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NHL Regular Season Predictions

Posted on 06 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

With the NHL season set to kickoff it is time for my 4th annual regular season predictions here at WNST.NET. The season officially begins at Noon on Thursday, October 7th as the Carolina Hurricanes meet the Minnesota Wild from Helsinki, Finland (VERSUS). Then at 7pm on VERSUS, the Penguins take on the Flyers in Pittsburgh followed by a 10pm matchup between the defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks and the Avalanche from Denver. For those with the Centre Ice package, you can catch the Canadiens at the Leafs on CBC at 7pm followed by the Battle of Alberta, Calgary at Edmonton, at 10pm. For hockey fans it is a great lineup of five games on opening day. The Washington Capitals will commence their regular season schedule on Friday night, October 8th from Atlanta at 730pm (Comcast HD). The Caps will play their home opener on Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils (7pm).

Please note that the top 3 seeds in each conference represent the division winners. Now without further delay, below are my predictions by conference and a short blurp on each club:

Eastern Conference

1. Washington Capitals – The Caps will win the Southeast Division no problem and top the conference, and likely the NHL, because they have an extremely talented team that is another year older and hopefully more mature, plus they play in a weak division. Goalie Michal Neuvirth and young defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner are up from Hershey full time while 2009 1st round pick, Marcus Johansson of Sweden, made the squad out of camp and will play 3rd line center. They also added tough forward DJ King for protection for their star players. Will they get 121 points again? Likely not, but this team will still win the East. But as GM George McPhee told us on Tuesday, he doesn’t care about the regular season and he is focused on a long playoff run.

2. New Jersey Devils – Not only did they manage to survive the Summer of Kovalchuk and ink Ilya to a 15 year deal, they added shot blocking extraordinaire Anton Volchenkov and penalty killing ace Henrik Tallinder. Jason Arnott returns up front to go with Zach Parise. They did lose Paul Martin to the Penguins and Martin Brodeur is a year older. GM Lou Lamoriello brought in Johan Hedberg to take some of the load off of the best goalie in the history of hockey. It will be interesting to see how new coach John Maclean runs the ship.

3. Boston Bruins  – GM Peter Chiarelli must thank his lucky stars for Leafs GM Brian Burke. The B’s GM was able to draft future superstar Tyler Seguin with the front end of two 1st rounders Boston received for Phil Kessel last summer. The Bruins are stacked at center ice and still have Zdeno Chara on the back end. I expect goalie Tim Thomas to make a comeback this year and challenge Tuuka Rask for the starting netminder job.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins – Loaded up the middle as well with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal (though Staal is out for awhile due to complications from his 2010 post season foot injury), but this club is weak on the wings. On defense, PP specialist Sergei Gonchar took big money to go to Ottawa but GM Ray Shero went out and signed Martin from New Jersey and Zbynek Michalek from Phoenix. Big question is will Marc Andre-Fleury return to his Stanley Cup winning form after a terrible post season?

5. Philadelphia Flyers – They still are loaded up front with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Danny Briere, Claude Giroux, and Scott Hartnell but Simon Gagne, who helped turn the Flyers whole post season around in 2010, was traded in a salary cap saving move. Their defense is strong, anchored by Chris Pronger, Matt Carle, Kimmo Timonen, and Brayden Coburn plus newly acquired former Bolt Andrej Mezsaros, but their goaltending is weak, weak, weak..especially with Michael Leighton out for at least a month with a back injury.

6. Montreal Canadiens – Jaroslav Halak is now in St. Louis so can head case goalie Carey Price finally reach his potential? Brian Gionta, Michael Cammalleri, Tomas Plekenac, and Scott Gomez, all midget forwards, are the primary scoring threats for the Habs. We shall see how d-man, and playoff sensation PK Subban does in a full season of work at the NHL level.

7. Ottawa Senators – Questions all over the place on this team but GM Bryan Murray and Coach Cory Clouston seem to find a way to make things work well. We will see how Mr. Carrie Underwood (Mike Fisher) does in his first season of marriage.

8. New York Rangers – Oglethorpe??!! That should be the battle cry of the Rangers this year who added to their already large contingent of goons with former Wild tough guy Derek Boogaard. This team struggled to score goals so they added former King Alexander Frolov to the offense to go with Martin “Rubber Band Groin” Gaborik. Goalie King Henrik Lundqvist’s play will likely decide if they are in the post season or golfing come mid April of 2011.

9. Buffalo Sabres – Ryan Miller is GREAT, but even he can’t work miracles behind this defense. 2nd year d-man Tyler Myers is approaching star status but the loss of Tallinder will prove to be too much to overcome.

10. Carolina Hurricanes – I expect both forward Eric Staal and goalie Cam Ward to have better seasons after battling early year injuries that derailed their 2009-10, but one look at their defensive lineup makes you wonder how they will manage to battle for a playoff spot? At one point last year they were in the Taylor Hall-Tyler Seguin sweepstakes but then they screwed that up by starting to win games. Caps fans should be happy about that.

11. Tampa Bay Lightning – They added Steve Yzerman as GM but they really needed Yzerman the player. They have a solid defense with 2nd year man Victor Hedman, Mattias Ohlund, and the aging Pavel Kubina plus Steven Stamkos can light the lamp up front. The big questions on this team are: 1. Can the aging Marty St. Louis and Vincent LeCavalier put a consistent year together (I have more faith in #26 to do that than #4), and 2. Can Mike Smith and Dan Ellis stop any pucks? (Likely not very many).

12. Toronto Maple Leafs – Enjoy the party on Yonge Street on Thursday Leafs fans, that is the only time all season you can dream. This team is weak up front and will need a minor miracle to make the post season.

13. Atlanta Thrashers – Don Waddell received a Dilbert like promotion in the front office and new GM Rick Dudley brings in Craig Ramsay as head coach. They traded for Dustin Byfuglien from Chicago but instead of crashing the crease, the big man will likely play defense. Personally, I think once they failed to sign Kovalchuk long term they should have folded this franchise, one with big time ownership problems.

14. New York Islanders – Team injury is in for a long season. D-man Mark Streit is hurt and likely lost for the entire campaign and forward Kyle Okposo injured his shoulder and needs surgery. You need a Ouija board to figure out if goalie Rick DiPietro will ever be healthy and return to form as well. At least they have John Tavares to watch in the dumpy Nassau Coliseum (get this team a new building!).

15. Florida Panthers – Dale Tallon is taking the Caps approach by starting over and building via the draft. The former Hawks GM stockpiled draftpicks and this year they will likely finish last and have a great shot at the #1 pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. I expect goalie Tomas Vokoun to be moved at some point before the trade deadline.

Western Conference

1. San Jose Sharks – Antti Niemi is an upgrade over playoff bust Evengi Nabokov in goal. D-man Rob Blake retired but this club is still loaded with two very good lines that can light the lamp.

2. Vancouver Canucks – These guys are the “sexy” preseason Stanley Cup choice. I don’t see it but their division is weak so they cruise into the playoffs. Will the Sedins be able to match a stellar 2009-10? Roberto Luongo gave up the captaincy in an attempt to focus more on his job.

3. Detroit Red Wings – Do people have jobs anymore in Hockeytown so that they can buy tickets to watch the vaunted Red Wing machine take back their Central division title in 2010-11? If a tree falls in the woods and noone is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Basically the Ken Holland/Jim Nill machine will continue to pump out players from obscure places and field a top notch team. This could be Nicklas Lidstrom’s last season in the NHL.

4. Chicago Blackhawks – The Windy City got the Cup but then felt the brunt of the Cap. Salary cap issues forced GM Stan Bowman to unload eight players from the championship team but they still have Jonathan Toews (3rd best player in the league after Ovie and Sid the Kid), Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. Seabrook is a free agent after this season and will want more money so Bowman’s 2011 summer won’t go well either, unless he pulls a rabbit out of his hat and repeats as Cup champions. But can goalie Marty Turco help this club win another Cup?

5. Los Angeles Kings – Drew Doughty is a phenomenal defenseman and Los Angeles has plenty of young players that should mature in 2010-11. Can goalie Jonathan Quick build on a sensational year or will he be pushed out by the young Jonathan Bernier? Coach Terry Murray is a superb tactician and will have this team in the post season once again.

6. Calgary Flames – I am sure this pick elicited several laughs. A team that re-signed Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay and has serious center ice issues, especially with Daymond Langkow out injured, surely can’t be taken serious for a post season spot, can they? I say yes because GM Darryl Sutter will make some moves to save his job. Plus Jarome Iginla is due for a monster year, if he can find someone to get him the puck. I see Tanguay filling that role.

7. St. Louis Blues – Will Halak be the difference? Team President John Davidson and GM Doug Armstrong are counting on it. Gone are Keith Tkachuk (retirement) and Paul Kariya (post concussion syndrome). Will Patrick Berglund ever reach his potential or did the Blues ruin this kid by putting him in the NHL too early?

8. Phoenix Coyotes – I’ve gone back and forth on these guys. I think they could easily have a downturn and miss the playoffs after losing Michalek to the Pens. But I think Ilya Bryzgalov is the one guy who can prevent that. It will be interesting to see if 21 year old Kyle Turris can produce at the NHL level this year.

9. Nashville Predators – GM David Poile and Coach Barry Trotz can get it done with one of the smallest budgets in the league but this year I think the odds are too stacked against them to make the playoffs. They lost Dan Hamhuis and Jason Arnott and that will be too much to overcome.

10. Colorado Avalanche – Surprise team of 2009-10 thanks to goalie Craig Anderson but I think in 2010-11 they turn back in to a pumpkin.

11. Minnesota Wild – GM Chuck Fletcher added a bunch of grinding forwards in Eric Nystrom (Flames), Matt Cullen (Senators), and John Madden (Hawks). That will make for good defensive yet very boring hockey in the twin cities. Who is going to score the goals?

12. Anaheim Ducks – What? Scott Niedermayer finally retired?? Say it isn’t so! This team is rebuilding and has a great 1st line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan but after that, forget about it!

13. Dallas Stars – I am not a Marc Crawford fan. Every day he wakes up he should thank Joe Sakic and Patrick Roy for winning him his Stanley Cup. Mike Modano is now in Motown and they are relying on the ever-brittle Kari Lehtonen in net. Seems like a recipe for disaster, if you ask me. Is owner Tom Hicks going to sell the team?

14. Columbus Blue Jackets – Coach Scott Arniel has Rick Nash, and that is pretty much all. This franchise is also in trouble financially in Buckeye town.

15. Edmonton Oilers – Well, they named Shawn Horcoff team captain and they have Hall, the 1st overall pick in the 2010 draft on their club, but after that I quote Dr. Seuss to sum up the rest of their squad: Stink, Stank, Stunk!

Enjoy the hockey puckheads!!

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Caps Select 4 on Day 2 of NHL Draft

Posted on 26 June 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Press Release from the Capitals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the complete 2010 Capitals draft class:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Caps Get Day Off; NHL Playoff Predictions

Posted on 12 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Update

The Washington Capitals players had the day off on Monday but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was out at Kettler Ice Plex studying film of the Montreal Canadiens in preparation for Thursday’s playoff opener at the Verizon Center (7pm on Comcast HD). The Capitals, who finished the regular season with 121 points (54-15-13) will take on a Habs team that struggled in its’ last 10 games (3-4-3) and barely held off a hard charging New York Rangers club (7-1-2 in last 10) for the eighth and final playoff spot. Montreal went 39-33-10 (88 points) and on paper this appears like a mismatch despite the fact that the season series saw each team win a game after regulation had ended with the other two contests being decided by one and two goals, respectively. Many predictions, outside of the city of Montreal, have the Caps winning this one rather quickly.

But the playoffs are a totally different animal and the intensity will be high. There are several things for Boudreau to look at and examine but one of the first has to be to find some weaknesses in a pair of very good goaltenders. Carey Price, who played all four games in the regular season series between these two teams, went 13-20-5 on the year but he had a .912 save percentage. Jaroslav Halak, who pretty much carried Team Slovakia into the final four of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, was 26-13-5 with a .924 save percentage and appears to have won the number one goalie job going into the post season. Both of these goalies are very good and if one stumbles, the Caps aren’t getting any bargains if the other one gets an opportunity. A big key for Washington will be to get traffic on either goalie, fire the puck on net, and go for rebounds, something they did very well at times this season with the addition of Mike Knuble (29 goals).

Montreal struggles to score, tallying only 217 times counting shootout goals, and only six teams in the NHL lit the lamp on fewer occassions. However, their leading point scorer, Tomas Plekenac (25 goals, 45 assists), owns the Caps and he had four goals, an assist, and was +2 in the four meetings between these squads. #14 is a small, shifty center that gives Washington fits and will likely be someone the team focuses on slowing down. The Canadiens had the second best power play in the NHL, behind the Caps, and are ancored by defenseman Andrei Markov’s booming shot. #79 had six goals, 28 assists and was a team high +11 while playing just 45 games (injured for most of the first half of the season).

I will be out at Caps practice on Tuesday and will bring you more information on this matchup before unleashing my series prediction on Wednesday night.

NHL Playoff Predictions

There are seven other series to open the Stanley Cup playoffs, which start on Wednesday night on VERSUS (games also on NHL Centre Ice package). Here is a quick preview and prediction on each matchup:

Eastern Conference:

#2 New Jersey Devils vs. #7 Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers won five of the six games between these two teams in the regular season and Devils goalie Martin Brodeur does have his problems with Philly, at times. But with Brian Boucher in goal for the Flyers because of injuries to Ray Emery and Michael Leighton, I just don’t see Philly being able to stop a team that has Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac, Patrick Elias, and Jamie Langenbrunner. Philadelphia scored 236 goals (includes shootout goals) and is led up front by Mike Richards (31), Jeff Carter (33), and Daniel Briere (26). However, Carter is coming off of a fractured foot so he is not 100%. The Pick: Devils in 6

#3 Buffalo Sabres vs. #6 Boston Bruins: It remains to be seen if Sabres forward Tim Connolly (missed last 9 games due to a foot injury) will be ready for the post season. Connolly had 65 points and is a highly skilled, but very injury prone player.  In addition, Jochen Hecht and Drew Stafford are both banged up for Buffalo while Boston looks to be without Marc Savard, who has not played since being knocked out by that vicious and dirty hit from Matt Cooke of Pittsburgh. One question I have is how much does Ryan Miller, who has carried this Sabres club, have left in the tank? The Bruins appear to be going with Tuukka Rask instead of Team USA backup goalie Tim Thomas. The Pick: Sabres in 7.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Ottawa Senators: This will be the 3rd playoff meeting in four years for these two squads. Ottawa received a big blow losing forward Alexei Kovalev for the season with a knee injury. The Sens have gotten super goaltending from Brian Elliott and Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson have played exceptionally well in the second half of the season. But the Penguins, who on paper don’t appear to be as good as last season, have just too much for GM Bryan Murray’s club with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal up the middle and Marc-Andre Fleury in net. The Pick: Penguins in 5

Western Conference

#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Colorado Avalanche:  The Sharks, who historically have done well in the regular season and then struggled in the post season, have a super top line of Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau. Their defense is anchored by Stanley Cup veterans Dan Boyle and Rob Blake. Between the pipes it is Evgeni Nabokov, who has had his struggles this year and in the Olympics for Team Russia. The Avalanche, who finished last in the West in 2008-09 were the surprise team of the season getting major contributions from rookies Matt Duchense and Ryan O’Reilly. Noone was more important to the Avs than goalie Craig Anderson, who was signed as a free agent from Florida and carried this club on his back. However, the clock has struck midnight for this young team coached by former Capital Joe Sacco. The Pick: Sharks Sweep in 4.

#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Nashville Predators: The Hawks were the chic pick last summer to win it all with young superstar forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. They have a super blue line led by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook but their puck rushing and power play specialist, Brian Campbell, is still out with a fractured clavicle. Chicago has goalie issues but will likely go with Antti Niemi (26-7-4) over Cristobal Huet (26-14-4). Niemi’s save percentage was .912 to Huet’s .895, a big difference. The Predators get great coaching from former Baltimore Skipjacks coach Barry Trotz and former Caps GM David Poile, who with a limited budget to work with, seems to accomplish things with mirrors year in and year out. The Preds have a great defensive trio of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, and Dan Hamhuis that will have their work cut out for them against the high flying Blackhawks. The Pick: Chicago in 7.

#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Los Angeles Kings: Vancouver has the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel, Ryan Kesler, and Alexander Burrows up front to go with Team Canada Olympic gold medal winning goalie Roberto Luongo. The Kings, who are guided by former Capitals and Skipjacks Coach Terry Murray are a young team that exceeded expectations thanks primarily to great goaltending from American Jonathan Quick. The Kings have talented and physical 20 year old defenseman Drew Doughty and some skilled forwards in Anze Kopitar and Alexandre Frolov but they also have gritty ones in team captain Dustin Brown and Ryan Smyth. Smyth and Brown are both players who will go to the net for the ugly goals, but scoring on Luongo is very difficult. The Pick: Canucks in 6

#4 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings: Phoenix, along with LA and Colorado, were a surprise to make the playoffs but goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was sensational and former Capital Dave Tippett did a wonderful job of getting Shane Doan to adjust his game to mesh with some younger forwards. The result was the best season in Coyotes history. That won’t matter though as the vaunted Wings are finally healthy and appear to be clicking on all cylinders. Rookie Jimmy Howard has seized the goaltending job from Chris Osgood. Detroit still has Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski on defense and up front Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have really elevated their games since the Olympic Break. GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock also got Johan Franzen back from an ACL injury in early February. When healthy, this team is scary good. The Pick: Wings Sweep in 4.

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Caps Sweep Penguins, 6-3

Posted on 07 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

In a game that meant so much more to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals went into the vaunted “Igloo” and despite having to play the Pens and the referees for the 15th straight time, the Caps still managed to come out on top, 6-3. Alexander Ovechkin continued his resurgence just in time for the playoffs notching two goals and he now is tied with Sidney Crosby (1 goal, 2 assists) for the NHL goal scoring lead at 48. Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay is just one goal back. Ovechkin is also tied with Henrik Sedin of Vancouver for the Art Ross Trophy race, at 106 points, pending Vancouver’s late game vs. Colorado. The Capitals won every regular season meeting between these two teams (SWEEEEEPP!) in 2009-10 with all four contests coming since January 21st. Washington now has a staggering 118 points (53-15-12) and will finish the regular season with games against the Thrashers on Friday and Boston on Sunday at the Verizon Center.

Here are the highlights, some quotes from Ovechkin, and analysis from what I hope is the last game ever between the Caps and Pens in Mellon Arena (i.e, I wish the Pens bad luck in the playoffs):

STAT OF THE NIGHT: For the 15th straight game between these two squads, the Caps did not receive more power plays than the Penguins. In fact, in ONLY four of those contests have the number of power plays for each team been even! That is ridiculous and clearly shows an officiating bias. The shots on Tuesday were 29-28, in favor of Pittsburgh, but the Penguins had four power plays to just one for Washington (the Caps scored just 4 seconds into their PP chance on Ovechkin’s first goal). In addition to being shortchanged on power play opportunities, both blind zebras, Greg Devorski and Ian Walsh, missed a nasty elbow by Max Talbot to the head of Alexander Semin (scored his 39th goal of the season and added an assist). The Caps did get a big break though on a quick whistle that negated what would have been a Penguins goal in the second period.

Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom (3 assists), and Mike Knuble (28th goal of the season) had their second straight good game and appear to be heating up for the playoffs. The Great #8 logged 19:12 of ice time while Backstrom played 20:35 with the difference being #19’s 1:25 on the PK. Knuble played 17:33 so Caps Coach Bruce Bourdeau continues to do a good job of not overplaying his top line down the stretch.

“I think that power play goal gave me more [relief]. I had lots chances to score goals the last four games and they didn’t go in.  Finally it goes in and the last 10 minutes I just felt unbelievable ,” said the Great #8, who also praised Crosby’s play, character, and leadership after this one in addition to recognizing the Caps defense and goaltender for super play (“Varly today played unbelievable.”). By the way, Ovechkin’s second marker came into an empty net with just 0.2 seconds remaining.

Semyon Varlamov (26 saves) was very solid tonight and it was hard to fault him on the three goals allowed. The first was a laser by Crosby on the power play after Tyler Sloan gave #87 far too much room coming off of the right wing boards. The middle tally by the Pens was a Jordan Leopold point blast that was heading wide but hit Shaone Morrisonn (-2 on the evening) and bounced right through Varly’s pad while the final Pittsburgh goal was another Leopold rocket after a Caps giveaway. On that shot Morrisonn dove to the ice late and didn’t allow #40 to pick up the shot. The back-to-back wins were the first ones since December 3rd & 7th, right before he started with all of the injuries. Boudreau has to feel very good about where his goaltending is at with just two regular season games remaining. Jose Theodore is on fire again and if he somehow struggles the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach knows he has a surging Varly he can put in the cage as well.

Resiliency was the key word of the night for Washington. First, they lost defenseman John Erskine to a lower body injury (h/t Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post) in the first period and #4 logged only 3:52 of ice time. After that they had to go with just five blue liners. Even more impressive was their ability to respond so quickly to Pittsburgh tallies. After Crosby’s PP marker made it 2-1 at 6:18 of the second period, Tomas Fleischmann scored just 21 seconds later on a wicked top shelf wrister that chased Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to the showers (9 saves on 12  shots). #29 proceeded to lose it in the tunnel after Coach Dan Bylsma gave him the hook. Then after Leopold put one byVarly just 49 seconds into the third period, Ovechkin responded with his power play rocket by former Capital Brent Johnson (13 saves on 15 shots) just 1:51 later to restore a two goal Washington lead.

Another key tally was Matt Bradley’s 10th of the season with just two minutes left in the second period. That goal, off of a nice passing play with Quintin Laing and Dave Steckel, came after a long stretch where the Pens were dominating play and gave Washington momentum heading into period three.

Jeff Schultz is back. #55, who seems to play his best against the Pens (+12 in last 8 games versus PIT; h/t @JapersRink), was so solid in his own end tying up several Pens around the net all game and earning a +5 for the evening (he leads the NHL at +44, h/t to Corey Masisak). In addition, Sarge added two assists and wasn’t prone to some of the sloppy giveaways he had been making over the last month. Schultz logged 25:00 of ice time to lead all Caps (Tom Poti had 24:55).

Notes: Mike Green was a scratch and apparently is “dinged up” but could have played, if really necessary..El-Bashir is reporting he will play Friday against the Thrashers…Evgeni Malkin (sick) missed the game for the Penguins as did noted head hunter, Chris Kunitz (undisclosed)..Pittburgh won the face-off battle, 29-24, with Backstrom going 8-5, Jay Beagle 7-3, and Fleischmann 3-10. Crosby was 16-12 for the Pens…Karl Alzner was recalled today but was scratched…Kris Letang and Bill Guerin were both -3 for Pittsburgh, who are now two points behind the New Jersey Devils in the race for the Atlantic Division title (NJ defeated ATL, 3-0, on Tuesday night).

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In the Ovechkin vs. Crosby Debate Let’s End the Mudslinging

Posted on 15 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Anyone who watched February 7th’s Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins game on NBC saw a hockey game for the ages. Sidney Crosby, captain of the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pens, scored the game’s first two goals only to see Alexander Ovechkin, the two time defending NHL MVP, notch a hat trick and add an assist to propel the Caps to a thrilling, 5-4, overtime victory. Last season the Penguins eliminated the Capitals in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a series many hockey people were waiting to see since Crosby was taken first overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft after the Great #8 was drafted first overall in 2004. It was a tremendous battle with both Ovechkin and Crosby playing at the top of their respective games and the end result had #87’s crew winning out in a seven game marathon.

So with last year’s playoff series of the decade followed by last week’s regular season classic the Ovechkin vs. Crosby rivalry has reached a new pinnacle. Guess what though? Over the next two weeks that discussion is about to go worldwide as Crosy, who is Canadian, is favored to battle Ovechkin’s Russian squad for the gold medal in Vancouver on Sunday, February 28th. It might even go higher in May if these two clubs meet again in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Crosby, after notching a tally in his Valentine’s Day tilt against Nashvillie, has now tied Ovechkin for the NHL goal scoring lead (each has 42 this season) so that will further add fuel to the fire.

Personally, I think the rivalry is great and the fact that people want to argue about Ovechkin vs. Crosby is super for hockey and the NHL much like Gretzky vs. Lemieux turned people onto the game in the 80’s and 90’s. However, with the increasing interest in the NHL could this battle among the players respective camps become an even bigger story approaching the lines of Jack vs. Arnie or Tiger vs. Phil in golf or Manning vs. Brady in the NFL or Yankees vs. Red Sox in baseball or Magic vs. Bird back in the 80’s for the NBA? I’m not sure, because let’s face it, in the United States hockey is not really on the front burner but it is growing in popularity. One place this story is front and center, though, is in Canada. The people of the Great White North absolutely love hockey and with one of their own as a horse in the race naturally most Canadians tend to be in the Crosby camp. I have no issue with that, I will be the first one to tell you that you have to support your country. Crosby, who is a very skilled and fundamentally sound hockey player, was annointed the “next coming of the Great One” when he was very young and most Canadians could not wait until he reached the NHL. They are estactic that he is finally going to play for their country in the 2010 Winter Olympics. I can’t blame any of them for enjoying and taking pride in all of that.

Ovechkin, on the other hand, is a human highlight reel who is clearly the most entertaining player in hockey and arguably one of the best in all of sports today. He is that rare breed of athlete that possesses incredible skill but also has power and can bring the physical play that attracts many to the great game of hockey. Some of the goals he has scored in the NHL are legendary. Let’s be honest, he likely has saved hockey in the Nation’s Capital (granted hockey is a team sport so the other players, the coach, GM, owner, etc. deserve credit too) and even though Washington will always be thought of as a football town and home of some fabulous basketball history, the popularity of Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals has NEVER been greater in its 35 year existence as evidenced by the fact that the Caps now sell out every home game for the first time in their history. Television ratings are through the ceiling and just last week while trying to extend their 14 game winning streak they set another regular season viewing record on Comcast. You want to know how popular Ovechkin is? Many Caps fans are actually going to root for Russia in the Olympics! That seems insane based on what happened in Lake Placid in 1980 but it is true, granted the fact that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 and the world has dramatically changed since then helps make that much more possible. But still, people in DC rooting for Moscow’s team, who would ever think it? But on Sunday there was host David Gregory of Meet the Press, who is a Caps season ticket holder, asking Vice President Joe Biden about this very topic on the show. Incredible stuff.

Both athletes are fantastic players and are also leaders as evidenced by the fact that each is the team captain of their respecitve clubs. Clearly if you polled all 30 GM’s in the National Hockey League they would say you can build a team around either one of them. But in today’s society where competition is king, and personally I love competition, saying both are great just doesn’t seem to satisfy some people and many are asked to take sides. There is nothing wrong with that, these debates fuel interest in the NHL, and they are fun. I’ve had the very lucky pleasure of watching and interviewing both of them in person. Both are stand up guys who realize they need to talk to the media, who are the conduit to the fans, whether they win or lose on that day. Crosby and Ovechkin are incredibly polished when answering questions and almost always provide a response that is respectful to their opponents. Both players are great, Crosby has a Stanley Cup and Ovechkin has two MVP trophies. Both of those facts will be used in arguments as to why one is better than the other. The Crosby camp will point to their championship while the Ovie supporters say look at the individual hardware he has won. Neither is wrong.

What has gotten me upset about the debate though, is when someone in the media starts supporting one of the two by bashing the other. Given that hockey is fighting to regain its spot in the Big Four, I think it hurts the game when some big time media members take shots at one of the two in order to pump up the other (such as Mike Milbury’s “Hey Ovie, I’m still your daddy” comment in support of Sid after the first period of last Sunday’s game on NBC). Milbury says he was joking but when the game turned the Caps way did he ever make a joke back in support of Ovechkin?

It is okay for fans to do this, because fans are exactly that: fanatics, but for hockey media people to continually go down this route really hurts the game. In a blog I did back in December about the flack Ovechkin was taking from Hockey Night in Canada’s Don Cherry for his style of play, it was pointed out that there was definitely a bias against the Great #8 (see quote from NHL Network analyst Craig Button). I then took Button’s remark a step further and said that the bias was a result of Ovechkin’s nationality and I think that stems from the fact that some Canadians don’t want a non-Canadian to be the centerpiece for what that nation considers to be their sport (although Russians would argue hard on that point, but that is a blog for another time), especially given that the Olympics are in their country this year. It seems that the diatribe against Ovechkin by Cherry, ironically, started 12 months ago with the Winter Games approaching (the former Boston Bruins coach blasted Ovie last February for, of all things, celebrating goals!).

To be fair though, there are MANY Canadians who love Ovechkin. On Washington’s most recent trip to Vancouver last December the Great #8 was reportedly, at that point in time, a bigger story than the event going on there right now. I am a regular listener to Jeff Marek’s daily Hockey Night in Canada Radio show and I can tell you that he is one prominent Canadian media member who is an Ovechkin fan. But Jeff is a Crosby fan too and he gets that promoting both is best for the sport. If you pinned Jeff down in the “who is better” debate, I am sure he would pick one or the other but rest assured, he probably wouldn’t do it by blasting the one he didn’t pick. When Cherry goes on his Ovechkin rants, especially the ones where he says “somebody is going to get him”, he not only shows his bias and looks foolish, but he hurts the game and pushes it more towards the pro wrestling realm. I say, if you want to pick one then argue your case taking a factual or analytical approach, such as:

Crosby is a center while Ovechkin is a left wing so you best build a team up the middle, or

Ovechkin plays more physical and a team needs to have that presence on its club so picking him makes most sense, or

Crosby has won a Stanley Cup so he is number one, or

Ovechkin has won two MVP’s so he is better, etc.

That is the way to debate it because the Ovechkin supporter could say, yeah Crosby has a Cup but that is because Pittsburgh picked in the top five in the NHL Draft five consecutive years in a row (from 2002 to 2006 they picked 5th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, and 2nd, getting Ryan Whitney, Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, Crosby, and Jordan Staal, respectively) while the Crosby camp could say, well if Sid didn’t have Malkin he would have been the MVP, etc. Keeping it at that level is more civilized then saying Ovechkin is dirty or a showboat or Crosby is a whiner, because in the end, the negativity only hurts hockey.

Let’s face it, hockey fans are a very unique crew and even Caps and Penguins fans or Leafs and Canadiens fans, despite their disdain for each other’s teams, are able to unify in a debate in support of their sport against someone who chooses to bash it (and believe me, in the US it happens often). If those types of fans can do it, then why can’t some of the media, who like to go the player bashing route, do it too? If the media is going to make things better for hockey overall, and it is in the best interest for those who cover the sport to help grow it, then in the Ovechkin vs. Crosby debate shouldn’t we decide to end the mudslinging once and for all? I don’t know about you, but it sure makes sense to me.

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Ovechkin Gets Hat Trick in OT Comeback Win vs. Pens

Posted on 07 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, who are the highest scoring team in the NHL and came in to today’s contest having potted at least 32 more goals than any other NHL team, surprisingly had gone all 58 games this season without a hat trick by one of their players. Well that streak ended today in dramatic fashion as the best hockey player in the world, Alexander Ovechkin, scored three goals to help the Caps rally from 2-0 and 4-1 deficits and also added an assist on Mike Knuble’s overtime game winner as Washington defeated their archrival Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-4, on national television (NBC) at the Verizon Center. This game, which if not for NBC would have likely been delayed or even moved to Monday because of #Snovechkin, was one for the ages and you can bet that some regular season non-Winter Classic hockey viewer ratings records may be shattered. The Caps have now won an amazing 14 straight contests, improved to a mind boggling 41-12-6 which is good for 88 points, and widened their lead in the Eastern Conference standings to 14 points. Anybody not think this team is for real?

Here are the highlights, quotes, analysis, and more statistics on a streak that is now tied for the 3rd longest in NHL history:

Well we have to start with the Great #8. What a performance today?! Memo to the Penguins: Cheap shotting (see Craig Adams hit from behind in the 1st period that went unpenalized) or trying rough up Ovechkin (see Brooks Orpik all game long) is only going to make him madder and cause you to pay more. Perhaps you should call the Montreal Canadiens about a certain game on January 31, 2008 to find out why you should leave Ovie alone? 

Alexander the Great’s rival, Sidney Crosby, came out hot in this one scoring the game’s first two goals prompting NBC’s Mike Milbury to joke after the first period about Crosby still being Ovie’s daddy. By the end of the Ovechkin dominated 3rd and overtime periods, I still did not hear Mike crack any jokes back at Sid. Perhaps he will say something on HNIC Radio this week when he is on with super host Jeff Marek to save face? I doubt that though, because Milbury is buddies with Don Cherry, who has been overly critical of Ovechkin, so we likely won’t be getting a Crosby joke or a mistake admission by Milbury. The former Islander GM, who made some brutal trades as GM (see Roberto Luongo),  just looks foolish and more biased every time he keeps taking shots at the two-time defending MVP.

The Great #8 credited the crowd for the third period comeback but after Eric Fehr made a superb individual play to make it 4-2 late in the second stanza, Ovechkin took this game over and showed everyone who really is Big Daddy. Alex, with his four point day, has 42 goals and 44 assists this season to lead Henrik Sedin of Vancouver in the scoring race by eight points despite missing eight contests. Crosby is third with 74 points. In the plus/minus category, the Great #8 sits at a league leading +41 while Crosby dropped to +7. The argument to all of this from Crosby and non-Ovechkin fans is that Sid leads in Stanley Cups (1-0) but something tells me the Caps day is coming. By the way, you might as well award Ovechkin with his third straight MVP trophy because the club is 17-1 since he became team captain. Afterwards, the Great #8 was his typical honest and classy self:

“It’s always nice to win, especially when you are a little bit frustrated in the first [period]. Game [didn’t] go well for us right away. It’s nice to come back and win in OT especially. It’s always nice to score goals, especially in this type of big game. They are going to play hard against us. They played great. We made a couple of mistakes and they have very good skill out there.  So we just come here and know that we still have lots of time to come back and score lots of goals. We just go out there and play. [Due to the weather] The crowd wasn’t getting in during the first period. You can see the crowd pushing us in the third period and we just keep going, keep going and it’s pretty sick,” said Ovechkin on the victory, his scoring, the Pens play, and the help his squad received from the fans who fought through the snow for the opportunity to “Rock the Red.”

 

As for the NBC broadcast, they clearly love the Penguins but hey, so does the NHL because Crosby is Canada’s golden boy. But Ovechkin has numerous fans in the Great White North despite what you might believe based on some select TSN and CBC announcers. NBC pretty much talked the whole time about 87 or 8 and I thought over-discussed the bad travel night the Penguins had getting to DC. Pittsburgh played in Montreal on Saturday afternoon, flew to Newark, New Jersey and landed around 9pm, then endured a nearly five hour bus ride to DC before arriving at 2am Sunday morning. That stunk for them but you couldn’t tell they got little sleep by their fast start. In the 3rd period, however, the Caps took over and some of that could have been Pens travel fatigue. Both Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau addressed the issues with the weather and travel and its impact on arguably the most exciting NHL game this season.

 

“I don’t think [the travel] had anything to do with it. I thought our team had plenty of jump. Our guys felt good. I don’t think it was a factor at all … We had a travel day. Most of these guys have done that quite a bit in their career in the American [Hockey] League or growing up. I don’t think it was at all out of the ordinary for any of these guys. It wasn’t what we expected when they put the schedule together, but it happened and it wasn’t out of the ordinary,” said an admirable Bylsma, who seems to have the perfect demeanor to coach the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

 

“[The snow] hurt us worse, we are out shoveling all day, worrying about who is going to be coming to the game and your focus is not on the game. They skated yesterday and we didn’t have practice so that is why we struggled early,” added Boudreau.

 

Throughout this season, and especially during this history making winning streak, the Caps have dominated third periods outscoring opponents by an incredible 30-6! The question on the Caps, primarily because of the perception that Washington is weak defensively, has been “Can they play the 2-1 game come playoff time?” I think last year’s game seven win over the Rangers proved they can prevail in that type of contest but some will still argue against me. However, I pose this question, what team is best suited to come back from a two or three goal deficit? I say the Caps as they proved in their come from behind win over New York on Thurday and today’s rally against Pittsburgh. To come back you need offense, but you also have to be able to play defense and have good goaltending. The Caps were shoddy, at best, on defense at the beginning of this one but their goalie, Jose Theodore, continues to play his best hockey in a Washington uniform and he kept the team in it until Ovechkin and company could take over.

 

“We were playing pretty bad, the first 10 mintues was the worst our defense has played in so long. But I thought the last half of the game we were really good,” started Boudreau, “Theodore played great. Couldn’t do anything on the first two [goals] I didn’t think, you know [Sidney] Crosby’s goals, and then there were bang-bang goals in front of the net. A sign of a good goaltender to me is when it’s tied at the end or you’re up by a goal and somebody can preserve that one goal lead or preserve it so it gives you an opportunity to win it. And he did. He made some great saves at the end and even when it was 2-0 and 5-on-3 he made that great save and didn’t allow Crosby to make it 3-0. I thought that was very important,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner on his goalie, who won his 10th straight contest making 31 saves.

 

Pittsburgh, despite blowing a three goal lead, still received a point so the day was not a total loss for Bylsma’s squad. In fact, despite some of my complaints with the NBC broadcast, the crew that had the worst day was definitely the referees. Tim Peel and Frederick L’Ecuyer should not be allowed to officiate any playoff games after this one. They had very little pulse on the game and by not acting on some dirty hits allowed parts of this contest to turn into a chippy affair. They made some correct calls but they also missed several things and made some bad ones such as:

 

  • The Adams hit on Ovechkin in the first period that should have been a five minute major for checking from behind. Can you imagine the uproar if Ovechkin had done this? What made it worse was the zebras gave Knuble an instigator penalty, which carried a 10 minute misconduct with it, for going after Adams when a roughing call was more appropriate.
  • Right before Alexander Semin, who did not have one of his better games, was called for a high stick on Sergei Gonchar, a Penguin put a wrestling hold on Brooks Laich without being whistled
  • How do you call 10 minute misconduct penalties on both Nicklas Backstrom (1st liner, +2, two assists) and Tyler Kennedy (3rd liner, at best)? Each should have received no more than two minute minors. Sending them both off for 10 minutes gave a huge advantage to Pittsburgh. These officials clearly were not cognizant of what they were calling and the impact those penalties could have on the game.
  • Semin also took a vicious cross check to his jaw from Evgeni Malkin in the third period that went unpenalized.
  • Jeff Schultz (+3 and a sweet assist to set up an Ovechkin breakaway goal) was whistled by the back referee at center ice for slashing Matt Cooke when #24’s stick clearly broke on its own. What made this call worse, besides the wrong referee signaling the infraction when out of position for the call, was that it gave Pittsburgh a power play in a tie hockey game with just over four minutes remaining. That is bush league officiating there.

More Thoughts & Notes: The Caps, after smoking the Pens in Pittsburgh on January 21 on face-offs, lost the battle at the dot 39-34 on Sunday… Despite Crosby’s two goals, the Penguins top player today was Jordan Staal (two goals, +2, in just under 20 minutes of ice time)… Michael Rupp, who was acquired by Pittsburgh as a free agent from the Devils in the off-season, looked pretty good yet only played a surprising 6:28..Tom Poti and Semin were having poor games, for them, until the 3rd period and OT. Poti assisted on the second Ovechkin goal (what hands by the Great #8 there!) that made it 4-3 and #28 drew the high stick on Orpik that put Washington on the game winning power play (Orpik, according to Corey Masisak, called Semin “a baby” after the game and said “he has no respect for him”)..Eight times in their 14-game winning streak the Capitals have won despite allowing the first goal, improving to 15-6-2 when their opponent scores first (.652). No other team has won more than half its games in that scenario..when Crosby made it 2-0 in the first period, how many Caps fans flashed back to game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference semi-finals, a contest that Pittsburgh would rout Washington in, 6-2, to advance to the Stanley Cup semi-finals?..Down on the farm in the AHL, the Hershey Bears rallied from a 3-0 hole thanks to a Mathieu Perrault hat trick and an assist en route to a 5-4 victory over the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. D-man Bryan Helmer had the game winner and Semyon Varlamov stopped 26 of 30 shots in a re-hab assigment. The Bears have now won 17 straight home games and 10 in a row overall (22 of last 23 as well). Yes, that is 24 straight combined for the Caps organization at the NHL and AHL levels, WOW!

 

At the end of the day though, this one was about a rivalry that continues to intensify, was magnified in front of a national television audience, and likely stole some thunder from Sunday night’s Super Bowl, which is big for the NHL.

 

“I am pretty excited and I am really excited for hockey that that game was put on TV today. That’s what people pay to see; when superstars shine and there’s tension and excitement and there’s physical play, you can see the passion on both sides. That’s what hockey’s all about,” finished Boudreau.

 

The Caps go for 15 straight on Wednesday night in Montreal.

 

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Ovechkin Leads Caps over Penguins, 6-3

Posted on 21 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time since May 13, 2009, a blowout loss in game 7 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center, the Washington Capitals faced the Pittsburgh Penguins and despite spotting the Pens with an easy early goal (a Jose Theodore giveaway), the Caps carried the play much of the evening against the home Penguins en route to a 6-3 victory. The Capitals, who were tied at three after two periods, struck for three final stanza tallies. Alexander Ovechkin was dominant in this contest with two goals and an assist and he ran his record as Washington Capitals captain to 8-1. The Great #8 showed everyone in the league that he once again is the NHL MVP tonight, not just for his scoring but because of his two way play. Ovie was fantastic in every zone on Thursday night and you could see he really wanted this one. The victory is Washington’s 5th in a row and they are still in first place in the Eastern Conference at 32-12-6.

Let’s get right to the highlights and analysis:

MVP, MVP, MVP: Check out Alexander the Great’s stats tonight: 2 goals, 1 assist, 8 shots on net, 7 hits, and +2 in 20:39 of ice time. Ovechkin set up Mike Knuble for the Caps first goal, which was key after Theo literally gave the Penguins an easy one to take a 1-0 lead, by abusing defenseman Kris Letang and driving hard to the net. The Great #8’s shot bounced off of former Caps goalie Brent Johnson’s pads and #22 banged it home. Ovie then had a power play goal to tie this one at three in the second period and he finished the deal with an empty net goal. He was all over the ice on Thursday night.

Special Teams Perfect, on paper: The Caps power play (2 for 2) was a huge factor in the win as Ovechkin’s tally on the Capitals first man advantage knotted this one up for the third period and then Nicklas Backstrom’s sweet upstairs goal from in close gave Washington an early 5-3 final stanza advantage. On the penalty kill, the Caps were successful on all four Penguins power plays, although Kris Letang’s goal that made it 3-2 for Pittsburgh, was scored one second after rookie John Carlson came out of the penalty box (Carlson was recalled on Thursday morning to replace an injured Mike Green). It was clear that better ice made for improved passing for the Caps on the power play and they really had the Pens on their heels. Conversely, the Penguins had moments where they were very good on the man advantage but Theodore came up big when he had to, especially on Sidney Crosby early in front with the score 1-0. Overall though, Washington did a good job of keeping the Pittsburgh power play on the perimeter.

Goaltending Edge for Washington: Despite Theo’s stick handling gaffe and the bad rebound goal he gave up that resulted in Nik Johnson’s first goal of the season, #60 (35 saves) was fairly solid in the win. He did have a couple of other instances where he did not control the puck well on shots but the key was he compensated for that by making some big stops at critical junctures in the contest. At the other end, with Marc-Andre Fleury out due to a fractured finger, Johnson (28 saves) got the call for the Pens and after a decent start, I did not think Johnny was very good. His biggest mistake was going down and giving up the short side on Backstrom’s power play goal that cemented this one for Washington. To be fair though, one goal that went by him, Eric Fehr’s tally in the second period, was knocked in past him by his own defenesman, Brooks Orpik.

Winning the Draws: The Caps destroyed the Penguins in the faceoff circle, 41-25, and that helped them control the puck for most of this one. Brendan Morrison was a perfect 8-0 from the dot while Tomas Fleischmann was 11-5. Crosby took 30 face-offs and was a pitiful 10-20.

Defense Strong: Washington’s defense was still strong without their ice time and production leader, Green. I thought all three pairings were strong and even though Karl Alzner was -2 and Jeff Schultz -1, they were good together. They each received a minus on Theodore’s blunder early on and they were the pair on at the end of the Pens power play that resulted in Letang’s goal. The ice time was fairly well distributed with Tom Poti leading the way with 22:27 while Tyler Sloan had the fewest minutes, but he still logged 16:32. I thought Washington’s defenders did a good job of stepping up in the neutral zone and at their own blue line to take away the Penguins speed and transition game. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was likely proud of his so-called “much maligned” D on Thursday night.

Game Winning Goal: Alexander Semin only played 15:42 but his lone point came on a good defensive play followed by an even better saucer pass that sent Fleischmann in on a breakaway. #14 froze Johnson and beat him upstairs to stun the home Penguins just 2:32 into period three. Flash now has 17 goals in just 39 games this season.

Overall, this was a big win for the Caps on enemy ice. It was clear that Washington wanted this one and had their legs from the get go, unlike Tuesday’s tilt against the Red Wings (Theodore won that game). Earlier in the week Boudreau called the three contests against the Flyers, Detroit, and the Penguins as a measuring stick and with a 3-0 record you have to concede that his Caps rose to the occassion, for the most part. Next up are the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The Coyotes, who are coached by former Cap Dave Tippett and are led by goalie Ilya Brzgalov, have had a very good season and will be the fourth tough challenge in just seven days. Phoenix is a good hockey team, but they do not have the recent playoff track record like the Flyers, Wings, and Pens, so Ovechkin and company must try to avoid an emotional let down.

That is it for me tonight, sorry for the lack of quotes, but it has been a long day but a good one for me. The Caps victory was the icing on the cake for the Frankovic family this evening as Christian Edward Frankovic was born today at 4:58 pm at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore. Yes, my son is now officially 1-0 against the Pens, have a great night!

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Caps News and NHL Update

Posted on 12 November 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps News

Alexander Ovechkin continues to improve and if you want some proof all you have to do is check out the outstanding video coverage from Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post. The Great #8 has missed four games after being injured in a scrum against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, November 1st and if he doesn’t play against Minnesota on Friday or New Jersey on Saturday then it will be a total of 6 games. The Caps are 3-1 without Ovechkin and have learned some good things about their team in the face of adversity but Coach Bruce Boudreau and his club likely don’t want to have to play without their superstar too much longer. You can hold it together short term but longer term the road gets difficult. All you have to do is look at how poorly the Penguins played last year with defensemen Sergei Gonchar out the first 4 months of the season and the Pens are struggling again with Gonchar out due to a fractured wrist. Conn Smythe Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin is also on injured reserve and Pittsburgh has gone 2-5 in the seven games without both #55 and #71, including a 4-1 loss to the Devils Thursday night.

I didn’t get a chance to include this in last night’s blog after Washington’s 5-4 shootout victory over the Islanders, but I asked captain Chris Clark if he was planning on going top shelf or did New York goalie Dwayne Roloson give him the upper corner as he was skating in on his eventual shootout winning shot.  “I was shooting all the way just because of the ice was getting bouncy, you gotta shoot there sometimes so I had to give it a try,” stated Clark. #17 also mentioned that the primary reason the Caps are 3-1 without Ovechkin is because they routinely have been the first guy on the puck, which is exactly what Eric Fehr said Wednesday night as well.

Caps players and fans are well aware that Boudreau is a very good coach by the mere fact that he took over a team that was mired in last place just two years ago and helped to turn it into a Stanley Cup contender that is coming off of back to back Southeast Division titles. “Gabby”, who Sergei Fedorov apparently compared to the legendary Scotty Bowman for his ability to make in-game adjustments, does seem to have a “magic” touch as evidenced recently by the very successful line juggling he did for the third period of Saturday’s win over Florida and last night’s hook of goalie Jose Theodore at an early juncture in the game (not to mention that very risky yet highly successful switch to Semyon Varlamov after game one of the Rangers playoff series last spring). So where does Boudreau get that “sixth sense” like ability? Well, it isn’t magic or rocket science, Boudreau started as a player in juniors in 1972 (Toronto Marlboros of the OHA) then played in the minors plus the NHL and as soon as his career was over he went into coaching. I looked up his history at hockey db and counting regular season and playoff contests the 2008 Jack Adams Award winner has 2,879 games of total experience. 2,879, WOW! Boudreau has likely “seen it all” and it is no wonder he has a knack for making the right move in many different situations. Like the great Jim Ignatowski once said on one of my all-time favorite tv shows, Taxi, “There is no substitute for experience!”

NHL News

Anyone who has spoken with me recently knows I am still steaming over the incident where the Great #8 was injured against the Blue Jackets. I did not like the mugging and I was even more upset with Columbus Coach Ken Hitchcock’s “hunt down” comment the next day. The Caps don’t play Columbus again until April 3rd so there are no immediate “revenge” type of opportunities. So what am I doing in the interim? I am rooting against the Blue Jackets and they have become one of my least favorite teams (of course the Flyers, Penguins, and Rangers are solidified in the top 3 in those rankings given their respective proximity and long time rivalries with the Caps). As you can imagine, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Detroit Red Wings take Hitchcock’s club apart, 9-1, on Wednesday night.

Russian superstar Ilya Kovalchuk missed just six contests with a fractured foot and in his return to the line-up for Atlanta Wednesday night he had a goal and two assists to lead his Thrashers to a 5-3 win at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers. Atlanta went 3-3 without #17 and they are now 8-6-1 overall.

On Halloween night Kelly Hrudey, who is hands down Hockey Night in Canada’s best analyst, showed some clips of Jarome Iginla against the Detroit Red Wings and pointed out how he was not moving his feet like he typically had done in the past, primarily along the boards. #12 was off to a slow start with only 4 goals in 12 contests and seemed to be trying to play “the easy game.” Well whether Flames coach Brett Sutter talked to him or Iginla saw the Hrudey clip or whatever happened, the Calgary captain is playing super again and has gone on a tear and he has five goals and an assist during the Flames recent four game winning streak, three of which have come away from the Saddledome. The Flames are 11-4-1 overall and trail the Colorado Avalanche by four points but the Avs have played three more contests.

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Ovechkin, Varlamov Get Caps Win in Hotlanta

Posted on 29 October 2009 by Ed Frankovic

One week after nearly blowing a three goal lead in Atlanta and escaping with a 5-4 victory the Caps headed to the final period once again with a three goal lead at Philips Arena. Instead of putting this one away in easy fashion, Washington allowed a well rested (5 days off) Thrashers team to fire 20 third period shots on Semyon Varlamov (38 saves) and force the Caps to hang on for a 4-3 victory.

The Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, came out with guns ablazing as the Caps dominated the first 25 minutes to take a 3-0 lead and set up what initially looked to be a walk in the park for Washington. Ovechkin had two goals and an assist while Brooks Laich added three assists. The Capitals have now won six straight games and are 8-2-2 overall. They have a 7 point lead in the Southeast Division over the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have two games in hand.

 “It is ridiculous how we just let up and let the other team back in the game. It is just frustrating. We got up and thought it would be easy and we stopped skating….Our game is not like a faucet where we can turn it on and off and we struggled to find it again,” said a clearly disappointed Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

“We had opportunities and it is just like la-di-da and instead of making it 4-0 or 5-0 and letting them go home with the tails between their legs we’ve got a battle on our hands and especially with the amount of games we have this week it would have been nice to rest some guys in the third period,” finished Boudreau, whose team will quickly fly back from Atlanta late tonight and take on the Islanders at the Verizon Center on Friday night.

Ovechkin started off the scoring with a one timer on the power play off of a Mike Green feed at 10:03 of the first period. Brendan Morrison won the offensive zone face-off and Brooks Laich received the second assist by sliding the puck back to #52.

Atlanta then had a chance to rebound after the Great #8’s goal as they received a penalty shot on a Laich trip that warranted a call, but not a free attempt to score. Forward Jim Slater was not totally in the clear, as the rule states you should be to garner a penalty shot, but the referees gave him the chance to even things up anyways. However, Varlamov stood tall and stopped him and for the second straight contest a Caps goalie was the victor in the most exciting play in hockey.

Just over a minute later Maxim Afinogenov, who is typically a Caps killer, did one of his patented curl moves and fired the puck towards Washington’s net but Nicklas Backstrom was parked in the shooting lane and trapped the puck soccer style with his skate and then launched a beautiful saucer pass up the middle of the ice that sent Alexander the Great in all alone on goalie Ondrej Pavelec. Then before the young net minder could even move, Ovechkin roofed the puck quickly behind him to make it 2-0.

Washington then made it 3-0, on the power play again, after rookie Evander Kane took a hooking penalty. Ovechkin grabbed the puck below the goal, skated into the bottom of the left circle, and then feathered a pass across the seam of the Thrashers penalty killing box and Morrison fired it off of Pavelec’s glove to make it 3-0 just 4:10 into the second period and a rout appeared to be on.

However, once again the Caps took a lazy penalty late in a period, this one by Tyler Sloan who was playing left wing again tonight with all of the injuries, and it cost the Caps in the final stanza. Atlanta’s Zach Bogosian, who is an amazing talent and will likely be a thorn in Washington’s side for years to come, led off the third period by blasting one from the point by Varlamov, who was screened by Shaone Morrisonn. #26 seems to be making a habit of doing that recently.

Varlamov then made a number of big saves to keep it 3-1, including a gem on Viktor Kozlov in the slot after a Jeff Schultz giveaway (and Brian Pothier failed to properly cover the slot). Then right after Varly stopped Nik Antropov on a point blank shot in prime scoring position the Caps went on transition and had a 3 on 1 break with Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Backstrom but they could not connect. Next Mike Knuble drew a penalty going to the net but the Caps nearly gave up another shorthanded goal. Atlanta defenseman Tobias Enstrom split both Green and Ovechkin to go in alone on Varlamov but Semyon made another huge pad save to preserve the two goal lead.

The Caps appeared to have the game locked up once again after a three or four minute good stretch where they shut the Thrashers rush down, but with 2:23 to go the Washington first line was out trying to score. After a Semin shot went wide and bounced high into the slot, Kozlov hit a streaking Todd White in stride as he blew by an out of position Green and he beat Varly top shelf. The Thrashers then stormed the Caps net by pulling their goalie but Tom Poti and Laich made good plays to clear the zone allowing Knuble to hit the empty net with just under 53 seconds left to make it 4-2 Washington. Bogosian then tipped one in at the buzzer to make it 4-3.

Here are some thoughts and analysis on a game that saw the Jeckyl and Hyde of the Caps:

Why are the Caps still winning despite not putting in anything close to a full 60 minutes of effort? Goaltending! Jose Theodore and Varlamov (now 5-0) have been superb and tonight and Tuesday were the best performance by each this season. Boudreau may not be happy about the play of his skaters but if he can keep getting solid goaltending, like #60 and #40 are providing, Washington will shatter the club record for wins. The competition in goal is clearly making both Theodore and Varlamov take their respective games to an elite level.

The Great #8 was incredible the first 25 minutes flying all over the ice. Ovechkin now as 13 goals and 9 assists (in 12 games) to lead the NHL in goals and points. By the way, last year’s league leader in points, Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh, is out two to three weeks with a shoulder strain.

Washington was outshot 41-32, lost the face-off battle, 31-29, and was 2 for 5 on the power play. They were called for three infractions, the Laich trip that led to the Slater penalty shot, the Sloan lazy hook, and a Poti hold. Atlanta went 1 for 2 with the man advantage.

The Caps defense made a lot of mistakes tonight and Varlamov bailed them out, much like Theodore did on Tuesday against the Flyers. Laich credited the Thrasher onslaught to the fact that Atlanta was off for 5 days but Boudreau won’t buy that one. If this defense does not shape up soon, they have given up over 80 shots in the last two games, you can bet that Boudreau and GM George McPhee will make some changes once they clear some salary cap room (Michael Nylander is playing well in his conditioning/showcasing stint in Grand Rapids hopefully convincing someone to want him). Washington Caps website outstanding writer, Mike Vogel, attended Hershey’s last game on Sunday and he told me that defenseman Karl Alzner played extremely well, something I also heard from Bears play-by-play man John Walton a few weeks ago. As those of you who read this blog know, I would like to see #27 up with the big club as soon as possible.

Please check out WNST.Net during the Caps game on Friday night as I will be posting thoughts as the Caps-Islanders contest unfolds via WNST’s twitter account, as I did tonight (you can view those on the front left of the home page on the WNST website). As always, I will have a blog with analysis on the game sometime after it ends.

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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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