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Caps Must Make Big Changes Going Forward

Posted on 13 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals closed out their 2013-14 season today with a 1-0 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a meaningless game. The Caps finish the season at 38-30-14 (90 points) and have failed to make the post season for the first time since 2006-07.

The failed season is unacceptable on numerous levels. Owner Ted Leonsis blogged over the weekend that the analysis of this club is “fair and deserved” and stated that they will not make any knee jerk reactions and conduct a thorough review before making any decisions.

Last Wednesday I blogged that the Caps need to move on from current GM George McPhee and Coach Adam Oates. I stand by those statements.

Both McPhee and Oates are good men that are very intelligent. There is no denying that. They’ve done many good things for the NHL and the Capitals organization.

My decision is not personal, they are both likeable people. But the bottom line is despite their intelligence they have failed to get the Caps to be in a position to do what they need to do: Compete for and Win a Stanley Cup.

This Capitals team, over the last three plus seasons has gotten further from lifting Lord Stanley. They are not contenders, as currently configured.

The defense is horribly thin with both Karl Alzner and Oates himself questioning the talent level this week. Putting together a quality defense has been McPhee’s achilles heel since he took over the job from David Poile in 1997. He has failed to get to the Eastern Conference Finals with two superstars, Jaromir Jagr and Alexander Ovechkin, primarily because of his inability to put together a strong blue line. Year after year stop gaps like Joel Kwiakowski, Jason Doig, Milan Jurcina, Tyler Sloan, Jack Hillen, etc. have been thrust into prominent roles when they simply weren’t qualified to be playing on a club that has Stanley Cup aspirations. This year’s defense was easily the worst since 2007-08 and the decision to rush a 19 year old Connor Carrick to the NHL was a disaster and hopefully hasn’t wrecked the future of a kid that has promise. Carrick should’ve been playing in Hershey all season but McPhee hamstrung himself with the salary cap by tying up too much of his money in forwards and forced an already weak defense to once again rot.

McPhee’s inability to get a second scoring line has been a problem for years. One of George’s best trades ever was acquiring Sergei Fedorov from Columbus at the 2008 deadline. #91 not only brought talent that allowed Coach Bruce Boudreau to have two legit scoring lines, but Fedorov also brought a wealth of experience and leadership to Washington’s locker room. He took pressure off of Ovechkin and Alexander Semin played his best hockey during that time. But once Fedorov left in 2009, partly to play with his brother but also because the failed Michael Nylander contract ate up the salary cap room that could have been used to entice Fedorov to stay, things began to unravel. Yes, the team had a great 2009-10 regular season but that team’s big holes were at 2nd line center and on defense. The Canadiens knew they only had to shut down one line to win and they did that. From there, things have gotten worse.

The declining talent is troubling and the Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg deal was an indication that this hockey department has lost its way. Whether Forsberg turns into a top six player or not is not what bothers me the most. What is troubling is that McPhee’s staff felt that Erat, who had struggled in 2012-13 and was clearly on the down side of his career, was worth a player that they had just lucked into in the first round at the previous draft. It made me start to wonder about the work ethic of the Caps hockey department when you see a move like that made.

Clearly not enough talent has been brought in to help Ovechkin and a lack of experienced leaders, something I blogged about back in the spring of 2011 that the Caps badly needed to add, has put an incredible amount of pressure and scrutiny on the Gr8. Sure Ovechkin could improve defensively, but he’s been a reason this team is not a bottom five hockey club for the last three years. He is not the problem. The lack of talent in the top six forwards and on defense along with little support in the leadership department has done serious damage to Ovechkin and probably impacted his ability to enjoy hockey. McPhee and the organization have failed Ovechkin, not the other way around.

As for Oates, I give him full credit for reinvigorating the Gr8 over the last 14 months. An MVP season followed by an NHL leading 51 goals for Ovechkin was made possible by things Oates did, including changing the Caps power play and moving Ovechkin to right wing. Clearly Oates was given a not very perfect set of tools to work with, he inherited an unbalanced roster, but overall he did not come close to optimizing what he was given.

Oates may be a “genius” on technical hockey issues, as Alzner called him on Sunday, but coaching is more of an art and not a science. It’s nice to be armed with technical details, but to be a successful coach you have to get people to work together. As The Washington Post’s  Katie Carrera wrote last week, former Caps goaltending coach Dave Prior said he was forced out because Oates felt he knew goaltending better than a man who has successfully coached it for years, including turning Olie Kolzig into one of the NHL’s top goaltenders.  The coaching staff’s decision to try and change Braden Holtby’s game was a disaster and led to an unneeded goaltending carousel that forced Michal Neuvirth out of town.

Being the smartest guy in the room is nice, but when it comes to being a successful leader, it isn’t about being smart. It’s about gathering input from the people around you, harnessing it, and using it to make the total greater than the sum of its parts. Oates failed to do that this season and the 2013-14 Caps were not a “team.”

You simply can’t have three players ask for trades in a season, that just shows organizational chaos and that falls on both the GM and the head coach. It was clear that both Oates and McPhee were not on the same page. Dustin Penner was brought in at the deadline and was misused. Several players were not properly deployed and a team that should be playing hockey on Wednesday finished 5th in its’ new division. The Caps went 12-15-3 against the Metropolitan Division in 2013-14 with many of the losses coming after December 27th. Overall they were 28-33 in games decided before the shootout. That is clearly not Stanley Cup contending calibre.

In the past, while the team has been steadily eroding since the spring of 2009, the organization’s motto has been “we’re close” and when they’ve been bounced out in either the first or second round the excuses have ranged from “facing a hot goaltender” to “injuries.”

There are no excuses this year and this team is not close to being a Stanley Cup contender as configured currently. Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Boston all suffered far worse injury situations and made the postseason. The Penguins survived five of their six defensemen out of the lineup, at one point. Those clubs have built depth and they have tremendous leadership and quality coaching. Washington does not compare in those three categories.

In sports, you are either getting better or you are getting worse. The Caps clearly fit the latter right now.

In summary, it seems apparent that the Caps “thorough review” should lead to the same conclusion I’ve arrived at: both the GM and the coaching staff need to be changed going forward.

The Caps have some key pieces they can build around in Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Holtby, but they need someone running the show that really knows the league and can reshape and balance the roster. The new GM can’t overvalue his current players like this regime has done on too many occasions. They need leadership on and off of the ice. Towards that end, Leonsis may want to consider requiring the hockey department to include not only a new GM but a new Director of Player Personnel that has Stanley Cup winning experience. Winning championships is not easy to do, so getting people that have won them before so that they can help teach the others in your organization how to do it seems like a no brainer to me.

They need people that know how to get managers and players to work together. They need a hockey department with a strong work ethic and an attention to detail. They need a coaching staff that gets the club to be a team.

It’s 39 years and counting without a Stanley Cup in Washington. I’ve been watching this club since 1974 and have pretty much seen it all. There’s a time to stand pat and let things run it’s course and there is a time for change. This club is not on the right path with the current management and coaching.

Time for a big change, because clearly the “status quo” method is not working.





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Caps Rookies Ready For Flyers

Posted on 16 September 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Thursday afternoon at 3pm the Washington Capitals rookies will take on a similar crew from Philadelphia down at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston to conclude the rookie portion of the Capitals training camp. The veterans officially start training camp on Saturday morning but most are in town skating already. This is the fourth straight year that the two organizations will meet up for a contest with home ice alternating each September. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau talked about the game Wednesday afternoon after his rookies concluded a practice that included a short scrimmage and he summed up the Thursday afternoon tilt fairly well.

“I don’t know what to expect because I don’t know who their rookies are, we just want to compete, but it doesn’t matter, when you put on a Philly jersey and a Washington jersey the two teams try very hard because there is not a lot of love between the two teams,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award Winner.

Boudreau, whose voice was a little hoarse from coaching up the young guys on the ice the last four days, appeared raring and ready to go and seemed estatic that there would be a full house on hand to watch this tilt (all tickets were previously distributed but you can watch it live on washingtoncaps.com with Steve Kolbe and Mike Vogel bringing you play-by-play and analysis, respectively).

“I think Washington is an unbelievable hockey town. I’ve been impressed all summer, everywhere we went or I’ve gone, with how much people watch the game and unfortunately they knew everything that we did last year or fortunately,” started the three time Southeast Division Champion bench boss, who was laughing during the ‘unfortunately’ part of his quote, “We had a great year and a bad finish,” summed up Boudreau.

A bad finish is correct and the team did not bring back any of the four players that were acquired at last year’s trade deadline (Joe Corvo, Eric Belanger, Milan Jurcina, and Scott Walker). GM George McPhee also did not re-sign veteran goalie Jose Theodore so the Caps will go with Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth in the cage for at least the first part of the season. Journeyman Dany Sabourin was signed to play in Hershey along with 2008 draftee Braden Holtby so those two will battle for the 3rd goalie position in the event that one of the top two gets injured.

McPhee also did not ink any free agents from other clubs, although they did try to sign former Canucks physical defenseman Willie Mitchell, who took a two year deal with the Kings. The GM re-signed his restricted free agents, most notably Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz, and Tomas Fleischmann. Young defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson, who were both a big part of the Hershey Bears repeat Calder Cup Championship team, will start the season in the NHL and several other Bears, such as Andrew Gordon, Jay Beagle, Mathieu Perreault, and Keith Aucoin will have a chance to make the big club that will begin the regular season on October 8th in Atlanta. So clearly the message from McPhee and the Caps organization is that they like the players they have in their system and they want to see how they do before deciding to make any more changes.

As I mentioned last season, there remains an immediate hole at second line center, something that hurt Washington in their seven game loss to the Canadiens last spring. However, in the system are some very talented young players that can play the pivot such as 2010 first round pick Evgeni Kuznetsov (playing in the Russian KHL this season), 2009 1st round pick Marcus Johansson, and 2010 3rd round pick Stanislav Galiev. All three impressed the Caps and anyone who ventured out to Caps development camp in July saw that center could be a position that Washington is deep in in a few years (Nicklas Backstrom, the first line pivot, is already one of the top players in the NHL and he is only 22 years old). In the short term Fleischmann, Perreault, and perhaps Aucoin will get looks in the exhibition season because as good as Johansson and the others might be right now, they are still very young and their bodies have not fully developed. Thus they would likely not be able to handle an 82 game schedule and the post season. It is a younger NHL these days but the bottom line is that it is still a “Man’s League.” Also, historically the Caps have not been a club that has chosen to rush their draft picks to the NHL, instead wisely deciding to let them mature physically and gain confidence.

Johansson, who is wearing #90 in camp, has been mentioned in the media and around town by bloggers as a possibility to make the Caps out of training camp this fall. The young swede is a very good skater and creates opportunities on the ice. Today during the scrimmage, on one occassion, he gathered in the puck at his own blue line and skated around a couple of opponents easily through neutral ice and as he ventured inside the offensive zone he made a brilliant pass to Patrick Cullity. However the young defenseman overdeked and did not get off a shot. Still the sequence showed the speed and brilliance of the man most Caps fans refer to on twitter as MJ90. After today’s session I caught up with Marcus, who played last season in the top league in Sweden on a bigger ice surface than the NHL, and below is a transcription of the majority of the interview:

WNST: There is a lot of talk about you right now. Tell us where you are at physically, how you are fitting in with the team, and what your expectations are for camp and the season.

MJ90: I feel okay, I guess, it’s a different type of game but it’s getting a little better. Physically I feel great, I’ve been working out hard all summer. I feel like I am ready to take the next step in my career and I am excited about the game [on Thursday] and it’s going to be fun.

WNST: You’ve talked about the adjustment you have to make because of the rink size. How much of a difference is it for you?

MJ90: Yes, in Europe it is wider and the neutral zone is bigger. It is a little different. I think the difference is more straighter hockey – straight to the net – not the way it is at home. It is a little different but I’ll get used to it.

WNST: Your goal is to be up with Washington this year?

MJ90: Yes, I hope so. I am going to give it my best shot and see where it goes and hopefully I can stay.

WNST: Have you talked to [fellow Swede] Backstrom and gotten any advice?

MJ90: Yes, I’ve been talking to him but not that much about hockey. It has been talking and trying to get to know each other better and stuff like that. The hockey part is coming up.

WNST: If someone came up to you and asked you what your strengths were what would you say?

MJ90: I think it is playing with speed and being able to play with the puck with high speed, that is what I do best.

WNST: What if you were asked what is the part of your game that you need to improve the most?

MJ90: I don’t know, that is hard to say. I want to improve and just try to bring my A game every night. Just try to be as good as I can every night and not have too much ups and downs. I just want to be able to keep at a high level all of the time and that’s something I want to learn.

WNST: It will be pretty intense in here for the rookie game. What are your thoughts on the town and the fans so far?

MJ90: It is a great crowd and you know they just love hockey. It’s a different atmosphere than it is at home. It’s awesome.

Galiev, who is wearing #49, speaks english extremely well as a result of playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) last season and the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League (USHL) the year before. He is a very skilled forward who had 60 points in 67 regular season games for Saint John in 2009-10. In the playoffs he notched eight goals and added 11 assists in 21 games as his team lost in the finals of the QMJHL to Moncton, four games to two, in their best of seven series. Had Galiev’s club won that series then the young Russian would have been playing for the 2010 Memorial Cup. Galiev played left wing last season and in development camp but after the July session the Caps asked him to try center. Below is a transcription of the majority of the interview I had with him after Wednesday’s practice.

WNST: Tell about your game and what your strengthts are.

Galiev: Probably my speed and my skills. Usually on the ice I make goal chances and create some good passes.

WNST: What area do you really want to improve this year?

Galiev: Gain some weight and be stronger in the d-zone. Maybe try and play center this year because Bruce wants me to try and play it so I am going to keep working.

WNST: Center, right now at the NHL level, is something that the Caps don’t have a lot of, but in the system they have Kuznetsov, Marcus, and you so obviously they want to get as many guys as they can playing center, which is arguably the most valuable position. So they’ve talked to you about moving over but have you played it before?

Galiev: Not really because it is kind of different for me right now. If I have to play center I go and play it, it doesn’t matter for me.

WNST: So do you think your team, Saint John, has a chance at making the Memorial Cup this year?

Galiev: Yes, we still have a good team but a couple of new guys. They are doing good, the season has already started and they’ve won two games.

WNST: What position did you play? You shoot right.

Galiev: Left wing. I can play right too. Sometimes I switch my wings.

WNST: In the Caps system the center position is different, not as much focused on always being the 3rd man back and it’s aggressive. What do you think of that?

Galiev: I feel a little bit not comfortable because sometimes I don’t know what I have to do. But I’ve been watching Caps games from [last] year to try and focus how to play center. It’s fun, you are always aggressive and you try to make [the other team have] mistakes.

WNST: What are your expectations for the year coming up?

Galiev: Just keep working hard every game the hardest I can. Do my best and try to get 80 points this year, get the Memorial Cup. I have great linemates who are great guys that help me a lot, Nick Peterson [2009 4th round draft pick by the Penguins] and Mike Hoffman [2009 5th round draft pick by the Senators]. It was a good experience for me playing the [QMJHL] finals.

WNST: What are you looking forward to tomorrow in playing the Flyers?

Galiev: Oh I am so excited, I can’t wait for this game. It’s great because I like to play with so many people watching me. I try to do my best.

NOTES: Check back on Thursday night for the transcript of an interview I conducted Wednesday with 21 year old defenseman Dustin Stevenson, who played in the tier II Saskatchewan League in 2009-10. The Caps announced their television schedule today and ALL games will be broadcast in HD this season for the first time ever (yes Comcast Plus is now in HD!). For some great pictures of today’s rookie practice please check out Chris Gordon’s “Caps Snaps” website.

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Caps Wisely Quiet on Day 1 of NHL Free Agency

Posted on 02 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

NHL free agency began on Thursday, July 1st and the Washington Capitals did not make a single signing. Based on the dollars and length of contracts being inked on day one, it appears to me that Caps GM George McPhee was very wise to stay out of the bidding wars and prevented himself from overpaying for a player that the organization might regret acquiring in a few months or a year or so down the road (see Michael Nylander in 2007).

There has been a lot of talk about the Caps needing a second line center and some even want a physical defenseman to improve the back end. I have been an advocate of another player at center ice but given that the Sharks Patrick Marleua re-upped in San Jose there was not what anyone would call a blue chip player to be inked starting Thursday at noon. One of the next best options appeared to be Matt Cullen from Ottawa, but he hit the jackpot getting $10.5 over three years from the Minnesota Wild. At this late hour, not much is left on the center market, and the player some are calling the best pivot man available, Matthew Lombardi of Phoenix, is asking for $4M plus. In the immortal words of Jeff Spicoli and his stoner buds from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I say, “No Dice!” to that figure.

On defense, there were some big signings, such as former Nashville Predators blue liner Dan Hamhuis cashing in for $27M over six years in Vancouver. In addition, the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Ottawa Senators essentially “traded” defensemen with Sergei Gonchar going to Ottawa, Anton Volchenkov moving to New Jersey, and Paul Martin headed to the Steel City. The Penguins also gave former Phoenix Coyotes d-man Zybnek Michalek $20M over five years. In summary, each of these moves was for too much money and too long in terms of years.

Other acquisitions by some NHL general managers were bordering on ridiculous,  especially the Toronto Maple Leafs signing of third line forward Colby Armstrong for $9M for 3 years or the New York Rangers inking fourth line heavyweight Derek Boogaard for $6.5M for four years. Basically, it was a crazy day and those teams that didn’t spend a large sum of money or none at all, were the winners.

Back to the Caps. Just because McPhee did nothing on July 1st, and he hinted at that possibility when he was on the Comcast Morning Show on WNST on Wednesday morning, doesn’t mean the roster is set with what they finished the season with personnel-wise. There are still three more months before the season starts and seven months until the NHL trade deadline. Sure the team and its fans are disappointed with the round one playoff failure this past spring and there is certainly more heat on both McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau for the 2010-11 season, but the bottom line is the Capitals still have a young team with a great deal of talent that should continue to mature and improve. 

Yes, the club needs to get tougher and grittier, especially in front of both nets, but to go out and throw caution to the wind in free agency would have been a “panic” move. Looking inside the organization first for improvements, makes the most sense. Washington’s farm team, the two time defending AHL Champion Hershey Bears, definitely has some players up front that warrant further evaluation such as center Mathieu Perreault and wingers Andrew Gordon and Steve Pinizzotto. Jay Beagle and even Chris Bourque could be guys who have outside shots to make the club in training camp, as well. Both McPhee and Boudreau have already pretty much stated that d-men Karl Alzner and John Carlson will be up full time during 2010-11 and that instantly improves a blue line crew that had its issues, at times, this past season. Another player who the squad will keep an eye on at development camp and then in September is 2009 1st round pick Marcus Johansson (center), but given that he is only 19 and the Caps don’t like to rush young players to the NHL, that possibility appears to be a much longer shot.

The reason so many of the aforementioned players will get a good look in September is because Washington has already indicated that several skaters from the roster, such as Joe Corvo, Eric Belanger, Scott Walker, Brendan Morrison, Shaone Morrisonn, and Milan Jurcina will very likely not be back with the club. Therefore, just because there were no July 1 acquisitions does not mean McPhee and company are going with the same crew they had last season when they won the Presidents’ Trophy, change is going to occur by attrition and internal promotion alone. The question still remains, and likely will do so for several months, what will the Caps bring in from outside of the organziaton for 2010-11, if anything at all? That answer is as clear as mud right now, but McPhee appears to be sticking with an astute plan of “Right player, right price” at this juncture. Stay tuned.

Note: For all of my instant thoughts on free agency and the NHL, please follow me on twitter (@Emfrank123). I had several tweets this evening that formed the basis for this blog, all available at twitter now.

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Caps Knock Off Sabres, 3-1, on Wild Deadline Day

Posted on 04 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

On a wild NHL trade deadline day that saw Caps GM George McPhee make four separate deals, the Washington Capitals opened up their post Olympics break in Buffalo, a place the franchise has struggled in like no other. Making matters seemingly worse was that Washington was going to have to face the 2010 Olympic MVP, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, in his first post-Olympics start in his own building. Miller (37 saves) was very good, as expected, but the Capitals were the better team on the night and broke a 1-1 tie on Mike Green’s goal off of a super Tomas Fleischmann feed just past the 10 minute mark of the third period. Then fourth line grinder and penalty killing specialist Boyd Gordon banked one off of the boards the length of the rink and into an empty net with 41 seconds remaining to seal a Capitals 3-1 victory.

The win pushes the Caps to 42-13-8 overall and restores their 13 point lead over the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference with 19 games remaining. Washington now owns a three point lead on the San Jose Sharks in the race for the President’s Trophy. Let’s start with the highlights, quotes, and analysis of this victory and then I’ll provide some quotes and analysis on the trades the Caps made today.

Washington started slowly in this one taking two minor penalties and getting outshot 7-3 in the opening 10 minutes. After that, the Capitals dominated territorially holding a 37-17 shots advantage over the last 50 minutes. Even though the score was 1-1 in the second period you could see that the Caps were winning almost every battle.

“I think the rustiness was we were shorthanded for four minutes and guys just needed to get their legs going. I told them that was our best game in 10 games..by far our best game defensively where we didn’t leave the goalie out to dry too many times,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau summarizing the victory.

Defensively the Caps were much more sound and another factor in the victory, I thought, was Washington’s superior conditioning and one can’t help but point to Boudreau’s practice regimen that started last Wednesday, February 24. The Caps could have won this one in bigger fashion, though, if not for some overpassing and an inability to convert on odd man rushes.

“Six good practices I thought and [our team] got back to the basics and [Buffalo] turned the puck over so many times in the neutral zone from our pressure that if we could have scored on our 2 on 1’s we would have had an easier game,” added Boudreau attributing the solid play to time spent at Kettler Ice Plex while noting the bad execution by his team in finishing off their potential scoring opportunities.

The best line on the ice for Washington was the Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, and Jason Chimera unit. They were each plus two on the evening and set up the only two markers that beat Miller. Flash, despite not getting an assist, made the play behind the Sabres net to set up Jeff Schultz for a point blast that was first deflected by Fehr and then tipped again by Chimera to open the scoring. On the game winner #14 carried the puck into the offensive zone on a nice rush then hit a streaking Green in the slot and the 2009 Norris Trophy finalist whipped it past Team USA’s superstar goaltender.

The Gordon-Dave Steckel-Matt Bradley line was also very good on Wednesday so it was nice to see #15 rewarded with an empty net marker.

“That whole line was really good tonight, evidentally with 15 forwards they don’t want to sit out, so they were showing that they want to play and they’re highly energetic and very smart defensively,” commented Boudreau on his fourth line and the threat of them losing ice time due to the trades made on Wednesday.

As for Alexander Ovechkin and his linemates, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble, they had some chances but mostly did not convert due to overpassing. Ovechkin struggled all night to get shots off (he only had 4 on goal) as did fellow Team Russia comrade Alexander Semin (2 shots on goal). Boudreau had an explanation for the lack of production.

“[Ovechkin] looked a little tired, I don’t think it had anything to do with disappointment. I thought all of our Olympian guys looked tired and all our other guys gave us lots of energy,” added Boudreau, although Fleischmann could be considered the lone “Olympic” exception to that statement.

Finally, this game is not a win without another super effort by Jose Theodore in goal (23 saves). #60 made the big save when he had to and did not allow many rebounds. The only tally that went by him was the result of a defensive zone miscommunication between Brooks Laich and Green that caused the puck to pinball around and right onto Jochen Hecht’s stick in the slot.

The Caps will fly home on Wednesday night and take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center on Thursday evening at 7pm. Three of the four players acquired on Wednesday (forwards Scott Walker and Eric Belanger plus defenseman Joe Corvo) should get in the line-up while defenseman Milan Jurcina is out with a sports hernia and likely won’t be ready for action until the playoffs.

In my blog on Tuesday night about the trade deadline and the Caps, I mentioned the holes the team seemed to have but also pointed out that Washington had great team chemistry that they did not want to disrupt. To address the weaknesses, it was noted that some of the team’s young players were likely off limits. Well, what GM George McPhee and his staff managed to do today was follow the plan that the GM had been preaching to the media all along:  Improve the club if they can but don’t allow it to subtract from being good next year. Based on the moves McPhee made today combined with what some other contenders did or did not do, Washington’s chances to win their first Stanley Cup have improved.

The Philadlephia Flyers, who were touted as being a top team in the East after acquiring Chris Pronger last summer, did not add a goalie and they will go with Michael Leighton in net, a guy the Capitals have rarely had trouble solving. In addition, the Flyers were in the running for Corvo but Washington beat them to the punch. The Devils already made their big splash before the Olympic break adding Ilya Kovalchuk and the Penguins tried to improve their squad with d-man Jordan Leopold and forward Alexei Ponikarovsky on Tuesday. Getting the players the Caps acquired it appears that they gained ground on their pursuers but the Washington GM said what those teams did was not a factor in how he and his staff operated on Wednesday.

“You look at a Kovalchuk, we have those kind of players, and you look at a Ponikarovsky and we have have four left wingers and who does he replace? Basically, what it comes down to is we look at the positions we want to sure up. It is hard to go over someone so you look to fill the holes you have. We wanted to add a top 4 D and add another center who is good on face-offs and has speed and can play both ends of the rink. We got both of those guys [in Corvo and Belanger] and then to add Walker and Juice was nice,” added McPhee on the transactions Washington made on Wednesday.

Addressing team chemistry and an in game incident that occurred between Chimera and Belanger earlier in the season when #25 was a Blue Jacket and the man who will wear #18 was with Minnesota, the Washington GM was confident the deals he made would not cause any locker room friction.

“It’s not a concern. In our business guys play hard against each other and often when they become teammates they are the first two guys to go to dinner together. It is a contact sport but people end up on the same team and they become teammates so I am not worried about [past Belanger-Chimera incident] and we moved one player off of our team so we kept our team basically intact and we have alot of good guys and a lot of committed people that want to win a Cup,” said the former Hobey Baker Award winner that goes to the nation’s top collegiate player.

As for each individual move, it is hard to not see the logic the GM had for making each deal and here is what he had to say about them, in the order they occurred:

Walker trade:

“Scott Walker is tough, tougher than me, and he is a guy that we can play up and down the line-up. We drafted him as a defenseman in Vancouver,” commented McPhee on the versatile Walker, who some hockey announcers compared to the Caps GM from a hard nosed while on the ice standpoint.

Belanger deal:

“We talked about [how loaded the Penguins are down the middle] a lot and we like his experience and ability to shut people down but he’s on pace for 18 goals this year and that’s fine. He can help us on our penalty killing and we just got another guy who is hard to play against,” added McPhee on a player Boudreau projects to be the team’s third line center.

Jurcina addition:

“He had success here in our system. We know Juice, I know Walker, and Bruce knows Belanger and Corvo so we know the personalities that we are getting.”

Corvo acquisition:

“Brian Pothier was a good guy and I want to thank him for everything he did for us but we thought Corvo would be a little bit better for us.”

One area where the Caps did not make a move was in goal, something many pundits, who don’t watch this team on a day to day basis like many of us locally do, were calling for Washington to upgrade.

“We are happy with our goaltending. We’ve got two young kids in Varly (Semyon Varlamov) and (Michal) Neuvirth and an experienced one in Theodore and (Braden) Holtby is playing alot. People asked alot about (the three young goaltenders) but they are untouchables, we were not moving those goalies,” McPhee said on what looks to be the best young goaltending trio in any NHL system.

The Capitals GM was not surprised that there were “no huge deals” made and he said draft choices were the asking price in many transactions. Washington gave up two second round picks plus sixth and seventh round markers, as well. The key for Washington was not losing any of the three goalies nor their top two defensemen prospects in Karl Alzner and John Carlson.

“These days it is hard to make trades and going in I didn’t sense any big trades happening. 2nd round picks were the currency of the day. We had an untouchable list and we didn’t give away any of those players.  I don’t think [giving up 4 picks] does hurt us, we’ve had a lot of picks recently and we have a lot of young talent in our system and I’m really pleased with the way we’ve been drafting. We’ve done well with the [Stefan] Della Rovere’s, the Cody Eakins, [Dmitri] Orlov, so we have a lot of kids coming,” commented McPhee on the importance of youth in the organization.

Today was definitely the day where moving the contracts for Michael Nylander and Chris Clark really paid off. After the trade deadline a team can carry as many players as they want as long as they stay under the salary cap. Washington now has 15 forwards, 8 defenseman plus Jurcina on IR and Alzner in Hershey, and three goalies (counting Neuvirth in Hershey as well). Prior to the lockout, when there was no salary cap, typically teams with a big budget could stockpile players for the post season. McPhee has now found a way to do this post lockout setting the Caps up to handle any injuries much better than they were able to react in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring.

“We’re real deep now, we have alot of players. Bruce and I talked about if we wanted to move people out, but we have the cap space to keep everybody..so let’s keep everybody and we did all of this with the playoffs in mind,” said McPhee on the logic in adding so much depth to the team, which will give Boudreau some minor headaches in trying to figure out which players to dress each night.

Overall this was a tremendous win for the Capitals on NHL deadline day. Not only did they get a top four defenseman and add depth to their lineup, they did not take on any players that have any more years on their contract. Each guy acquired is a free agent this summer, something McPhee said factored into the decision making process in trades.

“There was one guy [we looked at that was not a free agent this summer] but we just didn’t want to take on any term. We are a good team now and we will be in September so we didn’t want to take on any bad contracts and with respect to the cap we will be in good shape. That is why I am really happy today, we made our team better today and we are going to be really good again next September,” finished McPhee.

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Caps Make 2 More Trades

Posted on 03 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have added more players to the mix after acquiring right wing Scott Walker and center Eric Belanger earlier in the day for draft picks (7th and 2nd round choices, respectively). They have traded a 6th round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets to re-acquire defenseman Milan Jurcina (was traded with Chris Clark on December 28th to get left wing Jason Chimera), who reportedly has a sports hernia. In addition, the Capitals have moved defenseman Brian Pothier, minor league forward Oskar Osala (Hershey), and a 2011 2nd round draft pick to the Carolina Hurricanes in return for defenseman Joe Corvo.

That completes the trade deadline moves for the Capitals. I’ll provide analysis on each of the four deals as well as others around the league in a blog later tonight or tomorrow. In addition, the Caps will take on the Sabres in Buffalo at 7pm on Wednesday. Please follow me on twitter (@Emfrank123) during the game.

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Shocked Caps Lose to Canes, 6-3

Posted on 28 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

After reporting to the rink and hearing that their team captain, Chris Clark, and defenseman Milan Jurcina had been traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in return for left wing Jason Chimera, the Caps promptly came out and collectively laid an egg in the first period, falling behind 3-0 en route to a 6-3 loss at once again sold out Verizon Center to Carolina. This was the Capitals first loss to a Southeast Division opponent in 2009-10, they are now 8-1 within the division this year, and they fall overall to 24-9-6. Their division lead is still at an insurmountable 14 points though as a result of a Thrashers 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils tonight (NJ re-takes 1st place in the Eastern Conference).

Washington actually didn’t play a bad first couple of minutes but as soon as Nicklas Backstrom took a careless four minute high sticking penalty on Jussi Jokinen the last place Hurricanes would dominate the remainder of the period. Adding to the uncalled for high stick, Mike Green was caught out of position while shorthanded at the Caps blue line and he hooked Jokinen as he split the defense and that set up a 1:59 five on three advantage for Carolina. The Caps would almost kill it off but Tuumo Ruutu would score just before #52 was due to come out of the box. The goal deflated the Caps and the Canes would add two more goals in the period.

But the Caps did not quit and they came out and scored early in the second on a power play, Green’s 9th tally of the season, but then Jose Theodore gave up a bad rebound off of a face-off to allow the Canes an easy tap-in with John Erskine out of position to make it 4-1. Once again, Washington would not go away and they clawed back to 4-3 early in the third period after an Alexander Ovechkin power play tally just 1:22 in. But Theodore (20 saves), who struggled with his rebound control all night, gave up a bad second chance goal with Brendan Morrison just 7 seconds out of the box (in sin bin for a lazy slash) to make it 5-3 with 10 minutes left and take any life away from a Caps comeback. Eric Staal’s empty net goal late capped off his second career five point game (2 goals, 3 assists) and he was very good against the Capitals, once again.

Here is the post game analysis and quotes:

The Caps have been the best team in the league in the first period, but not tonight. They gave up three goals and were outshot 10-4. It all started with the bad penalties and from there the Canes got life. Did it have anything to do with the trade? Ovechkin and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau talked about it afterwards.

“To me, if I say it was, then I am just looking at an excuse. I don’t know if it did or if it didn’t. Usually we’re a lot better in the first period, but I think Carolina played really well in the first period today. I think our lowest shot total of the year at home was in the first period, as well. So, I don’t want to use it as an excuse, even though I have been in that situation. I know it can bother some people, but I don’t know if it bothered our guys.” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner.

“It’s a hard situation for us because we lost our captain and a great guy.  They’re both good players but it’s a business and you can do nothing about it,” said the two time defending NHL MVP, who if I had my druthers, would be wearing the C going forward.

As for the goaltending situation, this was Theodore’s first start in 10 days and after his terse comments on Saturday about not starting (“I just work here”) one would have thought he would come out and stone the opposition to prove a point. But #60 didn’t get much help early on from his team and he didn’t make the big save either in the first period. Then he totally blew any hope of a comeback with his terrible rebound control and the fourth and fifth goals were the result of second chance opportunities after Theodore miscues on clear shots. The last Carolina tally was just pitiful as Theo gave up a rebound on a bad angled shot and then flopped to the ice like a fish as Sergei Samsonov put in the follow up from the bottom of the left circle. Bottom line, when the Caps woke up and made a game of it they needed their goalie to make some big stops and #60 couldn’t do it. One has to think that Boudreau and GM George McPhee might be running out of patience with the veteran goalie. He just is not consistent and from what I’ve seen this year from Semyon Varlamov and then Michael Neuvirth recently, I put Theodore as 3rd on the depth chart. Boudreau pointed out that he thought Theo “was fighting the puck and struggled with rebound control” on Monday night. I exchanged texts with a Western Conference scout after the game to get his take on the idea of Washington going with the young goalies and he responded with the following:

“[Theodore] always did [have problems with rebounds], since he was 15. The Caps should forget about goaltending and play run and gun!”

Clearly a run and gun game fits this team with Boudreau’s aggressive forecheck style but you need a goalie who can make the big save after the team gives up a few odd man rushes or falls behind, like Grant Fuhr used to do for the Edmonton Oilers. Clearly Varlamov is the netminder who best fits that mold due to his athleticism, if he can stay healthy. As for Theodore, it is time for him to go when Neuvirth comes up and shows he can handle big time shots in a more “Velcro-like” fashion than the 12 year NHL veteran. I’m not sure how many more chances #60 is going to get, at this point.

Now having said all of that you can’t hang this one totally on the goalie, he was not good at all but others struggled too, especially in the first 25 minutes of this one. Let’s start with the Erskine-Karl Alzner pairing. #4 probably had his worst game of the season and he was out of position on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th goals. Alzner struggled too but he was supposed to be a scratch, until the trade, and as a result he took extra work this morning and looked tired. On the 3rd goal, Erskine was caught up too high, Tomas Fleischmann couldn’t control the puck in his own zone, and Morrison and Mike Knuble were out past the blue line so when Flash turned it over #27 was helpless in front of his net against several Hurricanes. The defensemen did not get much help from the forwards all night in their own zone.

On special teams, the Caps gave up the one Canes power play tally in four attempts, although the Samsonov goal came just seven seconds after the slashing call expired on #9 (and I hang that goal totally on Theodore). The Washington power play (2 for 5) was Jeckyl and Hyde looking great on the first attempt, brutal on the second (no shots on net) and third before scoring on Ovechkin’s 26th tally of the season just after their five on three advantage expired. That Great #8 goal tied him with Marian Gaborik of the New York Rangers for the league lead.

So given the chaotic nature of the day, Washington should take some solace in their comeback, despite losing the contest. But at the end of the day, it is a 0 point night (as the Peerless Prognisticator might say).

Now back to the trade. I did exchange more texts with the NHL Western Conference scout referenced above as well as a former NHL front office executive on the deal and its implications. 

The former front office executive gave the edge to Columbus on the deal (“Good trade for Columbus”) based strictly on the personnel involved and he was not a fan of Chimera, at all. He was a big Clark supporter.

The Western Conference scout felt that it was a pretty “insignificant deal” except for the gained salary cap room for Washington. He called it “a salary cap deal” and pointed out that McPhee was “getting salary cap relief to make another deal to upgrade his defense.”

When I brought up the fact that Clark was good in the locker room he made the following good point:

“Like Scotty Bowman says, if they are good in the room, keep him in the room,” meaning results on the ice are really what matters and Clark did only have 4 goals in 38 games, nowhere near the 30 he scored in 2006-07 when he received the big contract from McPhee.

When I brought up the subject of who the next captain will be, the Western Conference scout had another good, but pertinent line:

“Ovie’s the captain, no matter who wears the C.”

The Caps head to the west coast now and will play the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday at 10pm and the Los Angeles Kings at 4pm on Saturday. Their next home game is Tuesday, January 5th against the Canadiens.

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Caps Trade Captain Clark, Jurcina for Jason Chimera (Updated Again)

Posted on 28 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have traded Captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina to the Columbus Blue Jackets in return for forward Jason Chimera. The deal has been confirmed by the Caps outstanding Media Relations Department and here is some information on the new Capital:

Chimera (chih-MAIR-uh), 30, is an 11-year pro who has played 461 NHL games between Columbus and Edmonton. He has recorded eight goals and nine assists (17 points) while playing all 39 games this season. A 6’2”, 216-pound left-hand shot, he stood tied for sixth on the Blue Jackets in goals and tied for eighth in points.

In his career Chimera has scored at least 14 goals four times, posted at least 30 points three times and topped 90 penalty minutes three times. He has played all but 36 games since the start of the 2005-06 season. A native of Edmonton, Alberta, he was drafted by the Oilers in the fifth round of the 1997 NHL Draft and joined the Blue Jackets via trade from Phoenix (which held his rights during the 2004-05 work stoppage). He will wear No. 25 in Washington, as he did in Columbus.

COMMENT: The Caps need to appoint a new team captain and it could be Alexander Ovechkin. The only other seemingly viable option would be Brooks Laich but it appears the Great #8’s time has come, in my opinion. This moves sheds Clark’s $2.633M salary cap hit, frees up some room on an already very crowded Caps blue line (they had nine defenseman before this move), and adds some toughness in Chimera, who is a physical player. Remember it was Chimera who initiated the altercation back on November 1 that led to Ovechkin injuring his shoulder in a scrum.

Jurcina was making $1.375M this season but is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. Chimera is signed at $1.875M per season through 2011-12.

UPDATED ADDITIONAL INFO: According to a tweet from Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau says the team will not name a new captain until after their upcoming two game road trip to San Jose and Los Angeles. Brian McNally, of the DC Examiner, just tweeted the following quotes on the trade and the captaincy from Coach Bruce Boudreau’s pre-game press conference:

“Needed a guy who is a little more physical and a really good skater. Down the road it will help us out.”

“It’s a tough deal. Chris has been a great captain, leader. You don’t just slap a “C” on somebody else…out of respect for him.”

“Some people – even though they’re great leaders – don’t want to accept the burden of [being captain].”

Here are quotes from GM George McPhee’s press conference from this evening at the Verizon Center:

“We felt like we could move a defensemen…we feel like the move today makes us better, so you have to do it. We talked about [a trade back in September], it was a hole we wanted to fill on the left side.”

“[Chimera] plays hard, brings speed, he is good for 15 goals a year, he scores well at even strength so he doesn’t need the power play to score goals.”

“[The trade] wasn’t necessarily about cap space, it was about the players, but it is nice that we got extra cap space out of it, but it wasn’t the focus of the deal.”

“Out of respect for Chris [Clark], we’ll take our time and do what’s best. We will address [the Captaincy] in the near future when the time is right.”

MORE COMMENTS: Overall, I think this is a good trade for the Caps, first for the salary cap implications and second because Chimera is a left wing and he brings a physical presence, something this team needs. Washington can now be major players at the deadline, if they wish to be.

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Caps Blanked, 3-0, in Buffalo

Posted on 09 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, who were on a six game winning streak, went in to Buffalo on Wednesday night to take on the Sabres and they were shut out, 3-0, by Ryan Miller (35 saves).  The loss was just the sixth one in regulation for the Capitals this season and their overall record falls to 19-6-6.

Due to a lower body injury to Semyon Varlamov and an illness to Mathieu Perreault, goalie Michal Neuvirth and forward Keith Aucoin were recalled from the Hershey Bears for the contest. Matt Bradley was also still out of the lineup due to the birth of his son, Henry.

Here is the period by period play and analysis followed by the post game wrap-up:

End of 1st period: Sabres 1, Caps 0

The Caps once again received an early power play, as Nicklas Backstrom drew a Buffalo infraction, but as they did in Tampa on Monday they could not convert, and this was not a good man advantage as Washington did not really generate any quality scoring chances. Then for just the ninth time this season the Capitals gave up the first tally of the contest. After a goal mouth battle the puck bounced below the Caps goal line and Buffalo forward Derek Roy threw it to the right point and d-man Steve Montador fired it on net and with goalie Jose Theodore screened by a jumping Nathan Gerbe plus his defenseman Milan Jurcina, the puck appeared to catch #23 on the leg and pop over #60’s shoulder into the cage. It was a bit of a fluky goal but had Tyler Sloan, who is once again playing forward, covered the point then Montador doesn’t get the shot off. Sloan would then continue a poor first period by taking a cross checking penalty.

The Caps would kill that one off and Alexander Ovechkin was set up big time in the prime scoring zone after a great Alexander Semin cross ice pass and Ovie appeared to have an open net but his shot went wildly high and wide right. Later Brooks Laich and Alexandre Giroux almost worked a nice give and go in front but the second half of the play did not connect and a quality chance to tie it went by the way side.

The game opened up a bit and Theo made a good save on Patrick Kaleta on a 2 on 1 with Jeff Schultz back, and #55 made the right play by cutting off the pass and letting the Sabre agitator shoot away. Back down the other end Brendan Morrison was set up by Tomas Fleichmann right in front but he didn’t get all of it and goalie Ryan Miller, who is having a great season, made a nice glove save.

The Sabres continued their Wednesday evening trend of going hard to the net and Tom Poti was whistled for cross checking, and it was a very good call despite the fact that #3 was arguing with the referees. With five seconds to go in the period Theodore came up big on Tomas Vanek and the period ended. Buffalo has 1:33 left on the minor penalty to Poti for period two.

Overall this was a sloppy Caps first period and the Sabres are winning because they are going to the net while Washington is over passing in the offensive zone instead of shooting and storming the crease.

End of 2nd period: Sabres 3, Caps 0 

Washington would once again stave off a Buffalo power play but with just four ticks left on it Washington received a lucky break as Clarke MacArthur had an open net for an instant but the puck rolled on him and his shot deflected out of play.  Ovechkin and Kaleta then traded super chances in close at both ends of the rink but Miller and Theodore each would make nice saves. Theo would then come up even bigger at the 8:45 mark denying Vanek on back to back chances but Miller would not be outdone and he made a dandy glove save on Fleischmann in the slot to preserve the Buffalo lead.

Green then tried to rush the puck up the ice and he mistakenly tried to go through two Sabres. #52 made it even worse when he was careless and was correctly called for high sticking. The infraction proved to be very costly as Gerbe fired coming out of the corner and shot it through Theodore’s pads for the first NHL goal of his career. After all of the great saves Theodore had made so far, this was one he should have definitely had and it was a bad goal.

The zebras continued to be involved and when Roy hit Ovechkin in the back of the leg in front of Miller, the Great #8 went down, but for some reason Ovie was called for diving and the game went 4 on 4. Theodore stopped Vanek in tight as the Sabres continued to play a simple game by firing at the net and going for rebounds. #60 then struggled badly on a slot shot by Henrik Tallinder as he skated in on Poti and Shaone Morrisonn and #10 split the seam between #3 and #26 to knock the rebound home for a three goal Sabres lead. Bad goal #2 by Theodore allowing such a terrible rebound but his defense did not help him either by letting Tallinder go right through them.

Overall it was a pretty pathetic period by Washington as they focused on trying to make the pretty passing play while Lindy Ruff’s crew simplified things by going to the net, firing the puck, and digging for rebounds. Against a Capitals team that does not seem to have its’ legs tonight it is working rather well for Buffalo.

End of 3rd Period: Sabres 3, Caps 0 

Buffalo continued to beat Washington to nearly every loose puck and as a result there was not much action for the first third of the final stanza. Washington did finally have a decent shift and Green’s point shot on a screened Miller went right to Morrison at the right post but he was slow to coral the puck and #30 dove back and made a nice glove save and received a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd in Buffalo. The Caps, clearly finally realizing that their best chance to score was to crash the net, started pressing but once again Miller’s outstanding glove hand was the story as he robbed Nicklas Backstrom during a goal mouth scramble. Washington continued to be all over the Sabres and Green sprung the slow skating Giroux for a quality chance but the man who will likely be the starting goaltender for Team USA in Vancouver in the 2010 Winter Olympics denied #33 with his blocker. Washington outshot the Sabres 13-4 in the third period but they still could not solve Miller and the game ended with a goose egg for the Caps.

Post game analysis:

Boy, what a stinker by Washington tonight. Yes, Miller was good for the Sabres but the Caps did not want to skate or pay the price to go to the front of the net until 10 minutes were left and the team down three goals. Buffalo wanted this one much more, did all of the little things, and it paid off so they won rather easily. It is as simple as that so it is hard to find much to analyze.

“[Miller] knew he was going to be really tough to beat but we didn’t get enough traffic and we didn’t get enough second shots and when we did do that his glove hand was good and it was impossible to beat,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau after the contest.

Theodore nearly matched Miller save for save for 30 minutes and the first tally by Montador was not his fault. But the second goal was terrible as Gerbe shot from below the goal line and the rebound third goal was awful, although Poti and Morrisonn showed how to act like orange cones in their own zone by not helping out their cage minder.

The Caps defense was lethargic tonight and making things even worse was the fact that Brian Pothier left the game in the second period after only playing 9:59 of ice time. Pothier brings speed and good puck moving ability on the blue line. Since John Erskine was a scratch tonight he will be back in on Friday but I would rather see a better skating Karl Alzner return. But that won’t happen due to the salary cap and a full 23 man Caps roster, so King Karl will remain in Hershey.

Boudreau broke up the Ovechkin-Backstrom-Semin line in the third period moving the hot Eric Fehr up with #8 and #19 but even that didn’t get Washington a tally.

“Obviously we didn’t  play very good but I am going to give them credit because they played their game to a T, I think, but we weren’t moving our legs and just letting the play happen. Until you start forechecking and creating opportunities nothing good is going to happen. We had alot of passengers tonight,” said Boudreau.

There isn’t much to add to Boudreau’s statement. Next up for the Caps is the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center on Friday. Washington should get Mike Knuble back in the line-up and they will need #22’s net presence to beat a now healthy Cam Ward, who will likely start in goal for the Canes.

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Caps Knock Off Sabres, 2-0, Ovechkin Ejected

Posted on 25 November 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals ended a three game losing streak on Thanksgiving Eve defeating the Buffalo Sabres, 2-0, before a sold out Verizon Center crowd. Semyon Varlamov stopped all 25 shots he faced in goal for Washington while Ryan Miller (22 saves) for Buffalo was outstanding too while yielding two Caps tallies. Miller has the inside track to be the #1 goalie for Team USA in the Olympics in Vancouver in February.  The victory, which pushes the Caps record to 14-5-6, was a big story as was Alexander Ovechkin’s third period ejection. Washington now has a nine point lead over second place Atlanta, but the Thrashers have four games in hand. Below is the period by period analysis followed by the post game wrap up and quotes.

End of 1st Period: Caps 1, Buffalo 0

The Caps have scored first in 18 of 24 games this season and have outscored their opponents 29-12 in the opening stanza, and as usual, Washington scored first in this one as Ovechkin went end to end in a patented Great #8 rush and lasered one by Miller just 6:24 in. The Caps dominated play but the Sabres goalie played well and the Caps just missed the mark on some other chances. Miller was best robbing Mike Green off of an Ovechkin feed with 30 seconds left in the period and on Tomas Fleischmann during a two on one break (Matt Bradley) earlier. Overall the Caps did a good job of getting their sticks in the Sabres passing lanes in their own zone and when they made a mistake Varlamov made the stop. The only real complaint about the Caps play was the occassional giveaway by a Washington winger in his own zone up the boards to the Sabres defensemen. That is just a bad play as a winger should know that there is noone there at the point if he has the puck. As for Karl Alzner’s first period of the year in the NHL this season, it was very good and #27 did a good job of communicating with D-partner Milan Jurcina and his breakout passes were on the mark. With Tom Poti out of the line-up Alzner needs to step into that role for Washington, like he did last season when #3 was injured.

End of 2nd Period: Caps 1, Buffalo 0

The goalies were the story in period two as Varlamov and Miller didn’t have to make a lot of saves but they had to stop some quality ones. The Caps had more chances than the Sabres but they missed the net and Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom had great opportunities but could not convert. Buffalo had more jump that period and gained some momentum. Green did some good things offensively but he also left his team vulnerable for odd man rushes on a couple of occassions. The biggest stat of the night: 0 penalties on either team so far. Zebras Paul Devorski and Kelly Sutherland have let a lot of things that are typically called go tonight. The lack of calls is reminiscent of a pre-lockout contest. So the stage is set for another 3rd period in which Washington has the lead. We will see if they can convert. The Verizon Center crowd has been loud only a few times tonight but they need to step it up and help their squad stop this three game slide.

End of 3rd Period: Caps 1, Buffalo 0

The period started with both teams getting some quality chances with the Caps having more but Miller made some huge stops on Fleischmann and Green. Then just 3:38 into the period Ovechkin hit Patrick Kaleta as he was turning on the right wing boards and when number 36 stayed down after hitting the glass the referees doled out a five minute boarding major and game misconduct to the Great #8. That brought Verizon Center to life and they serenaded the referees with a very non-holiday like song. The penalty call and crowd noise then lit a fire under Washington and they went full boar drawing a Sabres penalty (Craig Rivet tripped Brendan Morrison) less than a minute into the Ovechkin major and when that was up the sea of red went wild helping the Caps wipe out the remaining two plus minutes of the Great #8 infraction. Varlamov then made some big saves to preserve the lead, including two sparkling ones on Derrick Roy in the slot. Washington finally struck for an insurance goal off of a face-off win as Green alertly shot the puck wide of the traffic in front of Miller, Morrison then picked it up behind the net and fed Eric Fehr alone in the slot, who put the biscuit in the basket to make it 2-0 with 6:22 remaining.

Here is my post game analysis including quotes from Alzner and Head Coach Bruce Boudreau:

This was a very entertaining game and the best combined goaltending between two teams I have seen this year in contests involving the Capitals. Varlamov was very solid plus great when he had to be and Miller was phenomenal. Washington could have easily had at least several more goals if not for the play of #30 for Buffalo.

“Yeah, Miller might not have had the flurries, but he made some unbelievable saves when we had some great chances where I thought it could have been two or three nothing at one point, before we scored the second goal, but Varly was solid, it was like he was saying “I’m not letting this happen to me again in the third period.” And you add that into the fact that they’ve had trouble scoring so I think they were squeezing their sticks a little tight and they had some chances that pucks went by them that seemed to be open. Even with the 1-0 lead tonight, I felt as comfortable as I’ve felt in that situation in a while,” commented Boudreau on the two goaltenders.

“He is unbelievable, he is one of the hardest workers, always battling. He is awesome and his record is reflecting that right now,” added Alzner on Varlamov, who is now 9-1-2 with a .922 save percentage on the season (#1 goalie).

Ovechkin (1 goal) was really good tonight and it was his best performance since returning from injury. He would have had a multiple point night if not for Miller.

“He did have a good game. He had four legitimate chances to score goals and maybe on another goalie he would have put that in. He was playing really good and responsibly and he was moving his legs, it was unfortunate [the game misconduct] happened but I think it spurred our team on too, you know, “for once let’s come to his defense” and I thought our penalty killing in the third period was outstanding,” said Boudreau on Ovechkin’s overall game against the Sabres and the team’s penalty kill.

As for his major penalty, I thought it was a bad call and warranted a minor, at best. But Kaleta, who is known for taking dives and selling plays fell into the boards, got cut a bit, and stayed down to goad referee Sutherland into tossing the Great #8.

“I’ve watched it a half of a dozen times and he hits him in the shoulder, in the side, and Kaleta saw him coming. So it might have warranted a two minute minor and I don’t think it warranted anything more than that,” started Boudreau on the hit.

“When you cry wolf, [Kaleta] does that a lot. And he did hit his head into the glass but he was looking at him and he saw him out of his eye and Alex [hit the left shoulder], he didn’t hit the letters, he didn’t hit the numbers so I don’t anticipate anything happening. I can see where the refs get concerned because there is so much media talk about this lately,” added Boudreau when it was pointed out that Kaleta has a history of embellishing hits.

“Alex just finished his check and hit him in the shoulder, sometimes when either team has no penalties in the third period [the referees] are looking for something, I don’t know, but I didn’t think it was deserved for a five [minute major],” finished Boudreau on the Ovechkin infraction.

Backstrom, despite not scoring a point, was super tonight not only setting up scoring opportunities but also in his own zone and helping to kill the five minute major. Boudreau had no problem singling the Swede out tonight.

“He was moving his legs a lot better than he has in maybe the last six or seven games and you know he didn’t get rewarded on the score board, but what usually happens is that they get rewarded in a game or two. You could see him coming out of his little funk that he has been in. He was a leader tonight,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winning coach on #19, who logged 21:57 of ice time, which was much more than any other Capitals forward.

The defense played outstanding Wednesday giving up only 25 shots and doing a good job of keeping the front of the net clear and clogging the passing lanes. Because all six were so good Boudreau was able to just roll his defensive pairs and clearly the return of Jurcina from injury and the Alzner call up from Hershey helped. This becomes very evident when you look at the range of ice times for the defensemen: Green (23:27), Schultz (21:41), Alzner (20:15), Jurcina (19:18), Erskine (18:41), and Pothier (17:02).

“I thought all six defensemen did a real good job and we are team that doesn’t get alot of shutouts so they had to be good,” said Boudreau on his blueliners.

Alzner, who routinely gets praise in this forum because the 5th overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft has a very bright present and future, drew praise from Boudreau in #27’s first NHL game of 2009-10.

“He was fabulous. He really looked in control, he didn’t look nervous, he didn’t look like a first year player, and he’s not, but when you [are playing] just your 31st NHL game, he had a tremendous amount of poise and I felt very comfortable with him out there,” said Boudreau on Alzner, who clearly stabilized the back line in a good pairing with Jurcina on Wednesday night.

Alzner was his usual accomodating and humble self after the contest.

“It was wild, I like that [intensity], it really helped and I think everyone stepped up and had to answer the bell after a couple of overtime losses and you don’t want to see that and guys worked hard so it was just fortunate for me to come up for this game,” started #27 on the third period, “Everyone knew in their heads, “let’s do this,” we need to count on everybody to pick up a little bit of slack and a lot of us didn’t even see the hit, and [the ejection] was unfortunate but you saw alot of guys step up and play a great third period. We are pretty happy and it just goes to show that the team can do good and be successful [without Ovechkin],even though Ovie did score the game winner,” said Alzner on the third period and on playing without the Great #8.

“I was pretty happy. I stayed true to how I play my game. I made sure that if I had the opportunity to join the rush not to jump up but to just make a play and get the puck in deep. I felt confident out there and it is nice to refresh your mind to know that you can play,” started Alzner on his first game back at the NHL level, “Oh yeah, there is always a speed difference [at the NHL level] and you don’t have as much time to pull the puck back and identify all of your options and pick which one is the best, you see the first option, and hopefully it is the easy play, and you just make it. We just rolled all six D the entire game so we got a little bit of a mix [of Sabres forwards].” finished Alzner on his game and the matchups he faced.

As for the officiating, it was weird seeing no penalties for two periods and then a borderline hit get someone called for an ejection. I am sure the anti-Ovechkin fans will have a field day with this one and who knows what Don Cherry will say on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday night? Perhaps he should be critical of Kaleta for turning and not properly preparing himself for a shoulder to shoulder hit? Alzner said he noticed the change in intensity from the fans after the call and commented on the way the game was called before the Oveckhin hit.

“The fans were a little irate about [the ejection] and like you said the crowd was into it, you know a great game before Thanksgiving. I think it was nice to get a win for everybody. I was thinking about [0 penalties] towards the end there where I’ve never seen that in my life and it was pretty strange. It was unfortunate that we got the five minute because I was saying to Jose [Theodore], it is awfully strange they don’t call one when there could have been a few but the refs are doing their job, as long as they call it even. They let two fast, smooth skating teams play which is great for fans and good for tv, at least, I think. I like to watch that so it was a really good game,” finished #27 on fans and the officiating.

 The Caps next game is Saturday night in Montreal. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Ovechkin Returns, Boudreau Wins 100th in Caps 4-2 Victory

Posted on 17 November 2009 by Ed Frankovic

After a six game absence Alexander Ovechkin returned to the Capitals line-up at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night on Versus and the Great #8 delivered with an early power play goal that got the Caps going en route to a 4-2 win over the Rangers. This was Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s 100th NHL win in only 163 games. The road victory pushes Washington’s overall record to 13-4-4. Alexander the Great had seven hits coming off of a shoulder injury in just under 20 minutes of ice time and he was named the game’s number one star.

The Caps did not start well in this one and they gave up the first goal for just the 5th time in 21 games this season as a Daniel Girardi point shot resulted in a big rebound from Semyon Varlamov (18 saves) and neither Shaone Morrisonn nor Jeff Schutlz were able to thwart an all alone Marian Gaborik from scoring on the rebound just 1:16 into the contest. It was Gaborik’s third goal against the Caps in just two games this season and he would tie Ovechkin, momentarily, for the NHL goal scoring lead.

Washington’s slow start continued as Morrisonn fell, regained his feet, and then chased the puck leaving the slot wide open which forced Tomas Fleischmann to take down Rangers defensemen Wade Redden in prime scoring position. The Caps would kill off that penalty and then the spark plug, Mathieu Perreault, drew a tripping infraction on Michal Rozsival. Ovechkin, instead of being on the point, was put down low in front of the net but the Caps could not convert with the man advantage.

Midway through the period Matt Bradley and Aaron Voros dropped the gloves off of the face-off and #10 fought hard but was bloodied due to being cut. Mike Green then stole the puck at center ice and took off with speed to the Rangers blue line and that forced Sean Avery to take #52 down. Washington would make the Rangers pay and it was the Great #8 scoring his league leading 15th goal to tie things up at 15:06  on a point shot blast with heavy traffic in front of Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

Late in the period Green was hammered behind the Caps net by Avery and #52 looked a little shaken. The opening stanza ended with Washington up 15-5 in shots but the game was tied at one.

The Rangers again came out strong in the second period and after hitting the post early they received a power play when Brendan Morrison held Enver Lisin, however, the Caps did a nice job killing it off. On the next shift the Ovechkin line came on the ice and that allowed Brian Pothier to draw a penalty in the offensive zone and put Washington on the power play. Ovechkin was placed down low again in front of Lundqvist and the best Caps chance came on a Green one timer that King Henrik shouldered to the corner.

Cap killer Vaclac Prospal then set up Ales Kotalik for a quick shot in close but Varlamov was able to close the five hole and smother the puck. After Boudreau smartly called a time out following a Washington icing, Perreault drew another penalty on Rozsival and the Caps connected again on a beautiful passing play. Green carried the puck into the offensive zone and fed Ovechkin just inside the point on the left wing. The Great #8 threaded the needle across the ice to Chris Clark, who threw the puck on Lundqvist, and after Green whacked at it, Brooks Laich came in and slammed home his ninth of the season for a 2-1 advantage. The shots were tied at six each in period two.

The first good chance in period three went to the Rangers fourth line after Green and Morrisonn were sloppy in their own end. Voros fired a blast off of Varly but the rebound hopped over the stick of Donald Brashear. Then on a sequence where Quintin Laing took a puck to the head and left the contest, Avery threw an elbow at Varlamov and John Erskine sent #16 flying allowing the zebras to give the Rangers a power play. Varlamov made a good save on Redden and Washington successfully worked the two minutes off but right after Erskine came out of the box, Pothier was called for holding giving New York another shot with the man advantage. This time the Rangers finally broke through and Gaborik got his 15th tally of the season from in close on a bad angle with Varly screened by Avery and Green. Gaborik would re-tie Ovechkin for the NHL goal scoring lead.

Things got chippy when Ryan Callahan hit Nicklas Backstrom after a whistle but #19 retaliated so they both were sent off, putting the teams in a four on four situation. At the end of the coincidental penalties the Caps gained some momentum and Dave Steckel nearly broke through for his first goal of the season but he hit the side of the net on a stuff attempt.

The Caps got the play they really needed as Bradley outworked Redden in his own zone and then he outraced the former Ottawa Senator to the puck and beat Lundvist up top on a semi-breakaway with 4:51 left. It was Bradley’s fourth goal of the season and brought back memories of his big breakaway tally in game five of last season’s opening round playoff series against the Blueshirts that started Washington’s comeback in that series. Ovechkin then set up Clark in close but Lundqvist came up big to give his squad a chance to tie it up. After King Henrik went to the bench for the extra attacker the Rangers pressured but the Capitals kept New York on the perimeter and then Pothier threw a high, lofted backhand nearly the length of the ice and into the empty net to seal the deal.

Here is my post game analysis:

Remember early last season when all we heard about was how the Caps could not win on the road? Well that is no longer a problem and the Capitals are 6-3-1 in their first 10 contests away from Verizon Center this year. The key has been to play a simple game and tonight the team stuck to Boudreau’s system very well after the first five minutes. If Washington can just clean up their propensity to take 3rd period penalties they will be really dangerous and tougher to defeat.

Laich, who is one of the team leaders, continues to be so consistent and solid. He not only scored his 9th goal of the season but he was great on the penalty kill blocking shots and forcing Gaborik to give up the puck at the end of regulation when he was the most likely scoring threat. #21 was one of the main guys (along with Clark) screening Lundqvist on Ovechkin’s first period power play tally. With Mike Knuble out of the line-up, Laich will get more quality ice time and be the main guy crashing the net.

Perreault continues to make things happen on the ice and he drew two penalties for the Caps. He only played 8:50 but he was 5-2 on face-offs and was very responsible defensively. Boudreau is still hesistant to use the 2006 6th round draft pick late in the third period, but #85 is only 21 years old.

Varlamov was not spectacular tonight but he had to deal with stretches where the Caps dominated play so he wasn’t seeing much rubber. Overall he was solid and increased his record to 8-1. I have much more confidence when #40 is in the net right now than Theodore, who has not been able to sustain his hot start.

The defensive crew, outside of Morrisonn, had a good game. Pothier continues to string together strong efforts since being scratched in New Jersey almost two weeks ago. Erskine, despite being called for the penalty on Avery, was physical and that is something the Caps really need from him. Gaborik had a lot of room early but the defense started doing a better job of taking away space from one of the best snipers in the NHL. I am not sure what was up with #26 but he only logged 10:27 of ice time (he could have been injured or Boudreau could have benched him after his bad shift early in the 3rd period).

The special teams battle was won, despite Gaborik’s third period power play tally, by the Capitals. Washington went 2 for 4 while the Rangers were 1 for 4. The Caps also outshot the Rangers, 26-20, and won the face-off battle, 29-24.

Notes: Alexander Semin was out of the lineup and sent home for examination due to a bad wrist. In addition Jose Theodore had to head home to DC to deal with a family issue and missed Tuesday’s tilt. Forward Jay Beagle (1 assist) and goalie Michal Neuvirth were recalled from Hershey as re-enforcements. Tyler Sloan was scratched and Milan Jurcina has been placed on injured reserve with a lower body injury. Michal Nylander is on the roster but is not with the team and hopefully is headed to the KHL soon to provide GM George McPhee with some much needed salary cap relief. Next up for the Caps are the Montreal Canadiens at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

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