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Caps Offense Reignites in 5-2 Win Over New Jersey

Posted on 26 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored on a great steal and power move just 6:14 into the game and Braden Holtby made 27 saves as the Washington Capitals defeated the New Jersey Devils, 5-2, at “The Rock” on Thursday night.

The goal by the Gr8 was a tone setter for the Capitals, who were playing their 17th contest in the last 31 days. It was an important tally because on Tuesday in Ottawa, the Caps had no legs and with both John Carlson (lower body injury) and T.J. Oshie (family matter) out of the Devils tilt, they needed an early spark to get them through this contest and off to a weekend away from the rink for the All Star break.

Evgeny Kuznetsov (two goals), Dmitry Orlov (two assists), Andre Burakovsky (goal and an assist), and Brooks Orpik (+3 in 20:22) all had monster outings as the Caps were able to find enough juice in the tank to survive a Devils team that thrives on using neutral zone speed to generate opportunities.

For most of this game, the Capitals did a nice job of throttling that speed, especially in the first 15 minutes of period two when they increased their 2-0 first frame advantage to a 4-1 lead and chased Keith Kinkaid on 17 shots. In came Cory Schneider (18 saves) and despite a few early quality chances for the Caps, #35 stabilized things for New Jersey and when they scored a late second period power play goal and then hit the pipe on the next shift, this one was far from over.

During the first 10 minutes of the third period, the Devils stormed up and down the ice on Coach Barry Trotz’ squad, but the Capitals did a good job of keeping New Jersey on the perimeter and any shots that made their way through were gobbled up by the Holtbeast.

At that point, it looked like the Caps were gassed and already on their break, but then Washington turned up their intensity and for the next four plus minutes they hemmed New Jersey in their own zone and stifled any comeback. The Capitals would make the final six minutes look pretty easy and when the Devils pulled Schneider, Kuznetsov stole the puck in the neutral zone and skated in uncontested for the empty net clincher.

#92 was very much on in this one. His hit in the left wing corner set up a turnover that allowed Burakovsky to make it 2-0 and then on the next Washington power play, in the second period, he received a super feed from Orlov and raced in all alone on Kinkaid and beat him with a backhand through the five hole as he was being hooked.

Orlov was sensational in the second period in earning his two assists and he could’ve had more. He was excellent at stopping any New Jersey rushes and was getting his stick in the lanes so that the Devils could not enter the Washington zone cleanly. Offensively, he is finding ways to get his shot through to the net. It was his great snapper that Kinkaid played off of his pads with Lars Eller screening him. As a result, #20 was able to swat home the Caps third goal from the paint, which came five minutes after the Devils had closed to just a goal.

For New Jersey, Taylor Hall was flying most of this contest. He had seven shot attempts (four on goal) in 22:22 of ice time, but he’ll be most remembered in this one for getting blown up by Orpik on a clean hit 6:52 into the final frame. #44 logged 20:22 and was a force on the back end.

Once again, the Capitals offense produced four or more goals and they all came from going to the cage. Net presence has been a big staple of Washington’s attack since the Christmas break and during these 17 games, they’ve gone 13-2-2. They lost the first one to the Islanders after the lay off and then they had the 40+ shot effort versus New Jersey that was primarily perimeter based and resulted in a shootout defeat. Since that game, it’s been all pucks and bodies to the net, except for Tuesday’s Ottawa tilt where Washington had a Jackson Browne type of effort, Running on Empty.

With no Oshie and Carlson and weekend plans away from hockey for everyone except for the Gr8 and the Holtbeast, this looked like a trap game. Ovechkin, however, set the tone and the rest of the crew followed his lead to grab another two points and improve to 33-10-6 (72 points). This 13-1-1 run since December 31st has given the Caps a four point lead over Columbus (CBus has a game in hand), a seven point cushion on the Penguins (PIT has a game in hand), and a nine point edge on the Rangers as many of the Capitals head to a beach or golf course down south.

Simply put, the Caps have seized the top spot in the NHL in January with an incredible run of hockey. They showed that when they are motivated, they are a really tough team to play against. Washington has four lines that can score and their back end, with Carlson, is very solid. Without #74 things got a bit shaky, but they were able to bury enough biscuits to overcome some periodic defensive trouble.

With the trade deadline just over a month away (February 28th), GM Brian MacLellan has a lot of guys playing near their peak making them very valuable commodities. This will be a tough trade deadline, though, with the NHL expansion draft looming in June, so this could be a year where most teams stand pat. If that’s the case, the Capitals have to feel really good about their team, with the only real need likely being a top four D in case one of Carlson, Matt Niskanen, or Karl Alzner goes down with a serious injury.

Overall, this team looks better positioned for the postseason than last year, but there are still 33 games and two and a half months to go. Washington has played a lot of hockey over the last month and have to be exhausted. It’s time for a well deserved break.

Notes: Shot attempts were 54-48 for Washington, including 36-29 in shots on goal. The Caps blocked just five shots but the Devils only blocked seven…Washington won the faceoff battle, 31-28. Eller was 7-5…Kuznetsov had eight shots on net in 16:57 of ice time…Niskanen led the Caps in ice time with 24:55. No New Jersey skater was within two minutes of #2’s game leading total…Tom Wilson was questionably kicked out of the game for third man in after Oprik blew up Hall and Kyle Palmieri jumped #44…next up for the Caps are the Islanders in Brooklyn on Tuesday, January 31st…enjoy All Star weekend everyone, I know I will since there will be no weekend blogs, but on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness, so you got that going for you…

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My Final Conversation with Earl Weaver

Posted on 19 January 2013 by Nestor Aparicio

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Chapter 2: “Aparicio” means baseball to most people

Posted on 06 March 2012 by Nestor Aparicio

(Originally published in Sept. 2006 prior to the “Free The Birds” walkout, this is Part 2 of a 19 Chapter Series on how baseball and the Orioles berthed WNST)

What’s in a name anyway?

Not a week in any summer has gone by since I was born when somewhere, somebody wouldn’t ask me: “Hey, are you related to the ballplayer?” I honestly don’t know a life without that question. It’s been, by far, the most frequently asked question of my life.

When I was in Chicago working for Sporting News Radio, just pulling out my credit card would beg the question nearly 100% of the time.

It’s amazing what dropping the name of a baseball player will do in a town where baseball matters. For the most part, over the course of my lifetime the absolute biggest celebrities from Baltimore — aside from the occasional actor or TV newsperson — have always been Orioles players and this town has ALWAYS given them a pretty good deal, really.

There’s always been a job or a career or a door that could be opened if you played for the Orioles, kept your nose clean and treated the community with some respect and dignity.

And you didn’t need to be Brooks Robinson or Cal Ripken.

The number of ex-baseball players who settled here and made a nice life for themselves is too numerous to even recall. Willie Miranda. Boog Powell, Jim Palmer, Dick Hall, Mark Belanger, Terry Crowley, Al Bumbry, Mike Flanagan,

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Khabibulin, Penalties Doom Caps to End Win Streak

Posted on 28 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals seven game winning streak came to a tough end in Edmonton on Thursday night as a young Oilers team rode numerous power play chances and the outstanding play of their goaltender to a 2-1 victory. Nikolai Khabibulin, who won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, was very good and also lucky stopping 34 shots, including 19 in what was an all out Capital assault in third period. The loss drops the Caps to 7-1 and their next game is in Vancouver at 10 pm on Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada.

Here are the highlights and analysis from a contest that saw the Capitals whistled for seven straight minor penalties:

– The Capitals dominated the opening 15 minutes of this game using their superior talent to grab a 1-0 lead on a Karl Alzner point blast. #27 was able to get his first marker of the year because Joel Ward did a great job of screening Khabibulin. Washington could have been up at least another puck in the early going but the Bulin Wall, who had only allowed six goals in six games coming into this tilt, was once again looking like he did in Tampa in 2004.

– Things started to get crazy towards the end of period one when referees Dan O’Halloran and Stephane Auger decided they were going to be the show and proceeded to call a dive on Matt Hendricks, who does not have a reputation for doing that, and then a shaky stick infraction on Hamrlik late in the period. With an Oiler in the box and John Carlson off for a delay of game, Edmonton had a 4 on 3 and their young talent capitalized as Jordan Eberle slid a sweet cross crease pass to 2010 1st overall NHL pick Taylor Hall for a tap in at the right post. The second period would be even more bizarre as the Caps were sent to the box five more times and a Troy Brouwer hooking penalty would allow the game winner. This time it was Eberle who got the goal on a rebound tally. Shawn Horcoff was screening Tomas Vokoun (17 saves) and the Corey Potter (2 assists) point shot bounced off of the goalie’s pad where #14 deposited it into a vacant cage. Edmonton would then get a 5 on 3 after that but the Caps did a super job of not allowing the Oilers to get many shots. In fact, after two periods the Caps, despite the manpower advantage at that point being 8-1 in favor of the Oilers, were still outshooting Edmonton 16-13.

– In the final stanza the Capitals stormed the castle and did a lot of good things but it was the former Stanley Cup winner’s night. Washington had three power plays in the final 20 minutes as a result of being all over the Oilers but they could not convert. Dennis Wideman hit the pipe late in the game and Brouwer had a glorious chance from the slot but he hit Khabibulin in the Oiler logo.

– Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom ended up having Brooks Laich on their line in the third period and they were all over the ice. It is clear that both the Gr8 and #19 are in much better condition this season than last. If there was a big complaint tonight, besides the uneven and at times nauseating officiating, it was Washington’s power play, especially late in the game. The point men were unable to get shots through. I’ll give the Oilers some credit there and also the absence of Mike Green, who missed the game due to an ankle injury he suffered last Saturday night, played a big role in the lack of productivity. Washington also struggled with their breakouts without #52, who also came into this season in outstanding condition.

– In summary, it was a fun streak to start the season and it was clear that the Capitals players did not want it to end. They played hard but they need to adjust their game when the zebras start over focusing on stick infractions (although some of those calls were totally bogus, like the holding call on Alzner). Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will see several things he will like on the film from the first part of the game and the last period. I would have liked to have seen Washington do more cycling of the puck down low, because when they did that they generated chances, but it was hard for them to do that when they spent nearly the entire second period in the penalty box. When the Caps play 5 on 5 hockey they are the best team in the league, but tonight the guys in the striped shirts didn’t want to see that. Oh well, on to Vancouver.

Notes: Alexander Semin had his second straight poor outing. #28 shied away from contact and just looked out of sync…Edmonton went 2 for 8 on the power play while the Caps were 0 for 4…the Capitals won the faceoff battle 29-24 with Jeff Halpern going 6-1 and Backstrom winning 11 of 17 draws…the attempted shot tally was 76-38 in favor of Washington…Sean Collins was recalled from Hershey and took Green’s spot in the lineup.

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2011-12 NHL Regular Season Preview

Posted on 05 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

To some people, the National Hockey League season is just too long. For me, it can never come quick enough and once NFL play gets cranked up I become very enthusiastic knowing that the NHL season is right around the corner. On Thursday, October 6th, the NHL season officially gets underway with a VERSUS doubleheader as the Philadelphia Flyers take on the Boston Bruins at 7 pm  followed by the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Vancouver Canucks at 10 pm. For those with the Centre Ice package or living in Canada, the Montreal Canadiens will face the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7 pm from the Air Canada Centre.

In June, the Bruins defeated the Canucks to win Lord Stanley’s Cup by rallying from a three games to two deficit behind the stellar goaltending of Tim Thomas. If you read my 2010-11 pre-season predictions, you would know that I predicted that the Beantown goalie would have a comeback year. Little did I know he’d get his name on one of the most coveted trophies in all of sports. But before I get too cocky, I also brought you some worthless picks, like choosing the New Jersey Devils to win the Atlantic Division or the Calgary Flames to make the playoffs. In the immortal words of one Arthur Fonzarelli…I was wrrrrrrrrrrong.

So without further adieu, here are my 2011-12 NHL regular season rankings by conference. Please note that this does not mean I pick both #1 seeds to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, it only means I am choosing that team to get the #1 seed in the regular season.

Eastern Conference

1. Washington Capitals – The two time defending Eastern Conference regular season champion Caps didn’t click on all cylinders last year and despite several important injuries, such as the concussion to Mike Green, they still managed to win the East. GM George McPhee was extremely busy this offseason adding goalie Tomas Vokoun, defensemen Roman Hamrlik and forwards Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, and Jeff Halpern. This team is suddenly more equipped to compete in the post season. In addition, the players all realize that they can’t blow off the regular season like they did last year, to some extent, and should be more focused on trying to peak their game for April and beyond.

2. Buffalo Sabres – Expecting the Bruins here? Not so fast. I am counting on the Stanley Cup hangover combined with an aggressive off season by the Sabres to put Buffalo atop the Northeast Division. Coach Lindy Ruff will rely on goalie Ryan Miller in net but Jhonas Enroth has shown that he can be a backup that allows the former Michigan State star to not play so many games. GM Darcy Regier brought in offensive minded defensemen Christian Ehrhoff and he overpaid for forward Ville Leino at 6 years for $27M. But Buffalo has a super goal scorer in Tomas Vanek and a crew of other solid forwards.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins – Evgeni Malkin is back and NHL’s Network’s EJ Hradek has already declared him as his choice for the Hart and Art Ross trophies, this despite coming off of major knee surgery. It remains to be seen how “Geno” holds up during the season but what is really to like about the Pens is their goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, and a superb defense. If Sidney Crosby is able to return at some point, the Penguins become the favorites in the East to win the Cup. But Sid is still not cleared for contact, even in practice, so who knows when he will return?

4. Tampa Bay Lightning – Head Coach Guy Boucher did a masterful job of taking this team one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals. Steven Stamkos received big money and d-man Victor Hedman continues to improve. Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier are both a year older but #26 brings it every night while #4 is not as consistent. The Bolts are going with Dwayne Roloson in net again and he is older than dirt. Will he hold up? If so, it should be a great season at the St. Pete Times Forum.

5. Boston Bruins – The Bruins partied all summer on TV with Lord Stanley and earned their multiple parades. The question now is how much do they have in the tank for the upcoming season? Thomas is now 37 years old on a team that relied heavily on its goaltending and defense. The good news is 19 year old Tyler Seguin should be even better as a sophomore.

6. New York Rangers – Coach John Tortorella, after his club lost to the Caps in the first round in April, pointed out that his club still was not there yet, from a talent perspective. So Rangers GM Glen Slather went out and inked center Brad Richards to a monster contract. The former Conn Smythe award winner will help a club that struggles to score goals and generate offense, but he did miss time with a concussion last season so there are health concerns there. Henrik Lundqvist continues to be one of the best goalies in the NHL and who can argue with the work ethic of Ryan Callahan up front? The biggest question is will Marian Gaborik have a good year or become a fading star?

7. New Jersey Devils – Martin Brodeur is now 39 years old, that is a major concern for a guy who, at times last year, looked like father time was starting to catch up with him. Zach Parise is back and wearing the “C” after missing almost the entire season due to a serious knee injury. 18 year old Adam Larsson (4th overall pick in 2011 NHL entry draft) brings some much needed mobility to the Devils blue line and former Kitchener Rangers and Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer is the new bench boss. Can he get Ilya Kovalchuk to produce like Jacques Lemaire did during the second half of last season?

8. Montreal Canadiens – Carey Price had a great season in the cage in 2010-11 and I look for him to have another strong year. Still, this team is small up front but they did add Erik Cole from Carolina and he plays a fast game. If Andrei Markov can stay healthy the Canadiens should make the playoffs. If not, they will hit the links at Royal Montreal once it opens up its’ gates in the spring.

9. Philadelphia Flyers – After trading for the rights to Ilyz Bryzgalov Flyers GM Paul Holmgren declared that the Russian goaltender was his final piece of the puzzle. Holmgren, however, forget that he had to sign the expensive net minder to a contract and then realized in order to do that he had to break up his club to stay under the salary cap. He moved Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, his top two centers, to Los Angeles and Columbus, respectively. In return he received up and coming center Jakub Voracek and former first round draft choice, Brayden Schenn (who isn’t NHL ready yet, IMO). The biggest laugh came when they signed Jaromir Jagr to a deal. #68 is a guy that reportedly is happier when he isn’t playing. I see bad things arising for the Flyers.

10. Carolina Hurricanes – Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, and Cam Ward will carry this team a long way but they just don’t have enough firepower and talent on defense to sneak into the post season. How long does Paul Maurice last as the head coach?

11. Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs haven’t figured out yet that you need to really stink to get better and every spring they win just enough games to come close to making the playoffs while ruining their draft position. It also hasn’t helped that the GM traded two of those high picks to the Bruins. I like Dion Phaneuf, the Flames should not have moved him, but Phil Kessel is inconsistent and Tim Connolly, their big ticket free agent acquisition, seems to always get injured. Coach Ron Wilson sure likes to hear himself talk though. If they beat the Habs on Thursday they should party on Yonge Street before the losses start to mount.

12. Ottawa Senators – Craig Anderson is a good goalie and Erik Karlsson and Jared Cowen are up and coming young defensemen but it will be a long year for one of the good guys, GM Bryan Murray.

13. Winnipeg Jets – The excitement of moving and being the big stars in town will help the former Thrashers get off to a decent start but the travel schedule will eventually catch up to them. Evander Kane is a tough and emerging power forward but Zach Bogosian has not lived up to the expectations on defense.

14. Florida Panthers – GM Dale Tallon had success in Chicago and is a likeable person, but he spent too much money on a boat load of floaters. This franchise really needs to hope they can build through the draft.

15. New York Islanders – They picked up 36 year old Evgeni Nabokov in net in case Rick DiPietro gets hurt again (and he will), but it will be tough stopping pucks behind that defense. John Tavares will be in his third year and needs to step up. Can the speedy Michal Grabner repeat his great season from last year? Teams will be focused on him more in 2011-12 so it will be tougher.

Western Conference

1. Vancouver Canucks – Despite playing a long season and losing in the final game, I expect this talented squad to come back and win the West. The Sedin twins continue to shine. Missing Ryan Kesler (shoulder surgery) until at least November doesn’t help though. It will be interesting to see if Roberto Luongo can regain his form after playing so poorly in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Northwest division, which used to be really strong, now stinks so the Canucks will pile up points en route to the number one seed.

2. San Jose Sharks – GM Doug Wilson’s club may be the best in the West but they are in the toughest division in the conference. The additions of Brent Burns and Martin Havlat should help while losing Dany Heatley could be addition by subtraction. For some reason Heatley just didn’t pan out in San Jose.

3. Detroit Red Wings – It is hard to pick against one of the best run franchises in all of sports, especially with Nicklas Lidstrom back for another year and Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetteberg still on the roster. The Brian Rafalski retirement will hurt on the blue line, though.

4. Chicago Blackhawks – With Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa up front, this club is strong on talent. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook log a lot of minutes on defense and comprise one of the best d-pairs in the league. Corey Crawford looks to be the guy in net. Will their role players produce this year? If so, they can play with anyone in the league.

5. Los Angeles Kings – Drew Doughty received a long term contract (8 years at a total of $56M), like the Kings brass wanted, and now the pressure is on the d-man to deliver a deeper playoff run for LA. With so many ex-Flyers working in the Kings organization (Ron Hextall, Terry Murray, and John Stevens), it made sense for the embattled center to land on the left coast. He should do well there and a young Kings team should be even better with another year of experience under their belt. It is time for them to move into the NHL’s elite.

6. Anaheim Ducks – The best line in hockey (Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry) will carry this team to the playoffs again. The big question is whether goalie Jonas Hiller can return to form after his concussion like symptoms from last season? Sophomore Cam Fowler must improve in his own end this season.

7. Nashville Predators – Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are arguably the best d-pair in the league and Pekka Rinne is a big goalie that is difficult to beat. Mike Fisher, aka Mr. Carrie Underwood, and David Legwand are two good centers for a club that typically plays low scoring games. Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the league. Music city is a fun town and has a good hockey team, on a low budget.

8. Calgary Flames – GM Jay Feaster has turned the attitude around in the organization and he made some big changes this summer, like shipping out main stay d-man Robyn Regehr and often injured forward Daymond Langkow, but goalie Mikka Kiprusoff and captain Jarome Iginla still are around and run this team. Jay Bouwmeester has a big contract but has never made the playoffs, will that change this season?

9. St. Louis Blues – I like many of their young players, especially center Patrik Berglund and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo. The trade to bring in Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk for Eric Johnson was a good one, but will it lead to a post season position? Only if Jaroslav Halak returns to the form he had in the 2010 playoffs

10. Columbus Blue Jackets  – Acquiring Carter from the Flyers should help take some of the heat off of Rick Nash but what this team really needs is goalie Steve Mason to return to the form that put his club in the post season in 2008-09. The franchise desperately needs to make the playoffs this year after missing the last two seasons.

11. Dallas Stars – Marc Crawford is gone as coach so that is a step in the right direction, but this club lost center Brad Richards and has ownership issues, which almost always creates a distraction. The roster is full of middle of the road players.

12. Minnesota Wild –  GM Chuck Fletcher has to be feeling some pressure to produce in his 3rd year in the position. He went out and acquired Heatley, who came nowhere close to expectations in San Jose. Niklas Backstrom is a super goalie but his defense leaves a lot to be desired.

13. Edmonton Oilers – Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins are the last two number one overall picks in the NHL draft and have enormous potential. The Oilers also have Ales Hemsky, Ryan Smyth, Jordan Eberle, and Shawn Horcoff as solid forwards. Their defense is not very good and goaltending is a huge issue..

14. Colorado Avalanche – The Avs put a lot of stock into Semyon Varlamov, who has shown flashes of brilliance but never stayed healthy for a lengthy period of time. They likely gave up a lottery pick in trading with the Caps for the young Russian goalie. JS Giguere was also signed and he can help in goal when Varly is hurt. Erik Johnson anchors the defense and 18 year old Gabriel Landeskog, the 2nd overall pick in the NHL draft, will get a lot of attention. Matt Duchene enters his third season and has a chance to be an elite player in the league.

15. Phoenix Coyotes  –  Dave Tippett is a great coach but without Bryzgalov, he can’t work miracles. Some young players need to step up for this club to have any chance. The ownership woes are like a black cloud over this team. Will they stay in Phoenix?

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Caps Open Round 2 vs. Tampa Bay on Friday Night

Posted on 27 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The wait is finally over for the Caps. The Washington Capitals will face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at 7 pm for game 1 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center. The Bolts rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins four games to three. Tampa won the last three games by 8-2, 4-2, and 1-0 counts with the game seven victory coming Wednesday night.

Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff will likely be working early into Thursday morning putting together a game plan for a team that his squad went 4-1-1 against in the regular season. Tampa is loaded up front with talented scorers Marty St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, and Simon Gagne. They also get excellent role playing contributions from the speedy Nate Thompson and Sean Bergenheim plus Dominic Moore is an outstanding two player. Teddy Purcell and Adam Hall are solid third line players who can chip in with some scoring and rounding out their forward crew is the controverial and pesky Steve Downie, who can lose his mind at any time. #9 can also score when his head is screwed on straight, so in a way he is Sean Avery part two.

In net, the 41 year old Dwayne Roloson made 36 saves in game seven against the Pens and he is now 6-0 in elimination contests in his career. The Bolts are a very difficult team to play when they have the lead because they employ a 1-3-1 scheme that makes it very hard for opposing players to get the front of the net. The Lightning have a big defense, but it is not very mobile, so Coach Guy Boucher likes to use his sizable blue line as a pack it in tight unit that seeks to keep opposing players to the outside, much like the Montreal Canadiens did to the Capitals in 2010.

Tampa’s big but slow defense is led by Eric Brewer, who was an NHL trade deadline acquisition from St. Louis. In addition they have second year man Victor Headman, cheap shot specialist Mattias Ohlund,  and journeyman Brett Clark. In game seven against the Penguins, Boucher dressed seven defensemen including Pavel Kubina, who has a laser of a right hand shot. Mike Lundin and Marc-Andre Bergeron rounded out the Bolts blue line. It is definitely not a puck rushing crew but they were effective against a less talented Pittsburgh attack that severely missed Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee).

For the Caps to be successful against Tampa, they need to use their superior speed to their advantage against the slower Tampa defense. In addition, the Capitals forwards will need to pay the price, like they did against the Rangers, to score some ugly goals on the door step against Roloson. 11 of the 13 Washington goals in round one were from in tight so that trend must continue. On the back end, Karl Alzner and John Carlson will need to shut down the St. Louis and Stamkos’ line. Also, the Caps third and fourth lines must not let guys like Moore, Hall, Bergenheim, and Thompson be a factor in the series. Bergenheim and Thompson have super speed and they can draw lots of penalites if the defense does not keep their feet moving.

Last time these teams met the Bolts did not have Malone in the lineup and he is a force to be reckoned with in front of the cage. Washington won that final meeting, 2-1, in a shootout, and Roloson had one of his patented nights. However, after Michal Neuvirth left that game following the first period due to debris in his eye, Braden Holtby came in and shut the ‘Ning down. Nicklas Backstrom left that tilt early due to his fractured thumb issue. Mike Green was also out due to injury but Dennis Wideman logged 28:02 to lead the blue liners and the Caps in ice time.

Bottom line is both of these two teams are different than they were in the regular season matchups so you have to throw those records and scores out the window. The Caps will have Green in the lineup on Friday but Mike Knuble and Wideman are doubtful given that they practiced on a separate rink with the Black Aces (Hershey call-ups) on Wednesday at Kettler Iceplex.

Washington will have a huge advantage if they can get the first goal in each game or at least get a lead in the second period so that Tampa doesn’t go to that sagging zone defensive scheme where their blue liners back up like safeties covering a hail mary pass in football. The Caps need to keep the game five on five as well since Tampa was a blistering 8 for 27 (29.6%) on the power play against the Penguins and 34 for 35 killing Pittsburgh man advantage situations.

The complete series schedule, to include TV info, is listed below:

Friday, April 29, 2011                         7 p.m.                     TB Lightning at Washington                             VERSUS, TSN

Sunday, May 1, 2011                         7 p.m.                     TB Lightning at Washington                             VERSUS, CBC

Tuesday, May 3, 2011                       TBD                       Washington at TB Lightning                             CSN, VERSUS, TSN

Wednesday, May 4, 2011                 7 p.m.                     Washington at TB Lightning                             CSN, TSN

*Saturday, May 7, 2011                    12:30 p.m.            TB Lightning at Washington                             NBC, TSN

*Monday, May 9, 2011                     TBD                       Washington at TB Lightning                             CSN, VERSUS, TSN          

*Wednesday, May 11, 2011             TBD                       TB Lightning at Washington                             CSN, VERSUS, TSN

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Caps Maintain Division Lead With Shootout Victory

Posted on 08 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals may not score pretty goals and light up the scoreboard like they did last year, but they continue to become a more resilient bunch this season and one has to think that quality will finally pay dividends for this franchise in the spring for the first time ever. The Caps would not lead after the first period for the eleventh straight contest but they found a way to fight back and get stronger as the game went on despite playing on back to back nights against a rested opponent in the Tampa Bay Lightning. Alexander Semin scored on a gorgeous shot with 5:32 left in regulation and then Alexander Ovechkin notched the only goal in the gimmick to win the game for Washington, 2-1. Braden Holtby came on in relief of Michal Neuvirth, who had metal in his eye after an early shot broke his mask, and he was outstanding stopping all 21 shots he faced, plus all three Bolts shootout attempts. The Caps victory runs their record to 37-20-10 (84 points) and they have a two point margin over the Lightning in the Southeast Division race, but Tampa has a game in hand. Oh, and Washington is now just two points behind the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Flyers so the #1 seed in the East is still not out of the question with 15 tilts left in the regular season.

Here are the highlights and analysis of the Caps fifth straight victory, and their eighth consecutive victory by one goal:

– If not for two outstanding saves by Holtby in the middle frame on Simon Gagne, including one with the paddle of his stick when #12’s shot seemed surely destined for the back of the net, and another on Eric Brewer with his left pad late in the game, Washington doesn’t have a chance to come back and win. Holtby was very composed in net in relief of Neuvirth and he also received a break when a Tampa shot hit the pipe right after he came in the game at the start of period two. In addition, the one puck that got by him into the cage was wiped out due to incidental contact by Martin St. Louis in the crease. As impressive as #70 was in the game, and his outstanding stickhandling skills were on display in full force too, he was best in the shootout. In Holtby’s first NHL shootout against the Rangers in early February he was overly aggressive and gave up three goals on four shots. Tonight he didn’t commit early and the result was a perfect three for three against Dominic Moore, Adam Hall, and Vinnie Lecavlier.

– Let’s talk some more about the Caps resiliency I mentioned in the opening of this blog. Last season the Caps struggled when they got behind but this year’s squad has recently developed a sense of calm and is finding a way to scratch out wins when in the past they would have been defeated. We saw it last week late against the Islanders and Blues and once again they rallied in the third period when they should have been out of gas. Nicklas Backstrom (thumb) left the game with just three minutes left in the second period forcing Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau to juggle his lines. The bench boss bumped Jason Arnott up to first line center with Ovechkin and Semin, put Marcus Johansson in the two hole with Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble and then sprinkled in the other five forwards on a third line the rest of the way. Keep in mind the Caps were already without Mike Green, Tom Poti, and Eric Fehr and with their third goalie in the net, the prospect of a victory looked bleak. But the 8-44-28 line found some instant chemistry, in fact Arnott had an open net that he missed on the backhand before Semin tied this one up, and MJ90 turned in another outstanding performance in 17:13 of ice time. The back to back games MJ90 played in Florida may have been his most consistent two contests this season. Clearly this kid, if his minutes are continued to be managed properly, may turn out to be a real plus in the post season instead of having the tank on empty in his first year of playing pro hockey in North America.

– When Semin wants to play, he is as good as there is and his buddy Ovechkin really turned it up late in the game as well. The Great #8 and #28 led a Capitals onslaught in the overtime period that saw them fire 10 shots on Dwayne Roloson (29 saves). The Caps only had 20 shots on goal in the first 60 minutes but the two Russian stars seemed to smell blood in the water, nearly winning the game in the extra session. On one sequence, Ovechkin made two steals and on the first he partially shanked his attempt sending it wide left and on the second one he fed Laich in front but #21 was denied a shot attempt by a trailing Lightning defender. Shortly thereafter Laich drew a penalty off of a faceoff and the Caps ended the OT period with a 1:16 four on three man advantage. The special teams tally on the night was 0 for 3 for the Caps while the Bolts went 1 for 4.

– Steven Stamkos, who leads the NHL in goals with 41 (seven higher than any other player), probably is very happy that he doesn’t have to face the dynamite Washington first year blue line duo of John Carlson and Karl Alzner in the final 16 games of the regular season. #91 has not scored against the Caps in the last five games and the two first round draft choices have stymied the #1 overall pick from the 2008 NHL entry draft. Washington went 4-1-1 against the Bolts this year and Boudreau is 19-3-3 versus Tampa since he took over the Capitals coaching duties in 2007. Yes, I will gladly take a Washington-Tampa first round series since the Lightning have an old goalie and a slow defense.

– In summary, this was another ugly win for the Caps and they ran their record to 7-1 since they started dragging the dads along with them to Florida each year. Clearly the sons do not want to let their proud papas down and they delivered with back to back victories again this year in the Sunshine State. Also, credit needs to go to Caps GM George McPhee for hanging on to his three young goalies at the trade deadline in addition to the two trades he did make. The Arnott and Dennis Wideman acquisitions have been a big factor in this recent winning streak (Caps are 4-0 since those moves).

Notes: The Caps won the faceoff battle, 38-33, but the one Lightning goal came directly off of a Laich loss on a shorthanded draw. Backstrom was 7-0 before departing and Arnott was 12-7 from the dot…Wideman led the Caps in ice time with 28:02 with Ovechkin second at 24:39…d-man Jeff Schultz returned to the lineup and logged a solid 17:13…Semin (6), Laich (5), and Ovechkin (4) combined for half of Washington’s 30 shots on net. Laich nearly won the game in OT but didn’t get his one timer up high enough, but Roloson made a great save too…MJ90 set up Knuble for a good chance in the third period but #22 bobbled the puck when a one timer was needed…next up for the Capitals are the Edmonton Oilers at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night at 7pm.

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NHL Regular Season Predictions

Posted on 06 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

With the NHL season set to kickoff it is time for my 4th annual regular season predictions here at WNST.NET. The season officially begins at Noon on Thursday, October 7th as the Carolina Hurricanes meet the Minnesota Wild from Helsinki, Finland (VERSUS). Then at 7pm on VERSUS, the Penguins take on the Flyers in Pittsburgh followed by a 10pm matchup between the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks and the Avalanche from Denver. For those with the Centre Ice package, you can catch the Canadiens at the Leafs on CBC at 7pm followed by the Battle of Alberta, Calgary at Edmonton, at 10pm. For hockey fans it is a great lineup of five games on opening day. The Washington Capitals will commence their regular season schedule on Friday night, October 8th from Atlanta at 730pm (Comcast HD). The Caps will play their home opener on Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils (7pm).

Please note that the top 3 seeds in each conference represent the division winners. Now without further delay, below are my predictions by conference and a short blurp on each club:

Eastern Conference

1. Washington Capitals – The Caps will win the Southeast Division no problem and top the conference, and likely the NHL, because they have an extremely talented team that is another year older and hopefully more mature, plus they play in a weak division. Goalie Michal Neuvirth and young defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner are up from Hershey full time while 2009 1st round pick, Marcus Johansson of Sweden, made the squad out of camp and will play 3rd line center. They also added tough forward DJ King for protection for their star players. Will they get 121 points again? Likely not, but this team will still win the East. But as GM George McPhee told us on Tuesday, he doesn’t care about the regular season and he is focused on a long playoff run.

2. New Jersey Devils – Not only did they manage to survive the Summer of Kovalchuk and ink Ilya to a 15 year deal, they added shot blocking extraordinaire Anton Volchenkov and penalty killing ace Henrik Tallinder. Jason Arnott returns up front to go with Zach Parise. They did lose Paul Martin to the Penguins and Martin Brodeur is a year older. GM Lou Lamoriello brought in Johan Hedberg to take some of the load off of the best goalie in the history of hockey. It will be interesting to see how new coach John Maclean runs the ship.

3. Boston Bruins  – GM Peter Chiarelli must thank his lucky stars for Leafs GM Brian Burke. The B’s GM was able to draft future superstar Tyler Seguin with the front end of two 1st rounders Boston received for Phil Kessel last summer. The Bruins are stacked at center ice and still have Zdeno Chara on the back end. I expect goalie Tim Thomas to make a comeback this year and challenge Tuuka Rask for the starting netminder job.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins – Loaded up the middle as well with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal (though Staal is out for awhile due to complications from his 2010 post season foot injury), but this club is weak on the wings. On defense, PP specialist Sergei Gonchar took big money to go to Ottawa but GM Ray Shero went out and signed Martin from New Jersey and Zbynek Michalek from Phoenix. Big question is will Marc Andre-Fleury return to his Stanley Cup winning form after a terrible post season?

5. Philadelphia Flyers – They still are loaded up front with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, and Scott Hartnell but Simon Gagne, who helped turn the Flyers whole post season around in 2010, was traded in a salary cap saving move. Their defense is strong, anchored by Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, and Brayden Coburn plus newly acquired former Bolt Andrej Mezsaros, but their goaltending is weak, weak, weak..especially with Michael Leighton out for at least a month with a back injury.

6. Montreal Canadiens – Jaroslav Halak is now in St. Louis so can head case goalie Carey Price finally reach his potential? Brian Gionta, Michael Cammalleri, Tomas Plekenac, and Scott Gomez, all midget forwards, are the primary scoring threats for the Habs. We shall see how d-man, and playoff sensation PK Subban does in a full season of work at the NHL level.

7. Ottawa Senators – Questions all over the place on this team but GM Bryan Murray and Coach Cory Clouston seem to find a way to make things work well. We will see how Mr. Carrie Underwood (Mike Fisher) does in his first season of marriage.

8. New York Rangers – Oglethorpe??!! That should be the battle cry of the Rangers this year who added to their already large contingent of goons with former Wild tough guy Derek Boogaard. This team struggled to score goals so they added former King Alexander Frolov to the offense to go with Martin “Rubber Band Groin” Gaborik. Goalie King Henrik Lundqvist’s play will likely decide if they are in the post season or golfing come mid April of 2011.

9. Buffalo Sabres – Ryan Miller is GREAT, but even he can’t work miracles behind this defense. 2nd year d-man Tyler Myers is approaching star status but the loss of Tallinder will prove to be too much to overcome.

10. Carolina Hurricanes – I expect both forward Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward to have better seasons after battling early year injuries that derailed their 2009-10, but one look at their defensive lineup makes you wonder how they will manage to battle for a playoff spot? At one point last year they were in the Taylor Hall-Tyler Seguin sweepstakes but then they screwed that up by starting to win games. Caps fans should be happy about that.

11. Tampa Bay Lightning – They added Steve Yzerman as GM but they really needed Yzerman the player. They have a solid defense with 2nd year man Victor Hedman, Mattias Ohlund, and the aging Pavel Kubina plus Steven Stamkos can light the lamp up front. The big questions on this team are: 1. Can the aging Marty St. Louis and Vincent LeCavalier put a consistent year together (I have more faith in #26 to do that than #4), and 2. Can Mike Smith and Dan Ellis stop any pucks? (Likely not very many).

12. Toronto Maple Leafs – Enjoy the party on Yonge Street on Thursday Leafs fans, that is the only time all season you can dream. This team is weak up front and will need a minor miracle to make the post season.

13. Atlanta Thrashers – Don Waddell received a Dilbert like promotion in the front office and new GM Rick Dudley brings in Craig Ramsay as head coach. They traded for Dustin Byfuglien from Chicago but instead of crashing the crease, the big man will likely play defense. Personally, I think once they failed to sign Kovalchuk long term they should have folded this franchise, one with big time ownership problems.

14. New York Islanders – Team injury is in for a long season. D-man Mark Streit is hurt and likely lost for the entire campaign and forward Kyle Okposo injured his shoulder and needs surgery. You need a Ouija board to figure out if goalie Rick DiPietro will ever be healthy and return to form as well. At least they have John Tavares to watch in the dumpy Nassau Coliseum (get this team a new building!).

15. Florida Panthers – Dale Tallon is taking the Caps approach by starting over and building via the draft. The former Hawks GM stockpiled draftpicks and this year they will likely finish last and have a great shot at the #1 pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. I expect goalie Tomas Vokoun to be moved at some point before the trade deadline.

Western Conference

1. San Jose Sharks – Antti Niemi is an upgrade over playoff bust Evengi Nabokov in goal. D-man Rob Blake retired but this club is still loaded with two very good lines that can light the lamp.

2. Vancouver Canucks – These guys are the “sexy” preseason Stanley Cup choice. I don’t see it but their division is weak so they cruise into the playoffs. Will the Sedins be able to match a stellar 2009-10? Roberto Luongo gave up the captaincy in an attempt to focus more on his job.

3. Detroit Red Wings – Do people have jobs anymore in Hockeytown so that they can buy tickets to watch the vaunted Red Wing machine take back their Central division title in 2010-11? If a tree falls in the woods and noone is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Basically the Ken Holland/Jim Nill machine will continue to pump out players from obscure places and field a top notch team. This could be Nicklas Lidstrom’s last season in the NHL.

4. Chicago Blackhawks – The Windy City got the Cup but then felt the brunt of the Cap. Salary cap issues forced GM Stan Bowman to unload eight players from the championship team but they still have Jonathan Toews (3rd best player in the league after Ovie and Sid the Kid), Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. Seabrook is a free agent after this season and will want more money so Bowman’s 2011 summer won’t go well either, unless he pulls a rabbit out of his hat and repeats as Cup champions. But can goalie Marty Turco help this club win another Cup?

5. Los Angeles Kings – Drew Doughty is a phenomenal defenseman and Los Angeles has plenty of young players that should mature in 2010-11. Can goalie Jonathan Quick build on a sensational year or will he be pushed out by the young Jonathan Bernier? Coach Terry Murray is a superb tactician and will have this team in the post season once again.

6. Calgary Flames – I am sure this pick elicited several laughs. A team that re-signed Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay and has serious center ice issues, especially with Daymond Langkow out injured, surely can’t be taken serious for a post season spot, can they? I say yes because GM Darryl Sutter will make some moves to save his job. Plus Jarome Iginla is due for a monster year, if he can find someone to get him the puck. I see Tanguay filling that role.

7. St. Louis Blues – Will Halak be the difference? Team President John Davidson and GM Doug Armstrong are counting on it. Gone are Keith Tkachuk (retirement) and Paul Kariya (post concussion syndrome). Will Patrick Berglund ever reach his potential or did the Blues ruin this kid by putting him in the NHL too early?

8. Phoenix Coyotes – I’ve gone back and forth on these guys. I think they could easily have a downturn and miss the playoffs after losing Michalek to the Pens. But I think Ilya Bryzgalov is the one guy who can prevent that. It will be interesting to see if 21 year old Kyle Turris can produce at the NHL level this year.

9. Nashville Predators – GM David Poile and Coach Barry Trotz can get it done with one of the smallest budgets in the league but this year I think the odds are too stacked against them to make the playoffs. They lost Dan Hamhuis and Jason Arnott and that will be too much to overcome.

10. Colorado Avalanche – Surprise team of 2009-10 thanks to goalie Craig Anderson but I think in 2010-11 they turn back in to a pumpkin.

11. Minnesota Wild – GM Chuck Fletcher added a bunch of grinding forwards in Eric Nystrom (Flames), Matt Cullen (Senators), and John Madden (Hawks). That will make for good defensive yet very boring hockey in the twin cities. Who is going to score the goals?

12. Anaheim Ducks – What? Scott Niedermayer finally retired?? Say it isn’t so! This team is rebuilding and has a great 1st line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan but after that, forget about it!

13. Dallas Stars – I am not a Marc Crawford fan. Every day he wakes up he should thank Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy for winning him his Stanley Cup. Mike Modano is now in Motown and they are relying on the ever-brittle Kari Lehtonen in net. Seems like a recipe for disaster, if you ask me. Is owner Tom Hicks going to sell the team?

14. Columbus Blue Jackets – Coach Scott Arniel has Rick Nash, and that is pretty much all. This franchise is also in trouble financially in Buckeye town.

15. Edmonton Oilers – Well, they named Shawn Horcoff team captain and they have Hall, the 1st overall pick in the 2010 draft on their club, but after that I quote Dr. Seuss to sum up the rest of their squad: Stink, Stank, Stunk!

Enjoy the hockey puckheads!!

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Backstrom Misses Caps Practice / Theodore To Be Game 1 Starter

Posted on 13 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The biggest news of the day at Kettler Iceplex was the absence of Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who finished fourth overall in scoring in the NHL in 2009-10 (33 goals, 68 assists). After today’s practice, the first of two in preparation for the Montreal Canadiens, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau told a large throng of media that #19 was “not feeling well…he is questionable..he is sick.” Clearly being without the super Swedish center, who sometimes I think really does have eyes in the back of his head, for game one would be a huge blow to Washington but Nicky is expected to be back on the ice for practice on Wednesday.

The other significant development was that Boudreau has named Jose Theodore his starting goaltender for the playoff opener and he made a point of saying that “there is no short leash” this post season because he has played at a high level since January (except for a two game blip in late March). Last year, the 2002 MVP struggled in his last ten games so the Washington coach was already prepared to make a switch if Jose struggled in game one against New York, which he did. Also, the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner revealed that he had told #60 last week about his decision but he delayed the public announcement to “keep everyone on their toes.” The plan to go with Theodore is not a surprise to many but some wonder if playing against his old team, especially in games three and four, will be a distraction to the goaltender. Boudreau didn’t think playing at the Bell Centre, especially when the Habs fans start chanting his name, will be much of an issue.

“I don’t think it will effect him, he should be excited to play there. He’s been a guy from the beginning that has said ‘last year is last year, if I have to prove myself, I’ve proved myself my whole life’ and he’s gonna prove himself again and he did it in the face of a lot of adversity this year. So I give him full credit for everything he’s done. I think he’ll do fine and he’ll be ready. We like the song, they can sign it all they want, they are always in unison and it’s really good,” said Boudreau on Theodore and the Montreal fans.

In any playoff series, special teams are likely to play a role in the outcome. The Capitals had the NHL’s number one power play in the regular season at 25.2% but the Habs were second overall at 21.8%. On the penalty kill, Washington was 25th in the league at 78.8% so staying out of the box will be important for the Caps. The Capitals successfully killed of 16 of the last 18 penalties of the regular season so they go in with a hot streak on the PK. The Canadiens have defenseman Andrei Markov on the blue line, who has a hammer of a shot, and Mike Cammalleri has proven to be dangerous in the right wing circle with the one timer, as well. Thus the Caps have their work cut out for themselves when they are shorthanded.

“They work together and they have a lot of good skill. Our penalty kill is going to have to be better. I think it is going to be important for us to stay out of the box, as well. We’ll go over the video over the next couple of days and make sure we have a good game plan going in,” started forward Boyd Gordon, who said he is feeling better and better each day after suffering from back issues during stretches of the regular season.

“They got a couple of guys that can bring it [from the point]. As a unit we have to do a better job of blocking shots, getting sticks in lanes, so it is important to keep them to the outside as much as possible and limit their chances,” finished #15 on what Washington needs to do to slow down the Montreal power play.

The Capitals are certainly a better team heading into this year’s post season than the previous two for several reasons. Clearly the biggest change is the experience factor as nearly every player on the roster has played in the Stanley Cup playoffs (rookie defenseman John Carlson has not but he has plenty of big game starts in his career to include the AHL Calder Cup Finals in 2009 with Hershey and the 2010 World Junior Gold Medal game with Team USA). Second, the major moves GM George McPhee made since last summer, the free agent signings of forwards Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison and the trades for Jason Chimera, Scott Walker, Eric Belanger, and Joe Corvo have added talent and depth. Finally, one of their most important players, Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green, is healthier and much more confident than he was at this time last season. #52 went into last year’s post season with an illness and then suffered a shoulder injury in the Rangers series. The Calgary native was roundly criticized for his subpar playoff performance and I personally believe some of that cost him a position on Team Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games that were held in Vancouver. Green’s play this season, especially down the stretch when he was dominant at both ends of the rink, bodes well for the Capitals going forward.

“Yeah, it’s night and I day. I feel like 150% compared to even 100%, that is a good feeling going into this time of the season. You know last year after the game against Pittsburgh, game seven, you wait for an opportunity like this again and it couldn’t come quick enough. So I’m excited,” started Green when asked how he was feeling healthwise.

“I can’t even describe it. Just the way I know I how I felt last year to where I am now. Confidence is everything. Right now we are playing well as a team and that builds confidence individually. So I just can’t wait for that first game,” added #52, who seems to be like a kid in the candy store heading into the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In this week’s Sporting News NHL Playoff Preview, Craig Custance had the following quote from Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings involving the tactical challenges involved in a playoff series:

“You know the other team’s tendencies and what they’re trying to do. It’s more of a battle when you know how they’re playing and they know how you are playing. Then it comes down to battling hard and competing really hard.”

The reason I bring that quote up is because on the first day of training camp last September Caps forward Brooks Laich told me the reason the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year was because they “stuck to their system in every game, no matter what the score.” I asked Laich about that statement again today and if he felt that the way Washington played in the regular season was a validation that they were indeed sticking to their system.

 “Yeah, but I still think we can do a better job. To win it we still have to do a better job and play a more structured game. We play the way we play, we are not gonna go into the playoffs trying to flip a switch and play a different way. We’ve been successful all year because of how we play, how we attack, we play downhill hockey. Some people might call it aggressive but we call it pressure hockey and I think it is very tough to play against. So Pittsburgh’s guns last year, their top guys were their top guys, and they played the way they could within the team structure. Our guys, I think, have done a fantastic job this year and we are a better team than we were last year. Hopefully we’ll prove that in the playoffs,” said #21, assessing the regular season and the way the Capitals play.

“I thought lately we’ve done a better job of limiting turnovers. What I am talking about is playing air tight without the puck. I’m talking about playing pressure defense in the neutral zone where we don’t give them gaps to skate with the puck. In the defensive zone, being on our checks, moving our legs and sealing guys into the boards. Everybody stops and starts, no circles. That’s what I’m talking about by playing pressure hockey. That puts teams back on their heels and once they turn the puck over we use our transition game and go the other way. That is where our speed and skill comes into play,” finished Laich on what he sees as the keys to winning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Notes: Alexander Ovechkin was on the ice for practice today but he headed to the dressing room earlier than most of his teammates prompting speculation by some that he is less than 100% healthy. The Great #8 did do a post practice interview with a very large contingent of media…The Edmonton Oilers won the 2010 NHL Draft lottery and will select first overall in Los Angeles in late June. The top two candidates, according to the NHL scout I spoke with recently, are Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires and Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers. With Seguin being a center and Hall being a left wing, I have hunch that Oilers GM Steve Tambellini will select Tyler over Taylor.

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Ravens – Redskins maybe closer than you think

Posted on 07 December 2008 by caseywillett

Here are a couple of things the Ravens need to do tonight :

1. Run, Run, Run : The Redskins come in as a top 10 defense against the run, but the Ravens have three good running backs they can attack them with tonight. Whether you just need one of them to have a big game, or all three, stay in attack mode with the running game. The running game will wear down the Redskins defense, it may not be pretty, but will probably lead to success.

2. Make Jason Campbell one dimensional– I do not think Campbell is as good as a quarterback as people make him out to be sometimes. Tonight if he is going to help his team win, it will be with his arm. I do not think that Clinton Portis will be a factor in tonight’s game, this making Jason have to beat you throwing the football. He has a decent receiving corp, but I do not think he will have time to scan the field and pick apart the Ravens. He has only thrown 4 interceptions this year, but I think the Ravens get him for a couple tonight.

3. Stay away from the secondary– The Redskins have a very talented secondary and have done a nice job with the addition of DeAngelo Hall. The Redskins secondary has a bunch of guys that they can throw at you with Hall, Landry, Smoot, Rogers, Horton, Springs, and a couple other guys. The Ravens offense may just have to settle for intermediate passes, which might mean a lot of Heap and the backs catching the ball out of the backfield.

I do think this game will be closer than most people have this week. I am predicting a 17-13 Ravens win tonight. I just think Redskins will keep it close, I think the weather will be a factor, but the Ravens are just a better team right now.

I will admit that I thought the Eagles were going to beat the Ravens a couple of weeks ago, and I was obviously wrong about that.

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