Tag Archive | "hunter"

Boneheaded Hockey Costing Caps

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Boneheaded Hockey Costing Caps

Posted on 07 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

To win in sports, you not only have to work hard, but you also have to play smart.

On Tuesday night at the Verizon Center the Washington Capitals had the first part of the above equation firing 49 shots on goal on Carolina goalie Cam Ward (46 saves). However, they failed several times to make the correct decision on “hockey plays” and lost, 4-3, in overtime to the Hurricanes. It was the Caps third straight defeat, in a game they sorely needed, and they stay in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Winnipeg Jets, with 16 games remaining.

Coach Dale Hunter was brought in last November primarily to try and get the Capitals to play better defensively. Hunter instituted a system that was designed to allow fewer odd man rushes against. For the most part it has worked, but on this night, it didn’t matter what system the team was playing because the team had key mental breakdowns in crucial situations.

  • On the third Canes goal Dennis Wideman, with defensive partner Mike Green already up by the opponents cage, chose to take a Baltimore Oriole like swing at a bouncing puck at the Carolina blue line instead of backing up. Naturally #6 missed like the O’s normally do and Brandon Sutter went in on a breakaway to give the Hurricanes a 3-2 lead just 105 seconds into the third period
  • Then after the Caps rallied to tie the game on a beautiful passing play between Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson with just under three minutes remaining, Wideman in overtime decided to go after another less than 50-50 puck in the offensive zone. He was once again unsuccessful and as a result the Canes had a two on one break to score the game winner when Green didn’t play it correctly and allowed the puck carrier to make a pass for an easy shot.
  • You can add to the list a complete defensive zone coverage breakdown that occurred just 40 seconds after the Caps took a 2-0 lead. Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer both got caught watching the puck carrier and Jirl Tlusty received a pass from Jerome Samson for a tap in goal.
  • Less than four minutes after that, Alexander Ovechkin tried too much one on one play in the offensive zone and turned the puck over. The Canes would go the other way and score when Green lost Chad Larose at the side of the net. It was another goal Michal Neuvirth (32 saves) had no chance on. Had the Gr8 simply passed the puck to an open point man, the Capitals likely would have kept possession of the puck in that sequence and Carolina doesn’t take advantage of a bad Caps turnover. Again, another mental mistake.

This pattern is what I call “boneheaded” hockey. What makes it more troubling is it is coming from players who have been in the league quite a bit. Some will try and blame Hunter for this but at this stage the players should know better. Case in point, with the Caps up 1-0 early in period two, rookie defensemen Dmitry Orlov had to make a split second decision on a puck in the offensive zone. #81 correctly chose to back up instead of gambling and seconds later Washington got the puck back and Orlov’s shot was put home by Jay Beagle. Smart hockey there by a rookie, so if he has it down don’t tell me the coaches aren’t teaching it. The mental mistakes are on the players and they have to decrease them drastically if Washington wants to claw its’ way into the playoffs.

This loss puts the Caps 1-2-1 with one game left on this five game homestand. Washington needed a minimum of six points on this stay at the Verizon Center and even with a win over Tampa on Thursday night, they will only get five points. That is not going to be an easy task as the Bolts have been rolling thanks to the play of Steven Stamkos (48 goals). The Capitals may catch a break though, as Lightning goalie Mathieu Garon was injured in a 7-3 loss to Ottawa on Tuesday night. Tampa’s weakness all season long has been goaltending.

So the Caps have a chance to expose an opponents weakness to obtain a key win on Thursday night. But Washington has weaknesses too and one big one right now is bad decision making. It is time for the boneheaded hockey to stop if the Caps want to have any chance of participating in the post season this spring.

Notes:  The Caps were buried from the face-off dot, 44-27, by Carolina…Ovechkin had 20:04 of ice time and five shots on net but he was held pointless for the third straight game…Orlov was slew footed by Jeff Skinner but the zebras missed it and in the melee that ensued, #81 pushed the linesman and received a 10 minute conduct. During that stretch Hunter only had five d-men and with Green and Wideman paired together the Sutter breakaway occurred. 6 and 52 were also on the ice together for the Canes game winner. Those two don’t seem to make smart decisions when paired together so hopefully Hunter avoids that d-pairing in the future…Keith Aucoin had an assist in 5:25 of action…Mike Knuble was scratched…Eric Staal (1 assist) extended his point streak to 12 games but overall Karl Alzner and John Carlson did a very good job of holding #12 in check.

 

 

 

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Lost Weekend for Caps

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Lost Weekend for Caps

Posted on 04 March 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Heading into the weekend the Washington Capitals were riding a three game winning streak after victories over the Canadiens, Leafs, and Islanders. On the docket were the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers, two clubs fairly firmly entrenched in the top eight of the Eastern Conference. With both games at home, a place where the Caps have a good record, these tilts seemed to be a prime indicator of whether or not Washington could move up the standings to make a strong push for a playoff position.

With the results now in, it is apparent the Capitals are in big trouble after 5-0 and 1-0 defeats at the Verizon Center. Washington is now in 9th place, just a point behind Winnipeg and the Caps have a game in hand, but when you don’t score you can’t win. In addition, Tampa Bay has caught fire and now trail the Caps by just a point. Buffalo is also a single point behind and the Leafs and Islanders are two and four, respectively. To quote an old Far Side cartoon, “WARNING: OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR.”

With Steven Stamkos pouring in the goals (now at 47 and counting) and the Caps struggling to score, it is pretty apparent that with each passing game this club is getting closer to golfing come April 9th. It has been well chronicled here in this blog that the Capitals have big problems up the middle of the ice that have been magnified by the injury to Nicklas Backstrom. On Friday against New Jersey that could not have been more evident as smaller forwards Mathieu Perreault, Marcus Johansson, and Keith Aucoin made gaffes that led to Devils tallies. When Dale Hunter is forced to play numbers 85 and 90 for 35 plus minutes a game there is little margin for error for the Caps to get a victory. Both are smaller centers and no NHL defensemen is going to be afraid of being hit by them when they are moving the puck out of their own end. Thus the Caps receive fewer o-zone turnovers and have to work harder to get the puck back when those guys are on the ice. In addition, their size makes it difficult for them in defensive zone coverage. Johansson and Perreault have roles, but the ones they are being asked to fill now are simply too much for their abilities.

On Sunday night, Johansson’s man tipped the puck home for the only tally, although in fairness to number 90, Alexander Ovechkin lolligagged it out to the point allowing Pavel Kubina to find Eric Wellwood in front for the re-direct. The Gr8 would pay for that lack of effort and sit most of the remainder of the second period. In the third period he appeared to take Hunter’s message in the right way and was a force. Unfortunately when he has no true offensive center it is easy for the defense to cover him and he was blanked along with his teammates. Ovechkin did have several quality chances in that final frame, but he needs to play like that every shift from here on out if Washington wants to make the post season.

Michal Neuvirth, who might not have started had Tomas Vokoun been healthy (day to day), was excellent in goal and the Wellwood tally couldn’t be hung on him. But the margin of error for the Caps is so small right now so Neuvy gets another loss when he deserved better.

There is no way around this right now, the Caps are a flawed team and that is made worse with Nicklas Backstrom out. Too much is being asked of Johansson and Perreault due to the lack of depth at center. What makes things even worse is that Ovechkin has been unable to regain his dominant form from the pre 2010 Olympic break. The Gr8 has not been so great and the Capitals need him to be to make the playoffs. He needs to do whatever he can to change things on and off the ice so that when he plays these last 17 games he is highly effective. Great players find ways to adjust their game and get better. Larry Bird used to talk about developing a new move every offseason because he knew teams would adjust to what he was doing previously. Defenses have figured out how to slow Ovechkin down. Some of that is on the personnel around him, but most of it falls squarely on #8. He needs to reach down deep and do whatever he can to change things down the stretch, otherwise he is going to hear criticism like he’s never heard before, and many of it coming from the local area for perhaps the first time in his career.

Notes: Despite Sunday’s loss Jay Beagle, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Karl Alzner, Dmitry Orlov, Jason Chimera, Mike Knuble, and John Carlson played their rears off but the team just can’t finish right now…Ilya Bryzgalov made 34 saves for the Flyers in the Sunday shutout….the Caps play Carolina on Tuesday and Tampa on Thursday at the Verizon Center. Pretty safe to say they need to win both games otherwise you can cue up ”Trouble” by Lindsey Buckingham.

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Caps Steal Victory From Jaws of Defeat

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Caps Steal Victory From Jaws of Defeat

Posted on 28 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

You can call it lucky. You can call it the result of hard work. Or you can call it the hockey gods finally smiling down on the Caps.

Whatever you want to call it, it was two points for the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night as they rallied from a 2-0 hole in the final four minutes to tie the game before Alexander Ovechkin scored in overtime to lift the Caps to a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders.

If ever there was a game that this club needed a win in, it was on this night when they opened up a crucial five game homestand. The win over the Isles moves the Caps into 8th place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of Winnipeg, and Washington has two games in hand on the Jets. With the Florida Panthers winning in Toronto, Washington still trails the Cats by three points in the Southeast Division and the Panthers have a game in hand.

The Caps carried the play for much of the night but Islanders goalie Evgeni Nabokov (31 saves) was really good and the Capitals also weren’t doing the little things necessary to score, like getting bodies to the cage. Washington outshot New York 13-3 in the opening frame but it was the Islanders who led 1-0. The four time Stanley Cup winning organization would go up 2-0 in period three and things looked bleak for the Caps. They had dominated much of the action but allowed two goals because Washington defenders left their feet in their own zone. Jeff Schultz was the culprit on the first Islanders tally while Matt Hendricks made the mistake on the second goal, that came just over two minutes into period three.

But this Capitals team kept working and found a way to fight back and cut the deficit on what looked like a routine play. Jason Chimera outworked Mark Streit for the puck in the left wing corner and Mathieu Perreault corraled the biscuit and fired it to Troy Brouwer at the top of the crease. #20 tapped it by Nabokov and the Verizon Center crowd came alive. Then it looked like the Caps were going to lose but Streit fired the puck in his own bench with 31 seconds left giving Washington an offensive zone face-off. Coach Dale Hunter smartly put out Jeff Halpern and #15 won the draw. Brooks Laich would fire on net and Brouwer tipped it home.

The comeback seemed rather easy and it took a simple formula: put pucks AND bodies to the cage and good things happened.

After that the stage was set for the dramatic Ovechkin to win it on one of his patented end to end rushes. The Gr8, who struggled to hit the net on several earlier shots, got this one through d-man Travis Hamonic and five hole on Nabokov to send the 136th straight sellout crowd out happily onto F street.

So the Caps have 19 games left and now sit at 69 points (32-26-5). The key now is to stay ahead of the Leafs and Jets and also make sure a team like Tampa doesn’t rally to catch them. If they do that they would grab at least the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference but this team really wants a fifth straight Southeast Division title (would bring the 3rd seed). A win like tonight surely helps that cause but with four more contests at the Verizon Center upcoming, the Capitals can’t afford to giveaway any games. Friday’s tilt with the New Jersey Devils should be a good one and is another nearly must win for Washington.

Notes: Schultz and Joel Ward had the lowest ice times for d-men and forwards, respectively. Both are slower skaters. Speaking of slower skaters, Mike Knuble, Roman Hamrlik, and John Erskine were the scratches. It is clear that Hunter is going to play guys who can play at a high pace and tempo…Hendricks had a poor game tonight by obstructing Michal Neuvirth’s view (22 saves) on the second goal and taking two minor penalties, one of which was late in the third period. #26 works hard but sometimes he is not very smart on the ice…the Caps were a perfect 3 for 3 on the penalty kill but their power play went 0 for 4 and if it doesn’t start connecting is going to eventually cost the club victories. Washington had two PP’s in the opening frame and couldn’t cash in, that is a momentum killer.

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Caps Rolling Dice With Current Crew

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Caps Rolling Dice With Current Crew

Posted on 27 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

In one of the quietest NHL trade deadlines ever, Washington Capitals General Manger George McPhee decided to not make any deals. Therefore, the Caps will play the final 20 games of the regular season and then hopefully the playoffs, with their current roster. The one added bonus to the equation would be if center Nicklas Backstrom is able to return, at some point, from his concussion. Noone knows the answer on if and when #19 will be back.

Those who saw McPhee’s press conference would be hard pressed to argue with anything the GM had to say. It was clear there were no big trades out there to make as evidenced by the fact that the biggest deal was likely Cody Hodgson going to Buffalo from Vancouver in exchange for Zack Kassian. The only move that would have made sense for GMGM, in my mind, was to add a top six forward. That type of player clearly wasn’t available for anything less than a first round round draft choice. When a third line center like Paul Gausted is moved for Nashville’s 1st round pick you know the prices are too high. If you can’t figure that out then hum a few bars and I’ll sing it for you.

So where do the Caps go from here? McPhee is counting on his team to make the post season and with Mike Green’s return the defense is much stronger. This is the first time since the beginning of the season that Green, Dennis Wideman, and John Carlson are all in the lineup together. That is a pretty strong right side of the ice, especially from a puck moving standpoint. The key will be to keep #52 healthy and with #6 staying and not getting moved, then the “One Man Breakout” will likely only log 22 to 24 minutes a game instead of the 28 to 30 he used to play when after Carlson there weren’t many other righthanded options on the point.

Up front, the team is rolling the dice with a couple of smallish centers. Both Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault are being asked to do a lot. If Backstrom were back the dynamic changes because 20 to 22 minutes a game is then covered by #19 and MJ90 and MP85 are only playing a combined 25 to 28 minutes instead of the 34 plus they are getting now. Coach Dale Hunter has no choice but to ride on with these two young, scrappy players. They will have their ups and downs so it is imperative that Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Troy Brouwer, and Brooks Laich have strong finishes. If they don’t then the Caps will be on the links come Masters time.

Some wanted to see McPhee move Mike Knuble and Roman Hamrlik, two players who are sitting right now and aren’t very happy. When I hear that keeping them “poisons the room,” I strongly disagree. There isn’t a hockey player in the league who is happier sitting than playing, except for maybe Jaromir Jagr, in some instances. Hunter is a straight shooter and he doesn’t care about a players feelings, it is all about winning to him. There were people who complained when he sat Jeff Schultz and then there was an uproar when goalie Michal Neuvirth wasn’t played in back to back contests a couple of weeks back. Both players got the message, worked their rears off in practice, and are now playing at the top of their respective games. Knuble and Hamrlik may very well be needed at some point so to simply dump them for a lower level round draft pick made zero sense. The Caps expect those two to be professionals and focus on getting better, not providing sound bites to the local scribes.

So now it is time to move forward and see if the Capitals current crew can get on a roll and win the Southeast Division. They certainly have the talent on the roster to do it despite the lack of strong centermen. But every team in the Eastern Conference has flaws.

It is a wide open race and once the dance starts, anything can happen (see Montreal over the Caps and Penguins in 2010).

The trade deadline is over and there is no cavalry coming in to save the day. It is up to every player on the Caps roster to determine how bad they want to make the post season and then succeed if they get in.

 

 

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Time to Buy for the Caps

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Time to Buy for the Caps

Posted on 26 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Hockey fans, it’s time to stop the presses! Why? Because the Washington Capitals have finally won back to back games for the first time since mid January.

All kidding aside, the two victories this weekend over Montreal and then at Toronto, while against subpar teams, is significant because it shows that this club still has a decent chance to make the playoffs. More importantly, if they can add some help up front, specifically in the pivot position, and get Nicklas Backstrom back from injury before the playoffs, then anything can happen.

The Caps have been really struggling on the road and given that they played on Friday night, flew to Toronto, and had to clear customs might have indicated that Washington was ripe for the pickings against a desperate Maple Leafs crew. But that theory went totally out the window, thanks to Marcus Johansson’s wraparound tally in the game’s first minute. For once the Capitals could finally play with a lead on the road and the goal definitely energized them. Before four minutes had elapsed, Alexander Semin would score off a nifty steal and from there the Caps built a 4-0 lead through 40 minutes and won fairly easily.

Michal Neuvirth was outstanding in net with 28 saves. The 2006 second round pick has always been underrated and those who have followed him closely know that he is mentally strong. The young Czech netminder, instead of feeling sorry for himself and pouting following coach Dale Hunter’s decision to sit him against San Jose on February 13th, has worked even harder since and in the games he’s played this week has been extremely strong in goal. Hunter may have made the wrong short term decision to sit Neuvirth against the Sharks, but in the long run, it worked because #30 has taken his play to the next level. Sometimes coaches tell it like it is or play head games with players in attempt to make them stronger and improve their performance. Whether Hunter was trying that or not with his goaltender in that instance, that sequence of events has gotten results.

As for the rest of the team, much of the inconsistency in their play over the last month has stemmed from many factors. The Nicklas Backstrom injury has been extremely difficult to overcome given the lack of quality centers on the depth chart after #19. Johansson is only in his second year in the league and he is more suited to play third line center. Mathieu Perreault has been practically written off several times due to his size and lack of steady results. Both players have been forced to take on increased roles and they’ve had good games and bad ones. On Saturday night both had solid outings but to think they can continue to keep it up, in Backstrom’s absence, is asking an awfully lot.

In addition to the talent gaps up the middle of the ice, the team’s inconsistent play has led to a serious lack of confidence and anyone that has played hockey knows that if your mind isn’t right when you step out onto the ice, you are pretty much beaten before taking a single stride. The Caps have had confidence problems, especially after that terrible fluky loss to Winnipeg at home back on February 9th. But these two wins could get their minds right and if General Manager George McPhee can move some of the dead weight on his current roster and bring in some reenforcements, then it becomes an iterative process of better play and increased confidence, a mode a hockey team wants to be in down the stretch. We’ve seen the Caps do this before from the trade deadline on but can they find a way this year with Backstrom likely on the shelf for at least a couple of more weeks?

Another thing to be happy about is the play of Mike Green. #52 has steadily improved since coming back from hernia surgery and he’s stabilized the defense. With Green getting more minutes, Dennis Wideman, who has had many good games but then his share of clunkers this season, has seen his ice time reduced.

So Saturday’s victory puts the Caps at 31-26-5 (67 points) with 20 games remaining. The Southeast Division is wide open between the Caps, Florida Panthers, and Winnipeg Jets with the winner getting the 3rd seed in the playoffs in the East. Surely if McPhee can add some help, and Hunter is likely looking for some size and definitely speed (note it has been the slower skaters who have been routinely getting seats in the press box), then the Capitals could be poised to win their fifth straight division crown.

That is why this team has to be buyers, at this point. Washington needs help up front to get to where they want to go, fortunately it appears that the prices for forwards are not at as high a premium as we’ve seen with defensemen, based on this week’s trades.

This has been a disappointing season so far for the Caps, but McPhee has a chance to turn it all around with the right moves on Monday. It won’t be easy, but given what is at stake for him and the organization, the next two days are going to be extremely important for his and the team’s future.

Notes: Alexander Ovechkin had two assists in a fairly strong performance. His one big mistake though was turning the puck over on the power play in the third period with the Caps up 4-1. The Gr8 can’t make those type of mental miscues. Neuvirth bailed him out with the breakaway save so Ovie certainly owes #30 dinner…Green had 23:00 of ice time and Jeff Schultz logged 21:40. Give #55 credit for working hard and improving his game with assistant coach Jim Johnson the last couple of months. He has gotten tougher to play against despite his lack of speed…Karl Alzner and John Carlson both played over 22 minutes while Wideman and Dmitry Orlov were essentially the third d-pair in this tilt…The Caps next game is Tuesday at the Verizon Center against the Islanders. It is the start of a critical five game home stand. It will be interesting to see what moves McPhee makes between now and the trade deadline at 3pm on Monday.

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Buy or Sell Decision Still Not Clear for Caps

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Buy or Sell Decision Still Not Clear for Caps

Posted on 22 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Buy or Sell decision, on paper, looks like an easy one right now for the Washington Capitals.

Sell.

With Nicklas Backstrom showing no signs of returning in the regular season from his concussion the holes up the middle of the ice appear to be too much for Washington to overcome. On Wednesday night that was apparent once again as the Ottawa Senators raced to an early 2-0 lead, extended it to 4-0 after 40 minutes, then fought off a late Caps rally to prevail 5-2 on an empty net goal.

The Caps played without Alexander Ovechkin, who was injured in Carolina on Tuesday in the second frame, but came back to play in the third period. The Gr8 missed practice yesterday and was scratched Wednesday with an undisclosed lower body injury. To say it has not been a good year, healthwise, for the Capitals is an understatement.

With Monday’s NHL trade deadline looming and just two games left for Washington before then, the Caps remain two points outside of the eighth and final playoff position. They are also only two points behind division leading Florida, who now have two games in hand on the Capitals. But this club has been unable to put together consistent efforts and if the two road games this week are any indication, the team has run out of gas with their most important player, #19, still out of the lineup.

Given that unrestricted free agents Tomas Vokoun, Dennis Wideman, Alexander Semin, and Mike Knuble might yield some good returns surely going the sell route is a no-brainer for general manager George McPhee, right?

Not so fast. The Capitals just announced that ticket prices for next season are going up, on an average of 8%, so for the club to conduct a mini sale and pack it in could significantly hurt season renewals. In addition, there is very likely pressure on McPhee from ownership to not only make the playoffs, but actually go deep into the them. So if the above are the deciding factors then shouldn’t Washington be buyers?

Again, not so easy to decipher and Washington’s salary cap predicament makes it hard for the GM to add assets without moving salary out. In addition, it is even more of a buyer’s market than normal this year, especially when a defenseman like Kyle Quincey goes for a first round draft pick (traded from Tampa to Detroit).

One thing is for certain, this team lacks confidence on the ice. They are not a hard team to play against at all, something that was expected to improve under coach Dale Hunter. At this point, it is clear coaching isn’t the main problem. Both Hunter and Bruce Boudreau have their strengths and weaknesses but the holes on the roster are making it too difficult for any bench boss to keep the team consistent once an injury or two hit.

The question now is can McPhee do something in the next four days to save the season? He has two first round picks in the this year’s draft available to bargain with, but again, he’d likely have to move salary with it in order to take on a top player in return. McPhee has been reluctant to trade 1st round picks in the past so why would this year be any different, especially in a season where the NHL entry draft is supposedly very good? The difference could be the job pressure he has to be feeling, but then again, who is to say that ownership may not give him full reign to make those short term yielding type of trades?

One thing is certain, the next four days are going to be very interesting because everything appears to be a possibility right now for the Caps, from buy to sell to simply standing pat.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’ll be on the WNST Morning Reaction with Drew Forrester at 7:35 am on Thursday talking Caps hockey. Listen on 1570 AM in Baltimore or live via WNST.NET

 

 

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McPhee Faces Dilemma as Caps Continue to Struggle

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McPhee Faces Dilemma as Caps Continue to Struggle

Posted on 20 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Monday night in Carolina appeared to be a must win for the Caps as the team tries to stay in the battle for the Southeast Division title and a playoff spot. With Mike Green set to play his second game after returning in Tampa on Saturday night there certainly was cause for optimism.

Boy did that go out the window quickly!

Roman Hamrlik took a stupid elbowing penalty then Tomas Vokoun gave up a huge rebound goal just 3:41 into the contest. 88 seconds later Marcus Johansson made a horrible turnover at the Caps blue line and the puck ended up in the back of Washington’s net. Dale Hunter yanked Vokoun in favor of Michal Neuvirth but the team continued to struggle with only #30 keeping it close as long as he could.

Then when Alexander Ovechkin turned the puck over in the offensive zone the Hurricanes received another odd man rush and they buried it with just 30 seconds left in the opening frame. Things would get worse in period two when Washington received a power play as Johansson made another gaffe by blindly throwing the puck to Dennis Wideman at the point and Eric Staal collected the biscuit to score on a breakaway. Game over.

It was about as ugly as it could get in this one as the Caps repeatedly turned the puck over in their own end and looked totally out of snyc. They could not defend an odd man rush successfully and when they received them they struggled to get quality chances. Simply put, this team is falling apart when they need to be winning games in a tight playoff race.

For over two years the team has struggled up the middle of the ice since Sergei Fedorov left after the 2008-09 season. In 2010 and 2011 they brought in Eric Belanger and Jason Arnott, respectively, at the trade deadline to try and fill that hole. Last season the Arnott acquisition showed how much of a difference adding that component makes as the Capitals caught fire down the stretch to grab the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately last year’s #44 injured his knee and his effectiveness tailed off as the post season progressed.

Last summer GM George McPhee made several moves that looked very positive towards helping Washington get over the playoff hump. However, he was unable to land a second line center putting the pressure on Brooks Laich and Johansson to produce behind Nicklas Backstrom. With Backstrom now missing his 21st straight game due to a concussion, the gap up the middle of the ice is getting nearly impossible to overcome. Laich’s recent knee injury only magnified that deficiency as #21 is unable to center one of the top two lines while banged up. It is a major reason why the Capitals have not won two straight games in over a month.

So what does McPhee and Coach Dale Hunter do now? The NHL trade deadline is just a week away (Monday, February 27th at 3 pm). Hunter can only shuffle lines so much and Vokoun, who was playing very well coming into this tilt, can only bail out the club so often. Just a week ago McPhee said he felt that if Backstrom could come back this season that he thinks the team is a Stanley Cup contender. Their play on the ice says otherwise. However, if he could get a decent center in a trade, say a guy like Derick Brassard from Columbus, would that be enough to allow the Caps to sneak into the post season either via a division title or by passing a team like Toronto?

That is a question that McPhee will have to think long and hard about the next six plus days. He has two number one draft picks and a second rounder in what is reportedly a very good draft this June. Does he move any of them for a forward to try and win this season? After all he has 2010 first round pick Evgeny Kuznetsov pretty much ready to play in the NHL next season. Kuzy looks to be a bonafide top six forward, but is he a center?

Much of what McPhee does also hinges on the prospects of Backstrom getting healthy because without him, let’s face it, this team can’t go deep in the playoffs, even if the GM adds another center.

One thing is for certain, the Caps were horrible on Monday night and they had no confidence on the ice the entire game. If the Capitals next three games before the trade deadline (at Ottawa, home against Montreal, and at Toronto) go anything like they did in Carolina, then the GM should probably start playing for next season.

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Caps Maintain Focus in Huge Win

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Caps Maintain Focus in Huge Win

Posted on 17 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Losing 1-0 to the Florida Panthers on Friday night, the Washington Capitals reached a critical juncture in the game and possibly their season when not only was Mike Knuble’s apparent game tying goal disallowed, but referee Eric Furlatt called goaltender interference on #22. That put the Panthers on the power play late in the second frame and into the third period. It was a VERY tough call against the Caps, and one can aruge that the zebra totally blew it, especially the part where Knuble had to go to the sin bin.

But what happened immediately after the call is what was most important. Caps Coach Dale Hunter didn’t go nuts on the bench, as some managers might do, instead the even keeled #32 remained calm. After all his team was totally dominating the Cats on the shot board and in scoring chances so Hunter had to feel like his team was going to come out on top, right?

With a three game losing streak and all kinds of negative stuff being written about his personnel decisions and his contract status with the team it probably would’ve been fairly easy and understandable for the hockey and farming expert to go ballistic. But anyone who has closely watched or been around Hunter since he took over as head coach notices that win or lose he remains on an even keel. That calm is a major intangible because when a coach loses it, players often feed off of the negative energy and lose focus.

Washington came out and killed off Knuble’s penalty then kept taking it to the Panthers over the last 20 minutes. Alexander Ovechkin finally broke through on the power play by going to the net (Knuble was there too and earned an assist) and Alexander Semin won it on a shot that deflected off of Sean Bergenheim’s stick past Jose Theodore (39 saves). It was a much needed victory and pulls the Capitals within two points of Southeast Division leading Florida with 25 games to go.

What is even more impressive is that the Caps are starting to win the quality scoring chance battle consistently and their puck possession has improved dramatically. According to super stats man Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg), Washington has outchanced the opposition in the last six games. With Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green out and Brooks Laich playing injured, this trend is awfully encouraging because just imagine what might happen when Hunter gets his full line-up back, hopefully at some point this season?

Tomas Vokoun was back in goal after missing two games with the flu and after a shaky start he was good, though he didn’t have to do a whole lot the last 40 minutes because the Capitals carried the play. The 35 year old veteran certainly is a presence for Washington in net and he is 3-0 with just 1 goal allowed in three tilts versus his old club in 2011-12.

So now it is on to Tampa for game number two of a difficult and important four game road trip. The Caps found a way to fight and claw and get a win. Taking a cue from their head coach, they didn’t panic when Knuble’s goal was washed out and as a result they were victorious. Learning where to properly focus your energy is a key in pro sports, the Caps certainly did that correctly on Friday night and were rewarded. Kudos to Hunter and the players.

Finally, I’ll close with this memo to the Florida Panthers, courtesy of the Far Side:

Warning: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear!

Notes: Hunter and Jim Johnson’s hard work with defenseman Jeff Schultz is reaping some dividends. #55 logged 14:24 and was on the ice in the last two minutes of an ultra important contest…I thought Dmitry Orlov was fabulous tonight. He hit the crossbar and narrowly missed on another attempt but did pick up an assist on Semin’s GWG…Jeff Halpern did a great job on the last two d-zone face-offs and Kris Versteeg’s cheap head shot to #15 probably deserves an NHL review. It was a dangerous play…speaking of dangerous and not so smart plays, Cats d-man Mike Weaver left his feet trying to block the puck and not only took a stick in the mouth but got himself terribly out of position on Ovechkin’s game tying goal. I am a big believer that leaving your skates on defense should only be done as a last resort…Laich logged over 17 minutes, markedly up over the amount he played in each of the last four games. Perhaps his knee is getting better?…shots on goal were 41-23 in favor of the Caps and shots attempted were 75-50, again advantage Washington.

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Rod Langway Officially Back with Caps

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Rod Langway Officially Back with Caps

Posted on 16 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

In his playing days he was known as “The Secretary of Defense” but almost 19 years after he left the Washington Capitals organization he has been brought back and named as an “Ambassador to the Capitals.”

Of course I am talking about Rod Langway, the player who helped to save this franchise in the early 80′s leading them to their first ever NHL playoff berth in 1983. #5 would play 11 more seasons after that initial campaign in 1982-83 with Washington and the Caps made the post season every year he put on the red, white, and blue. On the list of most popular Capitals of all time, he was number one until that Gr8 guy came along.

The two time Norris Trophy Winner and Hall of Famer will represent the team in the community and spread the Capitals brand as well as grow the sport of hockey. He will work with various ice hockey and street hockey clinics, including visiting schools in the area, making special presentations at Caps games and attending community events.

Having worked as a team statistician on game nights for the Caps for 11 plus years, it is extremely nice and satisfying to see owner Ted Leonsis bringing back guys who wore the sweater that I grew up watching, then working for, and now covering for WNST. With Langway as Ambassador, Dale Hunter as head coach, and Olie Kolzig as associate goaltending coach, the Capitals have brought three of their most popular retired players into the fold in the last calendar year.

Langway and Hunter played in what I still say was the most important playoff game in franchise history, the 1988 game seven 5-4 overtime victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, where #32 potted the series clincher on Ron Hextall. Long time Caps fans never get tired of seeing that highlight. That season the Capitals had a very good chance to go to the Stanley Cup Finals but when Langway was cut in the back of leg by Pat Verbeek’s skate in game one of the Patrick Division Finals, their chances of winning it all went out the window.

In 1990 Langway scored arguably his biggest Capitals goal ever notching an overtime tally against the New York Rangers to give Washington a commanding 3-1 lead in that second round playoff series. The Capital Centre went nuts that night after #5 pinched on the boards to take the puck from Mike Gartner and then potted one top shelf like he was Mike Bossy.  The Caps would knock off the Blueshirts in game five and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston. Unfortunately injuries to Dino Ciccarelli, Kevin Hatcher, and then Scott Stevens did that club in. The man known as “Rocket” had his last real chance at a Stanley Cup ended in 1992 when the Caps lost a 3-1 first round series lead to the Penguins, who would destroy everyone else en route to their second NHL title. One of the big disappointments for Langway in his career had to be not bringing a Stanley Cup to the Nation’s Capitol (he did won two with the Montreal Canadiens).

But now he, Hunter, and Kolzig are all back trying to bring this franchise its’ first ever championship. It is a great thing to see and Leonsis and Team President Dick Patrick have to be awfully proud that these former stars are now back in the organization. It also says a lot about the class and loyalty of the two men at the top of the Washington Capitals food chain.

Notes:  Defenseman Mike Green traveled with the team to Florida and could see action on Washington’s four game road trip. The first tilt is Friday night at 730 pm against the Panthers. A regulation victory by the Caps puts them just two points behind the Cats in the Southeast Division race…the team recalled center Keith Aucoin from Hershey…the Capitals raised over $350,000 for Washington Capitals Charities at last Friday night’s Caps Care Casino night.

 

 

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Caps Not Paying the Price for Victory

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Caps Not Paying the Price for Victory

Posted on 13 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals outchanced and outshot the San Jose Sharks on Monday night at the Verizon Center yet still lost, 5-3. Sure there were some crazy bounces that went San Jose’s way, but when you go back and watch the goals again the common theme on the large majority of them were players in front of the net. When it came to that battle, the Sharks won handily, and that is why they are leaving town with two points while the Capitals continue to fail to capitalize on chances to move up in the standings.

This was a difficult loss to take because at one point the score was 2-0 for the visitors yet the Caps had 11 scoring chances to just six for the Sharks (h/t @ngreenberg). Washington is not finishing plays, but more importantly, they aren’t getting the type of “greasy goals” you need to win hockey games. In the NHL the goalies are VERY good and if they see the shots, they are gonna stop them. The Caps did have some open looks but continue to shoot wide. They are in a slump and trying to pick corners, and as a result the back glass is getting a work out instead of the red light.

Where the goals must start coming from is Washington’s power play. The Caps had four man advantage situations in the first 32 minutes and couldn’t capitalize. Lack of shots with bodies in front of Tomas Greiss (39 saves) was the problem and had the Capitals gotten a goal or two from their power play this contest may have gone differently. Speaking of special teams, the Caps penalty killing allowed three goals in six tries and was also a major factor in the loss. Sure the first goal was a lucky deflection at the blue line that skipped off of the Verizon Center ice past Braden Holtby (30 saves in 1st 2011-12 NHL start), but the second tally was a terrible breakdown in coverage by Washington. John Carlson overcommitted on the boards and was beaten, then Karl Alzner left his feet to try and block a pass and missed (if he stays up he likely thwarts it with his stick), and Jeff Halpern doesn’t slide down and take out Joe Pavelski (two goals, two assists), who scored on the doorstep.

It is those type of defensive zone mistakes that are costing the Capitals.

Some will tell you it is Hunter’s decision to bench Mike Knuble instead of Jay Beagle. Others will wonder why Joel Rechlisz was recalled when he all he did was play 1:59. You will also hear that Holtby shouldn’t have started over Michal Neuvirth (Tomas Vokoun is still ill). NONE of those decisions were what decided the game.

As I pointed out at the start of the game, “Recker” had a role to play and that was to let Brad Winchester know he wasn’t going to take liberties with Washington’s star players like he did out in California last month. Anybody notice Winchester tonight? Nope, I didn’t either. Rechlisz did his job which is more than I can say for several Capitals. On Joel’s first shift, early in the game, he actually created havoc in front of the Sharks net. There were 11 other forwards wearing red who could have followed #54′s lead the rest of the game but they failed to do so until it was 5-1.

Picking on Hunter for those three decisions is playing on the edges, in my opinion. This team has some gaping talent holes right now with Nicklas Backstrom injured, Brooks Laich going on 1 knee (played less than 10 minutes again), and Mike Green recovering from surgery. However, there is still ability on this roster and guys like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Dennis Wideman, Alzner, and Carlson have to be much better than they were on Monday night. San Jose seemed to have an ”E-Z Pass” to the front of the Caps net all night. Washington didn’t make going there uncomfortable for them. That needs to change.

So let’s dig in the right place, the Capitals top end players aren’t getting it done and the entire lineup is not paying the price in front of either net to score and prevent goals. That area in front of the cages is where hockey games are won and lost. Right now the Capitals aren’t doing what is necessary and as a result the L’s are starting to pile up.

Notes: Washington does not play until Friday in Florida, which is the start of a four game trip that also takes them to Tampa, Carolina, and then Ottawa. It is a critical stretch in the Caps bid to make the playoffs. With three days off and the trading deadline nearing (3 pm on February 27th), there is a chance that General Manager George McPhee could make a deal to bolster the club before it is too late…the Caps won the faceoff battle 35-33.

 

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