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Caps Win Behind Varlamov; Devils Lose

Posted on 07 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov stopped 29 of 31 shots, many of them on quality chances including a great one on Ilya Kovalchuk from point blank range in the first period, to lead the Caps to a 4-2 victory in Atlanta and move the Caps within one point of clinching second place in the Eastern Conference. Varlamov, who will not turn 21 until April 27th, is now 4-0-1 on the season with a .918 save percentage. Tonight he allowed an inconsistent Capitals performance to be turned into the team’s first win in Phillips Arena in three tries this season. The Caps won the season series from Altanta, 4-2, and are now 15-7 in Southeast Division contests. Washington’s final two games are in Tampa on Thursday (Caps are 5-0 vs. the Lightning) and in Florida on Saturday (Caps are 3-2 vs. the Panthers). Either one Caps point or one missed Devils point will lock up second place for Washington and mean that they will likely face Montreal or the Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which start next week.

With goalie Brent Johnson still out recovering from hip surgery, Varlamov’s performance tonight had to make Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee feel pretty confident that the young netminder could come in and handle things in a playoff series, if necessary. But let’s face it, the Caps are going to ride #1 goalie Jose Theodore as much as possible in this post season.

Also very good for the Caps tonight was their penalty killing, which stopped all six Thrasher power plays despite defenseman Tom Poti (sore groin) being out of the lineup. The sore groin explains a good portion of the reason why #3 seems to have been struggling lately. To successfully kill penalties everything starts with your goalie, at least that is what Rod Langway used to tell me, and tonight Varlamov did his part and the shorthanded Cap skaters did a superb job as well clogging the passing lanes, blocking shots, and making decent clears. Last time Washington was in Atlanta the Thrashers scored on their first three power play chances but they would get the donut hole on Tuesday.

Sergei Fedorov had the insurance goal tonight thanks to Alexander Ovechkin (2 assists) crashing the net but he took three penalties, allowed Marty Reasoner to deflect Tobias Enstrom’s point blast by Varlamov in the second period, and was only four and nine on face-offs. #91 still does not look 100% healthy to me.

Tomas Fleischmann’s first goal was the result of a lucky bounce off of the Thrashers but as Boudreau said last Friday night, when you are playing well you make your own breaks. #14 is rounding into form right now with his 19th goal of the season, he also added  an assist, and was +2 for the evening. He is also getting better at killing penalties. Could he be this year’s John Druce?

Eric Fehr, Nicklas Backstrom, Brian Pothier, and John Erskine were all also +2 for the game.

The Thrashers first goal was a colossal defensive breakdown as Milan Jurcina fumbled the puck in his skates while the rest of the Caps vacated the center of the ice leaving Varlamov to try and fend off Ron Hainsey and Rich Peverley on his own (Peverley scored on a nice backhand fake but he had all day to make the move). These type of breakdowns must be eliminated when the post season begins.

I’m not sure who picked the stars in Atlanta tonight but I don’t know what game he or she was watching, Varlamov was the clear #1 star in my book.

Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins, who had two assists in Pittsburgh’s 6-4 win over Tampa tonight, still leads #8 by two points with two games to go in the scoring race. A tie between the two at the end of the year would result in the Art Ross Trophy for the Great #8 since he has more goals (55 to 34). Ovechkin will get the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals and also should win the Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) but Alex would trade all of these trophies for the Stanley Cup.

The Caps are only one point away from clinching second place because Martin Brodeur turned in another subpar performance on Tuesday giving up four goals on 18 shots while Martin Gerber (who was also great against the Caps this season) stopped 47 of 48 shots to lead the Leafs to a 4-1 victory at The Rock. Brodeur, since setting the record for most wins by an NHL goalie a couple of weeks back, has really struggled lately. For once I say let the Leafs fans party on Yonge Street after this one as they did Washington a huge favor.

Up I-95 in Philadelphia on Tuesday night the Flyers dealt the Florida Panthers a major blow to their playoff chances with a 2-1 victory. Anyone who saw the highlights of this one knows that Florida goalie Tomas Vokoun, who made some very good saves in the contest, gave up a bad goal to Jeff Carter to cost his team the game. The Panthers are two points behind the Rangers and three points behind the Canadiens with two games to go. Florida is at Atlanta on Thursday and then host Washington on Saturday. Montreal is at Boston on Thursday and then host the Penguins on Saturday while the Rangers host the Flyers on Thursday and then go to Philly on Sunday. I don’t see Florida getting in the post season and GM Jacques Martin’s decision to not move impending free agent defenseman Jay Bouwmeester looks even worse now.

The Flyers have clinched a playoff berth but likely can’t win the Atlantic Division (Devils need one point to clinch) so they have to be focused on trying to beat out the Penguins and the streaking Hurricanes for fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Carolina won their ninth game in a row (thumped the Islanders 9-0) but only have two games left while the Flyers have three (they have the Islanders on Saturday to go with the two Ranger games).

That is it for now as I’m off to watch Calgary and Vancouver. A Flames win in regulation clinches the Northwest Division title for them and the #3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. The Canucks lead 1-0 midway through the 2nd period.

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Caps Beard-a-thon, News, and NHL Tidbits

Posted on 06 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Beard-a-thon

With April comes the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the NHL and the famed “Playoff Beard.” The playoff beard is one of the most popular superstitions in all of sports. The player stops shaving his beard when his team enters the playoffs and does not shave until his team is eliminated or wins the Stanley Cup. It is believed that the tradition was started in the 1980s by the four-time Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders, whose team members refrained from shaving during postseason play. This was done so that the team’s luck would not be disrupted during a series. In recent years other sports and other players have claimed the playoff beard tradition, but it is and always will be a hockey tradition.

In honor of this the Washington Capitals are staging a Beard-a-thon to raise money for charity and are encouraging fans to participate in one of hockey’s most visible traditions — the playoff beard. Fans may elect to grow a beard themselves or make a financial donation in support of a Capitals player or a fan who has elected to grow a playoff beard. All proceeds will benefit Washington Capitals Charities.

Participants in the Capitals’ Beard-a-thon can invite family members, friends and business associates to pledge money for their playoff beard. Some of the participants in the Beard-a-thon are Comcast SportsNet anchors Brent Harris, Chick Hernandez, Michael Jenkins, Chris Miller and Russ Thaler. WJFK 106.7 FM’s John “Cakes” Auville from the Junkies, Chad Dukes from the Big O and Dukes Show and nationally syndicated personality Mike O’Meara from the Mike O’Meara Show will also participate in the Beard-a-thon. Money will be donated to Washington Capitals Charities for everyday that a fan maintains his beard. Fans who do not wish to or are unable to grow a playoff beard can participate by pledging a donation to your favorite Caps player. For more information or to enroll in the Capitals’ Beard-a-thon, log onto www.beardathon.com/capitals.

The fan who raises the most money will win an authentic lettered jersey signed by the player of their choice and will be recognized at a Washington Capitals home game during the 2009-10 season, second place will win a team-signed stick, while third place will win an Alex Ovechkin signed puck. All donations for the Capitals’ Beard-a-thon are tax deductible.

Caps News

Rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, who is 3-0-1 with a .914 save percentage will be in net in Atlanta when the Caps take on the Thrashers on Tuesday night. This move makes sense because #1 goalie Jose Theodore has had two bad outings in Phillips Arena this season (and the team wasn’t very good in front of him either) plus Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wants to get Varlamov another game before next week’s playoffs as it looks like #40 will be the back-up goalie in the first round of the playoffs (although Brent Johnson is skating and improving from his hip surgery).

The Caps are 0-2 in Atlanta this year and with the New Jersey Devils home against Toronto on Tuesday night Washington likely needs to win to maintain its two point lead over the Devils for second place in the Eastern Conference. If Washington plays like it did in the first 40 minutes of Sunday’s game at the Verizon Center it will lose and if they put forth an effort like they did in the final 20 minutes they will blow Atlanta out.

Caps and hockey fans should check out the TSN end of season NHL awards preview at http://www.tsn.ca/nhl/story/?id=273944. The panel likes Ovechkin to repeat as Hart Trophy winner (NHL MVP) and Mike Green to win the Norris Trophy (NHL’s best defensemen). I thought this piece was interesting but this part by former Cap Keith Jones really drew my attention:


Jones: The only defenceman for the Washington Capitals is Green and and he should win the Norris because he has no help on the blueline. Milan Jurcina is the second highest scoring defenceman on the Capitals with 14 points and the Bruins gave him away. Tom Poti is the third highest scoring defenceman with 13 points. Green is +24 on a team without a goaltender.


I’m not sure how many Caps games Jones has watched this season but the “team without a goaltender” line is not accurate. Jose Theodore has been among the top goaltenders in the league since December 23rd (as long as he doesn’t try to shoot for any open nets!). While I think the Caps defense is likely their weak spot, Scott Cullen of TSN ranks the crew 7th overall in the NHL (http://www.tsn.ca/columnists/scott_cullen/?id=273658). Jonesy’s statements disappointed me but then again this is the guy who was called up to be an extra skater in the playoffs and sat behind me on the plane on the way back from Pittsburgh in 1992, yet years later in his book we find out he was rooting against the Caps because he didn’t want to have to keep skating hard in practice each day. The Caps blew a 3-1 series lead that year and the hockey gods paid Jonesy back big time by putting him on teams that lost three 3-1 playoff series leads in his career.

NHL Tidbits

Bad game by the Montreal Canadiens tonight as they blew a 2-1 lead and were beaten by the Ottawa Senators, 3-2, at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The 7th place Canadiens had a chance to move up in the Eastern Conference standings but remain at 92 points with just three games to go. The Florida Panthers and New York Rangers both have 89 points and have three games remaining as well. The Habs are at New York, at Boston, and then home against Pittsburgh and if they don’t watch it could find themselves on the golf course next week. Oh by the way, the Montreal Gazette has already picked the Caps as the team they want their beloved Habs to face in the playoffs as evidenced by the following post:

“The ideal matchup [for Montreal] would be against the Washington Capitals and that’s the team the Canadiens would have played if the season ended after last night’s game.

The Caps have a potent 1-2-3 punch with forwards Alexander (The Great) Ovechkin and Alexander Semin and defenceman Mike Green. But this is the time of year when defence comes to the fore and the Caps have suspect goaltending in the person of former Canadien José Theodore and a shaky defence corps.”

Comment: I would gladly take a Washington-Montreal series although there is one thing I would not like about it – we’d have to put up with the Montreal media in the press box in DC. If a Habs-Caps series does come to fruition you can bet that these quotes will be up on the Washington locker room wall.

Big game in Vancouver on Tuesday night as the Canucks take on the Flames in a matchup that could decide the Northwest Division title. Calgary is battling the Kings at home Monday night (currently winning, 3-1, early in the 3rd period thanks to a blast by Jarome Iginla) and should they win they will be two points ahead with three games to go. The Flames are 2-1-2 against Vancouver this season. Both clubs have already clinched playoff spots but the division winner will be the third seed behind San Jose and Detroit. The loser likely gets the fourth seeded Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

Speaking of the Red Wings, forward Marian Hossa has been a team killer the last two days. He all but ended the playoff hopes of the Minnesota Wild on Sunday with his 38th goal of the season with just 51 seconds left on NBC on Sunday (nice pass by Tomas Holmstrom and bad coverage by Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky that allowed the two on one break) and then he added two more tallies to hit the 40 goal mark in a 4-1 win over Buffalo that have crippled the Sabres playoff hopes.

The Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues are battling it out to make the Western Conference playoffs. They both have 86 points but the Blues have the schedule advantage playing at Phoenix, Columbus, and then at Colorado while the Predators host Chicago, then play back to back in Detroit and Minnesota. If the Preds make the playoffs this will be the fifth straight time that GM David Poile and Coach Barry Trotz will have made the post season. What is more impressive about that would be the fact that they had to gut their team after the 2007-08 season due to ownership issues. Poile has always been a shrewd GM and Trotz a superb coach (in fact, he is the only Nashville coach in team history and is second in NHL head coaching tenure behind Lindy Ruff of the Sabres). Both teams could get in if Anaheim falters but that is not likely since the Ducks are home to Dallas and then the Coyotes plus they are up two points on both teams.

One final tidbit, if you are interested in a different kind of Caps playoff gear please check out Rob Yunich’s Storming the Crease website (www.stormingthecrease.com). Rob has some neat tee shirts available including some that are sure to get under the skin of Penguins fans.

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Drinking the orange Kool Aid at Fan Fest

Posted on 04 April 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

There are two types of Orioles fans left in the Baltimore area and they are distinct groups:

Those who drink the Kool Aid…

And those, like me, who have examined the big picture of what’s happened to this franchise over the past 13 years and are pretty angry about its impact on our fun, our lives and the community.

With Opening Day looming, everyone who has EVER loved baseball perks up and pay attention. Even if it’s only to notice: “Hey, its’ Opening Day!” Most people in Baltimore realize this team won’t contend but if you love baseball you’ll at least open one eye on Monday afternoon to catch the score. I’d venture to say that 75% of the city will wake up Tuesday morning at the office and know whether the Orioles won. (That number used to be more like 98% in 1998!)

Those who unconditionally still drink the orange Kool Air or “want” to drink the Kool Aid probably went down to Fan Fast today at Camden Yards. I opted to not give Mr. Angelos any more money that he won’t spend to get the team a quality spring training facility.

Instead, I’m sitting here watching the Fan Fest festivities on MASN HD television and getting some of my WNST “CEO work” done and thinking about baseball season and how it’s going to go for the Orioles and Matt Wieters and these young players and what inevitable drama will unfold.

The only real “punishment” I’m getting for not having a press pass is being “banned” from knowing the Orioles players, which is almost ludicrous because as you saw last week, Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Roberts were happy to chat with me at the World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium. Charley Eckman would’ve called them “right guys” and they are decent, solid dudes. (As an aside, I also exchanged pleasantries with Davey Johnson, which is always fun.)

As a media member – well, at least I was for about 23 years until I was banned – I got to know so many of the players and what kinda guys they are. So I guess that’s my “price to pay” — I don’t get to report to you what good people the Orioles have on their team this year. Or not…

While it looked a tad bit chilly and windy at Camden Yards, the event was a “made for TV” informercial/season preview with interviews between co-workers Jim Hunter, Jim Palmer and the like of Andy McPhail, Aubrey Huff, Adam Jones, Dennis Sarfate and Ryan Freel.

They did a nice job with “get to know you” chats with these players and  I especially like that I can see Jim Palmer in high def. For a well-compensated network to finally “discover” HD in 2009 tells you all you need to know about the vision people at MASN.

But I digress…

Here are a few observations, because my seat is the same as yours at this point, which is its own unique point of view watching Jim Hunter and Amber Theoharis and others interview their co-workers in black hats that say “O’s”.

I honestly didn’t know what Ty Wigginton or Koji Uehara looked like until today. Ditto Freel, who really seemed to be a pleasant “aw, shucks” kinda guy. He reminded me of Bob Backlund back in the late 1970’s when he was a baby face.

Freel freely thanked the fans several times and seemed genuine. (As an aside, why doesn’t the owner of the team ever do that? Just come on the TV and say “thanks” on his own network that he’s making over $100 million this year on?)

Andy McPhail did a stand up with Jim Hunter and said all of the right things. He made it clear he expected a big improvement in Adam Jones. He also talked a lot about character and what kind of players — “gamers, blue collars guys, character guys” — he wants on the team. Fair enough.

I like hearing that the Orioles want good people in their organization. From what I know of the 2009 Orioles, they’re pretty good guys and they clearly dislike Angelos’ management and ownership style as much as the rest of us. (Again, this is one of the reasons the Orioles banning legitimate media isn’t a good thing for the fans. The fans never get to know the truth unless, like yesterday in The Sun, they speak out.)

I’ve known Gregg Zaun for 17 years. I’ve cheered – VERY hard – for Zaun for 17 years through his days in Kansas City, Florida, Toronto and Houston. He’s a great person and loves Baltimore and the Orioles. That’s an upgrade there no matter how you look at it and he’ll keep the seat plenty warm for Matt Wieters, whenever the Orioles decide to promote him to the bigs.

Even today on TV, a couple of the young players talked about what a cool guy Zaun is for them to be around and how he tells great stories (which he does!)

I must say that I didn’t envy Buck Martinez’s press pass today, interviewing his co-worker, Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara, whose only word in English was “Thank you!”

Uehara had an interpreter and the answer to the first question regarding Camden Yards was this: “Right field is pretty shallow.” That was the first of several laughs.

Honestly, it was like I needed an interpreter for his interpreter. It was borderline hilarious. It reminded me of my four days in Tokyo where communication was definitely at a premium.

I don’t care how much Uehara speaks. The Orioles need him to be a rock star if they’re going to win 75 games. But he seemed pleasant enough and thrilled to be at Camden Yards in a big-league uniform. Good enough for me.

If the only “communication” I’m going to have with the players is to see their co-workers ask them questions I might as well think they’re nice guys. Even if they’re complete turds, at least this won’t spoil it for me.

I’m ready for Opening Day. I’m ready to get to Hooters and have a Bud Light. I’m ready for baseball.

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Live from Southern California…

Posted on 23 March 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

It’s been a chilly trip all the way around. It’s cold in California this week. It was freezing at Dodger Stadium last night and Laguna Beach is no better.

I’m spending the next three days here in Dana Point at the NFL Owners Meetings, chatting with coaches, executives and owners from around the league. Most of the media has commented that it’s “quiet” here this week, with no major rules changes or negotiations to be held. The only potential “landmark” concept is the notion of making the regular season a 17 or 18-game affair, with the elimination of those dreadful preseason games. It appears that changes to overtime possession aren’t coming right now. There’s too much support to keep the current (yet flawed) system.

But it’s truly the calm before the potential financial storm as the NFL Players Association has named its new leader in DeMaurice Smith last week.

Commisioner Roger Goodell is addressing the entire contingent this morning with a “State of The NFL” speech, which no doubt will be addressing the sagging economy and the paramount issue of a new collective bargaining agreement with the players, which could be a dog fight over the next 18 months as both sides are preparing for a tremendous battle that could go either way.

Lockouts, strikes, posturing – it’s all on the table as both sides look to divvy up the riches and spoils of a league that has basically had 25 years of labor peace and prosperity. Right now, the players get 59.5% of the total revenue pool. The owners want to make it less; the players, of course, want more. We’ll be following this story for the next two years but this is the beginning of a long race that will decide the fate of the league for the next decade.

I spent the evening last night up in Los Angeles (about an hour north of here) at Dodger Stadium at the World Baseball Classic semifinal between Team USA and Japan. Obviously, it wasn’t the greatest night for Brian Roberts in field but he did begin the game with a grand home run off of Dice K. I caught up with Brian Roberts, Davey Johnson and Jeremy Guthrie prior to the game and saw more celebrities than I can name. The videos are just to the right of here in the wnsTV video vault.

Because of the “Angelos ban” I never had the chance to meet of chat with Guthrie. He was a super good guy and was truly excited about wearing a USA jersey. My five minutes with him made it very easy to pull for him when he takes the ball at Camden Yards in two weeks.

(And for the record, I had no idea Kelsey Grammar was such a nice guy. I did, however, fully confirm that Alyssa Milano is smoking hot!)

Dodger Stadium is still a religious experience for any baseball fan and it’s nights like last night that really make me love my job and my career in sports. As I’ve been posting my baseball book about my Pop and his love of the game, it’s nights like last night that remind me about why I chose to do this for a living 25 years ago.

I also ran into some very old and dear friends from the “early days” with the Orioles. Dr. Charles Steinberg and Evelyn Ehlers – both “lifer” Orioles fans and Baltimoreans are working in the Dodgers’ front office. Former Ravens V.P. Dennis Mannion is now the president of the Dodgers. And Baltimorean Jamie McCourt (nee Luskin, as in Jack Luskin, the “cheapest guy in the town”) is the C.E.O. of the team, owner by her and husband Frank McCourt.

It’s almost like the Dodgers are Baltimore’s West Coast connection.

I’ll be shooting videos here on WNST.net, blogging and potentially grabbing some guests for Drew Forrester, Bob Haynie and Ray Bachman, who will be filling in for me all week from 2 til 6 p.m.

I’ve already chatted with virtually every NFL coach that has a Baltimore connection and John Harbaugh told me that his brother – former Ravens QB and current Stanford head coach Jim – and his dad will be here this afternoon. We’ll be doing a little wnsTV of that in the next 24 hours.

It’s also the first NFL Owners Meetings for longtime WNST supporters, Rex Ryan and Jim Schwartz, who will both make some time for Baltimore.

Stay tuned…I’ll be working hard here in California.

Did I mention the weather kinda sucks?

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Ovechkin Gets #50, Green Scores Two Before Getting Injured in Caps Win

Posted on 19 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season and added two assists as the Caps exploded for three goals in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-2, on Thursday night in Tampa. Defenseman Mike Green had a big game as well scoring his 26th and 27th goals of the season and now is ahead of Sheldon Souray of Edmonton by seven goals to lead all NHL defensmen. The bad news is that late in the game #52 was pulled to the ice awkwardly by Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos and Green struggled to get to the bench, dangling his left arm. Green then left for the locker room with just over a minute to go in a scene that has to make Caps fans very nervous because any type of serious injury to #52 would likely end the Caps chances of winning a Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. Washington is only 7-7 when Green has been out of the lineup this season. According to NHL “On the Fly” tonight, Green told reporters that he just had the wind knocked out of him but it looked worse and we’ll find out how serious it is over the next several days (the Caps are in Carolina on Saturday night).

Rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov continued to play well and he pushed his NHL record to 3-0 stopping 26 of 28 Tampa shots. Varlamov was very aggressive in goal continually challenging opponents by coming out of his cage to cut off the shooting angles. The two goals he gave up were on rebounds. The Caps are now 4-0 against Tampa Bay this season and have out scored them 21-9. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, who said afterwards “that we weren’t very good in the first two periods tonight,” is now 9-0 against the Lightning.

Here are some other thoughts and notes on the game tonight:

TO in the house:  I did not like Ovechkin’s post 50 goal celebration. It looked staged and immediately reminded me of something Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson would do in the NFL. This was Ovechkin’s third 50 goal season and I know the Great #8 gets very excited when he or any other Cap scores but sometimes it is just best to pull an Emmitt Smith or Jamal Lewis and act like you’ve done this before. I’m sure Don Cherry will have a field day with this stunt, and deservedly so. Ovechkin did go +2 on the evening and is +3 in his last two games after a stretch of 12 contests where he was -8 overall.

Laing recalled: Forward Quintin Laing was recalled from Hershey today to replace forward Boyd Gordon, who fractured a finger and will be out two to three weeks. Gordon is a very good penalty killer but so is Laing, who specializes in blocking shots. Laing had a super solid game tonight drawing a penalty on Stamkos that led to the fourth Washington goal, was +1, had two hits, and blocked one shot in 10:19 of ice time.

Kozlov shines again: Viktor Kozlov, after a very strong game in Florida on Tuesday, was very good again on Thursday notching three assists and his play to set up Michael Nylander for the Caps fourth goal showed how strong he can be on the puck. If #25 can consistently play at this level the Caps become tougher to defend

Storming the Crease: While I didn’t think Lightning goalie Mike McKenna played very well (I’m not sure he is an NHL’er), the Caps did a good job of going to the net and it was nice to see Matt Bradley get rewarded for his hard work scoring Washington’s fifth goal with seven and a half minutes left to all but end this contest. Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich are two guys you can count on to go hard to the net of the opposition and even Nylander’s tally was the result of him going into the crease area. Green’s game winner happened because the Caps crashed the cage with Ovechkin storming the front of the net and the Lightning defenders collapsed on him allowing #52 to be wide open in the slot and fire it top shelf past McKenna.

Standings: The Caps are now 45-22-6 for 96 points and trail the Boston Bruins by only four points with nine games to go (Boston has a game in hand) for first place in the Eastern Conference. However, the New Jersey Devils are sitting on 95 points in third and have three games in hand on the Caps. The Caps will finish at least third and that will help them likely avoid the Flyers and Penguins in the first round, who could face each other and hopefully wear themselves out. I’m projecting Washington will face either Montreal or the Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Caps have a 15 point lead again in the Southeast Division, although the Hurricanes have a game in hand while Florida has two games in hand (but trail by 16 points).

Lineup Notes: John Erskine was the healthy scratch on defense tonight as Brian Pothier played his second game of the season, logging 18:43 of ice time. If Green is indeed hurt for Saturday’s game Washington could opt to call up defenseman Karl Alzner, who could play the rest of the games this regular season and only finish with 39 total. From a business side keeping Alzner under 40 games helps them long term as it delays unrestricted free agency for #27 by a year. In addition, due to salary cap constraints he could not have played at the NHL level all season. However, the Caps likely have enough room to bring him up now and there is no salary cap in the playoffs.

Washington won the face-off battle tonight, 32-24.

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Caps Recall Pothier, Varlamov for 4 Game Road Trip

Posted on 15 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have recalled defenseman Brian Pothier and goaltender Simeon Varlamov from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL) and assigned goaltender Michal Neuvirth to Hershey, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Pothier, 31, is a third-year Capital who suffered a concussion Jan. 3, 2008, at Boston and missed the remainder of the season and has not played in the NHL this season. He recently completed a four-game conditioning stint with the Bears and is available to make his season debut with the Capitals tomorrow night in Atlanta, the same city where he made his NHL debut nearly eight years ago (April 3, 2001, as a Thrasher).

The 6’0”, 200-pound native of New Bedford, Mass., is a veteran of seven NHL seasons and has compiled 100 points (20 goals, 80 assists) in 292 career games. In his only full season with the Capitals, 2006-07, he led all club defensemen in points (28) and assists (25) and led the team in ice time (23:59 per game) while appearing in 72 games.

Varlamov, 20, is a first-year pro who stands 6’1”, 201 pounds. He has compiled an 18-6-1 record in Hershey this season and has two shutouts, a .910 save percentage and a 2.47 goals-against average (GAA). Varlamov is 2-0-0 with the Capitals this year. He made his NHL debut in Montreal on Dec. 13 and beat the Canadiens, 2-1, to become the youngest Russian-born goaltender to make an NHL start and the first NHL goalie in more than 30 years to win his debut at Montreal (since Hardy Astrom, New York Rangers, on Feb. 25, 1978). He made 32 saves in Montreal and 29 saves in a 4-2 win against St. Louis on Dec. 18.

The Samara, Russia, native was the Capitals’ first-round choice, 23rd overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He played in 44 games for Yaroslavl in the Russian Super League last year, posting three shutouts and a 2.45 GAA. Varlamov was selected to Russia’s 2008 World Championship team but missed the competition because of an injury.

Neuvirth is a first-year pro who stands 6’1”, 199 pounds. He returns to Hershey after dressing 19 games for Washington. The 20-year-old saw action in five games and has a 2-1-0 NHL record. He made his NHL debut on Feb. 14 in Tampa Bay and defeated the Lightning, 5-1. The Usi Labem, Czech Republic, native was the Capitals’ second-round choice, 34th overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Comments and Thoughts: This is good news for the Caps as Pothier appears to have come through his conditioning stint okay, so far. Pothier will count a pro-rated $2.5M against the salary cap making things tight again for the team money wise. The Caps will now have 7 defensemen up for their upcoming 4 game road trip, all against the Southeast Division, that starts on Monday in Atlanta. From Atlanta they go to Florida on Tuesday to face a desperate Panthers hockey team that currently sits in 9th place in the Eastern Conference standings, just a point behind 8th place Carolina, who has played two more games than Florida.

As for Varlamov, he is now recoverd from a knee injury and seeing that he is the better of the two goaltending prospects (he was drafted in the first round of 2006 while Neuvirth went in the second round) it makes sense that he will be with the team until backup goalie Brent Johnson is recovered from hip surgery. With the Caps playing back to back games starting tomorrow you can expect him to play one of the two games. My guess is the first game in Atlanta.

Speaking of the Thrashers, they may be without their top player, Ilya Kovalchuk, who missed Saturday’s game against Buffalo due to an upper body injury. Thrashers GM Don Waddell was quoted as saying that since Atlanta is out of the playoff picture they were going to be extra careful with Kovalchuk’s injury so Washington may be lucky and not have to face #17, who generally plays very well against the Caps. Kovalchuk has one more season on his contract at just under $6.4M so this off-season will be a key one for Waddell and the Thrashers to put some players around the talented Russian. If they can’t get the former number one overall NHL draft pick to re-sign, and they were unable to convince Marian Hossa to commit long term to Atlanta last year and that is why they traded him to Pittsburgh, then the owners in Atlanta might as well pack up that franchise and go home.

The Thrashers under first year Coach John Anderson have been playing much better lately and rallied from a 3-1 third period deficit on Saturday to beat Buffalo in the shootout, 4-3. That was Atlanta’s fifth straight win and goalie Kari Lehtonen is playing outstanding in goal. The Thrashers are 9-3-1 in their last 12 games so Washington is getting a hot team that can play loose since they have no pressure on them. On the flip side, Washington is in good shape overall with the Southeast Division all but decided, however, their focus needs to be on playing more responsively in regards to their own end of the rink like they did in two road wins last week. They can’t go out and play pond hockey like they did in the second period against the Hurricanes on Saturday otherwise the Caps could end up with a loss in Atlanta like they suffered on opening night (a 7-4 defeat in a crazy, wide open game).

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Caps Stand Pat at Trade Deadline / NHL News and Analysis

Posted on 04 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Tradeless on Deadline Day

Washington Capitals GM George McPhee was unable to pull off the big trade he had hoped to complete today which means Coach Bruce Boudreau will go forward the rest of the regular season and in the playoffs with the current roster in addition to any re-enforcements from Hershey as well as the possibility that injured defenseman Brian Pothier may be able to return to the Caps after a three to five game conditioning stint with the Bears in the AHL (more on that in a moment).

McPhee told Caps fans on the podcast on WashingtonCaps.com around 340pm that he only tried to make moves that would significantly upgrade the current team without mortgaging the future. The GM, who has only seen one other NHL trade deadline pass in which he hasn’t made a deal (2000) for Washington, mentioned Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger and Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester as players he considered as significant upgrades. Both Pronger and Bouwmeester were not moved to any other team so even though the Caps didn’t get them at least those marque players didn’t go to their competitors in the Eastern Conference.

McPhee told Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post that when he inquired about Pronger Ducks GM Bob Murray wanted talented young players Karl Alzner, Simeon Varlamov, and John Carlson. While getting Pronger could have put the Caps in the driver seat to win the Eastern Conference finals this year and possibly next, it likely would have cost them big time long term so I can’t fault McPhee for not doing this deal.

For those who read my blog on Monday night you know I wanted Pronger but I wasn’t willing to give up all of the guys mentioned above (I was hoping Michal Neuvirth and some others would suffice).

So the team that currently has the third best record in the Eastern Conference is now the one that must improve on last year’s first round playoff defeat. Caps fans hope that this recent lull, the team is 3-4 in its last seven home games, is just a blip on the radar and I’m sure Boudreau is counting on the two recent awful losses to Florida and Carolina being a case of a team more worried about the trade deadline than those games.

McPhee did mention that Caps fans can expect Alzner to be recalled soon and he should help this defense. As for Pothier, the GM said that if he can’t make it through this conditioning stint then his career, which took a turn for the very worse due to a severe concussion last season, is likely over.

As for the goalie situation, McPhee said he expects Varlamov to play this weekend in Hershey. I would expect that if Simeon plays well this weekend and is fully recovered he will be brought up to Washington and Michal Neuvirth will go back down to Hershey. In addition McPhee is confident that Brent Johnson, who had hip surgery but is skating already, will be ready late in the regular season and for the playoffs in case something were to happen to #1 goalie Jose Theodore.

Also, Michael Nylander and his $4.875M salary cap hit was not moved so you can probably expect Boudreau to find a way to use him in some situations down the stretch and in the playoffs. As I’ve said before, Nylander will likely be bought out after this season unless he somehow finds the fountain of youth (highly doubtful).

So Caps fans, this is the hand you are dealt with so it is time for this team to get back to playing at the elite level it was at a few weeks ago and find a way to peak in the playoffs.

NHL News

For those who read my blog after Tuesday night’s Caps-Carolina debacle I mentioned that I had heard Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough on Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) Radio at 525pm that day and he said that trade talk was way down this year. The Wild GM said he thought it had to do with several teams being up against the salary cap plus the uncertainty surrounding future team salary cap totals, especially in 2010-11 (I heard host Jeff Marek mention on HNIC radio today that it is expected to drop $2M next season and then around $4M to $7M the following year, OUCH!). Well things played out as Risebrough predicted and there weren’t many big time deals. Here are my thoughts on some of the other teams from today:

Biggest Winners: The Calgary Flames for adding forward Olli Jokinen and a third round pick for just underachieving Matthew Lombardi, tough guy Brandon Prust, and a first round pick plus re-acquiring defenseman Jordan Leopold for two prospects and a second round draft pick. Leopold was on the Flames team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004. GM Darryl Sutter gets an A+ for his moves today and Calgary now has a chance against the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference.

Winner: The New York Rangers for acquiring defenseman Derrick Morris from Phoenix for forward Petr Prucha, Nigel Dawes, and defenseman Dmitri Kalinin plus getting forward Nik Antropov from the Leafs for a 2nd round conditional draft pick. These two moves plus the claiming of Sean Avery off of waivers should stop the New York freefall and allow them to make the playoffs pending how Avery and Chris Drury get along in the locker room (apparently the two do not like each other). I am not a big Morris fan but he is an upgrade on a weak defensive team, although the Rangers did give up some talent for him.

Winner: The Pittsburgh Penguins for getting Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi from Anaheim last Thursday for defenseman Ryan Whitney plus getting 38 year old forward Bill Guerin from the Islanders for a conditional draft pick. On HNIC radio today former Avs, Kings, and Canucks Coach now turned broadcaster, Marc Crawford, kept singling the Pens out as a big winner. I do like these additions and think that the Pens will finish either fifth or sixth in the Eastern Conference final standings (6th place likely means a first round matchup with the Caps, DOH!) unless Marc Andre-Fleury goes into another goaltending funk.

Winner: The San Jose Sharks for adding physical players Travis Moen and Kent Huskins from Anaheim for two prospects and a draft pick. Apparently former Capital Mike Grier is hurt fairly bad so the Moen signing should more than fill that hole in the lineup. San Jose needed more grit and these two guys definitely add that.

Probable Winner: The Edmonton Oilers for adding Patrick O’Sullivan and Ales Kotalik, both of whom have underachieved to date in their careers, for forward Eric Cole, who goes back to Carolina and didn’t fit in with the Oilers.

Probable Winner: The Boston Bruins for adding forward Marc Recchi (Tampa Bay) and defensemen Steve Montador (Anaheim) for three prospects.

Not sure what they are doing: The Anaheim Ducks. They traded a good forward in Kunitz for Whitney when they already have Pronger under contract for next year and defenseman Scott Niedermayer leaning towards coming back next season as well. Then they trade two key players from their Stanley Cup run, Moen and Samuel Pahlsson, for defenseman James Wisniewski (Chicago), forward Nick Bonino (San Jose), and goalie Timo Pielmeier (San Jose). They also traded Eric O’Dell to Atlanta for Eric Christensen, a player I am not very high on. It seems logical that they could now move Pronger at the draft. Anaheim will have to scratch and claw to just get in the playoffs now and if they don’t then keeping Pronger was the wrong move unless Niedermayer hangs it up in Anaheim after this season.

Stood pat: The Caps, Montreal, Detroit, Vancouver, and Nashville. Sometimes that is not a bad thing. In 2007 the only trade Anaheim GM (at the time) Brian Burke made at the deadline was acquiring fourth liner Brad May and the Ducks went on to win the Stanley Cup. However, last year the Red Wings added defenseman Brad Stuart and forward Todd Bertuzzi en route to their Stanley Cup winning run.

So going forward here is what I think will happen the last month or so of the regular season based on today’s deals and barring any new serious injuries:

Final Eastern Conference Standings:

1. New Jersey (Brodeur is back and the Devils are flying!)

2. Boston

3. Washington

4. Philadelphia

5. Pittsburgh

6. Montreal

7. New York Rangers

8. Florida

Just missing out: Carolina (not strong enough on defense) and Buffalo (Ryan Miller and Tomas Vanek injuries have really hurt them)

Final Western Conference Standings:

1. San Jose

2. Detroit

3. Calgary

4. Chicago

5. Vancouver

6. Edmonton

7. Columbus

8. Nashville

Just missing out: Minnesota (not enough scoring), Dallas (Brad Richards injury too much to overcome), and Anaheim (played more games than others right now and I’m not sure how these trades will fix things).

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Caps News and Hockey Tidbits

Posted on 19 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps are back in action Friday night against the Colorado Avalanche, who were carried into the playoffs last season by current Washington goalie, Jose Theodore. Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post had a nice interview with #60 today about what happened in Colorado and about the process of leaving the Avs and coming to the Caps (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalsinsider/2009/02/theodore_looking_forward_to_fa.html#more). The game is at 7pm at the Verizon Center. Thursday night in the NHL saw the New Jersey Devils knock off the Tampa Bay Lightning in a shootout to tie the Caps with 79 points and second place in the Eastern Conference standings (although Washington has a game in hand on the Devils). Also, the Florida Panthers were blanked, 4-0, in Chicago and now trail the Caps by 13 points with 24 games to go in the Southeast Division race. I think it is safe to say the Caps will be hanging another Southeast Division Champions banner but if you polled the organization that is not the only one they would like to see go up at the Verizon Center.

I caught the encore presentation of Hockey Night in Canada Radio (Sirius Channel 122) this evening with host Jeff Marek and co-host Craig Simpson (a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Edmonton Oilers) and the topic of Wednesday night’s Caps-Habs game plus the Caps post season aspirations were discussed. Here is a synopsis of the conversation:

They both marveled at Ovechkin’s goal from Wednesday night. No surprise there.

Simpson says the Caps are the most exciting team in the NHL to watch. Marek said the passing, to include the behind the back ones, between Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei Fedorov, and Alexander Semin is fun to watch and takes amazing skill but he pointed out that they can get “too cute” at times. Simpson said he thought that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau would have to get the players to not do as much of that in the playoffs because teams adjust in a playoff series.

Marek then asked Simpson if he thought the Caps had a defense that was Stanley Cup worthy. This came after a brief discussion on Anaheim’s Chris Pronger, who Simpson thinks will be traded come March 4th since the Ducks are likely to be sellers given their current position in the Western Conference (they are in 9th place but have played more games than everyone around them). Simpson thought the Caps had some physical defensemen, he mentioned Shaone Morrisonn by name, but then he said his big concern was the goaltending and he didn’t think Theodore was a guy who could hold up for a seven game series or win the Cup.

So I thought about this and talked Thursday evening with former Capitals statistician Mike Herr (who I worked hundreds of Caps games with and was also a former Team Opthamologist) and we both concluded that whether people agree with Simpson or not, Theodore is the only option Washington has this year in net to take them to the Stanley Cup Finals and win. I happen to think that #60 can accomplish that, especially given the team in front of him, and the way he played in last year’s playoffs is proof that he CAN go seven games in a series as he carried the Avs to victory against the Minnesota Wild in round one. By the way, since the lockout ended the three Stanley Cup winning goaltenders are: Cam Ward (Carolina, 2006), J.J. Giguere (Anaheim, 2007), and Chris Osgood (Detroit, 2008). Certainly before the 2006 playoffs Ward would not have been a goalie one would expect to be able to win the Cup (he was #2 on the depth chart going into the playoffs, behind Martin Gerber) but he did. So why not Theodore?

I do, however, continue to maintain that Caps GM George McPhee needs to get another veteran goalie to backup Theodore in the event that #60 suffers even a minor injury. Young goalies Michal Neuvirth and Simeon Varlamov have very promising futures but they would benefit much more from a playoff run with Hershey. Also, those who follow Tarik’s blog know that Olie Kolzig mentioned in Tampa last week that after last season he had the same surgery that Brent Johnson had recently on his hip and Godzilla said that two months was not enough recovery time. So I am not convinced that Johnson is a viable option the rest of this hockey season. The NHL trading deadline is a week from Wednesday at 3pm on March 4th.

Speaking of others talking about the Caps, I thought the following quote from Montreal defenseman Mathieu Schneider was worth sharing (special thanks to the Caps great Media/HR department led by Nate Ewell and Paul Rovnak for providing these quotes):

“Those guys are probably one of the most exciting teams in hockey right now and very difficult to play against. It was a great up and down game. I thought we sat back, you could sense a little bit of nervousness from some of the guys in the first period but as we got into it, the guys started getting looser, starting to make plays. We got a lot of pucks to the net and I think we had a lot of chances 5-on-5 as well. We could have just as easily won that [game]. We hit the post there towards the end and it could have been a different story easily. It’s something to build on, we have to take that into tomorrow night and just build off that.”

By the way, Montreal was knocked off, 5-4, in Pittsburgh tonight so spots five through 10 in the Eastern Conference are as follows:

NY Rangers, 59 games, 68 points

Montreal, 59 games, 67 points

Florida, 58 games, 66 points

Buffalo, 59 games, 66 points

Carolina, 59 games, 63 points

Pittsburgh, 59 games, 62 points

I still think Pittsburgh finds a way to get in the playoffs. Florida’s fate totally rests with what they decide to do with defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Buffalo is missing leading scorer Tomas Vanek to a broken jaw so they will have a tough road.

Caps talk continues on the Left Coast: I’m watching the San Jose Sharks-Los Angeles Kings game right now and play by play man Randy Hahn and color analyst Drew Remenda are talking about Ovechkin and his goal last night. They are calling it the goal of the year and are commenting on how he is the most exciting player in the league and the one who sells the most tickets. I could not agree more.

For those hockey fans who are interested in what people who cover the Caps have to say about that experience, among other things, check out Rob Yunich’s Storming the Crease website (see http://www.stormingthecrease.com/).  Rob’s latest interview is with former Caps and Flyers player Bill Clement.

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Another bad news day for Orioles as Alomar & Tejada are front and center

Posted on 11 February 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

There’s no doubt that “Roberto Alomar” and “AIDS” will be among the most googled phrases on the internet today, as these outlandish and crazy rumors start flying now that the N.Y. Post has outed a story of an ex-lover who has made allegations galore about the former Oriole All Star and potential future Hall of Famer, Roberto Alomar. Among them, the $15 million suit by his ex-girlfriend Ilya Dall alleges that Alomar had AIDS and had unprotected sex with her after being raped by two Mexican men. (Like I said, it’s a racy one!)

There are links everywhere and no doubt this will be a bloggers’ paradise today on the world wide web. While you are reading about Alomar on the New York Post, be sure to click on the insert piece about Darryl Strawberry’s sex life, circa 1986 and a preview of his upcoming book, “Straw: Finding My Way.”

Here’s a sample paragraph: Strawberry writes the goal on the road was to “tear up your best bars and nightclubs and take your finest women . . . The only hard part for us was choosing which hottie to take back to your hotel room. Lots of times you . . . picked two or three.”

It’s been a nice start to the baseball season, huh?

Let’s not forget that the two biggest stories of today involve two players — Miguel Tejada and Roberto Alomar — who the Baltimore Orioles and Orioles’ fans contributed millions of local dollars to their vast personal wealth. It’s another dark chapter of the Orioles’ dark recent history. And this is on the backside of the ARod saga, which no doubt will reach a crescendo at Camden Yards on Opening Day when 25,000 New York Yankees fans invade the stadium to see Baltimorean Mark Teixeira’s first game as a pinstriper.

Sick isn’t it? But back to Alomar and Tejada…

Alomar was the most skilled player I’ve ever seen play the game, probably the most raw talent of this generation because of his five-tool abilities. I was a big fan of Roberto Alomar. And he was a champion in Toronto and a class act there. Here in Baltimore his reputation was sullied by the spitting incident involving John Hirshbeck, when owner Peter Angelos came to Alomar’s defense and was an outspoken supporter of his second baseman. It was the contribution of Alomar’s spitting fine to Davey Johnson’s wife’s charity that wound up creating friction between King Peter and then-manager Johnson in 1997. Angelos used it publicly as a justification for firing Johnson. (Or, ahem, was it a “forced” resignation?)

Tejada, who is expected to plead guilty today in federal court in Washington, D.C. to perjury and potentially could go to prison, was the next most-talented player the Orioles have had in this generation, another five-tool superstar with MVP-like numbers consistently. He signed the richest deal in franchise history in 2003. He also made a bunch of bizarre, childish mistakes during all of the steroid investigations with stories about vitamins and B-12 shots and his “no speakie English” testamonies didn’t hold up. He was — just like Alomar — a wonderful player to watch play baseball. They were both a “reason” to go the ballpark. They were great, great, iconic baseball players who both get a Hall of Fame “yes” from me if the ballot ever came my way, if we’re only counting what happened between the lines.

But two of the team’s most productive players since the opening of Camden Yards have now been publicly indicted since the sun came up this morning, and Rafael Palmeiro and David Segui and Jason Grimsley and Albert Belle and Sidney Ponson aren’t even among the indicted.

Where have you gone Cal Ripken? And Brooks Robinson?

Like I said, this is what Orioles baseball has come to in 2009. Stories of the character of “heros of Birdland” coming out pretty filthy years later, after they’ve taken more than $100 million of local money out of town.

Not a low blow. Just a fact…

And reporting on these stories with facts like these above give the Orioles “justification” to ban the free speech of the local media and eliminate access from legitimate media.

Just think about it…

Baseball season is around the corner and we’re going to continue to write and speak the truth and the facts.

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Feeling Uneasy about Caps Goalie Situation / NHL News (Updated)

Posted on 08 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Goalie Situation

Suddenly I am feeling very uneasy about the Caps goaltending situation with two months to go in the regular season. Jose Theodore, who is the clear cut number one goalie and is getting paid $4.5M a season this year and next to be that guy, has been great the last 6 weeks and is showing that he could be the one to carry Washington deep into the playoffs. But with Brent Johnson now out for two months due to hip surgery what happens if Theodore were to get hurt? This is a question that I think has to be causing Caps GM George McPhee and Head Coach Bruce Boudreau to lose sleep over because the answer isn’t too reassuring right now.

Today’s answer: It would be rookie Michael Nuevirth, who has never played an NHL game. This is because the Caps top goalie prospect Simeon Varlamov is out with another knee injury and as Tarik El-Bashir reported in his Capitals Insider blog today that is starting to become a concern for the team. I am really concerned too because when I spoke with Hershey Bears Director of Communications, John Walton, at last Thursday’s Caps-Kings game he made it sound like Varlamov, who is 2-0 at the NHL level, would be cleared to practice over the weekend. That did not happen and Walton is now reporting in his blog today that Varlamov is out until at least President’s Day weekend.

Neuvirth, who was sent down to play in Hershey Sunday, was on the losing end of the Bears game, 3-2. I did not see the game but a quick look at the box score shows that Hershey outshot Portland 39-28 yet were defeated. I checked out a live blog done by the Maine Hockey Journal and it appears that Neuvirth gave up two rebound goals and another long shot from the point that he was not screened on. This does not make me feel too good either but I’ll wait for more data from Monday’s write-ups. (Update: Tim Leone of The Patriot-News spoke with Neuvirth after the game and the young goalie is claiming he was screened on the game winner.)

Anyways, we will probably find out more about Neuvirth this weekend when the Caps play back to back games in Tampa and then Florida (Saturday and Sunday) since Boudreau will likely give the young netminder a start in one of those games so as not to burn out Theodore. After this set of back to back games the only other times Washington does this the rest of the season is February 28th (@Bos) and March 1st (Fla) and then on March 16th (@Atl) and 17th (@Fla). Based on what Boudreau and McPhee said to the media on Friday, it appears they were planning to not make a move and go with the kids in net as backups. However, after the latest Varlamov injury news and the fact that Neuvirth has yet to play an NHL game perhaps Manny Legace, who was waived by the Blues last week, might look like more of an attractive option? If not Legace, then I think McPhee has to seriously look at a trade for a solid backup because there is no guarantee that Johnson will be ready for the playoffs and Varlamov has a history of getting hurt so far in his young career. The trade deadline is March 4th so stay tuned…

NHL News

Buffalo Sabres forward Tomas Vanek, who was third in the NHL in goal scoring with 32 tallies (behind Alex Ovechkin’s 37 and Jeff Carter’s 34) will miss three to four weeks after suffering a broken jaw from a slap shot by Ottawa’s Anton Volchenkov on Saturday night. The Sabres, who are currently in 7th place in the Eastern Conference, will now have to try and hold onto their playoff position without their best player. I have a hard time seeing this happen unless goalie Ryan Miller can stand on his head. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is a very good one but losing Vanek really hurts this team.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, who made the Stanley Cup Finals last spring but lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games, lost to Detroit again this afternoon in Pittsburgh, 3-0, on NBC. If the playoffs started today the Pens would be out and they have played 55 games, more than any other team in the Eastern Conference, so they aren’t in a good position right now. Goalie Marc Andre-Fleury gave up some big rebounds in today’s game and appears to be struggling. Btw, the Caps and Penguins will play at the Verizon Center on Sunday, February 22nd at 1230pm on the NBC game of the week. The game was originally scheduled for 3pm so please make a note of it. The Caps are 2-0 against Pittsburgh this year taking both contests at the Igloo.

The Calgary Flames are eight points up on the Vancouver Canucks in the Northwest Division but they have lost four straight games and suddenly the Canucks, who won the Mats Sundin sweepstakes, are starting to play better. Sundin is now on a line with Pavol Demitra and Ryan Kessler and they have 15 points combined in their last two games. If goalie Roberto Luongo, who missed just under two months due to a groin injury, gets his game going then the Canucks could be a dangerous team down the stretch and into the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Kings beat the New Jersey Devils, 3-1, on Saturday night. Coach Terry Murray continues to do a phenomenal job with that young team and they are only three points out of a playoff spot as of Sunday evening.

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