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Caps Re-Sign Karl Alzner for 2 Years

Posted on 15 July 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals announced today that they have re-signed defensemen Karl Alzner to a two year deal. Alzner, who was  a restricted free agent, signed for $1.3M in 2011-12 and $1.27M in 2012-13 according to Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) from WashingtonCapitals.com. #27, who was the fifth overall selection in the 2007 NHL Entry draft, is an excellent defensemen so this was an absolutely great deal for the Caps from a salary cap standpoint. When the contract expires Alzner will be a restricted free agent again with arbitration rights, assuming the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement does not change.

King Karl could have received an offer sheet from any team holding their own 2nd round draft pick for up to $3.14M a season and the draft choice would have been all the Caps would have gotten in return, if they opted not to match (my gut says they would have matched an offer like that). However, ever since Kevin Lowe inked Dustin Penner from Anaheim in the summer of 2007 and upset Ducks GM Brian Burke, there has not been any significant NHL RFA signings.

This deal puts Washington just under $65.2M (thanks cap geek) or about $900K over the salary cap, however, that includes defensemen Tom Poti, who will likely retire or start the season on long term injured reserve. Poti is set to count $2.875M against the cap in 2011-12 and if he can’t play then General Manager George McPhee has cap room to maneuver and continue to upgrade his team, as needed.

Below is the full press release on the Alzner signing from the Capitals:

The Washington Capitals have re-signed defenseman Karl Alzner to a two-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We are pleased to have re-signed Karl Alzner to a two-year contract,” said McPhee. “We feel he’s an important part of our defensive core who logs critical minutes against other teams’ top players.”

Alzner, 22, recently completed his first full season in the NHL, playing in all 82 games with the Capitals and posting career highs in goals (two), assists (10), points (12), penalty minutes (24) and plus/minus (+14). His 132 blocked shots were third on the team while his 98 hits were tied for seventh. Alzner was one of just three NHL defenseman aged 22 and younger to play in all 82 regular-season games. In addition, he ranked sixth on the team in average time on ice per game (20:00). The Burnaby, British Columbia, native recorded an assist in nine playoff games and was tied for second on the team with 20 blocked shots.

From 2008 through 2010, Alzner appeared in 103 AHL games with the Hershey Bears, collecting 41 points (seven goals, 34 assists) and a plus-57 rating while helping lead the team to the 2010 Calder Cup championship. 

A two-time gold medalist at the IIHF World Junior Championship with Canada, Alzner captained the Canadian team in 2007-08 and was named one of the team’s top three players by the coaching staff. Alzner also represented Canada in the 2007 Canada/Russia Super Series and played for the WHL team in the 2006 Canada-Russia Challenge.

The 6’3”, 206-pound blueliner collected 117 points (19 goals, 98 assists) in 260 games with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League (WHL) from 2004-2008 and was named the WHL Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year in 2007-08. 

Alzner was drafted by Washington in the first round (5th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Notes: The also re-signed Hershey forward Francois Bouchard to a one year deal…Caps development camp ends on Saturday with Fan Fest and a scrimmage at 10am at Kettler IcePlex.

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Caps Re-Sign Laich / GM McPhee Talks Moves

Posted on 28 June 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee re-signed hard working and fan favorite forward Brooks Laich to a monster six year, $27.5M deal today. Below is most of the official press release from the Caps, followed with info from GMGM’s press conference, and then my take on what may transpire over the next few weeks for Washington.

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“We are very pleased to have Brooks Laich continue his career as a Washington Capital,” said McPhee. “Brooks has excelled as one of the League’s finer two-way players and is just entering his prime. His combination of size, speed, versatility and leadership makes him a valuable part of our club.”

Laich, 28, finished fourth on the Capitals in points (48), fifth in goals (16) and third in assists (32) while posting a plus-14 plus/minus rating and collecting 46 penalty minutes. For the third time in his career, he played in all 82 of Washington’s regular-season games and finished second on the Caps with 207 shots on goal. In addition, Laich closed out the 2010-11 campaign fifth on the team in hits (113) and won 51.3 percent of his faceoffs. He scored his 100th career NHL goal on Mar. 15 at Montreal and finished second on the team in points during the playoffs (7) while leading the Caps with six postseason assists in nine games. Laich also finished first amongst Capitals forwards in average shorthanded ice time per game (2:18) and was instrumental in leading the Caps penalty kill unit that ranked second in the NHL during the regular season.      

“I’m thrilled to make the commitment to remain a Capital,” said Laich. “It is a wonderful organization with terrific fans and I’m very happy to continue to call Washington home for many years to come.”

The 6’2”, 215-pound center set career-highs in goals (25), assists (34) and points (59) during the 2009-10 season and scored 20 or more goals in three straight seasons from 2007-2010. In 475 career regular-season games, Laich has recorded 237 points (100 goals, 137 assists) and is a plus-14. In 37 career playoff games, he has tallied seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points.

The Wawota, Saskatchewan, native is second among active Capitals players in franchise games played (474), fifth in points (237), third in goals (100) and fifth in assists (137). Laich is 15th amongst his 2001 draft class in points but is one of only three players in the top 15 to be drafted later than the third round.

Laich was a sixth-round draft pick (193rd overall) by Ottawa in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He was acquired from Ottawa along with the Senators’ second-round draft pick in 2005 (traded to Colorado) and future considerations for Peter Bondra on Feb. 18, 2004. 

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Laich has really turned himself into a very good hockey player with his drive and hard work. He was set to become a free agent on July 1st and several teams would likely have bid on him. McPhee spoke to the media this afternoon (video available on washingtoncaps.com) and talked about the importance of signing his own players. He also highlighted #21′s ability to play center, something he thinks we’ll see more of in 2011-12. Laich made $2.4M last season, so this is a hefty raise, but given that the salary cap is going up close to $5M per team and there are several clubs that aren’t even at the cap floor of $48.3M, the deal doesn’t look as bad given what the open market might have resulted in contract-wise for #21.

McPhee also mentioned that there is a lot of talking going on between teams in the league right now but he is not imminently close to any deals. He did say that he thinks that prices will be way up in free agency so he doesn’t expect the Caps to be players there in a thin market, he sees the more likely scenario of Washington making a trade with another club. As for the Varlamov situation, the GM said that the club will either have three goalies next season, meaning Varly re-signs with the Caps, or they’ll go with two (Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby).

The Laich signing ($4.5M per year cap hit) gives the Caps some high cap figure players towards the $64.3M ceiling to include Alexander Ovechkin (~$9.5M), Nicklas Backstrom ($6.7M), Alexander Semin ($6.7M), Mike Green ($5.25M), and Dennis Wideman ($3.9M). Tom Poti ($2.875M), Jeff Schultz ($2.75M), Eric Fehr ($2.2M), and Mike Knuble ($2.0M) are also signed for at least the upcoming season and will make over $2M. Karl Alzner, Troy Brouwer, and Varlamov are the next three guys who would likely be over $2M if they are re-signed. Washington could get some salary cap relief if Poti is unable to recover from his groin problems that plagued him significantly last year (potential retirement?). However, #3′s status will not be known until training camp. McPhee felt that the Capitals are in good shape with the salary cap and they have flexibility to do what is needed to be done to try and win a Stanley Cup.

Both Green and Semin head into the last year of their current deals in 2011-12 so the threat of possibly losing an asset next summer begins looming with both players. McPhee historically has done a good job of not giving up high end players without receiving something in return. I would imagine the team may still be looking for a center if Jason Arnott is not back, as I expect to be the case. Backstrom is the clear #1 and Marcus Johansson is a natural fit to be a super third line center. Putting MJ90 on the second line could put too much pressure on the young Swede so it seems like Laich is the fall back #2 center if another pivot is not added.

More depth on defense is also a likely possibility, especially if unrestricted free agent Scott Hannan is not re-signed. GMGM talked again about the injuries on defense being a big reason for the second round playoff loss to Tampa, so one way to avoid that next year is to find more puck movers in case the injury bug hits again, which seems to be a frequent situation with #52 come post season time.

The GM talked last Saturday after the Brouwer trade about adding more guys with Cup experience so I don’t think he is done putting the 2011-12 club together yet. Clearly the next two weeks are going to be interesting times for Capitals fans, so stay glued to the internet for any breaking Caps news!

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Senators Blank Caps, 2-0

Posted on 25 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Absolutely nothing went the Capitals way on Friday night in Ottawa. Craig Anderson made several good saves plus was a little lucky when he had to be, Washington made some huge defensive gaffes, and the officiating was downright horrible. When you add that all up it leads to a Caps shutout loss, 2-0, to the Senators. The defeat drops the Capitals record to 43-22-10 (96 points) but they still lead the Southeast Division by seven points as a result of Tampa’s 4-3 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game in which the NHL Director of Officiating, Terry Gregson, should be pretty embarrassed about:

- Anderson (31 saves) was very good for the Sens but he was also the beneficiary of some overpassing by Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin on a Washington power play in the second period when the game was scoreless. In addition, rookie Marcus Johansson rifled one through #41′s pads in the third period but the puck just trickled wide and an Ottawa defender scooped it out of harm’s way. Still, the journeyman goalie, who recently signed a big four year contract ($12.75M total) to stay in Ottawa, was very solid and calm in net and was easily the game’s number one star.

- The Caps made some big mistakes in their own zone and it cost them on both Ottawa goals. On the first tally, Scott Hannan chased Jason Spezza the wrong way around the Capitals cage and that allowed #19 to put a pass in front to a streaking Colin Greening out of the corner. Greening badly beat Caps d-man John Erskine to the front of the net but the puck hit both of his skates and then he interfered with Semyon Varlamov (21 saves) as he knocked the puck in the cage with his skate for an Ottawa 1-0 lead at 12:25 of the middle frame. Referee Stephane Auger called it a goal but then huddled with the other zebra, Kelly Sutherland. After they conferred with the league in Toronto, the goal stood despite being obvious goalie interference, which apparently is not reviewable. On the second Senators goal, early in period three, Karl Alzner blindly throws the puck up the boards right to Milan Michalek, who feeds it to Erik Condra in the slot. #38 then slid one by Varly as he went down too late into the butterfly position. There were other poor plays by the Washington defensemen on this night that didn’t lead to goals. Overall I would grade the defense as “below average” in this contest. They only gave up 23 shots but they made some big mistakes that will cost them in the post season if they don’t clean it up.

- As for the offense, the Caps did have the 31 shots but there were not a lot from in front of the cage. The Capitals showed some very good puck movement on their first two power plays and Brooks Laich looked excellent on the right point, but Semin made several wrong decisions with the biscuit that prevented Washington from lighting the lamp. On one sequence #28 held onto the puck below the goal line and skated up the right wing boards when Backstrom was wide open in front. He also was a victim of too many moves and over passing on some down low two on ones with the man advantage. Backstrom also tried to force a pass when he had a great chance on Anderson with the game scoreless. The Capitals routinely didn’t get pucks deep and cycle the Senators defense, who likely would have tired having played in New York the night before. Simply put, this was a LAZY offensive effort by Washington, in my book.

- Varlamov, who started for the first time since winning in Buffalo on February 20th, was good in goal. He had to face some quality chances and he did fairly well. He’d probably like another shot at the 2nd goal but Alzner did help Michalek put that one on a tee for Condra. Michal Neuvirth was slated to start this game but came down with an illness and it is possible that Braden Holtby could be recalled for Saturday’s game in Montreal either to start or backup Varly.

- As for the officiating, it was definitely the worst Caps game I’ve seen called all season. I’ve already talked about the mistake on the Senators first goal, which was the result of goalie interference, but there were two other BLATANT mistakes made in this game. First, Matt Hendricks took a stick to the head early on but after an initial high sticking penalty was called on David Hale, and it should have been a double minor since #26 was cut, the referees took #36 out of the penalty box. Shortly thereafter Al Koken of Comcast interviewed assistant coach Bob Woods on the bench who told him that the referees thought that Hendricks was cut with a skate. If you ask me, not only were the four referees blind for missing that, but they are also stupid. If a skate was up that high around Hendricks head and caught him where he was cut, he likely would have lost his eye and bled pretty badly. The other big miss was on a clean shoulder check on Patrick Wiercioch by Matt Bradley above the goal line. Wiercioch went down hard and slid into the boards. Somehow the referees called it boarding prompting Hockey Night in Canada’s Jeff Marek to question that logic via Twitter. Bradley also got jumped for the clean check by Zack Smith and the Caps would have had a power play if boarding wasn’t called on #10. Finally, the game was also called very inconsistently with hits and holds not very clearly defined, which had to make it tough for the players to know what the rules were on this given night. After the game on Twitter, HNIC’s Cassie Campbell stated how bad the officiating was and referenced the no call on the high stick to Hendricks. Gregson and the NHL cannot let this type of officiating happen starting April 13th.

- The Caps are now 3-2 on this six game road trip and they once again played without Alexander Ovechkin, Jason Arnott, Mike Green, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti. On Monday we should know more about the status of those five with Green’s injury being the most concerning. Saturday’s tilt in Montreal is the final meeting between the Caps and the Canadiens in the regular season (Caps are 2-0-1). Right now the Habs sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and both teams could meet again in the first round of the playoffs depending on what happens down the stretch.

Notes: Dennis Wideman led the Caps in ice time with 24:25. Laich led the Caps forwards playing 23:30…the Capitals were smoked on faceoffs, 32-19. Johansson went 1-9 and Backstrom was 7-13…Washington had five shots on net on their three power plays. They only gave up four shots while shorthanded on three attempts.

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The Playoff Impacts of Alexander Ovechkin’s Injury

Posted on 21 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Big news out of Kettler Iceplex today as Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau stated that Alexander Ovechkin would be out for an estimated seven to 10 days to deal with an injury situation. Naturally, with the NHL playoffs just over three weeks away, the exact nature of the injury will not be disclosed, much like with the Jason Arnott announcement one week ago today. The Great #8 joins Arnott, Mike Green, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti as key components who are out of the Washington lineup right now. While on the surface this might seem like a big blow to the Capitals Stanley Cup chances, in reality, it isn’t. In fact, being extra cautious with ailing players right now makes a ton of sense and could likely pay off over the next few months.

Washington is in pretty good shape to lock up their fourth straight Southeast Division title with a five point lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning and even if they did manage to lose that margin over their last nine games (the Bolts have 10 tilts left), would it really matter? Likely not at all, as the Caps are going to be in the post season and what happens then and beyond is all this team will be judged on. Since training camp opened we’ve heard the organization talk about the first 82 games not mattering too much this year. General Manager George McPhee told me on Media Day back in October that he “really didn’t care about the regular season, as long as [the Caps] make the playoffs.” One could argue that every decision since then, from the schematic switch from an aggressive offensive system to a more responsible defensive posture all the way up to the moves made on NHL trade deadline day have been about one thing – doing what is needed to increase the likelihood that the Capitals play their best hockey in the post season this spring.

As good as last season’s team was in a Presidents’ Trophy winning regular season, everyone witnessed the first round collapse and McPhee and Boudreau have been doing everything in their power to not let it happen again this season. Examining the club on paper, position by position, I don’t think there is any doubt that the 2010-11 Washington Capitals team, despite all of the criticism they’ve received this year, is a much better one heading into April than last year’s crew. With Arnott at second line center they finally have that big pivot man that is needed in the post season. #44 is a significant upgrade over last year’s second line center, Eric Belanger. In fact, add in rookie Marcus Johansson and the Nicklas Backstrom/Arnott/MJ90 trio is likely the best Washington has had up the middle in the Boudreau era.

On defense, the top five blue liners are Green, Dennis Wideman, John Carlson, Scott Hannan, and Karl Alzner. Boudreau can either go with Poti, if he is healthy, or opt for Jeff Schultz or John Erskine as his sixth defenseman, depending on the opponent. This is a major improvement over last year’s crew that included Joe Corvo and Shaone Morrisonn, two mediocore, at best, blue liners. Alzner didn’t even arrive on the scene in last year’s post season until game seven and by then it was too late. #27 is +15 in his first full season in the NHL.

In net, 2010-11 will be the first time in three seasons that the Capitals don’t have to start Jose Theodore in game one of the playoffs, thank goodness. Theo failed miserably in goal and whether Boudreau goes with the more NHL playoff experienced Semyon Varlamov or rookie Michal Neuvirth, who incidentally hasn’t ever lost a North American playoff series (h/t @JapersRink), it doesn’t matter, the goaltending should be better. Of course if both falter or are injured, rookie Braden Holtby, who won the NHL’s first star of the week on March 14th, is also an option.

Down the stretch in 2009-10, the majority of the Caps headlines were all about the regular season dominance and individual statistics and trophies. Both Ovechkin and Green were positioned for post season hardware nominations while Alexander Semin was focused on a 40 goal season in an attempt to try and maximize his free agent earning power for the summer of 2011. During that closing stretch #52 took a slash to the arm in Columbus and was never right for the post season. Ovechkin also played out the string and after the series was over it was revealed he was banged up as well. Following that game seven loss, the mad dash for stats, trophies, and big contracts all seemed so futile.

Flash forward to now, especially since #44 arrived on deadline day, and we are reading about Ovechkin and Semin spending lots of time with Arnott picking his brain about what it takes to win in the post season (thanks @dcsportsbog). In my mind, #28 played his best hockey of the season when he was finally paired with a true second line center in Arnott, much like he did when Sergei Fedorov was here in 2008 and 2009. Semin re-upped for another year here and there is no more talk from him or his agent about “the dollars.” It seems that the two young Russians stars are on a mission to shut their critics up once and for all and that they just might have matured as a result of the Capitals past playoff disappointments.

Like I said earlier, on paper this team is better than last year’s at this stage, but that heavily depends on the health of Ovechkin, Arnott, Backstrom, Semin, and Green, as well as a few others. Therefore, the cautious approach to the last nine games of the NHL regular season that both McPhee and Boudreau appear to be taking makes great sense and hopefully will pay dividends for them starting April 13th and beyond, when health and the matchups will be huge factors in the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup. It’s only 23 days away, but who’s counting?

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Caps McPhee Shines on NHL Deadline Day

Posted on 01 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Capitals General Manager George McPhee, who has seen his club win just one playoff series since the 1998 season, had to be feeling some pressure coming in to Monday’s NHL trading deadline given his team’s inconsistent regular season following its’ stunning first round loss to the Montreal Canadiens last spring. And boy did the Washington GM deliver on a day when it appeared that achieving his goals of significantly improving his hockey club might be difficult to attain given the limited trade market.

The crafty NHL exec filled his second line center hole with Jason Arnott, who has been a captain in the league and also won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils back in 2000, and brought in another puck moving defensemen in Dennis Wideman. In return he didn’t yield any of the organizations future 1st round draft picks and protected his prize prospect list that includes center Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010 1st round pick and projected future Caps 2nd line center), Hershey defenseman Dmitri Orlov (2009 2nd round pick), WHL forward Cody Eakin (2009 3rd round pick), and Hershey goalie Braden Holtby. McPhee did part with the Caps 3rd round pick in 2011, their second rounder in 2012, ECHL forward Jake Hauswirth, and forward Dave Steckel. The biggest loss, of course, was Steckel who leads the NHL in faceoff percentage at over 63%, but to get something good, you have to give something back and #39 was the sacrificial lamb on this day.

Clearly, the Arnott acquisition was the biggest because ever since Sergei Fedorov left after the 2009 season finding a pivot behind Nicklas Backstrom has been a monumental headache for McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau. Arnott is up there at age 36, but he can still play and just three years ago he had 72 points in 79 games playing mostly alongside another enigmatic Russian winger named Alexander Radulov. Is it possible that Arnott and Alexander Semin can form some quick chemistry and provide Boudreau with that much needed second unit to finally make an opposing bench boss pay for focusing solely on Alexander Ovechkin?

The former first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers (7th overall in 1993) had to waive his no movement clause to come to the Capitals so clearly a player who figures to be another locker room leader sees a talented and inexperienced club that could benefit from his services and leadership. No, he isn’t Brad Richards (who remained a Dallas Star after being named as the deadline’s most desirable player all winter) or Stephen Weiss or Ales Hemsky, some other names that were bantered about as possibilities to fill the Caps void at center, but he was the best center actually available and McPhee grabbed him when a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins was in the running as well. Arnott could finally be McPhee’s revenge on Penguins GM Ray Shero for acquiring Bill Guerin on trade deadline day in 2009 instead of ending up in DC, a move that helped yield the Pens the Stanley Cup.

With the injuries to defenesmen Mike Green, who will be out at least a couple of weeks due to his head injury, and Tom Poti (chronic groin), the need for the Washington GM to add another puck rushing/moving blue liner was paramount. Wideman, who scored 13 goals and was +32 for the Boston Bruins when they won the Eastern Conference regular season in 2008-09, fits that bill and the hope is that he can help a severely struggling Capitals offense. Wideman, who played on Dale Hunter’s London Knights Ontario Hockey League teams from 2001 to 2004, will only turn 28 on March 20th and said he was “excited” to join the Caps. McPhee said he phoned Hunter Monday morning to inquire about the type of player Wideman is and #32 responded, “If he has to block a shot with his face, he will do that.”

In his post trade teleconference, Wideman felt that he could help out the power play and noted that he was happy to not have to try and stop Ovechkin anymore. The man who will number 6 in DC also said that when facing the Washington man advantage, the focus was to keep the puck away from the Great #8 and now he will have the opportunity to try and get him the puck. The added bonus with Wideman is that he is not a rental, he is signed for the 2011-12 season, although the salary cap hit is a bit high at $3.875M.

Arnott’s salary cap hit is $4.5M so today’s tally was pricey, however, because both Eric Fehr and Poti were placed retroactively on LTIR, the Capitals are still under the salary cap and McPhee said if both were healthy tomorrow, which is not the case, they could play and Washington would still be under the NHL’s spending ceiling. In today’s economic driven NHL, it is so hard to pull off the big blockbuster deals that we saw in yesteryear, like when former Caps GM David Poile landed Dino Ciccarelli and Calle Johansson in 1989 and Washington went on to win their first ever Patrick Division title. Is it possible these moves help the Capitals catch the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Southeast Division title? Perhaps, but I imagine right now the focus for the Caps is simply to integrate these new players over the last 19 games and get them ready to take this franchise deep into the playoffs, something they have not done since 1998.

For McPhee tonight, he can finally get a good night’s sleep because his work on improving this hockey club is now done. Many around the league have proclaimed the Capitals as the NHL trade deadline winners after Monday’s events, but in the end all that matters is who walks away in June holding Lord Stanley’s Cup. Maybe Jason Arnott will become Washington’s Butch Goring? Stay tuned….

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Caps Neuvirth Blanks Pens Again

Posted on 22 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

No Sidney Crosby, No Evgeni Malkin, No Mike Green, No Tom Poti, No Paul Martin, etc..it doesn’t matter, it’s the Capitals and Penguins and these two teams despise each other so everyone knew that the VERSUS game of the week was going to be can’t miss action on Monday night, and both teams delivered. Michal Neuvirth, who was called ”Shaky” by Pens Coach Dan Bylsma back in December during the HBO 24/7 series, stopped 39 shots to blank the Penguins for the second straight game. I imagine the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup winning coach is regretting ever uttering those words now because Neuvy OWWWNNNSSS the Pens!

The victory for Washington, which completes a 10 day road trip at 3-2, gives them a 3-0-1 record against their archrivals this season and improves the team to 32-19-10 (74 points). They trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by a single point in the Southeast Division race but the Bolts have two games in hand.

Here are the highlights and analysis from an intense hockey game that was decided by an Alexander Ovechkin power play goal:

- The Caps won tonight, but let’s be honest, they did not play very well overall. They were severely outworked by what some may call an AHL team in the first period and as a result were shorthanded three times to just one for Pittsburgh in that stanza. In the second frame they came out and took the play to the Penguins and grabbed the lead on Ovechkin’s rocket. Washington had the better personnel on the ice tonight with all of the injuries for both teams but hard work will even things up quickly, and that is what happened on Monday night. In the third period, the Pens outshot the Caps 14-3, but many of those were from the perimeter as the Capitals were employing their defensive scheme that is working and frustrates the opposition. Overall the shots were 39-24 in favor of Pittsburgh, with the Caps winning the middle period, 14-7 and 1-0 on the scoreboard, which was the final tally.

- As I mentioned above, the Capitals had the better talent with guys like Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom on the ice. The Great #8 turned in a hard working performance while the other two did not play well. Backstrom did have a big shot block in the closing seconds but he just doesn’t look like the strong on the boards and confident #19. I wonder if that shoulder injury he suffered last spring is still a factor or perhaps it is holding back his ability to gain upper body strength because he just doesn’t look like the same elite player? I am a big Backstrom fan and I’d like to be wrong on that analysis and hope that #19 is simply saving himself for the playoffs, but still, his recent play is a concern for me right now. As for Semin, I am not sure he broke much of a sweat in 17 minutes of hockey. He routinely turned the puck over in the offensive zone with too many moves and he was not physical at all along the wall like he can be when he puts his mind to playing hockey.

- But when Neuvirth is playing as well as he did tonight, it doesn’t matter. #30 was outstanding and he controlled the Penguins shots giving up very few rebounds. His positioning was superb as well. In addition, his defensemen were very good in front of him by letting their net minder see the shots or if that was going to fail, blocking them. I thought Jeff Schultz, Scott Hannan, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson were really good on the back end tonight and they had to be. Each played over 21 and a half minutes as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wisely did not put the John Erskine and Tyler Sloan duo out too often (played 12:12 and 11:29, respectively).

- Up front Boudreau got a really solid game from rookie Marcus Johansson, who had the first assist on the Ovechkin power play tally (Mike Knuble had the other helper). MJ90, who is only 20 years old, will occassionally get taken off the puck fairly easily due to his youth and lack of size. However, he is finding a way to fight through that and make a difference. He is a guy who the Caps bench boss is not afraid to put out in his own zone in a close game, which the same cannot be said for Mathieu Perreault (only 8:09 of ice time, but he did get banged up early on too in this one). I don’t think Johansson is a 2nd line center right now and certainly not the guy there for the playoffs, but he can be effective on the 3rd line, provided he still has something left in the tank after this long rookie regular season, which is his first on North American rinks (Sweden has larger rinks and therefore, less contact).

- Boudreau made a very wise move using his timeout with just over 16 minutes left in the third period as his club was running around in their own end and had just iced the puck. After that the Capitals gave up some shots, but not many quality chances as they were content to get the puck to the red line and dump it deep. With that strategy a depleted Penguins lineup had to bring it the length of the ice to score, and they couldn’t do that leaving the fans at the CONSOL Energy center with nothing to cheer for on the evening, other than perhaps a Ryan Craig-Matt Bradley fight, but from my vantage point, #10 defeated the Pens call up in the bout. Craig went after Bradley after the Caps winger absolutely PASTED cheap shot artist Matt Cooke into the right wing boards in period two.

- In summary, this was a win at the end of a long road trip that solidifies the Capitals as a playoff team. Now it is all about positioning in the standings as well as waiting to see what General Manager George McPhee will do to improve the squad before next Monday’s trade deadline (2/28 at 3pm).

Notes: The Caps lost the face off battle 36-33 (Backstrom 13-17)…the Caps thwarted all three Pittsburgh power plays and scored on one of their three. However, before the Great #8′s laser, the Pens had two good shorthanded chances, including a Jordan Staal breakaway…DJ King was a late addition to the lineup because the scrappy Matt Hendricks was out sick (thanks to the awesome WashingtonCaps.com beat writer, Mike Vogel). King played only 4:25 but on one of his early shifts, he and his linemates at the time, Dave Steckel and Bradley, had two good chances to score…Ovechkin had 8 shots on goal, 10 that were blocked, and he threw four hits…the Pens traded d-man Alex Goligoski to the Dallas Stars today for winger James Neal and blue liner Matt Niskanen. I give the Penguins a strong edge in that move…next up for the Caps are the New York Rangers on Friday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. The Rangers are 2-1 against Washington this year with their last victory coming right before the All Star Break in the gimmick.

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Caps Get Big Road Win in Buffalo

Posted on 20 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came to play in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon, but so did Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. In a town that the Caps have an awful record playing in, it took a third period power play goal from Marcus Johansson to finally get a victory in Buffalo over Miller, who made 37 saves, several of which were of the ten bell variety in the first period when Washington was storming the castle. The former Michigan State goalie is one of the best in the league and it was play like we saw today from him that allowed Team USA to nearly defeat a much better and stronger Team Canada in the Winter Olympics last February. But much like Team USA’s fate, the Sabres fell as well and the Capitals improved to 31-19-10 (72 points) overall and trail the Southeast Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning by just three points. The Caps are also 12 points ahead of the tied for ninth place in the Eastern Conference Sabres and Atlanta Thrashers.

Here are the highlights and analysis of the Caps eighth victory in nine Sunday games this season:

- The Caps scored a power play goal! Repeat, the Caps scored a power play goal!! And it was the game winner as well. Granted they had four power plays in the first period, including a 94 second two man advantage, that they did not score on so it is not like this struggling unit is anywhere near fixed. Washington’s game winner did not come via an in-zone set up, rather it came off of the rush as Alexander Ovechkin carried the puck in and fired it on Miller, who gave up a rebound. Mathieu Perreault (1 goal, 1 assist) alertly fired it quickly from the left wing boards and Marcus Johansson went to the net and tipped it in with 9:50 remaining. On the day this unit was 1 for 5 in 7:31 of power play time and that is just not going to get it done when the chips are on the line for Washington. Yes they miss Mike Green, but John Carlson is not a big drop off and my problem with this unit is the lack of traffic in front and the minimal movement from the five guys on the ice. If Ovechkin was switched down low on the half wall and replaced by a to be brought in strong left handed point shot, then I think this unit would improve quite a bit. Some options could be d-man Bryan McCabe of Florida or forward Alexei Kovalev of Ottawa. Both are expected to be moved by the trade deadline on February 28th.

- Washington dominated this game for the first two frames but there was the nine minute stretch to start period three where Buffalo really came on strong. However Matt Hendricks, like he has done so many times this season, made a play to turn this game around. #26, who has a great on ice work ethic, dumped the puck in on the right wing boards and former Cap Shaone Morrisonn took his second penalty of the game with a lazy play like he had done for the Caps too many times over the last several seasons before being let go via the free agency route. The Sabres had outworked Washington up to that point of the final stanza and the hard work of Hendricks turned the whole period around. Johansson’s power play goal ensued to set up the victory. Kudos to Hendricks, who brings the intangibles and energy to this club.

- Once Washington got the lead, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wisely shortened his bench and the Sabres saw a steady dose of Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Boyd Gordon down the stretch (5 or 6 shifts each in last nine minutes). The 39-10-15 unit stifled any Buffalo attacks and it was Steckel who won the last face-off with four seconds remaining to close the victory out for the Caps.

- Semyon Varlamov (28 saves) was very solid in net and his best save of the game was likely on Mike Grier on a reboud attempt in close when the outcome was very much in doubt. The one tally he allowed was a Buffalo power play goal in which Scott Hannan skated in his sight line and Jason Pominville snapped one by him on the high glove side. The goaltending for Washington continues to be very good and I will be very surprised if GM George McPhee makes any type of major goalie move at the deadline. He may get some depth for Hershey, but I don’t see him wasting salary cap space on goaltending when the team has other more pressing holes.

- Carlson led the Caps in ice time (24:29) and because so much of that came on the power play, the blue line duo that saw the most ice time was Hannan (20:38) and Jeff Schultz (22:07). Karl Alzner only played 15:43 because his partner needed to rest after each power play. However, at the end of the game, when it mattered the most, it was 27 and 74 out for the last 37 seconds of this contest.

- In summary, this was an important victory for the Caps as they move to 2-2 on their 10 day, five game road trip which wraps up in Pittsburgh on Monday night (730pm on VERSUS). They performed well against a Buffalo team that was desperate for a victory, yet the Capitals outplayed them for the majority of this contest. They still have issues, like up the middle of the ice where the smallish and young Perreault and Johansson just aren’t consistent enough for the post season plus the power play is in peril, but they still have Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin who are elite players in the NHL and when they want to play, they can carry this club.

Notes: Mike Green missed his fourth straight game on this road trip and fifth contest in the last six…Tom Poti is still out injured as well so the blue line continues to be filled with a few players who aren’t good puck carriers/movers…Washington lost the face-off battle, 29-24 (Backstrom went 7-12)…Ovechkin and Semin made some nice defensive plays in the final period but the Great #8 was also guilty of some floating in the neutral zone or in his own end, at times…Tyler Sloan did block three shots in just over 15 minutes of ice time, but Brooks Laich and Bradley had the most important ones of the game in the third period…Perreault took a bad hooking penalty in the third period and his defensive zone play is his biggest weakness. If only Johansson had Perreault’s offensive skills to go with MJ90′s fairly strong defensive prowess you would likely have your number two center, but that is not the case. Johansson will eventually be a strong third line center, he is only 20 years old. But the future is now for the Caps and since this is a wide open Eastern Conference, the need to upgrade at the trade deadline at the center position is vital for a long playoff run and shot at the Stanley Cup.

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Caps Totally Awful In Loss to Kings

Posted on 12 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

When Alexander Ovechkin scored just 1:06 into Saturday’s Capitals game against the Los Angeles Kings for their fastest start to a contest all season, it looked like Washington was poised to show that Tuesday’s lackluster loss to the San Jose Sharks following two strong wins against Tampa and Pittsburgh was just a minor bump in the road. Just under 59 minutes of hockey later, after the Kings scored three times in the third period to win 4-1, it looks more and more like the Sharks defeat was a more accurate description of where this Capitals squad is right now, and the picture is not good. The Caps, who held a players only meeting following the contest and then boarded a flight for Phoenix where they will begin a five game road trip on Monday night (8pm on VERSUS), seem to have more questions than answers with the playoffs just two months away and the NHL trade deadline looming on Monday, February 28th at 3pm. Simply put, Washington General Manager George McPhee is likely doing a lot of thinking after this game, which drops the Caps record to 29-17-10, given what he’s seen from his club since December 1st.

So with that lead in, get ready for some hard hitting analysis of an awful loss and a team that currently looks like it will be a one series and done squad in the postseason, unless changes are made:

- To me this was the WORST loss for the Caps all season. I know that they’ve had some stinkers this year like the 7-0 loss to the Rangers or the 5-0 defeats in New Jersey and Atlanta or the listless 3-0 performance in Tampa, but those games came with key players out of the lineup or were the result of tough stretches in the schedule. In today’s debacle THERE ARE NO EXCUSES! Washington had three days to prepare for the Kings and the only players missing were defenseman Tom Poti (chronic groin problem) and right wing Eric Fehr (shoulder). Mike Green was back after missing a game due to a head injury (puck in the noggin vs. the Penguins) and Alexander Semin was in his second straight contest since returning from a lenghty groin problem, so #28 should have had the rust worked off of his game. After a decent first period, in which the Capitals led 1-0 and held the Kings to just four shots on the cage, Washington played horribly and Terry Murray’s team outworked them and showed Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s club how to go to the net and get rewarded, something that the Capitals seem to refuse to do.

- At this point in the season the players should be competing hard and making a statement about their respective games if they want to stay on a team that some still believe has a shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup this spring, especially borderline guys like Jeff Schultz, Marcus Johansson, and Mathieu Perreault. #55 was easily the worst player on the ice on Saturday playing on what is supposed to be the team’s top defensive pair with Green. Sarge was -3 in 14:35 and was on for the first three Los Angeles goals. He only played two shifts after the third Kings tally. He was downright awful and slow, and on that third Kings goal I think an orange road cone could have played better defense than what he displayed on that sequence. Schultz doesn’t look anything like the player who went +50 in the 2009-10 regular season and seems to be very much the player who struggled in the post season against Montreal. Boudreau, who broke up the Scott Hannan-Green duo in an attempt to get more balance on his blue line pairs with Poti injured, should reunite 52 and 23 and just drastically cut the ice time of #55 and his likely new partner until #3 returns, John Erskine. I have no idea how this coaching staff and team can have any confidence in Schultz right now, he seems to have lost any step he may have once had.

- As for Perreault and Johansson, I’ve seen enough of these two little guys as the 2nd/3rd line center combo. If you add their ice time together from today it comes to 28:56 total and they were a combined -3. You cannot win with centers performing like that. Perreault had his worst game of the year and too many times he tried to carry the puck into the offensive zone when he had forwards waiting ahead of him at the blue line (typically Brooks Laich). The result of this tactic is often an offside infraction. #85 needs to learn to either pass the puck up to a leading forward and use his quickness to get open for the return pass after the biscuit is carried across the blue line or dump the puck into the offensive zone. His neutral zone puck hogging is zapping the Capitals of any speed entering the offensive zone and if you don’t have that it is very difficult to create time, open space, and scoring opportunities. Perreault also was woefully out of position on the two goals that were scored against his line. Johansson just continues to be a no show on two of every three nights. But he is a rookie and I will give him a little bit of a break. Let’s be honest though, if the Caps had any other decent options at center only one of these guys would be in the lineup, if that. I do not think Washington can win a playoff series unless they go out and upgrade the middle of the ice before the trade deadline because Montreal showed that all you have to do is shut down the Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom line and you can win. I would like to see McPhee try and bring in either R.J. Umberger or Jason Arnott, two players who could be available over the next two weeks. Either one is a big upgrade to the pivot position.

- Semin is sure giving Caps fans a warm and fuzzy about his $6.7M one year contract extension, isn’t he??!! #28 hasn’t scored a goal since November and we’ve all heard the injury excuse but this guy simply is a “ferrari with a volkswagon engine,” as one former NHL executive described him to me last season. He drew a penalty in period two but after that he disappeared and sat the pine with Laich over the last six plus minutes. As for #21, he had a great game against the Penguins last Sunday and a good one in Tampa two nights earlier, but over the last month when taking out those two tilts, he has one goal, one assist, and is -5 in those 10 other games. That doesn’t cut it.

- Boudreau talked after the game about his struggling power play and the excessive amount of work they’ve put in on it in practice over the last month in an attempt to get it back to the 25% success ratio it had in the 2009-10 regular season. The bench boss said he is puzzled why they can’t connect more often given that it is the same players on the ice. He finally sent a message to his top unit by putting out DJ King, Dave Steckel, and Matt Bradley on a man advantage after this one was pretty much over. With those guys on the ice and John Carlson playing the point, the Caps SHOT the puck, something that Ovechkin, Green, Backstrom, and Semin seem to forget you need to do to score goals. Those guys are running a power play these days like it is all about style points by trying to score the prettiest goal possible and it is NOT WORKING. Memo to 8, 52, 28, and 19:  It is not rocket science on how to succeed on the power play, you get the puck to the point and blast away while the other guys crash the net for rebounds. I will also say this for what seems to be the 1,000th time, I don’t like the Great #8 on the point on the power play and he should be on the half wall, where he scored his last PPG against Tampa just eight days ago. Green has to start firing the slapper again like he did back in 2007-08 and if he can’t do it, then Carlson should get even more PP time. I believe that McPhee needs to trade for a heavy left handed point shot at the deadline to help get this unit back on track (Bryan McCabe? Tomas Kaberle?)

- Semyon Varlamov (24 saves) did not have one of his better afternoons. Sure he was left out to dry by the 55-52 duo, but #1 had a hard time with his rebound control today. Still, he was far from the reason why the Caps lost.  Varly and Michal Neuvirth should sue the rest of the club for the non-suport they’ve received over the last two months.

- When the Caps switched to a more defensive hockey posture in mid December, the message was that they were working on that style so that they could use it in the playoffs, when needed. The result has been that the goal scoring has practically disappeared due to the lack of offensive zone pressure that used to create turnovers and scoring opportunities in Boudreau’s aggressive scheme. The players don’t look like they are having fun playing this system, nor do they look like the right combination of guys to do it. McPhee and Boudreau need to take a hard look at this scheme change and determine if it is the correct one, and if so, figure out which guys they should keep around to play it come April. If you ask me, there are a lot of players who could be moved out if a better commodity is made available. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Green, Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Knuble and Hannan all appear non-tradeable based on either ability or their contract, but I would have to say that every other skater could be shipped out for the right price in return.

- In summary, the direction this team is going right now leads to early tee times. The thought by some that the Caps can “turn on the switch” and be ready for post season hockey is becoming less realistic as this season has evolved. Bad habits die hard and the Capitals inconsistent play has to give McPhee and Boudreau a major uneasy feeling with just over two weeks until the trading deadline. I’ve seen enough myself, it is time to deal if Washington is to get where they want to be come late May/early June.

Notes: For the second straight game Washington, normally a good faceoff team, was buried from the dot, 27-17. Steckel went 6-4 and every other draw man lost more than they won…after this Monday’s game against the Coyotes, the Caps go to Anaheim on Wednesday and then San Jose on Thursday before finishing in Buffalo and Pittsburgh on Sunday and next Monday, respectively…Tampa blew a two goal lead to Carolina in the last two minutes on Saturday but then won in overtime to increase their Southeast Division lead over the Caps to five points…the 5th place Capitals are eight points ahead of the 9th place Atlanta Thrashers in the Eastern Conference standings.

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Not So “Shaky” Caps Neuvirth Blanks Pens, 3-0

Posted on 06 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

During the Capitals-Penguins game back on December 23rd at the Verizon Center, Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma was captured on camera by HBO in their superb 24/7 series as saying that Michal Neuvirth was “shaky.” Well Bylsma’s crew may have won that contest, 3-2, in an extended shootout, but as they say, revenge is a dish best served cold. On Super Bowl Sunday at a sold out and rowdy Verizon Center, Neuvirth (22 saves) and his teammates ICED the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-0, in the second straight strong team performance from the Caps. Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson (shorthanded), and Mike Knuble (empty net goal) scored for Washington, who improved to 29-15-10 (68 points) and remain three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division race. The Caps are a comfortable 10 points ahead of the ninth place Atlanta Thrashers in the Eastern Conference standings and they have a game in hand on Atlanta. The top eight teams in each conference qualify for the postseason.

Below are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the Caps eighth straight victory on Super Bowl Sunday at the Verizon Center (Washington is 14-3-1 since 1988 on the NFL’s biggest day):

- It was important for Washington to follow up a 60 minute Friday night winning effort in Tampa with another strong showing. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau received all of that in this contest’s first 30 minutes as Washington raced out to a 2-0 lead and held a dominating 17-8 advantage on the shots board. For the next 14 plus minutes the Capitals would skate hard and deliver a strong effort, however, their hockey IQ was not good at all. Time after time during that stretch Washington had opportunities for quality chances yet they continued to over pass the puck and failed to get off any good shots on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (21 saves). In fact, from the 9:55 mark of the second period until 4:24 into period three the Caps did not register a single shot on goal. Nicklas Backstrom tried forcing a pass on a two on one rush and Boyd Gordon attempted to pass the biscuit across the slot when he was all alone on #29 were two specific examples of numerous instances during that stretch when a shot on net may have led to a three goal lead. Boudreau’s crew seemed to forget, like they did when up 2-0 on Montreal on Tuesday evening, that the simple hockey strategy of getting pucks deep and to the net were what gave them the lead in those games. Afterwards, Washington defenseman Karl Alzner talked about what the Caps did so well to get the two goal margin and then agreed that the club lost its focus for that shotless stretch before regrouping.

“I think it was just sticking to the system, we did everything the way we wanted to do it. We got pucks in, we didn’t have many turnovers at the offensive blue line, defensive blue line, and that’s what we need every single game. That’s two games back to back where we stuck to everything the coaches told us to do and we got good results,” said #27 on what is driving the team’s recent success.

“We started taking the foot off of the gas a little and they put on a bit of a push. When you have a lead sometimes the tendency is to make nice plays to try to get more points and more goals on the board and that is what was happening. We came back after the intermission and we’ve got a lot of guys who are thinking the right way now, just kind of focus back in together and turn it up again,” added Alzner when asked what happened during the last 10 minutes of the second period.

- Neuvirth, who found out on Saturday night that he possibly would be starting with Semyon Varlamov feeling sick, was poised in the cage and did a super job of not giving up juicy rebounds and he froze the puck when the Capitals occassionally started scrambling around in their own zone. He didn’t have to be spectacular because his teammates were willing to sacrifice their bodies to block shots but #30 was clearly determined to make Bylsma regret his in game comments from that pre-Christmas tilt.

“Of course. I watched every episode (of HBO’s 24/7), but this is hockey. It didn’t really bother me. But now I’m really happy that I shut them down. It’s even better for me right now. Before the game, I remembered when he said that and I kind of looked at him during the warm up and told myself that I got to shut these guys out tonight,” responsed the rookie goalie, who earned his second shutout of the season and NHL career, when asked about Bylsma’s 24/7 captured comments.

- The Caps did right the ship during those last 15 minutes of period three by getting back to dumping the puck deep and forcing a depleted Pittsburgh squad, that was without Sidney Crosby (concussion) and likely Evgeni Malkin for the season (torn ACL and MCL in his knee), to try and go through all five Capitals to score. Washington, who was also missing Alexander Semin, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti, plus lost top defensemen Mike Green for the last two periods due to a shot that hit him near the ear and required stitches, played their defensive system superbly and when guys like superstar Alexander Ovechkin are laying out on the ice to block slappers from the point, you know the team is committed to winning at all costs.

“It’s all about commitment. It’s a commitment to winning. You block shots, one of your teammates goes down, another one picks it up,” commented Boudreau on the excellent defensive effort.

 

- Washington’s power play, which went 0 for 4, did have several good chances to score on Sunday as the Capitals did a decent job of getting the puck between the dots at the top of the point and blasting away. Ovechkin had a few slappers that made their way to the cage and the Caps just missed banging home rebounds from in front. The Capitals had registered man advantage markers in their two previous games and Boudreau felt that this unit was good once again on Sunday.

 

“I thought we could have had three or four. Sometimes you just don’t get it in and you are playing against the league’s best penalty killing team. But we had good chances and bottom line there is Fleury made some great saves there in the end to keep it at two,” said Boudreau on his power play unit.

 

“It’s really tough, guys they sacrifice their bodies all of the time now. They block absolutely everything. So it’s difficult. That is why we are trying to move the puck, spread it out as much as we can and get shots. Nobody likes when we don’t shoot the puck, we can hear that, but sometimes you just can’t do it. You have to shoot it off to the side of the net there or make plays. It doesn’t always work out but you do what you can,” added Alzner when asked about the difficulty in today’s NHL of getting off center point blasts with the man advantage.

 

- There were no penalties called in the first period and with the majority of the action in the Caps offensive zone it was clear that referee Dave Jackson was going to let the teams play in front of him. I was fine with that and I imagine the players and coaches did as well. As for the other zebra, Paul Devorski, one of the worst officials in the league still needs to buy a clue. Specifically, the man who allowed the Flyers to score their first goal in game seven of their 2008 playoff series against Washington because Philly ran Caps goalie Cristobal Huet, still has no idea on how to properly call goaltender interference. On Sunday, Matt Hendricks was shoved into Fleury while Knuble appeared to score the Capitals second goal and #10, instead of waving the goal off due to coincidental contact with the net minder and calling for a faceoff, said no goal and also assessed #26 with a two minute minor for goalie interference. It was a terrible interpretation of the rules, but fortunately for Washington they scored shorthanded on Johansson’s screened backhander with just five ticks left in the Penguins man advantage. Devorski also only assesed Pittsburgh cheap shot artist Matt Cooke a two minute minor when he delivered an ugly knee to knee hit on Ovechkin late in the contest. The Great #8 was luckily okay but one can’t help but wonder how Cooke, who has a history of dirty play, escaped a major and what should be a suspension? After all, Ovechkin received a five minute major, game misconduct, and then a two game suspension for a similar play in Carolina last season.

 

“I’m never going to say anything bad about an official. They are watching from their own eyes, they are seeing what they are seeing and they are making calls that they think are right. I am not always going to agree with them, on the same point, but I didn’t feel like I purposely went into the goaltender, I felt like I was pushed from behind. I don’t think I was in the blue. I think Fleury was out quite a bit out of his crease. That’s the game I play, the style I play, those things are going to happen. It’s tough when we score a goal too,” said Hendricks on the goalie interference infraction he was incorrectly assessed.

 

“It’s Matt Cooke, okay, need we say more. It’s not like it’s his first rodeo, he’s done it to everybody and then he goes to the ref and says ‘What did I do?’ He knows damn well what he did. There is no doubt in my mind that he’s good at it and he knows how to do it and he knows how to pick this stuff. We as a league still buy into this, that ‘Oh, it still was an accidental thing’,” said Boudreau on the dirty play by #24 against his former teammate, Ovechkin.

 

Notes: Despite the fact that everyone who knows anything about hockey and Dave Steckel realizes that the contact he had with Crosby on New Years Day was incidental, Penguins forward Tim Wallace tried to make a name for himself by challenging #39 to a 3rd period fight, which Steckel obliged…the Capitals dominated the Pens from the dot winning 32 of 49 draws. Backstrom was a sensational 14-3…Johansson and Mathieu Perreault, two young small centermen, have had back to back strong contests but Boudreau has often commented that he’s seen flashes of this before and wants consistency from the pair. He also mentioned today that MJ90 has had to deal with numerous differences in the NHL game and he pointed out that in the Swedish league that Marcus played in last season skaters aren’t even allowed to use their feet to win a faceoff…Green was dressed and doing interviews after the victory but I suspect the area where he took the puck will swell and it might be wise to sit him out until he is totally healthy. “He’s day-to-day. He’s got a little bit of a headache right now. You get hit in the head with a puck and you’re gonna have a headache. We’ll reevaluate him tomorrow,” added Boudreau….the Caps killed off both Penguins power plays and are still ranked 2nd in the NHL on the PK (86.3%)…Boudreau improved to 10-1-3 in his tenure against the Penguins and the Capitals are 9-0-2 in the last 11 regular season meetings versus Pittsburgh…Semin is expected to play in Washington’s next game against San Jose at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night. #28 hasn’t played since early January.

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Caps Lose in Shootout Again

Posted on 02 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

There are now three sure things in life: death, taxes, and the Caps will lose in the shootout. At least that is what things must feel like to Washington Capitals fans as their team jumped to an early 2-0 lead, made some boneheaded decisions in a poor middle stanza, played a strong third period and overtime session, only to lose again in the gimmick, 3-2, to the Montreal Canadiens at sold out Verizon Center. Brian Gionta was the Habs hero on Tuesday night potting two goals in the second frame on odd man rushes and then he had the only tally in the shootout. This Caps loss was their eighth straight overtime or shootout loss and they have lost three straight tilts, with two coming in the gimmick. The good news for Washington is that they did pick up a key point in the standings over the teams that are chasing the Caps for second place in the Southeast Division, the Atlanta Thrashers and the Carolina Hurricanes, who both lost in regulation on Tuesday. The Caps are now 7 and 8 points ahead of the Thrashers and Canes, respectively. They trail the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning, who blanked the Flyers 4-0 tonight, by five points in the Southeast Division race.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from another loss for the offensively challenged Capitals:

- We will start with the good: Semyon Varlamov (36 saves) and Washington’s penalty killing unit (6 for 6 in 10:06 of SH time). The only two goals Varly allowed were on a two on one and a breakaway, both to the Habs captain. #1 faced numerous quality chances as at least half of his defensemen made some terrible errors at critical junctures in this hockey game. If not for some superb goaltending in the first and primarily in the second period, Montreal may have won handily because the Caps stopped playing for the next 30 minutes after they raced to a 2-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes. As for the PK, the NHL’s 2nd ranked unit got stellar goaltending and they did an excellent job of forcing the Canadiens to shoot from the perimeter.

- Mathieu Perreault (1 goal, 1 assist in 13:53) had his usual “sparky” type of game coming off of a recall/break. #85 made a super defensive play in the neutral zone to break up a potential Montreal two on one rush and then skated in and beat Carey Price (27 saves) from a poor angle through the five hole. He also played a big role in the Caps second goal, which came on the power play by Mike Knuble. However, #85 still struggles to be consistent at this level due to his size and he was fading as this contest went on, according to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

“He was good, but he looked tired. He hit a wall a lot of times and his shifts were short. But he made the most of them. It’s been a long time between points and goals for him,” commented the Caps bench boss on Perreault, who hadn’t registered a point in his previous nine contests.

 

- The quote of the night in my book is the following:  “I think 100 percent commitment from everybody. I think at times we have it and at times we don’t.” That came from the Caps Matt Hendricks when asked what the team is missing right now and he is dead on. Want to know where you can start on calling players out on not giving the 100% commitment the whole game? Alexander Ovechkin. Yes, the team captain did not have a consistent contest and he was badly outplayed by the guy wearing the C from the other team. I realize that the Great #8 and his club are not going to shut up the critics until they do something in the playoffs but bad habits die hard and Ovechkin is doing too much floating in his own zone these days. On offense, he is trying to do too much on his own. I think the hopefully imminent return of Alexander Semin will help that though, because Alexander the Great rarely has any time or space on the ice these days because the opposition knows that there are very few other Capitals forwards who can hurt them. The dynamic changes a bit with #28 and if GM George McPhee can add another center and perhaps another winger between now and the trade deadline (February 28th) then the offensive zone could open up more for #8 and his teammates.

 

- Washington, with its lack of firepower up front, has changed its style in the last two months to be a more defensive team so when they jumped out to a 2-0 lead they got a bit careless trying to increase that margin. It is okay to pressure and not back off, but some guys made bad decisions and that cost the team the game. John Erskine pinched in the offensive zone on the first Habs goal and John Carlson made a “rookie” decision on a drop pass that lead to Gionta’s breakaway marker. There were others to blame as well on those plays as numerous forwards did nothing to help out their blue liners on those goals. Still, when you are winning and struggling to score, you have to play smart and the Caps hockey IQ was low in period two on Tuesday night.

 

“{Tonight} wasn’t a letdown as much as it was mistakes. We made two bad mistakes and it’s in our net. We’re playing desperate. We killed off {several} penalties. They {Montreal} took it to us. We battled and we lost in the shootout. I wish we could’ve scored a little bit more,” was Boudreau’s take on the Caps shootout loss.

 

“I felt like they didn’t really pressure us as much. I didn’t feel that offensive kind-of pressure [the Capitals had] last year or other games against them,” was Montreal forward Tomas Plekenac’s thoughts on how Washington played.

 

- Finally, this was not the reason Washington lost the game but it certainly contributed to the defeat: the officiating! Blind, clueless, inept, out of touch, inconsistent, one-sided, etc. You can pick any of those terms and more, some of which are four letter words, to describe the absolute joke and disgrace of a performance from the Dan-Dan twins tonight. Both Dan O’Halloran and Dan O’Rourke (get me Mickey or P.J. next time!) missed so many infractions against the Canadiens that it might be wise for Terry Gregson in the NHL Officiating office to check and see if the Dan-Dan (or should I say Dumb-Dumb?) twins didn’t fly directly in to DC from Vegas this past weekend. Those two clowns sure looked like they had money on the Habs. It would take far too long to list everything they missed but a good place to start would be the Pittsburgh Steelers like tackle and hold in the slot on Nicklas Backstrom in period two right before the Gionta breakaway and the Hal Gill smothering of the puck in the crease with two seconds left in OT. That should have been a penatly shot! Of course the Caps likely would have not converted, but that is not the point. They also missed a Roman Hamrlik cross check on Brooks Laich (who took three minor penalties) right before #21 tripped a Montreal player, giving the Canadiens a key late power play. The Habs carried the play but there is NO WAY the power play time should have been 10:06 to 4:01 in favor of the guys from Quebec.

 

Notes: Semin was a game time scratch, hopefully he can go against the Lightning on Friday night in the Caps next contest, which is in Tampa…on defense, the Caps miss Tom Poti’s skating and puck moving skills, but only if he is 100% healthy. Erskine struggled tonight for Washington…the Caps won the faceoff battle 31-28 with Boyd Gordon going 11-6…I am not sure if he got hurt or he was benched, but Marcus Johansson, who drew the 1st power play for Washington, only played two shifts in period three and only 8:01 for the game. The Caps are just too small up the middle with both MP85 and MJ90 playing center…Jay Beagle was recalled from Hershey on Tuesday while Perreault had been recalled on Monday. Neither player suited up for the Hershey Bears in their two weekend games (the move did save salary cap room)…Michal Neuvirth backed up Varlamov with #30 healthier and Braden Holtby back in Hershey for the AHL All Star game that was played on Monday night.

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