreau on the reason for lack of offensive production.

- As I alluded to above, I think a big part of the problem is a motivational one that is out of Boudreau’s control. All season long the Caps players have been hearing that it doesn’t matter what they do in the regular season, because they will only be judged by their success, or lack of it, in the post season. As a result, I believe that the Capitals are not focused, except when they feel challenged. Some of their best games this season were the two battles with the Flyers and the 6-0 white washing of Tampa when the Bolts came in on fire with a five game winning streak. Honestly, tilts against the Thrashers, Leafs, and Panthers aren’t going to get the blood of the Capitals players boiling. However, with each lackadaisical effort, the opportunity for a Lightning or Atlanta squad to hang around in the division race becomes greater, something the Caps bench boss is keenly aware of.

“We are in a dogfight in the conference and the division. It is not going to be a cakewalk and every team that plays us in the division is ready for us. Every team knows that they’ve got to check this guy and check that guy and we have to as individuals change a little bit of the way we play. That is why I was putting Alex from left wing to right wing because they had [Mike] Weaver out there every time against him. We have to find a way to get around that,” commented on Boudreau on what his club needs to do to defend their Southeast title for the fourth straight season.

- Going forward I am not sure a tilt against the Avalanche on Saturday will be the silver bullet this club needs and the Penguins aren’t on the slate until December 23rd. However the Caps are reminded of that by the fact that HBO cameras are currently following them everywhere, so next week’s first episode of 24/7 ought to be akin to a Washington funeral the way Boudreau’s squad is playing. But the former Slap Shot extra has a plan to try and turns things around and it starts with Friday’s practice.

“I gave them crap after the Leafs game. So you can’t just keep going and beating a dead horse. Tomorrow, I think obvioulsy we’ll practice the power play and penalty killing. Other than that we’ll have our individual meetings, maybe there is something there that I am missing right now and we’ll get to the bottom of it and we’ll get out of it. When we get out of it hopefully we’ll have learned by it,” finished Boudreau on his plan going forward for the Capitals.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-27, on Thursday night…Matt Bradley and DJ King were the forward scratches while Jeff Schultz and Tyler Sloan are on injured reserve…John Erskine and Fehr were my choices for top Caps of the evening as both worked extremely hard despite the loss…Washington outshot Florida 36-32 but the Panthers had a 26-18 advantage after the opening frame.

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Varlamov Stones Blues as Caps Win, 4-1

Posted on 02 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Before Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals last victory in St. Louis came with Jim Schoenfeld as the head coach and David Poile as the General Manager (1996). Thanks to Semyon Varlamov, who was outstanding in goal tonight with 37 saves, the Caps eight game losing streak at the Scotttrade center is now over. Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and an assist as Washington got some revenge on Blues goalie, Jaroslav Halak (22 saves), who had stoned the Caps in their opening round playoff loss last spring when he was with Montreal. The victory on the road pushes the Caps to 18-6-2 overall and they’ve won four straight with Varly in the cage after he returned from a lengthy absence due to a groin injury. Washington leads the Southeast Division by seven points over Tampa Bay and the Eastern Conference by four points over those two teams they don’t like from Pennsylvania.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a rare road win in the “Show Me” state:

- Typically the Caps play some of their best hockey in front of Varlamov. Tonight was not one of those games as the Blues carried the majority of the play but #1 had the backs of his teammates and he made several super saves. His positioning was excellent and he had superb rebound control. Varly also is bigger than both Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby and he plays like a big goalie. That forces opponents to try and pick corners. The result is that they often miss the net.

- Washington is banged up on the back line and it is a good thing they made the Tomas Fleischmann for Scott Hannan trade now. Hannan, who sat out this one so he could learn the Caps system by observing from the press box, is slated to make his Caps debut in Dallas on Thursday evening (830 pm on Comcast). He will be needed big time because Tom Poti, who helped set up the second goal for Washington, did not play in the third period (logged only 11 minutes of total ice time). In addition, Mike Green appeared to be favoring his right shoulder quite a bit but he gutted this tilt out. John Carlson got banged up right before the Blues only tally with 31 seconds left in period two, but he managed to persevere. John Erskine also took a hard hit in the back by Brad Winchester in the final stanza and looked to be in some pain.

- Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, and Mike Knuble were the Caps best line on Wednesday and they were +2 each. It was Knuble’s hard, low shot on Halak that rebounded off of the goalie’s pads and right onto the stick of #19, who buried it to give Washington a key two goal cushion with just under 13 minutes remaining. Nicky also made a super feed to Brooks Laich on the power play in the first period to start the scoring (Alex Semin had the second assist on a gorgeous cross ice pass). Backstrom’s last tally came via an Oveckin pass with the net empty. The Great #8, who has not scored a goal in eight games, has eight assists during that drought, including seven during the four game winning streak. It was a very smart play by Oveckhin to get the puck to Backstrom for the tap in and close this game out with 35 seconds remaining. Sure he could have fired the biscuit into the empy cage to stop his personal goalless streak, but instead he showed his unselfishness, maturity, patience, and commitment to winning. That is what  a team captain does and it is so clear that Alexander the Great is not concerned at all with his individual statistics, he is only focused on winning despite what some of those biased analysts in Canada will try to tell you. Despite the focus on the team, Ovechkin is now 3rd in the league in scoring with 33 points (8 points behind Sidney Crosby and 7 in back of Steve Stamkos).

- Another game, another one in which the opponents get more power plays than Washington. The Caps received two early power plays and tallied on one of them but after that the Blues received four opportunities with the man advantage. St. Louis carried the play but the zebras missed some calls on the Blues, including an obvious stick slash when Ovechkin had a scoring chance. Oh well, like Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said after Sunday’s win vs. Carolina, “I’ve given up trying to understand [the officiating].” St. Louis went 0 for 4 on the power play and Washington did a great job of being aggressive and forcing the Blues into some turnovers. Varlamov was also what he needed to be: the Caps best penalty killer.

Notes: The Caps won or tied the faceoff battle for the 13 straight contest (33-30) and they did it without their best draw man, Dave Steckel. Matt Hendricks, who seems to do all of the little things that help you win, was 10-3 while Boyd Gordon went 11-6…#39 sat so that DJ King could get a game and #17 had an assist on Washington’s second tally which was credited to Gordon when Halak fumbled the puck into his own cage…Green played 25:24 to lead the Caps in ice time…Boudreau did a nice job of rolling the lines and with the Caps going against Dallas on Thursday he needed to be able to do that for the second half of the back-to-back games. Varlamov’s goaltending really helped that cause…one would expect to see Neuvirth in the cage in Dallas…Washington returns home to the Verizon Center on Saturday night when they take on Atlanta for the third and final time in the regular season. The Thrashers are currently riding a six game winning streak but have lost both tilts at the Phone Booth.

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Semin Hat Trick Helps Caps Bury Bolts, 6-0

Posted on 26 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Is there any doubt about who rules the Southeast Division? The Washington Capitals hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were riding a five game winning streak and had closed within four points of the 1st place Caps, and promptly buried them, 6-0,  behind Alexander Semin’s third hat trick of the season, and second in as many tilts against the Bolts. Semyon Varlamov made 17 saves for his third career regular season shutout  and Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson had two assists apiece in this white washing of Steve Stamkos and company. The Caps are now 16-6-2 and lead the Southeast Division by six points over the Bolts, who have a game in hand. They also lead the Eastern Conference over the Philadelphia Flyers by a point.

Let’s get to the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a 60 minute Capitals effort:

- Goaltending and special teams were the big difference in this contest. Tampa’s netminding duo of Mike Smith and Dan Ellis are average, at best, and both of them saw the ice in this tilt.  After Johansson cleanly won an offensive zone draw against Stamkos, John Carlson lasered one into the cage to make it 1-0 just 3:09 into the contest, a lead Washington would take to the dressing room. But Karl Alzner took an uncharasterically bad penalty for interference against Steve Downie with one second left in that stanza and that set Tampa up for the first of two early second period power plays. That is where the game really turned for the Caps as they would kill both of those thanks to some great work by Boyd Gordon, Semin, and the entire PK unit. In addition, they did a super job of not letting Stamkos get set up for his vicious one timer from the left wing circle.

- Shortly after the Caps thwarted those two Bolts power plays, Smith couldn’t handle a point shot from John Erskine and it trickled by the shaky net minder to make it 2-0. That goal definitely hurt the Lightning, still they pressed on and opened the game up. That is where they got burnt as Semin made a nice back check to help Washington take the puck away from Tampa and he and Johansson went 2 on 1 the other way. MJ90 then made a gorgeous pass to #28, who rammed it home on the one-timer for his first marker of the night.

- Then Semin would complete his natural hat trick in just 4:29 with two power play tallies (fastest NHL natural hat trick since Bobby Ryan of Anaheim on 1/9/2009; h/t @capsmedia). With Mattias Ritola in the box for tripping, Ovechkin had his point shot blocked but he gathered in the biscuit and slid it over to Backstrom in the right wing circle. #19 then went cross ice to Semin who one-timed another by Smith to end his evening. Stamkos, who was downright awful on Friday, was called for interference and then Mattias Ohlund tripped Oveckhin in the neutral zone to give Washington a 5 on 3. It took only 19 seconds to connect as Ovechkin slid the puck to Backstrom, who then made a sweet cross crease pass to Semin. #28 had the puck almost on the goal line but rifled it top shelf on a sliding Ellis. It was an amazing display of skill by both Backstrom and Semin to put Washington up 5-0 and effectively end the contest at 11:21 of period two.

- Overall the Caps would go 2 for 4 on the power play while they held the Lightning to no goals in five attempts. Even after yielding those tallies to the Caps the Lightning are still killing penalties at an 87% clip, tied for 3rd in the league. They are also fifth in the NHL with the power play at 24%. So the outstanding special teams performance by Washington came against a strong opponent in those categories.  The Caps are 4th in the NHL at 24.1% with an advantage and their much improved shorthanded unit is now up to eighth in the league at 84.3%.

“We played good defensively. Power play works good. PK [penalty kill] did an unbelievable job. I think we play a good 60 solid minutes,” said Ovechkin on the Caps keys to the victory.

 

“I don’t know if it was perfect, but it’s as good as we’ve played all year. When you score a couple on the power play and you kill a 5-on-3, I thought it was a good game by us,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the effort by his club, who totally dominated the Lightning in all facets of the game.

 

- Varlamov’s best save of night was early in the contest when Martin St. Louis had a chance in the slot after moving around Alzner. After that he didn’t have to do a whole lot in this one as Boudreau said afterwards that his team was determined to play a very good game. But a team’s good play or bad play is often based on the confidence they have in their goaltender, as anyone who has played this great sport will tell you. I think it is no coincidence that their two worst games of the season, in Atlanta and New Jersey, came with rookie goalie Braden Holtby struggling in the cage early on while some of their better contests, such as the last two tilts, have been with Varlamov, their #1 goalie, between the pipes.

“When you get some goals against you early it takes the wind out of your sails some time. I think the guys were pissed. They were ticked off, we took a lot of flak this week and that is a proud bunch in there. The week is not over yet but they knew they were better than what they showed and they knew they were better than what people were saying about us. So I think they dug deep and we’ll try to dig deep again on Sunday,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning bench boss on the mind set of his club since losing three in a row.

 

- Carlson and Alzner continue to shine as a defensive pair and Boudreau spoke glowingly of the two young defenseman for their efforts on shutting down the Stamkos-St. Louis-Downie line. Tom Poti, in just his second contest back from injury, added a goal as well and was superb all evening.

 

“[Carlson] and Alzner, for a 21 year old guy and 22, having the duty of shutting down that line did a real good job, and Carly adds that offensive element as well. I thought he was at his best tonight,” started Boudreau on his two rookie defensemen, “I was really impressed with Tom, just his demeanor and you could tell his experience back there when he got the puck he made the right plays he did the right things with it. We missed him [while he was out],” finished Boudreau on #3.

 

- The 20 year old Johansson continues to get better and his play is making Tomas Fleischmann more expendable. MJ90 played a big role on the first and third goals and overall he logged 12:31 of ice time, including 1:53 on the power play (2nd unit). He is a very good skater and just needs to keep improving his play along the boards, particularly behind the net where he gets taken off of the puck fairly easily when he doesn’t move his feet. As for #14, he was scratched today with the return of Mike Knuble (fractured jaw). Fleischmann has really struggled this year and part of his problem is his lack of physical play. He has not been finishing his checks on the forecheck at all and when opposing defenseman feel no threat, it is much easier for them to clear their own end.

- We’ve blogged in the past about the clean hit and then the subsequent fight that occurs. Tonight Erskine made a good solid shoulder check on Nate Thompson and #44 went awkwardly into the boards and stayed down. The zebras, who did a great job on Friday night, did not call a penalty. However, a few minutes later the Bolts Ryan Malone decided to take exception to the hit on his teammate and went after #4. Erskine proceeded to pummel the former Penguins forward. Erskine, who was drafted in 1998 by Craig Button’s Dallas Stars scouting staff in the 2nd round (39th overall), is “pretty tough” as an NHL scouting director told me last season.

Notes: The Caps held Tampa to their lowest shot total of the season (17)…Washington is now a league best 11-1-1 at home…Semin is second in the NHL in goals to Stamkos (21 to 17)…the Capitals are 11-0 when #28 scores a goal and 12-1-2 when he registers a point or more….Brian Fahey, who was paired with Erskine, had his first NHL point (an assist) in 11:21 of ice time in his best game as a Capital…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 33-27 and have been at 50% or better for 11 straight games (last season their longest such streak was seven games)…Next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center at 5pm on Sunday…down on the farm the Hershey Bears buried the Syracuse Crunch on the road, 5-1. Andrew Gordon had two goals and was the game’s number one star while Mathieu Perreault added a tally and two assists. Dany Sabourin won in Syracuse for the third straight time in three tries this season. The Bears host Adirondack at 7pm on Saturday at the Giant Center.

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Semin Hat Trick Paces Caps over Bolts

Posted on 12 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

When Alexander Semin is healthy and decides to play focused, he is as talented and skilled as anyone in the National Hockey League. On Thursday night, in the matchup of the top two teams in the Southeast Division, #28 took over the game scoring three goals and adding two assists as the Caps knocked off the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-3, before the 69th straight sellout at the Verizon Center. Nicklas Backstrom notched four assists and Alexander Ovechkin added a goal and two assists while Michal Neuvirth shook off some early rebound problems to make 38 saves for his 10th victory of the sesason against just one loss. The win pushes the Caps to 12-4 overall and they lead the Eastern Conference by two points over the Flyers. They are also six points up on the Lightning, who have a game in hand.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of Washington’s sixth straight victory, and eighth in their last nine titls:

- Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau did not start this game with Semin on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, he had Mike Knuble (1 goal) up there, but after another sluggish opening stanza in which Washington could not get the puck behind the Bolts defense, the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning bench boss switched up his personnel and tweaked the Capitals breakout pattern. Once again, another brilliant coaching move by Boudreau got the desired result.

“The [top two right wings] are interchangeable. We didn’t start with them like that but then we switched halfway through. Maybe it makes the other coach, especially when we are at home, alter their game,” started Boudreau, “[Tampa] hit three or four posts so I think we were lucky for a little bit. We had trouble adjusting to what they were doing and after the first period we made some adjustments and I thought we played a lot better in the second and third…We weren’t playing properly, we weren’t getting it in and only one man is going so it was easy for their D to get it and move it out. We changed our tactics up in the neutral zone and it worked. To make an analogy, it’s kind of like in baseball where you have trouble going through the lineup once and you are better the second time. I don’t know if we’ll get it or it will work the next time but it was pretty tough to get through their neutral zone,” finished Boudreau on what it took to get his team going.

- The Caps top players did light it up overall but they were credited with five of the 13 Capitals giveaways on the evening. Most of those were at the blue line and allowed Tampa to go in transition. Boudreau realizes that his top unit has great skill and can pull off some passes that other players just cannot, but he would prefer that those guys get the puck down low and use their size and skill where they can make the opponents pay for crowding the puck. In the third period they seemed to get the message and the key goal in the contest, Semin’s one timer off of a sweet Backstrom saucer pass from behind the net, came after Ovechkin and company cycled the biscuit in the corner and drew the Lightning defense in to that area.

 ”When you look at it on the replay it looked like what we talked about at the beginning of the game, [Semin] was in the right position. We wanted to take the puck from one side, because they surround the puck with four or five guys, and get it to the other side and make them run around. Evidently he knew what he was doing,” said Boudreau on Semin’s big goal with 9:14 remaining that made it 4-2.

“I think that was what was holding up back a little bit all night. They were standing pretty strong against their blue line and we were kind of turning it over there all of the time. But we were trying to make them play in their own end. It’s a 2-1 game [after two periods] and it ends 5-3 and you say it is kind of like the old Caps, you just outscore them, and turn it into a track meet,” added Knuble when asked if the game plan was to get pucks deep on Tampa.

- On Washington’s fifth goal, that sealed the victory with 4:52 remaining, the top line generated two big scoring chances by playing solid in their own end, something that can plague that line, at times. Ovechkin fought off two Bolts defenders on the left wing boards and sprung Semin for a partial breakaway. #28 went in alone on Lightning goalie Dan Ellis (20 saves in 25 shots) but as he tried to go to the back hand he lost the puck into the corner. However, Semin recovered, looked up, found Ovechkin coming late, and the Great #8 made no mistake on this shot and buried it by Ellis short side. It was a hard working goal capped off with superior skill from two top players.

- Neuvirth gave up the first goal once again and it came as a result of poor rebound control. #30 couldn’t handle Sean Bergenheim’s backhander from the right wing side and the biscuit bounced into the slot where Teddy Purcell banged it home. Neuvy would battle the puck a bit more at the beginning of this one but as the game went on he got stronger making several huge stops in the third period when Tampa was pressing. The Bolts fired 16 times on Neuvirth in that last stanza. Washington is now 9-3 when giving up the first goal, something that typically gives a club a less than 50% chance of winning that contest.

- The officiating in New York was abysmal on Tuesday and tonight it was the worst I’ve seen all season against Washington. The Caps only had one power play, and Semin tallied on it just 16 seconds in, while the Lightning had four attempts (1 for 4). There were two blatant missed calls by Chris Lee and Kevin Pollock that should have gone against Tampa in this tilt. The first came after Matt Bradley delivered a perfectly clean and legal check to Mike Lundin and Tampa right wing Adam Hall skated all of the way across the ice and dropped the gloves with #10. Bradley would win the fight but typically an instigator or an extra minor is called in that situation against the team that takes exception to the contact. Nothing was called in this case.

“I didn’t really get [an explanation], that is what I asked. I thought it was distance traveled. He traveled a long ways. I guess the thing that didn’t make it [instigating] was Brads saw him coming and was ready for it but it is because the guy traveled so far. I said I don’t care if it’s an instigator, I just thought that it was a clean hit and a good hit. The guy didn’t get hurt and whatever, that [Hall] came and started the fight. Give him the extra two or something, I thought would have been the right call, but if he didn’t see it, he didn’t see it,” said Boudreau on Hall jumping Bradley after his hit.

The second blatant infraction missed by the blind zebra pair of Lee and Pollock nearly allowed Tampa to have a chance to tie the game up in the last 10 minutes. Brooks Laich was hauled down on the right wing boards in the offensive zone but play was permitted to carry on and the Lightning rush that ensued, after Laich lost the puck, resulted in NHL league leading points man, Steven Stamkos, scoring his 14th goal of the season to make it 4-3 with 7:17 left. A loud chorus of boos rained down on Lee and Pollock after the Stamkos tally.

Notes: Semin extended his point streak to six games (7 goals, 6 assists)…with Semin (12 goals) and Ovechkin (9), the Capitals are the only team in the NHL with two nine-goal scorers. The duo has combined for eight goals and 20 points in the past five games…the Caps won the face-off battle 40-31 with Dave Steckel going 20-9 and Backstrom winning 12 of 18 draws. Tomas Fleischmann was 3-9…Tom Poti returned to the lineup and scored the Caps first goal and his first tally of the season at 2:21 of the second period. #3 logged only 16:41 of ice time so the Caps coaches were clearly trying to ease him back from his groin injury…speaking of injuries, the Caps are now 10-0 with Boyd Gordon in the lineup but #15 left after only three shifts (1:42) and Boudreau said he will miss a week…the Lightning were without top six forwards Steve Downie and Simon Gagne due to injuries plus Vincent Lecavalier fractured his right hand in the contest. He logged only 14:29 of ice time and afterwards it was announced he would miss three to four weeks, which includes a tilt against the Caps on November 26th at the Verizon Center…forward Marcus Johansson was recalled from Hershey on Wednesday but was scratched…Goalie Semyon Varlamov is down in Hershey rehabbing his groin injury and should see some work with the Bears this weekend…the Caps go to Buffalo on Saturday night before returning home to face the Thrashers at home at 5pm on Sunday…Caps radio play by play man Steve Kolbe called his 1,000th game, kudos Steve!

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Ovechkin Helps Caps Defeat Rangers, 5-3

Posted on 10 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin loves the bright lights and the big city and he seems to always have his “A” game when he goes into Madison Square Garden. Tuesday night was no exception as the Great #8 notched two assists, had four hits, and was +1 in 21:51 of ice time to lead the Washington Capitals to a 5-3 come from behind victory over the New York Rangers. Brooks Laich, who was injured in Sunday’s game against Philadelphia and missed the last portion of that tilt, had two goals and an assist plus he went +3 on the evening as Washington’s other big star of the contest. Laich now leads the NHL in plus/minus at +13 (h/t @CapsMedia). The win was the Caps fifth straight and they improve to 11-4.

Here are the highlights and analysis from a super Capitals road effort:

- This was a wild tilt and the Caps jumped out to an 11-2 early shots advantage but due to some bad d-zone coverage by Jeff Schultz and Mike Green, Brian Boyle (two goals) was able to give the Blueshirts the early lead with a sweet backhander from in front of Michal Neuvirth (25 saves). The other two goals allowed by Washington were gaffes made by defensemen but I put some of the blame for those on the notoriously bad Gah-den ice. First, Karl Alzner fanned on a clearing attempt after a clean Caps defensive zone face-off win and that allowed Boyle to snap one by Neuvirth to make it 2-1. Then after John Erskine scored on a top shelf, short side laser (on another face-off win), Tyler Sloan overskated the puck while on his backhand and Derek “The Boogey Man” Boogaard raced down the left wing uncovered and blasted one by Neuvirth. So just over 23 minutes into this tilt three Washington mistakes by their young defense lead to three Rangers tallies. But that is all the Blueshirts would get.

- The Caps were carrying much of the play against a Rangers club that was trying to rough the Caps up early on. Washington took advantage of a 4 on 3 power play to tie things up at one on a nice Laich deflection of an Alexander Semin pass but the Capitals failed to tally on their next two attempts and the Rangers gained momentum. They were leading 3-2 when the game changing play came via the skates of the Great #8. Ovechkin took the puck in his own zone and went end to end with the biscuit. As he crossed the Rangers goal line he appeared to have nothing but he smartly threw the puck off of Henrik Lundqivst, who has to have nightmares about the Great #8, and it bounced right into the slot where Mike Knuble buried it into an empty cage to end his 13 game goal scoring drought. That goal came at 9:18 of the second period and from there on out the Capitals seemed to gain energy and it translated into the victory.

- One thing the Capitals continue to do well of late is go to the net. On Erskine’s goal, all three Capitals forwards were moving in that direction and that presence had to impact Lundqvist. Laich’s first goal came from the doorstep, Knuble’s came in the slot, and Matt Hendricks game winner 7:53 into the final stanza came in the slot as well after Laich and Matt Bradley made super plays behind the Rangers net to work the puck free. It was a blue collar goal and Washington seems to be getting more and more of those, something that will bode well in April and beyond.

- The entire winning goal sequence came after a headsy play by Jason Chimera that lead to an offensive zone face-off. #25 came flying down the right wing and he hit the brakes seeking to pass to a teammate in the slot. However, like many teams do against the Caps, the Rangers crowded the center of the ice. So instead of trying to thread the needle and likely cause a turnover, Chimera alertly dumped the puck behind the Rangers cage and Washington got their cycle game going leading to the offensive draw. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will likely use that video clip to show how avoiding careless cross ice passes in the offensive zone will often lead to good things.

- Neuvirth had a shaky opening 25 minutes and his rebound control seemed off. Needless to say, the only goal that he should have had was the Boogaard blast, but #30 righted the ship after that and made some big saves in the final period, including one in tight on Brandon Dubinsky to preserve the win.

- I am not a big fan of the zebras and I have gone easier on them this season but tonight the pair of Don Van Massenhoven and Justin St. Pierre were downright awful. The calls they made all evening were inconsistent. Case in point, they allowed a Ranger defender to clearly hook Boyd Gordon on a partial breakaway late in period two yet the only penalty whistled in period three was a very borderline one on Alzner for hooking? The penalty on Rangers Erik Christensen in period one was bad too but it also came right after they missed a couple of hooks that Michael Del Zotto put on Chimera. I imagine the players had no clue what was going to be called or not called on Tuesday night.

- In his in game interview, New York coach John Tortorella stated that his club could not try to trade chances with the highly skilled Caps. The Rangers did a pretty good job of that in the last 30 minutes and the Ovechkin to Knuble play was a perfectly good example of why the 2004 Stanley Cup winning bench boss didn’t want to engage in that type of contest. His strategy was a good one but the Capitals are a better team and they also outworked the Blueshirts on the game winner.

- Next up for the Caps is Thursday’s home game against the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts have the NHL’s goal scoring leader in Steven Stamkos (13) and are off to a fabulous 8-4-2 start. Stamkos also leads the NHL in points with 24 while Ovechkin is second with 20. This game should be a dandy and the first of what should be six major battles between the two best teams in the Southeast Division this season.

Notes: The Caps are now 9-0 with Gordon in the lineup. According to some post game tweets from Corey Masisak, it sounds like Gordon’s back is very sore after this evening’s tilt. Gordon logged 15:30 of ice time, was 11-11 from the dot, and was +1…Green was +1 and had two assists in over 25 minutes of ice time. He also got into a first period fight with Dubinsky in which I gave the decision to #52…Washington won the face-off battle 38-31…Nicklas Backstrom was held pointless and missed a couple of shifts in the middle of the 3rd period due to skate issues (bad ice)…Eddie Olcyzk on VERSUS was hard on Alzner tonight but I don’t put much stock in the words from a man who was fired by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the post lockout era (a team that was loaded with good young players that he couldn’t reach). For all of the belly aching on King Karl, #27 ended up +1 in 19:55 of ice time and he was on with Green for the final shift. Yes, I’ll take Boudreau as my head coach any day and pass on the critiques from the current Blackhawks broadcaster.

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Game Over Greenie OT Goal Lifts Caps over Flyers

Posted on 07 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

When it comes to Capitals hockey, Washington fans have two teams at the top of their list that they despise, and one of those, the Philadelphia Flyers, ventured into the Verizon Center early this evening with the most points in the Eastern Conference and a six game winning streak to boot. After Sunday’s tilt, the top spot now belongs to the Washington Capitals.

Mike Green slapped one by Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (36 saves) on a power play just 29 seconds into overtime to send the Caps fans celebrating out onto F street while the boys from Philadelphia will hop on the bus and head home to Philthy. The victory improves the Caps to 10-4 and they have now won four straight games and six of their last seven.

Now on to the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a thrilling victory over a team that Caps fans like about as much as they like the Pittsburgh Penguins:

- Braden Holtby earned his first win in his first NHL action on Friday night vs. Boston and on Sunday afternoon Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau decided to give #70 his first NHL start and rest a weary Michal Neuvirth. Well the young net minder, who is easily the best stick handling goalie in the organization, was tremendous. The 21 year old from Saskatchewan made 23 saves and many of the eight he thwarted in the third period were game savers.

“It’s definitely huge, but on a team like this, if a goalie just kind of gives the team a chance to win, they usually are going to pull through some goals. It definitely gave me a lot of confidence coming in,” said Holtby on the big stops he made in the third period that led to the Capitals OT win.

“In the first two periods I thought he looked a little nervous, but once they started getting some shots in the third period I thought he made a great game-saving save there in that flurry, moving from side to side. So, I think he handled himself overall really well for his first complete game,” critiqued the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach on Holtby.

 
- Washington scored two of their three goals on the power play (2 of 6) while the Flyers were shut down in their two opportunities with the man advantage. The Caps do have a propensity to over pass in those situations, but as Caps assistant coach Dean Evason said on Comcast during the game, the first marker by Alexander Semin came because his club simplified things and shot the puck on net. Alexander Ovechkin fired one that bounced to Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists) in the slot on the right post and the slick passing Swede slid the puck to #28, who quickly buried it into the cage. That is also how Green won the game, by simply teeing the biscuit up and blasting it. On that game winner Mike Knuble (1 assist), who arguably had his best game of the season, was screening the young Russian Flyers net minder.

“We wanted to score on the power play, more for me on the confidence of the power play and it won us the game so it worked out. I thought we were pretty patient and showed a lot of good restraint today. We didn’t retaliate and that was good,” commented Boudreau on Washington’s improving power play and also his team’s ability to not take retaliation penalties against a chippy Flyers team.

- For two periods the Caps outshot the Flyers 26-17 and carried most of the play but Bobrovsky made some big saves, including ones in tight on Knuble and Eric Fehr. However, it was Fehr’s quick snapper from the left wing boards from a bad angle that started the scoring for DC after Nikolay Zherdev lasered one by Holtby on a two on one break in period one. Philly would go up, 2-1, on a Ville Leino deflection of an Andrej Mezsaros blast from the right point before Semin’s power play marker set the stage for a wild third period that saw the Flyers play better before losing due to taking bad penalties.

“They had, by our count, three scoring chances after two periods. I haven’t seen [the numbers] in the third yet but obviously they were in our zone more in the third a little bit like their game last night with the Islanders where the Islanders, I thought, carried the play to them a little bit in the first two periods but the Flyers came on. They are a team with a tremendous amount of pride and history and when they were tired, I think they were tired, but when they get the chance to win it gives them energy and their defensemen were pinching really good in the third period and keeping us on our heels,” said Boudreau on the Flyers ability to battle on back to back nights.

- Despite the fact that the Flyers were belly aching at the referees after they lost, they can only blame themselves for taking bad penalties that were whistled against them. Chris Pronger, who would likely win the award for dirtiest player in the NHL if that poll was taken, incurred a four minute high sticking infraction with 3:55 in regulation. The Caps would not score on either minor but with 19 seconds left Sean O’Donnell was whistled for boarding and that was the one that ultimately did Philly in. Afterwards Pronger said “I don’t even know how I got the guy [Dave Steckel] in the face – I was on his stick the whole time,” but #20 is about as dirty and careless as it comes with his battle axe. Earlier in the final period he started a stick altercation with Knuble that did not get called but there is such a thing as hockey gods and karma. And bad karma for the Flyers was what was created by the big Philly blue liner for initiating an uncalled for sequence with a classy player like Knuble.

Notes:  The overtime goal was the fifth of Green’s career, tied for second in Capitals history with Peter Bondra and Kelly Miller. Only Ovechkin (8) has more career overtime goals for the Capitals…Holtby, in his first NHL start, became the third straight Caps’ goaltender to start his career 2-0-0…Sunday’s goaltenders are the two youngest to start games in the NHL this season (Holtby, 21, and Bobrovsky, 22)…the Caps won the face-off battle, 35-26, with Backstrom going 16-10 and Steckel winning 8 of 10 draws…Washington is now 7-1 at home, tops in the NHL…next up for the Caps are the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on VERSUS on Tuesday night at 730pm.

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Caps Overtake Leafs in Shootout, 5-4

Posted on 04 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Despite blowing a two goal third period lead, the Washington Capitals rallied to tie the game via an Alexander Semin power play goal with 5:38 remaining and then went on to knock off the Toronto Maple Leafs in a shootout at sold out Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The Caps received a goal and an assist from Semin and two helpers from Alexander Ovechkin while getting 24 stops from rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth in the victory. With the win, Washington moves to 8-4 overall and are now tied for first in the Southeast Division and Eastern Conference with the Tampa Bay Lightning (the Bolts have a game in hand).

Below are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of an entertaining game that was shown across Canada on TSN:

- There are some who will not like this Caps victory at all and pick at the negatives, including a stretch of just over three minutes in the third stanza where Washington allowed three straight goals to lose a 3-1 lead. As Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau stated after the game, it was not the way you want to win, however, the Capitals did a lot of good things in this game and those types of positives will likely pay off down the road. One criticism of the Caps this season and in the past has been that they have a tendency to play too much on the perimeter, at times. In this contest, that was clearly NOT the case as line after line for Boudreau skated hard to the net all evening long. The result was four goals, all of which came in close, but if the puck had bounced the Caps way, and I thought the luck factor was clearly on Toronto’s side for much of this contest, Washington could have had at least six or seven. Here are how the goals were scored:

Goal 1: Mike Green takes a sweet feed from Semin in the slot on the power play and from in close he roofs it by Jonas Gustavsson (26 saves).

Goal 2: Matt Bradley gets the puck deep and then Boyd Gordon makes a great pass into the slot from behind the net where a streaking Jason Chimera bangs it home from the door step.

Goal 3: Washington’s offensive zone pressure results in a turnover and Brooks Laich passes the puck up the right wing boards to John Carlson at the point. #74 fires the biscuit on net and Tomas Fleischmann comes out from behind the cage and tips the puck by Gustavsson.

Goal 4: Another PP marker is notched when Ovechkin fires a shot on net that is partially blocked but Laich out works the Leafs defense in front of the cage and the puck bounces right to Semin on the left post and he roofs it to send the game to extra time.

Bottom line is if Washington shows that kind of desire to get traffic and drive for rebounds then they will score a lot of goals.

“Yeah, we had chances as did they. We went to the net and that’s how you score goals,” started Boudreau,”We talk about it and that is how you score goals. When [Semin] scored his goal on the power play, there is not too many guys in the National Hockey League who can pick it and put it there quickly.”

“That is absolutely right. The puck was bouncing around out there so the only play really was to shoot it at the net and have guys crash. Our forwards did a great job with that plan and I know I hit Brooksie a couple of times and we created some plays. We need more of that,” said #52 when asked if the Caps game plan against Toronto was to storm the crease.

- Neuvirth continues to be a major factor in the team’s early season success. Despite giving up four goals he made the big stops when they were needed. Early in period two, with the Leafs up a goal, he made a point blank save on Clarke Macarthur. In period three, with Toronto leading 4-3, Neuvirth thwarted a Leafs blast and he received some great help from Karl Alzner on the rebound, who batted the puck out of the air and out of harm’s way.  Finally, in the shoot out he stoned Phil Kessel when #81 tried to go five hole and then he shut down Nikolai Kulemin’s attempt setting the stage for Semin to win the game with his blast on Washington’s third shootout attempt (Caps won 2-0).

“You know what, we’ve asked a lot from him this year. We’ve played 12 games and he’s played in 11 of them and if you look he’s never played more than 45, 50 games, including playoffs in his pro career. So we are asking a lot of him right now for a first year guy to come in and stand on his head and he does. That is why he was rookie of the month and probably get more,” added the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning bench boss.

“I think he’s incredible. I don’t want to pump him up too much here and get his head too big but he’s been outstanding for us and as a defenseman I feel so comfortable with him behind us. There is already a mutual bond that we feel that we have with him even though he’s only been here for the period of time he has been. You know he has a bright future ahead of him, as long as he stays focused here he’s going to be a great player for us,” said Green on the play of his rookie goaltender.

- Special teams played a key role in the victory and the Caps killed off three of four Leafs man advantage situations. Washington’s power play is red hot right now and is five for its last seven attempts.

 ”We finally are going back to the basics and creating the chances that we were creating last year. I think at the start of the year we were making the wrong plays at the wrong times and it’s taken almost a month and a half here to click again. It feels good out there,” said the two time Norris Trophy finalist on a power play that is starting to look like the one that was ranked #1 in the 2009-10 regular season.

- Green was -3 on the evening but he was on the ice for the Capitals two power play goals. In addition, he wasn’t the one primarily responsible for those tallies against. On the first Leafs goal, John Erskine leaves his feet in the slot and Kulemin has all day to get Neuvirth to go down and slide with him. That allowed #41 to slip the puck just inside the left post. Goal 2 against was the result of a horrible DJ King giveaway (-2 in just 8 shifts but he did fight Colton Orr in period one) while the third Toronto marker came when Jeff Schultz (-2) incorrectly pinched at the offensive blue line giving Kris Versteeg a breakaway. The final Leafs tally was on a power play and it was Schultz who could not tie up Tyler Bozak just outside the crease, and as a result #42 slid the puck around Neuvirth into the empty cage. #52 logged 30:17 of ice time and nearly won the game in OT but he hit the left post on a 4 on 3 power play ( he told me after the game he was still thinking about that post shot). His regular partner, Sarge, however, had his worst outing of the year. #55 logged 22:34 of ice time and seemed to constantly be indecisive and lack confidence, especially in the third period. Schultz, who had one of his best games of the season in Calgary last Saturday, just didn’t have it on this evening but his teammates bailed him out. Alzner was especially solid in this tilt and earned 22:32 of time on ice [Programming Note: King Karl will be on WNST 1570 Baltimore on the Comcast Morning Show with Drew Forrester in the 9am hour. You can listen live at WNST.NET].

- About those bad bounces I mentioned above, Nicklas Backstrom had an open net on a two on one break after a super Ovechkin feed but somehow Gustavsson dove back and got the toe of his stick on the shot to knock it wide. Eric Fehr also had a great chance that hit the knob of Gustavsson’s stick and deflected high while both Mike Knuble and Green hit pipes. Knuble also beat Gustavsson early on but Leafs d-man Luke Schenn swept the puck away on the goal line preventing a Washington tally.

 ”I’m not worried about [Knuble or Fehr], the media worries about them. Mike Knuble had three goals after 16 games last year and he ended up with 29 and he had a broken hand in between there where he probably could have had 35, he’s gonna get his goals. He gets chances every night and actually they will start going in for him, I firmly believe that. Eric Fehr, I thought played a lot better tonight. Had a couple good shots, had one hit the knob of the goalie’s stick and went wide and he had good energy. Sometimes it is hard to get out of the gate but they’re working at it. I have all the faith in the world in them,” finished Boudreau on two of his right wingers.

Notes: Ovechkin is now 2 for 2 on penalty shots this season and his routine has been to take the puck wide on the left wing boards and then cut in on the goalie. The move has worked and it appears to be giving the Great #8 more options with the puck…Toronto played without defensemen Dion Phaneuf, who severly cut his leg on Tuesday night vs Ottawa and will be out at least four weeks…the Leafs won the face-off battle, 38-31, with Nicklas Backstrom posting a poor 4-13 mark. Dave Steckel was tops for Washington at 8-3…Boudreau pretty much indicated Neuvirth will start again on Friday night vs. Boston at the Verizon Center. The Caps will likely face Tim Thomas, who is 7-0 this season and defeated Washington twice already last month.

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Banged Up Caps Hit the Road

Posted on 26 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

There isn’t anyone named Hawkeye or Trapper on the club, but the Washington Capitals squad certainly is resembling a M*A*S*H unit as they get ready to start a three games in four nights road trip that starts in Carolina on Wednesday night (7pm on CSN), then moves to Minnesota for a tilt with the Wild on Thursday (8pm on CSN) and concludes on Hockey Night in Canada in Calgary on Saturday night (10pm on CSN).

Defenseman Tom Poti will not be in the lineup on Wednesday night, he also missed last Saturday’s OT victory over Atlanta, so Hershey Bears d-man, Brian Fahey, was recalled today. Fahey played in one game already this year, the Caps 3-2 OT win in Nashville on October 16th. Fahey skated less than 10 minutes in that tilt and was a -2. Mike Green, who logged only 5:39 of ice time on Saturday due to a sore shoulder, is hoping to play a full game in Raleigh. In addition, John Carlson is looking to totally recover from his bad wheel (took a puck in the leg in Nashville) and Karl Alzner will be battling jet lag after traveling to British Columbia and back for his grandfather’s funeral.

In goal, Semyon Varlamov is still on the shelf with a creaky groin so Michal Neuvirth will start on Wednesday against the speedy Canes. Dany Sabourin, who was called up from the Bears to back up #30 on Saturday, was returned to Hershey and Braden Holtby (Caps 2008 draft choice) will be making the trip to NC, Minnesota, and then Alberta. Holtby is 4-0-1 this season in Chocolate Town and could make his 1st NHL start on this trip, depending on how things go, according to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

At forward, several guys have been out of the lineup to include Matt Bradley, Boyd Gordon, and Marcus Johansson. At least one of those is expected to go on Wednesday, with Bradley being the most likely. Center Mathieu Perreault, who was recalled on Saturday and had a dynamite contest playing with Alexander Semin and Brooks Laich, remains up while Jay Beagle was returned to Hershey.

This will be a difficult road swing for Washington. Carolina always gets up for the Caps and they are off to a better start this year than last season, when injuries to superstar Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward caused them to lose 14 games in a row early on. The Wild have an excellent goalie in Niklas Backstrom, who lost, 3-2, to Los Angeles in a shootout on Monday night. Calgary seems intent on getting back into the postseason after missing out last April. Rene Bourque is off to a hot start (tied for the NHL lead in scoring at this posting) and Jarome Iginla seems to be playing better since reuniting with forward Alex Tanguay. On defense, so far Jay Bouwmeester is significantly better than he was in 2009-10 and when he was with Florida he typically matched up against Alexander Ovechkin’s line. In goal, the Flames have the always tough Mikka Kiprusoff to try and beat with the biscuit.

The bottom line is the Caps will have to be ready to play from the get go against every one of these teams on this road trip and the first line of Ovechkin, Mike Knuble, and Nicklas Backstrom needs to break out of its funk. Washington may have lost in the first round of the playoffs last season, but because of their Presidents’ Trophy winning regular season, they have a bullseye on their back right now and teams are gunning for them.

Notes:  The Washington Capitals continue to excel off the ice as well. The club raised more than $35,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) through their Hockey Fights Cancer Night on Oct. 23. The mission of LLS, the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer, is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. LLS funds lifesaving blood cancer research around the world and provides free information and support services.

The Capitals auctioned autographed jerseys that the players wore during pregame warmups at the team’s Oct. 23 home game against Atlanta. The jerseys featured Hockey Fights Cancer patches on the front with the players’ names and numbers stitched in grey on the back. The red and grey jerseys are the same colors as LLS’s logo.

Fourteen jerseys went for $1,000 or more, with Ovechkin’s jersey the top seller at $1,800. Other top bid recipients were jerseys worn and autographed by Backstrom, Bradley, Carlson, Jason Chimera, Green, D.J. King, Knuble, Laich, Perreault, Poti, Jeff Schultz, Semin and Varlamov. There was also a special “Rock the Red” guitar donated by Paul Reed Smith and autographed by the entire Caps team that was auctioned off for $7,000.

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