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Caps Must Make Big Changes Going Forward

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Caps Must Make Big Changes Going Forward

Posted on 13 April 2014 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals closed out their 2013-14 season today with a 1-0 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning in a meaningless game. The Caps finish the season at 38-30-14 (90 points) and have failed to make the post season for the first time since 2006-07.

The failed season is unacceptable on numerous levels. Owner Ted Leonsis blogged over the weekend that the analysis of this club is “fair and deserved” and stated that they will not make any knee jerk reactions and conduct a thorough review before making any decisions.

Last Wednesday I blogged that the Caps need to move on from current GM George McPhee and Coach Adam Oates. I stand by those statements.

Both McPhee and Oates are good men that are very intelligent. There is no denying that. They’ve done many good things for the NHL and the Capitals organization.

My decision is not personal, they are both likeable people. But the bottom line is despite their intelligence they have failed to get the Caps to be in a position to do what they need to do: Compete for and Win a Stanley Cup.

This Capitals team, over the last three plus seasons has gotten further from lifting Lord Stanley. They are not contenders, as currently configured.

The defense is horribly thin with both Karl Alzner and Oates himself questioning the talent level this week. Putting together a quality defense has been McPhee’s achilles heel since he took over the job from David Poile in 1997. He has failed to get to the Eastern Conference Finals with two superstars, Jaromir Jagr and Alexander Ovechkin, primarily because of his inability to put together a strong blue line. Year after year stop gaps like Joel Kwiakowski, Jason Doig, Milan Jurcina, Tyler Sloan, Jack Hillen, etc. have been thrust into prominent roles when they simply weren’t qualified to be playing on a club that has Stanley Cup aspirations. This year’s defense was easily the worst since 2007-08 and the decision to rush a 19 year old Connor Carrick to the NHL was a disaster and hopefully hasn’t wrecked the future of a kid that has promise. Carrick should’ve been playing in Hershey all season but McPhee hamstrung himself with the salary cap by tying up too much of his money in forwards and forced an already weak defense to once again rot.

McPhee’s inability to get a second scoring line has been a problem for years. One of George’s best trades ever was acquiring Sergei Fedorov from Columbus at the 2008 deadline. #91 not only brought talent that allowed Coach Bruce Boudreau to have two legit scoring lines, but Fedorov also brought a wealth of experience and leadership to Washington’s locker room. He took pressure off of Ovechkin and Alexander Semin played his best hockey during that time. But once Fedorov left in 2009, partly to play with his brother but also because the failed Michael Nylander contract ate up the salary cap room that could have been used to entice Fedorov to stay, things began to unravel. Yes, the team had a great 2009-10 regular season but that team’s big holes were at 2nd line center and on defense. The Canadiens knew they only had to shut down one line to win and they did that. From there, things have gotten worse.

The declining talent is troubling and the Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg deal was an indication that this hockey department has lost its way. Whether Forsberg turns into a top six player or not is not what bothers me the most. What is troubling is that McPhee’s staff felt that Erat, who had struggled in 2012-13 and was clearly on the down side of his career, was worth a player that they had just lucked into in the first round at the previous draft. It made me start to wonder about the work ethic of the Caps hockey department when you see a move like that made.

Clearly not enough talent has been brought in to help Ovechkin and a lack of experienced leaders, something I blogged about back in the spring of 2011 that the Caps badly needed to add, has put an incredible amount of pressure and scrutiny on the Gr8. Sure Ovechkin could improve defensively, but he’s been a reason this team is not a bottom five hockey club for the last three years. He is not the problem. The lack of talent in the top six forwards and on defense along with little support in the leadership department has done serious damage to Ovechkin and probably impacted his ability to enjoy hockey. McPhee and the organization have failed Ovechkin, not the other way around.

As for Oates, I give him full credit for reinvigorating the Gr8 over the last 14 months. An MVP season followed by an NHL leading 51 goals for Ovechkin was made possible by things Oates did, including changing the Caps power play and moving Ovechkin to right wing. Clearly Oates was given a not very perfect set of tools to work with, he inherited an unbalanced roster, but overall he did not come close to optimizing what he was given.

Oates may be a “genius” on technical hockey issues, as Alzner called him on Sunday, but coaching is more of an art and not a science. It’s nice to be armed with technical details, but to be a successful coach you have to get people to work together. As The Washington Post’s  Katie Carrera wrote last week, former Caps goaltending coach Dave Prior said he was forced out because Oates felt he knew goaltending better than a man who has successfully coached it for years, including turning Olie Kolzig into one of the NHL’s top goaltenders.  The coaching staff’s decision to try and change Braden Holtby’s game was a disaster and led to an unneeded goaltending carousel that forced Michal Neuvirth out of town.

Being the smartest guy in the room is nice, but when it comes to being a successful leader, it isn’t about being smart. It’s about gathering input from the people around you, harnessing it, and using it to make the total greater than the sum of its parts. Oates failed to do that this season and the 2013-14 Caps were not a “team.”

You simply can’t have three players ask for trades in a season, that just shows organizational chaos and that falls on both the GM and the head coach. It was clear that both Oates and McPhee were not on the same page. Dustin Penner was brought in at the deadline and was misused. Several players were not properly deployed and a team that should be playing hockey on Wednesday finished 5th in its’ new division. The Caps went 12-15-3 against the Metropolitan Division in 2013-14 with many of the losses coming after December 27th. Overall they were 28-33 in games decided before the shootout. That is clearly not Stanley Cup contending calibre.

In the past, while the team has been steadily eroding since the spring of 2009, the organization’s motto has been “we’re close” and when they’ve been bounced out in either the first or second round the excuses have ranged from “facing a hot goaltender” to “injuries.”

There are no excuses this year and this team is not close to being a Stanley Cup contender as configured currently. Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Boston all suffered far worse injury situations and made the postseason. The Penguins survived five of their six defensemen out of the lineup, at one point. Those clubs have built depth and they have tremendous leadership and quality coaching. Washington does not compare in those three categories.

In sports, you are either getting better or you are getting worse. The Caps clearly fit the latter right now.

In summary, it seems apparent that the Caps “thorough review” should lead to the same conclusion I’ve arrived at: both the GM and the coaching staff need to be changed going forward.

The Caps have some key pieces they can build around in Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Tom Wilson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Holtby, but they need someone running the show that really knows the league and can reshape and balance the roster. The new GM can’t overvalue his current players like this regime has done on too many occasions. They need leadership on and off of the ice. Towards that end, Leonsis may want to consider requiring the hockey department to include not only a new GM but a new Director of Player Personnel that has Stanley Cup winning experience. Winning championships is not easy to do, so getting people that have won them before so that they can help teach the others in your organization how to do it seems like a no brainer to me.

They need people that know how to get managers and players to work together. They need a hockey department with a strong work ethic and an attention to detail. They need a coaching staff that gets the club to be a team.

It’s 39 years and counting without a Stanley Cup in Washington. I’ve been watching this club since 1974 and have pretty much seen it all. There’s a time to stand pat and let things run it’s course and there is a time for change. This club is not on the right path with the current management and coaching.

Time for a big change, because clearly the “status quo” method is not working.

 

 

 

 

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Caps Trade Fehr to Winnipeg to Clear Cap Room

Posted on 08 July 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Fresh off this week’s signing of recently acquired winger Troy Brouwer to a two year, $2.35 per season deal, Washington Capitals General Manager George McPhee has traded right wing Eric Fehr to the Winnipeg Jets for a 2012 4th round draft pick and minor league forward Danick Paquette (played in ECHL in 2010-11). Fehr, who is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery and has battled injuries throughout much of his career since being drafted in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft (18th overall), was slated to make $2.2M in 2011-12. Given the minimal return in the trade, it is clear that this deal was largely about clearing room to get Washington under the salary cap.

The 2011-12 NHL salary cap is set at $64.3M per team. Using the individual player information from capgeek.com the Capitals now have 22 players on contract for a total of $63,905,128. This includes the $233,333 that is on the books for this season for the Tyler Sloan buyout (the same number will be applied to the Washington salary cap total in 2012-13). However, that does not include restricted free agent defensemen Karl Alzner, who is still yet to re-sign with the Caps. If you assume that defenesemen Tom Poti and his $2.875M salary will not count due to either his retirement or being placed on long term injured reserve (LTIR), then that puts Washington at $61,030,128, which would be $3,269,872 below the salary cap with King Karl still to sign. Given that I expect #27 to garner at least $3M per season, this will have the Caps right up against or slightly over the salary cap once his contract situation gets finalized. Teams are allowed to carry 10% over the salary cap limit until the first game of the regular season giving McPhee time to make other moves, if necessary. Note, however, that the capgeek numbers are not official and McPhee and assistant GM Don Fishman are the ones that possess the exact salary cap figures for each player.

Notes: The Capitals will host Caps Development Camp next week at Kettler IcePlex starting Monday, July 11th and ending with Fan Fest and a scrimmage on Saturday, July 16th. All on ice activities are open to the public and the full schedule and roster can be found here at washingtoncaps.com. Confirmed attendees are top prospects forward Cody Eakin (2009 3rd round pick) and defensemen Dmitri Orlov (2009 2nd round pick). 2010 first round selection Evgeny Kuznetsov, who attended last summer and was arguably the best player on the ice, will not be present next week…Below is the full press release from the Caps on the Fehr trade:

The Washington Capitals acquired a fourth-round draft pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft and right wing Danick Paquette from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for right wing Eric Fehr, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Paquette, 20, recorded 20 points (13 goals, seven assists) and 179 penalty minutes in 59 games with the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL last season. The 6’1”, 210-pound forward helped the Lewiston MAINEiacs win the QMJHL championship in 2007 and collected 175 points (94 goals, 81 assists) and 691 penalty minutes in 251 career QMJHL games with Lewiston and Quebec. He was originally drafted by the Atlanta/Winnipeg franchise in the third round (64th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

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Caps Fans Will Like Troy Brouwer / Other Caps News

Posted on 27 June 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals Media Relations staff arranged a conference call this afternoon with the Caps latest trade acquisition, former Blackhawks forward Troy Brouwer, and based on the way he handled himself during the question and answer session, the physical winger will be extremely liked by his teammates and the local fans. Brouwer talked about his style of play, the things he learned from former teammates to include Cup winning veterans Andrew Ladd and John Madden, and how he thinks he’ll fit in with the Capitals. He was very straightforward and honest and seems like a natural leader. Here is one of the more interesting quotes from the conference call when I asked Brouwer about playing on the top line in Chicago and how it might translate to Washington:

“In Chicago we had quite a few players that would move around the line-up a little bit. I think I was one of the guys who changed lines a little bit more than most people just because the coach used me as a pretty versatile player where I could play on the penalty kill, I could play in the shutdown role, but I could also be put on that first line to finish my checks and create room for [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews. If I was to play on the top line in Washington, I don’t think I would change much, Kane and Toews are both guys that demand the puck all the time and they want the puck on their stick. I’m assuming [Alex] Ovechkin and [Nicklas] Backstrom are the exact same type of players who want the puck and make things happen. And with the world class skill that those two players have you are going to give them the puck and they are going to be able to get it back to you. So playing in Washington, if I am able to play on those top two lines, I am going to play exactly the same as what got me to the NHL and what made me successful in the NHL so far, which is trying to help out my linemates, make sure that they are controlling the play. I’ll stand in front of the net, I’ll take my shots when I need to, but those are two players that are going to want the puck and to be successful they need to have the puck and I’m just going to go get the puck and work hard to try and make sure that they have space.”

The full audio of the session is up on the Caps website.

*********************

In other Caps news, the team issued qualifying offers today to restricted free agents Karl Alzner, Semyon Varlamov, Brouwer, Mathieu Perreault, and Francois Bouchard. By doing this the Capitals retain the right to match any contract offer made to those players by any other NHL team. Brouwer, as noted by Mike Vogel in his blog on the offers over at WashingtonCaps.com, is the only one with arbitration rights.

Varlamov is the most interesting case and twitter was a buzz last night and this morning after a tweet from Dmitri Chesnokov of Puck Daddy that Varly was not likely to be back with the Capitals. Chesnokov said the situation would be resolved by July 1st. The Russian Kontinental Hockey League is clearly on the table for a player that GM George McPhee selected in the first round of the 2006 NHL draft. Last week, however, the Russian goalie told The Washington Post that he wants to play in the NHL. All of this info has led many to speculate that Varlamov could be dealt to another team. If Varlamov bolts to Russia for the KHL, for a reported $4M a season, then Washington retains his rights.

Personally, I believe that Varly is the best goalie of the three young Washington net minders. His performance in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs was outstanding and he kept the Caps in the series with a superior Pittsburgh Penguins team until he ran out of gas in game seven. The biggest downside to Varlamov has been his injury issues but recently hired associate goalie coach, Olie Kolzig, believes that the physical issue is all that is holding him back.

The question is how much money will it take to keep Varlamov? I threw out a $3M figure on twitter today and Chesnokov replied that the young Russian goalie wasn’t even asking for that much. Michal Neuvirth, who started all nine Capitals playoffs games in 2011, signed a two year deal for $1.1M per season last fall before he went on to have a great 2010-11 campaign. Washington also has 2008 4th round draft choice Braden Holtby in the system (10-2-2 with Caps this past season) so McPhee has other options should he choose to let Varlamov go to the KHL or trade him to another NHL team.

I’d like to see Varlamov, a guy I believe can be a franchise type of goalie, stay in Washington, but you can bet if the two sides can’t agree that GMGM will get good value for the young Russian goalie with huge upside.

Finally, Caps owner Ted Leonsis blogged today that changes are inevitable in hockey and for Capitals fans to expect guys to leave in free agency, others to possibly be signed to come to DC via that route, or others to be added and subtracted via trades. McPhee also stated over the weekend that he is seeking more players with Cup winning experience, something I did a significant blog on back in May. So if you put all of the rhetoric from the owner and GM together, Capitals fans should really pay attention these next few weeks as the organization tries to re-shape its’ club in an attempt to get over the dreaded playoff hump they have run up against the last four years.

Note: The Caps waived defenseman Tyler Sloan, who was set to make $700K in 2010-11. No word yet on if there will be a buyout of his salary or not.

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Ovechkin’s OT Goal Propels Caps into 1st in Eastern Conference

Posted on 03 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

In what was not the most aesthetically pleasing game, the Washington Capitals found a way to get two points over the desperate Buffalo Sabres and move into first place in the Eastern Conference. Alexander Ovechkin scored his 30th goal of the season while trying to pass the puck to John Carlson at the right post to lead the Caps to a 5-4 overtime victory at the Verizon Center. Ovechkin (1 goal, 2 assists) now has 81 points in 76 games and appears to be peaking for the post season. Jason Arnott scored his 400th NHL goal with just 51 seconds remaining in regulation off of a rebound of a point blast by the Great #8. The victory improves the Caps to 46-22-11 (103 points) and Washington just needs two points, via points gained or lost by Tampa Bay, to clinch their fourth straight Southeast Division title. As for the Eastern Conference race, they have a one point lead on the Philadelphia Flyers, who have a game in hand.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a win in front of the 100th straight sellout at the Verizon Center:

- Ovechkin was clearly the player of the game and Arnott was a close second for Washington. In addition, Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and was +2 on the night. The Capitals scored all five goals by going to the net and getting rebounds or creating traffic. This fact is very promising for the post season for a team that was criticized for being too “perimeter like” in the playoffs against Montreal in 2010.

- Michal Neuvirth got the win for the Caps but he would likely prefer to have back the first two goals after Washington raced to a 2-0 lead just under five minutes into this tilt. #30 gave up long range tallies and the first one was deflected in by Tomas Vanek while the second goal should have been stopped. But Neuvy came back strong and defensive lapses cost him on goals three and four. In fact, on the fourth Sabres tally, which came on the power play, Carlson got too aggressive while shorthanded late in the game and tried to generate a quality scoring chance when he should have been more responsible. We’ll call it a rookie mistake but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was not happy about it. In fact, the Washington bench boss was not thrilled with the play of his club throughout the entire contest.

“I’m concerned with the process of how we played {than the win}. I thought it was way too close to looking like last year,” said Boudreau.

 

Yes, it was not a gem of a defensive effort, but to be fair the Caps were playing without Dennis Wideman, Mike Green, Tom Poti, and John Erskine on the back end. In addition, Tyler Sloan got his “bell rung” in period two and left the game leaving Boudreau with Karl Alzner, Scott Hannan, Jeff Schultz, Carlson, and Sean Collins (recalled from Hershey) on defense for the last 20+ minutes. Collins had a solid game in his first NHL action since 2009 and Alzner led the club in ice time at 26:37.

 

- The injuries played a role and the fact that the Sabres are desperate to make the post season was a big factor in this contest. But Washington found a way to come out on top and you have to credit the top players like numbers 8, 19, and 44 for getting the win for Washington and moving them into the top position in the East, something that seemed unobtainable during that eight game losing streak back in December.

 

“Games like this happen. The best defensive teams in the league, every now and then, will have a game where they stop doing it right. Three of the goals we put in our own net. {But} I thought we did a real good job of coming back,” finished Boudreau.

 

- In summary, this was not a great game for the Caps but they took care of business. Washington did a solid job of going to the net and as a result they scored five goals from in front of the cage. Neuvirth (34 saves) deserves credit for maintaining his focus despite giving up some ugly tallies early. In addition, even though Carlson made a very bad decision late in regulation, he didn’t let it adversely affect him and he was a factor on the game winning goal by the Great #8.

 

Notes: Ryan Miller is injured for the Sabres and Jhonas Enroth (30 saves) received the start. The goals he allowed were all from in front of the net or on deflections so it is hard to fault him in the loss…the faceoff battle was tied at 38 all with Brooks Laich (1 assist) going 8-3… Washington went 2-2 on the power play while the Caps allowed one goal on two man advantage situations for Buffalo…the Hershey Bears rallied from a 4-1 deficit to win, 5-4, in Norfolk to come within one point of clinching second place in their division. Braden Holtby got the victory stopping 27 shots…next up for the Caps are the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Center on Tuesday night at 7 pm…NHL referee Bill McCreary officiated his last game tonight. He ranks second all-time in NHL regular season games worked (1,737) behind Kerry Fraser.

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Caps Win 9th Straight, Beat Montreal, 4-2

Posted on 15 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Aint no Stopping us Now

We’re on the Move

Aint no Stopping us Now

We’ve got the Groove

On a night when logic dictated that the Washington Capitals eight game winning streak just might come to an end in Montreal given that second line center Jason Arnott was going to be joining Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green on the injured list, the Caps kept their groove going with a solid and impressive 4-2 victory over the Canadiens. Marcus Johansson continued his stellar play and tallied twice, including the eventual game winner, while Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble also scored for Washington to gain a victory in the very tough Bell Centre. Braden Holtby, who was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday, overcame a terrible early giveaway that led to the Habs first goal to stop 24 of the next 25 shots against him for his fifth straight win and the 21 year old rookie is 9-2-2 this season. The Caps ninth straight win runs their record to 41-20-10 (92 points) and puts their lead in the Southeast Division back at five points over the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have a game in hand.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a super Capitals performance in the first outing of a very difficult six game road trip:

- I’ve been talking about MJ90 taking his game to a higher level since the victory in Florida a week ago Sunday. Johansson, who has been steadily improving all season, performed at an elite level for the sixth straight game in my book. The 20 year old Swede looks like a 10 year vet on the ice right now and this club really needs it with both Backstrom (day to day) and now Arnott (week to week) out at center. Normally a young kid would likely succumb to the pressure of having to help carry this team but that has not been the case with Marcus. Instead of looking worn out in his first season in North America, he is actually getting stronger and he is not being knocked off the puck below the circles like he was earlier in the season. Johansson’s first goal was on a gift bounce off of the boards into an empty net but his second came from being in the proper position on the ice. MJ90 came down the slot late because he was being defensively responsible and took an Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist in 21:44 of ice time) pass on his backhand and put it by Carey Price (37 saves) 6:43 into the final frame. On the night the 20 year old rookie played 17:03 and took four shots on net.

- Price was great for Montreal and if not for him this game would have been over in the second period. The Caps dominated the play and had 35 shots on goal through two periods, many of which were in close and of the quality variety. Unlike last season’s playoffs, when Washington became more frustrated as the series went on, the Capitals would not be denied on this evening and they continued to crash the net. The Habs net minder could not be faulted on any of the tallies against him and he also appeared to get a gift when an apparent goal by Matt Hendricks in period one was wiped out due to what must have been an early whistle.

- On the Caps side of the house, the dynamic duo of blue liners, John Carlson and Karl Alzner, were phenomenal. Both guys were +2 on the night and Alzner’s perfect pass to Laich in the neutral zone set up #21′s goal in which he went around big Hal Gill like he was an orange road cone. #27 and #74 were flat out dominant in this contest and they logged 18:53 and 20:04, respectively. Alzner’s ability to hit players in stride with the puck as they go up the ice is often overlooked. He is a terrific puck moving defenseman who is almost always in the right place.

- Laich started this contest between Ovechkin and Alexander Semin but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau switched it up when Eric Fehr went down due to an upper body injury (h/t @kcarrera of The Washington Post). #16 played only 5:16 of ice time and after that Johansson centered Ovechkin and Knuble while Laich played with Marco Sturm and Semin. It wasn’t one of Semin’s best games of the season, in fact, Sasha was lazy in his back pressure on the second Montreal goal by Andrei Kostitsyn. In addition, the Caps failed to get off a shot on net when he and the Great #8 had a 2 on 1 chance in period two. Semin was simply “too cute” for the first 40 minutes but in the final stanza he simplified his game and was very solid defensively once the Caps got a one goal lead. As for Sturm, he struggled for most of the game taking two minor penalties, but he delivered when he came out of the box with four mintues left and saucered a perfect pass to Knuble for the fourth goal and the nail in the coffin on Price and the Habs.

- On special teams, the Capitals penalty kill was a perfect three for three while the power play went 2 for 5. So that thing is fixed, right? Not so fast, the two PPGs were the MJ90 open net fluke bounce and the second was when Sturm came out of the box for a two on one with the Habs pressing late. In fact, without Arnott, the power play struggled and Washington wasted an 85 second five on three advantage late in the opening frame (7 seconds of it carried into period two). Too much passing and not enough shots was the story on that sequence (I know, you’ve heard that before).

- Overall, this was a superb way to come out and set the tone on a long road trip without some big guns in the lineup. With a flight to Detroit on Tuesday night and a lengthy stop likely clearing customs, the Capitals just might not have much left in the tank for the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night at “The Joe” at 7:30pm. So getting this win was so key for this club and right now the song must continue for another day, since the winning streak could come to a halt in Motown.

Aint No Stopping Us Now

We’re on the Move

Aint no Stopping us Now

We’ve got the Groove

Notes: Both Jeff Halpern (5:56 of ice time) and Tomas Plekenac (logged 11:03) left the game for Montreal early due to injuries…Tyler Sloan played on defense tonight with John Erskine out due to a cold (again h/t @kcarrera). #89 had two giveaways and took a penalty in 14:57 of ice time…the Caps won the face-off battle, 30-27, thanks to Boyd Gordon winning 12 of 16 draws (Dave Steckel who?)…with Arnott out, Jay Beagle returned after missing several games due to injury and he played 9:27 and had 3 hits (tied for second on the team to Ovechkin’s 4)…Matt Bradley fought Paul Mara just 1:48 into the contest…I expect Michal Neuvirth to get the start in goal for Washington on Wednesday in Detroit and he will have a tough task against Pavel Datsyuk and company.

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Caps Reclaim 1st In Southeast Division

Posted on 06 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Semin’s line didn’t have a single shot on goal the entire game in regulation,  but all it took was one in overtime. Semin worked a nice give and go with Marcus Johansson early in the overtime period and #28′s laser through the five hole on Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen gave the Washington Capitals a 3-2 victory just 48 seconds into the extra frame. Goalie Michal Neuvirth (32 saves) was outstanding, including making a huge glove save on Marty Reasoner in the dying seconds, and he has put the Caps back into first place in the Southeast Division for the first time since January. Washington is now 36-20-10 (82 points) heading into Monday night’s 7:00pm 1st place battle with the Tampa Bay Lightning (81 points) on VERSUS.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from another one goal victory by Washington (Caps are now 19-7-10 in 1 goal games):

- Semin was once again playing with Jason Arnott and Brooks Laich and the chemistry those guys had in the first two games together just wasn’t there on this night. Perhaps it was simply the matchups, but a unit that created numerous quality scoring chances and had the game winner on Thursday night against the Blues just could not get untracked against a young, scrappy Florida club. But Semin delivered when he had to and his goal came with MJ90 and not any of his regular mates. That’s two game winning goals plus an assist on Arnott’s GWG on Thursday in the last four games for Semin, not too shabby!

- Neuvirth continues to make the case that he should be the Capitals #1 goalie come playoff time and his season record is now 22-10-4. He didn’t have a chance on either goal against since one was on a two on one break and the second was on a Panthers 5 on 3 power play from right in front. He continues to get better with his positioning and his rebound control.

- Johansson was my “Hard Hat” player of the night. The young Swede was all over the ice using his speed and he hustles. He is still learning where and when to pass and how to position himself, but he had it down pat on the game winner getting the puck in a perfect place for Semin to slam the biscuit home for Washington. MJ90 blocked a shot while shorthanded in period one by sprawling out on the ice and he had to go to the locker room favoring his right leg. It looked like a potential break or fracture but the smallish kid showed he is a battler and came back to play a strong final 40+ minutes. Without him the Caps don’t win. Way to go Rook!

- Boyd Gordon also had a superb outing and he was chosen as the official Capitals “Hard Hat” player of the game (h/t Mike Vogel, aka @VogsCaps). He threw his body around to block shots while the team was shorthanded and his work on the second Caps goal, which he scored, was yeoman-like. Gordon was only 8-9 on draws though.

- It looks like Nicklas Backstrom’s injured thumb is feeling a lot better because his tally, Washington’s first goal, was a super shot top shelf off of an even better feed from Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist) after the Great #8 outworked the Florida D behind the Caps net. It was Backstrom’s 17th marker of the season to tie the game up at one just over two minutes after the Panthers drew first blood. Given that he was 11-6 on face-offs, you can probably bank on the fact that he has put the dirty Kris Letang slash behind him physically.

 - The Caps didn’t play a very good first period, getting out shot 16-6, but they came on strong in period two and grabbed a one goal lead. In the third period they implemented the defensive system they have been working so hard on and it nearly worked. The Panthers didn’t have a quality scoring chance until they received a five on three power play late in the contest. Boudreau, for the most part, rolled his lines but the Gordon-Matt Hendricks-Matt Bradley unit seemed to get more ice than usual in that frame since they are really good at getting the puck to center and then throwing it deep in the opponent’s zone. It is a playoff type strategy that has been working well for Washington.

“Until we got two minors, I don’t think they’d had too many chances in the third period and we were understanding what we had to do and I thought we played a pretty solid period. We weren’t really trying to score,” commented Boudreau following the victory.

Overall, I like the defensive posture rather than playing barnyard hockey, like this team did a lot of last year, but there is one problem in letting off the gas totally on offense: you sometimes put the fate of the game into the hands of the referees, and that is not a good thing.

- As for the two clowns in striped shirts tonight, Ian Walsh and T0m Kowal, they were horrible and they played a part in both Florida tallies. On the first Panthers goal, Dennis Wideman has his shot blocked at the right point by Mike Santorelli. It was a clean block but #13 followed through and took Wideman out and instead of what should have been an automatic interference call, Michal Repik and Bill Thomas get a two on one break on John Erskine, which they bury. Erskine and the Caps would be victimized again by bad officiating as #4 was called for tripping when he went to the ice to block the passing lane and slid into the rear boards with just under four minutes remaining. Erskine never touches Keaton Ellerby, who jumps in the air and avoids the Caps defenseman but falls to the ice. The zebras incorrectly rule tripping and Florida gets a cheap power play. Then Wideman gets correctly called for slashing setting up the two man advantage that the Cats use to tie the game up at 17:24 and send the tilt to OT. What is more amazing is that Florida had six power plays to just one for Washington on Sunday after the Caps only had one power play against St. Louis on Thursday night. The imbalance is maddening and the Capitals bench boss was not thrilled about it afterwards.

“I’m glad we just answered, seven penalties to one, quite a discrepancy,” started Boudreau in his post game presser talking about winning the game despite the penalty imbalance, “Everybody complains about our power play and rightfully so, it’s not doing that well, but it’s really hard to get a consistency or momentum on it when you are getting one power play a game. I know we deserved some of those penalties but they deserve some that they didn’t get either and I don’t understand the discrepancies, it happens way too often,” finished the Caps coach on the disturbing trend.

I said this after Thursday’s contest and I’ll say it again, you want to really tell me that the Panthers only committed one stinking penalty all night??!! No way, and it is frustrating, especially when you see Ovechkin get dumped right off of the face-off down the stretch directly in front of the referee. The officiating continues to make no sense, and anyone who watched the Flyers-Rangers first period on Sunday knows what I am talking about. I have no idea why Brian Boyle was given an instigator in his fight with Jody Shelley today but I guess that is what you have to expect with the NHL zebras these days??!!

Notes:  The Caps lost the faceoff battle, 33-32…John Carlson (23:49) and Karl Alzner (23:03) led the Caps in ice time. Wideman (22:37) and Scott Hannan (21:54) were the next pair with the most playing time…Boudreau only played Ovechkin 16:53 and Backstrom 17:51 so it looks like he was saving his big guns for the big matchup with the Bolts on Monday. The lack of power play time diminshed their totals as well (thanks blind zebras!)…The Great #8 had four points in the last meeting between the two Southeast Division leading clubs in Tampa in early February…Tyler Sloan played 12:42 in place of a scratched Jeff Schultz. No word on if #55 is nicked up or if Boudreau didn’t like the matchup for Sarge against a faster Florida team in the first half of back to back tilts…the Caps only had 25 shots on net…special thanks to Comcast for running Boudreau’s post game presser which allowed me to re-publish his quotes.

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Caps Neuvirth Blanks Pens Again

Posted on 22 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Get Big Road Win in Buffalo

Posted on 20 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Semin’s Hat Trick Leads Caps in 7-6 Wild Win

Posted on 17 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

If this was the first Capitals game of the season you chose to not watch, shame on you because you missed a dandy. Alexander Semin, who hadn’t scored a goal since November 28th, netted his fourth hat trick of the season, the last with just 1:47 left in regulation as the Caps rallied from 4-2, 5-4, and 6-5 deficits to win 7-6 in Anaheim. It was an entertaining game with some amazing goals, including a beauty from Alexander Ovechkin in the first period, but it also had bad goaltending and shoddy defensive zone coverage. At the end of the night, it doesn’t matter for Coach Bruce Boudreau’s club as they got a much needed two points to move to 30-18-10 (70 points). They trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by four points in the Southeast Division race and more importantly, they are now 10 points above a playoff spot with just 24 games to go in the regular season.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game that pretty much had it all:

- Mentally tough is something this Caps team has not been called much in the past. Tonight they absolutely were, especially after giving up a shorthanded goal to give the Ducks a 4-2 lead and more importantly, in the third period when Anaheim scored on a play that just might have been offsides. In the first instance, Boudreau called his timeout and told his club that there were still 30+ minutes to go. They quickly tied the game up after that smart decision by the Caps bench boss. Then when Bobby Ryan scored with just over 14 minutes to go on the controversial rush that looked to be initiated via an offsides pass, the Caps righted the ship and the Semin show took over down the stretch.

- Before getting too excited about this win, the Caps need to realize that they scored all of these goals against Curtis McElhinney (24 saves), who is at best a backup in the NHL. The Ducks net minder was terrible in this outing and he continually bobbled the puck into the slot for rebound chances. Every Caps goal came in close so it is very encouraging that Washington was going to the high priced areas on the ice. At the other end, Semyon Varlamov got the start and was yanked after giving up three goals on nine shots after 20 minutes. #1 was left out to dry by his team, particularly his forwards who didn’t cover their men (Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault were the first period culprits). Michal Neuvirth (only 9 saves but got the win) didn’t get a lot of help either. Ovechkin was terrible on the Corey Perry shorthanded goal and he didn’t do a good job of stopping Lubomir Visnovsky from firing at the point on the fifth Ducks marker, which was deflected past Neuvirth by Nicklas Backstrom. But the offense woke up on a night when the team needed them most.

- Once again the best d-pair on the ice for the Caps was the John Carlson (+4) and Karl Alzner (+3, 3 assists) duo and they had to be with Mike Green out of the lineup for the third time in four games (inner ear issue). For Anaheim, rookie blue liner Cam Fowler, who played on the Memorial Cup winning Windsor SpitFires the last two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, was a -5 and he was unable to handle the stronger Capitals forwards.

- In summary, this game was not a thing of beauty at all, but who cares?? The Caps finally scored some goals and perhaps those sticks won’t be so tight from here on out? In addition, a mentally fragile club would have packed it in on Wednesday night when some of the bounces and bad breaks were going against them, but the Capitals did not do that and for that they deserved this victory.

Notes: Perreault was -2 and he is having problems in his own zone…Backstrom had two assists but he still can’t hit the ocean from the beach and his late icing with the net empty was a head scratcher…Brooks Laich got a much needed goal and he, Semin, and Johansson had a strong final 40 minutes…John Erskine fought Andy Sutton after #25 cheap shotted Matt Hendricks behind the Capitals net late in period two…Tyler Sloan struggled and his bad penalty led to the Ducks first goal…Washington’s power play is still terrible. They were 0 for 2 and gave up a shorty. It reverted on this night after a decent showing in Phoenix…Ryan Getzlaf had four points for Anaheim, man is that top line good!…the Caps will be in San Jose on Thursday at 1030pm and given that it is games on back to back nights, we just might see blue liner Patrick McNeill get in the lineup after his recall from Hershey on Tuesday.

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Caps Shutout in 4th Straight Loss

Posted on 10 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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