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Caps McPhee Shines on NHL Deadline Day

Posted on 01 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Capitals General Manager George McPhee, who has seen his club win just one playoff series since the 1998 season, had to be feeling some pressure coming in to Monday’s NHL trading deadline given his team’s inconsistent regular season following its’ stunning first round loss to the Montreal Canadiens last spring. And boy did the Washington GM deliver on a day when it appeared that achieving his goals of significantly improving his hockey club might be difficult to attain given the limited trade market.

The crafty NHL exec filled his second line center hole with Jason Arnott, who has been a captain in the league and also won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils back in 2000, and brought in another puck moving defensemen in Dennis Wideman. In return he didn’t yield any of the organizations future 1st round draft picks and protected his prize prospect list that includes center Evgeny Kuznetsov (2010 1st round pick and projected future Caps 2nd line center), Hershey defenseman Dmitri Orlov (2009 2nd round pick), WHL forward Cody Eakin (2009 3rd round pick), and Hershey goalie Braden Holtby. McPhee did part with the Caps 3rd round pick in 2011, their second rounder in 2012, ECHL forward Jake Hauswirth, and forward Dave Steckel. The biggest loss, of course, was Steckel who leads the NHL in faceoff percentage at over 63%, but to get something good, you have to give something back and #39 was the sacrificial lamb on this day.

Clearly, the Arnott acquisition was the biggest because ever since Sergei Fedorov left after the 2009 season finding a pivot behind Nicklas Backstrom has been a monumental headache for McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau. Arnott is up there at age 36, but he can still play and just three years ago he had 72 points in 79 games playing mostly alongside another enigmatic Russian winger named Alexander Radulov. Is it possible that Arnott and Alexander Semin can form some quick chemistry and provide Boudreau with that much needed second unit to finally make an opposing bench boss pay for focusing solely on Alexander Ovechkin?

The former first round pick of the Edmonton Oilers (7th overall in 1993) had to waive his no movement clause to come to the Capitals so clearly a player who figures to be another locker room leader sees a talented and inexperienced club that could benefit from his services and leadership. No, he isn’t Brad Richards (who remained a Dallas Star after being named as the deadline’s most desirable player all winter) or Stephen Weiss or Ales Hemsky, some other names that were bantered about as possibilities to fill the Caps void at center, but he was the best center actually available and McPhee grabbed him when a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins was in the running as well. Arnott could finally be McPhee’s revenge on Penguins GM Ray Shero for acquiring Bill Guerin on trade deadline day in 2009 instead of ending up in DC, a move that helped yield the Pens the Stanley Cup.

With the injuries to defenesmen Mike Green, who will be out at least a couple of weeks due to his head injury, and Tom Poti (chronic groin), the need for the Washington GM to add another puck rushing/moving blue liner was paramount. Wideman, who scored 13 goals and was +32 for the Boston Bruins when they won the Eastern Conference regular season in 2008-09, fits that bill and the hope is that he can help a severely struggling Capitals offense. Wideman, who played on Dale Hunter’s London Knights Ontario Hockey League teams from 2001 to 2004, will only turn 28 on March 20th and said he was “excited” to join the Caps. McPhee said he phoned Hunter Monday morning to inquire about the type of player Wideman is and #32 responded, “If he has to block a shot with his face, he will do that.”

In his post trade teleconference, Wideman felt that he could help out the power play and noted that he was happy to not have to try and stop Ovechkin anymore. The man who will number 6 in DC also said that when facing the Washington man advantage, the focus was to keep the puck away from the Great #8 and now he will have the opportunity to try and get him the puck. The added bonus with Wideman is that he is not a rental, he is signed for the 2011-12 season, although the salary cap hit is a bit high at $3.875M.

Arnott’s salary cap hit is $4.5M so today’s tally was pricey, however, because both Eric Fehr and Poti were placed retroactively on LTIR, the Capitals are still under the salary cap and McPhee said if both were healthy tomorrow, which is not the case, they could play and Washington would still be under the NHL’s spending ceiling. In today’s economic driven NHL, it is so hard to pull off the big blockbuster deals that we saw in yesteryear, like when former Caps GM David Poile landed Dino Ciccarelli and Calle Johansson in 1989 and Washington went on to win their first ever Patrick Division title. Is it possible these moves help the Capitals catch the Tampa Bay Lightning for the Southeast Division title? Perhaps, but I imagine right now the focus for the Caps is simply to integrate these new players over the last 19 games and get them ready to take this franchise deep into the playoffs, something they have not done since 1998.

For McPhee tonight, he can finally get a good night’s sleep because his work on improving this hockey club is now done. Many around the league have proclaimed the Capitals as the NHL trade deadline winners after Monday’s events, but in the end all that matters is who walks away in June holding Lord Stanley’s Cup. Maybe Jason Arnott will become Washington’s Butch Goring? Stay tuned….

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Caps Acquire Center Jason Arnott

Posted on 28 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have acquired center Jason Arnott from the New Jersey Devils in return for center and face-off specialist David Steckel and the Caps 2011 second round pick. Arnott is an unrestricted free agent following the 2010-11 season while Steckel is signed for two more years at $1.1M annually.

Arnott will fill the sorely coveted second line center spot that GM George McPhee and the Caps have been trying to find since Sergei Fedorov left for the Kontinental Hockey League after the 2008-09 season.

Arnott, who won a Stanley Cup as a member of the New Jersey Devils in 2000, most recently played four seasons for the Nashville Predators before signing with the Devils as a free agent this year and in 2008-09 scored 33 goals in 65 games. Overall he has 396 goals and 501 assists in his 1196 game NHL career. The 6′ 5″, 220 pound center is 36 years old and was the 7th player taken overall in the 1993 NHL draft.

Steckel was a 4th line center who led the NHL in faceoff percentage for most of this season.

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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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Caps Lose in A Tale of Two Alexes

Posted on 15 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Despite outshooting the Phoenix Coyotes, 31-18, on Valentine’s Day, the Washington Capitals dropped their third straight game, 3-2, in the first of a tough five game road trip. The Caps, who have just three goals in their last three games, played without defenseman Mike Green who was a late scratch due to an inner ear issue that no doubt is from the puck he took to the head against the Penguins just eight days ago. Washington is now 29-18-10 and falls to 6th place in the Eastern Conference playoff race and are just eight points ahead of the 9th place Atlanta Thrashers.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game that seemed to follow the usual Caps script these days: No Offense!

- To me this game was “A Tale of Two Alexes.” Much may be made of the fact that both Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin took their option this morning and did not participate in the pre-game skate. There will be criticism of both for doing that and some will argue that the Great #8 is the team captain so he should be out there every time the club hits the ice just to set an example. But Ovechkin plays more minutes than any other forward and he needs his rest, especially when the Capitals are about to play three games in four nights. If he hadn’t played hard tonight, the detractors might have a case, but despite scoring no goals in 25:52 of ice time he was by far the Capitals best player. Ovie had six shots on net, five blocked, and four that missed the cage. He also set up the snakebit and struggling Nicklas Backstrom for several golden chances. The Great #8 was skating hard and hustling, he made several takeaways in his own zone (despite the fact that it appears that noone was really keeping those stats in Phoenix). He didn’t dilly dally with the puck on the power play like he has done a little too much of this season, instead he was cranking up the slapper and letting the biscuit go. Simply put, if more guys gave the effort he put out on Monday night the Capitals likely win. But several did not, especially Ovechkin’s best buddy on the team, Semin. #28 will show up on the ledger with an assist, although it was a garbage one on Marcus Johansson’s fluke goal, and at +1. But Semin only had two shots on net and he had numerous giveaways (again, forget looking at the official stats on NHL.com from Phoenix). In fact, he worked so little that Caps assistant equipment manager, Craig “Woody” Ledyig, probably doesn’t even need to wash his jersey for Wednesday night’s tilt in Anaheim.

- The Caps had five power plays in this contest and believe it or not, they were pretty good except for one big detail, which we’ll get to in a minute. The team moved the puck well on the ice setting up 14 shots on net! Many of those blasts came from the point and that is something they haven’t been doing enough of lately. However, the point shots were rarely followed up with rebound attempts and I’ll put the blame on that on the aforementioned right winger who logged 6:45 of man advantage time and the struggling #19 (6:34 of power play time). Both guys are positioned on the half wall and when the puck gets to the point and is shot, they need to go to the cage for a rebound attempt, that is how you score on a good goalie like the game’s number one star, Ilya Bryzgalov (29 saves). I get that Semin probably isn’t happy with the lack of a real second line center to play with but on the power play he needs to work harder. Most of the other Caps did grind with the man advantage and they were outnumbering the Coyotes in the zone, which led to so many shots, but sooner or later some of the skill guys need to show some grit and go to the high traffic areas and score. I just don’t see Semin doing that and for that reason alone, he should have his ice time reduced on the power play.

- It is hard to totally fault Michal Neuvirth (15 saves) on the three goals he allowed as you can point to blatant mistakes made by the players in front of him on each goal, but #30 needed to stop one of the first two markers given the Caps offensive struggles. On the first Phoenix tally the Coyotes used their excellent speed and a slow Caps d-man to tie up this tilt just 49 seconds after Johansson’s goal from behind the Yotes cage. Winger Radim Vrbata flew down the left wing and the ultra slow Jeff Schultz gave him way too much room while backing up. That allowed #17 to slide the puck into the slot where Ray Whitney deflected it to Martin Hanzal. #11 then took advantage of poor coverage from Dave Steckel to score in tight and even the game up. Goal number two was the result of bad forward positioning while shorthanded but I thought Neuvy could have had Whitney’s shot. On the third goal, Neuvirth had no chance as John Erskine pinched at the offensive blue line leaving Tyler Sloan back on a two on one break and when #89 failed to cut off the pass, Vernon Fiddler had an easy goal.

- In summary, this game was typical of so many we’ve seen from Washington this year following the playoff loss to Montreal last spring. The club fires a ton of shots at the cage and incorrectly blame a hot goalie afterwards. The truth of the matter is goals are mostly scored in close in the NHL and this team just doesn’t have enough guys who want to get there and pay the price. Then, with two of their better skaters and puck handlers out on D in Green and Tom Poti, they have some lower level blue liners get exposed and it costs them the game.

Notes: Matt Bradley had the Caps other goal on a Coyotes turnover. That tally came just 40 seconds after Phoenix made it 3-1…Washington won the faceoff battle, 40-35, and Backstrom was 16-10, if only he could bury some of his numerous chances…Ovechkin also had three hits…disappointed to see Schultz get two and a half more minutes of ice time than Karl Alzner. #27 is a much better skater than #55 and the Coyotes are a fast team. Perhaps it was a function of Alzner’s d-partner (John Carlson) getting so much power play time making it hard for Coach Bruce Boudreau to put Alzner back on with #74 immediately following the five unsuccessful power plays?…Wednesday night’s contest from Anaheim is on CSN at 10pm.

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Not So “Shaky” Caps Neuvirth Blanks Pens, 3-0

Posted on 06 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

During the Capitals-Penguins game back on December 23rd at the Verizon Center, Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma was captured on camera by HBO in their superb 24/7 series as saying that Michal Neuvirth was “shaky.” Well Bylsma’s crew may have won that contest, 3-2, in an extended shootout, but as they say, revenge is a dish best served cold. On Super Bowl Sunday at a sold out and rowdy Verizon Center, Neuvirth (22 saves) and his teammates ICED the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-0, in the second straight strong team performance from the Caps. Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson (shorthanded), and Mike Knuble (empty net goal) scored for Washington, who improved to 29-15-10 (68 points) and remain three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division race. The Caps are a comfortable 10 points ahead of the ninth place Atlanta Thrashers in the Eastern Conference standings and they have a game in hand on Atlanta. The top eight teams in each conference qualify for the postseason.

Below are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the Caps eighth straight victory on Super Bowl Sunday at the Verizon Center (Washington is 14-3-1 since 1988 on the NFL’s biggest day):

- It was important for Washington to follow up a 60 minute Friday night winning effort in Tampa with another strong showing. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau received all of that in this contest’s first 30 minutes as Washington raced out to a 2-0 lead and held a dominating 17-8 advantage on the shots board. For the next 14 plus minutes the Capitals would skate hard and deliver a strong effort, however, their hockey IQ was not good at all. Time after time during that stretch Washington had opportunities for quality chances yet they continued to over pass the puck and failed to get off any good shots on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (21 saves). In fact, from the 9:55 mark of the second period until 4:24 into period three the Caps did not register a single shot on goal. Nicklas Backstrom tried forcing a pass on a two on one rush and Boyd Gordon attempted to pass the biscuit across the slot when he was all alone on #29 were two specific examples of numerous instances during that stretch when a shot on net may have led to a three goal lead. Boudreau’s crew seemed to forget, like they did when up 2-0 on Montreal on Tuesday evening, that the simple hockey strategy of getting pucks deep and to the net were what gave them the lead in those games. Afterwards, Washington defenseman Karl Alzner talked about what the Caps did so well to get the two goal margin and then agreed that the club lost its focus for that shotless stretch before regrouping.

“I think it was just sticking to the system, we did everything the way we wanted to do it. We got pucks in, we didn’t have many turnovers at the offensive blue line, defensive blue line, and that’s what we need every single game. That’s two games back to back where we stuck to everything the coaches told us to do and we got good results,” said #27 on what is driving the team’s recent success.

“We started taking the foot off of the gas a little and they put on a bit of a push. When you have a lead sometimes the tendency is to make nice plays to try to get more points and more goals on the board and that is what was happening. We came back after the intermission and we’ve got a lot of guys who are thinking the right way now, just kind of focus back in together and turn it up again,” added Alzner when asked what happened during the last 10 minutes of the second period.

- Neuvirth, who found out on Saturday night that he possibly would be starting with Semyon Varlamov feeling sick, was poised in the cage and did a super job of not giving up juicy rebounds and he froze the puck when the Capitals occassionally started scrambling around in their own zone. He didn’t have to be spectacular because his teammates were willing to sacrifice their bodies to block shots but #30 was clearly determined to make Bylsma regret his in game comments from that pre-Christmas tilt.

“Of course. I watched every episode (of HBO’s 24/7), but this is hockey. It didn’t really bother me. But now I’m really happy that I shut them down. It’s even better for me right now. Before the game, I remembered when he said that and I kind of looked at him during the warm up and told myself that I got to shut these guys out tonight,” responsed the rookie goalie, who earned his second shutout of the season and NHL career, when asked about Bylsma’s 24/7 captured comments.

- The Caps did right the ship during those last 15 minutes of period three by getting back to dumping the puck deep and forcing a depleted Pittsburgh squad, that was without Sidney Crosby (concussion) and likely Evgeni Malkin for the season (torn ACL and MCL in his knee), to try and go through all five Capitals to score. Washington, who was also missing Alexander Semin, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti, plus lost top defensemen Mike Green for the last two periods due to a shot that hit him near the ear and required stitches, played their defensive system superbly and when guys like superstar Alexander Ovechkin are laying out on the ice to block slappers from the point, you know the team is committed to winning at all costs.

“It’s all about commitment. It’s a commitment to winning. You block shots, one of your teammates goes down, another one picks it up,” commented Boudreau on the excellent defensive effort.

 

- Washington’s power play, which went 0 for 4, did have several good chances to score on Sunday as the Capitals did a decent job of getting the puck between the dots at the top of the point and blasting away. Ovechkin had a few slappers that made their way to the cage and the Caps just missed banging home rebounds from in front. The Capitals had registered man advantage markers in their two previous games and Boudreau felt that this unit was good once again on Sunday.

 

“I thought we could have had three or four. Sometimes you just don’t get it in and you are playing against the league’s best penalty killing team. But we had good chances and bottom line there is Fleury made some great saves there in the end to keep it at two,” said Boudreau on his power play unit.

 

“It’s really tough, guys they sacrifice their bodies all of the time now. They block absolutely everything. So it’s difficult. That is why we are trying to move the puck, spread it out as much as we can and get shots. Nobody likes when we don’t shoot the puck, we can hear that, but sometimes you just can’t do it. You have to shoot it off to the side of the net there or make plays. It doesn’t always work out but you do what you can,” added Alzner when asked about the difficulty in today’s NHL of getting off center point blasts with the man advantage.

 

- There were no penalties called in the first period and with the majority of the action in the Caps offensive zone it was clear that referee Dave Jackson was going to let the teams play in front of him. I was fine with that and I imagine the players and coaches did as well. As for the other zebra, Paul Devorski, one of the worst officials in the league still needs to buy a clue. Specifically, the man who allowed the Flyers to score their first goal in game seven of their 2008 playoff series against Washington because Philly ran Caps goalie Cristobal Huet, still has no idea on how to properly call goaltender interference. On Sunday, Matt Hendricks was shoved into Fleury while Knuble appeared to score the Capitals second goal and #10, instead of waving the goal off due to coincidental contact with the net minder and calling for a faceoff, said no goal and also assessed #26 with a two minute minor for goalie interference. It was a terrible interpretation of the rules, but fortunately for Washington they scored shorthanded on Johansson’s screened backhander with just five ticks left in the Penguins man advantage. Devorski also only assesed Pittsburgh cheap shot artist Matt Cooke a two minute minor when he delivered an ugly knee to knee hit on Ovechkin late in the contest. The Great #8 was luckily okay but one can’t help but wonder how Cooke, who has a history of dirty play, escaped a major and what should be a suspension? After all, Ovechkin received a five minute major, game misconduct, and then a two game suspension for a similar play in Carolina last season.

 

“I’m never going to say anything bad about an official. They are watching from their own eyes, they are seeing what they are seeing and they are making calls that they think are right. I am not always going to agree with them, on the same point, but I didn’t feel like I purposely went into the goaltender, I felt like I was pushed from behind. I don’t think I was in the blue. I think Fleury was out quite a bit out of his crease. That’s the game I play, the style I play, those things are going to happen. It’s tough when we score a goal too,” said Hendricks on the goalie interference infraction he was incorrectly assessed.

 

“It’s Matt Cooke, okay, need we say more. It’s not like it’s his first rodeo, he’s done it to everybody and then he goes to the ref and says ‘What did I do?’ He knows damn well what he did. There is no doubt in my mind that he’s good at it and he knows how to do it and he knows how to pick this stuff. We as a league still buy into this, that ‘Oh, it still was an accidental thing’,” said Boudreau on the dirty play by #24 against his former teammate, Ovechkin.

 

Notes: Despite the fact that everyone who knows anything about hockey and Dave Steckel realizes that the contact he had with Crosby on New Years Day was incidental, Penguins forward Tim Wallace tried to make a name for himself by challenging #39 to a 3rd period fight, which Steckel obliged…the Capitals dominated the Pens from the dot winning 32 of 49 draws. Backstrom was a sensational 14-3…Johansson and Mathieu Perreault, two young small centermen, have had back to back strong contests but Boudreau has often commented that he’s seen flashes of this before and wants consistency from the pair. He also mentioned today that MJ90 has had to deal with numerous differences in the NHL game and he pointed out that in the Swedish league that Marcus played in last season skaters aren’t even allowed to use their feet to win a faceoff…Green was dressed and doing interviews after the victory but I suspect the area where he took the puck will swell and it might be wise to sit him out until he is totally healthy. “He’s day-to-day. He’s got a little bit of a headache right now. You get hit in the head with a puck and you’re gonna have a headache. We’ll reevaluate him tomorrow,” added Boudreau….the Caps killed off both Penguins power plays and are still ranked 2nd in the NHL on the PK (86.3%)…Boudreau improved to 10-1-3 in his tenure against the Penguins and the Capitals are 9-0-2 in the last 11 regular season meetings versus Pittsburgh…Semin is expected to play in Washington’s next game against San Jose at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night. #28 hasn’t played since early January.

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Caps Skate By Isles, 2-1

Posted on 21 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have been accused in the past of being unable to win 2-1 games. Cross that item off the criticism list because the Caps raced to an early 2-0 second period lead, allowed a breakaway tally by  Michael Grabner in the middle frame, then put their defensive system to work in the third period en route to a 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night. It wasn’t pretty hockey and it was boring to watch, at times, but there are no style points in the NHL and as a result, the Caps exit Long Island and the Nassau Coliseum with the two points they wanted to grab on the second tilt of their three game road trip. The win pushes the Capitals overall record to 26-14-8 (60 points) and they still trail Tampa Bay by a point in the Southeast Division since the Bolts knocked off the Atlanta Thrashers, 3-2, in a shootout.

Here are the highlights and analysis of an “ugly win” over the young and pesky Islanders:

- Last time Braden Holtby was recalled to Washington he started with a bang by winning his first two appearances (one in relief and one as a starter), played well in an OT loss in Buffalo, and then imploded in two road tilts at Atlanta and New Jersey. #70, after those two defeats back in November, went back to Hershey and worked hard on his game posting several shutouts with the Bears while awaiting his next recall. Well the phone rang once again and Holtby was coming up to “The Show.” To top things off, he would start in his first contest with the Capitals on this recall due to minor injuries to Michal Neuvirth (sent back to DC after Tuesday’s OT loss in Philly) and Semyon Varlamov (dressed as the backup goalie on Thursday night). The result was a very solid 24 save effort from the young goalie from Saskatchewan. Holtby did not make some of the mistakes he made in his last two disastrous NHL starts, such as overplaying the puck or over challenging the shooters, and he looked very comfortable and in control during all 60 minutes. The only tally he allowed was to Grabner on a breakaway at 5:15 of the second period. Kudos to Braden for keeping a good attitude and showing once again that he has NHL game.

- Towards the end of the second period in the OT loss to the Flyers on Tuesday, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau put Jason Chimera on the top line with Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and it worked well against a very good Philadelphia club. On Long Island on Thursday, the Caps bench boss kept that trio together and it paid dividends as the Great #8 set up both Chimera (1 goal, +2) and Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist, +2) for easy goals. For the most part this line dominated on the ice, except for some shifts towards the end of period two and in the final stanza where I thought Ovechkin (2 assists, +2) tried to do too much himself in the offensive zone and he also floated a bit in his own end. However, when the Capitals needed a key defensive play late in the game, the Great #8 cleared the puck off of the boards and down the ice without getting whistled for icing. That play by the team captain sealed this victory. For Backstrom, his tap in from the crease on a rebound of Ovechkin’s power move and shot on net, was his first tally since December 1st in St. Louis when had two goals (a 21 game drought). Adding Chimera to the line has been a great move because #25′s speed seems to open the ice up for the other two. In addition, Chimera is not afraid to go to the net and that is where he scored the Capitals first goal on Long Island.

- The Caps were fortunate to only give up one goal and once again they can thank their stellar penalty killing unit. Washington took six careless minors but the shorthanded crew was outstanding only allowing eight shots on goal over the 12 minutes. The Islanders moved the puck well, at times, on the man advantage but they could not solve Holtby. New York took only two penalties and they held the Caps to just four shots on those two man advantage situations. It is a good thing the Capitals did not need a power play goal to win on Thursday because once again they struggled to get pucks to the net on their PP opportunities.

- On the backend, the Capitals got very good performances from all of their blueliners. The Mike Green-Jeff Schultz pairing logged the most ice time and weren’t on for a goal against. John Carlson had an assist on the Caps second goal but was beat on the Grabner breakaway and #74′s usual partner, Karl Alzner, was +1 in 17:51 of ice time. Scott Hannan (+1) had his 14th straight contest with the Caps without being a minus player. If you watch #23 closely when he is playing you will see that he is a great communicator and is often talking to his d-partner. Hannan does a great job with this and he appears to be getting more and more comfortable with his role on this team. Finally, John Erskine was even (other d-man on the ice on Grabner’s goal) in 15 minutes of action dealing with a minor lower body injury (d-man Brian Fahey was recalled from Hershey in case #4 could not play).

- From the dot, the Caps once again dominated winning 34 of the 55 faceoffs taken. Boyd Gordon went 12-2 and Backstrom was 10-4. #1 NHL faceoff man, Dave Steckel, won four of his five draws. Only Marcus Johansson (-1) at 0-6 and Jay Beagle (1-4) struggled on draws.

- In summary, a win is a win is a win, and the Capitals will take it. However, if they are going to compete against the elite NHL clubs they need to find a way to get more offense going. They should get a boost once Alexander Semin returns to the lineup but the glaring need on the club still remains the second line center position.

Notes: Tomas Fleischmann, who was traded to Colorado in exchange for Hannan, was declared out for the rest of the NHL season Thursday due to a pulmonary embolism. Flash had been scoring consistently for the Avs…forward DJ King played only six shifts and logged 3:25 of ice time…next up for the Caps are the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday at 7pm. The Leafs have given the Capitals fits over the last two seasons and both contests this year at the Verizon Center went to the shootout.

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Flyers Outwork Caps in 3-2 OT Win

Posted on 19 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Usually when the Capitals and Flyers meet the game takes on a playoff type feel. The intensity is high, the skating is strong, and both teams physically pound each other. The home crowd also tends to get loud and involved in the game. On Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center, that was not the case, for the most part. Philadelphia took advantage of Matt Hendricks overskating the puck at the Flyers blueline and then an overplay by goalie Michal Neuvirth to gain a 1-0 lead just 1:31 into the contest on Jeff Carter’s wraparound goal, then dominated the second period to increase their lead to 2-0, gave up two goals in 40 seconds on turnovers midway through the third period to let Washington back in the game, and then won it in overtime, 3-2, on an Andrej Meszaros blast. The loss drops the Caps overall record to 25-14-8 (58 points), one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, who now lead the Southeast Division.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a mostly lethargic effort by Washington against the Eastern Conference leading and despised Flyers squad:

-The Caps were the better team for only about 20 minutes of the 61:07 of elapsed time. Washington played fairly well in the first 10 minutes, other than the Hendricks/Neuvirth gaffe, but failed to get an early lead or tie the game because they routinely overpassed the puck when in quality chance areas on the ice. After the first half of period one, the Caps took a 30 minute hiatus as the Flyers dominated the play and if not for Semyon Varlamov (20 saves on 22 shots), who came on in relief of an injured Neuvirth (7 saves on 8 shots) after the first period, this one would have been over after 40 minutes. But starting period three, the aggressive and tenacious Capitals squad that was expected to once again dominate the Eastern Conference, finally showed up forcing two key Flyers turnovers that allowed them to tie the game with 11:22 remaining. From there on out, though, the Capitals seemed content to try and take this tilt to overtime since they failed to generate much, if any, scoring opportunities after Alexander Ovechkin’s 16th goal knotted this one up.

- Just how bad were the Caps in those opening frames? After two periods the club only had 12 shots on goal. This low shot total was the result of a combination of overpassing the puck, getting shots blocked or firing them high, and not working hard. One indicator of a team’s work ethic is often evident in the faceoff statistics, especially with a usually good from the dot team like the Capitals, and in the middle stanza the Flyers won 13 of the 17 draws taken. The Caps looked disinterested for most of the first two periods and center Nicklas Backstrom noted after the game that his club needs to figure out how to be ready in each period.

“I thought it was a fast paced game and they came out harder than us. We played a better third period but it is not enough. We have to learn to how to be ready to play a 60 minute game and that is what we are not doing and that is a concern,” said the Swedish center who was taken with the 4th pick overall in the 2006 NHL Entry draft.

- Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau once again mixed up his line combinations at the start of the game in an effort to get a struggling offense going. Ovechkin started with rookie Marcus Johansson at center, and Brooks Laich on right wing. That line simply did not click and by the end of the second period Ovechkin was back with Backstrom as his center and Jason Chimera was inserted at right wing with that duo for the first time this season. The 8-19-25 line seemed to have instant chemistry and Chimera nearly scored near the end of the middle stanza after the Great #8 fed #25 the puck on the doorstep, only to be robbed by Sergei Bobrovsky (23 saves). I know that Boudreau is trying to get two lines going by splitting up his top two offensive players because it seems like a logical way to do that, but for some reason it just is not working. Both Backstrom and Ovechkin struggled when they were not playing together in this tilt but once they were reunited that line carried the play on the ice.

- As for Johansson (-2), this was not his best night. The young Swede did make a super play on the Caps first goal by using his speed to skate around the Flyers defense, then put a shot on Bobrovsky that he couldn’t handle, and Mike Knuble banged it home from the right post. However, MJ90 was on the ice for all three Philadelphia tallies. He was not at fault at all on the first one but on the second two I put the primary responsibility on Johansson. On the Flyers second tally he had a chance to take the puck away from Philadelphia on the left wing boards but he wasn’t strong enough to do so. As a result, the line of Jeff Carter, James Van Riemsdyk, and Claude Giroux was able to cycle the puck and it eventually came out to Giroux in the slot (Johansson’s man) and #28 fired a quality shot on Varly that #1 saved, but the rebound came right back to him and Giroux skated by Johannson to put the puck in the net past a sprawled Varlamov. But things would get worse for the young center, who once again struggled on faceoffs (3-6), in the overtime session. MJ90 was a part of the second group of forwards on the ice after Ovechkin and Backstrom started the OT. In the Caps zone he lost his man, Meszaros, because he drifted down low in the right wing circle allowing the former Ottawa Senator to receive a pass in the high slot and then blast one through traffic and by Varlamov to end the game. I think that Johansson is going to be a very good third line center in the future, but right now his inexperience and lack of size is a bad combination at times, and that is leading to his inconsistent play. The Caps are asking an awful lot of this rookie, primarily because they are so thin up the middle.

“There is a combination depending on how far back you want to go. Right at the goal, it’s 4 on 4, defensemen take the forwards and forwards take the defensemen. So Marcus got sucked in too deep so you had two guys going at whoever had the puck. That opens things up for Meszaros who is following up the play. You give him the puck and there is nobody to come and check him,” responded Boudreau when asked how the Flyers defenseman was so wide open on the winning tally.

- There was only one power play in this contest and it went to the Flyers in the first period after Dave Steckel was called for hooking. Philadelphia did not convert on the man advantage. Referees Dave Jackson and Dennis LaRue pretty much put away their whistles and let the guys play. About the only complaint I had was that they missed Ovechkin getting hit in the face by an errant Flyers high stick.

“I think [the referees] did a good job and if we could have been skating in the first and second period maybe we would have a [power play] too,” added Backstrom on the officiating.

- On the team’s style of play, Boudreau said that the Caps “opened it up a bit in the third period” because they were down two goals. He said a “lack of firepower” prevented him from doing that sooner and that his club “played defensive minded from the start but it was tough when they got down in the opening minutes.” Clearly the offensive drought that is exacerbated by Alexander Semin’s injury and a hole at second line center is preventing the team from playing more “run and gun” or aggressive hockey. Unfortunately, when the team starts thinking defense too much, their offensive opportunities drastically diminish, and the iterative process has resulted in much lower goal production for the Caps (Washington has scored four or more goals just once in the last 17 games).

- In summary, the Caps didn’t put out a great effort tonight and are pretty lucky to have gained a point in the standings. Boudreau, who seemed very displeased with his club after the game, told the media that he did not say anything to his team immediately following the game and that he would talk to them at practice on Wednesday. I imagine the words from the bench boss will not be pleasant and we will see how the squad responds on Thursday night when they take on the Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum.

Notes: Boudreau said that Neuvirth was day to day with his injury (lower body, likely a groin)…the Caps lost 31 of the 51 draws in this contest. Mathieu Perreault was 6-0 while Backstrom was a pitiful 5-14…Chimera had six shots on net and five of them came when he was put on the top unit…DJ King saw his first action in over a month and played just 4:24. He did fight Flyers tough guy Jody Shelley, and in my book, won a close bout…key players for both teams missed the contest. Chris Pronger on the blue line for the Flyers and right wing Semin for Washington…forward Andrew Gordon was reassigned to Hershey today.

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Bolts Blank Uninspired Caps to Take Southeast Lead

Posted on 13 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

There was a battle for the top spot in the Southeast Division on Wednesday night between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals, but only one team showed up. I am not surprised. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season and getting bounced in the first round by Montreal, the Caps have been inconsistent this regular season and have appeared to basically be in a “waiting for the playoffs mode” with this contest being no exception. When the Capitals want to play, as they will likely do on Friday against the NHL standings leading Vancouver Canucks or next Tuesday night in Philadelphia against the Flyers, they typically can compete with anyone. But the Lightning, who Washington has owned in the Bruce Boudreau era, despite having a great season, just do not get the Capitals motivated, yet. As a result, a tired and uninspired Capitals club fell behind 2-0 in the first period and mailed it in the rest of the game en route to a 3-0 defeat. The Bolts now lead the Southeast Division over the Caps by two points (57 to 55):

Here are the lowlights and analysis from a lackluster Capitals performance:

- It is clear that the Capitals are definitely becoming the Penguins or Flyers to the Lightning. Guy Boucher’s club came out flying while the Caps still looked like they were sleeping following Tuesday night’s OT loss in Florida. Nate Thompson, who isn’t exactly going to challenge Steven Stamkos or Sidney Crosby for any all star spots, cruised into the Washington zone with speed forcing a slow footed Jeff Schultz to back up way too far. #44 then hit the brakes and threw the puck on net and Tom Poti, who really shouldn’t be playing yet because he isn’t 100% healthy, couldn’t handle Dominic Moore in front of the net. #19 then banked one in off of a sprawling Semyon Varlamov for the first marker just 3:58 in to the contest. Varly would then give up a rebound on a Victor Hedman point shot, because he had too much traffic in front of him (3 and 55 didn’t box out well), and Sean Bergenheim batted the biscuit in the basket baseball style to make it 2-0. The Bolts outshot the Caps 14-9 in that first intermission and dominated the play.

- From there, things just got worse for Washington as they didn’t play hard and the referees, Tim Kowal and Steve Kozari, officiated this one like they had money on the game in Vegas. I could try and list all of the missed and incorrect calls but in the immortal words of Mark Ratner from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “That would take too long.” However, the sequence where Steve Downie dropped his mitts early and got two sucker punches in on Scott Hannan bears mentioning; not only because Downie is a gutless thug, but because the zebras, who I termed the Krusty the Klown pair, gave four minutes to #23 and only two to the Lightning pest that you just want to crush with your shoe. The referees were not the reason the Capitals lost on this evening, their lack of effort and the solid goaltending from Dwayne Roloson (23 saves) takes precedence, but the NHL seriously needs to look at many of these crews to try and find some sanity and consistency because I sure as heck am not seeing it in the league so far this season from the zebras.

- The positives for Washington were few and far between:

  • Varlamov did stop 35 of 38 shots. He was totally hung out to dry by Schutlz and Mike Green on the Simon Gagne goal to make it 3-0 late in period two. The former Flyers tally came on a 2 on 0 break after Sarge and #52 lolligagged it from the Bolts blue line after an offensive zone faceoff.
  • The Caps killed off all six Tampa power play chances (9:37 of shorthanded time).
  • Blue liners John Carlson and Karl Alzner logged 25:27  and 24:35 of ice time, respectively, and did not allow a goal. Most of those minutes came against the Bolts top line. Stamkos and Martin St. Louis were both held without a point thanks to the two young defensemen.
  • Alexander Ovechkin (-2, 4 hits, 2 shots on net in 18:38 of ice time) didn’t run out of hockey sticks. Well he almost did as he broke numerous twigs on the night and word has it that the team equipment crew had to run out to the truck to reload on the bench for the Great #8.

- Poti (-2), who only played five minutes and change before leaving with yet another injury, and Schultz (-3) had bad nights on defense. However, as I mentioned in this video that was shot with my media friends John Keeley of On Frozen Blog and Ted Starkey of The Washington Times on Saturday night at the Verizon Center, the Capitals are in good shape from a defense and goaltending posture. What General Manager George McPhee needs to do is go out and get at least one, and likely two, top six forwards to give Washington a better chance at going deep into the post season and competing for a Stanley Cup. With Varlamov and Neuvirth, they have improved in the cage and the defense is much better this season thanks to the emergence of Alzner and Carlson plus the acquisition of Hannan, so that leaves an offense that has been blanked six times this year as the club’s problem point. That is no surprise since last year’s squad finished games five through seven of the Montreal series with exactly one goal in each tilt. The Caps GM has until 3pm on February 28th to make some moves to get this offense going again, stay tuned.

Notes:  Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup after missing close to a month due to injury, and as a result forward Brian Willsie was sent back to Hershey after just one game (1 assist in just over six minutes of ice time)…Each team won 31 faceoffs on Wednesday. Dave Steckel went 5-1 for Washington.. Nearly 500 fans helped the Washington Capitals raise $304,900 for charity at the second Caps Care Casino Night and Auction on Jan. 9 at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. A majority of the money raised will benefit Washington Capitals Charities, which supports community programs in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

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Ovechkin, Green, Fehr Lead Caps in 3-2 Win

Posted on 09 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Remember that Washington Capitals eight game losing streak, a stretch in which they went 0-6-2? Well that is now a distant memory and after Saturday night’s Caps 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers the team is 6-0-2 in their last eight contests to put their overall record at 12 games over .500 for the second time this season (24-12-6). Alexander Ovechkin scored one of his patented highlight reel variety goals with 3:55 remaining to put the Caps up 3-1 and after giving up a goal with 97 seconds to go, they hung on for the win. Mike Green and Eric Fehr each added a goal and an assist after the Panthers drew first blood and the Caps now lead the NHL in wins (12) when surrendering the first goal of the game. Semyon Varlamov was excellent in the cage stopping 25 of 27 shots to get his 8th victory of the 2010-11 season.

Let’s get to the quotes and analysis from a victory that allows the Caps to remain just a point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (55 to 54) in the Southeast Division standings (the Bolts defeated Ottawa, 2-1, on Saturday night):

- The first period of this game was some of the ugliest hockey I have watched all year. There was little to no flow in the opening frame and the Caps struggled to make good passes and get out of their own zone. The shots were 6-5, Florida, as the Panthers took a one goal lead on a defensive breakdown just 3:49 into the contest. Prior to the game, Boudreau shuffled up his lines in an attempt to get Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist, +1) and Alex Semin (left game injured in 2nd period) going. It didn’t work and #19 and #28 now have 16 and 14 game goal scoring droughts, respectively. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wasn’t very happy with that opening period and afterwards he was asked what he told his troops heading into the middle stanza.

“I didn’t curse,” joked Boudreau as he started his answer, “I just said quite frankly that we are not forechecking at all. We’re getting it in and we are worried about positioning and systems but if we don’t go and put pressure on them nothing’s gonna happen. That’s why I think we had only five shots in the first period,” said Boudreau on his speech after 20 minutes. The head coach switched his lines back to their normal configuration in the middle frame reuniting Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Mike Knuble.

- Boudreau frequently says that in order to win your best players have to be your best players each night. Tonight Green was the top player on the ice and Ovechkin was solid as well adding an assist on #52′s tally to go with his game winning marker. In addition, Varlamov was excellent in net and he made some big saves when the Caps were running around in their own end on numerous occassions in this game (mostly in period one). Washington has now given up only 11 goals in this eight game stretch and just 16 in their past 10 tilts. The team defense has been strong and the Green-Scott Hannan pair was praised by the Caps bench boss afterwards.

“They’ve been excellent, but all of the defensemen have been excellent. You just look at our goals against in the last eight games and it’s been as good as any team. It’s better than we’ve ever had it here before in my tenure. But you can see Mike is starting to get his legs and his confidence and he’s doing a great job,” said Boudreau about his blue line’s solid play and #52.

 

“It’s been great. Scotty is so experienced and the one thing that he helps me out with is I like to hang on to the puck and carry the puck and he’s directing me before I even get it, so it makes my job a lot easier and any time there is that communication it’s easier out there,” added Green on why he and Hannan are playing so well together.

 

- In my mid-season grades and analysis blog I pointed out the Caps penalty killing has been the most improved area over the 2009-10 campaign. Washington killed off all four Florida power plays and in fact, it was forward Jay Beagle who drew the tripping call, while shorthanded, that led to Green’s power play goal in the third period to give the Caps their first lead of the night. The Capitals have killed off 27 consecutive shorthanded situations and 33 of 34 (97.1%) in their last nine games. Washington, who came into tonight’s contest ranked fourth in the NHL in penalty kill percentage (85.4%), hasn’t allowed more than one power-play goal in a game in 29 games, the team’s longest stretch since 1997-98 (36 games). Once again the key to the shorthanded success is the 30 second short shifts and winning defensive zone draws (Dave Steckel had another monster night from the dot going 13-4). Last season when Washington took a penalty tied or down a goal it was usually trouble for the team, but not this year, as the PK is actually turning games around.

 

“What we’ve been trying to do on the bench is stay up when we get penalties and gain momentum from killing penalties. That is a huge momentum boost for the team when you kill a penalty off. Tonight we got lucky they hauled me down and we got a power play out of it,” added Beagle on the mindset of his club when they go shorthanded.

 

- This year’s black sheep of the special teams package, the power play, actually came through tonight with a goal in three attempts.

 

“Any power play goal at this time, just to get the lead in the third period, it was like a breath of fresh air. It seems when you come off of a shutout, it seems you are never going to score. Every goal you get is such a difficult goal and then you go watch the highlights [of other games] and you are wondering if you are ever going to score again,” said Boudreau on the feeling of relief that occurred when they seized the lead on Green’s power play tally, set up by Backstrom and Ovechkin (who was on the half wall in this instance with the man advantage and not on the point).

 

- Beagle is playing extremely well and making it tough for GM George McPhee and Boudreau to send him back to Hershey when Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon return from injuries. #83 drew the game’s key penalty and he, Steckel, and Matt Hendricks dominated in the 10 minutes the trio were on the ice together (each played just over 12 minutes total). Beagle has good speed, size (6′ 3″, 201 lbs), can kill penalties, and he can take faceoffs. Each game he seems to get better.

 

“We worked hard down low and we had some chances early and even late. As long as we are getting chances and doing things right, good things are going to happen. I feel better every game. I’m just more confident and there’s more confidence shown in me by the coaches. I just build off that, try to play my game, and contribute to the team,” said the 25 year old undrafted forward, who won back to back AHL Calder Cup titles with the Hershey Bears in 2009 and 2010.

 

- The Florida Panthers are a much improved team but once again they aren’t going to make the post season (now 18-20-2). They have good speed and they compete, which is why the Caps are only 1-1 against them this year (they lost 3-0 to them on 12/9 at the Verizon Center). Washington was 6-0 against the Cats last year so a case could be made that the Capitals have overlooked them. Whatever the reason, it was a victory and Boudreau felt that as the game went on his club, who hadn’t played since Tuesday’s 1-0 OT defeat to the Lightning, steadily improved.

 

“We have to better. I think we are too good to be this mediocore, that is what I said in the first period and I thought we picked it up in the second period and I thought we played better in the third period as well,” concluded Boudreau on how the game unfolded for his club.

 

“They played hard. They’re one of the fastest skating teams we play all season. They played really well and they didn’t want to give us a whole lot and we had to earn the win,” added Fehr, whose 8th goal of the season came from the top of the crease after Green centered the puck on a wrap around attempt.

 

“[Washington’s] a team that if you make a mistake, they make you pay.  They have those types of players.  You see the guys that scored the [last two] goals in the third, Green and Ovechkin.  That’s the story.  Those are game-changing players and they delivered in the third when they needed to,” concluded Florida head coach Peter DeBoer on why his team lost.

 

Notes: There was no information provided afterwards on Semin’s condition, who took a knee from Steve Bernier on a 2nd period play in which #28 passed up a shot and tried to make an extra deke. That delay not only took away his scoring chance, but eventually ended his evening…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 26-24 thanks to Steckel…Tom Poti played 7:01 in the first period but only 10:58 more over the last two frames. He does not look 100% to me as his skating is a step slow…Green talked about the importance of on ice communication. On two occassions in this game Marcus Johansson was wide open in the offensive zone and neither Ovechkin nor Laich attempted to pass to #90 in prime scoring position. I wonder if the rookie is verbally letting his teammates know he is open?…John Erskine and Tyler Sloan were scratched on defense…the Caps next game is on Tuesday in Florida against the Panthers. They follow that tilt up with a game in Tampa on Wednesday before coming back to face the Vancouver Canucks at home on Friday, January 14th.

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Ovechkin, Varlamov Lead Caps Over Canes

Posted on 27 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin finally caught a break and he turned a fortuitous bounce into his 13th goal of the season and the eventual game winner as the Washington Capitals knocked off the Carolina Hurricanes, 3-2, in Raleigh on Sunday night. Semyon Varlamov, who was notified he was starting Sunday afternoon after Michal Neuvirth came up “sore” (h/t Mike Vogel, aka @VogsCaps on Twitter), was very good stopping 33 of 35 shots in goal to earn the victory. Washington swept the Canes in all three contests in Raleigh and are 4-0 against Carolina this season. In addition the Caps are 3-0-1 in their last four games with the only defeat coming in round 7 of the shootout this past Thursday against the Penguins. The Capitals are now 21-12-5 (47 points) and they remain tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Southeast Division. The Bolts knocked off the Atlanta Thrashers in OT on Sunday, another one of those dreaded three point division games. The Thrashers are in 3rd place trailing the leaders by three points.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a victory played before a less than capacity crowd that was held down by a rare snowstorm in the Carolinas:

- Ovechkin was the game’s number one star and in addition to his winning tally, he added an assist on Dave Steckel’s marker in the second period. On both occassions the goals were the direct result of the Great #8 going to the net. But to score goals in the NHL that is what you have to do and even though the bounce was a lucky one to set up Alexander the Great’s goal, he doesn’t light the lamp if he doesn’t go to the spots where goal scorers score. Ovechkin had 8 shots on goal, was credited with just one hit, and was +2.

- Varly, who Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau told reporters after the game “was chomping at the bit to play” (h/t Comcast SportsNet), gave up two goals that he didn’t have much of a chance on. The first was by Jussi Jokinen on a 2 on 1 break after Washington made a bad line change, leaving John Erskine back to defend, and the second came from Tuumu Ruutu on a deflection just 30 seconds into period three. #1 also received some help from the iron as the Canes hit at least two posts, by my count.

- Alexander Semin (1 assist, +1) turned in a strong performance for Washington and it was his super pass to Mathieu Perreault in front that led to the Caps first goal by #85 after Carolina carried much of the play in the opening frame. Brooks Laich, who outworked a Canes defender below the goal line to get #28 the puck on that goal, Semin, and Perreault, had some good early chemistry but that all ended when Tim Gleason came up high on #85 and broke his nose in period one. Gleason would get a major and a game misconduct but the Caps only received a three minute power play out of it because Matt Hendricks roughed up Gleason after the whistle. Perreault, who has five goals in just 12 games with the Caps this year, stayed down after the hit while and was bleeding profusely. He is out day to day with the injury.

- The Capitals killed off all four Carolina power plays and the penalty killing unit continues to be the team’s biggest improvement over last season. Eight different forwards logged at least a minute of shorthanded time and Jason Chimera had a 36 second shift on the PK as well. The decision by Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason to shorten the shifts and be more aggressive has worked wonders. In addition, the team is doing a good job of blocking shots and Mike Green (1 assist, +1 in 29:43 of ice time) laid out on the ice twice in the first period to thwart Carolina blasts from making it to the cage. Carolina only had 2 shots on goal during their eight minutes of power play time! Washington is up to an 84.3% penalty killing percentage, ninth best in the NHL.

- Now if the Caps could just convert on the power play, although, I have to admit it is getting better and would have connected if not for the strong play of Cam Ward (27 saves). Evason mixed things up again and had Ovechkin all over the place, sometimes on the point, another time on the half wall, and even had him in the slot. The Caps not only moved the puck quicker, but they had a lot of motion on both of their man advantage situations (five minutes total). They also fired nine shots on net in those five minutes and if they continue to do what they did in Carolina sooner or later the puck will start going in.

- Boudreau put forwards Jay Beagle, Steckel, and Hendricks on the ice to start period three and at the time it seemed like a smart idea to get some solid two way players who bring energy out on the first shift with the Caps up 3-1. But the plan didn’t come together and somehow both Beagle and Hendricks ended up together on the right point and d-man Jay Harrison had all day to gather the puck on the opposite side, move in, and blast one that was deflected by Ruutu into the cage. After that quick goal, the Canes would come hard for the next 10 minutes and Washington was hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Simply put, the Caps were lucky to survive with a lead in the first half of the final frame. During that bad stretch the Caps were not sticking to their system and too often the wingers were not doing their job on the boards as time after time Carolina defenders pinched along the wall to keep up the pressure on Washington in their own end.

- Somewhere around eight minutes left in regulation the Capitals turned back into a good defensive team and Carolina really never had a decent chance to tie this one up from then on. The Caps followed orders and limited turnovers in the neutral zone by dumping the puck deep on the Canes defensemen, who had to be tired with Gleason gone plus from all of the pinching in at the points, and making them work hard to get it back up the ice. It seemed each time the Hurricanes would get the puck to center ice a Washington player would be there in perfect position and they’d throw it back into the Carolina zone. In addition, Chimera and Laich did a great job off of a defensive zone faceoff with four minutes to go and the Canes Jamie McBain hauled #25 down to give Washington their second power play of the game. The Caps didn’t score but they kept the biscuit in the Canes end the whole time and for at least 15 more seconds after the penalty expired giving Carolina only 90 seconds to try and tie the game up.

- Overall, this wasn’t a pretty victory but the Caps are doing more of the little things correctly and they finally got some good bounces. There were still times in this contest when Carolina carried the play (much of the first period and first 10 minutes of the third period) but the effort was there and it resulted in a much needed two points.

Notes: Washington lost the faceoff battle, 23-22 but Steckel went 11-5 and continues to lead the NHL in face-offs (63.8%)…Tom Poti was out due to his head injury and Tyler Sloan took his spot on defense. #89 was -1 (on the bad change) in 10:02 of ice time…Eric Fehr and DJ King were the healthy forward scratches…forward Matt Bradley and d-man Jeff Schultz continue to be out with fractured hands…the Hershey Bears knocked off the Norfolk Admirals, 3-1, on Sunday at the Giant Center with Keith Aucoin getting the game winning tally and Braden Holtby earning the victory in goal…next up for the Caps are the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center at 7pm. It will be the last game they play before Saturday’s Winter Classic at Heinz Field (1pm on NBC) and this will be a chance for Washington to get some revenge on the Habs, who defeated them in the playoffs last spring.

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