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My Version of Hockey’s 30 Thoughts

Posted on 27 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada does a nice weekly blog called “30 Thoughts.” With the Caps off until Sunday I decided to bring you the Ed Frankovic version of 30 thoughts but it includes opinions, tweets, stats, left over answers to my questions from Capitals players following Wednesday night’s victory, things to look out for from Calgary, etc.:

1. With the Buffalo Sabres losing 4-2 to the Senators on Friday night, the Washington Capitals just need a single point, either gained themselves or via any New Jersey Devils loss, to clinch the Eastern Conference regular season title for the first time in the history of the franchise. The Caps also have a nine point lead over the Sharks with 8 games left in the race for the President’s Trophy.

2. Caps rookie defenseman John Carlson on playing with Shaone Morrisonn: “He makes me feel really comfortable out there. He’s always talking to me, he’s been around awhile and he’s a great player so it is nice to have someone back there to police me everywhere and it really helps as a young guy.”

3. The Capitals opponents on Sunday afternoon, the Calgary Flames, look like they will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season. That was Darryl Sutter’s first full season as Coach and GM of that club. In 2003-04 they came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup but since the lockout have yet to win a playoff series. I wonder how patient Flames ownership is going to be with the GM after a season that started with such promise turned into a disaster?

4. With the Caps all but locking up the #1 seed their first round playoff matchup will likely be either Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, or the Rangers. My order of who I prefer Washington to play going from best matchup to worst matchup is as follows: Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Rangers, and Montreal. Rationale: Goalie Carey Price gives Washington fits at times not to mention forward Tomas Plekenec is a major Caps killer. Playing a physical New York team with the pesky Sean Avery plus Henrik Lundqvist in net is not appealing at all. I’ll take any of the other three with the Flyers bothering me most just because of past history, although the Flyers appear to be weaker in net with Brian Boucher. Boston scares me a bit because cage minder Tim Thomas could catch fire at any time but the B’s struggle to score, especially if Marc Savard does not return. Overall Atlanta seems like the best matchup.

5. An NHL scout, who is involved in his team’s selection process but will pick nowhere near #1 overall, said if he had the first pick in the 2010 NHL Entry draft he would go Taylor Hall first (Windsor Spitfires of OHL) with Tyler Seguin (Plymouth Whalers of OHL) a close second.

6. So Guy Carbonneau was on Hockey Night in Canada radio today with super host Jeff Marek and talented co-host Scott Morrison and the topic was the NHL disciplinary process, which is not working now with Colin Campbell in charge. Specifically they discussed using a panel that consisted of ex-NHL players, recently retired and older ones, to dole out suspensions. One of the advantages of such a panel is the debate that would take place between guys that liked certain hits and those that didn’t. Instantly former Capital and Hall of Famer Scott Stevens’ name came up as someone Guy would not put on that review crew. I’m not sure if he was joking or not, but it was Stevens, the former Kitchener Ranger, who dumped Eric “Mr. Skate with his head down” Lindros to effectively end his career.

7. I’m tired of hearing the fact that the Caps went 7-3 without Alexander Ovechkin is a reason to not give the Great #8 his third straight Hart Trophy. Four of those wins were versus Florida while the two regulation losses were against New Jersey. With Ovie in the lineup against the Devils the Caps are 1-0-1. Another reason, besides his outstanding scoring statistics, to vote Alexander the Great as MVP again: Leadership. The Caps are a staggering 25-3-5 since the organization named him their team captain.

8. Some excellent Hershey Bears news courtesy of the great John Walton (Hershey Senior Manager of Communications): The Bears clinched the Eastern Conference regular season championship Friday night, defeating the Worcester Sharks 7-2 at the Giant Center. Alexandre Giroux scored three goals, giving him 40 on the season and 100 over the last two seasons. The win was Hershey’s 54th of the season, three wins away from tying the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers for most wins in a single season in AHL history.

9. Eric Fehr on his tip in goal (career high 21st of the season) of Mike Green’s point blast on Wednesday night versus the Pens: “It just hit the back of my stick and I put it in along the ice. I didn’t want to try anything too fancy, it was a pretty hard shot, so I was lucky to get ahold of it.”

10. Caps forward Eric Belanger on his assist on that big third goal in the Caps-Pens contest on Wednesday: “It was one of those things where I got the puck in the neutral zone and I felt tonight my speed was good and I just felt I could go around [the net] and Greenie just opened up for me and he made a great play on the goal.”

11. More John Carlson on playing with Karl Alzner and the comparisons to the Morrisonn pairing: “I think they are both great players and they are pretty easy to play with, so I’m lucky enough to have both of them as my partners and I look forward to keep going.”

12. So you’ve obviously heard about Flames captain Jarome Iginla and his outstanding abilities but here are a couple of players that Washington needs to look out for on Sunday afternoon: 1. Rene Bourque (#17) - The speedy, tenacious, and relentless left wing has 23 goals and 28 assists in 65 games and is having a career year. He gets 1st power play unit time and kills some penalties too. 2. Mark Giordano (#5) – Yes, Ovechkin will see alot of former Panthers d-man Jay Bouwmeester, who has had a down year since going from East to West, but ”Gio” has arguably been the Flames best defenseman this season. His speed and offensive prowess made the trading of Dion Phaneuf a possibility, although if I was the GM I still don’t move #3. 

13. More Belanger, this time on the number of infractions and penalty killing versus Pittsburgh: “I just think it takes away from the momentum on the bench. You try to get going and then you get a penalty so guys are sitting on the bench for a few minutes and then it’s tough. For the guys that aren’t killing it is tough to get into the game. I thought we did a good job tonight but they have some good players.”

14. Former Capitals center Dave Tippett, who was fired by the Dallas Stars last season but is now coaching the Phoenix Coyotes, is my pick as the 2009-10 Jack Adams Trophy winner. Tippett has taken a young team that has had to deal with ownership distractions all season long and has them at 46-23-6, good for 98 points, the third best total in the Western Conference. Meanwhile the Stars will be golfing come April 12th. Bad move by new GM Joe Nieuwendyk to get rid of the successful Tippett, who had a rough 2008-09 due to injuries and the galactically stupid decison by former co-GM’s Brett Hull and Les Jackson to sign Avery.

15. After the Red Wings victory on Friday night, the Calgary Flames are now six points out of a playoff spot with just eight games left. On a related note, I hear Golf Galaxy has a good sale going on Titleist Pro V1′s.

16. Does anyone want to play the super hot and finally healthy Red Wings in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?..I didn’t think so…

17. Former Caps GM David Poile and former Baltimore Skipjacks Coach Barry Trotz have the Nashville Predators, who have one of the lowest payroll budgets in the NHL, poised to make the playoffs. The Preds currently sit 5th overall in the West with a 47-23-5 record.

18. Former Caps Coach Bryan Murray has his Ottawa Senators in good shape to make the Eastern Conference playoffs at 40-30-5. Forward Dany Heatley forced Murray’s hand last summer and #15 was subsequently traded to San Jose prompting many to proclaim that the Sens were destined for a season of trouble. But Coach Cory Clouston has done a superb job and Murray appears to have significantly more job security than he did this time in 2009.

19. The Flames, who lost against the Islanders on Thursday evening, play in Boston on Saturday afternoon. Goalie Mikka Kiprusoff played against New York so it would appear that Coach Brent Sutter will go with Kipper in one game and backup Vesa Toskala in the other this weekend. The Flames-B’s game starts at 1pm so after the puck drops we should have a pretty good idea of who will be behind the mask for Calgary on Sunday at the Verizon Center.

20. Wayne Gretzky said Friday on the NHL Network, in a sitdown with EJ Hradek and Craig Button, that if Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby wins the Hart Trophy this year noone will argue, but in his mind Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov should really be the NHL MVP.

21. More Fehr, on the mood on the bench with the team down 2-0 in the shootout versus the Penguins: “Shootouts are so tough. It is a tough part of hockey to let an individual thing settle it. We just wanted to go out and let Ovie do his thing.”

22. Only one NHL team, the Boston Bruins (183), has scored fewer goals than the Flames (189) this season. Clearly if you are in Las Vegas you should bet the under in their Saturday matinee.

23. Thursday tweet courtesy of Caps Senior Media Relations Director, Nate Ewell (@nateewell), who retweeted the following from @jeffphowe: “Oh boy. Rock-solid BC dman Patrick Wey diagnosed with mono and is expected to miss the entire NCAA Tourney. Huge blow to Boston College.” For those following at home Wey was a 2009 4th round NHL Entry draft pick by the Capitals.

24. More Carlson on playing in front of great goaltending in Hershey and now in DC: “It makes the game alot easier knowing you have a good goalie and every mistake that you make isn’t going to be in the back of the net. I’ve been blessed with a lot of great goalies in this organization.”

25. Friday night tweet courtesy of @CapsMedia: Caps picks Phil DeSimone (2a) and Greg Burke (1a) help University of New Hampshire beat Cornell in the NCAA tourney.

26. More Fehr, discussing the challenges associated with playing the Penguins forecheck: “They were pressuring us pretty well but our D did a good job of getting back, moving the puck up, and giving our forwards an opportunity to get down the ice.”

27. And Belanger on that Penguin forecheck: “[Pittsburgh] is a team that is very patient in the neutral zone, they wait for you to turn the puck over. We knew we had to make sure we got pucks deep and it was one of the elements we talked about before the game.”

28. The Penguins and Devils are battling for the Atlantic Division title and the loser will be the #4 seed in the East. Therefore, if the Caps win their opening round series and both the Penguins and Devils are victorious as well, then Washington will play the #4 seed (Atlantic Division runner up), assuming the Buffalo Sabres win their first round matchup. So in order for the Pens and New Jersey to meet in the second round, and likely wear each other out before potentially facing the Caps in the Eastern Conference finals, Buffalo must lose their series.

29. Friday night tweet courtesy of Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22), former Washington Times Caps beat reporter and now seemingly everywhere freelance hockey writer (somebody hire this Terp alum full time!): Local kid Garrett Roe had 3 points to help St. Cloud State to the 2nd round of the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tourney.

30. After Sunday’s home tilt versus the Flames, the Caps get Ottawa and Atlanta at the VC before traveling to Columbus on Saturday night. Last time the Capitals played Columbus (November 1st), forward Jason Chimera started a scrum with Ovie that resulted in a six game injury absence for the Great #8. That was also the game where former Columbus Coach Ken Hitchcock afterwards said he wanted his team to “hunt down” Ovechkin. Fortunately Chimera is now a Capital but will Washington seek some revenge against Jared Boll, who appeared to cause the injury to Alex via a wrestling move?

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Theodore Leads Caps Over Pens in Shootout

Posted on 25 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

If Jose Theodore continues to play like he did on Wednesday night, then the Washington Capitals and their fans have a date in June with an engraver. #60 continued his dominant run with his 19th straight contest without a regulation loss (17-0-2) as the Caps rallied from a 2-1 third period deficit to knock off the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins for the third straight time this season, 4-3, in the shootout. Theodore made 39 saves and after giving up goals to Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby in the gimmick, he shut the door as Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and then Mike Knuble beat Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury like a rented mule to send the crowd at the Verizon Center out into the streets of DC to celebrate. The Capitals victory takes their overall record to an astounding 49-14-10 (108 points) and their magic number for clinching the Eastern Conference is just three points. In the race for the President’s Trophy they now have a nine point lead over Chicago, who has a game in hand, and a 10 point lead over San Jose. For the season, Washington is now an incredible 27-4-4 on home ice.

Here are the highlights, stats, quotes, and analysis from a contest that definitely felt like a playoff game:

Theodore was brilliant tonight, especially in the first period when he made 17 saves, many of them on quality chances. His pad save on Ruslan Fedotenko was just one of the many outstanding stops he would make on Wednesday. The Laval, Quebec native has not lost in regulation to the Penguins since Jan. 3, 2006, when Theodore played for the Montreal Canadiens. Theodore was 3-0-1 last season against Pittsburgh and is 3-0 in 2009-10. In the words of the great Joe McGrath, Theo “Owwwwwnnnnnssss” the Pens.

“[Jose Theodore]‘s playing great. There are three goals against and they had 42 shots, eerily similar of a playoff game that we would have played them last year where they would out shoot us. I thought below the circles we didn’t clear out well enough, but [the Penguins] were a determined gritty bunch tonight. That’s why they were the Stanley Cup Champions,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the play of his goalie, his team, and Pittsburgh.

Mike Green was outstanding tonight. #52 (1 assist) fired a blast off of a super Eric Belanger feed that set up Eric Fehr’s 21st goal of the season to give the Caps the lead in the 3rd period and he logged 25:02 of ice time, the most of any Capital. Green is super offensively and he now has 17 goals and 54 assists in 68 games to lead the NHL in scoring by defenseman. He is incredibly talented at bringing the puck up the ice, “a one man breakout” as Boudreau calls him, and he is good defensively. “Game over Greenie” was +3 on Wednesday and is now +33 for the season so for anyone who thinks the guy is a liability in his own end, I suggest you print this blog, then fill it with more of the stuff you’ve been smoking, light it, and take some more tokes.

Washington’s penalty killing unit was tested heavily because they were whistled for five infractions and all were good calls (more on the referees coming up). Pittsburgh’s only tally with the man advantage came on a super play by Crosby, who set Bill Guerin up for a layup. But the Caps would break even on the night on Pens power play chances as Semin scored a highlight reel shorthanded goal skating around Letang like he was an orange road cone and then abusing Fleury with a wicked top shelf blast. It was a Harlem Globetrotters type of play and the video of that one should be laid down with “Sweet Georgia Brown” playing in the background as audio. Boudreau said afterwards that he has seen a recent trend upwards in the performance of his 25th ranked penalty killing unit.

“I thought we killed penalties great tonight. We made one mistake and we end up with the wrong guy out there [Crosby] on a two on one. The zone time, over the last 7 games, has been cut down very significantly and that is really important. It’s a good sign,” added the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner.

Now to the officials, Paul Devorski and Ian Walsh, if you want to call them that (I prefer zebras, especially tonight). I cannot argue with any of the calls made against the Capitals, HOWEVER, if they are going to whistle those infractions on Washington then they need to be consistent and call the same thing on the Penguins. These two “clowns” did not do that in this one, fueling fire to the anti-Caps bias that many who Rock the Red feel exists. If Jeff Schultz is going to be called for holding Crosby then the hold/trip on Ovechkin in overtime needs to be whistled as well (there was also a Penguin trip and cross check on the Great #8 that was overlooked earlier in the contest). In addition to that inconsistency, right before Semin was called for high sticking Mike Rupp, #17 clearly hooks him, yet the result is a Pens power play. Then after Tomas Fleischmann tripped Letang in the neutral zone, #58 blatantly interferes and cross checks Fehr before the whistle is blown yet once again only the Capital is sent to the sin bin. There is NO WAY the power plays in this contest should have been 5 to 1 in favor of Pittsburgh! Boudreau was not going to criticize the zebras, because it would cost him money via a fine, however he did not like that his club took five penalties.

“Five penalties is too many. That’s 10 minutes in the box. That means the lines get all skewed and you’re sitting guys that you don’t want to sit for 10 minutes. That’s two games in a row and its stick penalties so that’s something we have to cure,” finished Boudreau on the lack of discipline his team showed overall and with their twigs.

There is no doubt Ovechkin, who is very physical and plays on the edge, is an intimidator. Even the great #87 is no match for the power and force of Alexander the Great and in two instances on Wednesday #8 flat out abused Sid the Kid in the corner. In the first instance Crosby just bailed out and let Ovie have the puck and in the third period the two time defending Hart Trophy winner easily took the Canadian Olympic hero off the puck with a strong shoulder check.

Other guys who stood out for Washington were rookie defenseman John Carlson (17:39), who rang the post at least once in pursuit of his first NHL goal and his partner Shaone Morrisonn, who was physical and had nine hits. Carlson, who is only 20 years old and was drafted late in round one of the 2008 NHL Entry draft, is making a strong case to stay up with the big club for the playoffs. I had a chance to chat with #74 after Wednesday’s tilt:

WNST: Does Wilkes-Barre (Pens AHL team) bring their forwards down on the forecheck the same way Pittsburgh does?

Carlson: Yeah, I think that both of our teams, like Washington and Hershey and Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh, both of their systems are pretty much identical so its a little bit more comfortable for me knowing what is going to happen in little situations like that and it is one less thing you have to worry about. So it was a fun game.

WNST: Pittsburgh’s forecheck seems different than some of the tactics of other recent Caps opponents who tend to back off of an aggressive forecheck and seek to trap them in the neutral zone. Is that the case?

Carlson: Yeah, it just that every different coach has his different style and we got great players here and everyone tries to shut them down in different ways.

WNST: What is it like on the bench in these Caps-Pens games?

Carlson: It’s crazy, it’s always a crazy environment here [Verizon Center] but with Pittsburgh coming in it is a little bit more of a rivalry and you can definitely tell in the intensity of the fans and just the overall feel of the building.

Notes: The faceoff battle was tied at 28 a piece….the Pens played without Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Sergei Gonchar (Ovechkin flu) while the Caps were without Brooks Laich (face), Boyd Gordon (back), and Scott Walker (knee). Healthy scratches were John Erskine and Tyler Sloan for Washington and Eric Godard for the Penguins. Next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at 7pm from Raleigh. The Canes, who have played very well in the second half of the season, seem to finally be figuring out that all their good play is doing is ruining their chance at the top overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Carolina, at one point, was battling Edmonton for the worst record in the league but now currently resides in 27th place. The bottom three clubs have a shot at the top pick in the draft (Edmonton, the Islanders, and Toronto are the current bottom three but the Leafs pick is held by the Boston Bruins).

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Theodore Stops Bolts & Ovechkin Scores as Caps Win

Posted on 20 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin returned to the Caps lineup on Saturday night in Tampa and he potted the game winner after a super feed from Nicklas Backstrom midway through the first period as Washington rode another outstanding performance from goalie Jose Theodore (33 saves) to a 3-1 road victory over the Lightning. With the win the Capitals complete a 3-0-1 road trip and up their overall record to 48-14-10 (106 points). With the Devils losing in regulation to the Blues on Saturday and the Penguins losing in overtime to Carolina, Washington just needs five points to formally lock up the Eastern Conference #1 seed (that is a formality). In addition, they now have a nine point lead in the battle for the President’s Trophy. The Chicago Blackhawks are now the main pursuers with 97 points and they have a game in hand on the Caps.

Washington also matched the club record for road wins (1983-84) and they are 22-10-6 away from the Verizon Center this season.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from the last game between these two teams until next season:

Despite the fact that they are now golf course bound on April 12th, Tampa gave Washington all it could handle for two periods. The Caps had won 12 straight against the Bolts over the last two seasons until a 7-4 loss in January, but Rick Tocchet’s crew is improving, thanks to the play of youngsters Steven Stamkos (1st overall NHL draft pick in 2008) and Victor Hedman (2nd overall NHL draft choice in 2009). After struggling for 40 minutes, Washington would finally dominate the Lightning in the third period on Saturday, firing 15 shots on net, and improved to 4-2 against Tampa in 2009-10.

“I thought they came out really hard and they outplayed us. The goalie stole it for us in the first two periods and then they probably ran out of steam in the third period and we played alot better as a group in the third period and especially when we got the third goal it was like the wind went out of their sails,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the victory.

Washington took several bad penalties (too many men on the ice and a couple of stupid boarding plays) but a much maligned penalty killing unit thwarted all five Tampa power play chances, something the Caps had struggled to do against Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vinnie Lecavalier, and company this season. Hall of Famer Rod Langway always used to tell me that everything starts with the goalie out and tonight the key to stopping the Tampa man advantage was Theodore.

“I thought the PK was great but the key was Jose. I thought he was outstanding. I felt so comfortable with him in net tonight, it was a good feeling to have. He is just playing with a lot of confidence and he is in such a groove. He’s been like that since January 1. He’s playing so good but I’m not naming anybody anything, but he’s certainly making a great case for himself,” added Boudreau on the play of his goalie and what his thoughts are as far as who will start game one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs the week of April 12th.

Jose Theodore is now 16-0-2 since January 13th. He has wins in six straight starts and his 18 consecutive decisions without a regulation loss are the most in Capitals history and the most by any NHL goaltender in the last 10 seasons (h/t Caps PR staff).

Ovechkin scored his league leading 45th goal (tied with Sidney Crosby) goal after another great outlet pass from Backstrom. #19 banked a long feed from his own zone off of the side boards and right on the Great #8′s stick. From there Alexander the Great went in and faked Antero Niittymaki (25 saves) to the ice and then roofed the biscuit behind him to give Washington a lead they would not relinquish. For the evening the Great #8 was +1 in 22:52 of ice time.

“I thought he was a little tentative early like he was afraid, an ‘I don’t want to get in trouble’ type thing. He got the real game winning goal and in the third period he had a couple of good hits. He is getting back to normal and he had 7 or 8 shots too, that’s good stuff. It’s not like we eased him back in,” added Boudreau on the play of his team captain.

Center Dave Steckel (1 assist) had a super outing and he and Eric Fehr set up Tomas Fleischmann for his 21st goal of the season just 2:40 into the contest. Those three guys were really clicking on a line together and could have had a couple more tallies. #39, who seems to always play well against the Bolts, logged 4:22 of shorthanded time, the most of any Caps forward. He was 9-8 on face-offs in a game that saw his team get smoked on draws, 39-22.

Washington’s third goal came as a result of a nice play by Brooks Laich, who made a good deke in the slot and fired a laser on Niittymaki, and when the goalie could not handle the hot shot, Alexander Semin tapped in the rebound for his 33rd goal of the season. #28 did not have a great game but he came up big at that moment.

The Caps power play went 0 for 4 and while they moved the puck well, they lacked crease presence and as a result, they could not beat Niittymaki. I would like to see more of the Mike Knuble-Laich combo in front of opposing goalies. When the enemy net minder can see the shot, he is almost always going to stop it. Traffic and shots were lacking from a power play that is still ranked #1 in the NHL.

Defenseman Jeff Schultz did not have one of his better outings and he lost Lecavalier in the slot on the Lightning’s first goal. He also made a bad giveaway up the boards to St. Louis in the 3rd period when it was still a one goal game. #55 has looked a little bit slower to me lately and hopefully he is not too worn down for the playoffs. Speed is definitely not his forte but he usually makes up for that deficiency with solid stickwork and positioning.

John Carlson, who was paired again with Shaone Morrisonn, had another strong effort on the blue line in 14:16 of ice time. Carlson is really fitting in at the NHL level and I really liked the way he easily took St. Louis, one of the top forwards in the league, off of the puck in the second period in the defensive zone. #74′s outlet passes always seem to be right where they need to be.

The worst news of the evening was the loss of Scott Walker to an apparent injury after he was knocked to the ground in a fight with Zenon Konopka early in period two.

Joe Corvo and Tyler Sloan were scratched on defense and the healthy forward ones were Matt Bradley (who will be back in for sure with Walker out) and Quintin Laing. Boyd Gordon was sent home earlier in the trip after aggravating his back in Florida on Tuesday.

At the end of the day this was not a pretty effort and the Caps took awhile to take the game over, but a win is a win.

“It’s a good road win for us. That’s 3-0-1 on a four game road trip and it seems like we are never satisfied with how we play but the end result is 3-0-1 in four tough buildings,” finished Boudreau.

Next up for the Caps are the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night in a “can’t miss” hockey event.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on Section 410 on WNST 1570 at 1040 am on Sunday morning talking Caps hockey with Eric Aaronson. Listen Live at WNST.NET

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Ovechkin-less Caps lose to Canes in OT, 4-3

Posted on 18 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Carolina’s Ray Whitney blasted one off of Caps goalie Semyon Varlamov from the slot in overtime to defeat Washington, 4-3, in Raleigh on Thursday night. The Capitals, who were once again without team captain and two-time defending NHL MVP Alexander Ovechkin due to his suspension, took a 2-1 lead after two periods, primarily by limiting the number of Hurricanes scoring chances. However, they came out and played a klunker of a final period and were lucky to get to overtime thanks to Eric Fehr’s career high 20th goal with just 10 seconds left in regulation. Despite the loss Washington gets a point to move to 104 (47-14-10) for the season and they lead second place Pittsburgh by 15 points in the Eastern Conference standings with just 11 games left. Can you say that race is pretty much over? As for the President’s Trophy, the Caps are eight points up on San Jose, who have just one game in hand after losing, 3-2, late Thursday night in Vancouver.

Here is the analysis and some quotes from Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau from a game that was one of the more boring contests this season, except for Fehr’s 20th:

The Caps played well defensively for two periods (only gave up 14 shots and a few scoring chances) but looked disinterested and lost at times in period three. There was definitely a win for the taking and Washington left a point on the table, according to their coach.

“I’m not saying we deserved to get two (points) but we should have gotten two…We held them to only 15 shots in the first two periods and I don’t know what happened in the third period,” said Boudreau about the uneven effort from his team.

Outside of some solid defensive zone play in the first two periods, there was not a whole lot of good for the Caps in this one. Here are some things I liked:

- Center Brendan Morrison had another good game and it was his alert play on Brandon Sutter in the slot that set up Fehr for his 20th tally of the season to send this one to the extra session. I liked the way those guys played together and you can add their left wing, Jason Chimera, to that equation. My only criticism of 9 and 16 was a long shift they took in overtime. If Morrison can perform at this level in the post season then the Caps, with Eric Belanger now in the mix, are much stronger up the center of the ice than they were heading into the 2008-09 post season.

- Joe Corvo tallied twice and logged over 25 minutes of ice time. He and Mike Green did a good job on the points on the power play. Overall the Caps moved the puck well on the man advantage (1 for 3) but couldn’t hit the net on some good chances. Had they connected more in the second half of period two the outcome is likely different.

- The penalty kill, which got plenty of work thanks to some shaky officiating (more on that in the bad section coming up), was really good despite giving up a goal on five Canes chances. The only tally was on a nearly two minute five on three for Carolina and had Matt Bradley not missed a clear he usually makes, Eric Staal doesn’t get a tap in that Varlamov had no chance on.

Now for the bad, and there was a good bit of it:

- The effort was not there in the 3rd period, as I mentioned above, but had Varly made a save on Brett Carson’s unscreened shot with just under eight minutes left, shortly after a brutal Nicklas Backstrom giveaway, the Caps would have likely won this contest. #40 is not making the big save when needed and I was surprised that he did not deny Chad LaRose on his breakaway that gave the Canes the lead with just 95 seconds left in this one.

- Speaking of that LaRose breakaway…that one came on a 4 on 4 situation where both Green and Corvo were on the ice pressing for the winning goal. The two offensive minded d-men were pinching down, with Green in the slot but they were okay position wise because Belanger was manning the left point. But for some reason #18 decided to go charging down the slot when he clearly should have been covering for #77 and that allowed Jussi Jokinen to send #59 off to the races. Boudreau, who didn’t look very happy after the game, thought that was a major mental mistake.

“We definitely have to smarten up,” the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner commented on his team’s struggles in 4 on 4 play.

- On the winning goal, I thought both Jeff Schultz and his defensive partner, Green, looked bad on the play as Staal and Whitney criss crossed nicely to confuse the duo. When #55 chased #21, Whitney cut to the middle and #52 lollygagged it across the slot. #13 then fired a laser that Varly couldn’t handle to end the game. The poor coverage there seems like something Boudreau will want to address in a video session.

“There’s lots of good video, plays where we didn’t do the right things,” finished Boudreau on just Washington’s 4th defeat in 20 games vs. Southeast Division foes in 2009-10 (16-3-1).

- Perhaps the guys that I thought were the worst on Thursday night were the two referees, Steve Kozari and Tom Kowal. The call on Mike Knuble for goalie interference was simply atrocious as #22 was clearly cross-checked into rookie Justin Peters (25 saves) and the double minor high sticking infraction on Shaone Morrisonn was practically identical to the single minor whistled on Sergei Samsonov. Where is the consistency zebras? In addition, on the sequence that preceded the winning goal, Backstrom was hauled down in the neutral zone without a penalty being called. I also felt that they let some clear interference go on Carolina but what do you expect from two inexperienced referees in a road game for Washington? On Hockey Night in Canada Radio on Tuesday afternoon (Sirius 127), host Jeff Marek and co-host Elliotte Friedman chatted with New York Post writer Larry Brooks and @NYR_Brooksie stated that he thought the biggest problem in the NHL right now is the officiating. Larry feels that the pace of the game is too fast for the guys in striped shirts and I definitely agree.

The Capitals now head to Tampa to take on the Lightning on Saturday night before playing 7 of their final 10 games at the Verizon Center.

Oh, I just thought of another good thing, perhaps the best news of the night: Now that this one is done, Washington gets back team captain Ovechkin on Saturday night. The Great #8, despite missing 10 games, is just a goal behind Sidney Crosby in the Rocket Richard Trophy race (45 to 44). Ovie also still leads the NHL in points by two over Henrik Sedin. Washington definitely needs Ovechkin and anyone who thinks this team plays better without him should be sent to the nearest clinic for a mandatory drug test.

Notes: Corvo’s two goal game was the Capitals league leading 50th such occurrence (multi-goal contest by a single player) this season (h/t @washcaps, @capsmedia)..Washington won the face-off battle 32-28 (Backstrom went 12-4 while Dave Steckel was a poor 7-13).

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Fleischmann Wins it in OT for Caps, 4-3

Posted on 10 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

If you attended Wednesday night’s Caps-Carolina game at the Verizon Center you definitely got your money’s worth witnessing this one. The Capitals and the Canes, who are two of the NHL’s hottest teams right now despite Carolina’s 13th position in the Eastern Conference standings, put on an exciting end-to-end brand of hockey with super goaltending and it took Tomas Fleischmann’s one timer (19th goal of the season) in OT off of a great pass by Eric Belanger to allow Washington to prevail, 4-3. Jose Theodore made 29 saves and stopped a penalty shot by Brandon Sutter and at least two near breakaways by Ray Whitney in another strong performance that continues to solidify his hold as the #1 goaltender for Washington. Manny Legace was really good in net for Carolina making 35 saves despite taking the loss.

The victory pushes the Capitals to 99 points (45-13-9) with 15 games to go in the regular season. They have a 15 point lead on second place Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference (the Pens have a game in hand) and in the race for the President’s Trophy they lead second place San Jose by six points (the Sharks have two games in hand).

Here are the highlights, analysis, and quotes from the victory that puts the Caps just a game away from potentially going over the century mark in points at the earliest point in a season in franchise history:

You might find this surprising, but one of the best players on the ice tonight did not score a point, was even for the game and was not on for any goals against either. This Capital had seven hits, logged 18:59 of ice time (including 4:55 on the penalty kill – 2nd most on the club), and blocked two shots. His defensive partner, John Carlson, had an assist on the Caps first goal by Alexander Semin but #74 and this player, according to the official scorers, changed before #28 buried the puck, which prevented them from getting a plus. In addition this defenseman did a super job of keeping the shooting lanes open for Theodore and he tied up opposing players sticks or bodies in front to deny the Canes from scoring all evening. He also did not take a single penalty. It was one of the best games I have seen this guy play all year so congrats Shaone Morrisonn for a very good performance! I’m pretty sure the coaches will recognize it and if you continue to play like that on a consistent basis the Caps are going to have a really good chance of winning Lord Stanley. So Kudos #26.

As for the rest of the d-men, Mike Green obviously was the most noticeable scoring two power play goals but he tripped Sutter to give the Cane a penalty shot and he also made a terrible giveaway that allowed Chad Larose to set up Tuomo Ruutu for the goal that knotted this one at two goals apiece in period two. #52, who was on the ice with partner Jeff Schultz for two of the three Carolina goals, led Washington in ice time logging 26:22 but was -1. #55 did not have one of his better games as he was slow to the puck on the play that eventually led to Green’s d-zone blunder and he screened Theodore on the Hurricanes third goal (power play tally). Joe Corvo and Tom Poti were okay as a pair on Wednesday with my biggest problem being that they were the duo that allowed Whitney to break in the clear on #60 a couple of times.

“He had two goals and a beautiful assist, but the assist was to the other team. His idea was right, but he was just being too casual and trying to finesse the puck in there. Everything that is passed has to be a hard pass. It has to be, it’s the only way it works,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, who was clearly critical of #52′s brutal giveaway.

Up front, Semin (goal, +1, 5 shots on net) continues to own Carolina and he has three goals in three contests played against them this season, and 22 goals in 27 career games. #28 created a lot of opportunities with Brendan Morrison and Fleischmann. Morrison, who struggled against Tampa last Thursday was much better tonight and if he could just finish on some of his opportunities his season could end up being more like what we saw from him in the first 35 games. Belanger (1 assist, +1) and Brooks Laich (1 assist in 18:58) also had solid evenings. Alexander Ovechkin had an assist in 21:23 but his timing with Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble was slightly off and all were minus players on the night (Knuble was -2). However, since the Great #8 donned the “C” the Caps are a staggering 21-2-3.

Special teams played a big role in this one and Washington’s much maligned penalty killing allowed another goal but was better going 4 for 5. The team was much more aggressive on the puck and didn’t allow the Canes to get set up very often. The Caps power play was a difference maker going 2 for 4 with the only blemish being the trip by #52 that resulted in a penalty shot. The Capitals are now 13-2-2 on the season when they score two or more power-play goals.

“[The] power play was very effective tonight and our p-kill [penalty kill] I felt was a lot better. We gave up a goal, but they made a good play and things are going to happen, we just need to make an adjustment. But I felt that our penalty kill was the best penalty kill since I came over here,” said Belanger.

With 15 fowards and 8 defenseman Boudreau continues to rotate players in and out with Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera joining the frequently scratched Quintin Laing up front while John Erskine joined the other usual defensive scratch, Tyler Sloan, in the press box on Wednesday. Clearly it is a tough thing to do to keep moving guys in and out but in the long run this will pay off for the Caps in the playoffs by keeping guys more fresh and thus making them less likely to get injured.

“It is March 10th and the playoffs don’t start until about April 18th so I don’t want to set the lineup and then have someone get hurt and have to put someone in who has been out for 30 days…so I don’t like it, but as long as we can, we’ll keep rotating guys in and out of the line-up,” added Boudreau on his game to game logic on who plays and who sits.

The Capitals have scored first in each of their five games after the Olympic break and are now 30-6-5 on the year when they are the initial ones to light the lamp. Next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at the Verizon Center. The Caps will clinch their third straight Southeast Divsion title, a race that has pretty much been over since November, if the Atlanta Thrashers lose on Thursday or if the Caps pick up a point in their next tilt against the Bolts.

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Theodore and Caps Shutout Rangers, 2-0

Posted on 06 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It what was not a thing of beauty, except for Jose Theodore’s goaltending, as the Washington Capitals won their third straight game, 2-0, over the New York Rangers in front of the 46th straight sellout at the Verizon Center. Theodore, who was the easy choice as the game’s number one star, stopped 30 shots and his best save came after Washington defenseman Shaone Morrisonn made a giveaway to set up Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky all alone in front in period two with the Caps up 1-0. Theodore earned his first shutout of the season with the victory.

The win takes the Caps record to an amazing 44-13-8 (96 points) and with 17 contests remaining they should easily eclipse last season’s 108 points, which was the most in franchise history. The victory was also a Capitals club record 13th straight at home.

Let’s get to the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

“I thought he was great. I thought he was by far our best player,” started Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on Theodore, “If they had scored at anytime that would have been a turning point and it would have given them energy. Any time they were putting pressure on us Jose would get it and he would stop it and he would not let a rebound go tonight and I think that is the key to his game and he is brimming with confidence. We hope he can keep it up and he gives us a lot of opitons in goal,” finished the head coach on his red hot goalie.

This was the first time in 24 games that the Caps did not score at least three goals (h/t @VogsCaps) and the first time since November 11th they didn’t tally in the third period at home (h/t @nateewell). I’m not surprised that this was the one where those runs were halted because Coach John Tortorella’s club is a pain to play against. New York was physical and content to play a dump the puck and chase type of contest which made it difficult for Washington to get their transition game going. Alex Auld (28 saves) was also pretty good in goal. I surmise that Tortorella was tired of seeing Alexander Ovechkin, who failed to score for the sixth straight game, light up his top net minder, King Henrik Lundqvist, so he went with the goalie they claimed off of waivers from Dallas last month and the decision nearly paid off.

The Caps power play was 1 for 4 on the night and the lone goal came at the completion of a rush with just two seconds left in a 1:45 five on three advantage (courtesy of some stupid Rangers penalties) . Defenseman Joe Corvo started the scoring sequence with a nice pass up the ice to Tomas Fleischmann at the Rangers blue line. Flash skated in, then sent a cross ice pass to the slot that Brooks Laich must have just missed because he did not get an assist on the play and the biscuit rolled far post to Eric Fehr, who roofed it for his 17th goal of the season. Washington, with a 2-0 lead, then received two power plays in the last five minutes and it seemed the focus was to get Ovechkin going because the team repeatedly sent the puck to the Great #8 for some point blasts. Auld, however, would deny Ovechkin, who now trails Sidney Crosby by two goals in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals in NHL). My biggest beef with the man advantage this evening was what happened near the end of Dubinsky’s minor with just over two minutes remaining in the game when the Caps nearly gave up a two on none rush, but luckily the Rangers went offside. With a 2-0 lead that late in the contest the Washington players need to be smarter because what occurred was a MAJOR brain cramp by the five guys on the ice, especially the forwards who should have been covering for Mike Green (who was the one who led the rush just prior to a New York stretch pass that nearly resulted in a golden Rangers scoring opportunity).

“We talked this morning about our power play, just trying to get a goal, specialty teams is what wins you playoff games and I thought we did that tonight,” said Fehr.

The Rangers were 0 for 2 on the man advantage so overall the Caps won the special teams battle on Saturday, as Fehr said the team was focusing on, but the power play has not been clicking this week.

Washington’s second goal was another “pretty Caps goal” thanks to a super Alexander Semin pass. Morrisonn took a Rangers clear at the red line and snapped a pass to Semin at the blue line. In one quick motion #28 fired a super cross ice laser to Laich, who deftly swung it in the slot to Eric Belanger and #18 fired it five hole on Auld for his first goal as a Capital. It is a good thing Semin was involved in that tally because up to that point in the game he was pretty much a no show.

I exchanged texts this week with NHL Network “On the Fly” analyst Craig Button about Washington’s trade deadline acquisitions and Craig thought the four trades by GM George McPhee were good depth moves. However, the man who drafted Jarome Iginla 11th overall for the Dallas Stars back in 1995 felt that “To be successful in the playoffs the team needs to dig in on details or they’ll be on the precipice.” Based on what Boudreau said after the win tonight the Capitals coach is thinking the same way.

“They’ve been focusing on it alot whether it be practice or watching video after the Olympic break on defense and talking about it. When you’ve got a lot of skilled guys it’s difficult to reign them in,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach on the challenge he faces to get his club ready for playoff hockey.

With Ovechkin, Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom not putting up their usual offensive numbers since the Olympic break ended the Caps have been fortunate in the last two contests to get contributions from three of the players McPhee acquired on Wednesday. Belanger tallied tonight while Scott Walker had two goals on Thursday. To me the best acquisition of the bunch has been Corvo (1 assist on Saturday) because he is clearly a top four NHL defenseman and is a significant upgrade over the departed Brian Pothier. #77 logged 20:14 of ice time against the Rangers and most of that was paired with Tom Poti at even strength.

“I think this game I was a little bit more relaxed and just more aware of everything that was going on around me rather than being real nervous and kind of tight,” added Corvo on how he felt in his second game with Washington.

Boudreau now has 15 forwards and eight defenseman and he said he has 10 games to experiment with things before setting the line-up for the playoffs in the final seven contests. The head coach scratched Brendan Morrison, Boyd Gordon, John Erskine, Tyler Sloan, and Quintin Laing on Saturday. It was Morrison’s first missed game of the year but I am not surprised given how he has tailed off production wise and I thought he had a poor outing against the Lightning on Thursday. Gordon, however, has been playing super and I expect him back in on Monday. #15 was 12-2 on face-offs against Tampa and he is a very good penalty killer. I don’t know who Bruce will take out to get Gordo back in but my guess is it is one of Dave Steckel (9-3 on face-offs vs. New York), Matt Bradley (who was not happy about sitting vs. Tampa), or Walker. As for Erskine and Sloan, as long as rookie John Carlson (+1 in 14:15 of ice time) keeps playing the way he is going he is not coming out of the lineup. The 20 year old continues to improve on the back end and it is pretty scary to project how good #74 will eventually be when he physically matures.

Next up for Washington are the Dallas Stars on Monday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. The game will be televised on Versus. There will be no Capitals practice on Sunday.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on WNST 1570 Baltimore at 10:25am on Sunday with Section 410 host Eric Aaronson talking Capitals Hockey. You can listen live via WNST.NET

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Caps Back at Practice, Ready for Stretch Drive

Posted on 25 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After a 10 day Olympic break, the Washington Capitals hit the ice at Kettler Ice Plex on Wednesday afternoon for practice without the five players who were still competing in the Olympics as of this afternoon (Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Semyon Varlamov, Tomas Fleischmann, and Nicklas Backstrom). Before Washington went on break they followed a club record 14 game winning streak with three losses in a row on the road, although one defeat (Montreal) came in overtime and another (St. Louis) occurred in the shootout. Boudreau blamed the losses on “sloppy” play, and rightfully so, but injuries also played a role in the last three games. Jason Chimera, who injured a groin and missed all three defeats, practiced today but the Caps coach had him exit early in an attempt to get him 100% for the Buffalo Sabres next Wednesday, March 3rd, when the Capitals resume their NHL schedule. In addition, Mike Green said he was totally healed from his bumps and bruises while his fellow defensemen Tom Poti and Shaone Morrisonn all appear recovered from their ailments.

Without the full squad Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau did a lot of drills and mini-games followed by 15 minutes of skating to close out the session. Many of the players, who didn’t skate at all during the break, were gassed by the end of what the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy deemed an easier practice then they will face on Thursday. Overall the mood in the Washington dressing room following today’s session was very loose and relaxed.

“It’s good to be back, feels good to be back around the guys here and reminisce on where everybody went, it’s good to get back on the ice and get started again,” said Caps defenseman Jeff Schultz about today’s return from the break, “Today was just trying to get the legs and mind back and in a hockey mode here and beginning each day we are going to ramp it up a bit harder and try and get back to the fundamentals and go from there,” added #55 on what he sees the team accomplishing with practices on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday before heading to Buffalo.

Even when the Caps were in the midst of that winning streak, Boudreau, in his pressers with the media, said he warned the players about ”bad habits.” I asked the man nicknamed “Sarge” what he thought the head coach meant by “sloppy play.”

“Just kind of the small details, our defensive zone, our forecheck, maybe just guys being out of position or waiting an extra second before making their decision, it is kind of stuff like that and we were missing a couple of guys,” stated the man who is second in the NHL in plus/minus at +37 (trails Ovechkin, who is at +43). 

One area the Capitals are hoping to improve on before the playoffs is their penalty killing. Currently they rank 25th overall in the league at 79.1% but a look inside the numbers shows quite a disparity between their ability to do so at home versus away. In DC the Caps are 4th in the NHL killing 98 of 112 (87.5%) shorthanded situations while away from the friendly confines of the Verizon Center they are 29th overall, stopping only 99 of 137 (72.4%) chances. So why the big difference between home and away?

The Caps have played 29 home games and 33 on the road and their average number of shorthanded situations per game (3.86/gm at home vs. 4.15/gm on the road) doesn’t shed any light on the disparity. At home the Capitals players, when taking face-offs, can place their stick down second giving them an advantage on winning draws, which allows the team to clear the puck right away and kill precious time, so that might be a factor. However, I find it hard to believe that alone is the reason for the difference. Playing in the Phone Booth with the crowd behind them has to help some too, but still, the home vs. away PK percentage delta is certainly an eye opener. I spoke with both Schultz and forward Boyd Gordon about the penalty killing and if they had any ideas on the reasons why it was so much better at home.

“I don’t know what it is, we’ve talked about that and we are doing the right things it’s just that sometimes they get some lucky bounces, our system is put in place well and some nights we are good and some nights we are bad, but I think we are working hard out there, doing whatever we can, like blocking shots and stuff,” said Schultz.

“I wish I knew, it’s one of those things where it can’t be, there shouldn’t be that much discrepancy. I mean if you want to win in the playoffs you obviously can’t be really good in one place and terrible in the next, we’d like to be good at both, home and away, but it is one of those things that we have to be better on and we know that our power play is so good that if we can shut down the other team’s power play we have a better chance of winning,” said Gordon.

“I think in PK it helps to win the draw, obviously, and it helps tremendously to not let the other team get set up. Before the break obviously our numbers weren’t that good but we seem to have stretches where it is really good for 6, 7 games and then we’ll have that one game where we give up 3 or 4 and that just kills the numbers, so if we can just keep away from having those really bad games we’d be more consistent and alot better off, we’ll be great for 6 games and then the Rangers go 4 for 7 on us and it just kills the percentages” added the 2002 first round draft pick.

Despite the issues with killing penalties on the road, Washington still has an insurmountable 13 point lead in the Eastern Conference plus a one point lead over the San Jose Sharks for the President’s Trophy, which is awarded to the team with the best record at the end of the regular season. Improving their game and being first overall is something that Schultz says will motivate the team over the last 20 games.

“I think getting a good foundation for our fundamentals and our system. Be really sharp in playing them each game. We want to be first in the league. That’s been a goal of ours and anytime you are first place that is where you want to be,” said #55 when discussing the team’s focus areas for the stretch run.

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Streak Over: Caps Rally, Then Lose in OT, 6-5

Posted on 11 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

With a 14 game winning streak in tow the Washington Capitals headed to Montreal to take on the Canadiens in one of the toughest buildings to play in the NHL. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau had been warning everyone that the team has been sloppy lately and he was prophetic on Wednesday night as Washington made several mistakes in their own zone and took several bad penalties. As a result they fell into a 5-2 hole after two periods, put on a furious rally in the third period to tie the game at 5 with 18 seconds left, and then lost with eight seconds to go in overtime on another defensive zone breakdown. The loss snaps the third longest streak in NHL history in addition to one of the most exciting winning runs I have ever witnessed in all of sports.

“It’s over, it was a great run, when only two teams have gotten better than you in that situation in all of hockey it is a great run. That is why the guys are so deflated, they were really trying in the third period and when they scored with [18] seconds to go you could see the excitement on the bench. I’m more disappointed because I knew they really wanted it but just didn’t play well enough to win,” said Boudreau after the tough loss.

A tough loss it was and as Coach Boudreau said, the players are deflated. Let’s get to the highlights, injury info, and analysis:

Despite losing the Caps pick up a point in the standings and are now 41-12-7 and maintain their 14 point lead in the Eastern Conference race. With San Jose losing in Columbus on Wednesday they also have a two point lead in the battle for the President’s Trophy (best record in NHL) . The Caps play in Ottawa on Thursday night and then St. Louis on Saturday before the NHL will shut down for two plus weeks for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Coming into this contest Washington was +61 in 5 on 5 play while the Canadiens were -20. Also, the Capitals had not given up a goal in the first minute of any period this season. Unfortunately both of those stats did not back up what happened to Washington on the opening shift as the Caps made several mistakes, including a really bad giveaway by Tom Poti, and Scott Gomez beat Michal Neuvirth short side to make 1-0 just 36 seconds into the contest. Surely this was not a good sign for Washington. The Caps would also give up a tally just 41 seconds into the second period.

The Caps and the Canadiens had the #1 and #2 power plays in the NHL, respectively, so staying out of the box was likely going to be important for both teams. Whether it was the referees, and we will get to their problems in a minute, or sloppy/lazy play the Caps had 7 power plays while Montreal received 5. Both teams scored once on the evening with the man advantage.

Officiating was definitely an issue on Wednesday night and referees Eric Furlatt and Kyle Rehman made some poor decisions, especially when they disallowed what appeared to be a goal by Alexander Ovechkin in the second period that would have cut Montreal’s lead to 4-3. After Habs goalie Carey Price (33 saves) robbed Mike Knuble on a shot down the left wing, the puck bounced into the slot at the feet of Hal Gill. The Great #8 came flying in and hit Gill, with the puck present, and Oveckhkin, Gill, Price, and the puck all went into each other with the biscuit sliding into the cage. The official behind the net immediately ruled it a goal but then after a zebra convention at mid ice they decided to waive the tally off. Bad decision and Scott Morrison and Jeff Marek, both of Hockey Night in Canada, stated via their Twitter accounts that it was a terrible ruling. After the game, Morrison (on Twitter) and Boudreau (in his press conference) stated they were told the goal was wiped out because Price did not have the opportunity to play the puck. Huh? Seems to me his own defenseman went into him as Price was lunging forward out of his crease so I am not sure how they could wave it off? But they did and shortly thereafter the Habs made it 5-2. The linesman did not have a good night either and when watching replays of the fourth Montreal tally it sure looks like Maxim Lapierre is offsides when the puck is brought into Washington’s zone so I am sure that one will be looked at as well by the men in charge of the officials. The words “home cooking” could definitely be used to describe this contest considering those two plays.

On the positive side of things, this was one heck of a come back and Brooks Laich notched his first hat trick (20 goals on season) and just the second one by a Capital all year (Ovechkin’s on Sunday vs. the Penguins was the first). The Caps, who had outscored teams 30-6 in the 3rd period during the streak, won that period 3-0 on Wednesday on a power play goal from Mike Green and the last two Laich tallies.

Neuvirth started this one but left after making 12 saves on 14 shots in just over 25 minutes and according to Boudreau he aggravated a previous injury. Jose Theodore (21 saves) came on in relief and despite getting heckled by his old fans and giving up four goals he made several great stops, including a glove save on Andrei Markov when it was 5-3 that was a thing of beauty. It would have been nice to see #60 keep his 10 game winning streak going and also shut up all of the Montreal fans but he was “left out to dry” by his team, as Boudreau put it after the contest.

Montreal was definitely amped up to try and halt Washington’s streak and Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Cap killer Tomas Plekenac (two goals) all had good games. Plekenac, in fact, scored the game winner when Alexander Semin missed the net at the far end to allow the Habs to come back 2 on 2 and when Brian Pothier and Jeff Schultz appeared to miscommunicate #14 went to the net eluding Sarge and he tapped in Sergei Kostitsyin’s pass. Schultz, who is second to Oveckin in NHL +/-, had one of the worst games he’s had all season in defeat. However, he was not the only one who struggled as Poti (-2, left game in the 3rd period due to injury and is day-to-day according to Boudreau), Erskine (-2), and Shaone Morrisonn had some issues defensively. Boudreau didn’t blame it all on the defensemen saying that the “Forwards were lazy in our zone too.” Brendan Morrison took two penalties and was -1 in just over 12 minutes of ice time. #9 is struggling big time right now and he clearly missed left wing Jason Chimera (day to day with a groin pull).

Semin, who was a guy who had been playing the best hockey of his career up until Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, had another off night. #28 routinely turned the puck over, missed the net on numerous shots, and took a bad penalty. Perhaps his mind is on Vancouver and Team Russia’s chances in next week’s Olympics?

Skater-wise for Washington several guys stood out with good games in Laich (3 goals), Green (1 goal, 1 assist in 30:52 of ice time), Ovechkin (2 assists, +1 in 29:30 of time), Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist), and Knuble (1 assist). Is there a better top line in hockey right now than Ovie-Backstrom-Knuble? I don’t think so.

With Neuvirth injured, Semyon Varlamov on the road trip, and the winning streak now over, I would bet that Varly gets a start, probably in St. Louis. To me that is very important for this team and the young goalie as they get ready for the all important post season that starts in April. Keep in mind that Varly was 12-1-2 and the clear #1 Caps goalie before he injured his groin on December 7th (and he subsequently injured his knee in Hershey on a rehabilitation assignment). Now he will likely battle Theodore for the right to start game 1 of the playoffs. Theo has been great over the last month plus but if Varlamov gets healthy, based on his performance in last year’s playoffs, he would be my choice to start things off. But there are still two more months of hockey before that decision needs to be made by Boudreau and GM George McPhee.

This Caps team sure is exciting and if you think it was nerve racking in the third period and overtime with the streak on the line, just wait until the postseason starts! Washington is a very good and entertaining club and they should be proud of an incredible winning streak that has taken interest in an already exceptional hockey team to a new level in the entire DC-Maryland-Virginia area. I look forward to seeing the ratings from Wednesday’s loss because they likely broke more Comcast Caps viewing records. Finally, look no further than this Twitter post from Marek (Hockey Night in Canada Radio host on Sirius 127 M-F from 4-7 pm) to me after the game to sum up what even people outside of this region are saying about the Caps:

“Great run, great streak. The most fun team in the NHL to watch right now, hands down.”

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Neuvirth Leads Caps to 13th Victory In A Row

Posted on 06 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

With the Caps 12 game winning streak on the line, goalie Michal Neuvirth, who was in goal for three of the previous 12 victories, was recalled from Hershey to play against the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday with Jose Theodore, who is 9-0 and at times has been incredible, needing a contest off with Washington scheduled to play four games in six nights. After giving up a shaky goal just 2:46 in, the 21 year old goalie shut the door on the Thrashers until the Washington offense got untracked and the Capitals rolled in the third period to a 5-2 victory to make it #13. They will go for another club record 14th straight victory on Sunday at Noon at the Verizon Center against the Pittsburgh Penguins on NBC, weather permitting.

Washington is now 40-12-6 overall and have a three point lead for the President’s Trophy over the San Jose Sharks, who have a game in hand. With New Jersey’s come from behind victory in Toronto on Friday, the Caps still lead the Eastern Conference by 12 points.

Here are the highlights, quotes, some neat statistics courtesy of the Caps outstanding Media Relations Department, and analysis of another Caps victory:

Goaltending: GM George McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau continue to get top notch net minding, for the most part this season. Whether it has been Semyon Varlamov, Theodore, or Neuvirth, major credit has to go to Boudreau for picking the correct one to play each night and also to first year Caps goalie coach Arturs Irbe. Irbe has done whatever has been needed to get the “next goalie up” ready to go when the current hot one either gets injured (which has been the primary case) or has an off night, or needs a rest.

“I have never seen a team without great goaltending. If you don’t have good goaltending streaks don’t happen,” confirmed Boudreau when the topic of his super goaltending was brought up and its impact on the team.

Neuvirth (43 saves) was outstanding tonight, and as he said after the game, he got better and better as the contest went on. The only other goal he gave up was fluky as he actually stopped a shorthanded breakaway by Rich Peverly with just under seven minutes remaining, but Alexander Semin, who had the giveaway that led to the scoring chance, crashed into his own keeper and kicked the puck into the goal.

“Neuvirth played fabulous. [In the 2nd period] They got their legs and we couldn’t meet their push and that is when we needed the goalie to be really good and he was really good,” added Boudreau on #30, who has stopped 110 of 114 shots in his last three games, including 22 alone in period two on Friday.

“For the most part we did a good job of boxing guys out, let him see the puck on the power plays. We didn’t have too many guys in front of the net. I don’t think screens weren’t too much of a problem for him. That was a big key. He made some huge saves for us in there and that’s what it takes. The depth of the team starts from the goalie out and it’s been working good lately, so hopefully it keeps going,” said forward Jason Chimera, who was injured on a Todd White hit in the second period but returned late in the middle frame and then went on to have a monster third period, including notching the 4th goal on a pretty top shelf shot.

“I thought we played pretty good considering we took four or five penalties with a five-on-three.  I thought we outplayed them in the second [period], they just had the key goal to make it 2-1.  You give these guys an inch, they’ll take a mile with how skilled they are.  They scored on their two-on-one, they took advantage of their chances.  We had a ton of shots, their goalie played really well and seemed to handle everything,” said the Thrashers Peverley on Neuvirth and the Caps.

Sloppy Caps Play: Boudreau wasn’t totally happy after this one because his team, for the third straight game, gave up too many shots (45) and endured stretches where they were dominated, but luckily bailed out by their goalies. Washington is taking too many penalties in spurts and they took two in the second half of a period two that was all Atlanta. The Caps relied on the hot goaltending early on and then turned up the heat in the final stanza in a formula that has been followed pretty much all week. The coach cited lack of practice time as a reason for getting away from their system but he also pointed out the other teams are highly motivated to knock off the Caps and end their winning streak.

“That’s the trend, but there’s also the trend that we are giving up a lot of shots lately.  I mean we gave 40 shots up. It’s going to be tough to continue doing this at this rate. We need to get back out of our sloppiness, because I thought we were pretty sloppy again. It’s systems and groove.  The effort is there, the guys want to win more than anything, that’s why they come out in the third period and they’re pretty well in control so far in the third period. You don’t realize how hard it is to win, it’s difficult to stay at a pace when every team you’re playing, is coming at you in waves because they’re the ones that want to end it. The reason winning streaks are tough is because you have to be at the top of your game all the time and when you go back-to-back games it’s tough.  It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact.” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner, pointing out that Washington played on Thursday while Atlanta waited for the Caps to return from New York.

Bruce is right, the team has developed some bad habits but with the compressed schedule it is tough to find time to work on things. Effort is not the problem and because of Washington’s great skill plus the super goaltending, they have been able to overcome their mistakes and keep the streak going. 

“Quite honestly, I don’t want to sound like I’ve been around the block a lot, but [the streak] doesn’t mean that much to me. Maybe next time we lose two in a row it will be ‘Holy smokes, how did we do that?’, but right now that game is over let’s focus on what we have, four games to the break, the guys are tired, let’s get to Sunday and then generate enough energy for the three games on the road,” said Boudreau on his and the team’s mindset as the Winter Olympic break approaches.

Offense Delivers in Crunch Time: NHL scoring leader, Alexander Ovechkin, had another ho-hum two point night scoring the first goal and then setting up Nicklas Backstrom’s tally that made it 2-1. But what was even more impressive was that once again at the start of the third period this team struck like sharks in blood invested waters with a couple of daggers that turned a close game into one with a decided outcome. Brooks Laich took a breakout pass from Shaone Morrisonn and made a great play to set up Semin for an easy goal and then just 68 seconds later Chimera got his tally on an odd man rush. Washington’s winning streak has seen the Caps outscore opponents 62-29 (not including the goal awarded for winning a shootout in the first game of the streak). Also in the streak the Caps:

  • have been held to three goals just twice and allowed as many as three goals just four times
  • have had power-play goals in all but two games in the streak
  • have outscored opponents 28-6 in the third period

Backstrom Leaves & Doesn’t Return: Perhaps the most important news of the night was that Backstrom left the game after two periods and did not return. #19 is a critical piece to this team but he does have a history with migraines. The good news is Backstrom is okay and will be able to play against the Penguins. Brian McNally of the DC Examiner talked to Backstrom and he said Nicky told him he was suffering from a headache.

“I thought he was just sick, I don’t know, I thought it was just flu-ish. He didn’t want to go on the ice with no energy, not be able to back check. [Trainer Greg Smith] Smitty told me on the bench at the start of the third period he was feeling better and would be okay for Sunday,” responded Boudreau when McNally presented him with the information he received from Backstrom.

Notes: Mike Green returned from suspension and had an empty net goal (13th of year for #52) to seal the deal in the last two minutes… Tom Poti (+1 in 23:27 of ice time) had another super game on defense, he is playing his best hockey as a Capital right now…Defenseman Karl Alzner played tonight but his broken stick helped lead to the first goal. He did pick up a plus on Backstrom’s goal and was even in just over 12 minutes of ice time…Tyler Sloan (healthy) and Brian Pothier (hand) were scratched on defense while Quintin Laing was once again the forward scratch…The Caps are now 22-3-3 at home and are 14-6-2 when the opposition scores first this season. Both stats lead the NHL and no team has won at least half of its games after giving up the first tally..Boudreau on the prospect of the Penguins coming in and ending Washington’s win streak: “Well you are playing against the Stanley Cup champions, I don’t know, but I gotta believe, that even if they say we are not a big rival for them, they would take an awful lot of pleasure by beating us in our building so it will be a big one.”…The Penguins are in Montreal on Saturday afternoon so who knows if they will even be able to fly in to DC on Saturday evening making Sunday’s contest a major question mark?…The Caps are 6-0-1 when they give up 40 or more shots but Boudreau won’t want to hear that stat..Eric Fehr was -2 and Brendan Morrison was -1 on Friday, #16 struggled, especially in his own zone in the first period…Washington was 1 for 5 on the power play and failed to score again on a two man advantage..the Thrashers went 0 for 3 with the man advantage.

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Caps Erupt for 4 Goals in 3rd Period, Defeat Ducks 5-1

Posted on 28 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

If on Wednesday night you tuned in to something ridiculously boring and a waste of time, like say the State of the Union address, instead of the Washington Capitals game, shame on you for missing out on another Caps impressive and exciting victory, their eighth in a row. The offensive juggernaut that is the 2009-10 Washington Capitals fired a season high 49 shots on net in a 5-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks and goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere, who was superb in defeat. Washington erupted for four third period goals, including three in two and a half minutes early in the final stanza, to turn a tied hockey game into another Capitals party at the Verizon Center. Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, Alexander Semin notched two tallies, and Michal Neuvirth stopped 30 of 31 shots in a dominating Capitals performance. The Caps, who lead the Eastern Conference and are closing in on first overall in the NHL, are now 35-12-6, good for 76 points, and are just a deuce behind the Western Conference leading San Jose Sharks. Washington is 19-3-3 this season at the Phone Booth.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

Believe it or not, this was a close game into the third period thanks to Giguere, but after Ovechkin leveled Ducks forward Bobby Ryan with a nice shoulder check by the benches, the energy of the Caps went to another level. Former Capital Alan May, commenting on Comcast, felt that the hit by the Great #8 spurred on the Capitals explosion and turned the lights out on Anaheim. Ryan, who tried to mix it up with Mike Green in the second period as well, was sent whimpering to the bench after the Ovie hit and as May alluded to, the New Jersey boy was one of many Ducks done for the night.

“It often does, I don’t know if that was the turning point, I thought we just kept coming but a hit can be a crowd turner,” commented Boudreau when asked if the hit on Ryan was the catalyst for the Washington victory.

When Ovechkin scored just 36 seconds into the contest after a nice Green keep in that he followed with a shot that was deflected by Mike Knuble directly to the Great #8 (who put it in an open net), it appeared a Caps victory would be an after thought. Washington had 13 of the first 15 shots and if not for Giguere, who won a Stanley Cup and also was the Conn Smythe winner (NHL Playoff MVP) in 2002 in a losing cause to New Jersey, this one would have been a rout. But Anaheim hung around by scoring on a shift when every Capital player on the ice made a mistake in the second period. The third period, however, would belong totally to the Caps.

“The guys like what they’re doing right now. They like winning. We talked about it in the dressing room in between periods. It’s about going after them. [We've] got a good thing going and let’s just take it right to them and see where it leads…This was a game that was like a playoff game for us. Can we play in a close game? Can we get the lead and hold onto the lead? Can we do those things? And I thought we did a good job in the third period,” added Boudreau on his team’s third period approach.

“We went into the end of the second period and it’s a playoff game out here. They were playing with desperation and we just buckled down and you know with our crowd here it is exciting to be here and guys just worked hard and we got that end result, a win, and we are on a roll right now,” said defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, who notched the game winning tally tonight, his first goal of the season (he also added an assist). #26 has been playing really well since back to back horror show performances in Florida a few weeks back.

Neuvirth, who took over on Tuesday night on Long Island for the third period when Jose Theodore went down with what is believed to be a hip flexor injury (thanks Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post), was very good Wednesday limiting his rebounds by frequently gloving or covering the puck in Washington’s end. The only goal he allowed was a huge rebound but the three forwards (Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, and Semin) all made mistakes that allowed Sheldon Brookbank to fire a point blast that Neuvirth had trouble with because Morrisonn screened him by trying to get out of the way. The other defenseman on the ice, Brian Pothier, was out of position at the blue line so you could fault each of the six Caps players on Dan Sexton’s tap in goal that tied it at one with 8:37 left in the second period.

“I thought he was really good. I thought he controlled everything, smothered it. We ended up getting a lot of faceoffs in our zone, but I think we’re one of the better faceoff teams so when you have that, that’s to your advantage. Out of 30 shots, 15 he smothered for faceoffs which is really, really good,” said Boudreau on the play of #30.

Neuvirth, who made the comment on Saturday night that he thought his career was over after his Sunshine State debacle, appears to have his confidence back, something that Boudreau recognized as well.

“That is a young guy [making a statement like that]. I think his career is fairly safe for the next several years,” said the 2007-08 Coach of the Year on Neuvirth.

“Neuvy was awesome for us, all of our goalies are great, we have great depth, you know that is what you need. Our ultimate goal is to win the Cup this year and you need great goaltending to do that,” finished Morrisonn.

Green (1 assist, +2, 7 shots on goal in 22:26) was superb against Anaheim. He was definitely the best defenseman in the contest, and that included four time Stanley Cup winner and 2010 Team Canada Winter Olympics captain Scott Niedermayer, who Ovechkin made look absolutely silly on several occassions, including the play where he set up Knuble for a tap in that made it 3-1. Nicklas Backstrom also made the Ducks defense look like orange road cones on numerous instances and he picked up an assist and was +2, as well.

“It’s nice from my standpoint that you’ve got those kinds of weapons at your disposal. I knew Ovi was going to have a good game today because he didn’t have any points yesterday. I thought Nicky [Backstrom] was by far the best player on the ice and he just didn’t get rewarded for it, but he was spectacular. But you’ve got weapons on every line that can score and it was again the third line that got it generated. It’s a good feeling to have because what happens then is when you’re behind, you always know you have a chance to catch up,” said Boudreau on his red hot squad.

Knuble, if he can stay healthy. will be a major force for Washington in the post season. #22 now has six goals in his last seven games.

“He just goes to the net and [the puck] is usually around there. He is a skilled player, you don’t score 20 goals a year for 8 seasons without skill,” commented Boudreau on #22′s ability.

Semin has been on a torrid pace with 11 goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games. He appears to be playing the best hockey of his career.

“He sure is playing hard, you can’t say alot of negative things about Alex Semin right now. He is on a roll that only Ovie has seen. He comes to play every night and he is doing it with a smile on his face, which is really good,” added Boudreau on the immensely talented #28.

The Caps were a perfect 2 for 2 while shorthanded and Boyd Gordon put on an absolute penalty killing clinic on his shift on the Ducks second power play opportunity. Gordon was all over the ice getting in the shooting and passing lanes then making good clears to waste Anaheim power play time. This guy, when healthy, is a very valuable piece to the Capitals potential Stanley Cup puzzle.

Fan and locker room favorite, Matt Bradley, had a nice fight with Mike Brown at 6:24 of the third period. Brads, who is a known bleeder, may have actually won that bout!

For the Ducks, who are in a major playoff position battle in the Western Conference, this was a disappointing loss on a 13 day road trip.

“Yeah, it’s a little frustrating because after that first goal in the third period it seems like we went flat.  It felt like everybody just quit.  We were still in it.  It was an unfortunate bounce off of [defenseman Steve Eminger's] skate and these things are going to happen.  It would have been important for us to come back and re-establish our game but for some reason we didn’t seem to have the energy anymore to fight it off. They have a good team. They’re playing well at home.  Their best player, [Ovechkin] is often every night their best player.  They’re getting some good goaltending.  Often, other teams probably give them too much respect and tonight we gave them a little too much respect.  You can’t watch them play, you have to play with them and hope for the best,” said Giguere on his team along with his thoughts on the Caps.

Here are some interesting notes following Wednesday’s victory, courtesy of the Caps Media Relations Department:

  • The win tonight matches the Capitals longest winning streak since the club recorded a 10-game streak in 1983-84 (the team had eight-game streaks twice since then, most recently in 1988-89). Bruce Boudreau has led the Capitals to a winning streak of at least seven games in each of his three seasons behind the bench.
  • Washington has outscored its opponents 41-18 during the eight-game winning streak (an average of 5.13-2.25).
  • The Capitals extended their Southeast Division lead to 21 points, the largest in franchise history.
  • The Capitals surpassed 200 goals on the season tonight (now 203, not counting shootout goals). No other team in the NHL has 175 goals.

Next up for the Caps, after a day off on Thursday (no practice), are the Florida Panthers on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

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