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Rangers stuff Caps in afternoon special

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Rangers stuff Caps in afternoon special

Posted on 25 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were on a two-game winning streak thanks to a renewed work ethic in victories on Monday and Wednesday. On Friday afternoon at the Verizon Center, John Tortorella’s New York Rangers club came in and schooled the Caps in the effort department en route to a 6-3 victory. Ruslan Fedotenko had two goals, high-priced free agent Brad Richards had a tally and an assist, and Ryan Callahan had three helpers as the Blueshirts top line went +3 in an impressive performance. New York is now 11-5-3 while Washington falls to 12-8-1.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from a contest that saw Washington revert to the form they displayed in their recent four game losing streak:

- When coaches talk about getting the puck deep and putting pressure on opponents’ defensemen being a key to success all one has to do is watch what Tortorella’s crew did to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s defense in this one. The Rangers aren’t a fancy team at all, they work hard, and on Friday they got pucks in behind the Washington net and just made the Capitals life miserable in their own zone. Dennis Wideman had what was probably his worst game as a Cap with five giveaways and he and his partner, Roman Hamrlik, were both -3 and benched after just two shifts in the third period. John Carlson and Jeff Schultz also had some misplays but those two, after a shaky first 25 or so minutes, rallied to be +1 for the contest. Washington’s best blue line duo was Karl Alzner and rookie Dmitry Orlov but you can’t win with one pair playing well for the whole game. What was hard to watch were how the mistakes seemed to keep on coming and many of the Capitals player didn’t move on from them and keep working, instead choosing to sulk and lose confidence.

“We’re getting too down. As soon as we get a goal scored against us it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world. It’s just one goal. It’s bound to happen every game. We’re killing our momentum by having them score and then giving up another one,” said King Karl when asked about trying to find ways to respond to quick goals allowed.

- After Wednesday’s victory over Winnipeg I talked about the Capitals excellent performance with puck support. On Friday, it was not good and the Rangers won the game on that alone. On the pivotal fourth Rangers goal, which came after the Caps had all of the momentum, Hamrlik needed to just take a strong step forward to push the biscuit outside the Washington zone but because his skates have resembled cinder blocks lately, he backpedaled and that allowed one of the Blueshirts lesser lines to score when Wideman got beat in the corner and then #44 couldn’t cover anyone in front of Michal Neuvirth (27 saves on 33 shots). Hamrlik is now a team worst -7 and likely deserves a game in the press box, if John Erskine is healthy enough to play on Saturday in Buffalo. Simply put the Rangers determination resembled the personality of their fiery coach in this tilt.

“I thought our forecheck was better and our back pressure was better. I thought we were up in fives and back in fives. It was one of our better games out of the past four or five…I thought we just played better defensively, it just doesn’t mean in our end zone. Playing away from the puck I thought we did a pretty good job of that…our whole focus was to play better away from the puck and tonight I thought we did,” said a pleased Rangers bench boss.

- Remember when the Capitals rallied from a 3-0 deficit to silence Madison Square Garden in game four of last season’s first round playoff series? Well when Troy Brouwer and then John Carlson scored midway through period two the Caps were in position to do that again. The crowd was really into it and the players seemed to be getting energy from the fans. Washington put pressure on the Rangers and Alexander Semin had a golden opportunity to tie it up but fired high on Henrik Lundqvist (18 saves). But Brian Boyle would score that key goal I mentioned above at 16:49 to really take the air out of the building and then just over four minutes into period three Wideman tried to do too much in the offensive zone and Richards got the fifth Blueshirts tally in transition.

“Not so much last year, I thought that was a big part of it when they scored those goals to get back in the game because it’s such a team that can score in bunches. I thought we handled ourselves very well. That’s a very important part of the game was not getting scored on again for it to tie. We found a way to score a couple. Nothing was said, we’ve had enough meetings the past couple of days to talk about how we need to play, we just went out, and I think they allowed themselves to play tonight. That is why they were skating, it was a more fluid game for us,” said Tortorella when asked about the quick Caps goals and if anything was discussed on the bench about it, especially given Washington’s big comeback from last year’s post season.

- As the Alzner quote hinted at above, this team is mentally weak right now. There are several guys who can’t hold it together when things go wrong. Semin is culprit #1. He once again took a LAZY penalty by putting his stick in Callahan’s gut instead of moving his feet and afterwards #28 was pretty much a no show. He took long shifts and only had 1 shot on goal following his hooking minor. He was -2 and on the Richards goal he didn’t backcheck hard after Wideman and Hamrlik made mistakes. In addition, the Caps had a 3 on 2 late in the middle frame and he stopped at the blue line, which allowed the Rangers to break up the rush easily. Somehow though, Semin had 47 more seconds of ice time than Alexander Ovechkin (1st goal at home in 2011-12, 8 hits, four shots on net)? This makes no sense to me. The Gr8 still has his poor defensive zone moments but his effort was good while Semin’s was terrible after his penalty at the 8:56 mark of the opening frame.

“Well he definitely was a main factor in our first goal and he scored the third goal. He set up a couple really good plays. If that’s getting him out of his little funk, then that’s a bright spot out of a not necessarily bright game,” commented Boudreau on his captain’s play versus New York.

- Speaking of bright spots, Orlov was my Caps first star. The young Russian logged 17:33 of ice time and was super solid with three hits and an assist. He also used his superior skating and positioning to spring Jason Chimera for a first period breakaway but King Henrik would not allow #25 to beat him again. #81 did have four giveaways but for his 3rd NHL game I thought he was fabulous and he has played better than Hamrlik, Schultz, and Erskine this week.

- In summary, a trend that was going up for Washington took a big nosedive on Friday. The work ethic and mental toughness of the previous two games went out the window. It will be up to the coaching staff and the team’s leadership core to get the club to re-focus and tackle a Buffalo Sabres squad that was beaten soundly (5-1) by Columbus on Friday night. So you can bet that Lindy Ruff’s crew will be ready to go on Saturday night in Buffalo. Will the Caps show some grit and desire and bounce back? Stay tuned.

Notes: Mike Knuble’s ice time was cut from over 20 minutes on Wednesday to just 11:57 on Friday. He was -1 and took a minor penalty…Neuvirth wasn’t very good in net but the skaters in front of him were worse…I expect Tomas Vokoun to start on Saturday and Washington needs a strong outing from him…Johansson had a brutal giveaway that directly led to the Rangers third goal but he worked hard on his next couple of shifts and played a big role in Carlson’s goal. Unfortunately MJ90 was saddled with Semin in period three and finished -3 on the night…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:11…the Caps were buried on face-offs, 37-28, with MJ90 losing 14 of 20 draws and Brooks Laich losing 13 of 19…Laich was put on defense in the third period when 6 and 44 were riding the pine and was on the ice for the 6th NY tally. Boudreau said afterwards that his move “backfired”…the Caps did have 40 hits to 28 for the Blueshirts.

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Chimera Wins It For Caps in OT

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Chimera Wins It For Caps in OT

Posted on 23 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Jason Chimera tapped home a great Dennis Wideman feed 1:52 into overtime for his second marker of the night to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thanksgiving eve. Chimera, who’s season high for goals is 17 when he was with Columbus (2005-06), now has eight in just 20 games (h/t John Walton). The hard working, up tempo victory for the Caps is their second straight win and improves their record to 12-7-1. They are 8-1-1 at home this season.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of the Caps 116th straight sellout at the Verizon Center:

- Oh, where to begin?! There were so many players that performed well on Wednesday that there is no doubt that this was one of the best team efforts of the season. The Caps were moving their feet and pressing the pace all 60+ minutes. It was a fast game and the Capitals showcased their speed. Their puck support and positioning was outstanding, for the most part. The team clearly built on the things they did right on Monday night and they used their size to wear down the Jets. The Caps were credited with 35 hits compared to 27 for Winnipeg and they outshot them 37-25 on the night.

“[The Capitals] played with a lot more emotion. They got energized by scoring early. They got energized by the crowd. They got energized by physical hits. They played hard and they played with some emotion to the game and it showed,” said Winnipeg Coach Claude Noel after the contest.

- Alexander Semin (1 goal, +2) was put in the press box on Monday night and he responded with arguably his best game of the season. He did not take a penalty and skated hard on every shift. He also scored the first goal after a super backhanded feed from Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist, +1, 5 shots on goal, 4 hits). John Carlson also should get credit there for a super long break out pass. It actually looked like #28 was having fun in this game and he appeared confident on the ice. He gets a chance to build on this strong performance on Friday, against a New York Rangers team he has historically owned.

“I think he was in the game today. He used his size [and] his skill. You can see how he was a little bit hungry today, ” said Ovechkin on the effort of his Russian teammate.

- In the post lockout NHL I maintain that there is no substitute for speed. Solid skating allows a team to gap up and support the puck, and Washington was very good at this in this game. Up front the Caps have several who are fleet afoot to include Chimera, Marcus Johansson (1 assist), and Cody Eakin but it is on the blue line where they have struggled recently without Mike Green. Since Dmitry Orlov has been called up from Hershey for the last two games, that has started to change. #81 is an outstanding skater and he was even better in his second NHL game. He had the hit of the night, a great hip check on Blake Wheeler, and he also got his first NHL assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal that made it 3-2. After 11 minutes and change against Phoenix, the young Russian blue liner received 14:31 of ice time and he was +1. The future looks really bright for the 2009 2nd round choice, who will make his share of mistakes, but his presence and speed has resulted in far more good than bad in the two games he’s been up in “The Show.”

- Jeff Schultz is a lightning rod for criticism from Caps fans and he has struggled quite a bit recently, however, the last two games he has upped his play and his breakup of a Winnipeg two on one tonight in OT directly led to the winning goal. #55 has had two straight solid outings. He only had 13:28 of ice time, but he was a +1.

- Washington’s penalty kill played a huge role in the victory as they successfully killed off an 80 second five on three penalty in the middle frame. Schultz, Brooks Laich, and Matt Hendricks did some great work, that included a long stretch where #21 didn’t have a stick. But Tomas Vokoun (22 saves) made some big stops during that time, including one on Nik Antropov in tight, to preserve the Caps one goal lead at the time.

“Big turning point in the game. I thought. You know it got the crowd really engaged in the game and it got the bench really up. They did a great job out there. [Assistant coaches] Dean [Evason] and [Bob Woods] Woody do the video with them. [Explaining] what to do and [what] the [visiting] team’s tendencies [are], but it’s something you can’t practice because it is all about blocking shots and the last thing you want your team in practice to do is break an ankle or something blocking shots,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the importance of that successful shorthanded situation.

- On the down side, Vokoun looked shaky at times and he was out of position on the third goal. He also caught a break when Evander Kane hit the crossbar shortly after the Jets tied the game at three. On the Jets first goal, Ovechkin made a bad decision to chase the puck in the neutral zone when Roman Hamrlik was already there and that led to a two on one break that Andrew Ladd buried. Winnipeg’s second marker came from a d-zone giveaway and then a fortuitous bounce that gave Kyle Wellwood an open net. In that instance Vokoun was a little overly aggressive going down on the original shot.

“It’s been tough with all kinds of rebounds going right to their [Winnipeg] sticks. They made a nice play on their first goal, two-on-one. The second goal, it goes right to their guy and he puts it in an empty net and before you know it they have two goals and have barely touched the puck. Those are tough games for goalies. We battled hard all game,” commented the Czech net minder on his evening.

- At the end of the night though, this was an even better victory for Washington than Monday’s against the Coyotes. The work ethic was there for the second straight game and the team was able to keep up a feverish pace for the entire contest. They still have some things to clean up, especially in their own zone with coverage, but overall they are definitely getting better and a big part of that is the skating, which leads to hits that wear an opponent down and puck support which creates turnovers and transition.

Notes: Mike Knuble appeared to give the Caps a 4-2 lead but his goal was washed out when the zebras ruled that Hendricks had incidental contact with Ondrej Pavelec (33 saves)…Kane has been a Caps killer over the last 7 contests between these two teams but tonight he was held in check. #9 went -1 in 18:49 of ice time with only two shots on net. Washington did a great job of shutting him down…Joel Ward was scratched for missing a team meeting (see Accountability)…Mike Green is still out injured and has not practiced with the team since going down 12 days ago…the Caps won the faceoff battle 31-26 with Jeff Halpern winning seven of his nine draws…Troy Brouwer had 10 hits…Zach Bogosian hit Eakin in the head in the second period with a hard shot up high. #4 made the hit with his arm tucked in but it looked like a head shot to me…the Capitals were 0 for 3 on the power play…Johansson’s hustle was a big factor in the OT winner as he beat a Winnipeg player to the biscuit, which cleared the way for Wideman (team leading 26:10 of ice time) to have an open lane in the slot.

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Caps Work Ethic Back in Win Over Coyotes

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Caps Work Ethic Back in Win Over Coyotes

Posted on 21 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After giving up two shorthanded goals to the Phoenix Coyotes to fall behind 2-0, the Washington Capitals roared back with a strong effort scoring four straight times and then hung on for a 4-3 victory at the Verizon Center. Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist and the Caps outshot the Yotes, 31-23, in a much needed win that snapped a four game losing streak. The Capitals are now 11-7-1 and will seek revenge against the Winnipeg Jets, who ripped them in Manitoba last Thursday, on Wednesday night in DC.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis of a win that was Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau’s 200th NHL victory:

- After two terrible efforts, this game was going to be all about work ethic and Washington brought that on Monday night. It is so important in hockey to move your feet and as result the Capitals had five power plays to just two for Phoenix in the game. In the first 40 minutes the Caps outshot Phoenix 25-12 but because of some problems on the power play, the Coyotes managed to be tied on the scoreboard. But anyone watching this contest could see that the Capitals had amped up their skating and were taking control of this one. Backstrom’s great individual effort outworking the Coyotes defensemen behind the net and then going to the top of the crease to bang home a Joel Ward shot gave Washington the lead just 1:52 into period three. The Capitals would then add a five on three marker from Brooks Laich to get a two goal cushion and set the stage for a much needed victory.

“Any kind of win, when you’ve lost the last four games in a row is what you want, so we’ll take anything… I am a firm believer that you get the breaks when you work harder then your opponent,” stated Boudreau on the victory that was aided by some good bounces on the first two Washington tallies.

- Alexander Semin, who had taken a minor penalty in seven straight games, has been a lightning rod for criticism over the last few years and tonight he was a healthy scratch for the first time in the post lockout era. It was a message sent to the player and the rest of the club that lack of effort will not be tolerated. Washington started winning the physical battles again and they also were getting to the front of the opponents net, something they did very well when they were rolling earlier in the season.

“He’s taken penalties seven games in a row. At some point you have to be accountable for your errors. I don’t like doing things like that to guys that are so talented. I thought it was a decision that had to be made for the group. Everyone is on alert and we’ve got to play the right way to be successful,” reasoned Boudreau on why #28 was planted in the press box on Monday night.

- Defensemen Dmitry Orlov (11:56 of ice time) had his NHL debut playing with the steady Karl Alzner and he did a nice job. He made some mistakes, including not clearing the front of the net on the third goal, but he moved the puck and doled out some nice hits (credited with three), including a solid neutral zone smash on rock eating Phoenix forward Shane Doan in the middle frame.

“I was very happy with him. He looked very composed. He did a great job, he didn’t try to do too much in his first game. He played smart. He took a lot in in the last 24 to 48 hours in English and he played it right,” said Boudreau on the Russian youngster who was the Caps second round pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

- Skating is so important in the NHL and the Caps have guys who can flat out fly in Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson, and Cody Eakin. Chimera was on a line with Laich and Mike Knuble and those guys wore down the Phoenix defenders. Knuble had a well deserved season high 20:47 of ice time. MJ90, Eakin, and Ward were downright dominant in the second period and they were a big reason why Washington won this game.

- The Washington power play still is a sore spot right now. Radim Vrbata scored on a breakaway when John Carlson tried a cross ice pass and #17 picked it off and went the other way to score easily on a frozen Tomas Vokoun (20 saves). Then at 7:34 of the second period Dennis Wideman hooked Lauri Korpikoski (two goals) on a shorthanded breakaway and #28 received a penalty shot. He easily beat the Caps netminder and at that point it looked like Washington might lose its’ fifth straight. But then a red balloon floated down towards the ice at the Verizon Center, perhaps as an omen, and the game started to turn. Carlson blasted one that was deflected by a Coyote en route to going by Jason Labarbera (27 saves) just a second after a Phoenix penalty ended and that energized Washington. Eakin then scored on a rush as the puck hit a couple of Phoenix players on the way into the cage. The problems on the power play for Washington stemmed from a lack of puck movement and shots but after the 2nd shortie they got the message and good things happened. On the five on three marker Troy Brouwer did a great job of screening at the top of the crease. The stats will show a 1 for 5 efficiency but it was really two for five, but of course they gave up the two shorthanded goals.

- Overall, the Caps just needed a win to get their confidence back. To me the biggest positive was the work ethic. They skated hard and when they did that they carried the play. I’d like to see them not be so passive when they get a lead late. Washington kind of hung back a little too much and Phoenix had a chance to tie this one up when they had no business still being in the game, at that point. The Capitals made some mistakes, but for the most part they got back to the basics of skating, winning the one on one battles, and getting to the front of the net. That is a recipe for success in the NHL. It was far from a perfect game, but if they bring that attitude and effort on a consistent basis they’ll find that they gain confidence and then the glaring mistakes become far less frequent because they are playing hockey the proper way.

“It’s one win, it was against a good team. They played hard. But when you are hopefully getting out of a funk it doesn’t go from low to high, it takes little steps. Hopefully on Wednesday we’ll be better than we were today,” finished Boudreau on a night the organization can breathe a little sigh of relief.

Notes: Alexander Ovechkin had 18:15 of ice time, was +1, and had an assist. He worked harder in this one but there is no doubt he can play even better…Matt Hendricks fought Kyle Chipchura late in period one and that seemed to send a spark through the Caps team…the face-off battle was a draw at 27 apiece but Backstrom went 8-5…Brouwer had his best game in weeks and led the team with six hits…Mathieu Perreault only played 6:51 but did draw a first period penalty…Wideman led the Caps in ice time with 26:18 logged.

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Caps Lose Late in Music City

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Caps Lose Late in Music City

Posted on 16 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

In a hockey game that had end to end action and two goalies playing at the top of their respective abilities, the Washington Capitals snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by giving up the winning goal with 24 seconds left in regulation. The Predators then hit the empty net and a Caps team that played hard for the large majority of the night and for the most part worked its’ tails off, will leave the Music City 3-1 losers. The loss drops the Caps to 10-5-1 and their next contest is Thursday night in Winnipeg.

Here are the highlights and analysis from an extremely entertaining game that had a very frustrating ending for Caps fans:

- Tomas Vokoun (28 saves) and Pekka Rinne (39 saves) put on a goaltending clinic for the first 55 minutes. Both teams had quality chances with some memorable saves being Rinne’s behind the back glove stop on Marcus Johansson in tight and Vokoun’s pad denial on Mike Fisher’s clean shorthanded breakaway. Rinne made several good glove saves but if the hard working Capitals were guilty of one thing, it was a lack of traffic on the Predators goalie. Vokoun can’t be faulted on the first goal, and more on that a little later, but on the second goal he was a little bit too aggressive and that led to a vacant cage for the game winner by Colin Wilson. Still, Vokoun played well enough to win but some guys let down after Washington took a lead with just under five minutes to go.

- I thought the Caps worked very hard and carried the play for the second and third periods and when Troy Brouwer beat Rinne with 4:46 left it looked like the Caps would take two points to the Honky Tonks on Broadway after this one. But Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau then made a personnel move he probably regrets. He completed the line change that put Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom out with Brouwer for the ensuing faceoff. In addition, blue liners Karl Alzner and Roman Hamrlik came off for Jeff Schultz and John Carlson. Yes, this was the way the rotation was working out, but that late in the game it might have been wise for Bruce, knowing that the Predators were going to come with massive energy, to put a checking line out against the Nashville top line. Instead, d-man Shea Weber (1 goal, 1 assist, +3) came pinching down the right side past his man, Ovechkin, and around Jeff Schultz, who was frozen like an orange road cone, and fed a streaking Martin Erat down the slot for the game winner. Both Carlson and Backstrom did not do their job to protect the center of the ice. It was a horrible shift by the players from perhaps a crew that shouldn’t have been on the ice at a critical time. The way the Jeff Halpern, Matt Hendricks, and Mike Knuble line was dominating play in the final period, they were the better choice, but hindsight is always 20/20. I’m sure Bruce will make a note of this and it will likely influence his thought process going forward.

- After that, the Caps had some more chances but Rinne did his job and then a game that should have gone to overtime, didn’t. John Erskine and Dennis Wideman got running around in their own end and when Erskine lost his stick, he became vulnerable. Vokoun then overcommited to Erat, who went around #29 to the side of the net and then niftily slid the puck to Wilson in the slot for a tap in. Game over.

- Despite the loss, there was a lot of good in this contest for Washington. They played hard and they skated well, except for the one shift that led to the tying goal. Joel Ward, playing on a line with Johansson and Cody Eakin, had a superb effort against his former teammates. Alexander Semin had his best game in a month, despite taking another lazy penalty (caused by reaching with his stick instead of moving his feet). #28 had some good chances in the first period but just couldn’t beat Rinne.

- Boudreau mixed up his defensive pairs with Mike Green still out due to a groin injury and with Hamrlik playing with Alzner, #44 had his best game in weeks. King Karl is quite the steadying influence. The other two d-pairs were the shakier ones. Wideman is so good he can carry a slower Erskine. Carlson has the speed to cover for the immobile Schultz, but he doesn’t have the defensive zone savvy to do it all of the time and ultimately it was that d-pair that was abused on the goal that turned the whole game around. Get well soon #52.

- So a great effort is rewarded with 0 points against a very good Nashville team. The entire team will likely have a tough time sleeping after this game. They deserved better, but then again, if you relax for one shift in this league, the talent level is so even that it will come back to bite you, and that is what happened on Tuesday night in Nashville.

Notes: Mathieu Perreault was the forward scratch…Ovechkin and Backstrom were both -2 (although the last one was an empty net goal)…Washington won the face-off battle, 33-29. Hendricks went 4-0 and Backstrom 11-7…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the PP, including about a half of a minute of 5 on 3 time. Nashville went 0 for 2 in 2:32 of power play time. Green did not travel to Nashville with the Caps, who practice tomorrow at 1pm CST at the Bridgestone Arena before departing for Winnipeg.

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Shorthanded Caps Lose in Shootout

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Shorthanded Caps Lose in Shootout

Posted on 13 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

On the last two Saturday night’s the Washington Capitals have raced out to 2-0 first period leads and on both occassions, they’ve ended up losing the game. This time, at least they weren’t defeated until the gimmick, losing to the New Jersey Devils, 3-2, when David Clarkson beat Michal Neuvirth (17 saves) in the fourth round. Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera tallied for the Caps in the first period but then the Devils got goals from Petr Sykora and Ryan Carter in the middle frame. After a scoreless third period and overtime the teams went to the shootout where Alexander Ovechkin and Zach Parise tallied before Clarkson’s game winner. The defeat drops the Caps to 10-4-1 (21 points).

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a contest that was not easy to watch:

- The shots on goal total in this one was 19-17 in favor of New Jersey. A combination of things conspired to make this a non-aesthetically pleasing tilt. First, the bad Verizon Center ice which was rough due to a concert on Friday night then a Georgetown basketball game on Saturday afternoon. Second, both teams played each other the night before in Newark and with the Capitals shortening their bench on Friday due to Mike Green’s injury and Alexander Semin and Cody Eakin’s benching they were tired. What added to the fatigue was the fact that Green couldn’t play and d-man John Erskine’s shoulder acted up, forcing him out as well. With Jeff Schultz back in on defense, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau chose to move Brooks Laich to defense to get six warm bodies on the blue line. That put Mathieu Perreault back in the lineup up front. But #85 had no jump and actually lost a key faceoff that put the Devils back in the game. As a result, he along with a fading Cody Eakin, didn’t skate in period three either (both had just over five minutes of ice time in this game). In addition, defensemen Roman Hamrlik left in period two with an undisclosed injury and did not return. Third, the Devils are very good at blocking shots but Washington was just out of sync for most of this game. Finally, throw in some poor officiating (Brian Pochmara, Mike Hasenfratz) and you had a recipe for bad hockey.

“I was starting to get a little tuckered at the end, but I think that when stuff like that happens when there’s injuries you just have to try to not push it too much, try not to get out of position, try not to get caught and conserve where you can. That’s a team that, no matter what, keeps on coming. Even if we got that third one, they would still be coming. They never give up,” said Caps d-man Dennis Wideman on the role of fatigue in the Caps defeat.

- The Caps came out fast in this one getting nine shots in the first 16 minutes (h/t @TedStarkey). They were skating well and going to the net early on. Chimera’s tally went in off of his shin pad on a John Carlson point blast while Brouwer stole the puck from Adam Henrique and scored on a breakaway. After that it seemed like Washington’s skates were being sponsored by a cinder block company because they looked really slow and for nearly 21 minutes between periods two and three they didn’t even have a shot on net! Late in regulation they started getting it together but old Caps nemesis Johan Hedberg (15 saves) robbed Brouwer and Jeff Halpern in the third period and then stoned an all alone Wideman from 20 feet out in overtime. The “Moose” was a big reason the Devils left town with the two points.

“It’s a double-edged sword.  Will you take a point? Yes. When you have a 2-0 lead, will you take a point? No. The goals that they scored were mistakes on our part. If we wouldn’t make those mistakes, it probably would have been a 2-0 game,” said Boudreau on Saturday’s result.

- Both the Caps and the Devils went 0 for 5 on the power play, although Chimera’s goal came right as Anton Volchenkov’s penalty was expiring. New Jersey’s power play looked better getting six shots on goal to Washington’s four. The Caps struggled to get set up with the man advantage and with Laich on the right point instead of Green, things just aren’t the same. Hopefully #52, who is listed as day to day, is back on Tuesday for the game in Nashville. If he can’t go and either (or both) Hamrlik and Erskine are out, Washington could recall 2009 2nd round draft pick Dmity Orlov from Hershey. The young puck rushing blue liner would certainly help the offense and the power play, but he is clearly still learning how to play defense in the North American game. The other left handed defense option from Hershey would be Patrick McNeill.

- Semin, in my opinion, didn’t respond too well to his benching on Friday night. #28 had one shot on net and no hits. He took another minor penalty and continued to not move his feet and shy away from contact. In the gimmick, he fumbled the biscuit and didn’t even get a shot off. I’ve seen enough in his time with Washington to see that things just aren’t going to change and General Manager George McPhee might be wise to just move him now since he is an unrestricted free agent after the season. Bottom line is I can’t see the Caps winning a Stanley Cup with the inconsistent winger on their roster. Boudreau wasn’t publicly harsh on him afterwards, but if he was unhappy with him, I doubt he’d say anything to diminish any trade value Semin might have.

“I thought he tried really hard. I mean, he got a penalty early, he went for the puck. That wasn’t a lazy penalty… I thought his effort overall, he tried really hard and he was engaged in the game,” said Boudreau on Semin’s performance in the loss.

- Neuvirth made some very good saves in this contest and can’t be faulted on either tally. He was very sound in his positioning, which helped him rob Sykora up high in tight in period one. He got beat by some nice moves in the shootout but overall was one of the better Capitals in this game.

- Ovechkin had a mixed bag of a night. He was skating hard and was a physical force on the ice (11 hits). However, he was terrible with the puck trying too many curl and drag moves instead of just firing the biscuit on net or getting it deep. Volchenkov did a nice job on the Gr8 in this tilt.

“I have opportunities to shoot the puck and score, but sometimes I make it too quick and make not good decisions. My job is to score goals, not to make hits. The second period I had probably three chances to score but I didn’t do the right thing,” said Oveckhin when asked to assess his play.

- So the Capitals get a point but they should’ve put this game away early in the second period. Now they head to the road for three games starting in Music City at 8pm on Tuesday against the Predators. Nashville is a gritty, grind out it out club that has super goaltending (Pekka Rinne). Coach Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the NHL so the Caps will have to play a lot better than they did this week if they want to get two points.

Notes: I wouldn’t be surprised if Eakin is sent back to Hershey, he looks overmatched right now and playing five minutes a game is not helping his development. I’d like to see Chris Bourque brought up if a forward is needed…Wideman logged 33:52 of ice time to lead all players. Carlson played 26:50 and Karl Alzner 23:34. Laich played over 23 minutes, including time at forward on the penalty kill. Hamrlik played 9:44 before leaving due to an injury that Boudreau said was caused by a New Jersey cross check (h/t Katie Carrera of The Washington Post)…Mike Knuble only played 12:04 and seems to be in the Boudreau dog house too…the Caps won the faceoff battle 35-33.

 

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Stars Outwork and Embarrass Caps, 5-2

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Stars Outwork and Embarrass Caps, 5-2

Posted on 08 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals six game home unbeaten streak came to a crashing halt on Tuesday night as the Dallas Stars came in to the Verizon Center and whipped the Caps, 5-2. The Stars got two early tallies from former Boston Bruins forward Michael Ryder and then Adam Burish, Jamie Benn, and Eric Nystrom scored in the third period. Michal Neuvirth (31 saves) took the loss in this one but he could pretty much sue for non support after this mess of a game. The Caps fall to 9-4 overall while the Stars are off to a great start at 11-3.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from what was easily Washington’s worst performance of the season:

- If Dr. Seuss were penning this blog this evening, he would only need to post three words: Stink. Stank. Stunk.

- Simply put, the Capitals were downright awful in this game. Their effort was lacking and it showed as they repeatedly were beaten to pucks, lost one on one battles, and were woefully out of position. Matt Hendricks was one of the few positives in this game as he worked hard all night, but when your best player is a guy who only had 12:19 of ice time and is a 4th liner, you know the rest of the guys were terrible.

- The problems for Washington start on the back end. The Caps are having trouble getting the puck out of their end with Mike Green out of the lineup. In addition, Roman Hamrlik has been struggling mightily and he was on for three of the five goals against. #44 looks slow and confused right now. On the game winner that came directly off of a faceoff just 24 seconds into period three, both he and John Carlson were two feet from each other in the corner leaving Nicklas Backstrom all alone in front. Carlson has been a victim of bad positioning too often this season. In addition, Jeff Schultz had a rough first period and his giveaway led to the first Dallas goal. Hamrlik and Schultz are not good skaters, and that is being kind, and teams are taking advantage of that right now. If Green can go this weekend against the Devils, that does change the dynamic since he will log 22 minutes or so, diminishing the amount of time some of the weaker d-men are on the ice.

- John Erskine was solid paired with Dennis Wideman in his third game back from shoulder surgery but he could be fined and/or suspended for an elbow he threw in the middle frame. If that happens and Green is not ready, then Dmitry Orlov could make his NHL debut on Friday night. At this point, I wouldn’t mind seeing the 2009 2nd round draft pick get a look because he can skate and move the puck and that is the area where Washington has struggled mightily since Green was injured.

- Despite all of the problems on the back end, the forwards were horrible too. There weren’t many hits and once again Alexander Semin took two careless stick penalties. The second one gave Dallas a power play and they scored to pretty much end this one at 4-2. #28 did have a nice goal off of a super feed from Backstrom, but overall he is flat out playing lazy. How much longer can the coaches and GM put up with these type of performances from him? In addition, the team captain was a non factor against a team he should dominate. Dallas is not a physical club but Alexander Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer need to have more than three hits each. Clearly, there was a lack of effort displayed in this tilt by Washington and Mike Knuble hinted at that after the second period in his interview with Craig Laughlin on Comcast.

“We came out with a little bit of a lack of intensity in the first period,” said #22, who after the game took those comments even further with some harsh words for his squad, “We look great when we’re all committed. We all look like a bunch of clowns when we don’t. Of late I don’t know if we’re all committed. It’s sad to say and we all look bad because of the result.” (h/t Brian McNally of the Washington Examiner).

- Knuble hit the nail on the head and things need to change because there is too much talent on this team to play this poorly. The Caps played about seven minutes of good, hard hockey late in period two to tie the game up, but you can’t win taking the rest of the contest off. I imagine Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will have a hard practice tomorrow to send a message because his team needs that right now, especially given his post game quotes below:

“We were fortunate to be tied at the end of the first two periods. We talked about playing one good period [third period]. In the first 15 or 20 seconds [in the third period] they scored a goal. We’ve lost a lot of battles in the third periods [in] the last two games. The compete level wasn’t as great as we’d like it to be. We have to get stronger in that area. We have to start winning those battles. The one-on-one compete is something that you should be taking a lot of pride in. When you look at when we were winning, we were winning [those] battles. When you don’t win the one-on-one battles, you’re not going to succeed. It’s an individual type [effort], as far as wanting to win those one-on-one battles. You could see, we lost a battle on the first, second and third goal [tonight]. They outbattled us for pucks.”

Notes: The Caps play a home and home series with the Devils that starts at “The Rock” on Friday night…Keri Lehtonen (30 saves) didn’t have to work to hard for the win for Dallas…surprisingly, the Caps won the faceoff battle 41-26, but winning the draw didn’t translate into good results. On the GWG they won the faceoff but four seconds later the puck was in their own net…Neuvirth wasn’t really bad but he did get too aggressive at times and that cost him on some goals, especially Ryder’s second tally.

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Caps Looking for Consistency After 9 Games

Posted on 30 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After nine games into the season, the Washington Capitals sit at 7-2 and in a familiar spot, atop the Southeast Division. On the good side the Caps are leading the NHL in scoring with 3.78 goals per game and their overall net difference in goals for minus goals against is a league leading +12. However, a team that finished in the top four in the NHL in goals against last season, after Saturday night’s 7-4 defeat in Vancouver, has fallen into a tie for 15th in goals allowed per game at 2.56. In the 27 plus periods the Capitals have played they have been really good at times, bad at others, and downright ugly in limited spurts. Basically they’ve played what I will call Clint Eastwood hockey:  The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Overall, one has to be pretty happy with this team. The off-season additions GM George McPhee made bringing in Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, and Jeff Halpern has given Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau four really good lines that at five on five have been quite dominant. On defense, free agent Roman Hamrlik has played very well with Mike Green when they’ve been paired together. In net, the steal of the summer, getting Tomas Vokoun for $1.5M, has been the biggest difference maker and despite a shaky first period last night, he is still 6-1 with a .932 save percentage.

Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are off to decent starts and the Gr8 has five goals and four assists while #19 has two goals and 10 assists. In addition, the Capitals power play is clicking at 25.7%, third in the NHL, and this is with top rearguard Mike Green missing the last two games, which no surprise have been losses (more on that in a minute). The addition of Hamrlik, not to mention that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was finally able to put both Green and Dennis Wideman in the lineup for the first time since #6 was acquired at last February’s trade deadline, has allowed Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason to move Ovechkin off of the point on the power play, for the most part. Alexander the Great already has two power play goals, both coming in the slot, and his presence down low has opened up lanes for other Capitals to score goals in man advantage situations. This is definitely a big development that could bode well for the remainder of the regular season and in the playoffs.

14 different Capitals players have scored a goal and a big reason for that is the depth of this team combined with a handful of forwards who have no problem going to the crease area to create traffic in front of opposing goaltenders. Brouwer, Ward, Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble, Matt Hendricks, and even Mathieu Perreault have paid the price to get Washington the type of goals that help a team advance in the post season.

The good has clearly definitely outweighed the bad and the ugly combined, but if you asked anyone around the team, they would likely tell you that there are plenty of areas where this team can improve. Consistency is the word you’d hear most from the coaches and players as to what is needed, especially with a tough three game stretch this upcoming week (Anaheim at home on Tuesday then road games in Carolina and on Long Island on Friday and Saturday, respectively). Throughout the course of the opening nine games this team has tilted the ice on their opponents on several occassions, but when they’ve struggled it has mostly been due to penalty trouble and mental mistakes. Here are some of the things the team might be concerned about and looking to correct:

  • In the current two game slide the Capitals have allowed four power play goals in 13 opponent attempts and the Canucks game winner came just seconds after Ovechkin’s interference minor expired. First off, the team is taking way too many penalties. Yes, some of those likely were incorrect calls, but in Edmonton the Caps didn’t adjust their game when the zebras repeatedly called stick infractions. Without Green, the Washington defense is far LESS mobile. The absence of the “One Man Breakout” leads to more turnovers plus it puts slower players like Jeff Schultz and AHL call up Sean Collins on the ice more often. Green also had some nice chemistry going with Hamrlik and #44′s play has regressed with #52 out. The two time Norris Trophy finalist, who also does a decent job killing penalties, is hoping to return next weekend from an ankle injury.
  • As Alan May (@MayHockeyCSN) has diagrammed on Comcast a few times this year, the Capitals have been vulnerable to being beaten on the back side of their defensive zone coverage. On Saturday in Vancouver, the second Canucks goal illustrated that perfectly as John Carlson found himself totally out of position on the PK. #74, with his d-partner Karl Alzner battling along the boards, was all the way over at the faceoff dot instead of being closer to the front of the net. That gave Chris Higgins the ability to receive the puck below the goal line, skate out in front of Vokoun, then gather his own rebound for an easy marker. The Caps last year were a better shorthanded team because they went to shorter shifts and became more aggressive, but they also played smart. Too many times this season, and even in pre-season, defenseman have been leaving their goalie “hung out to dry” with poor positioning.
  • Alexander Semin was arguably the Caps top forward in the first five games of the season but in the last four games he has one point (an assist), is -3, and has taken a penalty in each contest. #28 needs someone to get him the puck so that he can unleash his great shot but he also can blame himself for his poor play over the last 10 days or so. Semin has shied away from contact and his compete level has dropped off as evidenced by a total of five shots on goal in those last four tilts. The Caps need balanced scoring and they will not be a consistent team without #28 contributing. The loss of Green also hurts Semin’s production because he is a rearguard that opens up room for offensive players. It will be interesting to see if Bodureau changes things up and puts Semin with a new center this week, perhaps Perreault (5 points in 7 games and +6)  instead of Marcus Johansson? That isn’t to say that MJ90 has not been productive, he has three game winning goals, but for some reason he and Semin have not formed the necessary chemistry that a second scoring line needs, at this juncture.
  • The Caps are currently sitting at 27th in the league in faceoff percentage at 47.9%. Backstrom, Laich, and Johansson are the top three guys taking draws and they are 43.9%, 44.8%, and 38.5%, respectively. Halpern is fourth on number of face-offs and he is winning 65.2% of them so that is why you’ll often see him taking key d-zone draws. When you lose a faceoff, your opponent has the puck so that forces the Caps to go get it. I am sure Boudreau and company would much rather start with the biscuit so it will be interesting to see if those stats change as the year progresses.

In summary, the Caps are off to a good start at 7-2 and the Green injury played a large role in the two losses. Green earns an average of $5+ million a year for a reason but it is imperative that Washington find a way to prevent such a dropoff in their level of play when their leading d-men is out of the lineup due to injury. The work ethic wasn’t the big problem on this recent road trip but execution and hockey smarts were and those are controllable. Fortunately we are only one month into a six month regular season journey so there is plenty of time for the team to improve and make adjustments. More importantly, this team is much stronger on paper than it was last October 31st so there is a huge potential upside if the club works hard and sticks together.

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Green, Vokoun Lead Caps in Rout of Red Wings

Posted on 23 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Two undefeated hockey teams hit the ice at the Verizon Center on Saturday night but when the smoke settled it was the Washington Capitals who will remain the last team in the NHL with a perfect record as they blitzed the Detroit Red Wings, 7-1. The Caps once again rode the excellent goaltending of Tomas Vokoun (32 saves) plus Mike Green scored two power play goals and added two assists, despite taking a puck in the chin in the first period and getting several stitches, in the rout. The victory pushes the Capitals to a 7-0 record while Detroit falls to 5-1.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from a contest that saw 14 different Washington players get at least a point:

- As everyone knows, goaltending is huge in hockey. Vokoun was outstanding again while Ty Conklin did not fare well for the Wings. However, it is much harder to stop pucks when players are constantly in your face and that is what the Capitals did on Saturday while Detroit, who were missing Tomas Holmstrom, did not do in return. Therefore, it is natural that the Caps goalie had a better game. Conklin likely would want the fourth goal back, which came from Mathieu Perreault after the Wings net minder allowed a long blast from Matt Hendricks to trickle through his pads, but other than that one, he didn’t have a lot of help. Troy Brouwer (1 assist) continues to pay dividends going to the front of the net and he was screening Conklin on both of Green’s power play tallies.

“I’m sitting behind the bench and going that’s one fantastic team. The first 10 minutes, it came at you in waves. They are so fast and they know where everybody is. The difference was our goalie was better than their goalie tonight. I think they just ran out of steam, with their second game in two nights, in the second period,” said a humble and complimentary Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau afterwards. However, when he watches the film, I think he’ll see that his club paid the price in front of the net much more than Detroit and that is a good reason why his goalie performed better.

- As Boudreau mentioned above, the Wings did come out fast and they are a great skating team. But given that they played the night before, if Washington was able to weather the early storm, then I thought they would have a huge advantage being the fresher team. Detroit nearly scored first when Henrik Zetterberg set up Pavel Datsyuk for a great chance in front but when #13 made an extra move to try and tuck the biscuit by Vokoun, either the puck hit the skate of the Caps goalie or the Wings Dan Cleary. It was a break for the Capitals and they took advantage of that because I felt like they carried the play for the last 15 minutes or so of the opening stanza. That first period ended with Washington up 2-0 and Mike Knuble hit the post with three seconds left on the power play otherwise it would have been three-zip.

- Speaking of the power play and special teams, the Caps went 2 for 4 on the man advantage and that aspect of the game continues to get better for Washington. Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason seemed to have gotten the players to buy into a more simple approach by getting the pucks to the point and firing away with traffic in front. The addition of Brouwer really helps that and moving Alexander Ovechkin (2 assists, +1) off of the point has improved things too. With the Gr8 down low, either in the slot or on the half wall, the opposing team is paying more attention to him and that is opening up more point shots for the Caps. With both Green and Dennis Wideman in the lineup plus capable d-shooters Roman Hamrlik and John Carlson who can man the points, the power play is becoming much more dangerous. Besides Brouwer and Ovechkin the Caps have used Knuble and Laich in front as well. This also creates more room for Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist) to make plays and #19′s saucer pass to Green on the game’s first tally was a highly skilled thing of beauty.

- Detroit had their chances to get back in the game in the middle frame when Washington got into penalty trouble. The Wings only tally came on a 5 on 3 power play and shortly thereafter the boys from Motown received another 38 second five on three situation. However, Vokoun made a huge save at the side of the net and Detroit didn’t get any other opportunities since the Caps did a great job of keeping the Wings to the outside. It was some superb penalty killing by the Capitals that pretty much sealed the Wings fate in that second period.

“I thought the penalty killing was extraordinary. Even though it doesn’t show up, it was 1-for-4, and those two 5-on-3’s were difference makers. We took four penalties in about eight minutes there and it could’ve very well been 3-3 in a heartbeat,” said Boudreau about a critical stretch in period two, when Detroit was trying to get back in the game after trailing 3-0.

- The Perreault tally with seven seconds left in period two was the nail in the coffin for the Caps and the Wings pretty much mailed it in for the final 20 minutes. #85 had another super game and he scored his second goal, Washington’s sixth, from the slot right off of a faceoff win. Jeff Halpern and Hendricks (2 assists) got the helpers on that one. If Perreault can continue to provide energy and stay healthy, then he can be very effective playing 10 to 12 minutes a game for Boudreau and company.

- The final shot tally will say 33-25 in favor of Detroit but I thought that Washington, except for the opening five minutes and a 10 minute stretch in period two when the Wings had four power plays and generated six shots on goal, dominated the contest. The Wings are fast but the Caps, with speedsters like Marcus Johansson (1 goal) and Jason Chimera, were able to generate speed through the neutral zone and create many scoring opportunities. Yes, Vokoun was good, but this was a team effort and if the Capitals keep getting bodies to the front of the opposing cage while keeping the shooting lanes clear for their own goalie, then they are going to be a very difficult team to beat.

Notes: Detroit won the faceoff battle 34-29. MJ90 was 7-5, Halpern was 6-3, while Perreault went 3-1. On the down side was Laich at 6-14 and Backstrom lost 8 of 12 draws…Green led the Caps with 22:09 of ice time. He left for stitches late in period one, but even still, #52 is having to play less minutes because this roster is very balanced…Nicklas Lidstrom played in his 1500th NHL game on Saturday and had an assist…The Caps are off until next Thursday when they play in Edmonton.

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Ovechkin Helps Caps Smoke Flyers

Posted on 20 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Thursday night was slated to be another big test for the 5-0 Washington Capitals as they traveled to Philadelphia to take on the despised Flyers and the team passed with flying colors. Alexander Ovechkin had two goals and Tomas Vokoun made 40 saves as the Caps routed a Philly team that looked stunned by a hard working Washington squad. Mathieu Perreault, Roman Hamrlik, and Joel Ward also tallied for Washington while Claude Giroux opened the scoring with a breakaway goal and Sean Couturier potted a meaningless tally with 14 seconds left for the Flyers. The Caps are now 6-0 and will take on the currently undefeated Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The 4-0 Wings face Columbus at “The Joe” on Friday night before traveling to DC.

Here are the highlights and analysis of the Caps crushing win from the Philadelphia Greater Library Wells Fargo Center:

- Remember when the Washington Capitals were characterized as being a “perimeter” team? Not anymore. The off season additons of Troy Brouwer, Ward, and Jeff Halpern have helped give Bruce Boudreau more bodies to join Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble, and Matt Hendricks in front of opposing goalies and the work ethic of the new guys is rubbing off on the rest of the team. Oveckhkin scored the key goal in the contest by going to the net to bang home a Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists) wraparound attempt late in the first period and on every Washington tally they had players in front of Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (23 saves). On Ovechkin’s PP goal to make it 4-1, the Gr8 moved to the slot beating his old name calling friend Max Talbot to the prime shooting position and he quickly fired one by Bryzgalov with Brouwer providing a great screen. That goal was sandwiched around two other tallies with traffic in front in a 2:25 span that would soon send Flyers fans to the parking lot.

- There were portions of this game where Philadelphia carried the play, primarily in the middle frame, but Vokoun was solid in net and the Washington defense did a stellar job of keeping Flyers forwards away from the front of the goal. Mike Green was outstanding on the backline and he and Hamrlik are developing some nice chemistry. The Karl Alzner and John Carlson duo turned in their normal solid performance and Jeff Schultz (1 assist) had his best game of the season paired with Dennis Wideman. The Caps were only credited with 12 blocked shots on this night but that was because they had the puck for the majority of the game and also because they were doing a good job positionally, which allowed Vokoun to make his saves look routine.

- I’ve been talking about the resurgence of Backstrom and #19 was outstanding on Thursday. He looks a step quicker this year and his upper body strength is much greater than it was in 2010-11. I am really liking Brouwer up on that top line as Ovechkin and #20 can pound opposing defensemen, which allows Backstrom to have more room and make plays.

- Alexander Semin didn’t have his best game giving away the puck in a 4 on 4 situation in the first period that led to Giroux’s breakaway marker. #28 was -2 with only 1 shot on net but the Caps didn’t need him in this one. #28 had been very good in the first five games this season but had an off night on Broad Street.

- Ovechkin was called for a questionable interference penalty when he blew up Talbot behind the Caps net shortly before Giroux’s goal and a Backstrom tally was also wiped out due to incidental contact by Ovie on the Flyers cage minder. In addition, Laich was blatantly cut up high twice but the zebras, Tim Peel and Kevin Pollock, only called one of them as a double minor. The good news on this night was that Washington was so good as a team they easily overcame a couple of referees who seem to be watching another channel, and I am being nice there.

- So what looked to be a tough tilt, and Bryzgalov has historically been trouble for the Caps, turned into a laugher for Washington. The Caps hopefully continue to learn that opposing goalies can’t stone you if you keep going to the front of the net. With the big, hard working forwards Caps GM George McPhee has assembled on this year’s club, the offensive numbers should go up after a down 2010-11 in Washington. This is a very good Capitals team that is coming together nicely. It is only six games in, and there are plenty of areas to continue to improve in (such as second period long line changes), but this start is unlike any other in Caps history. This team has three solid d-pairs and four good sets of forwards and that allows Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau to basically roll the lines, something that should pay dividends in the spring.

Notes: Halpern was 6-1 on face-offs while Hendricks was 3-0…#26 had the shot block of the night taking one right on the crest in the second period. Rumor has it Hendricks eats “Quarry” for breakfast…Perreault had a nice night with a goal and an assist in 12:01 of ice time. He was also 4-3 on face-offs…the Caps lost the face-off battle 31-28 (Johansson was 2-8)…the Caps were 1-6 on the power play and they were 2-2 on the penalty kill…Flyers center Bryaden Schenn, who belongs in the AHL at this young age, was -3…Jaromir Jagr was a total non factor in the game, perhaps he was thinking about his NFL picks this weekend?…Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Vokoun were the game’s three stars as chosen by the Philadelphia media.

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Vokoun Helps Caps Reach 4-0

Posted on 15 October 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals raced out to an early 2-0 lead midway through the first period on goals by Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson and then once again rode the excellent goaltending of Tomas Vokoun (33 saves) en route to a 2-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators. This victory, the Capitals first in regulation in the 2011-12 campaign, improves their record to 4-0. This is the third time in franchise history they have started with four straight wins (1991-92 and 1997-98). The Caps are now 3-0 at the Verizon Center this season after Saturday night’s win.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the 109th consecutive home sellout:

- Vokoun once again bailed his teammates out, like he did on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. He continues to be solid with his positioning and make the big save despite still trying to figure out how his skaters are going to play in front of him. He still has had some adventures playing the puck and the communication with his defenders is not totally worked out yet. Still, if he isn’t in goal these last two games Washington likely loses. The Caps have to be encouraged by the 35 year old Czech’s ability to find ways to win games for his team.

“The one that he stopped on [Milan] Michalek – We have a great shift going and then all of the sudden the puck is sitting there. It’s nobody’s mistake, somebody thinks somebody’s taking it somebody else, and then he gets a breakaway. It’s not us playing badly…it was just a miscommunication and Tomas [Vokoun] came up big and he came up big in the last 20 seconds,” said Boudreau on his club and his goaltender.

- Washington outshot the Senators 14-8 in the first period and dominated the first 19 minutes of the contest. However, a terrible giveaway by Dennis Wideman in his own zone and then some poor play by Roman Hamrlik and the Washington forwards led to a goal for Ottawa with just over 25 seconds left in period one.  From then on out, the Senators seemed to have extra jump and in the middle frame they were all over the Caps outshooting them 12-4. The Capitals did too much watching and not enough skating in that period and an inferior opponent made them look bad, but fortunately for Washington, their goalie held the fort. In the third period, the Capitals had a little more jump but still, they were outplayed by Ottawa and outshot 14-8. Afterwards, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau credited Ottawa for their hard work, and rightly so. But my issue is with the Caps play. It was unacceptable and if they can’t out work a team like Ottawa then there has to be some concern, especially when all we’ve heard the Washington players talk about since training camp opened was being the team that won the work ethic battle each night. In the last two games, including a tilt against hated rival Pittsburgh, the Capitals have been crushed in the effort department.

“They are not satisfied and that’s great. If we thought we were king of the world right now then it would probably be a little bit more difficult. It’s a tough league, whoever you play. You can say what you want about Ottawa, but they were a very motivated club tonight and they played very hard,” said Boudreau afterwards about a Senators team that responded well after being drilled 7-1 by Colorado in their last start.

- Ottawa came into this contest ranked first on the power play so a Capitals priority was to stay out of the box on Saturday night. The only penalty called on Washington was on Karl Alzner in the first period, and that was a questionable one, but the Caps killed it off. Washington received three power plays in the first 25 minutes scoring on their first one. Mike Knuble (2 assists) worked the puck out from behind the net, fed Alexander Semin at the left post, and #28 made a super cross crease pass to Backstrom for an easy tally. On the next two power plays, the Caps struggled to get things set up so they finished 1-3 on the night. It was encouraging to see Alexander Ovechkin off of the point on those three manpower advantages as Mike Green, Wideman, and Hamrlik manned the blue line in those situations. The power play still needs work but it is improving.

“We didn’t want to take any penalties against them and didn’t do that. We had some chances to break it open but we didn’t do it. In the clutch, we did what we had to do. Not every game is going to be beautiful and the other team wants to win too,” added Boudreau.

- Hamrlik has been mostly paired with Green and on paper should be an upgrade in the mobility department over #52′s old d-partners, Shaone Morrisonn, Jeff Schultz, and Scott Hannan. However, #44 is not as good of a skater as I first thought and has looked shaky in the last two games. He and Wideman, as mentioned above, were out of sync on the Ottawa tally. It is only October so hopefully the 38 year old Czech, who is -1 through four games but has been on the ice for 7 of the 11 goals the Caps have allowed (h/t  @JapersRink), finds his legs and improves once he gets more experience playing with Green and the other Washington defenders.

“The more you play, you get some confidence and you feel better out there. The other five defenseman on our team, they are good players; they can move the puck. I am getting used [to] the guys,” said Hamrlik following the game. #44 played in his 1,315th career NHL game, passing Bobby Holik for the most NHL games played by a Czech native.

 - At the end of the day, a win is a win and those two previous Capitals clubs that went 4-0 did have a lot of success, so that bodes well. One went to the Stanley Cup Finals (98) and the other blew a 3-1 first round lead to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in the first round following a super regular season. That was a very talented Capitals team that came very close to beating a loaded Pittsburgh club. Goaltending was the difference in that 1992 loss, but the Caps just might finally have a big game goalie now, like they did with Olie Kolzig in 1998.

Notes: Forward DJ King received his first start of the season with Jay Beagle being kept out for precautionary reasons after getting hurt in his fight with Arron Asham. King was pointless but even in nine shifts and 6:58 TOI…Johansson’s goal was a beautiful individual effort and the young Swede used his speed to sneak a wraparound tally by Alex Auld (24 saves)…Washington lost the faceoff battle, 33-28. Jeff Halpern was 3-2, the only Cap that was above 50%…next up for the Caps are the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center…Owner Ted Leonsis noted that the Caps are putting 400 individual tickets on sale online before each game to give fans who can’t afford season tickets access to the team for games. That is a great idea given that the team sold out all season tickets and now have a waiting list…the Hershey Bears had a chance to start 4-0 as well but lost in OT to the Norfolk Admirals, 6-5, in the home opener at the Giant Center. Braden Holtby made 22 saves in the loss. Keith Aucoin had four assists and Chris Bourque had a goal and was +1. Bourque had five points in a 7-5 victory in Norfolk on Friday night.

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