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Shorthanded Caps Lose in Shootout

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Shorthanded Caps Lose in Shootout

Posted on 13 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

On the last two Saturday night’s the Washington Capitals have raced out to 2-0 first period leads and on both occassions, they’ve ended up losing the game. This time, at least they weren’t defeated until the gimmick, losing to the New Jersey Devils, 3-2, when David Clarkson beat Michal Neuvirth (17 saves) in the fourth round. Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera tallied for the Caps in the first period but then the Devils got goals from Petr Sykora and Ryan Carter in the middle frame. After a scoreless third period and overtime the teams went to the shootout where Alexander Ovechkin and Zach Parise tallied before Clarkson’s game winner. The defeat drops the Caps to 10-4-1 (21 points).

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a contest that was not easy to watch:

- The shots on goal total in this one was 19-17 in favor of New Jersey. A combination of things conspired to make this a non-aesthetically pleasing tilt. First, the bad Verizon Center ice which was rough due to a concert on Friday night then a Georgetown basketball game on Saturday afternoon. Second, both teams played each other the night before in Newark and with the Capitals shortening their bench on Friday due to Mike Green’s injury and Alexander Semin and Cody Eakin’s benching they were tired. What added to the fatigue was the fact that Green couldn’t play and d-man John Erskine’s shoulder acted up, forcing him out as well. With Jeff Schultz back in on defense, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau chose to move Brooks Laich to defense to get six warm bodies on the blue line. That put Mathieu Perreault back in the lineup up front. But #85 had no jump and actually lost a key faceoff that put the Devils back in the game. As a result, he along with a fading Cody Eakin, didn’t skate in period three either (both had just over five minutes of ice time in this game). In addition, defensemen Roman Hamrlik left in period two with an undisclosed injury and did not return. Third, the Devils are very good at blocking shots but Washington was just out of sync for most of this game. Finally, throw in some poor officiating (Brian Pochmara, Mike Hasenfratz) and you had a recipe for bad hockey.

“I was starting to get a little tuckered at the end, but I think that when stuff like that happens when there’s injuries you just have to try to not push it too much, try not to get out of position, try not to get caught and conserve where you can. That’s a team that, no matter what, keeps on coming. Even if we got that third one, they would still be coming. They never give up,” said Caps d-man Dennis Wideman on the role of fatigue in the Caps defeat.

- The Caps came out fast in this one getting nine shots in the first 16 minutes (h/t @TedStarkey). They were skating well and going to the net early on. Chimera’s tally went in off of his shin pad on a John Carlson point blast while Brouwer stole the puck from Adam Henrique and scored on a breakaway. After that it seemed like Washington’s skates were being sponsored by a cinder block company because they looked really slow and for nearly 21 minutes between periods two and three they didn’t even have a shot on net! Late in regulation they started getting it together but old Caps nemesis Johan Hedberg (15 saves) robbed Brouwer and Jeff Halpern in the third period and then stoned an all alone Wideman from 20 feet out in overtime. The “Moose” was a big reason the Devils left town with the two points.

“It’s a double-edged sword.  Will you take a point? Yes. When you have a 2-0 lead, will you take a point? No. The goals that they scored were mistakes on our part. If we wouldn’t make those mistakes, it probably would have been a 2-0 game,” said Boudreau on Saturday’s result.

- Both the Caps and the Devils went 0 for 5 on the power play, although Chimera’s goal came right as Anton Volchenkov’s penalty was expiring. New Jersey’s power play looked better getting six shots on goal to Washington’s four. The Caps struggled to get set up with the man advantage and with Laich on the right point instead of Green, things just aren’t the same. Hopefully #52, who is listed as day to day, is back on Tuesday for the game in Nashville. If he can’t go and either (or both) Hamrlik and Erskine are out, Washington could recall 2009 2nd round draft pick Dmity Orlov from Hershey. The young puck rushing blue liner would certainly help the offense and the power play, but he is clearly still learning how to play defense in the North American game. The other left handed defense option from Hershey would be Patrick McNeill.

- Semin, in my opinion, didn’t respond too well to his benching on Friday night. #28 had one shot on net and no hits. He took another minor penalty and continued to not move his feet and shy away from contact. In the gimmick, he fumbled the biscuit and didn’t even get a shot off. I’ve seen enough in his time with Washington to see that things just aren’t going to change and General Manager George McPhee might be wise to just move him now since he is an unrestricted free agent after the season. Bottom line is I can’t see the Caps winning a Stanley Cup with the inconsistent winger on their roster. Boudreau wasn’t publicly harsh on him afterwards, but if he was unhappy with him, I doubt he’d say anything to diminish any trade value Semin might have.

“I thought he tried really hard. I mean, he got a penalty early, he went for the puck. That wasn’t a lazy penalty… I thought his effort overall, he tried really hard and he was engaged in the game,” said Boudreau on Semin’s performance in the loss.

- Neuvirth made some very good saves in this contest and can’t be faulted on either tally. He was very sound in his positioning, which helped him rob Sykora up high in tight in period one. He got beat by some nice moves in the shootout but overall was one of the better Capitals in this game.

- Ovechkin had a mixed bag of a night. He was skating hard and was a physical force on the ice (11 hits). However, he was terrible with the puck trying too many curl and drag moves instead of just firing the biscuit on net or getting it deep. Volchenkov did a nice job on the Gr8 in this tilt.

“I have opportunities to shoot the puck and score, but sometimes I make it too quick and make not good decisions. My job is to score goals, not to make hits. The second period I had probably three chances to score but I didn’t do the right thing,” said Oveckhin when asked to assess his play.

- So the Capitals get a point but they should’ve put this game away early in the second period. Now they head to the road for three games starting in Music City at 8pm on Tuesday against the Predators. Nashville is a gritty, grind out it out club that has super goaltending (Pekka Rinne). Coach Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the NHL so the Caps will have to play a lot better than they did this week if they want to get two points.

Notes: I wouldn’t be surprised if Eakin is sent back to Hershey, he looks overmatched right now and playing five minutes a game is not helping his development. I’d like to see Chris Bourque brought up if a forward is needed…Wideman logged 33:52 of ice time to lead all players. Carlson played 26:50 and Karl Alzner 23:34. Laich played over 23 minutes, including time at forward on the penalty kill. Hamrlik played 9:44 before leaving due to an injury that Boudreau said was caused by a New Jersey cross check (h/t Katie Carrera of The Washington Post)…Mike Knuble only played 12:04 and seems to be in the Boudreau dog house too…the Caps won the faceoff battle 35-33.

 

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Ovechkin, Vokoun Lead Caps over Devils

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Ovechkin, Vokoun Lead Caps over Devils

Posted on 11 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored the game tying goal in the middle frame, then in the third period Jason Chimera beat Martin Brodeur on a shorthanded break with a beautiful move to lead the Washington Capitals to a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at “The Rock” on Friday night. Marcus Johansson added an insurance tally by putting home a Karl Alzner point blast with just over nine minutes left in regulation. Rookie Adam Larsson scored the Devils only goal in the first period on Tomas Vokoun (32 saves), who was extremely solid in the victory. The Caps are now 10-4 and face the Devils at the Verizon Center in Saturday’s rematch.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a grind it out Capitals victory:

- Ovechkin was a force over the last 30 minutes of this game and it wasn’t because of end to end rushes and pretty passing plays. Nope, the Gr8 played what Canadian icon Don Cherry would call “North American” hockey. Alexander the Great went to the net to score his goal by being parked at the right post and putting in Dennis Wideman’s blast that initially hit Ovechkin in the stomach. After that Ovie was ultra solid defensively getting a ton of even strength ice time when Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau went to just three lines in the third period (Alex Semin and Cody Eakin were benched, but more on that later). Ovechkin was constantly moving his feet and hitting Devils all over the ice, including one on Larsson that will have Saturday’s birthday boy likely waking up in some pain. On two consecutive shifts in the third period with the lead, the Gr8 skated to center ice and dumped the puck in the offensive zone and then changed, something that tells you he is buying into what Boudreau wants his club to do with a third period lead. In addition, in the last minute he went down to block a point shot despite the two goal lead (not to mention this is a November regular season game). He also grabbed Devils tough guy David Clarkson in scrums on two separate occassions. It was a vintage captain-type performance by Ovechkin and he should be proud of how he played in this one after a poor game on Tuesday.

- Vokoun was really strong after a shaky last start on Long Island. The Devils came out flying but #29 didn’t allow them to get a two goal bulge with solid positioning and good rebound control. As the game went on his teammates got better but he still had to make a few tough saves.

- Boudreau has been preaching accountability, and so have the players, so when things weren’t going well for a couple of his forwards, he stopped playing them. Those two tonight were Semin and Eakin. #28 took a penalty in the first period that was a garbage call (which in my opinion was based totally on reputation), but instead of being mentally tough and coming back strong after that, the Russian enigma moped. He didn’t win one on one battles and didn’t even get a shot on net so the Caps bench boss lassoed him to the pine. Eakin just looked weaker compared to the hard working Devils. Part of that is that he is still young and physically maturing but he also wasn’t moving his feet and using his speed.

“I thought a couple guys weren’t going so I shortened the bench a bit,” said Boudreau in his post game presser.

- One of the big stories coming into this game was the return of Mike Green, but #52 took a cheap hit to the groin and left leg from Ryan Carter along the right wing boards late in period one. Green went down grabbing his groin area, finished the shift, and then went down the tunnel after going to the bench. He returned for one power play shift early in period two and according to Steve Whyno of The Washington Times has a “different soreness” than the right ankle injury that kept him out of the previous six games. He is day to day.

- New Jersey was perfect at home on the penalty kill before this game and they did that again tonight against a very good Washington power play (3rd in NHL). The Devils prevented the Caps from getting set up in four man advantage situations and they only got five shots in those eight minutes of power play time. The Capitals passed the puck too much, especially on their first power play. Semin was set up for a perfect quick shot in the slot on a moving Brodeur (17 saves) but instead chose to wind up, wait, and then pass the puck. #28 needed to shoot there and he likely would’ve scored (and probably would’ve played a lot more too). The Caps need to get back to a simpler power play where they move the puck to the point, blast away, and go for rebounds.

- On the positive side of the special teams ledger was the Caps PK unit. Washington went five for five and also scored when Chimera gathered the puck in the neutral zone, went around Larsson like he was an orange road cone, and then faked Brodeur to the ice similar to a move he put on #30 last season at the Verizon Center. Alzner and the rest of the defense did a great job of allowing Vokoun to see the shots and then they made sure no Devils forwards were able to get in position for any rebounds.

- In closing, after the initial Devils push in period one and part of period two, the Caps seemed to be the stronger team despite the final shots imbalance (33-20). The Capitals three lines were skating well but more importantly, the five remaining defensemen, Wideman, Alzner, John Carlson, Roman Hamrlik, and John Erskine were excellent in their own end. Washington has the type of personnel that can wear a club out over 60 minutes and I believe that is what happened in this game. It is a recipe they used against the Ducks last week and one that works when your goaltender is playing well, like Vokoun was tonight.

Notes: Semin only played 8:25 and Eakin 7:07. Officially Green logged 7:44 of ice time, but they credited him with two shifts in the 2nd period when he only played one…Wideman led all Caps players with a beastly 27:11 of ice time. Carlson and Alzner played 23:32 and 22:14, respectively, while Erkine and Hamrlik both received just over 17 minutes of ice time. #44′s ice time of 17:31 was his lowest total of the season and only the 4th time in 14 games he’s been under 20 minutes. Given the way he’s played lately, the reduction makes sense…Jeff Schultz was the healthy defensive scratch and Mathieu Perreault the lone healthy forward…Washington lost the face-off battle 24-22 but Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) went 12-8 and had the key draw win on the Ovechkin goal…the NHL Off Ice officials who work Devils games only credited Ovechkin with two hits so I am not sure exactly what sporting event they were watching tonight.

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Caps Look to Return to Form Against Devils

Posted on 10 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Coming off of their worst performance of the season, the Washington Capitals head into back to back contests with the New Jersey Devils this weekend looking to regain the effort and results that saw them race out to a 7-0 record to begin the 2011-12 campaign. Since that red hot start the team has gone 2-4. Game one is at “The Rock” on Friday night with Saturday’s tilt at the Verizon Center. The Devils are 7-5-1 overall and have won three games in a row.

The Caps are currently second in the NHL in goals per game averaging 3.77 (behind the Flyers) while the Devils are 23rd in the leauge at 2.31 goals per game. Washington’s problems have mostly come on the back end and they are allowing 2.92 goals per game (22nd in the NHL) while New Jersey is only yielding 2.69 (15th in the NHL).

New Jersey’s scoring leaders are the familiar Patrick Elias (13 points in 13 games), Ilya Kovachuk (9 points in 11 games) and Zach Parise (8 points in 13 games). Parise is back after suffering an early season knee injury last fall that wiped out the majority of his 2010-11 season. [FRIDAY UPDATE: Kovalchuk is out for the weekend with a lower body injury.]  On defense, new coach Peter DeBoer is relying heavily on Swedish rookie Adam Larsson, the 4th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. The young man, who will turn 19 on Saturday, is leading the Devils defense in ice time logging 23:37 a night. New Jersey also has veterans Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov plus underrated Andy Greene on the blue line. In goal, 39 year old Martin Brodeur has won his last two starts after battling an upper body injury for most of the early part of the season. The other net minder is 38 year old journeyman Johan Hedberg, who is 5-3-1 this season.

After Tuesday’s clunker against the Stars, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau put his club through a grueling work out on Wednesday, which in hockey is affectionately known as the “bag skate.” Simply put, the Washington bench boss was disgusted with the lack of effort from his crew in their previous game and made them pay for it the next day. The energy was not there at all from the Capitals against a good Dallas team and they were beaten soundly. In addition to the lack of intensity, the Caps continued a recent pattern of poor d-zone coverage and displayed an inability to move the puck successfully out of their own end on numerous occassions. As chronicled here in this blog, the Mike Green ankle injury is a big one. #52 is Washington’s best defensemen and he has been called, for good reason, the “One Man Breakout.” There is a solid chance that “Game Over Greenie” will return on Friday, he participated in practice on both Wednesday and Thursday. His place in the lineup hopefully will help a struggling Roman Hamrlik, who has been on the ice for more goals against than any other Capitals defenseman.

In order for the Capitals to win, whether Green is in the lineup or not, they need to get back to the type of hockey that works best for their personnel. That recipe for success is a commitment to getting the puck deep in their opponents end, then using their physical size in the cycle game down low to wear out the opposition. Boudreau has four good lines but on Tuesday the Caps forwards acted like the Stars defensemen had a case of the plague and failed to take the body like they need to do to generate chances. Alexander Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer are at their best with Nicklas Backstrom (19 points in 13 games) when they are playing physical. That top line, if paired together, needs to get back to that type of effort. Alexander Semin has been downright horrible in his last eight games and he must get more involved. He has played the “easy game” over that stretch, failing to go into traffic and take a hit or outwork defenders with his size and skill on the wall. You’ll know pretty quickly if the Caps are focused because you will see the puck going north-south instead of those lazy cross ice passes at the opponents blue line that often leads to big trouble.

For the Caps, I imagine the goaltending duties will be split this weekend. Michal Neuvirth was okay on Tuesday while Tomas Vokoun had a nightmare last start in Long Island on Saturday, allowing three softies.

Washington’s power play is ranked third in the league clicking at 25% while the penalty killing is 20th at 78.7%. Given the depth and size of the Washington squad, there is no doubt that they are at their best in five on five situations so it is imperative that the Caps move their feet and not take the lazy stick infractions that have been a problem over the last six contests.

 

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Stars Outwork and Embarrass Caps, 5-2

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Stars Outwork and Embarrass Caps, 5-2

Posted on 08 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals six game home unbeaten streak came to a crashing halt on Tuesday night as the Dallas Stars came in to the Verizon Center and whipped the Caps, 5-2. The Stars got two early tallies from former Boston Bruins forward Michael Ryder and then Adam Burish, Jamie Benn, and Eric Nystrom scored in the third period. Michal Neuvirth (31 saves) took the loss in this one but he could pretty much sue for non support after this mess of a game. The Caps fall to 9-4 overall while the Stars are off to a great start at 11-3.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from what was easily Washington’s worst performance of the season:

- If Dr. Seuss were penning this blog this evening, he would only need to post three words: Stink. Stank. Stunk.

- Simply put, the Capitals were downright awful in this game. Their effort was lacking and it showed as they repeatedly were beaten to pucks, lost one on one battles, and were woefully out of position. Matt Hendricks was one of the few positives in this game as he worked hard all night, but when your best player is a guy who only had 12:19 of ice time and is a 4th liner, you know the rest of the guys were terrible.

- The problems for Washington start on the back end. The Caps are having trouble getting the puck out of their end with Mike Green out of the lineup. In addition, Roman Hamrlik has been struggling mightily and he was on for three of the five goals against. #44 looks slow and confused right now. On the game winner that came directly off of a faceoff just 24 seconds into period three, both he and John Carlson were two feet from each other in the corner leaving Nicklas Backstrom all alone in front. Carlson has been a victim of bad positioning too often this season. In addition, Jeff Schultz had a rough first period and his giveaway led to the first Dallas goal. Hamrlik and Schultz are not good skaters, and that is being kind, and teams are taking advantage of that right now. If Green can go this weekend against the Devils, that does change the dynamic since he will log 22 minutes or so, diminishing the amount of time some of the weaker d-men are on the ice.

- John Erskine was solid paired with Dennis Wideman in his third game back from shoulder surgery but he could be fined and/or suspended for an elbow he threw in the middle frame. If that happens and Green is not ready, then Dmitry Orlov could make his NHL debut on Friday night. At this point, I wouldn’t mind seeing the 2009 2nd round draft pick get a look because he can skate and move the puck and that is the area where Washington has struggled mightily since Green was injured.

- Despite all of the problems on the back end, the forwards were horrible too. There weren’t many hits and once again Alexander Semin took two careless stick penalties. The second one gave Dallas a power play and they scored to pretty much end this one at 4-2. #28 did have a nice goal off of a super feed from Backstrom, but overall he is flat out playing lazy. How much longer can the coaches and GM put up with these type of performances from him? In addition, the team captain was a non factor against a team he should dominate. Dallas is not a physical club but Alexander Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer need to have more than three hits each. Clearly, there was a lack of effort displayed in this tilt by Washington and Mike Knuble hinted at that after the second period in his interview with Craig Laughlin on Comcast.

“We came out with a little bit of a lack of intensity in the first period,” said #22, who after the game took those comments even further with some harsh words for his squad, “We look great when we’re all committed. We all look like a bunch of clowns when we don’t. Of late I don’t know if we’re all committed. It’s sad to say and we all look bad because of the result.” (h/t Brian McNally of the Washington Examiner).

- Knuble hit the nail on the head and things need to change because there is too much talent on this team to play this poorly. The Caps played about seven minutes of good, hard hockey late in period two to tie the game up, but you can’t win taking the rest of the contest off. I imagine Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will have a hard practice tomorrow to send a message because his team needs that right now, especially given his post game quotes below:

“We were fortunate to be tied at the end of the first two periods. We talked about playing one good period [third period]. In the first 15 or 20 seconds [in the third period] they scored a goal. We’ve lost a lot of battles in the third periods [in] the last two games. The compete level wasn’t as great as we’d like it to be. We have to get stronger in that area. We have to start winning those battles. The one-on-one compete is something that you should be taking a lot of pride in. When you look at when we were winning, we were winning [those] battles. When you don’t win the one-on-one battles, you’re not going to succeed. It’s an individual type [effort], as far as wanting to win those one-on-one battles. You could see, we lost a battle on the first, second and third goal [tonight]. They outbattled us for pucks.”

Notes: The Caps play a home and home series with the Devils that starts at “The Rock” on Friday night…Keri Lehtonen (30 saves) didn’t have to work to hard for the win for Dallas…surprisingly, the Caps won the faceoff battle 41-26, but winning the draw didn’t translate into good results. On the GWG they won the faceoff but four seconds later the puck was in their own net…Neuvirth wasn’t really bad but he did get too aggressive at times and that cost him on some goals, especially Ryder’s second tally.

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Balanced Caps Dominate Canes, 5-1

Posted on 04 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals scored two quick goals to start the second period to grab a 2-1 lead and then they blew the game wide open in the final frame scoring three times en route to a 5-1 dominating victory over the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh. The Caps, who were 5-0-1 against the Canes last season, got goals from Jeff Halpern, Troy Brouwer, John Carlson, Cody Eakin (his 1st NHL tally), and Nicklas Backstrom while Anthony Stewart had the only marker for Carolina in the game’s first four minutes. Washington is now 9-2 overall in 2011-12 and they are 7-0-1 in their last eight games against the Canes, outscoring them 24-13 in the process.

Here are the highlights and analysis from Washington’s fourth straight win at the RBC Center:

- Typically the Caps and Hurricanes are known for playing close contests but in this game Washington used its’ depth to wear down Carolina and by just past the midpoint of the third period this one was all but over. 13 different Capitals players finished this game at +1 or better and even though the third line of Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, and Jason Chimera were all -1 on the night, they played a role in a final 20 minutes that saw the hosts get only five shots on net and not even a quality chance in that stanza until just a few minutes remained (h/t @ngreenberg). Washington’s defense was outstanding, especially Carlson, who arguably played his best game of the season, and that wasn’t because he scored the marker that ignited the three goal explosion in the final period. #74, who seems to have found some chemistry with Roman Hamrlik since they were paired together starting midway through Tuesday’s game against Anaheim, was as sound positionally as I’ve seen him be all season. His stick clogged the passing lanes, he didn’t chase the puck, and he used his size to keep the Canes offensive players away from Michal Neuvirth (24 saves).

- Eakin, who made his NHL debut on Tuesday, made a nice play in the neutral zone on Brouwer’s goal, which gave the Caps a lead they would not relinquish. Eakin allowed Marcus Johansson to get the puck just past the red line and MJ90 skated in across the blue line and saucered a beautiful pass to #20, who one timed it home. It was Eakin’s first NHL point and then in the third he scored his first NHL goal on a two on one break with Alexander Semin. #28 made the play with some super defensive stickwork and then he fed Eakin with the puck in the slot in the Canes zone. Semin then went to the net and that froze Cam Ward (27 saves) giving #50 room to beat him short side. The former Western Hockey League star, who was recalled from Hershey earlier this week, was +2 with two points in 8:45 of ice time.

- Backstrom, who is off to a super start with 16 points in 11 games, made a beast of a play on Carlson’s power play tally as he shouldered the Carolina defender mightily off of the puck and then slid a beauty of a feed to #74. #19 looks so much different and stronger this season, primarily because he didn’t have a shoulder injury that hampered his offseason workouts this past summer like it did in 2010.

- Neuvirth was good in this tilt, especially in the second period when the Canes had three straight power plays. He was also lucky that the game wasn’t tied at two because an early whistle wiped out what should have been a Carolina power play goal (h/t John Walton, who brought me the game via radio in the middle frame). #30′s positioning was solid and he was only beaten on Stewart’s tipped shot off of a faceoff. The defensive draw occurred because Karl Alzner made a bad backhand pass up the boards that led to a Canes quality scoring chance. Then Laich lost the faceoff and Jeff Schultz failed to tie up Stewart in the slot and he tipped home Jay Harrison’s point blast. But that was about the only really bad stretch for the Caps in this one.

- Ward, when he is on, can easily shut down a team. Other nights it just takes one goal to open the flood gates on him and Halpern’s greasy goal, which was helped by Matt Hendricks working hard in the crease area and Mike Knuble digging the puck out off of the back boards, was just what the Caps needed to get going. That tally came right after a dominating Washington first power play that spanned the end of the first period and the commencement of the second. Both Alex Ovechkin (two assists) and Semin had great chances on that man advantage. Overall the Caps went 1 for 3 on the power play while Carolina was held to 0 for 4. On Carlson’s power play tally, it was the Gr8 who provided the screen in front of Ward.

- In summary, this was a game where it was ultra clear the advantage Washington has talent and depth wise. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, who scratched Mathieu Perreault tonight, did a super job with his in game adjustments and also once again stuck to his guns by evening out the ice time. That strategy has really shown its effects on the opponents in the final period in the last two tilts. It also works better when the game is played most of the time at five on five. The Caps did have that bad stretch of penalties in the second period, but other than that they were disciplined, another key for victory. This club has speed and size, which is a deadly duo that will wear a team out if the players buy into what the coaches are selling and repeatedly get pucks deep in their opponents zone. Washington executed the game plan on Friday night and turned this one into an easy win.

Notes: The Caps are in Long Island on Saturday night against the Islanders at 7pm on Comcast…if you ever can’t catch a period or a part of the game on television, which I had to do tonight for the middle frame, you absolutely have to tune in on radio to Walton, who definitely makes you feel like you are in the arena…Semin (1 assist) had his best game out of the last six and he continues to own the Canes during his career…the teams each won 29 of the 58 draws. Backstrom was the best for the Caps at 9-5…Brouwer took an awkward hit at the end of Tuesday’s game and appeared to have an upper body injury but he showed no ill effects tonight in a strong performance…John Erskine was excellent in his second game back from offseason shoulder surgery…Mike Green missed his fourth straight game and is doubtful for Saturday.

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Backstrom, 3rd Line Rally Caps Past Ducks in OT

Posted on 02 November 2011 by WNST Staff

On Sunday night I blogged about the Washington Capitals trying to find some consistency after an uneven opening nine game stretch that still saw them win seven of those contests. Tonight, against the Anaheim Ducks, the Caps continued their “Clint Eastwood” version of hockey as they were both bad and ugly in the game’s first 30+ minutes to fall behind 3-0, before the good came in waves en route to a 5-4 overtime victory. Nicklas Backstrom tied the game with Tomas Vokoun (11 saves) on the bench with 42 seconds left, then he won it 2:18 into overtime on a great pass from Jeff Schultz. Washington got a superb performance from their third line of Joel Ward, Brooks Laich, and Jason Chimera while the Ducks rode the Saku Koivu, Teemu Selanne, and Andrew Cogliano unit for the first part of the game. The win improves the Capitals to 8-2 heading into Friday night’s tilt in Carolina against the Hurricanes.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of the Caps sixth home win in six tries this season (1st time in Capitals franchise history):

- How good were Saku Koivu (1 goal, 1 assist, +3) and Teemu Selanne (2 goals, 2 assists, +3) in the game’s first 30 minutes?! Those two seemingly ageless hockey players made the Caps defense, particularly Roman Hamrlik (-3 and on for all four Ducks tallies), look silly. I’ve seen several Anaheim games this year and it looks like the 41 year old #8 could play another five years the way he moves on the ice. What a great player! Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau felt that the Ducks were flying early but he was also smart to keep rolling all four of his lines and that paid off over the second half of this contest as Washington wore down Anaheim.

“It’s really difficult to keep up the pace they had in the first 30 minutes. It was like, ‘Whoa, are they fast?!’ We just stayed close enough. I thought when they got the fourth goal it might be something. It says a lot for the resiliency of the team. The third goal that we got (by Troy Brouwer), which might have been a bit on the lucky side, it sort of bouyed the guys up again and reinvigorated them. After that they thought they were going to tie it, they believed they were going to tie it,” said Boudreau on his club, who out shot Anaheim 40-15 in the game, including 31-9 over the last 42:18.

- The third line of Laich-Ward-Chimera continues to be Washington’s best through the first 10 games. That lunchpail crew is big, skates well, and are tireless workers. They were a combined +9 and had 7 points among them. Credit Boudreau for deciding to put that unit out with Backstrom with the goalie pulled late instead of using Alex Ovechkin(1 assist) or Alex Semin. Both the Gr8 and #28 were not getting it done, particularly Ovie, who just seemed to fight the puck all night. When he carried the puck, he should’ve been passing or dumping it, and vice versa, but over the course of 82 games those things will happen. The good thing though was that when his number was called in OT, he went to the front of the Ducks net and distracted Jonas Hiller (35 saves), allowing Backstrom to pot the winner. Some people will look to villify Alexander the Great for being sat on the bench late in regulation but when his coach put him on the ice in OT, he did what he could to help his team win the game. That’s leadership in my book.

- Those who’ve followed this blog know that I have been praising Backstrom’s play in the early going particularly pointing out his improved strength and conditioning. #19 seems to have his upper body strength back after a bad shoulder injury that he suffered against the Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs. He also is a step quicker then he was last season. The result is four goals and 10 assists in 10 games.

“I thought Nicky was going to do something. I didn’t know about the overtime thing though,” added Boudreau on his player decisions late in regulation.

- The Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan line is arguably the best in the NHL but tonight they were a combined -6. Perry drew a penalty on Vokoun and then scored on the ensuing power play to make it 4-2, but overall he was neutralized well by Washington. Size doesn’t seem to hurt the Capitals defense but they have been having some issues with speed lately, especially with Mike Green out of the lineup. The good news is #52 practiced on Tuesday and will likely do so again on Wednesday. So there is a strong possibility he will be back on the ice on Friday in Raleigh.

- John Erskine returned from shoulder surgery allowing the Caps to ship d-man Sean Collins back to Hershey. For his first game this season #4 was outstanding with an assist and a +1 rating. In addition, Cody Eakin received his first NHL start and he skated well also nearly scoring on a couple of occassions. He did weaken late but for his debut in “The Show” he more than passed the test.

“With John I was really, really pleasantly surprised. He looked like he didn’t miss a beat. He’s probably pretty tired right now, but I thought he played a great game. Considering he’s been off for so long and hasn’t even had a meaningful scrimmage yet,” said Boudreau on the left handed defenseman.

“He handled himself quite admirably…You can see he can skate with these guys…I thought he was going to score on his first shift,” started Boudreau on Eakin, who also pointed out that #50 did get nervous in the third period and had a bad giveaway.

- In summary, tonight’s game once again proved that this Capitals squad is not a one line team. They are very talented up front and when playing five on five hockey are very hard to beat. They are big and can wear opposing teams down when they stick to the coaches game plan of getting pucks deep and working the cycle. The special teams were off in this one as the Ducks scored on their only power play while the Caps went 0 for 3 with the man advantage. A big part of the issue on special teams is the absence of Green, but other guys need to pick up the slack. At the end of the night Boudreau, who sometimes does not get the credit he deserves, pushed all of the right buttons in this thrilling comeback victory. He stuck to his game plan, changed up his d-pairs when Hamrlik and Wideman were struggling together, and he went with the right four forwards when the chips were down late. Those moves played a role in the win and should not be overlooked at all.

Notes: Karl Alzner unsuspectingly went +3 on the night in 18:02 of ice time. #27 is so smooth sometimes you don’t even notice him…Wideman (1 goal, 1 assist, +1) played well after struggling early when paired with Hamrlik…Anahiem won 30 of the 56 draws with Marcus Johansson the best Capital at 10-7. Backstrom only won 6 of 18 face-offs…Brouwer got hit awkwardly into the right wing boards late in regulation and did not return. It could be a right shoulder injury so stay tuned.

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Caps Looking for Consistency After 9 Games

Posted on 30 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After nine games into the season, the Washington Capitals sit at 7-2 and in a familiar spot, atop the Southeast Division. On the good side the Caps are leading the NHL in scoring with 3.78 goals per game and their overall net difference in goals for minus goals against is a league leading +12. However, a team that finished in the top four in the NHL in goals against last season, after Saturday night’s 7-4 defeat in Vancouver, has fallen into a tie for 15th in goals allowed per game at 2.56. In the 27 plus periods the Capitals have played they have been really good at times, bad at others, and downright ugly in limited spurts. Basically they’ve played what I will call Clint Eastwood hockey:  The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Overall, one has to be pretty happy with this team. The off-season additions GM George McPhee made bringing in Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, and Jeff Halpern has given Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau four really good lines that at five on five have been quite dominant. On defense, free agent Roman Hamrlik has played very well with Mike Green when they’ve been paired together. In net, the steal of the summer, getting Tomas Vokoun for $1.5M, has been the biggest difference maker and despite a shaky first period last night, he is still 6-1 with a .932 save percentage.

Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are off to decent starts and the Gr8 has five goals and four assists while #19 has two goals and 10 assists. In addition, the Capitals power play is clicking at 25.7%, third in the NHL, and this is with top rearguard Mike Green missing the last two games, which no surprise have been losses (more on that in a minute). The addition of Hamrlik, not to mention that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was finally able to put both Green and Dennis Wideman in the lineup for the first time since #6 was acquired at last February’s trade deadline, has allowed Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason to move Ovechkin off of the point on the power play, for the most part. Alexander the Great already has two power play goals, both coming in the slot, and his presence down low has opened up lanes for other Capitals to score goals in man advantage situations. This is definitely a big development that could bode well for the remainder of the regular season and in the playoffs.

14 different Capitals players have scored a goal and a big reason for that is the depth of this team combined with a handful of forwards who have no problem going to the crease area to create traffic in front of opposing goaltenders. Brouwer, Ward, Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble, Matt Hendricks, and even Mathieu Perreault have paid the price to get Washington the type of goals that help a team advance in the post season.

The good has clearly definitely outweighed the bad and the ugly combined, but if you asked anyone around the team, they would likely tell you that there are plenty of areas where this team can improve. Consistency is the word you’d hear most from the coaches and players as to what is needed, especially with a tough three game stretch this upcoming week (Anaheim at home on Tuesday then road games in Carolina and on Long Island on Friday and Saturday, respectively). Throughout the course of the opening nine games this team has tilted the ice on their opponents on several occassions, but when they’ve struggled it has mostly been due to penalty trouble and mental mistakes. Here are some of the things the team might be concerned about and looking to correct:

  • In the current two game slide the Capitals have allowed four power play goals in 13 opponent attempts and the Canucks game winner came just seconds after Ovechkin’s interference minor expired. First off, the team is taking way too many penalties. Yes, some of those likely were incorrect calls, but in Edmonton the Caps didn’t adjust their game when the zebras repeatedly called stick infractions. Without Green, the Washington defense is far LESS mobile. The absence of the “One Man Breakout” leads to more turnovers plus it puts slower players like Jeff Schultz and AHL call up Sean Collins on the ice more often. Green also had some nice chemistry going with Hamrlik and #44′s play has regressed with #52 out. The two time Norris Trophy finalist, who also does a decent job killing penalties, is hoping to return next weekend from an ankle injury.
  • As Alan May (@MayHockeyCSN) has diagrammed on Comcast a few times this year, the Capitals have been vulnerable to being beaten on the back side of their defensive zone coverage. On Saturday in Vancouver, the second Canucks goal illustrated that perfectly as John Carlson found himself totally out of position on the PK. #74, with his d-partner Karl Alzner battling along the boards, was all the way over at the faceoff dot instead of being closer to the front of the net. That gave Chris Higgins the ability to receive the puck below the goal line, skate out in front of Vokoun, then gather his own rebound for an easy marker. The Caps last year were a better shorthanded team because they went to shorter shifts and became more aggressive, but they also played smart. Too many times this season, and even in pre-season, defenseman have been leaving their goalie “hung out to dry” with poor positioning.
  • Alexander Semin was arguably the Caps top forward in the first five games of the season but in the last four games he has one point (an assist), is -3, and has taken a penalty in each contest. #28 needs someone to get him the puck so that he can unleash his great shot but he also can blame himself for his poor play over the last 10 days or so. Semin has shied away from contact and his compete level has dropped off as evidenced by a total of five shots on goal in those last four tilts. The Caps need balanced scoring and they will not be a consistent team without #28 contributing. The loss of Green also hurts Semin’s production because he is a rearguard that opens up room for offensive players. It will be interesting to see if Bodureau changes things up and puts Semin with a new center this week, perhaps Perreault (5 points in 7 games and +6)  instead of Marcus Johansson? That isn’t to say that MJ90 has not been productive, he has three game winning goals, but for some reason he and Semin have not formed the necessary chemistry that a second scoring line needs, at this juncture.
  • The Caps are currently sitting at 27th in the league in faceoff percentage at 47.9%. Backstrom, Laich, and Johansson are the top three guys taking draws and they are 43.9%, 44.8%, and 38.5%, respectively. Halpern is fourth on number of face-offs and he is winning 65.2% of them so that is why you’ll often see him taking key d-zone draws. When you lose a faceoff, your opponent has the puck so that forces the Caps to go get it. I am sure Boudreau and company would much rather start with the biscuit so it will be interesting to see if those stats change as the year progresses.

In summary, the Caps are off to a good start at 7-2 and the Green injury played a large role in the two losses. Green earns an average of $5+ million a year for a reason but it is imperative that Washington find a way to prevent such a dropoff in their level of play when their leading d-men is out of the lineup due to injury. The work ethic wasn’t the big problem on this recent road trip but execution and hockey smarts were and those are controllable. Fortunately we are only one month into a six month regular season journey so there is plenty of time for the team to improve and make adjustments. More importantly, this team is much stronger on paper than it was last October 31st so there is a huge potential upside if the club works hard and sticks together.

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Ovechkin Helps Caps Smoke Flyers

Posted on 20 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Thursday night was slated to be another big test for the 5-0 Washington Capitals as they traveled to Philadelphia to take on the despised Flyers and the team passed with flying colors. Alexander Ovechkin had two goals and Tomas Vokoun made 40 saves as the Caps routed a Philly team that looked stunned by a hard working Washington squad. Mathieu Perreault, Roman Hamrlik, and Joel Ward also tallied for Washington while Claude Giroux opened the scoring with a breakaway goal and Sean Couturier potted a meaningless tally with 14 seconds left for the Flyers. The Caps are now 6-0 and will take on the currently undefeated Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The 4-0 Wings face Columbus at “The Joe” on Friday night before traveling to DC.

Here are the highlights and analysis of the Caps crushing win from the Philadelphia Greater Library Wells Fargo Center:

- Remember when the Washington Capitals were characterized as being a “perimeter” team? Not anymore. The off season additons of Troy Brouwer, Ward, and Jeff Halpern have helped give Bruce Boudreau more bodies to join Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble, and Matt Hendricks in front of opposing goalies and the work ethic of the new guys is rubbing off on the rest of the team. Oveckhkin scored the key goal in the contest by going to the net to bang home a Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists) wraparound attempt late in the first period and on every Washington tally they had players in front of Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (23 saves). On Ovechkin’s PP goal to make it 4-1, the Gr8 moved to the slot beating his old name calling friend Max Talbot to the prime shooting position and he quickly fired one by Bryzgalov with Brouwer providing a great screen. That goal was sandwiched around two other tallies with traffic in front in a 2:25 span that would soon send Flyers fans to the parking lot.

- There were portions of this game where Philadelphia carried the play, primarily in the middle frame, but Vokoun was solid in net and the Washington defense did a stellar job of keeping Flyers forwards away from the front of the goal. Mike Green was outstanding on the backline and he and Hamrlik are developing some nice chemistry. The Karl Alzner and John Carlson duo turned in their normal solid performance and Jeff Schultz (1 assist) had his best game of the season paired with Dennis Wideman. The Caps were only credited with 12 blocked shots on this night but that was because they had the puck for the majority of the game and also because they were doing a good job positionally, which allowed Vokoun to make his saves look routine.

- I’ve been talking about the resurgence of Backstrom and #19 was outstanding on Thursday. He looks a step quicker this year and his upper body strength is much greater than it was in 2010-11. I am really liking Brouwer up on that top line as Ovechkin and #20 can pound opposing defensemen, which allows Backstrom to have more room and make plays.

- Alexander Semin didn’t have his best game giving away the puck in a 4 on 4 situation in the first period that led to Giroux’s breakaway marker. #28 was -2 with only 1 shot on net but the Caps didn’t need him in this one. #28 had been very good in the first five games this season but had an off night on Broad Street.

- Ovechkin was called for a questionable interference penalty when he blew up Talbot behind the Caps net shortly before Giroux’s goal and a Backstrom tally was also wiped out due to incidental contact by Ovie on the Flyers cage minder. In addition, Laich was blatantly cut up high twice but the zebras, Tim Peel and Kevin Pollock, only called one of them as a double minor. The good news on this night was that Washington was so good as a team they easily overcame a couple of referees who seem to be watching another channel, and I am being nice there.

- So what looked to be a tough tilt, and Bryzgalov has historically been trouble for the Caps, turned into a laugher for Washington. The Caps hopefully continue to learn that opposing goalies can’t stone you if you keep going to the front of the net. With the big, hard working forwards Caps GM George McPhee has assembled on this year’s club, the offensive numbers should go up after a down 2010-11 in Washington. This is a very good Capitals team that is coming together nicely. It is only six games in, and there are plenty of areas to continue to improve in (such as second period long line changes), but this start is unlike any other in Caps history. This team has three solid d-pairs and four good sets of forwards and that allows Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau to basically roll the lines, something that should pay dividends in the spring.

Notes: Halpern was 6-1 on face-offs while Hendricks was 3-0…#26 had the shot block of the night taking one right on the crest in the second period. Rumor has it Hendricks eats “Quarry” for breakfast…Perreault had a nice night with a goal and an assist in 12:01 of ice time. He was also 4-3 on face-offs…the Caps lost the face-off battle 31-28 (Johansson was 2-8)…the Caps were 1-6 on the power play and they were 2-2 on the penalty kill…Flyers center Bryaden Schenn, who belongs in the AHL at this young age, was -3…Jaromir Jagr was a total non factor in the game, perhaps he was thinking about his NFL picks this weekend?…Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Vokoun were the game’s three stars as chosen by the Philadelphia media.

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Caps Off to Best Start Ever

Posted on 18 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came in to Tuesday night’s game against the Florida Panthers with a perfect 4-0 record, but they had yet to really play a complete 60 minutes this season. You can cross that off of the list now as the Caps came out and forechecked the Panthers to death in a very solid and dominating 3-0 victory. Washington got an early power play goal from Marcus Johansson, then Alexander Semin rifled one by Jacob Markstrom (29 saves) just 1:49 into the final period, and Jason Chimera hit the empty net to close this one out with 44 seconds left. Tomas Vokoun won his fourth straight game making 20 saves for his first shut out as a Capital. This is the first time in Washington Capitals history that the team has started 5-0.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis of a victory over a team that had pummeled the Tampa Bay Lightning, 7-4, with 5 power play goals,  just one night earlier:

- The Panthers had to fly in late Monday night from Florida but that is how the sports schedule works out sometimes. Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau and his team knew this and jumped all over the Cats early on. Florida didn’t have a shot on goal until after the 10 minute mark of the first period as Washington continuously got pucks deep and used their size to cycle the puck on a soft Panthers defense to generate numerous scoring opportunities. The Caps could have had at least three or four goals in the opening stanza but they either fired wide or the Swede, making his first NHL start, denied them with his large frame.

“I think we tried to do that. They were tired. They played two very emotional games against their cross town rival and had to fly here so we thought this was the perfect advantage for us in the scheduling. I’m sure probably somewhere down the road it will reverse itself. We got a break and if you don’t take advantage of the breaks, shame on us,” said Boudreau on how the NHL slate helped his team on Tuesday.

- It was encouraging to see the Capitals simplify their game and not get caught up in to trying to make the perfect cross ice pass. Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, and Troy Brouwer played smart hockey and were physical on a not so big Panthers defensive unit. Washington seems to play their best hockey when they play as a team and don’t get fancy. Their work ethic was outstanding on Tuesday and the score was much closer than the game actually was because at no point did I ever feel like Florida had a chance to win this contest.

“The first two lines got pucks deep, so that really helped. When we get in trouble we try to play too skilled. When we get pucks deep, it’s hard to contain big bodies like Ovi (Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin), Knubs (Capitals forward Mike Knuble) and Semin (Capitals forward Alexander Semin),” said Chimera on why the Caps were so dominant.

“We were getting it and getting it deep and moving it. I thought for the first time this year we could have had 7 or 8. We were missing nets and their goalie played pretty good. I thought it was a well rounded effort by us,” added Boudreau on the victory.

- Vokoun only had to face two shots in the first period but in the next two stanzas he stopped nine each. There were times when he had to make a solid save to bail out a poor defensive play but overall his team was solid in front of him, which allowed him to challenge shooters. The 35 year old on a $1.5M one year deal, since a shaky opening 60 minutes against Tampa, has been everything the Capitals have needed in goal and more.

“He’s pretty solid and when we did have breakdowns he was there to help us out. That is what you need,” commented Boudreau on his net minder.

- Special teams are so important in NHL games and on this evening the Caps were perfect in that department. They only took two penalties, both on Roman Hamrlik (although I thought the first one was a bogus call), and they stymied a highly skilled and dangerous Cats power play. Washington swarmed the puck and took away any space the Panthers had and on both occassions, they weren’t able to get much of a sniff of the net. The only power play the Caps received was quite effective as Johansson buried the biscuit after some solid zone time. The key to that power play was the work of Ovechkin in the slot, who was flanked by MJ90 and Backstrom with Mike Green and Dennis Wideman at the points. When all three Panthers converged on Ovie, Johansson had a lane to the cage and he slid the puck under Markstrom less than five minutes into the contest. Those who’ve followed this blog know that I much prefer Ovechkin down low (slot or half wall) on a 5 on 4 power play because he can use his size in front for screens or in getting to rebounds. With so many good shots on the point now, to include Green, Wideman, Hamrlik, and John Carlson, it makes much more sense for the Gr8 to be down low. I am okay with Ovechkin getting point time in 5 on 3 or even 4 on 3 situations because in those instances there will be more open lanes for his powerful shot to get through. But overall, putting Alexander the Great down low will likely lead to more power play goals for the Caps and Johansson’s marker tonight drives that point home.

- In summary, this was a total team effort, granted it was against a tired club. But the Panthers have some talent, although they appear low on grit. Just about every Washington player had a good game, but Green was superb despite getting slashed in the lower body region by Jay Garrison at the end of the second period. Semin was excellent as well and he’s been the best forward on the top two lines this season. Backstrom is off to a nice start too and #19 looks to be regaining the form he had in 2009-10. It’s only been five games, but the Caps have 10 points. Boudreau, however, knows you can’t win the Stanley Cup in October and he talked about that after the victory.

“When it comes to April and May I’m not going to be able to sit here and say, ‘Hey we were 5-0, we got that record, isn’t that great.’ It is not going to hold a lot of weight. It is nice, but it is just the process of getting where we want to get. Right now we’re looking toward an opponent like Philadelphia who is 4-0-1,” finished Boudreau, noting that the Capitals next game is the hated Flyers on Thursday night in Philly. That will be a can’t miss contest.

Notes: Washington lost the faceoff battle 24-22 but Jeff Halpern was 8-1. MJ90 was a dismal 1-6 from the dot…Matt Hendricks had a game leading six hits…Semin was +2 and had 4 shots on goal in 16:03 of ice time…Mathieu Perreault returned to the lineup and played 9:53 (even, 0 points)…Dany Sabourin was recalled from Hershey to be the back up goalie as Michal Neuvirth continues to struggle with a lower body injury…Jay Beagle is not practicing right now and DJ King was the other scratch at forward.

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Vokoun Helps Caps Reach 4-0

Posted on 15 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals raced out to an early 2-0 lead midway through the first period on goals by Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson and then once again rode the excellent goaltending of Tomas Vokoun (33 saves) en route to a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators. This victory, the Capitals first in regulation in the 2011-12 campaign, improves their record to 4-0. This is the third time in franchise history they have started with four straight wins (1991-92 and 1997-98). The Caps are now 3-0 at the Verizon Center this season after Saturday night’s win.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the 109th consecutive home sellout:

- Vokoun once again bailed his teammates out, like he did on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. He continues to be solid with his positioning and make the big save despite still trying to figure out how his skaters are going to play in front of him. He still has had some adventures playing the puck and the communication with his defenders is not totally worked out yet. Still, if he isn’t in goal these last two games Washington likely loses. The Caps have to be encouraged by the 35 year old Czech’s ability to find ways to win games for his team.

“The one that he stopped on [Milan] Michalek – We have a great shift going and then all of the sudden the puck is sitting there. It’s nobody’s mistake, somebody thinks somebody’s taking it somebody else, and then he gets a breakaway. It’s not us playing badly…it was just a miscommunication and Tomas [Vokoun] came up big and he came up big in the last 20 seconds,” said Boudreau on his club and his goaltender.

- Washington outshot the Senators 14-8 in the first period and dominated the first 19 minutes of the contest. However, a terrible giveaway by Dennis Wideman in his own zone and then some poor play by Roman Hamrlik and the Washington forwards led to a goal for Ottawa with just over 25 seconds left in period one.  From then on out, the Senators seemed to have extra jump and in the middle frame they were all over the Caps outshooting them 12-4. The Capitals did too much watching and not enough skating in that period and an inferior opponent made them look bad, but fortunately for Washington, their goalie held the fort. In the third period, the Capitals had a little more jump but still, they were outplayed by Ottawa and outshot 14-8. Afterwards, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau credited Ottawa for their hard work, and rightly so. But my issue is with the Caps play. It was unacceptable and if they can’t out work a team like Ottawa then there has to be some concern, especially when all we’ve heard the Washington players talk about since training camp opened was being the team that won the work ethic battle each night. In the last two games, including a tilt against hated rival Pittsburgh, the Capitals have been crushed in the effort department.

“They are not satisfied and that’s great. If we thought we were king of the world right now then it would probably be a little bit more difficult. It’s a tough league, whoever you play. You can say what you want about Ottawa, but they were a very motivated club tonight and they played very hard,” said Boudreau afterwards about a Senators team that responded well after being drilled 7-1 by Colorado in their last start.

- Ottawa came into this contest ranked first on the power play so a Capitals priority was to stay out of the box on Saturday night. The only penalty called on Washington was on Karl Alzner in the first period, and that was a questionable one, but the Caps killed it off. Washington received three power plays in the first 25 minutes scoring on their first one. Mike Knuble (2 assists) worked the puck out from behind the net, fed Alexander Semin at the left post, and #28 made a super cross crease pass to Backstrom for an easy tally. On the next two power plays, the Caps struggled to get things set up so they finished 1-3 on the night. It was encouraging to see Alexander Ovechkin off of the point on those three manpower advantages as Mike Green, Wideman, and Hamrlik manned the blue line in those situations. The power play still needs work but it is improving.

“We didn’t want to take any penalties against them and didn’t do that. We had some chances to break it open but we didn’t do it. In the clutch, we did what we had to do. Not every game is going to be beautiful and the other team wants to win too,” added Boudreau.

- Hamrlik has been mostly paired with Green and on paper should be an upgrade in the mobility department over #52′s old d-partners, Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz, and Scott Hannan. However, #44 is not as good of a skater as I first thought and has looked shaky in the last two games. He and Wideman, as mentioned above, were out of sync on the Ottawa tally. It is only October so hopefully the 38 year old Czech, who is -1 through four games but has been on the ice for 7 of the 11 goals the Caps have allowed (h/t  @JapersRink), finds his legs and improves once he gets more experience playing with Green and the other Washington defenders.

“The more you play, you get some confidence and you feel better out there. The other five defenseman on our team, they are good players; they can move the puck. I am getting used [to] the guys,” said Hamrlik following the game. #44 played in his 1,315th career NHL game, passing Bobby Holik for the most NHL games played by a Czech native.

 - At the end of the day, a win is a win and those two previous Capitals clubs that went 4-0 did have a lot of success, so that bodes well. One went to the Stanley Cup Finals (98) and the other blew a 3-1 first round lead to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in the first round following a super regular season. That was a very talented Capitals team that came very close to beating a loaded Pittsburgh club. Goaltending was the difference in that 1992 loss, but the Caps just might finally have a big game goalie now, like they did with Olie Kolzig in 1998.

Notes: Forward DJ King received his first start of the season with Jay Beagle being kept out for precautionary reasons after getting hurt in his fight with Arron Asham. King was pointless but even in nine shifts and 6:58 TOI…Johansson’s goal was a beautiful individual effort and the young Swede used his speed to sneak a wraparound tally by Alex Auld (24 saves)…Washington lost the faceoff battle, 33-28. Jeff Halpern was 3-2, the only Cap that was above 50%…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center…Owner Ted Leonsis noted that the Caps are putting 400 individual tickets on sale online before each game to give fans who can’t afford season tickets access to the team for games. That is a great idea given that the team sold out all season tickets and now have a waiting list…the Hershey Bears had a chance to start 4-0 as well but lost in OT to the Norfolk Admirals, 6-5, in the home opener at the Giant Center. Braden Holtby made 22 saves in the loss. Keith Aucoin had four assists and Chris Bourque had a goal and was +1. Bourque had five points in a 7-5 victory in Norfolk on Friday night.

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