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Pavelec’s 45 Saves Stops Caps, 3-1

Posted on 05 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

For the second straight game the Washington Capitals were stoned by a hot goaltender as Ondrej Pavelec made 45 saves to lead his Atlanta Thrashers to a 3-1 victory over the Caps at the Verizon Center. It was the first time in over two years that Atlanta won in DC (Caps had won 9 straight) and the Thrashers are now 3-1-1 against Washington this season with one tilt left to be played at Phillips Arena. Alexander Ovechkin scored the only Capitals goal ending a nine game drought to make it, 2-1, late in the 2nd period but Pavelec and his golden horseshoe wouldn’t allow anything further. This loss drops Washington to 18-8-2 overall and their Southeast Division lead has been trimmed to five points over the Tampa Bay Lightning and seven points above Atlanta. Both teams have a game in hand on the Caps.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game that was EERILY similar to game 6 of last season’s playoff series versus Montreal:

- Pavelec was easily the star of the game. He made the first save all night, including at least three great glove saves on Mike Green, but as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau stated afterwards, his club did not force him to thwart many second chance opportunities. This is exactly what happened in last year’s playoffs when the Caps could not or did not want to pay the price to get to the cage and score the ugly goal. Perimeter hockey doesn’t win games and the Capitals could be accused of playing that way on Saturday night.

“It looked like we didn’t get very many second shots. You can have 100 perimeter shots and it looks good on the stat board but if you are not taking cross checking penalties in the back or tripping penalties then it means you are not fighting through to get to the front of the net…[Pavelec] made some good saves, I am not denying that, he obviously feels very comfortable playing us, he shut us out the last game, but I don’t think it was one of those games where he had to make a tremendous amount of second saves on the same play and that is what scores goals. If you look at the way they were playing, they might not have had the quality chances but when they did they had three guys going to the net and it was bang, bang, bang…when you look at our team we haven’t scored a lot of goals lately and it is a lack of commitment on paying the price to score. We are all wanting to score but are all staying on the perimeter wanting to get the puck rather than being the guy that is going to the puck. The guys that did that had chances but they are not natural goal scorers. [Matt] Hendricks went to the net, there was a loose puck there and it bounced over his stick , Eric Fehr, who is holding the stick too tight, went to the net and it flipped up on him. The guys who are looking to score are not getting their nose dirty enough to score the goals,” said a disappointed and very forthcoming Capitals head coach.

- Special teams were a disaster for the Caps. Washington was awarded five power plays and they failed to score on all of them, primarily because of a lack of net presence. It could have been 10 PP’s if the blind referees had called things correctly though. Jason Chimera was high sticked twice in the first period, including getting cut on the second one, but neither was called by tweedle dee and tweedle dum with the whistles (Bill McCreary and Stephane Auger). In addition, on a man advantage in the second period Green goes to the slot and Rich Peverly does his best Oregon lumberjack chop on #52′s twig from behind but it is not called, despite the fact that Green’s stick broke in half. That would have given Washington a 5 on 3 and could have changed the game. Again, too much influence from the zebras.

“I think it was a combination of everything. We didn’t work hard enough out there. In this kind of game, we have to score on the power play. We have to look at some tape and see what we did wrong,” said Nicklas Backstrom on the problems the Caps had in solving Pavelec. 

 

“I think tonight [not paying the price in front of the net] happened on the power play. If you look at the power play you have everyone all in a circle waiting to take one-timers, then there was no second shot capability. Usually when we’ve got the puck to the point we have a guy going to the net and we have options but tonight on the point or the half wall everyone was just standing around hoping something was going to happen,” added Boudreau on the poor performance from his team when they had the man advantage.

 

- Things got even worse in the 3rd period with the referees and special teams. Dave Steckel caught Tobias Enstrom with an unintentional knee on knee hit. The referees did not have their arm up at all initially, but then Jim Slater jumped Steckel and the two tussled. The resulting call: Steckel two for kneeing and both Slater and Steckel earn five for fighting. That is ludicrous as Slater should have received an instigator or at least a minor penalty for going after #39. Ovechkin did WAY less on Adam Burish on Thursday in Dallas yet received two minutes for roughing. The LACK OF CONSISTENCY from the NHL’s officiating crew is simply maddening. So the Thrashers received a crucial power play when the Caps were previously all over Atlanta and it took only eight seconds for them to cash in. After Atlanta won the faceoff, Jeff Schultz failed to cut off a pass from Peverly and Andrew Ladd had an easy tap in goal at the far post. #55 needs to do a much better job on the PK and if he can’t, then he needs to sit for Karl Alzner and Scott Hannan.

“Obviously [the referees made a difference], but if I start talking about that again then I am just whining and I don’t want to use [the officiating] as an excuse,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner on the guys in the striped shirts and the impact they had on this contest.

- Semyon Varlamov stopped 30 shots, including some quality chances, but the tally he allowed to Alexander Burmistov was one he would like to have back. Burmistov got behind Hannan and Tyler Sloan and came in from a bad angle with Varly hugging the post to his right. For some reason, #1 went down, seemingly trying to poke check #8, and Burmistov went upstairs short side. That goal made it 2-0 for the Thrashers and really hurt the Caps chances to win this tilt. On the other two Atlanta tallies, Varlamov had no chance. The Ladd PPG was on bad zebras and Schultz, while the first Atlanta marker came after a Washington faceoff loss. Dustin Byfuglien fired a shot that was going wide right but Peverly deflected it by the goalie who had won his previous four contests. Green was the closest to Peverly and he could have done a better job of not giving #47 room but this deflection goal was primarily the result of the Backstrom face-off loss.

- Speaking of face-offs, the Caps lost this battle, 25-23, for the first time in 15 games. Backstrom was the main reason for that going 5-12 on the evening. He took over a third of the draws because the Capitals were trailing and Boudreau kept trying to get the Caps back in it by playing his big guns (Ovechkin had over 25 minutes of ice time, while Backstrom played 22+).

Notes: Tom Poti (groin) and John Erskine (leg) missed the game due to injuries…down on the farm, Braden Holtby made 26 save as the Hershey Bears defeated the Binghamton Senators, 4-0, at the Giant Center…next up for the Caps are the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. It will be the 2nd tilt of a four game home stand.

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Caps Blanked By Devils, 5-0

Posted on 22 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, the top team in the Eastern Conference when the day started, headed to New Jersey on Monday night to play the team tied for last place in the East with the New York Islanders. In addition, the Devils had lost three straight contests, were going to be without their future Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur (elbow injury), had only won one of their eight home contests this season, and to top it all off there have been recent rumors that their head coach, John MacLean, was in danger of losing his job. With that kind of scenario either two things were going to happen at The Rock, the Caps were going to win easy or they were going to get the Devils best game and lose. The latter is what occurred as the Devils came out strong while Washington slept through the first period. New Jersey jumped to a 3-0 lead in that opening frame and increased it to five midway through the second stanza en route to a 5-0 blanking of the Caps. Washington drops to 14-6-2 and is now tied for first in the East with the Philadelphia Flyers, who defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 3-2 on Monday. In addition, their Southeast Division lead has dwindled to just four points over Tampa, who defeated the Boston Bruins, 3-1, this evening. The Bolts also have a game in hand.

Below are the details, lowlights, and analysis of the second straight road blanking for the Caps:

- The plan prior to the morning skate was to start Michal Neuvirth in goal but that is when this whole day started going bad for Washington. Neuvirth, according to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, tweaked something in his lower body and as a result Semyon Varlamov was recalled from Hershey. Varly, who had been down with the Bears on a rehab assignment for his bad groin, made it in time to the game to back up Braden Holtby, but his skates were late. Thus Neuvirth sat on the bench until Varly’s equipment arrived (in time for the start of period two). The head coach did say afterwards that the only way Varlamov was going to play was if Holtby was injured because it would have been too risky to throw in #1 without a warmup.

- Holtby, who was coming off of his worst game of the season in Atlanta last Friday night (gave up three goals in less than 10 minutes and was yanked), really needed his team to come out strong and get him a lead so that he could try and regain his confidence. That didn’t come close to happening and when Brooks Laich took a lazy stick infraction in the defensive zone the Devils received a power play just 4:36 into the contest. 73 seconds into the man advantage Patrick Elias scored off his body from the slot after Mike Green deflected a Mattias Tedenby centering pass to make it 1-0. Then #70 made his biggest mistake after a John Erskine giveaway at the blue line. Jason Arnott jumped on the turnover by #4 and raced down the right wing. Holtby, who is an aggressive goalie, came out to challenge and went a bit too far and when Tyler Sloan stupidly chased the Devil behind the net, #25 had an easy wrap around goal. Erskine and Sloan were then vicitimized again yielding a breakaway to Tedenby and when #4 hauled him down from behind, #21 received a penalty shot. Tedenby would beat Holtby with a nice backhand move to make it 3-0 at the 18:14 mark.

- The Saskatchewan native would also yield a couple of rebound goals in period two but he did make some good saves, many of which came because his teammates were downright awful and allowed what seemed to be a continuous flow of odd man rushes. Holtby played poorly tonight but he is a 21 year old kid and will have those moments. What was pathetic was the effort in front of him and team captain Alexander Ovechkin should apologize for himself and his entire team for hanging Holtby out to dry in New Jersey. #70 deserved better and his next game likely will come in the AHL, partly because his team didn’t show up on Monday.

- Speaking of Ovechkin, the Great #8 continues to be in a funk, especially on the road. Last season the Caps lost only 10 contests away from the Verizon Center in regulation and this year they have been defeated five times before overtime in the first 10 road games. Simply put, this squad has not been ready to play and Boudreau can preach and yell all he wants but if the team captain consistently mails it in, then the rest of the crew is going to start doing so as well and that is when you get back to back road defeats by 4-0 and 5-0 tallies.

- Many skaters were bad on Monday but the pair that stood out most was the Sloan/Erskine combo. They were directly involved in goals two and three. #89 only played 3:25 and didn’t come out for the last two periods. In addition, Green left the bench midway through the third period after playing 20:59 (he usually logs 25+ minutes). Afterwards Boudreau said both had suffered injuries and he would know more in the morning. Tom Poti is already out of the lineup due to a creaky groin but he did skate with the other scratches on Monday and possibly could play Wednesday in Carolina.

- John Carlson, who hails from Jersey and had numerous family and friends in attendance, was the best Capital on the ice but that wasn’t saying much. #74 played over 27 minutes and was even for the night.

Notes: Washington ended up outshooting the Devils 30-23 but 26 of those shots came in periods two and three, when this one was pretty much over…the face-off battle was tied at 23 apiece…the Caps were 0 for 3 on the power play while the Devils went 1 for 2…the Caps will get a much needed practice on Tuesday in Raleigh before taking on the Canes on Wednesday at 7pm.

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Caps Progressing At Season’s Quarter Pole

Posted on 21 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After Saturday night’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, the Washington Capitals have hit the season’s quarter pole with a 14-5-2 record, good for 30 points, which is tops in the Eastern Conference. Ironically, after 21 games in 2009-10 the Caps also had 30 points (13-4-4) and we all know how the rest of the season went as Washington went on to win the President’s Trophy and then lost in seven games to the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Prior to the season, on Media Day, Caps GM George McPhee told those of us assembled at Kettler IcePlex that he wasn’t really focused on the regular season and had his sights set on a long playoff run. Obviously a team has to have a decent regular season to qualify for the post season and the way things are going for the Capitals so far, unless the bottom falls out on the team over the last 61 games, there will be playoff hockey in DC.

McPhee’s words indicated to me that he was going to use the games leading up until the trade deadline on February 28th as an analysis period for his squad. Over the summer the GM essentially chose to stand pat and go with the players that led his club to the best record in the NHL in 2009-10, although he did attempt to sign unrestricted free agent defensemen Willie Mitchell, only to be outbid by the Los Angeles Kings, who offered the d-man a two year contract. Given that situation, we have an idea of an area where the GM thinks his team could use assistance and McPhee has made it clear that if an opportunity to make the Caps better presents itself, he will pursue it.

There has been much debate in the media and blogosphere locally and nationally about what the Capitals need or should do to help them win a Stanley Cup. Clearly their current roster makes them Cup contenders but there are at least a dozen teams who could claim that as well. In The Washington Post on-line season preview, I provided my three keys for the Capitals in their quest to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. The rest of this blog will present an analysis on those keys and also address some of the other theories/criticisms that have been mentioned nationally and locally on the Caps.

The first key I mentioned for 2010-11 was that the team needed to be healthy heading into the playoffs. In the last two seasons Washington has started the post season with both Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green nursing injuries or illnesses of some sort. This year the Capitals cannot afford to have their two most important players not close to 100% when April rolls around. In November you can’t really evaluate that, but it should be noted that Green has already missed three games due to an upper body injury. #52 is logging an average of 25:46 a tilt, which currently puts him 6th in the NHL in time on ice a game, and that is expected from one of the top blue liners in the NHL. The Great #8, who missed six contests due to injury in 2009-10, has played all 21 games and clocking in 21:22 on average a night. Ovechkin has put up 10 goals and 16 assists and is tied for 3rd in the NHL in points, trailing only Steven Stamkos and Sidney Crosby. However, given that the Great #8 already has his trophy case filled with individual awards I imagine the fact that #91 and #87 are ahead of him in the scoring race matters little to him. In fact, based on what I’ve seen from Alex over the first 21 games I wouldn’t be surprised if he is trying to pace himself to get his body and mind ready for a long and physical post season run. As for the rest of the team and its health, the Caps have still managed to lead the NHL in points despite the loss of arguably their second best blue liner in Tom Poti for 16 games and their projected #1 goaltender, Semyon Varlamov, for all but two contests.

After last season’s playoff defeat, Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau indicated that a big part of the problem was that his club had become a one line team with Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble. Alexander Semin, who scored 40 times in the regular season, was blanked in the post season and assisting that issue was the lack of a pivot to help get him the puck in prime scoring chances once the games got tighter and open space on the ice was severly reduced. Therefore, my second key to the season was to get more balanced scoring, which translates into finding a second line center to play with Semin. So far, McPhee and Boudreau have not been able to find consistent scoring from a unit other than their top line. Some of Semin’s best contests this season, and he is tied with Ovechkin for the team lead with 26 points, have been when he was moved up to the top unit. But as Boudreau will tell you, that makes his club much easier to check in a playoff series so despite the success of 8-19-28 he continues to tinker with his top two units to find the balance necessary for the post season. So far Tomas Fleischmann, Marcus Johansson, Mathieu Perreault, and Brooks Laich have gotten shots at the number two pivot spot without much consistency. In my book, Laich is the best fit because he is more physical than the other three, something that is needed badly in the playoffs. However, #21 really is at his best on the wing so at this point I believe the 2010-11 second line center solution lies in a to be determined trade by McPhee, at some point before February 28th.

My third key to the season was improved special teams play. Washington’s power play, ranked number one in the league in the 2009-10 regular season, ended up tallying just once in 30+ chances against Montreal in April. In fact, power play or not, Washington scored only once in each of the last three playoff tilts and while Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak deserves a great deal of credit, it was apparent that the Caps forwards were not paying the price necessary to get the puck by a hot net minder. One of the things the Caps needed to do to improve the power play was to go to the net and get high traffic tallies. So far in 2010-11 they have improved in that area, but the team can still get better. After a slow start to the power play to begin the season, Washington is now fifth overall in the NHL, clicking at a 23.7% rate (they connected at 25% in the regular season in 2009-10), and much of that improvement since the start of the year is due to getting goals in close. Only five of the 18 goals the Caps have scored with the man advantage have come from Ovechkin or Green, the primary point men, meaning the other 13 have pretty much come down low. Laich and Eric Fehr have two power play markers each while Jason Chimera has added one too.

The other half of the special teams, the penalty killing unit, has shown marked improvement after being in the bottom third of the league in 2009-10 and yielding some key goals to Montreal in the post season. This year the unit is staving off 84.6% of the attempts by its opponent, which puts them at ninth in the NHL. Assistant Coach Dean Evason spent a good part of the summer studying film and modifying his PK unit to be more aggressive. In addition, shorter shifts are being employed. Hall of Famer Rod Langway always used to say that you needed your goaltender to be your best penalty killer and so far Michal Neuvirth (12-3-1, .912 save pct.) has filled that role well. Clearly the change in the shift lengths, the new aggressive scheme, plus the play of young defenders Karl Alzner and John Carlson has helped to make the penalty killing crew very successful. In fact, the PK has become so strong that sometimes taking a penalty has helped the Caps gain momentum in a contest when in the past it seemed to put them on their heels. Simply put, through 21 games I would say that the special teams play has improved from last season.

As mentioned above, McPhee did try and bring in Mitchell over the summer and that was an attempted move that made sense. The Caps need depth on the blue line and we’ve seen that issue pop up already with Poti missing all but five games in 2010-11. Last night against the Flyers the fifth and sixth d-men, John Erskine and Tyler Sloan, played only 11:05 and 9:09, respectively in a 65 minute tilt. Thus the top four of Green, Jeff Schultz, Carlson, and Alzner carried the bulk of the minutes. That is okay on occasion, but if done frequently it could jeopardize the overall health of the unit in the long run. Therefore, in addition to another center, I would be very surprised if GMGM does not add at least one defensemen to his club before the trade deadline.

Those who don’t routinely watch the Caps on a game by game basis as much as the local media do, when critiquing the team, will typically take a look at their young goaltending roster and point to that as the team’s biggest weakness. I don’t buy that one bit and personally, when I hear that, I immediately dismiss the credibility of the person providing that analysis. Neuvirth has won back to back AHL Calder Cup Championships so he is battle tested and all you have to do is ask the 2008-09 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins about Varlamov’s play against them in the second round to know how tough he is in the clutch. Varly nearly single handily ended the Pens title hopes in the spring of 2009. Therefore, unless Varlamov can’t find a way to get healthy I don’t see McPhee making a move to bring in a goalie from outside the organization. After all, who would have thought the netminders in last season’s Cup Finals would be Michael Leighton and Antti Niemi? This Caps team has confidence in both Varlamov and Neuvirth so I fail to see how a guy such as Tomas Vokoun, who has never won anything in the post season, could help Washington between the pipes.

In summary, when evaluating where the Caps are at the season’s quarter pole in their quest for Lord Stanley, I would say they have improved from where they left off last April. Their overall team defense seems to have improved (even though their GAA is only .01 better than 2009-10), thanks to a stronger penalty kill and very consistent goaltending, primarily from Neuvirth, and they are doing a better job of scoring goals in the high traffic areas. However, if they want to increase their odds of winning it all, they will need to add some depth on the blue line and find another center to help give them two consistent scoring lines. Fortunately for McPhee, he has the flexibility to do that because his club is under the salary cap by an estimated $4M (only GMGM and team salary cap guru Don Fishman know the actual number). Many other Stanley Cup contenders do not have that luxury so the cap room could be called an “Ace in the Hole” for the Caps GM. What remains to be seen in order for McPhee to improve his squad is what players become available and at what price. Stay tuned.

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Caps Lose; Flyers Next on Saturday

Posted on 19 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

With a chance to set the club record for the best start in the first 20 games, the Washington Capitals laid an egg in Atlanta on Friday night. The Caps came out soft while Atlanta was determined and physical and as a result the Thrashers potted three goals in the first 10 minutes en route to a laugher at Phillips Arena. The final count was 5-0 and the Thrashers have now defeated the Caps twice this season against two losses. Washington drops to 14-5-1 overall.

Braden Holbty got the call in net for this one and the young Saskatchewan native had a very short and horror show evening. It all went bad when Tyler Sloan (-4) turned it over up the boards and then allowed Ben Eager to beat him to the cage and deflect one by #70 just 2:42 into the contest. Then when trying to play the puck in the slot, Holtby was hooked by teammate Jeff Schultz (-2) and that allowed Nik Antropov to deposit the biscuit into an empty net at 8:52. Just 15 seconds later Evander Kane scored from a bad angle after another Washington poor play and that ended Holtby’s night as he allowed three tallies on just five shots.

After that the Caps put some sustained pressure on for about the next 20 minutes but they could not solve Thrashers goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who previously had a 1-8 record against Washington. Pavelec benefitted from three posts hit by the Caps but overall his team outworked Washington and deserved to win. In addition to losing this contest, the Capitals also lost Mike Knuble for the game and perhaps even longer when he took a puck in the mouth. He very well could have fractured his jaw based on where he got hit.

The only positives for the night were the inspired play of Nicklas Backstrom up front and the d-pair of Karl Alzner and John Carlson was fairly solid. All three of those players were even on the night. In addition, Michal Neuvirth came in and stopped 29 of 31 saves, including 14 of 15 in the third period when the Caps pretty much mailed it in.

On Saturday night the Capitals and their fans have a chance to forget all about the stinker in Atlanta when they take on the Philadelphia Flyers at the Verizon Center at 7pm. Philadelphia is in second place in the Eastern Conference despite coming off of Thursday night’s 8-7 loss to Steven Stamkos (five points in that tilt) and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Brian Boucher took the defeat in goal for Philly after Sergei Bobrovsky allowed four goals on the 11 shots he faced. Any lack of intensity that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s club showed on Friday should be a distant memory because the boys in red, white, and blue simply do not like the guys from Philadelphia. This will be an entertaining game, for sure.

NOTE: For those attending Saturday night’s game, please bring canned food or donate money on your way into our game. The Washington Capitals, Tires Plus, Bridgestone, Comcast SportsNet, Mix 107.3, the Edge 105.9, the Examiner and the Capital Area Food Bank are teaming up to host the canned food drive.

The Capitals players’ wives and girlfriends will be accepting donations when doors open at 6 p.m. at the F Street Entrance to Verizon Center. The first 2,000 fans to donate will receive a Nicklas Backstrom poster. The Capitals and their partners urge all Caps fans to donate at least one can of food to help end hunger in the Washington metropolitan area. The Capitals players’ wives and girlfriends will also accept monetary donations; one dollar can buy three meals. Once again this year Tires Plus and Bridgestone Tires are donating $7,500 to the Capitals food drive.

“This is something very special to me, feeding the homeless the last two years really opens up your eyes,” said Nicklas Backstrom, team spokesperson for the canned food drive. “The fans have come out in support of this worthwhile cause in the past and I hope they do the same this year.”

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Ovechkin Helps Caps Defeat Rangers, 5-3

Posted on 10 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin loves the bright lights and the big city and he seems to always have his “A” game when he goes into Madison Square Garden. Tuesday night was no exception as the Great #8 notched two assists, had four hits, and was +1 in 21:51 of ice time to lead the Washington Capitals to a 5-3 come from behind victory over the New York Rangers. Brooks Laich, who was injured in Sunday’s game against Philadelphia and missed the last portion of that tilt, had two goals and an assist plus he went +3 on the evening as Washington’s other big star of the contest. Laich now leads the NHL in plus/minus at +13 (h/t @CapsMedia). The win was the Caps fifth straight and they improve to 11-4.

Here are the highlights and analysis from a super Capitals road effort:

- This was a wild tilt and the Caps jumped out to an 11-2 early shots advantage but due to some bad d-zone coverage by Jeff Schultz and Mike Green, Brian Boyle (two goals) was able to give the Blueshirts the early lead with a sweet backhander from in front of Michal Neuvirth (25 saves). The other two goals allowed by Washington were gaffes made by defensemen but I put some of the blame for those on the notoriously bad Gah-den ice. First, Karl Alzner fanned on a clearing attempt after a clean Caps defensive zone face-off win and that allowed Boyle to snap one by Neuvirth to make it 2-1. Then after John Erskine scored on a top shelf, short side laser (on another face-off win), Tyler Sloan overskated the puck while on his backhand and Derek “The Boogey Man” Boogaard raced down the left wing uncovered and blasted one by Neuvirth. So just over 23 minutes into this tilt three Washington mistakes by their young defense lead to three Rangers tallies. But that is all the Blueshirts would get.

- The Caps were carrying much of the play against a Rangers club that was trying to rough the Caps up early on. Washington took advantage of a 4 on 3 power play to tie things up at one on a nice Laich deflection of an Alexander Semin pass but the Capitals failed to tally on their next two attempts and the Rangers gained momentum. They were leading 3-2 when the game changing play came via the skates of the Great #8. Ovechkin took the puck in his own zone and went end to end with the biscuit. As he crossed the Rangers goal line he appeared to have nothing but he smartly threw the puck off of Henrik Lundqivst, who has to have nightmares about the Great #8, and it bounced right into the slot where Mike Knuble buried it into an empty cage to end his 13 game goal scoring drought. That goal came at 9:18 of the second period and from there on out the Capitals seemed to gain energy and it translated into the victory.

- One thing the Capitals continue to do well of late is go to the net. On Erskine’s goal, all three Capitals forwards were moving in that direction and that presence had to impact Lundqvist. Laich’s first goal came from the doorstep, Knuble’s came in the slot, and Matt Hendricks game winner 7:53 into the final stanza came in the slot as well after Laich and Matt Bradley made super plays behind the Rangers net to work the puck free. It was a blue collar goal and Washington seems to be getting more and more of those, something that will bode well in April and beyond.

- The entire winning goal sequence came after a headsy play by Jason Chimera that lead to an offensive zone face-off. #25 came flying down the right wing and he hit the brakes seeking to pass to a teammate in the slot. However, like many teams do against the Caps, the Rangers crowded the center of the ice. So instead of trying to thread the needle and likely cause a turnover, Chimera alertly dumped the puck behind the Rangers cage and Washington got their cycle game going leading to the offensive draw. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau will likely use that video clip to show how avoiding careless cross ice passes in the offensive zone will often lead to good things.

- Neuvirth had a shaky opening 25 minutes and his rebound control seemed off. Needless to say, the only goal that he should have had was the Boogaard blast, but #30 righted the ship after that and made some big saves in the final period, including one in tight on Brandon Dubinsky to preserve the win.

- I am not a big fan of the zebras and I have gone easier on them this season but tonight the pair of Don Van Massenhoven and Justin St. Pierre were downright awful. The calls they made all evening were inconsistent. Case in point, they allowed a Ranger defender to clearly hook Boyd Gordon on a partial breakaway late in period two yet the only penalty whistled in period three was a very borderline one on Alzner for hooking? The penalty on Rangers Erik Christensen in period one was bad too but it also came right after they missed a couple of hooks that Michael Del Zotto put on Chimera. I imagine the players had no clue what was going to be called or not called on Tuesday night.

- In his in game interview, New York coach John Tortorella stated that his club could not try to trade chances with the highly skilled Caps. The Rangers did a pretty good job of that in the last 30 minutes and the Ovechkin to Knuble play was a perfectly good example of why the 2004 Stanley Cup winning bench boss didn’t want to engage in that type of contest. His strategy was a good one but the Capitals are a better team and they also outworked the Blueshirts on the game winner.

- Next up for the Caps is Thursday’s home game against the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts have the NHL’s goal scoring leader in Steven Stamkos (13) and are off to a fabulous 8-4-2 start. Stamkos also leads the NHL in points with 24 while Ovechkin is second with 20. This game should be a dandy and the first of what should be six major battles between the two best teams in the Southeast Division this season.

Notes: The Caps are now 9-0 with Gordon in the lineup. According to some post game tweets from Corey Masisak, it sounds like Gordon’s back is very sore after this evening’s tilt. Gordon logged 15:30 of ice time, was 11-11 from the dot, and was +1…Green was +1 and had two assists in over 25 minutes of ice time. He also got into a first period fight with Dubinsky in which I gave the decision to #52…Washington won the face-off battle 38-31…Nicklas Backstrom was held pointless and missed a couple of shifts in the middle of the 3rd period due to skate issues (bad ice)…Eddie Olcyzk on VERSUS was hard on Alzner tonight but I don’t put much stock in the words from a man who was fired by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the post lockout era (a team that was loaded with good young players that he couldn’t reach). For all of the belly aching on King Karl, #27 ended up +1 in 19:55 of ice time and he was on with Green for the final shift. Yes, I’ll take Boudreau as my head coach any day and pass on the critiques from the current Blackhawks broadcaster.

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Caps Continue to Improve, Beat Bruins 5-3

Posted on 05 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After losing two games earlier in the season to the Boston Bruins in back to back tilts, the Washington Capitals played like they had something to prove against the B’s on Friday night at the Verizon Center. Washington jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two periods, gave away the lead, then scored twice in the final ten minutes en route to a 5-3 victory before a sold out crowd. The Caps third straight win, and fifth in their last six games, improves their record to 9-4, good for first place in the Southeast Division and first overall in the Eastern Conference.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a contest that saw the Caps outshoot the Bruins, 39-18:

- There were a lot of positives on Friday in this tilt but to me the biggest thing about this club right now is it is continuing to improve and the second period they played was easily their best of the season. Washington outshot the Bruins 17-6 and notched three tallies in the middle stanza, including a dandy shorthanded goal by Alexander Semin that was made possible by defenseman Mike Green (1 goal, 1 assist) jumping up into the play and then making an all-world pass back to #28, who fired the puck five hole on Bruins goalie Tim Thomas (7-0 coming into this game). The glass “half-empty” crew will likely be out in full force for Washington losing a three goal third period lead but Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was having none of that after this victory.

“I feel great about the way we played the first two periods, we played tremendous. So I am not going to try to spin any negatives on this one. That is a great team that we kept down with 11 or 12 shots in two periods. They came out really hard in the third and got two power play goals and we had a couple of breakdowns. Then we righted the ship and I don’t think they had more than one chance after that. I don’t want to get negative here,” stated Boudreau when asked if he was disappointed in giving up three goals again in the third period.

- Thomas and Michal Neuvirth (11 saves on 14 shots), two of the top goalies in the NHL this season, started the game and both were yanked from the cage in this one. The Bruins net minder was replaced by Tuukka Rask (stopped 12 of 13 shots) for the third period, likely in an attempt by Boston coach Claude Julien to try and change the momentum, while Neuvirth, who had very little work since the opening 10 minutes, gave up three tallies in a six minute stretch. At that point, Boudreau had a huge decision to make with Braden Holtby, who had previously never played in an NHL game, sitting on the bench. But the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winning coach made another great tactical decision based on something that only coaches typically notice and that led him to the switch.

“With us, I thought Neuvy didn’t look very good on goals two and three and he was looking over [at the bench]. Any time a goalie is looking [at the bench], I thought okay [let's make the switch]. It wasn’t I didn’t know if it was fair to Braden, his first game, to put him in with 10 minutes to go against Boston in a tie game, but I thought he did outstanding,” said Boudreau on another tactical decision that led to a Caps victory.

Neuvirth, who Boudreau said appeared to be tired on Wednesday against the Leafs, could be wearing down from playing in 12 of the 13 games so far this season, but who knows if that is really the case?

“You’d have to ask him [on the goals allowed]. He might be tired. In the American League it is two of three games but then you get four days off and here it is every other day you have to play,” surmised Boudreau on the schedule adjustments his young goalie is having to make in the NHL.

- Green is clearly the straw that stirs the drink for the Caps with his rushes from the back end. He notched his third goal in three games by faking Bruins forward Gregory Campbell out of his jock and to the ice on Washington’s second tally and the aforementioned setup he made on the Semin shorthanded marker is a sequence that only highly talented defensemen like a Bobby Orr or Paul Coffey are able to make. #52 logged 25:43 of ice time and was the game’s number one star for his play at both ends of the rink.

“Best offensive defenseman in the NHL, which means he’s the best one in the world. So when you don’t have him it is a detriment. He blocks shots, he blocked about five shots in the third period alone and he played a lot of hockey, he was a real plus for us,” said Boudreau on the blue liner who was +2 on Friday night.

- As former Capital Alan May blogged on Monday, the Caps jettisoned some of the older players from last season’s roster and brought up young players like John Carlson, Karl Alzner, and Neuvirth. May pointed out that it will take time for those players to adjust to the rigors of the NHL but he also noted that the team continues to win and it will likely pay off in the long run (i.e, April). Carlson had the game winner with 6:35 to go on a point blast off of a face-off win by Boyd Gordon that included great hustle and a nice pass by Eric Fehr, as well. #74 and his partner, Alzner, just continue to get better and better each game with tonight’s contest being their strongest yet.

“Alzner and Carlson were very good. Our defense was very good, in general. Tyler’s [Sloan] best game too. Alzner and Carlson played really good against the Leafs and then were good in Calgary and they are just getting better,” added Boudreau on his young defensive pair that won back to back Calder Cups in Hershey.

- As said above, the Caps continue to improve and their effort is getting stronger. They continued to go to the net hard and are following Boudreau’s system much more closely after some shaky tilts early on. Overall the head coach was very pleased because this win came against a squad that was 7-2 on the season prior to tonight.

“One of the things we talked about in the firts two games was Boston is a real strong team that wins a lot of one on one battles so we were real cognizant of trying to compete and battle with them. It’s a great video clip because when you win battles you have success and we’ll be showing that one, for sure,” finished Boudreau on the victory over the Bruins.

Notes: Alexander Oveckin had an empty net goal and an assist but, according to the stat sheet, he did not register a single hit…like the game winner, the Caps first goal by Sloan came off of a face-off win (Tomas Fleischmann) and Mike Knuble did a great job screening Thomas…both Knuble and Fehr had strong games and appear to be on the verge of breaking through with some goals…Boston won the face-off battle, 42-35…Jeff Schultz made a very headsy play on the empty net clincher. Instead of trying to fire through a maze of players and risking a blocked attempt, #55 dumped the puck deep along the left wing boards where Nicklas Backstrom (two assists) corralled it and fed the Great #8 for an easy tap in…the Caps are undefeated with Gordon (1 assist, +1) in the lineup (7-0). Next up for the Caps are the despised Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday at 5pm, so after the Ravens hopefully defeat the Miami Dolphins, fans can rush home and watch the Caps knock off those “scumbags” (as WNST Morning Show host, Drew Forrester, calls them) on the ice.

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Travel Weary Caps Lose in Minnesota Again

Posted on 28 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

For those of us who have watched sports for a long time, there are certain games on a club’s schedule, in any sport, that you circle on the calendar and say, “You know what? That is going to be a really tough game to win.” For the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, their game in Minnesota against the Wild was one of those such tilts. The Caps, who played a splendid contest in a 3-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday night, had to travel to the central time zone and take on a team that was 5-0 lifetime against them in the Xcel Energy Center and hadn’t played since Monday evening’s loss to Los Angeles in a shootout. So, as expected, the Capitals struggled to find their energy for much of the contest and as a result dropped a 2-1 decision and their overall record now falls to 6-4 in 2010-11.

The Caps, who didn’t score until Alexander Ovechkin buried his first tally in six games with just over 90 seconds remaining, have now only scored seven goals in six trips to the Wild’s building. Minnesota goalie, Niklas Backstrom, didn’t face a lot of rubber (only 21 shots) but he did have to make some big saves, including several on Nicklas Backstrom, one of which was the save of the game in the middle stanza with the score 1-0 Wild.

Let’s get to the quotes, highlights, and analysis of a game that, if it was the norm for NHL hockey, would put the league out of business due to boredom (and yes I pretty much blame Minnesota’s style of play for that statement):

- The Caps didn’t show up once again in the first period and got themselves behind the eight ball in a game after the first period for the sixth time in the last seven tilts. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was visibly unhappy after the contest and he let it be known that the effort was unacceptable and he wanted nothing to do with any excuses.

“I can think of  about seven guys, off the top of my mind, right now, that had a disappointing effort for the first 50 minutes. You can’t play 10 minutes in this league and hope to win a game. I don’t know what it is but it’s something that we’ve got to come out better. We can’t let the other team take the game to us. For the first half of the game we looked like we were in quick sand. We weren’t moving the puck, we couldn’t handle the puck. I think we might have had a few excuses about being tired which all it was was an excuse because 18 of those 20 guys have played in the American Hockey League at some point and that’s 3 in 3 nights with a lot of busing and they’ve got to play. So I am not buying any of this excuse about being fatigued, emotionally or physically. I’m not very happy with what happened,” stated Boudreau on why his club fell for the sixth straight time in Minnesota.

- The crew that were the heroes in Raleigh on Wednesday were a big part of the losing equation on Thursday night – the fourth line of Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Matt Hendricks. Steckel had a horror show shift that led to Chuck Kobasew tapping in an Andrew Brunette pass from the left post to open the scoring. #39 had a couple of chances to gather the puck and get it out yet he failed, he also wasn’t helped by some lousy coverage in front by defenseman John Carlson. Then with the game still 1-0 late in period two, Bradley got beat to his own net by the strong skating Eric Nystrom and #10 took a holding penalty. The Wild would score on that power play to gain a 2-0 advantage heading into period three.

- It seems like ages ago that Washington had a potent power play that was ranked #1 in the league in the 2009-10 regular season. The Caps continue to struggle to score with the extra man although the puck movement was better on Thursday. The big problem is still a lack of traffic in front of the opposing goalie and few of the Washington forwards want to pay the price and go to the top of the crease for rebounds and deflections. In addition, Ovechkin continues to play the two full minutes on the point and that is leading to odd man rushes and scoring chances as, and after, the power play expires. Simply put, the Great #8 is out there too long and the opponents are taking advantage of it. I’d like to see Ovechkin moved down low, at least for half of the power play, where he can cause havoc in front with his big body and get some rebound goals. With Carlson up this year from the AHL, his shot should be used more from the point.

- Mike Green definitely makes a difference for the Caps and tonight he logged over 30 minutes of ice time. But he is clearly not 100% healthy and he can’t fire the puck the way he normally does due to his shoulder injury. #52 had a golden chance early on to score but he didn’t get the puck up high quick enough and Backstrom slid over to make the save. Green also took a cheap shot from Greg Xanon in the head that the referees missed. He also continues to take a lot of hits and given that he isn’t totally healthy it seems like it would be better if he could be rested before he gets hurt even worse. With Tom Poti out and a thin blue line corps in Hershey, however, GM George McPhee doesn’t have the luxury of being able to sit #52 out until he is healthy.

- There weren’t many guys who played well on Thursday but the Caps did get another consistent performance from Michal Neuvirth in goal. #30 made only 15 saves but a chunk of them were of the quality variety. It was his strong performance that gave Washington a chance to try and tie the game late. Other than that, there were a lot of passengers and the only guy that Boudreau identified as giving what he had was #19 for DC.

“You are looking down the bench but you couldn’t find enough guys who were going, poor Nicky had to play every second shift,” said Boudreau when asked  by Mike Vogel (@VogsCaps) about trying to shuffle the deck late in the game to get his team going.

- Minnesota plays a boring, defensive game and they block a lot of shots but the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner seemed tired of hearing about that and put a good bit of that on his own troops.

“It’s determination on their part. But I know if teams were blocking shots when I played, I’d shoot at their head, they won’t block too many then. We’re allowing them to block shots. Shoot it where they are not. It’s one thing sliding and making a great block save but they are just standing there and we are hitting them in the shin pads.” finished a frustrated Boudreau on his clubs lack of offense.

Notes: The Caps next game is in Calgary at 10pm on Saturday night (CSN)…Tyler Sloan only played 7:40 after a good game on Wednesday. #89 made a turnover early in the game that led to a Mathieu Perreault penalty and after that we didn’t see much of him…Alexander Semin had a SH semi-breakaway in the third period but missed the net…Washington outshot the Wild 11-5 in period three..the Caps only had two power plays compared to five for the Wild…Backstrom was 17-7 on face-offs while Perreault went 1-5 and Brooks Laich was 0-5. Overall the Caps lost from the dot, 34-31.

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Neuvirth Blanks Canes in Caps 3-0 Win

Posted on 27 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Playing in a home opener for the opposition for the third time this season, the Washington Capitals went into a tough building and shut down a speedy Carolina Hurricanes team thanks to 29 saves by goalie Michal Neuvirth plus outstanding play by the Caps six defensemen to win, 3-0. The victory was #30′s first career shut out and he is now 6-2 on the young season. Matt Hendricks tallied first for Washington and then Nicklas Backstrom sealed the deal with a rebound goal followed by an empty netter to silence the Raleigh crowd on opening night in Carolina. Overall the Caps are now 6-3 and head to Minnesota for a tilt with the Wild at 8pm on Thursday night (CSN HD).

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of this one:

- Early on the Capitals dominated the play and it was Cam Ward who looked like he might be the star of the game as he made some big saves on Washington, including a huge one in the slot on Alexander Ovechkin in period two. Ward also would be saved by the post on two occassions. However, when Carolina made their push, it was Neuvirth who would not be outdueled and he made some superb stops down the stretch to hold the fort until the first line finally delivered in the last 10 minutes. He only came close to being beat once, in the second period, and that was because Mike Green fell down and Tomas Fleischmann played a Canes two on one break horribly. Fortunately for the Capitals, Eric Staal hit the post on that rush. The two time Calder Cup champion, who seems to be gaining more and more confidence, owned Staal and the Hurricanes on this night.

- Matt Bradley had missed the Caps last five games due to a lower body injury, but on this night Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau started #10 with his two linemates, Hendricks and Dave Steckel, to open each period and those guys set the tone for DC with their energy and hard work. Steckel’s collision with Ward as the puck arrived just above the top of the crease, allowed #26 to net the game winner into an open cage in period one. Carolina protested but the referee made the correct call and the tally stood. That line was Washington’s best on this evening. Bradley will never be confused with the top skill guys but he is the consumate team guy and a player that leads by example. It will be hard for the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner to break the 39-26-10 line up on this road trip because it was that good on Wednesday.

“It was easily our most complete game by everybody. You get contributions from your fourth line, the penalty killing, you know I thought the goaltender was great. Everybody did a good job. When the fourth line was going, or the energy line, whatever you want to call them, is playing good we can roll all forward lines lines. I don’t think any forward line had over 20 minutes tonight. When we don’t [have forwards playing over 20 minutes] we usually are successful,” said Boudreau on the role his fourth line played and how it impacted the entire team (h/t to Comcast Sportsnet for these Boudreau quotes).

- Getting Green, who only played 5:39 last Saturday night due to an upper body injury, fully back on defense makes Washington a totally different team. He brings that puck rushing ability that gets the other team back on their heels and it opens up the ice for everyone else. In addition, #52′s quickness allows the Caps to keep the puck in the offensive zone more often and that allows them to keep their cycle game going and wear out the opposition defense. When Green is healthy and in the line-up, he is so good paired with Jeff Schultz and as a result Boudreau shrewdly put John Carlson and Karl Alzner back together and that pair might have played their best game of the season. Finally, the Tyler Sloan-John Erskine duo was solid as well, in fact, this clearly was #89′s best game in a long time. Overall, the six defenseman were outstanding.

- Up front, Alexander Semin had his usual good outing against Carolina, although he didn’t get a point. Center Mathieu Perreault, who was the spark plug on Saturday in the Capitals win over the Thrashers in OT, had a rough night with the puck not bouncing his way for most of the evening. But #85 never hung his head when he made a mistake and his hustle is contagious. #28 is clearly a better player with a center is who willing to go into the corners or behind the cage for the puck and help Semin with the cycle game. Perreault seems to be the best fit for that at this time. As for the top line, they had their down moments, like when Ovechkin made a mental mistake and left his point man to deliver a hit that would be whistled for a charge (and luckily not more, it was close to a head shot), but when the chips were down, they delivered with Mike Knuble (two assists) playing his best game of the season. #22 seemed to have his legs back and Backstrom was a two way workhorse all night. If the Great #8 can get more focused in his own end and churn his powerful legs more often on his shifts, the domination plus the goals and assists, will start coming.

- In the end, this was pretty much a complete game for Washington as Boudreau mentioned above and I don’t think it is a coincidence that this solid road performance came after a day off on Sunday and two days of practice. TheCaps were banged up (still are to some degree) and needed to get on the ice and work on their system. On this night it was mission accomplished.

- Now it is on to Minnesota for a contest with the Wild. The big question for Boudreau will be whether to come back with Neuvirth in net or give rookie Braden Holtby his first NHL start. Holtby has been playing well in Hershey and given that the Caps have to play Calgary on Saturday night at the Saddledome, I would eschew the “go with the hot hand rule” and give #30 some rest and allow the Caps 4th round pick in the 2008 NHL draft to get his feet wet in “The Show.” Either way, tomorrow poses to be a tough task for Washington as they travel late into the night before landing in St. Paul. Meanwhile the Wild are resting and stewing after their 3-2 shootout loss to the Kings on Monday night.

Notes: Somebody hosed up in Raleigh tonight because all of the game statistics were not findable on NHL.com nor ESPN.com as of this posting…Forwards Marcus Johansson, Boyd Gordon, and DJ King were not in the lineup for Washington and defenseman Tom Poti was out due to injury as well…The Tampa Bay Lightning knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-3, on Wednesday and lead the Caps by one point in the Southeast Division race (the Bolts are 6-2-1).

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Semin Hat Trick Leads Caps in OT Win

Posted on 23 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After losing two straight games to the Boston Bruins and struggling to score goals, everyone expected the Washington Capitals to break out against the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night at the Verizon Center. After all, Atlanta had played Friday night at home (and got blown out by Tampa Bay) while the Caps sat plus the Thrashers were one of the worst teams in the NHL in penalty killing. But for the Caps these days, nothing is coming easy, but after trailing 2-1 going into the third period they rallied to take a 3-2 lead on an Alexander Semin hat trick, promptly gave up the tying goal with 32 seconds left to Evander Kane, before Tomas Fleischmann won it in overtime backhanding home an Eric Fehr blast that Thrashers goalie Chris Mason (40 saves) could not handle. It was a huge win for the boys in red, white, and blue and the battered Caps are now 5-3. They don’t play again until Wednesday and they need that rest with all of the injuries they have.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of the Capitals eighth straight home victory over Atlanta:

- The analysis can’t totally begin until we fully comprehend how banged up this Washington hockey club is right now. Defenseman Tom Poti is out day to day and therefore Mike Green, who is nursing an upper body injury, had to dress but he would only play on Caps power plays logging just 5:32 of ice time. Therefore, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau had to go with five defensemen throughout the rest of the contest. In net, Semyon Varlamov, who was 4-0 against the Thrashers in his career, re-injured his groin so Michal Neuvirth (29 saves) got the start and Dany Sabourin was recalled from Hershey. Up front things aren’t much better as Marcus Johansson sufferred a hip flexor in Boston and with Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon still hurt GM George McPhee recalled Mathieu Perreault and Jay Beagle from Hershey to play against the Thrashers. So a team that had lost two in a row and were finding it hard to light the lamp was going to have to dig deep to get a victory on Saturday, and they did outshooting Atlanta 44-32.

“It was good. I would have liked to have him more. I wasn’t nervous about him at all. We made the decision before the game that we would see how Mike is; if he is comfortable we will play him more, but the intent was to play him on the power play,” said Boudreau on the play and ice time given to Green on Saturday.

- After a good first couple of shifts by the Capitals, sparked by the Perreault-Semin-Brooks Laich line, the Thrashers dominated the first period and initial portion of the game. Atlanta outshot the Caps 13-4 in the opening stanza and scored first on the power play. John Erskine took a boarding penalty and when Neuvirth couldn’t handle Anthony Stewart’s shot from the right wing corner, something #30 struggled with a few times on Saturday, Andrew Ladd outworked Karl Alzner in front of the Washington net and put the biscuit in the basket. The Caps appeared to be in a fog for much of the first two periods giving up 27 of the 32 shots they allowed and if not for Neuvirth they might not have been able to come back.

“I don’t know [what happened]. I knew they [Atlanta] were going to come out and be very good. They played really well, skated really well; they didn’t give us much of a chance to breathe. But it is really difficult to keep that pace up and we got a little momentum off a power play and were able to move it forward,” explained Boudreau on the Caps slow start on Saturday night.

- Neuvirth, who is the team’s MVP the first eight games this season, really kept Washington in this one despite the problems he had with shots from the right wing boards. #30′s breakaway stop on Jim Slater with the Thrashers leading 2-1 in the second period was one of those saves that are game changers. After that huge save, and the stupid charging major and game misconduct that Dustin Byfuglien took on Neuvy trying to rattle the young goalie, the Capitals started to play with more intensity and resemble the squad that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. Of course, they still aren’t finishing plays well enough to hit that level yet, but most of the players were exhibiting the intensity and energy necessary to start getting there.

- Intensity and energy is exactly what Perreault (2 assists, 9-5 on face-offs, +3) brings to the lineup and is the primary reason I thought he had made the team out of training camp, only to be sent down, mostly because of the Capitals ability to do so without having him go through waivers. #85 was the right player to pair with Semin tonight because he isn’t afraid to go to the boards and corners to get the puck for #28. Semin, to his credit, was outstanding all evening and played strong on the puck. That line, which included Laich, is the other reason the Caps got victory #5. Laich still isn’t producing at the level #21 expects as his hands are failing him, but he is getting there and with Perreault up for an extended period that could help get him going as well.

“(Semin) is such a good player. He makes the job easier for me on the ice and hopefully we can get some more games like that. We bounced back in the second and third periods. We felt the emotion on the bench. Everyone wanted to really win tonight,” said Perreault on playing with #28 and the mood of his squad.

- As for the Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble line, well they are just not producing and look out of sync. Knuble appears a step slow right now, Backstrom seems to be battling the puck, and Ovie’s problem is he is not continuing to move his feet on his shifts. The Great #8 is in the right position to get scoring chances or make the big hit but when the opportunity presents itself he is coasting or gliding on his skates instead of continuing to churn his powerful legs. Case in point, he was incorrectly called for goalie interference late in the third period but that situation never happens if Ovie keeps skating when he corrals the puck in the offensive zone. In fact, had he turned on his jets he likely would have scored and ended the tilt right then.

- Special teams were once again a problem for DC on Saturday night. They allowed a power play goal and the second tally, Kane’s first of two goals, came 11 seconds after John Carlson exited the box (high sticking). On that goal there were five Caps around Kane yet he somehow was all alone in front of Neuvirth to bang home a pass from Rich Peverly from behind the cage. Both Erskine and Tyler Sloan incorrectly abandoned the front of the net and Carlson left Kane as well. It was shoddy defense and something that needs to be corrected. The power play moved the puck better with Green out on the ice but Ovechkin struggled at his point early on. The 2009-10 regular season number one unit went 0 for 3 and is now 4 for 33 this season (h/t @PckhdsThghts). Perhaps it is time to move Ovie down low and go with just defensemen on the points, preferably Carlson and Green, and put Poti, when healthy, in the mix on the second unit?

- There are alot of guys struggling to score on the club and the Caps had only two goals in their last 77 shots at one point tonight, both of which came as a result of goalie misplays (h/t @VogsCaps), but that game winning goal by Flash has to do wonders for his confidence and for Fehr as well. Those two guys are ones that Boudreau and McPhee expect to take their game to the next level this season but so far it has not happened. Flash just doesn’t seem to want to consistently pay the price in front of the net, on the boards, and in the corners and he was the lone weak link on face-offs on Saturday, going 2-6. Simply put, he needs to play bigger if he is going to stay in the NHL. As for Fehr, I just can’t put my finger on it, he should be doing better and one way for him to get going is to continue to use his powerful shot and get to the front of the cage more consistently.

Notes: The Caps handily won the face-off battle 41-23 with Dave Steckel going 13-3…Washington’s three game road trip starts Wednesday in Carolina and takes them to Minnesota on Thursday and then on Hockey Night in Canada at the Calgary Flames on Saturday…the next home game is Wednesday, November 3rd against the Toronto Maple Leafs…Down on the farm, Braden Holtby won his 3rd straight start stopping 17 shots in a Bears 5-1 victory over the Adirondack Phantoms. Hershey plays the Phantoms again on Sunday at 5pm at the Giant Center and tickets are available. There were three fights in the second period on Saturday night so the Sunday matinee should be an entertaining tilt.

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Ovechkin Wins It For Caps in OT

Posted on 12 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

How does that saying go again?

Big players, make big plays in games at big times. Well, that was the case again on Monday night for Alexander Ovechkin as the Great #8, who did not have a very good contest until that point, managed to score with 32 seconds left in overtime to lead the Washington Capitals to a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators. The goal was not of the highlight reel variety but it got the desired result, a win for the Caps. The Russian superstar took a pass from John Carlson in the neutral zone, skated down the right wing, and using Sens d-man Chris Phillips as a partial screen, he managed to sneak a change up by Ottawa goalie Pascal Leclaire via the five hole.

Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said afterwards that Ovie would be one of the first to criticize his overall play in the game but nonetheless, he did what makes him so special, deliver when needed.

“Only Alex [Ovechkin] can play like he did and score the overtime winner and be the hero, but he got the overtime goal and that’s what superstars do,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on the two-time Hart Trophy winner.

The victory pushes the Caps record to 2-1 and their next tilt is on Wednesday at 7pm at the Verizon Center against the New York Islanders.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the 62nd straight sellout at the Verizon Center:

- Through three games of the Capitals season there is little doubt that the team’s MVP so far is rookie goalie Michal Neuvirth (29 saves). #30 was outstanding again on Monday night stopping a Daniel Alfredsson quality chance just 20 seconds into the game and he bookended that with two superb saves on Ryan Shannon in the overtime period to give Washington a chance to win. In between the two time Calder Cup winning netminder made numerous solid saves and both of the tallies he allowed were not his fault.

“I was kind of getting ready for a shootout. But when he scored, I was maybe the happiest guy in the building. That was a huge goal for us and a huge win. They really came hard. I think they had 12 or 13 shots in the first period. They really wanted to win tonight, but they took us to overtime, but we got the huge goal for us,” said Neuvirth on his mindset before Ovechkin scored and his thoughts on the game overall.

On Sunday night I was watching the Calgary Flames-LA Kings tilt on my Centre Ice package and in between the second and third period they had a Flames analyst panel on to discuss the upcoming season. One of the panelists picked the Caps to win the Stanley Cup but then he said that he still had concerns about their goaltending, a common theme heard from people outside the DC market who haven’t watched both Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov play over the last two seasons. Varlamov has been very good in the playoffs, just ask the 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins about how good Varly was in that series until game 7 and as for Neuvy, he just doesn’t seem to get the national credit he deserves. In 2008-09 he was the MVP of the AHL playoffs and before last year’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with the Manchester Monarchs all people kept talking about was Kings prospect goalie Jonathan Bernier. That fired up Neuvirth and he went on to outplay the 11th overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft. Bottom line is Neuvirth is a battler and he continues to improve and gain more confidence.

- This contest was a sloppy one and both goaltenders were super, until Leclaire gave up a softy to Ovechkin. Both teams took too many penalties but neither power play could connect, with both squads going 0 for 5 with the man advantage. Last season the Caps were number one in the NHL in power play percentage in the regular season but in the bottom third on the penalty kill. So far this season the PK is a perfect 13 for 13 while the power play has only one marker.

“I was hoping the (penalty kill) would do well. We went through a lot of ideas all summer long. The power play will get better. If you look at our trends over the past three years, for whatever reason in October it hasn’t been solid and then it starts getting better in November and it gets better once we have familiarity,” said Boudreau on his analysis of what is going on in three games with his special teams.

- Both Senators goals were the result of mistakes by Capitals forwards, something that has been a common theme in the first three tilts in 2010-11. On the initial Ottawa goal, Eric Fehr goes for a defensive zone hit and misses Jarkko Ruutu, who then goes to the net and taps home a nice feed from Matt Carkner. Fortunately for Fehr, he would atone for that gaffe on his next shift banging home a great pass from Matt Hendricks in the slot area to give the Caps a 2-1 lead midway through period two. On the second Senators tally, Nicklas Backstrom made a bad decision in the neutral zone and turned the puck over to Ryan Shannon, who fed Peter Regin racing down the slot. Regin would deke Carlson, get Neuvirth leaning to #30′s left, and then bury a pretty biscuit into the top left corner of the cage. Backstrom is clearly pressing as he tried to make a play out of something that wasn’t there. Normally #19 would not have skated back towards the Caps zone on his forehand with a one goal third period lead and instead would have turned up the right wing boards and either carried the puck in or dumped it into the Senators zone. The 2006 first round pick (#5 overall) has 0 points and is only a +1 in three games.

- On defense, Tom Poti was a late scratch so Tyler Sloan suited up and logged 13:40 of ice time. Mike Green had an outstanding game playing 31:53 and he is now +4 this season. He only has one assist in the points department but overall his play has been very solid, especially in the defensive end. John Erskine was -2 but the forwards were the real culprits on the two Ottawa goals, however, #4 did fall down in OT to give the Sens a quality chance but Neuvirth bailed him out. He also was very fortunate to get an even up call with Ruutu with 6:02 left in regulation. Erskine drove the shaft of his stick into the face of #73 but the Senator was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for embellishing the stupid shot that #4 took at him. The physical defenseman typically does a decent job of keeping his head (see his play vs. Sean Avery in the 2009 playoff series vs NY) but on this occassion he lost his composure and nearly cost his team.

Notes: Matt Bradley was injured early and only played 3:23…Marcus Johansson only saw 8:05 of action and had his 2nd bad night from the face-off dot going 2-7…overall the Caps were 22-32 on draws against Mr. Carrie Underwood (Mike Fisher) and company…special thanks to the Caps outstanding media relations department for providing the post game quotes.

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