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Caps Battle for First Place/Hershey Bears News

Posted on 11 November 2008 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Beat Lightning Head to Carolina

After knocking off the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2, last night at the Verizon Center the Caps, who are now 6-0-1 at home this season, head to Raleigh to play for sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division on Wednesday evening. The Caps sit at 8-4-2 overall while Carolina is 8-5-2. You can bet the Hurricanes are chomping at the bit waiting for Washington after the Caps pulled a fast one scoring two goals in the last three minutes last Thursday to turn a likely 2-1 loss into a 3-2 Caps win.

As for Monday’s game, well there was excitement in the air as long time Capitals goalie, Olaf “Olie the Goalie” Kolzig, who was the face of the franchise for 10 years, was in net for the Lightning and was hoping to stymie his old mates. Kolzig should have brought his lawyer to town on Monday and sued for non-support because his team was absolutely atrocious in front of him in the first period as the Caps raced to a 3-0 lead (former Capitals defensemen Steve Eminger was on the ice for each of those three goals). The lead could have been more had Alexander Semin and Alexander Ovechkin not over passed on several high quality scoring chances, something that is driving up Washington Coach Bruce Boudreau’s blood pressure. Ovechkin and Semin did hook up on a nice goal late in the game to make it 4-1 and Ovechkin did have an assist with a beautiful pass to Mike Green on the second tally for Washington.

After a great first period the tide turned and Tampa Bay stuck it to the Caps outshooting them 18-6 in the second period and if it wasn’t for super hot goalie Brent Johnson the Caps would not have gotten out of the that period ahead 3-1. Johnson would save 34 of 36 shots on the night beating his old goalie partner and good friend, Kolzig. Johnson is on a roll and is challenging the shooters and he credits his defenders with making sure they clear any rebounds. The only goals Johnson gave up on Monday were by Gary Roberts who camps out in front of the net on all power plays and takes a beating, but he was rewarded with two tallies, although the last one came with under 30 seconds left in the game. I often wonder how many Advil tablets Roberts has to take each night to get to sleep with all of the hits he takes.

“He is one heck of a player, he is gritty and he takes shots. He got both their goals tonight and he goes hard to the net. It is always hard to pay attention with him in front,” said Johnson on Roberts.

Johnson is now 3-0-1 in his last four starts stopping over 95% of the shots he has faced forcing Washington to keep $4.5M a year goalie, Jose Theodore, on the bench, although you will likely see #60 in one of the back to back games with New Jersey this weekend.

Anyone who has ever met Johnson, known as “Johnny” to his teammates, will probably say that he is one of the most likeable players you will ever meet and you can’t help but root for the guy to succeed. This is a goalie who pretty much had to sit and watch when Cristobal Huet was acquired at the trade deadline last season yet Johnson never pouted and continued to work on his game. That work is paying off and last night in the post game interview he credited Boudreau for his turnaround saying “Once Bruce came in here last season I definitely felt better with the game I was playing…the past few seasons here it has been tough to get into a rhythm and if you play once every five games it is difficult. Bruce has given me a little bit of a chance and getting wins is the most important part of it. I don’t care if we win 6-5. ”

Other big performances came from defensemen Tom Poti who scored the Caps first goal, off a great pass by Donald Brashear, and was stellar on defense logging 21:04 of ice time. Poti seems to be fully healed from the groin injury he suffered earlier in the season.

Of even more promise for Washington is the play of forward Eric Fehr who was all over the ice last night with linemates Brooks Laich and Dave Steckel. Fehr notched his first goal of the season, a rocket over Kolzig that eventually became the game winner, in the first period. Fehr is finally healthy and starting to show his first round draft pick potential.

“I’ve been ready to go. I’ve been working hard trying to get back in the lineup and when you see it from the top (press box) it just looks so easy out there. I just want to go on the ice and work as hard as I can. I feel great right now, probably the best I’ve felt in my pro career. I feel strong and I’ve had the opportunity to put on some muscle and I just feel great when I’m on the ice,” said Fehr on his recent play.

Boudreau will have a hard time breaking this line up and he used that combo along with the Brashear-Gordon-Bradley line to help seal the game late in the third period after a lengthy delay due to a broken pane of glass. After the delay Boudreau put the Fehr line and Brashear line out in succession and wore out the top Tampa line of Vincent LeCavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Prospal and on the third shift following the delay Semin and Ovechkin hooked up to seal the game. Boudreau called the results of the plan he has employed on several occasions as the “formation of kinetic energy.” Whatever you want to call it is working. I asked Fehr about Boudreau’s strategy and he clearly likes it too.

“We got three big bodies out there who like to throw their weight around and create holes. That just tires out their defense and it opens up the offense. We just want to make sure the puck is out of our end, do whatever we can to get it out of our end and just tire them down and that is what we did. We had it down there for a little bit and we worked their D and then our scoring line came out and did the job for us,” said Fehr on his the play of his line overall, including the shift before Ovechkin scored to break is nine game goal scoring drought.

The way he is playing now it is going to be tough to keep Fehr out of the lineup and his play last night earned him the team “hard hat” for the game. If I am Boudreau I don’t scratch this guy and play him over Viktor Kozlov or Chris Clark based on recent form.

Notes: The first 15,000 fans to attend Friday’s game against New Jersey at the Verizon Center will get Bruce Boudreau bobbleheads. I asked the Coach about the bobblehead and how accurate it was and he laughed saying “it was a little thin up top.” Lightning forward Ryan Malone, who signed a ridiculous seven year, $30 plus million dollar contract with Tampa in the off-season only played two shifts and left with an undisclosed injury. Malone only has three goals and zero assists in 14 games this season. Tampa outshot the Caps 36-30 for the game after Washington held a 12-6 first period advantage. Defensemen Jeff Schultz led the Caps in ice time with 23:43.

Hershey Bears Update from John Walton

Caps goaltender of the future Simeon Varlamov picked up a milestone in his young career in North America Friday night. Varlamov posted his first professional shutout as Hershey defeated the Albany River Rats 3-0 at Times Union Center in Albany. After Friday, it was a rough road weekend for the Bears, dropping a 4-3 decision in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Saturday and a 4-1 game in Bridgeport on Sunday. It’s a rough morning in Hershey, as Monday marked the first day all season that the club has not occupied first place in the American Hockey League’s East Division. The loss to Bridgeport Sunday vaulted the Sound Tigers (AHL affiliate of the New York Islanders) into the top spot.

Defenseman Tyler Sloan was recalled from Hershey Saturday morning, playing for the Capitals this past Saturday and Monday nights at Verizon Center. The recall marks the second time this season that Sloan has been called up to D.C.

The Bears head to Philadelphia this Friday for a date with the Phantoms at 7:05 p.m. The game concludes a five-game road trip for Hershey, with home games finally on the horizon this weekend. Hershey will host Philadelphia at Giant Center Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. and the Binghamton Senators Sunday at 5:00 p.m.

For more on the Bears, check out John’s blog at www.JohnWaltonHockey.com

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Caps Face Hurricanes plus Hershey/NHL News

Posted on 06 November 2008 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Host Hurricanes

On Thursday night at the Verizon Center the Washington Capitals will finally play a division opponent for the first time since the season opener in Atlanta when they host the Carolina Hurricanes, who currently lead the Southeast Division with 16 points in 12 games (the Caps have 12 points in 11 games going 5-4-2 so far).

Last week I talked about the optimism that the Caps organization should be feeling after the first nine games of the season given some of the adversity they had faced to that point. After a 1-1-1 stretch in which the team has only scored one goal total in the last two games, plus the fact that the team hasn’t scored more than one goal in four of the last six games, there has to be some concern about the recent lack of offense. Even the return of Alexander Ovechkin to the lineup on Tuesday night in Ottawa after a two game absence wasn’t enough for the Caps.

The Caps typically play their best when they are going north and south in transition and are able to use their team speed. Lately it seems that Washington has not been able to get this type of game going and I’m sure some of it falls on the Caps (see a lack of effort at times or poor execution) and some of it can be attributed to other teams changing the way they play Washington by trying to limit their space and ability to move the puck up the ice quickly (can you say trap?).

However, the Hurricanes have not exactly been defensive stalwarts this season having given up 36 goals in 12 games and allowed over 30 shots in a game in eight of the 12 games they’ve played this year. Therefore, I would expect the Caps to be able to generate some scoring chances on Thursday night. Whether they can put them past Michael Leighton or Cam Ward of Carolina remains to be seen.

On the defensive side of the ice the Caps gave up a season high 44 shots to the Senators on Tuesday night and fortunately goalie Brent Johnson was outstanding and managed to hold the fort long enough for Washington to get a point in an overtime loss. The Caps were shorthanded five times, including almost two minutes in which they were down two men, but managed to kill off all five of those penalties so they should be pleased with the penalty killing efforts. In hockey, if you give up 44 shots in a game on a consistent basis you will most likely lose those games so Washington must tighten up. Overall the effort on Tuesday in Ottawa was better but it is still not at the level needed to win hockey games. This game on Thursday night against a division rival is an important one and has the potential for Washington to regain some confidence and start some momentum. Johnson’s play on Tuesday has earned him the start in net on Thursday against Carolina.

Hershey Bears News

I have some big news on the future coverage of the Caps farm team, the Hershey Bears, going forward. Starting next week readers of this blog will find a new weekly section on the Bears that will be written by John Walton, the Senior Manager of Communications for Hershey. I am delighted to be able to bring hockey fans some insight on how the Caps prospects are progressing in their quest to reach the NHL from a credible source who will be watching each Bears game. As many of you already know, Hershey has a very good team with several potential future Caps, including defensemen Karl Alzner, playing in the AHL this year. I hope to get to some Bears games myself this year but barring that at least we will get some good info on the team on a weekly basis. Look for the Bears updates to appear in my upcoming Tuesday hockey blogs.

NHL News

Big loss for the New Jersey Devils finding out that goalie Martin Brodeur is out for three to four months due to elbow surgery. This is a major blow to that team and I think they will be hard pressed to make the playoffs despite the fact that former backup and now starting goalie Kevin Weekes stopped 24 of 27 Tampa Bay Lightning shots to prevail, 4-3, in a shootout Wednesday night.

The San Jose Sharks lead the overall NHL standings at this point with 22 points going 11-2 to start the season. New coach Todd McLellan has energized this team and forward Patrick Marleau is off to a very good start now that he is free from the wrath of former coach Ron Wilson. Marleau leads the team with six goals and seven assists in the 13 games they’ve played. The Sharks are getting scoring from multiple lines and have six players with 10 or more points. San Jose is 7-0 at home so far this season.

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Caps Buried in Buffalo/Hershey and NHL News

Posted on 01 November 2008 by Ed Frankovic

Buffalo Buries Caps

Hockey coaches often say “Never give up a goal in the first two minutes of a period or in the last two minutes of a period.” For Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau that didn’t turn out to be the case at all on Saturday night as the Washington Capitals gave up a goal to the Sabres just 72 seconds into the contest and also gave up tallies with 24 seconds left in the first period and then with just three seconds left in the second period en route to a 5-0 whipping in Buffalo. Tomas Vanek, the NHL’s leading goal scorer with 11, potted two for the Sabres who moved to 7-2-2 on the season while the Caps fell to 5-4-1.

This game was over pretty quickly in a town the Caps historically have struggled in. Mike Green, who is battling a foot problem according to Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post, had his worst game of the season and was directly involved in the first three even strength goals against. In addition, Jose Theodore struggled between the pipes giving up some questionable goals including another from a bad angle off of his back, although that was on a five on three power play. Theodore seemed to fight the puck and be out of position frequently on Saturday.

Defensemen Tom Poti, who missed five games with a groin injury, returned to the lineup tonight and played just under 25 minutes to lead all Caps in ice time. However, the Caps will likely not be at full strength on defense on Tuesday in Ottawa as Shaone Morrisonn only played just over six minutes in the first period and did not return. No word on the injury or his status yet.

On offense it was flat out ugly with the power play not generating much of anything, including a five on three in the second period that lasted over a minute. Ryan Miller stopped all 29 Washington shots and the couple that got by him hit the crossbar and the post.

For the Caps it is on to Ottawa on Tuesday and word is that Alexander Ovechkin will be back in town on Sunday and play against the Senators after spending time in Russia with his ailing grandfather this week.

One other Caps note, Alexander Semin, who is off to a torrid start with 16 points, made headlines across the NHL this week by making the following remarks about Penguins star Sydney Crosby:

“What’s so special about (Crosby)?” Semin told Yahoo! Sports through a translator. “I don’t see anything special there. Yes, he does skate well, has a good head, good pass. But there’s nothing else. Even if you compare him to Patrick Kane from Chicago. (Kane) is a much more interesting player. The way he moves, his deking abilities, his thinking on the ice and his anticipation of the play is so superb.”

Semin also criticized the way stars like Crosby are promoted, saying there’s too much focus on stats and not enough emphasis on skill.

“I think that if you take any player, even if he is “dead wood,” and start promoting him, you’ll get a star,” he told Yahoo! Sports. “Especially if he scores 100 points. No one is going to care about anyone else. No one is going to care whether he possesses great skill. Let’s say you put someone in front of the net and let him deflect pucks in, and he scored 50 goals; everyone will say “Wow!” and then hand him a $10 million per year contract. That’s what they like here.”

Semin’s remarks drew negative comments from around the league including Mike Milbury of Hockey Night in Canada radio on Friday and Don Cherry on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada television. Boudreau was quick to point out to El-Bashir the following on the matter.

“I thought that was the biggest comment I’ve seen from him in three years,” Boudreau said of Semin. “I’m just glad to see he’s talking. Obviously, you don’t want top give anybody [bulletin board] stuff. But he said it. If it might mean he’s coming out of his shell a little bit, then good for him.”

“Not good for him that those comments were made,” he added. “I think Crosby is unbelievable. I think he is a great player and all of those things. But it was also through an interpreter, so it could have been taken out of context. Somehow. It could have had a different meaning. Obviously, I didn’t talk to him about it. But if it was what he said, then it’s interesting to finally see how he thinks. We would never had known that in former years.”

“But it’s not how all the Capitals think of Mr. Crosby.”

For the record, I personally don’t care what Milbury has to say and think that Hockey Night in Canada made a mistake in hiring the former Islanders GM because he does not do a good job of promoting the game as evidenced by the fact that he called Washington “The Craps” on NBC last season and then roundly criticized Ovechkin during the playoffs. He also was a lousy GM and, in my opinion, they ought to paint his face white, give him a red nose, and call his segment on Hockey Night in Canada “Clowns Corner.”

Hershey Bears News

Down on the farm things are going well for the Caps as their minor league team, the Hershey Bears, are off to an 8-3 start despite a 5-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phantoms at the Giant Center on Saturday night. Caps defensive prospect Karl Alzner leads the Bears in plus minus at plus eight. Daren Machesney has carried most of the load in goal playing 8 games (5-3) while Simeon Varlamov has only played two contests (2-0) and is currently recovering from a groin injury.

NHL News

New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur, eight wins shy of tying Patrick Roy’s NHL record of 551 career victories, injured his elbow in a 6-1 Devils win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night. Brodeur had played every minute of New Jersey’s 10 games this season before he was hurt 6:38 into the second period. He did a split to make a sprawling stop, got up slowly clutching his left arm, and skated off the ice with the Devils leading 3-0. No word on how long #30 will be out.

Last week the Anaheim Ducks were in Toronto to play the Maple Leafs and an NHL scout jokingly said to me, “I’m looking to see what team Brian Burke cheers for when a goal is scored!” Burke, who is the GM of the Ducks, is in the last year of his contract and is rumored to be going to Toronto to take over for interim GM Cliff Fletcher after this season. One of Burke’s favorite coaches, Ron Wilson, is already in place with the Leafs after being fired in San Jose following last season’s second round playoff defeat to the Dallas Stars.

Speaking of the Leafs, Wilson’s crew is one of the early season NHL surprises sitting at 5-3-3 overall. Toronto is rebuilding and was expected to be near the bottom of the NHL but Wilson is a very good defensive coach. The Leafs have a good group of defensemen with Tomas Kaberle, Pavel Kubina, Mike Van Ryn, and Jeff Finger plus rookie Luke Schenn who was drafted fifth overall in the 2008 NHL entry draft. Add in Vesa Toskala in goal and playing Toronto is not going to be as easy as most people believe this year.

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Rocking the Red with the Caps in D.C.

Posted on 29 October 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

I’ll admit it. I’m biased.

I inexplicably fell in love with hockey when I was five years old at the Baltimore Civic Center at an AHL Nova Scotia Voyageurs-Clippers game. I saw the ice. I saw the action. I was hooked. During my 40-plus years on the planet,  many of my best and most personal sports memories have been made at hockey games.

Most of the people who’ve listened to my show or read my work over the past 17 years know of my affinity for the puck. We’re running our first-ever “Caps Puck Bus” next Thursday night (tickets are only $50 for the whole evening of fun) and I expect it to be memorable.

Last night, I made my first of many pilgrimages down to the Verizon Center in D.C. to see the Caps take on my adopted favorite team, the Nashville Predators. It was a memorable game. The Caps took it to the Preds early, at one point holding a 23-5 lead in shots and a 2-1 advantage. Nashville came back to even the score late in the game, forcing a rare OT shootout, which the Caps won taking a 4-3 victory.

Sure, Alex Ovechkin was missing last night, away with his ailing grandfather but it was still an eye-opening experience seeing more than 15,000 people in the rink last night all “rocking the red” on a chilly Tuesday night.

Sure, I’ve had my differences with the Capitals over the years. First (and this is no secret), I thought the combination of moving into D.C., firing David Poile, changing the logo and those hideous blue jerseys were all bad ideas. It hurt the franchise and it made me feel less connected after being a guy who for a decade drove to the Capital Centre in a red, white and blue sweater at least 35 times a year to see Mike Gartner, Gaetan Duchesne, Dave Christian, Bobby Carpenter and company beat up the Flyers, Islanders, Penguins and Rangers. Some of my favorite memories in sports were waving white pompoms and screaming at Ron Hextall.

I also had another problem as a Caps fan in the 1990’s: my radio show ended at 6 p.m. and getting from upper Towson to downtown D.C. made it impossible to see an entire game. So, I just went on a hockey hiatus in some ways, for nearly a decade.

Last season, the Capitals reached out to me personally and asked me to come back to Caps games. I went to a few games during the stretch run and wound up taking a bunch of friends (including Hockey Meg, Agent Orange and WNST blogger Ed Frankovic) down to games. For Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoff series against Philadelphia, we threw Drew Forrester and Phil Jackman into a car and had a blast.

Like I said, I’m a hockey goober. I met my wife at a hockey game in Manchester, N.H. I have scores of friends who’ve entered my life and stayed through hockey. My best pal, Tom Kapp, allowed me to take his kid to a game a dozen years ago in Hershey and now his kid, Tyler, drags him from rink to rink in his quest to be an NHL goalie.

Hockey can be infectious like that. I’ve said it many times: it’s the best sport there is for the sheer energy and action.

So, why have I adopted the Nashville Predators of all teams? Their one and only head coach in their 11-season existence is Barry Trotz, who was the final coach of the Baltimore Skipjacks before they left town for good in 1992. I covered Trotz’s team for the Baltimore Evening Sun for two seasons and we became friends. Trotz went on to win the Calder Cup in Portland, Maine the next season, got the Predators job before the expansion in 1997 and has been their coach ever since. For some reason, we’ve always remained close and in touch.

Over the years, he’s been a frequent guest on WNST and a great friend when we’ve gone to Nashville for games. I’ve probably seen the Preds play in 15 cities across the country over the last decade and I have a closet full of swag he’s been kind enough to send me over the years and I’ve always enjoyed rooting for the Predators because Trotz is such a special guy. (And think about how rare and unique that is in this day and age: he’s the ONLY coach they’ve ever had!)

But, back to the Capitals and hockey locally.

The Caps reached out to me with one message: WE WANT BALTIMORE TO EMBRACE THE CAPITALS! They asked me if I could help or if I had some ideas.

I said I’d help by promoting the sport I love in Baltimore. (If I ever get rich with WNST.net I would absolutely bring a hockey team to Baltimore and be a complete idiot about promoting it and making it work. There’s NOTHING better than going to a hockey game, if you ask me!)

Even without Ovechkin last night (most hockey people would tell you he’s the best player on the planet), the building was still mostly full and the atmosphere the Caps are building is something that should be enjoyed by any sports fan.

If you haven’t been to a Caps game lately, I can honestly say that you’re missing out on some great sports fun.

And it’s easier than you think…

The ride was traffic-free and painless last night (left the house at 5:30, made a stop and was still in my seat 15 minutes before the 7 p.m. start). They’ve done a great job branding their players and the “Rock the Red” promotion. Truth be told, Caps games are a LOT of fun and I’m looking forward to re-embracing my adolescence and throwing on my red, white and blue sweater more often this year.

We’ll be doing a series of “Puck Bus” promotions over the course of the season. Or at least as many as we can effectively market and sell. You fill the seats and we’ll continue to take hockey fans down to D.C.

Hockey has been gone from Baltimore for nearly 15 years. The only way it could conceivably come back to Baltimore is if I get rich enough to do it because I’m the only fool who would even think about trying it again after it’s failed so many times here. (By the way, I’m a LONG way from fulfilling this dream of mine so don’t hold your breath on this one! LOL…)

So, in the interim, I’ve decided that I’m going to embrace the Caps, go to the games like I used to and have some fun while I’m still young enough (even at 40 and aging rapidly) to do it.

Last night brought back all of the memories, right down to accidentally running into the legendary Rod Langway while I was grabbing a beer at the concession stand.

I like the Zamboni.

I like the action.

I like “The Good Old Hockey Game.”

I like shootouts.

I like funny Canadian accents.

I like the horn blowing after a goal.

I even like the silly movie clips (“UNLEASH THE FURY!!!!”) they play on the HD screen at the Verizon Center.

And most importantly, I love the game and the action and the strategy of the sport.

Like I said, the Caps are doing a really nice job down in D.C. with that hockey team. But the only way to find out is to go to a game.

We’re going next Thursday and we’ve made it easy.

Just pay the $50 and show up at the Park and Ride in White Marsh (4:15 p.m.) or I-95/UMBC (5 p.m.) and we’ll take care of the rest.

The link is here if you care to join us.

Game on!

Let’s rock the red…

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RIP Paul Newman and Caps Update

Posted on 27 September 2008 by Ed Frankovic

Sad Day for Hockey Fans – Paul Newman Dies at 83

It is a very sad day today for all hockey fans as Paul Newman died Friday as a result of cancer at age 83. To many hockey fans the movie Slap Shot is our hockey bible and that movie could not have been pulled off without the superb acting of Newman as Charlestown Chiefs Player-Coach Reg Dunlop. Dunlop was the guy who “put a bounty on the head of chief Syracuse punk Tim McCracken” using his own money and who can forget some of the other great Newman lines from that film such as “That’s gotta be true, Dicky Dunn wrote that!”, “They convicted Oglethorpe!”, and “SCOUTS??!!”

Newman is my all time favorite actor and some of his best movies were The Hustler, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, and The Color of Money but there is no doubt that Slap Shot was my favorite because it was about the sport I love the most, hockey. Not a single hockey season will go by without me popping in that movie and having a few laughs. Just a few weeks ago I caught a portion of it on cable and found myself cracking up at the same lines I’ve heard hundreds of times. Slap Shot is to hockey fans what Caddyshack is to golfers.

So I’m sure later tonight many hockey fans, including Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau who had a cameo role in Slap Shot, will be raising a beer and toasting Newman while quoting many of Dunlop’s lines from that great 1977 film. I know I will be so here’s to the Charlestown Chiefs and Reg Dunlop! RIP Paul Newman.

Caps Update

Yesterday the Caps sent the following players 24 players to the Hershey Bears (AHL): Greg Amadio, Dean Arsene, Jay Beagle, Francois Bouchard, Sean Collins, Viktor Dovgan, Michael Dubuc, Alexandre Giroux, Josh Godfrey, Andrew Gordon, Bryan Helmer, Andrew Joudrey, Maxime Lacroix, Daren Machesney, Tommy Maxwell, Patrick McNeill, Graham Mink, Travis Morin, Michal Neuvirth, Oskar Osala, Steve Pinizzotto, Sasha Pokulok, Darren Reid and Kyle Wilson.

In addition, I posted this in the comments section of my blog from Thursday night but if the Caps were to choose 23 players for the big club to start the season here are the ones I think would be on that list:

Forwards (14): Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Federov, Chris Clark, Laich, Nylander, Kozlov, Bradley, Steckel, Brashear, Gordon, Fleischmann, and Fehr

Defensemen (7): Green, Poti, Morrisonn, Schultz, Erskine, Jurcina, Alzner

Goalies (2): Theodore, Johnson

To those who read my blogs you know that I have been watching closely the development of 2007 Caps 1st round draft pick (5th overall), Karl Alzner, primarily because an NHL Director of Scouting told me he was by far the best defensemen chosen in the 2007 draft and is pretty much a can’t miss player. I go back and forth on whether he should start the season in Washington or in Hershey. Based on what I’ve seen and some comments Boudreau made about him after the rookie game last week I am starting to lean towards him being in Washington and learning in the NHL. This is risky but based on what I’ve seen and heard Alzner can handle it.

Alzner did not play in Thursday’s game in Washington because he played the night before in Raleigh in a 4-1 Caps win. He logged 22 minutes and was paired with defensemen Jeff Schultz, who also played for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL as a junior. Boudreau has compared Alzner to Schultz because their style of play is very similar. I had a chance to talk with Karl after Thursday’s game and here are some of the things he said about his first pre-season game on Wednesday night.

“I thought it went okay, we played so good as a team it made it easy to play and that is fun. I just tried to play ultra simple and it is easy to play a game when you are not trying to do too much and I had a great partner to help me through the entire game.”

On fellow Caps defensemen Schultz, who was drafted in 2004 (3 years before Alzner was drafted):

“Jeff and I did play together when I was 16 and 17 and I played a few shifts with him here and there. I know what Schultzie is about and I know how he plays so it is easy for me to kind of expect where he is going to go with the puck and what he is going to do. As soon as I hit juniors he was one of the guys I looked up to and one of the guys who was so successful so everything he does I try to do. I love the way he plays, he’s simple, he’s in good position and has such a good stick so if I can play like him I will be happy.”

As I mentioned above Alzner played 22 minutes in Carolina on Wednesday and here is what he thought afterwards:

“I felt good, didn’t feel tired at all so that is a plus. I was surprised I was thrown out there as much as I was but I look it as [the coaches] giving me the opportunity to prove myself and I’m hoping I did what they wanted me to do.

On special teams:

“That power play is too good for me to get out there but the penalty kill was good for me to play on.”

On Caps goalie Sergei Varlamov, who stopped all 20 shots he faced in the first period on Wednesday night:

“He was unbelievable. There were instances for like a minute straight that he was peppered with shot after shot. That is probably the best I’ve ever seen him play and I’ve played against him for quite a few times,” finished Alzner.

Karl, who turned 20 this past Wednesday, is quietly confident and humble at the same time. I’ve spoken with him four times now and each time I walk away more and more impressed with him. If he remains as solid on the ice as he seems off of it this will be a draft pick that the Caps brag about for a long time and someday I am convinced he could likely be wearing the “C” on his jersey as Caps team captain (Note: Alzner was captain of Team Canada at the 2008 World Jr. Championships and they won that tournament).

The Caps are in Boston on Saturday at 4pm and you can catch the audio feed from the game on WashingtonCaps.com

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Ovechkin Scores Two in Caps Win

Posted on 26 September 2008 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Sweep Home and Home with Carolina

Alexander Ovechkin had two goals, including one on a penalty shot, and an added an assist as the Washington Capitals defeated Carolina, 5-2, before 13,266 at the Verizon Center on Thursday night in the Caps preseason home opener. Despite the fact that this was a preseason game the Great #8 didn’t fail to entertain adding numerous body checks, several of which were on Carolina defensemen Dennis Seidenberg, to go along with his three point night. The win completed a home and home preseason sweep of the Hurricanes by the Caps (Washington won 4-1 on Wednesday night in Raleigh).

The Caps came out slow giving up 15 shots in the first period, including two power play goals, as the Hurricanes raced to a 2-0 lead. The Carolina goals were the result of some big rebounds given up by rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth but after that he shut the door and made 24 saves on the night.

“I thought [Neuvirth] was a little shaky at the beginning and then just settled right in…the other team worked really hard and its difficult sometimes, there isn’t a lot of Carolina Hurricanes on the forward list out there…so they’re working hard and we’re taking it easy a bit because human nature says we don’t even know half of their guys…but we stayed the course and eventually played a little better as the game went on,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

The #1 star of the game was given to Christopher Bourque, son of Hall of Fame defensemen Ray Bourque, who had a goal and an assist but was a big factor in the first four Caps goals (it was his pass that set up Ovechkin’s initial near breakaway that led to the penalty shot that tied the game at two in the second period). Bourque, who is 22 years old and was taken in the 2nd round of the 2004 NHL entry draft by the Caps, is improving.

“I thought he was good…the little guy looks like he found that step and I’ve asked him to find that extra step and he looks pretty quick…one thing about Chris is he’s always competed hard his whole life and he does that and I thought he was very solid tonight,” said Boudreau about Bourque.

Michal Nylander, with two goals, also turned in a strong game coming off missing the second half of last season and the playoffs due to shoulder surgery. Washington needs a good year from Nylander, especially when they are paying him $5M for this season. When asked about #92’s shoulder and if there are any doubts about him being recovered Boudreau said, “No, it’s good….Nyles should have gotten one of [Viktor Kozlov’s] assists last night so in my mind he has four points in two games…you know he had 89 points or something the year before he got hurt..he’s got a lot of pride and is fighting his way saying I’m gonna show everyone how good I am again.”

There was more encouraging news on the night as team captain Chris Clark played 14:29 of ice time providing two assists and got into a scrap with Canes defensemen Tim Conboy in the third period. Clark missed almost all of last season with numerous injuries.

“It was fun, a little bit of everything tonight, some checking…everything was there for me tonight to test,” said Clark on the game and then on the fight with Conboy he added, “you have to get into one eventually so we’ll start now.”

I asked Chris Clark about the heightened expectations this team will face and if as a leader he is talking to the team about what to expect, especially given that he has experience going to the Stanley Cup Finals as a member of the 2004 Calgary Flames team that lost to Tampa Bay in Game 7.

“We pretty much have our whole team back and we didn’t win the last game of last year but it feels like it since the season ended up on such a high note. The guys are trying to remember that run and thought about it all summer so it is something we are just trying to continue,” started Clark, “There is a lot of expectation, you know it is great, we haven’t had that the last three years here.  It is something and it is fun because we have to live up to those expectations…we have the team to do it…once the season starts, once the grind gets going, guys will figure it out. You know we have a lot of guys who have won, Feds (Sergei Fedorov) has won two cups, so he is the guy who should be talking about it but it is something definitely that will be coming up later on.”

Despite the fact that Carolina fielded a mostly minor league roster tonight the Caps appear to be off and running. The team is fun to watch because of its offensive minded and up tempo philosophy.

Other Notes: Defensemen Mike Green logged 25:51 of ice time and had 1 assist in the game. Tom Poti played 20:14 of ice time that included a great defensive shift where the Caps killed all 73 seconds of a two man advantage for Carolina. Caps Goalie Darren Machesney stopped the only three shots he faced in the third period but got the win since Washington scored three times in the final period. Boyd Gordon was 11-6 on faceoffs for Washington. Ovechkin had four official hits and eight shots on goal. Despite being outshot 15-9 in the first period Washington outshot Carolina 30-29 overall. The Caps play their next three preseason games on the road: Saturday at Boston, Monday at New Jersey, and Wednesday at Philadelphia. The Hershey Bears, Washington’s AHL farm team, opens training camp on Friday (September 26th).

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Caps Crush Flyers in Rookie Game

Posted on 19 September 2008 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Win Rookie Game 7-0

The Washington Capitals rookies crushed the Philadelphia Flyers rookies, 7-0, this afternoon before 1,200 fans down at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Ballston, Virginia. The young Caps netted four power play goals in a dominating performance. Travis Morin (9th round pick in 2004) had two goals and an assist and forwards Francois Bouchard (2nd round pick in 2006), Mathieu Perrault (6th round pick in 2006), and Steve Pinizzotto (undrafted free agent) each had a goal and an assist for the Caps.

“I thought it was great. You see a bunch of young guys who had just been together about four days and to see it all come together like that is exciting and I think everyone in the organization should be pretty pleased,” said Hershey Bears coach Bob Woods who ran the Caps rookie team during today’s game.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of rookie games where we never win…it was nice to see an effort like that from our guys,” added Caps coach Bruce Boudreau on the performance, who watched from the railing above during the game.

The Caps were relentless on the Flyers all afternoon constantly beating Philadelphia to the puck and outworking them. In fact, by the third period the Flyers looked totally exhausted. Caps defensemen Karl Alzner attributed that to some of the extra conditioning drills that Boudreau had the team do this week and “Gabby” said if that works he’ll continue the trend on Saturday when the veterans officially hit the ice. Under Boudreau Washington plays a very aggressive style of hockey challenging the puck and the opponents at all times and it is this up tempo style that turned things around for Washington last year.

“I thought we never tired at all, sometimes frustration [when talking about the Flyers] makes you look tired. When you are winning you don’t seem to ever get tired,” said Boudreau, “I commented to the guys, I thought they did a very good job to adhere to what we’ve tried to teach them…I thought the overall speed and the aggressiveness was what I hope the real Caps will look like in the future.”

“Our tempo never dropped and theirs did. Bruce wants the guys to play hard for 60 minutes and that is what the guys did and we set a good example. Our goal right from the get-go was to work on the system in the summer and it will be the same system from the top (Washington) to the bottom (Hershey). Getting everyone on the same page makes things work a lot smoother and today was evident of that,” said Bears coach Woods.

Once again the most impressive player on the ice was Caps defensemen Karl Alzner (1st round pick, 5th overall, in 2007) who clearly stands out against players at this level. When I asked Boudreau if he was anxious to see Alzner play against the NHLers the coach responded, “I think he looks just as good next week because he plays his position so well and he is so cool and calm with the puck. Look at [Caps defensemen] Jeff Schultz and he is not flashy but you can’t wait to get him on your team on the ice and Karl is going to be very similar.”

As for the play of Bouchard and Perreault, two guys who have skill but lack size and sometimes desire Boudreau had the following evaluation of them after today’s game.

“That is the best I’ve seen them look…yeah they made some great plays and scored some goals but it was their tenaciousness and they never quit. They were working both at ends of the ice and finishing checks where as in last year’s camp and the summer camp for the most part they had a tendency not to work as hard but if they keep that up then they have a bright future ahead of them.”

“I thought they worked hard and they were on every loose puck in the zone. Again they think a lot alike and Pinner [Pinozzotto] adds in that grit handling the tough stuff in front of the net and it lets the other two guys buzz around…they really connected,” said Bears Coach Woods on Bouchard, Perreault, and Pinozzotto.

As you can imagine in a lopsided affair, the game was not without some scraps and Caps defensemen, Viktor Dovgan (apparently a close pal of Alex Ovechkin) got into a scrap with Flyers forward Josh Beaulieu and held his own. It wasn’t clear who started it but Boudreau didn’t exactly point the finger away from his guy and commented that “Viktor gets under people’s skin like Darius Kasparaitis did when he played.” Another reason for some of the altercations seemed to have to do with the Flyers continuing their pattern from last spring of running the opposing teams goalies. I asked Hershey Coach Woods if that was a factor in some of the altercations.

“Yeah, that and teammates sticking up for each other…we weren’t encouraging the fighting today but you definitely have to stick up for your teammates …any time you play Philly you expect it to get a little heated out there and we wouldn’t expect anything different in a rookie game,” said Woods.

Goaltending duties were split evenly among Semen Varlamov (1st round pick in 2006), Braden Holtby (4th round in 2008), and Michal Neuvirth (2nd round pick in 2006) and all three performed very well in their one period of action.

Boudreau had the following to say on the goaltending for Washington in today’s game.

“I think the goaltenders are having a great inside competition amongst themselves (he noted that the internal Caps rookie scrimmage game on Wednesday was a 1-1 tie). They are doing exactly what they are supposed to do…it is a friendly competition between  the two guys turning pro (Varlamov and Neuvirth) but both want to play…when all of them give up no goals it is tough to say one is better than the other…Varlamov made some big saves in the 1st period and Michal [Neuvirth] made some tough ones in the third and you could see that he was of the mindset of I’m not letting one in, I’m not letting one in,” said Boudreau.

When asked about the decision on which goalie would play where this season Hershey Coach Woods said, “It is good choices. All three guys today had some tough saves to make and they got the job done. When you have to make tough decisions that is a good thing…the higher ups will make the decisions and I’ll take whatever guy they give me because they’ve all been good.”

Right now I see Varlamov being the guy in Hershey but it is still early and Daren Machesney hasn’t even had a chance to show his game but will do so starting Saturday.

The play of defensemen Josh Godfrey was addressed and Boudreau said, “He uses his shot, a heavy shot, but we want him to not rely on that as much..he competed well, made the simple play…hard to find fault when you win 7-0…not sure where he is on the depth chart number wise but he is a guy that will definitely need work in Hershey…he’ll play a lot and get the experience he needs.” Bears Coach Woods called Godfrey, “an offensive player, he has a big shot but has to hit the net more, he definitely will be on our PP.”

For those who read my draft review blog and development camp blogs I was very interested in the play of 2008 1st round pick John Carlson because I had heard good things about him from another teams scouting department.  John had a good game today and according to Tarik El Bashir of The Washington Post he had very good practices this week and Boudreau had mentioned him. Carlson was one of the few guys who passed the Boudreau “skating suicide test” so when I spoke with John I asked him about his conditioning, something that had been a question mark on him pre-draft. Carlson, who will play for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season under Dale and Mark Hunter mentioned that he “had three weeks of skating as a team with London before Caps rookie camp and [he] was there a week and half earlier so [he] is in good shape.”

“I am really happy with him..for a young guy I think he is very confident and he doesn’t back down from anyone as he showed today going after the one kid [Jon] Kalinksi. I think he is going to be a good player, “said Hershey Coach Woods about Carlson.

Carlson summed up the first week of training camp with the following: “Every day we got better individually and as a team. Every day the passes got crisper and that is a testament to the coaches….we did lots of game situations in practice….an aggressive style of play works well with my game, I like to jump in on the play and [coaches] give us leeway to do that. I really like this style of play and I can’t wait to play here one day.”

Barring injury I can definitely see Carlson playing in the NHL some day for Washington.

Given today’s performance and from what I saw back in July in development camp both the Caps and the Hershey Bears will be exciting teams to watch this year so for those of you in the Baltimore area whether you choose to go see the Caps or the Bears, you won’t make a bad choice. Hopefully you get out and see both teams this season because it looks like very good things will be happening for both.

Other Notes: One would think that a superstar like Ovechkin would be off doing some self promotional activity or be away from the spotlight but that is not the case with the Great #8. When I walked into the locker room today after the rookie game Alexander the Great was in with the rookies yucking it up and having fun with the younger guys. This tells me that Ovechkin is one guy that is committed to his teammates and winning. His leadership skills continue to grow each day…according to Tarik El Bashir the only player not in town as of 3pm Thursday was forward Alexander Semin….Anton Gustafsson (2008 1st round pick) has not skated since aggravating the herniated disk in his back on day one and when I saw him before the game started he had his back up against the wall and clearly looked dejected and frustrated. Anton is only 18 so it is far too early to give up on him yet. I just hope he gets things together mentally and physically because it would be nice to see him approach the level his father Bengt reached with the Caps back in the 80’s…the Caps first pre-season game is next Wednesday, September 24th at Carolina.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on the air in studio on “Such on Sports” on Saturday from 1pm to 4pm.

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