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Semin, Neuvirth Lead Caps Over Coyotes, 4-2

Posted on 23 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After pounding the Penguins on Thursday night and following victories over the Red Wings and Flyers earlier in the week, Saturday night’s tilt against the Phoenix Coyotes, who are in 4th place in the Western Conference, appeared to be a game that the Washington Capitals could possibly overlook. The Caps did not so the players and their coaches deserve credit for recognizing that they needed to play well against a good Coyotes team and Washington did just that en route to a 4-2 victory at the Verizon Center. Alexander Semin (1 goal, 3 assists) was the game’s number one star scoring a big goal that made it 3-1 late in the second period and he once again made some spectacular passes, including a nice one to Alexander Ovechkin to set up an empty net goal with six seconds remaining. Michal Neuvirth (28 saves) received his first start since being yanked on back to back nights in the Sunshine State and he turned in a superb effort. The Caps won their sixth straight game (3rd time this season), are now 9-1 since they named Ovechkin as team captain, improved to 18-3-3 at the Phone Booth in 2009-10, and they continue to lead the Eastern Conference Standings with a 33-12-6 record (72 points). WOW!

Let’s get right to the highlighs, quotes, and analysis:

Semin has just taken his game to another level since Ovechkin has been named team captain, in case anyone is keeping track. Coincidence? I say NOT! If their is one guy who can really get to #28 after Sergei Fedorov left for the KHL this past summer, it is definitely the Great #8. Another reason Sasha could be playing so well is his contract situation has been resolved for next year, but money aside, #28 just seems to have really responded to the leadership from his Russian Comrade (or he is afraid of letting Ovie down, LOL!). After the win, Comcast’s Lisa Hillary did a nice job of asking Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau about the play of Semin (16 points in last 10 games) and if there was a connection with the Oveckhin captaincy.

“I don’t know, maybe he is listending to Ovie now. I know he is playing well but I thought it was more the lines are sticking together, but if it is because Ovie’s the captain, great!” added Boudreau who earlier in January switched Semin to a line with Tomas Fleischmann at center and Brooks Laich at left wing that is really clicking (see winning goal in Pittsburgh on Thursday night). “He’s playing well right now. He’s so skilled. He’s one of the few people that I know of, Nicky {Capitals Center Nicklas Backstrom} may be the other one, that can pass it from one side of the ice to the other side and it lands flat all the time. It’s a real skill. He’s got it. He’s sort of on his game right now,” finished Boudreau on #28.”

Neuvirth, as mentioned above, came back strong after his disastrous Florida games and it has to make the organization extremely happy, given Semyon Varlamov’s injured knee. Neuvy can’t be faulted on either Coyotes tally and he was very good at not giving up rebounds and making the big save when needed. His stop on Vernon Fiddler’s first period shorthanded breakaway was big because the kid had struggled previously on those at the NHL level. He also made a super save on a 1 on 1 with Lauri Korpikoski (scored both Phoenix goals) in the third period when it was 3-2. Down the stretch, in a pressure packed contest, he routinely held on to the puck so that his coaching staff could get the match-ups they wanted.

“Neuvy played really good, he was a little nervous early in the game. But he really smothered pucks in the third period and allowed our centermen to win a lot of face-offs, so we could get line changes and weren’t caught out there too long. That was a real big factor. He is a pressures goaltender, he won the Calder Cup playing ever game. Sometimes he wants to play so badly that he lets things get to him and he gets rattled. He started to get rattled again in Florida and Arty (Caps goalie coach Arturs Irbe) practiced him hard…I had targeted this game for Neuvy all along,” said Boudreau when asked to assess his young goalie and why he went with #30 given the recent stellar play of Jose Theodore. Boudreau, as I have said many times before, really seems to have a knack for picking the right Caps goalie to start a contest. I guess nearly 3,000 games at the professional level will do that, eh?

“I wasn’t really feeling very good before the game and I didn’t really expect to play because Theo was playing really good now. I was shaky at first, but I settled down and just played my game. Just get my confidence back. I was really down after those two games. I felt like my career was over. So Archie [Irbe] helped me a lot and it’s a big win. Big thanks to him,” said Neuvirth about the game and his road back from the Florida debacle. I don’t know about anyone else, but based on the “felt like my career was over” quote someone needs to sit #30 down and remind him that he is only 21 years old and bad games are going to happen. On air today on WNST I mentioned that a lot of goaltending is between the ears and that quote is more proof (btw, to listen to my whole session with WNST Section 410 host, Eric Aaronson, click here and scroll down to my name).

The Capitals special teams contine to sizzle and they were a big difference in tonight’s win again. Washington went 2 of 7 on the power play while holding the Coyotes scoreless on their five attempts. A power play that was 2 for 2 at the Igloo on Thursday got one right out of the gate on Semin’s beauty of a pass to Laich, who nicely deflected it upstairs by Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (30 saves). Eric Fehr also received a fortuitous power play bounce and roofed one by the Coyotes goalie to make it 2-1 in the 2nd period. Fehr, who notched his 14th goal in 40 games this season, has been really playing like a 1st round pick (picked by Caps in that round in 2003) and took advantage of a rare instance when Boudreau could put out multiple units numerous times in a contest.

“We haven’t had many power plays to speak of {lately}. We’ve got two power-play units. Nobody’s had {power play} minutes except Alex {Ovechkin} and Mike {Capitals Defenseman Mike Green}. Today we had {seven} power plays. The {two units} come at you from different sides and Eric’s on {one of the units} and he’s going to get that extra time,” said Boudreau on his power play configuration.

My only issue with the power play tonight was that Phoenix seemed to really try and take advantage of Ovie and Green on the points when they obtained the puck. There were a few instances when they blew by Ovie and had quality chances but fortunately for Washington Neuvirth came up big. Fiddler also had a breakaway after a #52 giveaway. This potential problem should be addressed by assistant coach Dean Evason and Boudreau in some film study sessions because I imagine other clubs, when watching tape of this one, will have their PK forwards try and do the same thing that the Coyotes had some success in doing.

Overall, this was a good effort in a game that there was a potential for Washington to be flat in. But as stated in the opening above, credit should go to the players and coaches for this one. Also, the fans deserve kudos too because they were loud based on what I could surmise on television and twitter was filled with comments about the decibel level at sold out Verizon Center.

“I was really worried about this game because Phoenix is a good team but also because of an emotional letdown after playing Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. I thought our guys answered the bell pretty well emotionally in this kind of game. We kept saying, ‘stay the course.’ Today was going to be a game about patience. They’re very good defensively. I thought we did a good job of just staying that course and doing what we had to do. One of our keys to the game, since they are a low scoring team, was special teams. We scored five-on-five and two power-play goals and that was the difference,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner on the victory.

“We ended up having to work too hard because we took too many penalties. When you give the top power play in the league that many opportunities it wears down people and it wears down your defense…in the end it comes down to a special teams contest and we lost that contest tonight,” said Coyotes Coach and former Capital Dave Tippett, summing up why he thought his team did not win.

Other notes, stats, and comments: Team Russia has to be pretty happy with Bryzgalov and Evgeny Nabokov (Sharks) as their top two goalies for the Olympics. I thought Ilya was very good tonight and kept his team in this one as the Caps came out real strong early. If Varlamov can get healthy for Vancouver, he can really learn some things from those two veteran Russian goalies…The ice time for Caps defenders, other than Green (26:45), was down tonight because of all of the PP’s. Karl Alzner only logged 13:21 but was +1, Jeff Schultz played just 16:50 going -2, John Erskine was even in 13:49 (he returned from injury and replaced Tyler Sloan), and Shaone Morrisonn only played 15:58 (1 assist, +1). Tom Poti (+1) did go 21:58, primarily due to 5:11 of PK time…Washington had another dominant night at the face-off dot, going 38-26..The Caps are off on Sunday and will next play on Long Island on Tuesday at 7pm against John Tavares and a finally healthy New York goalie, Rick DiPietro.

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Laich, Ovechkin Lead Caps over Flyers, 5-3

Posted on 17 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The despised Philadelphia Flyers came to the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon hoping to get revenge for the 8-2 drubbing the Washington Capitals put on them back on December 5th at the Wachovia Center. They would not as the Caps knocked them off again, 5-3, to take the season series 3-0-1. Brooks Laich broke out of a huge scoring slump to tally twice, including a beautiful shorthanded goal that made it 4-2 in the third period, and he also added an assist on Alexander Semin’s power play goal to give Washington a 3-2 advantage in period two. Jose Theodore (30 saves) gave up a shaky first goal but after that was very solid between the pipes for the Caps. This win improves Washington’s overall record to 30-12-6 and moves them back into first place in the Eastern Conference with 66 points. This is the latest in the season Washington has been #1 in the conference. The Capitals have won three in a row and are 6-1 since Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 1 assist) took over as team captain.

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

Laich (2 goals, 1 assist) apparently had an afternoon film session with Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and the 2007-08 Jack Adams winner pointed out some things for Brooksie to improve upon, like getting to the net. Well it worked, #21 scored Washington’s second goal by burying a Tomas Fleischmann rebound from three feet away, next it was his screen and tip of a Mike Green point blast that led to Semin’s tally, and then he made the play of the game stripping Flyers captain Mike Richards of the puck while shorthanded, went in alone, and made Philly goalie Ray Emery look stupid, beating him upstairs to make it 4-2. That individual effort, from the hardest working Cap, really cemented this contest for Washington.

“He is a very intense young man and sometimes he tries to do too much. We just looked over his video, his shifts, his goals and we saw if there was anything we could find that he was doing different. I was so happy when he scored. He takes everything so personal and you will never find a guy who cares as much as Brooks Laich and that is why I am so happy for him to get the two goals. Even if he went 20 games without a goal, I would still have confidence and believe in him,” said Boudreau about the guy who is typically the first one on the ice and the last one off of it at practice.

“[Coach Boudreau] said to get back to being determined, keep skating, using your assets, go the net and good things will happen. He was coach of the year for a reason. He’s such a smart guy. He’s got his hands all over the game. You just trust his word and tonight I got some rewards from it,” added Laich on the coach who helped turned things around for Capitals hockey from the minute he was hired on Thanksgiving Eve of 2007.

Semin (1 goal, 1 assist) seems to play some of his best games against the Flyers and Sunday was no exception. #28 made a tremendous stick check on girly hair man Scott Hartnell along the right wing boards to set up Fleischmann for the shot that led to Laich’s first tally. I don’t think there is a more talented player in the league at taking the puck away from an opponent by lifting his stick from behind. Semin also had a tap in goal that would have been the game winner if not for a late Danny Briere power play tally. Semin’s game seems to have really elevated since his Russian comrade Ovechkin took over the captaincy.

As for Ovechkin, it was another two point night and he scored for the first time in six tries in his career on an in game penalty shot (and that got the fans at the VC free wings!). The Great #8 froze Emery (17 saves) on his attempt and he easily roofed it by a goalie that is average, at best, in my opinion. Ovie also made a super play to set up Mike Knuble for Washington’s first tally outworking the Flyers in the corner and throwing the puck on the Philly netminder, who bobbled it like a bad shortstop, allowing #22 to slam it home to tie the game at one. I only had one complaint against the Alexes today, and that was to shoot the puck more, especially on a weaker goalie like Emery. The two of them are so good, unselfish, and unfortunately too cute at times and need to just unleash their shots when they have an opening. Many times the quick release with a rebound is the best pass.

Speaking of complaints, I know the Flyers outshot the Caps 33-22 but the main reason was because they received five power plays to just one for Washington (the Caps also were awarded Ovechkin’s penalty shot). What game was Dan Marouelli and Kelly Sutherland watching? The roughing call on Tyler Sloan was embellished and much less than what the underachieving Braydon Coburn did to Semin in the neutral zone in the second period. And as Caps video producer and emergency bench door opener, Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt, tweeted during the second period, the shift where Hartnell and Sloan went off for roughing could have resulted in five minors alone being called on #19. Hartnell should have been called for a rough to the head of Tom Poti, at a minimum, 30 seconds before the actual coincidental minors were whistled. The power play the Caps received was the result of an OBVIOUS hold of Sloan by Jeff Carter yet Philadelphia CSN reporter Tim Pinaccio whined about it two times on Twitter describing the call as HORRIBLE. Hey Tim, that one was even a penalty pre-lockout buddy. Boudreau didn’t specifically single out the referees for the lack of calls but if you closely follow this quote about the Caps offense you can read between the lines as to what Bruce is hinting at.

“We have three lines that can score, and the 4th line creates the momentum so the other lines can score…they are very valuable. Eventually it is going to stop, we are not going to score 5 goals every game. I don’t know [why we are scoring so much], but it is not because of power plays, if we start getting some more PP’s maybe we will continue to score at that clip,” added Boudreau. Maybe this anti-Caps bias coming from Canada is getting to the zebras too??!!

The Flyers carried the early play and Theodore should have had Carter’s wide open wrister from the top of the left wing circle that went five hole on him. But after that I couldn’t fault #60 for the two other Philadelphia goals and he made numerous key stops in a game that was close until the Ovechkin tally.

“I was really secure with him today as I was the last game and in Florida as well,” commented Boudreau on his goaltender.

As for the slow start, Boudreau had the following to say on that issue.

“You start with a penalty, and then two penalties, and a 3-on-1 we don’t convert on, maybe we weren’t as sharp out of the gate as we would have liked to have been, or maybe they [Philadelphia] wanted it really badly. I watched their warm-up closely and they had their game faces on like it was a playoff game. I am sure they wanted to make amends for the last time we played them and they came out really hard,” added Boudreau on a contest that seemed to have post season intensity.

Getting out of the first period tied, was something the coach felt boded well for his club.

“We weathered the storm, that is why I thought after it was 2-2 after the first period, I felt good and knew we would be better,” Boudreau said.

“I think it’s a three o’clock game and we were kind of sleepy and they were more fresh and they got a goal. It’s good for us we bounced back in the second period and our power play worked,” added Ovechkin.

As for the defense, they started shaky but steadily improved. Shaone Morrisonn (+2, 20:13 of ice time) had his best game in at least a month and Tyler Sloan (Even in 15:51 of ice time) was better too, but I still don’t rank him ahead of Karl Alzner. Perhaps the mention by Boudreau on Saturday that #27 might be back up with the Caps as soon as this week got the attention of those two guys who had really been struggling? Also, defenseman John Carlson played his best game at the NHL level, even though he will almost surely go back to Hershey tomorrow so he can participate in the AHL all star game. #74 was +2 in 15:51 of play and was strong on the puck all afternoon.

“I think every game is physical, but definitely I think Philadelphia and Toronto are two of the top physical teams and any time you can get in a game like that and stand up and feel pretty good out there it’s a good boost of confidence,” said the Team USA World Junior Championships gold medal winning hero, who I believe could very likely start next season with the Caps in the NHL.

“Our much maligned defense played pretty steady, I thought,” finished Boudreau, taking a shot at the critics who tend to point at the back line as the weak point of Washington’s squad.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette felt his team made too many mistakes on Sunday and that was the difference in the game.

“Some of the early goals were tough. We missed an assignment and there was a rebound, back door. That hurt. There was one that hit a skate and went right to somebody; it’s tough to cover that. If we go into the third period tied, we might win it and get out of here with some points. We talked about it before the game. We can’t turn it over. They are dynamic in transition and you’ve really got to pay attention to the puck,” added the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion coach of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Today was a good measuring stick for the Caps by beating a hungry Flyers team but now the stakes increase with tougher opponents for Washington. The Caps will face the 2008 Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center and then travel to Pittsburgh to take on the 2009 Stanley Cup Champion Penguins.

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Ovechkin Gets 5 Points in Caps Win Over Leafs, 6-1

Posted on 15 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Friday night at the Verizon Center it was the Alexander Ovechkin show in full force as the Great #8 scored just 49 seconds into the contest and then added four more assists in the Washington Capitals 6-1 pasting of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Jose Theodore (28 saves) made several super stops in the first period when the Leafs carried the play, outshooting the Caps, 14-8, yet went to the locker room down 2-0. After Washington scored twice in the first seven minutes of the second period the rout was on and the Caps improved to 29-12-6 overall.

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

Ovechkin was due for a break out evening from a scoring perspective and he now trails the NHL leader, Henrik Sedin of Vancouver, by just two points (64 to 62) but the Great #8 has played eight fewer games (due to injury and suspension). I continue to stand by my assertion that if Ovie stays healthy the rest of the way he will win the scoring title and Richard Trophy (most goals). The Caps are now 5-1 since he received the “C” and his leadership is clearly propelling this team towards the top of the standings once again after a three game lull in late December/early January. Bottom line on Ovechkin: He loves to win and he doesn’t care who gets the goals in the process.

“In the first period when he scored that goal, I said, he looks like he is on tonight.  You never expect five points but I thought it was pretty good,” started Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the best hockey player on the planet, “He enjoys the team scoring goals as much as him scoring goals, whether he gets an assist or if he gets nothing [point-wise].”

“He’s a very exciting player. He comes to work every night. It’s fun watching him, whether it’s on TV or on the bench. It’s unbelievable and he’s a great player,” said rookie defenseman and Team USA hero in the 2010 World Junior Championships, John Carlson. Carlson, by the way, was recalled due to an injury to Brian Pothier and made it just in time for warm-ups and earned the red hard hat for his travels. “Some of the fans were here before me,” commented Carlson after the contest.

The Leafs actually played pretty well in the first period after the Caps early goal but Theodore stoned them on their opportunities and Washington buried the majority of their chances, typically a recipe for disaster for the trailing team. Toronto did have what looked to be an early tying goal disallowed when Tom Poti took a Leafs forward into the net and was called for delay of game seconds before the apparent tally. The Leafs had a second goal wiped out due to a high stick by Alex Ponikarovsky on Mike Green late in the second period that would have made it 4-2.

“After the first shift I thought they took it too us a bit and they had a bit of bad luck with the two goals disallowed. After the first period they definitely did not have the energy they had in the first period. It was like in Atlanta, when you get outshot and get up, it is pretty tough for the other team to recover,” said Boudreau about how the opening stanza set the tone for the final 40 minutes.

“It just shows their skill level. They scored on just about every chance they had. And we have to get twice as many chances to compete with a team like that. We didn’t; we had about the same number of chances. [Alex] Ovechkin makes things happen. If you play the game with a deer in the headlights kind of mold, then you’re probably going to get run over by the car – like a deer would,” said former Caps and current Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, who will also be behind the bench running Team USA in the 2010 Olympics.

Theodore improved to 12-7-4 on the season and he had a second straight strong outing and with Semyon Varlamov out you can expect #60 to continue to play for the next several contests.

“I hope those last two periods in Florida and this game that he gets confidence. He’s probably going to start on Sunday afternoon and go again. He’s a competitor. He’s been a battler and the more I’ve talked to him at the end of last year or at times this year, he says I want to compete for the position. He’s done it his whole life, being a small goaltender and the awards he’s won. It’s no surprise to me that he’s going in there and saying the heck with you guys, I’m going to be great,” said Boudreau on #60.

The Great #8 thought his goalie played well when he really needed to.

“Especially in the first period they got two power plays and he played well. We get the second goal and we start playing,” commented the two-time defending NHL MVP on the play of Theodore.

Late in the game some fireworks occurred with Colton Orr catching Green up high with a cross check that looked much worse than it actually was and then Jay Rosehill ran Carlson. The Orr hit drew the ire of all of the Caps on the ice and Shaone Morrisonn took up for his teammate by challenging one of the best fighters in the league. Jason Chimera took on Rosehill to let him know that those type of hits on a young defenseman would not be tolerated.  The way the Caps stand up for each other shows that they are a tight bunch and Boudreau was quick to point that out afterwards.

“We don’t exactly have the toughest team in the world. When teams take liberties, we come in as a group. This is a group that cares about each other. When somebody hits one, they hit them all. I’m all for protecting our guys. We don’t start a lot of this stuff, but we’re there. It doesn’t matter how tough the guy is, we want to protect our guys and that’s what we have to do,” said Boudreau.

As mentioned above, on first glance the Orr hit looked dirty, but I’ve gone back and watched it several times, discussed it with a couple of other hockey experts and have come to the conclusion that the Leafs tough guy did not intend to deliver a cheap shot. To be honest, if he wanted to really clean 52′s clock he could have done so, but he was looking into the corner and the contact was nearly coincidental. Boudreau concurred with that analysis.

“I’ve watched Colton Orr for a lot of years and it didn’t look like a vicous check and that he was trying to cross check Mike. It looked like he was kind of taken a back. But it looked pretty bad,” added Boudreau on the cross check on Green.

Last night on NHL On the Fly Gary Green said that the Caps are dominant and there is noone close to them offensively in the NHL. Want some supporting evidence of that, then check out these stats below?:

  • Eric Fehr scored his 12th goal of the season at 17:51 of the first period. With the goal, Fehr matched his career high for goals in a season set last year with the Capitals in 61 games. 
  • With two assists, Nicklas Backstrom now has points in five straight games (five goals, four assists), his longest point streak of the season.
  • Chimera registered his first point at Verizon Center with an assist on Fehr’s first period goal. Chimera has a four-game point streak (two goals, three assists) and two goals and four assists total in his eight games with the Capitals.
  • Mike Knuble scored his 11th and 12th goals of the season in the second period, his third two-goal game of the season. Knuble now has six goals in his last eight games. On the season nine Capitals have combined for 33 two-goal games, but no hat tricks yet. Entering tonight, no other team had more than 23 multiple-goal games.
  • Tomas Fleischmann scored his 16th goal of the season on the power play at 6:47 of the third period. Fleischmann has 16 goals despite missing the first 11 games of the season and is just three goals shy of his career high, set last season. 
  • Tom Poti scored his second goal of the season (all in the last four games) at 11:06 of the third period to give the Caps a 6-1 lead. The Capitals have scored six or more goals in a game seven times this season, and have a record of 7-0-0 in those contests.
  • Alexander Semin had two assists in the contest for his 16th multiple-point game of the season. Semin now has nine points (five goals, four assists) in his last six games.
  • Green had two assists in the contest and now has points in seven straight games (three goals, five assists, +6), and 11 of the last 12 (six goals, 10 assists, +9). He leads all NHL defensemen in goals and points.

Other notes: The Leafs only goal came on the power play in the second period but it was pretty much a 5 on 3 as Dave Steckel blocked a shot up high and played the time from the block until the Toronto goal with just one hand on his stick. Steckel would leave the game but return in the third period. Tyler Sloan did not play at all in the last 9:57 of the contest and according to Caps personnel the injury is not serious and he is just banged up. Apparently John Erskine, who has been out injured, practiced pretty hard and should be able to go on Sunday. If Erskine, Pothier, and Sloan all can’t go, then Karl Alzner would likely be recalled from Hershey. The Caps were 2 for 5 on the power play while the Leafs went 1 for 7 with a manpower advantage. The Caps do need to try and cut down on the number of penalties they have been taking.

Down on the farm: The Hershey Bears destroyed the Albany River Rats, 10-4, on Friday night and have now won 13 of their last 14 games so the defending AHL Calder Cup Champions are on fire. Try and catch a game up at the Giant Center, if you can, especially during the Olympic break in February (there is a WNST puck bus available).

Next up for the Caps are the Flyers on Sunday at 3pm at the Verizon Center, then they get the Detroit Red Wings here on Tuesday at 7pm and you can circle your calendar for Thursday night’s tilt against the Penguins in Pittsburgh (btw, check out JapersRink.com for details on a Caps viewing party down in Virginia).

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Theodore Keys Caps Comeback Shootout Victory

Posted on 13 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals had not won a game in which they had trailed by three goals at any point in the contest in 2009-10. Well you can throw that stat right out the window as the Caps rallied with goals from Brian Pothier, Alexander Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom after trailing 4-1 midway through the contest while Jose Theodore came on in relief of a shaky Michal Neuvirth to shut the door as Washington won, 5-4, in a shootout in Florida. The Caps improve to 28-12-6 and are now 10-2 against the Southeast Division this season. Washington moved to 3-2-2 in the second half of back to back games this year, including 2-0-1 after a loss in the first contest.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

Theodore (15 saves) stopped every shot he faced before the shootout tonight and was terrific, especially in overtime when he had to deny two clear breakaways. In the shootout the 2002 NHL MVP gave up two tallies on six attempts. With Neuvirth allowing some super soft goals (stopped only 11 of 15 shots) and Semyon Varlamov still on the shelf with a knee injury, the Capitals really needed their $4.5M man to step up and boy did he pick a good time to do so. Theo has been wildly inconsistent this year, much like he was last year except for a super hot stretch from December 23rd (the big comeback in New York against the Rangers) until early March. Could this win in Florida tonight be the game that finally gets #60 going? Let’s hope so.

The first goal the Caps gave up started with a brutal back pass giveaway by Ovechkin, then saw Backstrom lazily skate back up the ice, and that allowed Michael Frolik to go in alone on #30 and beat him easily on the backhand. The second Panthers tally was a backhander in the slot in which Neuvirth went down too early and Mike Green wasn’t real strong on the puck either because if he had been then Dominic Moore doesn’t even get off a shot. Meanwhile, Tomas Vokoun stopped every piece of rubber thrown his way in the opening stanza.

“In the first period I thought we played really good, you know they said they had six chances but the guy up there who is doing the chances is blind because I only counted two and we went over it and they scored on both of them. We thought we had a good first period and things usually get worse before they get better and you just have to persevere and even though we were down two we thought our first period was 10 times better than the last two games,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau about his club, that outshot the Panthers 13-9 in the first period, but trailed 2-0.

In period two it looked like Washington would jump right back into this one as Jason Chimera stole a puck in the neutral zone, turned on the jets, and went in alone on Vokoun beating him with a nifty move to score on the backhand. But then Neuvirth allowed two awful goals and Boudreau gave him the hook, opening the door for the comeback.

Just like in Edmonton back in December, Oveckhin came out and set the tone with a goal in the first minute (this time just 27 seconds in) of the third period and the rally was on. Backstrom would score on a deflection in front to tie it with 7:35 remaining after a super pinch on the right wing boards by Green.

“Once we got there [tied the game] we didn’t stop, like we did in Tampa last night. You also had that feeling that something good was going to happen, we were always within striking distance. Once we made it 4-2 late in the second period we said we were in the same boat we were in starting the period and fortunately we did [win],”  said Boudreau on the comeback.

In OT, Washington had to kill off another Brooks Laich penalty in the last minute. #21 has been pressing to regain form and he is ending up out of position, being overly aggressive, and as a result taking too many careless penalties. But a penalty kill that was torched in two nights in the Sunshine State (5 for 10) would save the day.

“Even though in the last two days we’ve struggled on the PK, when push came to shove and there is a 4 on 3 for whatever time there was left at the end, 49 seconds, I think, we hung in and got the job done and I thought Theo was marvelous,” added Boudreau on the key overtime penalty kill.

For Green (1 assist), who was on for 6 of the 7 goals on Tuesday night and then was -2 early in this contest, he battled back to even on the night. Shaone Morrisson, who was abysmal in Tampa (on for all 7 goals against), managed to end up even as well in this one.

“Greenie and Mo [Shaone Morrisonn] were on for a couple more against and didn’t make a great two games but at the same time they did redeem themselves, but I was really happy to see Brooksie score in the shootout and Fleischmann and Mo [Brendan Morrison] because maybe that will jumpstart them a bit,” said Boudreau on the recent struggles by some of his players.

Boudreau decided to break up the Tyler Sloan-Pothier pairing in the second period and that helped #2 get going. Pothier had the goal to start the comeback by pinching down in the slot. Sloan, who really looked out of his league for at least the first four periods of the back to back contests, did make a super play on a 2 on 1 break for the Panthers in overtime. Hopefully #89 got the rust off in these two games otherwise he could be destined for Hershey if he does not step up his play.

Overall, the Caps outshot Florida, 37-30, but only received one power play. If the cross check on Dave Steckel is going to be called in period two then there were a couple of similar ones that should have been called on the Panthers as the game progressed. Where is the consistency?

Chimera had a Gordie Howe hat trick in the second period alone (a goal, an assist, and a fight) and it was the first one by a Capital since Ben Clymer’s against Ed Belfour and the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 3, 2006. #25′s bout with Gregory Campbell at the end of the second period did provide a spark for the team.

The Caps will be off on Thursday (no practice) and will next be in action on Friday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center against the Toronto Maple Leafs. This will be the last matchup of the season between those two teams (Caps are 1-1-1 in first three contests).

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Caps Blasted in Tampa, 7-4

Posted on 12 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

13 is indeed the unluckiest number. The Washington Capitals had defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 12 straight times under Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau but tonight they came out flat in the opening period to fall behind 4-1, rallied to tie it at four goals apiece in the middle stanza, before giving up the final three tallies to lose 7-4. This defeat ends Washington’s three game winning streak and drops their overall record to 27-12-6 and now 9-2 against Southeast Division foes.

Let’s get right to the highlights (or mostly lowlights for Washington), quotes, and analysis:

Oh, where to start in this one…the Caps missed their regular morning skate because apparently they can’t make ice when it is actually cold in Florida (the literally stinking circus was a factor in the bad ice too based on Joe B’s commentary). Whether that led to the poor first period effort and bad mental focus, I have no idea? The team did not move their feet in the first period and they took STUPID penalties all game. Brooks Laich goalie interference, poor decision, result: Steve Stamkos goal; Tom Poti lazy cross-check, result: another Stamkos goal; Laich trip, result: St. Louis GW goal. The first six penalties Washington took were totally dumb and unnecessary and the Lightning scored on 4 of those 6 power plays (they would go 4 for 7 on the night).

“Obviously in the last two games we didn’t come prepared to play and that has got to be my fault..we got lucky in Atlanta because the goaltending was great and then we took over but today the penalty killing obviously struggled and they got four on us. It is difficult to come back when a team gets a 4-1 lead on you in the first period,” said Boudreau following the contest.

CSN+, or CSN- as I call it, picked Mike Green (2 goals) as the player of the game. I don’t know what contest they were watching but #52 was -3 and was brutal in his own zone. But Green wasn’t the worst defensemen on the ice, that award goes to Shaone Morrisonn who was just terrible going -3 in just over 14 minutes of ice time. In fact, he was so bad he was on the ice for none of the Caps goals and all seven of the Lightning goals (thanks @JapersRink)!! Tyler Sloan was awful as well looking incredibly slow against Tampa, especially in the first 25 minutes. #89 had not played since December 28th (a 6-3 loss to Carolina) so he has an excuse but does this guy really belong in the NHL instead of Karl Alzner right now? For that matter isn’t 27 a better option than 26 given the potential upside of the 5th player taken in the 2007 NHL Entry draft? Defenseman John Erskine did not play due to injury and the team not only missed his defense but also his toughness, but more on that later.

The best Caps defenseman tonight and player of the game, if I was picking:  Jeff Schultz. #55 had 1 assist, was +2, wasn’t on the ice for any Tampa goal (including the power play tallies), and took 0 penalties in 23:44 of ice time. Too bad Boudreau couldn’t put Sarge on for the entire game because it seems the other team never scores when his number is called. Schultz plays an ultra simple and positionally sound hockey game.

Now to the goaltending. Michael Neuvirth (11 saves on 15 shots) got the start and made some great early stops to try and keep Washington in it but the poor effort was too much to overcome. Mike Knuble’s boneheaded cross ice pass in his own zone led to a 2 on 0 Lightning break that was easily finished by Vincent Lecavalier for the first marker and the 2nd goal by Stamkos was off of a Foster blast that rebounded to him from the backboards. However, #30 did give up a bad goal on the 4th tally and he allowed a huge rebound up the slot on the third Tampa lamp lighter. Jose Theodore (18 saves on 21 shots), who played the last 40 minutes, made some good saves for most of the second period but the shot from St. Louis was a long, unscreened one he could have stopped but I have to give most of the credit to St. Louis for that laser. The sixth goal, however, is one that Theo definitely needs to prevent. It was another point blast that he just couldn’t handle and there did not appear to be any significant screens. I really thought #60 was going to come in and be the hero tonight but it was not to be once again for the inconsistent guy who was supposed to be the team’s #1 net minder.

“I thought Neuvy kept us in the game and he was really good and he didn’t deserve to get this kind of treatment in front of him. I kept thinking about the Carolina game last year, he got rattled and had his confidence shaken so I wanted him pulled before that occurred,” started the 2007-08 Jack Adams trophy winner on his decision to bring in Theodore after the first period, “That goal at the end of the second period really hurt. If we go in after two tied then we are okay but we had the push and it just wasn’t far enough. When you make that push you have to get over the hump,” said Boudreau describing the momentum killer that was St. Louis game winning goal that made it 5-4.

I could deal with the bad effort to some degree, but what I really did not like was that Lightning thug Steve Downie, who likely learned from his head coach and chief punk Rick Tocchet, kept taking cheap shots at Alexander Ovechkin (2 assists, -1, 6 PIMs) after the Great #8 hit him clean while the non-skilled joke of a hockey player had his head down. Downie responded with two punches to the grill of Ovechkin but somehow they both received two minute minors (I think referees Mark Joannette and Francois St. Laurent were drinking between periods with the guy from CSN who picked the Caps player of the game). To top it all off, Downie then comes out of the box and backhand slashes and spears Ovie. The two then square off to fight, and that is something Downie wanted, but anyone in the Caps organization did not wish to see. Luckily, Matt Bradley, who had just come onto the ice surface on a line change, raced in and dropped the gloves and had a spirited bout with the Bolts agitator. It was actually one of #10′s better all time fights. Shortly thereafter Dave Steckel dropped the gloves with a much more experienced fighter in Zenon Konopka and after a good first punch by #39 he got hammered. That is where the Caps could have used Erskine and I have no clue where Jason Chimera was while all of this was going on down the stretch? I thought he was here to add some toughness? Boudreau addressed the altercation involving Ovechkin as well as the late game festivities.

“No, not at all, and you’ve been around this team long enough that you knew’d Matt Bradley would step in. Last thing we want is Alex fighting,” commented Boudreau to Washington Post beat writer Tarik El-Bashir when he asked the coach if he was surprised that #10 jumped in to prevent the Great #8 from fighting Downie, “They were taking liberties with Alex and we were trying to stand up for him as much as possible,” finished Boudreau on the end of the game fireworks.

Back to the referees. Bradley was given 27 minutes in total penalties at the end but the Caps coach is claiming that was incorrect.

“He got the extra 10 minute misconduct for leaving the bench and we said no, he was already out there on a line change, so [the referees] said that the league can rescind that if that is the case,” added Boudreau on the penalties assessed to the ultimate team guy, Bradley.

In summary, this game was a stinker but luckily the Caps are right back on the ice in Florida on Wednesday night to take on the Panthers at 730pm. Fortunately we get that one on Comcast HD because the Caps play matched the quality of the tv feed on Tuesday night (crappy).

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Sharks Outskate Caps, 5-2

Posted on 31 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

After pretty much putting up a clunker on Monday night against last place Carolina, the Washington Capitals followed that up with another bad outing on Wednesday getting outshot 13-3 in the first period to fall behind by two goals en route to an overall 5-2 loss to the best team in the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks, who I picked to win the Stanley Cup prior to the season, were clearly ready to avenge a Caps 4-1 win over San Jose at the Verizon Center back in October and they came out flying. This defeat drops the Caps to 24-10-6 and their next contest is at the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday at 4pm on Comcast in HD.

Here is the post game analysis:

Wow, that was just terrible hockey by Washington and it was only the 3rd contest all year that the Caps did not lead at any time. This has now occurred two games in a row. There were numerous defensive zone giveaways and bad clears that led to so many San Jose chances. The Sharks were faster to the puck and seemed to want this game more. I don’t have enough room in this blog to list all of the Washington turnovers and misplays.

I thought this was defenseman Karl Alzner’s worst game of the season. He made the mistake that led to the second Sharks goal and he was routinely running around in his own zone along with defensive partner John Erskine. #27 just didn’t look comfortable against a very speedy San Jose club. But only blaming Alzner would be wrong too. Shaone Morrisonn, for some unknown reason, decided to vacate the left side of the ice, where he belonged, to try and make a big hit inside the Caps blue line and it allowed Joe Pavelski to go in alone on Michal Neuvirth for the first goal. Terrible play by #26 and it was pointed out by former Flames GM Craig Button on the NHL Network’s “On The Fly” afterwards. I could go on and on about other defensive breakdowns but it is not worth it at this hour.

Neuvirth (28 saves) kept the Caps in this one for as long as he could but Washington was too intent on making the lazy pass and not sacrificing their bodies to make the difficult and rewarding play. With all of the giveaways and poor defensive zone coverage #30 faced a shooting gallery. The Sharks also received two penalty shots, the first on an iffy tripping call on Mike Green with the second on another questionable call on Erskine, and Neuvirth was beaten badly on both of them (Ryan Clowe and Joe Thornton). Neuvirth’s rebound control was good again but he got little help in front of him. If you want to fault the goalie, the only real place I can agree with you on that premise is on the penalty shots, he did not look good on either of them.

The Caps power play had a chance to get Washington back into this one when it was 2-0 but they couldn’t convert on a 49 second 5 on 3. The Sharks made sure that Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin could not make the cross crease pass that has worked so successfully lately. As a result, the Caps needed to go to a pass to the point, blast it, and go for rebounds mode but they continued to try and get the perfect set up and thus scored no goals. Washington was 0 for 4 on the night while San Jose was 0 for 3 with the man advantage. The Sharks did score on the two penalty shots that should have been simple minors, at best.

The two referees (Dennis LaRue and Brad Meier) were bad tonight, they missed a hold and a hook on Alexander Ovechkin when it was 2-0 and the Sharks would score shortly thereafter, but as much as I would like to blame the zebras for this one they were not as bad as the overall Caps effort.

On the positive side of things, Washington’s first goal was set up nicely by new Cap Jason Chimera, who threw the puck in front and Mike Knuble banged it home (made it 3-1 early in the 3rd period). The Caps could have used more of that “crash the net” mentality against a very sharp Evgeni Nabokov (24 saves). In addition, Oveckhin scored his 26th goal of the season off of a face-off win by Backstrom late in the game. The Great #8 and Sharks defensemen Dan Boyle and Doug Murray had physical battles going back and forth throughout this contest.

Green, who was snubbed by Team Canada today, had an up and down game. He hit the pipe twice on scoring chances but he also made a turnover that led to Clowe’s penalty shot. It was a day that #52 will like to quickly forget.

Caps fans will want to move on from this one quickly as well. I know I do.

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Power Play Bad in Caps 3-2 Loss to Canucks

Posted on 18 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps were in Vancouver on Friday night to take on the Canucks but their power play let them down and Vancouver capitalized on some Washington mistakes to win 3-2.

Below is the live blog followed by the end of game analysis:

Based on all of tweets coming from the Caps personnel and media out there, it appears that Alexander Ovechkin is immensely popular in British Columbia and has been the story since the team arrived on Wednesday. In fact, Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post just tweeted that the Great #8 received an ovation as he left the ice after warmups. This should be a great game with the Caps offense going up against one of the best goalies in the NHL in Roberto Luongo. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau is using the same line-up from Tuesday night in Colorado, so that means Jose Theodore in net and Mike Green and Shaone Morrisonn will go despite being banged up in the Mile High city by David Koci.

10:03 – Hershey Bears update, courtesy of Tim Leone and John Walton blogs and tweets: Hershey 3, Rochester 1. Jay Beagle with a goal and an assist, John Carlson with an assist and plus one. Braden Holtby stops 26 of 27 shots. Bears were 1 for 1 with the man advantage while they killed off all 5 Rochester power plays, including two 5 on 3′s (29 and 38 seconds). According to Walton, this was Holtby’s fourth win in six appearances.

10:09 – Sedin twins and Alex Burrows pressure Theodore early. I thought 22 got away with a hold on Alexander Semin.

10:11 – Ovechkin with great set up to Nicklas Backstrom in front but #19 taps puck wide. Great chance there.

10:14 – Caps going to net hard so far. They will need to keep that trend up in order to beat Luongo.

10:17 – Pretty clear that the Canucks are trying the long stretch pass to try and beat the Caps aggressive forecheck. It will be important for the third forward to support the Washington defense tonight to prevent Vancouver odd man rushes.

10:19 – Ryan Kesler scores on a delayed penalty on a fluke bounce off of Jeff Schultz after a save by Theodore. Bad bounce for Washington but they need to tighten up their defense. The gap between #55 and #52 was too wide giving Kesler a lane on a 1 on 2. Brutal.

10:23 – Brooks Laich takes the hit, and he ended up in the Canucks bench, to make the pass and that allows Alexander Semin to fire a screened shot by Luongo to tie this one up at a goal a piece. I tweeted earlier in the week that I would re-sign #28 long term. Plays like that just cement that view.

10:25 – Corey Masisak tweeting that Brendan Morrison and Burrows have been nose to nose a couple of times already. #14 for Vancouver is one of the biggest pests in the NHL.

10:29 – After a rough shift by Karl Alzner and John Erskine, the official calls #4 for holding. That looked like the same type of thing he let one of the Sedins get away with in the first minute on Semin. Once again, no consistency from the referees. But given the lack of consistency from the league office shouldn’t we expect this? Maddening.

10:33 – Caps kill the penalty and Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Mike Knuble put on good pressure but just miss on connecting. Better shift for Alzner there. Perhaps he is a little nervous playing in front of friends and family?

10:38 – Penalty on Rick Rypien for roughing. Washington on their first power play of the evening.

10:40 – Caps PP doesn’t connect but Tom Poti made some good plays at the point on the second unit to set up some chances.

10:42 – Hard working shift results in Chris Clark shooting from the slot, which the Canucks d-man blocked, but it got Luongo down and the Caps captain picked up the puck and snapped it by the Canucks cage minder. 2-1 Caps with 1:34 left in opening period.

10:46 – End of Period One Analysis: The Caps lead 2-1 and had an 11-7 shots advantage. Washington carried the play with only a small number of under par shifts and one of them led to the fluky Canucks goal off of Schultz. Semin was my star of the period and he was all over the ice. The Caps are getting good efforts from a lot of players and the 8-19-22 line nearly connected several times. Boudreau’s crew is firing the puck on net and going for rebounds, which is the best strategy against one of the best goalies in the NHL. They will need to continue to implement that game plan in order to win this one.

10:52 – Think people in Vancouver like hockey? They have 280 straight sellouts for the Canucks. But guess what? Capitals fever is catching on in this area too. According to Caps Media Relations Director, Nate Ewell, Washington has 22 straight regular season sellouts and the streak is up to 30 games if you count last spring’s playoffs. This is a club record and I see that number continuing to grow as the Verizon Center is a hot place to be these days when the Caps take the ice.

11:02 – Period two underway and once again the Sedin line goes right down the ice. A brutal Poti giveaway leads to a scoring chance but goal by #22 waved off because the net was off its mooring. That is two straight periods in which the Sedins went right down the ice on the opening shift and nearly scored.

11:08 – Boudreau switches up defensive pairs after 1st period. Green and Schultz still together but Alzner now with Morrisonn and Erskine and Poti are paired up. The 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach is typically spot on with his in game changes.

11:11 – Perhaps there was shift overlap there but the 1st period pairs: 52-55, 26-3, and 27-4 are all back together now.

11:13 – Sedins cycle the puck for a good bit in the Washington end but a nice poke check by Sarge allows Green to break the puck out quickly. A streaking Tomas Fleischmann just fires wide on Luongo from the left wing circle.

11:16 – Erskine tripped by Ryan Johnson at point. Caps power play on the ice.

11:19 – Well that power play was terrible. Backstrom had the puck at the point in one instance and Ovechkin and Green took off down low leaving #19 with no options and the Canucks forced him out of the zone.

11:20 – Washington gets their third power play of the night as Dave Steckel draws a Kevin Bieska hook.

11:24 – Another dud Caps power play as they get no shots on net. The Canucks did a great job of getting to the loose pucks and not letting Washington set up. 0 for 3 on man advantage for Capitals.

11:29 – Lots of end to end action but both teams doing a good job of limiting shots on net. Still 2-1 late in 2nd period.

11:33 – After being very disciplined in the second period Washington has a major breakdown as Green jumps in the play and his shot is knocked to the corner after hitting Luongo. Flash, instead of covering for #52, jumps up on the right wing boards and that allows Mason Raymond to score on a 2 on 1 break against Morrisonn. Fleischmann needs to make a better decision there. He had to see Green ahead of him. 2-2 game, 1:15 left.

11:38 – End of 2nd Period Analysis: Well the Caps had a chance to extend their lead with two straight power plays but the Canucks did not allow Washington to get set up and they got some easy kills. The play was very tight in period two but late in the stanza Washington’s Green jumped up in the play and the third forward (Flash) made a bad decision and that led to a 2 on 1 on Morrisonn for an easy goal. Morrisonn needs to play that 2 on 1 better as well, brutal overall sequence on that second goal. The overall play was fairly even but Vancouver did not give the Caps the room they had in the first period. Shots were 8-6 Caps in that period. Vancouver is the 2nd highest third period scoring team in the league so Washington will have their hands full against a good skating team that gets the last line change.

11:55 – Morrison with nice drop pass to Semin and his snapper just goes high and wide glove side of Luongo.

11:57 – Ovechkin telegraphs a cross ice pass to Green and Raymond, who is having a good game, steals it and races down the rink and fires on Theodore but #60 makes the save. Bad giveaway there.

11:59 – Semin with another nice chance in the slot but Luongo comes up big. #28 seems to have that first period jump back.

12:01 – Craig Laughlin and Joe Beninati saying that Boyd Gordon is doing well and could be headed to Hershey for a conditioning stint. Gordo is a great penalty killer. Quintin Laing apparently close to returning too and is finally eating solid foods (recovering from broken jaw).

12:07 – Caps going on their 4th power play of the evening.

12:10 – Perhaps the Caps should decline these power play’s because the Canucks seem to win every loose puck battle when shorthanded??!! Vancouver had better chances to score there and had Christian Ehroff not fumbled the puck at one point the Canucks were going to have an odd man rush. Brutal power play, now 0 for 4, could end up being the difference between winning and losing tonight.

12:16 – Poti called for borderline cross check but Vancouver had the arrow. Caps shorthanded with 7:20 remaining in regulation.

12:19 – Poti argues with referees and gets two more minutes. Stupid move by a 10+ year veteran who should know to be more composed in a tight contest. The Canucks score on a Raymond rebound goal off of a Kesler shot.

12:21 – Semin then breaks in shorthanded and is pulled down. The referees amazingly give him a penalty shot. No joy as Luongo stops him and Caps still have 90 plus seconds to kill off the rest of Poti’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. I thought that should not have been a penalty shot, and if I am Boudreau, I would have rather had the minor call, not a penalty shot.

12:25 – Caps kill off second Poti minor but only 4 minutes left. Ovechkin time?

12:28 – Poti’s bad night continues as he gives the puck away and the Canucks almost close this one out but Theo saves him. Semin has been moved up to play with Ovechkin and Backstrom with Caps down a goal.

12: 32 - Washington furiously attempts to tie this one up but fall short and Canucks win 3-2.

End of Game Analysis:

The puck really did not bounce the Caps way tonight but the primary reason they lost was their pathetic Friday night power play. Washington was 0 for 4 and barely put any pressure on Luongo and the Canucks. The Canucks were able to score once on the man advantage and they capitalized on the few Caps mistakes. That was a game the Caps deserved a point in but didn’t get it against a speedy, hard working, and talented team.

At the end of the game Boudreau put Morrison on defense to try and tie the game up using four forwards. As a result the total ice times for some of the defensemen were lower than normal: Erskine (16:08), Morrisonn (15:o9) and Alzner (15:17).

Ovechkin in 24:23 of ice time, was a -1 and only had 3 shots on goal and 2 hits.

Now things get even tougher on Washington as they head to Edmonton for the second half of back to back games. Washington has lost the last three times they have had to travel for a Saturday contest after playing on Friday night. The Caps fall to 21-8-6 overall and no longer lead the Eastern Conference or the National Hockey League in points (Pittsburgh and New Jersey have 49 points and lead the Caps by one).

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A Way Forward for the Caps After the Koci Hit on Green

Posted on 17 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

There has been good news for the Washington Capitals on the ice the last two days as defensemen Mike Green and Shaone Morrisonn practiced at both sessions in Vancouver and will likely play on Friday night when the Caps face the Canucks at 10pm on Friday night. The bad news is that the NHL has decided not to suspend Avalanche forward David Koci for his hit from behind on #52 on Tuesday night. The league did, however, fine him an undisclosed amount of cash. For those following Corey Masisak’s twitter account (@cmasisak22), you know that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, who called for the league to throw the book at the 4th liner following Tuesday night’s Cap win, said today, “Wow. I’m not going to comment.” Koci did apologize for the hit this afternoon and you can view the video courtesy of the Avs blog here.

As I wrote after Tuesday night’s contest, there is no place in the game for hits like this and I thought for sure the Colorado enforcer would be suspended. But with Colin Campbell & company in charge of discipline in the league office these days, it is what it is, I guess??!!

Clearly the NHL front office is not going to send the major message that these kind of cheap shots can’t happen. Add in the fact that many coaches will continue to find 3rd and 4th line guys to play this type of role and you have the makings of something that will likely continue to happen again and again, if the Caps star players are not careful.

The hit sparked the debate about whether or not Washington needs an enforcer. So what should the Caps do to try and prevent this going forward? Well, they could go out, get some thugs, and goon it up, but that is “Slap Shot nonsense” as Caps media relations Director Nate Ewell tweeted during the contest on Tuesday in a moment where a cooler head prevailed. GM George McPhee confirmed after the contest that he wasn’t going the Hanson Brothers route.

Some also say that Washington’s power play, which was ranked #1 in the league going into that contest, is a big deterrent. But clearly it wasn’t and won’t continue to be, because with a 5-0 lead there was no real risk to Koci’s team for his actions with the outcome pretty much decided in an already lopsided game.

So after the emotion of Tuesday’s hit died down, I went in search of an impartial opinion and a way forward.  I exchanged emails yesterday morning with a Western Conference scout about the situation and the play (and for those of you who follow me on Twitter, @emfrank123, you have seen these quotes already).

“You need toughness to protect your stars,” started the scout, confirming an axiom I have supported throughout all of my years of watching hockey at the highest levels.

“But Erskine is pretty tough,” added the scout, which basically told me that he thinks the Caps do have that element on their roster currently.

But then the scout elaborated more on the play, and some people may not like the answer, but given that he has worked in the game for so long you cannot discount the input and actually it does provide a way forward for Washington.

“Green needs to protect himself better. Lazy getting to that puck and put himself in bad spot. If he keeps skating Koci can’t hit him, he moved puck then coasted. No excuse for hit, but lazy play,” he finished.

At first glance, one might categorize this quote as blaming the victim and quickly dismiss it based on raw emotion. But the scout did clearly say “No excuse for hit.”

What do I think of the overall input from the scout? Well, I think it is a really important view now, especially given that the lack of a suspension to Koci pretty much sends a message that these plays will not be severely punished or handled by the league, so the Caps need to take matters in to their own hands. And the way forward is that this provides a great teaching opportunity for GM George McPhee and Boudreau with the young (24) and immensely talented Green (as well as several other players on the Washington roster).

Let’s address the “coasting” and “lazy play” aspect of the quote. The scout is not calling #52 a lazy player, he just said he was lazy in that instance and given that Washington was up 5-0 you can understand why Green did not have his usual sense of urgency on the boards. The 2008-09 Norris Trophy finalist said he didn’t expect to get drilled in that situation but guys like Koci are just looking to create a spark so that their coaches will keep them in the league and, as a result, there will be occasions where the line is crossed, like this one.

The scout is right though, given Green’s talent and ability, if he makes the pass and moves properly, as he typically does, there is no way for Koci to get a shot in on him. So the first lesson to #52 is to continue playing every shift like it is a tie game, granted that can be tough to do over an 82 game grind, but Green is a critical asset to the Caps and the team needs him healthy if they want to win the Stanley Cup this year. The Calgary native is skilled and fast enough that he is very difficult to hit at full speed, much like we have seen with Alexander Ovechkin.

He also needs to be more aware of who is on the ice against him, especially since the crack down on obstruction in the post lockout NHL does not allow defensemen to run interference for their partners in their own zone anymore, like we used to see on a regular basis. You need to know if you are on the ice against the other teams energy line or you are facing their skilled players in order to be properly prepared for the possible events on a given shift. In addition, the way a defenseman goes after pucks along the boards has totally changed with these new rules so it is paramount that blueliners have the proper technique so they don’t end up with concussions, shoulder, or leg injuries.  The days of being the first one into the corner giving you the advantage are gone, nowadays you really want to go in even with your opponent in order to avoid the big check. So technique and awareness are two more things that will also help #52 protect himself against this happening again.

Green responds well to positive comments and encouragement and that is one of the reasons why he has blossomed into one of the top defensemen in the league under Boudreau, a bench boss who doesn’t come from the “yell and scream” coaching school.  Bruce tends to focus on building up the confidence of a player and that method has worked wonders for the Caps. #52 also has shown that he can learn from situations as evidenced by the fact that you don’t see him carrying the puck deep into the offensive zone when he doesn’t have numbers anymore. Last season he did that and ended up getting slammed into the boards by Chris Pronger and that put him out of the lineup for a dozen or so contests. The shoulder he injured on that play still plagued #52 in the playoffs and was a significant factor in the Caps loss to the Penguins in round two.

So for me, the way ahead for Green and Washington is straightforward. I am not blaming the victim here or coming close to condoning what Koci did at all, but the league has shown it isn’t going to govern these situations and going Slap Shot with your line-up isn’t going to work either. The “make them pay on the power play” mantra has shown to not be a major deterrent to cheap shots as well. Therefore, the best thing a talented and young team like the Caps can do is learn from this incident (and luckily #52 is okay) and use that gained knowledge to avoid it going forward. If Green and his teammates stick to maintaining their focus and not drop their intensity level in spite of the score of the game, combine that with proper technique and more situational awareness, then the opportunities for cheap shots by the opposition drastically decrease.

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Caps Assign Alzner to Hershey

Posted on 07 December 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have assigned defenseman Karl Alzner to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL), vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Alzner, 21, is a second-year pro who stands 6’3”, 206 pounds. The Burnaby, British Columbia, native has two assists in five games with the Capitals this season. Alzner has played 19 games for Hershey this season and has one goal, three assists and only four penalty minutes. His +14 rating is tied for third in the AHL.

(Comment: With Tom Poti back and now Shaone Morrisonn’s likely return on defense plus the fact that Mike Knuble can come off of long term injury on Wednesday and add in no resolution to the Michael Nylander situation the Caps not only have roster problems but also salary cap problems. Thus they are forced to send down a defenseman that came up from Hershey and helped the team go 5-0 during that stretch. Hang in there, Karl, your day will come.)

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Ovechkin-Less Caps Knock Off Panthers, 4-1

Posted on 07 November 2009 by Ed Frankovic

 The Washington Capitals defeated Florida, 4-1, on Friday night in Sunrise to end the Panthers three game winning streak and more importantly, end the Caps three game winless drought. Jose Theodore (28 saves) was outstanding in goal, especially in the opening minutes when Florida was all over the Caps, and then Washington dominated this contest until the final 10 minutes when Shaone Morrisonn took a major penalty to give Florida some hope late.

The Caps played for the second straight game without the injured Alexander Ovechkin (left shoulder area) then they lost defenseman Mike Green to injury after hip checking Rotislav Olesz early in the first period and Jeff Schultz to an undisclosed injury in the middle period. The Green injury looked like either a hip or a lower back one. It was unclear when or what Schultz did to get hurt (Update courtesy of Tarik: Schultz has a lower body injury).

Washington came in facing a Florida team that had found its scoring punch during a season-high three-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 13-5, and the Panthers stormed the Caps net early, but Theodore, who was absolutely fantastic all evening, would not let the opponents get a lead. Then the Caps scored first on a beautiful passing play that involved five different players. Tomas Fleischmann made a good outlet pass to Brian Pothier in the neutral zone who slung it to Matthieu Perreault on the right wing boards. #85, who had another strong outing in just his second NHL game, hit the brakes inside the blue line and then sent a cross ice pass that was deftly deflected to Chris Clark by a streaking to the cage Pothier. From there the team captain left a nice drop pass to Tyler Sloan who scored his second goal of the season (two goals in two games now) by beating Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun came into this contest having shut out his last two opponents, so this tally was huge for the Caps at just 4:53 of the opening period.

Washington continued to carry much of the play and in the second period some hard work and nice passing led to goal number two. Mike Knuble worked hard behind the net forcing the Panthers to throw the puck at the point to Pothier. #2 passed the puck to Brooks Laich on the right wing boards, who sent it to Brendan Morrison in the slot, #9 faked Vokoun to the ice, and then snapped the puck top shelf at 10:46.

The Caps headed to the third period with a two goal lead and this season they have not done well in that capacity typically taking lazy penalties to allow opponents back into the game. Washington, in fact, was 29th in the NHL in goals allowed in the third period before tonight. However, the Caps played solid and when they received a power play just 5:16 into the contest they put Florida behind the 8-ball as Pothier (1 goal, 2 assists) blasted a rocket by Vokoun to make it 3-0.

Florida appeared to be out of it but they kept pressing and when Morrison took the Caps first penalty of the night at 9:27, the Panthers made Washington pay 61 seconds later when Nathan Horton tapped in a deflected point shot to make it 3-1. Things then got very hairy for Washington as Morrisonn took a five minute boarding penalty at 11:42 and suddenly a game that looked over was now in doubt. But Washington did not allow Florida to get a shot on goal during the extended power play and when Morrison scored his second goal of the night into an empty night this game was offically over.

Here is the post game analysis, including some quotes from Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau:

Boudreau skated the Caps hard in practice yesterday as punishment for taking too many dumb penalties and the team got the message staying out of the box until the last 10 minutes. Washington’s ability to kill that five minute major was outstanding, according to Boudreau, as was the overall effort without some big names.

“When we killed the five minute one, it was as good as we can play penalty killing wise. We just rolled three sets [of forwards] and the defense were just fabulous all night in a gutsy, gutsy effort,” commented Boudreau on the win.

Sloan was terrific tonight and I bet Boudreau didn’t like having to move him back to defense because he and Perreault had some great chemistry going together up front. But Sloan is a defenseman and his performance tonight was critical for the Caps.

“His skating and everything, he did a great job. When you got a guy that can play forward one period and hasn’t played defense in three weeks and go back and do just as good a job and he blocked shots and he got hurt there for a minute there and I thought we were down to three defensemen, and he came back and gutted it out, he will be pretty sore tomorrow. It was quite an effort,” said the head coach on #89′s play in Florida.

Not to be outdone and taking advantage of an opportunity was Pothier, who had been scratched in Thursday night’s game in New Jersey.

“That was Brian’s best game of the year and that is what he is good at, jumping into the play and making plays and especially when Mike [Green] goes out in the first five minutes of the game to have another mobile defenseman and have Brian step up and do that –  I thought that was great,” added Boudreau on #2.

Washington was great at puck support tonight and playing well away from the biscuit. I thought it was the Caps best performance all season at those two facets of the game. The Caps forwards and defenseman took time and space away from the Panthers. When Boudreau and his assistants finally get a chance to look at the video of this one they are going to like a lot of it and be able to use it to show proper technique in many situations.

Did I already mention that Theodore was really good, because he was? #60 gave the Caps a performance they absolutley had to have in goal on Friday. He stopped Olesz on a breakaway in the second period as well as making several other good saves. Hopefully Theo can now string together back to back top notch starts, whether he plays on Saturday or on Wednesday against the Islanders (Verizon Center, 7pm).

Tom Poti, because of the injuries, logged 28:42 of ice time and was so solid you hardly noticed him. Great performance by #3 on Friday after some recent shaky outings.

Tomas Fleischmann is really playing well creating scoring opportunities on several of his shifts. #14 was also solid in his own end. Fleischmann led all Caps forwards with 19:43 of ice time, which is proof that Boudreau has an increasing level of confidence in him.

Alexander Semin…hmmmm. I am not sure what is with this guy. He started the game somewhat strong getting a semi-breakaway then disappeared. Bottom line:  he is just too much finese right now routinely trying to skate around guys and waiting for the perfect shot to pull the trigger. While he did not take any penalties, #28 needs to simplify his game by not making so many offensive zone turnovers. Either shooting more or just dumping the puck deep would be the smarter plays these days. I expected more out of him and Nicklas Backstrom with Ovechkin out and they haven’t produced. I’m putting most of the blame on that on Semin but #19 is certainly missing #8 too.

On defense, Morrisonn was playing what I thought was his best game of the year too until the major penalty and #26 may be suspended since he received two boarding majors last year, so he was basically on probation according to Boudreau.

“We got a letter at the start of the year that he had to go 15 or 20 games [without a major for boarding]. I’ll find out when I get on the phone with George [McPhee],” finished Boudreau on #26

The Caps, who are now 9-3-4, have to fly back from Florida and take on the Panthers at the Verizon Center again on Saturday night. With Green and Schultz hurt, plus the Morrisonn possible suspension situation, the defensive line-up is in question for that contest. Defenseman John Erskine, who was scratched on Friday but is battling a bad hand, could play or the Caps could recall Karl Alzner and/or John Carlson from Hershey. The salary cap will also likely play a role in this decision as Washington is close to the max and calling up #27 is likely a pricier option.

“We got a basic hospital in there right now. I’ll find out on the plane whether he can or can’t go, obviously when you have a guy of Mike Green’s caliber you want him to play,” finished Boudreau.

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