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Capital Star Shine Again

Posted on 04 May 2009 by Nicholas Miskelly

Capital Star Shine Again 

Monday night began was a crucial game in this Conference Semi-Final Series between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins.


The Capitals entered the game hoping to hold on to home ice advantage and take command of the series with a 2 game to none lead.  This would put all of the pressure on the pads of the Penguins as the series picks up on Wednesday, in Pittsburgh.


With a win in game two, the Penguins would have gotten exactly what they were looking for: a split in Washington, giving the Penguins the home ice advantage.  As the lower seed in this series, if the Penguins were to steal game two they would be heading back to Pittsburgh with the momentum and the advantage of having 3 of the remaining 5 games in this series played on their home ice. 


After an entertaining and exciting game 1, we learned one thing for sure: each game could go either way and both teams would have to bring their best if they want to win this series and advance to the Conference Finals.  The question would be which team would want it more, and more decidedly, which goalie would bring their best to the ice.  Would Fleury tie this series for the Penguins or would the red hot Varlamov carry the Capitals to a commanding 2-0 lead. 


Just as in game one, the first period of game two got off to a quick start.  Both teams wasted no time in getting the puck moving up and down the ice.  The Penguins had to be aware that one of the reasons they lost the first game was because Washington was the more physical team.  At the beginning of this game it seemed as though the Penguins were determined to change that trend as they came out aggressively and physically, landing several big shots on the Capitals.  One of those hits was by Sidney Crosby which led to an early two on one break.  Varlamov read the play well and was at the post to meet the shot of Guerin and turn it away.

After seeing that save, I was reminded of Varlamov’s ability to consistently send the rebounds of shots that he can not handle off to the side of the ice.  It seems as though you never see him give a rebound up in front of the net.  This is huge for goalies as the first goal the Caps had in game 1 was a direct result of a rebound given up right in the center of the ice.  By continuously sending the rebounds off to the side, Varlamov prevents the Penguins from getting cheep goals, goals which often times decide close playoff games.


Just as I was thinking this, the Penguins went onto a power play as a result of Semin loosing his cool. Consequently, they got on the board first.  While I was thinking about how remarkable it was that Varlamov never seems to give up easy rebounds, Gonchar took a shot from inside the blue line and Varlamov knocked it down in front of the net and Crosby was on the door step to put it between the legs of the Caps goalie and give the Penguins the early lead.  This is the kind of easy goal the Capitals need to prevent as Crosby makes a living by scoring around the net.  Varlamov needs to clean up the rebounds and the Capital defenders need to stay physical and make sure they push the Penguins away from the front of the goal, thus preventing cheap goals on deflections and as a result of rebounds. 


The Penguins were able to take control of the period as they were much more aggressive and physically dominating in the period.  They were able to land a number of clean checks on the Capital players, which seemed to unnerve the Caps a bit as they took several bad penalties.  The worse of which was when the Caps were just about to head to the power play until Chris Clark retaliated with an elbow to the face of Letang thereby nullifying the penalty to Guerin. 


Varlamov was really able to bail out his team and keep the game a 1 goal game as he made several huge saves while the Penguins were on a 5-3 power play.  Varlamov once again proved why Capitals fans are so excited about the future of this team, as they see years of this 21-year-old protecting their net.  His great play at the end of the period was able to finally get the home crowd into the game after Pittsburgh successfully quieted them down.


While unable to light the lamp in the first period, it was not due to a lack of opportunities.  They had some good scoring chances; they were just never able to capitalize on them.  This was not the case at the beginning of the second period, as they were able to take advantage of an opportunity as Fedorov quickly transitioned the puck into the offensive end where he was able to hit Kozlov with a pass in the center of the ice drawing two defenders his way.  Kozlov quickly moved the puck to his left where he as able to locate Ovechkin, who sent a missile into the lower left portion of the goal, tying the game at one.  The quick transition offense for the Capitals was able to create a great opportunity, one in which Ovechkin did not let pass.  This was the type of puck movement that the Capitals are looking for and need, if they want to win this series.  Anytime you can line Ovechkin up for an uncontested shot, he will score, as his combination of power and accuracy is unstoppable.


The Capitals were able to come out quick and change the momentum of the game.  They were able to control the puck more in what appeared to be a less physical second period while using their speed in transition to generate numerous scoring chances.  They were continuously turned away and just past the halfway mark of the period, Crosby and the Penguins tried to reclaim the momentum.  Once again Crosby was able to light the lamp on a garbage goal knocked in from right in front of the net.  Not to take anything away from the Penguins as they earned the goal with their puck movement, but the Capitals once again let the puck bounce free right in front of Varlamov and the inability to get a body on Crosby cost the Capitals again as they fell behind 2-1.


The Penguins were able to carry the momentum for the next five minutes, earning several great chances at taking a 2 goal lead, but Varlamov continued his jaw-dropping performance as he made several great saves.  Steckel took advantage of this great effort by the Caps goaltender, as he put home a deflection off of Sloan to tie the game at 2 with four minutes to go in the 2nd period. 


 The third period began tied and if the prior games this season were any indication this would be a good sign for Caps fans.  The Capitals outscored the Penguins during the regular season 10-1 and continued that trend in game 1 outscoring the caps one to nothing.  The Capitals hoped this trend would continue as looked to stay unbeaten against the Penguins this year and open up a 2 game to none lead.


The Penguins were hoping to change that trend as they opened up dominating the final period of play.  After killing the remainder of a second period penalty the Penguins went on about a 9 minute attack.  It seemed like the entire portion of this period was spent in the offensive zone for the Penguins and it felt to us Capitals fans that they may have even been on an extended power play.  They kept the pressure on but, as seems to be the theme of every paragraph of every hockey blog I write, Varlamov continued to make save after save keeping his team in the game, tied at 2.


After killing the Penguins first actual power play of the period, the Capitals quickly went on the attack after Malkin’s tripping penalty put the Caps on the power play.  They had two minutes but they only need four seconds as Backstrom won the face off in the Penguins zone sending the puck back to his right to Green.  Ovechkin once again got wide open and Green found him.  Ovechkin sent another shot buzzing by the elbow on Fluery’s stick side.  There was nothing he could do to prevent the Caps from taking their first lead of the game, 3-2.


Ovechkin broke loose again, showing off his speed in transition as he got the puck around mid-ice, skated into the Penguins zone, and then showed off (what I feel is) the league’s most powerful shot.  Ovechkin sent a shot over the glove side shoulder to seal the game for the Caps and give himself his first career playoff hat-trick.  The Penguins were able to get a power play goal, giving Crosby a hat-trick of his own at thirty seconds to go, but that was too little too late.


The Caps and Penguins game entered the final period even.  The Penguins dominated the first half plus part of this period.  They could not get past the great Varlamov.  Just then, like a vulture, Ovechkin swooped in and took advantage of the first Penguin mistake of the period.  That was all they needed as the recent trend of the Caps dominating the score board in the final period against the Penguins continued.  They scored two more times this game which made the season and post season total 13 third period goals for the Capitals to only 2 for the Penguins.


That is how you close out a game and with Varlamov consistently keeping this team in the game this ability to close could end this series a lot earlier then most anticipated.  To Pittsburgh we go, Wednesday night, Caps leading 2 games to none.


The Caps have the offense that many fear, and now thanks to a 21-year-old net minder, they are the complete team that just might be able to make a run at the Stanley Cup.






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Caps News, Penguins Series Preview and Bruins-Canes Series Preview

Posted on 30 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

(2) Caps vs. (4) Penguins

Today at Kettler Ice Plex in Ballston, Virginia, the Washington Capitals hit the ice for the first time in preparation for their upcoming series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which starts Saturday at 1pm at the Verizon Center on NBC. The biggest news of the day: Alexander Ovechkin did not practice but he did meet with the throngs of media afterwards (see WashintonCaps.com 365 for the full interview) and when asked about the Great #8’s absence from practice head coach Bruce Boudreau responded, “He’ll be practicing tomorrow (Friday). Sometimes his body gets beat up because he plays so much, he’s just plays a lot so he needs a little bit more rest, so he’s just resting today.”

Naturally the focus of many of the questions from the media were of the Ovechkin vs. Sydney Crosby variety and the Caps and their coach did their best to play down that angle.

“I think we have to just look at it as a team game, Washington vs. Pittsburgh, there will be talk of Ovie vs. Crosby but we have to focus on what we’re going to do and how we’re going to play against them. We just have to focus on our game plan and go out there and get it done,” said Washington forward Boyd Gordon, who will play a very key role in this series on the penalty kill and trying to slow down the Penguins offensive talent.

“Any little thing that is being said is going to be magnified. If Alex says anything about Sydney or anybody it is going to be maginified. I’m sure they’ll be cameras on Sydney, [Evgeni] Malkin, Ovechkin, [Mike] Green all the time if the puck is near them or not. We’ll magnify every situation, I’m sure,” added Boudreau who said “Welcome to the Circus” when describing what the media attention will be like as soon as he found out the Caps were playing Pittsburgh after the series win over the Rangers.

There is no doubt that the level of hype is high in this series and many are saying this is big for the NHL from a marketing standpoint. They could use a good US television contract going forward and this series could help by bringing in the cross over fan who normally would not watch hockey.

“I hope it draws tons of fans. We all love our game so much that we hope it is something that people want to watch on a national level. Anything that is good for our game is great. We want to build it. We want to show the people that don’t know our game how great a game it can be,” said Boudreau.

As for the massive hype impacting the series itself, Boudreau downplayed that.

“I don’t know, the Super Bowl has an awful lot of hype and I think the last couple of games have been pretty good. I think the teams are focused and the hype shouldn’t matter. We’ll be in our own zone, hopefully, understanding what we have to do and I think the guys are focused so as much hype as [the media] want to bring on, bring on,” finished Boudreau.

With that, it’s time to move away from the media fluff and get to the meat of this series matchup, the things I prefer to focus on.

Let’s start with the goaltenders, Simeon Varlamov vs. Marc Andre-Fleury. The Caps rookie, Varlamov (turned 21 on April 27), has played 12 games in his career going 4-0-1 in the regular season and then 4-2 against the Rangers in the first round while Fleury, who was taken #1 overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 (lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games). The advantage, on paper, appears to be for Pittsburgh. Boudreau was asked today to compare Fleury with Henrik Lundqvist, the goalie for the Rangers that the Caps just defeated in round one.

“Lundqvist is great and Fleury’s played great so I guess we’ll be able to know after the first couple of games. I would think that Fleury is more acrobatic and probably more gifted in that sense and Lundqvist is better positionally but that is just off the top of my head. Fleury was taken #1 overall for a reason and Lundqvist is one of the best for a reason. Either way we are not playing bad goaltenders,” said last year’s Jack Adams Trophy winner.

Both teams have big name offensive players that lead their defense and run their power play, Green for the Caps and former Capital Sergei Gonchar for Pittsburgh. Gonchar missed the first five months of the season due to a shoulder injury he suffered in pre-season and when he returned he, along with the addition of forwards Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin at the trade deadline, plus new Coach Dan Bylsma propelled the Penguins to a 18-3-4 stretch run.

“They have a lot of weapons and Gonchar is obviously their quarterback on the point. It’s kind of pick your poison. We’d like to stay out of the box as much as possible. When we get out there [on the penalty kill] we have to get it done and do whatever it takes, block a shot, be in the right position, you have to do the job. He’s a good defensemen. He’s got a good shot and he’s calm and poised with the puck. He fits in well with their team and he does a great job for them on the power play,” said Gordon on #55 and the Penguin power play.

As for Green, he had a goal and four assists in the first round, a series in which he had the flu and didn’t have his full energy back until the last few games.

“I think, as I’ve said all along, that Mike is going to be fine. He puts a lot of pressure on himself because of what has happened this year but again, he played 26,27 minutes a game and we allowed the fewest goals we’ve allowed in a seven game stretch all year. He must have been doing something right. Just because he wasn’t scoring at a point a game pace in the playoffs I’m still very happy with the way he is playing,” added Boudreau on #52.

The Penguins also have Hal Gill (big defensemen), Brooks Orpik (good, physical defenseman), and Rob Scuderi on the back line. Washington adds puck moving Tom Poti and the more physical Shaone Morrisonn to go along with vastly improved Milan Jurcina and John Erskine plus Brian Pothier (out for 14 months with concussion until returning in March). On paper this appears to be a wash or perhaps a very slight edge to Washington, only because of #52.

Up front is where the fireworks start. The Penguins are loaded up the middle with Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal. On the wings they have Guerin, Kunitz, and Ruslan Fedotenko who all can go to the net and create havoc. Another forward to watch is Maxime Talbot who kills penalties, checks well, and is very successful at whatever role Bylsma throws him into. For Washington, they go deep as well with the Great #8, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Brooks Laich, Viktor Kozlov, Chris Clark and then good role players like Gordon, Matt Bradley, Eric Fehr, and Dave Steckel. The Penguins have the advantage at center because they go three deep with top five draft picks but I give the Caps the edge on the wings. Both teams have potent power plays but the Caps were #2 in the league and can throw a variety of looks at you, as confirmed by Boudreau this afternoon.

“We’ve changed our power play so much all year and still been at 25% so I think it is a real advantage for us when we can, as a team, throw out many units doing many things and they’re all quality players so Tom [Poti] hadn’t played the point on the first unit in a long time and he did a great job. He might have to do it again,” said Boudreau.

When you just look at personnel this is a very evenly matched series and Boudreau stressed that his coaching team will highlight certain things about Pittsburgh but the focus will be on his own team.

“We’ve gone through a lot of video and I’m sure they’ve gone through our video and seen our tendencies and individualities and we go over that but we don’t want to harp on that too much. We want to do what we do well. We certainly would be remiss if we didn’t make the players aware of certain things that these players are really good at,” commented Boudreau on the film study of Pittsburgh.

I asked Boudreau about puck possession and how he defines it these days, given that many people consider both of these squads those type of teams.

“I don’t really know, I often wondered, they say they are a big puck possession team and I go, Wow, what is a puck possession team? They call us that all of the time and all I say is dump it in, get it deep. So I don’t know what the deal is. We’ve got guys who are pretty good stickhandlers but then so do they. I mean Detroit seems to have the puck all the time, not because they don’t want to dump it in, but because they are really good. So good teams are puck possession teams because they have it all of the time, that is the way I’m looking at it.”

Analyzing these quotes and info I think the Penguins focus will be on trying to rattle a young Varlamov, who has had nothing but success so far in his dozen games. Bylsma has already said they will try to get him moving back and forth and there is no doubt the Penguins will go hard to the net to create traffic. They may also try to throw pucks off the near backboards and out the far side like Pittsburgh used to do during their back to back Stanley Cup wins with Hall of Famer Larry Murphy running the power play and Mario Lemieux stationed on the opposite side of the net just waiting to one time the puck home. Pittsburgh likes to get out in transition, like the Caps do, and they will seek to create turnovers at their own blue line to try and counter attack Washington and receive odd man rushes.

Therefore, Washington will have to limit their turnovers and play a SIMPLE game like they did in games three, five, and six plus the third period of game seven against New York. Boudreau will be repeatedly telling his players over and over, especially guys like Ovechkin and Semin who fancy one on one moves and cross ice passes at the opponents blue line, to DUMP the puck behind the Penguins defense, then go get it, and outwork them. If I am Boudreau I am going with a strategy on Gonchar that the great Scotty Bowman mentions he used effectively against Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr of Boston: dump the puck behind him and when he goes back to chase it pound him into the glass so that he becomes more turnover prone as the series wears on. The Caps can use their speed to stick handle at times when guys like Gill are on the ice but the type of puck possession strategy that Boudreau described of dumping the puck deep in the corners and half wall seems like the best way to use Washington’s excellent size and speed at forward. Gonchar can be giveaway happy and Caps fans remember all too well former Penguin Martin Straka picking Gonchar’s pocket at the Washington blue line and skating in alone on Olie Kolzig in game six for the series winner in 2001, the last two times these teams met in the playoffs (Pittsburgh has won six of the seven meetings with the only Caps win coming back in 1994).

Series Prediction: This series is an absolute coin toss. Past history between these teams doesn’t matter but playoff experience does so I am going with the Penguins. However, if Washington plays smart with the dump in game (the Alex’s must heed Boudreau’s advice for them to be come out on top) and limits their turnovers and penalties they could win this series instead. I’m picking the Penguins in six but if the Caps manage to force a game seven then Washington wins.

(1) Bruins vs. (6) Hurricanes

The NHL is four for four on good Conference semi-final match-ups as this one pits a very hot and fast Carolina team against an extremely hard working, top seeded in the East, Boston squad.

We’ll start with the goalies, Tim Thomas (Bruins) vs. Cam Ward (Hurricanes). Thomas led the NHL in save percentage during the regular season while Ward got red hot from February on and is playing at the level he was at when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup for the Canes in 2006. Thomas has an unorthodox style that sees him flop and throw his body all over the ice while Ward is the classic butterfly type goalie who goes down to the ice and tries to take up as much net as possible. I think this is a toss up but Ward has been real hot and has major past playoff success.

On defense, the Bruins have a big edge because of Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara who is on the back line with Denis Wideman, Aaron Ward, Steve Montador, and Shane Hnidy. Carolina’s defense will not scare you but they’ve been very effective the last three months. The defensive corps is led by Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo (both averaged 25 plus minutes in round one against New Jersey) and they also rely on their second pair of Denis Seidenberg and Tim Gleason to log around 20 minutes a game. Advantage: Bruins.

Up front for Carolina you have speed. Eric Staal (5 goals against Devils in round one) can skate as well as anyone and he has been on fire since the Canes re-acquired line mate Erik Cole from Edmonton at the NHL trade deadline. Ray Whitney is fast and is a sniper and they grind out goals with Chad LaRose, Jussi Jokinen, and Matt Cullen. Boston is loaded at forward but the debate about Marc Savard being a true #1 center rages on but based on his production he is playing at that level this season. The Bruins can get scoring from lots of players and Michael Ryder (4 goals in 4 games in first round against Montreal) performs well whenever he is coached by current Bruins bench boss, Claude Julien. Former Flames 2001 first round draft pick, Chuck Kobasew (3 points in 1st round), can flat out fly plus they have David Krejci, Phil Kessel (6 points in first round and appears to be finally over mononucleosis), Milan Lucic (brings power and toughness), and Mark Recchi (two time Stanley Cup winner – Pittsburgh in 1991 and Carolina in 2006). I think Staal is the best forward in the series but I give the edge to Boston because of their depth.

Given that Boston only had to play four games in the first round and Carolina went the distance against New Jersey, I expect the Canes to jump out and steal a game in Boston but I see the Bruins coming back and wearing the fast Hurricanes down. Another very close series, I’m tempted to go with a hot Carolina team but I just see too many good things from the Bruins. Boston in seven.

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Caps Battle Back to Move On!!!

Posted on 29 April 2009 by Nicholas Miskelly

Caps Battle Back to Move On!!!


After attacking their way through game six, the Capitals aggressively forced a game seven.  They came out hawkish and physical in game six in what turned out to be an easy victory.


That victory forced a do-or-die game seven back in Washington.  Something had to give in this game as the red hot Capitals were only 1 and 4 in the clubs history when hosting a game 7.  The Rangers were even worse as they entered Tuesday’s game winless in their previous four game seven road games.  Who would change the trend?


Washington was hoping for a quick start but the first minute of the game was a terribly sloppy start as Varlamov appeared to be the only Capital player not overwhelmed by the pressure of playing in a game seven.  He showed no nerves at all as he had two huge saves, one of which was on a breakaway, in the first minute of the game after two quick Capital giveaways.


They were then able to regain a little control as they had some early offensive flurries around the Rangers net but it seemed that the nerves got to their early passing as their passes were not as sharp as expected.  This prevented the Capitals from finishing around the net as the early pressure resulted in no shots on goal for the Capitals.


As the Caps defense continued to struggle, their inability to come away with the puck from a corner scrum resulted in the Rangers first goal (an easy one) as Antropov put away an uncontested rebound from point blank range.  The Rangers too, came out aggressively and confidently as though they were the home favorite riding a two game winning streak.


Varlamov continued to keep the Caps in the game as he continued to face an offensive onslaught from the Rangers as the tentative and nervous Capitals were dominated and overwhelmed early by a light skating and attacking New York team.


The Caps were out played so badly they did not register their first shot until the end of the Ranger dominated opening period.  Though their shots were few, they were able to take advantage of one of the few Rangers mistakes late in the first period when Semin tied the game, scoring on an ugly but effective goal coming as a result of a Caps 3 on 2 break.


As the first period mercifully came to an end, I was left relieved to see the score tied at 1 as the Rangers outplayed and out hustled the Caps for most of that opening period.  The Caps were clearly the team that was playing tight and looked to be very nervous out on the ice.  This was one of their sloppiest periods of the playoffs.  I was also hoping that we saw the best the Rangers had to offer and that a re-energized Caps team would have an offensive take-over right from the start of the second period.


After a nervous and tentative first period, which saw the Caps take less shots (2) then they had giveaways (7), the Caps seemed to have an early jolt in the beginning of the second as Lundqvist made a big save on Kozlov’s early scoring opportunity; all created by a forced turnover by Ovechkin.  The Caps quickly matched their shot total from the entire first period only 2 and half minutes into the second period.  That was about all the excitement the Caps would have in the second period. 


After a flowing and exciting; back and forth but ultimately uneventful second period, the Rangers had to like the shape this game was taking.  After 2 periods of hockey the Caps and Rangers were playing a low scoring 1-1 game.


The Rangers had to be ecstatic to be playing this style of game as they were able to hold the Capitals potent offense in check.  Clearly by this point the Caps were hoping for an offensive explosion, like what occurred in games 5 and 6 that would have given the Capitals a comfortable lead to work with.  That was not the case but the Caps were even at 1 and had the advantage of the home crowd eagerly waiting to get into the game.  They were all on the edge of their seats waiting for the Capitals offense to give them a reason to explode.  After 6 games and 2 periods of hockey, this series all came down to one final period off hockey.  Winner Takes All!!!


The fans thought they would get that reason to explode early in the 3rd period as the Capitals went on a power play early on when Ovechkin was interfered with when trying to enter the Rangers’ zone.  It turned out that the fans would have to wait for the excitement as the Rangers, aided by the leagues number one penalty killing unit, kept the Caps from getting that much needed power play goal.


The Capitals were able to capture some momentum on that power play and change the flow of the game.  The Capitals became much more aggressive and were able to offensively dominate the entire final period of play.  The chances were there but the Caps could not break past the wall known to be Lundqvist.  They stayed persistent though and finally that persistence paid off as Fedorov scored while on a 2 on 2 break with Ovechkin with just under five minutes remaining in the game.


The offensive onslaught continued for the Capitals as Lundqvist stoned Semin with just under 3 minutes to go in the game.  Ovechkin set up Semin beautifully, during a 2 on 1 break, but Lundqvist kept the Rangers in the games with an incredible save.


That save was in vain as the Capitals kept the offensive pressure on for the remainder of the game.  The Rangers never got another scoring opportunity in the game as the Capitals overcame two tentative and sloppy periods of hockey to win the series with a 2 to 1 victory in game seven.


In the end, the Capitals were able to use an early cheap goal and a dominate 3rd period to propel themselves into the second round of the NHL playoffs.  There they will meet the Pittsburgh Penguins. 


With Varlamov on his game in the net, if the Capitals offense can string together three periods in a game like they played in that final period of game seven, they have shot at making this year a special year.  One thing is for sure that with all the offensive talent that Pittsburgh has, the Capitals surely can not afford to be as careless with the puck as they were in the first 2 periods of game seven.


The playoffs move on and luckily for all of us, the Capitals are moving along with them!!!!

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Caps on Brink of Elimination, Losing Game 4, 2-1

Posted on 22 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals are on the brink of elimination trailing by the same 3-1 deficit they faced last year against the Flyers before losing in overtime to Philly and the referees in game seven.  This time, however, they will have to try to come back on a much better goalie. Henrik Lundqvist was very good in net again tonight (38 saves) and he got help from the crossbar and post when he needed it in a Rangers 2-1 victory in game four of this best of seven playoff series.

Alexander Ovechkin scored his first goal of the playoffs in the third period to cut the lead to 2-1 and he was all over the ice with a goal, 11 shots on net, and four hits. The Great #8 also hit the post on the power play late in the third period that would have tied the game. Ovechkin, however, needs some help from some of the other players on his team.

Despite rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov giving up a terrible goal early in the second period to Chris Drury, the reason for the loss was Washington’s power play. First, I take issue with the coaches for keeping Tomas Fleischmann on the first unit when Brooks Laich is a much better fit against a goalie who is stopping nearly everything he sees. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau plus assistants Dean Evason and Jay Leach did take Fleischmann off of the top unit after several unsuccessful early power plays but instead of Laich they inserted Sergei Fedorov. As a result the Caps mainly had the puck on the perimeter trying to set up one timers instead of firing the puck and crashing the net for rebounds. 0 for 6 was the final tally on a pitiful power play and I can’t even remember many rebound chances.

Second, defenseman Mike Green was hardly noticeable tonight and prior to the game Caps GM George McPhee said #52 was under the weather for the first three games but he was healthy for Wednesday’s contest. He didn’t look it and seemed to lack energy, at times. The Caps need Green’s booming shot and they need to put a Laich, Eric Fehr, or Viktor Kozlov right in front of Lundqvist. Playoff hockey is about crashing the crease and going for rebounds. The Caps did not commit to that tonight (other than Ovechkin who tried like crazy to will his team to a win).

Alexander Semin, who had a great game three, had some good chances but he did not have that same drive in the offensive zone that he had on Monday. There were several times where he went softly in the corner and didn’t come out with the puck, unlike he did in game three when he was the show. #28 needs to learn that in the playoffs you have to pay the price night in and night out if you want to win (had he come out strong from behind the goal on his wrap around try in the second period he might have scored). The Caps also got too fancy early in the game at the Rangers blue line trying to make some cross ice passes.

The thing that makes the lack of power play success even more stinging in this loss is that the NHL Idiot of the Year, Sean Avery, took two bad penalties in the third period and Washington did not make the Rangers pay for it. Had the Caps tied the game on the power play I would imagine that Rangers Coach John Tortorella or assistant coach Jim Schoenfeld would have gone ballistic on #16, who is doing all he can to help the Caps win with his reckless play.

But Avery, Tortorella, and Schoenfeld can thank Lundqvist, the Rangers penalty killers, and a misconfigured Caps power play for bailing him out.

Game 5 is Friday night at the Verizon Center at 7pm and it is win or head home for the Caps.

Notes: Washington outshot the Rangers 39-21. The first Rangers goal came off of a clean Dave Steckel face off loss to Brandon Dubinsky and defenseman Paul Mara’s shot, that was heading well wide, hit John Erskine’s stick and went right into the net. The second Rangers goal came when Varlamov didn’t handle a weak Rangers shot with his glove and it bounced to the side of the net where Chris Drury buried it to make it 2-0. Varly did make some good saves but giving up that goal really hurt. I expect Boudreau to come back with Varlamov in game five on Friday, though. The Caps didn’t get the breaks tonight but you earn your breaks and had they played playoff hockey and gone to the net this series could have been tied.

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Varlamov Starts in Goal But Caps Lose Again

Posted on 18 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals turned in another very good effort on Saturday afternoon at sold out Verizon Center (18,277), but it wasn’t enough for a win as Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 35 shots he faced to lead the Rangers to a 1-0 victory and take a two games to none lead in this best of seven series. Game three is Monday night at Madison Square Garden (Note: WNST will have a Rock the Red viewing party at Silver Spring Mining Company, Gary Rissling’s bar, in Perry Hall on Bel Air Road).

For the Caps goaltending had been the hot topic since Wednesday night’s loss in which #1 goalie Jose Theodore struggled. For Saturday’s tilt on national television (NBC), Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau pulled the plug on #60 and went with rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, who is only 21 years old and was playing his first ever NHL playoff game after only six previous NHL games (4-0-1), and he stopped 23 of 24 Rangers shots in the loss.

The only goal of the game came in the first period just 7:44 into the contest in a sequence where the Caps had the potential for a four on two rush out of their own zone but because of an average breakout it became a four on three break with defenseman moving Mike Green up ice. At the Rangers blue line, Alexander Ovechkin, instead of getting the puck deep, tried a cross ice pass that was intercepted by New York, who then had three on two break the other way with Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti back for Washington. When Kozlov misread the play and went to hit Brandon Dubinsky, the Ranger forward pushed the puck ahead to Marcus Naslund who skated down the left wing and with Varlamov shaded over for the shot, Poti was unable to cut off the pass (something a defenseman MUST do on a two on one break), allowing Ryan Callahan to streak down the right side of the slot and bury Naslund’s pass into an open net. On that goal, which Varlamov had no chance on, Boudreau said the Rangers got away with an interference call as Ovechkin was halted from back checking effectively by one of the New York players at the red line (Boudreau said the Ranger player just stopped skating to impede the Great #8). Overall Boudreau was pleased with his goalie, though.

“I thought he played well. I didn’t think there was anything that could be done on the first goal. He made a really good save about three minutes after that. I was very happy with his game,” said Boudreau on Varlamov.

Shortly thereafter the Caps had a two on one of their own with Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin but the New York defenseman correctly did not give #91 a lane for a pass and Fedorov’s shot was stopped by Lundqvist. Washington outshot the Rangers 13-6 in the first period in which New York received the only power play.

The second period did not start very well for Washington as the Rangers received three straight man advantages but the combination of Varlamov and the Caps defense thwarted New York’s power play (0 for 5 on the afternoon). Varlamov’s biggest save was on Nikolai Zherdev on the first power play of the second period and he gave up a rebound but Chris Drury shot it high. Washington then started playing better towards the end of the period and failed on a power play (a Michael Roszival hook on Ovechkin) with Lundqvist making a big save on a Green point shot he didn’t see but Brooks Laich couldn’t convert the rebound (a Ranger legally tied up his stick). Then with 1:03 left in the period Nik Antropov tripped Michael Nylander but the Caps could not convert. Second period shots were 10-6 New York in a period they controlled most of the play.

The third period was all Caps as they poured 16 shots on Lundqvist but could not solve the very hot net minder. Helping out New York’s cause was some great shot blocking (29) and some luck (the Caps missed the net a few times and hit the crossbar). The final shots tally was 35-24 in favor of the Caps but the scoreboard read, 1-0, Rangers.

Here are some quotes and thoughts on the game:

As I mentioned above the Rangers are very good at blocking shots, one of the keys to their 2-0 series lead. “It’s the playoffs and you got to sacrifice your body. Our guys did a great job of that tonight. You got to do that against a team like that. They’re going to shoot everything, ” said Dubinsky. “We blocked a lot of shots. A lot of guys blocked shots and sacrificed their bodies in a series like this. We had a lot of blocks in the first game – especially on face offs. Tonight, again, a couple blocks where they had pretty good shots. We did a lot of good things. I think these first two games have been really focused, and we’ve minimized our mistakes. And that’s been the difference,” added Lundqvist.

The Caps did get 35 shots through and Lundqvist gave up some rebounds and was handcuffed on about a half of a dozen of them but Washington either wasn’t there for the rebound or did not get to the net. “A lot of our shots were coming from the outside, but rebounds were coming to spots where we should be, we just weren’t there to see it,” said Green, who only had two shots on net and did not have one of his better performances. “Their defense is doing a helluva job, blocking us out. We talk about getting to the net and going for rebounds. It’s not like we’re sitting there saying we’re going to take the shots on the side,” said Boudreau.

Varlamov did well and he had the support of his teammates, including Theodore. “After the warm-up, he walk over to me and say ‘Don’t worry about it.  I was 20-years-old when I play my first game, it was in Montreal.  You know don’t worry about it, I think you’ll do fine.’” Boudreau was complimentary of how #60 handled the news on being sat on Saturday and he was quiet on who would play on Monday as well. “He was very professional. He understood. He obviously wants to play. He knows there’s an opportunity for him to play again if we continue this.” I expect Varlamov to start game three but based on what Boudreau did today nothing surprises me with this coach. Today’s move, which some could have seen as hitting the panic button, was clearly a good one and it nearly won Washington the game.

Is Lundqvist in the Caps heads? Here are some thoughts from the Caps on the goalie who has been the difference so far in this series. “Obviously, we couldn’t get anything by him. And the ones that got by him, hit the crossbar (Ovechkin’s chance in the third period). It was probably the only one that beat him,” said Boudreau, who also mentioned that when he played he didn’t get frustrated by goalies, only referees. “I don’t know, it is hard to say.  I think we had a lot of chances today too and he was pretty good.  There is nothing to say about that.  I don’t know, we have to do something new.  Maybe we have to go even more to the net.  I mean more traffic, we have to try and get the rebounds and those kind of things.  He is a good goalie and he is pretty big in the net,” added Nicklas Backstrom (13-6 on face-offs). “Again lots of chances, he played great.  He’s a good goalie and he played great,” finished Ovechkin.

Rangers coach John Tortorella, who won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with Tampa and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, had this to say about his goalie and the Caps. “Third period, he was just outstanding. That’s a good offensive team we’re playing against. I thought we did some pretty good things. Third period they turned it up; they loaded up a line. Give them (the Capitals) credit. They’re a pretty good hockey club. Hank (Lundqvist) stood tall.”

How are the Caps going to handle being down two games to none? “Of course no because we were number two in our conference, but it is the playoffs anything can happen.  Now we just have to regroup and we are going on the road for two games.  It is going to be a little uphill, but we still have chances – it is the best of seven, so we still have chances,” said Backstrom when asked if he ever expected this deficit. “We have opportunity to bounce back and we have to use that opportunity.  It is going to be a hard road trip, but we have to figure out our mind and try and win game.  Try and score goals and win game.  That is what it is all about,” said the Great #8. “Same as it was before, we can’t get down – we have to stay up.  If we get down on ourselves it’s going to make it tough on ourselves even more.  We will be fine.  We just need to change a few things that are costing us here,” finished Green.

The Caps power play was 0 for 4 due to all of the blocked shots and some overpassing. The Caps need to find a way to fake the Ranger shot blockers to the ice and move around them. They also need to get more traffic in front of the net. Don’t be surprised to see Chris Clark inserted into the lineup for Nylander (only Cap without a shot attempt today) as #17 is much better at going to the net and creating havoc. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Boudreau move Ovechkin down in front of the net on the power play, something he did in last year’s playoffs against the Flyers. Either Fedorov, Poti, or Brian Pothier could be used on the point instead. I also think that Eric Fehr could be used on the power play and #16 has to get himself to the front of the net at even strength as well. Brooks Laich is the only Cap who consistenly is going to the net. I think it might be time to move the smallish Tomas Fleischmann off of the power play.

The Caps can draw on the experience of rallying from a three games to one deficit in last year’s playoffs against Philadelphia and they will need to do that in game three, otherwise game four becomes win or head to the golf course. “We can’t quit,” is what Boudreau said he would tell his team and not coming back in this series, even though the Rangers are a very good team, could really hurt the confidence of this club going forward into next season.

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Caps and NHL Playoffs News

Posted on 17 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps and Playoff News

Word out of DC is that defenseman Jeff Schultz, who made a major gaffe that allowed the Rangers Brandon Dubinsky to score the winning goal in Game 1 on Wednesday, is injured and will miss the second game of the series. Brian Pothier, who was scratched in the series opener, will suit up on Saturday at 1pm at the Verizon Center. Schultz, who was  +13 in 64 regular season games (fourth on the team), was just hammered on the WTOP post game show (hosted by Jonathan Warner) on Wednesday by numerous callers. Schultz’s miscue was bad but the overall criticism of him seems unwarranted to me but fans will be fans!

Goaltending has also been a hot topic going into Saturday’s game and I see Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau sticking with Jose Theodore in net. Theo had a very bad game but Washington only lost by a goal so why should he panic? If #60 improves the Caps should win Game Two. Backup rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov is untested in post season play so that is another reason not to switch. If Brent Johnson were healthy I might give a switch some thought but at this point, I think the Caps need to ride Theodore as the #1 goalie. Hopefully Jose has the same mindset he had on Monday when he spoke with the media after practice. Theodore talked about each contest in a playoff series only counting as one game, no matter what the score. #60 said that if you lose a game you can come right back and even things up in the next contest. We’ll see how he does tomorrow but I expect a solid performance from him.

Former Devils goalie and current tv color analyst for New Jersey, Glenn “Chico” Resch, was on Hockey Night in Canada Radio this afternoon and he told co-hosts Jeff Marek and Scott Morrison that he thought Boudreau should stick with Theodore and not panic, especially since Game Two is at home for Washington.

Resch also lashed out at the officiating so far in the playoffs saying that from what he has seen the zebras have decided two games already. The first was the Caps game as he said that he could not believe that Sean Avery was not called for interfering with Mike Green on the Rangers first goal on Wednesday. He also said that Chicago’s game winning goal by Martin Havlat,  just 12 seconds into overtime on Thursday night against Calgary, should have been called goaltender interference because Blackhawks forward Andrew Ladd embellished contact from Flames Jordan Leopold and used it to bump Flames goalie Mikka Kiprusoff on the shot that eluded him. I agreed with Resch that goalie interference should have been called in that situation.

Some other good points made by Resch concerned the goalies and the play in front of the net. Chico said that forwards around the league know how to use contact by defenseman to allow them to crash into opposing goalies. He also said that defenseman are at a major disadvantage in front of the net because they can’t push them with their stick or body the way it used to be done pre-lockout. This past Monday, I spoke with Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn about the difficulties of protecting the front of your net these days and he agreed it has changed.

“It is all about body positioning and basically boxing out. You can’t lay someone out in front of the net with a cross check anymore. You have to have a good stick and not get tied up with a guy,” said #26, who had the game winning goal in a 5-4 Caps OT win over the Rangers back on December 23rd.

Resch thinks the league should expand the goal crease by one foot to help out the goaltenders.

Rangers Coach John Tortorella, who saw his team called for seven minor penalties compared to just four for the Caps, started the gamesmanship on officiating on Thursday by questioning the holding call on Dan Girardi early in game one. Boudreau fired back today saying “I thought if everything was done properly, they should have had 12 or 13 penalties instead of the seven they had. In my humble opinion, the Mike Green thing [where Avery tripped Green] was a penalty. They scored their second goal when they slashed (Shaone) Morrisonn’s stick and broke it. It’s tough for referees to get them all, but I definitely think they got the benefit of it.” Apparently today Tortorella tried to fight back by questioning the Caps face-off techniques. “I just want to make sure the faceoffs are legal,” Tortorella said. “The tying up and kicking can’t be done until the puck hits the ice.” The Caps won 70% of the face-offs in game one but on home ice you get the extra advantage of being able to put your stick down last.

By the way, if Tortorella wants to keep putting Girardi and Mark Staal as a defensive pair against Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Viktor Kozlov then I think this plays right into Washington’s hands. Girardi looked awfully slow in game one and the Great #8’s line dominated them. Only goalie Henrik Lundqvist saved the Rangers.

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

Posted on 05 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Win Southeast Division Title But Lose in OT

Posted on 04 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Green Scores Twice, Ovechkin Once in Cap Victory

Posted on 01 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Mike Green scored his 29th and 30th goals of the season in the third period and Alexander Ovechkin added his 54th of the season in the second period as the Washington Capitals rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to complete a four game season sweep of the New York Islanders on Wednesday night, 5-3, at the Verizon Center. The win combined with New Jersey getting buried by Pittsburgh (6-1) for their sixth straight loss gives Washington a three point lead over the Devils for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference with just five games to go in the regular season. This victory also gives the Caps 101 points and it is only the fourth time in team history they have eclipsed the century mark. If the Caps get at least seven points in their remaining five games they will set the franchise mark for total points in a regular season beating the 1985-86 team (107 points).

This game started slowly for Washington and once again a shorthanded bad clear (Tom Poti) led to an opposing goal as a screened Jose Theodore was beaten by Kyle Okposo’s top shelf shot for the first tally of the evening. Then to start the second period the Islanders made it 2-0 as Poti and Jeff Schultz had another poor defensive zone shift that allowed Frans Nielsen to put one in off of his skate while charging to the net.

But things then began to change when John Erskine stepped up in Donald Brashear’s absence (knee injury) and fought Joel Rechlicz 100 seconds into the second period. That brought some adrenaline to the Caps along with a Schultz fight and even though Green was correctly called for charging Andy Hilbert to put Washington shorthanded (even though several Islanders jumped Green and Schultz had to fight Tim Jackman when the Islander instigated – that sequence should have been an even up call causing Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau to shout “What the #$%& are you guys looking at?” to the referees) you could sense that the Caps were now into this game.

On the ensuing Islander power play the Caps did a good job of preventing New York from making it 3-0 and then Sergei Fedorov took over at the end of the penalty kill and finished his great shift with an unbelievably great pass from behind the net to a wide open Ovechkin who shot it in off of Islanders goalie Joey MacDonald. The Caps then kept the intensity up and Eric Fehr pressured New York into a bad defensive zone pass that went right to Keith Aucoin in the slot and his first shot ricocheted off of MacDonald’s pads back to Aucoin who buried the puck for his first goal of the season (he had five tallies last year in Carolina).

With the game tied 2-2 it looked like this would be a repeat of the early December Caps 5-2 victory where the home squad scored three goals in the final period to break open a tight game but when Michael Nylander made a bad kicking backwards pass to Green and Shaone Morrisonn, it was intercepted by Richard Park and he went in alone on Theodore and beat him top shelf on a beautiful back hand move. Suddenly it was 3-2 Islanders early in the final period.

But Washington put the heat on and shortly thereafter Alexander Semin almost tied the game with two great chances but MacDonald was lucky and good to preserve the New York lead. The Caps would tie it as the Islanders, who tried to take take advantage of no Brashear with some chippy play all night, crossed the line and were caught by the zebras for roughing giving the Caps a power play. Green then got his 29th in the slot on a great feed from Semin and then just 83 seconds later Green put in the game winner (his 30th) on a point shot that MacDonald had trouble with because Tomas Fleischmann went to the net and screened the goalie (in fact, it was close to #14’s goal as he swatted at the puck and looked to just barely miss it).

Here are some other thoughts on the game and notes on the Caps on a busy day:

Goaltending: Theodore was good tonight even though he gave up three goals on 27 shots. Each of the three goals were the result of defensive zone breakdowns and there were many others that lead to quality chances. Since December 23rd #60 is now 22-10-4 and his save percentage over that span, before tonight, was .911. He recorded his 30th win of the season, the third 30-win season of his career. He is now .500 for his career (213-213-44); the last time he was .500 in his career was Nov. 9, 1998.

Fleischmann: While #14 did not have a point for the 14th straight game this was one of his better games in weeks. He went to the net hard and did a good job of backchecking on several occassions. He is due to score and my biggest complaint is that he needs to be more careful with his defensive zone passes. I have a feeling this guy breaks out soon and the playoffs would be a perfect time.

Fedorov and Backstrom: I thought both of these guys were big keys to the game tonight setting the pace up the middle of the ice for Washington. Fedorov brought the Caps back in it in the second period and he was 11-7 on face-offs. It was his best game in weeks but he has been battling the flu. As for #19, this kid just keeps getting better and better and now has 22 goals and 60 assists (82 points). He is SO strong on the puck along the boards thanks to some great lower body strength. He is one of the most underrated players in the league, in my opinion. Backstrom also was 16-8 from the face off dot on Wednesday (Washington was 45-24 for the game).

Concern area: I continue to be worried about the Caps play in their own end. It seems that there are several times in a game where they just are running around with no thought to proper positioning. They also have sequences where they are very careless with the puck. Clearing the front of their own net has not been their strong suit lately and come playoff time guys will have to start blocking more shots. In fact, Green was just a guest call in tonight on the NHL Network’s “On the Fly” show and indicated that defensive zone was the one thing they really needed to do better in when asked by Hall of Famer Larry Murphy if there was a concern area (For those those who missed it, you can catch it on replay in the AM on the NHL Network).

2009 Masterton Trophy: Brian Pothier has been nominated by the Professional Hockey Writers Association for the 2009 Bill Masterton Trophy that typically is awarded to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” #2, who scored his first goal in 14 months against Tampa last Friday night, missed all that time due to post-concussion syndrome. Pothier will go up against Southeast Division rivals Rod Brind’Amour of Carolina, Slava Kozlov of Atlanta, Richard Zednik of Florida, Cory Murphy of Tampa Bay and several other to be named players from each team in the NHL.

Caps Sign Draft Pick: The Washington Capitals have signed forward Stefan Della Rovere to a three-year entry-level contract beginning next season, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. Della Rovere, 18, will join the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL and could make his debut Wednesday night at Charlotte. He is also eligible to return to his junior team next season. Della Rovere captained the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this year and recorded 51 points (27g-24a) and 146 penalty minutes in 57 regular-season games. He played in all five playoff games for the Colts, recording two goals and two assists before the team was eliminated in the first round by the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors. Della Rovere was named to the 2009 OHL Eastern Conference All-Star team, where he recorded one goal.

The 5’11”, 200-pound Richmond Hill, Ontario, native was a member of Team Canada that won the gold medal at the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa. He also participated in the 2008 ADT Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Canada/Russia Challenge, an annual six-game exhibition tournament between all-star teams representing the three leagues of the CHL and a select team of Russian junior players. Della Rovere was Washington’s seventh-round choice, 204th overall, in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Next up for the Caps are the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night at the Verizon Center. The Sabres are five points out of the playoffs with six games to go and after tonight’s overtime loss in Atlanta are on the verge of being eliminated. The Capitals practice on Thursday at Kettler Ice Plex will be at noon and will likely be an optional one.

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Ovechkin Gets #50, Green Scores Two Before Getting Injured in Caps Win

Posted on 19 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season and added two assists as the Caps exploded for three goals in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-2, on Thursday night in Tampa. Defenseman Mike Green had a big game as well scoring his 26th and 27th goals of the season and now is ahead of Sheldon Souray of Edmonton by seven goals to lead all NHL defensmen. The bad news is that late in the game #52 was pulled to the ice awkwardly by Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos and Green struggled to get to the bench, dangling his left arm. Green then left for the locker room with just over a minute to go in a scene that has to make Caps fans very nervous because any type of serious injury to #52 would likely end the Caps chances of winning a Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. Washington is only 7-7 when Green has been out of the lineup this season. According to NHL “On the Fly” tonight, Green told reporters that he just had the wind knocked out of him but it looked worse and we’ll find out how serious it is over the next several days (the Caps are in Carolina on Saturday night).

Rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov continued to play well and he pushed his NHL record to 3-0 stopping 26 of 28 Tampa shots. Varlamov was very aggressive in goal continually challenging opponents by coming out of his cage to cut off the shooting angles. The two goals he gave up were on rebounds. The Caps are now 4-0 against Tampa Bay this season and have out scored them 21-9. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, who said afterwards “that we weren’t very good in the first two periods tonight,” is now 9-0 against the Lightning.

Here are some other thoughts and notes on the game tonight:

TO in the house:  I did not like Ovechkin’s post 50 goal celebration. It looked staged and immediately reminded me of something Terrell Owens or Chad Johnson would do in the NFL. This was Ovechkin’s third 50 goal season and I know the Great #8 gets very excited when he or any other Cap scores but sometimes it is just best to pull an Emmitt Smith or Jamal Lewis and act like you’ve done this before. I’m sure Don Cherry will have a field day with this stunt, and deservedly so. Ovechkin did go +2 on the evening and is +3 in his last two games after a stretch of 12 contests where he was -8 overall.

Laing recalled: Forward Quintin Laing was recalled from Hershey today to replace forward Boyd Gordon, who fractured a finger and will be out two to three weeks. Gordon is a very good penalty killer but so is Laing, who specializes in blocking shots. Laing had a super solid game tonight drawing a penalty on Stamkos that led to the fourth Washington goal, was +1, had two hits, and blocked one shot in 10:19 of ice time.

Kozlov shines again: Viktor Kozlov, after a very strong game in Florida on Tuesday, was very good again on Thursday notching three assists and his play to set up Michael Nylander for the Caps fourth goal showed how strong he can be on the puck. If #25 can consistently play at this level the Caps become tougher to defend

Storming the Crease: While I didn’t think Lightning goalie Mike McKenna played very well (I’m not sure he is an NHL’er), the Caps did a good job of going to the net and it was nice to see Matt Bradley get rewarded for his hard work scoring Washington’s fifth goal with seven and a half minutes left to all but end this contest. Eric Fehr and Brooks Laich are two guys you can count on to go hard to the net of the opposition and even Nylander’s tally was the result of him going into the crease area. Green’s game winner happened because the Caps crashed the cage with Ovechkin storming the front of the net and the Lightning defenders collapsed on him allowing #52 to be wide open in the slot and fire it top shelf past McKenna.

Standings: The Caps are now 45-22-6 for 96 points and trail the Boston Bruins by only four points with nine games to go (Boston has a game in hand) for first place in the Eastern Conference. However, the New Jersey Devils are sitting on 95 points in third and have three games in hand on the Caps. The Caps will finish at least third and that will help them likely avoid the Flyers and Penguins in the first round, who could face each other and hopefully wear themselves out. I’m projecting Washington will face either Montreal or the Rangers in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Caps have a 15 point lead again in the Southeast Division, although the Hurricanes have a game in hand while Florida has two games in hand (but trail by 16 points).

Lineup Notes: John Erskine was the healthy scratch on defense tonight as Brian Pothier played his second game of the season, logging 18:43 of ice time. If Green is indeed hurt for Saturday’s game Washington could opt to call up defenseman Karl Alzner, who could play the rest of the games this regular season and only finish with 39 total. From a business side keeping Alzner under 40 games helps them long term as it delays unrestricted free agency for #27 by a year. In addition, due to salary cap constraints he could not have played at the NHL level all season. However, the Caps likely have enough room to bring him up now and there is no salary cap in the playoffs.

Washington won the face-off battle tonight, 32-24.

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