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Caps Crush Panthers Without Ovechkin, 7-3

Posted on 16 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals are now 7-2 without Alexander Ovechkin in the lineup this season, but before anyone gets too excited about that statistic, please remember that four of those wins have come against the Florida Panthers (and the two losses were against the New Jersey Devils while the Caps were 1-0-1 against NJ with Ovie). The Caps received a super game from the Jason Chimera-Brendan Morrison-Eric Fehr line (they scored three times) and also got two tallies from Brooks Laich to bury the Cats, 7-3. The victory allowed the Capitals to sweep the season series (6-0) from Florida and they are now 16-3 against Southeast Division foes in 2009-10. Even more impressive is their overall record of 47-14-9 (103 points) and Washington’s magic number to clinch the Eastern Conference is just 11 points (h/t Nate Ewell). In addition, when San Jose loses in Dallas on Tuesday, and they are down 7-2 in the 3rd period as I post this blog, the Caps will have a seven point lead in the race for the President’s Trophy with the Sharks having one game in hand.

Here is the analysis from a game that really wasn’t much of one after Washington broke things open in the middle stanza:

Perhaps the best thing about Washington’s offensive performance against Florida was the way in which they stormed the crease and tallied on hard working goals from in front. The Caps went 2 for 4 on the power play and both lamp lighters, by Alexander Semin and Laich, were on rebounds. Washington fired 39 shots on net, many of them from in close, which is a good sign for the post season. This team is much more offensively potent than the one that tended to primarily rely on pretty passing goals last year.

Good to see Morrison (1 goal, 2 assists) have a huge night as he has struggled a bit since the midway point. His tally was his first since January 26th. #9′s line was super fast all evening and Chimera and Fehr were stong in transition and on the boards in the offensive zone. It will be interesting to see if this combo stays together and if so, will they be able to keep that type of play up against a stronger opponent?

Washington’s penalty kill held the Panthers off the board on all three of its attempts, which is encouraging, but you have to factor in that the Panters are 29th in the NHL with the manpower advantage.

Jose Theodore (34 saves) received his second straight start and was really good in goal, especially in the first period when Florida fired 13 shots on net. The Caps still need to tighten up in the defensive zone before the playoffs but if they continue to get this type of goaltending from #60 they will be very hard to beat come April and beyond.

At the other end, Tomas Vokoun was not very good but he had grounds to sue for lack of support from his defense. #29, who surprisingly was not moved at the trade deadline, was yanked after allowing 5 goals on 21 shots. He was replaced by Scott Clemmensen, who gave up two goals on 18 shots, but if the Caps hit the net a little better in the last 20 minutes his numbers would have rivaled those of Vokoun.

Nicklas Backstrom had another strong game notching a goal and an assist plus he doled out 4 hits in just over 18 minutes of action. #19 was only 4-6 on face-offs though.

About the worst news of the night was that penalty killing specialist Boyd Gordon re-injured his back (h/t Tarik El-Bashir) when he was tripped by Shawn Matthias in the first period (wait, an injury on a hockey play, does that mean we are going to see another NHL suspension??!!). This is bad news for the Caps and Gordo, who told me during the Olympic break that he was finally feeling good again healthwise beginning shortly after the New Year (which was right before Washington went on that 14 game winning streak).

Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau scratched Tom Poti and John Erskine on defense while Dave Steckel and Scott Walker were the forwards who sat with the suspended Ovechkin. Clearly Boudreau picked the right contest to get Quintin Laing and Tyler Sloan some much needed game action.

Basically, this one was a mismatch pretty quickly in a contest that used to be tight between these two teams (think Florida misses former defenseman Jay Bouwmeester?). Next up for the Capitals are the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday in Raleigh. Ovechkin will sit out the 2nd game of his suspension and will return on Saturday night in Tampa. Speaking of the Great #8, here is his comments on what happened in Chicago and the subsequent action taken by the league:

“I am very sorry that Brian was injured and I hope he is able to return to his team soon. NHL hockey is a physical game. We all play hard every time we are on the ice and have battles each shift in every game we play so we can do our jobs and win. As players we must accept responsibility for our actions and I am no different but I did not intend to injure Brian and that is why I was disappointed with the NHL’s decision yesterday. Every time I have the honor to play for my team, I will continue to do what I have done since I was taught to play. I will play hard, play with passion and play with respect for my teammates, opponents and fans. I look forward to returning to my team and doing everything I can to be the best player I can be.”

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Fleischmann Wins it in OT for Caps, 4-3

Posted on 10 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

If you attended Wednesday night’s Caps-Carolina game at the Verizon Center you definitely got your money’s worth witnessing this one. The Capitals and the Canes, who are two of the NHL’s hottest teams right now despite Carolina’s 13th position in the Eastern Conference standings, put on an exciting end-to-end brand of hockey with super goaltending and it took Tomas Fleischmann’s one timer (19th goal of the season) in OT off of a great pass by Eric Belanger to allow Washington to prevail, 4-3. Jose Theodore made 29 saves and stopped a penalty shot by Brandon Sutter and at least two near breakaways by Ray Whitney in another strong performance that continues to solidify his hold as the #1 goaltender for Washington. Manny Legace was really good in net for Carolina making 35 saves despite taking the loss.

The victory pushes the Capitals to 99 points (45-13-9) with 15 games to go in the regular season. They have a 15 point lead on second place Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference (the Pens have a game in hand) and in the race for the President’s Trophy they lead second place San Jose by six points (the Sharks have two games in hand).

Here are the highlights, analysis, and quotes from the victory that puts the Caps just a game away from potentially going over the century mark in points at the earliest point in a season in franchise history:

You might find this surprising, but one of the best players on the ice tonight did not score a point, was even for the game and was not on for any goals against either. This Capital had seven hits, logged 18:59 of ice time (including 4:55 on the penalty kill – 2nd most on the club), and blocked two shots. His defensive partner, John Carlson, had an assist on the Caps first goal by Alexander Semin but #74 and this player, according to the official scorers, changed before #28 buried the puck, which prevented them from getting a plus. In addition this defenseman did a super job of keeping the shooting lanes open for Theodore and he tied up opposing players sticks or bodies in front to deny the Canes from scoring all evening. He also did not take a single penalty. It was one of the best games I have seen this guy play all year so congrats Shaone Morrisonn for a very good performance! I’m pretty sure the coaches will recognize it and if you continue to play like that on a consistent basis the Caps are going to have a really good chance of winning Lord Stanley. So Kudos #26.

As for the rest of the d-men, Mike Green obviously was the most noticeable scoring two power play goals but he tripped Sutter to give the Cane a penalty shot and he also made a terrible giveaway that allowed Chad Larose to set up Tuomo Ruutu for the goal that knotted this one at two goals apiece in period two. #52, who was on the ice with partner Jeff Schultz for two of the three Carolina goals, led Washington in ice time logging 26:22 but was -1. #55 did not have one of his better games as he was slow to the puck on the play that eventually led to Green’s d-zone blunder and he screened Theodore on the Hurricanes third goal (power play tally). Joe Corvo and Tom Poti were okay as a pair on Wednesday with my biggest problem being that they were the duo that allowed Whitney to break in the clear on #60 a couple of times.

“He had two goals and a beautiful assist, but the assist was to the other team. His idea was right, but he was just being too casual and trying to finesse the puck in there. Everything that is passed has to be a hard pass. It has to be, it’s the only way it works,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, who was clearly critical of #52′s brutal giveaway.

Up front, Semin (goal, +1, 5 shots on net) continues to own Carolina and he has three goals in three contests played against them this season, and 22 goals in 27 career games. #28 created a lot of opportunities with Brendan Morrison and Fleischmann. Morrison, who struggled against Tampa last Thursday was much better tonight and if he could just finish on some of his opportunities his season could end up being more like what we saw from him in the first 35 games. Belanger (1 assist, +1) and Brooks Laich (1 assist in 18:58) also had solid evenings. Alexander Ovechkin had an assist in 21:23 but his timing with Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Knuble was slightly off and all were minus players on the night (Knuble was -2). However, since the Great #8 donned the “C” the Caps are a staggering 21-2-3.

Special teams played a big role in this one and Washington’s much maligned penalty killing allowed another goal but was better going 4 for 5. The team was much more aggressive on the puck and didn’t allow the Canes to get set up very often. The Caps power play was a difference maker going 2 for 4 with the only blemish being the trip by #52 that resulted in a penalty shot. The Capitals are now 13-2-2 on the season when they score two or more power-play goals.

“[The] power play was very effective tonight and our p-kill [penalty kill] I felt was a lot better. We gave up a goal, but they made a good play and things are going to happen, we just need to make an adjustment. But I felt that our penalty kill was the best penalty kill since I came over here,” said Belanger.

With 15 fowards and 8 defenseman Boudreau continues to rotate players in and out with Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera joining the frequently scratched Quintin Laing up front while John Erskine joined the other usual defensive scratch, Tyler Sloan, in the press box on Wednesday. Clearly it is a tough thing to do to keep moving guys in and out but in the long run this will pay off for the Caps in the playoffs by keeping guys more fresh and thus making them less likely to get injured.

“It is March 10th and the playoffs don’t start until about April 18th so I don’t want to set the lineup and then have someone get hurt and have to put someone in who has been out for 30 days…so I don’t like it, but as long as we can, we’ll keep rotating guys in and out of the line-up,” added Boudreau on his game to game logic on who plays and who sits.

The Capitals have scored first in each of their five games after the Olympic break and are now 30-6-5 on the year when they are the initial ones to light the lamp. Next up for the Caps are the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night at the Verizon Center. The Caps will clinch their third straight Southeast Divsion title, a race that has pretty much been over since November, if the Atlanta Thrashers lose on Thursday or if the Caps pick up a point in their next tilt against the Bolts.

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Theodore and Caps Shutout Rangers, 2-0

Posted on 06 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It what was not a thing of beauty, except for Jose Theodore’s goaltending, as the Washington Capitals won their third straight game, 2-0, over the New York Rangers in front of the 46th straight sellout at the Verizon Center. Theodore, who was the easy choice as the game’s number one star, stopped 30 shots and his best save came after Washington defenseman Shaone Morrisonn made a giveaway to set up Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky all alone in front in period two with the Caps up 1-0. Theodore earned his first shutout of the season with the victory.

The win takes the Caps record to an amazing 44-13-8 (96 points) and with 17 contests remaining they should easily eclipse last season’s 108 points, which was the most in franchise history. The victory was also a Capitals club record 13th straight at home.

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

“I thought he was great. I thought he was by far our best player,” started Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on Theodore, “If they had scored at anytime that would have been a turning point and it would have given them energy. Any time they were putting pressure on us Jose would get it and he would stop it and he would not let a rebound go tonight and I think that is the key to his game and he is brimming with confidence. We hope he can keep it up and he gives us a lot of opitons in goal,” finished the head coach on his red hot goalie.

This was the first time in 24 games that the Caps did not score at least three goals (h/t @VogsCaps) and the first time since November 11th they didn’t tally in the third period at home (h/t @nateewell). I’m not surprised that this was the one where those runs were halted because Coach John Tortorella’s club is a pain to play against. New York was physical and content to play a dump the puck and chase type of contest which made it difficult for Washington to get their transition game going. Alex Auld (28 saves) was also pretty good in goal. I surmise that Tortorella was tired of seeing Alexander Ovechkin, who failed to score for the sixth straight game, light up his top net minder, King Henrik Lundqvist, so he went with the goalie they claimed off of waivers from Dallas last month and the decision nearly paid off.

The Caps power play was 1 for 4 on the night and the lone goal came at the completion of a rush with just two seconds left in a 1:45 five on three advantage (courtesy of some stupid Rangers penalties) . Defenseman Joe Corvo started the scoring sequence with a nice pass up the ice to Tomas Fleischmann at the Rangers blue line. Flash skated in, then sent a cross ice pass to the slot that Brooks Laich must have just missed because he did not get an assist on the play and the biscuit rolled far post to Eric Fehr, who roofed it for his 17th goal of the season. Washington, with a 2-0 lead, then received two power plays in the last five minutes and it seemed the focus was to get Ovechkin going because the team repeatedly sent the puck to the Great #8 for some point blasts. Auld, however, would deny Ovechkin, who now trails Sidney Crosby by two goals in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals in NHL). My biggest beef with the man advantage this evening was what happened near the end of Dubinsky’s minor with just over two minutes remaining in the game when the Caps nearly gave up a two on none rush, but luckily the Rangers went offside. With a 2-0 lead that late in the contest the Washington players need to be smarter because what occurred was a MAJOR brain cramp by the five guys on the ice, especially the forwards who should have been covering for Mike Green (who was the one who led the rush just prior to a New York stretch pass that nearly resulted in a golden Rangers scoring opportunity).

“We talked this morning about our power play, just trying to get a goal, specialty teams is what wins you playoff games and I thought we did that tonight,” said Fehr.

The Rangers were 0 for 2 on the man advantage so overall the Caps won the special teams battle on Saturday, as Fehr said the team was focusing on, but the power play has not been clicking this week.

Washington’s second goal was another “pretty Caps goal” thanks to a super Alexander Semin pass. Morrisonn took a Rangers clear at the red line and snapped a pass to Semin at the blue line. In one quick motion #28 fired a super cross ice laser to Laich, who deftly swung it in the slot to Eric Belanger and #18 fired it five hole on Auld for his first goal as a Capital. It is a good thing Semin was involved in that tally because up to that point in the game he was pretty much a no show.

I exchanged texts this week with NHL Network “On the Fly” analyst Craig Button about Washington’s trade deadline acquisitions and Craig thought the four trades by GM George McPhee were good depth moves. However, the man who drafted Jarome Iginla 11th overall for the Dallas Stars back in 1995 felt that “To be successful in the playoffs the team needs to dig in on details or they’ll be on the precipice.” Based on what Boudreau said after the win tonight the Capitals coach is thinking the same way.

“They’ve been focusing on it alot whether it be practice or watching video after the Olympic break on defense and talking about it. When you’ve got a lot of skilled guys it’s difficult to reign them in,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winning coach on the challenge he faces to get his club ready for playoff hockey.

With Ovechkin, Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom not putting up their usual offensive numbers since the Olympic break ended the Caps have been fortunate in the last two contests to get contributions from three of the players McPhee acquired on Wednesday. Belanger tallied tonight while Scott Walker had two goals on Thursday. To me the best acquisition of the bunch has been Corvo (1 assist on Saturday) because he is clearly a top four NHL defenseman and is a significant upgrade over the departed Brian Pothier. #77 logged 20:14 of ice time against the Rangers and most of that was paired with Tom Poti at even strength.

“I think this game I was a little bit more relaxed and just more aware of everything that was going on around me rather than being real nervous and kind of tight,” added Corvo on how he felt in his second game with Washington.

Boudreau now has 15 forwards and eight defenseman and he said he has 10 games to experiment with things before setting the line-up for the playoffs in the final seven contests. The head coach scratched Brendan Morrison, Boyd Gordon, John Erskine, Tyler Sloan, and Quintin Laing on Saturday. It was Morrison’s first missed game of the year but I am not surprised given how he has tailed off production wise and I thought he had a poor outing against the Lightning on Thursday. Gordon, however, has been playing super and I expect him back in on Monday. #15 was 12-2 on face-offs against Tampa and he is a very good penalty killer. I don’t know who Bruce will take out to get Gordo back in but my guess is it is one of Dave Steckel (9-3 on face-offs vs. New York), Matt Bradley (who was not happy about sitting vs. Tampa), or Walker. As for Erskine and Sloan, as long as rookie John Carlson (+1 in 14:15 of ice time) keeps playing the way he is going he is not coming out of the lineup. The 20 year old continues to improve on the back end and it is pretty scary to project how good #74 will eventually be when he physically matures.

Next up for Washington are the Dallas Stars on Monday night at 7pm at the Verizon Center. The game will be televised on Versus. There will be no Capitals practice on Sunday.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be on WNST 1570 Baltimore at 10:25am on Sunday with Section 410 host Eric Aaronson talking Capitals Hockey. You can listen live via WNST.NET

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Caps Knock Off Sabres, 3-1, on Wild Deadline Day

Posted on 04 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

On a wild NHL trade deadline day that saw Caps GM George McPhee make four separate deals, the Washington Capitals opened up their post Olympics break in Buffalo, a place the franchise has struggled in like no other. Making matters seemingly worse was that Washington was going to have to face the 2010 Olympic MVP, Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, in his first post-Olympics start in his own building. Miller (37 saves) was very good, as expected, but the Capitals were the better team on the night and broke a 1-1 tie on Mike Green’s goal off of a super Tomas Fleischmann feed just past the 10 minute mark of the third period. Then fourth line grinder and penalty killing specialist Boyd Gordon banked one off of the boards the length of the rink and into an empty net with 41 seconds remaining to seal a Capitals 3-1 victory.

The win pushes the Caps to 42-13-8 overall and restores their 13 point lead over the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference with 19 games remaining. Washington now owns a three point lead on the San Jose Sharks in the race for the President’s Trophy. Let’s start with the highlights, quotes, and analysis of this victory and then I’ll provide some quotes and analysis on the trades the Caps made today.

Washington started slowly in this one taking two minor penalties and getting outshot 7-3 in the opening 10 minutes. After that, the Capitals dominated territorially holding a 37-17 shots advantage over the last 50 minutes. Even though the score was 1-1 in the second period you could see that the Caps were winning almost every battle.

“I think the rustiness was we were shorthanded for four minutes and guys just needed to get their legs going. I told them that was our best game in 10 games..by far our best game defensively where we didn’t leave the goalie out to dry too many times,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau summarizing the victory.

Defensively the Caps were much more sound and another factor in the victory, I thought, was Washington’s superior conditioning and one can’t help but point to Boudreau’s practice regimen that started last Wednesday, February 24. The Caps could have won this one in bigger fashion, though, if not for some overpassing and an inability to convert on odd man rushes.

“Six good practices I thought and [our team] got back to the basics and [Buffalo] turned the puck over so many times in the neutral zone from our pressure that if we could have scored on our 2 on 1′s we would have had an easier game,” added Boudreau attributing the solid play to time spent at Kettler Ice Plex while noting the bad execution by his team in finishing off their potential scoring opportunities.

The best line on the ice for Washington was the Fleischmann, Eric Fehr, and Jason Chimera unit. They were each plus two on the evening and set up the only two markers that beat Miller. Flash, despite not getting an assist, made the play behind the Sabres net to set up Jeff Schultz for a point blast that was first deflected by Fehr and then tipped again by Chimera to open the scoring. On the game winner #14 carried the puck into the offensive zone on a nice rush then hit a streaking Green in the slot and the 2009 Norris Trophy finalist whipped it past Team USA’s superstar goaltender.

The Gordon-Dave Steckel-Matt Bradley line was also very good on Wednesday so it was nice to see #15 rewarded with an empty net marker.

“That whole line was really good tonight, evidentally with 15 forwards they don’t want to sit out, so they were showing that they want to play and they’re highly energetic and very smart defensively,” commented Boudreau on his fourth line and the threat of them losing ice time due to the trades made on Wednesday.

As for Alexander Ovechkin and his linemates, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Knuble, they had some chances but mostly did not convert due to overpassing. Ovechkin struggled all night to get shots off (he only had 4 on goal) as did fellow Team Russia comrade Alexander Semin (2 shots on goal). Boudreau had an explanation for the lack of production.

“[Ovechkin] looked a little tired, I don’t think it had anything to do with disappointment. I thought all of our Olympian guys looked tired and all our other guys gave us lots of energy,” added Boudreau, although Fleischmann could be considered the lone “Olympic” exception to that statement.

Finally, this game is not a win without another super effort by Jose Theodore in goal (23 saves). #60 made the big save when he had to and did not allow many rebounds. The only tally that went by him was the result of a defensive zone miscommunication between Brooks Laich and Green that caused the puck to pinball around and right onto Jochen Hecht’s stick in the slot.

The Caps will fly home on Wednesday night and take on the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Verizon Center on Thursday evening at 7pm. Three of the four players acquired on Wednesday (forwards Scott Walker and Eric Belanger plus defenseman Joe Corvo) should get in the line-up while defenseman Milan Jurcina is out with a sports hernia and likely won’t be ready for action until the playoffs.

In my blog on Tuesday night about the trade deadline and the Caps, I mentioned the holes the team seemed to have but also pointed out that Washington had great team chemistry that they did not want to disrupt. To address the weaknesses, it was noted that some of the team’s young players were likely off limits. Well, what GM George McPhee and his staff managed to do today was follow the plan that the GM had been preaching to the media all along:  Improve the club if they can but don’t allow it to subtract from being good next year. Based on the moves McPhee made today combined with what some other contenders did or did not do, Washington’s chances to win their first Stanley Cup have improved.

The Philadlephia Flyers, who were touted as being a top team in the East after acquiring Chris Pronger last summer, did not add a goalie and they will go with Michael Leighton in net, a guy the Capitals have rarely had trouble solving. In addition, the Flyers were in the running for Corvo but Washington beat them to the punch. The Devils already made their big splash before the Olympic break adding Ilya Kovalchuk and the Penguins tried to improve their squad with d-man Jordan Leopold and forward Alexei Ponikarovsky on Tuesday. Getting the players the Caps acquired it appears that they gained ground on their pursuers but the Washington GM said what those teams did was not a factor in how he and his staff operated on Wednesday.

“You look at a Kovalchuk, we have those kind of players, and you look at a Ponikarovsky and we have have four left wingers and who does he replace? Basically, what it comes down to is we look at the positions we want to sure up. It is hard to go over someone so you look to fill the holes you have. We wanted to add a top 4 D and add another center who is good on face-offs and has speed and can play both ends of the rink. We got both of those guys [in Corvo and Belanger] and then to add Walker and Juice was nice,” added McPhee on the transactions Washington made on Wednesday.

Addressing team chemistry and an in game incident that occurred between Chimera and Belanger earlier in the season when #25 was a Blue Jacket and the man who will wear #18 was with Minnesota, the Washington GM was confident the deals he made would not cause any locker room friction.

“It’s not a concern. In our business guys play hard against each other and often when they become teammates they are the first two guys to go to dinner together. It is a contact sport but people end up on the same team and they become teammates so I am not worried about [past Belanger-Chimera incident] and we moved one player off of our team so we kept our team basically intact and we have alot of good guys and a lot of committed people that want to win a Cup,” said the former Hobey Baker Award winner that goes to the nation’s top collegiate player.

As for each individual move, it is hard to not see the logic the GM had for making each deal and here is what he had to say about them, in the order they occurred:

Walker trade:

“Scott Walker is tough, tougher than me, and he is a guy that we can play up and down the line-up. We drafted him as a defenseman in Vancouver,” commented McPhee on the versatile Walker, who some hockey announcers compared to the Caps GM from a hard nosed while on the ice standpoint.

Belanger deal:

“We talked about [how loaded the Penguins are down the middle] a lot and we like his experience and ability to shut people down but he’s on pace for 18 goals this year and that’s fine. He can help us on our penalty killing and we just got another guy who is hard to play against,” added McPhee on a player Boudreau projects to be the team’s third line center.

Jurcina addition:

“He had success here in our system. We know Juice, I know Walker, and Bruce knows Belanger and Corvo so we know the personalities that we are getting.”

Corvo acquisition:

“Brian Pothier was a good guy and I want to thank him for everything he did for us but we thought Corvo would be a little bit better for us.”

One area where the Caps did not make a move was in goal, something many pundits, who don’t watch this team on a day to day basis like many of us locally do, were calling for Washington to upgrade.

“We are happy with our goaltending. We’ve got two young kids in Varly (Semyon Varlamov) and (Michal) Neuvirth and an experienced one in Theodore and (Braden) Holtby is playing alot. People asked alot about (the three young goaltenders) but they are untouchables, we were not moving those goalies,” McPhee said on what looks to be the best young goaltending trio in any NHL system.

The Capitals GM was not surprised that there were “no huge deals” made and he said draft choices were the asking price in many transactions. Washington gave up two second round picks plus sixth and seventh round markers, as well. The key for Washington was not losing any of the three goalies nor their top two defensemen prospects in Karl Alzner and John Carlson.

“These days it is hard to make trades and going in I didn’t sense any big trades happening. 2nd round picks were the currency of the day. We had an untouchable list and we didn’t give away any of those players.  I don’t think [giving up 4 picks] does hurt us, we’ve had a lot of picks recently and we have a lot of young talent in our system and I’m really pleased with the way we’ve been drafting. We’ve done well with the [Stefan] Della Rovere’s, the Cody Eakins, [Dmitri] Orlov, so we have a lot of kids coming,” commented McPhee on the importance of youth in the organization.

Today was definitely the day where moving the contracts for Michael Nylander and Chris Clark really paid off. After the trade deadline a team can carry as many players as they want as long as they stay under the salary cap. Washington now has 15 forwards, 8 defenseman plus Jurcina on IR and Alzner in Hershey, and three goalies (counting Neuvirth in Hershey as well). Prior to the lockout, when there was no salary cap, typically teams with a big budget could stockpile players for the post season. McPhee has now found a way to do this post lockout setting the Caps up to handle any injuries much better than they were able to react in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring.

“We’re real deep now, we have alot of players. Bruce and I talked about if we wanted to move people out, but we have the cap space to keep everybody..so let’s keep everybody and we did all of this with the playoffs in mind,” said McPhee on the logic in adding so much depth to the team, which will give Boudreau some minor headaches in trying to figure out which players to dress each night.

Overall this was a tremendous win for the Capitals on NHL deadline day. Not only did they get a top four defenseman and add depth to their lineup, they did not take on any players that have any more years on their contract. Each guy acquired is a free agent this summer, something McPhee said factored into the decision making process in trades.

“There was one guy [we looked at that was not a free agent this summer] but we just didn’t want to take on any term. We are a good team now and we will be in September so we didn’t want to take on any bad contracts and with respect to the cap we will be in good shape. That is why I am really happy today, we made our team better today and we are going to be really good again next September,” finished McPhee.

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Will the Caps Make Any Deals at the NHL Trade Deadline?

Posted on 02 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Well hockey fans, Wednesday, March 3rd at 3pm is the NHL trade deadline and after making no moves on that same day in 2008-09 the question is whether or not Capitals General Manager George McPhee will make any deals to bolster what, right now, looks like Washington’s best chance ever to win a Stanley Cup?

There is an argument that says that McPhee should not make any moves given that his team is sitting atop the entire NHL right now and they lead the Eastern Conference standings by a staggering 13 points with just 20 games to go. Those in that camp will point to the moves GMGM made last summer and in late December as being the key to putting this year’s club in better position than last spring to knock off the Pittsburgh Penguins and any other Eastern Conference rivals en route to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. Those acquisitions were the signings of net crashing forward Mike Knuble and center Brendan Morrison in July and then the addition of speedy and gritty left wing Jason Chimera in exchange for Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina shortly after Christmas. The FA signings replaced the departed (to the KHL) Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov while Chimera gives the Caps a solid left wing for the third line. Clearly these moves have improved this team as evidenced by the squad’s recent club record 14 game winning streak. The “stand pat” at the deadline crowd will also make the point that the Caps have another year of experience under their belt and overall have great team chemistry, so why mess with that?

On the other side of the coin, you have those who want the Caps to either bolster their goaltending, defense, forwards or all of the above. The “add a goalie” crowd will point to Semyon Varlamov’s injury issues and Jose Theodore’s poor outing in the first game of last April’s post season, after which he was yanked for Varly, as the reason to go after a veteran cage minder, such as Marty Turco or a Dwayne Rolosson. The “bring in a D” lot, which seems to be the loudest one out there, believes that the Caps defense is not physical enough in Washington’s own zone and can’t handle the two month grind necessary to take home Lord Stanley. Up front there are some that want another net crasher or a 2nd/3rd line center. You also have a contingent that believes that because of the physicality of the playoffs and the greater probability for injuries that GMGM needs to add some depth. In addition, some Caps fans are pointing out that other teams are making deals (the Penguins acquired defenseman Jordan Leopold from Florida for a 2nd round draft pick and apparently, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie and Darren Dreger, have made a deal to get left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky from Toronto in exchange for defenseman Martin Skoula and prospect Luca Caputi) so McPhee needs to keep up with the competition. I won’t go into more names about who might be available, because if you want to see some potential candidates, Caps senior writer Mike Vogel does a super job of chronicling this in his lastest Dump N’ Chase column on the team’s website.

Everyone in the debate can make valid points and there is no set recipe at the trade deadline that leads to a Stanley Cup victory and subsequent parade. In 1991-92, fresh off winning a Stanley Cup the previous June, Penguins GM Craig Patrick made a blockbuster deal in February, just before the deadline, moving forward Mark Recchi, defenseman Brian Benning, and a first round draft pick to Philadelphia for forward Rick Tocchet, defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, and goalie Ken Wregget. Had those moves not been made by Patrick then the Penguins likely fall to the Capitals in round one, instead of rallying from down three games to one and then going on to capture their second straight Cup. On the other hand, in 2007, Ducks GM Brian Burke, who had acquired defenseman Chris Pronger the previous summer, opted to only add fourth line veteran forward Brad May in exchange for minor league goalie Michael Wall on deadline day yet his team went on to win the Stanley Cup in dominating fashion.

So clearly whether McPhee makes a move or not is certainly not an indicator as to whether the Caps win the Stanley Cup or go out in the first round. The Caps GM is among the most secretive managers in the league and will rarely tip his hand. In his recent press conferences the GM has said that “we like our team now” and “we want to be good and have a chance to win the Cup for not just one year but for a long time.” Translation: I am not going to give up any of my top young players, such as Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth, Braden Holtby, Karl Alzner, or John Carlson, for a rental player for this season. It is hard to disagree with McPhee’s logic there. But is he just giving us his “poker face?” Who knows? However, I think that McPhee really believes in those statements and if he does make a trade, it won’t involve any of the aforementioned young Caps players, unless he gets one super deal.

Remember though, it takes two to tango in what appears to be a major sellers market, and despite all of the speculation from the media and fans, the only people who will really know what deals are on the table for discussion are McPhee and his scouts, who are hunkered down in the War Room at Kettler Ice Plex until 3pm on Wednesday.

Stay tuned…Wednesday should be a fun one for Caps and hockey fans!

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Caps Lose in Shootout to Blues, 4-3

Posted on 14 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals will head to the Olympic Break with a three game losing streak after falling to the St. Louis Blues, 4-3, in the shootout on Saturday night. All three losses have come on the road this week and two were after regulation time had ended. The good news is the Capitals have a 13 point lead in the Eastern Conference with 20 games remaining. The Caps overall record is now 41-13-8 (90 points) and they have a one point margin over the San Jose Sharks in the race for the President’s Trophy. Washington is next in action on Wednesday, March 3rd at Buffalo.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

On the Caps recent 14 game winning streak they were relatively healthy but now the injuries are adding up. Tom Poti (groin), Jason Chimera (groin), and John Erskine (upper body) were not available for this contest and things got worse when Blues stiff, Cam Janssen, elbowed Matt Bradley to the head along the boards at least a second after the puck was gone early in the first period. It was an absolute cheap shot and Janssen, who has yet to register a point this season, should get a big suspension. “The Professor” apparently is woozy but not seriously hurt so it looks like the Caps just lost him for the last 54 minutes in St. Louis. Guys like Janssen really don’t belong in the NHL but some GM’s and coaches still sign and play those type of guys. In addition, the officials, who were wildly inconsistent all evening, called Quintin Laing for an instigator and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when it appeared that he dropped his gloves almost at the same time as Janssen. The unsportsmanlike conduct call was a result of Laing wearing a visor (another rule that doesn’t really work well). Don Van Massenhoven likes to be visible and his partner Ian Walsh was just as bad in this contest. The quality of officiating and some of the ridiculous rules are the biggest problems in the NHL now.

“The rule has got to change. You’ve got to watch the game and know the game and make the right call. I don’t even think it was an instigator, quite frankly. In my opinion he turned around and the guy is ready to fight and you have to know that we’re their standing up for our guy but at the same time that was a pretty dirty hit. [The hit] was the instigation but the rules aren’t there yet so you can’t make them up, but it was a bad hit,” said Caps Coach Boudreau on the play that cost him Bradley for the game plus Laing for 19 minutes.

This game featured some outstanding goaltending from both Jose Theodore (33 saves) and Chris Mason (31 saves). Theodore thwarted at least three clean breakaways and Mason made a super stop on Mike Knuble (2 goals) in the third period and several great saves in overtime.  It is easy to see why Team Canada has made Mason as their alternate goalie for the Olympic games in Vancouver. As for Theo and the Caps, they lost when David Perron scored the only shootout goal, in the fourth round, after he hit the post and then the puck banked into the net off of Jose, similiar to how #60 lost a shootout in New York last season. The Caps had a tough week as far as getting bounces and Saturday was no exception. The third Blues goal was going to be an easy clear but the puck somehow caromed away from Shaone Morrisonn before he could dump it out of the zone and a couple of passes later an Erik Johnson shot deflected off of Laing and by Theodore. #60 continues to play well and if he keeps up this level of performance he could very well be the guy who opens the playoffs for Washington in goal.

“I thought we had some chances but their goalie was really good tonight, he had to make some tough saves in overtime. The save he made on Ovie off the face-off, I don’t think he saw it, but when goalies are in the zone they make those saves and Jose was great, I thought Jose was great tonight,”" said Boudreau on the goaltending.

After giving up six goals in each of the last two contests, the Caps did a better job in their own end, although in addition to the three breakaways there were several other two on one rushes for St. Louis. USA World Junior hero, John Carlson, was called up from Hershey with Erskine ailing and Boudreau went with defensive pairs of Mike Green-Jeff Schultz, Brian Pothier-Karl Alzner, and Carlson-Morrisonn. Tyler Sloan was scratched. Carlson got burned by Paul Kariya at neutral ice and it led to an odd man rush goal by T.J. Oshie. The first Blues goal came in close by Patrick Berglund. Alzner was whistled for two minors while #74 received one. It appeared the zebras were picking on the younger guys because some of those calls, especially the last one on King Karl, were pathetic. Did I say the officiating was awful again?

“Yeah, I thought the power play goal there wasn’t much you could do. I thought Carly [Carlson] had played a really good game but he got caught on the 2 on 1 and Schultzie on the first one might have had the back door but he didn’t block out, but other than that I thought we played pretty good, they got a lot of shots on the power play,” commented Boudreau when asked if his team’s defensive play was better than the previous few contests.

Offensively, Knuble notched two power play goals (Caps went 2 for 6) from in front of the cage sandwiched around Alexander Semin’s wicked top shelf wrister. Semin added an assist and had a super game. Alexander Ovechkin was held without a point for the first time in 10 games (January 26 versus the Islanders) in just over 25 minutes of ice time. Green added two assists and now has 14 goals and 46 assists in 57 games to lead the NHL in scoring by defenseman. With Chimeara out and Chris Bourque sent back to Hershey, Boudreau switched up his second and third lines, putting Tomas Fleischamnn on the left wing, but after Bradley was injured and Laing given all of those PIMs the 2007-08 Jack Adams award winner had to go most of the way with just 10 forwards.

Notes: The Caps won the face-off battle 43-28 and Dave Steckel was his usual dominant self going 7-2. Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post reported today that he heard Caps GM George McPhee is interested in another defenseman and a forward, likely a center (no surprise there). No trades can be made until March 1 due to the Olympic roster freeze and the final deadline is March 3rd at 3pm. Semin, Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Brendan Morrison, in that order, were all stopped by Mason in the shootout.

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Streak Over: Caps Rally, Then Lose in OT, 6-5

Posted on 11 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

With a 14 game winning streak in tow the Washington Capitals headed to Montreal to take on the Canadiens in one of the toughest buildings to play in the NHL. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau had been warning everyone that the team has been sloppy lately and he was prophetic on Wednesday night as Washington made several mistakes in their own zone and took several bad penalties. As a result they fell into a 5-2 hole after two periods, put on a furious rally in the third period to tie the game at 5 with 18 seconds left, and then lost with eight seconds to go in overtime on another defensive zone breakdown. The loss snaps the third longest streak in NHL history in addition to one of the most exciting winning runs I have ever witnessed in all of sports.

“It’s over, it was a great run, when only two teams have gotten better than you in that situation in all of hockey it is a great run. That is why the guys are so deflated, they were really trying in the third period and when they scored with [18] seconds to go you could see the excitement on the bench. I’m more disappointed because I knew they really wanted it but just didn’t play well enough to win,” said Boudreau after the tough loss.

A tough loss it was and as Coach Boudreau said, the players are deflated. Let’s get to the highlights, injury info, and analysis:

Despite losing the Caps pick up a point in the standings and are now 41-12-7 and maintain their 14 point lead in the Eastern Conference race. With San Jose losing in Columbus on Wednesday they also have a two point lead in the battle for the President’s Trophy (best record in NHL) . The Caps play in Ottawa on Thursday night and then St. Louis on Saturday before the NHL will shut down for two plus weeks for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Coming into this contest Washington was +61 in 5 on 5 play while the Canadiens were -20. Also, the Capitals had not given up a goal in the first minute of any period this season. Unfortunately both of those stats did not back up what happened to Washington on the opening shift as the Caps made several mistakes, including a really bad giveaway by Tom Poti, and Scott Gomez beat Michal Neuvirth short side to make 1-0 just 36 seconds into the contest. Surely this was not a good sign for Washington. The Caps would also give up a tally just 41 seconds into the second period.

The Caps and the Canadiens had the #1 and #2 power plays in the NHL, respectively, so staying out of the box was likely going to be important for both teams. Whether it was the referees, and we will get to their problems in a minute, or sloppy/lazy play the Caps had 7 power plays while Montreal received 5. Both teams scored once on the evening with the man advantage.

Officiating was definitely an issue on Wednesday night and referees Eric Furlatt and Kyle Rehman made some poor decisions, especially when they disallowed what appeared to be a goal by Alexander Ovechkin in the second period that would have cut Montreal’s lead to 4-3. After Habs goalie Carey Price (33 saves) robbed Mike Knuble on a shot down the left wing, the puck bounced into the slot at the feet of Hal Gill. The Great #8 came flying in and hit Gill, with the puck present, and Oveckhkin, Gill, Price, and the puck all went into each other with the biscuit sliding into the cage. The official behind the net immediately ruled it a goal but then after a zebra convention at mid ice they decided to waive the tally off. Bad decision and Scott Morrison and Jeff Marek, both of Hockey Night in Canada, stated via their Twitter accounts that it was a terrible ruling. After the game, Morrison (on Twitter) and Boudreau (in his press conference) stated they were told the goal was wiped out because Price did not have the opportunity to play the puck. Huh? Seems to me his own defenseman went into him as Price was lunging forward out of his crease so I am not sure how they could wave it off? But they did and shortly thereafter the Habs made it 5-2. The linesman did not have a good night either and when watching replays of the fourth Montreal tally it sure looks like Maxim Lapierre is offsides when the puck is brought into Washington’s zone so I am sure that one will be looked at as well by the men in charge of the officials. The words “home cooking” could definitely be used to describe this contest considering those two plays.

On the positive side of things, this was one heck of a come back and Brooks Laich notched his first hat trick (20 goals on season) and just the second one by a Capital all year (Ovechkin’s on Sunday vs. the Penguins was the first). The Caps, who had outscored teams 30-6 in the 3rd period during the streak, won that period 3-0 on Wednesday on a power play goal from Mike Green and the last two Laich tallies.

Neuvirth started this one but left after making 12 saves on 14 shots in just over 25 minutes and according to Boudreau he aggravated a previous injury. Jose Theodore (21 saves) came on in relief and despite getting heckled by his old fans and giving up four goals he made several great stops, including a glove save on Andrei Markov when it was 5-3 that was a thing of beauty. It would have been nice to see #60 keep his 10 game winning streak going and also shut up all of the Montreal fans but he was “left out to dry” by his team, as Boudreau put it after the contest.

Montreal was definitely amped up to try and halt Washington’s streak and Gomez, Brian Gionta, and Cap killer Tomas Plekenac (two goals) all had good games. Plekenac, in fact, scored the game winner when Alexander Semin missed the net at the far end to allow the Habs to come back 2 on 2 and when Brian Pothier and Jeff Schultz appeared to miscommunicate #14 went to the net eluding Sarge and he tapped in Sergei Kostitsyin’s pass. Schultz, who is second to Oveckin in NHL +/-, had one of the worst games he’s had all season in defeat. However, he was not the only one who struggled as Poti (-2, left game in the 3rd period due to injury and is day-to-day according to Boudreau), Erskine (-2), and Shaone Morrisonn had some issues defensively. Boudreau didn’t blame it all on the defensemen saying that the “Forwards were lazy in our zone too.” Brendan Morrison took two penalties and was -1 in just over 12 minutes of ice time. #9 is struggling big time right now and he clearly missed left wing Jason Chimera (day to day with a groin pull).

Semin, who was a guy who had been playing the best hockey of his career up until Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh, had another off night. #28 routinely turned the puck over, missed the net on numerous shots, and took a bad penalty. Perhaps his mind is on Vancouver and Team Russia’s chances in next week’s Olympics?

Skater-wise for Washington several guys stood out with good games in Laich (3 goals), Green (1 goal, 1 assist in 30:52 of ice time), Ovechkin (2 assists, +1 in 29:30 of time), Nicklas Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist), and Knuble (1 assist). Is there a better top line in hockey right now than Ovie-Backstrom-Knuble? I don’t think so.

With Neuvirth injured, Semyon Varlamov on the road trip, and the winning streak now over, I would bet that Varly gets a start, probably in St. Louis. To me that is very important for this team and the young goalie as they get ready for the all important post season that starts in April. Keep in mind that Varly was 12-1-2 and the clear #1 Caps goalie before he injured his groin on December 7th (and he subsequently injured his knee in Hershey on a rehabilitation assignment). Now he will likely battle Theodore for the right to start game 1 of the playoffs. Theo has been great over the last month plus but if Varlamov gets healthy, based on his performance in last year’s playoffs, he would be my choice to start things off. But there are still two more months of hockey before that decision needs to be made by Boudreau and GM George McPhee.

This Caps team sure is exciting and if you think it was nerve racking in the third period and overtime with the streak on the line, just wait until the postseason starts! Washington is a very good and entertaining club and they should be proud of an incredible winning streak that has taken interest in an already exceptional hockey team to a new level in the entire DC-Maryland-Virginia area. I look forward to seeing the ratings from Wednesday’s loss because they likely broke more Comcast Caps viewing records. Finally, look no further than this Twitter post from Marek (Hockey Night in Canada Radio host on Sirius 127 M-F from 4-7 pm) to me after the game to sum up what even people outside of this region are saying about the Caps:

“Great run, great streak. The most fun team in the NHL to watch right now, hands down.”

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Caps & NHL News / Ovechkin Named NHL 1st Star of Week

Posted on 08 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Caps News

The Caps were given Monday off after playing three games in four nights (and four in six as well) and have moved Tuesday’s practice at Kettler Ice Plex forward to 9 am in an attempt to beat another snowstorm that is headed into this region on Tuesday afternoon. Washington plays in Montreal on Wednesday, Ottawa on Thursday, and finally St. Louis on Saturday before stopping for the Olympic break. Five Capitals will take part in the Olympics (Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Semyon Varlamov with Russia; Nicklas Backstrom with Sweden; and Tomas Fleischmann with the Czech Republic).

The Caps have won 14 straight and can tie the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins for 17 victories in a row if they defeat all three opponents this week but with each contest on the road it will be a tough order, especially the back to back tilts in Quebec Canada.

Effective this Friday, February 12th, the NHL will not allow any trades again until March 1, which is after the Olympic break concludes. The actual trade deadline is Wednesday, March 3rd so there are exactly 7 days left before no more deals can be made. There has been much talk of the Capitals needing to add a goalie or a defenseman from fans and media locally as well as around the league. Personally, with Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov, and Michal Neuvirth in net I see no need for GM George McPhee to go out and acquire a veteran goalie, such as someone like Marty Turco. On defense, Washington has nine players that are NHL calibre defensemen to include Mike Green, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Brian Pothier, Shaone Morrisonn, John Erskine, Karl Alzner, Tyler Sloan, and John Carlson. Therefore, unless McPhee is presented with a great offer I can’t see him making a move on the blue line.

What I do see a need for, however, is another center because after Backstrom on the top line, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau has been going with Tomas Fleischmann on the 2nd unit and Brendan Morrisonn on the third. Both guys have played well this season but have slowed their scoring pace recently. It should be noted that #14 and #9 are not big, physical centers and do have some recent injury history. Therefore, I believe McPhee needs to acquire another pivot for depth as well as in anticipation of a potential matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who go Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal, 1-2-3, respectively, at center. The NHL Playoffs are a two month ordeal for those that reach the Stanley Cup Finals and with the level of intensity the post season brings, injuries are bound to happen so a team must have solid depth to win the Cup.

The good news is McPhee has lots of salary cap space to work with and he can take on a rental or a two. The bad news is the crop of potential centers seems pretty thin because good ones are hard to find and teams typically hang on to them once they get them. I have gone over the NHL center list several times and just don’t see many available fits for Washington. Three weeks back I mentioned a guy like Shawn Horcoff, who can skate and is big, would be a nice fit but immediately dismissed it due to his contract and price. The Michigan State alum is locked up long term and making too much money to go after (signed through 2014-15 at $5.5M per season). I did see two names on the list of players who are unrestricted free agents that might be good stretch drive and playoff rentals but they are admittedly past their prime. Mike Modano (39) of Dallas and Doug Weight (38) of the Islanders have extensive playoff and international experience and are still good pivot men. The question is would they be available (Weight likely will be while Modano is a question mark) and would they fit in a locker room that has extremely good chemistry right now?  Mike Comrie (28) of Edmonton is another possible option but he isn’t exactly a big center (only 5 foot 10). Comrie, who has already played for 5 NHL teams (Edmonton, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Ottawa, and the Islanders), just recently returned to the line-up after he missed numerous games due to a bout with mono. For the record, I have no inside information that the Caps are even interested in any of these players, this is merely my look at a position that appears to be one of need for Washington.

Roster decisions at this time are tough ones and that is why McPhee gets paid the big bucks, to figure out the right moves (or correct non-moves) necessary to bring a very talented Capitals team their first Stanley Cup.

NHL News

Bob Gainey resigned as GM of the Montreal Canadiens today and will be replaced, apparently long term based on what he told Jeff Marek on Hockey Night in Canada Radio today, by Pierre Gauthier. Gainey was in the last year of his contract and I had heard rumblings of him stepping down from a source close to him as far back as December 2008 so I was not surprised at the news. Gainey will remain on as an advisor for the Habs and he has to be happy that they went with his replacement choice in Gauthier. Gauthier was GM of the Ottawa Senators from 1995-1998 and GM of the Anaheim Ducks from 1998-2002. In the summer of 2003, Gauthier joined Montreal as Director of Professional Scouting and then in the summer of 2006, he was named Assistant General Manager while keeping the responsibilities attached to professional scouting.

It has been mentioned for weeks on hockey radio shows and web sites that the Penguins are looking for some wingers to go with their talented centers and today speedy left wing Ethan Moreau (34) of Edmonton is rumored to be possibly heading to Pittsburgh in a deal. However, that same source (@NHLSourcesSay on Twitter) said the deal may be held up by the Pens additional interest in Leafs left wing Alexei Ponikarovsky (29). Rumors are just that, so you need to take them for what they are worth (sometimes not much), but I will be surprised if the Penguins don’t add a forward or two to help their struggling power play since they could use some players who go to the net.

It has been a week since the Calgary Flames completed two huge trades sending Dion Phaneuf, Fredrik Sjostrom, and prospect Keith Aulie to the Maple Leafs for Ian White, Jamal Mayers, Matt Stajan, and Nik Hagman in one deal and then Olli Jokinen and Brandon Prust to the Rangers for Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik in the other, and the moves still don’t make alot of sense to me from a Flames standpoint. I know things weren’t working for GM Darryl Sutter’s team but outside of gaining about $4M in salary cap space next season I don’t see how he improved his hockey club? Phaneuf, who has had a couple of rough years, is still a phenomenal talent. Prust is a tough guy who everyone on the team seemed to really like and he brought energy and effort game in and game out. None of the guys Sutter received in return are what I would call positive “difference makers.” I consider Kotalik as one of the worst players in the league when you factor in his current contract (signed through 2011/12 at $3M per season). The guy can’t skate at all and is too streaky. One would have to think Sutter’s job could be in jeopardy if these moves, which smell of panic, don’t work out.

Ovechkin, Backstrom NHL Stars of Week

Fresh off yesterday’s Super Bowl Sunday hat trick performance that propelled the Washington Capitals to a thrilling 5-4 come from behind victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins on NBC, Alexander Ovechkin has been named the NHL 1st star of the week. This is the second time in four weeks and the third time this season that the Great #8 has won the 1st star. It’s the 13th time in his career that he has been named either one of the Three Stars of the Week or NHL Player of the Week. Teammate Nicklas Backstrom has been named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week for the second week in a row; it’s the third time this season and the fourth time in his career that he has been one of the three stars of the week. Toronto Maple Leafs goalie, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, was the second star of the week. Below is the press release from the NHL:

Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom have been named the NHL ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending Feb. 7.

FIRST STAR – ALEX OVECHKIN, LW, WASHINGTON CAPITALS

        Ovechkin led all NHL scorers last week with 10 points (seven goals, three assists) as the Capitals went 4-0-0, extending their franchise-record win streak to 14. Ovechkin notched one goal in a 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins Feb. 2, recorded two goals and one assist in a 6-5 win over the New York Rangers Feb. 4 and tallied one goal and one assist in a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers Feb. 5. He finished the week by recording three goals and one assist in a 5-4 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Feb. 7. Ovechkin, who has tallied goals in each of his past five games, leads the NHL in goals (42), points (86) and plus-minus (+41). The Capitals 14-game winning streak is a franchise record and matches the third-longest winning streak in NHL history. The last streak longer than 14 games was the Pittsburgh Penguins’ NHL-record 17-game winning streak in 1992-93.

SECOND STAR – JEAN-SEBASTIEN GIGUERE, G, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

        Acquired from the Anaheim Ducks in a trade Jan. 31, Giguere became the first goaltender in Maple Leafs history to record shutouts in his first two games with the club. He recorded 30 saves as the Maple Leafs defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-0 on Feb. 1 and again stopped 30 shots for his third shutout of the season and 34th of his career in a 5-0 victory over the Ottawa Senators Feb. 5, snapping the Senators’ franchise-record 11-game winning streak. Giguere has posted a 6-8-5 record with a 2.83 goals-against average and .909 save percentage in 22 appearances with Anaheim and Toronto this season.

THIRD STAR – NICKLAS BACKSTROM, C, WASHINGTON CAPITALS

        Backstrom matched Ovechkin with 10 points last week (two goals, eight assists), climbing to fourth place in the NHL scoring race (25-48–73 in 59 games) and extending his point streak to eight games (4-13–17). Backstrom began the week by notching one assist in a 4-1 victory over the Boston Bruins Feb. 2. He tied a career high with five points (one goal, four assists) in a 6-5 win over the New York Rangers Feb. 4, tallied one goal and one assist in a 5-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers Feb. 5 and collected two assists in a 5-4 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Feb. 7.

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Ovechkin Gets Hat Trick in OT Comeback Win vs. Pens

Posted on 07 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals, who are the highest scoring team in the NHL and came in to today’s contest having potted at least 32 more goals than any other NHL team, surprisingly had gone all 58 games this season without a hat trick by one of their players. Well that streak ended today in dramatic fashion as the best hockey player in the world, Alexander Ovechkin, scored three goals to help the Caps rally from 2-0 and 4-1 deficits and also added an assist on Mike Knuble’s overtime game winner as Washington defeated their archrival Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-4, on national television (NBC) at the Verizon Center. This game, which if not for NBC would have likely been delayed or even moved to Monday because of #Snovechkin, was one for the ages and you can bet that some regular season non-Winter Classic hockey viewer ratings records may be shattered. The Caps have now won an amazing 14 straight contests, improved to a mind boggling 41-12-6 which is good for 88 points, and widened their lead in the Eastern Conference standings to 14 points. Anybody not think this team is for real?

Here are the highlights, quotes, analysis, and more statistics on a streak that is now tied for the 3rd longest in NHL history:

Well we have to start with the Great #8. What a performance today?! Memo to the Penguins: Cheap shotting (see Craig Adams hit from behind in the 1st period that went unpenalized) or trying rough up Ovechkin (see Brooks Orpik all game long) is only going to make him madder and cause you to pay more. Perhaps you should call the Montreal Canadiens about a certain game on January 31, 2008 to find out why you should leave Ovie alone? 

Alexander the Great’s rival, Sidney Crosby, came out hot in this one scoring the game’s first two goals prompting NBC’s Mike Milbury to joke after the first period about Crosby still being Ovie’s daddy. By the end of the Ovechkin dominated 3rd and overtime periods, I still did not hear Mike crack any jokes back at Sid. Perhaps he will say something on HNIC Radio this week when he is on with super host Jeff Marek to save face? I doubt that though, because Milbury is buddies with Don Cherry, who has been overly critical of Ovechkin, so we likely won’t be getting a Crosby joke or a mistake admission by Milbury. The former Islander GM, who made some brutal trades as GM (see Roberto Luongo),  just looks foolish and more biased every time he keeps taking shots at the two-time defending MVP.

The Great #8 credited the crowd for the third period comeback but after Eric Fehr made a superb individual play to make it 4-2 late in the second stanza, Ovechkin took this game over and showed everyone who really is Big Daddy. Alex, with his four point day, has 42 goals and 44 assists this season to lead Henrik Sedin of Vancouver in the scoring race by eight points despite missing eight contests. Crosby is third with 74 points. In the plus/minus category, the Great #8 sits at a league leading +41 while Crosby dropped to +7. The argument to all of this from Crosby and non-Ovechkin fans is that Sid leads in Stanley Cups (1-0) but something tells me the Caps day is coming. By the way, you might as well award Ovechkin with his third straight MVP trophy because the club is 17-1 since he became team captain. Afterwards, the Great #8 was his typical honest and classy self:

“It’s always nice to win, especially when you are a little bit frustrated in the first [period]. Game [didn’t] go well for us right away. It’s nice to come back and win in OT especially. It’s always nice to score goals, especially in this type of big game. They are going to play hard against us. They played great. We made a couple of mistakes and they have very good skill out there.  So we just come here and know that we still have lots of time to come back and score lots of goals. We just go out there and play. [Due to the weather] The crowd wasn’t getting in during the first period. You can see the crowd pushing us in the third period and we just keep going, keep going and it’s pretty sick,” said Ovechkin on the victory, his scoring, the Pens play, and the help his squad received from the fans who fought through the snow for the opportunity to ”Rock the Red.”

 

As for the NBC broadcast, they clearly love the Penguins but hey, so does the NHL because Crosby is Canada’s golden boy. But Ovechkin has numerous fans in the Great White North despite what you might believe based on some select TSN and CBC announcers. NBC pretty much talked the whole time about 87 or 8 and I thought over-discussed the bad travel night the Penguins had getting to DC. Pittsburgh played in Montreal on Saturday afternoon, flew to Newark, New Jersey and landed around 9pm, then endured a nearly five hour bus ride to DC before arriving at 2am Sunday morning. That stunk for them but you couldn’t tell they got little sleep by their fast start. In the 3rd period, however, the Caps took over and some of that could have been Pens travel fatigue. Both Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau addressed the issues with the weather and travel and its impact on arguably the most exciting NHL game this season.

 

“I don’t think [the travel] had anything to do with it. I thought our team had plenty of jump. Our guys felt good. I don’t think it was a factor at all … We had a travel day. Most of these guys have done that quite a bit in their career in the American [Hockey] League or growing up. I don’t think it was at all out of the ordinary for any of these guys. It wasn’t what we expected when they put the schedule together, but it happened and it wasn’t out of the ordinary,” said an admirable Bylsma, who seems to have the perfect demeanor to coach the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

 

“[The snow] hurt us worse, we are out shoveling all day, worrying about who is going to be coming to the game and your focus is not on the game. They skated yesterday and we didn’t have practice so that is why we struggled early,” added Boudreau.

 

Throughout this season, and especially during this history making winning streak, the Caps have dominated third periods outscoring opponents by an incredible 30-6! The question on the Caps, primarily because of the perception that Washington is weak defensively, has been “Can they play the 2-1 game come playoff time?” I think last year’s game seven win over the Rangers proved they can prevail in that type of contest but some will still argue against me. However, I pose this question, what team is best suited to come back from a two or three goal deficit? I say the Caps as they proved in their come from behind win over New York on Thurday and today’s rally against Pittsburgh. To come back you need offense, but you also have to be able to play defense and have good goaltending. The Caps were shoddy, at best, on defense at the beginning of this one but their goalie, Jose Theodore, continues to play his best hockey in a Washington uniform and he kept the team in it until Ovechkin and company could take over.

 

“We were playing pretty bad, the first 10 mintues was the worst our defense has played in so long. But I thought the last half of the game we were really good,” started Boudreau, “Theodore played great. Couldn’t do anything on the first two [goals] I didn’t think, you know [Sidney] Crosby’s goals, and then there were bang-bang goals in front of the net. A sign of a good goaltender to me is when it’s tied at the end or you’re up by a goal and somebody can preserve that one goal lead or preserve it so it gives you an opportunity to win it. And he did. He made some great saves at the end and even when it was 2-0 and 5-on-3 he made that great save and didn’t allow Crosby to make it 3-0. I thought that was very important,” finished the 2007-08 Jack Adams Trophy winner on his goalie, who won his 10th straight contest making 31 saves.

 

Pittsburgh, despite blowing a three goal lead, still received a point so the day was not a total loss for Bylsma’s squad. In fact, despite some of my complaints with the NBC broadcast, the crew that had the worst day was definitely the referees. Tim Peel and Frederick L’Ecuyer should not be allowed to officiate any playoff games after this one. They had very little pulse on the game and by not acting on some dirty hits allowed parts of this contest to turn into a chippy affair. They made some correct calls but they also missed several things and made some bad ones such as:

 

  • The Adams hit on Ovechkin in the first period that should have been a five minute major for checking from behind. Can you imagine the uproar if Ovechkin had done this? What made it worse was the zebras gave Knuble an instigator penalty, which carried a 10 minute misconduct with it, for going after Adams when a roughing call was more appropriate.
  • Right before Alexander Semin, who did not have one of his better games, was called for a high stick on Sergei Gonchar, a Penguin put a wrestling hold on Brooks Laich without being whistled
  • How do you call 10 minute misconduct penalties on both Nicklas Backstrom (1st liner, +2, two assists) and Tyler Kennedy (3rd liner, at best)? Each should have received no more than two minute minors. Sending them both off for 10 minutes gave a huge advantage to Pittsburgh. These officials clearly were not cognizant of what they were calling and the impact those penalties could have on the game.
  • Semin also took a vicious cross check to his jaw from Evgeni Malkin in the third period that went unpenalized.
  • Jeff Schultz (+3 and a sweet assist to set up an Ovechkin breakaway goal) was whistled by the back referee at center ice for slashing Matt Cooke when #24′s stick clearly broke on its own. What made this call worse, besides the wrong referee signaling the infraction when out of position for the call, was that it gave Pittsburgh a power play in a tie hockey game with just over four minutes remaining. That is bush league officiating there.

More Thoughts & Notes: The Caps, after smoking the Pens in Pittsburgh on January 21 on face-offs, lost the battle at the dot 39-34 on Sunday… Despite Crosby’s two goals, the Penguins top player today was Jordan Staal (two goals, +2, in just under 20 minutes of ice time)… Michael Rupp, who was acquired by Pittsburgh as a free agent from the Devils in the off-season, looked pretty good yet only played a surprising 6:28..Tom Poti and Semin were having poor games, for them, until the 3rd period and OT. Poti assisted on the second Ovechkin goal (what hands by the Great #8 there!) that made it 4-3 and #28 drew the high stick on Orpik that put Washington on the game winning power play (Orpik, according to Corey Masisak, called Semin ”a baby” after the game and said “he has no respect for him”)..Eight times in their 14-game winning streak the Capitals have won despite allowing the first goal, improving to 15-6-2 when their opponent scores first (.652). No other team has won more than half its games in that scenario..when Crosby made it 2-0 in the first period, how many Caps fans flashed back to game 7 of last year’s Eastern Conference semi-finals, a contest that Pittsburgh would rout Washington in, 6-2, to advance to the Stanley Cup semi-finals?..Down on the farm in the AHL, the Hershey Bears rallied from a 3-0 hole thanks to a Mathieu Perrault hat trick and an assist en route to a 5-4 victory over the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins. D-man Bryan Helmer had the game winner and Semyon Varlamov stopped 26 of 30 shots in a re-hab assigment. The Bears have now won 17 straight home games and 10 in a row overall (22 of last 23 as well). Yes, that is 24 straight combined for the Caps organization at the NHL and AHL levels, WOW!

 

At the end of the day though, this one was about a rivalry that continues to intensify, was magnified in front of a national television audience, and likely stole some thunder from Sunday night’s Super Bowl, which is big for the NHL.

 

“I am pretty excited and I am really excited for hockey that that game was put on TV today. That’s what people pay to see; when superstars shine and there’s tension and excitement and there’s physical play, you can see the passion on both sides. That’s what hockey’s all about,” finished Boudreau.

 

The Caps go for 15 straight on Wednesday night in Montreal.

 

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Red Hot Caps Win 12th Straight on Broadway

Posted on 05 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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