Tag Archive | "Penguins"

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Winter Classic 2011

Posted on 31 December 2010 by connorguercio1

Well, were upon a new year, 2011! On January 1st, there is always something to watch. Like, the Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and sometimes NFL. This year on Jan 1st, we get a great NHL rivalry featuring Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals taking on Gold Medalist Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins at infamous Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. This match takes the leagues top 2 players, and 2 best teams and puts them in one of the biggest games of the year. Honestly, I can’t wait! HBO aired a mini series about these 2 teams preparing for the Classic called 24/7 Penguins, Capitals, Road to the Winter Classic. Honestly, I liked the series. It goes behind the scenes of being a hockey player in the NHL. Back to the actual game, the game is going to be moved to 8pm EST because of rain (thanks Pittsburgh). Like I always say, prime time is better, plus it doesn’t compete with the Rose Bowl, but it does with the Fiesta Bowl. My prediction for this game is Washington-2, Pittsburgh-1. Goals by Ovechkin, Backstrom for the Caps and Crosby for the Pens. Can’t wait any longer for this one!

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Is Baltimore A Possibility When Caps Host Future Winter Classic?

Posted on 23 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly spoke with the media here at the Verizon Center with a major focus on the NHL’s Winter Classic and the success of the 24/7 series on HBO featuring the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams are playing on Thursday night in Washington just nine days before they are set to face-off in this year’s tilt at Heinz Field on January 1st, which will be televised by NBC.

Daly talked about the success of the soon to be four year old NHL event that has clearly blown away the interest and ratings that the league typically gets for its’ annual All-Star game. The Hockey Hall of Fame Board Member attributed that to the fact that two points are at stake and it is on a day when most people are gathered “around the tv.” In addition the special on cable has helped create energy around the event.

“The buzz for this game is building and the 24/7 show has brought a lot of attention and focus to these two teams. The concept seems to be working and the response we’ve gotten from the fans has been really overwhelming,” said an excited Daly on what promises to be the highest rated Winter Classic yet.

Perhaps the biggest news Daly delivered concerned the possible venues for the future Winter Classic that the Washington Capitals will host. He talked about the extensive research the league has done on weather conditions around the country and said that as long as the temperatures do not climb above the 50 to 55 degree level then the only other concern would be rain. Daly mentioned that you have an advantage from a logistics standpoint when the game is played in a baseball stadium versus a football one because the league can get the necessary extra two to three days it needs to get the ice ready.

So where would a game hosted by Washington likely take place? Below is what Daly had to say on the matter.

“We’ve taken a look at both venues, FedEx Field and the Nationals Park. I think both can work but we’ve got to take a look at this..we’ve taken a look at a couple of other venues in this area and I think we’d like to keep it as close to Washington as we can, so I wouldn’t say those are the only two that have been considered, that decision hasn’t been made yet, but they clearly are the front runners,” started Daly.

“Certainly when we talked about the concept of doing it in the Washington area, whether Baltimore was kind of in the Washington area, yeah, it is. So it certainly has come into the conversation. I would say the preference again would be to do it in Washington, but certainly you’d have to look at those alternative sites if you need to,” finished Daly on the venue when I asked him if Camden Yards was a potential location for the future Caps hosted Winter Classic.

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Caps Lose 7th Straight in OT

Posted on 16 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

This is surely a test from the hockey gods because given the way the Washington Capitals played on Wednesday night, there is no way they should have lost to the Anaheim Ducks. But somehow the Caps did, falling 2-1 with 57 seconds remaining in overtime on a Ryan Getzlaf tally to extend their losing streak to seven games. Jonas Hiller (31 saves) and his good fortune were the keys to a Ducks victory and Washington’s record is now at 18-11-4, for a total of 40 points. With the Tampa Bay Lightning defeating the Atlanta Thrashers (2-1) in a shootout on Wednesday, the second and third place teams in the Southeast Division played a Caps worst case scenario “three point” tilt, and now both teams trail the Capitals by just two points in the standings. However, the Bolts have two games in hand while the Thrashers have just one.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from what should have been a Caps victory, if not for the lucky golden horseshoe that Hiller is holding onto right now:

– With Alexander Semin out of the lineup, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau took a different approach for this contest against the Ducks, who have arguably the best forward line in the NHL in Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry, by matching units all evening. This strategy, which Boudreau has rarely used with his talented Caps club but has been employed by many hockey coaches for years, is one that takes on a playoff game mentality and if not for a hit crossbar and a lucky stick save, the game plan would have produced a victory for Washington. The 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner attempted to put out Brooks Laich, Dave Steckel, and Matt Bradley every time the Getzlaf-Ryan-Perry unit was on the ice at even strength. For the most part it worked, although it was one of the Ducks big guns who scored the game winner. Still the Caps bench boss, despite the OT loss, was pleased with the effort and the way his club stuck to his script.

“They did the game plan to a tee. They were very focused. I thought we played very good. Sometimes you play very good and you lose. We got a point for the psyche, which is very big,” said a hoarse Boudreau, who then went on to talk about how hitting the 40 point mark was really good for the team from a mental standpoint.

“I look back to the Pittsburgh series where they were our checking line. I knew that if I gave them a job they would come out and do it. They were plus one until the overtime,” added Boudreau on the play of the 21-39-10 line, who played solid defense and also scored the lone Washington tally.

– Another side effect, and an advantage, of playing the line matching strategy, is that the entire bench has to be completely focused on what is going on in every situation in the game because they may have to jump on the ice in a moments notice. It is like a chess match and that type of style, which is draining if done night in and night out, will force players to become stronger upstairs. Boudreau commented on that following the tough loss.

“You are always on your toes, you are looking at what is going on. It makes you get mentally stronger whether you like it or not. We played a strong 3rd period, that tells me we are getting mentally stronger,” added the three time Southeast Division winning coach on the strategy and the improvement he saw in his squad on Wednesday night, this coming after a week in which he criticized the mental toughness of his team and its’ seeming desire to want to “feel sorry” for themselves when things went bad.

– For the first 30 minutes, this game was all Washington. The Caps outshot the Ducks 17-7 in the opening stanza but Hiller made some big saves. In period two, the goalie who carried Switzerland into the final four of the 2010 Olympic games, received some help from the iron on an Alexander Ovechkin breakaway and made an amazing stick save on Nicklas Backstrom when it appeared he had an open net to conclude a three on one break with Mike Green and Mike Knuble. In both situations, luck was clearly on his side and someone is intent on making the Caps suffer a little longer with this losing streak.

“I thought we did everything we could. When Alex hits the cross bar and Nicky, their goalie making a big save, and the chances we had to get to 2-0 or 3-0, it’s tough,” commented Boudreau on the bad fortune his team had early on when they totally carried the play.

– Backstrom was the best Caps player on Wednesday night and it was apparent that he is finally close to fully recovering from the flu bug. #19 set up the first Caps goal with a strong rush down the left wing boards around Lubomir Visnovsky. The Swede hit a charging John Carlson in stride but #74’s shot was blocked right to Laich in the slot. #21 then backhanded it home off of the left post at 14:22 of the opening stanza. Backstrom, who was 9-2 on face-offs, was the one who set up Ovechkin for his breakaway and as mentioned above, Hiller flat out robbed #19 on a 3 on 1 break with a lucky stick save that even Ducks coach Randy Carlyle commented on.

“When you go on the road, your goaltender’s got to find ways to give you a chance and he did more than his share of that. He gave us a chance and made some big stops. Particularly the one on [Nicklas] Backstrom – he was able to bat it out with his stick,” said the 2007-08 Stanley Cup winning coach and former Capitals assistant.

 

– Semyon Varlamov (22 saves) got the call in net for Washington after his worst performance of the season in New York on Sunday. #1 was fairly strong in net. His best save of the night was likely on Visnovsky, who had an easy lane to the cage after d-man Karl Alzner mistakenly left his feet in his own zone. That gaffe by #27 combined with Green battling to Varly’s right with a Ducks forward, allowed #17 to come down the slot, but the young Russian net minder made a superb pad save. The two tallies he allowed were not totally his fault. The first was a rebound in front on an Anaheim power play. The puck was fired on net by Cam Fowler and it hit #52’s skate and bounced right on Joffrey Lupul’s stick. Before Alzner could do anything the former Flyers forward deposited the puck by Varly. So when the bounces are not going your way, things like that happen, and clearly the Capitals are getting NO breaks right now. On the game winner, Getzlaf outworked Carlson on the boards and then he passed #15 off to Scott Hannan, but #23 was once again a step too slow and the superstar Ducks forward beat Varlamov in close. I am not sure how much of the shot #1 saw because of Hannan’s slow reaction.

– For anyone who watched the first episode of the HBO 24/7 series following the Caps loss, it was obvious that part of the Capitals problems right now is the change in style they are undergoing. The organization, after dominating in the regular season and then failing in the first round of the playoffs last season, is attempting to play a tighter, more defensive brand of hockey in an effort to gain more balance. For the second time in three games (with Saturday’s game against Colorado being the first), the Caps body of work on the ice seemed to be trending up.

“I thought if we can play like that, what did they have 21 shots? If you play like that, you are going to win a lot of hockey games. We have to win the 3-1 games and the 2-1 games. It might not look pretty and we won’t have a 60 goal scorer but we’ll have a 50 goal scorer. And he played tonight and he’ll get 50,” said Boudreau on what he thought of how his team played, the transformation they are going through, and the impact it will have on Ovechkin’s season goal total.

In addition, Boudreau said that he won’t always go this route against an opponent and it will all depend on his lineup and the matchups.

“It gives us the ability to play both ways. We might want to play, say against Boston, the other way because we have had success that way,” finished the head coach who has come under fire from some in the local and national media/blogosphere (but not in this blog).

Notes: 24/7, which is covering both the Caps and the Pittsburgh Penguins in their build up to the Winter Classic on January 1st,  revealed that Green missed the last two games due to a sprained MCL. #52 had a good game against Anaheim and logged over 29 minutes of ice time…the Caps won the face-off battle, 29-23, however Mathieu Perreault went 1-9…Alzner was paired with #52, logged 23:37, and was +1…the Caps went 0 for 2 on the power play. Next up for the Caps are the Boston Bruins in Beantown on Saturday at 7pm. Washington will practice for the next two days and Boudreau was happy to have that break after a tough loss saying “I think it is important for us to have 2 days before our next game.”

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Caps Fall to Avs, 3-2

Posted on 11 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time in the Bruce Boudreau era the Washington Capitals have a five game losing streak as the Caps flu ridden team dropped a 3-2 decision to the Colorado Avalanche at the Verizon Center on Saturday night. Once again the opposing goalie was the story as Craig Anderson stopped 40 shots and the Avs net minder was very fortunate to escape with a victory as the Capitals misfired on several good chances. Washington completes a four game home stand at 0-3-1 and their overall record falls to 18-10-3.

Here are the highlights and analysis from a good effort by the Caps that didn’t get the desired result:

– The Caps worked hard and arguably deserved to win but there are three plays that cost them a victory and they were all bad ones by Washington. First, Michal Neuvirth gave up an awful bad angle goal to Kevin Shattenkirk less than three minutes into this tilt. Second, Tom Poti is horribly out of position on an Avalance rush and Ryan Wilson comes down the slot all alone on #30 and beats him. Finally, with the score 2-1 Colorado, Alexander Semin, after taking two whacks to the midsection from John-Michael Liles, responded with a dirty and cheap shot cross check to the neck/back of the head of #4 and was whistled for a five minute major and a game misconduct. Argue all you want against that call and you will be wrong on that one, it was a stupid and selfish retaliation penalty. The Avalanche would score once on the long power play and that goal was the final difference.

– Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist, 5 hits, +1) was a force in this one and he, along with Matt Hendricks (1 goal and 4 hits), set the tone for Washington with their physical presence and determination. For many Capitals this was their best tilt of the disastrous home stand and their head coach certainly recognized it.

“That looked more like our team tonight…it is on the upswing, not on the downswing. If we have an effort like that tomorrow we might get rewarded for it,” started Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, “You could tell the difference with Alex, he was skating, he was moving and he was hitting. I thought he did a good job that way,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on his team captain’s strong effort against Colorado.

– Clearly the team missed the services of defenseman Mike Green, who is out with the flu, and it was rather apparent that Nicklas Backstrom is still struggling healthwise too. #19 was a terrible 4-15 on face-offs and he was uncharacteristically taken off the puck behind the net on several occassions, something that is a rarity. Boudreau was quick to give his #1 center a pass despite the lack of production.

“Backstrom could be better, he tried, but he’s coming right out of the sick bed,” finished Boudreau.

– Despite the fifth straight defeat there is no need to panic right now. Those calling for drastic measures should calm down. It is December and the Caps are banged up and not healthy at all at this point in time. Once this flu bug goes away, we’ll get a better idea of where the Caps are when they take on the Penguins twice in nine days between December 23rd and January 1st. If Washington doesn’t fair well in those tilts, then we can start talking changes, but I don’t expect the Caps to get beaten by a Pittsburgh club that might be peaking too early.

Notes: Next up for the Caps are the New York Rangers on Sunday at 7pm from Madison Square Garden and you can bet the farm that Semyon Varlamov will be in goal for Washington…I expect Semin to get at least a fine and perhaps a suspension for his dirty hit. There is no excuse for his actions on that play…Washington was outdueled, 36-31, from the face-off dot due to Backstrom’s struggles, which stem from his lack of strength due to the flu (perhaps someone else should have taken some of those draws?)…team guy Matt Bradley fought heavyweight Cody McLeod after #55 raced a good distance and hit him on the boards (no call from the zebras though for charging). #10, after being scratched against the Panthers, was -2 but that was the fault of Neuvirth and Poti…Marcus Johansson was scratched and his play has tailed off again, but he is a rookie…Mike Knuble had a goal and an assist and could have had more points since Ovechkin was a wrecking ball and constantly fed the puck into the crease area…that is it for tonight, sorry for the short blog, I have the flu too (was in Caps locker room following Thursday’s tilt).

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‘Hard Knocks’ with the Caps??!!

Posted on 23 September 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Move over Rex Ryan and the New York Jets, Bruce Boudreau and the Washington Capitals just might upstage you on HBO. Ross Greenburg, president of HBO Sports and John Collins, chief operating officer for the NHL, announced today that HBO Sports’ groundbreaking “24/7” reality franchise, which has captured 12 Sports Emmy® Awards, will join forces with the National Hockey League to take viewers inside one of the NHL’s great rivalries, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals, for 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS:  ROAD TO THE NHL WINTER CLASSIC, an innovative four-episode, all-access reality series.

Here is more from the Press Release:

The HBO Sports presentation debuts in prime time WEDNESDAY, DEC. 15 (10:00-11:00 p.m. ET/PT), with an immediate encore at 11:00 p.m., and follows the two clubs simultaneously, chronicling their highs and lows each week.  The teams will meet in a Dec. 23 regular-season matchup on the Capitals’ home ice, leading into episode three of 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS, as the build-up intensifies for the Jan. 1 showdown at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
           
Noted Greenburg, “Taking our reality series ‘24/7’ into the world of the National Hockey League is a perfect fit.  The ‘24/7’ franchise is fashioned on larger-than-life personalities, engaging storylines, and unrestricted access.  With Sidney Crosby leading the Penguins and Alex Ovechkin leading the Capitals, we have all the ingredients for a dynamic show that will take viewers deep inside professional hockey and set the stage for the Winter Classic.”
           
Said Collins, “Teaming up with the 12-time Emmy Award®-winning and much acclaimed HBO ‘24/7’ series gives us an incredible opportunity to bring our fans even deeper inside two model hockey organizations during the regular season as we lead into the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic.  In just three short years, the Winter Classic has become so well established on the national sports calendar it’s truly a New Year’s Day tradition.  Uniting HBO’s amazing reality series with one of sport’s greatest rivalries in an outdoor setting in front of 65,000 raucous fans will make this Winter Classic the most anticipated one yet.” 
            
Ensuing episodes of 24/7 PENGUINS/CAPITALS:  ROAD TO THE NHL WINTER CLASSIC debut on subsequent Wednesdays – Dec. 22 and 29 and Jan. 5 – at 10:00 p.m., with an immediate encore play at 11:00 p.m.  The Jan. 5 series finale debuts four days after the Classic, with cameras tracking all the drama and excitement surrounding the Capitals and Penguins on game day.  All four episodes will have multiple replay dates on HBO, and the series will also be available on HBO On Demand.
           
The series will provide exclusive behind-the-scenes access, along with in-depth interviews of coaches, players and front-office personnel, as the Caps and Penguins battle through their December schedules, meeting twice in one week, including the first-ever NHL game at Heinz Field. 

Bravo I say to the Caps, Penguins, the NHL, and HBO for doing this because this is the kind of exposure the NHL needs. I have covered every sport as a journalist and I can honestly say that hockey players are the friendliest and most down to earth to deal with, and no other sport comes close! After watching this four episode series I am confident that you will realize that as well. It is no surprise that Washington is participating given their owner, Ted Leonsis, is a modern media giant and one who recognizes and seizes any unique opportunity to help market his product. But anyone who has been around Caps GM George McPhee knows that he is very guarded in what he typically will reveal to the media, especially when it comes to his players, and for obvious reasons – he doesn’t want to give away any competitive advantage. In fact, when a bogus George McPhee twitter account popped up last week, Caps VP of Communications, Nate Ewell, quickly tweeted “I can think of 29 other GMs who would be on Twitter before George,” causing many who had followed the account initially to quickly unfollow it. (For the record, I would put Flames GM Darryl Sutter right up there with McPhee on having no interest in the social media texting product.)

However, as the Caps GM told the Washington Post’s Katie Carrera today, the positives far outweigh the negatives in deciding to allow this type of unfettered access in his club’s locker room and facilities and the GM is going with the program, literally.

“Frankly, it’s one of the easiest decisions that we’ve made with respect to this stuff,” McPhee said. “HBO’s really good and I said: ‘Let’s do this.’

Of course everyone wants to talk about Ovechkin and Crosby and the misconceptions on both, especially the Great #8, have been posted all over the place since Ovechkin’s teams started losing this past spring, first in the Olympics, then with the Caps in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and finally Team Russia in the final game of the World Championships. Case in point, this blog from Travis Hughes over at SB Nation, who calls the Great #8, “a cocky jerk.” I have never met Hughes but based on what he wrote, I am not sure he’s ever met Ovie because “cocky jerk” is one of the last descriptions I would pin on the Russian superstar after being around hundreds of his interviews over the past several years. In fact, this past Tuesday I interviewed the Great #8 about another one of his WOW! plays, albeit in an internal scrimmage, and instead of bragging about it the two time Hart Trophy winner turned to me and said “It was a lucky shot.” I could recite dozens and dozens of other exchanges similar to that one, but as the saying goes, haters are gonna hate. The bottom line on Ovechkin, for anyone who has been around him any extended period of time, is the guy just wants to win (and by the way he plans on having fun while doing that!). If he really cared just about himself and was the “cocky jerk” Hughes calls him, would the Great #8 really provide, like he did to Slava Malamud over at Japers Rink in this interview, the following answer when asked if he is guaranteeing at least 50 goals this season for himself, ‘No way. I have a different objective. To win.’? 

Anyways, it is clear this is going to be a great thing for the Caps, the Penguins, and the NHL and I can’t wait to watch it come December and then as things build up to the Winter Classic in Pittsburgh on January 1, 2011.

Notes: On Wednesday the Caps announced that goalie Michal Neuvirth was given a two year contract extension (apparently it will pay him $1.1M in each season). Neuvirth (NOY-vihrt), 22, recently won back to back Calder Cup titles with Washington’s AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears. He was 9-4-0 posting a 2.75 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage in 17 games with the Capitals last season. He went 7-1-0 with a 1.75 goals-against average and a.914 save percentage at Verizon Center last season. ..Washington announced more training camp cuts Thursday with Trevor Bruess, Josh Godfrey, Boyd Kane, Johann Kroll, Joel Rechlicz, Dustin Stevenson and Dylan Yeo sent to Hershey (Bears training camp starts on Monday the 27th at 9am)…The Caps won their initial preseason tilt in Columbus over the Blue Jackets on Wednesday night, 6-2, with Matt Hendricks tallying a hat trick. Alex Semin and Tomas Fleischmann also notched three points in the victory. Semyon Varlamov started the game in net and stopped all 20 shots he faced before exiting at the halfway point (replaced by Braden Holtby). Washington’s next preseason game is at Nashville on Saturday night at 8pm. They will open their home preseason schedule on Tuesday, September 28th at 7pm against the Boston Bruins at the Verizon Center…WNST is doing 10 Puck Busses this hockey season, including one to the Winter Classic so please check out details on WNST.NET.

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Theodore Leads Caps Over Pens in Shootout

Posted on 25 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Win Over Pens Sets Comcast Single Game Ratings Record

Posted on 22 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic posted all-time record ratings for regular-season Washington Capitals coverage – earning a 3.3 household rating and a 6.5 rating in the key Men 25-54 demographic – during last night’s (Jan. 21) road game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The National Hockey League’s premier rivalry attracted an average of 88,000 combined households in the Washington (76,000) and Baltimore (12,000) markets during the Capitals 6-3 win over the Penguins. During the third period, the game earned peak ratings of 4.2 in Washington and 1.5 in Baltimore, which equates to 113,000 combined households.

In the key demographic categories of Adults 25-54 (4.3), Men 18-49 (5.9) and Men 25-54 (6.5), Comcast SportsNet was the highest-rated television network in the Washington market during last night’s game and ranked second among Adults 18-49.

Last night’s record viewership shattered the previous single-game high for a Capitals regular-season game on Comcast SportsNet, set on April 5, 2008 against the Florida Panthers. The overall household rating eclipsed the previous mark by 32% and the 6.5 rating registered in the Men 25-54 demo was an increase of more than 117% over the previous record. Among Men 18-49, last night’s 5.9 rating broke the previous high by 64%. 

Through 46 games on Comcast SportsNet this season, the Capitals household ratings have seen a 15% increase compared to the same time-period last season and an increase of 149% versus 2007-08.

COMMENT: The Caps are no doubt a regional team in this area, as evidenced by these ratings. I applaud the hockey fans of Baltimore for supporting a club that has its best chance ever to win a Stanley Cup in 2010. I think every Baltimore sports fan would agree that beating Pittsburgh in ANY sport is always entertaining and fun! Also, kudos to the Washington Capitals organization for having the vision to reach out to the Baltimore sports fan.

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Laich, Ovechkin Lead Caps over Flyers, 5-3

Posted on 17 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Have Cup in Mind as Training Camp Set to Begin

Posted on 06 September 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Hockey is officially back starting tomorrow, September 7th as Washington Capitals rookie camp opens and then is followed by the veterans joining the action on Saturday, September 12th at Kettler Ice Plex in Ballston, Virginia. The Caps, who have made the playoffs the past two seasons as Southeast Division Champions, are looking to avenge last year’s second round seven game series loss to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins and get their hands on the cup themselves next June. As I blogged on many occasions during last season, the Caps became legitimate Stanley Cup contenders in 2008-09 and this year they appear to be even closer to reaching their goal. The Capitals continue to be a young team, led by soon to be 24  year old Alexander Ovechkin (9/17), and should mature even more this season as superstars in the making Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green are about to embark on just their third full season in the league.

Caps GM George McPhee has put together a very solid team that is deep on defense and Coach Bruce Boudreau’s aggressive style is exactly the type of system that fits the personnel McPhee has assembled. In short, this is a competitive and exciting team to watch and Caps tickets will continue to be tough to obtain.

So after losing an ultra close series to the Penguins and watching them host Lord Stanley’s Cup, just where do the Caps stand now in relation to the rest of the league? Well, I had a chance to catch up with an NHL scouting director recently to get his take on the off-season and he made a point of saying that he thinks that the Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings have lost ground since the Stanley Cup Finals. He felt that the departures of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill on defense would hurt Pittsburgh and said Detroit is an aging team with shaky goaltending (but they still have Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyuk). He also criticized the moves made by the Chicago Blackhawks (he is not a Marian Hossa fan and going with Cristobal Huet in net is risky) and felt that the hiring of Brent Sutter as head coach in Calgary would really help them considerably.

So given that the Pens needed seven games to dispose of the Caps and Washington has improved despite forwards Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov heading to Russia (but McPhee added Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison) you could make an argument that the Caps are the favorites to win the Eastern Conference in 2009-10. I’m sure the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, and Carolina Hurricanes (along with the defending champs) would beg to differ with that statement. For Washington to win the East they need to have the every day mind set that they are the team to beat and conduct themselves accordingly, starting this week in training camp, so that when April comes around they are ready to roll and not endure the bumps they faced early in last seasons playoffs (lost 3 of the first 4 opening series games to the Rangers).

It is a long way until April but as I alluded to above, everything the Caps do now sets the stage for the playoffs in April so here are some of the things I will be watching closely this next month in preparation for the start of the regular season:

1. Goaltending Battle – Back during development camp in July Boudreau announced that Jose Theodore, who has one year left on his current contract, was his #1 goalie heading into training camp. 21 year old Simeon Varlamov stole that job from #60 in the playoffs last spring and he is clearly the netminder of the future for Washington. In addition, 21 year old Michal Neuvirth led the Hershey Bears to the Calder Cup (AHL Championship) in June and is in the mix. Also up and coming is 19 year old Braden Holtby who looks to play in Hershey this year after a strong junior season in Saskatoon in 2008-09. By the way, Varlamov, Neuvrith, and Holtby all take the ice on Monday, September 7th when rookie camp commences.

2. Top Six Forwards Cohesion – Boudreau routinely shuffled his lines last season often putting Ovechkin and Backstrom with Alexander Semin when he needed scoring. Will that be the top line or will Knuble with the Great #8 and Backstrom work better while Semin plays with Morrison and either Tomas Fleischmann or Brooks Laich on the second line? Boudreau has mentioned he would like more stability with his top six forwards.

3. Which 7 players on D make the team? – The Caps have a lot of NHL caliber defensemen starting with Green, then you have veteran Tom Poti as the likely #2 defensemen. After that it gets interesting. Brian Pothier, who is an unrestricted free agent following this season, claims to finally be healthy and in shape and seeks to become a top 4 defensemen but he will battle the likes of 20 year old Karl Alzner (turns 21 on 9/24), Shaone Morrisonn, the much improved Milan Jurcina, the physical John Erskine, 23 year old and former 2004 first round pick Jeff Schultz, and 19 year old potential star John Carlson. That is 9 guys clamoring for 7 slots and as we all know, competition typically makes guys get better, so this will be fun to watch.

Other interesting stories will be:

– The return of team captain/forward Chris Clark, who claims to finally be healthy again. Can he regain his skating ability and scoring touch (he had 30 goals playing with Ovechkin in 2006-07)?

– The progression of Fleischmann (19 goals in 2008-09), who improved despite battling a severe case of pnuemonia last season. Will the 25 year old become a consistent top 6 forward?

– The impact that the loss of Donald Brashear will have on the team. Do the Caps need a tough guy? Can Matt Bradley and Erskine handle that role? Or will a potent power play be enough of a deterrent to other teams?

– Can forward Chris Bourque finally make the Caps or will he be traded? Bourque may get caught in a numbers game in DC.

– Will 2008 first round draft pick Anton Gustaffson make it through training camp without getting injured?

– How close are young guys like Matthieu Perrault (21) and Oskar Osala (21) to becoming the call ups of choice from Hershey this season?

We will see how things unfold these next several days and weeks. If you want to get out to Kettler and catch the practice sessions they are FREE and OPEN to the public. Click to get the complete team roster and training camp schedule. As always, please drop me a comment if you have a question or something to say about the Caps.

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Hershey Bears Calder Cup Champions; Penguins win Stanley Cup (Updated)

Posted on 12 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears are the Calder Cup Champions after knocking off the Manitoba Moose, 4-1, in game six of their series tonight in Winnipeg. Hershey blitzed Moose goalie Cory Schneider for three goals in the first period and never looked back. Rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth, who won the Jack A. Butterfield trophy for AHL playoff MVP, made 24 saves to get the win.  Andrew Gordon, Chris Bourque, Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin scored for Hershey. Congrats to the Bears and the Washington Capitals organization!

Revenge is a dish best served cold if you are a Penguins fan tonight as Pittsburgh held off a furious Red Wings rally to win the Stanley Cup in exciting fashion, 2-1, to avenge last season’s Stanley Cup Finals loss to Detroit. Hockey fans will be watching the incredible Marc-Andre Fleury save on Nicklas Lidstrom with one second left for years to come. Evgeni Malkin was the Conn Smythe Award Winner for Playoff MVP but in my mind, the Pens aren’t anywhere without Sidney Crosby (who was injured in game 7 and barely played after that). Crosby carried this team in the first two rounds, especially against the Caps, and he goes against the opponents best defensive group every game while Malkin gets the second unit.

In Detroit tonight, defenseman Brad Stuart is wearing the goat horns for taking the first penalty (slashing Malkin), then giving the puck away that allowed Maxime Talbot to make it 1-0 Pens, and then pinching at the blue line to set up a two on one for Pittsburgh that they, of course, scored on (Talbot again). I’ve been saying this all playoffs and will say it again – the Penguins are about as good a team as I’ve ever seen at converting two on one breaks.

Btw, please check out my on air discussion with Nestor today in the WNST audio vault (http://wnst.net/wordpress/section/audio/) for my pre game thoughts on the NHL and AHL finals.

For Caps and Baltimore sports fans it was tough seeing Pittsburgh win another trophy but given that the Caps lost two contests in OT to the Pens before bowing out in 7 games should make you and the entire Caps organization realize that they are very close to their first ever Stanley Cup victory. With some salary cap room freeing up from the Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov departures (and hopefully a Michael Nylander release too), Caps GM George McPhee should finally have some cap space to make the moves he needs to put Washington over the top. There is lots of talent in this organization in the NHL, AHL, and ECHL (the Caps team down there, the South Carolina Stingrays, won the Championship as well).

The NHL Awards show is next week from Las Vegas (Alexander Ovechkin should win the Hart Trophy for MVP and Mike Green is up for the Norris Trophy (best defenseman)), followed by the NHL draft the week after in Montreal (June 26 on Versus), and then free agency begins on July 1 so the NHL off-season will start fast and furious.

Congrats again to Coach Bob Woods and the Hershey Bears on their championship!

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