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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 Win Coaches Nightmare Hockey Game in Shootout

Posted on 10 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Through two games of the regular season, the Washington Capitals are playing what I will call Clint Eastwood hockey: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly! I’ll get to more on that in a minute but thanks to Tomas Vokoun’s superb overtime and shootout goaltending combined with gimmick tallies by Matt Hendricks and Alexander Semin, the Caps are 2-0 after a 6-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at sold out Verizon Center on Monday evening. Instead of the young guns, it was the grinders who got it done for the Capitals on this night as Jason Chimera scored twice and he now has three goals in two games. Dennis Wideman, Troy Brouwer, and Marcus Johansson also tallied for Washington while Tampa got goals from five different players, none of which had the last name of Stamkos, St. Louis, or Lecavalier.

Wow, that was one crazy hockey game and one that both coaches likely would call a nightmare to be involved in. The Caps only allowed 23 Tampa shots in 65 minutes and for the most part played well defensively but their goalie gave up some really bad goals, three of which were shot from below the goal line. Vokoun (18 saves) was really shaky and struggling to properly hug his post in regulation and the Bolts took the charity en route to a 5-4 late third period lead. But then Tampa made another terrible turnover in their own end and that allowed Chimera to rifle one by Dwayne Roloson (33 saves) with Mike Knuble screening on the door step with 2:44 to go and that paved the way for the Washington triumph.

Here are the quotes and analysis from this second straight Southeast Division win for Washington:

– During the peak of the Caps losing streak last December, Coach Bruce Boudreau basically called out the mental toughness of his club. Through two games, he has to be pleased with how far his team has come in that department. In each of the first two contests Washington has had moments where they’ve just dominated play and had nothing to show for it. Then to compound those situations, they have given up a goal via a bad bounce or mental mistake. But so far the club has answered the bell and recovered instead of slumping then eventually losing in those instances. Tonight his goalie didn’t allow a terrible first 60 minutes to prevent him from showing how good he can be in overtime and in the shootout to get a win. In addition, instead of his skaters shrugging their shoulders and saying “Our goalie doesn’t have it today, it’s not our night boys,” they just kept working hard to try and get the win. Of everything that has happened in these first two games, perhaps that mental toughness is the most telling part of the 125 minutes of hockey in this campaign.

“If you asked Tomas (Vokoun), he’ll be the first one to tell you that’s probably not the way he wrote the script. I guess if you’re trying to look at the big picture, it takes a guy with a lot of mental toughness to play like that. And then in the overtime when you’re having four-on-three against you and you make those three or four huge saves.  I got to believe if it was me, I would have been so mentally out of it… and he comes up and he makes those big saves and he makes the save in the shootout. It told me a lot about his character and it ends up as a positive thing even if he didn’t have a positive game for the most part,” added Boudreau on what stood out for him with Vokoun on Monday.


– Tampa’s 3rd and 4th lines really helped the Bolts win last spring’s playoff series against the Caps but Washington’s bottom six forwards, if you will, came through tonight. The Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, and Chimera line once again carried the play when they were on the ice and Mathieu Perreault, Hendricks, and Jeff Halpern were a big positive as the fourth forward unit. When the young guns fail to score, and the Washington top line was atrocious on Columbus Day, the Caps rarely win but that was not the case tonight.

“[We’re] just three guys working hard. We all really take pride in going against their number one line and playing really good defense. And mostly when you play good defense, it leads to good offense,” said Chimera, who was the game’s number one star.


– As bad as Vokoun was in the first 60 minutes he at least redeemed himself in the extra portion of this contest. It would have been nice if Alexander Ovechkin could say that as well but the Gr8 was downright awful in this one. He made mental mistakes and worse yet he had an atrocious shift in the third period after coming out of the penalty box that led to the Bolts fifth goal. Ovechkin had a chance to generate some offense on that shift but basically just gave the puck up in the Bolts zone allowing Tampa to come the other way and create the pressure that led to the go ahead goal. Ovechkin does not want to watch the videotape of that shift because it will show his total lack of effort in both the offensive and defensive zones. In addition, he and Mike Green didn’t think on a 5 on 3 and allowed Pavel Kubina to get a shorthanded breakaway when he came out of the box in the second period. Overall Alexander the Great was -2 with just three shots on goal in 21:47 of ice time. What makes this performance even more disconcerting is the team captain opted out of the morning skate. Unacceptable move and performance from the guy who is supposed to lead the team.

– Marcus Johansson was a major positive after being scratched on Saturday for the opener. MJ90 looked like he was shot out of a cannon on most shifts and he used his speed to create scoring chances and draw penalties. The young Swede worked hard and showed that he is physically stronger on his skates than last season when he was pushed around, at times, below the goal line. Johansson had a goal and an assist and really played well with Semin and Brouwer. On Brouwer’s goal he took a Ryan Malone stick in the mouth but he still played over 15 minutes and was +1. The only downside for Marcus in this one was his 3-10 faceoff total. His play was inspired, something Boudreau definitely liked and took note of.

“That’s absolutely what you’re looking for. Here’s a guy that sat out a game, he came out, he just said, ‘I’ll show them’ and that’s the kind of attitude you’re hoping for,” commented Boudreau on how the sophomore Swede performed against Tampa.


– Special teams is something that every coach focuses on. After Saturday’s poor PK performance, the Caps were better on Monday and they had to be because they took two stupid too many men on the ice infractions. Washington’s shorthanded unit came up large, especially in the OT thanks to Vokoun, and forced the Bolts to go 0-4 in 5:20 overall of man advantage time. Now for the ugly of the ugliest on the night: the Capitals power play! It was just pathetic and reverted mostly to the mode of last season where the Caps would pass the puck around the perimeter to try and get one-timers. There was not enough of passing it to the point for slappers with traffic and net crashing for rebound goals. Too much young guns out there tonight, if you ask me, especially when Ovechkin and Green were on the points. I’d like to see more of John Carlson, Wideman, and Roman Hamrlik on the blue line with guys like Brouwer, Knuble, and Laich screening in front. It is not a hard concept and I hope the coaches hold the young guns accountable and sit them for a few power plays to show them how it should be done. Washington was a putrid 0-7 in 9:14 of power play time. They were so bad that they took themselves off of three power plays with their own penalties. Again, this is unacceptable!

– I railed on Ovechkin’s play tonight and Green (0 pts, -1) and Nicklas Backstrom (0 pts, -2) both had poor nights as well. But did anyone see Vinny Lecavalier or Steven Stamkos tonight? What about Steve Downie? Malone, other than his stick infraction to the face of MJ90? Nope, those guys all stunk in this one as well. As for Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 system, the Caps pretty much hammered it tonight as Washington effectively used their speed to go around orange looking pylons on the Bolts defense named Kubina and Eric Brewer. My gut tells me teams will figure that system out quickly this year after having a summer to digest it on video.

– At the end of the day, the Caps are 2-0. When they play their system and think on the ice, they have shown they can be dominant. Mentally this club looks to be a lot stronger, at least through two games, but they need to clean a lot of things up going forward. Fortunately there are 80 more tilts to hone their game before the post season.

Notes: Tampa won the faceoff battle 34-32…Brouwer led the Caps and all Bolts with seven hits…Chimera had seven shots on goal, most of any player in the contest…Jay Beagle and DJ King were the forward scratches…next up for the Caps are the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night from the Steel City at 7 pm.

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Caps Look For Some Revenge Versus Bolts

Posted on 09 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After Saturday night’s thrilling 4-3 overtime victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals will take the ice on Monday night at 7 pm at the Verizon Center against the team that swept them in the second round of the playoffs last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Naturally, some revenge will be at the forefront of the Capitals players minds but this is a new season, and only the regular season at that, so you can only take so much from winning game two of an 82 tilt season, if the Caps do prevail.

Since training camp opened Capitals players and management have talked about their work ethic and the need to “bring it every night,” something they have not done consistently in the past. The acquisitions of skaters Joel Ward, Jeff Halpern, Troy Brouwer, and Roman Hamrlik has certainly helped with that so this is a different Washington club than last May, when the Bolts seemed to take advantage of every Caps miscue en route to wins in four close contests. On Saturday versus the Canes the Capitals work ethic was very good but they made several mistakes in their positioning and it nearly cost them the game. Assistant coach for video, Blaine Forsythe, was likely a very busy guy after last night’s game and today going over the errors with head coach Bruce Boudreau and the players. I don’t think energy or effort will be a problem on Monday night given the opponent but the key for Washington will be to play within their system and themselves.

Tampa, who missed making the Stanley Cup Finals by a game, has many of their key players returning in Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Eric Brewer, Victor Hedman, and Dwayne Roloson. St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Roloson, however, are really starting to get up there in age so it remains to be seen how they handle another long season. I expect #26 to pass with flying colors but I have doubts about their goaltender and team captain. One of the players who absolutely killed the Caps last spring was the speedy Sean Bergenheim, but he was a free agent this past summer and took big money to play for the Florida Panthers. Bergenheim was part of a crew of bottom six forwards who made a difference in the series against the Caps, while Washington’s third and fourth lines struggled.

Caps General Manager George McPhee has rebuilt the third and fourth lines in the offseason and much has been made of the Ward, Brooks Laich, Jason Chimera unit. That crew was very good against Carolina but if the fourth line comes out right after that unit and continually lays an egg, then any momentum Laich and company generates is wasted. For one game, the fourth line of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Halpern held up their end of the bargain in their roughly nine minutes of time on ice together. On media day last Thursday, I had a chance to catch up with Beagle and get his take on the new fourth line and what they are looking to accomplish each game.

“Personally I’m excited to help this team win every night and create energy out there and chip in where I can. In a couple of preseason games me and Hendy and Halpy were saying as that fourth line when we need a big goal in the third, I think we can do it. It’s going to be a gritty, grindy goal and that’s the kind we’re going to have to make and produce. It’s just an exciting time and to be playing with those two guys is awesome. They’re extremely good to play with, talk a lot, and just make the game easy on you. For me personally, they always say we’re not looking for you to put in a lot of goals and a lot of points but when you can it’s a big help for the team. I want to chip in and score some goals this year. I want to make a mark on this team and be a power forward. I got to get more physical and be more physical, fight when I have to, and just try and be an all around player,” said Beagle about what could very well be his first full season in the NHL after playing the last half of 2010-11 season with the Caps.

Vokoun should make his Caps debut against the Lightning on Monday night. Michal Neuvirth was a main reason Washington was able to find a way to win on Saturday but Boudreau prefers to rotate goalies this early in the season. The 35 year old Czech is still learning the Capitals system and given how many mistakes the Caps made in their own end on Saturday night, I expect it to take time for #29 to gel with his teammates and become the dominant netminder he is expected to be. Beagle provided insight into how that transition has been going for Vokoun with his new teammates.

“It’s been really good, he’s looked great in his preseason games and in practice. Every day he’s looking stronger and with the d-core that we have, we got a vocal d-core that talks a lot. As forwards we got to take pride in talking a lot too. If you talk you make the game that much easier, especially in the d-zone if you know where everyone is and if you can share the puck and get the puck out of the zone. Tomas has been doing great, he’s a great goalie, I know even just coming down and shooting on him, [there’s] not many holes on him. He’s a very strong goalie in the net and he’s only going to make our team stronger,” finished #83 on the difference Vokoun can make for Washington.

Notes: According to Caps beat writer Katie Carrera of The Washington Post, Marcus Johansson will center the second line with Alexander Semin and Troy Brouwer while Mathieu Perreault will be a healthy scratch (Monday Morning UPDATE: Carrera is now reporting Perreault is in the lineup. MJ90 status is unknown)… Caps beat writer Steve Whyno of The Washington Times reported that Semin will not be suspended for his hit at the end of regulation on Saturday…the Caps have announced that 400 tickets still remain for Monday night’s game. It appears that Washington is making a big effort to make single game tickets available each contest giving that season tickets are sold out for the season.

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Alex Ovechkin To Throw First Pitch at Camden Yards on Friday

Posted on 14 September 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals announced today that Alexander Ovechkin will be at Camden Yards this Friday, September 16th to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for the O’s games against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim that starts at 7pm. The fun loving superstar winger will fire away from the mound around 650pm, likely wearing Orioles gear. The Caps open training camp this Saturday at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston, Virginia but nearly all of the Caps have already been in town skating and working out. Caps strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemisch stated last week that the Great 8 is in the best shape he’s ever seen him and apparently Ovie weighed in recently at 225 pounds, down eight pounds from last year’s listed number.

There is lots of pressure externally on the Capitals to produce in the post season this spring but based on what I’ve seen and heard from being around the organization, no one is putting more pressure on the Caps than the team itself. The moves made by General Manager George McPhee this summer added leadership, grit, skill, and a quality goaltender (Tomas Vokoun), not to mention a potentially high choice pick in next year’s draft (the Caps have the first round pick of the Colorado Avalance via the Semyon Varlamov trade).

The Caps will be in Baltimore on Tuesday night, September 20th to open their pre-season slate against the Nashville Predators at 7pm. Fewer than 1,200 tickets are still available for this great event in Charm City.

Last week I mentioned that the top six defensemen to start the season will likely be Mike Green, Dennis Wideman, John Carlson, Roman Hamrlik, Karl Alzner, and Jeff Schultz. John Erskine is recovering from shoulder surgery and if healthy, will be the seventh defensemen. I don’t expect Tom Poti to be medically able to play at all in 2011-12, or at least for the first half of the season. There are a number of defensemen, who due to injury, could see some time in Washington to include Sean Collins, Patrick McNeill and 2009 2nd round draft choice, Dmitri Orlov. Orlov has enormous offensive skill and talent but learning how to play defense in the North American game is not trivial so he will benefit from a lot of time in Hershey in the AHL this upcoming season.

Up front, my top 12 forwards who will most likely make the team out of training camp, in no particular order are as follows:

Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin, Brooks Laich, Joel Ward, Mike Knuble, Troy Brouwer, Marcus Johansson, Jason Chimera, Jeff Halpern, Jay Beagle, and Matt Hendricks

The 13th choice would likely be Mathieu Perreault, who has been up and down with the big club the last couple of seasons. Longer shots to make the club are 2009 3rd round pick Cody Eakin, Mattias Sjogren (23 year old rookie free agent signed this summer from Sweden), 2010 3rd round pick Stanislav Galiev (on 2011 Memorial Cup winning squad), and Christian Hanson (signed as a free agent this summer and the son of Dave Hanson from Slap Shot).

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Senators Blank Caps, 2-0

Posted on 25 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Absolutely nothing went the Capitals way on Friday night in Ottawa. Craig Anderson made several good saves plus was a little lucky when he had to be, Washington made some huge defensive gaffes, and the officiating was downright horrible. When you add that all up it leads to a Caps shutout loss, 2-0, to the Senators. The defeat drops the Capitals record to 43-22-10 (96 points) but they still lead the Southeast Division by seven points as a result of Tampa’s 4-3 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game in which the NHL Director of Officiating, Terry Gregson, should be pretty embarrassed about:

– Anderson (31 saves) was very good for the Sens but he was also the beneficiary of some overpassing by Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin on a Washington power play in the second period when the game was scoreless. In addition, rookie Marcus Johansson rifled one through #41’s pads in the third period but the puck just trickled wide and an Ottawa defender scooped it out of harm’s way. Still, the journeyman goalie, who recently signed a big four year contract ($12.75M total) to stay in Ottawa, was very solid and calm in net and was easily the game’s number one star.

– The Caps made some big mistakes in their own zone and it cost them on both Ottawa goals. On the first tally, Scott Hannan chased Jason Spezza the wrong way around the Capitals cage and that allowed #19 to put a pass in front to a streaking Colin Greening out of the corner. Greening badly beat Caps d-man John Erskine to the front of the net but the puck hit both of his skates and then he interfered with Semyon Varlamov (21 saves) as he knocked the puck in the cage with his skate for an Ottawa 1-0 lead at 12:25 of the middle frame. Referee Stephane Auger called it a goal but then huddled with the other zebra, Kelly Sutherland. After they conferred with the league in Toronto, the goal stood despite being obvious goalie interference, which apparently is not reviewable. On the second Senators goal, early in period three, Karl Alzner blindly throws the puck up the boards right to Milan Michalek, who feeds it to Erik Condra in the slot. #38 then slid one by Varly as he went down too late into the butterfly position. There were other poor plays by the Washington defensemen on this night that didn’t lead to goals. Overall I would grade the defense as “below average” in this contest. They only gave up 23 shots but they made some big mistakes that will cost them in the post season if they don’t clean it up.

– As for the offense, the Caps did have the 31 shots but there were not a lot from in front of the cage. The Capitals showed some very good puck movement on their first two power plays and Brooks Laich looked excellent on the right point, but Semin made several wrong decisions with the biscuit that prevented Washington from lighting the lamp. On one sequence #28 held onto the puck below the goal line and skated up the right wing boards when Backstrom was wide open in front. He also was a victim of too many moves and over passing on some down low two on ones with the man advantage. Backstrom also tried to force a pass when he had a great chance on Anderson with the game scoreless. The Capitals routinely didn’t get pucks deep and cycle the Senators defense, who likely would have tired having played in New York the night before. Simply put, this was a LAZY offensive effort by Washington, in my book.

– Varlamov, who started for the first time since winning in Buffalo on February 20th, was good in goal. He had to face some quality chances and he did fairly well. He’d probably like another shot at the 2nd goal but Alzner did help Michalek put that one on a tee for Condra. Michal Neuvirth was slated to start this game but came down with an illness and it is possible that Braden Holtby could be recalled for Saturday’s game in Montreal either to start or backup Varly.

– As for the officiating, it was definitely the worst Caps game I’ve seen called all season. I’ve already talked about the mistake on the Senators first goal, which was the result of goalie interference, but there were two other BLATANT mistakes made in this game. First, Matt Hendricks took a stick to the head early on but after an initial high sticking penalty was called on David Hale, and it should have been a double minor since #26 was cut, the referees took #36 out of the penalty box. Shortly thereafter Al Koken of Comcast interviewed assistant coach Bob Woods on the bench who told him that the referees thought that Hendricks was cut with a skate. If you ask me, not only were the four referees blind for missing that, but they are also stupid. If a skate was up that high around Hendricks head and caught him where he was cut, he likely would have lost his eye and bled pretty badly. The other big miss was on a clean shoulder check on Patrick Wiercioch by Matt Bradley above the goal line. Wiercioch went down hard and slid into the boards. Somehow the referees called it boarding prompting Hockey Night in Canada’s Jeff Marek to question that logic via Twitter. Bradley also got jumped for the clean check by Zack Smith and the Caps would have had a power play if boarding wasn’t called on #10. Finally, the game was also called very inconsistently with hits and holds not very clearly defined, which had to make it tough for the players to know what the rules were on this given night. After the game on Twitter, HNIC’s Cassie Campbell stated how bad the officiating was and referenced the no call on the high stick to Hendricks. Gregson and the NHL cannot let this type of officiating happen starting April 13th.

– The Caps are now 3-2 on this six game road trip and they once again played without Alexander Ovechkin, Jason Arnott, Mike Green, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti. On Monday we should know more about the status of those five with Green’s injury being the most concerning. Saturday’s tilt in Montreal is the final meeting between the Caps and the Canadiens in the regular season (Caps are 2-0-1). Right now the Habs sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and both teams could meet again in the first round of the playoffs depending on what happens down the stretch.

Notes: Dennis Wideman led the Caps in ice time with 24:25. Laich led the Caps forwards playing 23:30…the Capitals were smoked on faceoffs, 32-19. Johansson went 1-9 and Backstrom was 7-13…Washington had five shots on net on their three power plays. They only gave up four shots while shorthanded on three attempts.

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Caps Win 9th Straight, Beat Montreal, 4-2

Posted on 15 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Aint no Stopping us Now

We’re on the Move

Aint no Stopping us Now

We’ve got the Groove

On a night when logic dictated that the Washington Capitals eight game winning streak just might come to an end in Montreal given that second line center Jason Arnott was going to be joining Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green on the injured list, the Caps kept their groove going with a solid and impressive 4-2 victory over the Canadiens. Marcus Johansson continued his stellar play and tallied twice, including the eventual game winner, while Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble also scored for Washington to gain a victory in the very tough Bell Centre. Braden Holtby, who was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday, overcame a terrible early giveaway that led to the Habs first goal to stop 24 of the next 25 shots against him for his fifth straight win and the 21 year old rookie is 9-2-2 this season. The Caps ninth straight win runs their record to 41-20-10 (92 points) and puts their lead in the Southeast Division back at five points over the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have a game in hand.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a super Capitals performance in the first outing of a very difficult six game road trip:

– I’ve been talking about MJ90 taking his game to a higher level since the victory in Florida a week ago Sunday. Johansson, who has been steadily improving all season, performed at an elite level for the sixth straight game in my book. The 20 year old Swede looks like a 10 year vet on the ice right now and this club really needs it with both Backstrom (day to day) and now Arnott (week to week) out at center. Normally a young kid would likely succumb to the pressure of having to help carry this team but that has not been the case with Marcus. Instead of looking worn out in his first season in North America, he is actually getting stronger and he is not being knocked off the puck below the circles like he was earlier in the season. Johansson’s first goal was on a gift bounce off of the boards into an empty net but his second came from being in the proper position on the ice. MJ90 came down the slot late because he was being defensively responsible and took an Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist in 21:44 of ice time) pass on his backhand and put it by Carey Price (37 saves) 6:43 into the final frame. On the night the 20 year old rookie played 17:03 and took four shots on net.

– Price was great for Montreal and if not for him this game would have been over in the second period. The Caps dominated the play and had 35 shots on goal through two periods, many of which were in close and of the quality variety. Unlike last season’s playoffs, when Washington became more frustrated as the series went on, the Capitals would not be denied on this evening and they continued to crash the net. The Habs net minder could not be faulted on any of the tallies against him and he also appeared to get a gift when an apparent goal by Matt Hendricks in period one was wiped out due to what must have been an early whistle.

– On the Caps side of the house, the dynamic duo of blue liners, John Carlson and Karl Alzner, were phenomenal. Both guys were +2 on the night and Alzner’s perfect pass to Laich in the neutral zone set up #21’s goal in which he went around big Hal Gill like he was an orange road cone. #27 and #74 were flat out dominant in this contest and they logged 18:53 and 20:04, respectively. Alzner’s ability to hit players in stride with the puck as they go up the ice is often overlooked. He is a terrific puck moving defenseman who is almost always in the right place.

– Laich started this contest between Ovechkin and Alexander Semin but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau switched it up when Eric Fehr went down due to an upper body injury (h/t @kcarrera of The Washington Post). #16 played only 5:16 of ice time and after that Johansson centered Ovechkin and Knuble while Laich played with Marco Sturm and Semin. It wasn’t one of Semin’s best games of the season, in fact, Sasha was lazy in his back pressure on the second Montreal goal by Andrei Kostitsyn. In addition, the Caps failed to get off a shot on net when he and the Great #8 had a 2 on 1 chance in period two. Semin was simply “too cute” for the first 40 minutes but in the final stanza he simplified his game and was very solid defensively once the Caps got a one goal lead. As for Sturm, he struggled for most of the game taking two minor penalties, but he delivered when he came out of the box with four mintues left and saucered a perfect pass to Knuble for the fourth goal and the nail in the coffin on Price and the Habs.

– On special teams, the Capitals penalty kill was a perfect three for three while the power play went 2 for 5. So that thing is fixed, right? Not so fast, the two PPGs were the MJ90 open net fluke bounce and the second was when Sturm came out of the box for a two on one with the Habs pressing late. In fact, without Arnott, the power play struggled and Washington wasted an 85 second five on three advantage late in the opening frame (7 seconds of it carried into period two). Too much passing and not enough shots was the story on that sequence (I know, you’ve heard that before).

– Overall, this was a superb way to come out and set the tone on a long road trip without some big guns in the lineup. With a flight to Detroit on Tuesday night and a lengthy stop likely clearing customs, the Capitals just might not have much left in the tank for the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night at “The Joe” at 7:30pm. So getting this win was so key for this club and right now the song must continue for another day, since the winning streak could come to a halt in Motown.

Aint No Stopping Us Now

We’re on the Move

Aint no Stopping us Now

We’ve got the Groove

Notes: Both Jeff Halpern (5:56 of ice time) and Tomas Plekenac (logged 11:03) left the game for Montreal early due to injuries…Tyler Sloan played on defense tonight with John Erskine out due to a cold (again h/t @kcarrera). #89 had two giveaways and took a penalty in 14:57 of ice time…the Caps won the face-off battle, 30-27, thanks to Boyd Gordon winning 12 of 16 draws (Dave Steckel who?)…with Arnott out, Jay Beagle returned after missing several games due to injury and he played 9:27 and had 3 hits (tied for second on the team to Ovechkin’s 4)…Matt Bradley fought Paul Mara just 1:48 into the contest…I expect Michal Neuvirth to get the start in goal for Washington on Wednesday in Detroit and he will have a tough task against Pavel Datsyuk and company.

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Caps Win 7th Straight

Posted on 12 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Rally To Defeat Islanders, 3-2

Posted on 26 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

It was the worst of times. It was the best of times. Okay, I am exaggerating quite a bit here but that is what tonight’s Capitals game against the Islanders had to feel like to Washington fans. Following up on Friday night’s pile of garbage effort in which they were buried 6-0 by the Rangers, the Caps came out and looked disorganized and uninterested for the first 22 minutes of the game falling behind New York, 2-0. At that point, it seemed like this team was unraveling, but the typical sacrificial Matt Hendricks fight, a Bruce Boudreau timeout in which he likely out dB’d the local air traffic coming in to LaGuardia airport, and then most importantly, a change in the top two line combinations jump started this Capitals club and they scored the last three goals to win, 3-2. The victory improves Washington to 33-20-10 (76 points) and they pull within three points of Southeast Division leading Tampa, who will face the Rangers on Sunday at 1pm at Madison Square Garden.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game Washington needed to have if they want to stay in the division race:

– Sometimes in hockey players perform poorly because they aren’t playing with the right guys. This leads to that disorganized look I mentioned above, then frustration sets in, and finally the effort goes out the window because the players tend to give up. To me, that is what was happening for the first period or so for this Washington team, especially the top two Capitals lines. Alexander Ovechkin, who was all over the ice on Friday night, was shifted away from his regular centerman, Nicklas Backstrom, and put with rookie Marcus Johansson for the first period plus of Saturday’s game. It was a DISASTER! The Great #8 had 0 shots on net with MJ90 as his pivot (h/t former Capital Alan May). I like the young rookie, who will eventually be a really good player in this league but will never be a #1 center, but to align him with Ovechkin is asking too much of a 20 year old who is a very good skater but doesn’t know where the Great #8 wants and needs the puck. Simply put, asking Johansson to center Ovie is putting way TOO MUCH pressure on the kid. Thankfully, the coaches figured it out and shuffled the top two forward lines a few shifts after the Boudreau bench rant at 5:35 of period two. Whoever was involved in the decision to get 8 and 19 back together and put MJ90 with Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble is the star of the game, in my opinion. The whole team was way better and more confident after that configuration change.

– The player of the game, and deservedly so, was Laich. #21 made two strong plays with the puck that led to tallies, one for himself when he beat Islanders goalie Al Montoya (19 saves) on an in close bad angled goal to seemingly wake up the entire Capitals team, and the second of which was another strong move with puck in front of the New York cage that allowed Knuble to bang home the biscuit and knot this affair at 2-2 just 2:24 into period three. Laich found chemistry with Johansson (1 assist), who was fantastic after the line juggling, and #22 providing Boudreau with one of those rare contests when he had two lines generating offensive chances.

– The winning goal came from Alexander Semin, whose picture was only seen on a milk carton for the first 30 plus minutes of this tilt, but once #28 was put with his young gun mates #8 and #19 he was a totally different player. Semin started competing on the boards and his laser in the slot at 5:41 of the final stanza was the difference. When you see Semin play like that it really has to make the entire Washington organization think that if they could get him a real center he would play at an elite level more often. Kind of like he did when Sergei Fedorov came over in 2008.

– Michal Neuvirth (29 saves) is the other big reason the Capitals had even an iota of a chance of pulling out a victory on Saturday night. The Isles threw 14 shots on the young Caps goalie when the “Bad and Disorganized” Washington team took the ice in the first period. #30 only gave up Kyle Okposo’s quality shot in the slot when John Carlson got caught pinching too deep in the offensive zone and then Karl Alzner did a poor job of closing the gap on #21 in the defensive zone. The only other marker allowed by Neuvy came after a #74 giveaway on Travis “Diver” Hamonic’s deflected slap shot just 33 seconds into the middle frame. Neuvirth, who had to be ready to sue for non support at that point, has become a rock for the Capitals and he was forced to play again when Semyon Varlamov came up with yet another injury during the morning skate (and Todd Ford, he of the ECHL to start the season, was recalled from Hershey to be the back up goalie with Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin on the shelf in Hershey). I am not sure where the Caps are this season without Neuvirth.

– Alzner and Carlson had their struggles early, likely because bad line combos don’t help d-men out either, but as the game went on that duo got stronger and stronger. Carlson even made the play in the neutral zone that sprung Laich for his first goal. #’s 27 and 74 logged 23:03 and 20:31, respectively and came back to -1 after being on for the first two goals against. The defensive player of the night, however, was Scott Hannan (+2). #23 was super solid on the back end and if you want to see just how great he is defensively, go back and watch the last 2:08 of the game. Hannan was on the ice the entire time and made numeous strong plays to preserve the Capitals victory.

– In closing, this game was headed for disaster yet the Washington players and coaches found a way to battle through it and gut out a victory. The effort, which had been gone for over four periods came back, and the Caps got a much needed two points. There are still issues with this team, primarily the hole at second line center and a power play that continues to be pitiful, but there is still hope given that the NHL trade deadline could still yield some assistance in the talent department. We will all know that story come 3:00pm this Monday afternoon after Capitals GM George McPhee attempts to work his magic.

Notes: I sure hope Hendricks (signed to a 2 year contract extension by the Caps this week) recieved or was considered for the hard hat for his fight tonight. He got hammered by Zenon Konopka but the message received on the Washington bench was what mattered. #26 is all heart…Michal Grabner missed the ocean from the beach when it appeared he had an empty net that would have given the Islanders a 3-0 lead in period two. Hannan helped to thwart that chance as well…Backstrom only took two faceoffs. The Caps won that battle again, 30-27…The Caps claimed forward Marco Sturm off of waivers from the Los Angeles Kings today. Sturm played for Boston last season but blew out his knee in the playoffs. He has struggled to regain his health and the Kings, who are hoping to make some trade deadline acquisitions, valued the vacant roster spot more than Sturm’s services so McPhee gets a second line winger at a discount price…forward/tough guy/typical scratch DJ King was waived today and Mathieu Perreault was sent to Hershey, however #85 apparently is not going to play for the Bears this weekend…Jay Beagle was recalled from Hershey and he played physical and well in 10:27 of ice time…Mike Green did not play and traveled to Calgary to attend his grandmother’s funeral…Hershey won 4-3 getting four assists from Keith Aucoin on Saturday night. 2009 Caps 2nd round draft pick, d-man Dmitri Orlov (1 assist) made his AHL debut for the Bears. Congrats to Jared DeMichiel (27 saves) for his first AHL victory at home! Orlov’s assist came on one of the two Hershey power play tallies.

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Caps Smoke Bolts in Tampa, 5-2

Posted on 05 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Not so fast, Tampa Bay Lightning, on claiming that Southeast Division title just yet. Your daddy, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, just came to town and his club laid another rear-end whipping on you by a 5-2 count, behind a four point night from Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 3 assists, +3). Nicklas Backstrom also had four points (2 goals, 2 assists, +3) and Semyon Varlamov (23 saves) recovered from allowing a bad goal on the first shot he faced to get the victory as Washington pulled within three points of the first place Bolts. The Caps are now 3-1-1 against Tampa this year and Boudreau is 18-3-1 against them since taking over as the Capitals bench boss on Thanksgiving in 2007.

Below are the highlights and analysis from a Caps game that the NHL Network’s Billy Jaffe afterwards called “One of the most complete games they’ve had in a while.”:

– We’ll get to the Ovechkin/Backstrom show in a minute but this night, that started ominously with Washington outshooting the Bolts 10-1 but had the Caps trailing 1-0, turned around thanks to a Dale Hunter like move and performance from Matt Hendricks. Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson had owned the Capitals in his first two games against them as a Bolt keeping them off of the scoreboard for all 125 minutes played. But #26 changed that by running into the Lightning goaltender at the 8:21 mark and the 41 year old goalie snapped by punching Hendricks with his blocker numerous times to set up a 4 on 4 situation. Actually, according to the rulebook Roloson should have been given a major and kicked out for attempt to injure (h/t Caps VP @nateewell) but it turned out to be good he stayed in because he lost his focus after the altercation. Just 48 seconds later Roloson had trouble with a Mike Green shot and Backstrom put in the rebound as he and the Great #8 were crashing the net. That goal knocked the Roloson monkey off of the Caps backs. Hendricks also held his own in a fight with Tampa’s top pscyho and chief punk, Steve Downie, at the 10:39 mark.

– Now on to the 8 and 19 show. The Capitals top line, which featured Jason Chimera (1 empty net goal, 1 assist) back on the 1st unit, abused a very slow and methodical Lightning defense all game. Chimera’s speed was a huge difference and both the Great #8 and Backstrom were as focused as I’ve seen them in months. That line continuously cyclced the puck well and generated pressure and scoring chances. Ovechkin also scored his first power play goal since October (he scored two in Calgary) and it came from the half wall, a position I have been calling for him to play more of on the PP, with Mike Knuble doing a super Tomas Holmstrom like screening job in front of the Tampa net. #22 was battling with the talented yet slow Victor Hedman and it rattled Roloson. That marker made it 3-1 Caps less than two minutes after the Capitals took the lead for the first time. Then after Tampa scored on the PP late in period two to make it 3-2, Ovie would set up Backstrom’s second tally of the night with just under eight minutes left in regulation. Alexander the Great took a Chimera feed and fired the biscuit on net and then crashed it for the rebound. When all three Bolts, including Roloson, went to Ovechkin, #19 skated down the slot all alone and fired the biscuit into a vacated cage. The final tally for that line came with the empty net and Ovechkin unselfishly fed Chimera for a wide open goal that closed out the scoring. Simply put, if Ovechkin and Backstrom play like that on a consistent basis, this team is very hard to beat.

– While the top line was sensational, there was a lot of good work from the supporting cast. In particular, Boudreau received a strong performance from his second line and the second Washington goal was a thing of beauty. All three Caps forwards, Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, and Brooks Laich were working hard on the left wing boards and #83 managed to get the puck in the left wing circle to #85 who made a gorgeous pass to #21 in the slot. Laich then made an even prettier backhanded shot upstairs past Roloson that gave the Capitals their first lead of the game 6:38 into period two and it was one they would never relinquish. #85 only logged 12:53 of ice time but it was of the high energy variety, something he has to bring every night if he is going to stay in the NHL.

– Steven Stamkos, who is leading the NHL in points, was hardly noticeable thanks to an outstanding defensive job by the John Carlson (1 assist in a team leading 26:49 of ice time) and Karl Alzner (19:40 of ice time) duo. Both were +2 on the night and they held Stamkos (0 points, -2) to just one shot on net in this tilt! #74 and #27 are only 21 and 22 years old, respectively, yet they are routinely called on by Boudreau to match up against the opponents top line and they are getting the job done.

– Washington, who won despite two of their top three right wings, Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr, still out of the lineup, played a very smart game. They routinely got the puck deep in the Tampa zone and abused a subpar Lightning defense. In addition, with the Bolts playing a 1-3-1 neutral zone configuration, the Caps blue liners were patient and did a good job of not forcing passes. Guy Boucher’s club prefers to sit back and counter attack against the Caps but Boudreau’s crew did not allow the Bolts to have much success with that plan on Friday night. Simply put, Boudreau outcoached the rookie NHL bench boss on this night.

– Varlamov was super solid after giving up the first goal to Teddy Purcell (1 goal, 1 assist) from a bad angle just 3:21 into the contest. There were a few flurries against #1 in the first period and during the second but he stayed calm in net and didn’t give up any quality rebounds. Credit the defense for protecting the front of the cage as well and the whole team deserves kudos for being mentally strong and not letting the bad first goal get them down.

Notes: The Caps outshot Tampa, 36-25 in an excellent 60 minute effort…Washington also buried the Bolts in the face-off dot going 41-27. Marcus Johansson (10:53) and Jay Beagle (1 assist in 11:44 of time) were both 7-1 while NHL leading draw man Dave Steckel went 6-1…Matt Bradley fought Adam Hall in period one after the Hendricks-Downie bout…Ovechkin had four hits, including a good one in the opening frame against cheap shot and skate away artist, Mattias Ohlund…Tampa’s Brett Clark deflected a Purcell shot on the PP past Varlamov to end a Washington string of 27 straight penalty kills in the second period…both teams went 1 for 4 with the man advantage…the Caps are now 11-3-2 when Ovechkin scores a point on the road…next up for the Caps are the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center on Sunday at 1230pm on NBC. Both Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee) are expected to miss the game for the Pens…the Hershey Bears, who lost goalie Dany Sabourin for 2 to 3 months due to a knee injury, knocked off the Albany Devils, 5-3, in Atlantic City on Friday night. Brian Willsie had two goals and Todd Ford, on recall from the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL, made 21 saves (h/t to my main man John Walton from the Bears for the info on this victory).

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Caps Lose in Shootout Again

Posted on 25 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Seven and counting. That is how many games in a row the Capitals have lost in overtime or the shootout this season after a 2-1 defeat to the New York Rangers at the Verizon Center on Monday night. Matt Hendricks scored the lone Caps goal early in the second period off of a gorgeous pass from rookie Marcus Johansson but then the Blueshirts tied it on a fluky goal that hit the arm of forward Marian Gaborik and then Caps d-man Karl Alzner’s stick before going into the cage with 6:41 left in regulation. At that point the Caps were being outshot 28-17, but they would take 10 of the next 11 shots before the game went to the gimmick. In the shootout, the Rangers took advantage of an “overly aggressive” Braden Holtby, scoring on 3 of 4 attempts while Washington went 2-4. The Caps record now stands at 27-14-9 and the missed points in the extra sessions are the big reason they now trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by two points in the Southeast Division race.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a tightchecking game that didn’t have too many scoring opportunities:

– With the Caps missing Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr up front while the Rangers were without top forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan, this game turned into a John Tortorella special, a hard working, grind it out type of affair. Each team had stretches where they controlled the puck for long periods of time in the others zone but the Capitals were on the short end of the shots on goal board because they often overpassed looking for the perfect play. The Rangers forecheck, at times, was also relentless and early on Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau made a tactical adjustment on Washington’s breakout with Tortorella’s crew clogging all zone exits on the boards.

“Patience from our D and then hitting the middle. I think our D did a great job once we changed the game plan a little bit. Me and [Johansson], and [Hendricks] had a couple of 3 on 2’s and [Hendricks] almost scored their in the third on that one shot. Their D came down the boards hard so it was either a chip from the winger or else hit the center. They played a tough game,” said Caps forward Jay Beagle on the changes Boudreau made almost right away in the opening stanza to combat the New York forecheck.

– Holtby only surrendered one goal for the third straight game but this time he did not get a victory because the Capitals continue to struggle to score. Problem number one was a lack of shots and compounding that was the fact that the Caps had two power plays for a total of four minutes and they had exactly ONE shot on goal. That is totally unacceptable. At this point, Boudreau likely needs to just put out the grinders and a set of different defensemen to see what they can do to get this unit going. On the first attempt, it looked like the Caps might finally break through as Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green were up top on the umbrealla on the first unit, while Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich played screen men in front of Rangers goalie Martin Biron. That setup was good except for one thing: the point men were reluctant to fire away! Boudreau attributed the Caps lack of offense to the inability of the power play to score.

“We scored 90 some goals on the power play last year, that is one a game, we are in our 20’s still at 50 games, so that one goal a game, it constitutes the difference between people saying we are not an offensive team to an offensive team. A goal a game it goes from 2.80 to 3.80 which is what we had last year and was the best in the league. So when you are not scoring on the power play things are not working,” said Boudreau on the primary reason the offense is down this season.

– While Ovechkin isn’t doing a good job at all on the power play, the rest of his game continues to be on the rise. The Great #8 was all over the ice and his stick handling and moves were much more effective in this contest. Ovie had six shots on net, two hits, and three takeaways in 24:08 of ice time and I thought he was the best player on the ice. Ovechkin’s center, Nicklas Backstrom, had a strong game as well (13-7 on faceoffs, 2 shots in 23:55) but winger Jason Chimera did not have the same success he had with #’s 8 and 19 in the last two tilts. #25 seemed to fight the puck all evening struggling to retrieve passes and thus slowing down the rush.

– After that, there wasn’t much to this game, other than a lot of work on the wall by both clubs. The line of Mathieu Perreault, Brooks Laich, and Mike Knuble seemed to struggle but the Johansson (1 assist, +1), Matt Hendricks (1 goal and a great shootout tally), and Jay Beagle (+1) line was arguably Washington’s best three man crew. Johansson, in particular, had a really solid outing in 16:41 of ice time and his overtime play was much improved versus the defensive mistakes he made in the OT loss to the Flyers last Tuesday night.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-24…the Caps killed off both Ranger power plays allowing a total of four shots…Scott Hannan had the second assist on the Hendricks goal, his first point as a Capital…next up for the Caps are the Atlanta Thrashers in Hotlanta on Wednesday night. It is the last game before the All Star Break. I would expect Semyon Varlamov to get the start in goal, if he is healthy, because he is the Caps goalie who has had the most success in Phillips Arena.

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