Tag Archive | "Lundqvist"

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Miracle Comeback Propels Caps to 3-1 Series Lead

Posted on 21 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

It was the worst of times, then it was the best of times. The Washington Capitals totally took the middle period off on Wednesday night and it nearly cost them the game and perhaps the series against the New York Rangers. But somehow this resilient Caps crew got refocused in the intermission, came roaring back in the third period to tie the game at three, and then sent the game to overtime. After a scoreless first overtime, one that included Alexander Ovechkin not converting on a clean breakaway, the game went to a second extra frame. At the 12:36 mark the Rangers miscommunicated on a puck that was thrown towards goalie Henrik Lundqvist (49 saves) and Jason Chimera, who was hustling on the play, got the biscuit after the Blueshirts Marian Gaborik knocked it into him by the right post and #25 tapped it home for a miraculous 4-3 Washington victory!

For the Caps, the game four win pushes their best of seven game series lead to three games to one, a familiar place we can talk more about on Thursday and Friday, but for tonight we’ll focus on a contest in which Washington took over once they started skating and being aggressive. It had to be mind boggling for Capitals fans to watch that second period, the worst since the Rangers 6-0 victory in DC on February 25th. The Caps stopped moving their feet and even worse, their play away from the puck was downright atrocious. Every one of the Rangers three goals came because Washington was caught looking at the biscuit and not looking around and covering open Rangers players. As a result Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth (36 saves), who was fabulous in this tilt, was hung out to dry too often. It was almost like Washington went brain dead because they had skaters in position on defense but the Capitals players became puck memorized.

In the past, the Capitals might have been run out of the rink in the final frame but this club is different. Alexander Semin turned it up several notches and his goal 2:44 into period three gave Washington some reason to believe. Just 57 seconds later some hard work by Brooks Laich in the corner resulted in him finding Marcus Johansson at the side of the net for a tap in to make it 3-2. MJ90 would then get the tying goal by going to the cage once again and Carlson’s laser, just after Sean Avery’s slashing penalty against Ovechkin expired, hit the young Swede in the pants and went into the net with 7:53 remaining in regulation. The Rangers and their normally boisterous crowd were stunned.

Here is the rest of the analysis and some quotes from a win for the ages for this young Capitals team:

– I did not like at all the way Washington was sitting back in the first 40 minutes. The Caps have a major speed advantage on this physical Rangers team so I was happy to see the Capitals get more aggressive in period three. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s message of getting pucks deep was finally heeded from the 40 minute mark on and Washington dominated. The Capitals started moving their feet and when they do that New York just can’t keep up.

” If we play the same way, no one can stop us — the way we played in the third period and overtime,” said Ovechkin after the victory (h/t to Tom Gulliti of the The Record for that quote via Twitter).

– Young players make mistakes, no doubt, and Carlson made several in the first 40 minutes. Johansson also wasn’t playing well either. But the great thing about these rookies is they have no memory plus their youth allows them to get stronger as the game goes on. Both #74 and especially #90 played big roles in the comeback. Boudreau said afterwards that he thought the line of Johansson-Chimera-Eric Fehr was his best and freshest unit in the extra frames and that their skating helped them take over (h/t Comcast Sports Net). MJ90 and #16 were both +3 on the night. Chimera started on the top unit with Ovechkin (-2) and Nicklas Backstrom (-1) and was moved down so he ended up -1.

– For the most part, Washington looked like the fresher team in the overtimes while the Rangers looked gassed. The Caps are a better skating team and perhaps the weight of blowing a 3-0 lead on home ice with the crowd going crazy caught up with the Blueshirts? New York relies heavily on the d-pair of Dan Girardi and Marc Staal and those guys had the highest ice times of any other players on either team at 39:45 and 36:55, respectively.

– Neuvirth was fabulous and he made some big saves to keep the Capitals in this game. One of his best stops was on Gaborik in the overtime when Carlson was caught a little flat footed. #30, who was run into twice for penalties by Brian Boyle, didn’t let the Rangers get him out of his game and he is on the verge of going 15 for 15 in North American playoff series.

– So here we are again, a 3-1 Capitals series lead, this time after an incredible comeback. We all know this situation too well and this series isn’t over yet. Will this year be different and Washington finally learns to put the dagger in their opponent in game five? I’d like to think so but we’ll get into that more on Thursday and Friday. For now just enjoy a tiring yet thrilling and exciting victory for the Caps.

Notes: Carlson logged 34:50 to lead the Caps in ice time…Washington won the faceoff battle, 46-44. Jason Arnott was 12-8 and Boyd Gordon went 8-5…Washington was 0 for 4 on the power play but the game tying tally came just seconds after Avery’s slashing penalty ended…the Caps killed off all seven Rangers power plays. The trips on Gordon (second one) and Mike Green were bad and the interference called on Marco Sturm in the first period was atrocious. Backstrom did get away with a crosscheck on Staal in the 2nd OT…the zebras were Paul Devorski and Steve Kozari and let’s just say I could do without seeing either of them again in the playoffs…down on the farm the Hershey Bears lost, 3-2, in game four in Charlotte. The Bears and Checkers will play game five on Friday night in North Carolina. Game six will be at the Giant Center on Sunday at 5 pm. Game seven, if necessary, would be Monday night at 7 pm in Chocolatetown.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on at 715 am on Thursday talking Capitals hockey with Drew Forrester on the Comcast Morning Show on WNST 1570 AM Baltimore. Listen Live at WNST.NET.

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Rangers Outwork Caps in Game 3 Victory

Posted on 17 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After losing game two last Friday night, New York Rangers Coach John Tortorella said he felt his team was close and that they had some momentum heading into game three despite trailing their best of seven series, 2-0, to the Washington Capitals. The Caps talked about the storm they’d likely face from the Blueshirts in game three and their ability to be able to weather it. Well, Washington managed to survive a first period that included killing off an 85 second five on three Rangers power play, but in the final two periods they got into penalty trouble, had some sloppy shifts in their own zone, and lost on a Brandon Dubinsky tally with 1:39 remaining in regulation. The 3-2 New York victory cuts the Capitals series lead to two games to one with game four set for Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Here are the highlights and analysis from a blown opportunity to take command of this series by the Caps:

– Plain and simple, the Rangers outworked the Capitals in this contest. New York wanted this one more and it showed on the ice. The Blueshirts talked about getting more traffic and presence around rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth (32 saves) and they did just that. Two of their three tallies were the result of storming the crease and they missed by less than a second on getting a fourth at the end of period two in similar fashion. The only thing that saved Washington there was the green light going on as the puck was on the goal line. Tortorella’s crew made a concerted effort to drive to the net this entire game, often times taking liberties with Neuvirth. But with the officials not calling those type of infractions and clamping down on the stick work, the Rangers had things refereed in their favor, but more on that later.

– Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist, -1), after game one, mentioned that if you make a mistake in your own zone it is likely going to end up in the back of your net. The Caps did that too often on Sunday afternoon. Both of the last two Rangers goals were the result of the Caps being out of position defensively. On goal two, a rebound tally by Vinny Prospal, Jason Arnott and Ovechkin appeared to switch positions on the ice and Matt Bradley got caught too low off of his point man, Marc Staal. Karl Alzner got tied up with Marian Gaborik in front, so Neuvirth didn’t get a good look at the shot from #18, and the biscuit hit #30 then fell on the doorstep where #20 slammed it home eight minutes into period three. After Mike Knuble tied the game up on a power play with just over five minutes to go, Dubinsky scored the game winner in a four on four situation where Ovechkin, Scott Hannan, and Alzner each had chances to stop #17’s progress to the net. Ovechkin fell to the ice in the left wing corner, Hannan got tied up with Ruslan Fedotenko allowing Dubinsky to get a lane below the goal line, then Alzner hesitated a hair in front of the net, and #17 banked the biscuit off of #27 into the goal for the game winner. Sloppy defense and hard work by New York led to the two goals and that was the difference in the hockey game.

– Neuvirth played well for the most part, especially with Sean Avery and Brandon Prust in his face or hitting him all night. Both #16 and #8 violated the rules but referees Chris Rooney, Tim Peel, and Frederick L’Ecuyer, who replaced Rooney early in the second period when #5 was injured (broken fibula per Jeff Marek of HNIC), chose to allow that stuff to continue despite pleas from the Capitals bench to put a halt to it. #30 was superb on the Rangers 1st period 5 on 3 and he made numerous big stops, but the first goal he gave up to Erik Christensen from a bad angle on the power play cannot go in. Neuvy got caught cheating and #26’s super laser found the top of the cage short side to give New York another jolt of energy. Neuvirth is a fierce competitor and needs to come back with a strong game four.

– Washington scored their second power play goal of the series to tie the game as Knuble banged home a rebound of a Backstrom shot after Ovechkin made a super pass that split the Rangers PK box. The Caps other two PP opportunities were a mixed bag. Brooks Laich got some point time again and while, in general, I like that he shoots the puck a lot, he needs to do a better job of when to fire away. A couple of his shots were easily blocked and a little more patience would have helped. Overall the Capitals power play is two for eight in the series (25%), they just need to get more chances, but more on that next.

– After a combined total of nine power plays in games one and two, there were 10 power plays in this contest. New York had seven and the Caps only received three in a contest that was clearly called differently than the two at the Verizon Center. The injury to Rooney changed the playing field as L’Ecuyer is not a guy who should be doing playoff games. The Caps do have a beef with the zebras allowing the extra curricular stuff on their goalie plus unneccessary head shots to Mike Green and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee have two days to drill that into the NHL Supervisor of Officials for the series. However, if you look at all of the calls against Washington, the only one I could say that was not a penalty, by the letter of the law, might have been the holding minor on Hannan. Once the interference on Matt Hendricks was called in period one the Caps should have realized that things were changing but they kept taking infractions of the lazy variety. The Rangers had their share of holding and interference but they got away with it more because they were moving their feet while Washington glided and used their sticks, for the most part. In addition, taking so many penalties caused Boudreau to have to use his PKers more and that took a lot of ice time away from Ovechkin, Arnott, and Semin. Lastly on the penalty front, the Capitals can’t get into post whistle scrums because it also hurts the rotation. If Carlson doesn’t go off with Brian Boyle late in the game then he is on the ice with Alzner on the 4 on 4 and Dubinsky likely doesn’t get to the net. #74 is a righty, so he would have had his stick in the lane #17 took below the goal line, and therefore could have more easily knocked the puck away from Dubinsky. Carlson needs to keep his head because he is far more valuable on the ice than in the penalty box.

– In closing, the Capitals, to a man, need to realize the referees did not cost them this game, a lack of hard work and resolve did that. Sure the officials played a role in their defeat but if Washington plays harder and smarter, the calls would have likely been more even (then again, we are talking about L’Ecuyer). New York did a better job of moving their feet and therefore, got the seven power plays and won the game. Boudreau and McPhee are the only ones who should be working the media and the league about the officials at this point, not the players. This is where it is important that the Capitals get past that and put everything they can into working harder than New York on Wednesday.  The Rangers, who are a resilient bunch, have the momentum right now and with their crowd support will likely come out strong again in game four. But the Capitals are the better team and need to show that. They must remember what it felt like to lose a 3-1 series lead last year, use that pain to generate a killer instinct, and jump on New York early on. They should be the team possessing the puck more and getting in Henrik Lundqvist’s grill, not the other way around. Boudreau needs to make some minor tactical adjustments to help Washington better use their speed advantage. Tortorella made his tweaks to his lines and got a victory, now it is up to Bruce, combined with a message to get focused on working hard from veteran leaders like Arnott, Knuble, and Hannan, to help put the Capitals in control of this matchup again.

Notes: Green led the Caps in ice time with 22:52…Dubinsky played 25:45, the most for either team…the Caps got outhit 41-29 and lost the faceoff battle, 45-35. Boyd Gordon was 11-5 but Arnott lost 15 of 19 draws. Chris Drury only played 7:58 for the Blueshirts but won 15 of 19 from the dot…The Hershey Bears got 22 saves from Braden Holtby in their 4-2 victory over Charlotte on Sunday afternoon at the Giant Center. Bears D-man Dmitry Orlov was +4 with an assist. The series is tied with game 3 in Charlotte (Carolina’s AHL team) set for Tuesday night.

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Caps Likely to Face Changed Rangers Lineup In Game 2

Posted on 14 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After last night’s 2-1 overtime victory at the Verizon Center in a game in which they dominated most of the play, the Washington Capitals have to feel pretty good about themselves and their ability to succeed in low scoring games in the post season. The Caps played solid defense and for the most part didn’t give the Rangers many opportunities to score.

But that game is history now and you can bet your bottom dollar that New York Coach John Tortorella will make some adjustments for game two. The Rangers didn’t generate a lot of offense and Greg Schimmel of The Washington Post is reporting that the 2004 Stanley Cup Champion bench boss had Erik Christensen playing on the Blueshirts top line flanked by Vinny Prospal and Marian Gaborik in practice on Thursday. If true, this is essentially an “All Offensive Eggs in One Basket” move by New York. All three of those guys have a decent history against the Caps and those of you who read my series preview know that not giving #20 and #10 time and space was a key determinant of success in this series for Washington.

The Caps defensemen did a very good job of keeping Rangers forwards away from goalie Michal Neuvirth. #30 didn’t allow many rebounds and was able to see almost all of the shots he faced. In nearly four periods of play there were only 25 total New York shots on net, so Tortorella can’t be happy at all with that. Thus, I expect that super pest Sean Avery may just get a sweater on Friday night to try and agitate the Capitals and their young goalie. The key for Washington will be to not get caught into his crazy antics and take stupid penalties. Avery has been benched recently for a reason, and he has a tendency to hurt his team when he gets carried away, but if he manages to get his head screwed on straight for 60 minutes he can be a very effective player. I say New York rolls the dice and #16 is in on Friday.

Washington managed to get a win on Wednesday night in a game where Henrik Lundqvist nearly stole one for the Rangers. There is no doubt that New York will be loaded for bear on Friday night. As I said on On Frozen Blog TV after Wednesday night’s game, the Rangers are a team that never quits, they are a resilient bunch. The Caps will once again be tested on their mental strength and their ability to stick with their system and play it one shift at a time. There is no other way for them to win this series. They need to be focused and remain committed to what Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau is selling.

Game starts at 7:30 pm on Comcast Sports Net.

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Semin Laser Powers Caps to Game 1 OT Victory

Posted on 14 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

For over 50 minutes on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, many probably thought they were watching a repeat of last season’s playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens. The Rangers were leading 1-0 and the Caps, who carried much of the play in this contest, hit the iron three times, had Nicklas Backstrom stopped on a breakaway, and generated several other quality chances that were thwarted by New York’s outstanding goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist (31 saves). But this year’s Washington Capitals team is more experienced and resilient, and Alexander Ovechkin scored a gritty goal to tie the game with 6:16 to go in regulation and then after Jason Arnott intercepted a Marc Staal clearing attempt and fed #28 the biscuit, Alexander Semin (1 goal, 1 assist) rifled a one-timed laser by Lundqvist to give the Caps a 2-1 victory 18:24 into overtime. The Capitals jump out to a quick 1-0 lead in this best of seven game series with the second tilt scheduled for Friday night at the Verizon Center at 7:30 pm.

“It was an important game for everybody, I think. I think we started well, we have a couple opportunities to score goals, I hit the crossbar two times, we missed a breakaway, but we make one mistake in our zone and they use it. It’s playoffs and [we] don’t give up, we play hard and we score some dirty goal, but it is what it is,” summarized the Great #8 when asked about the importance of this victory.


Below are the rest of highlights, quotes, and analysis of the 102nd consecutive home sellout for Washington:

– As has been chronicled fairly well, the Capitals changed their system in December to be better able to handle playoff hockey. After their first post season outing, suffice it to say that this team is significantly better than last year’s crew despite narrowly squeaking out a win. The Caps didn’t panic when Matt Gilroy scored from the slot after John Erskine and Mike Green were both beaten behind the Caps cage, which allowed Wojtek Wolski to slide the puck to #97 for a goal that Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth (24 saves) had little chance of stopping, just 1:56 into the third period. Shortly thereafter, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau felt that he needed to switch the lines up to get the equalizer and he put Ovechkin out with Semin. After a super feed from Green from Washington’s own end, Ovechkin took the puck to the cage bowling over Blueshirt defensemen Dan Girardi en route, and that allowed he and Semin to whack away at the biscuit until it slid through King Henrik’s legs. Because Staal knocked the net off right after the puck went in, there was a lengthy review but the goal stood and a nervous and somewhat quiet Verizon Center erupted.

– This was exactly the type of game I was expecting to begin this series. There wasn’t much room out on the ice and both teams worked hard to minimize any defensive breakdowns. Both squads back checked well with the Capitals doing an outstanding job of not giving the Rangers forwards time and space. They had the one breakdown on the Rangers goal and the only other big gaffe came in period two when Marian Gaborik was all alone at the top of the crease but Neuvirth came up with a timely save to keep the game scoreless. Other than that, the two players who are highly skilled on New York, Gaborik and Vinny Prospal, didn’t have opportunities to hurt the Capitals like they’ve done in the past. These type of games are highly competitive and stressful but you can bet that every one from here on out will likely be played the same way.

“I think it’s going to be games like that the whole series,” added Ovechkin on the style of play.

– The Rangers are a very physical team and Coach John Tortorella does an excellent job of getting his players in the right spots to pressure the puck. A team that is weak up the middle of the ice likely would crumble but since the Capitals acquired Arnott to play second line center they have drastically improved their club. Backstrom, #44, and Marcus Johansson played a major role in this victory by helping out the Caps blue line in getting pucks out of Washington’s own zone and then moving it in transition. #19 hounded the puck all night and even though he didn’t get a point, his strong play helped wear out the Rangers defensive crew, particularly their top pair of Staal and Girardi, who logged 33:48 and 32:50, respectively. Those two guys were very tired and fatigue leads to mental mistakes. That is what caused the Staal giveaway to Arnott on the game winning sequence.

– On the Washington blue line, getting #52 back makes a huge difference as the Capitals have someone else, along with the John Carlson-Karl Alzner duo, to move the puck up the ice quickly. Green played a very solid 26:30 in his first action since February 25th, when he was injured against the Rangers. The Caps blue line is deeper than New York’s and as a result, the highest ice time of any defender for Washington was Scott Hannan at 28:39. The rest of the defensive crew had pretty balanced time on ice with Jeff Schultz at 27:49, Carlson with 26:19, Alzner logging 23:42, and Erskine playing 19:18. This was one of Sarge’s (#55) best games of the season and he blocked six shots. #27 led Washington with eight blocks in another strong outing. The fact that New York relied so heavily on one defensive pair while Boudreau was able to spread the wealth bodes well for the Caps as we move to game two.

“I thought his first period might have been as good as he has played in a playoff game. I thought it was outstanding for a guy that hasn’t played in six weeks to come back in a game like that,” added Boudreau on the play of #52.


– #30 was superb in net. In addition to the big save on Gaborik, he made an early important one against Erik Christensen. Neuvirth, who is a fierce competitor as evidenced by his 14 for 14 playoff series record in North America, did a super job of not allowing rebounds and he was very good at covering the puck for a defensive zone faceoff when the Caps were near the end of a shift. Lundqvist was really good, but so was the young Czech goalie.

“He was fine. Very calm and very focused on the puck and in the game. In the second period, they have great opportunities to score goal and he made [a] huge save [to] keep us in the game after two periods. Again, I think both goalies played very well,” commented Oveckhin on the goaltending in game one.

– Semin (+2), who scored in the playoffs for the first time in 14 games (last one came in game 7 in 2009 vs. the Rangers), played like a man intent on showing how badly he wants to win. He logged 22:15 and never appeared to let up. Afterwards, Boudreau talked about how important #28 is to Washington’s post season success.

“For our team, well we are not getting anywhere without Alex Semin scoring. You just look at the regular season, Ovie got 32, he got 27, and Mike [Knuble] got 24 and then after that it drops off. We need him to go to create that other offensive threat and I thought the [game winning] shot, I could barely see it, and Arnott made a great play to keep it in, and [Semin] didn’t hesitate, he just shot it,” said Boudreau on Semin and the winning tally.

Ovechkin was asked afterwards what he said to his very good friend Semin out on the ice after he scored, but the Great #8 couldn’t get over in time to talk with Sasha. The reason for that was the quote of the night from the Great #8.

“Well, I was stuck on the bench, my laces were stuck. I tried jumping and I was stuck. It’s a huge goal for whole team. We are all happy for Sasha [Alexander Semin] because last year he was little bit upset he didn’t score a goal and right now it’s very important for him to score a goal, step-up and show his leadership. It doesn’t matter who score right now, it’s all about winning and character and see how good this group is right now,” concluded Ovechkin on the winning goal and the focus of the team he captains.


– In closing for tonight, the Capitals have an advantage in this series if they can continue to dump the puck deep and wear out the Rangers defense. New York is a hard working team but they don’t possess big speed issues for Washington, which is more vulnerable to that type of style with Dennis Wideman out for at least the first round. Getting Green back and unharmed was very important. Going forward the Capitals have to keep their focus, be mentally tough no matter the score of the game, and play one shift at at time. They stuck to the process in game one, now they need to do it again on Friday night.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 43-37. Brooks Laich was 13-5 and Boyd Gordon won 8 out of 12 draws…both teams went 0 for 2 on the power play. Ovechkin took a roughing penalty late in regulation but the Caps killed it, with Laich blocking a huge point shot on one sequence…the Caps outhit the Rangers, 35-31, in a physical hockey game.

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Caps – Rangers 1st Round Schedule & Analysis

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The National Hockey League announced their first round Stanley Cup Playoff schedule on their own television network (The NHL Network) on Sunday night at 10 pm. So without further adieu, here is the schedule for the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers:

Game 1: Wednesday, April 13 at Washington, 7:30 p.m.

Game 2: Friday, April 15 at Washington, 7:30 p.m.

Game 3: Sunday, April 17 at New York, 3:00 p.m.

Game 4: Wednesday, April 20 at New York, 7:00 p.m.

*Game 5: Saturday, April 23 at Washington, 3:00 p.m.

*Game 6: Monday, April 25 at New York, TBD

*Game 7: Wednesday, April 27 at Washington, TBD

So the series starts hot and heavy with three games in five days before there is a two day break leading up to game four in Madison Square Garden. Game five, if necessary, would be in Washington on NBC at 3 pm on April 23rd. Game three is also on NBC while the series opener will be shown on VERSUS and also Comcast Sports Net (CSN).

For the Caps, this is what they’ve been waiting nearly 12 months for, a shot at redemption after blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Montreal Canadiens last spring. The Capitals have made some big changes to their roster, and more importantly, have become a better defensive team since the debacle against the Habs in 2010. Defensemen Mike Green is expected to return to the lineup for game one while Dennis Wideman is pretty much out for the first round.

With the high expectations comes pressure for Washington. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and captain Alexander Ovechkin are under the microscope locally and across North America. The change in style has certainly lowered the glamorous statistics that several individuals on this club historically enjoyed and Boudreau did a superb job of getting his club to forget individual awards, point totals, and big contracts to focus on winning when it matters most. The Great #8 has been adamant that all he cares about is winning and the fact that he and Alexander Semin have been spending lots of time with trade deadline acquisition Jason Arnott is an indicator that these guys are tired of the playoff loser label.

Here are my keys for the Caps to win this series:

1. Match the Rangers physical intensity – New York, who are coached by the very intense John Tortorella, will have a pretty simple game plan to dump the puck and try and hit the Caps to death. Washington needs to be ready for that and the best way to beat that is to get the Blueshirts to be the ones constantly turning and chasing the puck in their own zone. The Caps must be physical and willing to take the body. Finesse will not win against New York and the Capitals cannot turn the puck over at the offensive blue line. The Rangers outscored the Capitals 18-6 in the four games played this season so there is absolutely no reason for the Caps to be overlooking New York. The Rangers are mostly a young, blue collar type of team but they do have some snipers in Marian Gaborik and Cap-killer Vaclav Prospal. The best way to get numbers 10 and 20 off of their game is to get in their grill and hit them. Washington must not allow these two pure goal scorers to find space in the Caps zone where they can set up shop and unleash their deadly shots.

2. Get traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist – King Henrik is one of the best goalies in the NHL and he can win a playoff series on his own. The Caps were blanked by the superstar Swedish net minder twice this season. Washington must be willing, unlike last spring, to pay the physical price and get bodies to the net. In addition, they need to get the puck there. The Rangers are very good at blocking shots so Boudreau must direct his blueliners where to put the biscuit so it can make it to the cage then the Capitals must go there and score the ugly goals. A perimeter game is not going to get it done so it will be interesting to see if a guy like Semin will go into the higher traffic areas to take more advantage of his super skill set. Lundqvist has played nearly all of the Rangers games down the stretch and New York has no real back up goalie so anything Washington can do to get him off of his game is needed.

3. Limit turnovers – The Caps cannot turn the puck over from their offensive blue line on back. The Rangers, if they get a lead, will no doubt try and play a neutral zone trap and counter attack the Capitals. In addition, when tied or trailing, Tortorella’s crew will apply a vicious forecheck on Washington. The Caps centers will be the key to the break out as the Rangers will likely jam the walls. Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Arnott, and Marcus Johansson will be the ones who have to be in the proper position to burn New York’s pressure and use their skill and speed to get the Caps some odd man rushes in transition.

 4. Solid Goaltending – Michal Neuvirth, who is expected to the get the game one start, and Semyon Varlamov, if he plays, must be on their respective games from the outset of this series. In game one of the past two post season openers Jose Theodore allowed some questionable goals to put Washington behind the eight ball early against the Rangers in 2009 and the Habs in 2010. #30 and #1 can’t do that and they also must be positionally sound to prevent allowing rebounds to a Rangers team that is offensively challenged and tries to compensate for that by going to the net hard.

5. Win the Special Teams Battle – The first thing the Caps need to do is be disciplined and not take retaliation penalties against a team that will try and goad you into those type of infractions. Sean Avery is the Rangers number one pest and he will do his best to get Washington off of their game. In addition, the best way to stay out of the box is to work hard and move your feet. Penalties happen from laziness and the Capitals can’t afford to put the Rangers on the man advantage. The Caps have improved their PK this year but the best way to do well in the playoffs is to not take many penalties. On the power play, the Caps showed signs of breaking out of their season long slump with the man advantage. The power play must continue to be simplified with pucks coming from the point with traffic in front. The Caps like to employ forwards on the points, at times, so Oveckhin, Brooks Laich and any other forward put back there must remember to be responsible. Shorthanded goals in the playoffs can really change momentum in a game and series so it is imperative that Boudreau’s crew not allow any.

6. Maintain Their Focus & Play It One Shift At a Time – A series is not won in a single game. The Caps, if they get ahead in the series, can’t get complacent or start looking ahead. On the flip side, if they get behind they can’t panic and stop playing their system. That is what happened in the two blow out losses to New York in the regular season. Given that Washington had a 10 minute lapse to start game five last year that likely cost them the Montreal series, I don’t think we’ll see that this year, but that is easier said than done. The first round is the hardest one to get out of and teams that have success don’t get too high or too low. They stick to their system and play it one shift at a time. The Caps must learn to do that this post season.

In summary, this series is going to come down to hard work and determination. The Rangers definitely bring that and for the Caps to win they need to match or beat New York’s intensity and desire. Washington is the more skilled team but playoff hockey is a different animal where many contests are of the one goal variety. The Capitals played over 40 one goal games this season and as a result should be more battle tested. New York is a club that never quits and proof of that is the way they made the playoffs on the last day of the season as well as their 5-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday night after trailing 3-0. Coach Tortorella’s crew believes in themselves and the only way to beat a team like that is to out work them. If the Caps don’t do that this post season, then there is no doubt that there will be changes in Washington.

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Rangers Push Around Listless Caps, 6-0

Posted on 25 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Following a nice five game, 10 day road trip in which they went 3-2, the Washington Capitals came home to face the New York Rangers on Friday night and laid a big fat egg. The Blueshirts outworked a listless Caps team en route to a 6-0 victory behind 35 saves from Henrik Lundqvist. The ugly loss, in which the Capitals looked like anything but a playoff team, drops Washington’s record to 32-20-10 with 20 games remaining. Coupled with Tampa’s victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, Washington now trails the Southeast Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning by five points.

Here are the highlights and analysis of one of the most pitiful efforts I’ve seen from this club this season:

– Let’s start with where it went downhill, just over five minutes into this game. Mike Green, returning to the lineup for the first time after missing the last five games, cross checked Derek Stepan behind the Capitals net but both zebras, Tom Kowal and Dan O’Halloran, let the play go on. As a result, shortly after that the puck came down the left wing boards and went past both #52 and Stepan, the Rangers forward then hit #52 up high in the head with either an elbow or shoulder. Green went down hard to the ice and as play carried on, Steve Eminger fired a point shot that appeared to hit a Capital on the way into the top corner of the net. No penalty was called on Stepan for a shot to the head or even interference given that the hit came with the puck long gone, and Green left the game after only 2:25 of ice time and two shifts. If he has a concussion, it is a serious blow to this Capitals team. As for the referees, they are an absolute joke for allowing both hits to go uncalled and they are a disgrace to hockey.

– After that, no Caps player retaliated on Stepan to let the Rangers know that cheap shots on one of their star players was unwarranted. And as expected, the Blue Shirts took advantage of that lack of push back and physically outworked and beat the Capitals the rest of the game turning a 2-0 first period into a 4-0 rout after two power play goals in the middle frame. Washington’s penalty kill, which had been a strong point for them this season, was absolutely terrible in that stanza allowing two easy Ranger markers.

– About the only Washington player who came to play was Alexander Ovechkin, but he can’t do it all himself. The Great #8 had 8 shots on goal, 5 blocked, and 4 missed. He put a beautiful move on New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh late in period one drawing a holding call that really should have resulted in a penalty shot, but I’ve already told you how bad Kowal and O’Halloran were, so you get the picture. Ovie had six hits on the night as well, but for once Lundqvist, a goalie Ovie has typically owned, got the better of #8 on Friday night.

– In summary, this loss was pathetic and with Green out of the lineup so early, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau had to go with just five defenseman for the remainder of the game. Only one of them, John Carlson, can be considered a true puck rusher, thus any offensive help from the back line was not going to happen. With the glaring hole at second line center already there, Washington was going to have win this one with heart and grit, but both were firmly sitting on Rangers Coach John Tortorella’s bench on this night. The bottom line on this game is the following:  Yes, the Capitals have some spots where they suffer in the talent department, but filling those two holes with skill would have done NOTHING to help their lack of heart, effort, determination, and will to even stand up for their injured teammate on this night. And that Caps fans, is a very sad and telling story.

Notes: The Rangers won three of the four contests between the clubs, including the last three tilts…the Caps were 0 for 5 on the power play while New York was 2 for 4 with the man advantage…Washington has one goal in their last three home games (h/t Ted Starkey of The Washington Times)…Nicklas Backstrom, who reportedly fractured his thumb in the win over Pittsburgh on Monday night, took just one faceoff in the contest (he leads the team in number of draws taken this season)…the Caps did win the faceoff battle, 31-30…Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth was hung out to dry on this night and allowed six goals on 28 shots, many of which he had little chance on…the Caps are on Long Island to take on John Tavares and the New York Islanders on Saturday night at 7 pm (CSN HD).

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Caps Blasted By Rangers, 7-0

Posted on 13 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

And the hits just keep on coming. The Washington Capitals losing streak is now at six games as they were practically run out of Madison Square Garden, 7-0, on Sunday night. It was the 4th time in the last 13 games the Caps have been shutout, although they did hit four posts in this tilt. Washington was playing their third game in four nights and some of the players, who have been battling the flu, clearly had nothing in the tank. The Rangers, on the other hand, had no problems taking out their frustrations on the Caps. The Capitals record now stands at 18-11-3 and they have a three and four point lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division, respectively, but both teams have two games in hand on Washington.

Here are the mostly lowlights and analysis from this ugly Caps performance in Manhattan:

– The biggest problem in this game was the Caps defense. The Rangers struck first when Tom Poti misplayed the puck behind his own net and then he compounded the error by deflecting the puck by his own goaltender on an attempted cross crease pass by Brandon Prust. That was the only goal of the first period, one in which Washington and the Rangers played fairly evenly. But then things went bad fast with three goals in three minutes and 31 seconds early in period two. First, Scott Hannan got caught backing in on an Artem Anisimov rush and the Russian, in Alexander Ovechkin style, used #23 as a screen to beat Semyon Varlamov and make it 2-0, Rags. 14 seconds later Hannan’s night got worse as he was whistled for holding. The Blueshirts then capitalized on the bad penalty when Poti was out of position on the penalty kill and Marian Gaborik made a super deflection of a Marc Staal shot five hole on Varly. Then came the dagger as Brandon Dubinsky skated in the Caps zone and Hershey d-man Brian Fahey gave him far too much room and #17’s wrister beat Varlamov (13 saves on 20 shots). At that point Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau normally would have made a goalie change but thanks to the post game work of Corey Masisak and Brian McNally we now know that Michal Neuvirth is the latest to get hit with the flu bug and could not have played. #30 apparently came down with his ailment on Sunday afternoon, which was too late for a recall (again h/t @cmasisak22 & @bmcnally14).

– Between the flu bug and the injuries to Mike Green (flu and possibly shoulder) and Jeff Schultz (fractured thumb), this Capitals team is spread pretty thin right now on the back line. In addition, as Boudreau said after the game, some of the players are “quick to feel sorry for themselves.” Part of that phenomenon is likely the zapping of the energy they feel from their illnesses. It is very apparent that Nicklas Backstrom is not close to 100% and he had another lousy outing (-3). Alexander Semin, who was fined and not suspended for his cross checking major against Colorado on Sunday night, also was bad (-3) and it was his poor decision to pinch with the Caps on a power play midway through period two that led to a Rangers 2 on 1 odd man rush and the fifth goal by Staal. John Carlson was the d-man on that play and he did not do a good job of cutting off the pass, which allowed Staal to have an easy route to beating Varly.

– One of the few positives on the evening was the play of Ovechkin, who had seven hits, four shots on goal, and also fought Dubinsky when it was 4-0. The Great #8 had just laid out Dan Girardi with a clean hit and it was clear #17 was coming his way so Ovie dropped his mitts and had a spirited bout with the big Rangers winger. Afterwards Ovechkin motioned to his bench as if to say “Let’s go.” Immediately the team came to life and drew a penalty but then Semin’s miscue ended that short momentum burst for Washington. It was Ovechkin’s first bout since December of 2006, when he was given five for fighting with Paul Gausted of Buffalo (h/t Dan Rosen of NHL.com)

– Ovechkin, despite his team trailing 6-0, continued to work hard and it literally ended up hurting him as Semin hit the winger inside the right leg with a shot as the Great #8 was trying to screen Henrik Lundqvist (31 saves). Alexander the Great fell to the ground and many Rangers fans loudly cheered his injury (lack of class there, much like Philly fans with Michael Irvin or the idiot Ravens ones who cheered when Kyle Boller got hurt in 2005). Ovechkin did not return to the ice and he sat on the bench as the clock expired. But Ovechkin is fine and Boudreau told Masisak, McNally, Ted Starkey (@TedStarkey), and the other media assembled, that the Great #8 could have played had the contest been competitive.

– Overall, it was a bad loss but the effort was stronger than the other blowouts against Atlanta and New Jersey earlier this season. There are some who are calling for Boudreau’s firing but to me that is a knee jerk move at this early a juncture in the season. The head coach has some bonafide excuses for the team’s poor play and based on what I’ve seen from GM George McPhee I don’t see him hitting any panic button. Need I remind fans once again that he told us point blank at media day that he does not care about the regular season that much and is focused solely on a long playoff run. If the team continues to struggle after this ailment and injury bug is over, then the GM will either look to make trades or examine the status of the bench boss, but I would be shocked if something happens any time soon. After all, the team is 11 points up on the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference so they are comfortably a playoff team at this point in time.

Notes: It was hard to find a Caps best d-man on this night but I would have to give it to Karl Alzner who had five hits in over 21 minutes of work…Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-24, with Boyd Gordon winning 9 of 11 draws and Mathieu Perreault going 10-4…Backstrom hit two posts while Semin and Perreault hit one each as well. When the breaks are going against you those bounce out, unlike the off the pipe shot that Ryan Callahan put by Varlamov…the Caps next game is Wednesday at the Verizon Center against the Anaheim Ducks. Hopefully the flu bug is gone and Green can return as the team really misses him when he is out. Unfortunately, Schultz is out for four more weeks.

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Ovechkin Helps Caps Defeat Rangers, 5-3

Posted on 10 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin loves the bright lights and the big city and he seems to always have his “A” game when he goes into Madison Square Garden. Tuesday night was no exception as the Great #8 notched two assists, had four hits, and was +1 in 21:51 of ice time to lead the Washington Capitals to a 5-3 come from behind victory over the New York Rangers. Brooks Laich, who was injured in Sunday’s game against Philadelphia and missed the last portion of that tilt, had two goals and an assist plus he went +3 on the evening as Washington’s other big star of the contest. Laich now leads the NHL in plus/minus at +13 (h/t @CapsMedia). The win was the Caps fifth straight and they improve to 11-4.

Here are the highlights and analysis from a super Capitals road effort:

– This was a wild tilt and the Caps jumped out to an 11-2 early shots advantage but due to some bad d-zone coverage by Jeff Schultz and Mike Green, Brian Boyle (two goals) was able to give the Blueshirts the early lead with a sweet backhander from in front of Michal Neuvirth (25 saves). The other two goals allowed by Washington were gaffes made by defensemen but I put some of the blame for those on the notoriously bad Gah-den ice. First, Karl Alzner fanned on a clearing attempt after a clean Caps defensive zone face-off win and that allowed Boyle to snap one by Neuvirth to make it 2-1. Then after John Erskine scored on a top shelf, short side laser (on another face-off win), Tyler Sloan overskated the puck while on his backhand and Derek “The Boogey Man” Boogaard raced down the left wing uncovered and blasted one by Neuvirth. So just over 23 minutes into this tilt three Washington mistakes by their young defense lead to three Rangers tallies. But that is all the Blueshirts would get.

– The Caps were carrying much of the play against a Rangers club that was trying to rough the Caps up early on. Washington took advantage of a 4 on 3 power play to tie things up at one on a nice Laich deflection of an Alexander Semin pass but the Capitals failed to tally on their next two attempts and the Rangers gained momentum. They were leading 3-2 when the game changing play came via the skates of the Great #8. Ovechkin took the puck in his own zone and went end to end with the biscuit. As he crossed the Rangers goal line he appeared to have nothing but he smartly threw the puck off of Henrik Lundqivst, who has to have nightmares about the Great #8, and it bounced right into the slot where Mike Knuble buried it into an empty cage to end his 13 game goal scoring drought. That goal came at 9:18 of the second period and from there on out the Capitals seemed to gain energy and it translated into the victory.

– One thing the Capitals continue to do well of late is go to the net. On Erskine’s goal, all three Capitals forwards were moving in that direction and that presence had to impact Lundqvist. Laich’s first goal came from the doorstep, Knuble’s came in the slot, and Matt Hendricks game winner 7:53 into the final stanza came in the slot as well after Laich and Matt Bradley made super plays behind the Rangers net to work the puck free. It was a blue collar goal and Washington seems to be getting more and more of those, something that will bode well in April and beyond.

– The entire winning goal sequence came after a headsy play by Jason Chimera that lead to an offensive zone face-off. #25 came flying down the right wing and he hit the brakes seeking to pass to a teammate in the slot. However, like many teams do against the Caps, the Rangers crowded the center of the ice. So instead of trying to thread the needle and likely cause a turnover, Chimera alertly dumped the puck behind the Rangers cage and Washington got their cycle game going leading to the offensive draw. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will likely use that video clip to show how avoiding careless cross ice passes in the offensive zone will often lead to good things.

– Neuvirth had a shaky opening 25 minutes and his rebound control seemed off. Needless to say, the only goal that he should have had was the Boogaard blast, but #30 righted the ship after that and made some big saves in the final period, including one in tight on Brandon Dubinsky to preserve the win.

– I am not a big fan of the zebras and I have gone easier on them this season but tonight the pair of Don Van Massenhoven and Justin St. Pierre were downright awful. The calls they made all evening were inconsistent. Case in point, they allowed a Ranger defender to clearly hook Boyd Gordon on a partial breakaway late in period two yet the only penalty whistled in period three was a very borderline one on Alzner for hooking? The penalty on Rangers Erik Christensen in period one was bad too but it also came right after they missed a couple of hooks that Michael Del Zotto put on Chimera. I imagine the players had no clue what was going to be called or not called on Tuesday night.

– In his in game interview, New York coach John Tortorella stated that his club could not try to trade chances with the highly skilled Caps. The Rangers did a pretty good job of that in the last 30 minutes and the Ovechkin to Knuble play was a perfectly good example of why the 2004 Stanley Cup winning bench boss didn’t want to engage in that type of contest. His strategy was a good one but the Capitals are a better team and they also outworked the Blueshirts on the game winner.

– Next up for the Caps is Thursday’s home game against the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts have the NHL’s goal scoring leader in Steven Stamkos (13) and are off to a fabulous 8-4-2 start. Stamkos also leads the NHL in points with 24 while Ovechkin is second with 20. This game should be a dandy and the first of what should be six major battles between the two best teams in the Southeast Division this season.

Notes: The Caps are now 9-0 with Gordon in the lineup. According to some post game tweets from Corey Masisak, it sounds like Gordon’s back is very sore after this evening’s tilt. Gordon logged 15:30 of ice time, was 11-11 from the dot, and was +1…Green was +1 and had two assists in over 25 minutes of ice time. He also got into a first period fight with Dubinsky in which I gave the decision to #52…Washington won the face-off battle 38-31…Nicklas Backstrom was held pointless and missed a couple of shifts in the middle of the 3rd period due to skate issues (bad ice)…Eddie Olcyzk on VERSUS was hard on Alzner tonight but I don’t put much stock in the words from a man who was fired by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the post lockout era (a team that was loaded with good young players that he couldn’t reach). For all of the belly aching on King Karl, #27 ended up +1 in 19:55 of ice time and he was on with Green for the final shift. Yes, I’ll take Boudreau as my head coach any day and pass on the critiques from the current Blackhawks broadcaster.

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Red Hot Caps Win 12th Straight on Broadway

Posted on 05 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals are so hot right now, they might be the only thing that can turn this predicted monster snowstorm headed our way into rain! On Broadway on Thursday night the Caps played their second straight poor first period but escaped only one goal down, gave up four power play goals but scored three of their own, and received super efforts from both Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 4 assists) and Alexander Ovechkin (2 goals, 1 assist) to rally to defeat the New York Rangers, 6-5, for their club record 12th straight victory. Jose Theodore (33 saves), believe it or not for a guy who gave up five tallies, played fairly well in goal making the big stops when Washington needed it. This victory improves the Caps to 39-12-6, good for 84 points and a 12 point lead over the New Jersey Devils. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello traded Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier, and a 1st round draft pick to the Atlanta Thrashers for Ilya Kovalchuk and Anssi Salmela on Thursday evening. The Caps will take on the Kovalchuk-less Thrashers on Friday night at the Verizon Center, weather permitting.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

Ovechkin was his usual amazing self tonight and I thought for sure he would get a hat trick, which would have been the first for the Caps this season, but maybe he is saving it for his pal Sidney Crosby on Sunday??!! The Great #8 did notch is 500th career NHL point. He is the ninth player in NHL history to record 500 points in his first five seasons (joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Peter Stastny, Mike Bossy, Dale Hawerchuk, Bryan Trottier, Denis Savard and Jari Kurri). He is the fastest player to reach 500 points in terms of games since Eric Lindros (352nd game, 2/28/98). The Great #8 had a big shot block in the last 15 seconds and on the final face-off of the game he forced the Rangers defenseman to throw the puck to the side boards instead of shooting it. Washington is now 15-1 with Ovechkin as team captain.

The play of the night, and the key to the Caps win, was another highlight reel goal that Michal Rozsival will have nightmares about for quite some time. With time running down in the second period, and Washington losing 5-3, Ovechkin received an excellent Backstrom breakout pass at center ice, flew into the offensive zone and did a toe drag move on the Rangers d-man to go around him, and then he lifted the puck upstairs one handed on Lundqvist, who could not get all of it as it ended up in the net with just 8 ticks on the clock in period two. Boudreau felt that goal provided the lift his team needed to come back.

“I thought it was going to be a real challenge at 5-3 but when Alex made it 5-4 at the end of the period I thought we were right back in it,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

“I thought Alex was going to get 1 or 2 chances to score in the third period because he was having one of those games but it was Nicky, who was having one of those games as well that did the damage,” finished Boudreau on his two top players.

Backstrom did some SERIOUS damage tonight and the behind the back pass he made to Knuble that tied this high scoring affair at two proves that #19 does indeed have eyes in the back of his head! Backstrom now has 24 goals and 45 assists in 57 games while Ovechkin has an incredible 38 goals and 42 assists in just 49 games. The Great #8 now leads the NHL in goals, points, and plus/minus.

The Rangers outshot the Caps 18-6 in the first period as Washington looked sluggish. Fortunately Theodore kept it at 1-0 when it could have been a two, three, or even four goal Rangers lead. The best line for the Capitals in the first period was the Dave Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and Matt Bradley trio, and it was #15 who tied things up at one. Gordon, who appears to finally be healthy after battling a balky back, now has goals in consecutive games.

In the second period the Caps came out smoking and took the lead, 3-2 on Ovechkin’s first of the evening, but then they started the parade to the box, something that historically has gotten them in trouble. The Caps took four penalties in the middle stanza and the Rangers lit the lamp on three of them. In fact, New York scored on 4 of their first 5 power play attempts (4 for 6 overall in the game). Boudreau noted afterwards that he didn’t think the Caps were that bad killing the penalties as New York got some bounces off of skates and shin pads for wide open tallies. Washington’s worst kill was likely the first one (Tomas Fleischmann hook) as they let Ryan Callahan have free reign in the slot and he deflected in an Olli Jokinen (recently acquired from Calgary) point blast. Callahan (1 goal, 1 assist) and Vinnie Prospal (2 goals, 2 assists) both had their usual good games against Washington. It doesn’t matter whether he is in Tampa, Philly, or New York, it seems #20 finds a way to play some of his best hockey against the Caps.

In the final stanza, Washington did what it has done so many times during this winning streak: dominate the third period. The Caps came out flying scoring just 59 seconds in on Tom Poti’s PP floater from the point and then 5:34 in Backstrom potted the winner. From there Washington controlled the play as evidenced by the fact that New York only had 6 shots on goal in the last 20 minutes. The Capitals hard effort resulted in the Rangers taking five third period penalties, two of which took the game clock down from 4:17 to just 30 ticks remaining.

About the only thing that went against the Caps down the stretch apparently was the second laser incident in the NHL this season. It is being reported that Theodore had to deal with a green laser in the final minute and the league is investigating the incident. Back around the turn of the New Year, Calgary’s Mikka Kiprusoff had to deal with the same type of device for much of their game in Vancouver. The perpetrator was never found at GM place so this is something that appears to be a difficult type of case to solve.

Washington continues to be tough to beat at 5 on 5 and the score at even manpower was 3-1, Caps. Boudreau’s club needs to clean up the penalties but he thought overall they were pretty good defensively despite giving up the five tallies. The slow starts are a concern but my theory is this: Washington, even though they went 3-0 during his suspension, really miss Mike Green. Poti did a very good job the last two games in #52’s absence but there is no substitute for Green’s ability to break the puck out of the Washington zone with speed and get the Caps legs and offense going early in contests. The silver lining in #52’s suspension was the banged up 2008-09 Norris Trophy Finalist got to rest his bad knee and aching body. I imagine “Lamborgreenie” will be flying on Friday night vs. Atlanta.

For Boudreau on Friday night, he does have an interesting decision to make as far as who will play in net. Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth are likely not available due to injuries so will rookie Braden Holtby, who backed up Theodore the last three games, get his first NHL start on Friday night? With the Caps in a 4 games over 6 night stretch (which concludes with the Sunday 12 noon battle with the Penguins) typically Boudreau would use two goalies to get through a grind like that. However, Washington Post beat reporter, Tarik El-Bashir, tweeted on Thursday night that the coach hinted that Theodore would go again on Friday night. This makes sense to me, not because I don’t like Holtby, I think he has a bright future, but this is the NHL and it takes a lot of practice time to learn the speed of the big league shots. With this compressed Olympic year schedule the Caps have not practiced much so Holtby probably is not ready to face an NHL club yet, but his time will come, he just has to be patient.

Notes: With Green coming back on Friday you can expect that defenseman Karl Alzner will be sent back down to Hershey…the Caps won the face-off battle 37-34…the 12th straight win is the longest in the NHL since New Jersey won 13 straight in 2000-01…the NHL record for most victories in a row is by the 1992-93 Penguins, who won 17 consecutive games..the Philadelphia Flyers have the record for the longest unbeaten streak at 35 games (25 wins, 10 ties), they set that in 1979-80.

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Caps Lose Late to Rangers, 3-2

Posted on 24 September 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Pre-season game #5 for the Washington Capitals took the team to Madison Square Garden to face the New York Rangers on Thursday night and a late defensive breakdown ended up costing the Caps the game, 3-2. Washington’s last pre-season game will be Sunday at the Verizon Center against the Rangers before the season opens on Thursday, October 1st in Boston.

Thanks to Japers Rink I was able to get a link to the game (MSG feed with Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti) on the internet and caught the third period. Based on what I saw the intensity and speed of the game was above that of a normal pre-season game. The game was tied 2-2 going into the third period with Washington getting goals from Alexander Semin and Keith Aucoin in the second period while the Rangers got two from new free agent acquisition Marian Gaborik (including one shorthanded) in the second stanza.

Early in the third period (2:15 in) former Capital Donald Brashear and Caps forward Brandon Sugden had a spirited bout, their second of the night (in their first matchup, which is already posted around the internet, Sugden wins a quick fight when Brashear loses his balance). After that the Caps and Rangers each received two power plays and on the first Washington power play Alexander Ovechkin turned the puck over in the offensive zone to Chris Drury who skated in on a breakaway but was denied by Jose Theodore (21 saves). However, the Great #8 did slash the Rangers captain giving New York a power play.

Washington would kill off that power play and was a perfect five for five on the night in the PK department but the power play was 0 for 4 and gave up a shorthanded goal. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau won’t be happy with the power play although new free agent forward and major net presence, Mike Knuble, did not play (he had the night off after a big game against Chicago on Wednesday).

Now back to the Rangers winning goal on a play that I’m pretty certain Boudreau and assistant coach Bob Woods will show and go over multiple times with his team on how mental and physical mistakes can lead to a puck ending up in the back of your net. Given that this happened in a tie game with just 1:10 to go in the contest it should get the players attention. Anyways, here is how the goal shook out:

First, Caps defenseman Tyler Sloan was very late in trying to hit Marian Gaborik at the red line when he really had no chance to get there in time. Sloan’s mental mistake (he should have stayed back and let Gaborik make the cross ice pass) effectively took him out of the play. Gaborik’s pass then hit Brandon Dubinsky on the right wing boards and #17 had some speed and got around Matt Bradley, who tried to hit Dubinsky but missed him, allowing the big winger who scored the game winning goal in game 1 of last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs against the Caps to take the puck to the front of the net. Sloan’s defensive partner, Milan Jurcina, then flattened Dubinsky but the puck squirted free to the slot where Christopher Higgins outworked and outmuscled Dave Steckel for the biscuit and he backhanded it past Theodore. On the replay you could then see Sloan at the top of the screen trying to get back in the play, but he was far too late because he made a bad decision in the neutral zone.

On a positive note, I really liked the play of Quintin Laing and Jay Beagle. It was Laing’s pass to a streaking Beagle that provided Washington with their final power play of the night when Alexei Semenov of the Rangers was called for holding a very strong on his skates #83. Beagle also had a good shift with about two and a half minutes to go almost stuffing the puck past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (23 saves) drawing the following comment from Rosen, “Beagle very impressive here.”

Based on what I saw, I still stand by my prediction that both Beagle and Laing make the opening night roster and will be the 11th and 12th forwards (the other 10, if healthy, are Ovechkin, Knuble, Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Brooks Laich, Chris Clark, Bradley, Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and Brendan Morrison). Alexandre Giroux played with Aucion and Clark and had a couple of chances in the third period, including one on a shorthanded two on one break, but he could not convert. I still see Giroux going to Hershey to start the season while Aucoin could stay up if Morrison’s neck becomes a bigger issue (missed the game tonight).

On defense, I liked some of what I saw in the offensive zone from Karl Alzner, who was very aggressive while playing the final 30 seconds of the Caps last power play but I didn’t like the tripping penalty he took at 5:59 of the final period. I tuned in to a few minutes of Steve Kolbe, Mike Vogel, and Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt on Caps radio between the second and third periods and Vogel talked like he still thought Alzner could make the team out of camp. Alzner, like John Carlson, has a bright future in the NHL but I don’t think he cracks the top 6 unless GM George McPhee trades another defensemen before next Thursday. The defensive pairings for the night were John Erskine-Mike Green, Jeff Schultz-Alzner, and Sloan-Jurcina.

One final Washington note, the Caps sent forwards Andrew Gordon, Oskar Osala, and Kyle Wilson to Hershey this afternoon.

NHL Note: Wayne Gretzky officially stepped down as Phoenix Coyotes coach (he had not been with the team during training camp due to potential conflict of interest issues – depending on who ends up owning the club the Great One is owed millions of dollars) and GM Don Maloney announced that former Capital Dave Tippett will take over behind the bench. For those of you who read this blog you know I think very highly of Tippett and said he would be back in the league with some team very soon (I still think New Jersey should have hired him but thank goodness for Washington’s sake they didn’t).

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