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Caps Bury Flyers for 9th Straight Victory

Posted on 15 January 2017 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals continue to put a beat down on their opponents.

Philipp Grubauer made 24 saves, 13 of which came in a sluggish Washington first period, and the Caps exploded for four tallies in the first seven minutes of period three to bury the despised Philadelphia Flyers, 5-0, at the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon. Justin Williams and Matt Niskanen each scored twice in the final stanza. The Caps took a lead just before the midpoint of this tilt when Michael Del Zotto turned the puck over while shorthanded in his own zone. Andre Burakovsky pounced on the loose biscuit and snapped it over Steve Mason to give Washington the only goal they’d really need.

The victory was the Caps ninth straight and in their last six games they’ve won by a combined score of 26-3. They still haven’t allowed an even strength goal since January 3rd.

Wow, this team is really rolling and it’s scary that they were able to win convincingly when not looking particularly strong or motivated until the 3rd period. Grubauer earned his shutout and first star with a super opening frame, but after that he only faced 11 shots. That’s some great team defense there.

For long time Capitals fans, there’s nothing like throttling a team you’ve battled fiercely since 1974 with numerous of those tilts involving some ugliness. But let’s face it, Philadelphia is not an elite team anymore like Pittsburgh or Chicago, and with the Penguins on the docket from the Igloo II on Monday night, this looked like a trap game for Washington.

Grubauer prevented any Flyers scoreboard momentum from occurring before Washington eventually kicked their offense into high gear and started making some AMAZING passes. First was Marcus Johansson’s “Kuzy type” behind the net feed to Williams on the second goal, then came Alex Ovechkin’s amazing rocket shot fake and dish to Niskanen for a layup, and after Mason flubbed a Niskanen point shot to make it 4-0, Nicklas “Eyes in the back of his head” Backstrom fed Williams behind his back without looking for the final tally. 

It was an awesome display of firepower and the Caps took advantage of the fact that the Flyers had played on Saturday afternoon. Philly had energy and threw a lot of rubber at Grubauer early, but once it became 2-0, you could see the fatigue and resignation set in for the orange and black.

The only bad news of the day was that John Carlson suffered a lower body injury and logged only 6:38 (he will travel to Pittsburgh, though). That put a big load on Niskanen on Sunday, but #2 excelled with the two goals while being +4 in a team leading 25:26 of ice time. The rest of the Caps blue line stepped up, as well, and Nate Schmidt received 3:10 of penalty killing time. With Alzner jailed late, even Dmitry Orlov received some work shorthanded (53 seconds). That’s good preparation against a very good Flyers power play for the postseason.

Once again the Caps penalty killing was a key to victory stopping all five Flyers man advantages. Washington was 1 for 2 on the power play and they have now gone nine straight contests having fewer power plays than their opponents. The last time they had more man advantage situations in a game than the opposition was on December 17th against Montreal.

Despite the less than fair treatment from the zebras, the Capitals have managed to take over the top spot in the NHL with a 29-9-5 record (63 points), although the Blue Jackets are 29-9-4 (62 points) and have a game in hand. The Caps have opened up a six point cushion on the Penguins and Rangers, but Pittsburgh has a game in hand. Clearly Monday night’s tilt at the Consol Energy Center will be a game that the Pens will be very much motivated to win, but the Capitals still have bitter memories from last May, so they should be focused, as well.

As Holtby mentioned to the media on Friday after the triumph over Chicago, this Caps team is very hard to beat when motivated. They should be against the Penguins on Monday, but even when they seem to have a bit of a case of the blahs, like they did for the first half of Sunday’s game against the Flyers, they are still awfully good, just ask the guys from Philly.

Notes: shots on goal were 24-22 for the Flyers and they also had more shot attempts, 56-48…the Caps continue to get goals from the paint and that’s a big reason why they’ve won nine straight. They have amped their compete level up and stopped playing almost exclusively on the perimeter…Orlov was second in ice time at 22:15, but Brooks Orpik logged 21:43 and Schmidt played 21:37…Williams, after a slow start, now has 14 goals on the season…the Caps took three high sticking minors, they need to correct that…Washington won the faceoff battle, 21-20. Evgeny Kuznetsov was 5-2…Ovechkin had seven hits…Chandler Stephenson was recalled from Hershey, but did not dress. He is expected to accompany the Caps on their three game road trip.

Down on the Farm: On Sunday evening, I took in the Hershey Bears-Binghamton Senators tilt before 9,996 fans at the Giant Center. The Bears have been struggling recently, but they broke a long losing streak with a 6-4 win over Lehigh Valley (Flyers AHL team) on Saturday night in Chocolatetown. Hershey got off on the wrong foot in the game against the Senators with Christian Djoos taking a careless early high sticking double minor. Binghamton would tally on the second half of that four minute infraction and in period two they would increase their lead to two goals. Hershey, who only had five shots on goal through 30 minutes, finally awoke from their slumber and started playing hockey. Chris Bourque, who was the best Bears forward in this tilt, drew a tripping penalty and Jakub Vrana buried a shot shortly thereafter to make it a 2-1 game. Then in the third period, Bourque scored on another power play to even things up and with Hershey surging to a 24-18 lead in shots on goal, things were looking up for the home squad. But then the Bears committed a terrible offensive zone turnover and Bingo went in on a two on none break and easily beat Vitek Vanecek. Hershey would continue to press the play, but then another Bears defensive zone breakdown led to an easy marker for Binghamton with three minutes left and they won, 4-2. Overall this was a poor effort by Troy Mann’s squad and the line of Paul Carey-Zach Sanford-Stan Galiev was a disappointment. Hershey looked flat and the blue line, which sorely misses Madison Bowey, was rather unimpressive. The Bears are now 19-10-7-2 on the campaign.

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Tough Weekend for Caps, But Not For Hershey

Posted on 18 January 2015 by Ed Frankovic

After going 4-0-1 in the first nine days of a seven games in 11 day stretch, it appears fatigue finally caught up with the Washington Capitals as they dropped two tough one goal losses to the Nashville Predators (4-3) and Dallas Stars (5-4) over the weekend on days 10 and 11. In both contests the Capitals fell behind early, two pucks in Music City and then a 3-0 deficit in Big D, expended tons of energy in rallying, before wilting late to lose two heart breakers.

The loss to the Predators, in Coach Barry Trotz’ return to Smashville, was especially disheartening since the Caps led 3-2 with five minutes to go. But a soft penalty call on John Carlson, a bad PK, and then a Matt Niskanen untimely turnover added up to a horrible defeat.

In Dallas, it was the bad start, too many penalties, and just awful defense that cost Washington the game. They turned the puck over too much and allowed a super fast squad to beat them in transition. In addition, the Capitals strong defensive zone play that we’ve come to expect under Trotz looked very Oatesian in the Lone Star State and, at times, in Nashville.

Washington gave up nine goals in two games and that is unacceptable. Looking at all of those tallies against, it’s hard to fault the goaltender (Braden Holtby on Friday and Justin Peters on Saturday) on any of them.

Back to back situations also seem to plague this Capitals team. They are now 1-6-1 this season on the second half of those and 0-5-1 when game two is on the road. Again, unacceptable and the team they are chasing for the division lead, the New York Islanders, is 6-2 in those same instances. That’s a nine point swing and the reason why New York currently owns a five point lead in the division race over the Caps (61 points to 56).

The good news is the Caps top line continues to sizzle and Alex Ovechkin (25 goals) is playing some of the best hockey of his career. In addition, the Caps have a game against the Edmonton Oilers at home on Tuesday before getting a week off for the NHL all star break. Boy do the Caps need some rest.

Along with the defensive zone issues, Washington’s second line continues to be wildly inconsistent. Evgeny Kuznetsov was downright terrible in Nashville and he, along with Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer just aren’t where this team needs their second line to be.

Barring some major injuries, you can pretty much bet the house that the Caps will return to the playoffs this spring. But just making it is not enough. Ovechkin is not getting any younger nor is Brooks Orpik and some others, so the Capitals need to seriously think about what they need to do over the remaining 37 games to prepare themselves to win in the post season. The Eastern Conference has many good teams, but there is no clear cut front runner. GM Brian MacLellan and Trotz need to figure out what to do about the forward line combinations, including determining if some trades are needed, and solidify them for April and beyond. The East is there for the taking so just being content with getting back in the dance should not cut it.

It’s been an encouraging season and a major turnaround for Washington thanks to off season defensive acquisitions along with bringing in a talented and organized coaching staff. As George Allen used to say, “The Future is Now.” The Caps have to think like that, unlike the words we used to hear from the former GM about just getting in and hoping to win. You have to be aggressive at the trade deadline in an attempt to plug any holes and build depth for the unexpected injury that could occur down the stretch and in the post season. It will be interesting to see what MacLellan does since the Caps have some holes that the kids on the roster (Tom Wilson, Andre Burakovksy, and Kuznetsov) have not been able to fill so far this season.

Speaking of kids, it was a super weekend for the Washington AHL team, the Hershey Bears. Coach Troy Mann’s squad won both weekend tilts to seize first place in the East Division. The Bears are also a strong defensive team but have had trouble putting the biscuit in the basket. Lately though, they’ve gotten hot offensively and have won five of six games.

On Sunday, I took in the Bears tilt against the despised Lehigh Valley Phantoms (Philadelphia Flyers AHL club) at the Giant Center and came away very impressed with the team game that Hershey plays. Phoenix Copley got the start in net and he was solid, allowing only two tallies on 30 shots. Hershey does a decent job of keeping opponents on the perimeter and they transition from defense to offense well. I was impressed with the speed of Dustin Gazley. Gazley did a good job of helping a penalty killing unit that was a perfect eight for eight on Sunday.

Stan Galiev has 13 goals and is really improving. He is showing he belongs in the AHL now after a couple of years of bouncing back and forth between “The A” and the ECHL. Connor Carrick was okay on defense for Hershey, as well. Both played big roles in a Bears five on three situation in period two. Carrick manned the point, like Mike Green does in Washington, while Galiev had the Ovechkin spot on the PP. They moved the puck well in that situation but Phantoms goalie Anthony Stolarz, who was very shaky in the first period, was super in the middle frame and shut the Bears down to keep his club in it. Late in period three the Bears would score and then add an empty net tally to close out the victory.

Overall, I like Hershey’s team and they are poised to do well come AHL playoffs time. However, I didn’t see anyone I thought must be called up to DC this season. That’s also a testament to the strong roster the Capitals have at the NHL level, too. If there is a call up that could play a factor in Washington down the stretch, I’d have to say it would be goalie Philip Grubauer. With Peters struggling to get wins, one has to wonder if the team has much confidence in him? Grubauer does have NHL experience and has shown the ability to steal a game at that level where Peters just hasn’t come close to doing so in 2014-15.

Notes: The Caps out shot attempted Dallas, 68-51, but the only thing that counts is the final score…Hershey is 3-2-1 against Lehigh Valley but they play SIX more times this season…Grubauer returned from injury and won, 5-4, versus Albany on Saturday night.

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Ovechkin Sparks Caps Comeback Win in Carolina

Posted on 02 April 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It was 2-0 Carolina and they were totally dominating the Capitals as the game moved late into the first period.

<Cue the Jaws music>

Then Alexander Ovechkin took a sweet drop pass from Nicklas Backstrom and buried the biscuit top shelf, far side for a huge goal for the Capitals with just 39 seconds left in the frame.

It was a game changing and perhaps season changing tally as the Gr8’s club kicked it into high gear in the middle period scoring four times while allowing just one puck to take a 5-3 lead, which they would close out in the third period. They knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes for the second straight time in Raleigh after trailing by two goals and they move two points up on the Canes. In addition, they are now just two points out of the Southeast Division lead as the Winnipeg Jets lost to the New York Islanders on Tuesday night. Washington has two games in hand on the Jets, although Carolina has a game in hand on the Caps. The Capitals also hit .500 for the first time all season and their record stands at 17-17-2.

Just a week ago, after a terrible home loss to the Islanders, I blogged that the Caps had three options at tomorrow’s trade deadline:

1. Stand Pat

2. Become Buyers

3. Sell and build for the future

I can tell you that option three is totally out the window now after Washington grabbed five points in three road games while the teams in front of them in the Southeast Division went into full collapse mode. Add to the fact that clubs like Calgary, Buffalo, and Dallas have gone into total sell mode and there is just no way Washington can get in the bottom three or five in the standings and make tanking the season for a high draft choice worth it.

Simply put, General Manager George McPhee needs to try and add a top six forward to this club if they want to really increase their playoff chances. As I also wrote last week, hockey is a business and there is lots of playoff money and hockey department bonuses on the line. So everyone wants to get into the dance, especially owner Ted Leonsis who generates millions in revenue off of a playoff appearance. Factor in that a Southeast Division title yields the third seed and a likely date with either Toronto or Ottawa while avoiding the Pittsburgh Penguins until the Eastern Conference Finals and the motto has to be:

Southeast Division Title or Bust!

The question is who to buy after big names like Jarome Iginla (Penguins) and Jaromir Jagr (Bruins) went off the market in trades. Add in guys like Derek Roy (Vancouver) and Ryane Clowe (Rangers) to the already moved ledger and the rental pickings to improve a club are pretty slim. But there are teams that have players under contract for another year that might make sense. Why not kick the tires in Calgary and see if Jay Feaster might be interested in moving left handed shooting Mike Cammalleri? The Flames forward is a sniper who would fit nicely with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom but he comes with a 2013-14 price tag of $6M. But if you can move some salary back to Calgary in the deal it would make sense. Let’s be honest, Mike Ribeiro is not going to be dealt tomorrow now and he will likely hit the open market come July 1st. But he earned that and Washington will probably lose him so they will be down another top 6 forward. So why not add one for this year and next year on Wednesday, if you can?

Anyways, Wednesday’s deadline day, which ends at 3pm, shapes up to be interesting for the Caps.

But back to Tuesday’s big win. Mike Green (2 goals) was just outstanding in this game at both ends of the rink. He not only scored but he moved the puck well on the back end and his 3rd period penalty kill shifts were downright dominant. If #52 stays healthy, this is a totally different hockey team.

In addition, Backstrom was sensational with four assists and even Marcus Johansson played one of the best contests of his young career and had two helpers by playing solid positionally and using his stick and speed to generate counter attacks.

Last of all, let’s not forget Braden Holtby (31 saves), who continues to make the big save when Washington needs it. The Caps defense continues to be very loose in stretches and Holtbeast wouldn’t allow Carolina to get too far ahead early and he didn’t give up a momentum changing tally once the Capitals seized control.

It was a huge victory and it all turned on the Gr8’s first tally. Ovechkin then poured in what became the eventual game winner and he now has 20 goals and 37 points in 36 games. He has points in nine straight games and goals in eight of them. The Gr8, Backstrom, and Holtby are carrying this hockey club and Ovechkin is once again quieting his critics.

On that note, I’ll leave you with one thought that I’ve tweeted many times in recent weeks on twitter after Ovechkin goals:

Where’s Milbury?! Hahahahahaha

Notes: The Caps next game is against the Islanders on Thursday at home. New York is 2-0 against Washington this year and their team speed gives the Capitals fits…Carolina won the shot attempt tally 65-43 and the face-off battle, 34-32, but they gave up too many odd man rushes and their goaltending is subpar…John Erskine finally returned to the lineup and logged 13:32 on defense. Jeff Schultz was scratched while both Dmitry Orlov and Tomas Kundratek were sent to Hershey…Michal Neuvirth was healthy enough to back up Holtby (Philip Grubauer was sent back to Hershey on Monday)…Finally, in honor of Caps radio play by play man John Walton’s birthday on Tuesday, “Good morning, Good afternoon, and Good night Carolina!”

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New Penn State Coach O’Brien to Visit Baltimore in May

Posted on 12 April 2012 by WNST Staff

Penn State Coaches Caravan To Hit The Road This Spring

Coaches Bill O’Brien and Patrick Chambers to Headline Seven State Bus Tour

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa., April 11, 2012 – The Nittany Lion Club and the Penn State Alumni Association will team up to provide fans the chance to meet and hear from some of the leaders of Penn State Athletics this spring when the Penn State Coaches Caravan hits the road for destinations across Nittany Nation, encompassing seven states and Washington, D.C.

Nittany Lion football coach Bill O’Brien will headline the bus tour of many Penn State alumni strongholds across Pennsylvania and the East Coast. The first-year head coach is scheduled to participate in all 18 Coaches Caravan stops across nine days in late April and early May.

O’Brien will be joined by several other Penn State head coaches on varying Coaches Caravan stops, including Nittany Lion basketball coach Patrick Chambers during the first week, which begins with two events in Philadelphia on Monday, April 30.

O’Brien and selected coaches will speak and answer questions from Penn State fans at every Coaches Caravan stop. Field hockey coach Char Morett also is confirmed for Philadelphia and other Penn State head coaches and the events they are attending will be announced later this month.

The Penn State Coaches Caravan will feature two stops on each of nine days of the tour spread over three consecutive weeks this spring, starting April 30 in Philadelphia. Three of the Coaches Caravan events will be held at Penn State Commonwealth campuses in Altoona, Erie and Hazleton.

Complete details and registration information for every stop on the Penn State Coaches Caravan tour are available at www.GoPSUsports.com and www.alumni.psu.edu/coachescaravan.

Penn State Coaches Caravan schedule:

April 30      Philadelphia (lunch)

                          Drexel Hill, Pa. (evening)

May 1         Baltimore (lunch)

                          Washington, D.C. (evening)

May 2         Richmond, Va. (breakfast)

                          Harrisburg/Hershey, Pa. (evening)

May 8         Penn State Hazleton (lunch)

                          Lehigh Valley, Pa. (evening)

May 9         Woodbridge, N.J. (lunch)

                          New York City (evening)

May 10       Hartford, Conn. (lunch)

                          Scranton, Pa. (evening)

May 14       Penn State Altoona (breakfast)

                          Pittsburgh (evening)

May 15       Youngstown, Ohio (lunch)

                          Cleveland, Ohio (evening)

May 16       Penn State Erie, The Behrend College (lunch)

                          Buffalo, N.Y. (evening)

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Caps 2nd Round Opponent Still TBD

Posted on 26 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

It was another of day of rest for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday and on Wednesday morning, when GM George McPhee, Coach Bruce Boudreau, and the rest of the players wake up, their second round playoff opponent is still to be determined. With the Philadelphia Flyers knocking off the Buffalo Sabres in game 7 on Tuesday night and the Montreal Canadiens forcing a game 7 on Wednesday night with the Boston Bruins, the Caps can still play either Montreal, Tampa Bay or Pittsburgh in round two. The Penguins and Lightning will also play a game 7 on Wednesday. It will be a night of channel flipping and can’t miss hockey.

The good news in all of this: whatever team Washington draws for the second round will be worn down while the Capitals will likely have had nearly a full week of rest. If Montreal manages to win in Beantown, then the Caps get a rematch from last season’s post season debacle. However, if the higher seeded Bruins prevail, the Capitals play the winner of the Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh battle. Sidney Crosby (concussion) is still out for the Pens and it doesn’t look like he will be back this weekend since he has not fully practiced with contact yet.

This has been one exciting playoff year and Washington has given themselves a huge advantage by closing out their series with the New York Rangers in just five games. That feat was the quickest the Capitals have ever gotten out of the first round since the NHL expanded the opening round format, in 1987, to a best of seven from a best of five. The Caps had first round three game sweeps of the Flyers in 1984 and the Islanders in 1986. Since then they’ve needed at least six games to claim a first round series until 2011.

On Tuesday, the Capitals took the ice for their first full practice since Saturday (Monday was an optional skate). Mike Green and Mike Knuble both participated in the full practice while Alexander Semin missed it with the flu, according to Boudreau. In addition, Dennis Wideman skated in full pads for about 50 minutes on Tuesday with the first 45 of them prior to the full squad hitting the ice. Special thanks to Mike Vogel (WashingtonCaps.com), Steve Whyno (The Washington Times), Katie Carrera (The Washington Post), Sky Kerstein (106.7 The FAN in DC), and Dave Nichols (Caps News Network) for providing all practice info via twitter and blogs.

With Wideman not fully practicing yet, one would have to surmise that he likely won’t return to the Caps lineup until game two of the second round, at the earliest, and he was reportedly “a little lightheaded” at one point today. Knuble stated after the skate that he was day-to-day so who knows if he would play if a game one was on Friday? One thing is certain though, the Caps earned this rest and they needed it. Now they just have to wait to figure out who they will play in round two.

Notes: With the Hershey Bears losing in OT in game six on Sunday night, they were eliminated from the post season. It was a sad night in Chocolatetown and their shot at a 3rd straight Calder Cup has ended. Tuesday the Caps recalled goaltender Braden Holtby to help out at practice and remain sharp in case he is needed going forward. Tim Leone of The Patriot-News and Penn-Live.com tweeted that forwards Mathieu Perreault, Steve Pinizzotto, and Andrew Gordon (when healthy, sprained ankle) plus d-man Patrick McNeill will also be recalled by Washington for what could be a long playoff run. The other good news out of Hershey today was that the Caps and the Bears have extended their working agreement for another season (through 2011-12).

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It’s Time for The Caps To Bring It In Game 4

Posted on 19 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

There is no way to sugar coat this one, it is time for the Washington Capitals to show up and take charge in a critical game four at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night at 7 pm against the New York Rangers. The Caps had a golden opportunity to take a commanding lead in this best of seven series on Sunday afternoon and they blew it, getting outworked by a team with less skill and talent, to lose 3-2 in the last two minutes. It was flat out an unacceptable performance.

The Capitals didn’t put forth the effort necessary to win on Sunday, but now they don’t have much choice or they risk yielding a massive amount of momentum to the Rangers, who would knot this matchup at two games a piece with a win on their home ice. There are no more excuses for the Caps to not deliver a monster effort in this contest. In three games so far, they have not put together a total 60 minutes despite leading the series, so they should be due to bring their “A” game. There can be no more defensive breakdowns and the Caps must start connecting on the multiple odd man rushes they have been generating. If the Capitals play hard and stick to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s system, there should be no stopping them, they are the better team. But we haven’t seen that so far in the series, we saw a lackluster effort on Sunday which included far too many penalties, most of which were of the lazy variety. If the Capitals want to draw more power plays, one way to do it is to work harder by constantly moving their feet and driving to the net.

Another way is for the referees to start calling some of the extra curricular tactics by New York. After Boudreau went on the verbal offensive yesterday, Rangers Coach John Tortorella responded today by saying his team is not worried about the “whining” influencing the game four officiating crew, which will be Paul Devorski and Steve Kozari. Maybe he knew Devo was one of the referees before he said that? The Caps are 1-2 in the last three post seasons with #10 as one of the zebras, with a game seven OT loss against the Flyers in 2008 very much still etched in everyone’s mind.

A win tomorrow and the Caps are in the driver seat but a loss keeps the Rangers hanging around and makes them very dangerous in what would become a three game series. However, if the Caps bring one of their better efforts, it won’t matter what the Rangers do or who the officials are, because their play will take care of itself. Everyone knows the Capitals have the ability to take their game to the next level and put the Rangers on the brink of elimination. The question is do they have the resolve to give it everything they have on each shift while sticking to their system, because that is the recipe for success?

Notes: Mike Knuble missed practice for a second straight day. There is talk that #22 got nicked up in game three but I will be surprised if he doesn’t play…Eric Fehr would be the logical addition to the lineup if #22 is out or if Boudreau opts to scratch another forward…down on the farm the Hershey Bears raced to a 3-0 first period lead and held on to a 3-2 victory behind 28 saves by Braden Holtby to win game three of their best of seven series with the Checkers in Charlotte. Hershey has a 2-1 advantage with games four and five slated for Charlotte on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.

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Caps Development Camp Update: Scrimmage #1 Ends in 4-4 Tie

Posted on 15 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

In front of a near capacity crowd at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston, Virginia, the Washington Capitals development campers, which includes Caps prospects who are under contract and recent draft picks who have not been signed yet, took to the ice for the first scrimmage of their week long summer session with the game ending in a 4-4 tie. This was the week’s first real test and evaluation for a group of over 40 players in a game situation and the intensity was rather high with many of the skaters very willing to dish out body checks and initiate contact.

“I liked a lot of guys because they brought intensity to a summer game and there was a lot of hitting and a lot of hard skating,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau when asked about Wednesday’s scrimmage.

Let’s get right to some of the highlights, more quotes, and analysis from a game that was sloppy, at times, but did not lack energy:

– For those of you who follow my twitter account (@Emfrank123), you know that I was impressed with 2010 first round draft choice, Evgeny Kuznetsov, from what I saw of him in drills on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he didn’t disappoint again and he was arguably the best player on the ice notching two goals and an assist. The young Russian, who is listed at 6 foot even and 172 pounds, was not only an offensive creator with the puck, but he showed a willingness to get his hands dirty by going to the net for the more tougher tallies. The 26th pick in the draft certainly appears to be having fun when he is playing the game and it definitely got the attention of his future head coach, Bruce Boudreau.

“He showed some good flashes and the other thing too is he’s got a personality. Some 18 year old Europeans when they come over they don’t have that. When he scored he did the pump, he made a nice pass and he’s smiling, working hard. I think he had two goals and an assist, not bad for his American debut,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner.

Kuznetsov spent some time with the media afterwards and he remarked that to get better he definitely needs to get quicker and “bulk up.”

“The main thing I figured out is I need to work on my speed because it is smaller rinks and things happen very fast here and the other thing I need to do is put on some weight, about 30 pounds,” said the young man who played for Chelyabinsk Traktor of the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in 2009-10, via Russian translator Dmitry Chesnokov (who also blogs for Puck Daddy over at Yahoo.com).

It’s only been three days but the young man Washington had listed as the 12th ranked player on their draft board certainly seems to have made a big impression already.

“We sure like his enthusiasm and he’s got a lot of talent. It’s early but it sure looks like a pretty good pick,” finished GM George McPhee on the man who wore #48 for the red team.

– 2009 first round pick (24th overall) Marcus Johansson can definitely skate well and he had a solid, but not flashy session on Wednesday. #90 appears to play bigger than the size he is listed at (5′ 11″, 189 pounds) on the development camp roster. Boudreau, who praised the skating strength of the young Swede on Monday when he compared him to Nicklas Backstrom, provided one of the best interview nuggets of the day when he talked about a system challenge that the 19 year old who played for Farjestad in the top Swedish league in 2009-10 is facing with the Caps and the NHL game.

“I just talked to him and I said we are going to have to get you accustomed to the North American game because in the Swedish games the centers don’t forecheck so it is hard to become an offensive player if you are going and then you slam on the breaks to be the third guy high. And he said ‘yeah’, he found it difficult but that’s going to be something that over time we’ll change his style a little bit. But you can see he can skate great, he circles a little bit, but those are all things that you see them here you can correct for August and September and further down the road,” added Boudreau on adjustments Johansson will need to make before playing in the NHL.

– A pleasant surprise today was the play of Dustin Stevenson, who is a hulk of a defenseman at 6′ 5″ and 220 pounds. Playing on the white team, the 20 year old who was the top player in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in 2009-10, made things happen, including one shift that lasted about two minutes because he continually made solid plays on the left point to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Stevenson showed good mobility and ability for a guy who is making one of the biggest jumps in competition, something not lost on GM George McPhee, who said “I liked Stevenson on the blue line,” when asked about players he thought stood out on Wednesday.

– Another player I was eager to take a look at is 2009 2nd round draft pick, defenseman Dmitri Orlov. The man that former Flames GM Craig Button had Washington selecting in the first round of his mock draft had a sensational second period rushing the puck and creating scoring opportunities on nearly every shift. However, the young man who will turn 19 on July 23rd had a rough third period, primarily due to some poor play in his own end. Orlov, who played in the KHL last season, on one occassion blindly threw the puck up the boards without even looking, resulting in a giveaway. After the scrimmage, our friends over at Russian Machine Never Breaks interviewed the young defenseman and they mentioned that Dmitri was quite frustrated with the way he finished out a game that saw his red team lose a 3-1 lead in the final stanza. Coach Boudreau also felt that there was good and bad in Orlov’s play on Wednesday afternoon.

“I think it was a mixed bag in that he competed, he made a couple of good plays. I was telling one of the gentlemen here he makes the good first pass, at the same time it was a little scrambly. He’s playing on his offside as well so I don’t know if that’s good or bad or whether he prefers that. Most of these Europeans are used to the big ice and now all of a sudden they’ve got to come down. I thought he was fine,” added Boudreau, noting that the left shooting Orlov is playing on the unnatural right side on defense.

– As far as the goaltending was concerned, top prospect Braden Holtby did not suit up leaving the net minding duties to Dan Dunn and Philipp Grubauer to start for the white and red team, respectively. Dunn, who was selected by Washington in the 6th round of the 2007 NHL draft, and Grubauer, taken in the fourth round in 2010, both were fairly solid with Grubauer, who was the winning goalie in the 2010 Memorial Cup for Windsor, stopping several penalty shots (all whistled infractions resulted in penalty shots instead of two minute minors). Taylor Nelson of Ferris State and Nauris Enkuzens of Dynamo Riga finished up in goal and Enkuzens thwarted both Anton Gustaffson and Kuznetsov on penalty shots until he was finally beaten by forward Sean Wiles (Alaska-Anchorage) with four minutes left to put the red team up, 4-3. Eric Alexander then beat Nelson, his college teammate, with a sensational move and shot late in the contest to knot things up at four and close out the scoring.

– The biggest downer of the day was an injury to Hershey Bears defenseman Zach Miskovic, who hurt his left knee on what appeared to be a clean check at the blue line by Joe Finley (Caps 2005 1st round draft choice). Miskovic, who played in six AHL Calder Cup playoff games for the Bears in 2010, was helped off the ice, which is a concern considering he has a good chance to be a top 4 d-man in Chocolatetown in 2010-11. The hit resulted in Anthony Pisano of the white team challenging Finley to a bout, but no punches were really landed by either player before the two combatants fell to the ice.

“It’s something that will be sore and he’s out for the rest of the camp, but hopefully it doesn’t require surgery and we’ll just get it to settle down,” added McPhee on the status of the 25 year old Miskovic. 

Notes: The Caps and Hershey Bears announced today that former Cap Brian Willsie has been signed on a two way contract, meaning the man who scored 19 goals for Washington in 2005-06 will likely play for the Bears and help fill some of the scoring void left by the departed Alexandre Giroux (signed a one way deal for $500K in Edmonton on July 3rd)…Gustafsson made it through the scrimmage without getting injured but he certainly is not as willing to put himself in harm’s way or make a solid body check like his old man would normally do. Bengt Gustafsson, pound for pound, was one of the best hitters in the NHL in his day…McPhee, when asked by Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post after the scrimmage, said that the Caps are pretty much done with signing free agents this summer…The players hit the ice again on Thursday morning at 9am for scrimmage number two. Look for coverage of that here at wnst.net on Thursday night.

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Caps Sign Jeff Schultz to 4 Year Deal

Posted on 07 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Sign Schultz

Below is the press release from the Capitals on the Jeff Schultz inking:

The Washington Capitals have signed defenseman Jeff Schultz to a four-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Schultz, 24, played 73 games for the Capitals in 2009-10 and led the NHL with a +50 rating, the best single-season rating in franchise history. He became the first defenseman to lead the NHL in plus/minus rating since 2005-06 (Michal Rozsival and Wade Redden) and the first Capital to lead the league in that category. Offensively he recorded career highs in assists (20) and points (23) and averaged a career-high 19:51 of ice time per game. He led the team with 129 blocked shots.

The Calgary, Alberta, native was the Capitals’ first-round choice, 27th overall, in the 2004 Entry Draft. He has played in 247 career games for Washington, recording 56 points (nine goals, 47 assists) and just 97 penalty minutes. He has a +80 rating in his career.

COMMENTS: According to Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post and Pierre LeBrun of ESPN, the dollars for the deal are $2.5M in the first two years, then $3M in the final two years for an annual salary cap hit of $2.75M.  Schultz had a career campaign in 2009-10 after starting the season as a healthy scratch in the season opener in Boston. He quickly beat out Shaone Morrisonn as Mike Green’s regular defensive partner making #26 expendable. Schultz, who can be a lightning rod for criticism from some media and fans, is a puck moving defenseman who uses his size (6′ 6″) and reach to neutralize opponents. He is not a physical defenseman nor is he fleet of the foot, but he is effective when on his game.

Unfortunately he has struggled in the post season, but you could make a decent list of other Caps who would join him on the playoff underachievers club. While some may find the numbers higher than expected, especially given that “Sarge” only made $715K in 2009-10, he has become a top 4 defenseman and compared to the Jeff Finger (4 years, $14M) and Mike Commodore (4 years, $15M) deals that Toronto and Columbus gave out, respectively, in the summer of 2008, this appears to be a steal. In addition, by locking up Schultz for four years the Capitals keep Sarge an extra year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent, so the 2004 1st round draft choice (27th overall) will not have a chance to hit the open market until he is 28 in 2014.

Also, there may be some who are concerned that tying up this much money in #55 might impact the future contracts for young defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner. Alzner, who has an estimated salary cap hit of $1.6M after bonuses for 2010-11, can become a restricted free agent after this upcoming season. Carlson, who has an estimated salary cap figure of just under $850K, is eligible to become a restricted free agent after the 2011-12 season. However, Tom Poti, who currently is a cap hit of $3.5M, will become an unrestricted free agent after 2010-11 and it is expected that the Caps will not have much interest in a then 34 year old d-man, unless he takes a significant pay cut. Thus much of the Poti freed up dollars will be used for expected increases to King Karl and the 2010 World Junior Championships American Hero.

Notes: In other Caps organizational news, the 2010 Calder Cup Champion HERSHEY BEARS announced today in conjunction with the Washington Capitals that the club has signed left wing Kyle Greentree and defenseman Brian Fahey.  Greentree has signed a two-year agreement, while Fahey has signed for the 2010-11 season. The announcement was made today by BEARS President/GM Doug Yingst.

Greentree, 26, led Rockford (AHL) with 25 goals in 64 games last season. The 6’3”, 215-pound left wing has played four games in the NHL, two with Philadelphia in 2007-08 and two with Calgary in 2008-09.  His most prolific goal scoring season as a professional came two years ago, scoring 39 goals for Quad City (AHL). Greentree made his AHL debut with the Philadelphia Phantoms during the 2006-07 campaign.

 

Fahey, 29, played last season with Lake Erie (AHL), where he had 11 goals and 25 points in 71 games. A blueliner for the BEARS briefly during the 2003-04 season, he enjoyed his best season as a professional while skating for Chicago (AHL) in 2007-08.  Fahey scored 14 goals and assisted on 37 others that season for the Wolves during the regular season, and helped Chicago win the Calder Cup. He was also a four-year standout for the University of Wisconsin, playing in 156 games during his time in Madison.

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Hershey Advances to AHL Finals

Posted on 22 May 2010 by Ed Frankovic

For the 4th time in five years the Hershey Bears are going to be in the AHL finals after a come from behind, 3-2, overtime victory versus the Manchester Monarchs. The Bears win the series, four games to two, and will defend their 2009 Calder Cup title against either the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens farm team) or the Texas Stars (Dallas Stars farm team). Hamilton, after a 3-0 win in game five of their best of seven series in the Lone Star State on Saturday night, leads Texas three games to two with game six set for Copps Coliseum in Canada on Monday night. If the Bulldogs don’t close things out on 5/24, then they have another shot at home on Wednesday, May 26th. 

It is not clear when game one of the AHL finals will begin, but complicating matters is the fact that the circus will be at the Giant Center from 5/26 to 5/31. Making things worse is that the Bulldogs rink is booked from 6/2 – 6/6 so if Hamilton does advance, then the AHL league office will have their work cut out for them in trying to schedule this series. By the way, this would be a Capitals-Canadiens rematch and it is quite possible that if Philadelphia knocks off the Habs then defenseman PK Subban will be back with Hamilton for the AHL Finals.

As for Saturday night’s big Bears win, well it required another late rally by the Chocolate and White. Hershey was outshot 24-13 through two periods and trailed 2-0 but they came out on fire in period three getting a goal from Alexandre Giroux at 7:37 and then a floater through traffic from Patrick McNeill at 14:09 to send this one to the extra session. The Bears fired 13 shots on Monarchs goalie Jonathan Bernier (28 saves) while Michal Neuvirth (32 saves) faced only eight in period three.

In overtime, Boyd Kane scored 7:06 in to run Hershey’s OT record to 7-1 in the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs. It also brought out the famous John Walton line (Hershey play by play voice) of “Good morning, Good afternoon, and Good night Manchester!” I was able to catch the 3rd period and the overtime on radio since I could not make it to the game in person due to a family commitment. I highly recommend the Walton Bears broadcasts if you can’t view the contests live.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: For those who might have missed it, I joined Stephen Pepper and Russell Waxman of Japers Rink Radio (@JapersRinkRadio) on Saturday morning for a 15 minute segment on their weekly hour long show. The topics were Caps and Bears hockey. Here is a link to the show, which also features Ivan Carter of CSN’s Washington Post Live.

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Hershey Wins Game 5 in OT, Take Series Lead

Posted on 20 May 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears, who blew a 2-0 lead in game three and then were shutout in game four in their AHL Eastern Conference Finals best of seven matchup with Manchester, just needed to find a way to get a win against the Monarchs on Thursday in order to reclaim the series lead. Well, it wasn’t pretty, and it was tough on the heart, but Francois Bouchard knocked home the rebound of a Mathieu Perreault shot 10:38 into overtime to give the Bears a 3-2 win and the same margin in games. Game 6 is at what surely will be a sold out Giant Center on Saturday night in Chocolate Town. If Hershey can’t close the deal then game seven would be Sunday at 5pm at the Giant Center, as well.

Here are some highlights, thoughts, and analysis on what could be deemed an Instant Classic from New Hampshire on Thursday night:

WOW, what a game! After a scoreless 40 minutes that were dominated by outstanding goaltending at both ends of the rink, the Monarchs appeared to take control on two occassions after scoring power play goals. The first Manchester tally came after Greg Amadio was called for interference just four minutes into period three. Bud Holloway lasered one from the right wing circle by Michal Neuvirth (27 saves). #30 had no chance because Patrick Wellar screened his own net minder. But the Bears answered with a goal by Kile Wilson at the 11:41 mark. Boyd Kane carried the puck down the left wing boards and he fired it on net. The puck hit the Monarchs defender and then what appeared to be Wilson’s skate, before going by Jonathan Bernier (32 saves). Manchester would complain, but the goal stood.

With play tightening up the contest appeared headed to overtime, but then Alexandre Giroux, who struggled in the three tilts in New Hampshire, took a costly goalie interference penalty at 15:56. 90 seconds later the Monarchs appeared to be on the verge of taking control in this series when, after a wild sequence, Jacob Muzzin blasted one in by Neuvirth. The Bears had several attempts to clear but Manchester kept the biscuit in and made Hershey pay.

Things looked bleak but Coach Mark French’s crew managed to get an offensive zone face-off with just 1:08 to go and the Bears called timeout. Hershey won the face-off and Keith Aucion fired a cross ice pass from the left wing circle to Alexandre Giroux at the right point and #12 then slid one to Chris Bourque in the right wing circle. #17 then wristed one by Bernier with Bouchard screening in front. A wild Hershey celebration ensued with just 50 ticks remaining in regulation. However, just before the first 60 minutes were up, Holloway hit the post and that gave the Bears their chance to prevail in OT.

As I said, both goalies were superb and it is hard to say who was better, but I’ll give the nod to Neuvirth, who could not be faulted on either Monarchs tally. #30 was just sensational on several occassions, including one sequence where he made a great first save on Andrei Lotkionov then dived to stop Holloway with the rebound on the doorstep in the second period. Manchester had a good game plan of trying to throw as much traffic as they could in front of Neuvy and it nearly worked, although the Monarchs only scored with the man advantage (2 for 3 on the power play).

As I blogged after games one and three, Bourque continues to be the best player on the ice, in my opinion. #17 had a goal and an assist and was +2. Whenever he was out there the Bears seemed to carry the play. He and Perreault (1 assist, +2) create offense well together. I attribute that to their superior skating ability, outstanding hands, and excellent hockey smarts. I think both guys will get good looks and have a chance to make the Caps out of training camp in September.

Now to Bouchard. It was good to see him make things happen around the net, something I saw him do well back in February when I was up for a Hershey-Albany tilt during the NHL Olympic Break. #22, who was a Capitals second round pick in 2006 and turned 22 years old on April 26th, is starting to fill out physically (6′ 1”, 190 lbs) and the winger is using that additional size to notch some hard working tallies.

The pair of John Carlson (+2) and Karl Alzner (+1) had a game that was more reminscent of the two opening contests of this series at the Giant Center after what I will call an average performance in game three. They were both on for the game winner. In fact, Carlson was the one who made the play on the right point to start the sequence that led to the winning tally by Bouchard. #4 fought off two Monarchs to keep the puck in and get it to Bourque. #17 then fed it to Perreault near the point in the middle of the ice and his blast could not be handled by Bernier. Bouchard then skated in off of the right post and banged it home to bring on the familiar call from the great John Walton (Hershey’s play by play voice): “Good morning, good afternoon, and good night Manchester!”

I have a feeling Walton will be saying that again on Saturday night and that would put the Bears in their second consecutive Calder Cup Finals. Stay tuned.

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