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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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Caps: Playing George McPhee / NHL Conference Finals Analysis and Predictions

Posted on 17 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Analysis: Playing George McPhee

Tonight, after hearing the words of Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee on Friday at breakdown day combined with the knowledge I’ve gained from watching this hockey team plus input I’ve gotten from other scouting and knowledgeable sources, I am going to play George McPhee as he heads into the off-season and try and predict some of what he might do and what I would do with this hockey club if I were in his position.

Before we begin, I agree with McPhee and Boudreau that this is a very good team right now and there are a lot of talented hockey players in the organization, many of them aged 25 and under. Clearly the future is bright. However, what the Caps need to do is finally win a Stanley Cup and not end up being a team that makes the playoffs 14 straight years without an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, like they did from 1982-83 to 1995-96 under GM David Poile. Washington is close to achieving their goal but if I am McPhee I need to really adhere to my evaluation process and look hard at the personnel from a players and coaching standpoint to decide if I have what it takes to win it all.

Let’s start with the head coach. Clearly Boudreau is a guy this team likes playing for and his uptempo system seems to fit the talent. Based on what Bruce said on Friday, he has some guys on this team that don’t do what he wants them to do, which is go to the net. This is a problem because I can’t remember a Stanley Cup Champion team made up of perimeter hockey players. Given that combination some personnel moves are in order, and we’ll get to them soon enough. However, during the Penguins series a comment was made to me by an NHL scout who said that the Caps do not play well away from the puck (for the record, the scout criticized the Penguins ability to do this as well). This falls on coaching and personnel. What I don’t know, and if I am McPhee I am finding out, is the team’s lack of ability to play well away from the puck a function of the players not buying in or does the coaching need to improve? In this regard, a head coach and his assistants are responsible for the system. Boudreau is a lock to come back but I am not so sure he and McPhee are sold on the team of assistant coaches (Jay Leach, Dean Evason, and Dave Prior).

Prior is the goaltending coach and Olie Kolzig practically swore by him. Prior seems to be doing things right given that rookies Simeon Varlamov and Michael Neuvirth have emerged ahead of schedule but my question to him is what the heck happened with Jose Theodore? Theodore was wildly inconsistent and a major argument could be made that he was the biggest reason Washington is out after two rounds of the playoffs. If he has any kind of a game one against the Rangers then the Caps win that contest, at worst, 3-2, and they probably knock off New York in five games. If they beat the Rangers in five games then some of the injuries we heard about on Friday probably don’t happen and it is more likely that a healthier Caps team would have beaten the Penguins. After all, the beat up squad that expended a ton of energy to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the opening round took the defending Eastern Conference Champions to seven games.

Granted the team in front of Theodore wasn’t totally ready for playoff hockey at the outset of the post season but the Caps played decent enough to win the playoff opener, if not for Theodore. Yes, good came out of that in terms of seeing the future in Varlamov but #60 was paid $4.5M this past season and next to try and help the team win a Stanley Cup. He has failed miserably and if I am Boudreau and McPhee I just don’t know how he could regain the #1 job because even if he plays well in training camp and the regular season next year, like he did from late December to the end of March, who is to say he doesn’t put up another clunker in game one of next year’s playoffs? Was Theodore’s problem technical or was it a mental thing? Prior would probably know best but I’m starting to think it might be mental and if I am the Capitals players, I just don’t have any faith in that guy anymore. Therefore, I think McPhee needs to move him before next season’s trade deadline. The problem, though, is that could be tough given his salary and you are really risking things going with two young goaltenders. All you have to do to find a situation where that didn’t work out was in Montreal this year with Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak. Of course the Canadiens don’t have Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green so that might not be an accurate comparison. If I am McPhee, a Varlamov/Neuvrith combo isn’t such a bad thing next year. Brent Johnson, who Boudreau called “A great team guy,” could be added cheap for insurance too but his durability could be an issue.

Questions were asked about the defense on Friday, specifically if McPhee was going to acquire a free agent to help keep the front of the net more clear. McPhee responded by saying he has alot of good defensemen but reading between the lines and based on what many of us have seen this year, they have a bunch of good defensemen but many of them are very much alike. Tom Poti, Karl Alzner, and Jeff Schultz all have similar styles in that they are good skaters and move the puck well but aren’t physical. Schultz is clearly the weakest of that trio. Green is the #1 defenseman and I see Shaone Morrisonn as being the odd man out because he isn’t a good buy given the money he wants (reportedly in the $3M range). One of my scouting sources does not see him as a good defensemen, and that is wording it nicely. So I think #26 won’t be back. As for Milan Jurcina, this guy really improved this season and deserves to return. He is turning in to a good #5 or #6 defensemen. John Erskine also had a good season but he is injury prone and some of that comes from his physical style and some of it comes from his subpar skating ability. The team has already committed to #4 for two more years so he is definitely back, plus he is physical and the Caps are weak in that area. Brian Pothier has another season under contract at $2.5M, which is too much, if you ask me. Assuming Mo is out, Washington needs another physical blueliner and therefore McPhee can either trade or go the free agent route. Schultz is clearly trade bait along with Pothier and I’d even put Jurcina in a deal with other players if I could get a top 4 defenseman to go with Green, Poti, and Alzner.

At forward, Michael Nylander is not back and he will either be waived or retire (McPhee said a buyout does not make financial sense), so that frees up money right there. The concern is the top 6 forwards of Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Viktor Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov, and Tomas Fleischmann are not exactly grind it out and go to the net type of players. I think Fleischmann, if he can build up his strength in the off-season, will score more next season (that pneumonia he had really sapped his energy). I don’t think I bring back Kozlov because he isn’t a big go to the net guy. Washington needs a #2 center, especially if Fedorov is not back (and even so he only played 52 regular season games this past year). There is talk of Brooks Laich jumping up to that role and that wouldn’t be bad but McPhee still needs another forward who can go to the net in his top 6. Do you trade Semin, who has so much talent but prefers the perimeter and appears to be easily knocked off his game due to injury?

Dave Steckel clearly is back and has upside as does Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon. Eric Fehr needs to make the jump to becoming a 20 goal scorer but he can’t stay healthy. Apparently he draws the ire of the coaches too. #16 has the size and skating ability to be a go to the net player but I don’t think he will become a Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, or Bobby Ryan type of player that he was projected to be at one time. So McPhee needs to add another top 6 forward who is more physical and can get the grind out type of goals that a Bill Guerin is giving the Penguins since he moved over there at the trade deadline. Chris Clark is under contract for two more years but I have serious doubts about his ability to produce. His scoring touch seems gone (he did have wrist surgery) and he has lost a step. It is tough paying him $2.6M a season if he isn’t scoring at least 20 goals. I am not sold on Chris Bourque making it as a top 6 forward on this team but he might fit in elsewhere so perhaps he is part of a package deal for a defenseman or forward?

That leaves us with Donald Brashear, whose return Ovechkin lobbied for on Friday. I think #87 intimidated the opposition but he also was prone to bad penalties and his skating ability detoriated after his knee injury. I think McPhee needs a tough guy on the roster to prevent teams from taking liberties with Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green but I’m not sure it is #87 anymore. Perhaps the top 4 defenseman that is added can be the physical intimidator that this team still needs? Or another cheaper tough guy could be added?

Whatever the case, I think McPhee is more active this summer than last but the salary cap will likely limit his options. One of the biggest questions he has to answer is on Semin, who is immensely talented but seems to lack the drive necessary to take the Caps to the next level.

NHL Conference Finals Anaylsis and Predictions

After going 7 of 8 in the first round (only lost with San Jose), I was only 2 for 4 in round two (won with Pittsburgh and Detroit). With four teams left we are pretty much guaranteed the rematch of a somewhat recent Stanley Cup Finals unless Chicago knocks off Detroit and Carolina beats Pittsburgh. Last year we had the Red Wings defeat the Penguins, in 2002 Detroit was victorious over Carolina, and in 1992 the Penguins knocked off the Blackhawks.

Western Conference: Detroit (2) vs. Chicago (4)

Detroit is the defending Stanley Cup Champions and they added forward Marian Hossa to the mix from last year. Chicago is an up and coming young team that clearly aided from the hiring of coach Joel Quennville and more importantly, Scotty Bowman at the executive level. Chicago is fast with forwards Patrick Kane, Martin Havlat, Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews. They have good goaltending in Nikolai Khabibulin and Cristobal Huet is the expensive backup. On defense, Brent Seabrook has really elevated his game and is logging over 26 minutes a night. Duncan Keith has been strong as well.

The Red Wings, though, are an incredible bunch and with Tomas Holmstrom and Johan “Mule” Franzen up front along with guys like Jiri Hudler and Daniel Cleary they score the ugly goal. The big question has been, where is Pavel Datsyuk? He only has 1 goal and 4 assists in 11 playoff games. I imagine he is nursing some injury. The other question on Detroit is can Chris Osgood hold up in goal? The two time Stanley Cup Champion always appears to be a lightning rod for criticism.

Prediction: The Red Wings are the men and the Hawks are the boys, Detroit in 5 games.

Eastern Conference: Pittsburgh (4) vs. Carolina (6)

This series sees two brothers, Eric and Jordan Staal, facing off against each other. The Hurricanes are the fastest team in the Eastern Conference and they used that speed and the superb goaltending of Cam Ward to knock off the Devils and Bruins in dramatic seven game fashion. Both of those teams did not match up well, from a skating standpoint, with the Hurricanes. However, the Penguins have speed plus experience. Sidney Crosby is the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe trophy right now and if Evgeni Malkin plays like he did in games three and five of the Washington series the Pens will be tough to beat. Their weakness is in goal with Marc-Andre Fleury plus the Sergei Gonchar knee injury has to be a concern. Staal and Erik Cole have been flying on a line together for the Canes and Ray Whitney has had a good playoffs as well. Carolina’s defense is a cast of no names that collectively play well together with Joni Pitkanen being the offensive qb.

Prediction: The Canes are fast but Pittsburgh has too much talent and can keep up with Carolina in the skating department. Penguins in 6 games.

If these predictions hold up, we will have a rematch of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals.

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Ryan Freel latest ex-Oriole to be “overwhelmed with joy” to be gone

Posted on 11 May 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

As predicted, it didn’t take Ryan Freel long to squawk to the Chicago media about how miserable his experience was as an employee of Angelos’ Army in Baltimore. He was traded by Andy McPhail for speedy outfielder Joey Gathright on Friday afternoon.

His more vitriolic quotes apparently came “off the record” but he did say that he’s “overwhelmed with joy” to no longer be an Oriole and he told the Cubs equipment manager to “burn” his Orioles equipment bag.

Oh, and he said: “I don’t want any Birds around my locker.”

Read the whole piece here…

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Massive NHL Blog: Caps Advance, Ovechkin for Hart, and Western Conference Semi-Finals Predictions

Posted on 29 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Additional Caps Advance to Second Round Coverage

As promised last night, there is more to tell after Tuesday’s huge Caps win over the New York Rangers in game seven, a series in which the Caps trailed two games to none and then three games to one, yet still prevailed.

How big was this series win for this franchise?

“It’s huge. We worked so hard this year to get where we are now and to be put back in the same position we were last year [losing in the first round] is not a good building block for us. To get this win and move on to the second round now we are more experienced in that aspect and hopefully we can go as long as we can here but we are definitely more experienced than we were last year,” said Caps defensemen Mike Green (1 goal, 4 assists in round one).

“It’s awesome, it’s a great feeling, we are excited about the next round. You never want to lose, especially in a long series like this coming back and fighting. You never want to feel what we felt last year.,” said Tom Poti, who was one of the stars of this playoff series with two goals, four assists, and was +2.

The key point from the above quotes is the Caps, after a 108 point season, improved on last year’s first round exit. Had they lost this series, GM George McPhee, who was quoted afterwards as saying “we had to win,” would have to give some consideration to the thought that maybe this mostly very young team was better assembled for the regular season given it’s high skill level but lack of playoff results. This is a common thing for a GM to do after multiple frustrating post season losses and you need to look no further than the President’s Trophy winning San Jose Sharks for an example of that happening now.

“The frustration is overwhelming. We owe an apology to our fans and our ownership. … Everything will be evaluated. There’s nothing that’s off the table. This is going to be a tough, painful summer, and it should be,” said Sharks GM Doug Wilson after his team, that led the NHL with 117 regular season points, lost in six games in the first round to the eighth seeded Anaheim Ducks. Wilson, who added Cup winning defensemen Dan Boyle and Rob Blake last off-season plus fired Coach Ron Wilson for not getting past the second round on several tries (he hired former Wings assistant Brian McLellan to take over behind the bench), may have to make some major moves that could include trading superstar Joe Thornton, who has been heavily labeled as a guy who can’t win in the playoffs.

With Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom both just one year away from unrestricted free agency who is to say that a loss this year to the Rangers might have pushed McPhee into a Wilson-like mode? Fortunately for Washington, that scenario appears to be out the window heading into the Pittsburgh series given the Caps ability to have some postseason success.

Coaching played a big role in the Caps series win and the two biggest moves that made a difference, in my opinion, go to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau. First, he yanked Jose Theodore and inserted rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov after just one game. The young goalie only gave up 8 goals in six games and two of those were in garbage time in game six. The players certainly enjoyed having solid goaltending they could count on.

“He’s a great young goaltender and he’s been the difference in this series. Stepping in and playing the way he has has changed the atmosphere on our team. We are very confident with him in the net. For him to come in and play consistently the way he has every game is great. Not many goalies can play as consistent as that every game. It is incredible at his age,” said Green giving #40 a ringing endorsement as the Caps starting goalie.

Then with the 2nd overall ranked power play in the NHL struggling in games four and five (it went 0 for 13) the crafty coach moved Oveckhin down low (a move he did successfully against the Flyers last season) and inserted Tom Poti on the point opposite Mike Green. After that move the Caps were 2 for 4 on their power plays but it could have easily been 4 for 4 if not for Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist as Washington had the puck in New York’s end nearly the entire time on both attempts in game seven after going 2 for 2 in game six. I asked both Poti and Green if moving Ovechkin down low changed things and opened things up for them.

“Maybe. It is always fun to play on the power play. Haven’t been on it much the last two years but it is nice to get out there and kind of shake things up a little bit, it helped us win the series, I think. We had some nice chances to score but Lundqvist came up big and kept it tied,” said Poti.

“Yeah, Tom is a left handed pass and he can move it to me a little bit better and I can go back and forth with him and we can create and allow the guys to move around down low alot and tire [the penalty killers] out. Alex [Ovechkin] and Alex [Semin] down low, Alex [Ovechkin] in the slot. He’s a big guy and you see that last game in New York he gets a tip on the puck, he’s got great hand-eye coordination so that was a great adjustment that Bruce did there,” finished Green.

Final thought on the series, it will be nice get away from the over dramatic New York Rangers and my least favorite player in the NHL, Sean Avery. Avery has the potential to be  a very good player but he gets too emotional and crosses the line too much. When #16 plays like he did in game seven he is great for his team but Washington did a good job of not letting his antics get to them.

“Just look the other way. I think that frustrates him the most. Just skate away and don’t play into his own games,” was how Poti described Washington’s plan on playing the pesky and controversial forward.

By the way, Avery did cause some trouble in game seven but it was to broadcaster Ray Ferraro, who was at ice level between the two benches for live reports. Avery, after a first period shift in which he was trying to goad the Washington players into taking a penalty, stormed back to his bench but let his stick fly in the air, seemingly out of control, and it struck Ferraro and the former Whaler and Islander had to grab it and yank it off of him. Ferraro then yelled something to Avery and the loose cannon forward leaned up and said something back to the guy who killed the Caps in overtime back in the 1993 playoffs. I asked Ferraro afterwards where the stick hit him but he declined comment not wanting to be part of the Caps-Rangers story.

Next up are the Penguins and there will be extensive media coverage locally and in the US and Canada. These teams respect but clearly don’t like each other. Boudreau’s “Welcome to the Circus” quote from Tuesday night, when he learned the Penguins would be Washington’s round two opponent, appears to be foreshadowing for the next two weeks.

If you’d like to hear my WNST on-air segment from today with Comcast Morning Show host Drew Forrester, please go to the WNST audio vault (http://wnst.net/wordpress/section/audio/).

Ovechkin Named Hart Trophy Finalist

No surprise here, Ovechkin, who won the Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP last season when he scored 65 goals, is once again nominated for that trophy. The Great #8 is a finalist with two other Russians, Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh and Pavel Datsyuk of Detroit.

Members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association submitted ballots for the Hart Trophy at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters announced as finalists. The winner will be announced Thursday, June 18, during the 2009 NHL Awards that will be broadcast live from the Pearl Concert Theater inside the Palms Hotel Las Vegas on VERSUS in the United States and on CBC in Canada. The Capitals are assured of at least two candidates for honors at the show, as Green is a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

Ovechkin could become the first player to win back-to-back Hart Trophies since Dominik Hasek in 1996-97 and ’97-98. The last non-goaltender to win consecutive Hart Trophies was Wayne Gretzky, who won eight in a row from 1980-87.

“It means a lot to me to be up for this award,” Ovechkin said. “I always want to be the best, so this is a great honor. It’s special, too, with three Russians nominated. It is a great thing for our country and our sport.”

Ovechkin led the NHL in goals (56), earning the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for the second consecutive season. He also led the league in points per game (1.39), shots (528) and power-play points (46). His 110 points in 79 games ranked second in the league, and his goal total was 10 more than any other player. He finished the season recording eight more points than any other player after the NHL All-Star Game (51; Malkin and Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh were second with 43 each).

Western Conference Semi-Finals Matchups, Analysis, and Predictions

The NHL is in a great position now as there are 8 teams left in the playoffs and in my mind, any of them can win the Stanley Cup this June. In the East you have Boston vs. Carolina and “The Circus” while out west you have the last two Stanley Cup Champions playing each other in Detroit (2008) vs. Anaheim (2007) and up and coming Chicago vs. Vancouver (who have the best goalie in the league in Roberto Luongo according to Yahoo’s puck daddy, Greg Wyshynski).

Tonight, I’ll preview the West:

(2) Detroit vs. (8) Anaheim

Even though I picked the Sharks to beat the Ducks, I wrote back in my first round preview that I thought the Sharks had the worst draw of the top four seeds. Anaheim has a great defense with Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Ryan Whitney, Jim Wisniewski, and Francois Beauchemin (returned from injury in round one). Rookie Bobby Ryan, the number two overall pick to Crosby in the 2005 NHL Entry draft, is tearing it up on a line with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. In net, Jonas Hiller has been superb and the Ducks also have seasoned Cup winning vets in Teemu Selanne and Rob Niedermayer. You want goaltending depth, Stanley Cup winning goalie J.S Giguere is currently operating the bench door and will continue to do so unless Hiller struggles. Talk about a good insurance policy in net.

On the other hand, the Detroit Red Wings are a big red machine (sorry 1975/76 Cincinnati Reds!). On the back line they have six time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom with Brian Rafalksi, Brad Stuart, and Nicklas Kronwall and up front they have Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Marian Hossa, Johan Franzen, and the best goalie screener in the business in Tomas Holmstrom. The only possible shaky area is goalie with an aging Chris Osgood, but “Ozzie” has won two Stanley Cups as starting goaltender, including last season.

The Red Wings are great at controlling the puck while the Ducks like to be physical and play the cycle game. This will be one outstanding series but I’ve been on the Wings bandwagon all year so I am not jumping off now. Detroit in seven games.

(3) Vancouver Canucks vs. (4) Chicago Blackhawks

Luongo, the Canucks captain, is the whole key to this team. He is so big and takes up so much net that you have to get him out of position or screen him like crazy to score on him. Because of the outstanding goaltending in Vancouver, the Canucks can take a few more chances offensively with the Sedins (Daniel and Henrik), Pavel Demitra, Ryan Kessler, Alex Burrows, and Mats Sundin (added as a free agent midway through the season). Vancouver’s defense is anchored by the powerful and fiery Willie Mitchell but it also boasts solid two way man Mattias Ohlund plus Sami Salo, Alexander Edler, and Kevin Bieksa. The Canucks had alot of injuries during the season (Luongo missed six weeks plus with a groin injury and the defense had numerous man games lost) but came together and blew by a really banged up Calgary team down the stretch erasing what was a 13 point Flames lead in the Northwest Division in January.

Chicago is a highly skilled team like the Caps. Their captain, Jonathan Toews (pronounced Taze [like faze and daze]), is such a good two way player that goes to the net and gets ugly goals to go with some highlight reel ones as well (who can forget the Carrie Milbank/Eddie Olczyk NHL.com commercial?). Patrick Kane, who missed a game against Calgary due to the flu, is all speed and skill and you add in Patrick Sharp, rookie Kris Versteeg, Martin Havlat, plus big #33 Dennis Byfuglien who is effective when he goes hard to the net and that adds up to some serious offensive firepower. On the backline the Hawks have puck mover Brian Campbell who played well against the Flames plus Brent Seabrook (really stepped up against Calgary), Cam Barker, and Duncan Keith. It is not a real physical defense but it has been effective. In goal soon to be free agent Nikolai Khabibulin has been so good that Hawks Coach Joel Quennville has kept former Canadiens and Caps goalie Cristobal Huet on the bench (an expensive backup at over $5M a season for four years).

To me the key for the Canucks is to dump the puck in and hit the Chicago defense. Vancouver has a good cycle game and will need to generate scoring opportunities from that. Chicago has offense but they will now face Luongo and it will be tough to score. They had trouble against St. Louis scoring but Chris Mason gave up some bad goals for the Blues to allow the Canucks to sweep. This is a hard one to pick but I’m going with a well rested Vancouver team in seven games.

Well, that is it for tonight. If you’ve read this far you are a true hockey fan and I thank you. On Thursday night look for some coverage of the Caps-Pens series as I head out to Kettler Ice Plex to catch up with the Capitals after their practice.

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Red Sox complete 4-game sweep, batter Orioles 12-1

Posted on 20 April 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

1:50 p.m. — The Red Sox are getting well this inning off of the O’s bullpen. Mike Lowell just added another single. Update on Radhames Liz: 1/3 IP, 3H, 6ER, 1BB, 2HBP. His ERA is now: 67.50.

1:45 p.m. — The Bad News Bears weren’t this bad. Youkilis just sent a “seeing eye” pop that bounced an inch from the RF line to score another run. This one looked like it had a message of some kind. Just a crazy swing of the bat. Add another ER to Liz’s line…

1:39 p.m. — Liz just bounced one in front of David Ortiz that hit his leg. Here comes Matt Albers. He inherits the bases loaded and one out in the 7th inning.

Liz: 1/3 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 1 W, 2HBP … His ERA is now 47.25.

Oh, and there’s three more ducks on the pond and Kevin Youkilis is awaiting like Alberts is raw meat. Jim Hunter just said: “Not a good outing for Radhames Liz.”

Yeah, ya think? That’s a helluva observation, Jimmy!

1:36 p.m. — Another single, 9-1. Radhames Liz is NOT a Major League pitcher. Now Matt Albers is warming in the bullpen. At this point, I have no idea why they’re not just saving the bullpen for tomorrow. Brad Bergesen is making his major-league debut. It would be a good idea to save the bullpen.

1:34 p.m. — It hasn’t taken long for Radhames Liz to go into “arsonist” mode. He’s given up a double, he’s hit one batter and walked one. Oh, and he did get one out. It’s 7-1. UPDATE: Another single, 8-1.

1:10 p.m. — This just in: Felix Pie SUCKS! He can’t hit. He can’t run the bases. And he certainly looks lost in the outfield shagging flyballs. The defense has been “spotty” at best over the first two weeks of the season. But, Pie just played a relatively easy play for a major league centerfielder into a two-run triple for David Ortiz. YES…a TRIPLE by Ortiz at Fenway Park! They’re down 6-1. Sarfate’s ERA is going to suffer, but that was just brutal defense. Embarrassing…they’re nine outs away from being swept by the Red Sox in Boston.

I have great admiration for Jim Palmer for not simply jumping out of his seat and saying: “I wouldn’t have pitched for a franchise this bad!”

12:58 p.m. — Looks like five innings is the max, except for Koji Uehara these days. Hendrickson is out. Dennis Sarfate is next. The Birds are still down 3-1.

12:22 p.m. — Well, hopes are that Mark Hendrickson is settling down. He just struck out the bottom of the Red Sox order in 4th inning. He might even make it to the 6th or 7th inning if he keeps throwing at this pace. Jim Palmer is talking incessantly about his 1970 appearance on Patriots Day in Boston. (I love old ‘Cakes’ stories…)

12:06: Finally, we get our first real “call up” treat here in 2009. Brad Bergesen (1-1, 2.45 ERA at Norfolk) will take the ball tomorrow night at Camden Yards vs. the White Sox. Not sure if that sells them any more tickets (some will be going for the free Koji T-shirt) but I’m excited to watch this kid pitch.

12:04 p.m. — The Orioles are on the board, getting a rare RBI single from Cesar Izturis in the 3rd inning. Nick Markakis just played a flyball out into a triple. Jim Palmer: “That should be an error but that’s not the way they do things anymore.”

‘Cakes’ cracks me up!

11:49 p.m. — Mark Hendrickson has been lucky to escape the first two innings with only three runs allowed, as he loaded the bases in the first with no outs and escaped with only two runs plated. In the second, he gave up a monumental home run to Jason Varitek in the 2nd inning.

Now, Ryan Freel made it to first on an infield single and was hit in the head with a throw trying to steal second base and left the game groggy with Robert Andino taking his spot at third base.

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The Orioles try to avoid ‘the broom’ for breakfast

Posted on 20 April 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

To say the weekend in Boston has been counterproductive would be an understatement. Yesterday at Fenway, Koji Uehara was very, very good, allowing just two runs in 7 innings in what was the best start of the year for any Orioles starter. But unfortunately, Jon Lester was even better, stifling the O’s bats and holding them to just four hits in seven innings while striking out nine Birds. Even Nick Markakis and Aubrey Huff stuck out twice in trying to solve the young lefty.

Prior to yesterday’s quality start by Uehara, which also gave the bullpen a much-needed respite, the starting pitching has been dreadful of late but yesterday it was the bats that fell silent in taking the O’s down to defeat. The top of the order has been phenomenal but the bottom has been unacceptable, even on a bad NL team where the pitcher would be batting in the No. 9 hole.

Gregg Zaun is hitting .129.

Felix Pie is hitting .161.

Cesar Izturis is hitting .162.

And the one thing you never can count on but always looms large — good health — has become an issue with red-hot Adam Jones now out of the lineup with a tweaked hamstring joining Norfolk Tides catcher/superstar-in-waiting Matt Wieters on the shelf temporarily.

At some point, this can only get better, right?

Today at 11 a.m. the Orioles will try to avert a four-game sweep at the hands of the BoSox before coming back home tomorrow night to open a homestand against the Chicago White Sox. It’s always weird — baseball for brunch — but it’s Patriots Day in Boston and the runners will be tearing up the route of the Marathon all morning in Beantown.

Utility player Ryan Freel was angry regarding playing time last week and approached Dave Trembley and the organization about the issue. Maybe he should consider hitting more than .071 when he does get a rare start as he did against Lester yesterday.

The Orioles are now 6-6 and send Mark Hendrickson (1-1. 3.00) to the hill against Justin Masterson to avert not only a sweep but a sub-.500 return to Camden Yards.

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Caps and O’s both lose again…

Posted on 18 April 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

10:45 p.m. — The comeback came up short. In the end, it was the BoSox bullpen that held the lead that Josh Beckett delivered and quelled a 9th inning rally via Jonathan Papelbon. Orioles pitching surrendered 12 hits and four walks, losing 6-4 at Fenway Park tonight despite four innings of scoreless relief. It wasn’t a 22-4 whitewashing — like the Yankees suffered today at home to the Tribe — but it’s another loss, their third in a row, that has them at 6-5 on the season.

Adam Eaton now has a 11.25 ERA on the season, going just four innings tonight and allowing nine hits and two walks. And again, the bottom of the order has been ineffective offensively with these anemic averages: Gregg Zaun .133, Felix Pie .179 and Cesar Izturis .162.

Koji Uehara will go back to the hill tomorrow against Jon Lester at 1:35.

8:50 p.m. –One thing you CAN say: the dangerous hitting can chase down the bad pitching on a lot of nights. Josh Beckett is walking in runs and getting thrashed by orange bats here in the 5th inning. Four runs in, one runner on and nobody out. And, yes, we have activity in the Red Sox Sox bullpen in the 5th inning and Beckett is nearing 90 pitches. Red Sox are up 6-4. Looks like it’s getting chilly at Fenway.

8:37 p.m. — It’s 6-0 Red Sox and Adam Eaton has been just as bad as advertised. It’s the fourth inning. Brian Bass is up in the bullpen, and that usually spells “R-O-L-A-I-D-S!” for Dave Trembley and every Orioles fan. The Orioles have surrendered 35 runs in registering their last 57 outs, just astonishing numbers.

5:32 p.m. — A tough afternoon at The Phone Booth — the Caps gave up an early goal to Ryan Callahan and never could solve Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers held on for 50 minutes and a 1-0 win in Washington. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau surprised everyone with a switch in the nets as Simeon Varlamov started and played well but not perfect, like his counterpart who made 35 saves and thwarted every effort from the Caps.

The Caps travel to New York for Game 3 down 2-0 in the series on Monday. The WNST crew will be out to “Rock the Red” at Silver Spring Mining Company in Perry Hall on Bel Air Road. Hope you wear your red and join us.

The Orioles will send Adam Eaton to the hill to face Josh Beckett at Fenway Park tonight at 7:10.

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Orioles are 6-2: Jones 2-run blast, big 10th inning lifts Birds to 7-5 win over Texas

Posted on 14 April 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

Another exciting game. Another tight win. Another night where the bullpen was used and abused but this time — other than George Sherrill — the entire unit delivered in a 7-5 win in 10 innings in Arlington to push their record to 6-2. Alfredo Simon got hurt early. Homers were flying early. And the Orioles hung on.

Blow by blow below…

11:29 p.m. — Dennis Sarfate admitted to having an inner-ear infection and basically said he was “really relaxed” during his effort and was “on cloud nine” after he got medicated from the staff during the game. Sarfate said he told Aubrey Huff, “Is that all you’ve got?” after Huff freight-trained him on a foul ball. Palmer said, “Whatever he’s on I want to be on!”

It’s amazing they let Palmer keep his job. It really is. He’s priceless. I love it!

11:24 p.m. — Jim Palmer says it all. Don Stanhouse. Whole pack. “Mr Excitement”? Whatever you want to call him, fine. Let’s just give him the save and make the team 6-2 in the standings with their third series victory to start the season. Now Rick Dempsey is talking about Stanhouse. I have no idea how many listeners/readers know about Stanhouse but I do. And it’s dead on.

11:20 p.m. — Hank Blalock just sent a rocket to the wall and another five feet and this would’ve been an Orioles “tragic” loss. A true heartbreaker. Instead, George Sherrill still needs to get one more out. And you know what Yogi Berra said?

11:15 p.m. — George Sherrill has certainly made this interesting. Four batters, four baserunners, one run scored and Ian Kinsler continues to be such an impressive player. The Rangers’ formidable top of the order is going to have a chance to extend this game. The bases are loaded and no one is out. T-R-O-U-B-L-E…

11:01 p.m. — It’s almost like Ron Washington has conceded. Guardado keeps digging deeper with each pitch, walking Ty Wigginton after allowing Nick Markakis aboard. The Rangers’ bullpen issues mirrors the Orioles’ overused group. Luke Scott just drove one into the left centerfield gap, scoring them both. It’s now a 7-3 game. Geez, they’re gonna be 6-2 in about 10 minutes with any luck. Bye, bye Eddie…

10:56 p.m. — Eddie Guardado just gave up a mammoth two-run homer to Adam Jones who crushed it after Brian Roberts got on. Again, the top of the order have been hellions for the first week of the season.

P.S. Mike Maddux has the best pornstache I’ve ever seen on a former big leaguer with a brother who was one of the greatest ever.

10:47 p.m. — Seeing Nolan Ryan being omnipresent with the Rangers just reminds me that Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken are NOT involved here in Baltimore. A shame…

And I say it all the time: that’s all you need to know…

10:40 p.m. –This one has been pretty good. Good defense. Some big home runs early, some great pitching late. And someone is going to be a hero. Frank Francisco was dealing again tonight. Gonna be interesting to see how Dave Trembley uses the bullpen in this situation as the game potentially goes into extra innings. We’re already seven innings and four pitchers into the bullpen. And the bullpen has been the story of the evening with Jim Johnson still on the hill in the 9th. But how many innings do they have and who winds up in the game if it goes 11 or 12 innings?

9:59 p.m. –The bullpens are dealing all of a sudden. It’s games like these when having Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer help glue you to the action. It’s a very high-level broadcast when these guys are doing it. AND THE GAME IS IN HD…and it’s INTERESTING…and they’re 5-2. A few big hits here and they could be on their way to 6-2. On a night when their starter didn’t make it out of the 2nd inning.

9:34 p.m. — Nick Markakis stole one last night. Tonight, he was robbed by David Murphy on a very similar play. We’re in the sixth but I still feel like some major offense is going to break out at any point. Just not when the bottom of these lineups roll around. I don’t think this one will end 4-3.

9:25 p.m. — We were talking about “long last names” on the backs of baseball jerseys the other day and Arnie Portocarrero was deemed the longest Oriole. We were actually talking about Mark Hendrickson. Now, here comes Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Makes me want to get him on the O’s so I can get a shirt with that many letters.

9:17 p.m. — Felix Pie might be the new Jeff Stone. (For you youngsters, there’s no way his baseballreference.com stats will convey his baserunning prowess.) That was an inexcusable pick-off. And not great situational hitting by Cesar Izturis, who might be the new Mario Mendoza. It’s amazing how hot the top of the order is and how horribly cold the bottom of the order looks right now.

9:13 p.m. — Luke Scott has continued the comeback with a homer. And there might be good news on Rich Hill. More pitching never hurts.

8:56 p.m. — What a weird inning? After the Adam Jones-to-Brian Roberts-to-Gregg Zaun bang-bang play at the plate was made possible by Michael Young’s aversion to contact at the dish, Aubrey Huff threw a forearm shiver into Dennis Sarfate, who had no business being anywhere near where he was. Sarfate is now shaken up and has no one to blame but himself. Geez, sometimes they even play like the cats from “Major League.” That was brutal communication. They’re laughing about it now, but it was touch-and-go there for a few minutes.

8:45 p.m. — Gotta love a two-out run. This top of the lineup comtinues to mash the ball and nullify inefficient starting pitching. I have a feeling we’re in a for a long night. The beginning of a LOT of long nights with this pitching.

8:34 p.m. — On cometh Dennis Sarfate…I hope he’s got three or four innings in him. The O’s are already losing 3-1. Matt Albers is already coming up tomorrow. Can David Pauley or Brad Bergeson be on the way?

8:30 p.m. — Alfredo Simon just gave up yet another homer to Chris Davis. After a visit from Brian Ebel, he’s coming off the hill. As Hockey Meg just said: “That’s NOT going to help our crappy bullpen!” (Although, she really said S***ty!)

Looks like seven plus of relief will be necessary tonight unless it rains. And it doesn’t look like rain in Arlington…

8:27 p.m. — Can’t say I know a lot about Nelson Cruz. But I know Alfredo Simon should never throw that pitch to him again. So far: four outs, two gopher balls. Not a good ratio…

8:19 p.m. — High breaking ball to Aubrey Huff and he belted it. Everyone I talk to about Huff says “he’ll regress this year” and I don’t feel that way. He was always a masher and I think last year helped his game. Hell, at one point, he even SAID the “Bubba The Love Sponge” stupidity actually helped him come to his senses and changed his game for 2008. I think he’s good for 30 bombs this year.

But, the comment about Baltimore was below-the-belt. And stupid. And I know he meant it and it’s how he really feels. The ownership and management obviously didn’t care and put him back on the field. But they’ve been proven to be shameless for over a decade.

I don’t have to deal with these guys anymore so what do I care? If Aubrey Huff hits 35 homers, so be it. He just hit one. He tied the game. That’s what he’s paid to do.

8:16 p.m. — Michael Young’s homer came and went quickly. I’m reserving all judgment on Alfredo Simon until the 6th inning. The bullpen needs all the help it can get. Six innings out of a starter isn’t too much to ask…

8:09 p.m. — Been an interesting evening. Honestly, I feel like working while I watch the game and it’s a LOT more fun just writing this stuff while I surf, watch the O’s and think about the Ravens schedule.

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Saturday Night Caps and Hockey Thoughts

Posted on 04 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Tarik El-Bashir is reporting in his Capitals Insider blog that Sergei Fedorov limped off at practice today from an injury sustained in Friday night’s loss overtime to Buffalo. After Friday’s game, we talked to a subdued #91 and I posted his quotes in my blog last night. Anyways, Fedorov definitely walked over slowly to meet with us after the game and seemed bummed out. I had thought he was just upset about the game but apparently there is more to this. We’ll see how effective he is on Sunday but the Caps need the three time Stanley Cup Champion to be healthy when the playoffs start at Verizon Center on either Wednesday, April 15th or Thursday, April 16th. By the way, Fedorov, who had the costly giveaway that resulted in the Sabres winning goal, showed alot of class coming out and talking to the media after a tough loss and a possible injury. He is a true professional, very accountable, and a leader for his teammates. He didn’t duck or back away from any of the questions thrown his way.

The Caps are now tied with the New Jersey Devils for 2nd place in the Eastern Conference as Martin Brodeur and company held off a furious Sabres rally in Buffalo tonight to win, 3-2. The Caps have four games left while the Devils have three but because New Jersey has two more wins than Washington, the first tie-breaker goes to New Jersey. The Devils have Toronto at home, then are in Ottawa, and finish with the streaking Hurricanes at home on Saturday. The Caps have Atlanta at home tomorrow, then are in Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Florida during the week. It looks like Washington may have to win all four games to get second place or at least go 3-0-1 because the only game I see New Jersey having trouble with is Carolina. The Devils just need one point or a Philadelphia missed point to clinch the Atlantic Division title.

Nice catch over at On Frozen Blog as apparently the Sabres were offside on the play that resulted in Jason Pominville’s overtime winning goal on Friday. Check out that piece and the seemingly conclusive picture at http://onfrozenblog.com/2009/04/04/a-bad-non-call-decides-a-bad-game.html (oh and kudos to Japers Rink for being a great one stop shop for Caps coverage. I especially enjoy his “What We’re Reading Section” and that led me right to OFB).

Good news down on the farm tonight as rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth saved 40 of 42 shots to give the Hershey Bears a 3-2 win over the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in a shootout. The Bears now have 104 points with three games to go (they lead second place Bridgeport by four points and the third place Penguins by five points in the Eastern Conference East Division). Neuvirth had been under the weather prompting the Bears to call up Brandon Holtby (19 years old), Washington’s fourth round choice in the 2008 NHL entry draft, from Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League to back up Darren Machesney. I saw Holtby play in last year’s rookie development camp and was impressed with him. The Caps future in net looks very good when you add Holtby into the mix to go with Jose Theodore (signed for next year), Simeon Varlamov, Neuvirth, and Machesney. Holtby won 40 games for the Saskatoon Blades this season and is already under contract with Washington.

The Caps set a single season attendance record last night and will add to it Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center against the Thrashers. Before last night’s game I was sitting on a chair talking on the cell phone to my wife when owner Ted Leonsis strolled by and said hello and shook my hand. I would have loved to have had a quick chat with him but the real boss was on the phone. I’m not sure if Ted knows who I am or not but the one thing that has been consistent about the owner is this: he makes every possible attempt to connect with the fans and thank them for their support (when shown on the video screens at home games his first move is typically a “thank you” kiss to the fans). Leonsis, who made some mistakes early on (but which owner hasn’t?) and is very passionate about Caps hockey, deserves alot of credit for sticking to his plan and also for not holding grudges against any detractors during his tenure (he’s clearly won Tom Boswell of the Washington Post over). Leonsis is successful because he takes a “kill you with kindness” approach. There is a certain baseball team here in the area who could learn alot from Leonsis about running a sports team.

You probably need an Alpha Bits secret decoder ring to figure out who is going to make the playoffs in the Western Conference as Anaheim, St. Louis, Nashville, Minnesota, and Edmonton are fighting for the last two post season spots. As I said to Mike Vogel of WashingtonCaps.com last night, if I am Detroit or San Jose the last team I want to play in the first round is Anaheim. The Ducks are only two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup and with a defense that includes Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Ryan Whitney, and James Wisniewski they are not going to be an easy out. The Ducks are 8-2 in their last 10 games and Jonas Hiller has won six of his last seven games in goal and seems to have wrestled the #1 job, at least temporarily, from Stanley Cup winning goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere. They lead the San Jose Sharks 4-2 after two periods tonight at San Jose and play them again on Sunday in Anaheim. Ducks rookie Bobby Ryan has scored his 29th goal of the season and if not for the play of Columbus goalie Steve Mason, who is a lock to win the Calder Trophy, he would get my vote for rookie of the year over goalie Pekka Rinne (Nashville), and forwards Blake Wheeler (Boston), Kris Versteeg (Chicago), and Patrick Berglund (St. Louis).

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Drinking the orange Kool Aid at Fan Fest

Posted on 04 April 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

There are two types of Orioles fans left in the Baltimore area and they are distinct groups:

Those who drink the Kool Aid…

And those, like me, who have examined the big picture of what’s happened to this franchise over the past 13 years and are pretty angry about its impact on our fun, our lives and the community.

With Opening Day looming, everyone who has EVER loved baseball perks up and pay attention. Even if it’s only to notice: “Hey, its’ Opening Day!” Most people in Baltimore realize this team won’t contend but if you love baseball you’ll at least open one eye on Monday afternoon to catch the score. I’d venture to say that 75% of the city will wake up Tuesday morning at the office and know whether the Orioles won. (That number used to be more like 98% in 1998!)

Those who unconditionally still drink the orange Kool Air or “want” to drink the Kool Aid probably went down to Fan Fast today at Camden Yards. I opted to not give Mr. Angelos any more money that he won’t spend to get the team a quality spring training facility.

Instead, I’m sitting here watching the Fan Fest festivities on MASN HD television and getting some of my WNST “CEO work” done and thinking about baseball season and how it’s going to go for the Orioles and Matt Wieters and these young players and what inevitable drama will unfold.

The only real “punishment” I’m getting for not having a press pass is being “banned” from knowing the Orioles players, which is almost ludicrous because as you saw last week, Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Roberts were happy to chat with me at the World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium. Charley Eckman would’ve called them “right guys” and they are decent, solid dudes. (As an aside, I also exchanged pleasantries with Davey Johnson, which is always fun.)

As a media member – well, at least I was for about 23 years until I was banned – I got to know so many of the players and what kinda guys they are. So I guess that’s my “price to pay” — I don’t get to report to you what good people the Orioles have on their team this year. Or not…

While it looked a tad bit chilly and windy at Camden Yards, the event was a “made for TV” informercial/season preview with interviews between co-workers Jim Hunter, Jim Palmer and the like of Andy McPhail, Aubrey Huff, Adam Jones, Dennis Sarfate and Ryan Freel.

They did a nice job with “get to know you” chats with these players and  I especially like that I can see Jim Palmer in high def. For a well-compensated network to finally “discover” HD in 2009 tells you all you need to know about the vision people at MASN.

But I digress…

Here are a few observations, because my seat is the same as yours at this point, which is its own unique point of view watching Jim Hunter and Amber Theoharis and others interview their co-workers in black hats that say “O’s”.

I honestly didn’t know what Ty Wigginton or Koji Uehara looked like until today. Ditto Freel, who really seemed to be a pleasant “aw, shucks” kinda guy. He reminded me of Bob Backlund back in the late 1970’s when he was a baby face.

Freel freely thanked the fans several times and seemed genuine. (As an aside, why doesn’t the owner of the team ever do that? Just come on the TV and say “thanks” on his own network that he’s making over $100 million this year on?)

Andy McPhail did a stand up with Jim Hunter and said all of the right things. He made it clear he expected a big improvement in Adam Jones. He also talked a lot about character and what kind of players — “gamers, blue collars guys, character guys” — he wants on the team. Fair enough.

I like hearing that the Orioles want good people in their organization. From what I know of the 2009 Orioles, they’re pretty good guys and they clearly dislike Angelos’ management and ownership style as much as the rest of us. (Again, this is one of the reasons the Orioles banning legitimate media isn’t a good thing for the fans. The fans never get to know the truth unless, like yesterday in The Sun, they speak out.)

I’ve known Gregg Zaun for 17 years. I’ve cheered – VERY hard – for Zaun for 17 years through his days in Kansas City, Florida, Toronto and Houston. He’s a great person and loves Baltimore and the Orioles. That’s an upgrade there no matter how you look at it and he’ll keep the seat plenty warm for Matt Wieters, whenever the Orioles decide to promote him to the bigs.

Even today on TV, a couple of the young players talked about what a cool guy Zaun is for them to be around and how he tells great stories (which he does!)

I must say that I didn’t envy Buck Martinez’s press pass today, interviewing his co-worker, Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara, whose only word in English was “Thank you!”

Uehara had an interpreter and the answer to the first question regarding Camden Yards was this: “Right field is pretty shallow.” That was the first of several laughs.

Honestly, it was like I needed an interpreter for his interpreter. It was borderline hilarious. It reminded me of my four days in Tokyo where communication was definitely at a premium.

I don’t care how much Uehara speaks. The Orioles need him to be a rock star if they’re going to win 75 games. But he seemed pleasant enough and thrilled to be at Camden Yards in a big-league uniform. Good enough for me.

If the only “communication” I’m going to have with the players is to see their co-workers ask them questions I might as well think they’re nice guys. Even if they’re complete turds, at least this won’t spoil it for me.

I’m ready for Opening Day. I’m ready to get to Hooters and have a Bud Light. I’m ready for baseball.

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