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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 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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Caps Crush Penguins, 5-2 / Trade Talk

Posted on 22 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Win Easily

Caps hockey is as much fun as ever and if you were at the Verizon Center today you know what I am talking about. Alexander Ovechkin and company trounced the defending Eastern Conference Champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday, 5-2, on national television (this was the NHL’s NBC game of the week) in front of the eighth consecutive home sellout (and 15th in the last 16 games). This contest was a message to the rest of the NHL that the Caps are a team to be reckoned with and the club is now 38-17-5, the best ever in franchise history after 60 games. Also, don’t look now, but with the suddenly skidding Boston Bruins losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday evening the Caps are now only seven points out of first place in the Eastern Conference (Washington is in Boston on Saturday afternoon for the final meeting of the regular season between those two teams).

Sunday’s game belonged to the Washington Russian trio of Ovechkin, Sergei Fedorov, and Alexander Semin, who each had a goal and an assist. Semin, who was widely criticized for remarks that he may or may not have said (I still think he was misquoted) about Sydney Crosby earlier in the year, clearly enjoys playing the Penguins and the guys in black seem to bring out the best in #28’s game. Semin was great at even strength, on the power play, and even more importantly killing penalties today as the men in the zebra striped shirts (Chris Rooney and Marc Joanette) decided to give the Penguins more than double the number of power plays than Washington despite the Caps carrying much of the play today. The Caps, however, would hold the Pens to scoring just once on their eight man advantage tries while the guys wearing red lit the lamp twice in three attempts. The good news is that when you play as well as Washington did today the clowns blowing the whistle don’t even matter. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was happy with the effort although he gave the Penguins an excuse for not matching Washington’s play Sunday afternoon.

“You gotta understand, they (Pittsburgh) played [yesterday afternoon]. And it was a physical game this afternoon. We thought if we could keep attacking they would get tired. It’s natural. Teams tire in the second games of back-to-backs. The rivalry they have with Philadelphia and getting up for it and the rivalry they have with us, when you get a 4-2 or 5-2 lead you can see the shoulders start to sag a little bit. I thought we had a lot of chances in the third that we didn’t finish. Our key today, was that I believe all four lines can score and we didn’t do this against Colorado, but all four lines when we don’t have the puck have to be able to check. I thought we did a great job of limiting (their odd man rushes),” said Boudreau summing up a very good afternoon for his team.

This was a big win for the Caps because it was the first time they’ve beaten the Pens at the Verizon Center since December 11, 2006. In addition, the number of Penguins fans was significantly down from years past although I did see a few “Yinz from Downtown”, as Nestor Aparacio likes to call them, wearing Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys. But this series, which for years and years has been dominated by the Penguins, especially in the playoffs, is now turning in Washington’s favor as the Caps are 4-1-1 against Pittsburgh under Boudreau with the only loss coming when Nicklas Backstrom inadvertently put the puck in his own net last March.  Boudreau, however, still wasn’t ready to say that the Caps are the dominant team.

“Everything has peaks and valleys. We’ve won three, but I don’t think it’s changing unless we win seven or eight in a row. As long as they have those two guys on their team (Penguins forwards Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby) it’s going to be tough to do,” said Boudreau on this rivalry.

I’ve been around this team since its inception and when I worked for the team Pittsburgh won four of the five playoff series the Caps and Pens were involved in (1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, and 1996). Therefore, I will say that the times are changing and it is primarily due to the Great #8. He is a guy that makes a huge difference and the crowd broke into “M-V-P” chants a few times today (and I don’t think that #87 wearing black liked it too much either). Crosby, who is the league’s poster boy primarily because he is Canadian, was clearly frustrated today and was jawing constantly at several Capitals and every now and then threw in an extra shove or cross check but was called for none of it. He did get into it with Ovechkin by the Caps bench very late in the second period and the Great #8 got the last dig in waving to Sydney as if to say “we kicked your butts today, quit whining, and get out of here.” Boudreau was asked about their altercation after the game and clearly there is no love lost between them or these two teams based on Bruce’s response.

“I think he (Crosby) got frustrated because he wasn’t getting the freedom he’s had in this building before. I just think he was frustrated. It adds spice. It’s entertainment. It gets your blood boiling a little bit. And every time Alex (Ovechkin) gets a little more excitable, it can be good for us because he gets his adrenaline going, he doesn’t tire and he just keeps going. When he gets in those modes, he’s tough to stop,” said Boudreau on Ovechkin and Crosby.

In addition to the great play of the Caps Russian trio, Backstrom (two assists) was once again one of the outstanding players for Boudreau. The Caps coach could not agree more and continues to praise his young center and point out that the best is still to come with #19.

“He’s gonna get better. A lot of people want to credit Alex (Ovechkin) but I credit Nicky with a lot of Alex’s success as well. He’s such a good passer. He’s more well-rounded and he’s killing penalties now. He’s gonna be great. He knows the league a little bit better too. Today, he had a couple of real good (physical) battles in the corner. And he won those battles. He’s got a little bit of a temper on him. When he gets real comfortable, when he’s 23, 24-years-old, he’s gonna be the whole package,” added Boudreau on Backstrom.

Jose Theodore stopped 31 of 33 shots today and outside of a bad rebound he gave up on the first Pittsburgh goal, scored by Maxine Talbot, he was very good. The only other shot that beat him was a Sergei Gonchar power play blast from the point that found the top right corner. Also, when you are shorthanded eight times you need your goalie to be your best penalty killer and Theo did that today. In fact his best stop of the night was on Ryan Whitney on the Pens first of three power plays early in third period. Whitney was set up beautifully on a back door pass but Theodore read the play and slid across the crease to stone the Penguins defeneseman.  After that save Pittsburgh did not have much life and started slumping their shoulders as Boudreau alluded to after the game.

Notes: Defenseman Staffan Kronwall, who has not been very impressive in the two games he has played with Washington, was a healthy scratch. Forward Viktor Kozlov is still out with a groin injury and when he returns he will likely be back on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom. That will likely move Michael Nylander, who has not been playing well the last several games, to the bench as a healthy scratch. Pittsburgh’s Marc Andre-Fleury struggled in net, like he has done most of the season, and was pulled in favor of Mathieu Garon after the Caps fifth goal. The Pens are still in 10th place in the East and four points behind the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, and Buffalo Sabres who each have at least a game in hand on Pittsburgh. I still think the Pens will find a way into the playoffs, although you wouldn’t see me upset at all if they ended up having to make tee times instead. Next up for Washington is the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday at the Verizon Center. Boudreau on that matchup: “We don’t like them and they don’t like us.” You gotta love the honesty and candor from this guy who is nothing but a straight shooter.

Trade Talk

The NHL trade deadline is Wednesday March 4th and I had conversations with two prominent members of the media who cover this team on a regular basis and both agreed that GM George McPhee needs to get another goalie at the trade deadline, primarily due to the Brent Johnson injury situation, so that Washington has another option should Theodore get hurt. Names bantered around included Dwayne Roloson of Edmonton, Curtis Joseph of Toronto, and Manny Legace of St. Louis (who is playing for Peoria of the AHL). Given that the Oilers are very much in the playoff hunt and could be a destination for Florida defensemen Jay Bouwmeester, should the Panthers move him, I don’t see Roloson being traded (although he is an unrestricted free agent after this season and the Oilers have been grooming 24 year old Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers for the starting job). Roloson is the best of the trio mentioned above and a quick look at the list of free agent goalies after this season doesn’t yield a whole lot of other viable names. Talk of needing another defensemen was also a hot topic and it was also mentioned that rookie defenseman Karl Alzner, who is down in Hershey, will likely be back up with the big club after the trade deadline. Discussion of adding a power forward also ensued and as anyone who reads this blog knows I would love to bring forward Keith Tkachuk onto this team if a good deal can be had with St. Louis.

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Caps Win In Shootout, 4-3

Posted on 18 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Beat Montreal in Shootout, 4-3

After a 2-0-1 road trip the Washington Capitals returned to face the struggling Montreal Canadiens at the Verizon Center, a place where Washington had won 11 straight games against Eastern Conference opponents and were 22-4-1 overall. The Canadiens, however, would not be easy outs tonight and they got very good goaltending from Carey Price and scored three power play goals, before falling in the shootout to the Caps, 4-3, before another sellout crowd. The Caps are now in sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference and are 37-16-5 (79 points) overall. The New Jersey Devils are in third place two points behind Washington. The Caps have a 13 point lead over second place Florida in the Southeast Division (the Panthers do have a game in hand).

As I’ve written in this blog several times this season, the Montreal Canadiens came into their 100th NHL season expected by their fans to win the Stanley Cup, especially after they finished 1st overall in the Eastern Conference last season. However, the team has practically imploded and came into this contest 3-10 in their last 13 games. As a result GM Bob Gainey made some drastic moves this week trading for veteran and former Montreal defensemen Mathieu Schneider and telling superstar forward Alexei Kovalev to stay home on the current two game road trip (they play in Pittsburgh on Thursday). Also several players, including forward Sergei Kostitsyn who scored the game winner against Washington back on January 10th, were sent down to Hamilton of the AHL. But sometimes adversity can bring a team together and that was what Gainey and Coach Guy Charbonneau were hoping for with moves that shocked much of the Canadian media. On Wednesday night Gainey’s moves worked enough to get the Habs into the shootout and get a point in the standings.

The game got off to a very bad start for the Caps as Mike Green took a puck in the mouth area (but he turned out to be okay) and then was called for an all too familiar “delay of game” penalty for shooting the puck over the glass from the defensive zone when trying to make a low percentage long pass. On the ensuing face-off Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov shot the puck wide but it bounced hard off of the back boards and with Jose Theodore slow to get back in position, Christopher Higgins shot it over #60 from a sharp angle. The power play goal for the Canadiens was huge for a team that has struggled with the man advantage lately (they gave up two shorthanded goals in Calgary last week).

After the Habs opening tally the home team got going as the Great #8, Alexander Ovechkin, scored another one of his highlight reel goals stealing the puck from defensemen Roman Hamrlik in the neutral zone, headed hard to the net with the puck, was tripped from behind while going in alone on Habs goalie Carey Price, and amazingly then managed to get his stick on the puck and shove it on the ice past Price to electrify the sellout crowd. It was Ovechkin’s league leading 42nd goal on the campaign. Once again I could do nothing but invoke the immortal words of Jeff Spicoli – “Awesome, Totally Awesome!”

Shortly thereafter the Caps then made it 2-1 on the latter half of consecutive power plays when Nicklas Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov worked a beautiful give and go that resulted in Backstrom depositing the puck past Price. After that Washington came close to making it 3-1 during a long stretch in which they dominated play, however, Price was the key to keeping the game close. In fact, the Caps could have had several goals during a ten minute stretch of domination but the young net minder would not let his team be buried.

Then, as has been the case several times this season, the Caps suffered a mental breakdown in their own zone and Shaone Morrisonn took a careless penalty. Montreal then made it 2 for 2 on the power play as John Erskine failed to clear Tomas Plekanac in front of the net and the Cap killer screened Theodore allowing a centering pass from Andrei Kostitsyn to go through the goalie and into the net. At the end of one period it was 2-2 with the Caps outshooting Montreal 14-10 and leading in the scoring chances department by 7-4.

In the second period the Canadiens came out strong again but Theodore made some good saves. Midway through the period Fedorov took a lazy hooking penalty but Washington was finally able to kill an infraction with some solid goaltending early and then actually generated some shorthanded scoring chances late. Washington received a power play after a Hamrlik interference call but could not convert and the remainder of the second period was pretty much uneventful.

In the third period Plekanac continued his excellent play against Washington and had two quality scoring chances from the slot on his first shift but Theodore denied him. Then with 11:12 to go Semin took a hooking penalty backchecking late after he, Ovechkin, and Backstrom were initially caught up ice. Just nine seconds after the face-off Plekanac notched his third goal of the season against Washington on a bad angled shot that Theodore was out of position on and proceeded to miss. Suddenly the apparently down and out Habs had a 3-2 lead, all on power play goals, and seemed poise to get a huge road win. The Montreal pressure continued and with 8:08 remaining Habs Captain Saku Koivu found himself all alone in the slot but Theodore made a big save to keep Washington in the game. Right after that #60 then forced Maxim Lapierre to shoot wide when he was all alone in front and the Caps dodged another bullet.

The Caps then fortunately tied the game with 2:39 to go in regulation when Dave Steckel tipped in a Tom Poti point shot right off of the face-off to set up an exciting overtime. Early on in the extra five minute segment Theodore made a big save on Higgins and then the Habs almost won on a shot by Plekanec, after an awful neutral zone giveaway by Michael Nylander, but it rang off of the left post.

In the shootout, Semin went first and scored wristing one over Price’s glove and Backstrom easily beat Price stick side while Theodore denied both Plekanec and then Markov. Next up for the Caps are the Colorado Avalanche on Friday night at 7pm. This is the second of five straight Washington home games.

Notes: Washington outshot Montreal 35-33. Nylander was 2-6 on faceoffs, played only 14:57 of ice time, and as mentioned above almost lost the game in overtime by turning the puck over at mid ice. Fedorov had another strong game with an assist in 17:50 of ice time that included a couple of shifts on defense in overtime. Ovechkin played 25:33 and had six shots on net. Green had an assist and five shots on goal in 29:40 of ice time (lead all players). Forward Eric Fehr’s four game goal scoring streak was stopped. Defenseman Staffan Kronwall was a healthy scratch. Viktor Kozlov is still out with a groin injury.

Caps Season Ticket Sales Up!

Washington Capitals fans purchased more than 1,000 full season tickets on Tuesday, Feb. 17, the first day season tickets were available for purchase for the 2009-10 season. The vast majority of those fans committed to purchasing 2009 Stanley Cup playoff tickets and renewals of existing accounts were also brisk – the latest signs of the excitement surrounding Capitals hockey in the nation’s capital.

Increased demand for Capitals tickets has been evident throughout the season, especially lately. For example:

Twelve of the last 13 games have been sold out, including six in a row entering Wednesday’s game against Montreal

Sixteen games have been sold out on the year, double the total from last season

Attendance has risen to an average of 18,018, which is 98.6% of capacity at Verizon Center and a 27% increase from last year at this time.

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Ovechkin Hat Trick Leads Caps over Panthers, 4-2

Posted on 15 February 2009 by Ed Frankovic

“Awesome, Totally Awesome!”  – Jeff Spicoli, Fast Times at Ridgemont High

If there is a simple way to describe Alexander Ovechkin then I’d have to say those immortal words from Jeff Spicoli sum him up best. And on Sunday evening the Great #8 was totally awesome again practically carrying the Washington Capitals on his back to lead them to an important win. Ovechkin broke a late 2-2 tie with a spectacular shot through the legs of one of the best defensemen in the league in Florida’s Jay Bouwmeester and then through the five hole of outstanding goalie Tomas Vokoun to give the Caps a 3-2 lead with 2:31 left in regulation. That goal was Ovechkin’s 40th of the season (he had scored the Caps first goal of the game, his 39th of the year, on the power play back in the first period thanks to a great screen by Brooks Laich) and he still wasn’t done. After Caps goalie Jose Theodore (29 saves) made some very good stops to preserve the lead, the Great #8 backhanded the puck from his own zone down the ice, off the right post, and into the empty net for a hat trick to secure a 4-2 Washington win. It was a fitting end to a weekend in the Sunshine State that saw the Caps win back-to-back games in just over a 24 hour period.

This victory now puts the Caps a commanding 13 points ahead of Florida in the Southeast Division and the manner in which the Panthers lost today has to take the wind out of their sails despite the fact that Florida had the best winning percentage in the NHL (.750) since January 1 coming into Sunday’s contest. However, they have now been beaten twice in eight days by Washington and they will be seeing 8’s for quite some time after the magnificent Ovechkin show on Sunday. The Caps are still tied with the New Jersey Devils for second place in the Eastern Conference as the Devils knocked off the San Jose Sharks, 6-5, at the Rock on Sunday afternoon.

This was a nail biter of a game after the Caps seemed to take control, 2-0, 30 seconds into the second period when forward Eric Fehr scored his ninth goal of the season on a play from Sergei Fedorov. Fehr, who is on a new line with Fedorov and Tomas Fleischmann that has been very productive (although they need a better name than the F-line!), has now scored in four straight games and if you get the chance check out Mike Vogel’s piece on Fehr on WashingtonCaps.com that compares the first 82 games of #16’s career to Laich and Fleischmann’s first full campaign (http://boards.washingtoncaps.com/index.php?autocom=blog&blogid=59&showentry=1426). Vogel and I have both commented to each other all season long about how we both think highly of Fehr’s game so it is nice to see him start to play like the guy GM George McPhee and his staff selected in the first round of the 2003 draft (Fehr’s road to the NHL was delayed by injuries).

There is one part of this game that the Caps struggled with on Sunday and it was something that has been talked about quite a bit by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and the players – penalties! The Caps took eight minors, many of which were of the lazy variety, including two more delay of the game infractions for shooting the puck over the glass from their own end going for difficult break out passes. Comcast outstanding play by play man, Joe Beninati, made a point of saying that “sometimes the simple pass is the better option” and he could not be more correct. Luckily Washington’s penalty killing was very good again staving off seven of the eight minors against the team with the only blemish coming 1:29 into the third period when Nathan Horton stuffed home the game tying tally after a wild goal mouth scramble.

Now back to Theodore, who continues to play outstanding in goal despite some of the criticism he received earlier in the season. #60, who I wrote back on December 26th was the guy who I had the confidence in to seize the #1 goaltending job (http://wnst.net/wordpress/edfrankovic/2008/12/26/analysis-of-caps-goaltending-situation/), is 13-4-2 since December 23rd and the only thing Caps fans should worry about is his health because this guy is playing like the goalie who carried the Colorado Avalanche into the playoffs last season and was the primary reason the Avs won their first round series versus the favored Minnesota Wild (Colorado then lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings in the second round).

The only real downer on the evening was the fact that defenseman Mike Green’s eight game NHL record goal scoring streak for defensemen came to an end. But as any media members or bloggers who cover Washington will tell you, Green and Ovechkin don’t really care about records, they just care about winning and both of them want to win a Stanley Cup very badly.

Notes: Karl Alzner and Milan Jurcina returned to the lineup on defense after being scratched on Saturday versus Tampa. John Erskine and Staffan Kronwall were today’s defensive scratches. Alzner played well in 15:29 of ice time but it was Jurcina’s misplay in the second period that allowed Florida’s Michael Frolik to score an easy goal in the slot and wake the Panthers up at 12:08 of the second period. Jurcina only played 12:26 on Sunday. Michael Nylander was the healthy forward scratch as Boudreau put the more physical Jay Beagle in the lineup. Beagle played only 5:55 of ice time. The Caps will spend Monday in Florida with their fathers completing a very successful father/son trip before flying home in the evening. Montreal is next on the schedule at the Verizon Center, where Washington will play nine of its next 10 games, on Wednesday at 730pm.

Addendum: For anyone who reads my blog or follows the NHL on a regular basis you know that Florida’s Bouwmeester appears to be the most coveted player as the NHL trade deadline approaches on March 4th. Pierre LeBrun of ESPN is reporting that #4 has turned down a $6.5M a year contract extension to stay with Florida and as a result he will be an unrestricted free agent come July 1. On the NBC game of the week today between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers (Philly won 5-2) analysts Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury discussed the Bouwmeester situation and pointed out, as I did on Friday, that the Panthers need to get something for him in return if he won’t resign in Florida. Here is the problem though, the Panthers GM, Jacques Martin, has a reputation of asking for ridiculous value in return for his players. After another Panther, Olli Jokinen, hinted that he wanted out of town before last season’s trade deadline one NHL team who had an interest in the center inquired about him only to end any discussion quickly when Martin wanted a VERY steep price for Jokinen. Martin would end up not being able to trade Jokinen at the deadline and settled for Keith Ballard, Nick Boynton, and a second round pick – not anywhere near what the GM had asked of the deadline inquiring team – in return for the Panthers all-time leading scorer right before the NHL draft. So Martin will have a tough chore on his hands in the coming 16 days deciding what to do. His team currently would make the playoffs but come July 1 his most valuable asset can go anywere he wants with the Panthers getting zero in return. There is talk of New Jersey and Philadelphia being highly interested in Bouwmeester but given what the asking price likely will be I don’t see him going either place plus Martin would be foolish to trade him to another team in the Eastern Conference. My predicted destination for the all-star defensemen is his hometown, the Edmonton Oilers, who would love to have him and have a number of good young players to offer back to Florida.

Addendum Two: I was reading the blog of Caps owner Ted Leonsis this morning (Ted’s Take) and he blogged about being very happy but that some fans were still not and are emailing him about this and that with the team (see http://www.tedstake.com/?p=3511). My advice to Ted:  Don’t get too worked up over those complaints because this hockey club could win the Stanley Cup this year and I guarantee you if that happens you will still get some negative emails from some looney bin fans. Some people in this world just like to complain and are never happy. You have a great team, a sold out and electric building night after night, and a good chance to take home Lord Stanley’s Cup either this year or in the coming years so as my father always tells me, “Don’t Let the Turkey’s Get You Down!”

Addendum Three: In a not so surprising move, the Pittsburgh Penguins have fired head coach Michel Therien Sunday night and replaced him with the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins head coach, Dan Bylsma.

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