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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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Caps Blank Panthers, 3-0

Posted on 17 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

After a stinker of a game on Monday night on Versus the Washington Capitals rebounded strong just 24 hours later shutting out the Florida Panthers, 3-0, to move to 44-22-6 overall and take an insurmountable 15 point lead in the Southeast Division with just 10 games to go in the regular season. The blanking was additionally amazing in that the Capitals did not give up a single shot on net in the third period so Florida not only had a donut hole on the scoreboard but in the shots on goal column in the final period. Jose Theodore, who was totally hung out to dry by his teammates in last night’s debacle in Atlanta, made 19 saves and some of them were quality stops, especially in the second period when Washington was shorthanded three times.

The effort was back tonight and you could tell right from the get go that Washington was a different team, not only because they had defenseman Mike Green and forward Sergei Fedorov back from the flu, but because they were skating hard and beating Florida to the loose pucks. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, knowing that his squad might be tired playing their third game in four nights, wisely rolled the lines and had the players go short shifts to keep everyone fresh. The strategy worked as well as Washington’s ability to clog the neutral zone on a Panthers team that relies on a transition game that is led by top defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan McCabe. Those two players really hurt the Caps in a game at Verizon Center on March 1st that Florida won easily, 6-2. Tonight Bouwmeester was pretty much invisible offensively, although he did do a good job defensively on Ovechkin, and McCabe, who is wearing a shield after suffering a facial cut, only was noticeable at times on the Florida power play.

However, it was the Florida power play where the Caps won this game, unlike last night in Atlanta when the Thrashers scored on three of four chances. Caps forward Brooks Laich, who was the deserving number one star of the game, came down alone on Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun and fired a bad angle shot off the far post and into the net to give the guys in white a one goal lead at 5:46 of the second period. After that shorthanded tally the Caps would kill off two more Panthers power plays in the second period as Florida dominated play outshooting Washington 11-8.

But the third period was all Washington and when Viktor Kozlov, who had a very strong game tonight (his best in weeks), snapped one by Vokoun after a nice set up from Michael Nylander with Laich screening #29 you could see any energy left in Florida immediately diminish. Finally, when Green scored into an open net with 1:27 to go (his 25th goal of the year) this was one was totally done.

Here are some thoughts and comments on the game:

Ovechkin Streak is Over!! In case you are wondering what streak I am talking about, as I blogged last night and JP over at Japers Rink picked up on as well, the Great #8 had gone 12 straight contests without being a plus player for an entire game. Keep in mind Ovechkin did have a 10 game point scoring streak during those 12 games but the large majority of those points came on the power play while Alexander the Great has struggled at even strength. Tonight Ovechkin was on the ice for Green’s empty netter and finished a plus one and it was an important plus because both he and Alexander Semin very smartly passed the puck out of the zone to set up Green for a breakaway empty net goal. The Alexes should be commended for not thinking about goals #50 and #30, respectively, and making the simple and smart play to close this one out.

The Old Man Returns: Fedorov, when healthy, makes a huge difference for this team overall because he settles things defensively for Washington. The former league MVP and Selke Trophy winner (top defensive forward) is such a good two way player. #91 also had several good chances tonight but just couldn’t bury the puck. Look for him to break out soon in the points column.

Green for Norris: Is there any defenseman in the National Hockey League that means more to his team than #52? Boudreau calls him “the one man breakout” and there is not a better way to describe him. When Green plays the Caps are so much more efficient getting the puck out of their zone and up the ice. He also takes the power play to a new level because of his shot. The Caps are only 7-7 when Green does not play and 37-15-6 when he is in the lineup, no surprise there. With 25 goals and one of the league leaders in ice time I do not know how he can’t be a finalist for the Norris Trophy this year. Green was +2 tonight and is now +22 overall.

Theodore: Despite only facing 19 shots #60 had to be sharp in the first two periods as Nick Tarnasky, Greg Campbell, Stephen Weiss, and David Booth all had quality scoring chances directly in front of Theo. Theodore wasn’t bad on Monday but he wasn’t as good as Kari Lehtonen, so I’m sure he wanted to jump right back in and play tonight. Another good move by Boudreau going back to his #1 goalie after the team’s bad outing in Atlanta.

Other notes and tidbits: Anyone who has played the game knows that winning face-off requires technique but more importantly, it is mostly about effort. Tonight the Caps won the face-off battle 32-23 after getting buried at the dot last night (39-21). Not one Cap played over 23 minutes tonight (Tom Poti led the team in ice time with 22:53) and that is a good thing. As I mentioned above, Boudreau used everyone and the players adhered to short shifts, so they clearly got his pre-game message and video session about effort. John Erskine had two assists tonight. The Caps only had one power play tonight and it was drawn by some hard work along the boards by Eric Fehr (who continues to just get better and better). The power play’s best chance came on a beautiful cross ice pass from Semin to Backstrom but #19 shot the puck just over the net. Next up for the Caps are the Lightning on Thursday in Tampa Bay.

Addendum: By the way, congratulations to New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who became the all time NHL leader in wins with a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night. #30 now has 552 wins passing Patrick Roy.

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

Posted on 16 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some final thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Back on Winning Track

Posted on 11 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Playing their best game in at least a couple of weeks, the Washington Capitals knocked off the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night in the land of country music, 2-1, in overtime on Sergei Fedorov’s eighth goal of the season. Viktor Kozlov set up Fedorov in the slot after another one of the many hustling and outstanding plays by Alexander Semin on Tuesday night and the 39 year old veteran faked Predator goalie Dan Ellis (42 saves) to the ice and backhanded the puck into the empty net to end Washington’s four game losing streak. With the win and Florida’s shootout loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday the Caps now lead the Southeast Division by 11 points over both the Panthers and Carolina, although Florida has a game in hand. The Caps have 14 games remaining in the regular season.

After Sunday’s shootout loss to the Penguins, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said if you were plotting the recent performance of the team on a graph that the Toronto game was a minor step in the right direction, after two duds against Carolina and Florida, and then the Pittsburgh game resulted in another increase in performance desite the loss. Tonight in Opryland the Caps went significantly higher playing a dominating game (after a horrible opening 50 seconds that led to Nashville’s only goal) by controlling the puck and outshooting the Predators 44-28, including 17-8 in the third period. If not for Ellis this could have easily been a 6-1 Washington blowout.

There were lots of good performances from guys in white sweaters but I’ll start with Semin (1 assist) who, even though he had his six game goal scoring streak stopped, was all over the ice on both ends of the rink and had numerous chances for himself and created opportunities for others. Semin seems to really be maturing and he is augmenting his unbelievable skills with a smart and solid effort each night. I can’t count how many times he back checked hard and disrupted a Nashville rush with his poke checks and pick pockets of Predator puck handlers. If Semin continues to play like this then the Caps are going to be a tough out in the playoffs.

I also thought that defenseman Mike Green had a great game tonight and #52 was more physical on the puck to go along with his usual skating, puck handling, passing, and shooting prowess. Green’s clean hit on Vernon Fiddler in the third period was a text book hit on the wing that ended up taking Fiddler out of the game. In addition, Nicklas Backstrom had an excellent game scoring the Caps first goal on a nice feed from Alexander Ovechkin and he also almost had another goal if not for an acrobatic stick save by Ellis in the third period. Backstrom is such a good two way center and he really allows Ovechkin to use his creativity. Fedorov also had his best game in a couple of weeks and he appeared to be recovered from the bad cold he had on Sunday. #91 was also an impressive 16-7 on face-offs.

In net Jose Theodore (27 saves) wasn’t tested alot, and that is tough for a goalie, but #60 should expect that and be used to it by now playing with this puck possession team that is highly skilled. When called upon tonight Theodore was there and the only goal he let up was the result of Washington running around in their own end and not clearing the front of the net (Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz were the defenseman with the Backstrom, Kozlov, Ovechkin line on that disaster of a shift that opened up the game).

Here are some other thoughts on Tuesday’s contest:

Five for Fighting: Donald Brashear was leveled by Wade Belak in a first period fight, and he may be out for awhile with a concussion as he was TKO’d (UPDATE: Brashear injured his knee and apparently was walking with a limp after the game according to Corey Masisak of the Washington Times) then Matt Bradley was bloodied by Jordin Tootoo in a fight just three seconds later. Finally Belak went after John Erskine in the second period and #4 did a decent job against one of the tougher guys in the league. Although the Caps didn’t win a single fight the Predators tactics failed to take the momentum Washington continued to build throughout the game.

How to play a 2 on 1: On Sunday against the Penguins we saw Schultz struggle on a two on one against Bill Guerin and Sydney Crosby and fail to cut off a pass that led to an easy Crosby goal (although I have to give alot of credit to the guys on offense on that play). Tonight to start the third period Green got caught in the neutral zone allowing the Predators to break in two on one with Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont but Shaone Morrisonn played it beautifully allowing Theodore to focus on the puck carrier, Arnott, and when the Predator tried to pass it to Dumont, #26 was in perfect position to break up the play and send the Caps the other way up the ice.

Puck possession/cycling: The Caps seemed to have the puck all night and they did not make alot of turnovers at the opponents blue line either firing shots, making good passes, or simply dumping the puck deep all evening. We’ve heard Boudreau say that if the Caps play their system they are a tough team to beat and tonight they played it very well (Bruce would probably say “to a T.”)

Great #8: Ovechkin had a great pass to set up Backstrom’s goal but for the second straight game his timing seemed to be off on his shot. The Great #8 had some problems with this as well on Sunday and I initially attributed it to bad ice at the Verizon Center (there were two hoops games on Saturday) but seeing Ovechkin continually fan or have pucks bounce off his sticks this evening I am starting to wonder if this batch of lumber he is using isn’t right. Anyways, whatever it is you can bet Alex will figure it out quickly and get that quick shot going and terrorizing goalies again very soon.

Flash: Tomas Fleischmann, who had a goal disallowed tonight (ruled a kick in), is skating well and getting lots of chances but he hasn’t been able to bury the puck much lately. #14 has only two goals in the 20 games since the all star break but he is+10 in those games. One would have to think that with all of the scoring opportunities he is getting and generating that the puck will start going in for him soon. He is no longer a defensive liability.

As I mentioned to Rob Yunich over at Storming the Crease (www.stormingthecrease.com) after Sunday’s game, the effort against the Penguins was a turnaround one for Washington and it was going to be nice to be able to blog about alot of positives despite that loss. Tonight, the positives weren’t hard to find for the Caps and the end result was a win that only didn’t come until overtime because of Ellis. On my way out of the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon I heard Caps assistant coach Jay Leach talking with WTOP’s Jonathan Werner on the post game show and Leach made a good point about emotion and confidence being such key factors in hockey. The Caps clearly got that going in the right direction on Sunday and tonight they took it to a much higher level and having that confidence will be big going into a tough game in Philadelphia on Thursday night. The Caps are 1-2 against the Flyers this year with the only win coming in a shootout so I know the team is itching to get some pay back for this season’s defeats as well as last year’s playoffs. Game time is 7pm.

Other Notes: The Caps failed to score on three power plays while Nashville went zero for two with the man advantage. Semin had a game high eight shots and four takeaways. Backstrom was only 9-15 on face-offs. If Brashear is out with the knee and with Michael Nylander out as well with an upper body injury the Caps will need to recall a forward for Thursday’s game against the Flyers (since the Flyers are a big and physical team I would expect either Jay Beagle or Alexandre Giroux to get the call up from Hershey).

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Caps Rally But Lose in Shootout, 4-3

Posted on 08 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

After a three game hiatus the Washington Capitals finally looked like the team that raced to a 40-18-5 record before their recent three game slide, and although the losing streak is now officially at four games, the Caps did play with more passion and energy in falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-3, today in a shootout at the Verizon Center. The Penguins, who added forwards Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin in recent acquisitions (and both are playing with Sydney Crosby), have now won six straight games since the Caps pasted them, 5-2, two weeks ago in DC. Washington did win the season series with the Penguins, going 3-0-1.

This game had a definite playoff feel to it with the Pens battling mightily to secure a position in the top eight of the Eastern Conference and the Caps trying to right a struggling ship. Both teams got goals in the first period with Pittsburgh taking the lead when defenseman Tom Poti got caught making a bad play up ice leaving Jeff Schultz alone to face Guerin and Crosby coming in two on one. Schultz, as a defenseman is instructed to do, tried to cut off the pass and let goalie Jose Theodore (19 saves on 22 shots) take the shooter. However, the savvy Guerin made a great pass to Crosby who quickly buried it past #60 to give the Pens first blood. Washington struck back just over eight minutes later when Nicklas Backstrom blocked Kris Letang’s attempted home run pass and #19 then deftly passed it behind his back to a streaking Alexander Semin who beat Fleury with one of the best backhanded moves you will ever see to tie the game up. The big downer for the Caps in the opening period was their inability to convert on three power play chances (including a four on three advantage for 1:57).

In the second period the torrid pace that was seen at the outset of this contest dissipated and the Penguins scored twice in just under three and a half minutes midway through the period to take a 3-1 lead. The first goal came on a four on three power play from Sergei Gonchar with Guerin parked directly in front of Theodore supplying a screen that allowed Gonchar’s wrister to find the upper right corner. Poti was the lone defenseman for Washington on the ice but he did no move Guerin out. Theodore shoved Guerin right before Gonchar’s shot, to no avail, and that shove clearly distracted Theo. Pittsburgh’s third goal was a bad play by Shaone Morrisonn who gave Guerin too much space and mistakenly went for an outside fake that allowed #13 to cut to the inside and fire one past Theodore. Morrisonn has to force Guerin wide in that instance and not give him a direct lane to Theodore. Fortunately for Washington, Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik was called for high sticking Mike Green and just under ninety seconds worth of Washington’s fourth power play was set to carry over into the third period.

The Caps needed just 29 of those seconds to cut this to a 3-2 game as the Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, fired one past Marc Andre-Fleury (29 saves on 32 shots) off of a Green feed to get the Verizon Center crowd back in the game (Brooks Laich did a nice job distracting Fleury as well). Then just 49 seconds later Laich tied it up as Green and Dave Steckel stole the puck from the Penguins behind the Caps net and Steckel fired a long breakaway pass to Laich that sent #21 in alone, and after he almost lost the puck, Laich backhanded it off the left post and into the net for his 16th goal of the season and his career high 38th point (Laich got his 22nd assist of the year earlier on Ovechkin’s league leading 47th goal).

“I forgot our line was up, I didn’t hear Bruce [Boudreau] call out our line so [Tomas] Fleischmann came off and I just sat there and nobody hopped on and I heard somebody screaming my name so I jumped on and I was behind their defensemen and Dave [Steckel] made a great pass to me. I tried to relax going in on the breakaway and I almost threw the puck into the corner but then I was able to get it back and make a move and was able to score. At the time it was a big goal for us and unfortunately it doesn’t go towards a win but still, we’ll take the point,” said Laich on his goal and the game.

After the early Caps fireworks in the third period the game went back and forth and the Penguins received two power plays but Washington did an outstanding job of killing them. Both Fleury and Theodore made great saves to keep this game tied and #60’s best stop of that period was a glove save on Evgeni Malkin with 7:21 to go. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was complimentary of both Theodore and Fleury after the contest.

“He made the big save when we needed it, and that’s what you want him to do.  Goalies are paid to save the puck and sometimes you can let two or three in and still be great, but in the third period with a 3-3 tie he made a tremendous glove save.  And their guy [Fleury] did the same thing, and that’s what good goalies do – they rise to the occasion.  I felt comfortable like, ‘Okay he’s going to be able to do that for us,’” said Boudreau.

After regulation ended both teams traded chances in OT before Crosby was the only one to score in the shootout (Semin, Viktor Kozlov, and then Ovechkin all were stopped by Fleury while Theodore stopped Letang) to give Pittsburgh their first win over the Caps this season. Crosby had a very good game (#1 star) and the Penguins fans who made it into the Verizon Center cheered him on but there were far fewer of them than in years past.

“It’s nice, we’ve got a few fans here ourselves but it seems like there’s a little bit less than there used to be.  [The Capitals] are definitely a tough team to play against at home,” said Crosby.

Even though the Caps lost today this was a good day for Washington as they seemed to be getting closer to breaking out of their funk and Boudreau talked about Sunday’s effort improving on Thursday’s slightly improved play against Toronto (a 2-1 loss without Ovechkin and Poti).

“We played a good game; it was a great hockey game.  To me it’s a 3-3 tie, as you know coaches absolutely hate shootouts when you lose.  The difference in emotion if we score on a penalty shot after the first 65 minutes is played, you know the difference between everyone being euphoric and down a little bit.  I think this was an uplifting game for us, by far the best of the last four,” finished Boudreau.

Notes: The Caps are now 40-21-6 good for 86 points and a 10 point lead over the Florida Panthers in the Southeast Division but Florida has a game in hand. Florida plays Pittsburgh at the Igloo on Tuesday night. Washington is in Nashville to take on the Predators on Tuesday night and after that they travel to Philadelphia for a Thursday game on Broad Street. Boudreau was asked about heading out on the road after going 3-5-1 at home during a stretch when the only road game they played was the 4-3 OT win in Boston on February 28th.

“I don’t know, we love playing at home we just haven’t been successful at home [lately].  I mean I think the change of scenery is more said than it is good.  We are going to be going into a pretty hostile environment for a team that is in ninth place right now, looking to get into the playoffs.  So, their sense of urgency is going to be really, really up there too.  I mean I would rather play at home against Nashville than in Nashville.  And Philly [Philadelphia]…”

More Notes: Washington falls to 3-4 in shootouts this season while Pittsburgh is 5-4. Dan Marouelli and Eric Furlatt were the referees today and as is typical in a Marouelli officiated game both teams had the same number of power plays (four each). I thought the zebras did a poor job today as the two of them missed a Malkin goaltender interference call in the third period as well as a BLATANT two handed slash by Kunitz on Green as time expired in regulation. In addition, the calls made at 8:30 of the third period (Letang, Donald Brashear and Matt Bradley all for roughing) were not accurate as there was no way Pittsburgh should have gotten a power play when Letang startd the whole incident with a slash after he was hit cleanly. As this was occuring I said to the Canadian TSN reporter next to me in the press box if he thought anyone would get a power play from the skermish and he said “No.” But Mariouelli and Furlatt gave Crosby and company a power play anyways, go figure. Because Poti was able to play, Tyler Sloan, who was on emergency recall from Hershey, did not. Michael Nylander, who has an upper body injury, also did not play for Washington while forward Petr Sykora was out for the Penguins with an injury. Green had two assists in a strong performance. As for any talk of the flu bug being the cause for the Caps poor play of late, that does not appear to be the case as only Theodore had it and Sergei Fedorov, who struggled through 14:58 of ice time today, is the only other one who is sick (#91 is battling a cold). Two other sources close to the team said everyone else is healthy so ailments weren’t the cause for the lack of energy and passion in the Florida and Carolina home defeats.

Stats and facts: The Capitals outscored the Penguins 9-1 in the third period of their four meetings this season, have scored at least one power-play goal in 15 of the last 18 games and are 31.4% in that time (22 of 70), recorded their 24th sellout of the season at Verizon Center, breaking the club record of 23 sellouts in a season set on two previous occasions (20 of the last 22 games have been sold out), and have lost four games in a row for the first time under Boudreau. Semin, who is starting to play well on a consistent basis once again, scored a goal for the sixth straight game.

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An Interview with Donald Brashear / NHL News

Posted on 27 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Donald Brashear Interview

After Thursday night’s Caps-Thrashers game I caught up with Donald Brashear, who has 1 goal, 3 assists, and 114 penalty minutes in 57 games this season. Brashear had a nice fight with Eric Boulton of Atlanta on Thursday night in the second period when the Caps were up, 2-1, so I wanted to get his take on that fight and other things going on with the Caps. Here is the full text of the interview:

WNST: It looked like you and Boulton had a pretty good fight tonight and they let you go a bit.

Brashear: Well, it was just a long fight and that’s about it. I was trying to get something going. Sometimes even if we are in the lead and the pace is down I try to get a little bit more life back in the arena but they scored right after [the fight] and we scored right after my penalty was over so it was good.

WNST: Have you fought Boulton before?

Brashear: Maybe only once before. I don’t usually fight him, he doesn’t usually fight. I was just trying to get some action and get things going and our team needs a little life at times, especially when we play alot of games [in a short time] so that is what I was trying to do.

WNST: Your young rookie goalies [Simeon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth] are now both 2-0 at the NHL level. What does the team think about that?

Brashear: Those guys have been called up for a reason, to help out, and when we need them every time they jumped in they did good. That is a key and a plus for our team. We are just happy to have them right now.

WNST: What do you think you guys did well Thursday night as a team?

Brashear: For the most part I think if you look at the game it seemed like a boring game, it was a checking game, and we had to be careful not to have too many turnovers and not give up scoring chances. They were just sitting there waiting for us to make mistakes. I think we stood by our system pretty much the whole three periods.

WNST: It seems like your line and the third line have been doing alot of cycling and creating chances and tonight Eric Fehr got a big goal.

Brashear: That’s good and that is the way it is. I mean, for the most part your top two lines are going to get the goals and get some goals on the power play and the third line will get some goals once in awhile and your fourth line too. That’s what you have to do and the bottom line is you have to make sure we don’t get scored on when we go out. If we can spend some time in their zone and tire those guys out, especially their defensemen that play alot of minutes, then it is a plus for our team when our good players are on the ice.

NHL News

According to Pierre LeBrun (http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/blog/index?entryID=3939771&name=lebrun_pierre) the St. Louis Blues may not be trading Keith Tkachuk after all because they are in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. So much for my plan to get him here on a line with Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin to go along with the Alexander Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Viktor Kozlov first line.

Goalie Martin Gerber was put on re-entry waivers by the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. He currently makes $3.7M but on a re-entry move the goalie can be had at a 50% discount. Buffalo and Calgary apparently are interested (Ryan Miller is injured in Buffalo and Calgary’s backup is seldom used and unproven Curtis McElhinney).

Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post is reporting that Boston forwards Marc Savard and Milan Lucic may not play against the Caps on Saturday afternoon at 1pm (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalsinsider/2009/02/boston_globe_lucic_and_savard.html)

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Caps Crush Penguins, 5-2 / Trade Talk

Posted on 22 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Win Easily

Caps hockey is as much fun as ever and if you were at the Verizon Center today you know what I am talking about. Alexander Ovechkin and company trounced the defending Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, 5-2, on national television (this was the NHL’s NBC game of the week) in front of the eighth consecutive home sellout (and 15th in the last 16 games). This contest was a message to the rest of the NHL that the Caps are a team to be reckoned with and the club is now 38-17-5, the best ever in franchise history after 60 games. Also, don’t look now, but with the suddenly skidding Boston Bruins losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday evening the Caps are now only seven points out of first place in the Eastern Conference (Washington is in Boston on Saturday afternoon for the final meeting of the regular season between those two teams).

Sunday’s game belonged to the Washington Russian trio of Ovechkin, Sergei Fedorov, and Alexander Semin, who each had a goal and an assist. Semin, who was widely criticized for remarks that he may or may not have said (I still think he was misquoted) about Sydney Crosby earlier in the year, clearly enjoys playing the Penguins and the guys in black seem to bring out the best in #28’s game. Semin was great at even strength, on the power play, and even more importantly killing penalties today as the men in the zebra striped shirts (Chris Rooney and Marc Joanette) decided to give the Penguins more than double the number of power plays than Washington despite the Caps carrying much of the play today. The Caps, however, would hold the Pens to scoring just once on their eight man advantage tries while the guys wearing red lit the lamp twice in three attempts. The good news is that when you play as well as Washington did today the clowns blowing the whistle don’t even matter. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was happy with the effort although he gave the Penguins an excuse for not matching Washington’s play Sunday afternoon.

“You gotta understand, they (Pittsburgh) played [yesterday afternoon]. And it was a physical game this afternoon. We thought if we could keep attacking they would get tired. It’s natural. Teams tire in the second games of back-to-backs. The rivalry they have with Philadelphia and getting up for it and the rivalry they have with us, when you get a 4-2 or 5-2 lead you can see the shoulders start to sag a little bit. I thought we had a lot of chances in the third that we didn’t finish. Our key today, was that I believe all four lines can score and we didn’t do this against Colorado, but all four lines when we don’t have the puck have to be able to check. I thought we did a great job of limiting (their odd man rushes),” said Boudreau summing up a very good afternoon for his team.

This was a big win for the Caps because it was the first time they’ve beaten the Pens at the Verizon Center since December 11, 2006. In addition, the number of Penguins fans was significantly down from years past although I did see a few “Yinz from Downtown”, as Nestor Aparacio likes to call them, wearing Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys. But this series, which for years and years has been dominated by the Penguins, especially in the playoffs, is now turning in Washington’s favor as the Caps are 4-1-1 against Pittsburgh under Boudreau with the only loss coming when Nicklas Backstrom inadvertently put the puck in his own net last March.  Boudreau, however, still wasn’t ready to say that the Caps are the dominant team.

“Everything has peaks and valleys. We’ve won three, but I don’t think it’s changing unless we win seven or eight in a row. As long as they have those two guys on their team (Penguins forwards Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby) it’s going to be tough to do,” said Boudreau on this rivalry.

I’ve been around this team since its inception and when I worked for the team Pittsburgh won four of the five playoff series the Caps and Pens were involved in (1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, and 1996). Therefore, I will say that the times are changing and it is primarily due to the Great #8. He is a guy that makes a huge difference and the crowd broke into “M-V-P” chants a few times today (and I don’t think that #87 wearing black liked it too much either). Crosby, who is the league’s poster boy primarily because he is Canadian, was clearly frustrated today and was jawing constantly at several Capitals and every now and then threw in an extra shove or cross check but was called for none of it. He did get into it with Ovechkin by the Caps bench very late in the second period and the Great #8 got the last dig in waving to Sydney as if to say “we kicked your butts today, quit whining, and get out of here.” Boudreau was asked about their altercation after the game and clearly there is no love lost between them or these two teams based on Bruce’s response.

“I think he (Crosby) got frustrated because he wasn’t getting the freedom he’s had in this building before. I just think he was frustrated. It adds spice. It’s entertainment. It gets your blood boiling a little bit. And every time Alex (Ovechkin) gets a little more excitable, it can be good for us because he gets his adrenaline going, he doesn’t tire and he just keeps going. When he gets in those modes, he’s tough to stop,” said Boudreau on Ovechkin and Crosby.

In addition to the great play of the Caps Russian trio, Backstrom (two assists) was once again one of the outstanding players for Boudreau. The Caps coach could not agree more and continues to praise his young center and point out that the best is still to come with #19.

“He’s gonna get better. A lot of people want to credit Alex (Ovechkin) but I credit Nicky with a lot of Alex’s success as well. He’s such a good passer. He’s more well-rounded and he’s killing penalties now. He’s gonna be great. He knows the league a little bit better too. Today, he had a couple of real good (physical) battles in the corner. And he won those battles. He’s got a little bit of a temper on him. When he gets real comfortable, when he’s 23, 24-years-old, he’s gonna be the whole package,” added Boudreau on Backstrom.

Jose Theodore stopped 31 of 33 shots today and outside of a bad rebound he gave up on the first Pittsburgh goal, scored by Maxine Talbot, he was very good. The only other shot that beat him was a Sergei Gonchar power play blast from the point that found the top right corner. Also, when you are shorthanded eight times you need your goalie to be your best penalty killer and Theo did that today. In fact his best stop of the night was on Ryan Whitney on the Pens first of three power plays early in third period. Whitney was set up beautifully on a back door pass but Theodore read the play and slid across the crease to stone the Penguins defeneseman.  After that save Pittsburgh did not have much life and started slumping their shoulders as Boudreau alluded to after the game.

Notes: Defenseman Staffan Kronwall, who has not been very impressive in the two games he has played with Washington, was a healthy scratch. Forward Viktor Kozlov is still out with a groin injury and when he returns he will likely be back on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. That will likely move Michael Nylander, who has not been playing well the last several games, to the bench as a healthy scratch. Pittsburgh’s Marc Andre-Fleury struggled in net, like he has done most of the season, and was pulled in favor of Mathieu Garon after the Caps fifth goal. The Pens are still in 10th place in the East and four points behind the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, and Buffalo Sabres who each have at least a game in hand on Pittsburgh. I still think the Pens will find a way into the playoffs, although you wouldn’t see me upset at all if they ended up having to make tee times instead. Next up for Washington is the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday at the Verizon Center. Boudreau on that matchup: “We don’t like them and they don’t like us.” You gotta love the honesty and candor from this guy who is nothing but a straight shooter.

Trade Talk

The NHL trade deadline is Wednesday March 4th and I had conversations with two prominent members of the media who cover this team on a regular basis and both agreed that GM George McPhee needs to get another goalie at the trade deadline, primarily due to the Brent Johnson injury situation, so that Washington has another option should Theodore get hurt. Names bantered around included Dwayne Roloson of Edmonton, Curtis Joseph of Toronto, and Manny Legace of St. Louis (who is playing for Peoria of the AHL). Given that the Oilers are very much in the playoff hunt and could be a destination for Florida defensemen Jay Bouwmeester, should the Panthers move him, I don’t see Roloson being traded (although he is an unrestricted free agent after this season and the Oilers have been grooming 24 year old Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers for the starting job). Roloson is the best of the trio mentioned above and a quick look at the list of free agent goalies after this season doesn’t yield a whole lot of other viable names. Talk of needing another defensemen was also a hot topic and it was also mentioned that rookie defenseman Karl Alzner, who is down in Hershey, will likely be back up with the big club after the trade deadline. Discussion of adding a power forward also ensued and as anyone who reads this blog knows I would love to bring forward Keith Tkachuk onto this team if a good deal can be had with St. Louis.

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Caps Win In Shootout, 4-3

Posted on 18 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Beat Montreal in Shootout, 4-3

After a 2-0-1 road trip the Washington Capitals returned to face the struggling Montreal Canadiens at the Verizon Center, a place where Washington had won 11 straight games against Eastern Conference opponents and were 22-4-1 overall. The Canadiens, however, would not be easy outs tonight and they got very good goaltending from Carey Price and scored three power play goals, before falling in the shootout to the Caps, 4-3, before another sellout crowd. The Caps are now in sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference and are 37-16-5 (79 points) overall. The New Jersey Devils are in third place two points behind Washington. The Caps have a 13 point lead over second place Florida in the Southeast Division (the Panthers do have a game in hand).

As I’ve written in this blog several times this season, the Montreal Canadiens came into their 100th NHL season expected by their fans to win the Stanley Cup, especially after they finished 1st overall in the Eastern Conference last season. However, the team has practically imploded and came into this contest 3-10 in their last 13 games. As a result GM Bob Gainey made some drastic moves this week trading for veteran and former Montreal defensemen Mathieu Schneider and telling superstar forward Alexei Kovalev to stay home on the current two game road trip (they play in Pittsburgh on Thursday). Also several players, including forward Sergei Kostitsyn who scored the game winner against Washington back on January 10th, were sent down to Hamilton of the AHL. But sometimes adversity can bring a team together and that was what Gainey and Coach Guy Charbonneau were hoping for with moves that shocked much of the Canadian media. On Wednesday night Gainey’s moves worked enough to get the Habs into the shootout and get a point in the standings.

The game got off to a very bad start for the Caps as Mike Green took a puck in the mouth area (but he turned out to be okay) and then was called for an all too familiar “delay of game” penalty for shooting the puck over the glass from the defensive zone when trying to make a low percentage long pass. On the ensuing face-off Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov shot the puck wide but it bounced hard off of the back boards and with Jose Theodore slow to get back in position, Christopher Higgins shot it over #60 from a sharp angle. The power play goal for the Canadiens was huge for a team that has struggled with the man advantage lately (they gave up two shorthanded goals in Calgary last week).

After the Habs opening tally the home team got going as the Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, scored another one of his highlight reel goals stealing the puck from defensemen Roman Hamrlik in the neutral zone, headed hard to the net with the puck, was tripped from behind while going in alone on Habs goalie Carey Price, and amazingly then managed to get his stick on the puck and shove it on the ice past Price to electrify the sellout crowd. It was Ovechkin’s league leading 42nd goal on the campaign. Once again I could do nothing but invoke the immortal words of Jeff Spicoli – “Awesome, Totally Awesome!”

Shortly thereafter the Caps then made it 2-1 on the latter half of consecutive power plays when Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov worked a beautiful give and go that resulted in Backstrom depositing the puck past Price. After that Washington came close to making it 3-1 during a long stretch in which they dominated play, however, Price was the key to keeping the game close. In fact, the Caps could have had several goals during a ten minute stretch of domination but the young net minder would not let his team be buried.

Then, as has been the case several times this season, the Caps suffered a mental breakdown in their own zone and Shaone Morrisonn took a careless penalty. Montreal then made it 2 for 2 on the power play as John Erskine failed to clear Tomas Plekanac in front of the net and the Cap killer screened Theodore allowing a centering pass from Andrei Kostitsyn to go through the goalie and into the net. At the end of one period it was 2-2 with the Caps outshooting Montreal 14-10 and leading in the scoring chances department by 7-4.

In the second period the Canadiens came out strong again but Theodore made some good saves. Midway through the period Fedorov took a lazy hooking penalty but Washington was finally able to kill an infraction with some solid goaltending early and then actually generated some shorthanded scoring chances late. Washington received a power play after a Hamrlik interference call but could not convert and the remainder of the second period was pretty much uneventful.

In the third period Plekanac continued his excellent play against Washington and had two quality scoring chances from the slot on his first shift but Theodore denied him. Then with 11:12 to go Semin took a hooking penalty backchecking late after he, Ovechkin, and Backstrom were initially caught up ice. Just nine seconds after the face-off Plekanac notched his third goal of the season against Washington on a bad angled shot that Theodore was out of position on and proceeded to miss. Suddenly the apparently down and out Habs had a 3-2 lead, all on power play goals, and seemed poise to get a huge road win. The Montreal pressure continued and with 8:08 remaining Habs Captain Saku Koivu found himself all alone in the slot but Theodore made a big save to keep Washington in the game. Right after that #60 then forced Maxim Lapierre to shoot wide when he was all alone in front and the Caps dodged another bullet.

The Caps then fortunately tied the game with 2:39 to go in regulation when Dave Steckel tipped in a Tom Poti point shot right off of the face-off to set up an exciting overtime. Early on in the extra five minute segment Theodore made a big save on Higgins and then the Habs almost won on a shot by Plekanec, after an awful neutral zone giveaway by Michael Nylander, but it rang off of the left post.

In the shootout, Semin went first and scored wristing one over Price’s glove and Backstrom easily beat Price stick side while Theodore denied both Plekanec and then Markov. Next up for the Caps are the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night at 7pm. This is the second of five straight Washington home games.

Notes: Washington outshot Montreal 35-33. Nylander was 2-6 on faceoffs, played only 14:57 of ice time, and as mentioned above almost lost the game in overtime by turning the puck over at mid ice. Fedorov had another strong game with an assist in 17:50 of ice time that included a couple of shifts on defense in overtime. Ovechkin played 25:33 and had six shots on net. Green had an assist and five shots on goal in 29:40 of ice time (lead all players). Forward Eric Fehr’s four game goal scoring streak was stopped. Defenseman Staffan Kronwall was a healthy scratch. Viktor Kozlov is still out with a groin injury.

Caps Season Ticket Sales Up!

Washington Capitals fans purchased more than 1,000 full season tickets on Tuesday, Feb. 17, the first day season tickets were available for purchase for the 2009-10 season. The vast majority of those fans committed to purchasing 2009 Stanley Cup playoff tickets and renewals of existing accounts were also brisk – the latest signs of the excitement surrounding Capitals hockey in the nation’s capital.

Increased demand for Capitals tickets has been evident throughout the season, especially lately. For example:

Twelve of the last 13 games have been sold out, including six in a row entering Wednesday’s game against Montreal

Sixteen games have been sold out on the year, double the total from last season

Attendance has risen to an average of 18,018, which is 98.6% of capacity at Verizon Center and a 27% increase from last year at this time.

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Caps Lose 5-4 in Shootout to Rangers

Posted on 11 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals attempt to sweep the season series versus the New York Rangers for the first time ever in Caps history was denied, 5-4, in a shootout tonight as Ryan Callahan, who was one of the best players on the ice on Wednesday, scored in the fourth round on a shot that hit the cross bar and then banked off of the skates of Caps goalie Jose Theodore (28 saves on 32 shots) and into the net. Brooks Laich’s shootout try to tie the game was then denied by the Rangers Henrik Lundqvist (26 saves on 30 shots). The Caps, who went 3-0-1 against New York season, and are 34-16-5 overall, did get a point this evening, and are now tied for second place overall in the Eastern Conference with the New Jersey Devils, who beat the Islanders, 4-2, on Wednesday night.

Caps defenseman Mike Green continues to be RED HOT and he tied an NHL record for defenseman by scoring a goal in his seventh straight game (tied Mike O’Connell, who did it with Boston in 1983-84). #52 lit the lamp twice in the second period and now has an amazing 21 goals on the season in just 42 games played (Green missed 13 games due to a shoulder injury). The Caps other offense came in the first period from the Tomas Fleischmann, Sergei Fedorov, and Eric Fehr line with both Fleischmann (16th goal of season) and Fehr (7th goal of season) scoring in close while the Rangers got on the board in the first period when Caps defenseman Karl Alzner picked the wrong player on a three on two allowing Callahan to easily score past Theodore. Alzner made a rookie mistake on that play and I’m sure the coaches will show him the film and he’ll correct how he plays those type of rushes in the future.

Outside of Green’s two goals in the second period, the middle stanza was one of the worst periods I’ve seen the Caps play defensively (but not as bad as the Kings game last Thursday) as they turned the puck over numerous times and failed to clear the front of their net as the Rangers employed a tactic that Washington will see more and more of down the stretch and in the playoffs – opposing forwards crashing the net. Alzner and Dave Steckel had horrible periods and at the end of the night young Karl was a minus 2 while Steckel was a minus 3.

After a bad second period, the third period got even weirder as the Rangers were given 9:24 of power play time, including 36 seconds on a 5 on 3, but for the second straight game the Caps were great on the penalty kill and did not allow a goal. Some of the calls were rather shaky, like the diving on Tom Poti and the cross check on Alexander Ovechkin, but anyone who regularly reads this blog knows that I am not a fan of the referees and overall they were pretty bad tonight (Marc Joannette and Dan O’Rourke). The call on Shaone Morrisonn, however, was a good one and #26 continues to take too many bad penalties (he has to learn to be in better control of his body and his stick). Even with all of the power play time New York only had a 9-6 shots advantage which really highlights how great a job the Caps penalty killers did. That is encouraging but the careless penalties do need to stop because a good power play, and the Rangers do not have a dangerous one (worst in the Eastern Conference), would typically bury a team in that situation.

In the first period there were two fights that clearly were negotitated before the puck dropped, something the NHL needs to look into this off-season, with the first being a spirited bought between Donald Brashear and Colton Orr and the second just three seconds later between Matt Bradley and Aaron Voros. Neither fight gave the Caps or the Rangers any type of momentum or advantage.

Overall I thought Theodore was above average tonight and he was out of position on Paul Mara’s goal that gave the Rangers a 4-3 lead but with all of the traffic he was facing in front of him he had to have a tough time playing the angles and challenging the shooters like he normally does. He was very good in the third period when the Caps were shorthanded and needed some big stops.

It will be interesting to see if Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau puts the more physical John Erskine back into the lineup for a game this weekend (Washington is in Tampa on Saturday and then Florida on Sunday) and if defensemen Staffan Kronwall takes the body like his brother Niklas does in Detroit he could help control traffic in front of Theodore going forward. I’d expect to see Milan Jurcina and possibly Morrisonn sit out this weekend if Kronwall or Erskine are inserted because neither of those guys are playing real well right now. Alzner struggled tonight but he is a guy that will bounce back next game.

The other question is will goalie Michael Neuvirth get to play one of the games, which would be his first ever NHL contest? Tampa would seem like the obvious choice for that to happen.

Notes: Alexander Ovechkin extended the shootout by scoring the only Caps goal in the third round in that sideshow circus event that I despise (I still have no problems with a game ending in a tie, but I am a traditionalist). The Great #8 had an assist, five shots on net, and an amazing 13 hits! Forward Jay Beagle, called up from Hershey today, became the 35th player to suit up for Washington this season with Viktor Kozlov still out of the lineup with a bad groin and Alexander Semin missing due to an undisclosed injury. Neuvirth and Steffan could make it 36 and 37 this weekend. Ranger fans clearly do not like defensemen Wade Redden, who was given a ridiculous six year deal at $6.5M a year by GM Glen Sather, and he was booed often by the hometown crowd (many of which were probably in the famed blue seats!). I’d gladly take a matchup between the Caps and the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs but if Washington can finish second they likely would not face New York, who should finish in the top six of the Eastern Conference. It is now only 21 days until the NHL TRADE DEADLINE on March 4th!!!

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Caps Claim Kronwall off Waivers / Recall Giroux from Hershey / NHL News

Posted on 06 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

More Caps Moves After Alzner Call Up

The Washington Capitals claimed defensemen Staffan Kronwall, the brother of Red Wings defensemen Niklas Kronwall, today from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Combined with the recall of Karl Alzner from Hershey the Caps will now have 8 healthy defensemen on the roster.

In addition, John Walton of Hershey is reporting that forward Alexander Giroux has been recalled from the Bears by Washington. With Viktor Kozlov out and Brooks Laich suffering from a bad calf as a result of a shot off of his leg on Thursday against Los Angeles, GM George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau wanted to make sure they have 12 healthy forwards for their big game with the Florida Panthers on Saturday night at the Verizon Center (first 5,000 kids 14 and under get a free Caps lunchbox too!).

The Kronwall acquisition is a bit of a head scratcher for me considering the guy wasn’t playing up in the NHL with a bad Leafs team (he was in the AHL playing for the Toronto Marlies) even with defensemen Tomas Kaberle out with an injury. McPhee is pretty tight with Leafs GM Brian Burke and Ron Wilson used to coach here so perhaps George got some insight from them on Kronwall??

NHL News

Sean Avery, who has undergone anger management counseling for two months, is now ready to continue his hockey career, his agent said today. Dallas Co-GM Les Jackson says the Stars do not want him back and there is talk of him possibly ending back up with the Rangers after a stint in the AHL with Hartford (New York’s minor league affiliate)

The Pittsburgh Penguins were trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 after two periods on Wednesday night so I turned on the game expecting to see Head Coach Michel Therien’s last period as the Pens bench boss (he is reportedly on thin ice). Fortunately for Therien forward Evgeni Malkin carried Pittsburgh on his back in the third period and overtime to lead them to a thrilling 4-3 victory. The Pens were in 10th place and three points behind eight place Florida heading into tonight’s game with Columbus. Pittsburgh is up 3-0 after two periods and would move just one point back of the eighth spot but the Panthers have three games in hand.

The Anaheim Ducks have played 55 games, most in the NHL, and are sitting in 5th place in the Western Conference standings. However, the teams that are only six points or less behind them (10 teams) all have at least four games in hand except for Phoenix (two games) and Colorado (three games). This means that Anaheim could find itself on the outside looking in at the playoffs when the number of games played evens out in the near future. Defensemen Scott Niedermayer is a free agent after the season and according to the talk on Hockey Night in Canada Radio with Jeff Marek and Craig Simpson on Thursday (Sirius 122), he is likely to come back next year only in Anaheim so that he can play in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver (Niedermayer is from British Columbia).  What does that mean? Well perhaps Anaheim may look to move $6.25M salary cap man Chris Pronger at this year’s deadline since they won’t want to have over $12M a year tied up in two defensemen. If Pronger gets moved you can bet that whatever team gets him will immediately become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Here is a question to Caps fans: Would you trade forward Alexander Semin for Chris Pronger? Both Semin and Pronger are signed through the 2009-10 season.

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