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Hershey Grads Help Caps Win 2nd Straight

Posted on 22 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

There is a reason the Hershey Bears won back to back AHL Calder Cup titles the last two seasons and a national audience on VERSUS on Tuesday night witnessed it first hand as several Chocolatetown graduates played big roles in the Washington Capitals 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at the Verizon Center. Andrew Gordon, who has 16 goals in 26 games for the Bears this year, notched his first ever NHL goal and also had an assist on Jason Chimera’s breakaway marker that made it 3-1. Defenseman John Carlson also scored on a laser and added an assist while goaltender Michal Neuvirth stopped 35 of 36 shots to earn his 14th win of this season. It was the Caps second straight victory following their eight game losing streak and coupled with the St. Louis Blues 4-2 victory over Atlanta, Washington is back in first place in the Southeast Division with 44 points (20-12-4). The Thrashers are a point back with the same number of games played as the Caps while the Tampa Bay Lightning are at 42 points with three games in hand.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game that was close in the first 30 minutes and ended with the Verizon Center chanting “We Want Pittsburgh!”:

- In addition to Gordon, Carlson, and Neuvirth several other Bears from the back to back Calder Cup Championships contributed to the win including defenseman Karl Alzner (+3), Jay Beagle (goal, +1), and Mathieu Perreault (+1). Gordon, Beagle, and Perreault each where involved in a Washington goal simply by going to the net. Gordon’s goal from the doorstep was set up by a super play by Marcus Johansson, Beagle’s tally from just above the crease was the result of a great pass from Dave Steckel, and the smaller Perreault crashed the cage on Martin Broduer (23 saves) allowing Mike Knuble to deflect Tom Poti’s shot by the future Hall of Fame goalie. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau praised the Chocolatetown contingent right out of the gate in his post game presser.

“I thought they all played great, Beagle, Gordo, Carlson, they had lots of energy and they followed direction and they played with passion and enthusiasm. When you do that, usually, no matter what league you’re in you’re going to have success,” said the coach about his players who have simply dominated in the AHL and now are getting a chance to display their merit in “The Show.”

- #30 was super solid in net and he made several quality saves early in the second period when the Devils had their highest points in this tilt. The only shot that beat him was on a Devils power play by Patrick Elias with Dainius Zubrus setting a vicious screen at the top of the crease. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau certainly is feeling confident in Neuvirth right now and you can bet the house he will start against the Penguins on Thursday.

“He was pretty solid. He’s always been a guy that’s gotten stronger as the game goes on and does alot by confidence. The game in Ottawa got him confidence,” said Boudreau on the key to Neuvirth’s recent success.

- The Capitals best d-pair these days continues to be #74 and #27 and they followed up their super game in Ottawa with a tremendous outing on Tuesday. Alzner and Carlson, who were sensational playing together in Hershey, are a perfect pairing that continues to get better. They are positionally sound and the thing they really excel at is getting the puck out of Washington’s zone and in transition with quick and smart passes. Carlson had 23:42 of ice time, including 7:24 on the power play, and despite the fact that the Caps power play stunk in this one (0 for 5), #74 was likely the best player on it because he was shooting the biscuit at the cage instead of trying crazy cross ice seam passes that Alexander Semin kept attempting to execute.

“We’ve been playing good since day one. We’ve been feeling pretty comfortable. We were apart for a while and then got back together a couple of games ago. It’s just a matter of consistency in this game, it seems. Anytime you can play good and contribute, it’s really good,” added #74, who scored the game winning goal for Team USA in the Gold Medal game against Canada in the World Juniors Championships last winter.

 

- Steckel, who is also a Hershey alum but wasn’t on the two recent Calder Cup winning teams but was on the 2006 AHL Championship club coached by Boudreau, is really playing well lately after a subpar 2009-10. #39 was 7-2 on draws and is now #1 in the NHL in faceoff percentage (63.1%) for those taking at least 20 draws this season. His pass to Beagle for the game winning goal was outstanding and it came after some hard work along the boards and in the corner.

 

- I would also be remiss if I didn’t praise the play of the rookie, Johansson. #90, who looked healthy and as a result showed off his ultra fast skating tonight, was paired with the speedy Chimera and the grinding Gordon and they were the line of the game for Washington. The young Swede looked like he was shot out of a cannon on the first goal as he flew down the left wing boards and fed an all alone #63 in front for the first tally. Johansson also set up Gordon for a one timer that Brodeur made his best save of the night on in period two when the game was still close. Former Capital Brian Engblom on VERSUS, after the 2nd period, called #90 the best player on the ice for either team, quite a compliment for the 2009 1st round draft choice.

 

- On the down side, the Capitals power play was simply awful in 8:42 of time, including a lengthy (78 seconds) two man advantage. I put the blame on this on Semin and Mike Green because those guys are not shooting the puck and trying to make too many fancy passes. Boudreau did give Carlson more point time and he moved Alexander Ovechkin down low in an attempt to get him out of his goal scoring slump (2 tallies in the last 18 games).

 

“Well, we were 0-for-5 on the power play, so it didn’t work very well. But we haven’t had any success with him on the point lately either. I am just trying to move things and change things around. I thought if we got shots at the net and he’s right there, maybe he could get a rebound or something, get an ugly goal that would jump start him. That was the thought process,” said Boudreau, who is attempting to win his 4th straight Southeast Division title as the Caps bench boss in as many seasons.

 

Notes: Forward Matt Bradley, a major fan favorite, broke his finger and will miss 2-4 weeks (h/t Mike Vogel, aka @VogsCaps)…Eric Fehr, who played four really good periods in a row with Ovechkin and Backstrom on the top line in the two previous games, missed the contest due to a death in the family…the Caps won the face-off battle, 28-26…Washinton’s PK unit was 1 for 4 and it would have been perfect had defenseman Scott Hannan made a simple clearing play instead of waiting for an extra second in the corner. As a result he was stripped from behind of the biscuit and the Caps failed to clear the zone prior to the goal. #23 continues to struggle in his transition from Colorado to Washington…on Wednesday night at 10pm on HBO, Episode 2 of 24/7, which covers the Caps and Penguins as they head into the Winter Classic on January 1st, airs. It should be a much more enjoyable hour of viewing for Caps fans after last week’s tough one in the middle of the eight game losing streak. Not to mention the Penguins lost two straight games last week…Former Capital and VERSUS studio analyst Keith Jones blasted Semin after the game for his effort. Boudreau characterized #28′s performance with the following quote, “Rusty, but he’ll get better though.” Given that Semin was hurt (lower body injury) and just recovered from the flu we’ll give him a pass for his bad game…Thursday night’s Capitals-Penguins tilt at the Verizon Center should be a great one and it will be time for the Capitals star players like Ovechkin (1 assist, +1, 4 hits), Nicklas Backstrom, Green, and Semin to get it going because the Caps will need them to defeat Sidney Crosby and company. Don’t miss it!

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Caps Lose 7th Straight in OT

Posted on 16 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

This is surely a test from the hockey gods because given the way the Washington Capitals played on Wednesday night, there is no way they should have lost to the Anaheim Ducks. But somehow the Caps did, falling 2-1 with 57 seconds remaining in overtime on a Ryan Getzlaf tally to extend their losing streak to seven games. Jonas Hiller (31 saves) and his good fortune were the keys to a Ducks victory and Washington’s record is now at 18-11-4, for a total of 40 points. With the Tampa Bay Lightning defeating the Atlanta Thrashers (2-1) in a shootout on Wednesday, the second and third place teams in the Southeast Division played a Caps worst case scenario “three point” tilt, and now both teams trail the Capitals by just two points in the standings. However, the Bolts have two games in hand while the Thrashers have just one.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from what should have been a Caps victory, if not for the lucky golden horseshoe that Hiller is holding onto right now:

- With Alexander Semin out of the lineup, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau took a different approach for this contest against the Ducks, who have arguably the best forward line in the NHL in Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan, and Corey Perry, by matching units all evening. This strategy, which Boudreau has rarely used with his talented Caps club but has been employed by many hockey coaches for years, is one that takes on a playoff game mentality and if not for a hit crossbar and a lucky stick save, the game plan would have produced a victory for Washington. The 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner attempted to put out Brooks Laich, Dave Steckel, and Matt Bradley every time the Getzlaf-Ryan-Perry unit was on the ice at even strength. For the most part it worked, although it was one of the Ducks big guns who scored the game winner. Still the Caps bench boss, despite the OT loss, was pleased with the effort and the way his club stuck to his script.

“They did the game plan to a tee. They were very focused. I thought we played very good. Sometimes you play very good and you lose. We got a point for the psyche, which is very big,” said a hoarse Boudreau, who then went on to talk about how hitting the 40 point mark was really good for the team from a mental standpoint.

“I look back to the Pittsburgh series where they were our checking line. I knew that if I gave them a job they would come out and do it. They were plus one until the overtime,” added Boudreau on the play of the 21-39-10 line, who played solid defense and also scored the lone Washington tally.

- Another side effect, and an advantage, of playing the line matching strategy, is that the entire bench has to be completely focused on what is going on in every situation in the game because they may have to jump on the ice in a moments notice. It is like a chess match and that type of style, which is draining if done night in and night out, will force players to become stronger upstairs. Boudreau commented on that following the tough loss.

“You are always on your toes, you are looking at what is going on. It makes you get mentally stronger whether you like it or not. We played a strong 3rd period, that tells me we are getting mentally stronger,” added the three time Southeast Division winning coach on the strategy and the improvement he saw in his squad on Wednesday night, this coming after a week in which he criticized the mental toughness of his team and its’ seeming desire to want to “feel sorry” for themselves when things went bad.

- For the first 30 minutes, this game was all Washington. The Caps outshot the Ducks 17-7 in the opening stanza but Hiller made some big saves. In period two, the goalie who carried Switzerland into the final four of the 2010 Olympic games, received some help from the iron on an Alexander Ovechkin breakaway and made an amazing stick save on Nicklas Backstrom when it appeared he had an open net to conclude a three on one break with Mike Green and Mike Knuble. In both situations, luck was clearly on his side and someone is intent on making the Caps suffer a little longer with this losing streak.

“I thought we did everything we could. When Alex hits the cross bar and Nicky, their goalie making a big save, and the chances we had to get to 2-0 or 3-0, it’s tough,” commented Boudreau on the bad fortune his team had early on when they totally carried the play.

- Backstrom was the best Caps player on Wednesday night and it was apparent that he is finally close to fully recovering from the flu bug. #19 set up the first Caps goal with a strong rush down the left wing boards around Lubomir Visnovsky. The Swede hit a charging John Carlson in stride but #74′s shot was blocked right to Laich in the slot. #21 then backhanded it home off of the left post at 14:22 of the opening stanza. Backstrom, who was 9-2 on face-offs, was the one who set up Ovechkin for his breakaway and as mentioned above, Hiller flat out robbed #19 on a 3 on 1 break with a lucky stick save that even Ducks coach Randy Carlyle commented on.

“When you go on the road, your goaltender’s got to find ways to give you a chance and he did more than his share of that. He gave us a chance and made some big stops. Particularly the one on [Nicklas] Backstrom – he was able to bat it out with his stick,” said the 2007-08 Stanley Cup winning coach and former Capitals assistant.

 

- Semyon Varlamov (22 saves) got the call in net for Washington after his worst performance of the season in New York on Sunday. #1 was fairly strong in net. His best save of the night was likely on Visnovsky, who had an easy lane to the cage after d-man Karl Alzner mistakenly left his feet in his own zone. That gaffe by #27 combined with Green battling to Varly’s right with a Ducks forward, allowed #17 to come down the slot, but the young Russian net minder made a superb pad save. The two tallies he allowed were not totally his fault. The first was a rebound in front on an Anaheim power play. The puck was fired on net by Cam Fowler and it hit #52′s skate and bounced right on Joffrey Lupul’s stick. Before Alzner could do anything the former Flyers forward deposited the puck by Varly. So when the bounces are not going your way, things like that happen, and clearly the Capitals are getting NO breaks right now. On the game winner, Getzlaf outworked Carlson on the boards and then he passed #15 off to Scott Hannan, but #23 was once again a step too slow and the superstar Ducks forward beat Varlamov in close. I am not sure how much of the shot #1 saw because of Hannan’s slow reaction.

- For anyone who watched the first episode of the HBO 24/7 series following the Caps loss, it was obvious that part of the Capitals problems right now is the change in style they are undergoing. The organization, after dominating in the regular season and then failing in the first round of the playoffs last season, is attempting to play a tighter, more defensive brand of hockey in an effort to gain more balance. For the second time in three games (with Saturday’s game against Colorado being the first), the Caps body of work on the ice seemed to be trending up.

“I thought if we can play like that, what did they have 21 shots? If you play like that, you are going to win a lot of hockey games. We have to win the 3-1 games and the 2-1 games. It might not look pretty and we won’t have a 60 goal scorer but we’ll have a 50 goal scorer. And he played tonight and he’ll get 50,” said Boudreau on what he thought of how his team played, the transformation they are going through, and the impact it will have on Ovechkin’s season goal total.

In addition, Boudreau said that he won’t always go this route against an opponent and it will all depend on his lineup and the matchups.

“It gives us the ability to play both ways. We might want to play, say against Boston, the other way because we have had success that way,” finished the head coach who has come under fire from some in the local and national media/blogosphere (but not in this blog).

Notes: 24/7, which is covering both the Caps and the Pittsburgh Penguins in their build up to the Winter Classic on January 1st,  revealed that Green missed the last two games due to a sprained MCL. #52 had a good game against Anaheim and logged over 29 minutes of ice time…the Caps won the face-off battle, 29-23, however Mathieu Perreault went 1-9…Alzner was paired with #52, logged 23:37, and was +1…the Caps went 0 for 2 on the power play. Next up for the Caps are the Boston Bruins in Beantown on Saturday at 7pm. Washington will practice for the next two days and Boudreau was happy to have that break after a tough loss saying ”I think it is important for us to have 2 days before our next game.”

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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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Varlamov Stones Blues as Caps Win, 4-1

Posted on 02 December 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Before Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals last victory in St. Louis came with Jim Schoenfeld as the head coach and David Poile as the General Manager (1996). Thanks to Semyon Varlamov, who was outstanding in goal tonight with 37 saves, the Caps eight game losing streak at the Scotttrade center is now over. Nicklas Backstrom had two goals and an assist as Washington got some revenge on Blues goalie, Jaroslav Halak (22 saves), who had stoned the Caps in their opening round playoff loss last spring when he was with Montreal. The victory on the road pushes the Caps to 18-6-2 overall and they’ve won four straight with Varly in the cage after he returned from a lengthy absence due to a groin injury. Washington leads the Southeast Division by seven points over Tampa Bay and the Eastern Conference by four points over those two teams they don’t like from Pennsylvania.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a rare road win in the “Show Me” state:

- Typically the Caps play some of their best hockey in front of Varlamov. Tonight was not one of those games as the Blues carried the majority of the play but #1 had the backs of his teammates and he made several super saves. His positioning was excellent and he had superb rebound control. Varly also is bigger than both Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby and he plays like a big goalie. That forces opponents to try and pick corners. The result is that they often miss the net.

- Washington is banged up on the back line and it is a good thing they made the Tomas Fleischmann for Scott Hannan trade now. Hannan, who sat out this one so he could learn the Caps system by observing from the press box, is slated to make his Caps debut in Dallas on Thursday evening (830 pm on Comcast). He will be needed big time because Tom Poti, who helped set up the second goal for Washington, did not play in the third period (logged only 11 minutes of total ice time). In addition, Mike Green appeared to be favoring his right shoulder quite a bit but he gutted this tilt out. John Carlson got banged up right before the Blues only tally with 31 seconds left in period two, but he managed to persevere. John Erskine also took a hard hit in the back by Brad Winchester in the final stanza and looked to be in some pain.

- Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, and Mike Knuble were the Caps best line on Wednesday and they were +2 each. It was Knuble’s hard, low shot on Halak that rebounded off of the goalie’s pads and right onto the stick of #19, who buried it to give Washington a key two goal cushion with just under 13 minutes remaining. Nicky also made a super feed to Brooks Laich on the power play in the first period to start the scoring (Alex Semin had the second assist on a gorgeous cross ice pass). Backstrom’s last tally came via an Oveckin pass with the net empty. The Great #8, who has not scored a goal in eight games, has eight assists during that drought, including seven during the four game winning streak. It was a very smart play by Oveckhin to get the puck to Backstrom for the tap in and close this game out with 35 seconds remaining. Sure he could have fired the biscuit into the empy cage to stop his personal goalless streak, but instead he showed his unselfishness, maturity, patience, and commitment to winning. That is what  a team captain does and it is so clear that Alexander the Great is not concerned at all with his individual statistics, he is only focused on winning despite what some of those biased analysts in Canada will try to tell you. Despite the focus on the team, Ovechkin is now 3rd in the league in scoring with 33 points (8 points behind Sidney Crosby and 7 in back of Steve Stamkos).

- Another game, another one in which the opponents get more power plays than Washington. The Caps received two early power plays and tallied on one of them but after that the Blues received four opportunities with the man advantage. St. Louis carried the play but the zebras missed some calls on the Blues, including an obvious stick slash when Ovechkin had a scoring chance. Oh well, like Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau said after Sunday’s win vs. Carolina, “I’ve given up trying to understand [the officiating].” St. Louis went 0 for 4 on the power play and Washington did a great job of being aggressive and forcing the Blues into some turnovers. Varlamov was also what he needed to be: the Caps best penalty killer.

Notes: The Caps won or tied the faceoff battle for the 13 straight contest (33-30) and they did it without their best draw man, Dave Steckel. Matt Hendricks, who seems to do all of the little things that help you win, was 10-3 while Boyd Gordon went 11-6…#39 sat so that DJ King could get a game and #17 had an assist on Washington’s second tally which was credited to Gordon when Halak fumbled the puck into his own cage…Green played 25:24 to lead the Caps in ice time…Boudreau did a nice job of rolling the lines and with the Caps going against Dallas on Thursday he needed to be able to do that for the second half of the back-to-back games. Varlamov’s goaltending really helped that cause…one would expect to see Neuvirth in the cage in Dallas…Washington returns home to the Verizon Center on Saturday night when they take on Atlanta for the third and final time in the regular season. The Thrashers are currently riding a six game winning streak but have lost both tilts at the Phone Booth.

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Caps Hold On, Beat Sabres 4-2

Posted on 18 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals raced out to a 3-0 second period lead on Wednesday night and then hung on for dear life against the Buffalo Sabres in the final minute. Michal Neuvirth was superb once this contest went to 3-2 in the middle stanza and perhaps the best of his 31 stops on the night came with seven seconds left on Derek Roy on the door step. Following the final face-off after that spectacular toe save by #30, Alexander Semin fired the puck nearly the entire length of the ice for an empty net goal that gave the Capitals a 4-2 victory. The win pushes the Caps to a 14-4-1 record and an astonishing nine point lead in the Southeast Division (Tampa has a game in hand) before we’ve even hit the season’s quarter pole. Washington also leads the Eastern Conference by three points over the Flyers, who have also played 19 times this season.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of another win for Coach Bruce Boudreau’s squad:

- The Caps quest for a complete 60 minute game continues but they are getting closer. The first 30 minutes of this tilt were all Washington but the Sabres received a power play on a Mike Green hold at 11:32 of period two and Buffalo tallied twice in 48 seconds to cut a 3-0 deficit to a one goal affair. Things were sloppy in the final 10 minutes of the middle stanza for the Capitals but in period three they started strong and stayed the course until Buffalo pressured late. Brooks Laich totally sacrificed his body to block a power play blast from the slot and Neuvirth made a couple of other key saves on a shorthanded Caps situation in the final ten minutes of the contest. After that Washington was solid and limited the Sabres from any real scoring chances until the final minute push with Ryan Miller (25 saves) pulled for the extra attacker.

“I was really happy..the third period, I thought except for their power play, I thought we were really good defensively,” said Boudreau on how he thought his team did after the Sabres cut their three goal bulge to just one.

- I was quite unhappy once again with the officiating crew for at least the third time in the last five games. Zebras Rob Martell and Kelly Sutherland seemed to have a random number generator deciding when they were going to call a penalty because there was no consistency to the way the calls were being made. The Caps only received two power plays while the Sabres received four yet Washington totally dominated the first 30 minutes. Boudreau stated the lack of consistency as a major reason in why Buffalo was able to climb back into the contest.

“If they they had called the penalties when they were supposed to call the penalties then we wouldn’t have had the power play to go one against. It was a 3-0 game and it was a pure trip behind the net but the refs started reffing the score, then we end up getting a penalty and things turn,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach on the pair of referees who likely left town with a game check they didn’t truly earn.

- After a very strong game on Sunday versus Atlanta, Dave Steckel (1 goal) and Matt Bradley (1 goal, 1 assist) were outstanding again. Against the Thrashers their third man was Matt Hendricks but on Wednesday evening they were paired up with the speedy Jason Chimera (two assists) and the combo clicked. Washington’s first tally, a beautiful feed from Semin to Nicklas Backstrom, was on a 5 on 3 power play. Bradley created the first penalty on Chris Butler to set up that two man advantage on the forecheck behind the Sabres cage and then Semin drew a hook from Tyler Myers. On the Caps second goal Chimera took advantage of a wise and effective pinch on the right wing boards by Karl Alzner and #25 hit a streaking Bradley in the slot. #10 didn’t get much on the biscuit but it slid through Miller to make it 2-0 DC. Then they increased the lead in the 2nd period after some super offensive pressure by both Bradley and Chimera down low resulted in a pass to Steckel in the slot that he banked in off of the right post and the right skate of Miller.

‘”Steckel played a really good game and so did Bradley and Chimera, I thought they were our best line,” added Boudreau on that trio.

- Alzner (1 assist, +2) quietly had an outstanding game. His pinch on the second goal set the whole scoring sequence up and he routinely was in the right position to thwart Sabres attacks all evening. King Karl logged 21:59 of ice time and his former AHL d-partner and now NHL blue line accomplice, John Carlson, played 22:52. 27 and 74, if they stay healthy, look like they could be a blue line pair for Washington for the next 10 years or so.

- Neuvirth is now 12-3 on the season and leads the entire NHL in wins. The first goal that got by him was on the power play by Roy from right in front and if the puck hadn’t nicked Carlson’s stick, I think #30 would have had it with his glove. The second tally by Jordan Leopold came from the slot as well with Washington scrambling around. For a short time after it was 3-2 he gave up some rebounds but then he settled down to preserve the win. 

“I think for him it is from having to go through two championship rounds in the playoffs. He knows when to really buckle down and he’s protected the lead well for us this year,” commented Boudreau on his rookie goaltender, who won two Calder Cups in Hershey the last two seasons.

- Boudreau mentioned that he is tinkering with his lines and tonight he went with 20 year old rookie Marcus Johansson centering Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Knuble. The other non-Steckel lines featured Backstrom with Laich and Semin and Boyd Gordon (Caps are now 11-0 with him in the lineup) with Eric Fehr and Hendricks. Johansson, who is learning and is still a couple of years from physically maturing, was good on face-offs (10-5) and worked hard. However, I didn’t see much chemistry between him, Ovie, and Knuble. On one shift when it was 3-2, Johansson got taken off the puck fairly easily behind the Sabres net and when Ovechkin went for the big hit it allowed the Sabres to have a 3 on 2 break, but fortunately for Washington Jason Pominville shot the puck off of the rink from a wide open position in the slot.

“It is the first quarter of the season and you are trying to find things that are really going to click so that you leave them there. So we are doing a bit of experimenting with the lines. I’ve done the same thing every year then eventually we get to where we are pretty confident with what we have and then we just go with that the last half of the year,” finished Boudreau on his plan for line combinations in 2010-11.

Notes: Next up for the Caps are the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night for the fourth time in 20 games…the game is in Hotlanta and Coach Craig Ramsey’s crew may be without Dustin Byfuglien, who left Wednesday night’s tilt against Florida with a lower body injury…Washington won the face-off battle, 34-33…the d-pair of Tyler Sloan and John Erskine only logged 13:25 and 12:06 of ice time, respectively…Tomas Fleischmann was a healthy scratch.

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Caps Grind Out Win Over Thrashers

Posted on 14 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After a lackluster effort in Buffalo on Saturday night that led to a 3-2 overtime loss and the end of their six game winning streak, the Washington Capitals rebounded with a 6-4 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday evening in front of another sellout at the Verizon Center. John Erskine scored the game winner on a point blast after the Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Matt Hendricks line forced a Thrashers neutral zone turnover. It wasn’t a pretty victory by any stretch of the imagination, but the Capitals grinded it out and as a result they are now 13-4-1 overall and lead the Southeast Division by nine points over second place Tampa, who lost to the Wild at home on Sunday.

This was a wild and sloppy affair primarily because both clubs played on Saturday night and then traveled to DC afterwards. As one would expect in the third game in four nights, there were things to like and not to like in Washington’s victory. Below are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

- The difference in this tilt was the Steckel line as he, Bradley, and Hendricks were on the ice for the fourth and fifth Capitals goals while not being on for a single tally against. Hendricks was also on for Steckel’s empty net goal. The trio, who were a combined +8 in the game, carried the play on their shifts and with the Washington top line looking out of gas the last 30 minutes, it was essential that the Caps get a victory via one of their other units. Steckel was also a monstrous 19-4 on face-offs and all three players logged at least 14 minutes of ice time as Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau continued to send them out in the third period. I thought this was Steckel’s best game in over a year and reminded me more of the player who was excellent during the 2008-09 regular season and in the playoffs.

- Erskine not only tallied the game winner, but he was engaged in one of the best NHL fights I’ve seen all year with Eric Boulton. Both players exchanged big blows and the Caps received a power play as a result of the altercation being started by Boulton. #4 was officially named the game’s first star and his defensive partner Tyler Sloan had two assists. Both Erskine and #89 were plus two on the day.

- The Caps third tally, that gave them their first two goal lead of the contest, was a thing of beauty. Alexander Oveckhin (1 goal, 1 assist) took the puck down the left wing boards and he made an absolutely perfect saucer pass in the slot to a streaking Alexander Semin. #28 then faked Atlanta starter Chris Mason to the ice and deposited the puck behind him on the backhand. The Caps top line had a super first period to give Washington a 3-1 lead but after that the unit struggled, especially on the power play (more on that in a moment). That first period was, by far, Washington’s best of the season and it was the first time all year they notched more than one goal in the opening stanza (h/t Capitals Media Relations Department).

- Washington continues to score goals as a result of players going to the net. Eric Fehr set up a superb screen on Mike Green’s blast (1 goal, 1 assist), Hendricks goal came on the rebound of another Green shot, and Erskine’s game winner had both Bradley and Hendricks going to the cage distracting goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who came on in relief of Mason. It is essential that the Capitals continue to score this way as that is what is needed to win in the playoffs.

- Special teams, especially the Caps power play, were not good on Sunday. Green’s first period marker was with the man advantage but after that the Capitals failed to score on two additional power play situations. They gave up Bryan Little’s shorthanded tally, his second goal of the game, that tied this one at four after Erskine’s fight. They also yielded another shorthanded breakaway on that same power play but Atlanta shot the puck wide.  The big problem on the last two Washington power plays were the work of the point men, who showed terrible on ice awareness. Ovechkin was absolutely careless on the fourth goal and he tried to skate into two Thrashers. Green and John Carlson also struggled and did not do a good job of covering for the other point man. The Thrashers were one for two with the power play scoring on a five on three advantage.

- Michal Neuvirth stopped only 23 of 27 shots and he was the victim of a couple weird bounces and poor play by his defensemen. The second Atlanta goal came after Andrew Ladd blew by Carlson and when his partner, Karl Alzner came over to challenge, Andrew Ladd fired the puck on net from a bad angle short side. It was not clear if the puck hit Alzner’s stick but the bottom line on that play was #30 gave up his post too soon. One goal that was not his fault was the first Little tally that made it 4-3. Marcus Johansson, who skated well in the 3rd period, was outworked below the goal line by Anthony Stewart allowing Atlanta to center the puck. Jeff Schultz and Green then failed to cover the slot which provided Little the space he needed to bang the puck by #30. Overall there was a lot of sloppy d-zone coverage by Washington, but in the third period the Caps dominated and they out shot Atlanta, 13-7, with Neuvirth not allowing anything to get by him.

- In summary, the game was not pretty and a very busy November schedule is likely contributing to the sloppiness. The second period was downright awful for DC and Boudreau was clearly not happy with it.

“It wasn’t very good. We made mental mistakes. It was ugly, but the good thing is they righted the ship. We talked about not wanting to beat teams 6-4. We want to shut teams down,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winning coach on the second period and his team’s mentality.

“I think for the rest of the month and maybe even into early December, the schedule is pretty tough. There’s a lot of traveling, we play at home one night and then hit the road or we are the road and coming back home. In that time you don’t get a lot of practice and that can start to show a bit with us; we can get a bit loose out there. We just need to get a good practice in, tighten things up and get back to the way we were doing things earlier,” said Sloan on part of the cause for the uneven play.

Notes: The Hershey Bears knocked off the Binghamton Senators, 8-3, at the Giant Center and Mathieu Perreault had six assists in the victory (first AHL player to do so since 2005 – h/t John Walton). Goalie Semyon Varlamov, down on a rehab assignment, made his first start this year in the AHL and stopped 21 shots. Varly is expected to stay down in Chocolatetown for more work this week because he claims he is not 100% healthy yet (h/t @timleone)…Boudreau cancelled Monday’s practice so the Caps won’t be back on the ice until Tuesday…the face-off battle was a tie with each team winning 37 draws…Washington out shot Atlanta 33-27…Next up for the Capitals are the Sabres at the Verizon Center on Wednesday at 7pm.

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Semin Hat Trick Paces Caps over Bolts

Posted on 12 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

When Alexander Semin is healthy and decides to play focused, he is as talented and skilled as anyone in the National Hockey League. On Thursday night, in the matchup of the top two teams in the Southeast Division, #28 took over the game scoring three goals and adding two assists as the Caps knocked off the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-3, before the 69th straight sellout at the Verizon Center. Nicklas Backstrom notched four assists and Alexander Ovechkin added a goal and two assists while Michal Neuvirth shook off some early rebound problems to make 38 saves for his 10th victory of the sesason against just one loss. The win pushes the Caps to 12-4 overall and they lead the Eastern Conference by two points over the Flyers. They are also six points up on the Lightning, who have a game in hand.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of Washington’s sixth straight victory, and eighth in their last nine titls:

- Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau did not start this game with Semin on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, he had Mike Knuble (1 goal) up there, but after another sluggish opening stanza in which Washington could not get the puck behind the Bolts defense, the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning bench boss switched up his personnel and tweaked the Capitals breakout pattern. Once again, another brilliant coaching move by Boudreau got the desired result.

“The [top two right wings] are interchangeable. We didn’t start with them like that but then we switched halfway through. Maybe it makes the other coach, especially when we are at home, alter their game,” started Boudreau, “[Tampa] hit three or four posts so I think we were lucky for a little bit. We had trouble adjusting to what they were doing and after the first period we made some adjustments and I thought we played a lot better in the second and third…We weren’t playing properly, we weren’t getting it in and only one man is going so it was easy for their D to get it and move it out. We changed our tactics up in the neutral zone and it worked. To make an analogy, it’s kind of like in baseball where you have trouble going through the lineup once and you are better the second time. I don’t know if we’ll get it or it will work the next time but it was pretty tough to get through their neutral zone,” finished Boudreau on what it took to get his team going.

- The Caps top players did light it up overall but they were credited with five of the 13 Capitals giveaways on the evening. Most of those were at the blue line and allowed Tampa to go in transition. Boudreau realizes that his top unit has great skill and can pull off some passes that other players just cannot, but he would prefer that those guys get the puck down low and use their size and skill where they can make the opponents pay for crowding the puck. In the third period they seemed to get the message and the key goal in the contest, Semin’s one timer off of a sweet Backstrom saucer pass from behind the net, came after Ovechkin and company cycled the biscuit in the corner and drew the Lightning defense in to that area.

 ”When you look at it on the replay it looked like what we talked about at the beginning of the game, [Semin] was in the right position. We wanted to take the puck from one side, because they surround the puck with four or five guys, and get it to the other side and make them run around. Evidently he knew what he was doing,” said Boudreau on Semin’s big goal with 9:14 remaining that made it 4-2.

“I think that was what was holding up back a little bit all night. They were standing pretty strong against their blue line and we were kind of turning it over there all of the time. But we were trying to make them play in their own end. It’s a 2-1 game [after two periods] and it ends 5-3 and you say it is kind of like the old Caps, you just outscore them, and turn it into a track meet,” added Knuble when asked if the game plan was to get pucks deep on Tampa.

- On Washington’s fifth goal, that sealed the victory with 4:52 remaining, the top line generated two big scoring chances by playing solid in their own end, something that can plague that line, at times. Ovechkin fought off two Bolts defenders on the left wing boards and sprung Semin for a partial breakaway. #28 went in alone on Lightning goalie Dan Ellis (20 saves in 25 shots) but as he tried to go to the back hand he lost the puck into the corner. However, Semin recovered, looked up, found Ovechkin coming late, and the Great #8 made no mistake on this shot and buried it by Ellis short side. It was a hard working goal capped off with superior skill from two top players.

- Neuvirth gave up the first goal once again and it came as a result of poor rebound control. #30 couldn’t handle Sean Bergenheim’s backhander from the right wing side and the biscuit bounced into the slot where Teddy Purcell banged it home. Neuvy would battle the puck a bit more at the beginning of this one but as the game went on he got stronger making several huge stops in the third period when Tampa was pressing. The Bolts fired 16 times on Neuvirth in that last stanza. Washington is now 9-3 when giving up the first goal, something that typically gives a club a less than 50% chance of winning that contest.

- The officiating in New York was abysmal on Tuesday and tonight it was the worst I’ve seen all season against Washington. The Caps only had one power play, and Semin tallied on it just 16 seconds in, while the Lightning had four attempts (1 for 4). There were two blatant missed calls by Chris Lee and Kevin Pollock that should have gone against Tampa in this tilt. The first came after Matt Bradley delivered a perfectly clean and legal check to Mike Lundin and Tampa right wing Adam Hall skated all of the way across the ice and dropped the gloves with #10. Bradley would win the fight but typically an instigator or an extra minor is called in that situation against the team that takes exception to the contact. Nothing was called in this case.

“I didn’t really get [an explanation], that is what I asked. I thought it was distance traveled. He traveled a long ways. I guess the thing that didn’t make it [instigating] was Brads saw him coming and was ready for it but it is because the guy traveled so far. I said I don’t care if it’s an instigator, I just thought that it was a clean hit and a good hit. The guy didn’t get hurt and whatever, that [Hall] came and started the fight. Give him the extra two or something, I thought would have been the right call, but if he didn’t see it, he didn’t see it,” said Boudreau on Hall jumping Bradley after his hit.

The second blatant infraction missed by the blind zebra pair of Lee and Pollock nearly allowed Tampa to have a chance to tie the game up in the last 10 minutes. Brooks Laich was hauled down on the right wing boards in the offensive zone but play was permitted to carry on and the Lightning rush that ensued, after Laich lost the puck, resulted in NHL league leading points man, Steven Stamkos, scoring his 14th goal of the season to make it 4-3 with 7:17 left. A loud chorus of boos rained down on Lee and Pollock after the Stamkos tally.

Notes: Semin extended his point streak to six games (7 goals, 6 assists)…with Semin (12 goals) and Ovechkin (9), the Capitals are the only team in the NHL with two nine-goal scorers. The duo has combined for eight goals and 20 points in the past five games…the Caps won the face-off battle 40-31 with Dave Steckel going 20-9 and Backstrom winning 12 of 18 draws. Tomas Fleischmann was 3-9…Tom Poti returned to the lineup and scored the Caps first goal and his first tally of the season at 2:21 of the second period. #3 logged only 16:41 of ice time so the Caps coaches were clearly trying to ease him back from his groin injury…speaking of injuries, the Caps are now 10-0 with Boyd Gordon in the lineup but #15 left after only three shifts (1:42) and Boudreau said he will miss a week…the Lightning were without top six forwards Steve Downie and Simon Gagne due to injuries plus Vincent Lecavalier fractured his right hand in the contest. He logged only 14:29 of ice time and afterwards it was announced he would miss three to four weeks, which includes a tilt against the Caps on November 26th at the Verizon Center…forward Marcus Johansson was recalled from Hershey on Wednesday but was scratched…Goalie Semyon Varlamov is down in Hershey rehabbing his groin injury and should see some work with the Bears this weekend…the Caps go to Buffalo on Saturday night before returning home to face the Thrashers at home at 5pm on Sunday…Caps radio play by play man Steve Kolbe called his 1,000th game, kudos Steve!

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Game Over Greenie OT Goal Lifts Caps over Flyers

Posted on 07 November 2010 by Ed Frankovic

When it comes to Capitals hockey, Washington fans have two teams at the top of their list that they despise, and one of those, the Philadelphia Flyers, ventured into the Verizon Center early this evening with the most points in the Eastern Conference and a six game winning streak to boot. After Sunday’s tilt, the top spot now belongs to the Washington Capitals.

Mike Green slapped one by Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (36 saves) on a power play just 29 seconds into overtime to send the Caps fans celebrating out onto F street while the boys from Philadelphia will hop on the bus and head home to Philthy. The victory improves the Caps to 10-4 and they have now won four straight games and six of their last seven.

Now on to the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a thrilling victory over a team that Caps fans like about as much as they like the Pittsburgh Penguins:

- Braden Holtby earned his first win in his first NHL action on Friday night vs. Boston and on Sunday afternoon Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau decided to give #70 his first NHL start and rest a weary Michal Neuvirth. Well the young net minder, who is easily the best stick handling goalie in the organization, was tremendous. The 21 year old from Saskatchewan made 23 saves and many of the eight he thwarted in the third period were game savers.

“It’s definitely huge, but on a team like this, if a goalie just kind of gives the team a chance to win, they usually are going to pull through some goals. It definitely gave me a lot of confidence coming in,” said Holtby on the big stops he made in the third period that led to the Capitals OT win.

“In the first two periods I thought he looked a little nervous, but once they started getting some shots in the third period I thought he made a great game-saving save there in that flurry, moving from side to side. So, I think he handled himself overall really well for his first complete game,” critiqued the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach on Holtby.

 
- Washington scored two of their three goals on the power play (2 of 6) while the Flyers were shut down in their two opportunities with the man advantage. The Caps do have a propensity to over pass in those situations, but as Caps assistant coach Dean Evason said on Comcast during the game, the first marker by Alexander Semin came because his club simplified things and shot the puck on net. Alexander Ovechkin fired one that bounced to Nicklas Backstrom (2 assists) in the slot on the right post and the slick passing Swede slid the puck to #28, who quickly buried it into the cage. That is also how Green won the game, by simply teeing the biscuit up and blasting it. On that game winner Mike Knuble (1 assist), who arguably had his best game of the season, was screening the young Russian Flyers net minder.

“We wanted to score on the power play, more for me on the confidence of the power play and it won us the game so it worked out. I thought we were pretty patient and showed a lot of good restraint today. We didn’t retaliate and that was good,” commented Boudreau on Washington’s improving power play and also his team’s ability to not take retaliation penalties against a chippy Flyers team.

- For two periods the Caps outshot the Flyers 26-17 and carried most of the play but Bobrovsky made some big saves, including ones in tight on Knuble and Eric Fehr. However, it was Fehr’s quick snapper from the left wing boards from a bad angle that started the scoring for DC after Nikolay Zherdev lasered one by Holtby on a two on one break in period one. Philly would go up, 2-1, on a Ville Leino deflection of an Andrej Mezsaros blast from the right point before Semin’s power play marker set the stage for a wild third period that saw the Flyers play better before losing due to taking bad penalties.

“They had, by our count, three scoring chances after two periods. I haven’t seen [the numbers] in the third yet but obviously they were in our zone more in the third a little bit like their game last night with the Islanders where the Islanders, I thought, carried the play to them a little bit in the first two periods but the Flyers came on. They are a team with a tremendous amount of pride and history and when they were tired, I think they were tired, but when they get the chance to win it gives them energy and their defensemen were pinching really good in the third period and keeping us on our heels,” said Boudreau on the Flyers ability to battle on back to back nights.

- Despite the fact that the Flyers were belly aching at the referees after they lost, they can only blame themselves for taking bad penalties that were whistled against them. Chris Pronger, who would likely win the award for dirtiest player in the NHL if that poll was taken, incurred a four minute high sticking infraction with 3:55 in regulation. The Caps would not score on either minor but with 19 seconds left Sean O’Donnell was whistled for boarding and that was the one that ultimately did Philly in. Afterwards Pronger said “I don’t even know how I got the guy [Dave Steckel] in the face – I was on his stick the whole time,” but #20 is about as dirty and careless as it comes with his battle axe. Earlier in the final period he started a stick altercation with Knuble that did not get called but there is such a thing as hockey gods and karma. And bad karma for the Flyers was what was created by the big Philly blue liner for initiating an uncalled for sequence with a classy player like Knuble.

Notes:  The overtime goal was the fifth of Green’s career, tied for second in Capitals history with Peter Bondra and Kelly Miller. Only Ovechkin (8) has more career overtime goals for the Capitals…Holtby, in his first NHL start, became the third straight Caps’ goaltender to start his career 2-0-0…Sunday’s goaltenders are the two youngest to start games in the NHL this season (Holtby, 21, and Bobrovsky, 22)…the Caps won the face-off battle, 35-26, with Backstrom going 16-10 and Steckel winning 8 of 10 draws…Washington is now 7-1 at home, tops in the NHL…next up for the Caps are the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on VERSUS on Tuesday night at 730pm.

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Ovechkin, Caps Explode in Calgary in 7-2 Win

Posted on 31 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin erupted for two goals in 12 seconds in the second period and Michal Neuvirth stopped 27 of 29 shots, 14 of which came in a first period Calgary ambush, as the Washington Capitals exploded for six second period tallies en route to a 7-2 romp of the Flames in Alberta. The Caps trailed this game 2-0 after Curtis Glencross tallied at 11:05 of the first period and Washington managed to get a sweet Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 3 assists) power play goal with just five minutes to go in the opening stanza and escape period one down just, 2-1, despite being outshot 16-8. Neuvirth saved the team’s bacon until the Capitals started playing and thanks to the power play they took the game over. The win completes a 2-1 three game in four nights road trip across three time zones to push the Caps overall record to 7-4.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a woodshed beating of the Flames at the Saddledome:

- Let’s be honest, this game was likely over if not for Neuvirth’s great first period. When the score was 2-0 he made several quality stops, including a split pad save when it appeared a Calgary player had an easy tap in at the right post, to keep his club in the contest. Through 11 tilts in 2010-11, #30 is the team’s MVP and he has all seven Caps wins against three losses. He has been the most consistent player on Coach Bruce Boudreau’s squad.

- The power play, which was 4 for 38 coming into game #11, exploded for three straight lamp lighters, Backstrom’s 1st period tally and then Ovechkin’s two goals in 12 seconds. The first of the Great #8′s markers came on a  5 on 3 power play after Glencross took a stupid penalty following a Flames too many men on the ice infraction. It was a laser into the open side of the cage after an outstanding feed from Mike Green (1 goal, 2 assists). Then Ovechkin struck again with a super shot that went in just inside the far post after a great Alexander Semin (1 goal, 2 assists) set up. Overall the power play went 3 for 4 and along with Neuvirth, was the reason the Caps were victorious. It was a much needed breakout game for that unit.

- Boudreau, who stacked his top line by switching Semin with Mike Knuble, said that after Backstrom put Washington on the board, he had a hunch his big guns were going to get it going on Hockey Night in Canada.

“I knew they were excited about playing with other, and when we got the power play goal and Nicky and Mike and Semin and Alex were all in on the play, I thought, okay something good’s gonna happen. And when they scored on the 5 on 3, I said okay, I’ve seen this picture before and they could have probably had a few more, I think, they were feeling good today,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winning coach on his top players.

- It was also a big special teams night because the penalty killing unit went a perfect six for six, including a lengthy 5 on 3 kill in period two. That shorthanded sequence was executed very well by Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich, and Green. Laich blocked at least two shots to help thwart the Flames advantage. In addition, Dave Steckel blocked a shot on the right point and was hauled down by Mark Giordano, garnering a penalty shot on Flames goalie Robert Karlsson, who came on to replace Mikka Kiprusoff (21 saves on 27 shots) when it was 6-2. Steckel scored on the shorthanded penalty shot with a nice top shelf wrister. Kiprusoff would then come back to play period three and he did manage to stop Tomas Fleischmann on a breakaway.

- The two markers allowed by Neuvirth were not his fault at all. On the first goal of the game, Backstrom lost a defensive zone face-off and Jay Bouwmeester’s point blast hit Karl Alzner’s stick, then Olli Jokinen in front, and snuck by #30. On goal number two the Flames received a two on one break and defenseman Brian Fahey played it poorly. #44 failed to commit to cut off the pass like defensemen are instructed to do, and instead stuck his stick out when Glencross was shooting. Because of the inability of Fahey to break up any cross ice feed, Neuvirth was standing back in his net and couldn’t come out and challenge Glencross. Fahey also may have deflected the puck up on #20′s shot when he put his stick in there.

- For those who follow me on twitter (@Emfrank123) you saw beforehand what my three keys to the game were for Washington: use their speed to get around some of the slower Flames defenseman (Robyn Regehr and Corey Sarich), get traffic in front of Kiprusoff, and cover the Flames leading scorer, Rene Bourque. The Caps abused Regehr all night and as Cassie Campbell of Hockey Night in Canada tweeted after the contest, the game proved that Calgary does not have the speed to keep up with teams that are good in transition (i.e, the Flames are a slow crew). In addition, the Caps passed the puck well making #34 move around a lot in net and on the game winning tally by Ovechkin both Jason Chimera and Fleischmann were running some traffic at the top of the crease and in the slot, respectively. Finally, kudos to Jeff Schultz on Saturday, he was super all night. He didn’t allow the speedy and shifty Bourque (0 points) to get free and unleash his powerful shot. In addition, Sarge made the steal on the Bouwmeester giveaway that led to Green’s first goal of 2010-11.

- Overall, the team came together after a very shaky start and the head coach was visibly pleased after being so upset after the loss in Minnesota on Thursday.

“I thought everyone did their job, we played well and played hard. It was a rocky beginning, but a great end,” finished the 2009-10 Presidents’ Trophy winning coach.

Boudreau should get a good deal of credit for this victory for the way he handled the poor overall team play on Thursday. Instead of wearing his club out with a hard skate, like Calgary Coach Brent Sutter did after his team collapsed against the Avalanche the same evening, he opted for a video session and some teaching. It may have taken a full period for the move to have an impact, but it was clear that the Capitals were the more confident and fresher team the last 40 minutes. Bottom line is the guy can coach.

Notes: Boudreau was able to roll his lines once the Caps went way ahead and as a result Ovechkin only logged 18:33 of ice time while Green was limited to 24:55…Calgary won the faceoff battle 40-32…Backstrom went 9-8 on the draw after losing the one that led directly to the first Flames goal…Eric Fehr and Mathieu Perreault were healthy scratches while Marcus Johansson, Tom Poti, and Tyler Sloan did not play due to injury…next up for the Caps are the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7pm at the Verizon Center on Wednesday, November 3rd.

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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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