Tag Archive | "Lundqvist"

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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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Mid-July NHL Off-Season Analysis

Posted on 12 July 2009 by Ed Frankovic

This year I have had to wait a little longer to bring you my analysis of the NHL’s free agency signing period, which began on July 1, because with the salary cap not going up drastically for the first time since it was instituted coming out of the lock out in 2005, there are still general managers making moves, as evidenced by the Caps inking of center Brendan Morrison this past Friday night.

Despite the fact that the salary cap increased just $100,000 to $56.8M next season, there are still teams who have been very active and spent a lot of money, such as the Blackhawks, Rangers, Maple Leafs, and Canadiens. However, the interesting thing that is happening this summer that has not occurred in years past is there are some familiar players who have not been signed yet, such as forwards Alex Tanguay (made over $5M last season in Montreal and has had his named bantered about in Nashville) and Maxim Afinogenov (Buffalo), and those guys are running out of time to find a chair before the music eventually stops.

Below is a summary of what several teams have done so far and my thoughts on the impact of those moves. I am including in this analysis any trades and significant 2009 draft choices. In general, my opinion is that the teams that did not spend a lot of money this summer on free agents did well.

Chicago Blackhawks – GM Dale Tallon has been wildly active and his biggest move was the signing of former Detroit Red Wings forward Marian Hossa to a 12-year, $62.8M contract. Hossa has been on the losing end of the last two Stanley Cup Finals and will be playing with his fourth team (Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Atlanta) in the last three seasons. They also re-signed some of their current young players giving forward Kris Versteeg a three-year, $9.2M deal and defenseman Cam Barker a three-year, $9.25M extension. 23 year old forward David Bolland, who had 47 points and was +19 in 81 games for the Hawks in 2008-09, also received a five year contract at $3.375M a season. Tallon added forwards Tomas Kopecky ($1.2M) from Detroit and John Madden ($2.75M) from New Jersey. This all comes after the GM inked goalie Cristobal Huet to a four-year deal at $5.625M a season and defensemen Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal at $7.143M a season last summer. The biggest loss was goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, who bolted to the Edmonton Oilers, and they also lost forwards Martin Havlat and Samuel Pahlsson in free agency to Minnesota and Columbus, respectively. Chicago went to the Western Conference finals last season before losing to the Red Wings and they should do well in the upcoming regular season, but I have serious doubts about Huet’s ability to carry a team deep into the playoffs. The other big problem for Chicago is after the 2009-10 season they will have to give their two best forwards, Patrick Kane  ($3.725M) and Jonathan Toews ($2.8M), long term contracts with significant raises in order to keep them. Kane and Toews will likely both command around $6M a season. Overall, I don’t like what Chicago did because they spent a lot of money that very well could impact their ability to lock up their two young superstars (Kane and Toews) long-term plus they still have questionable goaltending in Huet.

Montreal Canadiens – GM Bob Gainey came into this summer with 10 unrestricted free agents and five restricted free agents on his roster. To date Gainey has not re-signed any of those 10 UFAs and included on that list were top name players Alexei Kovalev, Tanguay, Mike Komisarek, Robert Lang, and Saku Koivu. All but Tanguay are signed by other teams. Gainey has taken the unorthodox route of over turning his roster via trades and free agency. He traded forward Christopher Higgins to the Rangers for forward Scott Gomez, but at $7.35M over the next five seasons. He then gave $6M a season for five years to Mike Cammallieri (scored 39 goals in Calgary last season) and $5M a season for five years to Brian Gionta (spent his first 7 seasons in New Jersey). To quote an NHL scout, “Gainey basically replaced a bunch of small forwards with a bunch of small forwards.” On defense he lost Komisarek to the Leafs but added Hal Gill from the Penguins for $2.25M a year for two seasons and Jaroslav Spacek from the Sabres for three years at $3.833M a season. He also signed forward Travis Moen (third line player) and journeyman defenseman Paul Mara. Overall, I am not sure what Gainey’s long term plan is as this team has gone from a early round playoff out to one that I see just fighting to get into the post season in 2009-10, at best. If I am a Habs fan I view this off-season as a colossal disaster and with the long term contracts this organization has gotten themselves into I don’t see a bright future any time soon.

New York Rangers – When GM Glen Sather worked in Edmonton he routinely complained about having to manage a small market team. However, Sather always seemed to overcome those problems and annually had the Oilers in contention for the playoffs and often with a decent chance to go deep into them. In 2000 the former great Oilers coach became President and GM of the Rangers and the Blueshirts promptly missed the playoffs their first four seasons despite the fact that the GM took advantage of the large budget afforded him. With the salary cap in place since 2005 Sather would appear to be more constrained but that hasn’t stopped him from getting the Rangers tied up in some outrageous contracts such as the deals given to Gomez, Wade Redden, and Chris Drury. New York was basically in salary cap jail coming into this off-season but thanks to Marcus Naslund retiring and the Gomez trade it looked like Sather might finally be able to back up his statements about giving the younger Rangers players a chance to develop and play. That plan lasted less than a day as Sather couldn’t resist throwing around more money and signed often injured forward Marian Gaborik, formerly of the Minnesota Wild, to a 5 year deal worth $37.5Million. Gaborik, when healthy and motivated, can be one of the best players in the league but the problem is that doesn’t happen very often. Sather also overpaid for former Sabres forward Ales Kotalik (three -year, $9M deal) and former Caps enforcer Donald Brashear (2 years for $2.8M total). Higgins, obtained in the Gomez trade, should do well in New York given that he is a Long Island native. The Rangers also lost Mara, Nik Antropov, and Colton Orr via free agency. I didn’t like the Rangers team last season and I don’t like it for 2009-10 either. The best thing they have going for them is goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who single-handidly took the Caps to a seventh game in the first round of the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs – When Brian Burke took over as GM of the Leafs mid-season in one of the worst kept secrets ever, you knew he wasn’t going to stand pat and just build through the draft. Toronto has a massive fan base,  loads of financial resources, and with that comes the pressure to win right away. Fortunately for Burke he inherited arguably the Leafs best draft pick of the last 10 years in defenseman Luke Schenn (drafted fifth overall in 2008). After that Burke was smart to announce that anyone else was available via trade. The savvy GM then was able to get Thrashers GM Don Waddell to take on defenseman Pavel Kubina and his $5M salary for next season and in return received 1999 first round Atlanta draft pick in Garnet Exelby (he also received Colin Stuart in the deal). Then Burke used the cap room afforded him to sign former Canadiens defenseman Komisarek to a five-year, $22M deal and former Ducks d-man Francois Beauchemin for three years at $3.8M a season. In Tomas Kaberle, Schenn, Komisarek, and Beauchemin the Leafs have a very good top four group of defensemen. The next three best defensemen on the roster are Exelby, Mike Van Ryn and Jeff Finger but those seven total close to $23M in salary cap space so look for Burke to deal another one of that crew either before October or during the season. The Leafs still have the expensive Vesa Toskala (one more season at $4M)  in net but Burke also just signed Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who led Farjestads to the Swedish Elite League championship this past spring, to a one year deal at $810,000. This could turn out to be a major steal in the long run. Of course the Leafs still are weak up front. They drafted forward Nazem Kadri of the London Knights with the 7th overall pick in the 2009 draft and he could turn out to be a first line player, although I have concerns about his size. Overall I think the Leafs really improved their team and you can bet that Burke will continue to make changes. But Leafs fans, who are prone to overestimating their own team, should not even think about a parade on Yonge street any time in the next two seasons, at least. Making the playoffs in 2009-10 would be a major step up for Toronto and with head coach Ron Wilson’s defensive philosophy they could pull it off.

Philadelphia Flyers – Approaching the 2008-09 season trade deadline back in February there were talks that Philadelphia was making a run for a front line defenseman and Jay Bouwmeester of Florida was the name frequently linked to them. Then on the eve of the 2009 NHL Entry draft GM Paul Holmgren sent forward Joffrey Lupul, defenseman Luca Sbisa (Philly’s first round pick in the 2008 draft), their 2009 and 2010 first round draft picks, and a conditional 3rd round pick to Anaheim for defenseman Chris Pronger and forward Ryan Dingle. Next Philadelphia promptly signed the soon to be 35 year old Pronger to a seven year contract extension that averages $4.9M a season. Pronger will count $6.25M against the salary cap in 2009-10 since he is still in the last year of his previous deal. With a big three on defense of Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn the Flyers have an outstanding trio on the backend but they are still weak in net. Holmgrem gave up on free agent goalies Martin Biron and Anterro Niittymaki and signed former Senators goalie (and some would say head case) Ray Emery for one year at $1.5M and the aging Brian Boucher at $925K a season for the next two years. Those moves are head scratchers, if you ask me. The Flyers also added bottom six forward Ian Laperrierre, who can mix it up when needed, for three years at $1.16M a season. Because of salary cap issues the Flyers had to let Mike Knuble go in free agency (Washington). Still on the books is the injury prone and pesky Danny Briere at $6.5M a season for six more years, something Flyer fans can’t be happy about. Overall the Pronger move makes Philly Stanley Cup contenders next season but the price in the long term may be too costly given that they will likely go three years (counting Sbisa) without a number one pick in a salary cap era where building through the draft is a must.

Calgary Flames – Calgary was in such salary cap jail last spring that when they suffered a rash of injuries in March and April they could not field a full team in several games down the stretch which cost them the Northwest Division title and helped put them on their way to a first round playoff exit. GM Darryl Sutter, who is starting to feel some pressure to get his team into at least the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004, took a lot of heat for what some see as salary cap mismanagement. However, Sutter has continued to be aggressive in the off-season and fired coach Mike Keenan and replaced him with his brother and former Devils coach, Brent. Then he pulled off a major coup by trading a third round pick and Jordan Leopold to Florida for the rights to Bouwmeester. Sutter subsequently signed one of the best defenseman in the league to a five year deal at $6.68M a season. To make salary cap room for Bouwmeester they traded defenseman Jim Vandermeer to Phoenix in return for forward Brandon Prust and they didn’t attempt to re-sign Cammalleri. Calgary now has a top four defense of Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf (who struggled under Keenan but should return to top form under his former junior coach at Red Deer in Sutter), Robyn Regehr, and Cory Sarich but it comes at a price of almost $21M in salary cap space. With forwards Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen, and Daymond Langkow plus goalie Mikka Kiprusoff accounting for nearly $22.5M in cap space, Calgary is a top heavy team that will need to stay healthy and find the right role players to help them win in the playoffs. Still with the Bouwmeester signing the Flames are a major contender in the Western Conference.

Ottawa Senators – It is never good to be boxed into a corner by a star player but that is exactly what has happened to Ottawa GM Bryan Murray who had to be shocked to hear that superstar Dany Heatley wants to be traded despite counting $7.5M against the salary cap the next five years. Heatley, after playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, began the 2007-08 season with a six year contract extension but he now wants out. Murray, who had to pay Heatley a $4M bonus when he exercised his no trade clause and refused to be moved to Edmonton on July 2nd (despite wanting out of Ottawa), says he will now keep the 28 year old forward to start next season unless he gets a premium deal. Murray did sign Kovalev for two seasons at $5M each and re-signed tough net crashing forward Chris Neil for four years at $8M total. Sens fans are counting on Pascal Leclaire to be the #1 goalie after he was acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline in February. However, the Ottawa defense remains weak with Filip Kuba and Chris Phillips leading the way. Their future totally depends on what happens in the Heatley saga.

Washington Capitals – GM George McPhee said prior to July 1 that the Caps would not be big players in free agency and he was correct. The Caps did sign net crashing forward Knuble for two years at $2.8M a season and potential second line center Morrison for only $1.5M for next season. Those moves aren’t headline grabbers but they are low risk ones that could yield good results. Washington lost 39 year old Sergei Fedorov and underachieving forward Viktor Kozlov to the Russian league but with them went $6.5M in salary cap space. McPhee says the team will continue to build from within. GMGM will likely spend the next couple of months working on a long term deal for Nicklas Backstrom, who at just 21 years old is already one of the top centers in the NHL. The question mark over the next 12 months is what to do with the up and down Alexander Semin. Semin has the talent to be one of the best players in the league but his motivation, at times, and ability to play through injuries has held him back. There is also the danger that Semin could bolt back to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). The Caps lost tough guy Brashear in free agency and that is a void in the line-up right now but McPhee seems resolved to going without an enforcer stating recently that you only need one for about 10 games a season. Any deal to unload Michael Nylander and his $4.875M salary cap hit for the next two seasons would be a very good one and unreliable goalie Jose Theodore has one more year in DC at $4.5M unless McPhee can move him, but I don’t see that happening until the 2009-10 trading deadline. The Caps did not spend much money so I see their off-season as a good one that could get better if #92 or #60 is somehow dealt.

Pittsburgh Penguins – The Stanley Cup Champion Penguins won their title and now because of the salary cap are paying the price, especially on defense as Rob Scuderi (Los Angeles) and Gill (Montreal) both left for new deals. The good news is GM Ray Shero convinced forwards Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko to come back for one year at $2M and $1.8M, respectively. However, I was not a fan of the decision to sign restricted free agent Alex Goligoski, an offensive but slow moving defenseman, to a three year deal at $1.833M a season. They also signed defenseman Jay McKee, who was bought out by St. Louis, for one year at $800K. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar is under contract for one more year at $5M but they have the physical Brooks Orpik locked up for five more years at $3.75M a season. Pittsburgh is clearly weaker on defense since the Stanley Cup Finals but their goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, proved to be a big time netminder in the playoffs and with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Chris Kunitz signed for at least three more seasons this club will be contenders for the Cup again unless the injury bug hits hard.

Detroit Red Wings – Could the Wings finally be on the way down? They were beaten in the Stanley Cup Finals by the Penguins, then lost Hossa to the Hawks and Mikael Samuelsson to the Vancouver Canucks. Forward Jiri Hudler, who played well crashing the net for Detroit last season, has signed a disputed contract to play in the KHL plus Kopecky bolted to Chicago with Hossa. So that is four of their top 12 forwards gone, if Hudler isn’t legally dragged back to Motown, but they still have forwards Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Johan Franzen signed under long term deals. Superstar defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom is under contract for just one more year at $7.45M and this could be it for him in the NHL as he will likely either retire or head back to play in Sweden after next season. Chris Osgood is still the #1 goalie for the next two years but he is aging. Basically GM Ken Holland has his work cut out for him but he and draft guru Jim Nill always seem to find good players to plug any holes.

Los Angeles Kings – Signed defenseman Scuderi to a four year, $13.6M deal away from the Pens and also traded defensemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing plus a 5th round draft pick to the Avs for crease crasher Ryan Smyth. If the Kings can get some good goaltending next season (could young goalie Jonathan Bernier finally be ready?), Terry Murray’s young team could make the playoffs.

Vancouver Canucks – Re-signed the Sedin twins (Henrik and Daniel) at $6.1M each for five seasons and inked Samuelsson away from the Wings so they are hoping the Swedish connection works. Goalie Roberto Luongo is under contract for one more season at $6.75M and they have goalie Cory Schneider waiting in the wings in Manitoba of the AHL should they not be able to re-sign the superstar goalie (but if they can’t keep Luongo they might as well pack it in for good). Schneider will spend next season in the AHL again as GM Mike Gillis signed Andrew Raycroft to be the back up at $500K for one season. I can’t see this team going deep in next year’s playoffs as they are currently configured.

Columbus Blue Jackets – Re-signed superstar forward and 2002 1st overall NHL Entry draft selection, Rick Nash, to a eight year, $62.4M contract extension that goes into effect for the 2010-11 season. This move alone saves a franchise that had trouble generating interest until their first ever playoff appearance this past spring. GM Scott Howson also signed third line grinder and former Stanley Cup winner (Anaheim) Pahlsson for three years at $2.65M a season as well as getting Pittsburgh backup goalie Mathieu Garon for two years at $1.2M a season, which seems a little high considering that their #1 goalie will be 2008-09 rookie of the year, Steve Mason, who will count only $905K against the cap the next two years and will receive the bulk of the workload.

As for the rest of the NHL, here are some moves that I like, don’t like, as well as some things to keep an eye on before training camps open in mid September.

Like:

Tampa Bay Lightning – Signed defenseman Mattias Ohlund from Vancouver for seven years at $27.M total. This expensive move is a good one primarily because the Lightning are counting on the Swedish veteran to tutor 2009 first round pick and second overall selection, defenseman Victor Hedman, who also hails from Sweden. With last year’s number one overall pick, Steven Stamkos, and Hedman the Lightning have two players to build around plus they still have team captain Vincent LeCavalier locked up for 10 more years (and the Habs have no salary cap space to try and obtain him).

Colorado Avalance – Signed goalie Craig Anderson at $1.8M a season for two years. The Avs aren’t going to contend next year, especially after Joe Sakic retired, and they traded Smyth so this is a good chance for them to see if Anderson can be a bona fide #1 goalie. The other goalie will once again be the inconsistent Peter Budaj, who was re-signed for $1.25M for next season.

Florida Panthers – They lost Bouwmeester and pretty much gave away any chance they had of making the playoffs next season with that move but I did like the signing of former Devils goalie Scott Clemmensen at three years for $1.2M a season.

Dislike:

Minnesota Wild – Rookie GM Chuck Fletcher did a good thing letting Gaborik hit the open market but giving the often injured forward Havlat a six year, $30M deal was a mistake. Other than goalie Nickas Backstrom I do not like this team’s roster at all as it currently stands.

New York Islanders – This once proud franchise continues to make boneheaded decisions. They have goalie Rick DiPietro signed for 12 more years at a $4.5M annual cap hit yet they decide to sign 39 year old goalie Dwayne Roloson for two years at $2.5M a season????? Does that mean DiPietro is still in bad shape??? Well at least I liked that they selected John Tavares first overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft so Islanders fans will have something to watch and cheer for next season. Too bad they can’t seem to get out of that dump of a building in Uniondale (Nassau Coliseum) but perhaps with Tavares in the fold they can figure out a way to change that?

Things Still to Watch in this off-season:

Boston Bruins – Phil Kessel, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft (right after the Caps took Backstrom), is an unsigned restricted free agent whose name was bantered about in a draft day deal that went bad between the Bruins and the Leafs. The Bruins reportedly will re-sign him but they do have some salary cap issues to deal with in order to get the forward who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery inked long term.

San Jose Sharks – Will GM Doug Wilson stand pat after seeing his President’s Trophy winning team get knocked out by the Ducks in the first round of the playoffs? Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been heavily criticized for not delivering in the post season so is Wilson willing to roll the dice on those two guys again next season?

New Jersey Devils – With the reportedly homesick Brent Sutter now hired by the Flames who will GM Lou Lamoriello get to coach his squad next season? As I’ve blogged before, Dave Tippett would be a great fit there but there has been some talk of former Devils forward John Maclean taking over behind the bench.

Phoenix Coyotes – Off the ice the ownership situation is still up in the air and the NHL is trying desperately to keep the team in Arizona. On Saturday Coach Wayne Gretzky finally got involved in a situation that is not looking too good.

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Caps Making Changes Already / NHL News

Posted on 26 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Busy Caps Day

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

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

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

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

NHL News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Varlamov Makes Save of the Playoffs in Caps, 3-2, Game 1 Win

Posted on 02 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins lived up to the hype today as the two teams combined to play some great up and down hockey with the Caps prevailing, 3-2, primarily because of rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov (pronounced SEHM-yahn var-LA-mohv). Hockey and local fans by now have seen “The Save” that Varlamov (34 saves) made today on Sidney Crosby in a 2-2 game with just over two minutes to go in the second period [To see the save again go to: http://www.kuklaskorner.com/index.php/hockey/comments/simeon_varlamov_save_on_crosby/]. Game two is Monday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center.

Caps Head Coach Bruce Boudreau had the following to say about a save that will be talked about for a long time if the Caps manage to win this series.

“It was a great save. There’s no doubt. Goalies are taught never give up. You look at all the great goalies that are in hockey nowadays. No matter where the play is, they never give up. They keep fighting. And that’s the only way the [Martin] Brodeurs, the Tim Thomases and the [Roberto] Luongos look like they make great saves, it’s because they never quit on the puck…It was obviously a turning point because they would have had the lead and we would have had to play catch up.”

Much like game seven of the first round against the Rangers, the Caps came out sluggish today. It was almost as if they were nervous and not sure what to expect from the Penguins, who took a 1-0 lead just 4:09 into the game on a wicked Crosby wrister from the slot after John Erskine took himself out of a position in the neutral zone trying to make an ill-advised hit on Bill Guerin. The attempted hit allowed #87 to gather the puck and come flying into the offensive zone and the superstar got Brian Pothier backing up allowing Sid the Kid time to move to the prime scoring zone between the circles and fire top shelf on Varlamov. Pittsburgh would continue to carry the play in the first 11 plus minutes and they held an 11-2 shots advantage at that point.

However, the Caps began to find their legs and right after Pascal Dupuis of the Pens missed what seemed to be an open net that would have given Pittsburgh a two goal lead, Dave Steckel made a great breakout pass to Brooks Laich who carried the puck up the center of the ice and saucered it nicely to Matt Bradley on the right wing boards on a three on two rush. #10 then blasted the puck from right near where he scored on Henrik Lundqvist of New York in game five of the first round and Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made the save but the rebound bounced right up the slot and Steckel was charging right down on the net and buried the puck under Fleury’s pads for his first goal of the playoffs to even things up. It was exactly the kind of goal Washington needed and it got them energized.

For the rest of the period the Caps dominated and after Sergei Gonchar was called for a delay of game penalty for flipping the puck over the glass, Alexander Ovechkin made a great play at neutral ice on the power play and drew a hooking call on former Capital Matt Cooke. With the two man advantage the Caps put together a beautiful passing play with Nicklas Backstrom sending the puck to Alexander Semin at the point in the middle of the ice and when #28 wound up to fire away he froze Fleury, but instead of shooting he slap passed the puck to Ovechkin, who then deposited it into the empty net for a 2-1 Caps lead.

Washington had several chances after that to make it a two goal lead and after 30 minutes they had hit a combined four posts and cross bars, including two by the Great #8 (one of which would have made it 3-1 after an outstanding cross ice pass from Mike Green). However, with 7:06 left in the 2nd period the Penguins got the break they needed when a seemingly harmless Mark Eaton point blast was deflected ever so slightly by Boyd Gordon and the puck went under Varlamov’s glove to tie the game up. It was a shot that #40 couldn’t be totally faulted on because of the deflection but he definitely would have liked to have it back.

The stage was then set for a great third period and after Washington killed off Pittsburgh’s fifth power play of the day (to only two for the Caps), another great Washington passing play led to the game winner. This goal, like the first Washington tally, once again came in transition as the Penguins had a three on three in the Caps zone but Petr Sykora ripped a long blast wide and hard off the boards and the puck caromed all the way out to center ice to Backstrom who chipped it cross ice to Semin. Semin then entered the zone and once again set the passing play up by faking a shot just inside the blue line but instead the highly skilled winger fired it over to Backstrom down low and #19 faked Gonchar to the ice and then slid the puck to an all alone Tomas Fleischmann in front, who then flipped it over Fleury to make it 3-2 with 18:14 left.

Immediately after the game Boudreau commented on Washington’s opponent, who could have won this game as well had it not been for Varlamov and some superb Caps penalty killing.

“We’re in for a heck of a series because that’s a very good hockey club we’re playing.”

In my series preview, I mentioned that the Caps strategy, according to Boudreau, was to limit turnovers and get the puck deep on the Penguins. Washington struggled with that game plan at times today, something not lost on the coach or the players I spoke with.

“Our strategy is to put the puck deep and work them down low’” said Caps defenseman Milan Jurcina, who had 16:02 of ice time today and is playing some of his best hockey.

“[The message from Coach was to] Get pucks deep. We were trying to be too cute at the opposing blue line and we turned pucks over. We need to get our giveaways down and be more intelligent with it and we have to play behind their D, that is the key. They have great D and they are a team that can quick strike against you,” said Steckel, who was the game’s number two star and received the Caps red hard hat from his teammates for his goal plus his outstanding 5:43 of penalty killing time and 11-6 face-off record.

“We had alot of giveaways and if you have that many than you are not taking advantage of your opportunities to get the puck in their zone and consequently they had 36 shots on goal so it is something we have to revisit. We’ll look at it on the video and see if we were just trying to do too much or we were forced into it or what have you,” finished Boudreau.

If Washington can be more effective in dumping the puck in Pittsburgh’s end and getting it deep they could control the play much more. Gonchar, who was “whooped” nearly every time he had the puck, coughed the biscuit up several times in his own end as did several other Penguins defensemen when they were under some duress. If the Caps can just stop being so fancy and cute in the neutral zone, which will limit turnovers, then they have a very good chance to prevail in this series.

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

Fleischmann had his best game of the playoffs scoring the game winner but he also did well on the penalty kill, logging 2:53. He had 16:29 of ice time and also hit a cross bar in the first period. Steckel felt that his teammates time was coming and commented on the forwards play. “It’d be a concern if he wasn’t scoring because he wasn’t getting chances, but he’s been getting them and they just haven’t gone in.”

Captain Chris Clark did not have a good game. He took two penalties, was -1, and only logged 5:23 of ice time. On the second Penguins goal Clark was down too low in the corner instead of being on his man in the defensive zone (Eaton). That allowed the big defenseman to have time and unleash the blast that Varlamov missed. #17 needs to keep moving his feet in this series because Pittsburgh is a very fast team.

Pittsburgh had a slight edge in scoring chances but they had a big edge in power plays, five to two. I thought the referees, and in particular Kevin Pollock, was not consistent in his calls. The interference he called on Sergei Fedorov was the same type of play the Penguins made a few times during the game but got away with. In fact, Kris Letang interfered with Semin behind the Pens net just before #91 was called for his infraction. Washington did do a great job of killing those five Penguin power plays awarded to them by the zebras.

“We know they are really good on the power play so we just have to stay out of the box. When they have a chance they are shooting everything from the blue line and crashing the net. They have big body’s, like [Jordan] Staal, and all of these guys are pretty quick too so you just have to block them out,” said Jurcina.

Pittsburgh won the overall face-off battle 32-28 but the Caps were 14-4 in the third period. Backstrom (two assists) had his worst game from the dot (3-10) at home in at least two months.

Overall, the Caps can thank Varlamov for this win today despite giving up one shaky goal.

“I’m sure [Varly] would be the first one to tell you that he let in a soft one tonight but the way he responded was tremendous. That save he made their in the second period [on Crosby] turned the momentum around because they were giving it to us again. So it was vital for us,” said Steckel.

“It was huge, you know, he make mistake when they score the second goal and he makes unbelievable save in last ten minutes of the second period and give us a chance to win the game,” finished Ovechkin.

By the way, if you aren’t going to any of the games and are in the Baltimore area please head over to Gary Rissling’s bar, the Silver Spring Mining Company on Belair Road in Perry Hall, to hang out with other Caps fans and Rock the Red.

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Caps Battle Back to Move On!!!

Posted on 29 April 2009 by Nicholas Miskelly

Caps Battle Back to Move On!!!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

           

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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Fedorov Blast Carries Caps into 2nd Round to Face Penguins

Posted on 29 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

For 40 minutes on Tuesday night in game 7 at the Verizon Center it looked like the New York Rangers wanted this game and playoff series more than the Washington Capitals. However, thanks to some great goaltending by rookie Simeon Varlamov (who just turned 21 on Monday the 27th), some lucky bounces that resulted in Alexander Semin’s game tying goal in the first period, a very spirited third period by the Caps that saw them out shoot the Rangers 13-1, and then a Hall of Fame wrist shot, short side, upstairs by Sergei Fedorov past outstanding Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with just 4:59 left in the game the Caps are moving on to the second round to face the Pittsburgh Penguins after a 2-1 victory. Fedorov, who turned 39 back in December, had the following to say about the goal.

“It was just a regular break out. It was two-on-two in their zone. Not much else going on, so I decided to shoot the puck… I didn’t think too much about it. Entering the zone, make sure the puck went deep. The D[efense, Rangers Wade Redden] gave me some room, when I stopped so I choose to shoot. I knew the D[efense] was giving me short side. I guess Henrik went down and I shot it top shelf.”

This series win is the first ever for Caps owner Ted Leonsis, something that was news to Fedorov until I asked him if he and his teammates knew about it.

“Now we do. I guess it is great, he’s a great owner, he deserves to win. I feel even better that that happened. Ted deserves all of the credit in the world to bring this team together and we are just happy for him,” said the three time Stanley Cup Champion.

This game could have easily been 3-0 Rangers after the first period, if not for Varlamov, as the Rangers came out flying while the Caps looked lost. On the opening shift, Varlamov stopped a streaking Sean Avery, who had an outstanding game for the Rangers on Tuesday, and shortly thereaftet he robbed Nik Antropov with a pad save when #80 had a clear breakaway after taking a great pass from Michael Rozsival which split the Caps defense (John Erskine and Brian Pothier).  Later in the period he came up huge on a Derrick Morris point blast with Avery standing right in front of him.

“He is tremendously poised.  I still haven’t talked to him since game one.  I don’t want to screw him up, so I am leaving him alone.  With the way they were coming for the first two periods, for him to have the poise that he did was tremendous.  I don’t know what his stomach was doing but he seemed really calm out there,” said Boudreau on his rookie goaltender who only allowed just eight goals in six games, stopping 152 of 160 shots faced (.950) and recording a 1.34 GAA after replacing Jose Theodore after game one. Varlamov made 14 saves in game seven.

Washington did not register a single shot on goal until the 13th minute when they forced Lundqvist to make a save on a Caps power play. The Capitals goal, on their only other shot on net in the first period with 4:28 left, was a fluky one from Semin, who shot the puck right as a hustling and back checking Ryan Callahan came sliding in front of #28 and the biscuit ricocheted twice off of Callahan and then went by a down on the ground Lundqvist (22 saves on the night, some of which were nearly game saving in the third period), who was expecting a cleaner and harder shot. In the previous six game sevens that the Washington franchise has participated in they never have received as fortuitous a bounce as this one.

The Caps came back in this series from three games to one down to tie it up because they stuck to a simple game plan of dumping the puck behind the Rangers defensemen, then beating them to the puck, using Washington’s cycling game to wear out their defense, and generate scoring chances. Alexander Ovechkin’s quote after game six of “we play hard, we play simple” is what Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has been stressing to his highly skilled team to be successful. Tonight the Rangers played the Caps style to near perfection for the first period and a good part of the second period but they lack the offensive ability to finish off many of the strong plays they would make on the boards and even though they dominated territorially, they only mustered 14 shots through two periods.

“For most of the game I thought we did a really good job of keeping the puck. It was probably the most we kept the puck all series. We couldn’t develop good scoring chances even with the puck and during the [third] period I think they turned it up a notch and we ended up backing up a little bit and they had the puck more than we did. It was still a game to be had. Who makes the next big play. They did, we didn’t. They win the game. I’m not frustrated with the team. I appreciate how hard they worked tonight. There were a lot of things during the past few weeks going on around this club and playing against a very good Washington Capitals team. That’s a good hockey team. I thought we checked our [butts] off tonight. We’re not an offensive juggernaut and that comes back and bites us. We’re just not developing enough offense. We knew we had to close down the neutral zone and we did that very well for two periods. But they amped it up, again we’re still in it, but they make a big play, we don’t get enough offense in the third period to get some scoring chances,” said Rangers Coach John Tortorella after the game.

In the third period it was all Caps as they were the ones playing the simple game and outworking the Rangers, who seemed to have expended all of their energy in the first two periods (throughout the entire third period during breaks in play I noticed several of the Rangers were hunched over and leaning on their sticks while the Caps were upright and appeared fresh).

“It’s just one of those things. That’s a great club over there. We stuck to our game plan and in the third we were right there, one shot a way. [The Capitals] did a great job; give them credit. In the third they took the play to us. It’s just one of those things. We still thought we had it though. Just one shot – that’s all we kept saying,” said Rangers forward Scott Gomez on the close game seven and New York’s approach.

“They played a great game. We had a little bit of trouble moving the puck out of our zone because their forwards are so fast and our D also seemed to be under pressure. After two periods we knew we had to get our work level up and our talent would eventually come out on top. We really simplified our game, actually, and our forwards had the puck ahead of them and forechecked really well on their defense. I think that is how we won in New York [in game six] and how we won in the third period,” said Fedorov.

Another big factor in this game was the Washington fans and the energy in the building, especially in the third period. When the Caps started playing better in that final stanza the crowd began getting into it more and the Washington players seemed to feed off of it. Then after the best video clip the Washington marketing crew offers at each home game was played on the big board (“Unleash the Fury”), the noise level kept rising and did not stop. I have NEVER been to a Capitals game where the crowd has been louder, it was unbelievable to be a part of, especially after the Fedorov goal where the fans kept cheering until the horn sounded.

“My ears are still ringing. It was loud. It was like going to a rock concert. It was awesome. It built up and built up. After that “unleash the fury” and after [Fedorov] scored the goal it didn’t quiet down,” said Captain Chris Clark who returned from a wrist injury to play his first NHL game since January.

“It was very loud, especially in the third. I think the fans felt that we were trying to make a push. We were trying to put the puck behind their D[efense] and forecheck as hard as we can. They were really cheering hard. They really want us to do well. They really wanted the victory. It was a great atmosphere. I’m sure any player that can play in an atmosphere like that would enjoy it and play hard. It was an amazing experience,” added Fedorov.

“I don’t know what Chicago is like as far as building, other than the National Anthem, but that was the loudest five minutes after we scored.  They never sat down, they never stopped cheering.  If you look at the energy we had just in checking; the people brought that out of us.  They wouldn’t let us not continue skating, not continue anything, it was really a thing to watch,” finished Boudreau on the crowd. It should be noted that because of Washington’s great fan aided forecheck, the Rangers were not able to pull Lundqvist for an extra attacker in the closing minute.

That is it for tonight but please check back late Wednesday night when I bring you some more analysis of the game and series win plus more quotes from the players and coaches (Mike Green and Tom Poti provided some good insight on the improved, since game six, Washington power play).  On Thursday I’ll preview the Penguins series and provide my second round predictions (btw, I went 7 for 8 in round one, with the only loss being President’s Trohy winning San Jose’s six game defeat to Anaheim). The complete playoff schedule with the Penguins has been announced and it is as follows:

Saturday, May 2nd at Washington (1pm on NBC)

Monday, May 4th at Washington (7pm on Versus)

Wednesday, May 6th at Pittsburgh (7pm on Versus)

Friday, May 8th at Pittsburgh (7pm on Versus)

*Saturday, May 9th at Washington (7pm on Versus)

*Monday, May 11th at Pittsburgh (TBD on Versus)

*Wednesday, May 13th at Washington (7pm on Versus)

* – if necessary

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