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Team USA’s Real Problem: Lack of Center Ice Talent

Posted on 22 September 2016 by Ed Frankovic

The 2016 World Cup of Hockey was supposed to help USA Hockey right the “wrongs” of Sochi and restore the team to at least the level they reached in Vancouver in 2010 (silver medal), but after two games, their entire tournament went kaput.

A stunning tournament opening 3-0 loss to Team Europe and then the not surprising at all 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Canadian power house leaves USA Hockey eliminated from the World Cup of Hockey after Thursday night’s meaningless game against the Czechs.

USA Hockey is now in disarray and searching for answers.

So how did it get this bad?

Well for starters, the choice of head coach put things headed in the wrong direction. John Tortorella is a fiery man and he’s won a Stanley Cup, but that was back in 2004 when the game was drastically different. Post lockout, Torts has had minimal success in Tampa, New York, Vancouver, and now Columbus. There are many who feel that the game has passed him by. His record since the lockout, and especially most recently, backs that up.

The fingers can also be pointed at USA Hockey management, as Craig Custance duly noted on Wednesday afternoon. After Sochi they publicly blamed players such as Phil Kessel for the problems. Bobby Ryan, who was left off of the team, had his name dragged through the mud in an article detailing the management conversations that went into selecting the 2014 Olympic team. For this tournament USA Hockey vowed to construct a team that was tough, gritty, and would stick together. Dean Lombardi was given the reigns, but let’s be honest, the blueprint for this roster came from longtime USA Hockey manager, Brian Burke. “Truculence” is one of Burke’s favorite words, he loves that style of play and he won a Cup in Anaheim with that style, but also with some very skilled and talented players in Scott Neidermayer, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry.

So the trio of Burke, Lombardi, and Tortorella were the architects of this 2016 mission and they not only played a style that lacked imagination, but resulted in no real flow and little offense. Following the defeat, Kessel and Ryan, who still feel slighted from 2014, took to twitter and basically blasted the management of USA Hockey. It also irked many of the USA players such as Zach Parise, David Backes, and Derek Stepan and they took public issue with the tweets. There are multiple camps on this one, many feel that the USA Hockey management deserved the brunt of the attack, and they are primarily right, but some think that those guys were just calling attention to themselves and piling on. I am not happy with USA Hockey management as well, but I tend to be in the latter camp. I felt the tweets were unnecessary. However, as someone in the game noted to me on Wednesday night, when you’ve got pride, you’ve been blamed for past failures and you see the current team, which you are not on, have no success, then it’s hard to take major issue with those players for pouring more gas on the fire. That’s a fair point, even though the players on the team who lost likely won’t forget the shots they feel were also sent their way by the tweets from those players.

But let’s get to the real problem that is killing USA Hockey at the pro level, and adding wingers Kessel and Ryan to this team would not have helped one iota in this area: center ice.

That same NHL scout, who basically gave Kessel and Ryan a pass for their tweets, noted that as much as we in the media and fans want to call USA’s loss to Team Europe an embarrassment, it really wasn’t. Europe has one of the best centers in the NHL in Anze Kopitar and they also have an up and coming center ice star in Leon Draisaitl. The scout felt that Europe’s third center, Frans Neilsen was equal to Stepan. So it’s no surprise that Europe beat the Americans and the most entertaining coach of the tournament, Ralph Krueger, smartly rode #11 as much as he could against the USA.

Simply put, the USA is woefully weak up the center of the ice in an era where you must be strong there to have a chance to succeed. Their #1 center was Stepan, and he’s a number two on his NHL team. After that there isn’t much to note. Tyler Johnson is a center, but he was left off of the team. Arguably, the best centers the USA have are Auston Matthews and Jack Eichel, but they were on Team North America because they are still teenagers. In contrast, you look at Canada and they go Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews up the middle of the ice, not to mention they have guys like Patrice Bergeron and Joe Thornton as additional pivot men.

So given the USA’s lack of center ice men to choose from, in Burke, Lombardi, and Torts’ defense, they felt they had to play a certain style to have a chance to win. It doesn’t make that choice right, because the game is about puck possession and speed these days, but that was likely their thinking.

Now USA could’ve played a different way and swapped out some wingers and added Johnson, but would it have mattered? Maybe a little bit, but they still weren’t beating Canada.

Look no further than the words from the coach who is going to win this tournament, Mike Babcock. The Leafs bench boss said himself that Team Canada is playing the exact same system that he used in Toronto this past season to finish DEAD LAST in the NHL. Babcock made it abundantly clear, it’s not about systems, it’s about the players. He has the best players to choose from in Canada and he will win. They are loaded at the most important position, center (and every other position, too).

Yes, I’d like to see Team USA play more of an up tempo speed game like Team North America is playing right now, but you have to have the talent to do that. It wasn’t there with this roster or the pool of players they had to choose from.

The bottom line is USA Hockey can swap out the management philosophy, and I think they absolutely should, but until they get some center ice men at the NHL level, it’s not going to make a huge difference.

Luckily they have Matthews and Eichel coming in the near future, but will that be enough to close the very large gap that exists between the USA and Canada at center?

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Caps Suffer Worst Loss of Season

Posted on 27 November 2013 by Ed Frankovic

With two guys asking for trades this week (Martin Erat and Dmitry Orlov), things went from bad to worse on Thanksgiving Eve as the Capitals turned a 3-1 first period lead into a 6-4 defeat to Ottawa.

It was a terrible loss for Washington primarily due to a lack of focus and effort. There are also holes in the talent department on the back end too, but more on that later.

The Caps came out skating, something you must do against a very fast Senators club, and as a result, they had the lead and the momentum. Then Chris Neil, who is known for physical and dirty play, took a run at defensemen Nate Schmidt drawing an obvious penalty in the process. What happened next, was the start of the end for the Caps. Defensemen Tyson Strachan immediately went after Neil taking an instigator penalty, five for fighting, and a 10 minute misconduct to take the Caps off of a power play that could have put them up 4-1. It was a bad decision at the wrong time for a guy who really should be playing in Hershey.

Ottawa received a spark from the play while the Caps seemed to get their boots filled with cement. The Senators would out shoot the Caps 19-3 in the second period tying the contest up and then they dominated Washington in the 3rd period to take a 4-3 lead on their third power play goal of the game. Ottawa was flat out too fast and determined for Washington and they repeatedly went to the net for screens and deflections while many of the Caps defenders failed to get position or tie up their sticks. It was absolutely terrible defense by the Capitals. A big part of that problem is the lack of talent on the back end. Strachan, Schmidt and Alex Urbom simply aren’t NHL players at this point in their careers. This is a big reason why the Caps are giving up lots of shots night after night (Ottawa had 40 on Wednesday) and the goaltending is starting to wear out. Braden Holtby started strong in this game but he faded giving up some goals he’d like to have back. But when your defense allows too many players in front of the net and can’t consistently close gaps on the ice, your goalies are going to get lit up eventually. You also can’t score when the other team has the puck.

Therefore, it is up to Coach Adam Oates, assistant Calle Johansson, and GM George McPhee to make some upgrades on the back end. Whether it is inserting Orlov, trying someone else from Hershey, or making a trade for some defensive help, something has got to give.

The Capitals are fortunately still sitting at 12-11-2 after this four game losing streak (0-3-1) thanks primarily to the outstanding play of Alexander Ovechkin and John Carlson this season. Carlson was great again tonight throwing seven pucks on net and his individual effort at the blue line drew a penalty and then #74 tied the game with three minutes left on the ensuing face off. It’s too bad that Mike Green’s awful night (3 minor penalties and shoddy d-zone play) and Schmidt’s inability to close on a streaking Senators forward resulted in the winning goal just 64 seconds later. Green was pretty bad on Wednesday after two games where he seemed to be on the upswing. Bottom line is #52 needs a steady NHL partner to be most effective and he does not have that with this defensive crew make up right now.

There were several other passengers in this one up front. Troy Brouwer was -3 and he continues to struggle this season. Mikhail Grabovski had a poor showing as well.

As for the penalty kill, it’s dropping like a bag of wet cement lately. The Caps are losing too many face offs and they are allowing too much traffic on their goaltender. The Caps rely heavily on Karl Alzner and Carlson to kill penalties and when the team gets into penalty trouble, like it did on Wednesday, it severely impacts the Capitals ability to win the puck possession battle because their top duo spends much of their energy while shorthanded. It’s a bad situation right now with the lack of experience on the back end.

So on Thanksgiving Eve, a game that started so promising, turned into a disaster and the way Ottawa skated all over the Capitals was telling.

It was an ugly defeat from the lack of effort and focus along with a shortage of talent on defense.

Worst loss of the season for the Caps? Absolutely.

 

 

 

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Handling Bigger Ice Key for Team USA in 2014 Olympics

Posted on 27 August 2013 by Ed Frankovic

On day two of Team USA orientation camp at Kettler IcePlex this afternoon General Manager David Poile didn’t beat around the bush when discussing the biggest challenge his squad faces heading into the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It’s all about how his squad performs on the bigger ice surface.

“We know what the challenges are here, we haven’t had any success in Europe on the big ice. The United States hasn’t won any medals in the last two Olympics played on the big ice,” stated the long time NHL GM.

Yes, Team USA won silver in Vancouver in 2010 and also in Salt Lake City back in 2002, but both of those tournaments were played on NHL sized rinks. The Olympic surface is wider, which changes several aspects on how the game is played.

“Angles and spacing really [is the difference]. More so the angles are quicker to adjust, it’s more of a read. At the NHL level you are approximated to the boards so you can use it as a gauge. Here, if you rely on that you are out of position pretty quickly. The one good thing is the zones are all a little different sizes but the paint is always in the same spot. I think that’s a key thing for everyone to understand and realize that from a spacing issue to try to use the faceoff circles and dots because they are actually in the same position as an NHL rink, almost,” said Kings winger Dustin Brown.

In 2010, Team USA used its ability to be physical to its advantage but with more room, taking the body is not as easy and is not as much of a factor.

“There’s more to being physical than the big hits. It’s rubbing guys out, grinding guys out. There’s still opportunities for the big hit, you just have to be patient and let it come to you. You can’t be running out of position because it’s just that much further you have to go to get back,” added Brown.

Most of the players seemed comfortable with going to the bigger rink size and some, like Carolina defensemen Justin Faulk, didn’t think the change was going to be real difficult.

“It’s probably easier going from big ice for smaller ice. You get more room. I don’t think it’s a big deal, I’ve done it many times personally. Everyone in here has played on big ice at some point. Obviously it’s a little bit different game and style,” stated Faulk.

Several other players acknowledged the ice surface challenge but it was clear that Poile, who has been in hockey long before every one of Team USA’s players was born, believes that addressing the rink size issue is paramount to his clubs success.

“The challenge for us is we’ve never had any success on European soil. We owe it to ourselves to to go over every facet of what we’ve done in the past on it. We’ve talked to former players and coaches and the thing that comes up constantly is you have to have speed. I don’t think we’ll need that truculence element as much. It’s just an adjustment and making the players aware of the differences in the ice size and making sure. You don’t want it to be the excuse. The fact that we’ve won two silver medals in North America and got nothing in Europe – I can’t accept that. These are good players, they’re smart players, they’re skilled players. It’s different – yes. Ok, so let’s go figure it out…it could be coaching, it could be systems, it could be the players that we take over there,” concluded Poile.

As for the roster make up itself, there were 48 players invited to the orientation camp and this is the deepest pool of talent Team USA has ever had. The team appears strongest in net where the club has the likes of Jonathan Quick, Jimmy Howard, Craig Anderson, Ryan Miller, Cory Schneider, and John Gibson. Up front they are led by Patrick Kane, Zach Parise, Ryan Kesler, Joe Pavelski, and Bobby Ryan while on defense Ryan Suter and Erik Johnson are the logical leaders. Poile indicated that this would be the toughest team these players would ever have to make and he stated that about half of the spots are likely already locked up based on the performances of some in the 2010 Olympics.

“As we’ve told the players, the body of work they’ve had in their career to this point is important but what they do in October, November, and December will be the deciding factor. I favor the guys from 2010, not only because of the success they had but how they’ve matured as hockey players. The age group we have right now is excellent. At times we thought we were too young in 2010 but now, four years later, we are bang on at the right age.”

It is apparent that the roster decisions are going to be extremely tough and many players will suffer the disappointment of missing out on representing their country, but Poile relishes that process.

“This is going to be the toughest decisions that I have to make, but I want it to be tough…We want the hard decisions, we’ve never really had in USA hockey to make that many hard decisions because we’ve never really had the depth and quality we presently have, so bring it on.”

Notes: The Caps were represented at the orientation camp by defensemen John Carlson, who scored the Gold Medal winning goal for Team USA in the 2010 World Junior Championships…Poile called Kettler “as good as any facility I’ve ever seen”…Erik Johnson was very critical of his game with Colorado last year and made it clear he needs to be more consistent…the Team USA jerseys were unveiled by the players to a sold out Kettler IcePlex. NHL Network televised the event.

 

 

 

 

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Is Michael Phelps a hero or a zero? Depends on who you ask…

Posted on 31 July 2012 by Nestor Aparicio

The every-fourth-year hubbub about the Olympics and swimming and local connections is underway and once again this week Michael Phelps has entered the worldwide sports consciousness every night as the most decorated athlete in United States history.

So if you’re a provincial, “local” Baltimore sports fan you’re almost obligated to cheer for the kid from Towson wearing the red, white and blue on behalf of our country as well as our community.

After all of the tape delay fiascos from England this weekend – I wrote my two cents here — I started thinking about Michael Phelps as being the unique sports figure of our time in Baltimore. Oh, sure we have some hometown sports heroes like Johnny Unitas, Brooks Robinson, Cal Ripken and Ray Lewis, who will all have plenty of bronze likenesses and memories in our community and “time will not dim the glory of their deeds” but Phelps’ accomplishments trump all of them on his stage when you consider his competition around the planet and the scope and magnitude of the Olympics.

And unlike the Orioles, Colts or Ravens, most people have never been anywhere near a pool where Michael Phelps has swam a lap. The closest approximation to a “cheering crowd” for Phelps happened four years ago when the remnants of a Baltimore Ravens preseason game watched him swim for gold inside the stadium about 30 minutes after the football game ended.

You can see my view of it here:

So on Saturday afternoon before Phelps took his first turn in the pool vs. Ryan Lochte, I put up one simple, open-ended sentence for tens of thousands of our @WNST Twitter followers and our Facebook community. It was:

Michael Phelps is ___________________.

There were hundreds of comments across social media and by my count far more than 50% weren’t just negative they were downright personal and abusive in some cases. And this was on Facebook, where people sign their names and add their likeness to their criticism.

Perhaps it’s gold medal envy?

Maybe it was the DUI

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It needs to be said: Good riddance, Derrick Mason!

Posted on 08 August 2011 by Nestor Aparicio

Over the past two weeks I’ve read and heard and watched a myriad of different reactions to the swath of cuts the Baltimore Ravens have made to veteran players and unlike the overwhelming majority of the fan base here, I understand the salary cap and how it works.

(If you have any questions, feel free to forward them along: nasty@wnst.net. That’s why WNST.net exists – to educate you and answer your questions about Baltimore sports.)

Bottom line: the Ravens played about $14 million over the cap last year in a “wild, wild west” uncapped NFL season. In the new post-lockout 2011 season, everyone will need to align franchise expenditures with the reality of the league. For the Ravens, that means playing with less veteran (re: well-paid) talent.

This brings us to wide receiver Derrick Mason, who has somehow at 37 years of age  managed to stir up the fans of Baltimore using his Twitter account and his ever-present voice to make a case for himself as a returning veteran to the Ravens.

He was texting with John Harbaugh. He was talking about other opportunities and greener pastures. He was “shocked” by the Ravens’ cut, which had almost happened two other times over the last two years.

Here’s the truth: the Ravens didn’t want Derrick Mason anymore. And his “pick” of the New York Jets and all of the bluster that Rex Ryan blew around at the press conference about Mason electing to take “less money to play in New York” was just typical Ryanspeak.

Fact: Rex Ryan hates the Ravens more than any NFL team. He barely even speaks to me anymore because he knows I’m a Ravens fan. He stews about not getting the head coaching job every time he looks at me.

Fact: Derrick Mason wasn’t welcomed in Baltimore any more. The Ravens don’t have any cap room and felt that overspending on the clearly devalued stock of an almost-40 wide receiver wasn’t good business for them.

This was a good marriage for Mason and Ryan. It fits both of their needs to get even with the Ravens and to take the “Play Like A Jet” braggadocio to The Big Apple and potentially make another run at a Super Bowl appearance.

Oh, and the parting shot? Mason and Ryan both let it be known that they believe they have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl than the Ravens do.

Fair enough.

And when these teams lock horns here in Baltimore eight weeks, it’s going to look like the NFL’s newest Holy War and if I could wave my magic wand and have it all work out right the Ravens would host the AFC Championship Game and play the mighty titans of New York for all the marbles here in late January.

Baltimore vs. New York? As long as it’s not baseball, I really like our chances!

And because I’ve said this before when Derrick Mason was wearing purple every week, I’ll say it again out of fairness and full disclosure. In my 16 years of chasing the Ravens all across the continent and working every locker room of every game, Mason was one of my least favorite Ravens.

It’s almost blasphemous because for most he was a media dream. He would always set up in front of his locker and welcome the lights and the cameras and the questions and would always fire off long, winding diatribes about his feelings and his insights filling notebooks and video storage devices. And I’m all for a loquacious athlete. It’s good for business all the way around.

Except in Mason’s case, I always thought it was personal and it was overkill. And he was always speaking down to the media, which in my opinion is speaking down to the fans.

Look there’s no getting around it, Derrick Mason was a helluva football player – a classic overachiever in every sense of the word and my respect for his abilities as an athlete is unquestioned. And I’m pretty sure he’s a good family man and an all-around decent human being. He did charitable things here and in Nashville and I know he really wanted to win.

But as a guy who plays on a team with 53 other guys?

You can have a 37-year old Derrick Mason, New York. He’s perfect for you!

He’s all about himself.

Don’t believe me? Well, I’ve talked to enough of his teammates and coaches over the years to know how they feel about him. Helluva player, but he’s gonna bitch loudly and unrepentantly about not getting the ball – win or lose. Many would say he’s a “typical me-first wide receiver” and that’s fine, too.

Last I checked that class full of brats — Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, Chad Johnson — all have one thing in common: nude ring fingers!

I saw Mason stew after victories – many times – because he wasn’t the biggest part of the offense that day. I’ve seen him pop off and say all sorts of things that had a very “anti-team” edge to them as I heard them. And I also remember his retirement proceedings on his agent’s website two summers ago.

Apparently, so did Joe Flacco, who amidst the Ravens’ mystery “negotiations” with Mason threw him under the bus by calling him a diva in front of the world 48 hours ago.

I think that says it all.

Sure, there will be days this fall when Flacco would’ve loved having him on 3rd and 6, but the other six days and 21 hours of the week sure sounded like an issue for some folks at The Bellagio in Owings Mills.

And I get it.

But all of this green bluster coming out of New York is just that – another chance for Mason and Ryan to take a few verbal jabs at the Ravens and Baltimore, where they weren’t welcomed anymore.

We’ll see them on Sunday night, Oct. 2 here in Baltimore.

To be continued…

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Caps Lose 7th Straight in OT

Posted on 16 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Flu Bug Still Present, Caps Recall More

Posted on 15 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Press Release from the Washington Capitals:

The Washington Capitals have recalled right wing Andrew Gordon and center Jay Beagle from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL), vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. The Capitals also assigned defenseman Brian Fahey to Hershey.

Gordon, 25, is a fourth-year pro who has played four games for the Capitals in his career. The Porters Lake, Nova Scotia, native has collected 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) and 12 penalty minutes in 26 games with Hershey this season and currently ranks second in the AHL in goals and fifth in points.

A seventh-round choice, 197th overall, in the 2004 Entry Draft, Gordon wears No. 63 for the Capitals. He scored 50 goals for Hershey last season (37 in the regular season, 13 in the playoffs), one of two AHL players to score 50 goals total. He played in the 2010 AHL All-Star Game and was named to the postseason AHL Second All-Star Team. In addition, Gordon played three seasons of college hockey at St. Cloud State (WCHA).

Beagle, 25, has played in one game (Oct. 23 vs. Atlanta) for Washington this season, registering two penalty minutes. The 6’3”, 210-pound native of Calgary, Alberta, has collected 11 points (7 goals, 4 assists) and 20 penalty minutes in 21 games for the Bears this season.

Beagle has appeared in 11 career NHL games for the Capitals, posting two points (1 goal, 1 assist) and six penalty minutes. He also played in 66 games for the Bears during the regular season last season, collecting 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) and 25 penalty minutes while also recording nine points (2 goals, 7 assists) in 21 playoff games. Beagle, who wears No. 83 for Washington, was signed as a free agent by the Capitals on March 26, 2008.

Both players will be available for tonight’s game against the Anaheim Ducks at Verizon Center.

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COMMENTS: The good news is that defenseman Mike Green is healthy again (missed last two games) so Fahey was returned to the Bears. However, it appears that Alexander Semin is down with the flu now, he didn’t practice yesterday, so Gordon, who played on Sunday against New York but was sent back down to Hershey on Monday, is back up again. Defensive forward Boyd Gordon is also injured and with Beagle being recalled others must still have the flu bug as well. The Caps are playing a very tough team in the Anaheim Ducks tonight. They have a very good goaltender in Jonas Hiller (starred for Switzerland in the 2010 Winter Olympics) and a top forward line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan. All three were also in the 2010 Olympics and they are big, powerful forwards so the Capitals defense has it’s work cut out for them.

The Ducks are 16-13-4 overall and currently reside in 6th place in the Western Conference. They have won their last two games and are 6-3-1 in their last 10 tilts. The Caps seek to halt a six game losing streak against Anaheim at the Verizon Center tonight (CSN HD, 7 pm).

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Hey Baltimore sports fans, it’s Twitter not Spitter

Posted on 10 November 2010 by Nestor Aparicio

The game is all set for Thursday night and I’m all set to jump a plane to Birmingham, Alabama and make my usual drive through the lovely eastern part of the South toward Atlanta for another Georgia Dome visit and a Thursday night date with Matt Ryan and my old pal Mike Smith’s Falcons. Now that Le’Ron McClain has been found innocent by Park Avenue, I suppose we can move the topic from “spitter” to “Twitter”.

If you are NOT “on Twitter” (as they say) let me make an impassioned plea for you to try it tomorrow night and follow along (or just follow from the front page here at WNST.net or in our LIVE CHAT) and see all the fun you’re missing by not getting completely caught up in the mobile fun of gameday with feedback.

Over the last 18 months, WNST.net has moved from a “little radio station” into the most-viewed and relevant Baltimore sports media site in the new media space. Come see what all of the fuss is about tomorrow night when we crush the coverage of the Falcons-Ravens game.

Along with Chris Pika and Glenn Clark, we’ll be in Atlanta. Thyrl will be at HighTopps in Timonium downing a few Bud Lights and surveying the purple suburban scene and Drew Forrester will be blogging, watching, Tweeting, chatting and hanging with Lucy on one arm and Ethan on the other.

It’s a brand new world of sports media coverage.

Follow us on Twitter on Thursday and find out what all of the fuss is about. You’ll see how good little WNST.net really is…

And if you’re already a Twitter, Facebook or mobile-enabled person already, please visit us as well and jump into the best sports conversation going on in Baltimore during the games at WNST.net…

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‘Hard Knocks’ with the Caps??!!

Posted on 23 September 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

Here is more from the Press Release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Erupt for 4 Goals in 3rd Period, Defeat Ducks 5-1

Posted on 28 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

If on Wednesday night you tuned in to something ridiculously boring and a waste of time, like say the State of the Union address, instead of the Washington Capitals game, shame on you for missing out on another Caps impressive and exciting victory, their eighth in a row. The offensive juggernaut that is the 2009-10 Washington Capitals fired a season high 49 shots on net in a 5-1 win against the Anaheim Ducks and goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere, who was superb in defeat. Washington erupted for four third period goals, including three in two and a half minutes early in the final stanza, to turn a tied hockey game into another Capitals party at the Verizon Center. Alexander Ovechkin had a goal and two assists, Alexander Semin notched two tallies, and Michal Neuvirth stopped 30 of 31 shots in a dominating Capitals performance. The Caps, who lead the Eastern Conference and are closing in on first overall in the NHL, are now 35-12-6, good for 76 points, and are just a deuce behind the Western Conference leading San Jose Sharks. Washington is 19-3-3 this season at the Phone Booth.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

Believe it or not, this was a close game into the third period thanks to Giguere, but after Ovechkin leveled Ducks forward Bobby Ryan with a nice shoulder check by the benches, the energy of the Caps went to another level. Former Capital Alan May, commenting on Comcast, felt that the hit by the Great #8 spurred on the Capitals explosion and turned the lights out on Anaheim. Ryan, who tried to mix it up with Mike Green in the second period as well, was sent whimpering to the bench after the Ovie hit and as May alluded to, the New Jersey boy was one of many Ducks done for the night.

“It often does, I don’t know if that was the turning point, I thought we just kept coming but a hit can be a crowd turner,” commented Boudreau when asked if the hit on Ryan was the catalyst for the Washington victory.

When Ovechkin scored just 36 seconds into the contest after a nice Green keep in that he followed with a shot that was deflected by Mike Knuble directly to the Great #8 (who put it in an open net), it appeared a Caps victory would be an after thought. Washington had 13 of the first 15 shots and if not for Giguere, who won a Stanley Cup and also was the Conn Smythe winner (NHL Playoff MVP) in 2002 in a losing cause to New Jersey, this one would have been a rout. But Anaheim hung around by scoring on a shift when every Capital player on the ice made a mistake in the second period. The third period, however, would belong totally to the Caps.

“The guys like what they’re doing right now. They like winning. We talked about it in the dressing room in between periods. It’s about going after them. [We’ve] got a good thing going and let’s just take it right to them and see where it leads…This was a game that was like a playoff game for us. Can we play in a close game? Can we get the lead and hold onto the lead? Can we do those things? And I thought we did a good job in the third period,” added Boudreau on his team’s third period approach.

“We went into the end of the second period and it’s a playoff game out here. They were playing with desperation and we just buckled down and you know with our crowd here it is exciting to be here and guys just worked hard and we got that end result, a win, and we are on a roll right now,” said defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, who notched the game winning tally tonight, his first goal of the season (he also added an assist). #26 has been playing really well since back to back horror show performances in Florida a few weeks back.

Neuvirth, who took over on Tuesday night on Long Island for the third period when Jose Theodore went down with what is believed to be a hip flexor injury (thanks Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post), was very good Wednesday limiting his rebounds by frequently gloving or covering the puck in Washington’s end. The only goal he allowed was a huge rebound but the three forwards (Brooks Laich, Tomas Fleischmann, and Semin) all made mistakes that allowed Sheldon Brookbank to fire a point blast that Neuvirth had trouble with because Morrisonn screened him by trying to get out of the way. The other defenseman on the ice, Brian Pothier, was out of position at the blue line so you could fault each of the six Caps players on Dan Sexton’s tap in goal that tied it at one with 8:37 left in the second period.

“I thought he was really good. I thought he controlled everything, smothered it. We ended up getting a lot of faceoffs in our zone, but I think we’re one of the better faceoff teams so when you have that, that’s to your advantage. Out of 30 shots, 15 he smothered for faceoffs which is really, really good,” said Boudreau on the play of #30.

Neuvirth, who made the comment on Saturday night that he thought his career was over after his Sunshine State debacle, appears to have his confidence back, something that Boudreau recognized as well.

“That is a young guy [making a statement like that]. I think his career is fairly safe for the next several years,” said the 2007-08 Coach of the Year on Neuvirth.

“Neuvy was awesome for us, all of our goalies are great, we have great depth, you know that is what you need. Our ultimate goal is to win the Cup this year and you need great goaltending to do that,” finished Morrisonn.

Green (1 assist, +2, 7 shots on goal in 22:26) was superb against Anaheim. He was definitely the best defenseman in the contest, and that included four time Stanley Cup winner and 2010 Team Canada Winter Olympics captain Scott Niedermayer, who Ovechkin made look absolutely silly on several occassions, including the play where he set up Knuble for a tap in that made it 3-1. Nicklas Backstrom also made the Ducks defense look like orange road cones on numerous instances and he picked up an assist and was +2, as well.

“It’s nice from my standpoint that you’ve got those kinds of weapons at your disposal. I knew Ovi was going to have a good game today because he didn’t have any points yesterday. I thought Nicky [Backstrom] was by far the best player on the ice and he just didn’t get rewarded for it, but he was spectacular. But you’ve got weapons on every line that can score and it was again the third line that got it generated. It’s a good feeling to have because what happens then is when you’re behind, you always know you have a chance to catch up,” said Boudreau on his red hot squad.

Knuble, if he can stay healthy. will be a major force for Washington in the post season. #22 now has six goals in his last seven games.

“He just goes to the net and [the puck] is usually around there. He is a skilled player, you don’t score 20 goals a year for 8 seasons without skill,” commented Boudreau on #22’s ability.

Semin has been on a torrid pace with 11 goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games. He appears to be playing the best hockey of his career.

“He sure is playing hard, you can’t say alot of negative things about Alex Semin right now. He is on a roll that only Ovie has seen. He comes to play every night and he is doing it with a smile on his face, which is really good,” added Boudreau on the immensely talented #28.

The Caps were a perfect 2 for 2 while shorthanded and Boyd Gordon put on an absolute penalty killing clinic on his shift on the Ducks second power play opportunity. Gordon was all over the ice getting in the shooting and passing lanes then making good clears to waste Anaheim power play time. This guy, when healthy, is a very valuable piece to the Capitals potential Stanley Cup puzzle.

Fan and locker room favorite, Matt Bradley, had a nice fight with Mike Brown at 6:24 of the third period. Brads, who is a known bleeder, may have actually won that bout!

For the Ducks, who are in a major playoff position battle in the Western Conference, this was a disappointing loss on a 13 day road trip.

“Yeah, it’s a little frustrating because after that first goal in the third period it seems like we went flat.  It felt like everybody just quit.  We were still in it.  It was an unfortunate bounce off of [defenseman Steve Eminger’s] skate and these things are going to happen.  It would have been important for us to come back and re-establish our game but for some reason we didn’t seem to have the energy anymore to fight it off. They have a good team. They’re playing well at home.  Their best player, [Ovechkin] is often every night their best player.  They’re getting some good goaltending.  Often, other teams probably give them too much respect and tonight we gave them a little too much respect.  You can’t watch them play, you have to play with them and hope for the best,” said Giguere on his team along with his thoughts on the Caps.

Here are some interesting notes following Wednesday’s victory, courtesy of the Caps Media Relations Department:

  • The win tonight matches the Capitals longest winning streak since the club recorded a 10-game streak in 1983-84 (the team had eight-game streaks twice since then, most recently in 1988-89). Bruce Boudreau has led the Capitals to a winning streak of at least seven games in each of his three seasons behind the bench.
  • Washington has outscored its opponents 41-18 during the eight-game winning streak (an average of 5.13-2.25).
  • The Capitals extended their Southeast Division lead to 21 points, the largest in franchise history.
  • The Capitals surpassed 200 goals on the season tonight (now 203, not counting shootout goals). No other team in the NHL has 175 goals.

Next up for the Caps, after a day off on Thursday (no practice), are the Florida Panthers on Friday night at the Verizon Center.

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