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Capitals vs. Canadiens Playoff Preview

Posted on 14 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

In the history of the Washington Capitals franchise they had never sold out every home game in the regular season. In 2009-10 the Caps did that and set a single season attendance record in the process. Coming into 2009-10, the Washington Capitals had never finished first overall in the NHL standings nor won the Presidents’ Trophy. This season the Caps did that going 54-15-13 (121 points) and became the first non-original six team to exceed the 120 point threshold. In their first 34 seasons of existence, the Capitals franchise had never won a Stanley Cup. In 2009-10…wait…hold on..hopefully we’ll need a couple of months before being able to cross that final item off the list.

Seriously though, if you start thinking too much about winning the Cup before the first playoff game even begins, and not on the process involved in winning a single post season game, then the next thing you know you’ll find yourself buying Titleists at Golf Galaxy. Fortunately the Washington Capitals coaches and players seem to understand that heading into their third straight playoff appearance, as evidenced by Alexander Ovechkin’s quotes here, (courtesy of Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post).

The good news out at Kettler Iceplex on Wednesday was the participation of center Nicklas Backstrom, who returned from an illness. However, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and the rest of the organization plus its fans received a new scare when goalie Jose Theodore took a shot off of the inside of his left knee and left practice. Afterwards, Boudreau said that #60 was okay and would be fine for Thursday night when the Capitals and the Montreal Canadiens take to the ice for Game 1 of their first round Stanley Cup Playoff series at 7pm at the Verizon Center.

This series is an interesting match-up and the first ever post-season meeting between these two clubs. Here is my preview, analysis, and series prediction:

Offensively, there was no equal to the Caps in the regular season as Washington averaged 3.82 goals a game (313) compared to just 2.56 a contest (210) for Montreal. However, when it comes to the power play, the Canadiens gain alot of ground as they have the second best power play percentage in the league to the Capitals (25.2% to 21.8%). What stands out even more in those numbers is Montreal’s road power play percentage, 28.3%, the best in the league (Caps were 2nd at 24.8%). Clearly Boudreau’s crew needs to stay out of the penalty box in this series.

Defensively, Montreal has a slight advantage allowing just 2.66 goals a contest (218) to 2.77 allowed (227) by the Caps. Digging into those numbers, the Caps averaged 32.8 shots on goal a game while allowing 30.8. Montreal’s numbers show that they only potted 28.6 a game while surrendering 32.1 per contest. So the Caps gave up fewer shots a game than Montreal but allowed more goals.

The Caps, as Brooks Laich told me yesterday, like to play “pressure hockey” and when they do that they are awfully tough to beat. Washington brings speed and power up front and a back end that moves the puck well up the ice. The Canadiens don’t have the power of an Ovechkin in their lineup so they rely on a number of smaller forwads who are extremely fast such as Tomas Plekenac (25 goals, 70 points), Brian Gionta ( 28 goals), Scott Gomez (59 points), and Mike Cammalleri (26 goals). On the blue line the Canadiens are led by Andrei Markov (34 points) who missed 35 games and that was part of the reason this club is just the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

In net, the Canadiens have two very good goalies in Carey Price (5th overall pick in 2005 NHL Entry Draft) and Jaroslav Halak (goalie for Slovakia in 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver). Price played all four games versus Washington in the regular season but he has lost the job, for at least game one, to the Slovak. The Caps counter with the Theodore/Semyon Varlamov tandem. #60 has been outstanding since mid January and if he continues to play at that level the Caps are going to be awfully hard to beat.

Montreal will clearly try to win by drawing penalties on the Caps and taking advantage of their super power play while counting on Halak and/or Price to hold the fort in goal. They also hope that Theodore is rattled by playing against his former teammates. On the other hand, the Caps were the best team in the league this season and are MUCH healthier going into this post season than in 2008-09. Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green is in significantly better physical and mental shape and Jeff Schultz, who was injured in a poor first game one against the Rangers last post season, had a breakout campaign on the blue line. Simply put, the Capitals defense is performing at its highest level in the Boudreau era.

The playoffs are a grind and Washington has a lot more depth thanks to the super trades GM George McPhee made during the season adding forwards Jason Chimera, Eric Belanger, and Scott Walker plus defenseman Joe Corvo. Boudreau mentioned after practice yesterday that in the last two or three games that #77 has started to play at the level he expected of the defenseman (Corvo was +2 in last Friday’s game against Atlanta, his first plus game as a Cap). So overall, Washington seems to be positioned to play its best hockey in the post season while the Canadiens struggled down the stretch.

But anything can happen in the playoffs where a hot goalie can even up matchups that, on paper, appear to one sided. Next to the hot goalie, the key is to get contributions from your role players. Who can forget Matt Bradley’s big first goal in game five against the Rangers last post season that jump started the Washington rally from three games to one down? Caps forward Mike Knuble, who played on the 1997-98 Stanley Cup winning Detroit Red Wings, knows all too well about the need for that, as he told a few of us in the media on Tuesday afternoon after practice.

“You need a couple of guys that can get the ugly goals, they are the ones that help you win in the playoffs. Superstars get all of the attention but third and fourth line guys are the ones who get the timely, ugly goals. That is how you win series’,” started #22, who notched 29 tallies in his first season with the Capitals, most of them from right around the net.

“That’s what the playoffs are, guys who maybe are not known more start heading to the net, and score some timely goals that way. You don’t need guys to change their whole style but at times maybe do something a little bit out of character, blocking shots, finishing checks more, going to the net when they’re usually not a guy who bangs around the front of the net, that is where you are going to be rewarded,” continued Knuble on what it takes to win playoff games.

“The grinder guys like Darren McCarty, Kris Draper, Marty Lapointe, Kirk Maltby, all of these guys that were not the stars, they just contributed scoring timely goals, played a simple game, and were solid by bringing their level of play up as high as they could, played their career best. That’s all we want out of everybody, play your career best,” finished the right winger who figures to not only add those important close in goals, but provide post season leadership.

The Pick: This is the best Caps team I have ever seen. Yes, there is pressure on them from the fans, but nowhere near the heat they are putting on themselves. The Caps cannot wait to hit the ice for the Stanley Cup playoffs and silence their doubters. The key for them is to take it one shift, one period, and one game at a time with a focus on playing their system, no matter what the score of the contest. I believe their experience will show up in this series and to quote The Who, they ”Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Caps in Five.

Notes: The Caps AHL farm team, the Hershey Bears, rallied from a late third period two goal deficit to win their post season opener in overtime, 4-3, against Bridgeport (Islanders AHL team). Game two is Friday night at the Giant Center at 7pm. The Washington Capitals have released their official iPhone application, which was built in conjunction with Advanced Mobile Solutions Worldwide and currently is available at the Apple iTunes App Store. To check it out just click here. This is the first of a suite of smartphone applications that will be released by the Capitals with Android and Blackberry platforms available in the near future.

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Backstrom Misses Caps Practice / Theodore To Be Game 1 Starter

Posted on 13 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The biggest news of the day at Kettler Iceplex was the absence of Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who finished fourth overall in scoring in the NHL in 2009-10 (33 goals, 68 assists). After today’s practice, the first of two in preparation for the Montreal Canadiens, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau told a large throng of media that #19 was “not feeling well…he is questionable..he is sick.” Clearly being without the super Swedish center, who sometimes I think really does have eyes in the back of his head, for game one would be a huge blow to Washington but Nicky is expected to be back on the ice for practice on Wednesday.

The other significant development was that Boudreau has named Jose Theodore his starting goaltender for the playoff opener and he made a point of saying that “there is no short leash” this post season because he has played at a high level since January (except for a two game blip in late March). Last year, the 2002 MVP struggled in his last ten games so the Washington coach was already prepared to make a switch if Jose struggled in game one against New York, which he did. Also, the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner revealed that he had told #60 last week about his decision but he delayed the public announcement to “keep everyone on their toes.” The plan to go with Theodore is not a surprise to many but some wonder if playing against his old team, especially in games three and four, will be a distraction to the goaltender. Boudreau didn’t think playing at the Bell Centre, especially when the Habs fans start chanting his name, will be much of an issue.

“I don’t think it will effect him, he should be excited to play there. He’s been a guy from the beginning that has said ‘last year is last year, if I have to prove myself, I’ve proved myself my whole life’ and he’s gonna prove himself again and he did it in the face of a lot of adversity this year. So I give him full credit for everything he’s done. I think he’ll do fine and he’ll be ready. We like the song, they can sign it all they want, they are always in unison and it’s really good,” said Boudreau on Theodore and the Montreal fans.

In any playoff series, special teams are likely to play a role in the outcome. The Capitals had the NHL’s number one power play in the regular season at 25.2% but the Habs were second overall at 21.8%. On the penalty kill, Washington was 25th in the league at 78.8% so staying out of the box will be important for the Caps. The Capitals successfully killed of 16 of the last 18 penalties of the regular season so they go in with a hot streak on the PK. The Canadiens have defenseman Andrei Markov on the blue line, who has a hammer of a shot, and Mike Cammalleri has proven to be dangerous in the right wing circle with the one timer, as well. Thus the Caps have their work cut out for themselves when they are shorthanded.

“They work together and they have a lot of good skill. Our penalty kill is going to have to be better. I think it is going to be important for us to stay out of the box, as well. We’ll go over the video over the next couple of days and make sure we have a good game plan going in,” started forward Boyd Gordon, who said he is feeling better and better each day after suffering from back issues during stretches of the regular season.

“They got a couple of guys that can bring it [from the point]. As a unit we have to do a better job of blocking shots, getting sticks in lanes, so it is important to keep them to the outside as much as possible and limit their chances,” finished #15 on what Washington needs to do to slow down the Montreal power play.

The Capitals are certainly a better team heading into this year’s post season than the previous two for several reasons. Clearly the biggest change is the experience factor as nearly every player on the roster has played in the Stanley Cup playoffs (rookie defenseman John Carlson has not but he has plenty of big game starts in his career to include the AHL Calder Cup Finals in 2009 with Hershey and the 2010 World Junior Gold Medal game with Team USA). Second, the major moves GM George McPhee made since last summer, the free agent signings of forwards Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison and the trades for Jason Chimera, Scott Walker, Eric Belanger, and Joe Corvo have added talent and depth. Finally, one of their most important players, Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green, is healthier and much more confident than he was at this time last season. #52 went into last year’s post season with an illness and then suffered a shoulder injury in the Rangers series. The Calgary native was roundly criticized for his subpar playoff performance and I personally believe some of that cost him a position on Team Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games that were held in Vancouver. Green’s play this season, especially down the stretch when he was dominant at both ends of the rink, bodes well for the Capitals going forward.

“Yeah, it’s night and I day. I feel like 150% compared to even 100%, that is a good feeling going into this time of the season. You know last year after the game against Pittsburgh, game seven, you wait for an opportunity like this again and it couldn’t come quick enough. So I’m excited,” started Green when asked how he was feeling healthwise.

“I can’t even describe it. Just the way I know I how I felt last year to where I am now. Confidence is everything. Right now we are playing well as a team and that builds confidence individually. So I just can’t wait for that first game,” added #52, who seems to be like a kid in the candy store heading into the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In this week’s Sporting News NHL Playoff Preview, Craig Custance had the following quote from Nicklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings involving the tactical challenges involved in a playoff series:

“You know the other team’s tendencies and what they’re trying to do. It’s more of a battle when you know how they’re playing and they know how you are playing. Then it comes down to battling hard and competing really hard.”

The reason I bring that quote up is because on the first day of training camp last September Caps forward Brooks Laich told me the reason the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year was because they “stuck to their system in every game, no matter what the score.” I asked Laich about that statement again today and if he felt that the way Washington played in the regular season was a validation that they were indeed sticking to their system.

 ”Yeah, but I still think we can do a better job. To win it we still have to do a better job and play a more structured game. We play the way we play, we are not gonna go into the playoffs trying to flip a switch and play a different way. We’ve been successful all year because of how we play, how we attack, we play downhill hockey. Some people might call it aggressive but we call it pressure hockey and I think it is very tough to play against. So Pittsburgh’s guns last year, their top guys were their top guys, and they played the way they could within the team structure. Our guys, I think, have done a fantastic job this year and we are a better team than we were last year. Hopefully we’ll prove that in the playoffs,” said #21, assessing the regular season and the way the Capitals play.

“I thought lately we’ve done a better job of limiting turnovers. What I am talking about is playing air tight without the puck. I’m talking about playing pressure defense in the neutral zone where we don’t give them gaps to skate with the puck. In the defensive zone, being on our checks, moving our legs and sealing guys into the boards. Everybody stops and starts, no circles. That’s what I’m talking about by playing pressure hockey. That puts teams back on their heels and once they turn the puck over we use our transition game and go the other way. That is where our speed and skill comes into play,” finished Laich on what he sees as the keys to winning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Notes: Alexander Ovechkin was on the ice for practice today but he headed to the dressing room earlier than most of his teammates prompting speculation by some that he is less than 100% healthy. The Great #8 did do a post practice interview with a very large contingent of media…The Edmonton Oilers won the 2010 NHL Draft lottery and will select first overall in Los Angeles in late June. The top two candidates, according to the NHL scout I spoke with recently, are Taylor Hall of the Windsor Spitfires and Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers. With Seguin being a center and Hall being a left wing, I have hunch that Oilers GM Steve Tambellini will select Tyler over Taylor.

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Ovechkin Gets 50th Goal & Backstrom hits 100 Points in Caps Win

Posted on 10 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Friday night at the Verizon Center certainly lived up to its billing as the Caps began the night by accepting the Presidents’ Trophy from NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and then they proceeded to go out and rack up some individual milestones en route to a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers. We’ll get to all of the neat 2009-10 player statistics in a minute, but for the Caps franchise this was an historic evening because for the first time in club history their overall record is above .500! Yes, it is true, Alexander Ovechkin and company along with some great squads from the 1980′s have finally teamed up to erase a pitiful first eight years of existence of Capitals hockey (the club was 212 games under .500 during that span) to push Washington’s overall record to 1,215-1,214-303-71. Believe me, there were times when I never thought this organization, who have their best shot ever at their first Stanley Cup this spring, would make up for some seasons where on many nights the goal of the team seemed to be to just get the puck out of their own end.

Things are clearly different in Caps land now, as evidenced by victory after victory and sell out after sell out at the Phone Booth (this was the 47th straight regular season sellout and 55th in succession including playoffs). Washington hit 120 points on the evening (54-15-12) and swept the Thrashers (6-0) in the season series. The Caps also improved to 30-5-5 at home and tied the team record for home wins, set in 1985-86. In addition, only 7 other teams have posted 120 point seasons (Montreal -4, Detroit -2, and Boston -1) so the Caps are the first non-original 6 team to achieve that (h/t @capsmedia).

Now let’s get to the highlights, quotes, stats, and analysis from a game that was meaningless in the standings:

We’ll start with the Great #8, who notched goals 49 and 50 and added an assist to take over the NHL points lead (109 to 108 over Henrik Sedin) as well as the NHL goals race (leads by one over Sidney Crosby and two over Steven Stamkos). Crosby and Stamkos each have two games left while Sedin has one (at Calgary on Saturday). According to Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, Ovechkin has asked for Sunday off against Boston, so who knows if he will win either award? Clearly though, Washington’s team captain is focused on the greater goal, the Stanley Cup.

“The great ones do. Whether it’s Sidney [Crosby] or Alex [Ovechkin] or whoever, they seem to come up at the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded needing a homerun and they do it. That’s one of the reason it makes them better than other people,” said Boudreau on Ovechkin’s ability to rise to the occassion, when needed.

Next up is one Nicklas Backstrom who notched two tallies himself (up to 33 on the year) as well as an assist while going plus +4 on the evening. #19 now has 101 points (68 assists). Ovechkin and Backstrom, by both reaching 100 points, became the first Washington teammates to record 100 point seasons! It seems like just yesterday that former GM David Poile traded for Joe Juneau in the hopes of acquiring a player who could score 100 points, doesn’t it??!!

“I’m just really proud of him. He’s such a great young man. You like to see great people succeed. I’m sitting there thinking ‘Nicky just got his hundredth and Alex just got his 50th, who’s picking up the puck?’ It shows that he’s one of the elite players in the league and he does it every night. I think that’s his third game in a row with three points. He’s a good player,” added Boudreau on the center he seems to take great pride in coaching.

Alexander Semin turned in another stellar performance notching three assists and was also +4, but Sasha, despite an amazing 11 shots on net could not get his 40th goal of the season. Perhaps #28 will get that against Boston on Sunday, a team he has scored some big goals against the last two seasons? I’ve really been impressed with Semin’s play since Ovechkin took over as team captain and this is just one of many things that bodes well for Washington as they head into the post-season.

Jose Theodore won his 30th game this season and extended his streak of 23 straight starts without a regulation loss (20-0-3). #60 stopped 29 of 31 shots with one getting by him when Brendan Morrison deflected it into his own cage and the other tally came on a shorthanded breakaway goal by Clarke Macarthur. This is the third consecutive super outing for the man who appears to have locked up the job to start game one of the Stanley Cup playoffs, likely next Thursday.

“I felt pretty good. I kept my focus for 60 minutes. In the third I made a couple of big saves and then the guys picked it up and scored some big goals,” commented Theodore on his performance.”

The NHL’s plus minus leader coming into Friday night’s affair, Jeff Schultz, managed to extend his lead on second place Ovechkin to two since #55 went +4 to Ovie’s +3 (his giveaway led to the shorthanded goal). Sarge, who has taken his game to another level this season, was injured in the opening contest of last year’s post season so not only does it appear the Caps have a healthy Mike Green (1 assist, +2) this year, they also would have a much improved “double nickel” on the blue line.

Finally, trade deadline acquisition Joe Corvo had an assist and went +2 in 18:52 of ice time. This was significant because it was the first time in #77′s 17 games with Washington that he was a plus player. It has taken the former Carolina Hurricane time to adjust to his new team but his play on Friday was encouraging after a stretch where he has had some struggles.

Now on to some things I didn’t like in this contest and I’ll start with Washington’s power play. I don’t know if it was because they were trying to reach the individual plateau’s or if they were reverting to some bad habits but the Caps were 0 for 5 and gave up a shorthanded goal with Thrashers in the sin bin? Included in those situations was a 44 second 5 on 3. I’ll give some credit to Atlanta goalie Ondrej Pavelec (shelled with 47 shots but made 42 saves) who did his best to keep his seemingly disinterested squad in it until the floodgates opened in the third period, but most of the blame lies on overpassing and a lack of net presence from the Caps. The unit is number one in the league but they have now given up two shorthanded goals in a week. They have allowed eight this season and only five other NHL clubs have given up more. Simply put, Washington has got to clean up their play on the points and limit those turnovers that have been resulting in odd man rushes against.

Brendan Morrison returned to the lineup and looked out of sync, especially in the first 35 minutes. He took a tripping call in the first period and the first Atlanta goal banked in past Theodore from the slot off of the leg of #9. Sure that was a big fluke but had Morrison not made a turnover in the neutral zone just before the goal that whole sequence likely does not happen. #9 had the opportunity to spring Tomas Fleischmann in on a two on one break but instead of banking a pass off of the right wing side boards he tried to thread the needle up the middle and the Thrashers intercepted the biscuit and headed the other way. Morrison did improve over the last 25 minutes, drawing a penalty and nearly connecting on a good chance.

There were a couple of chippy instances by Atlanta in the last period that gave me some concern. First, rookie Evander Kane took some liberties with Green while he was down on the ice and after #52 got up Scott Walker came over and said some things to the Thrashers rookie that weren’t exactly of the “Happy Easter” variety. It would have been nice to hear exactly what #24 said and Washington cannot afford to have #52 injured or banged up for the post season. In addition, on the Capitals last power play second year d-man Zach Bogosian threw a vicious elbow into the chops of Semin knocking #28 to the ground and breaking part of his twig. After a few moments Sasha got up and seemed to be okay on his next shift, but again, the Caps don’t need to expose their star players to cheap shots of that variety. Anyone who thinks that Semin was diving there needs to go back and watch the hit again, it was blatant, dirty, and could warrant a league review.

A couple of other things that were not pleasing was that defenseman Tyler Sloan only took one shift for 19 seconds in period three (only played 9:53 overall) so something happened to him. In addition, Boudreau ended up playing Ovechkin 23:11 (after getting only 5:54 in the first period) on the night but clearly Ovie wanted to get his numbers and the five power plays resulted in 7:45 of ice time for the Great #8. The final stat I did not like was that Eric Fehr was -2. Boudreau mentioned afterwards that he wants to get all 20 guys going for the playoffs and he said “he had about 16 of the 20″ doing that on Friday. 

I had a chance to talk with Caps forward Quintin Laing after the game to get his take on some things and here is the transcript:

WNST: What’s been the difference on the penalty killing, it seems like it has definitely improved the last several games?

Laing: I think in zone, we are a little more aggressive and we are making the other team make quality passes instead of sitting back and letting them make mediocore passes and getting away with it so if we are going to get beat they are going to have to make two or three good passes in a row. If they do, then you have to tip your hat to them, all you can do is make it difficult. I think just being a little more aggressive in our zone is helping.

WNST: How has the PK changed over the years? It used to be that teams just played a strict box, it seems that you guys play sort of a diamond where you keep one guy high to take away the shot from the top?

Laing: It seems like every team has that one big shooter that they set up in the middle of the ice and they try to feed them. So you got to take that away up top and that is where the diamond comes in. In front it used to be the d-man could just do anything, you could cross check, slash, do anything to get the guy out of the goalies way but now, the rules have changes so you got to play a little more passively there and block more shots. So it has changed a little bit but taking away their big shooter is what the diamond is all about.

WNST: So the change is a function of the forwards can camp out in front so you have to take that shot away because there is going to be traffic?

Laing: Yeah, because the d-man won’t be able to do anything in front so you either have to block the shots or gets sticks in. As the forward up top you are just trying to not let that puck come through at a good angle. You want it to come from a bad angle where the goalie can see it.

WNST: You had a couple of good chances in the first period tonight?

Laing: Bruce talked about it before the game, just throw the pucks at the net and go to the net. That is what our line did, we just kind of threw pucks and I went to the net a couple of times and almost scored. I was kind of ticked at myself because you don’t get too many chances like that but I am happy with the way things went. Getting chances is fun but scoring on them is more fun.

WNST: Did the puck catch you on the wrong part of the stick or one time I think you were in pretty tight?

Laing: Yeah, on one I was in close and tried to chip it over him and it him and on the other one the puck was kind of rolling and I tried to hit but didn’t get the top half of the net, but it is good to get those chances.

WNST: What did you think of the intensity out there? It seemed like maybe there was a bit of a gentleman’s agreement where the big hits weren’t going to come tonight. There was some contact, it just seemed like there was a little different flow than games with playoff implications.

Laing: Yeah, there wasn’t 40 hits a team tonight, it was kind of a little more passive. I think we got the two, three goal lead and it kind of deflated them a bit but yeah, it wasn’t a big hitting type of atmosphere that the playoffs are sure to bring.

Final Notes:  The Capitals have scored first in each of their last five games (5-0-0) and are now 38-7-6 on the season when they score the first goal of the game. Washington’s AHL affiliate, the Hershey Bears, knocked off the Norfolk Admirals, 6-1, at Norfolk Scope, and became the first team in AHL history to win 60 games in a single season. Jason Chimera scored his 15th goal of the season on a nice feed from Eric Belanger (made it 4-2 Capitals). The Caps won the face-off battle, 34-29. The Capitals last contest of the regular season is Sunday at noon at the Verizon Center on NBC. The battle for the 8th and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, and the Caps first round playoff opponent, is now clear as mud. Washington could still face any of Boston, Philadelphia, the Rangers, or Montreal.

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Celebrate with the Caps on Friday Night

Posted on 08 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Despite the fact that the Washington Capitals (53-15-12) have already clinched the #1 seed in the entire NHL playoffs (they did that last Sunday), Friday night’s tilt against the Atlanta Thrashers at the Verizon Center will have several things still worth watching.

The Caps are going to celebrate their regular season title by having a brief pregame on-ice ceremony unveiling the Presidents’ Trophy – given each year to the team with the best record in the NHL – before the game then share it with their fans at Verizon Center and Kettler Capitals Iceplex the next two days.

The Presidents’ Trophy will be on display throughout Friday’s game on the concourse between sections 107 and 108 and during Sunday’s game against Boston behind section 119. The trophy will also make a trip out to Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va., on Saturday for the Capitals’ 11 a.m. practice. The trophy will be on display at Kettler Capitals Iceplex from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Fans will be able to take photographs of the trophy while it is on display free of charge at either Kettler Capitals Iceplex or Verizon Center.

Now back to Friday’s game. Alexander Ovechkin comes into the contest with 48 goals and 58 assists and he is battling Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos for the Rocket Richard Trohy (most goals) and Henrik Sedin for the Art Ross Trophy (most Points). In addition, both Ovie and defenseman Mike Green (leads the NHL in points by defenseman) have a chance to strengthen their MVP and Norris Trophy cases, respectively. Courtesy of the Caps super PR department here are some stats to make the case for both players:

THE CASE FOR HART: Alex Ovechkin

His Best Year Yet

  • The two-time MVP leads the league in points per game (1.51) and goals per game (0.69)
  • His points-per-game average is the best of his career (improved from 1.39 last year)
  • He is tied for first in the NHL in goals and trails in the scoring race by one point despite missing 10 games
  • He leads all forwards with a career-best +43 and leads the league with 360 shots on goal
  • His goals-per-game improves significantly (0.94) against the teams in the top third of the league
  • He leads the league with 80 points in non-division games; his points per game is better outside the Southeast (1.54) than it is in it (1.44)
  • Similarly, he leads the league with 40 goals in non-division games and has 0.77 goals per game outside the Southeast (0.44 in it)

Ovi the Leader

  • Leads the league’s best team; the Caps have nine more points than the second-best team and 19 more than the second-place team in the Eastern Conference
  • The Capitals are 29-4-6 since he was named captain Jan. 5, which would project to a 135-point pace in a season

The Complete Player

  • His +43 is +9 better than any other forward and includes a league-best +36 rating outside of his division
  • Has only been on the ice for 42 even-strength goals against – that’s 10 fewer than any of the other top 10 scorers in the league and 43% fewer than he was on ice for last season
  • His +43 is 54% better than his previous career high
  • He is tied for 27th in hits with 183; none of the other top 30 players in hits are among the top 75 scorers in the league

THE CASE FOR NORRIS: Mike Green

His Best Year Yet

  • He has career highs in points (74), assists (55) and plus/minus (+35)
  • He leads all defensemen in goals (19), assists, points, power-play goals (10), power-play points (35), home points (40), road points (34) and points outside the division (54)
  • He is second only to defense partner Jeff Schultz in plus/minus among NHL defensemen
  • Has four more goals and eight more points than any other defenseman; the only defenseman averaging more than a point per game
  • His +33 rating outside the Southeast Division is the best of any defenseman outside his division
  • He is +35 after entering the season with a +12 career rating
  • His plus/minus is 59% better than the second-best player among the top 10 scoring defensemen (Lidstrom)
  • He has his fewest penalty minutes (54) since his rookie year

An Historic Impact

  • He is only the third active defenseman with a 70-point season (Lidstrom, Chelios)
  • Ranks third in Caps history in points in a season by a defenseman, trailing only Larry Murphy and Kevin Hatcher, and the best since 1992-93
  • Has 24 more goals and 26 more points than any other defenseman in the last three seasons
  • The seventh player with back-to-back 70-point seasons before he turned 25 (the other six are in the Hall of Fame)

Ovechkin is likely battling Sedin, Crosby, and perhaps goalies Ryan Miller (Sabres) and Ilya Bryzgalov (Coyotes) for the Hart Trophy. Personally, I don’t see how you can vote for Crosby, he has fewer points in more games and the Penguins are around 20 points behind Washington in the standings? Can you say “Case Closed.” Some, such as ESPN’s Pierre Lebrun, think that Ovie shouldn’t win his third straight MVP because Washington was 7-2-1 without him in the lineup. But if you take a look at those 10 games, four of those wins came against one of the weaker teams in the league in Florida while the two losses were to the Devils in regulation. However, when the Great #8 played against New Jersey the Caps went 1-0-1, only losing in a shootout.

Yes, the Caps are still pretty good without Ovechkin in the lineup, but they aren’t the best team in the league. The other stat I really like from above is the 29-4-6 record since he took over as team captain. Clearly the switch has made an impact on the team and when I asked Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau about the team’s record with Ovehckin as captain today on an NHL conference call the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner said, “I haven’t coached the team any differently.” Gabby also pointed out that “[Ovechkin] is still the same guy, he hasn’t changed at all except for maybe being a little gun shy due to the suspensions.” Washington did get healthier in January but appointing Alexander the Great as team captain seemed to have raised the intensity level of every player on the club and they have kept winning despite some injuries in March and early April.

As for Green, I find it mind boggling that he is not running away with the Norris. It seems the only reason is because some guys named Yzerman and Armstrong, who have spent the vast majority of their management careers watching Western Conference teams, didn’t pick #52 for the Canadian Olympic team. Others point to #52′s disappointing 2009 post season but they seem to forget the guy played with an illness and a separated shoulder. His two main competitors appear to be Duncan Keith of Chicago and Drew Doughty of Los Angeles, and both played for the Gold Medal winning Team Canada in the Olympics. Keith, who gets the benefit of being paired with Brent Seabrook on a nightly basis, has had a super year but his numbers, in more games, are still below #52′s. Doughty, who is just in his second year in the NHL, has been really good but he is 17 points behind Green and he is +19 while the man Boudreau calls “the One Man Breakout” is +35.

I can certainly be accused of being biased, and I admit that, but even still the numbers and facts strongly support both Ovechkin and Green.

By the way, there are some other neat things to possibly look forward to on Friday. Caps super Swede center, Nicklas Backstrom, has 31 goals and 67 assists and needs just two points to hit the century mark. In addition, Alexander Semin is sitting on 39 goals, a career high for Sasha, but it would be great to see him hit 40. Goalie Jose Theodore is also one victory away from #30 for the season. Theodore has been nominated for the Masterton Trophy.

So all in all, Friday’s contest may appear to be meaningless on paper, but there is a nice little celebration that will take place pre-game and then we can all sit back and hopefully see some Capitals players reach some individual milestones. It should be a fun night.

 

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Caps Defeat Bruins, 3-2, in OT

Posted on 05 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It was pretty much a meaningless game for the Washington Capitals on Monday night against a very desperate Boston Bruins squad yet the Caps received some great goaltending from Jose Theodore (28 saves) to keep things even and then Brooks Laich scored a power play goal in overtime to lead the 2009-10 Presidents’ Trophy winners to a 3-2 victory. The win at sold out Verizon Center pushed the Caps overall mark to another club record at 52-15-12 (116 points) with three games remaining. For Boston, they recieved a point but they have to be disappointed that they couldn’t defeat a Washington team that, at times, went through the motions, and were also without their best defenseman, Mike Green, who was given the night off by Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau.

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

That two game blip last week by Jose Theodore is now a distant memory. #60, who mentioned after the win in Columbus on Saturday that he worked with goaltending Coach Arturs Irbe to correct some technical issues, was simply sensational, as Caps television play-by-play man Joe Beninati would say. Theo, who played behind a defense that struggled quite a bit on Monday, particularly the pairing of Tyler Sloan and John Erskine, was super at not giving up rebounds and gloving or freezing the puck on several occassions when the Bruins were threatening. The sequence in the first period where he made three straight saves, with the third acheived by trapping the puck between his skates, was amazing. The only two markers that got past him were a screened and deflected point blast with 1.6 seconds remaining in the first period and then a partial breakaway goal by Patrice Bergeron.

“They came charging the net and I was able just to pretty much react. I didn’t really know what happened, but when you’re in your game you make those desperation saves and I got lucky to be able to react on both saves,” added Theodore on his huge saves in period one.

The other good news on the evening was the return to form of Alexander Ovechkin. The Great #8 basically set up all three Caps goals but only received two assists. On the first tally, a Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 2 assists) shot that just trickled by Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (27 saves) and needed a six minute plus review to confirm, Ovechkin made a super cross ice pass to set up #19 all alone in the slot. Then on the goal that tied this one at two late in the second period, Ovie took a deft Backstrom feed at the Bruins blue line, stormed down the left wing, flicked the puck in front, and it hit #22, who was doing a good job of going to the net, and #22 outmuscled Zdeno Chara to knock it home. Finally, when Washington received a power play in overtime (Dennis Wideman was whistled for a high stick on Tomas Fleischmann), an errant clear was blocked nicely inside the blue line by Ovie, who fed Backstrom at the right wing circle. #19 then slid a slick cross ice pass across the Bruins triangle to Alexander Semin (1 assist), who fired it on net and it went right to Laich, who tapped it home for his career high 25th goal of the season.

The thing I liked about Ovechkin tonight was that his moves were more of the north-south variety and less of the east-west kind that were leading to turnovers. The Great #8 made a point to drive harder to the net and he nearly scored on a backhander off of a powerful move in the second period but Rask stood tall to make a nice stop. Ovie had 6 shots on goal in just 18:14 of ice time! He also had three hits and was more physically involved. Ovechkin is now at 46 goals and 58 assists, just two points behind league leader Henrik Sedin of Vancouver in the race for the Art Ross Trophy.

“He competed. He got involved. He wasn’t afraid to hit today. Well, he’s never afraid, but ever since that suspension, I think it has been on his mind. When he was going in and hitting guys, he was turning away a bit. He’s got to be him. I said, ‘You’re not a dirty player, so just play the way you normally play’. Yeah, that’s the first multiple-point game he has had in a while. You can see him getting on the cusp of breaking out. That’s a positive sign,” said Boudreau, basically warning the rest of the NHL that the Ovechkin onslaught is cueing up just in time for the playoffs.

Laich, who is still playing with the full cage like a college hockey player (protecting a fractured facial bone), took a bad tripping penalty with 5:01 to go in the third period but Washington’s PK unit was strong, anchored by Theodore, and made their third consecutive kill of the evening. #21 paid his team back with the winning goal and it is no surprise that the club is 3-0 since he returned from injury. Laich was interviewed after the game on Versus and had the following to say:

On his GWG: “That’s how we scored our second one too going to the net. They play very tight defensively, they don’t give up many goals. We wanted to get traffic in front, we got a lucky break at the end. We were able to capitalize on it so for us it was a good win.”

On teams trying to play physical on Washington: “We’re gonna have to play really physical because I think every team looks at us as a very talented, very skilled team and they are going to try and play physical on us so we have to be prepared for that. I think we play our best hockey when we are physical and aggressive on the forecheck and turning their defense around and attacking them.”

On if the team took their foot off of the gas with the Prez Trophy locked up: “No, I get upset when people ask me that. We try and work hard. We want good habits going into the playoffs. The Presidents’ Trophy is wrapped up now but there is still club records that we can achieve. There are still things we can achieve in the regular season. We want to iron out our game and make sure we are playing as well as we can going into the playoffs.”

So after watching this one I would prefer that the Caps face Boston in the first round instead of the Canadiens, Rangers, or Flyers. The Bruins struggle to score and Washington matches up well with them. Don’t forget, in addition to Green resting, Boudreau was without defenseman John Carlson, who is still nursing an injury. The Sloan and Erskine pairing was not very good prompting many to wonder that if one of the regular top 6 d-men were injured (Green, Carlson Joe Corvo, Tom Poti, Shaone Morrisonn, and Jeff Schultz) in the post season that perhaps Karl Alzner might be recalled (if Milan Jurcina was not ready to play as well)? The answer is not clear but the bottom line is if Erskine and Sloan don’t improve over these next four games then it would be a scary situation for Boudreau to have to insert them in the post season if one of the regulars were injured.

It was good see Green get some rest because Washington needs #52 at 100% for the post season, something they lacked in the 2009 playoffs. With tomorrow night’s tilt in Pittsburgh also pretty much meaningless it will be interesting to see what line-up Boudreau goes with? There is talk of Hershey goalie Braden Holty being called up for the contest, although the Bears are in Syracuse on Tuesday night, and I would not be surprised if some other regulars are given the night off. The 2007-08 Jack Adams trophy winner did do a good job of keeping the ice time for his club fairly equal against Boston. No forward logged over 19 minutes and only Poti (23:23), Schultz (22:53), and Corvo (20:26) went over 20 minutes on defense.

Neat Stats courtesy of the Caps super PR team: 

- The Capitals are now 29-5-5 at Verizon Center, and with two home games left are within reach of the club record for home wins (30) and home points (62).

- The Capitals have scored first in three consecutive games, and are now 36-7-6 on the season in games where they score first.

- The Capitals are perfect in their last three games on the penalty kill (9-for-9) and improved to 29-2-3 on the season when their opponent fails to score on the power play.

Bad stat of night: Washington lost the face-off battle 34-26. Digging into the numbers, Dave Steckel was an uncharacteristic 5-10, including losing a key draw that led to the B’s first goal and Fleischmann was 6-12. Only Backstrom had a good night for the regular draw-men, going 8-4. Bergeron was 18-8 for Boston.

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Theodore, Green lead Caps over Columbus

Posted on 03 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The 2009-10 Washington Capitals continue to re-write the team record books. On Saturday night they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2, to notch their 51st win of the season and move just one point away from clinching their first ever President’s Trophy. Washington, which raced out to a 3-0 first period lead and is now 51-15-12 (114 points) overall, can clinch 1st place in the NHL regular season with either a point in any of their four remaining games or a point missed by San Jose in any of their four contests. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, when asked afterwards, had the following to say about the achievement.

“It is nice to set records, it gives us a goal to shoot for next year,” added the low key 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner.

Let’s get right to the highlights, more quotes from the Coach, and analysis from this victory over the Blue Jackets:

The biggest news of the night was the return to form of Jose Theodore, who was just outstanding all game, WHEW! #60 made 34 saves as Columbus really turned up the heat after trailing by three after just 13:44. Both Blue Jackets goals were not the fault of Jose and he made several super stops, especially in the second period when the Caps decided to allow too many odd man rushes against. After two shaky goaltending performances earlier in the week against Calgary and Ottawa, Boudreau has gotten super starts from both Semyon Varlamov and Theodore, in succession.

“It is more significant that Theo had a good game and for the most part I thought we played good defensively,” started Boudreau on the victory, “I thought they had a few [chances] where they could put them in but that had nothing to do with the defense, alot of it was with our forwards not being where they are supposed to be,” added Boudreau on why there were so many quality chances for Columbus on the rush.

While Theo was certainly Washington’s number one star on the night, the guy I bragged about after Thursday’s win versus Atlanta, Mike Green, was once again in his 2009-10 Norris Trophy winning form versus Columbus. #52 scored the game winner by grabbing an errant clear and rifling one by Steve Mason, who replaced an injured Mathieu Garon just 10:49 into this one, on a 5 on 3 Caps power play. The goal was Greenie’s 19th of the season and he now has a career high in points with 74. More important than the goal, however, was his rock solid play in his own zone, as his head coach pointed out.

“He was fabulous. Mike Green was fabulous tonight. Notwithstanding scoring the winning goal but I just thought every time on he was a force defensively, not necessarily offensively, but he was a force defensively. He’s been like that for awhile, he just doesn’t get the recognition that he should defensively,” added Boudreau on a player that should win the Norris Trophy this season.

There will be the Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty for Norris Trophy camps but if you look at Green’s numbers, to include ice time and plus/minus, he should win hands down. By the way, Keith has the luxury of playing with Keith Seabrook night in and night out. As the NHL network’s Craig Button told me today via text, “Mike Green is a star and is becoming a more complete player, which is part of the development sequence.” People often forget that Green is still ONLY 24 years old in a league where playing in your own end takes years to learn.

Washington killed off all three Columbus power plays, including a 1:23 two man advantage. During that sequence Brooks Laich got his stick in the passing lanes and made several super plays. In fact, he was so good on one sequence on the boards it allowed Tom Poti to go the other way and get a quality shorthanded chance, but Mason made a nice glove save.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Washington power play was a pitiful 1 for 6 (only goal was Green’s unassisted 5 on 3 tally) and once again there was too much passing and perimeter play. What made things on 5 on 4 even worse was the lackadaiscal play of Alexander Ovechkin on the left point. The Great #8 made a bad decision pinching in that gave Rick Nash (2 assists) and Antoine Vermette (2 goals) a two on one break and they finished it off easily around Joe Corvo. Then in the third period Ovechkin failed to look behind him in the slot in the defensive zone and RJ Umberger nearly tied the contest up. To be blunt, the Great #8 floated in his own zone all evening. His coach saw much of the same and had a theory on how he could break out of his funk.

“He looked a little off tonight. You just keep throwing him out there and hoping it’s going to happen. I think he just has to work a little harder defensively and it will make his offensive go better,” said Boudreau on the two-time defending NHL MVP, who was -2 in this contest.

On the second Blue Jackets goal, both Poti and Tyler Sloan decided to chase Nash behind the net and #61 quickly recognized it and hit a wide open Vermette in front. Watching the replay, it was Sloan’s responsibility but for some reason #3 left his side of the ice? Still, I was not thrilled with Sloan’s overall play, he made a bad decision in the offensive zone in the second period that led to a Blue Jackets 4 on 2 break. His last shift, with under four minutes left, was not good either and he looked in over his head when the pressure picked up. I fully expect come playoff time that Sloan will be in the press box along with John Erskine, meaning John Carlson will be the sixth defenseman (#74 is out with an injury right now).

After the game, Corey Masisak (former Washington Times Caps beat writer), tweeted a quote that was given to him by the Columbus Blue Jackets beat reporter (Aaron Portzline) from Blue Jackets forward (and former Flyer) RJ Umberger about the Caps. Here is the full quote, courtesy of Portzline’s blog post:

“I don’t think any team in the West would be overmatched by them,” Umberger said. “They play the wrong way. They want to be moving all the time. They float around in their zone, looking for breakaways and odd-man rushes. A good defensive team is going to beat them (in the playoffs). If you eliminate your turnovers and keep them off the power play, they’re going to get frustrated because they’re in their zone a lot.”

My first reaction to this is: SOUR GRAPES from an Ex-Philadelphia Flyer who just lost a game. Secondly, I find it hard to take serious comments from a guy who bases his thinking off of a sample size of two games, especially when talking about a team that has 114 points with four games to go. That same Caps squad he criticizes is 10-5-3 against the Western Conference this season (although some writers will twist that into a statement like “the Caps are only 10-8 against the West”).  If Umberger wanted to criticize the Caps play on Saturday alone, and not the overall body of work, he had a point because clearly Washington took their foot off of the gas against a cellar dwellar team after it was 3-0. But to rip them the way he did is bordering on ludicrous.

By the way, in contrast to Umberger’s outburst, John Keeley (On Frozen Blog) and I chatted with former Caps coach Bryan Murray after his Ottawa Senators beat Washington 5-4 in overtime on Tuesday. The first thing out of Murray’s mouth about the 2009-10 Caps was “that is a great team you have here.” Personally I will take Murray’s analysis over that of Umberger any day of the week.

Washington’s four remaining games include two at home against Boston (Monday & next Sunday), one at the Verizon Center against the Thrashers (Friday), and Tuesday night’s road tilt in Pittsburgh. Tonight’s performance was not solid, they were outshot 27-16 the last two periods, but the Caps still managed to get the job done. Overall, I am sure Boudreau wants to tighten things up for the post season. Towards that end, I will leave you with more contents from a text on the Caps I received from Button today.

“The Caps have goaltending good enough to win. The determining factor for me will be the team’s approach to playing. If they want to play a game of exchanging scoring chances it won’t matter who their goaltender is because they won’t win with that style. The way they played versus Atlanta is a recipe for success. Don’t forget, the Penguins won last year because of a commitment to a complete game and that has to be the focus for the Caps, in my opinion.”

It is hard to argue with Button’s logic, this team has two good goalies right now, not to mention Laich pointed out to me back on Labor Day that the Pens won the Cup because they stuck to their system. If Washington plays its system the way Boudreau wants them to do, they have the talent to win it all this year, despite what a center from a 14th place team in the Western Conference might have to say.

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Capitals Lose in OT to Senators, 5-4

Posted on 31 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

If you attended Tuesday night’s tilt between the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators at the Verizon Center then you certainly were entertained. Unfortunately for those fans that came to “Rock The Red” the Caps once again struggled in the first period to fall behind, 3-1, then rallied to take a brief 4-3 third period lead, before losing in overtime to the Sens, 5-4. Jason Spezza pumped in two goals and added two assists while Daniel Alfredsson notched three assists to pace an Ottawa power play that scored three times in just four attempts. The loss drops the Caps overall record to 49-15-12 (110 points) and their magic number for clinching the President’s Trophy is seven points. Any combination of Capitals points gained and San Jose Sharks points missed out on will give the Washington franchise it’s first ever regular season title.

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, stats, and analysis of a game that had everyone on the edge of their seats on numerous occassions:

You’ve often heard me quote Caps great Rod Langway who said “Everything starts with the goaltender on out.” Well tonight that is where the failing began. Jose Theodore (26 saves) gave up a very soft first goal on a backhander on the first Ottawa shot to Peter Regin and he allowed three others that he would probably like to have back. Theo, who was red hot up until Sunday’s loss to Calgary, struggled in the first period and he particularly had a hard time holding his posts, which resulted in several short side tallies for Ottawa. All five of the Senators goals came from near the goal line and the only one I can’t fault him on was Spezza’s first goal that was a tap in of a Matt Cullen power play point blast. On that lamp lighter Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn shoved Mike “Mr. Carrie Underwood” Fisher into his net minder giving #60 no chance to make a play. Theo did recover from a poor first period and make some decent stops but at the end of the game, when Washington needed the big saves to win it, he could not deliver.

“Well, I don’t like five goals against. This has happened twice in a row and we gotta get better. There were four pretty iffy goals out there tonight,” added Boudreau on Theodore, who despite the loss is now 17-0-3 in his last 20 starts. But let’s be honest here, these last two games have to give Capitals fans major cause for concern because it was around this time last season that Theodore began some uneven play that eventually led to him being yanked after game one of the Rangers series.

Special teams were a disaster on Tuesday night as the Sens went 3 for 4 with the man advantage while the Caps were only 1 for 5. Washington’s power play was just plain bad. Without Brooks Laich (face) playing there was a lack of net presence and the Caps players seemed intent on forcing the puck to Alexander Ovechkin for point blasts. The problem with that plan was Ottawa knew it and as a result they did a super job of clogging the firing lanes. The Senators blocked 28 shots total to just 8 for Washington. That, my friends, is the stat of the night. On the PK, the goaltending was bad as Theo struggled with his positioning when the puck was down low all evening. In addition, his defenseman looked lost at times. I am especially tired of seeing Capitals defenders leave their feet to try and block a pass only to watch them deflect it into their own net. Message to Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz:  Falling to the ice will nine times out of ten likely leave you in a vulnerable position where bad things are probably going to happen. It is just like in basketball where leaving your feet to try and block a shot will typically give the offensive player an advantage.

Washington only had 21 shots on the evening and just four in the opening stanza plus only six in the third period. That is not enough and the highly skilled Caps lineup was a major victim of overpassing. Yes, the Senators did a good job of blocking shots but the Capitals did not do enough of shooting and driving to the cage for rebounds, instead often opting to be cute or thread the needle on a pass. Senators goalie Brian Elliott (17 saves) has had a good season but he is not one of the top goalies in the NHL. Sometimes I think the Caps forwards just out think themselves.

“I think it was more their playing good defensively than us playing bad offensively in the first period. We were a little cute once we got inside their zone. They blocked an awful lot of shots tonight. They really protected their goalie well, especially in the first period,” added Boudreau on what he saw from his club, especially in the first period.

 

Speaking of first periods, the Caps have now been outscored 9-1 in those during this three game losing streak (0-1-2) and for the second straight contest they were outshot 13-4 in the opening frame.

 

“I don’t know, actually. We played great in the second and third. It’s hard to say. Maybe we’re not ready for the first period. But we have to because I remember last year in the playoffs we weren’t ready the first two games. We have to get ready now. Maybe play a good 60 minutes. We haven’t played a good 60 minutes for a while,” said Caps forward Nicklas Backstrom, who was whistled for tripping with 32 seconds left in overtime, and that allowed the Senators to score the game winner on Alexei Kovalev’s deflection.

 

On the four penalties, three were in the offensive zone and are unacceptable (Backstrom’s trip, Mathieu Perreault’s interference, and Alexander Semin’s trip). The Caps need to clean that up before the post season.

 

The good news is despite all of the bad listed above it took OT for Ottawa to defeat the Caps. The Senators have now won three times versus Washington this season (Caps were 1-1-2 in the season series), although two have been in overtime. When the game was five on five the Capitals carried the play and showed off their skill. They made several mistakes, as mentioned previously, but they also didn’t get the bounces. Perreault, except for his penalty that allowed Ottawa to tie the game, drew two penalties and scored a super goal on a backhander off of a nice Eric Fehr feed. Semin had two tallies, his 36th and 37th of the season, and is now one goal shy of his career high (38 in 2006-07). He has goals in five of the last seven games, and points in five straight games (five goals, one assist). In three games against the Senators this season, Semin leads all Caps players with five goals. He now has 11 multiple-goal games on the season. Mike Green had another solid game and his 18th goal this year gives him 72 points (18 goals, 54 assists) on the season, leaving him one point shy of his career high (73 in 2008-09). Green leads all NHL defensemen in points, assists and goals.

 

The Caps struggled down the stretch last season causing some to try and link a period that left Washington ill-prepared for the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs with what is currently happening in 2010, as the post season approaches. Boudreau was quick to discount drawing any comparisons, simply based on the level of play combined with the situation facing Washington’s opponents.

 

“The difference between last year and this year, is last year we were playing teams that were out of the playoffs, so our level of play came way down. I think the teams we’re playing are fighting for something. That was a hard-fought game. That wasn’t a go-through-the-motions type game. Let’s get the season over with. You had two teams wanting it. I don’t think our level of play will be dropping, like it was last year,” finished Boudreau.

 

Notes: Defenseman John Carlson left the game in the second period after a collision in his own zone and only logged 9:06 of ice time, forcing the Caps to go with just five defenseman for the second half of the contest. I saw Carlson after the game and he didn’t appear to be in pain but he is likely day to day with an upper body injury…The Caps fell to 10-12 in games decided by overtime this season. Nine of Washington’s last 17 games and seven of the last 11 have gone to overtime. From Dec. 12 to Feb. 5 only one of 26 Capitals games went to overtime…Blame Canada? The Capitals finished the season 6-5-4 (.533) against Canadian teams this season. They are 43-10-8 against U.S.-based teams this season. (.770)…Laich, Brendan Morrison (lower body), Scott Walker (knee) and Boyd Gordon (back) all missed the game due to injury..John Erskine and Tyler Sloan were the defensive scratches…Next up for the Caps are the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night at the VC.

 

Note: The Caps and the NHL recently released a DVD collection of the Capitals 10 greatest games. Unfortunately, due to lack of video archives, the list is heavily weighted towards more recent games. As a result of this, On Frozen Blog’s (www.onfrozenblog.com) John Keeley and I, just this week, have compiled a list of what we think the 10 greatest games in Caps history are based on a combination of importance and excitement. We will bring that to you via this blog and OFB, likely on Thursday. John and I also had a chance to do a dual interview with former Capitals Coach and now Senators GM, Bryan Murray, after the contest to get his take on the five games from OUR list that were from his coaching era. So please check back over the next couple of days for that story as well as video and quotes from our session with one of the classiest and most accomodating people in the NHL. 

 

 

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Awful Opening Period Dooms Caps in Loss to Flames

Posted on 28 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It was a bad Sunday for the Washington Capitals. First, they failed to show up in the first 20 minutes against the Calgary Flames and trailed 4-0 at the first intermission, before eventually losing, 5-3. Second, both of their goalies, who had been near the top of their games recently (especially Jose Theodore) decided to give up a combined three soft goals. Third, after Alexander Ovechkin scored his 46th goal of the season in the second period to reclaim first place in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy, Sidney Crosby tallied twice in his contest versus Toronto to take the lead back at 47. Finally, the loss didn’t allow them to widen their seven point lead on the San Jose Sharks in the battle for the President’s Trophy with just seven games remaining. San Jose, if they defeat the Avalanche on Sunday night, would cut the deficit to just five points, although the Capitals have a game in hand (Colorado leads, 2-1, late in the second period at the time of this post). [UPDATE: Sharks win over Avs, 4-3. Caps lead is only 5 points over San Jose now].

Washington dropped only its fifth game in regulation at home all season (27-5-4) and their overall record is now 49-15-11. The only sliver of good news was the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the New Jersey Devils allowing the Caps to clinch their first ever Eastern Conference regular season title (but that race had been over, unofficially, for weeks).

Let’s get right to the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a pretty awful performance by the Caps:

The Calgary Flames came into this contest with their backs against the wall after losing at the Islanders on Thursday (3-2) and gettting shutout in Boston (5-0) on Saturday. In between the 2nd and 3rd periods of the loss to the Bruins, Calgary GM Darryl Sutter went on television and blasted his top forwards and top two defenseman for a lack of effort. So given that the Flames were six points out of a playoff spot with only 7 contests remaining, which means they were a serious longshot to make the postseason already, one would figure that Calgary would either come out with guns ablazing or they would go through the motions. In addition, the Flames are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league (29th) so when they get behind they often do not come back to win.

Well instead of the Caps taking advantage of a team that was down and nearly out, they didn’t show up, as if they forgot to set their clocks ahead. But the time change was two weekends ago so Washington couldn’t use that excuse like they could have in Chicago on March 14th. Calgary came out strong by throwing the body around and finishing nearly every check. The Caps looked disinterested and out of it but then what really gave the Flames some serious life was Theodore. #60 badly misplayed a clear, bad angled Rene Bourque shot and Ales Kotalik, who is softer than butter and is flat out terrible, was allowed to skate right in and put the biscuit by Theo for an awful goal. Then after Mike Green was called for closing his hand on the puck Theodore gave up a rebound and that allowed defenseman Ian White to bank the puck off of him into the net from a very bad angle. Just over two minutes later Jay Bouwmeester, who has stunk for Calgary this season and is a big reason why they will be golfing come April 12th, beat Dave Steckel down the slot and he put home a Bourque pass for just his third tally in 2009-10. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau gave Theodore the hook at that point and brought on Semyon Varlamov, but he allowed a late goal by Nicklas Hagman with traffic in front of him (Jeff Schultz did not move his man out) and it was 4-0 after one. Calgary also outshot Washington, 13-4, in that period.

To be blunt and borrow from Dr. Seuss, I can sum up the Capitals first period in three words: Stink. Stank. Stunk.

“We didn’t have any energy – it looked like we were skating in quicksand. Their [the Flames] sense of urgency was so tremendous,” said Boudreau on his teams first period debacle.

 

Last week I wrote that if Theodore continues to play the way he had been playing than the Caps had a super chance to win the Stanley Cup. Well if #60 plays like he did Sunday a time or two more than he may end up being bench door opener again in the playoffs. Boudreau talked about what he saw from his starting goaltender, why he gave him the hook, and what his plan is going forward.

 

“I just thought he was fighting the puck – every shot was fighting the puck. I didn’t think he had it today. He will be back in on Tuesday. He has played an awful lot of good games that have kept us in during the first period. We just weren’t ready to play in the first period. It was indicative of four shots on goal that you are not ready,” said the head coach on his team and Theodore, who managed to not get the loss today because Varlamov gave up the 4th goal, which was deemed to be the game loser since Washington tallied three times.

 

As for Varlamov, he wasn’t too good either and he cannot allow Bourque’s backhander to hit his stick and carry over him and into the net in the second period after Washington cut the lead to 4-1. Before Varly let in the softy, Joe Corvo, who was pinching down on the play, was dumped with no call in the offensive zone slot and then Nicklas Backstrom, who was covering #77′s point, did an “Ole” defensive move on #17 that allowed him to cut right into the slot all alone on that play. So you can chalk a portion of that goal up to the zebras and a little bit more to #19.

 

Steckel would pay back Bouwmeester, who the Flames are stuck with overpaying at $6.6M per season for four more years, late in the second period by knocking home a Quintin Laing pass by Mikka Kiprusoff (31 saves) to make it 5-2.

 

In the third period the Capitals fired 20 shots on Kipper but only Mathieu Perreault, who was on emergency recall with Brendan Morrison (lower body), Brooks Laich (face), Boyd Gordon (back), and Scott Walker (knee) out with injuries, tallied nicely stuffing home an Ovechkin power play point blast to make it 5-3 with 15 minutes to go. From there the Caps turned up the heat and fired alot of shots towards Kiprusoff, hitting him on some and missing high and wide on numerous others. On paper it looks like with all of those shots that Washington “stormed the castle” but, in reality, most of those came from the perimeter and there was a lack of traffic in front of Kipper. To be honest, the comeback reminded me of a few of the games we saw in the second half of 2008-09 (the near comeback appeared better on paper than it really was). Clearly the team missed Laich’s ability to go to the net and his grit. Still with guys like Mike Knuble, Jason Chimera, and Eric Fehr in the line-up the Capitals should have had more pressure directly in front of the Flames netminder. Boudreau basically confirmed that the 3rd period seemed to be strong but may have been a bit of a mirage.

 

“It is easy to look like you are coming back when the other team is sitting with a three-goal lead … We didn’t have that step. I don’t know how to describe it … We were on four cylinders instead of eight today,” finished Boudreau.

 

We’ll give Theodore and the team a pass today but this type of performance is unacceptable and if we see this type of effort again then there is cause for concern. Collectively, the Caps players afterwards talked like this game was just a blip on the radar.

 

“In the course of many games it’s {a loss or two} going to happen. They had some funny goals. They got some bounces. You just put that one behind you and live for the next day. It’s no indication of anything. It’s just one of those games you’re probably due for. It’s probably good for us at this point,” said Knuble.

 

“We didn’t start the game well. We knew they would come at us hard. Still, we didn’t give up. In the second and third period we had more chances. It was kind of a tough situation. They’re a team that needs points for the playoffs. We knew they’d come at us hard and we were not ready,” added the Great #8, who with the two points he gained on Sunday now has 100 on the season.

 

“We talked about it before the game. We’ve had slow starts before. That was the difference tonight. Otherwise, we would’ve been right there in the running. We shot ourselves in the foot in the first period. [Day games are] different {from} our usual routine. Usually we have a skate in the morning and we’re able to get some rest and come back. That’s no excuse. We need to be ready and focused and for whatever reason, we weren’t. We’ve been in this position before where we’ve been a desperate hockey team. Three years ago when we needed to make a push and win every game to get into the playoffs we were in the same situation that they’re in. When you play desperate hockey, you’re usually successful,” finished Green, who along with partner Schultz were the only Caps defenseman who were not minus players for the day (both even).

 

Notes: Calgary captain Jarome Iginla (1 assist) took exception to a hit from behind from Backstrom in the third period…Kotalik was +3 on the day, which is indicative of how bad the Caps were on Sunday…In my 30 thoughts blog on Saturday I warned Caps fans about Bourque (1 goal, 2 assists) and he was +3 as well, that guy is good…the Flames only had 9 shots after the first period (22 total for the contest)…the face-off battle was knotted at 33 all…next up for the Caps are the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night at the Verizon Center.

 

 

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Theodore Leads Caps Over Pens in Shootout

Posted on 25 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

If Jose Theodore continues to play like he did on Wednesday night, then the Washington Capitals and their fans have a date in June with an engraver. #60 continued his dominant run with his 19th straight contest without a regulation loss (17-0-2) as the Caps rallied from a 2-1 third period deficit to knock off the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins for the third straight time this season, 4-3, in the shootout. Theodore made 39 saves and after giving up goals to Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby in the gimmick, he shut the door as Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and then Mike Knuble beat Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury like a rented mule to send the crowd at the Verizon Center out into the streets of DC to celebrate. The Capitals victory takes their overall record to an astounding 49-14-10 (108 points) and their magic number for clinching the Eastern Conference is just three points. In the race for the President’s Trophy they now have a nine point lead over Chicago, who has a game in hand, and a 10 point lead over San Jose. For the season, Washington is now an incredible 27-4-4 on home ice.

Here are the highlights, stats, quotes, and analysis from a contest that definitely felt like a playoff game:

Theodore was brilliant tonight, especially in the first period when he made 17 saves, many of them on quality chances. His pad save on Ruslan Fedotenko was just one of the many outstanding stops he would make on Wednesday. The Laval, Quebec native has not lost in regulation to the Penguins since Jan. 3, 2006, when Theodore played for the Montreal Canadiens. Theodore was 3-0-1 last season against Pittsburgh and is 3-0 in 2009-10. In the words of the great Joe McGrath, Theo “Owwwwwnnnnnssss” the Pens.

“[Jose Theodore]‘s playing great. There are three goals against and they had 42 shots, eerily similar of a playoff game that we would have played them last year where they would out shoot us. I thought below the circles we didn’t clear out well enough, but [the Penguins] were a determined gritty bunch tonight. That’s why they were the Stanley Cup Champions,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on the play of his goalie, his team, and Pittsburgh.

Mike Green was outstanding tonight. #52 (1 assist) fired a blast off of a super Eric Belanger feed that set up Eric Fehr’s 21st goal of the season to give the Caps the lead in the 3rd period and he logged 25:02 of ice time, the most of any Capital. Green is super offensively and he now has 17 goals and 54 assists in 68 games to lead the NHL in scoring by defenseman. He is incredibly talented at bringing the puck up the ice, “a one man breakout” as Boudreau calls him, and he is good defensively. “Game over Greenie” was +3 on Wednesday and is now +33 for the season so for anyone who thinks the guy is a liability in his own end, I suggest you print this blog, then fill it with more of the stuff you’ve been smoking, light it, and take some more tokes.

Washington’s penalty killing unit was tested heavily because they were whistled for five infractions and all were good calls (more on the referees coming up). Pittsburgh’s only tally with the man advantage came on a super play by Crosby, who set Bill Guerin up for a layup. But the Caps would break even on the night on Pens power play chances as Semin scored a highlight reel shorthanded goal skating around Letang like he was an orange road cone and then abusing Fleury with a wicked top shelf blast. It was a Harlem Globetrotters type of play and the video of that one should be laid down with “Sweet Georgia Brown” playing in the background as audio. Boudreau said afterwards that he has seen a recent trend upwards in the performance of his 25th ranked penalty killing unit.

“I thought we killed penalties great tonight. We made one mistake and we end up with the wrong guy out there [Crosby] on a two on one. The zone time, over the last 7 games, has been cut down very significantly and that is really important. It’s a good sign,” added the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner.

Now to the officials, Paul Devorski and Ian Walsh, if you want to call them that (I prefer zebras, especially tonight). I cannot argue with any of the calls made against the Capitals, HOWEVER, if they are going to whistle those infractions on Washington then they need to be consistent and call the same thing on the Penguins. These two “clowns” did not do that in this one, fueling fire to the anti-Caps bias that many who Rock the Red feel exists. If Jeff Schultz is going to be called for holding Crosby then the hold/trip on Ovechkin in overtime needs to be whistled as well (there was also a Penguin trip and cross check on the Great #8 that was overlooked earlier in the contest). In addition to that inconsistency, right before Semin was called for high sticking Mike Rupp, #17 clearly hooks him, yet the result is a Pens power play. Then after Tomas Fleischmann tripped Letang in the neutral zone, #58 blatantly interferes and cross checks Fehr before the whistle is blown yet once again only the Capital is sent to the sin bin. There is NO WAY the power plays in this contest should have been 5 to 1 in favor of Pittsburgh! Boudreau was not going to criticize the zebras, because it would cost him money via a fine, however he did not like that his club took five penalties.

“Five penalties is too many. That’s 10 minutes in the box. That means the lines get all skewed and you’re sitting guys that you don’t want to sit for 10 minutes. That’s two games in a row and its stick penalties so that’s something we have to cure,” finished Boudreau on the lack of discipline his team showed overall and with their twigs.

There is no doubt Ovechkin, who is very physical and plays on the edge, is an intimidator. Even the great #87 is no match for the power and force of Alexander the Great and in two instances on Wednesday #8 flat out abused Sid the Kid in the corner. In the first instance Crosby just bailed out and let Ovie have the puck and in the third period the two time defending Hart Trophy winner easily took the Canadian Olympic hero off the puck with a strong shoulder check.

Other guys who stood out for Washington were rookie defenseman John Carlson (17:39), who rang the post at least once in pursuit of his first NHL goal and his partner Shaone Morrisonn, who was physical and had nine hits. Carlson, who is only 20 years old and was drafted late in round one of the 2008 NHL Entry draft, is making a strong case to stay up with the big club for the playoffs. I had a chance to chat with #74 after Wednesday’s tilt:

WNST: Does Wilkes-Barre (Pens AHL team) bring their forwards down on the forecheck the same way Pittsburgh does?

Carlson: Yeah, I think that both of our teams, like Washington and Hershey and Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh, both of their systems are pretty much identical so its a little bit more comfortable for me knowing what is going to happen in little situations like that and it is one less thing you have to worry about. So it was a fun game.

WNST: Pittsburgh’s forecheck seems different than some of the tactics of other recent Caps opponents who tend to back off of an aggressive forecheck and seek to trap them in the neutral zone. Is that the case?

Carlson: Yeah, it just that every different coach has his different style and we got great players here and everyone tries to shut them down in different ways.

WNST: What is it like on the bench in these Caps-Pens games?

Carlson: It’s crazy, it’s always a crazy environment here [Verizon Center] but with Pittsburgh coming in it is a little bit more of a rivalry and you can definitely tell in the intensity of the fans and just the overall feel of the building.

Notes: The faceoff battle was tied at 28 a piece….the Pens played without Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Sergei Gonchar (Ovechkin flu) while the Caps were without Brooks Laich (face), Boyd Gordon (back), and Scott Walker (knee). Healthy scratches were John Erskine and Tyler Sloan for Washington and Eric Godard for the Penguins. Next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night at 7pm from Raleigh. The Canes, who have played very well in the second half of the season, seem to finally be figuring out that all their good play is doing is ruining their chance at the top overall pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Carolina, at one point, was battling Edmonton for the worst record in the league but now currently resides in 27th place. The bottom three clubs have a shot at the top pick in the draft (Edmonton, the Islanders, and Toronto are the current bottom three but the Leafs pick is held by the Boston Bruins).

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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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