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Playoffs?! Playoffs?! Yes, the Caps Are Talking Playoffs

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Playoffs?! Playoffs?! Yes, the Caps Are Talking Playoffs

Posted on 06 April 2012 by Ed Frankovic

In a season that has seen a coaching change, some key injuries, and more than its’ share of ups and downs, the Washington Capitals finally made the playoffs with one game remaining, after a 4-2 victory over the Florida Panthers combined with the Philadelphia Flyers win over the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1. The Caps, believe it or not, still have a shot at the Southeast Division title and can finish either 3rd, 7th or 8th in the East, depending on the outcome of Saturday’s contests. Their first round opponent could be the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, or New Jersey Devils.

But back to Thursday night, where the Caps faced a must win in their biggest game of the season. They got the job done, but it was not without another injury, and it was not an easy victory. Washington started sloppily in the opening frame but thanks to a Jay Beagle tally on a rebound of a Troy Brouwer shot plus some super goaltending by Michal Neuvirth, the Caps were fortunate to have a 1-0 lead. But things took a bad turn at the 5:39 mark of period two. Panther forward Marco Sturm fell into Neuvirth and #30 fell back awkwardly with his left leg trapped under him. He was in clear pain and he had to leave the contest after stopping all 13 shots he faced, many of them quality scoring chances.

At that point, the game could’ve gone either way when Braden Holtby (12 saves) entered. Knowing that #70 came on cold with no warmup, the Capitals immediately picked up their play. In addition, they received a boost from Coach Dale Hunter’s line combination changes that he made after the opening 20 minutes. Hunts moved Brooks Laich (1 goal, 1 assist) to center Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal) and Marcus Johansson (1 assist) while moving Nicklas Backstrom with Alexander Semin (1 goal) and Jason Chimera. The switch triggered the Washington offense and Ovechkin and Laich tallied two minutes apart to give the Caps a 3-0 lead.

“He wanted myself on that line just to add a little bit more defensive responsibility. That opens up Marcus and Alex to go and attack. If they know that I am going to be third guy high and then try and win my battles low and get the puck to them, they’re both great skaters that if I can get the puck to them in our zone, they can skate it out. That was the only thought process, shortly after that they both come down and they score a goal. So, it’s good strategy by the coaches,” added Laich on coach Hunter’s line juggling to start the second period.

Washington has struggled with leads lately and tonight saw another round of that start to occur. When five guys swarmed the puck after the Panthers crossed the Caps blueline, Sean Bergenheim alertly fed a streaking Mikael Samuelsson, who was all alone coming down the left wing. #26 fired a laser top shelf by Holtby and suddenly the Cats had life. Florida would pressure Washington, who had several stretches where they could not get the puck out of their own zone, for the rest of the period,  but after 40 minutes it was 3-1.

But just 43 seconds into the final period, the Caps failed to dump the puck deep and Florida took advantage getting an easy entry into the zone as the Capitals forwards changed. Then with the Caps defenders running around, Ed Jovanovski fired from the middle of the point and it went through a maze of players before getting by Holtby. At that point every Capitals fan had to think, “We’ve seen this movie before!” and for the next nine minutes it seemed like only a matter of time before the Panthers were going to tie it up. Luckily, the Caps finally found their legs when the Beagle line generated a super forecheck and from there on out Washington carried much of the play with Semin closing the deal with his 21st goal of the season with 1:02 to go.

It was another game where the Capitals looked like world beaters for stretches and then there were other periods where they seemed like the worst team in the league. When they struggled their breakouts were not crisp and they were lazy, at times, in the neutral zone, and that allowed Florida to get more offensive zone time. They did not play well away from the puck at all during those downturns and it was especiallly apparent that they were sitting back in the first 10 minutes of the third. Defensemen Karl Alzner (1 assist) commented on why they struggled early in the third period but were better down the stretch.

“I think we relaxed a little bit more and started getting a little bit of confidence back. We were talking about that on the bench, if there is a play to be made, make the play. Play with confidence, play still on the offensive with what made us get that lead. And that is what happens with all of the teams, you tighten up and you play too much defense and then we get picked apart through the neutral zone. So it was just getting a little bit of our swagger back, I think,” added King Karl on the problems the Caps have had lately when they get a lead and how they adjusted on Thursday.

At the end of the night though, the Capitals achieved their first and most important regular season goal: to make the playoffs. It is a different feel this spring as Washington is likely not going in as a favorite in their series. Because of the injuries and coaching change, they still have not played their best hockey either. They have been wildly inconsistent and their confidence needs boosting. Alzner’s point about getting their swagger back is an important one, Washington needs to find that right balance to be successful in the confidence department.

In the past, the Caps have gone into the post season having had long stretches of solid play during the latter part of the regular season. Maybe they’ve been overconfident in past years, but that won’t be the case this year. Also one could argue that the last four seasons, the Caps had already played their best hockey going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Again, that certainly is NOT the case this year.

Will it make a difference in the post season results this year? We will find out, but one thing is for sure, there are plenty of things the team needs to work on before the first round starts. There is lots of room for upside and improvement and they’ll need to do so, especially if both Tomas Vokoun and Neuvirth aren’t healthy for the playoffs. Right now it looks like it is Holtby’s net, but #70 seems ready to handle that pressure.

In closing, there is one regular season game left at Madison Square Garden on Saturday against the Rangers (6:30 pm start). A win by the Caps and a regulation loss by the Panthers gives the Caps the Southeast Division title, home ice, and a date with the Devils. If the Cats get at least a point, the Caps win, and Ottawa loses in regulation, then Washington goes to Boston as the 7th seed. Finally, if the Caps lose or both Florida and Ottawa get at least a point, then it is the eighth seed and another series against John Tortorella and the Rangers.

Whoever they face, the Capitals have the potential to be a dangerous team, especially if they improve their play with the puck as well as away from it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Rangers would prefer facing either Florida or Ottawa instead of a team that underachieved in the first 82 games and finally has a healthy set of skaters, especially if they find their game and get their swagger back.

Notes: Semin’s ice time was increased to 19:19 after #28 only played 14 minutes on Monday. Smart move by Hunter to get the hard working winger more playing time…John Carlson logged 20:05 and had his best game in weeks, maybe even in months…Ovechkin now has 37 goals on the campaign…the Caps lost the faceoff battle 29-32, with Beagle (1 goal, 18:35 of ice time) going 10-6. #83 has been one of the most positive stories of the 2011-12 season and the coaching staff continues to use him in a key role on this team…Neuvirth is reportedly day to day with a lower body injury so expect the Caps to call up Dany Sabourin from Hershey if Vokoun isn’t ready yet…Joel Ward should be closer to returning and they will need #42 to play like he did for Nashville in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs…the Sabres loss put the Panthers in the post season for the first time since 1999-2000.

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Caps Maintain Focus in Huge Win

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Caps Maintain Focus in Huge Win

Posted on 17 February 2012 by Ed Frankovic

Losing 1-0 to the Florida Panthers on Friday night, the Washington Capitals reached a critical juncture in the game and possibly their season when not only was Mike Knuble’s apparent game tying goal disallowed, but referee Eric Furlatt called goaltender interference on #22. That put the Panthers on the power play late in the second frame and into the third period. It was a VERY tough call against the Caps, and one can aruge that the zebra totally blew it, especially the part where Knuble had to go to the sin bin.

But what happened immediately after the call is what was most important. Caps Coach Dale Hunter didn’t go nuts on the bench, as some managers might do, instead the even keeled #32 remained calm. After all his team was totally dominating the Cats on the shot board and in scoring chances so Hunter had to feel like his team was going to come out on top, right?

With a three game losing streak and all kinds of negative stuff being written about his personnel decisions and his contract status with the team it probably would’ve been fairly easy and understandable for the hockey and farming expert to go ballistic. But anyone who has closely watched or been around Hunter since he took over as head coach notices that win or lose he remains on an even keel. That calm is a major intangible because when a coach loses it, players often feed off of the negative energy and lose focus.

Washington came out and killed off Knuble’s penalty then kept taking it to the Panthers over the last 20 minutes. Alexander Ovechkin finally broke through on the power play by going to the net (Knuble was there too and earned an assist) and Alexander Semin won it on a shot that deflected off of Sean Bergenheim’s stick past Jose Theodore (39 saves). It was a much needed victory and pulls the Capitals within two points of Southeast Division leading Florida with 25 games to go.

What is even more impressive is that the Caps are starting to win the quality scoring chance battle consistently and their puck possession has improved dramatically. According to super stats man Neil Greenberg (@ngreenberg), Washington has outchanced the opposition in the last six games. With Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green out and Brooks Laich playing injured, this trend is awfully encouraging because just imagine what might happen when Hunter gets his full line-up back, hopefully at some point this season?

Tomas Vokoun was back in goal after missing two games with the flu and after a shaky start he was good, though he didn’t have to do a whole lot the last 40 minutes because the Capitals carried the play. The 35 year old veteran certainly is a presence for Washington in net and he is 3-0 with just 1 goal allowed in three tilts versus his old club in 2011-12.

So now it is on to Tampa for game number two of a difficult and important four game road trip. The Caps found a way to fight and claw and get a win. Taking a cue from their head coach, they didn’t panic when Knuble’s goal was washed out and as a result they were victorious. Learning where to properly focus your energy is a key in pro sports, the Caps certainly did that correctly on Friday night and were rewarded. Kudos to Hunter and the players.

Finally, I’ll close with this memo to the Florida Panthers, courtesy of the Far Side:

Warning: Objects in mirror are closer than they appear!

Notes: Hunter and Jim Johnson’s hard work with defenseman Jeff Schultz is reaping some dividends. #55 logged 14:24 and was on the ice in the last two minutes of an ultra important contest…I thought Dmitry Orlov was fabulous tonight. He hit the crossbar and narrowly missed on another attempt but did pick up an assist on Semin’s GWG…Jeff Halpern did a great job on the last two d-zone face-offs and Kris Versteeg’s cheap head shot to #15 probably deserves an NHL review. It was a dangerous play…speaking of dangerous and not so smart plays, Cats d-man Mike Weaver left his feet trying to block the puck and not only took a stick in the mouth but got himself terribly out of position on Ovechkin’s game tying goal. I am a big believer that leaving your skates on defense should only be done as a last resort…Laich logged over 17 minutes, markedly up over the amount he played in each of the last four games. Perhaps his knee is getting better?…shots on goal were 41-23 in favor of the Caps and shots attempted were 75-50, again advantage Washington.

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The Playoff Impacts of Alexander Ovechkin’s Injury

Posted on 21 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Big news out of Kettler Iceplex today as Washington Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau stated that Alexander Ovechkin would be out for an estimated seven to 10 days to deal with an injury situation. Naturally, with the NHL playoffs just over three weeks away, the exact nature of the injury will not be disclosed, much like with the Jason Arnott announcement one week ago today. The Great #8 joins Arnott, Mike Green, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti as key components who are out of the Washington lineup right now. While on the surface this might seem like a big blow to the Capitals Stanley Cup chances, in reality, it isn’t. In fact, being extra cautious with ailing players right now makes a ton of sense and could likely pay off over the next few months.

Washington is in pretty good shape to lock up their fourth straight Southeast Division title with a five point lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning and even if they did manage to lose that margin over their last nine games (the Bolts have 10 tilts left), would it really matter? Likely not at all, as the Caps are going to be in the post season and what happens then and beyond is all this team will be judged on. Since training camp opened we’ve heard the organization talk about the first 82 games not mattering too much this year. General Manager George McPhee told me on Media Day back in October that he “really didn’t care about the regular season, as long as [the Caps] make the playoffs.” One could argue that every decision since then, from the schematic switch from an aggressive offensive system to a more responsible defensive posture all the way up to the moves made on NHL trade deadline day have been about one thing – doing what is needed to increase the likelihood that the Capitals play their best hockey in the post season this spring.

As good as last season’s team was in a Presidents’ Trophy winning regular season, everyone witnessed the first round collapse and McPhee and Boudreau have been doing everything in their power to not let it happen again this season. Examining the club on paper, position by position, I don’t think there is any doubt that the 2010-11 Washington Capitals team, despite all of the criticism they’ve received this year, is a much better one heading into April than last year’s crew. With Arnott at second line center they finally have that big pivot man that is needed in the post season. #44 is a significant upgrade over last year’s second line center, Eric Belanger. In fact, add in rookie Marcus Johansson and the Nicklas Backstrom/Arnott/MJ90 trio is likely the best Washington has had up the middle in the Boudreau era.

On defense, the top five blue liners are Green, Dennis Wideman, John Carlson, Scott Hannan, and Karl Alzner. Boudreau can either go with Poti, if he is healthy, or opt for Jeff Schultz or John Erskine as his sixth defenseman, depending on the opponent. This is a major improvement over last year’s crew that included Joe Corvo and Shaone Morrisonn, two mediocore, at best, blue liners. Alzner didn’t even arrive on the scene in last year’s post season until game seven and by then it was too late. #27 is +15 in his first full season in the NHL.

In net, 2010-11 will be the first time in three seasons that the Capitals don’t have to start Jose Theodore in game one of the playoffs, thank goodness. Theo failed miserably in goal and whether Boudreau goes with the more NHL playoff experienced Semyon Varlamov or rookie Michal Neuvirth, who incidentally hasn’t ever lost a North American playoff series (h/t @JapersRink), it doesn’t matter, the goaltending should be better. Of course if both falter or are injured, rookie Braden Holtby, who won the NHL’s first star of the week on March 14th, is also an option.

Down the stretch in 2009-10, the majority of the Caps headlines were all about the regular season dominance and individual statistics and trophies. Both Ovechkin and Green were positioned for post season hardware nominations while Alexander Semin was focused on a 40 goal season in an attempt to try and maximize his free agent earning power for the summer of 2011. During that closing stretch #52 took a slash to the arm in Columbus and was never right for the post season. Ovechkin also played out the string and after the series was over it was revealed he was banged up as well. Following that game seven loss, the mad dash for stats, trophies, and big contracts all seemed so futile.

Flash forward to now, especially since #44 arrived on deadline day, and we are reading about Ovechkin and Semin spending lots of time with Arnott picking his brain about what it takes to win in the post season (thanks @dcsportsbog). In my mind, #28 played his best hockey of the season when he was finally paired with a true second line center in Arnott, much like he did when Sergei Fedorov was here in 2008 and 2009. Semin re-upped for another year here and there is no more talk from him or his agent about “the dollars.” It seems that the two young Russians stars are on a mission to shut their critics up once and for all and that they just might have matured as a result of the Capitals past playoff disappointments.

Like I said earlier, on paper this team is better than last year’s at this stage, but that heavily depends on the health of Ovechkin, Arnott, Backstrom, Semin, and Green, as well as a few others. Therefore, the cautious approach to the last nine games of the NHL regular season that both McPhee and Boudreau appear to be taking makes great sense and hopefully will pay dividends for them starting April 13th and beyond, when health and the matchups will be huge factors in the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup. It’s only 23 days away, but who’s counting?

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Ovechkin Wins MVP from Players, Theodore Nabs Masterton

Posted on 23 June 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Ovechkin Players MVP

Well the NHL players got it correctly but the Professional Hockey Writers Association of America (PHWA) blew it when it comes to naming the NHL’s Most Valuable Player Award, but what do you expect from a group that has several biased, anti-Ovechkin voters from the Great White North? Alexander Ovechkin was named the NHL Most Valuable Player by his peers (i.e, fellow players) and took home the Ted Lindsay Award (formerly known as the Lestor B. Pearson Trophy) on Wednesday night in Las Vegas while Henrik Sedin grabbed the Hart Trophy for NHL MVP (voted on by the media). Nothing against Sedin or the other candidate, Sidney Crosby, but the Great #8 is the best player in the game and the guys who play it night in and night out certainly recognized that over a bunch of guys who struggle on a daily basis to keep from spilling coffee or soda on their laptops or getting donut crumbs jammed in their keyboards.

For Ovechkin, this was his 3rd straight MVP award from the players joining Wayne Gretzky (1982-85) and Guy Lafleur (1976-78) as the only others to achieve this milestone. Alexander the Great led the NHL in points per game (1.51) and goals per game (0.69). He finished tied for second in the NHL in points (109) and was one shy of the league lead in goals (50) despite missing 10 games. He led all NHL forwards and was second in the league in plus/minus rating (+45), trailing only teammate Jeff Schultz. The Great #8 led the league in shots (368) and even-strength goals (37). He had the fourth-best single-season point total in Capitals history and the franchise’s 10th 50-goal season. His plus/minus rating ranks second in Capitals history. Named captain Jan. 5, Ovechkin led the Capitals to a 30-4-7 record from that point on as Washington captured its first Presidents’ Trophy for the best record in the league.

Ovechkin, Green Make 1st All-Star Team

While Caps defenseman Mike Green was denied the Norris Trophy (best NHL defenseman), which went to Chicago’s Duncan Keith, he and Ovechkin did make the NHL’s First All-Star Team, voted on by the PHWA.  The selections are the fifth in a row for Ovechkin and second for Green, making them the first teammates to repeat on the first team since Wayne Gretzky and Paul Coffey of the Edmonton Oilers in 1985 and ’86. Ovechkin is the first player in league history to be named to the NHL First All-Star Team in each of his first five seasons in the league. 

Theodore Wins Masterton

Washington Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore received the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy on Wednesday night, an award presented annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. The local chapters of the PHWA nominated a player from each team and voted on the winner. Theodore is the first Capital to receive the award.

Theodore and his wife Stephanie Cloutier dealt with personal tragedy last August when their two-month old son, Chace, passed away from respiratory complications related to a premature birth. In November, Theodore started Saves for Kids, a fundraising program that benefits the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children’s National Medical Center in Northwest, D.C., where Chace was treated and where Theodore and Cloutier spent most of their time during their son’s 54-day life. Theodore pledged money for each save, win and shutout he made during the season, and his donations were also matched by F.H. Furr Plumbing Heating Air Conditioning Inc., a Lennox Premier Dealer. The Capitals fan base and Washington Capitals Charities also pledged their support, and Theodore presented a check worth $35,000 to Children’s National Medical Center on Friday, May 7.

On the ice Theodore played 47 games and had his best season since winning the Hart and Vezina trophies in 2001-02. He posted a 30-7-7 record, 2.81 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in helping lead Washington to the club’s first Presidents’ Trophy. His winning percentage (.761) was the highest of any goaltender in franchise history. He finished the season 20-0-3 with a 2.58 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage in games after Jan. 13, setting a team record for most decisions (23) without a regulation loss.

 A 14-year professional, Theodore ranks seventh among active goalies in games played (548) and in wins (245). He is one of seven goaltenders with 30-plus wins in each of the last two seasons.

Theodore, who has been pulled in favor of Semyon Varlamov early in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs the last two seasons, is an unrestricted free agent and all indications are that the Capitals will not bring him back for 2010-11, likely opting to go with Varlamov and two-time AHL Calder Cup winning goalie, Michal Neuvirth, as their goaltending tandem.

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Hershey Bears Announce Dates for Games 1 & 2 of AHL Eastern Conference Finals

Posted on 05 May 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The HERSHEY BEARS announced today in conjunction with the American Hockey League that the club will open the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals with back-to-back home games at the Giant Center. The BEARS will face either the Worcester Sharks or the Manchester Monarchs in the next round, with the full schedule to be announced either Friday or Saturday evening, depending on when the 2010 Atlantic Division Finals comes to a conclusion.  The announcement was made today by BEARS President/GM Doug Yingst.

 

HERSHEY will open the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday, May 12 at 7:00 p.m. against either Worcester or Manchester, and will play Game 2 of the best-of-seven series on Saturday, May 15.  Both games will be played at Giant Center at 7:00 p.m.  By virtue of recording the AHL’s best regular season record in 2009-10, the BEARS have home-ice advantage throughout the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs.

 

Tickets for Game 1 and Game 2 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals at GIANT Center are on sale now at the GIANT Center box office or by phone at (717) 534-3911.  The appearance marks the fourth time in the last five years that the BEARS have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, winning two Calder Cups and participating in three Calder Cup Finals. 

 

COMMENT: WNST.NET (yours truly) will be covering game 1 next Wednesday and providing a blog with analysis and quotes afterwards. Hershey is loaded with talent and have several players who have already spent time with the Capitals as well as some other potential prospects. The cream of the crop are defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner. In net, Caps draftees Michal Neuvirth (2nd round 2006) and Braden Holtby (4th round) have bright futures and if Jose Theodore is not back in DC next year (he is an unrestricted free agent) then there is a chance that Neuvirth could be in Washington with Semyon Varlamov. Up front, forward Chris Bourque is having an outstanding season and will get another shot to make the Capitals at training camp in September. Center Mathieu Perreault will also get a long look at Kettler Iceplex next fall as a possible pivot man for the big club. Andrew Gordon, Francois Bouchard, and 2009-10 AHL MVP, Keith Aucoin, are also up front on a powerful Bears roster.

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Halak Stones Caps Again, Forces Game 7

Posted on 26 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

For the fourth straight playoff series under Head Coach Bruce Boudreau in his three seasons behind the bench the Washington Capitals will play a game seven. In this instance, however, they come in to the final tilt having lost game six for the first time. Jaroslav Halak was superb in goal once again for Montreal and he stopped 53 of 54 shots to lead the Canadiens to a 4-1 victory at the Bell Centre. Game seven is Wednesday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. The Caps are 1-2 in these same past situations under Boudreau.

Let’s get to the highlights and analysis from an awesome display of goaltending by Halak, who is unbeaten for Montreal when facing 45 or more shots:

In my blog on Sunday, I spoke of Washington coming out faster in the early stages to try and take a “jacked up” Montreal crowd out of the game. The Capitals did put pressure on Montreal early, getting six of the first seven shots, but #41 was huge in goal and his play sparked the Bell Centre crowd into a frenzy. Then when Mike Cammalleri scored at 7:30 and followed it up at the 9:09 mark, the Caps chances of surviving the first period looked bleak. The Capitals would catch a break when Maxim Lapierre took a dive to give Washington a 74 second five on three advantage, but the anemic Caps power play could not convert (0 for 6 on the night). Not scoring on a five on three is usually a good sign you are not going to win the contest. So, despite outshooting the Habs, 18-10, in the opening stanza the Capitals would trail 2-0 and their first period deficit in this series is now 8-3.

The rest of the game was dominated by Washington and they outshot the Habs, 36-12, but despite four more power plays (now 1 for 30 in the series), they could only get one puck past the Team Slovakia goaltender in the 2010 Winter Olympic games. That one goal was a nice redirect in front by Eric Fehr off of a Mike Green point blast and it came at even strength with the score 3-0 and just 4:50 remaining in the contest.

The Caps spent Sunday afternoon working on their power play and Boudreau juggled his lines in an attempt to get Alexander Semin going. #28 was goalless coming into game six and had just one assist in the series, so the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner put him with Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich. They had some chances early, but it was Semin’s giveaway that led to the Shaone Morrisonn cross-check penalty that resulted in Cammalleri’s first tally. Semin, who had 6:55 of the 10:26 of power play time Washington received, did fire seven shots on net but he had six blocked and missed three others, including some good looks from in the slot. In addition, he continues to shy away from contact and is still allergic to the front of the net. Bottom line, I think he should be moved off of the first power play unit and his time on ice should be cut. The guy who scored 40 times in the regular season is just not producing nor showing any sign that he will pay the price to score an ugly goal.

Alexander Ovechkin, who scored the only goal for Washington in game five, fired eight shots on net, had four blocked, and two that missed the cage. The Great #8 went to the net, at times, but I would really like to see Boudreau and power play coach Dean Evason move Alexander the Great down low, remove Semin from the first unit, and put one of the other defenseman out on the point with Green (1 assist), with a preference to John Carlson. Carlson had 1:21 of late power play time and seemed to do a better job of getting the puck through to the cage. Joe Corvo, who played 4:12 with the man advantage, had a game high 10 shots on net, including being robbed in the slot by Halak on one of the finest grabs with a glove you will ever see.

Semyon Varlamov (18 saves on 21 shots) was 4-0 at the Bell Centre before game six but this would not be his night. He had no chance on Cammalleri’s first goal, which he scored because Eric Belanger’s blocked shot bounced right to him, and on the second goal Boyd Gordon goes down and deflects it just enough to get by #40. On the third Montreal tally, Varlamov has to make that save but Morrisonn deflected it up ever so slightly with his stick after Tomas Fleischmann, another Capital who has disappeared in the playoffs, went off on a bad line change. Even though Varly gave up a shaky third tally to the Habs, I still imagine he will be between the pipes for game seven on Wednesday for Boudreau.

At times during this series, Washington has struggled with the speed of the small Canadiens forwards, particularly Cammalleri (five goals). Morrisonn, who missed the last two games due injury, returned tonight but he looked to have lost a step. He took a costly cross checking penalty that led to the first Montreal goal and he was on the ice for the second and third ones, as well. If #26 is trying to play with an injury that slows him down then I have to believe it would better for Washington to scratch him and go with Tyler Sloan or call up Karl Alzner from Hershey (John Erskine is likely not a good match either for the speed of the Canadiens). Tom Poti, who played superb in the first five games, appeared to take a puck to the face at the end of the second period and never returned so Washington could need to put two new lefties in for game seven on the blue line.

Judging by Boudreau’s post game quotes though, it doesn’t appear that he’ll make many lineup changes, but he has a day or so to figure that out. When you get 54 shots on goal you are doing something right so it is not like Montreal is carrying the play, but the Habs are scoring first and then riding their hot goaltender. It will now be up to Washington’s crowd to help spark the Capitals to an early lead and turn the Verizon Center into the dominating place it was for the Caps during the regular season. The truth is, the Caps are 2-1 on the road and should have already locked this series up if they had any kind of energy and performance at home. Washington is 1-2 at the Phone Booth with the one win coming due to a great third period rally. The pressure is squarely on the guys in the red, white, and blue to get it done and right or wrong, Ovechkin is going to be the guy with the most heat on him. It is time for the Great #8 to find a way to get his squad playing the best they have all season, because it looks like it will take that type of effort to beat Halak.

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Caps Crush Habs, 5-1, Behind Varlamov

Posted on 20 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

There were numerous Montreal fans who booed the American anthem to start Monday night’s game between the Washington Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. So what happened to the local hometown team for the next several hours is what I call KARMA!! Semyon Varlamov (26 saves) stoned the Habs in the first period and then the Caps exploded for four second period tallies en route to a 5-1 beatdown of Jacques Martin’s club to give Washington a 2-1 lead in their best of seven game series. Game four is on Wednesday night in Montreal at 7pm on Comcast in HD.

As expected with 22,000+ loud and singing fans at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens came out with a ton of energy and carried the majority of play in the opening stanza. The Habs would out shoot the Caps, 10-7, in the first period and Montreal had some really good scoring chances only to be denied by Varlamov. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, as I suggested in my blog last night, went with #40 over Jose Theodore in goal, and it was just another in a LONG line of great decisions by the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner. If not for the play of Varly then the Canadiens come out of period one with at least a one goal lead. The young Russian goalie would continue to make the big save when Washington needed it and he controlled or smothered any rebounds. Varlamov’s record at the Bell Centre is now 3-0 with a 1.63 GAA and .940 save percentage!

At the other end of the ice, Jaroslav Halak stopped all seven Capitals shots in period one, with a couple being of the quality variety, but #41 would be shellacked and chased in period two. First, after a terrible penalty by Tomas Fleischmann for hooking Andrei Markov led to a Montreal power play chance just 54 seconds into period two, Boyd Gordon broke down ice with the puck and he and Mike Knuble whacked at it several times before putting it by Halak for a shorthanded marker. Then Brooks Laich fired a shot on net off of a Mike Green feed and with Eric Fehr and Brendan Morrison screening Halak, it found the back of the cage to make it 2-0 at 4:42 of the second. Less than four minutes later that line would strike again as Fehr banged home a rebound of a Morrison shot to make it 3-0 and send #41 to the showers.

On came Carey Price and with 6:10 to go in period two, Knuble threw the puck behind the net and Nicklas Backstrom fed Alexander Ovechkin in the slot for a one-timer that #31 never had a chance on and the rout was on. In period three, Caps killer Tomas Plekenac scored an early power play goal, then Washington took another penalty, but the Caps killed it off and then Matt Bradley tallied in the last minute to make it 5-1.

Here is the rest of the analysis of a win by a Caps club that had the best road record (24-10-7) in the NHL this season:

What a game by Gordon! Not only did he score the shorthanded tally that totally turned the tide Washington’s way, but he was an incredible 13-2 on face-offs. He also was +2 on the night and did a super job at the Washington blue line of thwarting Montreal rushes. The decision to re-insert #15 into the line-up and scratch Dave Steckel was yet another shrewd move by Boudreau.

Fehr OWWWWNNNNSSSS the Canadiens. #16 had a goal and an assist and it was his sixth tally in seven contests versus Montreal this season. Fehr was super efficient going +2 in only 9:21 of ice time.

Laich (+2) returned to form tonight notching a goal and an assist logging 18:56. Boudreau shifted him down to the third line with Fehr and Morrison and they clicked in their eight plus minutes together. Morrison, who was even in the regular season at home but was +23 on the road, went +2 in Montreal. You can bet the farm he is playing on Wednesday!

On the blue line, Tom Poti was outstanding going +3 in 23:40 of time. Is it me or do games against Northeast Division teams, such as Boston, Buffalo, and Montreal, bring out the best from the Beantown native? In addition, USA hero John Carlson (+2 in 20:19) was very good for the third straight evening while Green and Jeff Schultz both rebounded from poor outings to have strong contests. Both #52 and #55 were +2 as well with Green notching an assist on Laich’s goal. The only bad news on the backend was that Shaone Morrisonn logged only 10:52 of ice time and did not play in the last 24:52 of this tilt.

The problem child of the evening though, was once again Washington’s power play. It was a pitiful 0 for 7 in game three and is now 0 for 14 in the series. I could deal with that if the club was getting good shots and pressure on Montreal but that has not been the case, at all. The Caps seemed to always lose momentum in the first three games whenever they were awarded a power play. With a chance to put the contest away for good up 4-0, they received a four minute one late in the second period that carried early into the third when Plekenac interfered with Fehr and then lost his mind on the officials. But during the second minor, Laich took a careless penalty and after Plekenac came out of the box he scored for the Habs with the man advantage. Besides Laich’s bad decision that resulted in a penalty, the biggest problem was too much passing and not enough shots with traffic in front. But at least the Caps have figured that out when it is five on five.

Montreal would go 1 for 5 with the man advantage on the night but they gave up Gordo’s shortie, so their power play was not effective either. In addition, Plekenac, Mike Cammalleri, and Andrei Kostitsyn, a line that scored all five Habs goals on Saturday, each were a woeful -4.

In the kudos department, Jason Chimera deserves quite a bit of those for not fighting or retaliating on several occassions when Montreal players took unnecessary shots or tried to goad him into striking back. #25 smartly kept his head with his club in control on the scoreboard.

Yesterday I mentioned that three players needed to step up in game three after poor performances in games one and two at the Verizon Center. Both Green and Schultz did that tonight after a shaky first period. The third member of the trio, Alexander Semin, still seems to be missing in action despite waking up a few times in the third period. Simply put, #28 needs to start competing more. He was beaten or taken off the puck easily on several occassions, including a missed clear in front of the Caps net when the game was still scoreless that led to a great Montreal chance. There is no excuse for Semin to be this soft at this time of the year. He is pointless in the series.

Notes: Final shots were 36-27 for the Caps…Washington also won the face-off battle 42-30, thanks to Gordon…after praising the officials for games 1 and 2, I thought they made some curious calls this evening by caving to the pressure of the Montreal fans. The call I liked least was the goalie interference infraction whistled on Knuble midway through the 3rd period. That one smelled of excessive whining to the supervisor of officials (Kevin Collins) between games…Early message to Caps fans attending Friday night’s game five at the Verizon Center: Be respectful of the visiting team’s anthem. If you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t go to the game. Besides, O Canada is a great song and the Canucks are our long time ally.

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Will Caps Keep Momentum in Montreal?

Posted on 18 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After avoiding a potential 2-0 series hole by rallying from a 4-1 late second period deficit to win, 6-5, in overtime on Saturday night, the Washington Capitals head to Montreal for games three and four (on Monday and Wednesday) with the momentum on their side in this best of seven game series. The question now is, can they keep it? The answer is, that depends! There were certainly some positives that Washington can build on but, in truth, there are a few serious issues that need to be addressed if the Caps want to win this series in dominating fashion.

First the positives, the Washington top line of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble was back in full force on Saturday turning in a dominating performance to lead their team to the victory. All three players went to the net and did a decent job of getting pucks deep in the offensive zone and outworking the Canadiens defense, something Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wants the team to focus on doing because the Habs are so effective with their neutral zone trap.

In addition, Boudreau received two super performances from 20 year old rookie John Carlson on the blue line to open his NHL playoff career. #74 makes a mistake here or there, and that is expected from such a young guy, but the kid competes hard, plays physical because he has the body of a 25 year old, and adds another potent offensive dimension to the Washington attack. As good as Backstrom and Ovechkin were on Saturday night, the Capitals do not win game two without Carlson (assist on third goal, scored fifth Washington tally to send game to OT).

Semyon Varlamov came in and made some super stops in relief of Jose Theodore and he looked poised in goal. The Caps players seem to have supreme confidence in #40 in the playoffs and he delivered when his teammates needed him allowing them to come back and be victorious. If Varlamov is healthy, and he was shaking his left leg a bit after an early third period collision, then he would be my choice in goal for game three.

Some other things Boudreau should be pleased about is the team’s face-off domination, led by Eric Belanger (29-7), and the work of his third and fourth lines. In addition, defenseman Joe Corvo had a stronger game two after a subpar performance on Thursday in the post season opener. Finally, the even strength score in this series is 8-6, Caps, and they seemed to have exploited some of Jaroslav Halak’s weaknesses (he goes down early and is vulnerable up high).

Now come the issues that need addressing and I’ll start with the special teams. The Caps have given up a power play tally in each of the first two games while not connecting on any of their seven manpower advantages. On the PK, Washington needs to prevent Montreal from getting those clean one timers from the circles or the point blasts from the center portion of the ice. The Caps penalty kill relies on the forwards to force the shots to come from bad angles but breakdowns have led to two goals, with the most glaring one being Alexander Semin allowing Jaroslav Spacek’s shot to get past him for what ended up being the fourth Montreal goal.

On the power play, Backstrom told me last night that the Canadiens are keying on Ovechkin. Proof of that is the number of shots they are blocking and the Great #8 has had a difficult time getting untracked on the left point. Montreal is keeping both of their forwards up high on the PK so what Ovie and Mike Green need to do is send the puck down low and allow the other three Caps to try and score on a three on two below the circles. Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason also might consider moving Ovechkin down low where he can get some rebounds? In that case they could insert either Tom Poti on the left point, like they did against the Rangers last year, or put Carlson out there. Simply put, the Caps power play has been a momentum killer so far in this series. Evidence of that is right after they knotted the game at four on Saturday, the Capitals received a five on four but they struggled to get set up and shortly after the advantage expired Tomas Plekenac scored to make it 5-4, Habs.

I mentioned the neutral zone trap the Habs employ and you can credit that to some of the struggles Boudreau’s top defensive pair, Green and Jeff Schultz, had on Saturday. #52 and #55 made several bad reads that led to turnovers and those two guys were on the ice for the last four Montreal goals. Green and Schultz seemed to have problems with the speed of the Montreal forwards, particularly the Plekenac, Mike Cammalleri, and Andrei Kostitsyin line. Given that Schultz was on the ice for Plekenac’s game winner in the Canadiens OT victory that snapped the Caps 14 game winning streak back in February, I went back to check the regular season stats vs. the Habs for 52 and 55 to see if this was indeed simply the result of a bad matchup. The numbers, however, did not bear that out at all as Green and Schultz were +5 and +3, respectively in the four regular season tilts. Boudreau said after the game that Green and Schultz need to focus more on playing the man than the puck so we’ll see how that works out in game three. If those two continue to struggle as a pair then perhaps Shaone Morrisonn gets moved back with #52 and Schultz gets paired with either Corvo or Carlson?

The second line is another area of concern and neither Tomas Fleischmann nor Brendan Morrison did a good job at center. Perhaps Belanger gets a shot in Montreal? Another big problem on that unit is the play of Semin, who seems to be allergic to the front of the net. Early on in game one both Brooks Laich and Flash had some scoring chances and if #28 had even just a little nose for the net then he may have had a rebound tally or two. Semin, who seemed to pick his game up once Ovechkin was named team captain in January, has been missing in action in games one and two of the playoffs despite firing 11 shots on goal. Skill isn’t his problem, it is his attitude and compete level, so perhaps #8 will have a little talk with Sasha and tell him to get it in gear starting now?

As for Theodore, I fully expect him to shake off Saturday’s start. That first goal by Gionta was a knuckleball but Theo was not in the proper position on that shot so I still put that one on him. The way players are flying into the crease and crashing into goaltenders many teams will likely need two goalies so #60 must regain his focus and be ready when his number is called again, because it is very likely to happen some time this post season.

In summary, the Caps can probably squeak this series out if they play like they did in the later stages of game two. However, if they want to close things out quickly, get some rest, and prepare themselves for a deep playoff run then they need to get all 20 players clicking on all cylinders like Boudreau desires. Right now, there are several passengers on the train who need to get in post season form quickly. Numbers 28, 52, and 55 fit into that category at this juncture and are the most important ones who must get on board starting on Monday night.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: WNST.NET will be hosting a live Caps “Red Rocks” chat on Monday night starting at 7pm. Please go to WNST.NET on Monday for details and a link to join in.

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Ovechkin, Backstrom Rally Caps To Thrilling OT Victory

Posted on 18 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

After game one of their best of seven game series against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, a 3-2 overtime defeat, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau stated that his top players, particularly Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green, needed to be better for his club to win. On Saturday night, Ovechkin and Backstrom stepped up big time to rally the Caps from a late 4-1 second period deficit to an absolutely thrilling, come from behind victory, in overtime, 6-5. Backstrom had a hat trick plus an assist and netted the game winner just 31 seconds into the extra period. The Great #8 (1 goal, 3 assists), came out hitting everything in sight (had 7 hits in the first period alone) and looked energized all evening, but it took until the last 23 minutes of this one for him to start producing on the scoresheet. It was a wild affair and the Caps won their first playoff overtime game at home since a 3-2 OT win against Buffalo on May 25, 1998, ending a five-game losing streak in overtimes at the Verizon Center.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, stats, and analysis of a game that was very important for Washington to win and will be labeled an “Instant Classic”:

After getting 47 shots, mostly from the perimeter in game one, Washington made a much more concerted effort to storm the crease to gain in close chances on Canadiens goalie, Jaroslav Halak (31 saves). In addition, Boudreau wanted the Caps to get the puck deep, cycle Montreal’s defense, and throw the puck on net for chances in the slot or to create some rebound opportunities. The Capitals didn’t really start to do this effectively until the game became 4-1 Habs. Washington’s second, third, and fourth goals were all the result of going to the cage. Backstrom’s first tally was a laser from the left wing circle that snuck by Halak due to the traffic Mike Knuble (1 assist) and Ovechkin created, then the Great #8 went to the net and banged home the rebound of a John Carlson point blast, and on the first game tying goal, Ovechkin manhandled the Montreal defense in the right wing boards, then turned and fed #19 for an easy conversion in front of the Slovakian netminder. Suffice it to say that #8 and #19, who were both +3, took this game over in the third period to give Washington a chance to win and then Backstrom sealed the deal in OT.

So much for the longer leash on goalie Jose Theodore, who was yanked for Semyon Varlamov (22 saves) after yielding two goals on two shots, but Boudreau stated afterwards that he was not solely blaming #60 for the bad start and hadn’t made up his mind on a starter for Monday night yet.

“I haven’t really thought about who is playing Monday. It was more of a deflating thing on the bench that I thought we needed the change. The first one [Brian Gionta's goal] was a knuckleball. For your first shot on goal it was a tough one and I thought, we made such a bad play on the second one because [Andrei] Kostitsyn is in between the circles with a wrist shot. So I don’t know in the real world if Theo had much chance on either one of them but I do know that we had expended an awful lot of energy in the first eight minutes of the game and we were down 2-0. So I thought that might be a lift from the crowd and be a lift on the bench. I don’t know if it worked or it didn’t work but we ended up winning,” said Boudreau on his decision making process concerning his goaltenders tonight and going forward.

My comment on this:  The change worked and it was the right thing to do. Whether it was #60′s fault or not to that point did not matter, the building was on the verge of imploding and the emergence of #40 definitely provided a spark to the crowd and the Caps.

Varlamov came in and did a very good job and the three pucks that eluded him were on his porous defense. Speaking of poor defensive play, you can hang that on Mike Green and Jeff Schultz who were the defensive pair on the ice for the Caps on the second, third, fourth, and fifth Montreal goals. #52 and #55, who were a combined +89 in the regular season, struggled horribly in their own end on Saturday. They made bad decisions, turned the puck over in the wrong places at the wrong time, and did a poor job of protecting their goalies from quality chances. On the second goal that got by Theodore, Green and Schultz backed up, giving Kostitsyin (3 goals, 1 assist) all of the time in the world to rip one by #60 to end his short night.

“I didn’t say anything during the game. We’ll talk to them about a couple of things. One, sometimes you’ve got to eliminate the body and box out rather than try to get pucks. Mike has gone for the puck twice now in the last two games and both times he’s missed and the guys have scored, at inopportune times. So we’ll watch video and they’ll learn from it and they’ll be better,” commented the 2007-08 Jack Adams trophy winner on how we was going to approach the performance by his top D-pair on Saturday night.

There were some big time momentum shifts in this contest, but none more so than when Montreal scored to make it 4-1 and seemed poised to take control of the series. The goal itself was a weird one in which Jaroslav Spacek took a slapshot from near the center of the point and it hit Schultz, then Kostitsyin and finally Green before sliding by Varly for a power play marker. But instead of the Caps being deflated by a weird goal, they caught a break when a review from Toronto ensued. Initially everyone thought they were reviewing that goal for a high stick, but it turns out they were checking to see if the Habs had scored earlier on that same power play. Had they done so the time would have been reset on the clock back to that tally. It took a good three plus minutes to sort out and it was determined that there was no previous goal so, in essence, Boudreau and his troops had a chance to get their act together. On the ensuing shift Backstrom would tally just 39 seconds later to make it 4-2 heading into the third period.

“Our bench was pretty quiet. I think our guys knew what we had to do. Coach didn’t say anything, we all just kind of put our heads down to focus and try to regroup and I thought we were better after that,” said Fehr, who scored high blocker side on Halak on a breakaway to make it 2-1 in the first period.

“I think that gave us a minute to just breathe a little bit. They came at us hard and obviously we went down a bit. We just had to breathe and not worry too much about that and go back and make our push now, and that is what we did,” said Carlson, who made a great fake to get around a sprawling Montreal defender to fire the puck on net on the Ovechkin goal that made it 4-3.

“You don’t have any choice on that. You could say it did because we were moving, but that the [next] shift wasn’t a good one and it cost us,” responded Montreal coach Jacques Martin when I asked him if the lengthy review hurt the momentum Montreal had, at that point. It was a review, in hindsight, he probably wished never happened, but that is the breaks.

Special teams once again played a factor in this game and Montreal had the upper hand in that category again. The Habs went 1 for 3 with the man advantage while the Caps were 0 for 3. The Canadiens had the best road power play in the regular season and it easy to see why. They move the puck well, get traffic in front of the opposing goalie, and they have several guys with super shots. Washington, which had the best overall power play in the regular season connecting on over 25% of their manpower advantages, are now 0 for 7 in the series. Backstrom provided some insight into the lack of power play production for Washington.

“I feel like Montreal is doing a pretty good job but we have to work a little bit harder. They are taking Alex [Ovechkin] away and we have to find another way to score. I feel like we had pretty good opportunities and we just have to have some traffic in front of the net and maybe shoot on the net..we still have to just keep working. It’s gonna go in sooner or later,” said #19, who is leading the NHL playoffs in points and goals so far.

I am not sure what is going on with Semin, but he played poorly in both games. He had 11 shots on goal in the two contests but he made numerous careless plays with the puck, took a bad penalty in each contest, and is not driving hard to the net. In addition, he allowed Spacek to get the big point shot off that resulted in the Habs fourth goal. Last week Boyd Gordon (scratched on Saturday) told me that an objective for Washington’s forwards on the penalty kill is to make the opposing team take shots from bad angles. #28 did not do that on this penalty kill. Simply put, Semin needs to step it up for Washington to click on all cylinders.

Carlson’s blast to tie the game at five with 1:21 remaining, which came as the officials were calling a delayed penalty, was reminiscent of his gold medal winning tally in the 2010 World Junior Championship game against Team Canada back in January. #74 (1 goal, 1 assist, +2 on Saturday) was Washington’s best d-man in the first two games of this series. He made some giveaways and took a bad gamble on the first Montreal goal, but he is only 20 years old yet is playing at an amazing level. It will be interesting to see how he performs in his first road game in Montreal on Monday night.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle, 32-24…Eric Belanger was 11-4 and is now 29-7 from the dot in two games. #18 just needs to get the rest of his game settled down as he is making too many turnovers…Washington outshot Montreal, 37-24, in game two…Ovechkin had 6 shots on goal after being blanked on Thursday…Tom Poti and Scott Gomez fought at the 3:30 mark of the third period and it seemed to add to the momentum that the Caps had been building up to that point (score was 4-3)…Martin felt his goaltending was solid but the Caps seemed to have found a weakness up top on Halak. I won’t be suprised if Carey Price gets into a game soon…The line of Kostitsyin, Tomas Plekenac (1 goal, 1 asssit), and Mike Cammalleri (three assists) was on the ice for seven of the 11 goals in this one (four for Montreal)…I don’t say this very often, but I thought games one and two were very well officiated, although I am sure there will still be people who disagree with me.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on with Section 410 Host Eric Aaronson on WNST 1570 Baltimore at 1025am on Sunday morning. You can listen live at WNST.NET and the whole interview will be placed in the WNST audio vault afterwards, in case you miss it live.

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Caps Drop Playoff Opener in OT

Posted on 16 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Caps killer Tomas Plekenac scored from the slot 13:19 into overtime to give the Montreal Canadiens a 3-2 victory in the opening game of their best of seven game series with the Washington Capitals. Plekenac, who scored the game winner in OT against the Capitals on February 10th to end Washington’s club record 14 game winning streak, was sprung on a 3 on 2 break by Jaroslav Spacek and when Shaone Morrisonn was pulled too far over to the right wing boards, #14 cut to the slot, was given far too much room by Caps d-man Joe Corvo, and snapped a laser by Jose Theodore. Game two is Saturday night at the Verizon Center at 7pm.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes and analysis of the first ever playoff game between these two teams:

Washington had 47 shots on Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak (45 saves) and Alexander Ovechkin had none of them. The Great #8 simply did not have a good game and I would put Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom in that same category. #19 did score to give the Caps the lead in the third period, but on a 3 on 1 break in overtime, in which the Swede had the puck coming off of the right wing boards, Washington would fail to get off a shot. Semin had 6 shots on net but he missed wide on several good chances and also was careless with the puck on numerous occassions. The Great #8 had five shots blocked and three others that missed the net. Ovechkin was too predictable coming down the left wing and Montreal did a good job of taking his space away. Simply put, if the Caps want to come back and win this series these three guys must play alot better and it starts with the guy wearing the “C.”

“He didn’t play good. I mean, they gapped up on him really well, but I don’t think Alex played very well. I can’t put my finger on it right now, but when you get 50 shots on goal and Ovechkin doesn’t get any and you have four power plays, they took him away pretty good, but I just didn’t think he was very good tonight,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the play of Washington’s leader.

Theodore (35 saves) had a decent performance and it was hard to fault him on any of the three tallies he allowed. Jose did a nice job of not giving up big rebounds and he was superb at freezing the puck on several occassions when Washington was running around in their own end.

“I thought he was good. I thought he kept us in. In the first period we were really good. In the second period, when they were putting a big push on, he made some big saves to keep it a tied game,” added Boudreau on #60.

As Boudreau mentioned, the Caps were very good in the first period outshooting Montreal 19-7 by playing their system and taking away time and space from the Habs. But thanks to Halak, and Washington’s lack of desire to go hard to the net, the opening stanza ended in a 1-1 tie. After the first period the Canadiens carried most of the play as the Caps, when they received opportunities to make things happen, often turned the puck over due to overpassing and being in the all too familiar “too cute mode.” Washington’s two goals came as a result of going to the cage and creating traffic in front of Halak. Joe Corvo scored on a floater to tie this one up at one thanks to some hard work by Matt Bradley, Eric Belanger, and Jason Chimera. The Caps had two skaters in front of the net and #41, therefore, had no way to see the shot. The second goal was on a rush where Washington drove to the net. But there weren’t many other moments where the Caps were willing to pay the price to go to the paint area to get rewarded, and thus a big reason for the defeat.

“You can’t fault Jose. We didn’t execute. We need to play better and harder all the way around. We need to bear down a little more right around the net,” said Caps forward Mike Knuble, who notched an assist on Backstrom’s goal.

Special teams played a role in the Montreal victory as they scored first on a Mike Cammalleri blast with Backstrom in the box for a retaliation penalty. #19, after getting his feet taken out in the corner, then cross checked the Habs player and was correctly sent off. The Canadiens went 1 for 4 with the man advantage while Washington was blanked in their four chances. Once again, the problem was trying for the perfect play instead of shooting and going for rebounds in front. Credit should also go to Montreal for getting in the passing lanes and blocking shots.

“They know you can’t do it, but every now and then you make a mistake. Nicky (Backstrom) retaliated and you can count on one hand how many times Nicky’s retaliated this year. I think it was an honest play. With (Alexander) Semin, he just knows he can’t do the lift the stick on the hands. He caught him on the hands. We had already had a power play so you knew they were going to get one. It was a bad play by him,” commented the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner on the penalties his club took.

At the end of a long night, this was just one game in what shapes up to be a very close series. Game two clearly becomes more important for Washington as they do not want to go down two games heading into Montreal for Monday’ night’s tilt. The Caps, after a film session tomorrow with their coaches, will know what needs to be done to get a victory, but the question is, are they willing to pay the physical price for it?

Notes: Corvo (17:40 of ice time) did not see a regular shift in OT likely due to a shot he took in the hand earlier in the game…Rookie John Carlson, (1 assist in 21:56) despite making a couple of giveaways due to bad reads, had a very good first NHL playoff game and arguably could have been labeled the Caps best defenseman on Thursday night…Belanger was 18-3 on face-offs and the Caps overall won the battle at the dot, 45-26…In the history of the franchise, the Capitals have won five of nine playoff series in which they have lost Game 1…The Capitals have played 37 overtime games in their playoff history, and fell to 15-22 all-time in playoff overtime games.

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