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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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O’s Today: Johnson shut down; Hill throws – finally

Posted on 15 March 2009 by Drew Forrester

One step forward and two steps back.  That pretty much sums up the O’s pitching in spring training.

Danys Baez is back.  His most recent effort was decent.   That’s the good news.

Jim Johnson, however, is now on the shelf for at least a week.  That’s not good news.  Johnson is going to be shut down for a week with a right shoulder impingement.  Team officials are saying it’s merely a case of using caution with Johnson – but we all know that’s how it starts.  ”He just needs a few days of rest.”  Followed by, “He’s going to get an MRI to make sure everything is sound in there.”  Then, it’s “The injury turned out to be worse than we first thought.”

Let’s hope that’s not the case with Johnson, who is one of the team’s more reliable right handed pitchers and will no doubt be the team’s 7th inning “bridge pitcher” in ’09, with the responsibility of getting the ball to Chris Ray and George Sherrill.

Meanwhile, Rich Hill, bothered all spring with a sore throwing arm, tossed 26 pitches in a side session with pitching coach Rick Kranitz today.  Hill reported that everything felt great and he’s anticipating making his spring training debut next Saturday.  Already penciled in as the team’s #3 starter by most followers, Hill’s condition is of great concern to the O’s.  If he can’t start the season in Baltimore, that most certainly means the O’s starting rotation will include some combination of Radhames Liz, Hayden Penn, Brad Bergesen and, possibly, David Pauley. 

O’s 2nd baseman Brian Roberts has joined the USA team in the WBC after an oblique injury sidelined Boston’s Dustin Pedroia.

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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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Caps Recall Alzner from Hershey

Posted on 06 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have recalled defensemen Karl Alzner from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL), vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

 

Alzner, 20, has played in 27 NHL games this season, recording one goal, three assists and a +3 rating. He recorded his first NHL point Dec. 4 in a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders and recorded his first NHL goal the next game in a 2-1 victory at Toronto on Dec. 6. The 6’2”, 206-pound Burnaby, British Columbia, native is third among NHL rookies in ice time (19:46 per game).

 

Alzner, Washington’s first-round draft choice (fifth overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has played in 24 games this season with Hershey, recording two goals, eight assists and a +16 rating, which is tied for 10th in the AHL.

 

Comment: Anyone who read my blog last night and/or regularly for that matter, knew that this was probably coming because the Caps defense was just horrible against LA plus Alzner proved he can really play at the NHL level in his previous stints with the club. With Chris Clark on the shelf and Brent Johnson going on long term injury due to a hip injury there is salary cap space to do this. I personally think Alzner is the team’s third best defensemen right now.

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Caps Beat Devils / Eric Fehr Interview / NHL News

Posted on 04 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Beat Devils 5-2

The New Jersey Devils came into Tuesday night’s home nationally televised game (VERSUS HDTV) against the Washington Capitals having won eight straight games. That streak is now over. Michael Nylander scored two goals while playing his best game of the season and defensemen Mike Green scored a goal (his league leading 16th by defensemen off of a great pass by Alexander Semin) and added an assist to lead the Washington offense while goaltender Jose Theodore was outstanding in net for the Caps stopping 32 of 34 shots. The only goals New Jersey scored were on special teams as Brian Rolston unleashed one of his rockets to put the Devils on the board when trailing 3-0 on a five on three power play and then early in the third period Jamie Langenbrunner scored on a shorthanded breakaway to make it a 3-2 game. Nylander’s second of the contest on a power play with 9:01 remaining restored a two goal Caps cushion (and for once a bad call by the referee helped Washington because the goalie interference call on Mike Rupp should have been called a trip on Caps defensemen Tom Poti).

Despite giving up 34 shots, I thought this was one of Washington’s better efforts this year and they controlled most of the game except for a 10 to 12 minute stretch in the second period. But New Jersey isn’t leading the Atlantic Division for nothing so one would expect Brent Sutter’s team to continue battling when trailing. Theodore did get called upon to make some big saves, especially early on, and he delivered so Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has to continue to be pleased with the play of #60, who is now 19-9-2 on the season.

The Caps had four power plays and there was a goal scored on each instance, although one was the Langenbrunner shorthanded goal. Alexander Ovechkin had assists on the first two goals but he was relatively quiet on Tuesday night and only had one shot on net. Penalty killing wise, the Caps did give up a power play goal for the 12th straight game but overall they did a good job of stopping the Devils by blocking shots and getting big stops from Theodore (who controlled his rebounds well once again). I thought this was one of the best games that the Capitals defensemen have collectively played in their own zone all year as both goals were not the result of defensive zone miscues.

With the win Washington increased its second place lead in the Eastern Conference on the Devils to three points. The Caps were 2-0-2 in the four games with New Jersey this season and both losses were in the shootout. Washington’s lead in the Southeast Division is 14 points over the Florida Panthers, who have two games in hand on the Caps, and 15 over the Carolina Hurricanes who are playing late in Vancouver on Tuesday night.

Notes: Goalie Michael Neuvirth was called up from Hershey this morning to back up Theodore as Brent Johnson is day to day with what is believed to be more problems with his hip (Tarik El-Bashir said this evening that GM George McPhee hinted that Johnson could need surgery). Nylander now has eight points in his last nine games making him more attractive for any potential takers as we approach the trade deadline (only four weeks away). As I’ve been saying since November, Vancouver seems like the only logical place for #92 (despite the Chicago rumors). If Nylander can’t be moved, and that is likely due to his high paying contract, at least he is starting to get more involved offensively. Now if Boudreau and the coaching staff can just get Semin to be more consistent and play like he did back in October then this team would really be top notch. Green led all Caps in ice time with only 24:54 so Boudreau did a very good job of spreading ice time to many players on Tuesday. The Caps are now 12-12-3 on the road this season. Viktor Kozlov did not play the last two periods and El-Bashir said it was due to a minor groin injury. Next up for the Caps are the Los Angeles Kings at the Verizon Center on Thursday Night

Interview with Eric Fehr

Forward Eric Fehr, who had an empty net goal and an assist on Tuesday night in New Jersey, gave members of the media an interview after Sunday afternoon’s 7-4 win over Ottawa. Here is the transcript of that session:

Q: How about talking about your goal that made it 3-1 against Ottawa?

Fehr: I’ve been getting a lot of chances the last couple of games so it is good to finally get a goal and I just crashed the net and knocked it in.

Q: What did that do for your confidence because you’ve been getting a lot of chances?

Fehr: It definitely helps to raise that stick. I’ve been getting so many shots on goal and they just haven’t been going in. It is kind of ironic that the one chance, that really wasn’t a chance, went in.

Q: What have you been doing to try and be more consistent night after night?

Fehr: I’m a shooter and I like to shoot and I have great linemates who are passing the puck to me and the other night as well so that is kind of what I have to stick to. Backstrom and Fleischmann are two of the best in handling the puck in the league so I’m just trying to get open and put something in for them.

Q: Did they say anything to you about where you should be on the ice or where they like to put the puck?

Fehr: I’ve been watching Backstrom for the last couple of years so I kind of see what he does with Kozlov and Ovechkin and I’m trying to find those same spots. Fleischmann, I’ve played with for a couple of years as well so I’ve seen what they’ve been doing and just trying to get in the right spots.

Q: What is it like going to the net now in this league? Do you get beat up much?

Fehr: It is not quite as bad as it used to be with obstruction and everything. You have to go to the front of the net to get goals and I’m definitely willing to do that.

Q: When you see Ovechkin get five goals in two games like that what is it like watching it?

Fehr: It is just amazing how he manages to get shots through the defensemen’s legs. He just has an amazing shot and an amazing release and he gets a lot of goals.

Q: Getting a dirty type of goal that you got today, do you think that will help your confidence and get you over the hump?

Fehr: Oh definitely, I’m just going to keep shooting and hopefully the accuracy can get better and I hit more of the corners but I really don’t want to change too much of the things I’m doing right now.

Q: Do you think the coaching staff has more confidence in you right now?

Fehr: I hope so. I’ve been working hard in practice and that is all I could be doing when I was getting scratched and being able to come back in the lineup with two of the best players on the team is a great opportunity for me and hopefully I can use it.

NHL News

Last season there was little pressure on the Montreal Canadiens and they went on to have a great regular season capturing first place in the Eastern Conference as they headed with confidence into the playoffs before losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. This year, in the 100th anniversary of Les Habitants, Coach Bob Gainey’s crew was expected to once again do well and win the East, especially after they added scoring forward Alex Tanguay and tough guy George Laraque in the summer. However, nothing has really gone according to plan although the Habs are still 29-16-6 and in 4th place in the Eastern Conference. The bad news is that forward Alexei Kovalev, who had one of the best years of his career in 2007-08, has been brutal so far and even got benched for some of the third period in the loss to Boston on Sunday afternoon. Add to that an achilles tendon injury to Robert Lang, who is a good scorer and great team guy, and things don’t look so rosy for Montreal heading into the stretch drive.

Don’t look now but the Dallas Stars, who were in the basement of the Western Conference standings earlier in the season, have caught fire ever since crazy pest Sean Avery was suspended and they are now 24-18-7 and in 6th place out west. The Stars, who beat Calgary 3-1 on Tuesday, are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games. Goalie Marty Turco is playing better and Coach Dave Tippett has done a good job of getting his team to believe that they could turn things around after the bad start (and losing forward Brendan Morrow for the year with a knee injury). Dallas is 16-7-3 since the $16M head case who can’t shut his mouth was suspended and then told to go away. Co-GM’s Brett Hull and Les Jackson are very lucky that Avery sealed his own fate early because, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, some of the big name players on Dallas did not want Avery signed in the first place.

The Pittsburgh Penguins continue to struggle with their slow defense and shoddy goaltending and if the playoffs started today they would be on the outside looking in. The Pens are currently three points behind the Panthers for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. Defensemen Sergei Gonchar is due back in the lineup very soon so that should help Pittsburgh. I still see them sneaking into the playoffs and if the Caps finish 2nd you could see another Penguins-Caps first round playoff matchup.

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