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Defensive Mistakes Doom Caps in Loss to Bruins

Posted on 19 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

On a night when the Washington Capitals would extend their 2010-11 perfect penalty killing mark to 25 straight successes, the Caps were defeated, 3-1, at the Verizon Center by the Boston Bruins. Tim Thomas was superb in goal stopping 35 shots and his club turned some Washington defensive gaffes into tallies en route to their first regulation victory in DC since 2006. The defeat drops the Caps to 4-2 overall and the two squads will meet again in Beantown on Thursday night.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from Tuesday night’s tilt:

Let’s start with the positives for Washington, because there weren’t a whole lot of them. First is clearly the penalty killing unit that was just outstanding once again. Using more players, the goal is to use four sets of forwards and all six defensemen on each minor, and employing an aggressive scheme has worked magic for assistant coach Dean Evason, who runs the special teams. With the Caps down 2-0 in the first period and Boston controlling the play, Washington’s Alexander Semin was whistled for tripping. Last season that might have spelled doom for the Caps because it often seemed that at critical junctures the penalty killing would fail when Washington needed a stop most. Now early on in this campaign the Caps shorthanded crew is not only thwarting the opposition, but the whole team seems to be getting an energy boost from the work of this unit.

Second, rookie Marcus Johansson had his best game as a Cap and notched his first ever NHL goal at 7:42 of the second period. The tally was set up by a good forecheck by Matt Hendricks and Jason Chimera. After Hendricks forced the puck away from Matt Hundwick, Chimera slid a pass to MJ90 near the right post and the young Swede buried it by Thomas. Johansson, who still struggled again on draws going 2-7, and Hendricks were the only Caps who were in the plus category (+1) on the night.

Third, when previously undefeated rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth left the game in the first period due to a reported illness after giving up the first two Boston tallies, Semyon Varlamov came in and made some good saves on some quality chances. Overall #1 yielded only a third period goal, that he never saw due to net traffic, on 14 shots. It was encouraging to get the Russian goalie back in the cage and he played rather well.

Finally in the positive department is the play of rookie defenseman John Carlson, who logged over 24 minutes of ice time, was not on for a goal against, and was clearly Washington’s best blue liner on a night when they sorely missed the great Mike Green (out day to day with an upper body injury).

The Caps did seem to have some energy and put out more effort at times, but overall it was a mediocore performance, at best. Some might point to the Caps shot advantage of 36-21 as a positive, but I won’t hear it. Washington did not do a good job of going to the net, especially on their anemic power play which continues to spend too much time passing the biscuit on the perimeter. The Caps received a late four minute power play with 1:20 to go so they pulled Varly and had a 6 on 4 advantage. However, Semin was the primary culprit of a crew that seemed to show no urgency or desire to get the puck to the net. Atrocious is what I call that last 80 second sequence and Evason needs to get this power play untracked quickly. My suggestion is to sit some of the skill guys and go with a crash the net and blast from the point mentality.

Tyler Sloan showed on Tuesday night why he is typically in the press box on game night. On the first Boston goal, his partner Karl Alzner pinched in the offensive zone. It was not a smart pinch by #27 but in the Caps aggressive system it is something the d-men are authorized to do. Unfortunately Nicklas Backstrom did not do a good job of covering for Alzner and Boston broke down the ice 2 on 1 on #89. Sloan then proceeded to defend like he had never faced an odd man breakaway in his career. First he failed on the opportunity to press the puck carrier, Nathan Horton, in the neutral zone and then he didn’t cut off the pass to David Krejci on the 2 on 1. It was awful defense and it gave Neuvirth no chance to stop Krejci’s shot. #89 needs to make sure he takes the pass and gives the shooter to the goalie in that situation. Sloan was also on the ice for the final Bruins goal but the primary blame on that one goes to the Caps forwards (Chimera and Eric Fehr) who failed to cover the points.

Speaking of not covering their point man, team captain Alexander Ovechkin was caught once again floating in the d-zone and that allowed Bruins d-man Johnny Boychuck to slide down on the right side and take a cross ice pass from Krejci. Neuvirth came out to cut the angle down on the Bruins d-man and #30 stopped the initial shot but Jeff Schultz was unable to clear the puck or Milan Lucic and #17 banged it home to make it 2-0. Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Knuble would all be -2 on the night and the Great #8 struggled against big Bruins defender Zdeno Chara all evening.

“Sometimes you have tougher nights than others. I thought his effort was there, I just didn’t think things were going well for that whole line,” said Boudreau on the play of Ovechkin and his first line.”

As for Neuvirth, who was outstanding in the first five games, Boudreau didn’t know that his young net minder was carrying any issues into the contest and was surprised when #30 pulled himself.

“After the second goal, he complained of dizziness and a headache. Then he came off, that was the first I knew of it,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on his starting goalie.”

In 2009-10 the Washington Capitals swept the season series from the Boston Bruins, primarily because the Caps used their significant advantage in the team speed department. In 2010-11 that advantage seems to have been reduced as the B’s now have a once again healthy Lucic plus they’ve added Horton and 2010 NHL 2nd overall draft pick, Tyler Seguin, who can flat out fly. In the first two periods the Bruins were able to keep pace with a Washington team that is still faster, but because Boston was more disciplined with their positioning they built an early 2-0 lead.

“I feel we’ve got pretty good balance on our lines. We’re capable of playing an up tempo game,” said Bruins Coach Claude Julien on his squad’s ability to handle speed in 2010-11.

Boston also has to be pleased with the resurgence of Thomas, who underwent hip surgery last spring, and appears to have regained the form that led Boston to the number one seed in the Eastern Conference in 2008-09. He never looked shaky on Tuesday night and didn’t give Caps forwards much to shoot at in a stellar night’s work.

“That’s my style. I had to battle through some screens and there were some funny little tips that you had to stay on your toes for. We did a good job not giving them break aways or odd man rushes or all alone in the slot or anything like that. We did any excellent job. The times that I gave up rebounds, the D [defense] did a good job clearing them out too,” said the Bruins goalie, who is now 3-0 on the season.

Notes: Tom Poti returned to the lineup and logged 20:31 of ice time. #3 played okay but he was out of position on the 3rd Boston goal, which left Sloan having to fight off two B’s defenders in front of Varly…DJ King dressed and only logged 4:05 of ice time. Boyd Gordon was scratched as a result. Word has it he was a healthy scratch and if so that situation should be reversed in Boston on Thursday night (Gordon plays, King sits). Lucic had a Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist, and fight) and he slugged it out with John Erskine in the 3rd period…Hendricks and Gregory Campbell fought once again, they had a bout 2 seconds into the preseason tilt in Beantown in September. I gave the edge to #26 in this scrap…the Caps narrowly won the face-off battle, 28-27…the Caps attendance of 18,398 gave them their 64th straight home sellout.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Caps forward Matt Hendricks will be on WNST 1570 Baltimore at 925 am on Wednesday with Drew Forrestor on the Comcast Morning Show. Listen Live on WNST.NET.

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Ovechkin, Caps Ready For Regular Season

Posted on 06 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals conducted their annual media day Tuesday at Kettler Iceplex in preparation for Friday night’s NHL regular season opener in Atlanta against the Thrashers (730pm on CSN). The Caps will then come home for a Saturday night tilt versus the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center (7pm on CSN). For the organization, and especially the players, this will be a chance to once again play some real games and suppress, at least for now, much of the talk and questions surrounding last year’s playoff disappointment.

“I think we are excited and everybody can’t wait for the season to start because it was a long preseason and long summer for us,” said superstar Alexander Ovechkin about getting back on the ice for real NHL games.

General Manager George McPhee feels like his team is well positioned to start the 2010-11 season.

“We’ve had a terrific camp, one of the better ones we’ve had, and we came through it without any injuries. We got a great look at the players we have and I think we are positioned to have a really good year again. It’s time to get it going. The summer really isn’t much fun pushing paper around in an office. When you have players to watch in practice, games to watch, that’s really why we are here,” said the man who has been the Caps GM since June of 1997.

For McPhee, Tuesday was roster cutdown day and forwards Mathieu Perreault, Andrew Gordon, and Jay Beagle along with defenseman Brian Fahey were assigned to Hershey, with both Gordon and Fahey needing to clear waivers first, meaning that 2009 1st round draft choice Marcus Johansson made the club along with 29 year old journeyman, Matt Hendricks. Johansson and Hendricks both had attributes that gave them the nod over the other cuts, with the young Swedish center nosing out the 22 year old Perreault for the third line center slot.

“We were looking at different spots. It might have been different had we been looking at a #2 center. I think Matty, at his stage right now, probably has more offensive upside, but Marcus has got more defensive upside and with the skating and just coming from Sweden where they preach defense all of the time. It is a really tough call and who knows how it would have went say had Matty had to clear waivers? In today’s salary cap world things happen. We know that they’re both great players and will be playing for the Washington Capitals for a lot of years,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the decision to keep the 19 year old Johansson over Perreault.

“He’s an exceptional player and I love the way he thinks the game, competes, and skates. I really think he can make us a better team. The nice thing is our center ice is going to be in good shape for a long time with the players we have here now and the players in the system. It might be as deep as its ever been and as good as its ever been,” added McPhee on Johansson and the depth the team is amassing at the pivot position, which includes 2010 first round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov, who is playing in the top Russian league, the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), this season.

When Johansson was drafted back in 2009, an NHL scout told me that the Caps made a good selection and that Marcus projected to be a third line center. Now the young man from Sweden will begin his NHL career in that 3rd line center slot, and he even has his team captain praising him.

“He’s impressed me alot. He’s an unbelievable guy and unbelievable player. He has an unbelievable future, I think. He’s amazed me all of the time, I am like ‘Wow, he is a great player,” said the two time Hart Trophy winner.

For Hendricks, making the team was all about his energy and ability to adapt. The bench boss also was very familiar with him, having coached him in 2006-07 in Hershey.

“Matt Hendricks is a different kind of player. First he can play all 3 forward positions. Second, he’s spent a year in the league and third, he can skate, is physical, and can finish his checks. He stirs it up when he has to stir it up. These are the attributes we really like about him and he’s a great dressing room guy as well. I’ve had him [on teams before], he’s a winner, and he competes his rear end off. He’s gonna be a guy, we have 14 forwards, that’ll be in and out of the lineup, but he’s the guy that brings instant energy,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winning coach.

McPhee said that it wasn’t just Boudreau who wanted the forward, who played 56 games for the Colorado Avalanche in 2009-10, on the roster to start the season.

“He’s one of those worker bees that you like to have in the lineup. Keeps everybody honest. He’s a terrific guy on the bench and in the room in terms of supporting teammates. He’s got great wheels and he plays hard. He can play left wing, right wing, center, he can play up in the lineup if there are injuries. He brings a lot of versatility and we know him from our experience in Hershey. We just felt that when we were putting our lineup together, asked everyone to submit their lists, he was on everybody’s list, he makes our team better,” finished McPhee on how Hendricks made the Capitals out of training camp.

As for the guys who were sent down, Gordon and Fahey were the ones at risk of being claimed by other teams, but McPhee basically said that is part of the business.

“I’m not concerned about [someone claiming Gordon], if someone claims him and gives him a chance, good for him. If it doesn’t, then we’ll have a stronger team in Hershey and a good kid to call up if we have injuries. We’ve got a good team here and sometimes you lose guys that need opportunities,” stated McPhee on the waiver process.

While the decisions themselves were not easy ones, the GM said that the one on one conversations with the players who didn’t make it was harder and is something he doesn’t like having to do.

“It’s always a tough day telling a player he is not ready to play here or he may have to go through waivers, that is the toughest part of the job and today was as difficult any day we’ve had. They are always tough. The good news is I sometimes look at this deadline as an artificial deadline. We have to set rosters tomorrow but it can change the next day. If someone isn’t performing well or we have injuries, we have good young players to recall to play. That’s really the strength of our organization. We have a good team but we have depth as well,” finished McPhee on setting his roster.

The depth in the organization is abundant and McPhee and his staff have done a super job of growing from within. Doing that has helped the team manage the salary cap as well, which is a necessity in today’s NHL.

“I think we’ve done a really good job on the cap. We’ve got a good team here, we’ve have cap space, we don’t have to spend it but if there is an opportunity to make the team better we will. We are in good shape for the future. I am really proud of where this organization is, we have a good team, we’ve have a good system, we have really good people in that room, we’ve managed our cap well, we won’t lose people that we don’t want to lose, so keep the fingers crossed and hope we continue to make good decisions  and do the right things for this hockey club,” started McPhee on the state of his organization.

“In a lot of ways we are lucky. We came up with this plan years ago and fortunately ownership stood by it, Ted stood by the plan. A lot of cities and ownership do not have the patience and we now are starting Friday night with 11 of our own first round picks in the lineup and the league average is four. The closest team to us is seven. So we put this plan together and we are in pretty good shape. It’s a good team, they’re our guys, and hopefully it leads to a Cup one of these days,” concluded the GM on the blueprint he sold to owner Ted Leonsis after the Jaromir Jagr debacle and what he sees as being the end result.

On the ice, things should be a little bit easier for the Caps skilled players as McPhee brought in tough forward DJ King, who will be on the radio on WNST at 815am on Wednesday morning with Drew Forrester, to ensure that the other club is not taking any liberties against his highly talented crew. Ovechkin spoke about that added dimension and what it was like last season after Donald Brashear went to the New York Rangers in free agency.

“I think everybody gonna feel safe and just concentrate on the game, it’s not about something else,” started a reassuring Ovechkin, “[Brashear] was the most experienced guy on the team. He would fight for us and if we needed something he would do it. Last year we missed him, but again it’s life and it’s hockey, it’s a business.”

As for the state of his game, Alexander the Great feels he is ready to go despite not scoring a single goal in his three preseason tilts, although he did rack up five assists.

“It was good lessons for me and it was a good scrimmage, good preseason games, and you don’t show in preseason your best stuff, you just have to be ready for the regular year,” added Ovechkin on training camp.

In goal, it appears that Michal Neuvirth will get the start between the pipes on Friday night with Semyon Varlamov nursing a minor injury. Varly, according to Corey Masisak of CSN Washington, skated for about 15 minutes on Tuesday morning.

“No, but he skated today, took some shots. He’ll probably take more shots tomorrow. It is one of those things where we don’t want to rush him. We’d rather have him for 70 games then 20 games. When he’s ready he’ll be the first one to let us know,” said Boudreau on Varlamov, when asked if there was a timetable for his return.

There has been some talk in the national and Canadian media about the Caps taking a risk with two young goalies but from where I am sitting it really isn’t one at all because both goalies have pretty impressive resumes at such a young age. More importantly, McPhee and the Caps organization have faith in the two goalies who were drafted in 2006.

“It is something that we’ve been excited about. We drafted these kids and this is the third year pro and we think they are both exceptional goaltenders and the thought of having them both compete for games and wins would be good for us. They are young, but they are talented. If it was just relying on one of them I’d be concerned but to have two like this, I think it is a nice tandem that can work very well for us this year,” said McPhee on Varlamov and Neuvirth.

On defense, 2007 first round draft choice, Karl Alzner, and 2008 1st round draft choice, John Carlson, will both start the season in DC for the first time. The two young blueliners were paired together in Hershey during their 2010 Calder Cup winning run. However, it does not appear likely that Boudreau will pair the two together when the season starts, instead opting for a combination that worked well in the playoffs last spring, Tom Poti and Carlson. With Mike Green likely to play with Jeff Schultz again that leaves Alzner to skate with either John Erskine or Tyler Sloan.

But Boudreau, like all coaches do, will likely tinker with the defensive pairs during the course of the season, but after all, that is what the regular season is pretty much about for the Caps this year, to figure things out for the post season, and McPhee made that pretty clear on Tuesday.

“In some ways, I don’t care about whether we win our division or the President’s Trophy or anything else, it is about making the playoffs and having a good playoff run and how we get there is less important than getting there and doing well this year,” finished McPhee.

Notes: Dany Sabourin will be the backup goalie this weekend if Varlamov is unable to dress..McPhee singled out forward Cody Eakin, who was sent back to juniors, as someone with a bright future for Washington…”A kid like Cody Eakin, we were so impressed with him in camp. He may have been the hardest one we’ve had to cut in a long time as a teenager because it just looked like he was getting better. He was probably a kid you could have kept here and he would have gotten better through the season, but coming up with a good NHL player is a two step process, you have to be make a good pick, we made a very good pick in the third round, but you have to develop them properly. Noone has ever not played in the NHL because they’ve played in junior too long, they miss playing in the NHL because you rush them. So we don’t have to do that now, we’ve got good players so we don’t have to rush anybody,” added McPhee on the 2009 3rd round pick and the Caps development process.

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Fehr, Ovechkin Lead Caps in Preseason Win

Posted on 02 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Eric Fehr (2 goals, 1 assist) and Alexander Ovechkin (3 assists) led the way offensively for the Washington Capitals as they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets for their 5th straight preseason win in five tries, 5-3, at the Verizon Center on Friday night. Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, and Alexander Semin also tallied for the Caps while Michal Neuvirth went the distance in the cage, stopping 23 of 26 Columbus shots. The Capitals close out their preseason schedule on Sunday at 1230pm at home against Nashville and the regular season will start on Friday, October 8th in Atlanta against the Thrashers.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from Friday night’s tilt that was played before 17,496 fans:

- Columbus dressed a lineup that once again triggered the Paul Newman “Who are these guys?” line. Rick Nash, RJ Umberger, Kristian Huselius, Steve Mason, Jakub Voracek, and Jared Boll were among some of the more familiar Blue Jacket names that did not suit up on Friday, but that did not stop Coach Scott Arniel’s squad from competing hard. After Washington jumped to a 2-0 lead, Columbus came back in the middle stanza and tied things up setting the stage for a third period that was hardly like a preseason contest. The intensity was elevated and both teams seemed intent on winning at all costs, something that is typically not seen before the games count, except for guys who are fighting for roster spots. Many of the Columbus players fit the “fighting for roster spots” bill against Washington and it showed in their effort and determination. The Caps, who had been so solid in their first four preseason tilts, reverted to some bad habits on Friday night, according to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

“We felt like an alcoholic tonight. For two weeks we were doing so great defending, not giving up 2 on 1′s, and then we fell off the wagon in the first period and started playing that river hockey again and we’ll have to get back to a regular game tomorrow at practice,” said Boudreau, who was in midseason form in his post game presser.

 

- Those bad habits that Boudreau talked about led to a close contest that, on paper, should not have occurred. However, following the second period a different Washington team showed up for the final stanza.

 

“We wanted to play better. After the 2nd period we were talking about it and the coaching staff came in and they weren’t exactly thrilled with the way we were playing. There were three turnovers and some bad decisions being made. So we wanted to turn it up a notch and Nicky [Backstrom] got that first one for us early but they came right back at us and were going blow for blow for awhile. It sort of got heated there and boys were taking care of each other, which is great to see, even Ovie, but we don’t want him damaging his hands too badly. It’s good to see the boys sticking together early,” said forward Andrew Gordon, one of several players battling for the last few roster spots, on a third period that was physical and entertaining.

 

- The winning goal sequence was started with a big hit by Ovechkin behind the Columbus net and he fed Mathieu Perreault in the slot. #85 had traffic in front of him but found a way to get the puck to the net, allowing Fehr to bang home another goal from in close. It is those type of ”garbage goals” that the Caps will need more and more of in the post season.

 

“I got it on my forehand and I didn’t have any lane to the net, two guys were in front of me, so I just brought it to my backhand and threw it on net and Eric was driving to the net and just got the rebound in,” added Perreault on the way his assist on the game winning goal unfolded.

 

-  This was not a pretty one from a pure hockey standpoint. The contest had its’ lulls, especially in the middle of the second period when Washington chose to take a snooze, but it is clear that neither team likes the other and as a result, the contest was physical and downright chippy, at times. Caps forward Matt Hendricks was flattened in the neutral zone by a Nathan Guenin check just two minutes into this tilt, stayed on the ice for a couple of minutes, and did not return. Immediately after the hit Washington’s Tyler Sloan went after Guenin, with both dropping the gloves, and #89 earned an extra minor for roughing. That sequence set the tone for a physical battle that got even rougher late in the contest when Nick Holden cheap shotted Mike Knuble in the neutral zone. That incensed the Caps captain, who threw a punch with his glove on while grabbing Holden. The Great #8 would earn a double minor for roughing on the play.

“I love the way we responded and to that, there were a couple of real borderline hits on their part without it getting out of hand. I don’t think they had any of their main toughness dressed tonight but I was glad of the way we stood up for each other. I think it all started with Hendricks standing up for Ovie in Boston. So, that’s a good sign for the future, I hope,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the physicality of the contest and the way his players stuck together.

“It was a little physical. Obviously when Hendy (Matt Hendricks) went down, our team didn’t like that and their team didn’t like the hits we were laying on them. So it was physical but it was a good game to play in. We want to play a physical game. We don’t want to back down,” added Fehr on the team’s mentality.

- Penalty killing is an area that Washington wants to improve on this season, they were in the bottom third of the league last year, and coming into Friday’s matchup they had only allowed one power play goal in the preseason. Columbus would tally twice in seven tries (12:02 of power play time) in this one, but the Caps did kill off a 71 second five on three when Washington was clinging to a one goal third period lead. That combined with the way the Blue Jackets scored their two PPG’s didn’t seem to concern Boudreau.

 

“The power play goals, the first one we got caught running around and the second one was a bang-bang play where Nicky [Backstrom] almost scores at one end and we thought there might have been a hook. They come in and they get a good deflection from Chris [Clark]. They get a good goal but it wasn’t from breakdowns in the penalty kill so I was happy with that,” explained Boudreau.

 

- With one game left and the regular season looming, it is getting closer and closer to the final roster deadline, which comes on Wednesday, October 6th. The Caps have 18 forwards battling for 14 roster spots so the decisions will be very difficult for the organization.

 

“That’s George’s call, I don’t want to make any of them,” started a chuckling Boudreau putting the onus of the roster decisions on GM George McPhee. “All of these guys have played well. I firmly believe that we’ve got 20 forwards that could play regularly in the NHL,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on the depth Washington has on its’ roster.

 

- From where I am sitting the last four forwards out are likely Steve Pinizzotto, Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Marcus Johansson. In Johansson’s case, he is going to be a full time NHL player at some point, but at 19 (he turns 20 on Wednesday) he just doesn’t have a mature enough body to handle the 82 game grind and post season at this juncture. The other three will play in Hershey and will likely get at least one call up this season. If the four I chose are the players sent down or possibly in Johansson’s case, headed back to Sweden, then both Andrew Gordon and Perreault will make the Caps out of camp for the first time. The advantage Gordon has going for him is that in order to go back to the AHL he would have to clear waivers and it is not likely that McPhee wants to lose an asset for nothing. In Perreault’s case, he showed glimpses of being able to perform in the NHL last year but eventually his smaller frame would wear down and his production would drop. But now, at 22, #85 has filled out and increased his strength, something he talked about after Friday’s tilt.

 

“I put on like 10 pounds of muscle [the last 2 years] and I feel so much stronger and bigger out there. As you can see I feel like I can win the one on one battles against anybody out there. This is a big thing now in the NHL, if you get people one on one you have to win your own battles. Preseason is almost over and I feel like I’ve done everything I’ve could to stay up here and the rest is up to them now,” finished the Caps 6th round draft choice in 2006.

 

Notes: Boudreau said after the game that Hendricks was fine and that he could have come back and played had it been a regular season game…Washington only had 4:10 of power play time. They went 1 for 4 and failed on a 1:47 two man advantage. They also gave up a shorthanded goal when Ovechkin over stick handled, got slashed (breaking his stick), and lost the puck…The Caps outshot Columbus 38-26…The Caps were only 28-34 on faceoffs with Johansson going a pitiful 0 for 10. Backstrom was 12-6 and Perreault went 8-4.

 

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Backstrom Paces Caps over Bruins

Posted on 29 September 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It is now four pre-season games played for the Washington Capitals and they have resulted in four straight wins. On Wednesday night the Caps completed a home and home sweep of the Boston Bruins, prevailing 4-1 over the B’s in Beantown. Nicklas Backstrom tallied once in each of the first two periods and then Andrew Gordon and Matt Bradley closed out the Washington scoring before Mark Recchi added a late power play goal to wreck the shutout for the Caps goaltending duo of Dany Sabourin and Braden Holtby. Holtby was the victim on the last marker.

After suiting up a large contingent of minor leaguers on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, Boston dressed most of their top guns for this tilt while Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau rested Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Mike Green and his top two goalies (Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth). Thus on paper it looked like the recipe for a Bruins victory, however, when you have the competition that the Capitals have occurring for a few remaining roster spots, you can bet that whatever players are in the lineup will go hard to try and impress the Washington brass. That is what happened on Wednesday night as the Caps dominated much of this contest and outhustled a Boston team that looked ready for their European vacation, er, upcoming preseason game in Ireland on Saturday.

Here are some thoughts and analysis on what I saw on Wednesday night (h/t to the Boston Bruins website for streaming the game):

- It doesn’t matter who plays with Backstrom because he will look good as will his linemates. In this tilt the 22 year old Swede had Eric Fehr on his right wing and young Marcus Johansson on left wing. Both wingers had good contests, although MJ90 wasn’t on the ice on #19′s first tally. Jason Chimera was on and #25 intercepted a pass behind the Bruins net that was very soft thanks to a Fehr hit. Chimera then threw the puck in front of the net to an all alone Backstrom, who easily buried it by Tim Thomas (20 saves). On Nicky’s second marker, late in the second period, #19 tipped a Jeff Schultz point shot down from near the top of the left wing circle. Overall the line was very good at controlling the puck and generating chances. Johansson continues to impress and there is no doubt in my mind that once he physically matures he will be an NHL player.

- Ovechkin, despite not playing, did have an impact on this contest. The opening faceoff was between the Caps Matt Hendricks and Gregory Campbell of the B’s. Campbell had taken what the Caps believed was not a clean run at the Great #8 near the end of Tuesday’s tilt so right off the face-off #26 let Campbell know that his actions were unacceptable. Hendricks dominated the scrap and both headed to the box, given five for fighting. So far in pre-season this Caps team has been “grittier” than the club we saw last season.

- Andrew Gordon, who was outstanding for Hershey last season, put this one out of reach in the 3rd period after Mathieu Perreault and Chimera went to the B’s cage on a 2 on 1 break. Chimera, who was solid all evening, nearly scored on his two attempts on Thomas on the rush, but when the puck bounced up the slot #63 was coming late in the right place and he banged the biscuit home to make it 3-0. Bradley finished the scoring for the Caps after Boyd Gordon made a super play in the lower right wing area and then fed #10 for an easy tap in at the left post.

- Steve Pinizzotto doled out some big hits in this affair but he also took a double minor for high sticking and was also whistled for tripping. It was his last infraction that ended the Caps perfect PK run to start the pre-season. “Pinner” can skate and is physical but he has to be smarter on the ice if he wants to play at the NHL level.

- With Varlamov reportedly not 100%, Neuvirth got the call in goal on Tuesday which prompted Washington to call up Holtby from Hershey to split time in the cage with Sabourin for Wednesday’s matchup. Sabourin was very solid stopping all 12 shots he faced and showed that if he was needed in the short term, he would likely do well. The young Holtby played a strong game too. Braden is very aggressive in net and on one sequence near the end of the 2nd period he came out and challenged Blake Wheeler, who was all alone in front. The former Saskatoon Blade forced Wheeler to try and go forehand and the Bruin bobbled the puck and wound up falling to the ice when Holtby cut off his angle. On the lone Boston goal, however, Holtby was overly aggressive and got himself flopping around and out of position, which allowed old man Mark to score easily from the top of the crease.

- John Carlson was outstanding on Wednesday. The 2010 US World Junior Championships hero was +2 and had an assist on Backstrom’s 2nd goal, but even more impressive was his physical and positionally sound work in his own end in 21:24 of ice time. There is no doubt that having both Carlson and Karl Alzner (+1, 21:14 of ice time) up in DC all season will help the Capitals defense.

Notes: Dave Steckel, Pinizzotto, and Jay Beagle were even on the night while the rest of the Caps were all either +1 or +2. The final shot tally was 26-24 in favor of Boston. Next up for the Caps are the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

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Caps Rookies Ready For Flyers

Posted on 16 September 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Thursday afternoon at 3pm the Washington Capitals rookies will take on a similar crew from Philadelphia down at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston to conclude the rookie portion of the Capitals training camp. The veterans officially start training camp on Saturday morning but most are in town skating already. This is the fourth straight year that the two organizations will meet up for a contest with home ice alternating each September. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau talked about the game Wednesday afternoon after his rookies concluded a practice that included a short scrimmage and he summed up the Thursday afternoon tilt fairly well.

“I don’t know what to expect because I don’t know who their rookies are, we just want to compete, but it doesn’t matter, when you put on a Philly jersey and a Washington jersey the two teams try very hard because there is not a lot of love between the two teams,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award Winner.

Boudreau, whose voice was a little hoarse from coaching up the young guys on the ice the last four days, appeared raring and ready to go and seemed estatic that there would be a full house on hand to watch this tilt (all tickets were previously distributed but you can watch it live on washingtoncaps.com with Steve Kolbe and Mike Vogel bringing you play-by-play and analysis, respectively).

“I think Washington is an unbelievable hockey town. I’ve been impressed all summer, everywhere we went or I’ve gone, with how much people watch the game and unfortunately they knew everything that we did last year or fortunately,” started the three time Southeast Division Champion bench boss, who was laughing during the ‘unfortunately’ part of his quote, “We had a great year and a bad finish,” summed up Boudreau.

A bad finish is correct and the team did not bring back any of the four players that were acquired at last year’s trade deadline (Joe Corvo, Eric Belanger, Milan Jurcina, and Scott Walker). GM George McPhee also did not re-sign veteran goalie Jose Theodore so the Caps will go with Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth in the cage for at least the first part of the season. Journeyman Dany Sabourin was signed to play in Hershey along with 2008 draftee Braden Holtby so those two will battle for the 3rd goalie position in the event that one of the top two gets injured.

McPhee also did not ink any free agents from other clubs, although they did try to sign former Canucks physical defenseman Willie Mitchell, who took a two year deal with the Kings. The GM re-signed his restricted free agents, most notably Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz, and Tomas Fleischmann. Young defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson, who were both a big part of the Hershey Bears repeat Calder Cup Championship team, will start the season in the NHL and several other Bears, such as Andrew Gordon, Jay Beagle, Mathieu Perreault, and Keith Aucoin will have a chance to make the big club that will begin the regular season on October 8th in Atlanta. So clearly the message from McPhee and the Caps organization is that they like the players they have in their system and they want to see how they do before deciding to make any more changes.

As I mentioned last season, there remains an immediate hole at second line center, something that hurt Washington in their seven game loss to the Canadiens last spring. However, in the system are some very talented young players that can play the pivot such as 2010 first round pick Evgeni Kuznetsov (playing in the Russian KHL this season), 2009 1st round pick Marcus Johansson, and 2010 3rd round pick Stanislav Galiev. All three impressed the Caps and anyone who ventured out to Caps development camp in July saw that center could be a position that Washington is deep in in a few years (Nicklas Backstrom, the first line pivot, is already one of the top players in the NHL and he is only 22 years old). In the short term Fleischmann, Perreault, and perhaps Aucoin will get looks in the exhibition season because as good as Johansson and the others might be right now, they are still very young and their bodies have not fully developed. Thus they would likely not be able to handle an 82 game schedule and the post season. It is a younger NHL these days but the bottom line is that it is still a “Man’s League.” Also, historically the Caps have not been a club that has chosen to rush their draft picks to the NHL, instead wisely deciding to let them mature physically and gain confidence.

Johansson, who is wearing #90 in camp, has been mentioned in the media and around town by bloggers as a possibility to make the Caps out of training camp this fall. The young swede is a very good skater and creates opportunities on the ice. Today during the scrimmage, on one occassion, he gathered in the puck at his own blue line and skated around a couple of opponents easily through neutral ice and as he ventured inside the offensive zone he made a brilliant pass to Patrick Cullity. However the young defenseman overdeked and did not get off a shot. Still the sequence showed the speed and brilliance of the man most Caps fans refer to on twitter as MJ90. After today’s session I caught up with Marcus, who played last season in the top league in Sweden on a bigger ice surface than the NHL, and below is a transcription of the majority of the interview:

WNST: There is a lot of talk about you right now. Tell us where you are at physically, how you are fitting in with the team, and what your expectations are for camp and the season.

MJ90: I feel okay, I guess, it’s a different type of game but it’s getting a little better. Physically I feel great, I’ve been working out hard all summer. I feel like I am ready to take the next step in my career and I am excited about the game [on Thursday] and it’s going to be fun.

WNST: You’ve talked about the adjustment you have to make because of the rink size. How much of a difference is it for you?

MJ90: Yes, in Europe it is wider and the neutral zone is bigger. It is a little different. I think the difference is more straighter hockey – straight to the net – not the way it is at home. It is a little different but I’ll get used to it.

WNST: Your goal is to be up with Washington this year?

MJ90: Yes, I hope so. I am going to give it my best shot and see where it goes and hopefully I can stay.

WNST: Have you talked to [fellow Swede] Backstrom and gotten any advice?

MJ90: Yes, I’ve been talking to him but not that much about hockey. It has been talking and trying to get to know each other better and stuff like that. The hockey part is coming up.

WNST: If someone came up to you and asked you what your strengths were what would you say?

MJ90: I think it is playing with speed and being able to play with the puck with high speed, that is what I do best.

WNST: What if you were asked what is the part of your game that you need to improve the most?

MJ90: I don’t know, that is hard to say. I want to improve and just try to bring my A game every night. Just try to be as good as I can every night and not have too much ups and downs. I just want to be able to keep at a high level all of the time and that’s something I want to learn.

WNST: It will be pretty intense in here for the rookie game. What are your thoughts on the town and the fans so far?

MJ90: It is a great crowd and you know they just love hockey. It’s a different atmosphere than it is at home. It’s awesome.

Galiev, who is wearing #49, speaks english extremely well as a result of playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) last season and the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League (USHL) the year before. He is a very skilled forward who had 60 points in 67 regular season games for Saint John in 2009-10. In the playoffs he notched eight goals and added 11 assists in 21 games as his team lost in the finals of the QMJHL to Moncton, four games to two, in their best of seven series. Had Galiev’s club won that series then the young Russian would have been playing for the 2010 Memorial Cup. Galiev played left wing last season and in development camp but after the July session the Caps asked him to try center. Below is a transcription of the majority of the interview I had with him after Wednesday’s practice.

WNST: Tell about your game and what your strengthts are.

Galiev: Probably my speed and my skills. Usually on the ice I make goal chances and create some good passes.

WNST: What area do you really want to improve this year?

Galiev: Gain some weight and be stronger in the d-zone. Maybe try and play center this year because Bruce wants me to try and play it so I am going to keep working.

WNST: Center, right now at the NHL level, is something that the Caps don’t have a lot of, but in the system they have Kuznetsov, Marcus, and you so obviously they want to get as many guys as they can playing center, which is arguably the most valuable position. So they’ve talked to you about moving over but have you played it before?

Galiev: Not really because it is kind of different for me right now. If I have to play center I go and play it, it doesn’t matter for me.

WNST: So do you think your team, Saint John, has a chance at making the Memorial Cup this year?

Galiev: Yes, we still have a good team but a couple of new guys. They are doing good, the season has already started and they’ve won two games.

WNST: What position did you play? You shoot right.

Galiev: Left wing. I can play right too. Sometimes I switch my wings.

WNST: In the Caps system the center position is different, not as much focused on always being the 3rd man back and it’s aggressive. What do you think of that?

Galiev: I feel a little bit not comfortable because sometimes I don’t know what I have to do. But I’ve been watching Caps games from [last] year to try and focus how to play center. It’s fun, you are always aggressive and you try to make [the other team have] mistakes.

WNST: What are your expectations for the year coming up?

Galiev: Just keep working hard every game the hardest I can. Do my best and try to get 80 points this year, get the Memorial Cup. I have great linemates who are great guys that help me a lot, Nick Peterson [2009 4th round draft pick by the Penguins] and Mike Hoffman [2009 5th round draft pick by the Senators]. It was a good experience for me playing the [QMJHL] finals.

WNST: What are you looking forward to tomorrow in playing the Flyers?

Galiev: Oh I am so excited, I can’t wait for this game. It’s great because I like to play with so many people watching me. I try to do my best.

NOTES: Check back on Thursday night for the transcript of an interview I conducted Wednesday with 21 year old defenseman Dustin Stevenson, who played in the tier II Saskatchewan League in 2009-10. The Caps announced their television schedule today and ALL games will be broadcast in HD this season for the first time ever (yes Comcast Plus is now in HD!). For some great pictures of today’s rookie practice please check out Chris Gordon’s “Caps Snaps” website.

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Caps Sign 5 / Analysis of Scrimmage #2

Posted on 15 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Sign 5

The Washington Capitals continue to show confidence in the players from their own organization and today they inked five skaters who helped the Hershey Bears win their second straight Calder Cup this spring in Andrew Gordon, Jay Beagle, Patrick McNeill, Andrew Joudrey, and Zach Miskovic. Below is the text from the official press release from the Caps outstanding PR department:

The Washington Capitals have signed right wing Andrew Gordon, center Andrew Joudrey and defensemen Patrick McNeill and Zach Miskovic to one-year contracts and center Jay Beagle to a two-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deals were not disclosed.

Gordon, 24, appeared in two games for the Capitals last season. The Halifax, Nova Scotia, native spent his third season with Hershey in the American Hockey League (AHL) where he scored 37 goals in 79 games. His 37 goals ranked second on the team and tied for second in the league, while his 71 points ranked third on the team. Gordon played in 17 playoff games, recording 20 points (13g-7a) to help the Bears win the Calder Cup championship. He was the Capitals’ seventh-round choice, 197th overall, in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. In his career, Gordon has 74 goals and 167 points in 217 games for the Bears.

Joudrey, who turns 26 today, spent his third full season with Hershey in 2009-10. He recorded 19 assists and 34 points in 78 games and two assists and three points in 21 playoff games to help the Bears win the Calder Cup. The 5’11”, 185-pound Joudrey has 54 assists and 89 points in 218 games with Hershey and eight assists and 10 points in 58 playoff games with the Bears, including two Calder Cup championships.

McNeill, 23, had 27 assists and 35 points in 62 games with Hershey last season, almost doubling his point total from the previous season. His 27 assists and 35 points ranked second on the team among defensemen behind John Carlson. The Strathroy, Ontario, native potted three goals and six points in 11 playoff games to help Hershey win the Calder Cup. McNeill was the Capitals’ fourth-round choice, 118th overall, in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He has played 156 games collecting 55 assists and 67 points in three seasons with the Bears.

Miskovic, who originally signed with Washington as a free agent in March 2009, recorded 20 assists and 26 points in his first professional season with Hershey. The 25-year-old Miskovic notched a goal and an assist in six playoff games for the Bears en route to the Calder Cup. Miskovic played four seasons at St. Lawrence University where he ended his collegiate career with 27 goals and 73 points. He had 16 goals his senior season leading all NCAA defensemen.

Beagle, 24, appeared in seven games for the Capitals last season and scored his first NHL goal on Nov. 23 at Ottawa. He played in 66 games for Hershey and potted 16 goals and 35 points. Beagle played in 21 Calder Cup games, notching seven assists and nine points as he helped lead Hershey to the Calder Cup championship. The Calgary, Alberta, native has played 10 career games for the Capitals netting one goal, one assist and four penalty minutes and played four Stanley Cup games with Washington during the 2008-09 season.

COMMENTS: I sure would like to see both Gordon and Beagle make a push to make the Caps out of training camp this season. Both are the type of players who will go to the net to score the more difficult, but crucial goals, something that Washington will need more of in the post season in 2011. Joudrey is a top pair penalty killing specialist for the Bears while McNeill really improved his offensive side of the game from the blue line in 2009-10.

Analysis of Caps Development Camp, Scrimmage #2

The Thursday morning crowd at Kettler IcePlex had the arena about 75% full for scrimmage #2 of Capitals Development Camp, but the hockey was just as intense as Wednesday afternoon’s tilt. Once again the game featured lots of goals, some sloppy play, and high energy. I didn’t see a whole lot to change my thoughts on many of the players from scrimmage #1 and it was clear to me that Evgeny Kuznetsov continues to stand out more than any other player through day 4 of this week long summer camp.

After Wednesday’s 4-4 tie, the White team jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first period thanks to some great plays by Northeastern junior Wade MacLeod and 2010 3rd round choice (86th overall) Stanislav Galiev combined with some shaky goaltending by Taylor Nelson. But South Carolina Stingray forward Jake Hauswirth scored the first of his two goals after a goal mouth scramble in front of Braden Holtby to make it 3-1 late in period one.

Then things got interesting in the middle stanza as Stefan Della Rovere, who showed nice speed to go with his seemingly relentless tenacity and fire, banged home a rebound of an Anton Gustafsson shot to make it 3-2. On the ensuing shift Kuznetsov bumped into Holtby as the man slated to start in net for Hershey in 2010-11 was out playing the puck. The biscuit went right into the slot for an easy goal for the Red squad to knot things at three. The young Russian showed his inexperience as he skated behind Holtby and appeared to taunt him prompting the 2008 4th round choice to hammer #48 with a two-hander to the left ankle (which was already bugging Kuznetsov). The 2010 first round draft choice fell to the ice and after appearing to be in some pain, he got up, went to the bench, and came out for his next shift.

The Red team would pull ahead but 2009 1st round choice, Marcus Johansson, scored on a nice one timer from the right wing circle early in the 3rd period. Little Gus would then beautifully set up Chris Forfar for a goal to give Red a 5-4 advantage but a defensive breakdown occurred with 2009 2nd round draft choice Dmitri Orlov on the ice to allow White to make it 5-5. A late power play for the White team failed but instead of the game staying a tie, the rules were changed on Thursday and a shootout ensued. Galiev scored on the only successful attempt to give the White club a 6-5 victory.

Overall, it was still the Kuznetsov show but Johansson was more noticeable for his team. I was encouraged by the improved and more physical play of Gustafsson and it will be interesting to see if he can finish the week strong and then make it through what appears to be a very competitive training camp. Cody Eakin, who finished his 2009-10 season, his first in the Capitals organization, with a Calder Cup title, had a much more impressive outing contributing offensively after looking rusty on Wednesday.

Dustin Stevenson was probably the defensemen who impressed me the most after playing a strong contest on Wednesday. He continues to move the puck well and play sound positionally. The 6′ 5″ 220 lbs d-man, who was praised by McPhee after the first scrimmage, was singled out by Caps Coach Bruce Bourdreau in his presser (see Caps365 for the video & audio). In goal, Holtby seemed to be rattled after his run in with Kuznetsov leaving Philipp Grubauer as the top netminder on Thursday. The 2010 Memorial Cup winning goalie for the Windsor Spitfires made some flashy glove saves eliciting some cheers from the Kettler crowd.

After MacLeod, another unsigned invitee that was impressive was #9 Patrick Cullen, a local DC product who is a sophomore at RPI. Cullen skates well and seems to have very good hockey sense. He did a good job of killing penalties (power plays replaced penalty shots on Thursday, for the most part) and he seemed to have a knack for the net in the offensive zone. Once again, if you check out Caps365, you will hear Boudreau praise both MacLeod and Cullen.

Notes: Day 5 of Development Camp will not feature a game (drills at 930am and 1115am). Camp concludes with a scrimmage on Saturday at 10 a.m., the highlight of Fan Fest that day will also include autograph sessions, interactive games, street hockey, a free public skate, the team’s annual equipment sale and an appearance from current Capitals forward Brooks Laich, so I suggest you get there early because it promises to be a mob scene.

 

 

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Caps Re-Sign Eric Fehr for 2 Years

Posted on 08 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Re-Sign 3rd Player in 3 Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hershey Signs Nycholat

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Caps Notes: Boyd Gordon Signed, 3 File for Arbitration

Posted on 06 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Boyd Gordon Signs 1 Year Deal

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

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

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

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

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

3 Capitals File for Arbitration

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

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

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Caps Wisely Quiet on Day 1 of NHL Free Agency

Posted on 02 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

NHL free agency began on Thursday, July 1st and the Washington Capitals did not make a single signing. Based on the dollars and length of contracts being inked on day one, it appears to me that Caps GM George McPhee was very wise to stay out of the bidding wars and prevented himself from overpaying for a player that the organization might regret acquiring in a few months or a year or so down the road (see Michael Nylander in 2007).

There has been a lot of talk about the Caps needing a second line center and some even want a physical defenseman to improve the back end. I have been an advocate of another player at center ice but given that the Sharks Patrick Marleua re-upped in San Jose there was not what anyone would call a blue chip player to be inked starting Thursday at noon. One of the next best options appeared to be Matt Cullen from Ottawa, but he hit the jackpot getting $10.5 over three years from the Minnesota Wild. At this late hour, not much is left on the center market, and the player some are calling the best pivot man available, Matthew Lombardi of Phoenix, is asking for $4M plus. In the immortal words of Jeff Spicoli and his stoner buds from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I say, “No Dice!” to that figure.

On defense, there were some big signings, such as former Nashville Predators blue liner Dan Hamhuis cashing in for $27M over six years in Vancouver. In addition, the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Ottawa Senators essentially “traded” defensemen with Sergei Gonchar going to Ottawa, Anton Volchenkov moving to New Jersey, and Paul Martin headed to the Steel City. The Penguins also gave former Phoenix Coyotes d-man Zybnek Michalek $20M over five years. In summary, each of these moves was for too much money and too long in terms of years.

Other acquisitions by some NHL general managers were bordering on ridiculous,  especially the Toronto Maple Leafs signing of third line forward Colby Armstrong for $9M for 3 years or the New York Rangers inking fourth line heavyweight Derek Boogaard for $6.5M for four years. Basically, it was a crazy day and those teams that didn’t spend a large sum of money or none at all, were the winners.

Back to the Caps. Just because McPhee did nothing on July 1st, and he hinted at that possibility when he was on the Comcast Morning Show on WNST on Wednesday morning, doesn’t mean the roster is set with what they finished the season with personnel-wise. There are still three more months before the season starts and seven months until the NHL trade deadline. Sure the team and its fans are disappointed with the round one playoff failure this past spring and there is certainly more heat on both McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau for the 2010-11 season, but the bottom line is the Capitals still have a young team with a great deal of talent that should continue to mature and improve. 

Yes, the club needs to get tougher and grittier, especially in front of both nets, but to go out and throw caution to the wind in free agency would have been a ”panic” move. Looking inside the organization first for improvements, makes the most sense. Washington’s farm team, the two time defending AHL Champion Hershey Bears, definitely has some players up front that warrant further evaluation such as center Mathieu Perreault and wingers Andrew Gordon and Steve Pinizzotto. Jay Beagle and even Chris Bourque could be guys who have outside shots to make the club in training camp, as well. Both McPhee and Boudreau have already pretty much stated that d-men Karl Alzner and John Carlson will be up full time during 2010-11 and that instantly improves a blue line crew that had its issues, at times, this past season. Another player who the squad will keep an eye on at development camp and then in September is 2009 1st round pick Marcus Johansson (center), but given that he is only 19 and the Caps don’t like to rush young players to the NHL, that possibility appears to be a much longer shot.

The reason so many of the aforementioned players will get a good look in September is because Washington has already indicated that several skaters from the roster, such as Joe Corvo, Eric Belanger, Scott Walker, Brendan Morrison, Shaone Morrisonn, and Milan Jurcina will very likely not be back with the club. Therefore, just because there were no July 1 acquisitions does not mean McPhee and company are going with the same crew they had last season when they won the Presidents’ Trophy, change is going to occur by attrition and internal promotion alone. The question still remains, and likely will do so for several months, what will the Caps bring in from outside of the organziaton for 2010-11, if anything at all? That answer is as clear as mud right now, but McPhee appears to be sticking with an astute plan of “Right player, right price” at this juncture. Stay tuned.

Note: For all of my instant thoughts on free agency and the NHL, please follow me on twitter (@Emfrank123). I had several tweets this evening that formed the basis for this blog, all available at twitter now.

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After Vegas, Things Turn Serious For Caps

Posted on 21 June 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After this Wednesday night’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas (7pm on VERSUS) in which three Capitals are up for post season awards (Alexander Ovechkin for Hart Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award, Mike Green for Norris Trophy and NHL Foundation Award, and Jose Theodore for Masterton Trophy), things turn very serious for General Manager George McPhee and the Caps with the NHL draft on Friday (7pm on VERSUS) and Saturday (1pm on NHL Network) in Los Angeles followed by the start of NHL free agency on Thursday, July 1st.

Unlike last postseason, where the team felt like they had the correct pieces on board to go deep in the playoffs and win a Stanley Cup yet just needed to build on their previous season’s experience, there is the impression this year that changes will be made personnel wise, based on the talk from McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau since their game seven loss to Montreal. Boudreau blamed the early round defeat on the lack of secondardy scoring and said his club basically became a “one line team” against the Canadiens. The Caps scored exactly one goal in each of the last three contests in the series so there is no doubt he was correct. Immediately after the season I wrote that personnel changes were needed and felt then, and still do now, that Washington’s biggest need is a second line center.

Clearly McPhee won’t be selecting the second line center he needs for next season in the draft itself, but with all 30 GM’s together in the City of Angels it will be a prime time to talk trades. If the GM can’t get the right deal this weekend then he could try and go the free agency route, however, given the Capitals salary cap situation (and only McPhee and Don Fishman really know the exact figures there), finding a second line center for the right price may not be achievable, given how valuable a commodity pivot men are these days.

With Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom locked up long term and a plethora of wingers in the system, Alexander Semin’s name has been bantered about as a possible player that could be moved. #28 is currently signed for one year at $6M for 2010-11 and is coming off a 40 goal regular season. However, the extremely talented right winger has failed to light the lamp in his last two playoff series. In 2009 against the Penguins in the second round, Semin had a valid excuse, he had a badly injured hand.

In 2010 against the Habs, however, the bottom line is he failed to show up for a large majority of the series. The videotape does not lie, and if one goes back and watches each tilt again, it is clear that Semin sleepwalked through the first four games before making a better effort in games five through seven. Even though he improved, it still was an unsatisfactory and “soft” performance. In game six, the Canadiens scored the crucial first goal of the contest on the power play, which was set up by a Shaone Morrisonn cross checking penalty. But #26 never goes to the box if Semin doesn’t let Maxim Lapierre take the puck from him easily on the right wing boards in Washington’s zone to start the sequence. Then, in game seven, with the Caps pressing and desperate to get the first goal, #28 fails once again to go hard to the net, and instead of tapping home an easy tally, his weak deflection goes off of the pipe.

Semin is one of the most controversial figures on the Caps and DC fans pretty much either love him or are staunchly in the “get rid of him” camp. There has never been a question of his talent, but when it comes to desire that is another issue. Complicating matters for the Caps and McPhee is his current contract situation and the mindset of Semin and his agent, Mark Gandler. McPhee, in an interview on WNST on the Comcast Morning Show back in May, stated that he approached the Semin camp about a long term deal with Washington. Their response, according to McPhee, was along the lines of ‘We don’t want one right now, we plan on having Alex score 50 goals next season and then hitting the open market for the big money.’ That interesting position by Semin and company leaves McPhee with three real options:

1. Keep Semin, then roll the dice and hope #28 shows up in the playoffs next year like he did in 2008 against the Philadelphia Flyers (3 goals, 5 assists, +2 ) and 2009 against the New York Rangers (5 goals, 3 assists, +5)

2. Trade him at the draft with the hope that some team with salary cap room will want him.

3. Hold onto him for the majority of the regular season and then deal him at or near the 2010-11 trade deadline.

The potential downside to holding onto Semin for all of next year is that following the 2010-11 season #28 can hit the open market and Washington would receive nothing in return, should he sign elsewhere. With all of the pressure on McPhee and Boudreau to make amends for the early post season exit in 2009-10, giving #28 a chance to be more consistent and produce in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is quite a risk. Even Ovechkin, who is the team captain and likely Semin’s closest friend on the team, couldn’t get the guy to produce when it mattered so what makes anyone think 2010-11 will be different?

So it would seem that moving Semin, if the Caps don’t feel they’ll get the consistent performance they need from him to win in the post season, is the best route to go. The question then becomes, what is the market for #28? Who can take on his contract and what can you get back for him? Last weekend, seeking some info on what the potential return to Washington could be in a Semin deal, I exchanged texts with an NHL scout who has a handle on the trade market. When I floated the idea of the Caps moving Semin, his initial response was “Trade for what? A 5th round pick? He’s a $6 million cap hit then an unrestricted free agent.” After some more discussion, he sent back “Nobody is taking him at $6 million.”

What Washington does have going for it though, is in such a money driven league making the playoffs is crucial to a team’s financial bottom line. Thus a player like Semin, who will no doubt be motivated in the regular season to rack up big offensive figures, could be the difference for some clubs between making the post season or golfing. So taking on a $6M contract would yield more revenue in return should it put a bubble team into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The NHL is certainly a salary cap league and it is amazing to think, if the scout’s take on the market is correct, that a former first round pick, who has scored 128 goals in 327 NHL regular season tilts, would have such a low trade value. But that appears to be the state of the enterprise these days and a prime example of that is the Chicago Blackhawks, who due to serious salary cap issues, may be forced to give up a prospect or two just to get another team with cap room to take on a highly paid offensive defenseman, such as Brian Campbell. That scenario, among others for the Hawks, was discussed at length by Jeff Marek and others on Hockey Night in Canada Radio immediately following Chicago’s Stanley Cup victory.

In some ways, moving Semin for a draft pick and clearing $6M could be a shrewd move, especially if the freed up money yielded a Patrick Marleau or another bonafide center. Washington has a couple of right wingers in DC that can go the net, such as Mike Knuble and Eric Fehr, or others in Hershey, who aren’t afraid of causing crease chaos, chomping at the bit to get a shot in “The Show”, such as Andrew Gordon or Jay Beagle or even the speedy and fiesty Steve Pinozzotto. The Bears proved, despite having more talent than any other AHL team, that it takes hard work and a willingness to pay the physical price to win a championship. The Caps need to add more players with that mindset.

Moving Semin could cause some friction with Ovechkin, but if it helps the Great #8 and the Caps capture the Stanley Cup they desperately crave, then that situation is clearly workable. At the end of the day, the decision to move Semin, if it is made, isn’t a personal one and it would be based purely on the way NHL business has to be conducted in the post lockout era where you only have so much money to properly craft a Cup winning club. In order to win a title in the NHL, you have to have talent and the players you put the most money into also have to display an undying commitment to winning that carries through to every other member of that squad. Towards that end, I’ll leave you with the scout’s final thoughts on #28, one that certainly has crossed the minds of many people in and around the Capitals organization.

“Semin is an awesome kid, just not a win at all costs guy!”

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