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Caps John Carlson Makes a Strong Team USA Olympic Hockey Team

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Caps John Carlson Makes a Strong Team USA Olympic Hockey Team

Posted on 01 January 2014 by Ed Frankovic

Following today’s NHL Winter Classic in the “Big House” in Ann Arbor, USA Hockey announced their 25 man roster for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February and as predicted in this blog back in November, the Washington Capitals John Carlson made the team on defense.

Carlson, in a conference call with the media tonight, called it a “dream come true” and said that playing on this big stage would be an even greater feat than scoring the overtime game winning goal for USA in the 2010 World Juniors Gold Medal.

Washington’s #74 received a ringing endorsement from team captain Alex Ovechkin when the Gr8 said that Carlson was the team’s best defensemen and 100% deserved to be on the team. Carlson has had an outstanding season and when Mike Green was injured earlier in the year, he stepped up as the team’s #1 d-man on the power play to go along with his role of being on the #1 pairing for killing penalties. Simply put, his ability to play in all situations combined with his excellent skating and hard shot made him a perfect fit for this year’s Team USA Olympic squad.

As for the rest of the team, GM David Poile’s club that will be coached by Penguins bench boss Dan Bylsma is as follows:

Goalies (3):

Ryan Miller (Buffalo), Jonathan Quick (Los Angeles),and Jimmy Howard (Detroit)

Defensemen (8):

Carlson, Ryan Suter (Minnesota), Ryan McDonagh (Rangers), Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh), Paul Martin (Pittsburgh), Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis), Kevin Faulk (Carolina), and Cam Fowler (Anaheim)

Forwards (14):

Patrick Kane (Chicago), Zach Parise (Minnesota), Joe Pavelski (San Jose), Ryan Callahan (Rangers), Derek Stepan (Rangers), James van Riemsdyk (Toronto), Phil Kessel (Toronto), Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg), David Backes (St. Louis), T.J. Oshie (St. Louis), Ryan Kesler (Vancouver), Max Pacioretty (Montreal), Paul Stastny (Colorado), and Dustin Brown (Los Angeles)

This is a very good team but the challenge, as Poile mentioned back in August, is to be able to handle the big ice surface in Sochi. Team USA has not fared well outside of North America in the Olympics so the pressure is on this club to produce. The strength of this squad, in my opinion, is the goaltending and up front. Miller, despite playing behind a weak Sabres club, has been performing at a very high level and if Quick doesn’t get healthy and play well quickly, it will be the Michigan State alum in net once again for the Americans. Up front, Kane is as good a scorer as any in the world. The defense is the question mark but this crew of eight is filled with players who can play at both ends of the rink.

The time zone change, Sochi is nine hours ahead of the east coast, will be a factor for many of the NHL players but that impacts nearly every squad. On paper, Canada and Sweden look to be the best while Russia is hoping home ice helps their cause. I see Russia’s defense and goaltending as ultimately being their downfall. There are still six weeks to go until the games start, but my prediction right now is:

Gold – Sweden

Silver – Canada

Bronze – USA

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Pens Expose Caps D in Dominating Victory

Posted on 20 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

It was NHL rivalry night on NBC on Wednesday night.

It was Penguins-Capitals, two teams that have despised each other since the early 90′s, playing for first place in the new Metropolitan division.

It was Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, arguably the top 2 players in the NHL going head to head once again.

Should be a great game, right?

Nope, it was pretty much a dud. At least from the Washington Capitals side. The Penguins came in and dominated a Capitals club that was missing #1 defensemen Mike Green, winning rather easily 4-0.

The shots on net were 40-18 in favor of the guys from Pittsburgh as the Pens seemingly had the puck on a string all night (see Crosby’s goal that made it 3-0 late in period two). It was a thorough rear whipping delivered by the Pens against Washington.

Give credit to Pittsburgh, they are a good hockey team. As good as Crosby is, there is a guy wearing #71 over there that when he decides to play, can be just as good as #8 and #87. On Wednesday, Malkin was on. His play on the second Pittsburgh goal, against Washington’s top D pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson, really took the wind out of the Capitals sails and Geno would go on to dominate many of his other shifts against a Caps defense, that frankly has four guys who are third pair defensemen, on their best nights.

When your defensemen can’t get the puck from the opposition and struggle to get it out of their own end cleanly, it’s tough to generate offense. That is what we saw from Washington tonight. Missing Green is a big factor. Normally Coach Adam Oates will get 45 to 50 minutes out of Green and Carlson on the right side, but tonight, all he had again was #74. The Caps got by without Green against a rare subpar Detroit Red Wings squad and a tired Blues team over the weekend, but going against a rested Penguins team that had their full lineup, it was a mismatch between Pittsburgh’s forwards and the Capitals defense.

Yes, Green makes a big difference for Washington but GM George McPhee has to have some concerns about the left side of his defense. Alex Urbom and Nate Schmidt are playing their hearts out but they are not meant to be getting more than 12 to 14 minutes a night at the NHL level. Schmidt has a bright future and could eventually be a 2nd pair defensemen, but right now he’s just not ready and is playing due to the injuries to John Erskine and Jack Hillen. Even still, in the summer we heard talk that the team was hoping that Dmitry Orlov could step up and be a top 4 d-man. Unfortunately, he hasn’t played at the NHL level this year yet. Part of that is because Washington has been smart about not rushing a player who has had a recent concussion history and putting him in a bad situation. Just last week McPhee stated that #81 was ready and was Hershey’s best d-man so perhaps we’ll see him Friday against Montreal?

The D certainly deserves the lion share of the blame but the Caps power play went 0 for 3 in the first frame too. Ovechkin hit the post and from there things went downhill.

It was an ugly game and a less than average effort against a disliked rival.

The Pens came to play on Wednesday and took advantage of matchups to dominate the game. Kudos to them.

For the Caps, the good news is this is just one game and it is only November. The team, despite the issues on the back end, is still 12-9-1 and in second place in their division.

There are concerns on defense, but there is plenty of time to evaluate and possibly make moves when the time is right or a good deal presents itself.

No need to panic, the Caps still have a very solid team. But it is frustrating to get smoked by one of your archrivals in your own building when first place is on the line. So November or not, it is telling in some regards. Now it is up to the team and management to adjust.

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Team USA Should Choose Caps John Carlson for Sochi Squad

Posted on 16 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

With less than three months until Team USA plays its first game on February 13th vs Slovakia in the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, things are heating up in the battle to make the team.

The rosters for many of the countries will be finalized over the next four to six weeks and make no mistake about it, earning a spot on a team is a big deal to NHL players.

Washington Capitals fans will have both Alexander Ovechkin (Russia) and Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden) to watch in Sochi, but there is another Caps player that is making a strong case to be on an Olympic roster, USA’s John Carlson.

That Carlson is in the running for a spot on the team is no surprise to Caps fans. #74 has been flat out dominant over the last few weeks and his 32:26 of ice time on Friday night in Detroit, including an eye popping 4:19 of play in the five minute overtime is quite telling. Carlson is a major reason that Washington is 6-1-1 in the month of November.

Team USA’s GM is David Poile and he is the ultimate decision maker for the roster, but he will get help from others to include Team USA’s head coach, Dan Byslma and Pens GM, Ray Shero.

Two quality NHL hockey writers, Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside, handicapped the Team USA roster on November 7th. In that post they list the following four players as locks to make Team USA’s defense:

Ryan Suter (Minnesota)

Paul Martin (Pittsburgh)

Jack Johnson (Columbus)

Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers)

Given that there are likely going to be eight players chosen on defense, that leaves four roster spots remaining.

In the mix to make the roster, based on who attended Team USA’s camp last August, in addition to Carlson are:

Kevin Faulk (Carolina)

Kevin Shattenkirk (St. Louis)

Keith Yandle (Phoenix)

Brooks Orpik (Pittsburgh)

Dustin Byfuglien (Winnipeg)

Zach Bogosian (Winnipeg)

Matt Carle (Tampa Bay)

Cam Fowler (Anaheim)

Seth Jones (Nashville)

Danny DeKeyser (Detroit)

Erik Johnson (Colorado)

According to LeBrun and Burnside, they have Yandle, Shattenkirk, Faulk, and Orpik as the next four on their list. Carlson was further down on their rankings, but again, that list was done on November 7th and nine days later, we have more data.

The key for Poile is to have a crew that is playing as well as possible when February 13th arrives.

When talking to the former Caps GM out at Kettler IcePlex last August, it was clear to me that Poile is very concerned about the lack of success the Americans have had in the Olympics outside of North America and he pinpointed their ability to play on the Olympic sized ice, which is wider than the NHL rinks. This changes the game and puts a larger premium on skating ability.

It also, in my mind, puts more emphasis on having right handed players play the right side and vice versa with the left. Looking at the four locks to make the team in the ESPN article, one thing to note is that all four of those defensemen shoot left. So of the remaining four spots, one would have to think that at least three of them should be right handed shots.

The right handed shots on the above list are: Carlson, Jones, Erik Johnson, Kevin Faulk, Kevin Shattenkirk, Zach Bogosian, and Dustin Byfuglien.

Is Carlson in the top three or four on that list?

With the way #74′s played over the last month, absolutely!

Carlson’s four goals leads all USA defensemen (tied with McDonagh) and his 23:38 average time on ice puts him sixth overall out of the 16 players mentioned as possibilities. Carlson, and his defensive partner, Karl Alzner, routinely play against the top line of the opposition. So he’s no stranger to top players like Sidney Crosby, Geno Malkin, Eric Staal, Martin St. Louis, and John Tavares that will be donning the uniforms of Team USA’s opposition. There’s a reason Carlson gets those assignments game in and game out, he’s considered Washington’s top right handed defender in his own zone.

Another reason Team USA should choose Carlson is his skating ability. The 2010 World Junior Championship hero for Team USA is extremely mobile and that is something Poile’s team absolutely has to have in Sochi. I’m not sure a guy like Orpik is as effective on the big ice as he’d be in an NHL sized rink. Jones is a generational player and a raw talent, but he’s only 19 years old and is only just this year playing against the top competiton in the NHL. It just seems too risky to choose him now with so much pressure on the Americans to medal. Seth will eventually be there, but now is not the time. I’d also pass on a guy like Byfuglien who has had conditioning issues in the past and isn’t a super skater. He’s another guy more suited to NHL sized rinks. Bogosian, with all of the potential he brought when drafted high in Atlanta and his great skating ability, just hasn’t been consistent. Erik Johnson was super in Vancouver in 2010, but his game has been up and down recently and he is another much more suited to the NHL sized rink.

That leaves Carlson, Faulk, and Shattenkirk as my top three right handed shots. Carlson not only kills penalties but he also has a hard shot to bring to the power play. You can’t play 4:19 of a five minute overtime without being in great shape and #74 routinely is one of Washington’s best conditioned players. Overall, there is just no downside to putting Carlson on Team USA. He’s played in big games at the NHL level and in junior competitions in enemy rinks.

Carlson is playing the best hockey of his career right now and he deserves a really good look from Poile, Bylsma, and Shero (the Penguins are in town on Wednesday). If they see what we’ve seen Carlson do over the last several weeks, win the loose puck battles in all zones, get his shots to the net, and shut down the top line of the opposition, they should come to the same conclusion I’ve come to:

John Carlson deserves to be on the Team USA roster for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

 

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Caps Neuvirth Blanks Pens Again

Posted on 22 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

No Sidney Crosby, No Evgeni Malkin, No Mike Green, No Tom Poti, No Paul Martin, etc..it doesn’t matter, it’s the Capitals and Penguins and these two teams despise each other so everyone knew that the VERSUS game of the week was going to be can’t miss action on Monday night, and both teams delivered. Michal Neuvirth, who was called ”Shaky” by Pens Coach Dan Bylsma back in December during the HBO 24/7 series, stopped 39 shots to blank the Penguins for the second straight game. I imagine the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup winning coach is regretting ever uttering those words now because Neuvy OWWWNNNSSS the Pens!

The victory for Washington, which completes a 10 day road trip at 3-2, gives them a 3-0-1 record against their archrivals this season and improves the team to 32-19-10 (74 points). They trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by a single point in the Southeast Division race but the Bolts have two games in hand.

Here are the highlights and analysis from an intense hockey game that was decided by an Alexander Ovechkin power play goal:

- The Caps won tonight, but let’s be honest, they did not play very well overall. They were severely outworked by what some may call an AHL team in the first period and as a result were shorthanded three times to just one for Pittsburgh in that stanza. In the second frame they came out and took the play to the Penguins and grabbed the lead on Ovechkin’s rocket. Washington had the better personnel on the ice tonight with all of the injuries for both teams but hard work will even things up quickly, and that is what happened on Monday night. In the third period, the Pens outshot the Caps 14-3, but many of those were from the perimeter as the Capitals were employing their defensive scheme that is working and frustrates the opposition. Overall the shots were 39-24 in favor of Pittsburgh, with the Caps winning the middle period, 14-7 and 1-0 on the scoreboard, which was the final tally.

- As I mentioned above, the Capitals had the better talent with guys like Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom on the ice. The Great #8 turned in a hard working performance while the other two did not play well. Backstrom did have a big shot block in the closing seconds but he just doesn’t look like the strong on the boards and confident #19. I wonder if that shoulder injury he suffered last spring is still a factor or perhaps it is holding back his ability to gain upper body strength because he just doesn’t look like the same elite player? I am a big Backstrom fan and I’d like to be wrong on that analysis and hope that #19 is simply saving himself for the playoffs, but still, his recent play is a concern for me right now. As for Semin, I am not sure he broke much of a sweat in 17 minutes of hockey. He routinely turned the puck over in the offensive zone with too many moves and he was not physical at all along the wall like he can be when he puts his mind to playing hockey.

- But when Neuvirth is playing as well as he did tonight, it doesn’t matter. #30 was outstanding and he controlled the Penguins shots giving up very few rebounds. His positioning was superb as well. In addition, his defensemen were very good in front of him by letting their net minder see the shots or if that was going to fail, blocking them. I thought Jeff Schultz, Scott Hannan, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson were really good on the back end tonight and they had to be. Each played over 21 and a half minutes as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wisely did not put the John Erskine and Tyler Sloan duo out too often (played 12:12 and 11:29, respectively).

- Up front Boudreau got a really solid game from rookie Marcus Johansson, who had the first assist on the Ovechkin power play tally (Mike Knuble had the other helper). MJ90, who is only 20 years old, will occassionally get taken off the puck fairly easily due to his youth and lack of size. However, he is finding a way to fight through that and make a difference. He is a guy who the Caps bench boss is not afraid to put out in his own zone in a close game, which the same cannot be said for Mathieu Perreault (only 8:09 of ice time, but he did get banged up early on too in this one). I don’t think Johansson is a 2nd line center right now and certainly not the guy there for the playoffs, but he can be effective on the 3rd line, provided he still has something left in the tank after this long rookie regular season, which is his first on North American rinks (Sweden has larger rinks and therefore, less contact).

- Boudreau made a very wise move using his timeout with just over 16 minutes left in the third period as his club was running around in their own end and had just iced the puck. After that the Capitals gave up some shots, but not many quality chances as they were content to get the puck to the red line and dump it deep. With that strategy a depleted Penguins lineup had to bring it the length of the ice to score, and they couldn’t do that leaving the fans at the CONSOL Energy center with nothing to cheer for on the evening, other than perhaps a Ryan Craig-Matt Bradley fight, but from my vantage point, #10 defeated the Pens call up in the bout. Craig went after Bradley after the Caps winger absolutely PASTED cheap shot artist Matt Cooke into the right wing boards in period two.

- In summary, this was a win at the end of a long road trip that solidifies the Capitals as a playoff team. Now it is all about positioning in the standings as well as waiting to see what General Manager George McPhee will do to improve the squad before next Monday’s trade deadline (2/28 at 3pm).

Notes: The Caps lost the face off battle 36-33 (Backstrom 13-17)…the Caps thwarted all three Pittsburgh power plays and scored on one of their three. However, before the Great #8′s laser, the Pens had two good shorthanded chances, including a Jordan Staal breakaway…DJ King was a late addition to the lineup because the scrappy Matt Hendricks was out sick (thanks to the awesome WashingtonCaps.com beat writer, Mike Vogel). King played only 4:25 but on one of his early shifts, he and his linemates at the time, Dave Steckel and Bradley, had two good chances to score…Ovechkin had 8 shots on goal, 10 that were blocked, and he threw four hits…the Pens traded d-man Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars today for winger James Neal and blue liner Matt Niskanen. I give the Penguins a strong edge in that move…next up for the Caps are the New York Rangers on Friday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. The Rangers are 2-1 against Washington this year with their last victory coming right before the All Star Break in the gimmick.

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Caps Crush Habs, 5-1, Behind Varlamov

Posted on 20 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

There were numerous Montreal fans who booed the American anthem to start Monday night’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. So what happened to the local hometown team for the next several hours is what I call KARMA!! Semyon Varlamov (26 saves) stoned the Habs in the first period and then the Caps exploded for four second period tallies en route to a 5-1 beatdown of Jacques Martin’s club to give Washington a 2-1 lead in their best of seven game series. Game four is on Wednesday night in Montreal at 7pm on Comcast in HD.

As expected with 22,000+ loud and singing fans at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens came out with a ton of energy and carried the majority of play in the opening stanza. The Habs would out shoot the Caps, 10-7, in the first period and Montreal had some really good scoring chances only to be denied by Varlamov. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, as I suggested in my blog last night, went with #40 over Jose Theodore in goal, and it was just another in a LONG line of great decisions by the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner. If not for the play of Varly then the Canadiens come out of period one with at least a one goal lead. The young Russian goalie would continue to make the big save when Washington needed it and he controlled or smothered any rebounds. Varlamov’s record at the Bell Centre is now 3-0 with a 1.63 GAA and .940 save percentage!

At the other end of the ice, Jaroslav Halak stopped all seven Capitals shots in period one, with a couple being of the quality variety, but #41 would be shellacked and chased in period two. First, after a terrible penalty by Tomas Fleischmann for hooking Andrei Markov led to a Montreal power play chance just 54 seconds into period two, Boyd Gordon broke down ice with the puck and he and Mike Knuble whacked at it several times before putting it by Halak for a shorthanded marker. Then Brooks Laich fired a shot on net off of a Mike Green feed and with Eric Fehr and Brendan Morrison screening Halak, it found the back of the cage to make it 2-0 at 4:42 of the second. Less than four minutes later that line would strike again as Fehr banged home a rebound of a Morrison shot to make it 3-0 and send #41 to the showers.

On came Carey Price and with 6:10 to go in period two, Knuble threw the puck behind the net and Nicklas Backstrom fed Alexander Ovechkin in the slot for a one-timer that #31 never had a chance on and the rout was on. In period three, Caps killer Tomas Plekenac scored an early power play goal, then Washington took another penalty, but the Caps killed it off and then Matt Bradley tallied in the last minute to make it 5-1.

Here is the rest of the analysis of a win by a Caps club that had the best road record (24-10-7) in the NHL this season:

What a game by Gordon! Not only did he score the shorthanded tally that totally turned the tide Washington’s way, but he was an incredible 13-2 on face-offs. He also was +2 on the night and did a super job at the Washington blue line of thwarting Montreal rushes. The decision to re-insert #15 into the line-up and scratch Dave Steckel was yet another shrewd move by Boudreau.

Fehr OWWWWNNNNSSSS the Canadiens. #16 had a goal and an assist and it was his sixth tally in seven contests versus Montreal this season. Fehr was super efficient going +2 in only 9:21 of ice time.

Laich (+2) returned to form tonight notching a goal and an assist logging 18:56. Boudreau shifted him down to the third line with Fehr and Morrison and they clicked in their eight plus minutes together. Morrison, who was even in the regular season at home but was +23 on the road, went +2 in Montreal. You can bet the farm he is playing on Wednesday!

On the blue line, Tom Poti was outstanding going +3 in 23:40 of time. Is it me or do games against Northeast Division teams, such as Boston, Buffalo, and Montreal, bring out the best from the Beantown native? In addition, USA hero John Carlson (+2 in 20:19) was very good for the third straight evening while Green and Jeff Schultz both rebounded from poor outings to have strong contests. Both #52 and #55 were +2 as well with Green notching an assist on Laich’s goal. The only bad news on the backend was that Shaone Morrisonn logged only 10:52 of ice time and did not play in the last 24:52 of this tilt.

The problem child of the evening though, was once again Washington’s power play. It was a pitiful 0 for 7 in game three and is now 0 for 14 in the series. I could deal with that if the club was getting good shots and pressure on Montreal but that has not been the case, at all. The Caps seemed to always lose momentum in the first three games whenever they were awarded a power play. With a chance to put the contest away for good up 4-0, they received a four minute one late in the second period that carried early into the third when Plekenac interfered with Fehr and then lost his mind on the officials. But during the second minor, Laich took a careless penalty and after Plekenac came out of the box he scored for the Habs with the man advantage. Besides Laich’s bad decision that resulted in a penalty, the biggest problem was too much passing and not enough shots with traffic in front. But at least the Caps have figured that out when it is five on five.

Montreal would go 1 for 5 with the man advantage on the night but they gave up Gordo’s shortie, so their power play was not effective either. In addition, Plekenac, Mike Cammalleri, and Andrei Kostitsyn, a line that scored all five Habs goals on Saturday, each were a woeful -4.

In the kudos department, Jason Chimera deserves quite a bit of those for not fighting or retaliating on several occassions when Montreal players took unnecessary shots or tried to goad him into striking back. #25 smartly kept his head with his club in control on the scoreboard.

Yesterday I mentioned that three players needed to step up in game three after poor performances in games one and two at the Verizon Center. Both Green and Schultz did that tonight after a shaky first period. The third member of the trio, Alexander Semin, still seems to be missing in action despite waking up a few times in the third period. Simply put, #28 needs to start competing more. He was beaten or taken off the puck easily on several occassions, including a missed clear in front of the Caps net when the game was still scoreless that led to a great Montreal chance. There is no excuse for Semin to be this soft at this time of the year. He is pointless in the series.

Notes: Final shots were 36-27 for the Caps…Washington also won the face-off battle 42-30, thanks to Gordon…after praising the officials for games 1 and 2, I thought they made some curious calls this evening by caving to the pressure of the Montreal fans. The call I liked least was the goalie interference infraction whistled on Knuble midway through the 3rd period. That one smelled of excessive whining to the supervisor of officials (Kevin Collins) between games…Early message to Caps fans attending Friday night’s game five at the Verizon Center: Be respectful of the visiting team’s anthem. If you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t go to the game. Besides, O Canada is a great song and the Canucks are our long time ally.

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Ovechkin, Backstrom Rally Caps To Thrilling OT Victory

Posted on 18 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After game one of their best of seven game series against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, a 3-2 overtime defeat, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau stated that his top players, particularly Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green, needed to be better for his club to win. On Saturday night, Ovechkin and Backstrom stepped up big time to rally the Caps from a late 4-1 second period deficit to an absolutely thrilling, come from behind victory, in overtime, 6-5. Backstrom had a hat trick plus an assist and netted the game winner just 31 seconds into the extra period. The Great #8 (1 goal, 3 assists), came out hitting everything in sight (had 7 hits in the first period alone) and looked energized all evening, but it took until the last 23 minutes of this one for him to start producing on the scoresheet. It was a wild affair and the Caps won their first playoff overtime game at home since a 3-2 OT win against Buffalo on May 25, 1998, ending a five-game losing streak in overtimes at the Verizon Center.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, stats, and analysis of a game that was very important for Washington to win and will be labeled an “Instant Classic”:

After getting 47 shots, mostly from the perimeter in game one, Washington made a much more concerted effort to storm the crease to gain in close chances on Canadiens goalie, Jaroslav Halak (31 saves). In addition, Boudreau wanted the Caps to get the puck deep, cycle Montreal’s defense, and throw the puck on net for chances in the slot or to create some rebound opportunities. The Capitals didn’t really start to do this effectively until the game became 4-1 Habs. Washington’s second, third, and fourth goals were all the result of going to the cage. Backstrom’s first tally was a laser from the left wing circle that snuck by Halak due to the traffic Mike Knuble (1 assist) and Ovechkin created, then the Great #8 went to the net and banged home the rebound of a John Carlson point blast, and on the first game tying goal, Ovechkin manhandled the Montreal defense in the right wing boards, then turned and fed #19 for an easy conversion in front of the Slovakian netminder. Suffice it to say that #8 and #19, who were both +3, took this game over in the third period to give Washington a chance to win and then Backstrom sealed the deal in OT.

So much for the longer leash on goalie Jose Theodore, who was yanked for Semyon Varlamov (22 saves) after yielding two goals on two shots, but Boudreau stated afterwards that he was not solely blaming #60 for the bad start and hadn’t made up his mind on a starter for Monday night yet.

“I haven’t really thought about who is playing Monday. It was more of a deflating thing on the bench that I thought we needed the change. The first one [Brian Gionta's goal] was a knuckleball. For your first shot on goal it was a tough one and I thought, we made such a bad play on the second one because [Andrei] Kostitsyn is in between the circles with a wrist shot. So I don’t know in the real world if Theo had much chance on either one of them but I do know that we had expended an awful lot of energy in the first eight minutes of the game and we were down 2-0. So I thought that might be a lift from the crowd and be a lift on the bench. I don’t know if it worked or it didn’t work but we ended up winning,” said Boudreau on his decision making process concerning his goaltenders tonight and going forward.

My comment on this:  The change worked and it was the right thing to do. Whether it was #60′s fault or not to that point did not matter, the building was on the verge of imploding and the emergence of #40 definitely provided a spark to the crowd and the Caps.

Varlamov came in and did a very good job and the three pucks that eluded him were on his porous defense. Speaking of poor defensive play, you can hang that on Mike Green and Jeff Schultz who were the defensive pair on the ice for the Caps on the second, third, fourth, and fifth Montreal goals. #52 and #55, who were a combined +89 in the regular season, struggled horribly in their own end on Saturday. They made bad decisions, turned the puck over in the wrong places at the wrong time, and did a poor job of protecting their goalies from quality chances. On the second goal that got by Theodore, Green and Schultz backed up, giving Kostitsyin (3 goals, 1 assist) all of the time in the world to rip one by #60 to end his short night.

“I didn’t say anything during the game. We’ll talk to them about a couple of things. One, sometimes you’ve got to eliminate the body and box out rather than try to get pucks. Mike has gone for the puck twice now in the last two games and both times he’s missed and the guys have scored, at inopportune times. So we’ll watch video and they’ll learn from it and they’ll be better,” commented the 2007-08 Jack Adams trophy winner on how we was going to approach the performance by his top D-pair on Saturday night.

There were some big time momentum shifts in this contest, but none more so than when Montreal scored to make it 4-1 and seemed poised to take control of the series. The goal itself was a weird one in which Jaroslav Spacek took a slapshot from near the center of the point and it hit Schultz, then Kostitsyin and finally Green before sliding by Varly for a power play marker. But instead of the Caps being deflated by a weird goal, they caught a break when a review from Toronto ensued. Initially everyone thought they were reviewing that goal for a high stick, but it turns out they were checking to see if the Habs had scored earlier on that same power play. Had they done so the time would have been reset on the clock back to that tally. It took a good three plus minutes to sort out and it was determined that there was no previous goal so, in essence, Boudreau and his troops had a chance to get their act together. On the ensuing shift Backstrom would tally just 39 seconds later to make it 4-2 heading into the third period.

“Our bench was pretty quiet. I think our guys knew what we had to do. Coach didn’t say anything, we all just kind of put our heads down to focus and try to regroup and I thought we were better after that,” said Fehr, who scored high blocker side on Halak on a breakaway to make it 2-1 in the first period.

“I think that gave us a minute to just breathe a little bit. They came at us hard and obviously we went down a bit. We just had to breathe and not worry too much about that and go back and make our push now, and that is what we did,” said Carlson, who made a great fake to get around a sprawling Montreal defender to fire the puck on net on the Ovechkin goal that made it 4-3.

“You don’t have any choice on that. You could say it did because we were moving, but that the [next] shift wasn’t a good one and it cost us,” responded Montreal coach Jacques Martin when I asked him if the lengthy review hurt the momentum Montreal had, at that point. It was a review, in hindsight, he probably wished never happened, but that is the breaks.

Special teams once again played a factor in this game and Montreal had the upper hand in that category again. The Habs went 1 for 3 with the man advantage while the Caps were 0 for 3. The Canadiens had the best road power play in the regular season and it easy to see why. They move the puck well, get traffic in front of the opposing goalie, and they have several guys with super shots. Washington, which had the best overall power play in the regular season connecting on over 25% of their manpower advantages, are now 0 for 7 in the series. Backstrom provided some insight into the lack of power play production for Washington.

“I feel like Montreal is doing a pretty good job but we have to work a little bit harder. They are taking Alex [Ovechkin] away and we have to find another way to score. I feel like we had pretty good opportunities and we just have to have some traffic in front of the net and maybe shoot on the net..we still have to just keep working. It’s gonna go in sooner or later,” said #19, who is leading the NHL playoffs in points and goals so far.

I am not sure what is going on with Semin, but he played poorly in both games. He had 11 shots on goal in the two contests but he made numerous careless plays with the puck, took a bad penalty in each contest, and is not driving hard to the net. In addition, he allowed Spacek to get the big point shot off that resulted in the Habs fourth goal. Last week Boyd Gordon (scratched on Saturday) told me that an objective for Washington’s forwards on the penalty kill is to make the opposing team take shots from bad angles. #28 did not do that on this penalty kill. Simply put, Semin needs to step it up for Washington to click on all cylinders.

Carlson’s blast to tie the game at five with 1:21 remaining, which came as the officials were calling a delayed penalty, was reminiscent of his gold medal winning tally in the 2010 World Junior Championship game against Team Canada back in January. #74 (1 goal, 1 assist, +2 on Saturday) was Washington’s best d-man in the first two games of this series. He made some giveaways and took a bad gamble on the first Montreal goal, but he is only 20 years old yet is playing at an amazing level. It will be interesting to see how he performs in his first road game in Montreal on Monday night.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle, 32-24…Eric Belanger was 11-4 and is now 29-7 from the dot in two games. #18 just needs to get the rest of his game settled down as he is making too many turnovers…Washington outshot Montreal, 37-24, in game two…Ovechkin had 6 shots on goal after being blanked on Thursday…Tom Poti and Scott Gomez fought at the 3:30 mark of the third period and it seemed to add to the momentum that the Caps had been building up to that point (score was 4-3)…Martin felt his goaltending was solid but the Caps seemed to have found a weakness up top on Halak. I won’t be suprised if Carey Price gets into a game soon…The line of Kostitsyin, Tomas Plekenac (1 goal, 1 asssit), and Mike Cammalleri (three assists) was on the ice for seven of the 11 goals in this one (four for Montreal)…I don’t say this very often, but I thought games one and two were very well officiated, although I am sure there will still be people who disagree with me.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Section 410 Host Eric Aaronson on WNST 1570 Baltimore at 1025am on Sunday morning. You can listen live at WNST.NET and the whole interview will be placed in the WNST audio vault afterwards, in case you miss it live.

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Caps, Bears, Red Wings, and Other Hockey Things

Posted on 02 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps News

For those who missed it, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was on TSN’s Off the Record with Michael Landsberg last week and the biggest news out of the interview, which ranged from the steroid allegations against the Caps to the overblown topic (and I thought dead) of Alexander Ovechkin’s 50th goal celebration in Tampa, was that Washington defenseman Mike Green is believed to have mononucleosis. Thus the so-called “flu” we heard as a reason for #52′s subpar play early in the playoffs is apparently more serious. And given that Green re-injured his shoulder in the Rangers series it is likely that the lack of energy he was feeling from that illness helped contribute to the shoulder situation. What is the bottom line in all of this? Green, who is only 23 years old, needs to take better care of himself in the future.

Another interesting thing in that interview was Landsberg mentioned that Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov were signed to play in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League next season, meaning they will no longer be Capitals. Boudreau didn’t contest the statement nor react to it indicating either the pair is definitely gone next season or he is just leaving that issue for General Manager George McPhee (who is in charge of team personnel) to handle.

Last bit of Caps news before moving on to discuss the Calder Cup, here is a link for the latest update on the steroid allegations that were made by Richard Thomas against Washington last week: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/news/story?id=4220886

Bears News

The Hershey Bears went into a sold out (15,003) arena in Winnipeg last Saturday night and stunned the Manitoba Moose, 5-4, in overtime in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals. Alexandre Giroux had a hat trick, including the game winner, and continues to show why he was the MVP of the American Hockey League (AHL) this past season. Game 2 is on Tuesday night at 830pm. You can watch it live on the internet via http://www.theahl.com/ for only $8. Games 3 through 5 are in Hershey on Saturday, Sunday, and then next Tuesday.

In game 1, the Bears took too many penalties giving the Moose 10 power plays to only 5 for Hershey. In addition, Manitoba’s Matt Pope had a penalty shot 14:14 into the second period with the Moose up 3-1, but Hershey rookie goalie Michael Neuvirth came up big with the save. Manitoba also had a two minute 5 on 3 power play in the final minutes of regulation but could not score. Neuvirth made 26 saves on 30 shots but two of the goals he gave up were on breakaways. Oskar Osala, who has NHL potential, had the other two goals for the Bears.

If you haven’t yet seen the incredibly exciting highlights from game 1 click here: http://ahl.neulion.com/team/console.jsp?catid=2&id=2242

Stanley Cup Finals Analysis

The Detroit Red Wings held serve at home this past weekend to take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals with game 3 scheduled for Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. Much was made, especially by Detroit, of the schedule change that moved the series up for NBC and had the two teams playing on back to back nights in prime time. Many people felt that favored the younger Penguins but the defending Stanley Cup Champions persevered.

Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom returned from a lower body injury and helped to hold Penguins star Sidney Crosby scoreless through the first two games. #87 has been as good as you can be without scoring a point and he had five shots on net in the loss on Sunday night. Crosby has been all over the ice and Wings goalie Chris Osgood, who is a big reason why this series is in favor of Detroit so far, has robbed the superstar on several occasions. Crosby also set up winger Bill Guerin for some “layups” yet #13 has either hit the post or been denied by Osgood.

For some strange reason Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma decided to go back to dressing 12 forwards on Sunday night (he had been going with just 11 since early in the Caps series) inserting the supersoft Pascal Dupuis, who’s turnover to Marian Hossa led to Detroit’s go ahead goal, instead of giving extra ice time to Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (who has been flying around the rink as well). Dupuis tried to blame Hossa for breaking his stick on the play and wanted a penalty. I still haven’t seen where Hossa broke #9′s stick, in fact, it looked to me like Dupuis broke it on Hossa. Regardless of that, if Dupuis was stronger and had more heart he gets the puck out of the zone before his stick breaks. He belongs in the press box, if you ask me.

Crosby and Malkin seem to be the only guys who have really shown up for Pittsburgh and goalie Marc Andre-Fleury displayed in both games that he is definitely the weak link on that team. The goal he gave up off of the backboards in game 1 to Brad Stuart was horrible and the two goals he has given up to Justin Abdelkader (Red Wings 2nd round pick, 42nd overall in 2005 NHL Entry draft) were soft ones. Abdelkader only played two regular season games with Detroit this year as he spent most of his time in the AHL for Grand Rapids (Wings farm team). Detroit’s depth has been another reason they are up two games to none since they have had to play without Hart trophy finalist, Pavel Datsyuk, in those contests.

I still think the Penguins can get back in the series because they have dominated portions of the first two games. However, goaltending and experience (players and coaching) seem to be decidedly in Detroit’s favor. I do expect the Pens to win game three but if they don’t it is time to start the engraving process for the Red Wings and plan the Cup parade and parties.

Finally, a good piece here ( http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/Malkin-Non-Suspension-The-embarrassment-continu?urn=nhl,167172 ) by Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski on the instigator rule and the various ways it has been interpreted since enacted by the NHL head shed in New York.

NHL News

Wild news out of Montreal today as current Florida GM Jacques Martin, who had four more years left on his contract as Panthers GM, stepped down to become head coach of the Canadiens. I have criticized Martin’s poor managing ability in this blog before and you combine that with the word that the Panthers owners are looking to sell the team and you see why the former Ottawa Senators coach wants to get back behind the bench. Martin is a good coach but he has his work cut out for him in one of the toughest cities to work in pro sports.

Former NHL star Joe Nieuwendyk has been named GM of the Dallas Stars since owner Tom Hicks, as I mentioned in this blog before, is holding former co-GM’s Les Jackson and Brett Hull accountable for the Sean Avery debacle. Jackson is going back to scouting and pro player personnel while Hull is being moved to an executive VP position and out of personnel management. This seems like a smart move by a man who sources have told me doesn’t mind spending money but does not like to waste it (and that is exactly what happened in the Avery debacle).

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Caps Clinch Playoff Berth! / NHL News

Posted on 25 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Last season the Washington Capitals waited until their last game of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot. This year they did it with seven games to go and on a night they weren’t even playing as the Florida Panthers were defeated, 5-3, by the Buffalo Sabres tonight, meaning no team currently out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture can catch Washington. The Caps still will need a couple more games, at least, to clinch the Southeast Division title as the Carolina Hurricanes won their ninth straight home game tonight in beating the just as hot Ottawa Senators, 2-1. Carolina is now 41-28-7 (89 points) with six games left while the Caps are 45-24-7 (97 points) with seven games left. According to the Caps media relations department Washington only needs four points to clinch the division (any combination of Caps points or points lost by Carolina). The Caps are next on the ice on Friday night at the Verizon Center against Tampa Bay (Washington is 4-0 against the Lightning this season).

Forwards Steve Pinizzotto and Chris Bourque and goaltender Daren Machesney were returned to Hershey today while goaltender Simeon Varlamov was recalled.

The Caps have announced another signing today and below is the complete press release:

————–

The Washington Capitals have signed free agent defenseman Zach Miskovic to a one-year entry-level contract for 2009-10, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy terms of the deal were not disclosed. Miskovic will join the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL) this season on an amateur tryout agreement.

Miskovic, 23, was a first-team All-ECAC Hockey selection this season as a senior at St. Lawrence after earning third-team honors in 2007-08. He shared the team lead and led all NCAA defensemen in goals with 16 in 38 games. Miskovic, who played all 154 games in his college career, scored five power-play goals this season and a team-high four game-winners, while adding nine assists for 25 points.

A 6’1”, 195-pound native of River Forest, Ill., Miskovic had eight goals and 21 assists as a junior and was named the Saints’ outstanding defenseman. He won the Clark Cup (playoff champion) and Anderson Cup (regular-season champion) as a member of the United States Hockey League’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders in 2004-05, prior to attending St. Lawrence.

Miskovic joins an organization that has seen six former college free agents contribute with the Capitals at the NHL level this season: Keith Aucoin, Jay Beagle, Sean Collins, Graham Mink, Brian Pothier and David Steckel.

—————

Back to the big club now, for those of you who missed McPhee’s on air session with Drew Forrester today, please check out the WNST audio vault as McPhee and Drew discussed several topics, including the increased fan scrutiny winning brings (McPhee is okay with that), the Karl Alzner situation (McPhee wants him to develop properly), the trade deadline (McPhee didn’t want to mortgage the future for one run at the Stanley Cup this year), and many other interesting topics. The GM also mentioned that every game next season will likely be sold out for the first time ever in franchise history (my dad wrote back in the 70′s, when the Caps were first in the league, that the day would come when the Caps would achieve that but he and I both didn’t think it would take this long – better late than never though!).

Today Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau gave the team off from practice to rest and hopefully get rid of the terrible flu bug that is running through the team and hockey staff. The team did have a morning meeting with Boudreau. Much has been made of the team’s up and down play lately and forward Brooks Laich was quoted after Tuesday night’s shootout loss in Toronto as saying that the team needs to up the effort level.

As I wrote in my blog on Monday (http://wnst.net/wordpress/edfrankovic/2009/03/23/caps-have-inside-track-on-2nd-in-the-east/

), I like the Caps chances in the post season and their ability to raise the level of their game when they are challenged. I also like the fact that they are playing stress free hockey right now and are not wearing themselves out as they did last year or how teams such as Pittsburgh or Carolina may be doing it now by playing at such a high stress and energy level night in and night out (they can’t afford to lose). That kind of effort eventually wears a team out and leads to injuries (and Carolina’s Eric Cole left tonight’s game in the third period with an undisclosed injury).

One final Caps note: If Washington does face Carolina in the playoffs, consider me old school, but if I’m Boudreau the first time Canes Coach Paul Maurice puts defenseman Joni Pitkanen on the ice I send out a hopefully healthy Donald Brashear and have him run #25 cleanly and as hard as possible into the glass as many times as he can to send a message that he and the Canes aren’t going to get away with their cheap shots on guys like Mike Green, Alex Ovechkin, or Alex Semin in the series like they’ve done the last two times they played the Caps (Brashear missed both games). I still can’t believe Pitkanen’s shot to Green’s head last Saturday night only drew a two minute penalty.

NHL News

Florida is now very likely to be missing out on the Eastern Conference playoffs as they blew a 3-1 third period lead in Buffalo tonight. GM Jacques Martin is really going to feel the heat going forward from his fan base for missing the playoffs and for not getting anything for superstar unrestricted free agent defenseman, Jay Bouwmeester, at the trade deadline on March 4th. Martin gambled that the Panthers could keep #4 and make the playoffs with the hope that progress might convince the Edmonton native to stay in Florida, even though he has publicly said he prefers to play in a more hockey focused city. Martin, who tends to have unrealistic expectations for what he should receive in a trade as evidenced by what he went through with Olli Jokinen last season, has to be on the hot seat big time.

The Calgary Flames, who beat the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings on Monday night (5-3), were shutout in Pittsburgh tonight (2-0) and now only lead the Vancouver Canucks by three points in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference with nine games to go, however, the Canucks have a game in hand. The Flames are really missing injured forwards Todd Bertuzzi (knee surgery) and Rene Bourque (knee injury) but both should be back in time for the playoffs so if Calgary can hang onto the division title and the third seed they could be a team to watch in the post season. Vancouver is very hot though and may overtake Calgary in the division.

Speaking of the Penguins, they are now 13-2-3 since Head Coach Michel Therien was fired and replaced by Dan Bylsma. According to former Penguin and current broadcaster Phil Bourque, who was on Hockey Night in Canada Radio today with Jeff Marek and Kelly Hrudey, the players who received the biggest boost to the canning of Therien were forwards Jordan Staal and Sydney Crosby who were absolutely miserable playing under the defensive minded coach’s system. My only question to GM Ray Shero: What took you so long to fire him? The player revolt started at the outset of the season and it continued all year. Shero’s late action almost cost the Penguins a playoff berth. However, Shero deserves alot of credit for the Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin acquisitions which make the Pens very difficult to defend up front.

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Stover says he’s gone…so who gets the job?

Posted on 05 March 2009 by Drew Forrester

With Matt Stover telling the world tonight that the Ravens have given him the boot (OK, sorry, just to had get that in there), the biggest question now is…

Is it a mistake to let Stover go?

My answer:  I have no idea if it’s a good move until I see who they bring in to replace him.

A slew of free-agent kickers are available.  Some are of decent quality, some are not. 

I wrote about the kicking issue five days ago at WNST.net…you can check out the stats of a couple who are still free agents.

Two names in that blog are no longer available.  Mike Nugent signed with Tampa Bay on Wednesday and Jay Feely re-signed with the New York Jets on Thursday.  With Nugent moving to Tampa Bay, it would appear Matt Bryant is out of job.  Here are his numbers.

Matt Stover hinted on Thursday that the Jets were a possible destination for him now that the Ravens have sent him on his way.  I assume that was BEFORE the Jets brought Feely back into the fold.  With Feely returning, Stover doesn’t have an option to join Rex Ryan at the Meadowlands.

Stover can still kick – successfully – in the NFL.  If Hall of Fame voters took kicking seriously, as they should, #3 would be in Canton someday.  He’s been that good.

I talked to a Ravens official yesterday and he said the team’s biggest concern with Stover has more to do with the team’s need for two kickers than a general concern about Matt’s actual place-kicking production.  

“The coaching staff would have to battle every game to decide whether to put (Steve) Hauschka on the game-day roster or another special teams guy,” said the staffer.  ”You would rather not deal with that issue in a perfect world.  Dressing two kickers is a luxury and those roster spots are precious on game-day.”

The Ravens perfect world no longer includes Matt Stover.

So, back to the original question we go.

Who’s the new kicker?

Shaun Suisham?  Not as consistent as Stover.  

John Carney?  He (44) is OLDER than Stover (41). 

Martin Gramatica?  He’s only attempted 24 kicks in the last 4 years.  Injury prone.

Or, do the Ravens just hand the job over to Hauschka and say, “Keep making kicks, kid, and you’ll have a job here.”   That’s a fairly risky proposition, particularly when one game, one win or one missed 44 yarder can cost you a trip to the post-season.  Sure, you have to give a young player his trial at some point, but field goal kicking is some high-wire stuff.  Better be able to handle the pressure.

Kicking being what it is, it’s easy to determine if a guy is a “good replacement” or a bad one.

Does he make kicks?  Does he win a game from 42-yards out with 4 seconds to play?  Does he kick the ball deep enough on kick-offs and help your team with field position?

If he does, he’s employable.

If he doesn’t, he’s not.

Stover was always reliable and that’s why he spent 17 years in the league.  

Let’s hope the next guy is reliable too.

If he isn’t, it was a bad move to boot Matt Stover right now.

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Caps Collapse to Lose to Flyers, 4-2 / NHL News

Posted on 24 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Lose Lead, Game to Flyers

The Washington Capitals, who were winners of 13 straight home games against Eastern Conference opponents, raced to an early 2-0 second period lead over the visiting Philadelphia Flyers before a third period collapse resulted in three Flyer goals in 3:19 and allowed their hated rivals to win another game at sold out Verizon Center. The Caps took nine penalties on Tuesday night, many of them of the lazy variety, and those infractions allowed the Flyers to get back in the game on a five on three power play in the second period on Claude Giroux’s fourth goal of the season, after the Caps dominated most of the first 30 minutes

Paul Devorski, who horribly refereed that Game 7 playoff loss last April with Don Koharski, was one of the officials again on Tuesday and he wasn’t very good as usual (the roughing call on Jose Theodore was absolutely horrible), but he wasn’t the primary reason Washington lost. The Caps can blame their inability to finish numerous scoring chances (I can’t count how many quality shots were fired high or wide) and a porous defenese that allowed the line of Joffrey Lupul, Jeff Carter, and Scott Hartnell to take over the game in the third period for this bitter loss. That line made the Caps defense look slow and soft at times and Jeff Schultz had one of his worst games of the season. If Washington meets Philadelphia in the playoffs there is no doubt that the Flyers will continue their tactic of crashing the net and hitting the Caps defense. Clearly this game has to be an indication that Caps GM George McPhee has to upgrade his defense at the trade deadline (March 4th) because it seems that every time Washington plays the Flyers they lay out a blueprint of how to beat the Caps with speed and power up front. Rookie Karl Alzner could help because he is a better skater but I have been unimpressed with recent acquisition Staffan Kronwall, who couldn’t even crack a poor Toronto Maple Leafs defense before being claimed by Washington.

As for the Washington offense, Alexander Ovechkin was once again the key guy setting up Nicklas Backstrom’s opening goal on the power play and then snapped home a bad clearing pass by Carter past Antero Niittymaki, who seems to own the Caps, to make it 2-0 Washington less than five minutes into the second period. But from there on out every time Washington got a quality scoring chance, and there were many of them at even strength, on the power play, and shorthanded (the Caps had several shorthanded breakaways), either Niittymaki (33 saves) came up big or Washington misfired (and it was mostly the latter case – Caps shots that didn’t even hit the net).

“The theme of the whole night is not cashing in on chances. You get five or six breakaways and you don’t hit the net on any of them, Brooks Laich might have hit the net on his, but everyone else missed the net. If you don’t get a score when you have the opportunity, eventually those opportunities dry up and the other team gets opportunities. That was pretty evident, I thought. They don’t hit the net in this game, goalies get confidence and when that happens and the other team picks it up because there are ebbs and flows in each game, the second goal [Scott] Hartnell scored and we came unglued a little bit,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the loss.

Caps goalie Jose Theodore made 33 saves and played pretty well but his defense let him down big time in the third period.

“I didn’t think anything was going to get by him until the second goal. The first goal, there was nothing he could do. He was left stranded in a five-on-three, but I thought he was outstanding the first two periods. If he doesn’t get any help, he’s not going to stop the puck,” finished Boudreau on his goalie.

The loss drops the Caps to 38-18-5 but Washington maintained its 13 point lead in the Southeast Division over the Florida Panthers who were drummed, 6-1, by the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. After the Caps play Atlanta at home on Thursday they go to Boston on Saturday afternoon and then return home on Sunday to play the Panthers at 3pm.

Notes: The Caps play 13 of their remaining 21 games against Southeast Division foes. Defenseman Milan Jurcina only had 9:32 of ice time and continues to struggle to get his shot on net as they either get blocked or they miss the net. Ovechkin had 9 shots on goal. Forward Matt Bradley’s neutral zone breakdown allowed the Flyers to get started on their three goal outburst that won the game. In addition to Laich’s shorthanded chances, Backstrom hit the post on another shorthanded breakaway and Philadelphia remains the only team in the NHL to not allow a shorthanded goal. Philadelphia was without defenseman Kimmo Timonen (flu) and forward Danny Briere (groin) while the Caps were without forward Viktor Kozlov (groin). The Flyers were lucky tonight to keep the no shorthanded goals streak going and got the breaks to win the game (but the Caps needed to be stronger in their own zone).

NHL News

With only one game on the NHL docket on Monday night I got the chance to catch up with an NHL scout to get his thoughts on things as the trade deadline approaches on March 4th. Here are some of the highlights:

- Florida GM Jacques Martin, who the scout says doesn’t really know the players in the league very well, will likely ask for too much for free agent Jay Bouwmeester, who has turned down a contract extension in the Sunshine State. The scout sees Edmonton as a very logical fit for #4 but thinks Martin will want at least young forward Sam Gagner in return and he doesn’t see Oiler GM Steve Tambellini as being willing to part with #89.

- Ottawa will definitely move free agent defensemen Filip Kuba.

- Calgary will be making some moves because they recently lost forward Rene Bourque and defensemen Mark Giordano for the season due to injuries.

- When discussing Washington’s backup goalie situation the scout pointed out that many teams in the league are in the same boat as the Caps (i.e, if their number one goalie gets hurt they are in big trouble) but he also says that McPhee is playing that situation low key so as not to drive up the price for another goalie.

- The coaching change in New York will only have short term effects because the Rangers have their hands tied up with bad contracts in defenseman Wade Redden and forwards Chris Drury and Scott Gomez. The scout said that he sees Ottawa turning things around quicker than the Rangers can strictly because of the contracts and the salary cap.

- We discussed the Michael Nylander situation. The scout says noone will likely trade for him because of the high amount remaining on his contract so that leaves McPhee with two options after the season – send him to the minors or buy him out. The buy out seems to be the likely option and the terms on that are 2/3 of the remaining money can be spread out over double the remaining time on the contract. Since Nylander is due $9M over the next two years the Caps can buy #92 out at $6M spread over four years. That doesn’t seem too bad but it means that the GM basically will have to admit that he made a mistake signing him, although McPhee could use Nylander’s shoulder injury as an excuse for the drop off in the Swede’s play. I can’t see Nylander back with Washington next season.

FINAL NOTE: In case you missed my Tuesday 730am on-air session with Drew on the Comcast Morning Show you can hear it via WNST’s audio vault.

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