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Bolts Blank Uninspired Caps to Take Southeast Lead

Posted on 13 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

There was a battle for the top spot in the Southeast Division on Wednesday night between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals, but only one team showed up. I am not surprised. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season and getting bounced in the first round by Montreal, the Caps have been inconsistent this regular season and have appeared to basically be in a “waiting for the playoffs mode” with this contest being no exception. When the Capitals want to play, as they will likely do on Friday against the NHL standings leading Vancouver Canucks or next Tuesday night in Philadelphia against the Flyers, they typically can compete with anyone. But the Lightning, who Washington has owned in the Bruce Boudreau era, despite having a great season, just do not get the Capitals motivated, yet. As a result, a tired and uninspired Capitals club fell behind 2-0 in the first period and mailed it in the rest of the game en route to a 3-0 defeat. The Bolts now lead the Southeast Division over the Caps by two points (57 to 55):

Here are the lowlights and analysis from a lackluster Capitals performance:

- It is clear that the Capitals are definitely becoming the Penguins or Flyers to the Lightning. Guy Boucher’s club came out flying while the Caps still looked like they were sleeping following Tuesday night’s OT loss in Florida. Nate Thompson, who isn’t exactly going to challenge Steven Stamkos or Sidney Crosby for any all star spots, cruised into the Washington zone with speed forcing a slow footed Jeff Schultz to back up way too far. #44 then hit the brakes and threw the puck on net and Tom Poti, who really shouldn’t be playing yet because he isn’t 100% healthy, couldn’t handle Dominic Moore in front of the net. #19 then banked one in off of a sprawling Semyon Varlamov for the first marker just 3:58 in to the contest. Varly would then give up a rebound on a Victor Hedman point shot, because he had too much traffic in front of him (3 and 55 didn’t box out well), and Sean Bergenheim batted the biscuit in the basket baseball style to make it 2-0. The Bolts outshot the Caps 14-9 in that first intermission and dominated the play.

- From there, things just got worse for Washington as they didn’t play hard and the referees, Tim Kowal and Steve Kozari, officiated this one like they had money on the game in Vegas. I could try and list all of the missed and incorrect calls but in the immortal words of Mark Ratner from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “That would take too long.” However, the sequence where Steve Downie dropped his mitts early and got two sucker punches in on Scott Hannan bears mentioning; not only because Downie is a gutless thug, but because the zebras, who I termed the Krusty the Klown pair, gave four minutes to #23 and only two to the Lightning pest that you just want to crush with your shoe. The referees were not the reason the Capitals lost on this evening, their lack of effort and the solid goaltending from Dwayne Roloson (23 saves) takes precedence, but the NHL seriously needs to look at many of these crews to try and find some sanity and consistency because I sure as heck am not seeing it in the league so far this season from the zebras.

- The positives for Washington were few and far between:

  • Varlamov did stop 35 of 38 shots. He was totally hung out to dry by Schutlz and Mike Green on the Simon Gagne goal to make it 3-0 late in period two. The former Flyers tally came on a 2 on 0 break after Sarge and #52 lolligagged it from the Bolts blue line after an offensive zone faceoff.
  • The Caps killed off all six Tampa power play chances (9:37 of shorthanded time).
  • Blue liners John Carlson and Karl Alzner logged 25:27  and 24:35 of ice time, respectively, and did not allow a goal. Most of those minutes came against the Bolts top line. Stamkos and Martin St. Louis were both held without a point thanks to the two young defensemen.
  • Alexander Ovechkin (-2, 4 hits, 2 shots on net in 18:38 of ice time) didn’t run out of hockey sticks. Well he almost did as he broke numerous twigs on the night and word has it that the team equipment crew had to run out to the truck to reload on the bench for the Great #8.

- Poti (-2), who only played five minutes and change before leaving with yet another injury, and Schultz (-3) had bad nights on defense. However, as I mentioned in this video that was shot with my media friends John Keeley of On Frozen Blog and Ted Starkey of The Washington Times on Saturday night at the Verizon Center, the Capitals are in good shape from a defense and goaltending posture. What General Manager George McPhee needs to do is go out and get at least one, and likely two, top six forwards to give Washington a better chance at going deep into the post season and competing for a Stanley Cup. With Varlamov and Neuvirth, they have improved in the cage and the defense is much better this season thanks to the emergence of Alzner and Carlson plus the acquisition of Hannan, so that leaves an offense that has been blanked six times this year as the club’s problem point. That is no surprise since last year’s squad finished games five through seven of the Montreal series with exactly one goal in each tilt. The Caps GM has until 3pm on February 28th to make some moves to get this offense going again, stay tuned.

Notes:  Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup after missing close to a month due to injury, and as a result forward Brian Willsie was sent back to Hershey after just one game (1 assist in just over six minutes of ice time)…Each team won 31 faceoffs on Wednesday. Dave Steckel went 5-1 for Washington.. Nearly 500 fans helped the Washington Capitals raise $304,900 for charity at the second Caps Care Casino Night and Auction on Jan. 9 at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. A majority of the money raised will benefit Washington Capitals Charities, which supports community programs in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

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Penalties, Special Teams Cost Caps in OT Loss

Posted on 12 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth received his first start since the Christmas break but his outstanding play (37 saves) was not rewarded as the Caps took too many penalties that resulted in three power play goals for the Florida Panthers, who won, 4-3, in overtime at home on Tuesday night. Washington rallied from an early 3-0 deficit in this one, but their inability to convert on the power play, and their own penchant for heading to the box on this night, eventually cost them. Nonetheless, the point they picked up moves them to 24-12-7 and puts them in a tie with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division with 55 points. On Wednesday evening the Caps and Bolts will face off in Tampa with the victor taking over the top spot in the division.

Here are the highlights and analysis of Washington’s first of six games on the road in the Sunshine State this season:

- I get it, the Southeast Division is better this year, but if you don’t show up in the first period, and the Capitals as a group collectively failed to move their feet in that opening stanza, you are going to make it easier for a less talented team to gain a victory. That is what happened on Tuesday as Washington was outshot 20-7 and fell behind 2-0 heading into the first intermission. The Nicklas Backstrom boarding penalty, after a questionable delayed infraction on Mike Knuble was being whistled, was a terrible one, although David Booth did a nice job of selling it. Florida scored on the ensuing 5 on 3 when Karl Alzner left his feet (bad move) to try and block the pass and Mike Santorelli banged it home from the doorstep. Santorelli has been very impressive in these two games between the two squads. That makes two games in a row that #19 has taken a bad boarding penalty and he needs to clean that up.

- The Panthers scored three power play goals but the improved Washington shorthanded unit was put in BAD spots on all three. The first two were 5 on 3 tallies and the third, the game winner in OT, was on a tougher to defend 4 on 3 marker. However, the Caps had that thing killed off until Matt Hendricks decided to try a fancy and stupid backhanded play up the right wing boards. The result was a turnover and disaster as the Panthers won the game just seconds later. That whole power play was set up by another bad backhanded play, that one coming from Mike Green, who for some crazy reason backhanded the puck right up the slot forcing #52 to then take down Corey Stillman as he was about to get a quality chance in front. Simply put, the Capitals were lazy on those plays and several others for getting rid of the puck on their backhand in dangerous situations. They should know better and I hope Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau goes through the tape tomorrow morning and shows his crew ALL of the lazy plays that allowed a less talented Panthers team to steal a victory.

- I said this a few games ago and I will say it again: Blow this power play configuration up! Simply put, the top skill guys for the Capitals are downright horrible with the man advantage because they do not want to work hard and simplify in those situations. Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green all want to continue to try and make the perfect play instead of getting the puck in the middle of the ice at the top of the point and blasting away. I watch game after game of other teams doing this, it is no secret how to score and Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason keep telling those guys to do what I am saying, but they aren’t listening. My opinion:  Sit those guys on the bench and send out some guys who will shoot the puck and crash the net. You can’t get any worse results right now. Washington’s power play carded a big freaking donut hole on Tuesday in five chances. That is UNACCEPTABLE!

- On the positive side of the ledger, the team came back hard and gained a point, but it never should have been like that at all and the players can thank one guy, Neuvirth, for that point because it could have been worse than 3-0 at the game’s midpoint. Marcus Johansson (2 goals) had a super game as well using his speed to help get Washington back in this one. The night would have been perfect for #90 had he gotten more wood on a point blank shot from right in front of Tomas Vokoun (30 saves) in the last 10 minutes. MJ90 would have had a hat trick and the Caps would have likely stolen a victory but #29 got his glove on a shot that the young Swede would love another crack at.

Notes: The Caps have lost their last five contests that have gone to the extra session (three OT losses & two shootout defeats)…Alex Semin, who was hurt (lower body) in last Saturday’s game against Florida, did not make the two game road trip and Brian Willsie was recalled from Hershey. #24 had an assist in 6:15 of ice time…The Caps lost the faceoff battle, 34-32, and top draw man Dave Steckel was only 11-9. Many of the losses were at the beginning of special teams play giving the Panthers an advantage right off the bat in each of those situations (Backstrom was a pitiful 5-12 on faceoffs), allowing the Panthers to win the special teams play, 3-0…D-man John Erskine (-1 in 13:27) returned to the lineup in place of Tom Poti, who was deemed a healthy scratch, but healthy he ain’t, #3 is still trying to get his wheels back…Knuble had the Caps second tally on a super feed from the Great #8…Ovechkin and Green were announced as participants in the NHL All Star game today while goalie Braden Holtby, blue liner Lawrence Nycholat, and winger Andrew Gordon, all Caps players with the Hershey Bears, were named to the AHL all star squad.

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Bolts Top Caps, 1-0, in OT

Posted on 04 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

In a battle for first place in the Southeast Division at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals offense totally sputtered again and as a result they were beaten in overtime, by the Tampa Bay Lightning, 1-0, on Martin St. Louis’ rebound goal with 2:16 remaining. Dwayne Roloson, starting his first game for the Bolts since being acquired this past Saturday from the New York Islanders, played very well in net stopping all 34 shots he faced but at the other end Semyon Varlamov (37 saves) was on top of his game as well. The Caps do pick up a point in this tilt and fall to 23-12-6 (52 points) while Tampa is now 24-11-5 (53 points) as they head to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins on Wednesday night.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a contest played before the 83rd straight sellout in DC:

- There were several positives tonight to go along with the strong goaltending from Varly. First the play of John Carlson and Karl Alzner on defense was once again stellar as they kept the Bolts top line of Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone, and St. Louis off the board in regulation. Second, the Caps dominated from the faceoff dot again going 29-21 with Dave Steckel winning 13 of 18 draws, many of which were key ones down the stretch in his own zone. Finally, the penalty killing was SUPERB in three shorthanded situations allowing only five power play shots on net to the fourth rated unit in the NHL.

- After dominating the second period, the Caps outshot Tampa 21-13 in that middle frame, one would have expected Washington to keep up the pressure in the third period and prevail at home. I’ll give credit to Roloson for his play but let’s face it, the Washington offense is missing in action. Without a real second line center there is enormous pressure on the top line and the power play to convert and they simply aren’t getting it done. Alexander Semin has 0 goals in his last 13 games and I put a good deal of that on the lack of a capable pivot. #28 also needs to pay the price and go into some high traffic areas, as well.

- As for the power play, it is time for coach Bruce Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason to blow that thing up, it just is not working (in a 5 for 50 rut). It is very clear that the shots are primarily going to come from one guy, Alexander Ovechkin. Nicklas Backstrom is totally a non threat to shoot the puck on the right wing half wall and that is severely hurting this unit. In addition, Mike Green is not bombing the biscuit from the point so it is really easy to defend a whole side of the Capitals power play. Those two guys have to start shooting the puck, plain and simple. I also would like to see Ovechkin taken off of the point and put on the half wall, similar to how the Penguins use Sidney Crosby. Throw Carlson or even Alzner out there so that the shots coming from the blue line are hard ones. Green and Tom Poti, when put on the point, are not cranking up the slappers and that is what you need to get the pucks bouncing off of the goalies and in position where guys like Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, and even Ovechkin skating in off of the half wall, can bang it home. The coaches keep talking about simplifying but I am not seeing it happening. Perhaps changing the personnel or moving guys around could get better results? Right now it is too predictable and thus easy to defend.

- I am not sure what happened in OT but the Caps didn’t show up and they were outshot, 5-0. Poti started the whole losing goal sequence with a bad decision, he passed the puck across the slot instead of skating it up and out the right wing boards. Then Jeff Schultz, because of the poor pass from #3, threw an off balance clear up the left wing boards that Pavel Kubina gathered in with steam in the neutral zone. Kubina kept charging and Sarge and Laich got confused on who was taking who allowing #13 to drop the puck to Vincent Lecavalier, who fired it on Varly. #1 came out to cut off the angle and gave up a rebound on the excellent shot and then both Poti and Backstrom failed to cover St. Louis as the former league MVP netted the game winner.

- Washington is now 5-0-2 in their last seven games and have only given up nine goals during that stretch. It is clear they can play this trapping system that they have recently began employing and that should help them enormously in the post season, but unless they get some offense going, which they failed to do last spring in the final three games against Montreal, then they aren’t going very far again.

Notes: The Caps will not practice on Wednesday and do not play again until Saturday night against the Florida Panthers at the Verizon Center…Scott Hannan had another strong game on defense and he seems to have settled in well with Green as his defensive partner…Wednesday night at 10 pm on HBO is the final installment of 24/7 and that should be fun to watch since the Capitals won the Winter Classic…Washington reaches the halfway point only two points behind last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winning crew, however, that team won 14 straight games in the second half of the season…Since it is the halfway point of the season, on Thursday night I will post my 4th annual mid season Capitals grades and analysis. I can tell you now that there will not be as many “A’s” as there were at this time last season, although I do think this year’s team is clearly better in some areas (primarily on defense and in goal).

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Caps Lose in Shootout to Penguins

Posted on 24 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins played what was likely their most intense hockey game of the season so far in an entertaining contest to watch. However, when it was all said and done, the Caps were defeated in the 7th round of the shootout, and lost the game, 3-2, to their archrivals. Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist for the visitors but Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was the game’s number one star thwarting 32 of the 34 shots he faced. Mike Green and Mike Knuble tallied for the Capitals, on the power play and shorthanded, respectively. After both Alexander Ovechkin and Kris Letang traded tallies to open the gimmick for their teams, Pascal Dupuis became the next shooter to score in the bottom of the 7th round. Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Knuble, Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault, and Green all failed to beat #29 before the Pens sent the Caps home slightly disappointed for Christmas. Washington’s record is now 20-12-5, good for 45 points, which puts them in a tie for first place in the Southeast Division with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won their tilt in a shootout against the New York Rangers on Thursday night. The Bolts have two games in hand on the Capitals. The Atlanta Thrashers, who lost to the Boston Bruins this evening, are two points behind both teams.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analyis of a game that certainly had a playoff feel to it, as confirmed by Penguins coach Dan Bylsma:

“You talk about the hype and the buildup and the rivalry and the puck drops and it’s exactly what the buildup is.  Sometimes [games like these] are overbuilt but this was a playoff type of game and the building [was] rocking,” said the Pens bench boss on the contest and the atmosphere in the Verizon Center.

 

- The biggest positive of the night for Washington, in my book, was the play of both Green and his defensive partner Scott Hannan. Those two guys have struggled since Hannan was traded to the Caps from Colorado and the power play marker by #52 broke his own 14 game drought. He logged 34:03 of ice time adding eight hits, five blocked shots, and he also had six shots on net. Green also nearly won the game in OT but Fleury managed to cover the puck with his glove after #52 had deked the net minder to the ice and was about to slide the biscuit by him. Hannan was outstanding in his 27:09 of ice time and the duo finally played like the top pairing that the organization expected from them when they were put together after Jeff Schultz went down with a fractured thumb in the Toronto contest. Perhaps they are finally learning each other’s tendencies or getting comfortable playing as a duo? Whatever it was, those two guys were dynamite against Pittsburgh.

“That was his best game in a long time. He was good defensively and he jumped into the plays and made things happen offensively,” started Boudreau on Green, “We were talking in [the coaches room] and that is why we got him,” finished the Washington bench boss when I asked him about the strong play of Green’s defensive partner.

 

- In net, Michal Neuvirth (25 saves) made his first ever start against the Penguins and he was fantastic. #30 gave up Crosby’s super tip just 3:21 in to the game and 17 seconds into period three the guys in front of him did a Keystone cops routine by bumping into each other, knocking over the two time Calder Cup Champion net minder and allowing Chris Kunitz to score from the slot. In between the two tallies Neuvy stopped Evgeni Malkin on a penalty shot and thwarted Crosby on a breakaway. The young Czech net minder is 2-1-1 in this current run as the Washington starting goalie.

 

- The Capitals penalty kill was a major reason why Washington made it to the gimmick. The Caps killed off all five Penguins power plays and they also tied the game up with 5:29 to go on Knuble’s shorthanded marker off of a great feed from Laich. Last season when trailing, an opponents man advantage situation frequently resulted in another opposition tally, however, this season the Capitals are using the PK to stay in games and then use the energy generated from that unit to take back control of the play. The improvement of the shorthanded unit this season is one of the big positives to the first half of the 2010-11 season.

 

“PK did a great job. To get that goal in the third there on the PK that is huge. The system we played tonight on the PK and what Deano [assistant Coach Dean Evason] drew up for us, we executed it and we got the job done,” said forward Jay Beagle, who logged 10:44 of ice time, including 2:46 when Washington was shorthanded.

 

- Washington’s power play, however, was another story. While they did finally connect on a two man advantage in period two, they also failed to convert in the opening frame on a 109 second five on three. Overall the Caps were 1 for 6 on the PP and a big problem is the lack of puck movement. Like standing and dribbling gets you nowhere in basketball, the Caps players are holding on to the puck too long instead of moving it quickly and crisply to get the defenders and the goaltender scrambling around. Simply put, despite the fact that the Pens own the best PK percentage in the league (88%), Washington made it easy for their opponents to look good shorthanded on Thursday night. On the last couple of man advantage situations the Caps did do a better job of passing the puck faster and shooting more often, and if they do that, the power play will get hot again.

 

- The final tallies on power plays in this one was 6 to 5 in favor of the Caps but if you factor in the penalty shot then it is even-steven. The Capitals carried the play for much of the night and should have had a greater advantage in power plays but zebras Kelly Sutherland and Francois St. Laurent saw a completely different game, in some instances, and as is often the case, evened up the calls instead of sticking to officiating the contest correctly.

 

“We knew they were going to get [power plays]. I think we had one more power play than them which would have been the first time in 16 games that we had more power plays than they did. But we knew there were going to be penalties called against us because we knew there was never going to be that big of a discrepancy when playing them,” said Boudreau on the tendency of NHL referees to focus on the numbers of PP opportunities for each team instead of calling things as they play out.

 

The coach nailed it and if you ask me, shouldn’t a guy with a last name like St. Laurent be peddling men’s ties instead of badly refereeing hockey games?

 

- I am not sure what was going on with the playing surface but the ice along the boards adjacent to the Capitals bench seemed to have more bumps and holes in it than New York Avenue. As players attempted to carry the puck out of the zone on that side found out, the routine play was turned into a house of horrors and on several occassions the puck carrier overskated the biscuit. Overall I thought the surface, which I have deemed “Wizards Ice” because it seems that the Caps always play the night following a basketball game, prevented the Caps from some odd man rushes because they had to exit the “bad zone” two of the three periods and in overtime.

 

- Tom Poti was injured in period one and Boudreau termed him day-to-day. #3 only played 5 shifts (3:34) after hitting his head. As a result of Poti’s early exit the Caps had to play with just five defensemen for the rest of the game, but Karl Alzner said that is a situation that you have to deal with and move on from.

 

“It makes it a little bit tougher and definitely you run out of energy, especially if you are trying to match any sort of lines there then it gets more difficult. But that is how you have to play. You have to do it sometimes and it’s easier to keep yourself in the game if you are going every other shift but obviously we’d rather finish the game with six [defensemen],” said the 21 year old defenseman on the shortened bench after Poti’s head injury.

 

- Overall this was another step in the right direction for the Capitals and Boudreau said if they continue to play like they did on Thursday they will win lots of games. I asked Alzner about the mood of the players following the defeat in the skills competition.

 

“It’s the second best result we could have asked for. We played a pretty good game. It was low scoring, it wasn’t one of those run and gun games so we’re working on that. It’s nice that that is coming through a little bit but we obviously wanted to win and keep Crosby off the scoresheet as much as we could but that’s a tough guy to keep off so we did decent, but we can do better though,” finished #27, the Capitals 2007 1st round draft choice (5th overall).

 

Notes: Dave Steckel, who leads the NHL in faceoff percentage at 63.6%, was 13-4 on draws but overall Washington lost the battle at the dot, 37-34…Eric Fehr, who received top line minutes in the last period in Boston and in Ottawa on Sunday, started on a line with Ovechkin and Perreault but after one period was yanked off of it. #16 ended up getting only 9:49 of ice time but he did manage to fire four shots on net in that time…the tripping call on Ovechkin was downright awful and again I put the blame on that one on Wizards ice and bad zebras…Hannan went even on the night and was -8 coming into the game against Pittsburgh…Washington is 7-0-2 in its last nine regular season games against Pittsburgh…next up for the Caps, after two days off for the Christmas break, is a game in Carolina at 7pm on Sunday night against the Hurricanes.

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Caps Blasted By Rangers, 7-0

Posted on 13 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

And the hits just keep on coming. The Washington Capitals losing streak is now at six games as they were practically run out of Madison Square Garden, 7-0, on Sunday night. It was the 4th time in the last 13 games the Caps have been shutout, although they did hit four posts in this tilt. Washington was playing their third game in four nights and some of the players, who have been battling the flu, clearly had nothing in the tank. The Rangers, on the other hand, had no problems taking out their frustrations on the Caps. The Capitals record now stands at 18-11-3 and they have a three and four point lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division, respectively, but both teams have two games in hand on Washington.

Here are the mostly lowlights and analysis from this ugly Caps performance in Manhattan:

- The biggest problem in this game was the Caps defense. The Rangers struck first when Tom Poti misplayed the puck behind his own net and then he compounded the error by deflecting the puck by his own goaltender on an attempted cross crease pass by Brandon Prust. That was the only goal of the first period, one in which Washington and the Rangers played fairly evenly. But then things went bad fast with three goals in three minutes and 31 seconds early in period two. First, Scott Hannan got caught backing in on an Artem Anisimov rush and the Russian, in Alexander Ovechkin style, used #23 as a screen to beat Semyon Varlamov and make it 2-0, Rags. 14 seconds later Hannan’s night got worse as he was whistled for holding. The Blueshirts then capitalized on the bad penalty when Poti was out of position on the penalty kill and Marian Gaborik made a super deflection of a Marc Staal shot five hole on Varly. Then came the dagger as Brandon Dubinsky skated in the Caps zone and Hershey d-man Brian Fahey gave him far too much room and #17′s wrister beat Varlamov (13 saves on 20 shots). At that point Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau normally would have made a goalie change but thanks to the post game work of Corey Masisak and Brian McNally we now know that Michal Neuvirth is the latest to get hit with the flu bug and could not have played. #30 apparently came down with his ailment on Sunday afternoon, which was too late for a recall (again h/t @cmasisak22 & @bmcnally14).

- Between the flu bug and the injuries to Mike Green (flu and possibly shoulder) and Jeff Schultz (fractured thumb), this Capitals team is spread pretty thin right now on the back line. In addition, as Boudreau said after the game, some of the players are “quick to feel sorry for themselves.” Part of that phenomenon is likely the zapping of the energy they feel from their illnesses. It is very apparent that Nicklas Backstrom is not close to 100% and he had another lousy outing (-3). Alexander Semin, who was fined and not suspended for his cross checking major against Colorado on Sunday night, also was bad (-3) and it was his poor decision to pinch with the Caps on a power play midway through period two that led to a Rangers 2 on 1 odd man rush and the fifth goal by Staal. John Carlson was the d-man on that play and he did not do a good job of cutting off the pass, which allowed Staal to have an easy route to beating Varly.

- One of the few positives on the evening was the play of Ovechkin, who had seven hits, four shots on goal, and also fought Dubinsky when it was 4-0. The Great #8 had just laid out Dan Girardi with a clean hit and it was clear #17 was coming his way so Ovie dropped his mitts and had a spirited bout with the big Rangers winger. Afterwards Ovechkin motioned to his bench as if to say “Let’s go.” Immediately the team came to life and drew a penalty but then Semin’s miscue ended that short momentum burst for Washington. It was Ovechkin’s first bout since December of 2006, when he was given five for fighting with Paul Gausted of Buffalo (h/t Dan Rosen of NHL.com)

- Ovechkin, despite his team trailing 6-0, continued to work hard and it literally ended up hurting him as Semin hit the winger inside the right leg with a shot as the Great #8 was trying to screen Henrik Lundqvist (31 saves). Alexander the Great fell to the ground and many Rangers fans loudly cheered his injury (lack of class there, much like Philly fans with Michael Irvin or the idiot Ravens ones who cheered when Kyle Boller got hurt in 2005). Ovechkin did not return to the ice and he sat on the bench as the clock expired. But Ovechkin is fine and Boudreau told Masisak, McNally, Ted Starkey (@TedStarkey), and the other media assembled, that the Great #8 could have played had the contest been competitive.

- Overall, it was a bad loss but the effort was stronger than the other blowouts against Atlanta and New Jersey earlier this season. There are some who are calling for Boudreau’s firing but to me that is a knee jerk move at this early a juncture in the season. The head coach has some bonafide excuses for the team’s poor play and based on what I’ve seen from GM George McPhee I don’t see him hitting any panic button. Need I remind fans once again that he told us point blank at media day that he does not care about the regular season that much and is focused solely on a long playoff run. If the team continues to struggle after this ailment and injury bug is over, then the GM will either look to make trades or examine the status of the bench boss, but I would be shocked if something happens any time soon. After all, the team is 11 points up on the ninth spot in the Eastern Conference so they are comfortably a playoff team at this point in time.

Notes: It was hard to find a Caps best d-man on this night but I would have to give it to Karl Alzner who had five hits in over 21 minutes of work…Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-24, with Boyd Gordon winning 9 of 11 draws and Mathieu Perreault going 10-4…Backstrom hit two posts while Semin and Perreault hit one each as well. When the breaks are going against you those bounce out, unlike the off the pipe shot that Ryan Callahan put by Varlamov…the Caps next game is Wednesday at the Verizon Center against the Anaheim Ducks. Hopefully the flu bug is gone and Green can return as the team really misses him when he is out. Unfortunately, Schultz is out for four more weeks.

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Caps Shutout in 4th Straight Loss

Posted on 10 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals clearly have a motivation and confidence problem right now. Against the Florida Panthers, a team that Washington defeated all six times last season, the Caps came out strong in period one drawing five power plays and fired 18 shots on Cats goalie Tomas Vokoun but they couldn’t get the puck by him. As a result the team got frustrated and started doing too many individual things and when Florida scored with one second left in the second period to snatch a 1-0 lead, the currently mentally fragile Capitals crumbled in the final stanza en route to a 3-0 defeat. The loss drops the Caps to 18-9-3 overall and they still have a  six point lead over both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers in the Southeast Division, but both teams now have two games in hand.

Here is tonight’s recap including quotes and analysis from a tilt that was played in front of the quietest Verizon Center crowd in recent memory:

- The biggest problem on Thursday night was Washington’s power play. For the evening it went 0 for 8, including not converting on two 5 on 3 opportunities, one of which was for 1:53 midway through the first period. Early on the Caps were trying to swing the puck down low in an attempt to beat Vokoun in close. Eric Fehr, who had 6 shots on goal in 11:43 of ice time, had numerous chances to get one by #29 but couldn’t convert. After the first few power plays the Caps then started getting too cute and pass happy instead of firing the puck from the top of the slot with traffic in front. By the 7th and 8th iterations the man advantage units had totally deteriorated into an individual event where one Capital after another tried to skate through the Panthers defense on his own, without any success. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau discussed the problems on the power play after the game.

“The intentions were good at the beginning, then when you don’t score on the power play when you have the opportunity, you could see at the end of the first period that we started to do things as individuals instead of collectively.  When that happens, it’s tough, it’s no excuse,” started Boudreau on his usually potent power play crew, “Just stand in front of the net and shoot the puck was the message and then we still get too cute. There were so many times we had good opportunities to shoot with guys in front of the net and we are trying to make the play and the play’s not there,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams trophy winning coach on why things went bad with the manpower advantage.

- As bad as Washington’s power play was, their penalty killing was super in period two when the Caps had to kill off three infractions, including a 1:18 five on three against. Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon, and Tom Poti did outstanding work and it appeared that the effort on the PK might spur the team to the first goal. However, with one second left in period two the Cats scored after Karl Alzner and Nicklas Backstrom were beaten badly down low on the right wing boards. A wild goal mouth scramble ensued and Steve Reinprecht buried one from the slot with four Caps around him. That type of goal just can’t happen. First #27 and #19 need to be smarter that late in the period and not over commit going for the steal. At that point in time, they should have been focusing on keeping the Panthers on the perimeter, because a takeaway wouldn’t have given them any time to go the other way to score. This was simply a case of two young players not paying attention to the game situation and then a collective lack of effort in front of Semyon Varlamov (29 saves) on the rebounds.

“It was obviously a huge goal because it gave them light. After the first period we were talking about how often a team outshoots one 18-6 and it is five power plays to none, the other team comes out and they are going to get power plays in the second period and it usually turns. I thought we did a really good job of holding them off on the 5 on 3 and the penalty, but you’ve got four guys down there and nobody touching anybody, they are going to score. Once they believe that, at the start of the third period, they dug in their heels pretty good and they hadn’t beaten us in awhile and they were a determined group. We were looking like we were feeling sorry for ourselves,” added Boudreau on the Caps solid penalty killing and then how the late second period tally impacted his team’s mindset.

- Washington, after blowing a three goal third period lead in their shootout loss to Toronto on Monday, came out strong in period one but as the game wore on they seemed to lack interest and lose confidence. For those of you who follow my blogs or my tweets on Twitter (@Emfrank123), you are aware that in the notes section of the Leafs summary blog I wrote that this team needed a challenge game against the Pittsburgh Penguins to get themselves dialed in for 60 minutes. Then on Thursday morning I predicted that the Caps would not be 100% focused against Florida. The result of this tilt furthers my case, but what is now happening is that the loss of confidence is causing the players to mope and feel sorry for themselves instead of getting them to fight back strong.

“We could call it snake bitten, we could call it you’re facing adversity and not being able to handle the adversity, not fighting through it. Feeling sorry for yourself. I came in between periods, 2nd and 3rd, everybody was hanging their head and we were down 1-0. My job at that time was not to give them crap but to let them know they’re good and don’t feel sorry for yourself. Dig your heels in and come back and it’s one shot…once it was 2-0 you could see the shoulders sagging on the bench and they just didn’t believe they were going to come back tonight,” said Boudreau on his team’s frail mental state during this recent four game slide.

“I liked the beginning of the game, I liked our energy, the way we played. We were going to the net hard, we were working hard. You don’t get that many power plays without working and effort but the puck is not going in the net right now and we’re gripping the sticks tight. We are getting down on ourselves. It is just part of the game. It is almost like a slump in some sort of way, not scoring on the opportunities we are getting,” said forward Matt Hendricks on what transpired on Thursday night and why the team is not converting.

- Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green all had one of their worst games of the season on Thursday and the Caps simply can’t win when those guys aren’t going. Boudreau tried moving Alexander Ovechkin around and he switched up his lines in the third period to try and jump start the offense, to no avail.

“Our top six forwards weren’t very good. But our bottom six forwards were working their hardest and getting opportunities so I wanted to get at least one of those guys on with the other guys and maybe it would rub off and the energy would rub off. But quite frankly if your best players aren’t your best players, we’ve been shut out three times in the last 11 games, which has never happened, you are not going to have success. We have one goal or less in five of the last 11 games. You have to get production out of your best players and it is not happening right now,” stated Boudreau on the reason for lack of offensive production.

- As I alluded to above, I think a big part of the problem is a motivational one that is out of Boudreau’s control. All season long the Caps players have been hearing that it doesn’t matter what they do in the regular season, because they will only be judged by their success, or lack of it, in the post season. As a result, I believe that the Capitals are not focused, except when they feel challenged. Some of their best games this season were the two battles with the Flyers and the 6-0 white washing of Tampa when the Bolts came in on fire with a five game winning streak. Honestly, tilts against the Thrashers, Leafs, and Panthers aren’t going to get the blood of the Capitals players boiling. However, with each lackadaisical effort, the opportunity for a Lightning or Atlanta squad to hang around in the division race becomes greater, something the Caps bench boss is keenly aware of.

“We are in a dogfight in the conference and the division. It is not going to be a cakewalk and every team that plays us in the division is ready for us. Every team knows that they’ve got to check this guy and check that guy and we have to as individuals change a little bit of the way we play. That is why I was putting Alex from left wing to right wing because they had [Mike] Weaver out there every time against him. We have to find a way to get around that,” commented on Boudreau on what his club needs to do to defend their Southeast title for the fourth straight season.

- Going forward I am not sure a tilt against the Avalanche on Saturday will be the silver bullet this club needs and the Penguins aren’t on the slate until December 23rd. However the Caps are reminded of that by the fact that HBO cameras are currently following them everywhere, so next week’s first episode of 24/7 ought to be akin to a Washington funeral the way Boudreau’s squad is playing. But the former Slap Shot extra has a plan to try and turns things around and it starts with Friday’s practice.

“I gave them crap after the Leafs game. So you can’t just keep going and beating a dead horse. Tomorrow, I think obvioulsy we’ll practice the power play and penalty killing. Other than that we’ll have our individual meetings, maybe there is something there that I am missing right now and we’ll get to the bottom of it and we’ll get out of it. When we get out of it hopefully we’ll have learned by it,” finished Boudreau on his plan going forward for the Capitals.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 34-27, on Thursday night…Matt Bradley and DJ King were the forward scratches while Jeff Schultz and Tyler Sloan are on injured reserve…John Erskine and Fehr were my choices for top Caps of the evening as both worked extremely hard despite the loss…Washington outshot Florida 36-32 but the Panthers had a 26-18 advantage after the opening frame.

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Caps Collapse, Lose in Shootout to Leafs

Posted on 07 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

For 40 minutes on Monday the Washington Capitals looked a lot like the team that dominated the NHL en route to the 2009-10 Presidents’ Trophy as they raced out to a 4-1 lead sparked by the recall of Mathieu Perreault (2 goals, +2) from Hershey and Alexander Ovechkin’s second goal in two games. But then the Caps forgot that they had to come out and play the third period and resembled the team that started flat in the first 10 minutes of game five in last season’s playoffs versus Montreal and allowed three goals to let the Toronto Maple Leafs tie the game and send it to ovetime. After a scoreless extra five minute frame, the teams went into a shootout and Mikhail Grabovski scored the only gimmick goal on a spinorama to give the Leafs an amazing come from behind 5-4 victory. The loss drops the Caps to 18-8-3 but they did register a point. However, the streaking Atlanta Thrashers won again on Monday knocking off the Nashville Predators in overtime and trail Washington by only six points in the Southeast Division and they have a game in hand. The Tampa Bay Lightning are also the same number of points behind but have played two less games than the Capitals.

Let’s get to the highlights, quotes and analysis of Washington’s second straight loss on home ice:

- The glass half full people will point out that the Caps should be excused for the third period collapse because they weren’t motivated against a Toronto team that is among the worst in the league in the standings and lack talent. They will be optimistic about the play of Perreault, who centered the second line with Alexander Semin (assist, +1) and Brooks Laich (assist, +1), for bringing energy and giving Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau some balanced scoring. In addition, they will talk about how the team took Boudeau’s message from Saturday about going to the net and potted four goals, the first three of which came because of traffic in front of Leafs goalie Jonas Gustavsson (32 saves). Laich did the screen job on the first two tallies while Semin went hard to the paint on Perreault’s second marker of the night and paid for it with a hit to the head from Leafs d-man Mike Komisarek. Finally, they will be happy because the Great #8 scored on a laser to make it 4-1 and immediately went by the penalty box and thanked tough guy DJ King for standing up to heavyweight Colton Orr in a fight. Orr had cheap shotted Ovechkin on an earlier second period shift and King, as he should do, took exception and motivated his club with the bout, which was pretty much a draw.

- The glass half empty crew, though, are likely to have as much to say. They will point out the Capitals poor defensive zone coverage in the third period and state that Washington didn’t really take Boudreau’s message about working hard to heart because after the first period they failed to draw a Toronto penalty, despite earning three in the first 20 minutes. The detractors will mention the numerous defensive zone giveaways, including Karl Alzner’s that led to the Leafs first tally. In addition, they will criticize the team’s inability to compose themselves in the last three minutes of this tilt, a stretch that saw Toronto score twice to tie the game up. Finally, they will preach about the Capitals lack of killer instinct and point out that a team that is this inconsistent in the regular season simply can’t turn it on and be strong enough throughout two months of the post season to capture a Stanley Cup.

- The bottom line is there is some truth to both arguments and Boudreau and GM George McPhee need to figure out where they need to address issues and areas where they shouldn’t over-react. After all, McPhee did tell many of us on media day that he doesn’t care a lot about the Presidents’ Trophy, and is only focused on a long playoff run so, in a way, those words give his players an out when they “mail it in” for portions of contests. It is only December but sometimes a little adversity is not a bad thing for a hockey club, in the long run. Last season the Capitals rarely faced it, although they did have a couple of three game losing streaks similar to this one. The team did go harder to the net for most of the first 40 minutes and that is when they were nearly impossible to deny, but the problem becomes how do they keep that desire and compete level up for a full 60 minutes? Much of the defensive breakdowns were not being out of position or caught up ice, in fact, on most Leafs goals Capitals players were all back in the general vicinity of where they needed to be, however, they quit skating.

- Now that you’ve heard my take on the loss, let’s hear what the coaches and some of the players had to say on a commendable effort by Ron Wilson’s club.

“Washington got a little sloppy towards the end.  I think they thought the game was over but kept on playing and [we] took advantage of some of their miscues in their end.  It’s great for our team,” said the Leafs coach and former Capitals bench boss on his teams comeback.

 

“We quit playing in our zone. We just wanted to play safe. You can’t just allow a team to come into our zone all night long. When they were in our zone, our positioning, by both defensemen and forwards, was really bad,” commented Boudreau on how his team imploded in the third period.

 

”I don’t know what happened [in] the last 10 minutes. It started with our line when [Mikhail] Grabovski scored. 4-to-1 lead after two periods is pretty big. Losing a game like this is pretty bad for us. It’s a lesson and it’s good we have another game soon,” added team captain Ovechkin.

 

“When we do what he tells us to do, we succeed. When we don’t, that’s what happens in the third. We set out a game plan. We did it really well in the first two periods. The third period – shame on us,” said d-man Tom Poti, who had three assists but was on the ice for the game tying goal by Clarke MacArthur, which came with “The Monster” on the bench for the sixth attacker.

 

“He brought great energy tonight, like we thought. He made plays, like we thought. If some of the other forwards had played with as much energy as him, we wouldn’t have been in the situation we were in,” finished Boudreau when asked about Perreault and why his club lost in the shootout, despite a three goal lead after two periods.

 

“Every time I get called up it seems like the first game I’m flying. Now it’s just a matter of doing it every night. I felt good tonight. It’s just unfortunate that we came out with a loss here. I thought we played good for the first two periods and in the third we got away from our game and it cost us,” said #85, who was easily the star of the night for Washington.

 

Notes: Perreault was recalled today from Chocolatetown…Eric Fehr was scratched, supposedly a healthy one according to Mike Vogel of WashingtonCaps.com, along with Dave Steckel and d-man John Erskine. Tyler Sloan went on injured reserve to free up a roster spot for #85…however, Jeff Schultz took a shot off of his hand in the second period and fractured his thumb and will miss 4 to 6 weeks. Sarge played 10:32 before the injury ended his evening…Michal Neuvirth (24 saves) started and was a mixed bag, just like his teammates. He was really good early in the second period when the Leafs pressed for the tying tally, but in the third period he probably should have had Grabovski’s goal that started the rally…Washington won the face-off battle, 33-25, with Boyd Gordon going 12-3 and Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists, -2) winning 12 of 18 draws…next up for the Capitals are the Florida Panthers at 7pm on Thursday night. It is not the type of opponent the Caps will get up for and they could really use a game against someone like the Pittsburgh Penguins to get their blood flowing and focus back. Unfortunately the hated Pens are not on the schedule until December 23rd.

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Varlamov Stones Blues as Caps Win, 4-1

Posted on 02 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Before Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals last victory in St. Louis came with Jim Schoenfeld as the head coach and David Poile as the General Manager (1996). Thanks to Semyon Varlamov, who was outstanding in goal tonight with 37 saves, the Caps eight game losing streak at the Scotttrade center is now over. Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and an assist as Washington got some revenge on Blues goalie, Jaroslav Halak (22 saves), who had stoned the Caps in their opening round playoff loss last spring when he was with Montreal. The victory on the road pushes the Caps to 18-6-2 overall and they’ve won four straight with Varly in the cage after he returned from a lengthy absence due to a groin injury. Washington leads the Southeast Division by seven points over Tampa Bay and the Eastern Conference by four points over those two teams they don’t like from Pennsylvania.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a rare road win in the “Show Me” state:

- Typically the Caps play some of their best hockey in front of Varlamov. Tonight was not one of those games as the Blues carried the majority of the play but #1 had the backs of his teammates and he made several super saves. His positioning was excellent and he had superb rebound control. Varly also is bigger than both Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby and he plays like a big goalie. That forces opponents to try and pick corners. The result is that they often miss the net.

- Washington is banged up on the back line and it is a good thing they made the Tomas Fleischmann for Scott Hannan trade now. Hannan, who sat out this one so he could learn the Caps system by observing from the press box, is slated to make his Caps debut in Dallas on Thursday evening (830 pm on Comcast). He will be needed big time because Tom Poti, who helped set up the second goal for Washington, did not play in the third period (logged only 11 minutes of total ice time). In addition, Mike Green appeared to be favoring his right shoulder quite a bit but he gutted this tilt out. John Carlson got banged up right before the Blues only tally with 31 seconds left in period two, but he managed to persevere. John Erskine also took a hard hit in the back by Brad Winchester in the final stanza and looked to be in some pain.

- Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, and Mike Knuble were the Caps best line on Wednesday and they were +2 each. It was Knuble’s hard, low shot on Halak that rebounded off of the goalie’s pads and right onto the stick of #19, who buried it to give Washington a key two goal cushion with just under 13 minutes remaining. Nicky also made a super feed to Brooks Laich on the power play in the first period to start the scoring (Alex Semin had the second assist on a gorgeous cross ice pass). Backstrom’s last tally came via an Oveckin pass with the net empty. The Great #8, who has not scored a goal in eight games, has eight assists during that drought, including seven during the four game winning streak. It was a very smart play by Oveckhin to get the puck to Backstrom for the tap in and close this game out with 35 seconds remaining. Sure he could have fired the biscuit into the empy cage to stop his personal goalless streak, but instead he showed his unselfishness, maturity, patience, and commitment to winning. That is what  a team captain does and it is so clear that Alexander the Great is not concerned at all with his individual statistics, he is only focused on winning despite what some of those biased analysts in Canada will try to tell you. Despite the focus on the team, Ovechkin is now 3rd in the league in scoring with 33 points (8 points behind Sidney Crosby and 7 in back of Steve Stamkos).

- Another game, another one in which the opponents get more power plays than Washington. The Caps received two early power plays and tallied on one of them but after that the Blues received four opportunities with the man advantage. St. Louis carried the play but the zebras missed some calls on the Blues, including an obvious stick slash when Ovechkin had a scoring chance. Oh well, like Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said after Sunday’s win vs. Carolina, “I’ve given up trying to understand [the officiating].” St. Louis went 0 for 4 on the power play and Washington did a great job of being aggressive and forcing the Blues into some turnovers. Varlamov was also what he needed to be: the Caps best penalty killer.

Notes: The Caps won or tied the faceoff battle for the 13 straight contest (33-30) and they did it without their best draw man, Dave Steckel. Matt Hendricks, who seems to do all of the little things that help you win, was 10-3 while Boyd Gordon went 11-6…#39 sat so that DJ King could get a game and #17 had an assist on Washington’s second tally which was credited to Gordon when Halak fumbled the puck into his own cage…Green played 25:24 to lead the Caps in ice time…Boudreau did a nice job of rolling the lines and with the Caps going against Dallas on Thursday he needed to be able to do that for the second half of the back-to-back games. Varlamov’s goaltending really helped that cause…one would expect to see Neuvirth in the cage in Dallas…Washington returns home to the Verizon Center on Saturday night when they take on Atlanta for the third and final time in the regular season. The Thrashers are currently riding a six game winning streak but have lost both tilts at the Phone Booth.

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Semin Hat Trick Helps Caps Bury Bolts, 6-0

Posted on 26 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Is there any doubt about who rules the Southeast Division? The Washington Capitals hosted the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were riding a five game winning streak and had closed within four points of the 1st place Caps, and promptly buried them, 6-0,  behind Alexander Semin’s third hat trick of the season, and second in as many tilts against the Bolts. Semyon Varlamov made 17 saves for his third career regular season shutout  and Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson had two assists apiece in this white washing of Steve Stamkos and company. The Caps are now 16-6-2 and lead the Southeast Division by six points over the Bolts, who have a game in hand. They also lead the Eastern Conference over the Philadelphia Flyers by a point.

Let’s get to the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a 60 minute Capitals effort:

- Goaltending and special teams were the big difference in this contest. Tampa’s netminding duo of Mike Smith and Dan Ellis are average, at best, and both of them saw the ice in this tilt.  After Johansson cleanly won an offensive zone draw against Stamkos, John Carlson lasered one into the cage to make it 1-0 just 3:09 into the contest, a lead Washington would take to the dressing room. But Karl Alzner took an uncharasterically bad penalty for interference against Steve Downie with one second left in that stanza and that set Tampa up for the first of two early second period power plays. That is where the game really turned for the Caps as they would kill both of those thanks to some great work by Boyd Gordon, Semin, and the entire PK unit. In addition, they did a super job of not letting Stamkos get set up for his vicious one timer from the left wing circle.

- Shortly after the Caps thwarted those two Bolts power plays, Smith couldn’t handle a point shot from John Erskine and it trickled by the shaky net minder to make it 2-0. That goal definitely hurt the Lightning, still they pressed on and opened the game up. That is where they got burnt as Semin made a nice back check to help Washington take the puck away from Tampa and he and Johansson went 2 on 1 the other way. MJ90 then made a gorgeous pass to #28, who rammed it home on the one-timer for his first marker of the night.

- Then Semin would complete his natural hat trick in just 4:29 with two power play tallies (fastest NHL natural hat trick since Bobby Ryan of Anaheim on 1/9/2009; h/t @capsmedia). With Mattias Ritola in the box for tripping, Ovechkin had his point shot blocked but he gathered in the biscuit and slid it over to Backstrom in the right wing circle. #19 then went cross ice to Semin who one-timed another by Smith to end his evening. Stamkos, who was downright awful on Friday, was called for interference and then Mattias Ohlund tripped Oveckhin in the neutral zone to give Washington a 5 on 3. It took only 19 seconds to connect as Ovechkin slid the puck to Backstrom, who then made a sweet cross crease pass to Semin. #28 had the puck almost on the goal line but rifled it top shelf on a sliding Ellis. It was an amazing display of skill by both Backstrom and Semin to put Washington up 5-0 and effectively end the contest at 11:21 of period two.

- Overall the Caps would go 2 for 4 on the power play while they held the Lightning to no goals in five attempts. Even after yielding those tallies to the Caps the Lightning are still killing penalties at an 87% clip, tied for 3rd in the league. They are also fifth in the NHL with the power play at 24%. So the outstanding special teams performance by Washington came against a strong opponent in those categories.  The Caps are 4th in the NHL at 24.1% with an advantage and their much improved shorthanded unit is now up to eighth in the league at 84.3%.

“We played good defensively. Power play works good. PK [penalty kill] did an unbelievable job. I think we play a good 60 solid minutes,” said Ovechkin on the Caps keys to the victory.

 

“I don’t know if it was perfect, but it’s as good as we’ve played all year. When you score a couple on the power play and you kill a 5-on-3, I thought it was a good game by us,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the effort by his club, who totally dominated the Lightning in all facets of the game.

 

- Varlamov’s best save of night was early in the contest when Martin St. Louis had a chance in the slot after moving around Alzner. After that he didn’t have to do a whole lot in this one as Boudreau said afterwards that his team was determined to play a very good game. But a team’s good play or bad play is often based on the confidence they have in their goaltender, as anyone who has played this great sport will tell you. I think it is no coincidence that their two worst games of the season, in Atlanta and New Jersey, came with rookie goalie Braden Holtby struggling in the cage early on while some of their better contests, such as the last two tilts, have been with Varlamov, their #1 goalie, between the pipes.

“When you get some goals against you early it takes the wind out of your sails some time. I think the guys were pissed. They were ticked off, we took a lot of flak this week and that is a proud bunch in there. The week is not over yet but they knew they were better than what they showed and they knew they were better than what people were saying about us. So I think they dug deep and we’ll try to dig deep again on Sunday,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning bench boss on the mind set of his club since losing three in a row.

 

- Carlson and Alzner continue to shine as a defensive pair and Boudreau spoke glowingly of the two young defenseman for their efforts on shutting down the Stamkos-St. Louis-Downie line. Tom Poti, in just his second contest back from injury, added a goal as well and was superb all evening.

 

“[Carlson] and Alzner, for a 21 year old guy and 22, having the duty of shutting down that line did a real good job, and Carly adds that offensive element as well. I thought he was at his best tonight,” started Boudreau on his two rookie defensemen, “I was really impressed with Tom, just his demeanor and you could tell his experience back there when he got the puck he made the right plays he did the right things with it. We missed him [while he was out],” finished Boudreau on #3.

 

- The 20 year old Johansson continues to get better and his play is making Tomas Fleischmann more expendable. MJ90 played a big role on the first and third goals and overall he logged 12:31 of ice time, including 1:53 on the power play (2nd unit). He is a very good skater and just needs to keep improving his play along the boards, particularly behind the net where he gets taken off of the puck fairly easily when he doesn’t move his feet. As for #14, he was scratched today with the return of Mike Knuble (fractured jaw). Fleischmann has really struggled this year and part of his problem is his lack of physical play. He has not been finishing his checks on the forecheck at all and when opposing defenseman feel no threat, it is much easier for them to clear their own end.

- We’ve blogged in the past about the clean hit and then the subsequent fight that occurs. Tonight Erskine made a good solid shoulder check on Nate Thompson and #44 went awkwardly into the boards and stayed down. The zebras, who did a great job on Friday night, did not call a penalty. However, a few minutes later the Bolts Ryan Malone decided to take exception to the hit on his teammate and went after #4. Erskine proceeded to pummel the former Penguins forward. Erskine, who was drafted in 1998 by Craig Button’s Dallas Stars scouting staff in the 2nd round (39th overall), is “pretty tough” as an NHL scouting director told me last season.

Notes: The Caps held Tampa to their lowest shot total of the season (17)…Washington is now a league best 11-1-1 at home…Semin is second in the NHL in goals to Stamkos (21 to 17)…the Capitals are 11-0 when #28 scores a goal and 12-1-2 when he registers a point or more….Brian Fahey, who was paired with Erskine, had his first NHL point (an assist) in 11:21 of ice time in his best game as a Capital…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 33-27 and have been at 50% or better for 11 straight games (last season their longest such streak was seven games)…Next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center at 5pm on Sunday…down on the farm the Hershey Bears buried the Syracuse Crunch on the road, 5-1. Andrew Gordon had two goals and was the game’s number one star while Mathieu Perreault added a tally and two assists. Dany Sabourin won in Syracuse for the third straight time in three tries this season. The Bears host Adirondack at 7pm on Saturday at the Giant Center.

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Ovechkin, Backstrom, Varlamov Lead Caps Over Canes, 3-2

Posted on 25 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After his team was blanked 5-0 in its last two road games, Alexander Ovechkin came out with a vengeance on Wednesday night in Carolina skating hard, hitting Canes, and firing the biscuit on net often. The result was a three assist night in a 3-2 victory over the Hurricanes in Raleigh on Thanksgiving Eve. Nicklas Backstrom tallied on Ovie’s first two assists and Brooks Laich tapped home the game winner on the power play with 7:53 remaining. Semyon Varlamov, who was playing his first game since early October at the NHL level due a bad groin, was outstanding in goal stopping 30 of 32 shots. The victory halts an overall three game slide and improves the Capitals record to 15-6-2. The win keeps them four points ahead of the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning, who defeated the New York Rangers on Wednesday, 5-3. The Bolts will now come in to the Verizon Center on Friday for a 5pm tilt. That game should be a great one.

Here are the highlights and analysis from a huge Caps win in Raleigh:

- Ovechkin (3 assists, 10 shots on goal, 5 hits) was clearly the main story on Wednesday night. The Great #8, who is the team captain and leader of this Washington squad, had been struggling of late, especially on the road. However, from the very first shift it was clear that he was ready to go and a tactical switch by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau seemed to help jump start the two time Hart Trophy winner. Boudreau, in an attempt to get Ovechkin more space and get him to churn his powerful legs, inserted him on the right wing of Backstrom and it yielded big dividends. The Swedish superstar center, who turned 23 on Tuesday, scored the first two goals of the game on Ovie set ups from the right wing boards. The first was an Ovechkin blast from the top of the right wing circle and when Justin Peters (35 saves) couldn’t handle the rebound, Nicky beat Joe Corvo to the biscuit and slapped it home. Then, in a 4 on 4 situation early in the second period, Alexander the Great outworked the Canes in the right wing corner and fed Backstrom with a nice pass. #19 had all kinds of room coming off of the wall and he lasered it by Peters for a 2-0 lead. The hard work by those two, with Laich on the left wing, would continue all night and they could have had five points each if not for some great goaltending by Peters. But Peters made a big mistake in the 3rd period trying to play the puck while shorthanded and when he cleared it right to the Great #8 at the point, Alex fired it on the cage and Laich tapped it home to break a two all tie and give the Caps the victory.

- Varlamov, who made three appearances in Hershey over the last 10 days in an attempt to rehab his injury, was outstanding. His positioning was great and he had numerous big saves, especially early on when Carolina had the Caps on their heels a bit in the first five minutes. #1 held his ground well on several occassions on goal mouth scrambles and he fought through some screens to thwart other opportunities for the Canes from the point. The only two tallies he allowed were a Sergei Samsonov deflection from the top of the crease on a Joni Pitkanen blast and an Eric Staal power play marker from in tight after the referees missed a clear hook on the Caps John Carlson. Both of those came in the first 10 minutes of the third period when Carolina was storming the castle. Now the key for Varly is to stay healthy, because as good as Michal Neuvirth is playing, Varlamov is the best goalie in the organization.

- It was clear that Boudreau’s “Send a Message”  practice/skate on Tuesday resonated with his troops as Washington did not float through this contest like they did in Atlanta and New Jersey. The team skated hard and did a super job of puck support. When one player lost the puck it seemed like there was always a Capital close by to cover for the turnover. I also don’t remember too many odd man rushes for the Canes, something Washington needed to cut down on.

- I spoke about the stars contribution to this victory but two other Capitals deserve a lot of credit in the win: Matt Bradley and Matt Hendricks. Bradley took on Troy Bodie at the 8:16 mark and was cut in a losing bout. But there is something about #10 bleeding that brings out the best in his teammates and after that they seemed to really kick things into gear, culminated by Backstrom’s opening tally five minutes later. In addition, Hendricks, who fought on Monday only to see his club not respond to it, did a lot of little things including drawing a tripping penalty and jumping into any scrums to stand up for his mates, most notably was confronting Erik Cole after he bumped Varly and then tried to get at Tom Poti. Role players like #10 and #26 are what win regular season games and make a difference in the post season.

-  Poti made his return to the lineup after missing 14 of the last 15 games due to a groin injury and he was sturdy in 24:30 of ice time. #3 was +1 and played the second most on defense to ice time leader, Carlson, who logged 26:39 because Mike Green was out of action due to an injury. The top 4 blue liners, Carlson, Poti, Jeff Schultz, and Karl Alzner were fairly solid, while Hershey recall Brian Fahey struggled a bit and that impacted his partner John Erskine, who only played 10:47. It was Erskine’s penalty that led to the game tying goal after he and #44 were running around in their own zone. Fahey and Erskine did not see the ice in the last 5:59 of this tilt.

Notes: Michal Neuvirth dressed as the back up goalie, meaning his lower body injury that occurred in the morning skate on Monday was not serious…both teams went 1 for 4 on the power play…Tampa has won five games in a row for their first winning streak of 5 or more in three seasons, so Friday’s Caps-Bolts tilt will be “Can’t Miss” hockey…Oveckhin only had 3 shots blocked tonight to go with the 10 he had on net, clearly the move to RW helped him big time - great coaching by Boudreau…the Caps won the face-off battle 37-29 with Boyd Gordon going 13-4 and Dave Steckel winning 11 of 15 draws. Backstrom was 5-13…Tyler Sloan was also out due to an injury…the Hershey Bears lost 3-2 to the Worcester Sharks at the Giant Center. Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle tallied in the losing effort for the boys from Chocolatetown.

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