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Neuvirth Blanks Canes in Caps 3-0 Win

Posted on 27 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Questions Begin to Mount as Caps Lose to Bruins Again

Posted on 21 October 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. The Washington Capitals outshot their opponents but lost to a hot goalie.

Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins, who defeated the Caps on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center, did it again on Thursday in the Bruins home opener, stopping 38 of 39 shots en route to a 4-1 B’s triumph over an extremely inconsistent Capitals hockey team. The only goal by DC was from Jason Chimera, who tallied into an empty net after the Boston goalie misplayed the biscuit with just over 10 minutes left in the third period. With the loss Washington falls to 4-3 overall and after only seven contests some of the same issues from last spring’s playoffs are showing up in 2010-11.

So without further adieu, let’s get to the highlights, quotes and analysis from the Caps 2nd straight defeat to the Bruins in as many games:

- Thomas was good, but as was discussed on the Caps postgame show on Comcast, where were any Capitals to go to the net and screen the B’s goalie or fight for second chances? I did not see a whole lot of that and that is it what it takes to solve a goalie who is in a groove. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, perimeter hockey does not work and Boston used the same strategy the Canadiens employed last spring. They simply packed their defense in early on and made the Caps try and beat them with shots from the outside. When the Caps made a mistake, the Bruins would then counter attack and seek opportunities. The strategy is a bit of a risky one but when the opponent scores first, the Capitals tend to get lazy and play bad positional hockey that leads to penalties and more goals against. This is what happened on Thursday evening.

- Washington dominated the first 17 or so minutes and couldn’t score, primarily because noone fought for rebounds plus guys like Nicklas Backstrom, who had one of his worst games in a long time, missed glorious scoring chances. Then Matt Hendricks took a bad penalty in the offensive zone  with under two minutes left and when Jason Chimera got sucked to the side boards on the penalty kill, Patrice Bergeron slid a nice pass to Michael Ryder down low and he easily beat Semyon Varlamov (30 saves). That pass was able to be made because John Carlson was too high in the slot battling a Bruins forward, who was already tied up with John Erskine. Thus a 13-8 Caps first period shots advantage went for naught as the Bruins grabbed a 1-0 lead.

- In the second period it was mostly Boston carrying the play as they had an 18-13 shots advantage and tallied twice to give them a 3-0 lead heading into period three. Speedy forward Jonathan Caron scored a huge goal to make it 2-0 after the Caps top line got caught on the ice too long and ran out of gas. Then midway through the period Alexander Semin took a hooking penalty and Nathan Horton blasted one through traffic, something that we aren’t seeing from the Caps power play, to make it 3-0 and pretty much end this game at 12:29 of the middle stanza.

“We got caught out there too long with Nicky’s line, they got one change in while the puck was in our zone, a great one by them, and we were too tired to move and they scored to make it 2-0. Then they scored on the power play to make it 3-0 and it’s pretty tough to come back on a team with a goalie playing like that when it is 3-0,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the turning point in the contest.

- As Boudreau said after the tilt, rookie Marcus Johansson was Washington’s best forward in the game. The young Swede sure can skate and his stick handling is pretty good too. MJ90 continues to get better and he is now playing 2nd line center between the very inconsistent Semin and a struggling Brooks Laich. He was a very respectable 5-4 on faceoffs on the road, where it is tougher to win draws. As for the rest of the centers on Washington, they were downright bad on Thursday. Backstrom couldn’t handle the puck all night and Tomas Fleischmann looks lost as a pivot. Even 4th line center Dave Steckel was a non factor and his stock continues to plummet. Center is still the area of biggest weakness on this Caps team and through seven games that is highly evident. How long does GM George McPhee stay with this crew of center ice men?

“Marcus was probably our best forward and I thought him and Chimera were really skating,” started the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on #90 and #26 before adding, “[changing the lines] is something I’ve got to think about with guys not producing. Is it because they are not playing well or because they are snakebit? I think they can all play better, it is a combination of both,” finished Boudreau.

- One area where the Caps are not struggling is in net. Varlamov played solid and did all he could to keep his team in the game but he was left out to dry too often. Boston had several breakaways and quality chances but #1 stopped most of them. It was really only on the penalty kill where he was unable to keep his finger in the dyke as a shorthanded unit that was 25 for 25 coming into Thursday’s tilt gave up three tallies on just four chances. Add in the fact that the Capitals power play went 0 for 4 with superstar Mike Green out of the lineup and you get a special teams differential of -3. NHL teams rarely win games when on the bottom end of that stat.

“We had lots of chances to score, we just didn’t. Normally our special teams, through seven games our penalty killing has been great, but our power play, which kept us at the top last year, hasn’t come through for us, so we’ll have to work on that tomorrow,” said Boudreau.

Notes: The Caps next game is home against the Thrashers on Saturday night before they embark on a three game road trip…Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon were both scratched due to injury…Washington won the face-off battle, 29-27…Alexander Ovechkin was credited with eight shots and five hits in 25:53 of ice time but he was held pointless and went -1.

Special thanks to Ted Starkey (@TedStarkey) of The Washington Times for forwarding the post game quotes that were used in this blog.

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Caps Sweep Penguins, 6-3

Posted on 07 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

In a game that meant so much more to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals went into the vaunted “Igloo” and despite having to play the Pens and the referees for the 15th straight time, the Caps still managed to come out on top, 6-3. Alexander Ovechkin continued his resurgence just in time for the playoffs notching two goals and he now is tied with Sidney Crosby (1 goal, 2 assists) for the NHL goal scoring lead at 48. Steven Stamkos of Tampa Bay is just one goal back. Ovechkin is also tied with Henrik Sedin of Vancouver for the Art Ross Trophy race, at 106 points, pending Vancouver’s late game vs. Colorado. The Capitals won every regular season meeting between these two teams (SWEEEEEPP!) in 2009-10 with all four contests coming since January 21st. Washington now has a staggering 118 points (53-15-12) and will finish the regular season with games against the Thrashers on Friday and Boston on Sunday at the Verizon Center.

Here are the highlights, some quotes from Ovechkin, and analysis from what I hope is the last game ever between the Caps and Pens in Mellon Arena (i.e, I wish the Pens bad luck in the playoffs):

STAT OF THE NIGHT: For the 15th straight game between these two squads, the Caps did not receive more power plays than the Penguins. In fact, in ONLY four of those contests have the number of power plays for each team been even! That is ridiculous and clearly shows an officiating bias. The shots on Tuesday were 29-28, in favor of Pittsburgh, but the Penguins had four power plays to just one for Washington (the Caps scored just 4 seconds into their PP chance on Ovechkin’s first goal). In addition to being shortchanged on power play opportunities, both blind zebras, Greg Devorski and Ian Walsh, missed a nasty elbow by Max Talbot to the head of Alexander Semin (scored his 39th goal of the season and added an assist). The Caps did get a big break though on a quick whistle that negated what would have been a Penguins goal in the second period.

Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom (3 assists), and Mike Knuble (28th goal of the season) had their second straight good game and appear to be heating up for the playoffs. The Great #8 logged 19:12 of ice time while Backstrom played 20:35 with the difference being #19′s 1:25 on the PK. Knuble played 17:33 so Caps Coach Bruce Bourdeau continues to do a good job of not overplaying his top line down the stretch.

“I think that power play goal gave me more [relief]. I had lots chances to score goals the last four games and they didn’t go in.  Finally it goes in and the last 10 minutes I just felt unbelievable ,” said the Great #8, who also praised Crosby’s play, character, and leadership after this one in addition to recognizing the Caps defense and goaltender for super play (“Varly today played unbelievable.”). By the way, Ovechkin’s second marker came into an empty net with just 0.2 seconds remaining.

Semyon Varlamov (26 saves) was very solid tonight and it was hard to fault him on the three goals allowed. The first was a laser by Crosby on the power play after Tyler Sloan gave #87 far too much room coming off of the right wing boards. The middle tally by the Pens was a Jordan Leopold point blast that was heading wide but hit Shaone Morrisonn (-2 on the evening) and bounced right through Varly’s pad while the final Pittsburgh goal was another Leopold rocket after a Caps giveaway. On that shot Morrisonn dove to the ice late and didn’t allow #40 to pick up the shot. The back-to-back wins were the first ones since December 3rd & 7th, right before he started with all of the injuries. Boudreau has to feel very good about where his goaltending is at with just two regular season games remaining. Jose Theodore is on fire again and if he somehow struggles the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach knows he has a surging Varly he can put in the cage as well.

Resiliency was the key word of the night for Washington. First, they lost defenseman John Erskine to a lower body injury (h/t Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post) in the first period and #4 logged only 3:52 of ice time. After that they had to go with just five blue liners. Even more impressive was their ability to respond so quickly to Pittsburgh tallies. After Crosby’s PP marker made it 2-1 at 6:18 of the second period, Tomas Fleischmann scored just 21 seconds later on a wicked top shelf wrister that chased Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to the showers (9 saves on 12  shots). #29 proceeded to lose it in the tunnel after Coach Dan Bylsma gave him the hook. Then after Leopold put one byVarly just 49 seconds into the third period, Ovechkin responded with his power play rocket by former Capital Brent Johnson (13 saves on 15 shots) just 1:51 later to restore a two goal Washington lead.

Another key tally was Matt Bradley’s 10th of the season with just two minutes left in the second period. That goal, off of a nice passing play with Quintin Laing and Dave Steckel, came after a long stretch where the Pens were dominating play and gave Washington momentum heading into period three.

Jeff Schultz is back. #55, who seems to play his best against the Pens (+12 in last 8 games versus PIT; h/t @JapersRink), was so solid in his own end tying up several Pens around the net all game and earning a +5 for the evening (he leads the NHL at +44, h/t to Corey Masisak). In addition, Sarge added two assists and wasn’t prone to some of the sloppy giveaways he had been making over the last month. Schultz logged 25:00 of ice time to lead all Caps (Tom Poti had 24:55).

Notes: Mike Green was a scratch and apparently is “dinged up” but could have played, if really necessary..El-Bashir is reporting he will play Friday against the Thrashers…Evgeni Malkin (sick) missed the game for the Penguins as did noted head hunter, Chris Kunitz (undisclosed)..Pittburgh won the face-off battle, 29-24, with Backstrom going 8-5, Jay Beagle 7-3, and Fleischmann 3-10. Crosby was 16-12 for the Pens…Karl Alzner was recalled today but was scratched…Kris Letang and Bill Guerin were both -3 for Pittsburgh, who are now two points behind the New Jersey Devils in the race for the Atlantic Division title (NJ defeated ATL, 3-0, on Tuesday night).

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Bradley, Varlamov Help Caps Beat Thrashers, 2-1

Posted on 01 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals faced another desperate team on Thursday night, in the Eastern Conference ninth place Atlanta Thrashers who were just two points out of a playoff spot coming into this contest, and they managed to get some super timely goaltending from Semyon Varlamov (19 saves) along with a big third period goal from Matt Bradley to win, 2-1. This victory halted a three game losing streak for Washington, although one defeat came in a shootout while another was in overtime, and gave them win #50 on the season. This is the first time in franchise history that the Capitals have had back to back 50 win seasons. Washington’s overall record is 50-15-12 (112 points) and they need just three points, gained via themselves or missed ones by the Sharks, to capture the franchise’s first ever President’s Trophy. 

The Caps are now 32-1-1 when they hold an opponent to two goals or less (the regulation loss was in LA, 2-1, in January) and are 34-7-6 on the season when they score the first goal of the game.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a game that was atypical of past Caps-Thrashers tilts:

I’m gonna start with Mike Green because he deserves the most praise tonight. Watching this contest I only felt comfortable when #52 was on the ice when it came to the Caps blueliners. Green, who has been overly criticized for his defensive zone play over the years, has taken his game to another level since the Olympic break and he has been ultra consistent on a game to game basis. The Calgary native continues to rack up the points to lead the NHL by d-men (18 goals, 55 assists) and his rocket of a shot on a nice Alexander Ovechkin feed was tipped home by Nicklas Backstrom to give Washington a lead late in period one.  Here are the stats on #52 tonight: 24:20 of ice time, 1 assist, four hits (led the team), and was +1 (now +35 on the year). Afterwards Green spoke to Comcast’s Lisa Hillary.

“When you pay attention to detail and you do the simple things, which is what is asked of us most nights, you come out successful like that. Tonight, I thought the last seven minutes of the game we really played tight defense as as team. We were protecting the lines, we were getting the pucks deep, guys were coming off hard, that is what it is going to take to win in the playoffs,” said Green, who just seems so focused on the ice right now.

As for Bradley, it had been 25 games (last goal vs. Wings on 1/19) since he tallied, and you could kind of see it coming the way he was working hard and being one of the FEW guys on the team who was going to the net. The Professor notched his ninth marker of the season to go with 13 assists and he has matched his career high with five games remaining. The fan favorite is a guy that Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau likes having on his team as well.

“He’s got nine goals, which is the most he’s ever had since I’ve been here and it’s been awhile since he scored. He does his job all of the time and he comes out and he tries. I don’t know how you can get mad at him or think that he is one who is not doing his job, because he knows what his job is, to prevent other guys from scoring, not scoring goals but he got one tonight and everyone gets rewarded now and again…He knocked [Thrashers 48 year old defenseman, Chris Chelios] off of the puck. I don’t think Chelli saw him coming and he did what he was supposed to do, he took it to the net, and I don’t know how it went in but he snuck it underneath him some how,” said Boudreau on the Professor, who beat Atlanta goalie, Ondrej Pavelec (22 saves), via the five hole.

As I alluded to above, this was not the usual wide open, end-to-end hockey contest between the Caps and the Thrashers. Atlanta brought a simple game plan and intensity to this one but they still can’t knock off the Capitals. They are 0-5 against them this season.

“They play normally a very aggressive style like us but they’re battling for their playoff lives. I think they thought if we were going to go chance for chance than we have more scoring power than them so they can’t afford to do that. They were smart, John [Anderson, Thrashers head coach] comes prepared,” said Boudreau on Atlanta’s style of play in game five of their six game regular season series.

With only 42 shots on goal total and numerous whistles, Boudreau said there were 44 of those in the first two periods alone, this one had a post season feel to it.

“I thought it was a playoff game, it was tense and there wasn’t a lot of shots but those are the hardest games to play…we beared down and proved we could play defensive when we want and had to and tonight was one of those nights,” added a pretty satisfied coach on his club’s effort on Thursday night.

Varlamov seems to be gaining ground fast in the goaltending competition and he was very solid tonight stopping Maxim Afinogenov on a breakaway in period one and making a few other key saves on quality chances by Atlanta, including one from Tobias Enstrom from the slot. I can’t remember a single rebound that was put in harm’s way in this game by #40 and he just looked very confident between the pipes, despite some iffy plays, at times, by defensemen not named Green.

“Great confidence boost for him. He hadn’t won in awhile. Held them to one goal. It was a tough one that beat him. I didn’t they think had a great many chances but the ones they had were good ones and he was up to the task,” remarked the coach who rode Varlamov in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“I know it’s probably tough for goalies to go in and out of the lineup like that. We see how hard he works in practice and he’s ready to play. Tonight, when he needed to make a big save he did and that motivates us to play harder,” added Mike Knuble on the play of Varly.

 

Now about those other defensemen. Tom Poti and Shaone Morrisonn gave a textbook demonstration on how NOT to play a 2 on 2 break and the decision to jump in the air for the puck in the first period by #3 allowed Afinogenov to get his breakaway. Sometimes I wonder what Poti is thinking out there? Joe Corvo was abused badly by Enstrom and it led to a great scoring chance in the slot. Also, I felt that Jeff Schultz continues to struggle a bit with his decision making and lack of speed. How do we get back the pre-March version of #55? Only the combined mental mistakes by #3 and #26 cost Washington a goal though.

 

“We just got pulled over to the boards a little bit. It was a give and go and I didn’t think it was necessary for Tom [Poti] to come that far across and the guy jumped behind him and got a play,” commented Boudreau on a terrible defensive play by both Poti and Morrisonn.

 

Washington only had 20 shots and a big reason for that is the forwards seem to be stuck in “Drop Pass City” right now. There are too many cross-ice and back pass attempts when a simple shot and then a drive to the net for a rebound would be more appropriate and effective. The perfect case in point was the sequence in the second period where Backstrom made a nice play in the offensive zone, peeled off looking to pass, and dropped it for Ovechkin (1 assist), who was opened up for a one-timer. The problem was that play had to be timed perfectly to work and when the Great #8 fumbled the puck in his skates, he tripped Afingenov, who did sell it pretty well too. What Alexander the Great should have been doing was driving to the net and the super Swede could have then fired one on goal and hopefully off of Pavelec’s pads for a rebound.

 

One of the reasons Ovechkin is stuck in the mid-40′s in goals is because he is not going to the net to get the tap-ins that he has tallied on in the past (see OT winner vs. Montreal on 1/31/2008). In addition, Ovie is becoming very predictable with his moves. He is getting the puck in the neutral zone and then cutting laterally across the blue line and time after time he is being met by a wall of defenders that would make the Redcoats in the Revolutionary War proud. This same move continues to lead to turnovers or poke checks that send the Caps back into the neutral zone or forced to defend an odd man rush. Simply put, the ultra strong and powerful Ovechkin needs to do what he has done in the past and used a couple of times on Thursday: either drive hard to the outside and around the defender or make a head fake, take one stride max, and fire the biscuit on net using his opponent as a screen. I would prefer more of the former because he hasn’t used that technique too often lately and it would prevent the opposition blue liners from cheating positionally. Overall, the top line and whatever line Alexander Semin seems to be on has to get away from turnovers at the opponents blue line before the playoffs start. The Penguins feasted off of Washington turnovers in the final five games of last season’s second round playoff series.

 

I thought the hit by Colby Armstrong on Mathieu Perreault was downright dirty and #20 has a reputation for doing these things. It was far worse than what got Green suspended for three games back in January. The play, however, did not lead to a Washington power play as Morrisonn was called for roughing.

 

“It was a pretty clear, solid elbow to the face…It was flagrant, it was an elbow to the head,” said Boudreau on the dirty play by Armstrong.

 

Overall, despite some of the things I wasn’t too happy about, this was a major step in the right direction towards post season hockey for Boudreau’s crew tonight. Backstrom felt like things were good but he said there are still improvements that can be made.

 

“We were a little bit sloppy the last couple of games. I think we were better than the {few} games before. We still have some things to work on and get ready and work a little bit harder. We need to play better like {we played} earlier this season,” added #19, who notched his 30th goal of the season, which seemed to bring out a larger than normal celebration from one of the best centers in the league. Could Nicky have a bonus clause in his contract for hitting the 30 mark?

 

Notes: The Caps will practice at 11am on Friday at Kettler Ice Plex and then head to Columbus for a date with the Blue Jackets on Saturday night…Dave Steckel was 11-3 on face-offs, including a clean win with 12 seconds left that allowed Green to easily wheel the puck around the boards and run out the clock…the Caps were 32-28 overall from the dot (Backstrom was 6-11)…Washington only received one power play and failed to score while the Thrashers went 0 for 3…Rookie defenseman John Carlson missed the game with an injury.

 

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Theodore Stops Bolts & Ovechkin Scores as Caps Win

Posted on 20 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Alexander Ovechkin returned to the Caps lineup on Saturday night in Tampa and he potted the game winner after a super feed from Nicklas Backstrom midway through the first period as Washington rode another outstanding performance from goalie Jose Theodore (33 saves) to a 3-1 road victory over the Lightning. With the win the Capitals complete a 3-0-1 road trip and up their overall record to 48-14-10 (106 points). With the Devils losing in regulation to the Blues on Saturday and the Penguins losing in overtime to Carolina, Washington just needs five points to formally lock up the Eastern Conference #1 seed (that is a formality). In addition, they now have a nine point lead in the battle for the President’s Trophy. The Chicago Blackhawks are now the main pursuers with 97 points and they have a game in hand on the Caps.

Washington also matched the club record for road wins (1983-84) and they are 22-10-6 away from the Verizon Center this season.

Here are the quotes, highlights, and analysis from the last game between these two teams until next season:

Despite the fact that they are now golf course bound on April 12th, Tampa gave Washington all it could handle for two periods. The Caps had won 12 straight against the Bolts over the last two seasons until a 7-4 loss in January, but Rick Tocchet’s crew is improving, thanks to the play of youngsters Steven Stamkos (1st overall NHL draft pick in 2008) and Victor Hedman (2nd overall NHL draft choice in 2009). After struggling for 40 minutes, Washington would finally dominate the Lightning in the third period on Saturday, firing 15 shots on net, and improved to 4-2 against Tampa in 2009-10.

“I thought they came out really hard and they outplayed us. The goalie stole it for us in the first two periods and then they probably ran out of steam in the third period and we played alot better as a group in the third period and especially when we got the third goal it was like the wind went out of their sails,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the victory.

Washington took several bad penalties (too many men on the ice and a couple of stupid boarding plays) but a much maligned penalty killing unit thwarted all five Tampa power play chances, something the Caps had struggled to do against Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vinnie Lecavalier, and company this season. Hall of Famer Rod Langway always used to tell me that everything starts with the goalie out and tonight the key to stopping the Tampa man advantage was Theodore.

“I thought the PK was great but the key was Jose. I thought he was outstanding. I felt so comfortable with him in net tonight, it was a good feeling to have. He is just playing with a lot of confidence and he is in such a groove. He’s been like that since January 1. He’s playing so good but I’m not naming anybody anything, but he’s certainly making a great case for himself,” added Boudreau on the play of his goalie and what his thoughts are as far as who will start game one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs the week of April 12th.

Jose Theodore is now 16-0-2 since January 13th. He has wins in six straight starts and his 18 consecutive decisions without a regulation loss are the most in Capitals history and the most by any NHL goaltender in the last 10 seasons (h/t Caps PR staff).

Ovechkin scored his league leading 45th goal (tied with Sidney Crosby) goal after another great outlet pass from Backstrom. #19 banked a long feed from his own zone off of the side boards and right on the Great #8′s stick. From there Alexander the Great went in and faked Antero Niittymaki (25 saves) to the ice and then roofed the biscuit behind him to give Washington a lead they would not relinquish. For the evening the Great #8 was +1 in 22:52 of ice time.

“I thought he was a little tentative early like he was afraid, an ‘I don’t want to get in trouble’ type thing. He got the real game winning goal and in the third period he had a couple of good hits. He is getting back to normal and he had 7 or 8 shots too, that’s good stuff. It’s not like we eased him back in,” added Boudreau on the play of his team captain.

Center Dave Steckel (1 assist) had a super outing and he and Eric Fehr set up Tomas Fleischmann for his 21st goal of the season just 2:40 into the contest. Those three guys were really clicking on a line together and could have had a couple more tallies. #39, who seems to always play well against the Bolts, logged 4:22 of shorthanded time, the most of any Caps forward. He was 9-8 on face-offs in a game that saw his team get smoked on draws, 39-22.

Washington’s third goal came as a result of a nice play by Brooks Laich, who made a good deke in the slot and fired a laser on Niittymaki, and when the goalie could not handle the hot shot, Alexander Semin tapped in the rebound for his 33rd goal of the season. #28 did not have a great game but he came up big at that moment.

The Caps power play went 0 for 4 and while they moved the puck well, they lacked crease presence and as a result, they could not beat Niittymaki. I would like to see more of the Mike Knuble-Laich combo in front of opposing goalies. When the enemy net minder can see the shot, he is almost always going to stop it. Traffic and shots were lacking from a power play that is still ranked #1 in the NHL.

Defenseman Jeff Schultz did not have one of his better outings and he lost Lecavalier in the slot on the Lightning’s first goal. He also made a bad giveaway up the boards to St. Louis in the 3rd period when it was still a one goal game. #55 has looked a little bit slower to me lately and hopefully he is not too worn down for the playoffs. Speed is definitely not his forte but he usually makes up for that deficiency with solid stickwork and positioning.

John Carlson, who was paired again with Shaone Morrisonn, had another strong effort on the blue line in 14:16 of ice time. Carlson is really fitting in at the NHL level and I really liked the way he easily took St. Louis, one of the top forwards in the league, off of the puck in the second period in the defensive zone. #74′s outlet passes always seem to be right where they need to be.

The worst news of the evening was the loss of Scott Walker to an apparent injury after he was knocked to the ground in a fight with Zenon Konopka early in period two.

Joe Corvo and Tyler Sloan were scratched on defense and the healthy forward ones were Matt Bradley (who will be back in for sure with Walker out) and Quintin Laing. Boyd Gordon was sent home earlier in the trip after aggravating his back in Florida on Tuesday.

At the end of the day this was not a pretty effort and the Caps took awhile to take the game over, but a win is a win.

“It’s a good road win for us. That’s 3-0-1 on a four game road trip and it seems like we are never satisfied with how we play but the end result is 3-0-1 in four tough buildings,” finished Boudreau.

Next up for the Caps are the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night in a “can’t miss” hockey event.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on Section 410 on WNST 1570 at 1040 am on Sunday morning talking Caps hockey with Eric Aaronson. Listen Live at WNST.NET

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Semin Gets Hat Trick but Caps Lose Again

Posted on 11 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Olympic Break can not come soon enough for the Washington Capitals. After their 14 game winning streak was snapped in Montreal on Tuesday night in overtime the Caps had to face a very hot Ottawa Senators club (winners of 12 of 13 prior to this one) on Wednesday evening and despite a hat trick from Alexander Semin they were defeated 6-5 at Scotiabank Place. The Capitals are banged up (Tom Poti, Shaone Morrisonn, and Jason Chimera all were out with injuries/ailments) and a tired team at this point but they still have a 14 point lead in the Eastern Conference with 21 games left in the season. They fall to 41-13-7 (89 points) and will play in St. Louis on Saturday before the NHL shuts down for the Vancouver 2010 games.

Let’s get to the highlights, analysis, and quotes:

I am going to make this blog shorter tonight because Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has been saying for two weeks that his team needs some serious practice time to get back to playing their system and the last two nights have proved him totally correct. So for me to sit here and nitpick this guy or that guy, especially after the team just won 14 straight games, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Let’s start with the total team defense: It was atrocious. Too many giveaways, bad decisions, sitting back too much, etc. You name it and the Caps did it wrong at some point on Wednesday night. Poti and Morrisonn, two of the regular d-men, were out with a groin injury and the flu, respectively, plus John Erskine is playing dinged up. Add in that Karl Alzner, who was recalled from Hershey today (along with forward Chris Bourque) had to endure a day of planes, trains, and automobiles, and you can see why the mental focus and execution was not there. Still no excuse and those in the camp of “Caps need to add a defenseman before the trade deadline” have gained alot of ammuniton after the last several games.

Semyon Varlamov (22 saves) played his first game since December 7th and outside of the first 18 minutes in the second period, he struggled big time giving up some goals in which he was not screened. He did not get much help from his defense and two of the goals were power play tallies (Ottawa scored on both of their man advantage situations while the Caps did not score on either of theirs). Boudreau lit into both his defense and his goalie after the game.

 ”Our thought our defense was horrible and our goaltending was horrible. You can use whatever term you want I don’t think [Varlamov] was ready to play. The puck is going through the legs, he’s been making that save since he was 7 years old so unless his memory bank has lost it he should have made the save,” started Boudreau, “The giveaways part from our defense were more horrible than the goaltending and I didn’t think the goaltending was good,” finished Boudreau on the defense and goaltending.

Washington has been extremely sloppy lately and Boudreau has noted, on several occassions, even during the winning streak, that the team was trending down (he talked about this after the victory over Tampa Bay on January 31) and bad habits were become more and more apparent.

“[Bad habits] have been creeping in for about 7 games now and I’ve been telling them every friggin night about bad habits. The break can’t come soon enough for me, where we can get 5 or 6 good days of practice and get back on track here. It’s tough to practice when you have 3 games in 4 nights,” added Boudreau on the problems and the solution to correcting them.

Semin, who was pretty much a no show in Montreal and didn’t do alot against the Penguins on Sunday except draw a penalty that set up the game winning goal, was on tonight. #28 scored three goals on Ottawa’s Brian Elliott (19 saves), added an assist on Tomas Fleischmann’s tally (the Caps first of the evening), and fired nine shots on the cage in just over 18 minutes of ice time. He also had 6 shots blocked something that the Senators defense, especially Anton Volchenkov (11 blocks), do very well while the Caps didn’t work hard enough to put themselves in position to thwart shot attempts.

The shots on goal in this one were low (28-24 Sens) because Ottawa did such a good job of not letting Washington get the puck through to Elliott, who was not on his game either. Boudreau commented on that as well.

 ”Their goalie wasn’t very good either but they got more shots so they scored more goals,” finished Boudreau on the sloppy contest.

Clearly there is no need to panic, but team defense is something Washington will need to pay more attention to if they want to win the Stanley Cup. Brooks Laich has repeatedly talked about his team sticking to its system if they want to get where Pittsburgh got to last year. Right now, Washington is nowhere close to playing their system. The only reason they’ve been able to win or stay in games the last two nights has been because of their high skill level and great goaltending (up until tonight). At the end of the day, I thought Alan May of Comcast summed up the Caps situation, in respect to getting ready for the post season over these last 21 games, best.

“It is time to put an end to the madness in the d-zone,” said May.

Notes: Alex Ovechkin, who played 29+ plus minutes in Montreal logged nearly 27 minutes in Ottawa & looked tired. He had an assist, but only had 1 shot on goal and took a bad penalty in the 3rd period for interference (slid Mike Fisher’s stick away from him while it laid on the ice)..Fleischmann (-3) was on the ice for all four even strength goals (thanks for that one Japers Rink!)..Flash also struggled in face-offs going 2 and 9 and Ottawa’s second tally by Milan Michalek came after #14 lost a draw to Jason Spezza..Spezza had a goal and two assists but was a -2..Washington has hat tricks in three straight games (Ovechkin, Laich, Semin) but surprisingly have lost the last two games. Before those two losses the Caps had won the previous eight games in which they notched a hat trick (h/t to Caps Sr. Media Relations Director Nate Ewell for that stat)…the Caps-Canadiens game on Tuesday night set Comcast viewing records in the greater DC/Baltimore area scoring a 5.8 rating, which translates to an average audience of 148,00 households.

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Red Hot Caps Win 12th Straight on Broadway

Posted on 05 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals are so hot right now, they might be the only thing that can turn this predicted monster snowstorm headed our way into rain! On Broadway on Thursday night the Caps played their second straight poor first period but escaped only one goal down, gave up four power play goals but scored three of their own, and received super efforts from both Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 4 assists) and Alexander Ovechkin (2 goals, 1 assist) to rally to defeat the New York Rangers, 6-5, for their club record 12th straight victory. Jose Theodore (33 saves), believe it or not for a guy who gave up five tallies, played fairly well in goal making the big stops when Washington needed it. This victory improves the Caps to 39-12-6, good for 84 points and a 12 point lead over the New Jersey Devils. Devils GM Lou Lamoriello traded Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier, and a 1st round draft pick to the Atlanta Thrashers for Ilya Kovalchuk and Anssi Salmela on Thursday evening. The Caps will take on the Kovalchuk-less Thrashers on Friday night at the Verizon Center, weather permitting.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

Ovechkin was his usual amazing self tonight and I thought for sure he would get a hat trick, which would have been the first for the Caps this season, but maybe he is saving it for his pal Sidney Crosby on Sunday??!! The Great #8 did notch is 500th career NHL point. He is the ninth player in NHL history to record 500 points in his first five seasons (joining Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Peter Stastny, Mike Bossy, Dale Hawerchuk, Bryan Trottier, Denis Savard and Jari Kurri). He is the fastest player to reach 500 points in terms of games since Eric Lindros (352nd game, 2/28/98). The Great #8 had a big shot block in the last 15 seconds and on the final face-off of the game he forced the Rangers defenseman to throw the puck to the side boards instead of shooting it. Washington is now 15-1 with Ovechkin as team captain.

The play of the night, and the key to the Caps win, was another highlight reel goal that Michal Rozsival will have nightmares about for quite some time. With time running down in the second period, and Washington losing 5-3, Ovechkin received an excellent Backstrom breakout pass at center ice, flew into the offensive zone and did a toe drag move on the Rangers d-man to go around him, and then he lifted the puck upstairs one handed on Lundqvist, who could not get all of it as it ended up in the net with just 8 ticks on the clock in period two. Boudreau felt that goal provided the lift his team needed to come back.

“I thought it was going to be a real challenge at 5-3 but when Alex made it 5-4 at the end of the period I thought we were right back in it,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

“I thought Alex was going to get 1 or 2 chances to score in the third period because he was having one of those games but it was Nicky, who was having one of those games as well that did the damage,” finished Boudreau on his two top players.

Backstrom did some SERIOUS damage tonight and the behind the back pass he made to Knuble that tied this high scoring affair at two proves that #19 does indeed have eyes in the back of his head! Backstrom now has 24 goals and 45 assists in 57 games while Ovechkin has an incredible 38 goals and 42 assists in just 49 games. The Great #8 now leads the NHL in goals, points, and plus/minus.

The Rangers outshot the Caps 18-6 in the first period as Washington looked sluggish. Fortunately Theodore kept it at 1-0 when it could have been a two, three, or even four goal Rangers lead. The best line for the Capitals in the first period was the Dave Steckel, Boyd Gordon, and Matt Bradley trio, and it was #15 who tied things up at one. Gordon, who appears to finally be healthy after battling a balky back, now has goals in consecutive games.

In the second period the Caps came out smoking and took the lead, 3-2 on Ovechkin’s first of the evening, but then they started the parade to the box, something that historically has gotten them in trouble. The Caps took four penalties in the middle stanza and the Rangers lit the lamp on three of them. In fact, New York scored on 4 of their first 5 power play attempts (4 for 6 overall in the game). Boudreau noted afterwards that he didn’t think the Caps were that bad killing the penalties as New York got some bounces off of skates and shin pads for wide open tallies. Washington’s worst kill was likely the first one (Tomas Fleischmann hook) as they let Ryan Callahan have free reign in the slot and he deflected in an Olli Jokinen (recently acquired from Calgary) point blast. Callahan (1 goal, 1 assist) and Vinnie Prospal (2 goals, 2 assists) both had their usual good games against Washington. It doesn’t matter whether he is in Tampa, Philly, or New York, it seems #20 finds a way to play some of his best hockey against the Caps.

In the final stanza, Washington did what it has done so many times during this winning streak: dominate the third period. The Caps came out flying scoring just 59 seconds in on Tom Poti’s PP floater from the point and then 5:34 in Backstrom potted the winner. From there Washington controlled the play as evidenced by the fact that New York only had 6 shots on goal in the last 20 minutes. The Capitals hard effort resulted in the Rangers taking five third period penalties, two of which took the game clock down from 4:17 to just 30 ticks remaining.

About the only thing that went against the Caps down the stretch apparently was the second laser incident in the NHL this season. It is being reported that Theodore had to deal with a green laser in the final minute and the league is investigating the incident. Back around the turn of the New Year, Calgary’s Mikka Kiprusoff had to deal with the same type of device for much of their game in Vancouver. The perpetrator was never found at GM place so this is something that appears to be a difficult type of case to solve.

Washington continues to be tough to beat at 5 on 5 and the score at even manpower was 3-1, Caps. Boudreau’s club needs to clean up the penalties but he thought overall they were pretty good defensively despite giving up the five tallies. The slow starts are a concern but my theory is this: Washington, even though they went 3-0 during his suspension, really miss Mike Green. Poti did a very good job the last two games in #52′s absence but there is no substitute for Green’s ability to break the puck out of the Washington zone with speed and get the Caps legs and offense going early in contests. The silver lining in #52′s suspension was the banged up 2008-09 Norris Trophy Finalist got to rest his bad knee and aching body. I imagine “Lamborgreenie” will be flying on Friday night vs. Atlanta.

For Boudreau on Friday night, he does have an interesting decision to make as far as who will play in net. Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth are likely not available due to injuries so will rookie Braden Holtby, who backed up Theodore the last three games, get his first NHL start on Friday night? With the Caps in a 4 games over 6 night stretch (which concludes with the Sunday 12 noon battle with the Penguins) typically Boudreau would use two goalies to get through a grind like that. However, Washington Post beat reporter, Tarik El-Bashir, tweeted on Thursday night that the coach hinted that Theodore would go again on Friday night. This makes sense to me, not because I don’t like Holtby, I think he has a bright future, but this is the NHL and it takes a lot of practice time to learn the speed of the big league shots. With this compressed Olympic year schedule the Caps have not practiced much so Holtby probably is not ready to face an NHL club yet, but his time will come, he just has to be patient.

Notes: With Green coming back on Friday you can expect that defenseman Karl Alzner will be sent back down to Hershey…the Caps won the face-off battle 37-34…the 12th straight win is the longest in the NHL since New Jersey won 13 straight in 2000-01…the NHL record for most victories in a row is by the 1992-93 Penguins, who won 17 consecutive games..the Philadelphia Flyers have the record for the longest unbeaten streak at 35 games (25 wins, 10 ties), they set that in 1979-80.

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Caps Tie Club Record With 10th Straight Win

Posted on 01 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

For the first time in nearly 26 years the Washington Capitals have a double digit win streak. Alexander Ovechkin and company fought off a third period surge from the Tampa Bay Lightning at a subdued, but once again sold out Verizon Center to capture their 10th straight and club record-tying victory, by a 3-2 margin. The Great #8 had the game winner with under seven minutes remaining and added a first period assist to run his season totals to 35 goals, 41 assists, and +35 in 47 games. Meanwhile the Caps improve to 37-12-6 (80 points) and widened their Eastern Conference lead to eight points (over New Jersey). The last time Washington won 10 games in a row was during the 1983-84 season and on Tuesday night in Beantown the Caps will try for a franchise record 11 straight victories against the Bruins.

Here are quotes, analysis, and highlights from the record tying win:

Crowd Dead: Home ice has definitely been good to the Caps this year and they are now 21-3-3 at the Phone Booth. Seven of the 10 wins on this streak have come at the often raucous Verizon Center. Today, however, was the quietest I have heard the building since early in the 2007-08 season (pre-Bruce Boudreau era). I don’t know what the deal was but the arena lacked energy. It could have been the boring style of play that the Lightning brought, it could have been the lack of first period scoring chances, or it could have been the 3pm start, who knows? One would think that just the chance to win 10 straight games would have had the fans fired up but they weren’t this afternoon. Whatever the case, the crowd that loves to “Rock the Red” typically is a huge help to Washington but it wasn’t really until the video board played “Unleash the Fury” with eight minutes left that they got into this one. Even still, the arena was at a much lower decible level than normal shortly after Ovechkin put the Caps ahead late in the third period. The head coach definitely noticed the lower decibel levels on Sunday.

“I thought the crowd was quieter than most. [Tampa] came out and all they wanted to do was check and I think they had only one or two scoring chances in the first period. It wasn’t a real up and down tempo. There were a lot of whistles and no penalties, so it was a quiet game in that respect,” said Boudreau on the lack of energy in the building.

Style of Hockey to Expect Going Forward: On Friday night the Caps had to deal with the Panthers trap and today it was an ultra conservative, defense first minded Lightning squad that the high powered Capitals had to defeat. Washington will likely face a lot of this type of play from here on out because teams are afraid of getting into a shootout with such an offensively talented club like the Caps. Boudreau spoke to his team about dealing with that going forward.

“We talked about that they are putting you to sleep and you’ve got to stay strong and this is how some teams will play that we might meet in the playoffs. They are a very defensive minded team,” added Boudreau on Tampa’s style of play.

“The first two periods it was kind of a boring game, both sides, but then in the third they started putting more pressure and they got the skill to come back from a two goal game and that is what they did tonight and they have Vinny [Lecavalier], [Steven] Stamkos, [Martin] St. Louis, all these guys that could score goals and I thought we never panicked tonight, scored the big goal at the end and just played solid D,” said Caps goalie Jose Theodore (25 saves) on the lack of flow and how is team prevailed.

“I would say they dulled the game down is the way to describe it. They didn’t want to match firepower with firepower, especially the way that our offense has been clicking so they tried to beat us another way by chipping pucks deep, keeping pucks low, falling back in the neutral zone, trying to limit our speed. I thought they did a good job of taking away our speed and our offensive chances early on then our power play gets a goal and we were able to get another one after that and just fortunate that we pulled it through at the end,” said forward Brooks Laich, who made it 2-0 Caps in the second period with his 16th tally of the season from three feet out. The goal was set up by a nice passing play between Tomas Fleischmann (2 assists) and Alexander Semin (1 assist).

“I think we are going to see that even more down the stretch here. Teams that we have been playing here are just scraping for points. So none of these teams want to get into a pond hockey game with us, they don’t want to be exchanging chances. They are clamping down and they figure the best way to beat us or get a point is to play well defensively, try to give up as least amount of chances as possible, and hang around for a point. It’s patience really, stick to the game plan, just because you don’t get one early in the game don’t get frustrated, you don’t have to go beating guys one on one on the red line. These teams are waiting for turnovers and try to have a transition game against us but it speaks to the fact that some playoff games might be like this, you are not going to score 4, 5, or 6 goals a night come playoff time so you have to be able to adjust and adapt and play in these tight games,” said center Brendan Morrison, who played the point on the first power play unit with Mike Green out of the lineup due to a three game suspension.

Sloan Excels With Green Out: Tyler Sloan (+1), who played six games in a row for the Caps before sitting out the last four tilts, was very good today in 16:30 of ice time. He  drew a tripping penalty on Alex Tanguay just 5:48 into the contest and he also made a super takeaway on the ultra talented Stamkos in the second period.

“He’s a heckuva a player and he had good speed going wide but I didn’t panic, I just kept backpedaling, I knew he couldn’t cut inside on me so he kept going wide. When you are playing the right side and you’re a left shot, your stick is on that side so it is easier to poke check,” started Sloan on the steal he made against Stamkos. “No, I haven’t, he’s a pretty skilled and he can try just about anything, I just knew he had nowhere to go, he was running out of room and he as soon as he got to the point of no return I turned and pokechecked,” finished #89 when asked if he had ever seen the 2008 1st overall pick in the NHL entry draft try that move before and how he finished the play off.

Sloan enjoyed being paired with the solid Jeff Schultz for the first time since his NHL debut.

“You know what, I think the last time I played with Schultzie was my first game in the NHL in Calgary. I don’t know if we have [played together] since then. Maybe a little bit once in awhile on the PK but not a regular shift since last year. We’re the Calgary connection. Schultzie is a great player, he is easy to play with. We both make the simple play and he is pretty defensive so it allows me to jump up in the play a little bit and use my skating,” added Sloan on his day paired with #55.

I asked Boudreau if #89′s good play carried extra merit because he has been in and out of the line-up so often.

“I think if you look at it’s hard but it shouldn’t be hard, you should be prepared and ready to play. He could have been 30 games in the minors and you come up and your stuck in the lineup and be just as good as anybody on the ice. So we practice all of the time and he’s practicing. That is one aspect of your job when you are the sixth, seventh defenseman is to stay ready because if you are not ready and you get thrown in the game and you don’t do a good job than you don’t continue to stay the sixth or seventh defenseman. That is why Quintin Laing, no matter when I put him in, I know he is gonna be great because he’s ready and he knows his roll and so does Tyler and I thought Tyler played really good, by the way, I’m just saying it’s not something extraordinary that he played good, he should be playing good,” added Boudreau on Sloan.

Goaltending Battle: Theodore was hurt on Long Island this past Tuesday night and Michal Neuvirth stepped in to keep the winning streak alive. Neuvirth’s reward, with #60 healthy again, was a trip to Hershey to try and get in five games with the Bears so he can play in the AHL during the upcoming Olympic break. Theo picked up where he left off before the minor hip injury with a solid peformance. The players are aware of how well the goalies have been playing.

“It is nice to have a couple of guys that you can throw in there. That is a cursed blessing because you have a couple of goalies that are playing well right now but there is only one of them that can play each game so I think it is a good competition. They are pushing each other to play better in net and for us, as players, there is nothing better than playing in front of hot goalies,” added #21 on the excellent goaltending Washington has been receiving during the winning streak.

Face-off Domination Aids Win Again: The Caps once again won the face-off battle, 31-23, but I hadn’t seen today’s ending before. With goalie Mike Smith (28 saves) pulled for an extra attacker the Bolts pressured late and forced several face-offs in Washington’s end. Dave Steckel (5-6 on the day) is the Caps number one man from the dot and he won a draw with 10 seconds left. Tom Poti, who had a solid outing on Sunday, iced the puck taking the game clock down to 2.4 seconds. That set up one final draw for the Lightning to try and tie it. Tampa, as I pointed out to John Keeley (On Frozen Blog) who was sitting next to me in the press box, had been cheating on face-offs all evening by leaning in early. Lecavalier must have assumed he could do it again for this final draw but it all blew up in his face and he was given a penalty for pushing it too far with the officials. Boudreau explained what he saw from his vantage point on the bench.

“Obviously they kicked him out and he didn’t want to get kicked out and he had a few choice words for the linesman. I think they were going to let it go but he just persisted and persisted and that is when they gave him the penalty. I think the referee was just protecting his linesman from getting abused and once that happens and the face-off is down the other end it takes all of their chance of winning the game or tying it up away,” said the 2007-08 NHL Coach of the Year on how the game finished.

“Usually if you are cheating they will give you a warning, if you cheat again they will throw you out, that is kind of the protocol and they might give some leniency to guys that have been around a little longer than that. That is the general rule of thumb. They’ll let you encroach a bit but if you are totally crossing the line then they’ll throw you out,” said Morrison on how draws are usually monitored in a given contest.

Why Are the Caps Winning So Often?: This Caps squad has a lot of talent, no doubt, but in the last month things have really gelled and Washington has become a real dominant team. The club is healthy up front for pretty much the first time all season and the line combinations have been stable over the course of the last 11 games so those are contributing factors. But it is more than just health and set lines, according to Laich and the vetern center, Morrison.

“I think we are starting to learn. I think our team is starting to mature and you’ve seen that in this streak. I thought the game we played in Pittsburgh when we were tied going into the third and then we got up two goals in the third I thought we really sufficated them. We took control of the game and we didn’t get into a run and gun, risky hockey game. We are being more disciplined, not giving up so many power play chances, so I think we are starting to mature and I think that is why you are starting to see a winning streak build up there,” said Laich, who stressed before the season that Washington must learn to stick to their system if they want to win a Stanley Cup, like Pittsburgh did last June.

“We aren’t thinking about 11 or 12, it’s all about the process. If we come in and take care of things night in and night out, things will take care of themselves,” finished Morrsion on why the Caps have been able to win 10 games in a row.

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Theodore Steals Win for Caps over Red Wings, 3-2

Posted on 20 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Jose Theodore put on a goaltending clinic tonight and he deserved all three stars in this one as he stopped 44 of 46 shots allowing the Washington Capitals to rally with two goals within 46 seconds in the last seven minutes to knock off the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2, at the Verizon Center. In a game that was totally dominated by a team that has played in the last two Stanley Cup Finals but has been battling a rash of injuries all season (and they are starting to get healthy), Washington took advantage of #60′s ability to somehow keep them in this one and Nicklas Backstrom scored on a power play and then Dave Steckel batted in a deflected Alexander Semin blast for the game winner. This victory moves the Caps to 31-12-6 and they are 17-3-3 on home ice. They are in first place in the Eastern Conference and should the Buffalo Sabres not win Tuesday night in Anaheim the Capitals will have sole possession of the #1 seed.

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

Last Wednesday night during the Caps-Panthers game, with Semyon Varlamov injured and Michal Neuvirth yanked for the second straight evening and losing his confidence, some fans suggested on Twitter that Washington should bring up rookie goalie Braden Holtby from Hershey. My response was simple:  It is time for the guy who is making $4.5M to step up. Well #60 has absolutely done that and he is 4-0 in his last four games. His rebound control has been superb, something that plagued him a lot this season, and he is finally making the big stop when it is needed. He thwarted Todd Bertuzzi on a breakaway in the first minute of this one and would make several ten bells saves in the opening period to keep Washington in it.

“That is probably the best I’ve seen him. I’m watching him and going this is how he must have been when he won the Hart and Vezina in Montreal that year, cause without him it very well could have been 6-0 in the first period,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the play of his goaltender against Detroit.

“It’s pretty good but I try never to get too high or too low on myself. Like I said before, when I wasn’t playing, my confidence was still pretty good because I was working hard, practicing hard. I’ve been in that type of situation before. I’m going to approach every day the same way and not get too high or too low after a game,” added Theodore on the win and his state of mind before and after tonight’s stellar performance.

Boy was Detroit, who were playing without Johan Franzen, Tomas Holmstrom, and Jason Williams, very good on Tuesday. They outskated Washington for the majority of the game. If not for Theodore they win this one going away.

“Well today was like men vs. boys, I don’t think we touched the puck. They came out with a vengeance and I am thinking this is how Stanley Cup Champions, that are desperate do, and it is a bar that we have to get to. We were just fortunate our goalie was great in the first period. And 5 out of 6 [first periods] we haven’t been good but 41 of 48 we probably have been good in the first period so it is something of a phase we are going through but we will turn it around,” said Boudreau on the opening stanza.

With the win on Sunday against the Flyers and tonight’s victory over Detroit and then Thursday’s tilt in Pittsburgh, Boudreau feels like this week is a good measuring stick for his Caps team. They were dominated on Tuesday, but at the end of the contest, they were victorious and it helped him assess his squad.

“I think we are resilient. We could have given up a few times. I think we also need to know that we have to play much better if we want to win the whole thing because that team played like they were in the seventh game, I hope they played like it was the seventh game of the playoffs, because if they can play a lot better then we are in trouble. I thought that was the best team we’ve played all year and I am shocked that they are in ninth place right now…I’m just glad they are in the West,” started Boudreau on his team and the Red Wings,  “I think we are a good team and you have to rise to challenges and this is a good week for challenges. It was a gritty win and you have to find a way and people have to step up. It can’t always be Ovie and good teams find guys that step up, tonight it was Theo, Steckel, and Bradley,” Boudreau said.

After Theodore, the Caps really can thank their penalty killing for giving them a chance to win holding the Detroit power play scoreless on five attempts. 12 Washington players logged at least one minute of PK time so it was a collective effort that all starts with the goaltending.

“I thought our penalty killing was superb tonight and good goaltending usually equals good penalty killing,” added Boudreau.

The Caps almost lost this one in the last 10 minutes when an Alexander Semin (1 assist) giveaway allowed Valtteri Filppula to hit a streaking Brian Rafalski all alone in the slot and he blasted one five hole by Theodore to give the Red Wings a 2-1 lead with 8:53 remaining. Semin had the most glaring miscue but Ovechkin compounded the error by abandoning his defensive responsibility (covering the right point man). However, after Backstrom tied the game, Semin took a drop pass from defenseman Karl Alzner, on a very smart rush up the ice by #27, and he fired it on net. It didn’t get there but Steckel finished it for the game winner.

“It is just getting cute in our own zone and we preach about that stuff all of the time. The skilled player and the great skilled players like Semin and Ovie they think they can make every play, because thye’ve made every play, so I don’t think he is thinking at that point that this is a tough play to make, I mean there were about four mistakes on it, not just him not getting it out, but he redeemed himself, as I knew he would,” said Boudreau on the play by Semin

Detroit was playing their third game in four days but they didn’t seem worse for the wear. The Caps just couldn’t keep up and they got away from their system, which is to dump the puck deep, hit the defense, and cycle the puck to set up scoring chances. But the Red Wings stymied that plan and put on a clinic of their own.

“If you don’t get it deep, then they get their transition going, and they can make four passes within 15 feet, they are a well oiled machine,” said Boudreau on the Red Wings.

The Steckel winner doesn’t come unless Backstrom makes a great rush up the ice to abuse Brad Stuart, the goat in game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals, and then beat Wings goalie Chris Osgood (20 saves) five hole on the power play. Prior to that goal Washington’s power play was putrid going 0 for 3 without a shot on net.

“It was just a great play, he dekes the defenseman and puts it exactly where he has to put it. Great players rise to the occassion. Our power play was pretty dormant for the most part. But one thing you have when you have skilled players teams don’t like giving you any chances because if they give you a whole bunch of chances eventually you are going to win. Tonight we didn’t get a lot of chances but the right guys had the chances at the right times. When we tied it a 2-2, I thought we’ve put ourselves in a position to win this thing and maybe we didn’t deserve to win this thing and guys that work really hard all night, like Steckel and Bradley, usually get rewarded and Stecks got one,” finished Boudreau.

So what did Detroit Coach Mike Babcock think of his team and the Capitals?

“I thought we played real well, real hard. We basically, in my opinion, dominated from start to finish tonight.  They’re an opportunistic team and they have a real good offensive flair.  They were able to capitalize.  I thought their goalie was outstanding but I like the way we played.  We played fast. We were pretty much on top of them from start to finish.  To me, it was a pretty good game by our team.  If we continue to play the way we’re playing then we’ll be just fine,” said Babcock.

Other notes:  Alexander Ovechkin was held without a shot on goal for just third time in his career (thanks @JapersRink)…Bertuzzi went to the net with a vengeance most of the game but he is not Holmstrom and his boneheaded trip of Mike Green gave Washington its fourth power play and that allowed Backstrom to tie the game up. …The ice looked absolutely horrible on Tuesday with the puck bouncing all over the place. It clearly impacted both teams power plays…The Caps first goal was a thing of beauty as Green, who was shaken up at one point in the second period, made a super cross ice pass to Boyd Gordon, who then made an even better backhanded saucer pass to Matt Bradley, and the Professor buried it to get Washington even in a game they should have been getting blown out of…Alzner, in his first game back from Hershey only logged 11:23 of ice time, but he contributed in a key way on the game winning goal.

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Ovechkin Gets 5 Points in Caps Win Over Leafs, 6-1

Posted on 15 January 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Friday night at the Verizon Center it was the Alexander Ovechkin show in full force as the Great #8 scored just 49 seconds into the contest and then added four more assists in the Washington Capitals 6-1 pasting of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Jose Theodore (28 saves) made several super stops in the first period when the Leafs carried the play, outshooting the Caps, 14-8, yet went to the locker room down 2-0. After Washington scored twice in the first seven minutes of the second period the rout was on and the Caps improved to 29-12-6 overall.

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

Ovechkin was due for a break out evening from a scoring perspective and he now trails the NHL leader, Henrik Sedin of Vancouver, by just two points (64 to 62) but the Great #8 has played eight fewer games (due to injury and suspension). I continue to stand by my assertion that if Ovie stays healthy the rest of the way he will win the scoring title and Richard Trophy (most goals). The Caps are now 5-1 since he received the “C” and his leadership is clearly propelling this team towards the top of the standings once again after a three game lull in late December/early January. Bottom line on Ovechkin: He loves to win and he doesn’t care who gets the goals in the process.

“In the first period when he scored that goal, I said, he looks like he is on tonight.  You never expect five points but I thought it was pretty good,” started Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the best hockey player on the planet, “He enjoys the team scoring goals as much as him scoring goals, whether he gets an assist or if he gets nothing [point-wise].”

“He’s a very exciting player. He comes to work every night. It’s fun watching him, whether it’s on TV or on the bench. It’s unbelievable and he’s a great player,” said rookie defenseman and Team USA hero in the 2010 World Junior Championships, John Carlson. Carlson, by the way, was recalled due to an injury to Brian Pothier and made it just in time for warm-ups and earned the red hard hat for his travels. “Some of the fans were here before me,” commented Carlson after the contest.

The Leafs actually played pretty well in the first period after the Caps early goal but Theodore stoned them on their opportunities and Washington buried the majority of their chances, typically a recipe for disaster for the trailing team. Toronto did have what looked to be an early tying goal disallowed when Tom Poti took a Leafs forward into the net and was called for delay of game seconds before the apparent tally. The Leafs had a second goal wiped out due to a high stick by Alex Ponikarovsky on Mike Green late in the second period that would have made it 4-2.

“After the first shift I thought they took it too us a bit and they had a bit of bad luck with the two goals disallowed. After the first period they definitely did not have the energy they had in the first period. It was like in Atlanta, when you get outshot and get up, it is pretty tough for the other team to recover,” said Boudreau about how the opening stanza set the tone for the final 40 minutes.

“It just shows their skill level. They scored on just about every chance they had. And we have to get twice as many chances to compete with a team like that. We didn’t; we had about the same number of chances. [Alex] Ovechkin makes things happen. If you play the game with a deer in the headlights kind of mold, then you’re probably going to get run over by the car – like a deer would,” said former Caps and current Leafs head coach Ron Wilson, who will also be behind the bench running Team USA in the 2010 Olympics.

Theodore improved to 12-7-4 on the season and he had a second straight strong outing and with Semyon Varlamov out you can expect #60 to continue to play for the next several contests.

“I hope those last two periods in Florida and this game that he gets confidence. He’s probably going to start on Sunday afternoon and go again. He’s a competitor. He’s been a battler and the more I’ve talked to him at the end of last year or at times this year, he says I want to compete for the position. He’s done it his whole life, being a small goaltender and the awards he’s won. It’s no surprise to me that he’s going in there and saying the heck with you guys, I’m going to be great,” said Boudreau on #60.

The Great #8 thought his goalie played well when he really needed to.

“Especially in the first period they got two power plays and he played well. We get the second goal and we start playing,” commented the two-time defending NHL MVP on the play of Theodore.

Late in the game some fireworks occurred with Colton Orr catching Green up high with a cross check that looked much worse than it actually was and then Jay Rosehill ran Carlson. The Orr hit drew the ire of all of the Caps on the ice and Shaone Morrisonn took up for his teammate by challenging one of the best fighters in the league. Jason Chimera took on Rosehill to let him know that those type of hits on a young defenseman would not be tolerated.  The way the Caps stand up for each other shows that they are a tight bunch and Boudreau was quick to point that out afterwards.

“We don’t exactly have the toughest team in the world. When teams take liberties, we come in as a group. This is a group that cares about each other. When somebody hits one, they hit them all. I’m all for protecting our guys. We don’t start a lot of this stuff, but we’re there. It doesn’t matter how tough the guy is, we want to protect our guys and that’s what we have to do,” said Boudreau.

As mentioned above, on first glance the Orr hit looked dirty, but I’ve gone back and watched it several times, discussed it with a couple of other hockey experts and have come to the conclusion that the Leafs tough guy did not intend to deliver a cheap shot. To be honest, if he wanted to really clean 52′s clock he could have done so, but he was looking into the corner and the contact was nearly coincidental. Boudreau concurred with that analysis.

“I’ve watched Colton Orr for a lot of years and it didn’t look like a vicous check and that he was trying to cross check Mike. It looked like he was kind of taken a back. But it looked pretty bad,” added Boudreau on the cross check on Green.

Last night on NHL On the Fly Gary Green said that the Caps are dominant and there is noone close to them offensively in the NHL. Want some supporting evidence of that, then check out these stats below?:

  • Eric Fehr scored his 12th goal of the season at 17:51 of the first period. With the goal, Fehr matched his career high for goals in a season set last year with the Capitals in 61 games. 
  • With two assists, Nicklas Backstrom now has points in five straight games (five goals, four assists), his longest point streak of the season.
  • Chimera registered his first point at Verizon Center with an assist on Fehr’s first period goal. Chimera has a four-game point streak (two goals, three assists) and two goals and four assists total in his eight games with the Capitals.
  • Mike Knuble scored his 11th and 12th goals of the season in the second period, his third two-goal game of the season. Knuble now has six goals in his last eight games. On the season nine Capitals have combined for 33 two-goal games, but no hat tricks yet. Entering tonight, no other team had more than 23 multiple-goal games.
  • Tomas Fleischmann scored his 16th goal of the season on the power play at 6:47 of the third period. Fleischmann has 16 goals despite missing the first 11 games of the season and is just three goals shy of his career high, set last season. 
  • Tom Poti scored his second goal of the season (all in the last four games) at 11:06 of the third period to give the Caps a 6-1 lead. The Capitals have scored six or more goals in a game seven times this season, and have a record of 7-0-0 in those contests.
  • Alexander Semin had two assists in the contest for his 16th multiple-point game of the season. Semin now has nine points (five goals, four assists) in his last six games.
  • Green had two assists in the contest and now has points in seven straight games (three goals, five assists, +6), and 11 of the last 12 (six goals, 10 assists, +9). He leads all NHL defensemen in goals and points.

Other notes: The Leafs only goal came on the power play in the second period but it was pretty much a 5 on 3 as Dave Steckel blocked a shot up high and played the time from the block until the Toronto goal with just one hand on his stick. Steckel would leave the game but return in the third period. Tyler Sloan did not play at all in the last 9:57 of the contest and according to Caps personnel the injury is not serious and he is just banged up. Apparently John Erskine, who has been out injured, practiced pretty hard and should be able to go on Sunday. If Erskine, Pothier, and Sloan all can’t go, then Karl Alzner would likely be recalled from Hershey. The Caps were 2 for 5 on the power play while the Leafs went 1 for 7 with a manpower advantage. The Caps do need to try and cut down on the number of penalties they have been taking.

Down on the farm: The Hershey Bears destroyed the Albany River Rats, 10-4, on Friday night and have now won 13 of their last 14 games so the defending AHL Calder Cup Champions are on fire. Try and catch a game up at the Giant Center, if you can, especially during the Olympic break in February (there is a WNST puck bus available).

Next up for the Caps are the Flyers on Sunday at 3pm at the Verizon Center, then they get the Detroit Red Wings here on Tuesday at 7pm and you can circle your calendar for Thursday night’s tilt against the Penguins in Pittsburgh (btw, check out JapersRink.com for details on a Caps viewing party down in Virginia).

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