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Hunter’s Adjustments Propels Caps Comeback

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Hunter’s Adjustments Propels Caps Comeback

Posted on 31 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Caps failed to score a first period goal on the road for the sixth straight game and after 40 minutes they trailed 2-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

So much for using that start fast formula on the road that they’ve used lately at home that I blogged about last night, eh?!

But since Dale Hunter took over behind the bench this Washington Capitals squad has yet to quit in a game, regardless of the deficit and some lineup juggling by the Caps bench boss ignited a three goal in under three minutes explosion in the final frame. Alexander Ovechkin, who scored the first goal for the Caps, then lasered one by Steve Mason (22 saves) to make it 4-2 and Tomas Vokoun (35 saves) closed the door as the Capitals won their third straight game. It was a huge victory and moves the Caps to 20-15-2 overall. They are now just five points behind Southeast Division leading Florida. Washington has two games in hand.

After Columbus did a good job of shutting down Washington’s top line for 40 minutes, Hunter split them up putting Ovechkin with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer while Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin added Marcus Johansson on left wing. The move gave the Caps energy and took Columbus off of their game plan. On the back end, the defensemen became extremely active and Dennis Wideman (1 goal, 2 assists) turned in a super period paired with Roman Hamrlik. On Ovechkin’s nail in the coffin on the power play, Dmitry Orlov made an intelligent move carrying the puck down the left wing boards and behind the net drawing the defense to him before slipping a sweet pass to the Gr8 who buried it with authority. Make no mistake about this, Orlov continues to get better and deserves to be up with the big club the rest of the season.

I know I mentioned the standings above, but as I’ve pretty much done since Hunter took over, I have tried to ignore them because this club needed to drastically fix its’ play before it could start rising back to the top of the Eastern Conference. After 15 games in under the Capitals legend the team has totally improved on the backend and now that they have corrected that, the offense, as predicted by Hunter, is coming on. Ovechkin, Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom have bought in defensively and they are really starting to reap big rewards for that. The Gr8 is on fire with four goals in his last two games and has nine points in his last six games. Semin’s goal that tied the game was a thing of beauty and he’s had six solid tilts in a row. Backstrom is the team’s MVP so far this season but he’s even gone to a higher level the last couple of weeks.

Another thing to be really encouraged about is the week Vokoun just had in goal. #29 came on in relief on Monday and stopped 16 of 17 shots then went 3-0 as a starter. Vokoun is making the big save at the right time. 14 seconds after Ovechkin tallied to cut it to 2-1, he made a huge stop on Mark Letestu on a quality chance in the slot. If Letestu scores there the game is over. Instead Orlov and Grant Clitsome go off for roughing shortly thereafter and the Capitals score twice on the four on four. I’ve said this so many times, but everything starts for a team in goal and Washington is finally getting some consistent netminding.

For those who watched the post game press conference with Hunter on Comcast, things looked exactly the same from old number 32 for the 15th time despite the dramatic comeback. It was hard to tell whether the team won or lost and Hunts always seems to be on such an even keel. Clearly his club is feeding off of his consistency behind the bench and his competitive drive is contagious.

Winning in Columbus is still no big feat, that Blue Jackets club is pretty bad. The Caps have a Calgary Flames team home on Tuesday before taking off to the west coast to take on some quality Western Conference talent in San Jose and Los Angeles. We’ll have an even better idea how far the team has come after those contests.

Happy New Year!

Notes: The Blue Jackets second goal should not have counted as referees Brad Meier and Francois St. Laurent missed an obvious interference penalty on Derek Dorsett in front of the Washington net. The Columbus pest shoved John Carlson to the ground with the puck on the boards but no call was made. Terrible work from the zebras…the Caps blocked 22 shots while the Blue Jackets only thwarted five. Assistant Coach Jim Johnson says if Washington blocks between 20 and 25 shots in a game that is a good sign…Hamrlik and Wideman were both +3. #44 looks so much better since returning from an early season groin injury. He is a smart player who is excelling in Hunter’s system…Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-31. Jeff Halpern was 8-3…Jeff Schultz had an awful first period giveaway and only played 9:46…Cody Eakin’s recall did necessitate a player going on injured reserve as I mentioned last night, but instead of Mathieu Perreault, the team retroactively put Mike Green in that capacity to meet the 23 man roster limit.

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Red Light District Returns for Caps Young Guns

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Red Light District Returns for Caps Young Guns

Posted on 20 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

“Your best players need to be your best players.”

You hear that saying from coaches a lot, but it is ultra true, and on Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals, who used to live off of the efforts of their “Young Guns,” erupted for four goals in a 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators. Alexander Oveckhin scored early on after a beautiful feed from Karl Alzner, Nicklas Backstrom followed that up with a sweet wraparound goal, and then Alexander Semin tallied on a sick top shelf wrister after one of his patented gaffes led to Nashville’s only goal in the third period. Troy Browuer closed out the scoring on the power play with #19 right next to him in front of the Predators cage. Michal Neuvirth (20 saves) was outstanding in net and for once the Capitals could breathe easier down the stretch and not have to hang on for dear life in a one goal victory.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a win that improves the Caps to 17-14-1:

- This was a much needed offensive game for the Capitals after a pretty dismal display in Colorado on Saturday night. Washington can be very guilty of overhandling and overpassing of the puck but in the first period it was pretty clear that Coach Dale Hunter stressed the need to get the biscuit and bodies to the cage. The result was the Caps played their best first period in the Hunter era dominating a Predators team that is known for hard work and good defense. The shots were 11-4 for the good guys after the first frame and if not for some decent saves by Anders Lindback (19 saves total) this one would have been a blowout.

“I thought we came out well in the first period. We were ready to play and we took the play to them pretty good and we jumped on them early. We made a few mistakes in the third and gave up some scoring chances but I think the first set the tone for the game where the guys came out and played hard,” said Hunter.

- Solid coaching from Hunter tonight with his line combinations. #32 split up Ovechkin and Backstrom and that forced Predators Coach Barry Trotz to pick a line to play his top d-pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter against. Trotz chose the Backstrom-Semin-MJ90 unit and as a result Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, and Brouwer were able to go against a different defensive pairing. Alexander Ovechkin set the tone with his physical play and also credit coach Hunter for using the last change to his advantage and getting the Gr8 out against weaker d-man, John Blum, when he could. Ovechkin abused the young #7, who was recently recalled from the AHL, to spark his club. Alexander the Great had seven shots on goal in just over 15 minutes of ice time and he also had three hits.

“He’s a special player and he came out here scoring and hitting. He was a complete player tonight. Especially in the first [period], we needed a lift and he came out and played hard.”added Hunter.

“They {the Capitals} have two lines with {Nicklas} Backstrom and {Alexander} Semin and obviously the {Alex} Ovechkin line, so we’re pretty young on the back end and we had to split them {our defensemen} up tonight,” added the Predators coach, admitting that Hunter put him in a tough situation tactically, given Nashville’s defensive lineup.

- Neuvirth played his third straight game and appears to be regaining the form he had last season when he carried Washington in a lot of contests en route to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. #30 is saving over 92% of his shots while under Coach Hunter and will likely see the net again on Friday night in New Jersey. He had excellent positioning on Tuesday and did not allow many rebounds. He made several big stops, with one on Jordan Tootoo in the slot standing out in the third period. This is the kind of goaltending this club needs to get on a roll and gain confidence.

- One thing the Capitals have to improve on is their penchant for taking bad penalties. Washington was shorthanded five times and if not for some super penalty killing they could have lost the stranglehold they had on this contest at even strength. The infractions were as follows: too many men on the ice, a lazy boarding by Semin after he reached with his stick and got his skates tangled up with Tootoo, an Alzner puck over the glass for delay of game, a retaliatory cross check by Jason Chimera, and a careless slash by Joel Ward. Every one of those penalties did not take away a scoring chance for the Predators so they are BAD ones and show a lack of discipline. That needs to be cleaned up.

- Good things happen when you shoot the puck. In the second period Semin had a two on one rush with Marcus Johansson (two assists) and he tried to saucer a pass to MJ90 instead of firing away. In the final frame, after Semin turned the puck over at the blue line on the previous shift to allow the Preds to make it a one goal game, MJ90 gave Semin a beautiful drop pass and #28 fired off his back foot from a bad angle but it WENT IN. It was an incredible display of skill and it only shows that if he would just fire more we might see a return in production from him. In fact, the whole team needs to shoot more. Dennis Wideman’s simple power play blast that was batted home by Brouwer is another perfect example.

- So at the end of the night, Hunter’s Caps earned one of their better victories on the season. They came out hard, dictated the pace early on, and the Young Guns delivered. It was a game that gives hope of an offensive resurgence for this red light challenged team. The question now is can they keep it up and find some consistency or are they going to continue to be a one game on, one game off team? If they shoot the puck more, get to the opposing net with a passion, receive quality goaltending, and stay out of the penalty box then they will find themselves back near the top of the NHL standings. Easier said than done, though.

Notes: Mike Knuble was honored beforehand for his 1,000th NHL game. #22 played only 10:07 and didn’t attempt a shot on goal…Mike Green participated fully during the morning skate and appears close to a return. That would be a huge boost to this hockey team as the Caps are 8-0 when he plays…Jeff Schultz was the sixth defensemen and he didn’t look too good on one shift and barely played after that (6:01 total for the game)…Wideman led the Caps with 28:44 of ice time…Washington won the face-off battle, 35-23, after a subpar outing in Denver in that department on Saturday. Jeff Halpern, who played 18:05, was 14-5 from the dot.

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Caps Fall Short Against Penguins, 2-1

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Caps Fall Short Against Penguins, 2-1

Posted on 01 December 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Capitals versus Penguins usually brings out the best in both hockey teams and on Thursday night, that was the case for 40 minutes. But Chris Kunitz outworked Marcus Johansson in the Washington zone, John Erskine lost his balance then fell, and #14 shot a soft one by Tomas Vokoun (33 saves) for the game winner just 2:36 into period three and the Pens shut it down from there. The 2-1 victory for Pittsburgh is the Caps fourth straight loss and they fall to 12-11-1 overall. They are currently in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of Pittsburgh’s first victory over the Caps in regulation since March of 2008:

- Washington played with a lot of energy in this one and Alexander Ovechkin had 10 hits as the Capitals out banged the Penguins 43-28. After two periods the shots were 25-15 in favor of the Pens, but the quality scoring chances were razor close at 12-11 in favor of the visitors (h/t Neil Greenberg, @ngreenberg on Twitter). It was a game that could’ve gone either way heading into the 3rd period but when Vokoun couldn’t stop a Kunitz knuckler, it allowed the Penguins to shut the game down in a style they are extremely good at playing.

“They had the lead, they didn’t have to do anything, they just chipped and chased and played safe,” said Caps Coach Dale Hunter on the Penguins third period tactics.

- Washington’s best period was the middle frame when they really got their forecheck going. The team was also a bit unlucky too as Nicklas Backstrom hit the crossbar on a great feed from Ovechkin that would’ve given the Caps the lead. The hard forecheck is something Hunter likes to do and Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma commented on it that afterwards.

“There’s about [the Capitals] that is scary with the skill that they bring. I thought today, especially starting in the second [period], they came at us hard and forechecked hard and were tough to handle that way. They were very aggressive on the forecheck and getting to the offensive zone; that might be something we haven’t seen,” said the Pens Stanley Cup winning bench boss.

“It’s pretty disappointing when you lose that kind of game…We just didn’t score on the chances we had. We hit the post, I missed an empty net and [Marc-Andre] Fleury made a couple of great saves, ” added Ovechkin.

- Chimera continues to play well and he now has 10 goals in 24 games, easily putting him on pace for a career high. #25 scored after Joel Ward outworked the Pens defender to the puck to wipe out a potential icing call. Those two, along with Brooks Laich, continue to form a super checking line. Unfortunately the Caps are having trouble finishing plays and that was a big reason they lost this one.

“It can’t be down the line. It’s got to be now. We got to get people stepping up and scoring some goals, doing the little things. It was a good game overall. They had a lot of shots but a lot of them were outside. It’s a tough way to lose, but we got that kind of effort, it’ll be better. We came out pretty good. If we keep effort like that, the wins will come,” said Chimera.

- Here’s Sidney Crosby’s numbers tonight: 20:21 of ice time, 3 shots on goal, 2 giveaways, 6-16 on face-offs and -1 overall. Nice work by Karl Alzner and the rest of the guys on #87, who had his five game points scoring streak halted. Sid the Kid had 4:17 of power play time but Washington did a great job of killing off the three Pittsburgh power plays. Hunter noted that he has stuck with Dean Evason’s plan on the penalty kill.

“I left it the same. I like aggressive, no time, no space. Dean’s (assistant coach Dean Evason) been doing it, so I left it with him, they had a good record last year. Just had a couple bad games this year out west but other than that, it’s been good.”

- At the end of the night, Caps fans are likely discouraged that they aren’t winning or scoring goals but if they continue to improve in their own end and keep up the energy level those will come. This team was really playing poorly and giving up lots of chances towards the end of Bruce Boudreau’s tenure so you can’t just flip a switch and turn it on. Bad habits die hard. What is concerning is the lack of speed in some areas. Hunter likes to play an aggressive system and you need speed to execute that. Some personnel tweaks may be needed and I’m sure the new coach and General Manager George McPhee will discuss it. The good news is the trading deadline is still nearly three months away (February 27th).

Notes: Congratulations to Boudreau on getting the Anaheim Ducks head coaching position…Washington buried the Pens at the faceoff dot, going 37-17. Backstrom was 14-2…Wideman led the Caps in ice time with 26:02. John Carlson logged 25:25 and Alzner (+1) had 21:35…Ovechkin played 19:22 while Alexander Semin only got 12:45. #28 played hard but he needs someone to get him the puck. Johansson is not cutting it as second line center right now…Greenberg had the final quality chance total at 19-14, meaning the Pens had a 7-3 advantage in the final frame…the Caps next game is Saturday night at home against the Ottawa Senators.

 

 

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Rangers stuff Caps in afternoon special

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Rangers stuff Caps in afternoon special

Posted on 25 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals were on a two-game winning streak thanks to a renewed work ethic in victories on Monday and Wednesday. On Friday afternoon at the Verizon Center, John Tortorella’s New York Rangers club came in and schooled the Caps in the effort department en route to a 6-3 victory. Ruslan Fedotenko had two goals, high-priced free agent Brad Richards had a tally and an assist, and Ryan Callahan had three helpers as the Blueshirts top line went +3 in an impressive performance. New York is now 11-5-3 while Washington falls to 12-8-1.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from a contest that saw Washington revert to the form they displayed in their recent four game losing streak:

- When coaches talk about getting the puck deep and putting pressure on opponents’ defensemen being a key to success all one has to do is watch what Tortorella’s crew did to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s defense in this one. The Rangers aren’t a fancy team at all, they work hard, and on Friday they got pucks in behind the Washington net and just made the Capitals life miserable in their own zone. Dennis Wideman had what was probably his worst game as a Cap with five giveaways and he and his partner, Roman Hamrlik, were both -3 and benched after just two shifts in the third period. John Carlson and Jeff Schultz also had some misplays but those two, after a shaky first 25 or so minutes, rallied to be +1 for the contest. Washington’s best blue line duo was Karl Alzner and rookie Dmitry Orlov but you can’t win with one pair playing well for the whole game. What was hard to watch were how the mistakes seemed to keep on coming and many of the Capitals player didn’t move on from them and keep working, instead choosing to sulk and lose confidence.

“We’re getting too down. As soon as we get a goal scored against us it kind of feels like it’s the end of the world. It’s just one goal. It’s bound to happen every game. We’re killing our momentum by having them score and then giving up another one,” said King Karl when asked about trying to find ways to respond to quick goals allowed.

- After Wednesday’s victory over Winnipeg I talked about the Capitals excellent performance with puck support. On Friday, it was not good and the Rangers won the game on that alone. On the pivotal fourth Rangers goal, which came after the Caps had all of the momentum, Hamrlik needed to just take a strong step forward to push the biscuit outside the Washington zone but because his skates have resembled cinder blocks lately, he backpedaled and that allowed one of the Blueshirts lesser lines to score when Wideman got beat in the corner and then #44 couldn’t cover anyone in front of Michal Neuvirth (27 saves on 33 shots). Hamrlik is now a team worst -7 and likely deserves a game in the press box, if John Erskine is healthy enough to play on Saturday in Buffalo. Simply put the Rangers determination resembled the personality of their fiery coach in this tilt.

“I thought our forecheck was better and our back pressure was better. I thought we were up in fives and back in fives. It was one of our better games out of the past four or five…I thought we just played better defensively, it just doesn’t mean in our end zone. Playing away from the puck I thought we did a pretty good job of that…our whole focus was to play better away from the puck and tonight I thought we did,” said a pleased Rangers bench boss.

- Remember when the Capitals rallied from a 3-0 deficit to silence Madison Square Garden in game four of last season’s first round playoff series? Well when Troy Brouwer and then John Carlson scored midway through period two the Caps were in position to do that again. The crowd was really into it and the players seemed to be getting energy from the fans. Washington put pressure on the Rangers and Alexander Semin had a golden opportunity to tie it up but fired high on Henrik Lundqvist (18 saves). But Brian Boyle would score that key goal I mentioned above at 16:49 to really take the air out of the building and then just over four minutes into period three Wideman tried to do too much in the offensive zone and Richards got the fifth Blueshirts tally in transition.

“Not so much last year, I thought that was a big part of it when they scored those goals to get back in the game because it’s such a team that can score in bunches. I thought we handled ourselves very well. That’s a very important part of the game was not getting scored on again for it to tie. We found a way to score a couple. Nothing was said, we’ve had enough meetings the past couple of days to talk about how we need to play, we just went out, and I think they allowed themselves to play tonight. That is why they were skating, it was a more fluid game for us,” said Tortorella when asked about the quick Caps goals and if anything was discussed on the bench about it, especially given Washington’s big comeback from last year’s post season.

- As the Alzner quote hinted at above, this team is mentally weak right now. There are several guys who can’t hold it together when things go wrong. Semin is culprit #1. He once again took a LAZY penalty by putting his stick in Callahan’s gut instead of moving his feet and afterwards #28 was pretty much a no show. He took long shifts and only had 1 shot on goal following his hooking minor. He was -2 and on the Richards goal he didn’t backcheck hard after Wideman and Hamrlik made mistakes. In addition, the Caps had a 3 on 2 late in the middle frame and he stopped at the blue line, which allowed the Rangers to break up the rush easily. Somehow though, Semin had 47 more seconds of ice time than Alexander Ovechkin (1st goal at home in 2011-12, 8 hits, four shots on net)? This makes no sense to me. The Gr8 still has his poor defensive zone moments but his effort was good while Semin’s was terrible after his penalty at the 8:56 mark of the opening frame.

“Well he definitely was a main factor in our first goal and he scored the third goal. He set up a couple really good plays. If that’s getting him out of his little funk, then that’s a bright spot out of a not necessarily bright game,” commented Boudreau on his captain’s play versus New York.

- Speaking of bright spots, Orlov was my Caps first star. The young Russian logged 17:33 of ice time and was super solid with three hits and an assist. He also used his superior skating and positioning to spring Jason Chimera for a first period breakaway but King Henrik would not allow #25 to beat him again. #81 did have four giveaways but for his 3rd NHL game I thought he was fabulous and he has played better than Hamrlik, Schultz, and Erskine this week.

- In summary, a trend that was going up for Washington took a big nosedive on Friday. The work ethic and mental toughness of the previous two games went out the window. It will be up to the coaching staff and the team’s leadership core to get the club to re-focus and tackle a Buffalo Sabres squad that was beaten soundly (5-1) by Columbus on Friday night. So you can bet that Lindy Ruff’s crew will be ready to go on Saturday night in Buffalo. Will the Caps show some grit and desire and bounce back? Stay tuned.

Notes: Mike Knuble’s ice time was cut from over 20 minutes on Wednesday to just 11:57 on Friday. He was -1 and took a minor penalty…Neuvirth wasn’t very good in net but the skaters in front of him were worse…I expect Tomas Vokoun to start on Saturday and Washington needs a strong outing from him…Johansson had a brutal giveaway that directly led to the Rangers third goal but he worked hard on his next couple of shifts and played a big role in Carlson’s goal. Unfortunately MJ90 was saddled with Semin in period three and finished -3 on the night…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:11…the Caps were buried on face-offs, 37-28, with MJ90 losing 14 of 20 draws and Brooks Laich losing 13 of 19…Laich was put on defense in the third period when 6 and 44 were riding the pine and was on the ice for the 6th NY tally. Boudreau said afterwards that his move “backfired”…the Caps did have 40 hits to 28 for the Blueshirts.

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Chimera Wins It For Caps in OT

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Chimera Wins It For Caps in OT

Posted on 23 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Jason Chimera tapped home a great Dennis Wideman feed 1:52 into overtime for his second marker of the night to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 overtime victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thanksgiving eve. Chimera, who’s season high for goals is 17 when he was with Columbus (2005-06), now has eight in just 20 games (h/t John Walton). The hard working, up tempo victory for the Caps is their second straight win and improves their record to 12-7-1. They are 8-1-1 at home this season.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of the Caps 116th straight sellout at the Verizon Center:

- Oh, where to begin?! There were so many players that performed well on Wednesday that there is no doubt that this was one of the best team efforts of the season. The Caps were moving their feet and pressing the pace all 60+ minutes. It was a fast game and the Capitals showcased their speed. Their puck support and positioning was outstanding, for the most part. The team clearly built on the things they did right on Monday night and they used their size to wear down the Jets. The Caps were credited with 35 hits compared to 27 for Winnipeg and they outshot them 37-25 on the night.

“[The Capitals] played with a lot more emotion. They got energized by scoring early. They got energized by the crowd. They got energized by physical hits. They played hard and they played with some emotion to the game and it showed,” said Winnipeg Coach Claude Noel after the contest.

- Alexander Semin (1 goal, +2) was put in the press box on Monday night and he responded with arguably his best game of the season. He did not take a penalty and skated hard on every shift. He also scored the first goal after a super backhanded feed from Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist, +1, 5 shots on goal, 4 hits). John Carlson also should get credit there for a super long break out pass. It actually looked like #28 was having fun in this game and he appeared confident on the ice. He gets a chance to build on this strong performance on Friday, against a New York Rangers team he has historically owned.

“I think he was in the game today. He used his size [and] his skill. You can see how he was a little bit hungry today, ” said Ovechkin on the effort of his Russian teammate.

- In the post lockout NHL I maintain that there is no substitute for speed. Solid skating allows a team to gap up and support the puck, and Washington was very good at this in this game. Up front the Caps have several who are fleet afoot to include Chimera, Marcus Johansson (1 assist), and Cody Eakin but it is on the blue line where they have struggled recently without Mike Green. Since Dmitry Orlov has been called up from Hershey for the last two games, that has started to change. #81 is an outstanding skater and he was even better in his second NHL game. He had the hit of the night, a great hip check on Blake Wheeler, and he also got his first NHL assist on Nicklas Backstrom’s goal that made it 3-2. After 11 minutes and change against Phoenix, the young Russian blue liner received 14:31 of ice time and he was +1. The future looks really bright for the 2009 2nd round choice, who will make his share of mistakes, but his presence and speed has resulted in far more good than bad in the two games he’s been up in “The Show.”

- Jeff Schultz is a lightning rod for criticism from Caps fans and he has struggled quite a bit recently, however, the last two games he has upped his play and his breakup of a Winnipeg two on one tonight in OT directly led to the winning goal. #55 has had two straight solid outings. He only had 13:28 of ice time, but he was a +1.

- Washington’s penalty kill played a huge role in the victory as they successfully killed off an 80 second five on three penalty in the middle frame. Schultz, Brooks Laich, and Matt Hendricks did some great work, that included a long stretch where #21 didn’t have a stick. But Tomas Vokoun (22 saves) made some big stops during that time, including one on Nik Antropov in tight, to preserve the Caps one goal lead at the time.

“Big turning point in the game. I thought. You know it got the crowd really engaged in the game and it got the bench really up. They did a great job out there. [Assistant coaches] Dean [Evason] and [Bob Woods] Woody do the video with them. [Explaining] what to do and [what] the [visiting] team’s tendencies [are], but it’s something you can’t practice because it is all about blocking shots and the last thing you want your team in practice to do is break an ankle or something blocking shots,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the importance of that successful shorthanded situation.

- On the down side, Vokoun looked shaky at times and he was out of position on the third goal. He also caught a break when Evander Kane hit the crossbar shortly after the Jets tied the game at three. On the Jets first goal, Ovechkin made a bad decision to chase the puck in the neutral zone when Roman Hamrlik was already there and that led to a two on one break that Andrew Ladd buried. Winnipeg’s second marker came from a d-zone giveaway and then a fortuitous bounce that gave Kyle Wellwood an open net. In that instance Vokoun was a little overly aggressive going down on the original shot.

“It’s been tough with all kinds of rebounds going right to their [Winnipeg] sticks. They made a nice play on their first goal, two-on-one. The second goal, it goes right to their guy and he puts it in an empty net and before you know it they have two goals and have barely touched the puck. Those are tough games for goalies. We battled hard all game,” commented the Czech net minder on his evening.

- At the end of the night though, this was an even better victory for Washington than Monday’s against the Coyotes. The work ethic was there for the second straight game and the team was able to keep up a feverish pace for the entire contest. They still have some things to clean up, especially in their own zone with coverage, but overall they are definitely getting better and a big part of that is the skating, which leads to hits that wear an opponent down and puck support which creates turnovers and transition.

Notes: Mike Knuble appeared to give the Caps a 4-2 lead but his goal was washed out when the zebras ruled that Hendricks had incidental contact with Ondrej Pavelec (33 saves)…Kane has been a Caps killer over the last 7 contests between these two teams but tonight he was held in check. #9 went -1 in 18:49 of ice time with only two shots on net. Washington did a great job of shutting him down…Joel Ward was scratched for missing a team meeting (see Accountability)…Mike Green is still out injured and has not practiced with the team since going down 12 days ago…the Caps won the faceoff battle 31-26 with Jeff Halpern winning seven of his nine draws…Troy Brouwer had 10 hits…Zach Bogosian hit Eakin in the head in the second period with a hard shot up high. #4 made the hit with his arm tucked in but it looked like a head shot to me…the Capitals were 0 for 3 on the power play…Johansson’s hustle was a big factor in the OT winner as he beat a Winnipeg player to the biscuit, which cleared the way for Wideman (team leading 26:10 of ice time) to have an open lane in the slot.

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Onus on McPhee to Correct Caps Issues

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Onus on McPhee to Correct Caps Issues

Posted on 19 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals went into Toronto to face a depleted Maple Leafs club on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday looking to snap a three game losing streak and they were blasted, 7-1, in what was clearly their worst performance of the season. Caps killer Joffrey Lupul had a goal and three assists and Phil Kessel also potted one and added a helper. Jonas Gustavsson made 40 saves for Toronto but by the time he needed to make them his team was already comfortably ahead. Washington has now lost four straight contests and is 10-7-1 overall after starting with seven straight wins.

Rather than do a detailed look at this game like I normally do, tonight I am going to focus on the big issues facing this team:

- We will address the problems on the blue line next, but the effort hasn’t been there the last two games and has been missing in noticeable stretches all season. To me the first order of business for General Manager George McPhee is to sit down with head coach Bruce Boudreau and team captain Alexander Ovechkin to have a “clear the air” meeting because it looks like the entire hockey team is not listening to either one of its’ leaders right now. Boudreau’s constant line shuffling is not getting results and when the team captain is not giving 100% every shift the rest of the guys will start to take them off at some point, too. This team looks rudderless right now and if there is any strife in the locker room or between coaches and players it needs to be worked out, pronto. A Leafs squad that had several AHLers on it made a team some have picked to go to the Stanley Cup Finals look like the 1974-75 Caps. The horrible play on this recent road trip has to be a major concern.

- I know I’ve written several times that the Mike Green injury is a big blow to this Capitals team but you can’t put all of the their problems on one player. #52 is the best d-man on the Caps, he stabilizes the blue line and they are 8-0 with him in the lineup. However, when he went out last February the Caps played great hockey down the stretch (16-3-1) and overtook several teams to capture the Eastern Conference #1 seed. So what has gone so wrong this season that they can’t overcome the absence of the One Man Breakout? In the playoffs against Tampa when both Green and Dennis Wideman were out, the Lightning used their speed to go by some of the slower Capitals defensemen. Right now teams are taking advantage of Jeff Schultz, Roman Hamrlik, and to a lesser degree John Erskine. Schultz may have hit rock bottom in this game tonight with a horrible giveaway that started the whole debacle. Wideman is not playing like he did before his awful hip injury last spring and Karl Alzner has been the only defensemen who is performing above expectations. Boudreau did make a good move putting John Carlson back with Alzner tonight because #74 had his best game in awhile, but that just left an awful pairing of Hamrlik and Schultz, which Toronto coach Ron Wilson took advantage of fully.

- Special teams have just been atrocious during this bad stretch, especially the power play. There is far too much overhandling and passing of the puck and not enough shots on goal with traffic. The coaching staff needs to put guys out there who will simplify their game and outwork the opponent. I don’t think a guy like Alexander Semin fits that bill right now. The penalty kill has regressed primarily because of the poor play by the defensemen but the forwards aren’t doing their part either. On the Leafs sixth goal tonight Nicklas Backstrom did a super job of screening Michal Neuvirth (who was in the game because the team stunk in front of #1 goalie Tomas Vokoun early on).

- Overall, there is so much talent on this team that something is clearly wrong. The coaches and players don’t appear to be on the same page. McPhee has put together, on paper, what looks to be the best team he’s had in several years but the sum of the parts is far less than the whole right now. It is his job to find out where the problems are and correct them.

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Caps Disintegrate in Winnipeg

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Caps Disintegrate in Winnipeg

Posted on 17 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Winnipeg Jets scored three goals in the second period to turn a close hockey game into a comfortable 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in Manitoba on Thursday night. Alexander Semin tallied for the Caps just 3:53 into the game but Evander Kane, who is a Capitals killer, scored twice to start the party for the Jets. The Caps are now 10-6-1 and have lost three straight games.

Here are the lowlights and analysis from the Capitals first game this season against the former Atlanta Thrashers:

- The problems for Washington start on the blue line. The Capitals are 8-0 with Mike Green in the lineup and now 2-6-1 with the Calgary native out injured. #52 is the Caps best d-man and he is excellent at breaking the puck out of Washington’s end. With him missing the Caps have to rely more on Dennis Wideman and John Carlson to move the puck. Karl Alzner is a good first pass guy but not a puck rusher, but he has been the best Capitals d-man lately. Roman Hamrlik, John Erskine, and Jeff Schultz are subpar skaters and their lack of speed is getting exposed by other teams. Tonight Kane had all kinds of room and dominated, like he did against Washington last season when the Thrashers won all three games against the Capitals that were played in Atlanta.

- On the first Jets goal, Carlson had the puck in the left wing corner and instead of making an easy pass behind the net to his partner at the time (Wideman) for a simple break out, he sent the biscuit to Marcus Johansson in the slot. MJ90 had Bryan Little right on him and the Swede fumbled the puck. Then as he was tripped to the ice he mistakenly fired the disc up the boards where several Jets were waiting. Winnipeg then had a clear lane to the cage and Kane scored easily.

- Goal two resulted from Joel Ward over handling the puck in the corner and turning it over. However, Kane wasn’t in a great position to score and had a bad angle but somehow his high shot beat Michal Neuvirth (27 saves) short side. #30 should’ve had that one and he went down way too soon. It was a terrible time to let in a softie.

- The Caps then got into penalty trouble but somehow they managed to get a two on zero shorthanded break with Brooks Laich and Jeff Halpern skating in on Ondrej Pavelec (31 saves). In that situation the puck has to go on net but somehow #21 shot high and the Jets went the other way with the biscuit. Blake Wheeler then went past Hamrlik like he was an orange road cone and when Schultz was too slow to get back to help, #26 slammed it home. Neuvirth wasn’t good on that one either. Erskine then got into a fight with Chris Thorburn but 13 seconds later Hamrlik took another penalty. Winnipeg scored on a goal mouth scramble as Schultz managed to cover noone to pretty much end this one.

- Washington did have a chance shortly thereafter to try and get back in the game when they had over a minute of 5 on 3 time. But their power play, which was a putrid 0 for 5 on the night, overpassed the puck. The Caps talked earlier in the season about simplifying their manpower advantage situations by looking to move the puck to the point and then firing it with traffic in front, but recently they have gotten away from that and the poor results speak for themselves. The Caps penalty kill also regressed allowing two goals in five attempts.

- Semin’s goal was a nice one, but it should not have counted because Washington was offside. #28 played hard early but then he took a bad penalty in the middle frame when he said something to the zebras after he felt an infraction should have been called on Winnipeg. From there on out his work ethic tailed off big time.

- In closing, after a strong effort on Tuesday night for 55 minutes in Nashville, this team has disintegrated. Washington is making poor decisions on the ice and they are playing with no confidence. The third period pretty much turned into a glorified scrimmage and some of the Capitals seemed to lose their drive. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau needs to do something to get this team going pronto. The only defensemen who is playing up to his capabilities right now is Alzner and the forwards aren’t doing their jobs either. I expect a major re-shuffling of the lines and blue line pairs for Saturday night’s game in Toronto.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle 35-26 with Nicklas Backstrom going 15-8…Carlson led the team in ice time logging 25:06…Erskine only played 10:58…the Caps are now 1-4-1 in their last six games.

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Shorthanded Caps Lose in Shootout

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Shorthanded Caps Lose in Shootout

Posted on 13 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

On the last two Saturday night’s the Washington Capitals have raced out to 2-0 first period leads and on both occassions, they’ve ended up losing the game. This time, at least they weren’t defeated until the gimmick, losing to the New Jersey Devils, 3-2, when David Clarkson beat Michal Neuvirth (17 saves) in the fourth round. Troy Brouwer and Jason Chimera tallied for the Caps in the first period but then the Devils got goals from Petr Sykora and Ryan Carter in the middle frame. After a scoreless third period and overtime the teams went to the shootout where Alexander Ovechkin and Zach Parise tallied before Clarkson’s game winner. The defeat drops the Caps to 10-4-1 (21 points).

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a contest that was not easy to watch:

- The shots on goal total in this one was 19-17 in favor of New Jersey. A combination of things conspired to make this a non-aesthetically pleasing tilt. First, the bad Verizon Center ice which was rough due to a concert on Friday night then a Georgetown basketball game on Saturday afternoon. Second, both teams played each other the night before in Newark and with the Capitals shortening their bench on Friday due to Mike Green’s injury and Alexander Semin and Cody Eakin’s benching they were tired. What added to the fatigue was the fact that Green couldn’t play and d-man John Erskine’s shoulder acted up, forcing him out as well. With Jeff Schultz back in on defense, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau chose to move Brooks Laich to defense to get six warm bodies on the blue line. That put Mathieu Perreault back in the lineup up front. But #85 had no jump and actually lost a key faceoff that put the Devils back in the game. As a result, he along with a fading Cody Eakin, didn’t skate in period three either (both had just over five minutes of ice time in this game). In addition, defensemen Roman Hamrlik left in period two with an undisclosed injury and did not return. Third, the Devils are very good at blocking shots but Washington was just out of sync for most of this game. Finally, throw in some poor officiating (Brian Pochmara, Mike Hasenfratz) and you had a recipe for bad hockey.

“I was starting to get a little tuckered at the end, but I think that when stuff like that happens when there’s injuries you just have to try to not push it too much, try not to get out of position, try not to get caught and conserve where you can. That’s a team that, no matter what, keeps on coming. Even if we got that third one, they would still be coming. They never give up,” said Caps d-man Dennis Wideman on the role of fatigue in the Caps defeat.

- The Caps came out fast in this one getting nine shots in the first 16 minutes (h/t @TedStarkey). They were skating well and going to the net early on. Chimera’s tally went in off of his shin pad on a John Carlson point blast while Brouwer stole the puck from Adam Henrique and scored on a breakaway. After that it seemed like Washington’s skates were being sponsored by a cinder block company because they looked really slow and for nearly 21 minutes between periods two and three they didn’t even have a shot on net! Late in regulation they started getting it together but old Caps nemesis Johan Hedberg (15 saves) robbed Brouwer and Jeff Halpern in the third period and then stoned an all alone Wideman from 20 feet out in overtime. The “Moose” was a big reason the Devils left town with the two points.

“It’s a double-edged sword.  Will you take a point? Yes. When you have a 2-0 lead, will you take a point? No. The goals that they scored were mistakes on our part. If we wouldn’t make those mistakes, it probably would have been a 2-0 game,” said Boudreau on Saturday’s result.

- Both the Caps and the Devils went 0 for 5 on the power play, although Chimera’s goal came right as Anton Volchenkov’s penalty was expiring. New Jersey’s power play looked better getting six shots on goal to Washington’s four. The Caps struggled to get set up with the man advantage and with Laich on the right point instead of Green, things just aren’t the same. Hopefully #52, who is listed as day to day, is back on Tuesday for the game in Nashville. If he can’t go and either (or both) Hamrlik and Erskine are out, Washington could recall 2009 2nd round draft pick Dmity Orlov from Hershey. The young puck rushing blue liner would certainly help the offense and the power play, but he is clearly still learning how to play defense in the North American game. The other left handed defense option from Hershey would be Patrick McNeill.

- Semin, in my opinion, didn’t respond too well to his benching on Friday night. #28 had one shot on net and no hits. He took another minor penalty and continued to not move his feet and shy away from contact. In the gimmick, he fumbled the biscuit and didn’t even get a shot off. I’ve seen enough in his time with Washington to see that things just aren’t going to change and General Manager George McPhee might be wise to just move him now since he is an unrestricted free agent after the season. Bottom line is I can’t see the Caps winning a Stanley Cup with the inconsistent winger on their roster. Boudreau wasn’t publicly harsh on him afterwards, but if he was unhappy with him, I doubt he’d say anything to diminish any trade value Semin might have.

“I thought he tried really hard. I mean, he got a penalty early, he went for the puck. That wasn’t a lazy penalty… I thought his effort overall, he tried really hard and he was engaged in the game,” said Boudreau on Semin’s performance in the loss.

- Neuvirth made some very good saves in this contest and can’t be faulted on either tally. He was very sound in his positioning, which helped him rob Sykora up high in tight in period one. He got beat by some nice moves in the shootout but overall was one of the better Capitals in this game.

- Ovechkin had a mixed bag of a night. He was skating hard and was a physical force on the ice (11 hits). However, he was terrible with the puck trying too many curl and drag moves instead of just firing the biscuit on net or getting it deep. Volchenkov did a nice job on the Gr8 in this tilt.

“I have opportunities to shoot the puck and score, but sometimes I make it too quick and make not good decisions. My job is to score goals, not to make hits. The second period I had probably three chances to score but I didn’t do the right thing,” said Oveckhin when asked to assess his play.

- So the Capitals get a point but they should’ve put this game away early in the second period. Now they head to the road for three games starting in Music City at 8pm on Tuesday against the Predators. Nashville is a gritty, grind out it out club that has super goaltending (Pekka Rinne). Coach Barry Trotz is one of the best coaches in the NHL so the Caps will have to play a lot better than they did this week if they want to get two points.

Notes: I wouldn’t be surprised if Eakin is sent back to Hershey, he looks overmatched right now and playing five minutes a game is not helping his development. I’d like to see Chris Bourque brought up if a forward is needed…Wideman logged 33:52 of ice time to lead all players. Carlson played 26:50 and Karl Alzner 23:34. Laich played over 23 minutes, including time at forward on the penalty kill. Hamrlik played 9:44 before leaving due to an injury that Boudreau said was caused by a New Jersey cross check (h/t Katie Carrera of The Washington Post)…Mike Knuble only played 12:04 and seems to be in the Boudreau dog house too…the Caps won the faceoff battle 35-33.

 

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Ovechkin, Vokoun Lead Caps over Devils

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Ovechkin, Vokoun Lead Caps over Devils

Posted on 11 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin scored the game tying goal in the middle frame, then in the third period Jason Chimera beat Martin Brodeur on a shorthanded break with a beautiful move to lead the Washington Capitals to a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at “The Rock” on Friday night. Marcus Johansson added an insurance tally by putting home a Karl Alzner point blast with just over nine minutes left in regulation. Rookie Adam Larsson scored the Devils only goal in the first period on Tomas Vokoun (32 saves), who was extremely solid in the victory. The Caps are now 10-4 and face the Devils at the Verizon Center in Saturday’s rematch.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a grind it out Capitals victory:

- Ovechkin was a force over the last 30 minutes of this game and it wasn’t because of end to end rushes and pretty passing plays. Nope, the Gr8 played what Canadian icon Don Cherry would call “North American” hockey. Alexander the Great went to the net to score his goal by being parked at the right post and putting in Dennis Wideman’s blast that initially hit Ovechkin in the stomach. After that Ovie was ultra solid defensively getting a ton of even strength ice time when Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau went to just three lines in the third period (Alex Semin and Cody Eakin were benched, but more on that later). Ovechkin was constantly moving his feet and hitting Devils all over the ice, including one on Larsson that will have Saturday’s birthday boy likely waking up in some pain. On two consecutive shifts in the third period with the lead, the Gr8 skated to center ice and dumped the puck in the offensive zone and then changed, something that tells you he is buying into what Boudreau wants his club to do with a third period lead. In addition, in the last minute he went down to block a point shot despite the two goal lead (not to mention this is a November regular season game). He also grabbed Devils tough guy David Clarkson in scrums on two separate occassions. It was a vintage captain-type performance by Ovechkin and he should be proud of how he played in this one after a poor game on Tuesday.

- Vokoun was really strong after a shaky last start on Long Island. The Devils came out flying but #29 didn’t allow them to get a two goal bulge with solid positioning and good rebound control. As the game went on his teammates got better but he still had to make a few tough saves.

- Boudreau has been preaching accountability, and so have the players, so when things weren’t going well for a couple of his forwards, he stopped playing them. Those two tonight were Semin and Eakin. #28 took a penalty in the first period that was a garbage call (which in my opinion was based totally on reputation), but instead of being mentally tough and coming back strong after that, the Russian enigma moped. He didn’t win one on one battles and didn’t even get a shot on net so the Caps bench boss lassoed him to the pine. Eakin just looked weaker compared to the hard working Devils. Part of that is that he is still young and physically maturing but he also wasn’t moving his feet and using his speed.

“I thought a couple guys weren’t going so I shortened the bench a bit,” said Boudreau in his post game presser.

- One of the big stories coming into this game was the return of Mike Green, but #52 took a cheap hit to the groin and left leg from Ryan Carter along the right wing boards late in period one. Green went down grabbing his groin area, finished the shift, and then went down the tunnel after going to the bench. He returned for one power play shift early in period two and according to Steve Whyno of The Washington Times has a “different soreness” than the right ankle injury that kept him out of the previous six games. He is day to day.

- New Jersey was perfect at home on the penalty kill before this game and they did that again tonight against a very good Washington power play (3rd in NHL). The Devils prevented the Caps from getting set up in four man advantage situations and they only got five shots in those eight minutes of power play time. The Capitals passed the puck too much, especially on their first power play. Semin was set up for a perfect quick shot in the slot on a moving Brodeur (17 saves) but instead chose to wind up, wait, and then pass the puck. #28 needed to shoot there and he likely would’ve scored (and probably would’ve played a lot more too). The Caps need to get back to a simpler power play where they move the puck to the point, blast away, and go for rebounds.

- On the positive side of the special teams ledger was the Caps PK unit. Washington went five for five and also scored when Chimera gathered the puck in the neutral zone, went around Larsson like he was an orange road cone, and then faked Brodeur to the ice similar to a move he put on #30 last season at the Verizon Center. Alzner and the rest of the defense did a great job of allowing Vokoun to see the shots and then they made sure no Devils forwards were able to get in position for any rebounds.

- In closing, after the initial Devils push in period one and part of period two, the Caps seemed to be the stronger team despite the final shots imbalance (33-20). The Capitals three lines were skating well but more importantly, the five remaining defensemen, Wideman, Alzner, John Carlson, Roman Hamrlik, and John Erskine were excellent in their own end. Washington has the type of personnel that can wear a club out over 60 minutes and I believe that is what happened in this game. It is a recipe they used against the Ducks last week and one that works when your goaltender is playing well, like Vokoun was tonight.

Notes: Semin only played 8:25 and Eakin 7:07. Officially Green logged 7:44 of ice time, but they credited him with two shifts in the 2nd period when he only played one…Wideman led all Caps players with a beastly 27:11 of ice time. Carlson and Alzner played 23:32 and 22:14, respectively, while Erkine and Hamrlik both received just over 17 minutes of ice time. #44′s ice time of 17:31 was his lowest total of the season and only the 4th time in 14 games he’s been under 20 minutes. Given the way he’s played lately, the reduction makes sense…Jeff Schultz was the healthy defensive scratch and Mathieu Perreault the lone healthy forward…Washington lost the face-off battle 24-22 but Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist) went 12-8 and had the key draw win on the Ovechkin goal…the NHL Off Ice officials who work Devils games only credited Ovechkin with two hits so I am not sure exactly what sporting event they were watching tonight.

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Stars Outwork and Embarrass Caps, 5-2

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Stars Outwork and Embarrass Caps, 5-2

Posted on 08 November 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals six game home unbeaten streak came to a crashing halt on Tuesday night as the Dallas Stars came in to the Verizon Center and whipped the Caps, 5-2. The Stars got two early tallies from former Boston Bruins forward Michael Ryder and then Adam Burish, Jamie Benn, and Eric Nystrom scored in the third period. Michal Neuvirth (31 saves) took the loss in this one but he could pretty much sue for non support after this mess of a game. The Caps fall to 9-4 overall while the Stars are off to a great start at 11-3.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from what was easily Washington’s worst performance of the season:

- If Dr. Seuss were penning this blog this evening, he would only need to post three words: Stink. Stank. Stunk.

- Simply put, the Capitals were downright awful in this game. Their effort was lacking and it showed as they repeatedly were beaten to pucks, lost one on one battles, and were woefully out of position. Matt Hendricks was one of the few positives in this game as he worked hard all night, but when your best player is a guy who only had 12:19 of ice time and is a 4th liner, you know the rest of the guys were terrible.

- The problems for Washington start on the back end. The Caps are having trouble getting the puck out of their end with Mike Green out of the lineup. In addition, Roman Hamrlik has been struggling mightily and he was on for three of the five goals against. #44 looks slow and confused right now. On the game winner that came directly off of a faceoff just 24 seconds into period three, both he and John Carlson were two feet from each other in the corner leaving Nicklas Backstrom all alone in front. Carlson has been a victim of bad positioning too often this season. In addition, Jeff Schultz had a rough first period and his giveaway led to the first Dallas goal. Hamrlik and Schultz are not good skaters, and that is being kind, and teams are taking advantage of that right now. If Green can go this weekend against the Devils, that does change the dynamic since he will log 22 minutes or so, diminishing the amount of time some of the weaker d-men are on the ice.

- John Erskine was solid paired with Dennis Wideman in his third game back from shoulder surgery but he could be fined and/or suspended for an elbow he threw in the middle frame. If that happens and Green is not ready, then Dmitry Orlov could make his NHL debut on Friday night. At this point, I wouldn’t mind seeing the 2009 2nd round draft pick get a look because he can skate and move the puck and that is the area where Washington has struggled mightily since Green was injured.

- Despite all of the problems on the back end, the forwards were horrible too. There weren’t many hits and once again Alexander Semin took two careless stick penalties. The second one gave Dallas a power play and they scored to pretty much end this one at 4-2. #28 did have a nice goal off of a super feed from Backstrom, but overall he is flat out playing lazy. How much longer can the coaches and GM put up with these type of performances from him? In addition, the team captain was a non factor against a team he should dominate. Dallas is not a physical club but Alexander Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer need to have more than three hits each. Clearly, there was a lack of effort displayed in this tilt by Washington and Mike Knuble hinted at that after the second period in his interview with Craig Laughlin on Comcast.

“We came out with a little bit of a lack of intensity in the first period,” said #22, who after the game took those comments even further with some harsh words for his squad, “We look great when we’re all committed. We all look like a bunch of clowns when we don’t. Of late I don’t know if we’re all committed. It’s sad to say and we all look bad because of the result.” (h/t Brian McNally of the Washington Examiner).

- Knuble hit the nail on the head and things need to change because there is too much talent on this team to play this poorly. The Caps played about seven minutes of good, hard hockey late in period two to tie the game up, but you can’t win taking the rest of the contest off. I imagine Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will have a hard practice tomorrow to send a message because his team needs that right now, especially given his post game quotes below:

“We were fortunate to be tied at the end of the first two periods. We talked about playing one good period [third period]. In the first 15 or 20 seconds [in the third period] they scored a goal. We’ve lost a lot of battles in the third periods [in] the last two games. The compete level wasn’t as great as we’d like it to be. We have to get stronger in that area. We have to start winning those battles. The one-on-one compete is something that you should be taking a lot of pride in. When you look at when we were winning, we were winning [those] battles. When you don’t win the one-on-one battles, you’re not going to succeed. It’s an individual type [effort], as far as wanting to win those one-on-one battles. You could see, we lost a battle on the first, second and third goal [tonight]. They outbattled us for pucks.”

Notes: The Caps play a home and home series with the Devils that starts at “The Rock” on Friday night…Keri Lehtonen (30 saves) didn’t have to work to hard for the win for Dallas…surprisingly, the Caps won the faceoff battle 41-26, but winning the draw didn’t translate into good results. On the GWG they won the faceoff but four seconds later the puck was in their own net…Neuvirth wasn’t really bad but he did get too aggressive at times and that cost him on some goals, especially Ryder’s second tally.

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