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Caps Rally in 3rd to Beat Thrashers, 6-4

Posted on 05 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Sunday at the Verizon Center was Fan Appreciation Day and for 40 minutes the Washington Capitals lolligagged their way through their contest with the Atlanta Thrashers showing little to nothing to their fans who came out to Rock the Red before the real Caps team showed up in the final period and gave them something worth watching. After being yelled out by their head coach Bruce Boudreau  in the second intermission, Washington came out hard and outscored Atlanta, 4-1, in the third period en route to a 6-4 victory. In that period they finally got back to playing their pressure fore check and cycling game which allowed them to take over the contest and rally from a 3-2 deficit.

“Our guys were sleepwalking through the first two periods. It seemed like they wanted it more. It happens a lot when you depend on your power play to win you games and then the power play wasn’t going very well, so it was time the five-on-five stepped up a little bit,” started Boudreau, “I hope that wasn’t what it took (to win the game). I hope it opened their eyes. I hope it doesn’t take me coming in and screaming and yelling to get going because we have (too many) good players for that. They gotta learn to do it on their own. I don’t want to (scream at the players) often. I prefer everything to be parenting. If you yell at your kids too much, eventually they just tune you out. When I raise my voice, I’d like it to mean something,” finished Boudreau.

As Boudreau mentioned the Caps power play, which was ranked number one in the league coming into today, was just awful on its first five attempts going scoreless and also giving up a shorthanded goal to Jim Slater that put the Thrashers up 2-1 early in the second period. Finally on the sixth one the head coach had seen enough and shook things up by putting forward Keith Aucoin on the man advantage and just 15 seconds into the power play he finished off a nice pass from Alexander Ovechkin to tie the game at two in the second period. It was Aucoin’s second goal of the season in nine NHL contests with the Caps. Washington had one other power play after that in the third period and although they did not score, they had the puck in the Thrashers end nearly the whole two minutes. Overall the power play was 1 for 7 for the game, not something the team will be happy about. Aucoin, after having a tough Friday night against Buffalo played very well today with a goal and an assist in just over 10 minutes of ice time. He also hit the post on another scoring chance in the third period.

“Keith Aucoin has been great.  Every time he is in the line-up he has been a spark plug for us.  He’s a great passer, he’s got a lot of energy, and he hits well for a smaller guy,” said Caps forward Eric Fehr, who scored a great goal as he was falling to the ice to give the Caps the lead, 4-3, early in the third period.

“He’s definitely played very well for us. We’ll probably have to make a decision here sooner or later. He’s done really well,” said Boudreau on Aucoin, who has scored a point in four of his last five games with Washington.

The Caps gave up six power play chances to Atlanta but killed each one of them and while Boudreau won’t be happy about the number of penalties taken (and Dan Marouelli was one of the referees so I knew the whistle would be blowing alot today), he has to be pleased with the penalty killing which was very solid to include goalie Jose Theodore (20 saves on 24 shots). Theodore was good when he was in the net and really can’t be faulted on any of the first three goals, but the fourth goal with 44 seconds left was all on #60. Theo, with the Thrashers net vacant at the other end, took the puck next to the Caps net and tried to shoot it the length of the ice but fanned on it putting it right on Slava Kozlov’s stick and the Thrasher buried the early Christmas present to make it 5-4. The ONLY good thing about this play is that Theodore likely got this out of his system and won’t try a boneheaded move like that again, especially in the playoffs.

Speaking of fanning on shots, the Great #8 had one of those days where he could have had several goals, although he did get two assists to close within two points of league leader Evgeni Malkin, who was shut out today in a 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers (Malkin is up 108 to 106). He was -2 on the day though and dropped to +8 on the season (he was +28 last season so the drop off is somewhat concerning).

“Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. I thought in the third period, we could’ve had three more. Ovi (Caps forward Alex Ovechkin) should’ve had three or four by himself, but they weren’t going in tonight (for him). I think when you go to the net and you work hard, you get rewarded. In the third period, I thought we worked hard,” said Boudreau on Ovechkin (11 shots on goal) and the rest of the team.

As for the other positives, one of the biggest was Tomas Fleischmann who broke a 15 game goal scoring drought in the first period. He also was one of the few guys who worked hard in the opening two periods.

“I just kept going and try and work hard.  I knew it was going to come and the break came today, straight to my glove and I was out there alone by myself, lucky I put it in,” said #14 on breaking his drought just 2:13 into the game.

“I hope it does wonders for his confidence. I’ve been in his situation and (I saw) the relief (in) his eyes when he finally scored. He was like, ‘Oh man, I can play the game.’ You start to doubt yourself after awhile, no matter who you are, when you have trouble scoring. He’s got the spark. He plays a lot. He tries hard, but I hope that adds a little confidence to his game,” added Boudreau on Fleischmann.

Other positives came from Michael Nylander who was +2 and had a goal and an assist and defensemen Jeff Schultz and Milan Jurcina each were +2 on the afternoon. Fehr was also a +2. Brooks Laich was his usual solid self scoring his career high 20th goal and adding two assists in a +1 performance. I don’t know where this team would be without the play and leadership of #21.

“It’s good to have that secondary scoring and get it working. It was really nice to see Fleischmann and Fehr score, two guys that hadn’t scored in awhile. And Michael Nylander. It’s what we need though. We can’t depend on four guys to score all of our goals every game,” finished Boudreau.

Another negative, besides the poor effort in the first 40 minutes, was the terrible play defenseman Tom Poti made on the Thrashers first goal by Colby Armstrong. Poti was caught flat footed, badly misplaying Armstrong by giving him too much space, and that allowed the forward to cut  across the slot on his forehand and fire a bullet by Theodore. Poti played that one like a rookie and he knows he needs to be more on the opponent and force him to his back hand where Theodore can cut off the angle much easier. Poti did play well on the penalty kill today and he logged 7:31 of shorthanded ice time.

I also thought Mike Green (pointless) did not have a good game missing the net on his power play shots, over handling the puck several times on rushes and in the offensive zone, and lacking energy and grit in his own end a few times in the first two periods.

With the win the Caps are now 48-23-8 for 104 points and they lead the New Jersey Devils by two points for second place in the Eastern Conference with three games to go in the regular season. The Capitals finished their home schedule for the season with the second-most wins in franchise history (29-9-3, trailing only the 30-8-2 mark of the 1985-86 season) and recorded their 29th sellout of the season, and 25 of the last 27 games have been sold out. The Caps finished the regular season with a new record in total attendance, 741,992. Washington is now 20-0-1 when recording five or more goals (only loss was to the Devils in November in a shootout). They have scored four or more goals in four straight games.

Next up on Tuesday is the Thrashers again in Atlanta. Washington is winless in two trips there this season and their magic number to clinch second place in the East is 5 points (any combination of Caps points gained or NJ points lost).

Other Notes: Brian Pothier was the healthy scratch on defense on Sunday. Donald Brashear missed his 10th straight game with a bad knee. Washington outshot Atlanta, 33-24, and won the face off battle, 39-22. Fehr’s excellent production came in only 8:08 of ice time. Alexander Semin scored his 31st goal and added an assist in a +1 showing (Semin is now +25 on the season).


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Ovechkin, Backstrom Carry Caps Past Lightning, 5-3

Posted on 27 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin notched his 52nd and 53rd goals of the season plus he added two assists and Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and an assist as the Washington Capitals knocked off the Tampa Bay Lightning for the fifth time this season and the tenth straight time overall, 5-3, at the Verizon Center. With the win the Caps moved within two points of clinching their second straight Southeast Division title.

Tonight’s game winner was also a special one as defenseman Brian Pothier scored his first goal of the season by firing the puck at the net and it deflected off of the Lightning’s Vinnie Prospal and past goalie Mike McKenna with 15:30 to go in the game. Good things typically happen when you shoot the puck. Ovechkin’s goal into an empty net then sealed the victory with seven seconds left.

Even with the win, I still didn’t like the way the Caps played most of the night, especially in their own zone, and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will have plenty of mistakes on video to show his troops that will need to get corrected over the last six games of the regular season heading into the playoffs.

Here are some more notes and thoughts on this game:

Goaltending: Caps goalie Jose Theodore (33 saves) was great early on stopping several quality chances and he also thwarted Martin St. Louis on a clean breakaway in the second period. He also made some good stops down the stretch in  a tie game but he just did not look comfortable in the goal this evening. Prospal’s goal to tie the game at three early in the third period was just awful. I have no idea where #60 was looking on that play. Also, he struggled with his rebounds, at times, and was very lucky that Evgeny Artyukhin cross checked John Erskine to wipe out an apparent game tying goal by Jeff Halpern. As anyone who regularly reads this blog knows I am a Theodore supporter but tonight he was not consistent at all.

Power Play: The Caps power play was really good in the first period scoring three times to make Tampa pay for taking some stupid penalties but they did not connect after that (except for a waved off goal late in the contest) and were 3 for 9 for the game. Several of the power plays looked out of sink and clearly the fact that Alex Semin was out with the flu impacted the overall chemistry. The Caps plan seemed to be to go to the net and get rebound goals and they did an okay job of that in the first period but they must do it more consistently.

Defensive Zone: I grade the Caps a D- in their own zone tonight. They routinely had defensive coverage breakdowns, did a poor job of clearing the front of the net, the forwards were weak on the boards at getting the puck out, and their were too many bad passes. If Washington plays this way in their own zone in the first round of the playoffs they will get creamed unless Theodore stands on his head. The Caps were just not smart defensively in their own zone. Also, what was Erskine doing retaliating to Artyukhin’s cross check with one of his own? #4 lost his head which cost Washington a power play and just 29 seconds later Prospal tied the game.  Boneheaded plays like that can cost you playoff games.

Nylander: I thought #92 was terrible tonight. There were two times in the third period where instead of passing the puck to a wide open Ovechkin in front of the net he chose to hold onto it and the Caps didn’t even get a quality scoring chance on the shift. If the Great #8 is going to the net Nylander has to get him the puck (Backstrom does not make these kind of simple mistakes). No wonder he only has 30 points in 65 games and tonight he played 5:02 of power play time without a point. I would rather see Eric Fehr out there crashing the net instead of Nylander with his weak shot and tendency to hold onto the puck too long.

Other stats, notes, and thoughts: Brooks Laich had 3 assists and as usual crashed the net hard. The Caps outshot Tampa, 39-36. Martin St. Louis was great for the visitors with a goal and two assists. Vincent Lecavalier had some chances but I thought he floated most of the evening (perhaps he wants to go play in Montreal?). Forwards Keith Aucoin and Oscar Osala were recalled from Hershey and played tonight with Semin and Donald Brashear still out of the lineup. Jeff Schultz was the defensive scratch and based on the way most of the defenseman played tonight I don’t think Boudreau can afford to scratch him  and his +13 rating again anytime soon.

The Caps are now in second place in the Eastern Conference with 99 points but the New Jersey Devils are playing in Chicago tonight (tied 2-2 midway through the 3rd period). The Devils, counting tonight’s game in Chicago, have three games in hand. Washington is now off until Wednesday, April 1 when they face the New York Islanders at the Verizon Center for the second of four straight home games. The final 3 games of the regular season are on the road. This four day break will give the Caps some time to rest and recover and more importantly, give Boudreau some extended video and practice time. Washington typically plays very well after Boudreau gets to have a few practice sessions in a row.

Final Note: I’ll be chasing a white ball in Myrtle Beach the next four days so I’ll be off the blog until Tuesday night.

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Canes Sink Caps, 4-1

Posted on 21 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Bad defensive zone play, a red hot goaltender, not shooting the puck, not going to the net, and some poor officiating, in that order, did the Washington Capitals in on Saturday night as they lost to a streaking Carolina Hurricanes squad, 4-1, in Raleigh. This was the Hurricanes eighth straight home win and they needed this victory more than the Caps, who dominated the first period but could not solve goalie Cam Ward (31 saves on the evening) in that opening stanza.

Let’s start with the bad defensive zone play because all three Carolina goals came as a result of turnovers and defensive zone breakdowns; they were not the result of offensive and neutral zone turnovers that led to odd man rushes. On goal number one by Rod Brind’Amour, Mike Green (who definitely favored his injured left side all evening) gave the puck away behind the Caps net allowing Jussi Jokinen to gather the puck just above the goal line to the right of Jose Theodore (26 saves on 29 shots on Saturday). Green’s defensive partner (Erskine) then made the wrong play going to Jokinen, who was in NO position to score, and vacated the front of the net allowing Brind’Amour to streak into the slot wide open and one time it by #60 for a 1-0 Canes lead. Erskine needs to read the play better in that situation.

After Green tied the game late in the second period on one of the very few times Washington threw the puck on net and received a rebound from Ward (Backstrom’s low shot caromed off of the goalies pads and out to Green, who one timed it top left corner by Ward), more defensive zone missteps would cost Washington the game and allow Carolina to tie the overall season series with the Caps at three (although Carolina did get 7 points to the Caps 6 since game five was won by Washington in a shootout). Shortly after a Washington power play had expired Carolina got the puck in the offensive zone on a Washington turnover as Brian Pothier and John Erskine fumbled it behind the Caps net allowing the puck to go to Eric Staal in front, who blasted one off the pads of Theodore, and with none of the defensemen or forwards picking up Carolina defenseman Joni Pitkanen in front of the net, he patiently waited for Theo to go down and then roofed a backhander into the goal for the eventual game winner.

The final major defensive breakdown gave the Hurricanes their insurance tally at 13:43 on a four on four situation. Ray Whitney brought the puck in the zone with Shaone Morrisonn and Mike Green back for the Caps and it ended up on the left wing boards with Washington in initial good defensive posture. But then Viktor Kozlov, for some strange reason, decided to leave Canes defenseman Anton Babchuk at the front of the Caps net and Denis Seidenberg wisely fired the puck to him and once again, a Hurricane waited Theodore out and backhanded the puck by #60 to make it 3-1. I have no idea what Kozlov was doing there because he was in good man to man coverage and then took off from the player he was responsible for watching?

Clearly the number one star of the night though was Ward who made numerous good gloves saves, including a big stop on Tomas Fleischmann in the third period, who is pointless this month now in 11 games. The former Conn Smythe trophy winner is in a groove but the Caps made things easier for him tonight as they routinely passed up good shooting opportunities by opting for curl and drag moves and cross ice passes for bad angled one timers. Backstrom passed up several good chances, as did Semin, and although Michael Nylander’s curl and drag move worked the other night in Florida, he had two times that I can vividly remember that had he taken the puck hard to the net then Washington would have likely gotten a quality scoring chance. On Saturday night the Caps, for some reason, decided once again to not shoot the puck low at Ward and go hard to the crease for rebounds. The only time they really did this they got the goal from Green. You can bet that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will harp on the bad defensive and offensive decisions by his players in Saturday night’s loss.

As for the officiating, it wasn’t very good and I knew it wasn’t going to be as soon as Comcast’s Joe Beninati announced we had zebras Dan Marouelli and Bill McCreary, two dinosaurs who have never been very good referees in my book. The first call I really did not like came in the third period when Jokinen hooked Fleischmann on a good Washington chance but when #14 fell to the ice he was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for diving. On the replay Jokinen clearly hooked Fleischmann and it looked to me that Tomas hit a rut or Jokinen’s stick clipped his skate causing his fall because with Semin wide open in the slot I HIGHLY doubt he was looking to dive (as evidenced how quickly he fired the puck to Semin from his knees – if he was diving he would not have been looking to complete the play).

Next came the HORRIBLE call of the night with the Caps down 3-1 when Pitkanen took a two handed cross check to Green’s head as he was going around him, knocking #52 to the ice. When Green got up and started jawing at Pitkanen it was the Hurricane who initiated the contact that caused the scrum that eventually resulted in Green getting two minutes for roughing while all #25 of the home team walked away with was a two minute high sticking call. I’ve watched this sequence THREE times now and I still have no idea how this was an even up call!!! Pitkanen’s shot to Green’s head should have been a FIVE minute major, especially since blows to the head are supposed to be heavily enforced these days, and I counted two shots from Pitkanen on Green while #52 only got in one good glove punch. What was Marouelli and McCreary watching? They are terrible, but unfortunately those two clowns will probably officiate at least one Washington playoff game.

Beninati and Craig Laughlin in the Comcast broadcast booth, two great guys who I’ve known for years and who really know hockey, then gave Green a bit of the gears on the air for not keeping his head and costing Washington a power play but I think if those guys watched this thing again, like I was able to do, they’d agree more with me (that the zebras blew this one). Pitkanen should have gotten a major and then he initiated the contact and the scrum that ensued, not Green.

Shortly thereafter, Brind’Amour boarded Ovechkin from behind and the Great #8 slammed his head into the glass but luckily was not hurt. Even though #17 was not intending to hit him from behind he should have gotten a five minute major but the guys in stripes only went with two minutes. Joe Corvo’s empty net shorthanded goal sealed the deal for Carolina.

Here are some other thoughts on the Caps:

I’ve noticed over the last five games that Washington has played without Donald Brashear, and especially in the two Carolina games, that the opposition has been taking more liberties with the Washington skill players. It seems opponents are feeling braver without the fear of #87 coming out and pounding them to oblivion. Matt Bradley, who will drop the gloves but rarely wins the bout, can’t police things for this team on his own. I think Washington is missing Brashear’s toughness right now.

Overall, I thought Erskine had the worst night on defense for the Caps. Personally I wouldn’t mind seeing #27, Karl Alzner, coming up from Hershey and getting some work before the playoffs but right now the Caps seem set on the seven guys that are up with the big club in Green, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Morrisonn, Pothier, Erskine, and Milan Jurcina (scratched on Saturday). Pothier wasn’t very good tonight as well.

Sergei Fedorov (-2) did not have a good game and he looked listless at times. I wonder if he isn’t fully recovered from that flu bug yet?

The Caps next game is Tuesday in Toronto against Martin Gerber, who beat the Canadiens, 5-2, tonight. Gerber stoned the Caps back on March 5th (2-1 Leafs win). The Florida Panthers were knocked off by Columbus, 3-1, tonight reducing the Caps magic number for clinching a playoff spot to just five points (any combination of Caps points or Florida missed point opportunities). The Caps lead in the Southeast Division is 11 points over Carolina with eight games to go so the magic number to clinch that title, and get at least the third seed, is six points.

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Caps win again on the road — 5-2 in Tampa

Posted on 19 March 2009 by Drew Forrester

Washington Caps defenseman Mike Green celebrated “green-day” 24 hours later than the rest of the country tonight with a 2-goal effort in Tampa Bay as the Caps scored three times in the 3rd period to win, 5-2.

Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season in the first period, then broke into a funky post-goal celebration where he laid his stick on the ice and acted as if it were hot — or on fire — but the routine didn’t come off very well and he looked like a bad version of Terrell Owens. See the video here…

The dude’s the best player in the league — and he certainly shoots more than anyone — but that’s the kind of stuff that won’t endear him to the rest of the NHL.  Given that it was The Great 8′s 50th goal, a longer-than-normal post-goal celebration might have been acceptable, but let’s hope it doesn’t become a trend for the remainder of the season.

As for the rest of the game, Washington used an early 3rd period goal from Green, his 2nd of the night, to go ahead to stay, then got tallies from Michael Nylander and Matt Bradley later on to put the game away.

The Caps are now 2-1 on their 5-game road swing and head to Carolina for a divisional match-up with the Hurricanes on Saturday night.

The win gives Washington a 45-22-6 record, good enough for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference behind Boston.

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Caps Blank Panthers, 3-0

Posted on 17 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

After a stinker of a game on Monday night on Versus the Washington Capitals rebounded strong just 24 hours later shutting out the Florida Panthers, 3-0, to move to 44-22-6 overall and take an insurmountable 15 point lead in the Southeast Division with just 10 games to go in the regular season. The blanking was additionally amazing in that the Capitals did not give up a single shot on net in the third period so Florida not only had a donut hole on the scoreboard but in the shots on goal column in the final period. Jose Theodore, who was totally hung out to dry by his teammates in last night’s debacle in Atlanta, made 19 saves and some of them were quality stops, especially in the second period when Washington was shorthanded three times.

The effort was back tonight and you could tell right from the get go that Washington was a different team, not only because they had defenseman Mike Green and forward Sergei Fedorov back from the flu, but because they were skating hard and beating Florida to the loose pucks. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, knowing that his squad might be tired playing their third game in four nights, wisely rolled the lines and had the players go short shifts to keep everyone fresh. The strategy worked as well as Washington’s ability to clog the neutral zone on a Panthers team that relies on a transition game that is led by top defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Bryan McCabe. Those two players really hurt the Caps in a game at Verizon Center on March 1st that Florida won easily, 6-2. Tonight Bouwmeester was pretty much invisible offensively, although he did do a good job defensively on Ovechkin, and McCabe, who is wearing a shield after suffering a facial cut, only was noticeable at times on the Florida power play.

However, it was the Florida power play where the Caps won this game, unlike last night in Atlanta when the Thrashers scored on three of four chances. Caps forward Brooks Laich, who was the deserving number one star of the game, came down alone on Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun and fired a bad angle shot off the far post and into the net to give the guys in white a one goal lead at 5:46 of the second period. After that shorthanded tally the Caps would kill off two more Panthers power plays in the second period as Florida dominated play outshooting Washington 11-8.

But the third period was all Washington and when Viktor Kozlov, who had a very strong game tonight (his best in weeks), snapped one by Vokoun after a nice set up from Michael Nylander with Laich screening #29 you could see any energy left in Florida immediately diminish. Finally, when Green scored into an open net with 1:27 to go (his 25th goal of the year) this was one was totally done.

Here are some thoughts and comments on the game:

Ovechkin Streak is Over!! In case you are wondering what streak I am talking about, as I blogged last night and JP over at Japers Rink picked up on as well, the Great #8 had gone 12 straight contests without being a plus player for an entire game. Keep in mind Ovechkin did have a 10 game point scoring streak during those 12 games but the large majority of those points came on the power play while Alexander the Great has struggled at even strength. Tonight Ovechkin was on the ice for Green’s empty netter and finished a plus one and it was an important plus because both he and Alexander Semin very smartly passed the puck out of the zone to set up Green for a breakaway empty net goal. The Alexes should be commended for not thinking about goals #50 and #30, respectively, and making the simple and smart play to close this one out.

The Old Man Returns: Fedorov, when healthy, makes a huge difference for this team overall because he settles things defensively for Washington. The former league MVP and Selke Trophy winner (top defensive forward) is such a good two way player. #91 also had several good chances tonight but just couldn’t bury the puck. Look for him to break out soon in the points column.

Green for Norris: Is there any defenseman in the National Hockey League that means more to his team than #52? Boudreau calls him “the one man breakout” and there is not a better way to describe him. When Green plays the Caps are so much more efficient getting the puck out of their zone and up the ice. He also takes the power play to a new level because of his shot. The Caps are only 7-7 when Green does not play and 37-15-6 when he is in the lineup, no surprise there. With 25 goals and one of the league leaders in ice time I do not know how he can’t be a finalist for the Norris Trophy this year. Green was +2 tonight and is now +22 overall.

Theodore: Despite only facing 19 shots #60 had to be sharp in the first two periods as Nick Tarnasky, Greg Campbell, Stephen Weiss, and David Booth all had quality scoring chances directly in front of Theo. Theodore wasn’t bad on Monday but he wasn’t as good as Kari Lehtonen, so I’m sure he wanted to jump right back in and play tonight. Another good move by Boudreau going back to his #1 goalie after the team’s bad outing in Atlanta.

Other notes and tidbits: Anyone who has played the game knows that winning face-off requires technique but more importantly, it is mostly about effort. Tonight the Caps won the face-off battle 32-23 after getting buried at the dot last night (39-21). Not one Cap played over 23 minutes tonight (Tom Poti led the team in ice time with 22:53) and that is a good thing. As I mentioned above, Boudreau used everyone and the players adhered to short shifts, so they clearly got his pre-game message and video session about effort. John Erskine had two assists tonight. The Caps only had one power play tonight and it was drawn by some hard work along the boards by Eric Fehr (who continues to just get better and better). The power play’s best chance came on a beautiful cross ice pass from Semin to Backstrom but #19 shot the puck just over the net. Next up for the Caps are the Lightning on Thursday in Tampa Bay.

Addendum: By the way, congratulations to New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who became the all time NHL leader in wins with a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night. #30 now has 552 wins passing Patrick Roy.

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Caps Beat Flyers, 2-1, in Philly

Posted on 12 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals went into Philadelphia tonight without bruiser Donald Brashear (knee injury) and Tuesday’s hero in Nashville, forward Sergei Fedorov (sick), and knocked off the Flyers in regulation for the first time this season, 2-1. Alexander Ovechkin, who was booed every time he touched the puck by the Flyer fans, had the game winner in the second perioid after Alexander Semin stole the puck behind the Flyers net and centered it to an all alone Great #8, who then deposited the puck top shelf past goalie Martin Biron (28 saves). Ovechkin was all over the ice tonight and could have had several goals including a hit post late in regulation that would have given the Caps some insurance. The Great #8 also set up the first Washington goal by Brooks Laich (17th of the season) on the power play with a beautiful pass to the crease where #21 deflected it home by Biron. Semin was also very good all game, once again.

Washington received great goaltending tonight from Jose Theodore (35 saves), who was at his best in the second period when Philadelphia had 19 shots on net. His sprawling save on Kimo Timonen, who thought he had an open net, was amazing. Afterwards I was surprised to see that Philly had 36 shots for the game as the Caps defense did a very good job against the Flyers forwards by forcing most of the shots from the outside, by clearing any rebounds (and Theo didn’t give up many) and preventing the Flyers from getting to the net (something that Philadelphia has had success against the Caps in the past). Washington also had the puck for a large portion of the game and didn’t allow Philadelphia to get its hitting and cycling game going while the Caps seemed to get their’s going and punish the Flyers defense.

Here are some more thoughts and comments on the game:

Special Teams: Washington did a very good job of stopping a physical, net charging power play and the biggest key was Theodore, who did not give up many rebounds. Also, the Caps did a good job of clearing the puck when they got it except for a brutal giveaway by Boyd Gordon late in the third period. The Caps would kill off all four Flyer power plays and go one for two on their limited man advantage chances.

Another Odd Man Rush: For the third consecutive game the Caps gave up a 2 on 1 rush and for the second time the puck found the back of the net. Philadelphia’s only goal by Mike Knuble was the finish of a beautiful passing play between Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, and then Knuble. Washington was caught on a bad forward change and neutral zone turnover which allowed Philly to get a 3 on 2 odd man rush and when defensemen Milan Jurcina stepped up to play Gagne near the blueline he fed Richards who only had Jeff Schultz back against him and Knuble. As he did on Sunday, Schultz did not successfully cut off the pass, although it was an outstanding one by Richards, and that allowed Knuble to deposit the puck into the empty net.

Missing Pieces and Add-Ins: Without Fedorov the Caps were just awful on face-offs going 16-32. However, without Brashear and “Brooklyn Brawler” Matt Bradley unable to mix it up because of facial cuts, the Caps were not intimidated by the Flyers and, if I am Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, that is re-assuring. As Captain Chris Clark said when he was on the Caps post game show on Comcast after the win tonight, Washington is one of the bigger teams in the league so you don’t have to fight to play tough. Alexandre Giroux was the emergency call up from Hershey and he had some scoring chances but he also took two penalties and was one of the guys who changed too quickly on the play that led to the Flyers goal. Michael Nylander returned from an upper body injury and played 12:08 and my review of him was mixed. #92 did a good job of possessing the puck at times but he made a lazy play at center ice that led to the Flyers going quickly the other way for their only goal.

More Theodore: The Timonen save was great and he also got some revenge on Aaron Asham, who had a big goal in the Flyers win at the Verizon Center back on February 24th, stopping #45 when he was all alone in front of the Caps net in the third period. Theodore, who caught fire down the stretch for Colorado last season en route to leading the Avalanche into the 2nd round of the playoffs, has been very, very good since that game in New York two days before Christmas where he was pulled but re-inserted in a 5-4 Ovechkin led overtime victory. Coming into tonight he had a 1.95 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in his last three games.

Take that Chief: When I was coming home this afternoon Hockey Night in Canada Radio hosts Jeff Marek and Cassie Campbell Pascall were talking with Flyers assistant Coach Craig “Chief” Berube and he was bragging about how well the Flyers play the Great #8 and that Timonen and the Flyers defensemen know how to not give him room and have success. Thursday, March 12th: Ovechkin goal and an assist, Flyers 1. SCOREBOARD Chief!!

What Celebration??: For those Don Cherry worshippers who critique Ovechkin’s celebrations and say he is over the top, tonight’s post goal antics consisted of the Great #8 standing in place, a quick kiss of the glove and left arm raise as a salute to his brother Sergei (died in a car accident), then raising both of his arms as everyone does when they score, and yelling while waiting for Semin and the other teammates to come over for the required celebratory hug. This was a key goal and would be the game winner but there was no jumping into the glass or people falling over. I don’t see how anyone could have a problem with the celebration tonight.

Southeast Division Lead Widens: With the Caps win and the Florida Panthers 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday, Washington leads them by 13 points (Panthers have a game in hand) and if Carolina loses to Dallas in regulation (they are down 3-2 late in the third period) the lead over the Hurricanes will be 12 points (Caps have a game in hand on Carolina). Carolina is at the Verizon Center on Saturday night and will be playing their third game in four nights. Washington is now 42-21-6 for 90 points. Boston (97 points) and New Jersey (91 points) both won tonight so the Caps are still the #3 team in the Eastern Conference standings.

Road Warriors: Perhaps Mel Gibson T-shirts should be worn tomorrow at practice since the Caps have now won a season high five straight road games and are 12-3-2 in the their last 17 games away from DC. They have not been beaten in regulation in their last 8 road games (6-0-2). The Caps play 8 of their last 13 games on the road, mostly against Southeast Division opponents, so the success away from home should really help their confidence for this upcoming stretch.

Making the Smart and Simple Plays: For the second straight game the Caps limited turnovers at the opposition blue line by either making good safe passes, shooting the puck, or dumping it deep. These smart and simple plays allow the Caps to get their cycling game going and wear out the opposition. Other than the Knuble goal I don’t recall any Flyer odd man rushes and if Philly got any manpower edge coming out of their own zone the Caps forwards were able to back check quickly and effectively (see the great play Ovechkin made on Gagne to thwart #12′s near breakaway after he had stolen the puck from Mike Green at the red line).

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Caps Back on Winning Track

Posted on 11 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Playing their best game in at least a couple of weeks, the Washington Capitals knocked off the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night in the land of country music, 2-1, in overtime on Sergei Fedorov’s eighth goal of the season. Viktor Kozlov set up Fedorov in the slot after another one of the many hustling and outstanding plays by Alexander Semin on Tuesday night and the 39 year old veteran faked Predator goalie Dan Ellis (42 saves) to the ice and backhanded the puck into the empty net to end Washington’s four game losing streak. With the win and Florida’s shootout loss in Pittsburgh on Tuesday the Caps now lead the Southeast Division by 11 points over both the Panthers and Carolina, although Florida has a game in hand. The Caps have 14 games remaining in the regular season.

After Sunday’s shootout loss to the Penguins, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said if you were plotting the recent performance of the team on a graph that the Toronto game was a minor step in the right direction, after two duds against Carolina and Florida, and then the Pittsburgh game resulted in another increase in performance desite the loss. Tonight in Opryland the Caps went significantly higher playing a dominating game (after a horrible opening 50 seconds that led to Nashville’s only goal) by controlling the puck and outshooting the Predators 44-28, including 17-8 in the third period. If not for Ellis this could have easily been a 6-1 Washington blowout.

There were lots of good performances from guys in white sweaters but I’ll start with Semin (1 assist) who, even though he had his six game goal scoring streak stopped, was all over the ice on both ends of the rink and had numerous chances for himself and created opportunities for others. Semin seems to really be maturing and he is augmenting his unbelievable skills with a smart and solid effort each night. I can’t count how many times he back checked hard and disrupted a Nashville rush with his poke checks and pick pockets of Predator puck handlers. If Semin continues to play like this then the Caps are going to be a tough out in the playoffs.

I also thought that defenseman Mike Green had a great game tonight and #52 was more physical on the puck to go along with his usual skating, puck handling, passing, and shooting prowess. Green’s clean hit on Vernon Fiddler in the third period was a text book hit on the wing that ended up taking Fiddler out of the game. In addition, Nicklas Backstrom had an excellent game scoring the Caps first goal on a nice feed from Alexander Ovechkin and he also almost had another goal if not for an acrobatic stick save by Ellis in the third period. Backstrom is such a good two way center and he really allows Ovechkin to use his creativity. Fedorov also had his best game in a couple of weeks and he appeared to be recovered from the bad cold he had on Sunday. #91 was also an impressive 16-7 on face-offs.

In net Jose Theodore (27 saves) wasn’t tested alot, and that is tough for a goalie, but #60 should expect that and be used to it by now playing with this puck possession team that is highly skilled. When called upon tonight Theodore was there and the only goal he let up was the result of Washington running around in their own end and not clearing the front of the net (Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz were the defenseman with the Backstrom, Kozlov, Ovechkin line on that disaster of a shift that opened up the game).

Here are some other thoughts on Tuesday’s contest:

Five for Fighting: Donald Brashear was leveled by Wade Belak in a first period fight, and he may be out for awhile with a concussion as he was TKO’d (UPDATE: Brashear injured his knee and apparently was walking with a limp after the game according to Corey Masisak of the Washington Times) then Matt Bradley was bloodied by Jordin Tootoo in a fight just three seconds later. Finally Belak went after John Erskine in the second period and #4 did a decent job against one of the tougher guys in the league. Although the Caps didn’t win a single fight the Predators tactics failed to take the momentum Washington continued to build throughout the game.

How to play a 2 on 1: On Sunday against the Penguins we saw Schultz struggle on a two on one against Bill Guerin and Sydney Crosby and fail to cut off a pass that led to an easy Crosby goal (although I have to give alot of credit to the guys on offense on that play). Tonight to start the third period Green got caught in the neutral zone allowing the Predators to break in two on one with Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont but Shaone Morrisonn played it beautifully allowing Theodore to focus on the puck carrier, Arnott, and when the Predator tried to pass it to Dumont, #26 was in perfect position to break up the play and send the Caps the other way up the ice.

Puck possession/cycling: The Caps seemed to have the puck all night and they did not make alot of turnovers at the opponents blue line either firing shots, making good passes, or simply dumping the puck deep all evening. We’ve heard Boudreau say that if the Caps play their system they are a tough team to beat and tonight they played it very well (Bruce would probably say “to a T.”)

Great #8: Ovechkin had a great pass to set up Backstrom’s goal but for the second straight game his timing seemed to be off on his shot. The Great #8 had some problems with this as well on Sunday and I initially attributed it to bad ice at the Verizon Center (there were two hoops games on Saturday) but seeing Ovechkin continually fan or have pucks bounce off his sticks this evening I am starting to wonder if this batch of lumber he is using isn’t right. Anyways, whatever it is you can bet Alex will figure it out quickly and get that quick shot going and terrorizing goalies again very soon.

Flash: Tomas Fleischmann, who had a goal disallowed tonight (ruled a kick in), is skating well and getting lots of chances but he hasn’t been able to bury the puck much lately. #14 has only two goals in the 20 games since the all star break but he is+10 in those games. One would have to think that with all of the scoring opportunities he is getting and generating that the puck will start going in for him soon. He is no longer a defensive liability.

As I mentioned to Rob Yunich over at Storming the Crease (www.stormingthecrease.com) after Sunday’s game, the effort against the Penguins was a turnaround one for Washington and it was going to be nice to be able to blog about alot of positives despite that loss. Tonight, the positives weren’t hard to find for the Caps and the end result was a win that only didn’t come until overtime because of Ellis. On my way out of the Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon I heard Caps assistant coach Jay Leach talking with WTOP’s Jonathan Werner on the post game show and Leach made a good point about emotion and confidence being such key factors in hockey. The Caps clearly got that going in the right direction on Sunday and tonight they took it to a much higher level and having that confidence will be big going into a tough game in Philadelphia on Thursday night. The Caps are 1-2 against the Flyers this year with the only win coming in a shootout so I know the team is itching to get some pay back for this season’s defeats as well as last year’s playoffs. Game time is 7pm.

Other Notes: The Caps failed to score on three power plays while Nashville went zero for two with the man advantage. Semin had a game high eight shots and four takeaways. Backstrom was only 9-15 on face-offs. If Brashear is out with the knee and with Michael Nylander out as well with an upper body injury the Caps will need to recall a forward for Thursday’s game against the Flyers (since the Flyers are a big and physical team I would expect either Jay Beagle or Alexandre Giroux to get the call up from Hershey).

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Caps Lose 3rd Straight / NHL News

Posted on 05 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Lose Third Straight Game

So much for the excuse that guys were worried about the trade deadline as the reason for bad Caps hockey. One day after Washington Capitals GM George McPhee showed confidence in his current roster by not making any trades Coach Bruce Boudreau’s troops went out and played another stinker losing to the out of the playoff picture Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1, for the Caps third straight loss, all at the Verizon Center.

Some may say that the absence of Alexander Ovechkin, who missed the game with a bad foot, and the loss of Tom Poti due to a re-inured groin just seven seconds into the game caused this loss but I will hear none of it. Washington looked tired for the third straight game and even though they fired 38 shots on net I am having a hard time remembering many of them as being real quality chances or rebound tries. Nope, this bunch continues to pass up shots from the point with the potential for traffic in front and opt for one timers from bad angles in the lower corners. Can you say low percentage shots on opposing goalies? Washington made it very easy for new Leafs goalie Martine Gerber (37 saves), who was claimed off of waivers this week from Ottawa when Toronto #1 goalie Vesa Toskala had season ending surgery. Gerber had played the last two months in Binghamton of the American Hockey League.

This game was scoreless for two periods and was downright boring at times. Then in the third period when one would expect the Caps to take over the Leafs struck first when Lee Stempniak scored from below the goal line banking an awful goal between the pads of Caps goalie Jose Theodore, who had played a good game until that point. However, you can’t give up a tally like that and the Theodore detractors will have a field day with that bad goal. Some of the blame on that goal should go to the horrible play down low by John Erskine, Jeff Schultz, and Michael Nylander. Nylander, who was scratched the previous four games and has basically just collected a nice paycheck this season, stood and watched Stempniak as he skated towards the back of the net and fired it off Theodore and into the net. It would have been nice to see #92 challenge Stempniak and prevent the centering pass from even happening but once again Nylander floated lazily in his own zone.

The second goal, which pretty much finished the Caps, came from defenseman Pavel Kubina primarily because Erskine made a bad pass, then left his feet, and was basically doing a snow angel on the ice while John Mitchell took the puck behind the net and passed it to Kubina who was wide open in the slot and shot it quickly by Theodore. The Caps still did not wake up thereafter and with 7:28 left Boudreau lit into his bench with what looked like a profanity laced tired (and deservedly so) in an attempt to get his guys to work harder, stop making boneheaded plays, and get their cycling game going. But it didn’t work fast enough. Alexander Semin did score on a nice face off play from center Nicklas Backstrom with just 38:6 seconds left but it was too little, too late for the Caps who waited to the very end to show some life.

I can’t figure out what is going on and why the Caps look so slow and were routinely beaten to loose pucks against another bottom feeder (although the Leafs are 5-0-3 in their last eight games). I’m sure Boudreau will lose some sleep trying to figure it out the next three nights before Washington takes on the revived Pittsburgh Penguins this Sunday at 3pm at the Verizon Center. Here are some other tidbits and thoughts after tonight’s loss:

- The Leafs thought they scored in the first period but the referees conferred and correctly called Jason Blake for contact on Theodore wiping out a tap in goal. Kudos to the officials for waving the goal off but Blake should have been called for goaltender interference.

- Schultz and Erskine once again played poorly tonight and with Poti hurt, defenseman Karl Alzner will need to be recalled from Hershey to play on Sunday. Forward Sergei Fedorov played on defense tonight after Poti was injured further weakening the Caps offensive attack.

- The Caps fall to 40-21-5 but thanks to the Pens beating Florida tonight the Caps maintained their 11 point lead in the Southeast Division. As I wrote on Wednesday, I expect the Caps to finish third in the conference by winning the Southeast Division (and I also picked the Pens to finish fifth as they have shown lots of life since getting forward Chris Kunitz).

- Eric Fehr said on Comcast after the contest that he thought the team played a great game tonight and had lots of chances. If he went back and watched the film of this one I think he’d change his mind. Washington’s forwards routinely do NOT go to the net for the type of grinding and hard working goals a team needs, especially when the NHL’s leading goal scorer is out of the lineup. Hopefully Ovechkin will be back on Sunday for Pittsburgh and his good friend and supporter Sydney Crosby.

NHL News

So I exchanged several text messages with an NHL scout on Thursday afternoon to get his take on the trade deadline yesterday. I asked him who the winner of the day was and he not surprisingly said the Calgary Flames. Calgary acquired forward Olli Jokinen and defenseman Jordon Leopold yesterday and went out and buried the Flyers in Philadelphia tonight, 5-1.

As for the losers, the scout said the New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers fit that bill on deadline day. The scout thought the Rangers gave up far too much for defenseman Derrick Morris and he said the Oilers acquisition of Ales Kotalik and Patrick O’Sullivan gave them “just more of the small soft skilled players they like.”

I asked him what he thought Anaheim was doing and he replied “not sure, but they have four solid defensemen now.” Anaheim, after yesterday’s trades, has Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Ryan Whitney, and James Wisniewski on defense.

When I relayed to him that another NHL scout told me that he thought the Red Wings weren’t going to win the Cup this year because they were playing “spot hockey” and not showing up every night all he could say was “first place in the West with six weeks until the playoffs.”

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Caps Stand Pat at Trade Deadline / NHL News and Analysis

Posted on 04 March 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Tradeless on Deadline Day

Washington Capitals GM George McPhee was unable to pull off the big trade he had hoped to complete today which means Coach Bruce Boudreau will go forward the rest of the regular season and in the playoffs with the current roster in addition to any re-enforcements from Hershey as well as the possibility that injured defenseman Brian Pothier may be able to return to the Caps after a three to five game conditioning stint with the Bears in the AHL (more on that in a moment).

McPhee told Caps fans on the podcast on WashingtonCaps.com around 340pm that he only tried to make moves that would significantly upgrade the current team without mortgaging the future. The GM, who has only seen one other NHL trade deadline pass in which he hasn’t made a deal (2000) for Washington, mentioned Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger and Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester as players he considered as significant upgrades. Both Pronger and Bouwmeester were not moved to any other team so even though the Caps didn’t get them at least those marque players didn’t go to their competitors in the Eastern Conference.

McPhee told Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post that when he inquired about Pronger Ducks GM Bob Murray wanted talented young players Karl Alzner, Simeon Varlamov, and John Carlson. While getting Pronger could have put the Caps in the driver seat to win the Eastern Conference finals this year and possibly next, it likely would have cost them big time long term so I can’t fault McPhee for not doing this deal.

For those who read my blog on Monday night you know I wanted Pronger but I wasn’t willing to give up all of the guys mentioned above (I was hoping Michal Neuvirth and some others would suffice).

So the team that currently has the third best record in the Eastern Conference is now the one that must improve on last year’s first round playoff defeat. Caps fans hope that this recent lull, the team is 3-4 in its last seven home games, is just a blip on the radar and I’m sure Boudreau is counting on the two recent awful losses to Florida and Carolina being a case of a team more worried about the trade deadline than those games.

McPhee did mention that Caps fans can expect Alzner to be recalled soon and he should help this defense. As for Pothier, the GM said that if he can’t make it through this conditioning stint then his career, which took a turn for the very worse due to a severe concussion last season, is likely over.

As for the goalie situation, McPhee said he expects Varlamov to play this weekend in Hershey. I would expect that if Simeon plays well this weekend and is fully recovered he will be brought up to Washington and Michal Neuvirth will go back down to Hershey. In addition McPhee is confident that Brent Johnson, who had hip surgery but is skating already, will be ready late in the regular season and for the playoffs in case something were to happen to #1 goalie Jose Theodore.

Also, Michael Nylander and his $4.875M salary cap hit was not moved so you can probably expect Boudreau to find a way to use him in some situations down the stretch and in the playoffs. As I’ve said before, Nylander will likely be bought out after this season unless he somehow finds the fountain of youth (highly doubtful).

So Caps fans, this is the hand you are dealt with so it is time for this team to get back to playing at the elite level it was at a few weeks ago and find a way to peak in the playoffs.

NHL News

For those who read my blog after Tuesday night’s Caps-Carolina debacle I mentioned that I had heard Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough on Hockey Night in Canada (HNIC) Radio at 525pm that day and he said that trade talk was way down this year. The Wild GM said he thought it had to do with several teams being up against the salary cap plus the uncertainty surrounding future team salary cap totals, especially in 2010-11 (I heard host Jeff Marek mention on HNIC radio today that it is expected to drop $2M next season and then around $4M to $7M the following year, OUCH!). Well things played out as Risebrough predicted and there weren’t many big time deals. Here are my thoughts on some of the other teams from today:

Biggest Winners: The Calgary Flames for adding forward Olli Jokinen and a third round pick for just underachieving Matthew Lombardi, tough guy Brandon Prust, and a first round pick plus re-acquiring defenseman Jordan Leopold for two prospects and a second round draft pick. Leopold was on the Flames team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2004. GM Darryl Sutter gets an A+ for his moves today and Calgary now has a chance against the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference.

Winner: The New York Rangers for acquiring defenseman Derrick Morris from Phoenix for forward Petr Prucha, Nigel Dawes, and defenseman Dmitri Kalinin plus getting forward Nik Antropov from the Leafs for a 2nd round conditional draft pick. These two moves plus the claiming of Sean Avery off of waivers should stop the New York freefall and allow them to make the playoffs pending how Avery and Chris Drury get along in the locker room (apparently the two do not like each other). I am not a big Morris fan but he is an upgrade on a weak defensive team, although the Rangers did give up some talent for him.

Winner: The Pittsburgh Penguins for getting Chris Kunitz and prospect Eric Tangradi from Anaheim last Thursday for defenseman Ryan Whitney plus getting 38 year old forward Bill Guerin from the Islanders for a conditional draft pick. On HNIC radio today former Avs, Kings, and Canucks Coach now turned broadcaster, Marc Crawford, kept singling the Pens out as a big winner. I do like these additions and think that the Pens will finish either fifth or sixth in the Eastern Conference final standings (6th place likely means a first round matchup with the Caps, DOH!) unless Marc Andre-Fleury goes into another goaltending funk.

Winner: The San Jose Sharks for adding physical players Travis Moen and Kent Huskins from Anaheim for two prospects and a draft pick. Apparently former Capital Mike Grier is hurt fairly bad so the Moen signing should more than fill that hole in the lineup. San Jose needed more grit and these two guys definitely add that.

Probable Winner: The Edmonton Oilers for adding Patrick O’Sullivan and Ales Kotalik, both of whom have underachieved to date in their careers, for forward Eric Cole, who goes back to Carolina and didn’t fit in with the Oilers.

Probable Winner: The Boston Bruins for adding forward Marc Recchi (Tampa Bay) and defensemen Steve Montador (Anaheim) for three prospects.

Not sure what they are doing: The Anaheim Ducks. They traded a good forward in Kunitz for Whitney when they already have Pronger under contract for next year and defenseman Scott Niedermayer leaning towards coming back next season as well. Then they trade two key players from their Stanley Cup run, Moen and Samuel Pahlsson, for defenseman James Wisniewski (Chicago), forward Nick Bonino (San Jose), and goalie Timo Pielmeier (San Jose). They also traded Eric O’Dell to Atlanta for Eric Christensen, a player I am not very high on. It seems logical that they could now move Pronger at the draft. Anaheim will have to scratch and claw to just get in the playoffs now and if they don’t then keeping Pronger was the wrong move unless Niedermayer hangs it up in Anaheim after this season.

Stood pat: The Caps, Montreal, Detroit, Vancouver, and Nashville. Sometimes that is not a bad thing. In 2007 the only trade Anaheim GM (at the time) Brian Burke made at the deadline was acquiring fourth liner Brad May and the Ducks went on to win the Stanley Cup. However, last year the Red Wings added defenseman Brad Stuart and forward Todd Bertuzzi en route to their Stanley Cup winning run.

So going forward here is what I think will happen the last month or so of the regular season based on today’s deals and barring any new serious injuries:

Final Eastern Conference Standings:

1. New Jersey (Brodeur is back and the Devils are flying!)

2. Boston

3. Washington

4. Philadelphia

5. Pittsburgh

6. Montreal

7. New York Rangers

8. Florida

Just missing out: Carolina (not strong enough on defense) and Buffalo (Ryan Miller and Tomas Vanek injuries have really hurt them)

Final Western Conference Standings:

1. San Jose

2. Detroit

3. Calgary

4. Chicago

5. Vancouver

6. Edmonton

7. Columbus

8. Nashville

Just missing out: Minnesota (not enough scoring), Dallas (Brad Richards injury too much to overcome), and Anaheim (played more games than others right now and I’m not sure how these trades will fix things).

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

Posted on 24 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Lose Lead, Game to Flyers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NHL News

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

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

- Ottawa will definitely move free agent defensemen Filip Kuba.

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

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

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

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

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

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