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Caps Select 4 on Day 2 of NHL Draft

Posted on 26 June 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Press Release from the Capitals:

The Washington Capitals selected right wing Stanislav Galiev, goaltender Philipp Grubauer, center Caleb Herbert and defenseman Samuel Carrier on the second day of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, held Saturday at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

That group, along with first-round selection Evgeny Kuznetsov, gives the Capitals a five-player draft class, matching the smallest in Capitals history (1979). Washington traded two picks (fourth round, 116 overall, and fifth round, 176) to Toronto for a fourth-round pick (112 overall), which it used to select Grubauer.

Galiev, taken with the 86th pick, was the 20th-ranked North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. He had 60 points (15 goals, 45 assists) in 67 games for the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) and led all QMJHL rookie scorers in the playoffs with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 21 games.

Grubauer, a German-born goaltender who split this past season with Belleville and Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League, led Windsor to the Memorial Cup (championship of the Canadian Hockey League). He posted a 23-15-2-5 record with a 2.86 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage. Grubauer also led Germany to the gold medal in the second division of the World Junior Championship, elevating the Germans to the top group for 2011.

Herbert recorded 55 points (26 goals, 29 assists) in 25 games for Bloomington-Jefferson High School in Minnesota in 2009-10. He expects to play in the United States Hockey League next season before attending college.

Carrier, a native of Laval, Quebec, scored 10 goals and added 32 assists in 66 games for Lewiston in the QMJHL this past season. He led Lewiston defensemen in scoring and saw his point total jump from nine points (four goals, five assists) in his first year with Lewiston.

COMMENTS: When Caps GM George McPhee was asked on Friday night, after Washington selected Russian center Evgeny Kuznetsov, if his scouting staff had a preference for Russian players, the GM stated that his club simply followed their list and took the best player available when it was their turn to draft. So why so many Russians? Well, they are very talented hockey players but some teams are afraid to risk taking them for fear of them not coming over to North America to play. Fortunately for Washington, they have a key ingredient that is sure to provide any drafted Russian hockey player with a reason to come to DC to join the Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin. So when teams pass on these highly skilled players, they remain on the board and when it comes time for the Capitals to select, it is quite often that a Russian is at the top of their list. Makes sense, right?

But is it a good strategy to keep drafting so many Russians? Some will argue that it is hard to win with them but off the top of my head the following players from Russia have all won Stanley Cups: Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Slava Kozlov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Alexei Kovalev, Sergei Nemchinov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, and Sergei Gonchar (the full list can be found here). Detroit had a ton of success with that recipe in the late 1990’s winning titles in 1997 and 1998, so to say the Capitals method of building a team won’t work is pure speculation.

As for the Grubauer pick, some will wonder why Washington traded up to take another goalie when they already have young net minders Semyon Varlamov (22), Michal Neuvirth (22), and Braden Holtby (20) in the organization? McPhee told Mike Vogel over at Caps 365 that his scouting staff really liked him and they had the Windsor Spitfire slated as a 2nd rounder. Thus when he was still on the board in the 4th round, the Caps brass felt it made sense to go after a player they rated as a blue chip propsect and added to their goaltending assets. Competition is a good thing and having seen this kid play during the Memorial Cup, it was definitely the correct move. Grubauer is a winner and despite the fact that he had a super strong team in front of him, he still made the big saves when he needed to, unlike say an Evgeni Nabokov, now formerly of the San Jose Sharks. The bottom line is you can never have too many good players, especially young ones, in a salary cap driven NHL.

Here is the complete 2010 Capitals draft class:

Rd.        No.          Name        Pos.  Ht.        Wt.         Shoots        Birthday       Birthplace             Team

1    26    Evgeny Kuznetsov C   6’0”  172   L   5/19/92   Chelyabinsk, Russia   Chelyabinsk Traktor (KHL)

3    86    Stanislav Galiev  RW   6’1”  178   R     1/17/92   Moscow, Russia    Saint John (QMJHL)

4    112  Philipp Grubauer  G   6’0”  180   L   11/25/91 Rosenheim, Germany    Windsor (OHL)

5    142  Caleb Herbert   C   5’10”   180   R  10/12/91  St. Paul, Minn.  Bloomington-Jefferson HS

6    176  Samuel Carrier  D  6’1”  186   R    4/28/92   Laval, Quebec    Lewiston (QMJHL) 

All draftees have been invited to attend Caps development camp, which begins on Monday, July 12 and runs through Saturday, July 18 at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston, Virginia.


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Caps Blast Blackhawks, 6-2, in Pre-Season Game

Posted on 23 September 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-2, on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. I was unable to attend the contest so if you want a couple of good takes on it click here as well as here. Also, below are some bullets on the game and some post game quotes from Alexander Ovechkin, Mike Knuble, and Head Coach Bruce Boudreau courtesy of the Caps outstanding Media Relations department:

* Mike Knuble scored two goals 2:16 apart in the first period; he leads the Caps with three goals in the preseason.
* Alex Ovechkin assisted on Knuble’s second goal of the game to register his first point of the preseason and added two goals in the second period.
* Nicklas Backstrom registered two assists tonight to tie Alexander Semin for the lead on the team with four assists and tie for second in the NHL (entering tonight’s game). Backstrom also scored a power-play goal in the second period.
* The Capitals gave up their first power play goal in the second period. After starting the preseason 14-for-14 on the penalty kill, the Caps are now 17-for-19 (89.5%).
* Four Caps players recorded three points tonight – Knuble (2g-1a), Ovechkin (2g-1a), Backstrom (1g-2a) and Semin (3a).
* After scoring only one power play goal in the first three preseason games (1-for-12) the Caps scored three tonight – Knuble, Ovechkin and Backstrom – and are now 4-for-18 (22.2%).
* Defenseman Tyler Sloan recorded his first point of the preseason, a goal, in the second period.
* Semyon Varlamov stopped 26 shots and is now 2-0-0 with a 2.48 goals-against average in two preseason games.
* This is the Capitals first preseason game of the year that hasn’t been decided by one goal, with the first two games decided in overtime.

Capitals Forward Alex Ovechkin

On the addition of Mike Knuble …

“He’s great and you can see how he works. He’s good for us and we’re happy. We’re lucky we can get him here.”

On the defensive play in the contest …

“We had great defense. It was good. I think we were fresher than Chicago and this was the result.”

On the start of the regular season approaching …

“We still have one week and we still have to work. We still have to get ready for our game against Boston and two against Toronto.”

Capitals Forward Mike Knuble

On a seemingly easy transition to the Capitals …

“I think as a player, you’re never happy with your overall game. You always feel like you can do better – practice better and be a better all-around player. I can’t sit back now and say, ‘I got a couple of goals and figure everything is okay. I can just cruise now.’ You always want to work harder to never let the other guys down.”

On keeping the power play simple in tonight’s game …

“It looks nice to snap it around the outside, but you have to take it to the front of the net at times.  We had some pretty goals tonight, but that 5-on-3 goal we just bounced the puck across. It’s not going to be pretty all the time though. I think when you can back teams off with that fear of your skill … they aren’t going to know what to do. You’ve got to have middle presence and have shots at the net.”

On the skill of his Capital teammates …

“As a player, you’re excited playing with those guys because you know it’s coming anytime and they’re all gifted. The puck starts flying around and it’s spinning like a top down there. It’s got to come to the front of the net eventually though and you hope it hits your stick or something like that. Sometimes you don’t even see it coming. You just have yourself planted there.”

Capitals Head Coach Bruce Boudreau

On getting the rust of out before the regular season…

“Every first game takes them (veteran guys) a little while to get into the flow. I thought those three guys (Capitals forwards Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom) were a lot better today. And when they’re good, they’re pretty fun to watch. They’re a line that I don’t think will stay together for 82 games. But, when they’re on and not just looking for each other to be fancy, they’re a pretty unique, skilled line.”

On the play of Capitals forward Mike Knuble…

“He’s a meat and potatoes guy. Coaches love guys like that. He has a scoring touch. He goes to the net. It’s an element, other than Alex (Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin) that we really didn’t have last year. No disrespect to Feds or Viktor (former Capitals forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov) but it’s something we haven’t had here in Washington.”

On the play of the Capitals defensemen…

“The 10 defensemen we have here are pretty good defensemen. All 10 are capable of playing regularly in the NHL.”

On the Capitals goaltending and the play of Semyon Varlamov…

“Varly’s (Varlamov) got a good chance of being here. I thought in the third period, Varly kept his head. He controlled the rebounds. It gave our guys a rest and [we were] able to get a line change.”

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Caps Sign Brendan Morrison (UPDATED)

Posted on 10 July 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have signed unrestricted free agent center Brendan Morrison to a one-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

A 5’11”, 181-pound native of Pitt Meadows, British Columbia, Morrison has had 50-plus points six times, including four 20-goal seasons. He has played 755 career games with four teams – Dallas, Anaheim, Vancouver and New Jersey – spanning 12 NHL seasons. Morrison has 175 goals and 330 assists (505 points) in his NHL career, with career highs in goals (25), assists (46) and points (71) coming in 2002-03 with the Canucks.

Morrison, who will turn 34 on Aug. 15, split last season between Anaheim and Dallas, posting 16 goals and 31 points in 81 games. He had 32 penalty minutes and a +3 rating. Morrison played 542 consecutive NHL games from 2000-07, but was hampered by injuries the past two seasons.

Morrison’s best seasons came as a member of the Canucks, where he amassed 393 points in 543 games from 2000-08 and was among the team’s top five scorers for six years in a row. He has consistently been a plus player, with a career rating of +55, and has 47 power-play goals, seven shorthanded goals and 38 game-winning goals to his credit.

A second-round draft choice of New Jersey in 1993, 39th overall, he earned AHL All-Rookie Team honors as a member of the Devils’ affiliate, the Albany River Rats, when he led them in scoring in 1997-98.

Morrison won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top college player in 1997 (the same award McPhee won as a player at Bowling Green) and led Michigan to the national championship in 1996. He led the nation in scoring three times for the Wolverines, collecting 102 goals and 182 assists (284 points) in 155 games. Morrison was a teammate of recent Capitals signee Mike Knuble for two years at Michigan and again with Linkopings in Sweden in 2004-05.

COMMENT: As everyone knows the Caps needed a second line center and it appears McPhee has gotten his man. Depending on the money involved I think this is a good signing. Morrison was once a member of one of the best lines in hockey in Vancouver with Marcus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, and Morrison. The Caps lost Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov and have replaced them with Morrison and Mike Knuble at likely less money than last season (they paid a combined $6.5M last year for those two players and with Knuble at $2.8M and Morrison no more than that – he made $2.75M last season and definitely took less money from the Caps – McPhee has saved salary cap room). Washington has arguably upgraded the talent level, although Fedorov’s leadership and experience is a tough thing to replace but he was injury prone, with these two signings. The key with Morrison will be his health. He badly injured a wrist that snapped a 542 consecutive game streak and then he tore his ACL during the 2007-08 season. The former first line center of one of the best lines in hockey has struggled to regain his form since then.

UPDATE: TSN is reporting Morrison signed for $1.5M for one season. Here is some of the info and quotes from the TSN article:

He played in 542 consecutive games from 2000-07, but he has since had four surgeries — wrist, hip, sports hernia and torn right ACL.

He was limited to 39 games with the Canucks during the 2007-08 season, moved on to the Ducks for 2008-09 but was waived in March and claimed the next day by the Stars.

He finished the season with 16 goals and 15 assists in 81 games between the two teams.

Morrison said he “could barely get up and down the ice” for much of the season.

“I thought I felt good and I thought I was healthy, but my legs didn’t start coming around until probably the three-quarter mark,” he said.

He said he’s now back at full strength for summer conditioning.

“He has a clean bill of health,” general manager George McPhee said, “and is committed to coming to camp in great shape. We think he could really flourish here.”

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Caps Sign Knuble; Brashear to Rangers (Updated with Interview Quotes)

Posted on 01 July 2009 by Ed Frankovic

TSN is reporting that the Washington Capitals have signed free agent forward Mike Knuble from the Philadelphia Flyers for two years at $2.8M a season. Knuble is a big forward who excels in front of the opponents net, something the Caps really need. In addition, TSN is reporting that former Capitals enforcer, Donald Brashear, has gotten big money, $1.4M a season for 2 years, from the New York Rangers.

I’ll have more on this as details come out.


We just finished the conference call with both Caps GM George McPhee and Knuble. Here are the highlights:

– It appears Knuble will be on the Washington top line as McPhee said that the Caps needed a player that can go the net with Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Ovechkin. George commented, “Mike has made a living there going to the net.”

– On the process and why he picked Knuble, McPhee said, “We had 4 or 5 wingers identified and we rank them internally. We went through everything and found he is the right guy for us and it was the right deal for him. We wanted to add a guy today and we replaced a 13 goal scorer (Viktor Kozlov) with a 27 goal scorer. All of the research we’ve done said this is a real ideal free agent signing for us.”

– When asked if the Caps were now done in free agency McPhee replied, “Probably, but if something makes sense then we’ll do it. We’ll probably talk over the next couple of months with other teams to see if there is anything else we can do.”

– George was also asked if because of the salary cap situation that Brooks Laich would now be the #2 center going into the season and he said that was the case and that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau had discussed it with #21. McPhee also said that Laich had asked to play that position before with Washington.

– I asked McPhee about the Colton Orr (4 years at $1M per season) and Brashear signings and if you just need a tough guy/enforcer for the regular season and not the playoffs. Here are some of his quotes on that topic: “Those are good deals for those guys. Brash did a great job here for us for the last 3 years…salaries for tough guys have gone down…Sometimes in parts of the season, in about 10 games, you need them but most parts of the season, in the big games, you would rather have talent.”

– Mike Knuble indicated that he was negotiating right up until yesterday with the Flyers in the hopes of staying in Philadelphia. “The Philly thing didn’t end until yesterday so you just pick your head up out of the sand and look around. I wanted to stay on the east coast and [DC] is a good city, one of the teams in the Eastern Conference, and a team on the verge of something great, so Washington is a good fit.”

– Knuble, who has played on a line with the likes of Peter Forsberg and Joe Thornton, was asked about playing with the Great #8. “It is a great chance to play with that guy and there is no guarantee that I will mesh with him but I have confidence I can.”

– The 6’3”, 230-pound right wing, who will turn 37 on Saturday and has scored at least 21 goals in each of the last six seasons in addition to playing in 3 games for the Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings in 1998, considers himself to be a young 37. He said that he has “low mileage because he really didn’t start playing on a regular shift in the NHL until he was 30.”

– Finally, when asked how he would fit in with the Caps he said, “I’m not a solution, just a piece to the puzzle. I’m really looking forward to a great season and I think the team is ready to take the next step.”

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Caps Update and NHL News

Posted on 30 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Update

When the clock strikes midnight tonight it is Canada Day and with that comes the start of NHL free agency. Today Caps GM George McPhee mentioned that he didn’t see Washington as being a big player in that arena because of the lack of success the Caps and most teams have had in free agency as well as his team’s salary cap situation. The Caps do have needs going into next year if they want to win the Stanley Cup and I list them in the following priority order: second-line center, a first or second line power forward that goes to the net, and a physical defenseman.

Last weekend the Caps drafted Swedish center Marcus Johansson with their first round pick, 24th overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. This was the third time in the last four years that Washington has selected a center from Sweden with their first selection. Last year they took center Anton Gustafsson, son of former Cap Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, and in 2006 they selected Nicklas Backstrom with the fourth overall pick in the draft. Backstrom is already one of the best centers in the NHL while Gustafsson has struggled to get onto the ice back in Sweden due to injuries.

I spoke with another NHL team’s scouting director this evening and he said that he thought Johansson was a good pick by the Caps and will likely be a 3rd or 4th line center in the NHL. Considering how much of a crap shoot the NHL draft can be this doesn’t seem to be a bad scenario for the 24th overall pick. The scout also said that Johansson is definitely better than Gustafsson.

Forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov are already gone from this past season’s Caps roster and it appears enforcer Donald Brashear won’t be back either. The Caps also qualified eight players yesterday in Chris Bourque, Eric Fehr, Boyd Gordon, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn, Steve Pinizzotto, Jeff Schultz and Kyle Wilson while they did not extend offers to Andrew Joudrey, Daren Machesney, Travis Morin, and Sasha Pokulok. Pokulok was the 14th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft so he has definitely reached bust status.

NHL News

Last Saturday morning the Calgary Flames traded with the Florida Panthers for the right to negotiate with superstar defenseman Jay Bouwmeester sending the Cats unrestricted free agent defenseman Jordan Leopold and a 3rd round pick. That move has definitely paid off for both the Flames and Bouwmeester as they have agreed to a reported five year deal worth $6.6M per season. This certainly gets Calgary back in the elite category in the Western Conference just like the Chris Pronger acquisition has shifted some of the power balance back to Philadelphia in the East.

Another big trade occurred today with the New York Rangers shipping center Scott Gomez and his huge contract to the Montreal Canadiens for Long Island native Christopher Higgins. The Rangers also receive former Montreal first round draft pick Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Donatanko while the Habs got forward Tom Pyatt and defenseman Mike Busto in return. With the acquisiton of Gomez, who has 5 years and $33.5M left on the deal he signed with the Rangers in 2007, any talk of Vincent LeCavalier being moved from Tampa to Montreal now goes out the window.

The NHL scouting director I spoke with today said that the Canadiens benefit because Gomez is the best player in the deal despite his high salary while the Rangers were clearly looking to get some salary cap room. He also said that the only real prospect in the deal was McDonagh. I’m giving the nod on this one to the Rangers for clearing major salary cap room but given Glen Sather’s free agent acquisition history he could easily put his team back in the same boat with another high priced signing. We’ll see if the New York GM has learned from some past mistakes.

The Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins re-signed free agent forward Bill Guerin to a one year $2M deal as they attempt to make a run at repeating as the NHL champions. Guerin was a big factor in the Penguins resurgence from the trading deadline all the way to their title run. GM Ray Shero will now turn his attention to resigning forward Ruslan Fedotenko, who now has two Stanley Cup rings (Tampa in 2004), and defensemen Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill.

With the Pronger, Bouwmeester, and Gomez moves happening the domino effect could start taking place on Canada Day and there are some big names still available in forwards Marian Hossa (Detroit), Marian Gaborik (Minnesota), Daniel and Henrik Sedin (Vancouver) not to mention Ottawa’s Dany Heatley, who says he wants to be traded out of Canada’s capital city.

I asked the NHL scouting director if the salary cap was slowing down movement (there surprisingly weren’t many trades at the NHL draft last weekend) and he said that was true. I then asked him if we will see some crazy signings like we saw last year, such as the Leafs giving defenseman Jeff Finger for four years at $3.5M a season or Columbus inking defenseman Mike Commodore for four years at $4M annually, and he said that definitely will occur because there are some teams with lots of salary cap space available.

Check back for news and analysis over the next several days as things in the NHL get really interesting.

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Hershey Bears Calder Cup Champions; Penguins win Stanley Cup (Updated)

Posted on 12 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears are the Calder Cup Champions after knocking off the Manitoba Moose, 4-1, in game six of their series tonight in Winnipeg. Hershey blitzed Moose goalie Cory Schneider for three goals in the first period and never looked back. Rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, who won the Jack A. Butterfield trophy for AHL playoff MVP, made 24 saves to get the win.  Andrew Gordon, Chris Bourque, Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin scored for Hershey. Congrats to the Bears and the Washington Capitals organization!

Revenge is a dish best served cold if you are a Penguins fan tonight as Pittsburgh held off a furious Red Wings rally to win the Stanley Cup in exciting fashion, 2-1, to avenge last season’s Stanley Cup Finals loss to Detroit. Hockey fans will be watching the incredible Marc-Andre Fleury save on Nicklas Lidstrom with one second left for years to come. Evgeni Malkin was the Conn Smythe Award Winner for Playoff MVP but in my mind, the Pens aren’t anywhere without Sidney Crosby (who was injured in game 7 and barely played after that). Crosby carried this team in the first two rounds, especially against the Caps, and he goes against the opponents best defensive group every game while Malkin gets the second unit.

In Detroit tonight, defenseman Brad Stuart is wearing the goat horns for taking the first penalty (slashing Malkin), then giving the puck away that allowed Maxime Talbot to make it 1-0 Pens, and then pinching at the blue line to set up a two on one for Pittsburgh that they, of course, scored on (Talbot again). I’ve been saying this all playoffs and will say it again – the Penguins are about as good a team as I’ve ever seen at converting two on one breaks.

Btw, please check out my on air discussion with Nestor today in the WNST audio vault (http://wnst.net/wordpress/section/audio/) for my pre game thoughts on the NHL and AHL finals.

For Caps and Baltimore sports fans it was tough seeing Pittsburgh win another trophy but given that the Caps lost two contests in OT to the Pens before bowing out in 7 games should make you and the entire Caps organization realize that they are very close to their first ever Stanley Cup victory. With some salary cap room freeing up from the Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov departures (and hopefully a Michael Nylander release too), Caps GM George McPhee should finally have some cap space to make the moves he needs to put Washington over the top. There is lots of talent in this organization in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL (the Caps team down there, the South Carolina Stingrays, won the Championship as well).

The NHL Awards show is next week from Las Vegas (Alexander Ovechkin should win the Hart Trophy for MVP and Mike Green is up for the Norris Trophy (best defenseman)), followed by the NHL draft the week after in Montreal (June 26 on Versus), and then free agency begins on July 1 so the NHL off-season will start fast and furious.

Congrats again to Coach Bob Woods and the Hershey Bears on their championship!

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Caps, Bears, Red Wings, and Other Hockey Things

Posted on 02 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps News

For those who missed it, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was on TSN’s Off the Record with Michael Landsberg last week and the biggest news out of the interview, which ranged from the steroid allegations against the Caps to the overblown topic (and I thought dead) of Alexander Ovechkin’s 50th goal celebration in Tampa, was that Washington defenseman Mike Green is believed to have mononucleosis. Thus the so-called “flu” we heard as a reason for #52’s subpar play early in the playoffs is apparently more serious. And given that Green re-injured his shoulder in the Rangers series it is likely that the lack of energy he was feeling from that illness helped contribute to the shoulder situation. What is the bottom line in all of this? Green, who is only 23 years old, needs to take better care of himself in the future.

Another interesting thing in that interview was Landsberg mentioned that Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov were signed to play in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League next season, meaning they will no longer be Capitals. Boudreau didn’t contest the statement nor react to it indicating either the pair is definitely gone next season or he is just leaving that issue for General Manager George McPhee (who is in charge of team personnel) to handle.

Last bit of Caps news before moving on to discuss the Calder Cup, here is a link for the latest update on the steroid allegations that were made by Richard Thomas against Washington last week: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/news/story?id=4220886

Bears News

The Hershey Bears went into a sold out (15,003) arena in Winnipeg last Saturday night and stunned the Manitoba Moose, 5-4, in overtime in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals. Alexandre Giroux had a hat trick, including the game winner, and continues to show why he was the MVP of the American Hockey League (AHL) this past season. Game 2 is on Tuesday night at 830pm. You can watch it live on the internet via http://www.theahl.com/ for only $8. Games 3 through 5 are in Hershey on Saturday, Sunday, and then next Tuesday.

In game 1, the Bears took too many penalties giving the Moose 10 power plays to only 5 for Hershey. In addition, Manitoba’s Matt Pope had a penalty shot 14:14 into the second period with the Moose up 3-1, but Hershey rookie goalie Michael Neuvirth came up big with the save. Manitoba also had a two minute 5 on 3 power play in the final minutes of regulation but could not score. Neuvirth made 26 saves on 30 shots but two of the goals he gave up were on breakaways. Oskar Osala, who has NHL potential, had the other two goals for the Bears.

If you haven’t yet seen the incredibly exciting highlights from game 1 click here: http://ahl.neulion.com/team/console.jsp?catid=2&id=2242

Stanley Cup Finals Analysis

The Detroit Red Wings held serve at home this past weekend to take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals with game 3 scheduled for Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. Much was made, especially by Detroit, of the schedule change that moved the series up for NBC and had the two teams playing on back to back nights in prime time. Many people felt that favored the younger Penguins but the defending Stanley Cup Champions persevered.

Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom returned from a lower body injury and helped to hold Penguins star Sidney Crosby scoreless through the first two games. #87 has been as good as you can be without scoring a point and he had five shots on net in the loss on Sunday night. Crosby has been all over the ice and Wings goalie Chris Osgood, who is a big reason why this series is in favor of Detroit so far, has robbed the superstar on several occasions. Crosby also set up winger Bill Guerin for some “layups” yet #13 has either hit the post or been denied by Osgood.

For some strange reason Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma decided to go back to dressing 12 forwards on Sunday night (he had been going with just 11 since early in the Caps series) inserting the supersoft Pascal Dupuis, who’s turnover to Marian Hossa led to Detroit’s go ahead goal, instead of giving extra ice time to Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (who has been flying around the rink as well). Dupuis tried to blame Hossa for breaking his stick on the play and wanted a penalty. I still haven’t seen where Hossa broke #9’s stick, in fact, it looked to me like Dupuis broke it on Hossa. Regardless of that, if Dupuis was stronger and had more heart he gets the puck out of the zone before his stick breaks. He belongs in the press box, if you ask me.

Crosby and Malkin seem to be the only guys who have really shown up for Pittsburgh and goalie Marc Andre-Fleury displayed in both games that he is definitely the weak link on that team. The goal he gave up off of the backboards in game 1 to Brad Stuart was horrible and the two goals he has given up to Justin Abdelkader (Red Wings 2nd round pick, 42nd overall in 2005 NHL Entry draft) were soft ones. Abdelkader only played two regular season games with Detroit this year as he spent most of his time in the AHL for Grand Rapids (Wings farm team). Detroit’s depth has been another reason they are up two games to none since they have had to play without Hart trophy finalist, Pavel Datsyuk, in those contests.

I still think the Penguins can get back in the series because they have dominated portions of the first two games. However, goaltending and experience (players and coaching) seem to be decidedly in Detroit’s favor. I do expect the Pens to win game three but if they don’t it is time to start the engraving process for the Red Wings and plan the Cup parade and parties.

Finally, a good piece here ( http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/Malkin-Non-Suspension-The-embarrassment-continu?urn=nhl,167172 ) by Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski on the instigator rule and the various ways it has been interpreted since enacted by the NHL head shed in New York.

NHL News

Wild news out of Montreal today as current Florida GM Jacques Martin, who had four more years left on his contract as Panthers GM, stepped down to become head coach of the Canadiens. I have criticized Martin’s poor managing ability in this blog before and you combine that with the word that the Panthers owners are looking to sell the team and you see why the former Ottawa Senators coach wants to get back behind the bench. Martin is a good coach but he has his work cut out for him in one of the toughest cities to work in pro sports.

Former NHL star Joe Nieuwendyk has been named GM of the Dallas Stars since owner Tom Hicks, as I mentioned in this blog before, is holding former co-GM’s Les Jackson and Brett Hull accountable for the Sean Avery debacle. Jackson is going back to scouting and pro player personnel while Hull is being moved to an executive VP position and out of personnel management. This seems like a smart move by a man who sources have told me doesn’t mind spending money but does not like to waste it (and that is exactly what happened in the Avery debacle).

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Caps Making Changes Already / NHL News

Posted on 26 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Busy Caps Day

Lots of news out of the Nation’s Capital today as the Washington Capitals have announced that assistant coach Jay Leach, after five years with the club, will not return next season. Assistant Coach Dean Evason and goaltending coach Dave Prior, however, will be back working for Head Coach Bruce Boudreau in 2009-10. For anyone who followed this blog and the news from Caps breakdown day after Washington’s game seven loss to the Penguins you knew this type of change was coming as both Boudreau and GM George McPhee did not come out and say immediately that the coaching staff would remain intact. Evason did a good job leading the special teams this season, especially with the power play, and Prior has the quick development of young goalies Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth in his corner. Leach, however, was in charge of the defensemen and this group struggled off and on in the regular season and did not do a good job in the Pittsburgh series. As mentioned in this blog before, the Caps were a team that did not play well away from the puck (this analysis came to me from a former NHL assistant coach) and defense was where they were the most deficient in that category. Therefore, it makes sense that Leach will not be back.

It will be interesting to see who Boudreau and McPhee target to come in and help a very young team learn how to play better in their own zone, something that is critical if they want to win the Stanley Cup. The difference between the Caps and the Penguins in round two was Pittsburgh’s ability to prevent the Caps from getting to their net while the Pens did not have those type of problems against Washington.

Next on the news front are unconfirmed reports that forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov are working on contracts to play next season in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Versus, in tonight’s pregame session, reported that Kozlov has been inked already but according to reports from Tarik El-Basir of the Washington Post, McPhee did not confirm any signings for Kozlov or #91 yet. While I am not suffering any heartburn with #25 leaving because it frees up $2.5M of salary cap room for McPhee to use on another forward who goes to the net on a consistent basis, I would be disappointed if Fedorov left. The three time Stanley Cup winner has said he wants to return to the Caps next season and he has been the best influence on Alexander Semin that this organization has ever had. However, if Fedorov wants in excess of $2.5M then I think McPhee needs to pass on the great Russian forward (Fedorov made $4M this past season and played only 52 games but he did close out the Rangers series with his blistering blast by Henrik Lundqvist).

Finally, McPhee also announced today that the Caps have signed undrafted free agent center Jake Hauswirth to a three-year entry-level contract. Hauswirth, 21, is a 6’5”, 210-pound native of Merrill, Wis., who has spent the last two seasons with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). He scored 28 goals and added 24 assists (52 points) in 58 games this season, tied for the team lead in goals and was fourth in points. He led all Lancer forwards and was second on the team with a +16 plus/minus rating. Hauswirth helped lead Omaha to the USHL championship as a rookie in 2007-08, recording 13 goals and 10 assists (23 points) in 57 games. He participated in the Capitals’ development camp last summer and was one of the surprise standouts of that week long session. When I watched him play last July he had a knack for making big plays and the puck seemed to follow him around. Jake will be in attendance at this summer’s camp as well and a spot in Hershey next season seems like a possible fit.

NHL News

More coaching news today as the Edmonton Oilers have hired Pat Quinn as head coach and former Rangers head coach, Tom Renney, as an assistant coach. Craig MacTavish, who coached the Oilers since 2000, was fired after Edmonton missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Quinn, who worked with current Oilers GM Steve Tambellini in Vancouver, has coached the Flyers, Kings, Canucks, and Leafs as well as leading Canada to the gold medal in the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Renney joins the Oilers after five seasons as Head Coach of the New York Rangers. The Cranbrook, British Columbia native began his tenure with the Rangers organization as Director of Player Personnel before being promoted to Vice-President of Player Development in 2002. Renney was appointed Head Coach with 20 games left in the 2003–04 season. He led the Rangers into the postseason in each of his first three campaigns following the 2004–05 NHL lockout.

Renney began his coaching career in 1990-91 with the Western Hockey League’s Kamloops Blazers. He guided the Blazers to consecutive President’s Cup championships as WHL champions and captured a Memorial Cup title in 1992. During his two seasons with the Blazers, he compiled a .714 winning percentage (101-37-6), which ranks first in CHL history. The coach is a very personable guy and was well liked by the New York media.

Very sad news out of Toronto tonight as Peter Zezel, a center who played 15 NHL seasons after breaking into the league with the Philadelphia Flyers as a teenager, has died. He was 44. Zezel struggled with the rare blood disease hemolytic anemia for the past 10 years and died on Tuesday. Zezel suffered from the ailment off and on, but had rebounded after being in critical condition in 2001. He was admitted to the hospital last week for scheduled surgery, but complications developed and his condition worsened.

“Peter will forever be remembered as a great teammate and a wonderful individual who touched the lives of many both on and off the ice,” Zezel’s family said in a statement released by the National Hockey League Players’ Association. “In his typical character of generosity, Peter donated his organs through the Trillium Gift of Life Network.”

The gritty center was known on the ice for his strong two-way game. In 873 NHL games with Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, Toronto, Dallas, New Jersey and Vancouver, Zezel had 219 goals and 389 assists. His matinee idol looks also earned him a small role in the 1986 hockey-based movie “Youngblood” that starred Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze.

Zezel was born in Toronto and played junior hockey with the Toronto Marlies before the Flyers chose him with the 41st pick in the 1983 draft. He made his NHL debut in 1984 when he was 19. Zezel was a great face-off man and a good team guy. He played for the Caps for 20 games in the 1990-91 season before being traded to the Leafs. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Zezel family.

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Caps Break Playoff OT Curse Against Pens to Force Game 7 (Updated)

Posted on 11 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Dave Steckel had the game on his stick in overtime in game five and the puck bounced on him and he missed wide with an apparent open net between the Caps and victory. Just over 3 minutes later Evgeni Malkin scored off of Tom Poti to give Pittsburgh a 4-3 OT win over the Caps and take a 3-2 series lead. Tonight, it was redemption for Steckel as he deflected in a Brooks Laich shot off of a face-off win (Matt Bradley made a good play on the boards to get the puck to Laich) past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to give Washington a thrilling, 5-4, OT victory in Pittsburgh to force game seven at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night. This win was huge for Washington as they had lost 7 straight overtime games in the playoffs and were 1-4 in the previous game six contests against the Penguins. The Caps are now 7-1 in elimination games (6-1 in the playoffs) under coach Bruce Boudreau.

This game started poorly for the Caps as the Penguins came out ready to bury them and their season, but thanks to some superb two man short penalty killing by Washington with the Pens up a goal and great goaltending by Simeon Varlamov throughout the period the Caps only trailed by that goal despite being outshot 18-5. As Boudreau mentioned in his post game press conference, he referenced to his players some instances where the Caps had done the same thing to other teams during the season and it came back to bite them because they couldn’t close the deal. The words seemed to work because after that the Caps were a much better team but as Boudreau continues to say, Pittsburgh is really good too so this one naturally went down to the wire (this was the third OT game of the series and fifth one goal game).

The second period was much more Caps style of hockey and not the wide open type we’ve seen where the Penguins seemed to have thrived in generating odd man rushes against Washington (Guerin’s goal in the first period was a two on one with Crosby against Poti). Viktor Kozlov (two goals and +2) scored to tie the game up and then Alexander Semin, who I and many others have called out for not producing so far in this series, delivered with a great effort to draw a penalty, kept it going playing tough on the boards, and then got the puck to Sergei Fedorov who shot and Tomas Fleischmann put in the rebound to give Washington a 2-1 lead. The Caps then could not hold the lead as Mark Eaton scored on a Pittsburgh power play (Brian Pothier was off for interference) with 34 seconds left in the period.

The third period saw the Caps take another costly penalty (Steckel slash) and the Penguins scored on the power play (2 for 5 on the night) to go up 3-2. However, Boudreau’s boys aren’t quitters and Semin delivered again first by drawing a penalty on his nemesis in this series, Brooks Orpik, and then firing from the left wing boards just 58 seconds later with Laich screening Fleury and the puck went in off of #21’s leg for the goal (scoring change came after the game). It seemed to stun the Penguins and then Kozlov struck from a bad angle off of a great play by Nicklas Backstrom to give the Caps a  4-3 lead. The problem though, was Washington seemed to struggle from there appearing to play not to lose, and when Bradley couldn’t get the puck out of the zone, Orpik shot it on net and Sidney Crosby was able to outwork John Erskine in front of Varlamov and tie it up with just 4:18 to go. But that set the stage for the overtime and Washington finally got a couple of breaks as Rob Scuderi hit the cross bar early in the extra session before Steckel’s great deflection.

Here are some other thoughts and analysis on tonight’s game:

Alexander Ovechkin was great again despite not scoring a goal. He had three assists, took five shots, and was +3 overall. He now has 10 goals and 10 assists in 13 playoff games. He leads the NHL in playoff points, is tied with Crosby in goals, and is the plus/minus leader at +11.

Semin played by far his best game of the series with two assists and was +1. He drew two key penalties (although one did not get called due to Fleischmann’s goal while the referees had their right arm up) and was moving his feet. He did a great job back checking Malkin, something he is very good at when he wants to be. He is a highly skilled player that can be great but he needs to put his mind to it and shrug off nagging injuries.

I thought the slashing call on Laich with 2:02 left in regulation was brutal as he only had one hand on the stick when he did it. Chris Kunitz of the Pens has been able to get that call in two key situations this playoffs (he drew a slashing penalty against the Flyers in overtime in the first round). Fortunately, Washington had a great penalty kill and forced overtime.

Chris Clark only played 2:13 (4 shifts) and Jay Beagle only 2:06 (4 shifts) and both were on the ice when Crosby and Guerin got the first goal on a two on one. The Caps need to stop playing with fire so much by giving up odd man rushes. Pittsburgh has been getting them from Washington turnovers at the Pens blue line and also from the Caps making ill timed hits at the red line. I know the Caps want to be physical but they need to be smarter about their positioning.

Malkin had three assists but he was even for the game (he was on the ice on Steckel’s GWG). Crosby was very good as well with a goal and an assist. As I wrote after game five, for Ovechkin and the Caps to defeat a very good Penguins team they need production from Semin and tonight he delivered.

An NHL scout told me before the series that he thought it could come down to goaltending and he said Varlamov is better than Fleury. He also said during game five, with Washington down 3-2 in the third period, that the Caps just need to get pucks on net because Fleury can’t handle the pressure. Shortly thereafter Washington scored before losing in overtime. To me the keys for the Caps on Wednesday will be to not give up odd man rushes, stay out of the box and get more shots on Fleury. Plain and simple, Washington can achieve this by continually moving their feet like Semin finally did tonight.

Programming Note: I’ll be on the Comcast Morning Show at 730am on Tuesday with Drew Forrester to discuss this AMAZING series!

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Pens Get Back in Series with OT Win

Posted on 06 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Pittsburgh Penguins totally outplayed the Washington Capitals on Wednesday in game three, outshooting  the Caps, 42-23, but because of Simeon Varlamov and a late power play goal by Nicklas Backstrom, his first of the playoffs, this game went to overtime tied 2-2. But after Tom Poti made a bad decision to try and shoot the puck instead of dumping it in behind the Pens net, the Penguins were able to get an offensive zone face-off and when the Caps lost it clean (Sydney Crosby beat Dave Steckel), the puck went back to Kris Letang who fired it on net and it hit Shaone Morrisonn and deflected by Varlamov for a 3-2 win at 11:23 of OT. Game four is Friday night in Pittsburgh with Washington up two games to one in this best of seven series.

The Caps played a better first period tonight and Alexander Ovechkin scored his 8th goal of the playoffs into a vacated net just 1:23 in to the game as a result of a fluky bounce behind the Pens net. Shortly thereafter, Nicklas Backstrom nearly made it 2-0 when he had a great wraparound try but instead of putting his shoulder down and taking that extra half of a stride to get in front for the layup he tried to put the puck in from a bad angle and it went through the crease and wide. The first period was even at eight shots a piece but as things went on Pittsburgh started to dominate.

Pittsburgh would carry the play and shots, 15-4, in the second period as their pressure on Washington was relentless. The Caps could not break the Penguins forecheck and when they got to neutral ice they did not play smart by dumping the puck deep. The Pens tied the game at one midway through period two when Poti pinched at the Caps blue line and Backstrom got caught out of position giving the Penguins a two one break on Milan Jurcina. When Jurcina went down to cut off the pass the puck bounced right back on Ruslan Fedotenko’s stick and he shot it by Varlamov, who was sliding to his right in anticipation of a pass.The Penguins had two power plays in the middle period but Varlamov and some good penalty killing kept this game tied.

In the third period the Caps were a little better but Evgeni Malkin, who was really flying tonight, started to take over and he went through Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Alexander Semin before #28 hooked him to give the Penguins their sixth straight power play of the night. When you play with fire, you usually get burned and Malkin fired a great shot top shelf on a screened Varlamov to give the Pens a 2-1 lead with just 4:59 left. But credit the Caps for not quitting and when Pascal Dupuis was called for interference with 2:28 left the powerful Washington power play got their second chance of the night with Backstrom delivering as he banked it off of Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (21 saves). That sent the game into overtime where Pittsburgh prevailed and Fleury is now 4-0 in overtime games.

Here are my thoughts and analysis on this one:

Pittsburgh absolutely had to have this game and they sure played like it. Varlamov was great tonight and he was the only reason the Caps had a chance. The Penguins did a superb job of coming into Washington’s zone with speed as they were keeping a forward back, typically Malkin when it was his shift, and when the Caps pressured the Pens defense at the red line they would pass the puck back to #71, who then came through the neutral zone like a locomotive. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will have to make some tactical adjustments to interrupt this very effective Pittsburgh method of breaking Washington’s neutral zone defense.

The Caps could not match Pittsburgh’s desire tonight, plain and simple. Ovechkin, Fedorov, and Viktor Kozlov were the only effective ones for the first half of the game but when Fedorov took what looked to be a butt end to the ribs from Hal Gill and missed the rest of the period, Boudreau had to adjust his lines. At that point Bruce went with Semin, Backstrom, and Ovechkin and they had some good shifts and others where they were not positionally sound (especially on the shift where Malkin went through all of them and drew a penalty).

Fedorov did return for the third period but he did not look as strong or effective as he had been before the injury. Kozlov had some good shifts.

If I am the Caps, I am calling up forward Keith Aucoin from Hershey for game four because Michael Nylander was terrible tonight in his 7:27 of ice time. Nylander looked lost out there and seemed to be afraid of being hit. Chris Clark, once again, was not very good and he only saw 6:35 of ice time. Boudreau is basically playing with only 10 forwards with those two struggling and it showed as the other Caps got worn out against the Pittsburgh assault.

Probably the best part of Washington’s game tonight was their penalty killing as they held Pittsburgh to 1 for 7, including a two minute power play in overtime when Brian Pothier put the puck over the glass for a delay of game. Varlamov was the primary reason the penalty kill was effective but Steckel, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, and the Caps defensemen did a good job.

Mike Green had an assist tonight on Ovechkin’s goal but he did not factor in offensively, primarily because the Caps could not get the puck into the Pittsburgh end. He also had some chances where the puck rolled off of his stick. Ovechkin also tried to go one-on-one quite a bit but Rob Scuderi and Gill did a good job on him. Boudreau was not getting the matchups he wanted since Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma had the last change. In Washington, Boudreau tried to put the Great #8 against Sergei Gonchar when the opportunity presented itself.

This Penguins domination tonight was just a carry over from alot of what we saw in game two. The Caps escaped in that one but if they don’t start skating and playing smarter they will not win another game in this series. The Penguins are winning the one-on-one battles right now.

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