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Caps Chase Lundqvist Again, Force Game 7, 5-3

Posted on 26 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Crank up Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”, the Washington Capitals have overcome the odds and forced a game seven on Tuesday night with a 5-3 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden this afternoon. Last season the Caps forced a game seven against the Philadelphia Flyers after being down three games to one and lost in overtime. Can the Capitals, who have waited a year to avenge that game seven loss, pull off the feat this year and give Caps owner Ted Leonsis his first ever playoff series win? If they play like they did in the first two periods of today’s game they should be able to do it as they chased Rangers goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, to the bench after 40 minutes for the second straight game. The Rangers added two goals in the last period, including one with five seconds left to make the score look closer but credit New York for not quitting and with some help from the referees they may have grabbed some momentum those last 20 minutes, however, the Caps clearly quit skating for the majority of that stanza.

This contest had a crazy twist coming in to it with Rangers Coach John Tortorella suspended for the game for squirting water at a fan to start an altercation and then he hit a woman on the head when he threw a water bottle into the stands with 6:33 left in game five. Prior to that game Tortorella, ironically, had preached discipline and composure to his team and had scratched pesky forward Sean Avery in game five for taking some bad penalties in the third period of game four. Avery dressed for game six and former Caps Coach Jim Schoenfeld was behind the bench as Rangers interim coach replacing the former Stanley Cup winning coach (Tortorella, who won the Stanley Cup with Tampa in 2004, will be back for game seven).

Washington’s defense was the key today as they produced the first three Caps goals, all in the first period. The first was triggered by game five hero Matt Bradley, who forced an offensive zone turnover with some great forechecking and Brooks Laich and Dave Steckel then set up Milan Jurcina for a blast that beat Lundqvist short side to give the guys in white a 1-0 lead. The Rangers then struck back on a power play goal by Scott Gomez, their first in 19 attempts, to tie it up and for the next couple of minutes the game was looking like it could go either way when Washington received a power play after Paul Mara held Laich.

Washington’s power play had gone ZERO for 13 in games four and five but the Caps finally received a good bounce as Alexander Semin’s shot ricocheted right off of a Rangers skate to Mike Green in the right circle and he roofed it over Lundqvist for his first goal of the playoffs to ignite the Caps. Green apparently has been battling the flu bug and before the game he told NBC’s Pierre McGuire that he was finally getting his energy level back. The Rangers then had another power play chance when Tom Poti put the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty but Washington killed the infraction thanks to some good goaltending from Simeon Varlamov (29 saves). When Poti came out of the box he, Dave Steckel, and Boyd Gordon had a three on one because Mark Staal pinched in the offensive zone and the three Caps passed the puck beautifully around Joe Girardi setting up Poti to stuff the puck over Lundqvist for a 3-1 Caps lead.

In the second period the Caps dominated play by possessing the puck for long stretches of time but with just over nine mintues gone the game’s deciding point came as the Rangers Nikolai Zherdev missed a partially open net that would have made it 3-2 and Washington took the puck down the other way in transition. Viktor Kozlov then abused Staal with a great move and put the puck upstairs past Lundqvist to make it 4-1. Then the Great #8 sealed the deal by deflecting a Poti point pass/shot under Lundqvist with just 3:16 left in the period on the power play. That made it 5-1 and the Caps power play was a perfect 2 for 2 on the afternoon. At that point Washington seemed to not want to take any chances and just get ready for game seven.

Here are some other thoughts on the game:

The Caps power play did get a lucky bounce on the first goal but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau switched things up a bit putting Poti on the point with Green and moving Ovechkin down low several times and that opened things up for Washington’s defense to shoot and create.

Poti, one goal and three assists, was outstanding today and hopefully his creaky groin is okay for game seven. He may have tweaked it late in the contest.

Washington clearly was trying to beat Lundqvist high glove side and they were successful doing that today. Because of the size of Lundqvist’s pads he is tough to beat on the ice unless you get him moving. The question now is can Washington find a way to force King Henrik into a third straight bad game? Lundqvist has never lost a first round playoff series.

Varlamov was a little shaky in the first period giving up some rebounds but he takes up a lot of net and was very solid when he had to be. He could not be faulted on any of the three New York goals (the Rangers second tally was on a 5 on 3 power play after John Erskine was incorrectly, in my opinion as well as Mike Emrick’s (NBC play by play man), called for a holding penalty on Nik Andropov on a clean check).

Washington took four penalties in the third period and faced two lengthy 5 on 3’s, including one with just over five minutes left and the game still 5-2 but Dave Steckel, Laich, and Poti were outstanding killing it by winning a defensive zone face-off and then ragged alot of time off the clock before firing the puck down the ice.

The Caps did not turn the puck over at the Rangers blue line and did a good job of dumping it deep behind the New York defensemen. If they continue to do this in game seven they will have success. They need to avoid blind passes/careless backpasses that could give the Rangers the ability to get their good transition game going. Today it was Washington’s transition game that was superior.

New York has trouble scoring, they have only 10 goals in this series, so the Caps can’t take penalties, such as Brashear’s late hit on Blair Betts today, that give the Rangers an advantage. Washington is superior at five on five and the only reason this thing is tied up is because of Lundqvist and a bad first game in goal by Washington’s Jose Theodore.

I’m sure the Verizon Center will be raring and ready to go on Tuesday night. The Caps have not come back from 3-1 down to win a series since 1988 against the Philadelphia Flyers. It is time for the guys in red on Tuesday to win one for their owner and for themselves. This will be one tough game and you can bet the Rangers will be ready.

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Caps Win Behind Varlamov; Devils Lose

Posted on 07 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on 06 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Beard-a-thon

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

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

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

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

Caps News

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

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

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


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


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

NHL Tidbits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Rally in 3rd to Beat Thrashers, 6-4

Posted on 05 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Sunday at the Verizon Center was Fan Appreciation Day and for 40 minutes the Washington Capitals lolligagged their way through their contest with the Atlanta Thrashers showing little to nothing to their fans who came out to Rock the Red before the real Caps team showed up in the final period and gave them something worth watching. After being yelled out by their head coach Bruce Boudreau  in the second intermission, Washington came out hard and outscored Atlanta, 4-1, in the third period en route to a 6-4 victory. In that period they finally got back to playing their pressure fore check and cycling game which allowed them to take over the contest and rally from a 3-2 deficit.

“Our guys were sleepwalking through the first two periods. It seemed like they wanted it more. It happens a lot when you depend on your power play to win you games and then the power play wasn’t going very well, so it was time the five-on-five stepped up a little bit,” started Boudreau, “I hope that wasn’t what it took (to win the game). I hope it opened their eyes. I hope it doesn’t take me coming in and screaming and yelling to get going because we have (too many) good players for that. They gotta learn to do it on their own. I don’t want to (scream at the players) often. I prefer everything to be parenting. If you yell at your kids too much, eventually they just tune you out. When I raise my voice, I’d like it to mean something,” finished Boudreau.

As Boudreau mentioned the Caps power play, which was ranked number one in the league coming into today, was just awful on its first five attempts going scoreless and also giving up a shorthanded goal to Jim Slater that put the Thrashers up 2-1 early in the second period. Finally on the sixth one the head coach had seen enough and shook things up by putting forward Keith Aucoin on the man advantage and just 15 seconds into the power play he finished off a nice pass from Alexander Ovechkin to tie the game at two in the second period. It was Aucoin’s second goal of the season in nine NHL contests with the Caps. Washington had one other power play after that in the third period and although they did not score, they had the puck in the Thrashers end nearly the whole two minutes. Overall the power play was 1 for 7 for the game, not something the team will be happy about. Aucoin, after having a tough Friday night against Buffalo played very well today with a goal and an assist in just over 10 minutes of ice time. He also hit the post on another scoring chance in the third period.

“Keith Aucoin has been great.  Every time he is in the line-up he has been a spark plug for us.  He’s a great passer, he’s got a lot of energy, and he hits well for a smaller guy,” said Caps forward Eric Fehr, who scored a great goal as he was falling to the ice to give the Caps the lead, 4-3, early in the third period.

“He’s definitely played very well for us. We’ll probably have to make a decision here sooner or later. He’s done really well,” said Boudreau on Aucoin, who has scored a point in four of his last five games with Washington.

The Caps gave up six power play chances to Atlanta but killed each one of them and while Boudreau won’t be happy about the number of penalties taken (and Dan Marouelli was one of the referees so I knew the whistle would be blowing alot today), he has to be pleased with the penalty killing which was very solid to include goalie Jose Theodore (20 saves on 24 shots). Theodore was good when he was in the net and really can’t be faulted on any of the first three goals, but the fourth goal with 44 seconds left was all on #60. Theo, with the Thrashers net vacant at the other end, took the puck next to the Caps net and tried to shoot it the length of the ice but fanned on it putting it right on Slava Kozlov’s stick and the Thrasher buried the early Christmas present to make it 5-4. The ONLY good thing about this play is that Theodore likely got this out of his system and won’t try a boneheaded move like that again, especially in the playoffs.

Speaking of fanning on shots, the Great #8 had one of those days where he could have had several goals, although he did get two assists to close within two points of league leader Evgeni Malkin, who was shut out today in a 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers (Malkin is up 108 to 106). He was -2 on the day though and dropped to +8 on the season (he was +28 last season so the drop off is somewhat concerning).

“Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. I thought in the third period, we could’ve had three more. Ovi (Caps forward Alex Ovechkin) should’ve had three or four by himself, but they weren’t going in tonight (for him). I think when you go to the net and you work hard, you get rewarded. In the third period, I thought we worked hard,” said Boudreau on Ovechkin (11 shots on goal) and the rest of the team.

As for the other positives, one of the biggest was Tomas Fleischmann who broke a 15 game goal scoring drought in the first period. He also was one of the few guys who worked hard in the opening two periods.

“I just kept going and try and work hard.  I knew it was going to come and the break came today, straight to my glove and I was out there alone by myself, lucky I put it in,” said #14 on breaking his drought just 2:13 into the game.

“I hope it does wonders for his confidence. I’ve been in his situation and (I saw) the relief (in) his eyes when he finally scored. He was like, ‘Oh man, I can play the game.’ You start to doubt yourself after awhile, no matter who you are, when you have trouble scoring. He’s got the spark. He plays a lot. He tries hard, but I hope that adds a little confidence to his game,” added Boudreau on Fleischmann.

Other positives came from Michael Nylander who was +2 and had a goal and an assist and defensemen Jeff Schultz and Milan Jurcina each were +2 on the afternoon. Fehr was also a +2. Brooks Laich was his usual solid self scoring his career high 20th goal and adding two assists in a +1 performance. I don’t know where this team would be without the play and leadership of #21.

“It’s good to have that secondary scoring and get it working. It was really nice to see Fleischmann and Fehr score, two guys that hadn’t scored in awhile. And Michael Nylander. It’s what we need though. We can’t depend on four guys to score all of our goals every game,” finished Boudreau.

Another negative, besides the poor effort in the first 40 minutes, was the terrible play defenseman Tom Poti made on the Thrashers first goal by Colby Armstrong. Poti was caught flat footed, badly misplaying Armstrong by giving him too much space, and that allowed the forward to cut  across the slot on his forehand and fire a bullet by Theodore. Poti played that one like a rookie and he knows he needs to be more on the opponent and force him to his back hand where Theodore can cut off the angle much easier. Poti did play well on the penalty kill today and he logged 7:31 of shorthanded ice time.

I also thought Mike Green (pointless) did not have a good game missing the net on his power play shots, over handling the puck several times on rushes and in the offensive zone, and lacking energy and grit in his own end a few times in the first two periods.

With the win the Caps are now 48-23-8 for 104 points and they lead the New Jersey Devils by two points for second place in the Eastern Conference with three games to go in the regular season. The Capitals finished their home schedule for the season with the second-most wins in franchise history (29-9-3, trailing only the 30-8-2 mark of the 1985-86 season) and recorded their 29th sellout of the season, and 25 of the last 27 games have been sold out. The Caps finished the regular season with a new record in total attendance, 741,992. Washington is now 20-0-1 when recording five or more goals (only loss was to the Devils in November in a shootout). They have scored four or more goals in four straight games.

Next up on Tuesday is the Thrashers again in Atlanta. Washington is winless in two trips there this season and their magic number to clinch second place in the East is 5 points (any combination of Caps points gained or NJ points lost).

Other Notes: Brian Pothier was the healthy scratch on defense on Sunday. Donald Brashear missed his 10th straight game with a bad knee. Washington outshot Atlanta, 33-24, and won the face off battle, 39-22. Fehr’s excellent production came in only 8:08 of ice time. Alexander Semin scored his 31st goal and added an assist in a +1 showing (Semin is now +25 on the season).

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Caps Win Southeast Division Title But Lose in OT

Posted on 04 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

It was a bittersweet night for the Washington Capitals as they wrapped up their second straight Southeast Division Title but, more importantly according to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, they did not defeat the Buffalo Sabres on Friday to lose ground in the Eastern Conference standings. The Caps 5-4 overtime loss to an inspired, playing for their playoff lives hockey club in the Buffalo Sabres, combined with the New Jersey Devils overtime win over the Tampa Bay Lightning reduces Washington’s lead on the Devils for second place in the East to just two points with four games to go.

“[Winning the Southeast Division] is not our goal. Before the season started we said we were going to win and we have one goal in mind and we aren’t there yet,” started Boudreau “It is bittersweet because we wanted that extra point because New Jersey won. We figured we were going to win the division. We didn’t think we were going to lose five in a row and Carolina end up winning 12 in a row. I mean they might win the 12 in a row but we’ve got to get smarter to be able to play better. We had guys staying on too late, we had guys doing cross ice passes in overtime…it’s just not a smart play,” finished Boudreau.

The Caps went 3 for 7 on the power play and are now number one in the league in that category. However, they had two lengthy 5 on 3 power plays but only scored once on those two man advantages. They were outscored 4-1 at even strength and Boudreau reiterated that it was due to mental mistakes.

“We want to be the number one at everything, if we can. If our power play is going well, we dictate a lot of the way the game is played.  Teams that might be physical teams don’t want to play physical because of the fact they might take penalties. We’ve got to start scoring more five-on-five goals. When one thing goes good, something else usually goes bad. We want everything to go good. The power play can’t be good at the expense of five-on-five. When it comes down to it in the playoffs, usually after the series settles down teams only [get three or four power play chances]. Penalties definitely aren’t called as much on the little things in the playoffs as they are in the regular season,” said Boudreau.

As for Buffalo being desperate, needing to win every game from here on out (and the Caps are hoping the Sabres can defeat the Devils in Buffalo on Saturday night), and playing at a high energy level, Boudreau commented, “We played a team that if you look on paper, boy they’re pretty good.  They ran into some injuries and some bumps on the road, but they’re a dangerous team if they make the playoffs. Their first two lines are as good as anybody’s, their defense is solid and they’ve got one of the best goalies in the league. I thought we matched their energy. That was a great test for us as far as a playoff-type game.”

#1 goalie Jose Theodore was given the night off and rookie Simeon Varlamov got the call in net. Varlamov was 3-0 coming into this contest so he suffered his first defeat at the NHL level. The first three goals went off of Capitals before entering the net but Boudreau wasn’t about to say they were lucky.

“I think everything evens out. [Tim] Connolly misses a wide open shot [in the opening minute] so then one goes in off our foot. Do you sit there and say ‘oh geez it went off Kozi’s [Viktor Kozlov] leg?’ No they should have had a goal anyway so it evens out in the end. Yes they were tough breaks but when you win you make your own breaks,” said Boudreau on the deflections.

As for the goals that got by Varlamov, Boudreau said, “They were tough goals. Redirect goals. Only the last one I thought there was much he could have done about it. Obviously, when [Jason] Pominville scored [the game winner] he made a good shot, he’s a good player.”

Here are my comments and thoughts on the game, including some quotes from Sergei Fedorov:

Varlamov: I thought he was very good in the second period but did not look comfortable in the first and third periods where he struggled to control his rebounds. In his defense, the guys in red in front of him had several breakdowns, especially in the defensive zone, that made it difficult for him to figure out where the shots were going to come from causing #40 to flop, at times, all over the crease. This was especially apparent on the fourth Buffalo goal.

Aucoin: Keith Aucoin came into tonight’s game with a goal, two assists and a plus five rating in seven games but he had a rough one on Friday. In the third period, when he was on the ice with Dave Steckel and Matt Bradley the trio gave up several quality scoring chances and had numerous giveaways. In fact it was an Aucoin giveaway on a simple play on the right wing boards that started the whole sequence that allowed Maxim Afiingenov to tie the game at four with 9:39 remaining.

Ovechkin: The Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, had a goal (his 55th) and two assists but was -2 for the contest. He was called for a very questionable goalie interference penalty in the third period (he was shoved into Sabres goalie Ryan Miller by the Sabres defenseman) and he had trouble getting clean shots off due to some good play by the Buffalo defense. Ovechkin now has 104 points on the season and trails the Penguins and NHL leader, Evgeni Malkin, by four points [Malkin has played two more games as Alexander the Great missed two games while in Russia visiting his ailing grandfather early in the year and the game against Toronto due to a bad foot. The Pens have five games left and the Caps have four remaining].

Fedorov: Sergei Fedorov had two goals that he called “lucky shots” but he also took a very lazy hooking penalty behind the Buffalo net in the second period that led to the Sabres third goal on the power play (Buffalo was 1 for 5). He also made the horrible cross ice pass in overtime, on his backhand no less, that led to the game winning goal [and Mike Green made a bad change and defenseman Jeff Schultz didn’t properly read the play instead opting to hit Tim Connolly which allowed #19 to find a wide open Pominville streaking down the slot – and he then beat Varlamov five hole]. Fedorov knows that he should have gone off the boards instead of trying the wild cross ice feed intended for Ovechkin. Here is what #91 had to say afterwards about the contest:

“It was a tough game, I think they played great as a team, they skate well and we know that. We tried to match their push and try to play as best as we can. It’s obviously tough stats but we are looking forward to our next game, I guess we’ll talk about [the 4-1 even strength goal deficit] tomorrow and try to clean up some plays in there and try to be stronger in our zone. I think we matched every thing they got [from an energy standpoint] overall but defensively we could have played a little bit better,” said the three time Stanley Cup Champion.

When asked what the team’s emotions and thoughts were after the contest on a night they won the Southeast Division for the second straight season, the two time Selke Trophy winner commented, “pretty much like we lost the game and after that we don’t think much about it.”

Other stats, facts, and comments: The Caps won the face-off battle 44-30. Green led all players in ice time with 28:13. Milan Jurcina and Tom Poti were paired together and were -2. Poti is struggling right now, in my opinion. Brooks Laich had two assists and was one of the better Caps on Friday.

Next up for the Caps are the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday at 3pm at the Verizon Center.

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Canes Sink Caps, 4-1

Posted on 21 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Bad defensive zone play, a red hot goaltender, not shooting the puck, not going to the net, and some poor officiating, in that order, did the Washington Capitals in on Saturday night as they lost to a streaking Carolina Hurricanes squad, 4-1, in Raleigh. This was the Hurricanes eighth straight home win and they needed this victory more than the Caps, who dominated the first period but could not solve goalie Cam Ward (31 saves on the evening) in that opening stanza.

Let’s start with the bad defensive zone play because all three Carolina goals came as a result of turnovers and defensive zone breakdowns; they were not the result of offensive and neutral zone turnovers that led to odd man rushes. On goal number one by Rod Brind’Amour, Mike Green (who definitely favored his injured left side all evening) gave the puck away behind the Caps net allowing Jussi Jokinen to gather the puck just above the goal line to the right of Jose Theodore (26 saves on 29 shots on Saturday). Green’s defensive partner (Erskine) then made the wrong play going to Jokinen, who was in NO position to score, and vacated the front of the net allowing Brind’Amour to streak into the slot wide open and one time it by #60 for a 1-0 Canes lead. Erskine needs to read the play better in that situation.

After Green tied the game late in the second period on one of the very few times Washington threw the puck on net and received a rebound from Ward (Backstrom’s low shot caromed off of the goalies pads and out to Green, who one timed it top left corner by Ward), more defensive zone missteps would cost Washington the game and allow Carolina to tie the overall season series with the Caps at three (although Carolina did get 7 points to the Caps 6 since game five was won by Washington in a shootout). Shortly after a Washington power play had expired Carolina got the puck in the offensive zone on a Washington turnover as Brian Pothier and John Erskine fumbled it behind the Caps net allowing the puck to go to Eric Staal in front, who blasted one off the pads of Theodore, and with none of the defensemen or forwards picking up Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen in front of the net, he patiently waited for Theo to go down and then roofed a backhander into the goal for the eventual game winner.

The final major defensive breakdown gave the Hurricanes their insurance tally at 13:43 on a four on four situation. Ray Whitney brought the puck in the zone with Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Green back for the Caps and it ended up on the left wing boards with Washington in initial good defensive posture. But then Viktor Kozlov, for some strange reason, decided to leave Canes defenseman Anton Babchuk at the front of the Caps net and Denis Seidenberg wisely fired the puck to him and once again, a Hurricane waited Theodore out and backhanded the puck by #60 to make it 3-1. I have no idea what Kozlov was doing there because he was in good man to man coverage and then took off from the player he was responsible for watching?

Clearly the number one star of the night though was Ward who made numerous good gloves saves, including a big stop on Tomas Fleischmann in the third period, who is pointless this month now in 11 games. The former Conn Smythe trophy winner is in a groove but the Caps made things easier for him tonight as they routinely passed up good shooting opportunities by opting for curl and drag moves and cross ice passes for bad angled one timers. Backstrom passed up several good chances, as did Semin, and although Michael Nylander’s curl and drag move worked the other night in Florida, he had two times that I can vividly remember that had he taken the puck hard to the net then Washington would have likely gotten a quality scoring chance. On Saturday night the Caps, for some reason, decided once again to not shoot the puck low at Ward and go hard to the crease for rebounds. The only time they really did this they got the goal from Green. You can bet that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will harp on the bad defensive and offensive decisions by his players in Saturday night’s loss.

As for the officiating, it wasn’t very good and I knew it wasn’t going to be as soon as Comcast’s Joe Beninati announced we had zebras Dan Marouelli and Bill McCreary, two dinosaurs who have never been very good referees in my book. The first call I really did not like came in the third period when Jokinen hooked Fleischmann on a good Washington chance but when #14 fell to the ice he was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for diving. On the replay Jokinen clearly hooked Fleischmann and it looked to me that Tomas hit a rut or Jokinen’s stick clipped his skate causing his fall because with Semin wide open in the slot I HIGHLY doubt he was looking to dive (as evidenced how quickly he fired the puck to Semin from his knees – if he was diving he would not have been looking to complete the play).

Next came the HORRIBLE call of the night with the Caps down 3-1 when Pitkanen took a two handed cross check to Green’s head as he was going around him, knocking #52 to the ice. When Green got up and started jawing at Pitkanen it was the Hurricane who initiated the contact that caused the scrum that eventually resulted in Green getting two minutes for roughing while all #25 of the home team walked away with was a two minute high sticking call. I’ve watched this sequence THREE times now and I still have no idea how this was an even up call!!! Pitkanen’s shot to Green’s head should have been a FIVE minute major, especially since blows to the head are supposed to be heavily enforced these days, and I counted two shots from Pitkanen on Green while #52 only got in one good glove punch. What was Marouelli and McCreary watching? They are terrible, but unfortunately those two clowns will probably officiate at least one Washington playoff game.

Beninati and Craig Laughlin in the Comcast broadcast booth, two great guys who I’ve known for years and who really know hockey, then gave Green a bit of the gears on the air for not keeping his head and costing Washington a power play but I think if those guys watched this thing again, like I was able to do, they’d agree more with me (that the zebras blew this one). Pitkanen should have gotten a major and then he initiated the contact and the scrum that ensued, not Green.

Shortly thereafter, Brind’Amour boarded Ovechkin from behind and the Great #8 slammed his head into the glass but luckily was not hurt. Even though #17 was not intending to hit him from behind he should have gotten a five minute major but the guys in stripes only went with two minutes. Joe Corvo’s empty net shorthanded goal sealed the deal for Carolina.

Here are some other thoughts on the Caps:

I’ve noticed over the last five games that Washington has played without Donald Brashear, and especially in the two Carolina games, that the opposition has been taking more liberties with the Washington skill players. It seems opponents are feeling braver without the fear of #87 coming out and pounding them to oblivion. Matt Bradley, who will drop the gloves but rarely wins the bout, can’t police things for this team on his own. I think Washington is missing Brashear’s toughness right now.

Overall, I thought Erskine had the worst night on defense for the Caps. Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing #27, Karl Alzner, coming up from Hershey and getting some work before the playoffs but right now the Caps seem set on the seven guys that are up with the big club in Green, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Morrisonn, Pothier, Erskine, and Milan Jurcina (scratched on Saturday). Pothier wasn’t very good tonight as well.

Sergei Fedorov (-2) did not have a good game and he looked listless at times. I wonder if he isn’t fully recovered from that flu bug yet?

The Caps next game is Tuesday in Toronto against Martin Gerber, who beat the Canadiens, 5-2, tonight. Gerber stoned the Caps back on March 5th (2-1 Leafs win). The Florida Panthers were knocked off by Columbus, 3-1, tonight reducing the Caps magic number for clinching a playoff spot to just five points (any combination of Caps points or Florida missed point opportunities). The Caps lead in the Southeast Division is 11 points over Carolina with eight games to go so the magic number to clinch that title, and get at least the third seed, is six points.

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Caps-Thrashers Live Blog – Thrashers 5, Caps 1 FINAL

Posted on 16 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

With a five game road winning streak for the Caps and a five game overall winning streak for the Atlanta Thrashers something has to give in Atlanta tonight and so far it is Washington who is doing all of the giving. Atlanta leads 2-0 after the 1st period after some uninspired hockey by the guys in white sweaters tonight. Alexander Ovechkin is going for his 50th goal of the season while Washington defensemen Mike Green is out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury and Atlanta superstar Ilya Kovalchuk is out with an upper body injury. Here are some thoughts on the first period, which was too wide open with 26 shots (14 for the Caps and 12 for Atlanta).

Defenseman Tom Poti was just terrible in the first period and directly responsible for both goals. First, he badly overplayed Thrasher forward Rich Peverly at the blue line giving him the inside lane allowing #47 to drive to the net and fire a backhander that Jose Theodore stopped, but because of a screen, he gave up a rebound that was put in by Colby Armstrong. The other defenseman on the ice was Shaone Morrisonn who was also in no man’s land. The second Atlanta goal was a power play one but Poti had two good chances to clear the puck yet gave it away both times and finally Slava Kozlov, after 76 seconds in the Washington zone, ripped one off the post and past Theodore.

Ovechkin totally floated in his own end on the Atlanta first goal not picking up anyone the whole time the Thrashers were in the zone. Had he been strong on the puck at the blue line he would have been able to thwart Peverly’s move on Poti and take the puck but Ovechkin was seen coasting with his legs straight and stick at his waist which is not good defensive position. Here is a SCARY stat: Ovechkin has not been a PLUS player in his last 11 games and he is -6 over that span. The last time he was a plus in a game was against Montreal on February 18th. Ovechkin is -1 tonight so far. Bottom Line: The Great #8 needs to become more responsible in his own end.

Brian Pothier is playing his first game since January 3, 2008 (concussion) and he looked okay except for taking the only penalty of the period when he hooked Brett Sterling in front of the Washington net (and Atlanta scored on the ensuing power play).

Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen saved all 14 shots he faced but the Caps have had little to no traffic in front of him. The Caps need to go to the net harder. Is someone other than the big guns on this team going to score again?

We’ll see if period two is better but I don’t have a good feeling about this game tonight, Atlanta looks hungrier and more focused.

So far the second period has been worse than the first. The Caps have just taken their third penalty of the period on a hook by Alexander Semin (they trail 3-0). It was Semin who turned the puck over shorthanded in the offensive zone that led to the Thrasher second power play goal of the evening as Anssi Salmela skated back up ice with the puck and, you guessed it, Poti and Morrisonn were back, and the duo gave Salmela too much room and he fired it past Theodore. Now on Semin’s penalty Atlanta has made it 4-0 on a Tobias Enstrom blast and the Thrashers are 3 for 4 on power plays. The Caps have yet to DRAW a penalty and I cannot blame the referees as Washington has been downright AWFUL! Oh and Poti and Morrisonn have been on the ice for all four Thrashers goals. Poti was unable to clear out Bryan Little in front of the net on the Enstrom blast.

Theodore was then pulled in goal with Simeon Varlamov inserted and the Caps finally showed some life. Ovechkin drew a penalty and Washington went on the power play for the first time all game but Lehtonen would not allow anything to get past him. Then as the penalty expired the Great #8 went on a hitting spree crushing three Thrashers and that allowed Semin to draw another Altanta penalty in the offensive zone. The Caps peppered Lehtonen on the power play to end the period but between the goalie and the cross bar the Caps could not get the puck by him. Washington has a minute and 21 seconds left on the power play to start period three and if they don’t score they can write this one off. The Caps are now outshooting Atlanta 30-21 but the scoreboard says 4-0 Thrashers. Bad defense for the Caps and timely goaltending by Lehtonen has made this a lopsided affair.

Despite giving a big effort in the third period Washington could not solve Lehtonen until 75 seconds left in the game as Eric Fehr tipped in the rebound of a Milan Jurcina point blast. The fact that the Caps scored a rebound goal and it wasn’t from one of the big guns is one of the very few positives from this contest. On the night Lehtonen stopped 49 of 50 shots and the netminder is now 10-6-2 in his career against the Caps. In the third period, Washington had two more power plays in addition to the last 81 seconds on their second one and it was evident that without Green on the right point and Poti inserted that this configuration is much less dangerous as #3 is no real threat to score with his much weaker shot. Poti’s nightmare evening continued as a defensive zone giveaway by him went right to Eric Perron, who went one on two on Poti and Schultz, fired a shot that deflected en route to Varlamov – who couldn’t handle it, and then Poti let Perron beat him to the puck for the rebound to make it 5-0 with 3:22 remaining. All that was left to decide at that point were two things: a Lehtonen shutout (which was denied by Fehr) and the possibility of an Ovechkin 50th goal (did not happen).

Here are some final thoughts:

The Caps must have believed that Theodore was going to win this game for them tonight because they were terrible in front of him. It wasn’t until Varlamov came in that Washington started playing hard and by then it was WAY too late.

Ovechkin was -2 on the evening and is now -8 in his last 12 games. The last goal was not his fault (you can put that one and many of the goals tonight on Poti) but #8 is still not playing consistently well in his own end. Ovechkin did have 10 shots on goal but he also missed the net on 7 other attempts.

This game was the only one on in the NHL at 7pm and Atlanta came out like it was their Game 7 of the playoffs while the Caps floated through the first 33 minutes. It was downright embarrassing for the Caps and their fans have a right to be mad after a pitiful performance like that on Versus. The Caps are now 43-22-6 with 11 games to go and are back on the ice tomorrow night in Florida. The season series with the Thrashers is now knotted at 2-2 with both teams holding serve at home (Atlanta has put up 12 goals in the two games they played at Phillips Arena).

Sergei Fedorov (illness) and Donald Brashear (knee) did not play on Monday.

Atlanta killed the Caps on face-offs, 39-21.

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Caps Need to Make The Big Move

Posted on 02 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

So we are less than 48 hours from Wednesday’s 3pm NHL trade deadline and here are some items to ponder to help you decide whether or not GM George McPhee should stand pat or change up his roster heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs:

The Colorado Avalanche started their six-game road trip with a win at Washington (4-1), but dropped the final five. They were outscored 14-3 in consecutive losses to New Jersey and New York’s Rangers and Islanders. The Avs are in last place in the Western Conference.

The Caps are 3-3 in their last 6 home games losing to a more physical Flyers team, a more inspired Panthers team, and a bottom feeder in Colorado (and we’ve seen other losses since January 1st to Edmonton, Los Angeles, and Columbus that were eerily similar).

In last Thursday’s blog I mentioned that I spoke with a scout about the Red Wings and discussed their chances of repeating as Stanley Cup Champions. His response really surprised me when he said the following: “No, they don’t come to play every night, the last 2 years those Red Wings went hard every night, you can’t win playing spot hockey.” Well lately “Spot Hockey” is an accurate description of the Washington Capitals.

Today our friend Rob Yunich over at Storming the Crease (www.stormingthecrease.com) jumped on a Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau quote from yesterday after the Florida debacle that indicated a lack of leadership in the Washington locker room. Boudreau says he can’t keep yelling at the players to play hard each night and that somebody inside the dressing room should be doing it. I kind of thought in the absence of Captain Chris Clark that veteran Sergei Fedorov would be the guy to do that or even Alexander Ovechkin but it doesn’t appear to be happening. We continue to see the team not show up about every third game, especially when the opponent is below them in the standings. We’ve heard alot about team chemistry and the need to keep these guys together but how good is the chemistry when every third night the team seems to be mailing it in?

Those three or so minutes last Tuesday against Philadelphia, when the team was playing hard that evening, keep flashing in my mind. Big forwards Scott Hartnell, Jeff Carter, and Joffrey Lupul manhandled the Caps defense, heck even Arron Asham went around Jeff Schultz, to send the Caps to a defeat. Then yesterday noone on the back end, and especially Schultz, could clear the front of the Washington net against a Florida team not exactly known for powerful forwards. Do the Caps really want to go into the playoffs with this crew of defensemen who aren’t very physical and take alot of penalties?

Adding all of this up there is no doubt in my mind that the Washington Capitals need to upgrade their roster if they intend on competing for the Stanley Cup. The team’s biggest problem is not goaltending (although they could use a veteran backup as insurance for Jose Theodore), it is on defense, so fans should hope that GM George McPhee can make a big move to upgrade a defensive corps that has really struggled lately.

If Chris Pronger is available and willing to come to the Eastern Conference (and why Anaheim would be stupid enough to move him to a team in the West is beyond me??) then McPhee needs to land him because as former team statistician and team ophthalmologist Mike Herr said to me on the phone tonight: I bet you if you polled scouts around the league and asked them where they thought the Caps weakness is they would no doubt point to the defense. Even Boudreau pointed out that as a deficiency when he was on interviewed by Drew Forrester on the Comcast Morning Show last Wednesday morning on WNST.

Chances to win the Stanley Cup don’t come around often, although the Caps are a young team and have a bright future, but I don’t see these six defensemen as maturing enough to take this team to a title in the next two to three years. Even adding Karl Alzner up from Hershey, and he definitely needs to be brought back up now, won’t put this defense in a Cup winning position this year or possibly next. Mike Green and Alnzer provide a very good base for the blueline but neither guy is physical. The non-physical Tom Poti is clearly the best of the remaining five d-men but as for the other four (Shaone Morrisonn, Schulz, Milan Jurcina, and John Erskine) you aren’t going to deter any net crashing with them (Erskine is the most physical but also the worst skater).

So I say a prominent physical defensemen must be brought in to get this team over the top. #25 from Anaheim seems like the right fit if a halfway decent price can be had (possibly one of the young goalies, Tomas Fleischmann, a prospect like Chris Bourque or Oskar Osala and a draft pick?). Given that Anaheim has to move either Pronger or Scott Niedermayer now that they traded for Ryan Whitney from Pittsburgh last week, a good bargain could be available. Of course, guys like Pronger who have won a Stanley Cup are likely to be in high demand. But if Pronger goes to Boston, New Jersey, or Philadelphia then the Caps chances of going anywhere this season (or possibly even next since Pronger has one more year on his current deal) seriously diminish. So should the Caps stand pat or move their chips in and take a serious shot at going all of the way for the first time in franchise history? I’m saying the Caps should go all in.

Stay tuned, this is going to be an interesting Tuesday and Wednesday.

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Caps Beat Bruins , 4-3 in OT (Updated with Post Game Analysis)

Posted on 28 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The top two teams in the Eastern Conference faced off for their last meeting in the regular season at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston and the game lived up to the hype going into overtime for the second straight time. Alexander Semin, who has really been performing at a top level lately and has one of the best shots in the NHL, blasted one past Bruins goalie Tim Thomas from outside the blue line to give Washington the win just 23 seconds into overtime, a 4-3 victory.

Washington jumped out quickly to an early 1-0 lead on Nicklas Backstrom’s 17th goal of the season at 3:36 of the first period on a rebound of a Semin shot when they broke in three on two on the power play with defenseman Mike Green. But shortly thereafter the Bruins answered back on Matt Hunwick’s fifth goal of the season off of a pretty pass from Marc Savard, who was questionable coming into to Saturday afternoon’s contest (shoulder). After the early fireworks the play settled down with Washington carrying much of the play, outshooting the Bruins 12-9 in the opening period.

The second period started like the first ended, a tight checking affair, but Washington then took the lead for the second time in the game at 8:48. Defenseman Milan Jurcina did a great job of keeping the puck in the offensive zone after some great cycling by Washington tired Boston out and he fed the pass to Matt Bradley who quickly gave it to Alexander Ovechkin, who was tapping his stick calling for the puck, and the Great #8 snapped a beauty by Thomas. But as they did in the first period, the Bruins struck back quickly, this time only 18 seconds later, when Washington defenseman Tom Poti misplayed a puck giving the Bruins a two on one break against Shaone Morrisonn who allowed Savard to pass the puck to an all alone streaking Phil Kessel, who easily put the puck past Jose Theodore.

The play opened up from there (Boston outshot Washington 13-12 in the 2nd period) and Theodore made his best save of the game on Patrice Bergeron when #37 appeared to have an easy open net goal on a three on two rush only to see #60 slide over and make the save. Then it was Thomas’ turn as he stopped Brooks Laich on a clean breakaway. After two periods it was two all.

In the third period the Caps received their fourth power play of the day and they got lucky, much like Boston did to win the game the last time the two teams met in Beantown. Washington took their third straight lead of the game on a goal by Tomas Fleischmann, who was trying to pass back door to Ovechkin, only to see the puck hit a Bruins skate and go between Thomas’ legs for a 3-2 Caps lead with just 2:20 gone. Shortly thereafter Washington almost went up by two goals when Eric Fehr broke in all alone on a breakaway but Thomas robbed him and then miraculously got his skate on the rebound while Fehr crashed into the boards and appeared to be in terrible pain when shown on the bench.

With the Caps clinging to the lead they reverted to some bad habits and started amassing penalties again and with Backstrom taking a hook at 14:52, after Washington had just killed off an interference call on Laich, Zdeno Chara tied to the game on a sharp angle shot that Theodore would like to have back as it squeezed under his right arm. Down the stretch both goalies made some good saves before the game headed to extra time.

Notes: The Florida Panthers, who will play the Caps on Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center at 3pm, were drilled, 7-2, by the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon. Craig Anderson played in net for Florida on Saturday so the Caps can expect to get goalie Tomas Vokoun. Washington is now 15 points ahead of the Panthers in the Southeast Division going into tomorrow’s game. They trail the Bruins by eight points in the Eastern Conference but are only up two points on the Devils for second place.

Post Game Analysis: This was a very big win for the Caps as they went 3-0-1 against the Bruins this season. Theodore was very good for the most part but he did give up a goal to Chara that he should have had, but he made numerous huge stops today. I am pretty tired about hearing, as JP at Japers Rink is also based on his posts, that the Caps can’t win the Stanley Cup with #60 in net. The list of dissenters include Craig Simpson, Neil Smith, and Elliott Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada Radio and Matthew Barnaby of ESPN, just to name some of the critics. I haven’t heard him say it yet, but I have a feeling that Kelly Hrudey, the best analyst on Hockey Night in Canada Radio, thinks that Theo can do it (Hrudey helped Theodore resurrect his career last season in Colorado). I happen to think the Caps can win the Stanley Cup with Theodore in net assuming GM George McPhee adds some defensive help (I want Karl Alzner up now to prepare for the playoffs and another physical defenseman added at the trade deadline- Chris Pronger??) because it seems that there continues to be defensive breakdowns with this current crew of blueliners. The second Boston goal was a colossal serious of mistakes that teams just can’t make in the post season.

With the Caps winning today and the Panthers losing I think Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will, and should, play Michal Nuevirth in goal tomorrow. The Panthers are NOT catching the Caps and the last thing Washington needs is to wear Theodore out or risk an injury in back to back contests. Neuvirth has played well and #60 needs to be saved for the post season. I will be very surprised if you don’t see #30 in net for the Caps tomorrow.

Speaking of Hockey Night in Canada radio, several of the analysts are on the Devils bandwagon as the team they pick to win the Eastern Conference in the playoffs. With goalie Martin Brodeur back and looking strong it is a trendy pick but we still have Wednesday’s trade deadline that could help decide who has the most powerful team heading into the playoffs. The Caps actually match up well with New Jersey right now because the Devils are not big up front. Currently the Flyers are the one team the Caps don’t match up well with due to some of their bigger forwards like Scott Hartnell, Joffrey Lupul, and Jeff Carter. Throw in Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, and a soon to be healthy Daniel Briere and you see why I don’t want the Caps to have to face Philadelphia in the second round or beyond (they won’t have to play them in the first round because the Flyers are finishing fourth overall while the Caps will be in the top 3).

Michael Nylander was once again a healthy scratch. Hopefully he is moved on Wednesday but I don’t see it happening due to his hefty salary plus he has two more years remaining on his contract.

Boston out shot the Caps 37-32 this afternoon. The Caps were 2 of 5 on the power play and the Bruins were 1 for 4. The Caps did a good job of staying out of the penalty box until the third period.

By the way, Semin has had a good year but it has been a rollercoaster (primarily due to injuries). However, the last five games or so he really looks like the guy who led the league in scoring the first month of this NHL season and was a big factor in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Semin has been strong on his skates and is back checking fairly well. He isn’t making the bad giveaway and even though he took a penalty today it wasn’t really awful, in fact, it was a very questionable call (but that is what you get in Boston from the zebras). If he plays like this consistently then the Caps will have to give him big money after next season before he becomes a free agent. He turns 25 years old on Tuesday and he continues to mature. Sergei Fedorov is a good influence and mentor for #28 and he needs that oversight right now. It is amazing how mature Ovechkin is at only 23 and he helps with Semin as well.

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Caps Collapse to Lose to Flyers, 4-2 / NHL News

Posted on 24 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Lose Lead, Game to Flyers

The Washington Capitals, who were winners of 13 straight home games against Eastern Conference opponents, raced to an early 2-0 second period lead over the visiting Philadelphia Flyers before a third period collapse resulted in three Flyer goals in 3:19 and allowed their hated rivals to win another game at sold out Verizon Center. The Caps took nine penalties on Tuesday night, many of them of the lazy variety, and those infractions allowed the Flyers to get back in the game on a five on three power play in the second period on Claude Giroux’s fourth goal of the season, after the Caps dominated most of the first 30 minutes

Paul Devorski, who horribly refereed that Game 7 playoff loss last April with Don Koharski, was one of the officials again on Tuesday and he wasn’t very good as usual (the roughing call on Jose Theodore was absolutely horrible), but he wasn’t the primary reason Washington lost. The Caps can blame their inability to finish numerous scoring chances (I can’t count how many quality shots were fired high or wide) and a porous defenese that allowed the line of Joffrey Lupul, Jeff Carter, and Scott Hartnell to take over the game in the third period for this bitter loss. That line made the Caps defense look slow and soft at times and Jeff Schultz had one of his worst games of the season. If Washington meets Philadelphia in the playoffs there is no doubt that the Flyers will continue their tactic of crashing the net and hitting the Caps defense. Clearly this game has to be an indication that Caps GM George McPhee has to upgrade his defense at the trade deadline (March 4th) because it seems that every time Washington plays the Flyers they lay out a blueprint of how to beat the Caps with speed and power up front. Rookie Karl Alzner could help because he is a better skater but I have been unimpressed with recent acquisition Staffan Kronwall, who couldn’t even crack a poor Toronto Maple Leafs defense before being claimed by Washington.

As for the Washington offense, Alexander Ovechkin was once again the key guy setting up Nicklas Backstrom’s opening goal on the power play and then snapped home a bad clearing pass by Carter past Antero Niittymaki, who seems to own the Caps, to make it 2-0 Washington less than five minutes into the second period. But from there on out every time Washington got a quality scoring chance, and there were many of them at even strength, on the power play, and shorthanded (the Caps had several shorthanded breakaways), either Niittymaki (33 saves) came up big or Washington misfired (and it was mostly the latter case – Caps shots that didn’t even hit the net).

“The theme of the whole night is not cashing in on chances. You get five or six breakaways and you don’t hit the net on any of them, Brooks Laich might have hit the net on his, but everyone else missed the net. If you don’t get a score when you have the opportunity, eventually those opportunities dry up and the other team gets opportunities. That was pretty evident, I thought. They don’t hit the net in this game, goalies get confidence and when that happens and the other team picks it up because there are ebbs and flows in each game, the second goal [Scott] Hartnell scored and we came unglued a little bit,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the loss.

Caps goalie Jose Theodore made 33 saves and played pretty well but his defense let him down big time in the third period.

“I didn’t think anything was going to get by him until the second goal. The first goal, there was nothing he could do. He was left stranded in a five-on-three, but I thought he was outstanding the first two periods. If he doesn’t get any help, he’s not going to stop the puck,” finished Boudreau on his goalie.

The loss drops the Caps to 38-18-5 but Washington maintained its 13 point lead in the Southeast Division over the Florida Panthers who were drummed, 6-1, by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. After the Caps play Atlanta at home on Thursday they go to Boston on Saturday afternoon and then return home on Sunday to play the Panthers at 3pm.

Notes: The Caps play 13 of their remaining 21 games against Southeast Division foes. Defenseman Milan Jurcina only had 9:32 of ice time and continues to struggle to get his shot on net as they either get blocked or they miss the net. Ovechkin had 9 shots on goal. Forward Matt Bradley’s neutral zone breakdown allowed the Flyers to get started on their three goal outburst that won the game. In addition to Laich’s shorthanded chances, Backstrom hit the post on another shorthanded breakaway and Philadelphia remains the only team in the NHL to not allow a shorthanded goal. Philadelphia was without defenseman Kimmo Timonen (flu) and forward Danny Briere (groin) while the Caps were without forward Viktor Kozlov (groin). The Flyers were lucky tonight to keep the no shorthanded goals streak going and got the breaks to win the game (but the Caps needed to be stronger in their own zone).

NHL News

With only one game on the NHL docket on Monday night I got the chance to catch up with an NHL scout to get his thoughts on things as the trade deadline approaches on March 4th. Here are some of the highlights:

– Florida GM Jacques Martin, who the scout says doesn’t really know the players in the league very well, will likely ask for too much for free agent Jay Bouwmeester, who has turned down a contract extension in the Sunshine State. The scout sees Edmonton as a very logical fit for #4 but thinks Martin will want at least young forward Sam Gagner in return and he doesn’t see Oiler GM Steve Tambellini as being willing to part with #89.

– Ottawa will definitely move free agent defensemen Filip Kuba.

– Calgary will be making some moves because they recently lost forward Rene Bourque and defensemen Mark Giordano for the season due to injuries.

– When discussing Washington’s backup goalie situation the scout pointed out that many teams in the league are in the same boat as the Caps (i.e, if their number one goalie gets hurt they are in big trouble) but he also says that McPhee is playing that situation low key so as not to drive up the price for another goalie.

– The coaching change in New York will only have short term effects because the Rangers have their hands tied up with bad contracts in defenseman Wade Redden and forwards Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. The scout said that he sees Ottawa turning things around quicker than the Rangers can strictly because of the contracts and the salary cap.

– We discussed the Michael Nylander situation. The scout says noone will likely trade for him because of the high amount remaining on his contract so that leaves McPhee with two options after the season – send him to the minors or buy him out. The buy out seems to be the likely option and the terms on that are 2/3 of the remaining money can be spread out over double the remaining time on the contract. Since Nylander is due $9M over the next two years the Caps can buy #92 out at $6M spread over four years. That doesn’t seem too bad but it means that the GM basically will have to admit that he made a mistake signing him, although McPhee could use Nylander’s shoulder injury as an excuse for the drop off in the Swede’s play. I can’t see Nylander back with Washington next season.

FINAL NOTE: In case you missed my Tuesday 730am on-air session with Drew on the Comcast Morning Show you can hear it via WNST’s audio vault.

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