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Caps Ready for Canadiens after Shootout Loss (UPDATED)

Posted on 11 April 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The regular season is finally over and after Philadelphia defeated the New York Rangers, 2-1, in a shootout on Sunday evening, to grab the last playoff spot, the eighth seed was finally set and it will be the Montreal Canadiens who will take on the Washington Capitals in a round one series that will start at the Verizon Center. The Capitals had four close regular season contests with the Habs with Washington winning 4-3 in OT and 4-2 while Montreal won 3-2 and 6-5 in OT. It was a series that saw each team winning a game on the other team’s home ice. Montreal’s Carey Price played all four contests in net while the Caps started Michal Neuvirth in three of the games (Jose Theodore relieved him in the 6-5 OT loss) with Semyon Varlamov starting and winning the other tilt in overtime in Montreal. Washington had trouble with Canadiens forward Tomas Plekenac so #14 will be a guy the Capitals will have to pay close attention to. This is the first ever playoff matchup between the Caps and the Canadiens.

UPDATE: The NHL just announced the days and times for the Washington-Montreal series:

Thursday, April 15, 2010                7 p.m.                Montreal at Washington                        
Saturday, April 17, 2010                7 p.m.                Montreal at Washington                    
Monday, April 19, 2010                7 p.m.                Washington at Montreal                
Wednesday, April 21, 2010                7 p.m.                Washington at Montreal                
*Friday, April 23, 2010                7 p.m.                Montreal at Washington                
*Monday, April 26, 2010                7 p.m.                Washington at Montreal                
*Wednesday, April 28, 2010        TBD                Montreal at Washington    

* – if necessary

In other Eastern Conference match-ups the #2 seeded New Jersey Devils will take on the #7 Flyers, #3 Buffalo takes on #6 Boston, and the despised #4 Penguins battle the #5 Ottawa Senators. In the West it will be the #1 seeded San Jose Sharks against #8 Colorado, #2 Chicago taking on #7 Nashville, #3 Vancouver getting the #6 Los Angeles Kings, and #4 Phoenix will take on the #5 Detroit Red Wings. I will have my playoff preview and predictions posted on Monday night.

Now to today’s tilt. I think the last thing Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau and Boston Bruins Coach Claude Julien wanted in a totally meaningless game was overtime and then a shootout but it took that to decide the fourth and final 2009-10 regular season meeting between the two squads, with the B’s coming out on top, 4-3 (the Caps won the first three games). Alexander Semin scored his 40th goal of the season early on while Alexander Ovechkin was held pointless and did not win the Art Ross Trophy (most points) for the second straight season. In addition, Steven Stamkos potted an empty net goal and Sidney Crosby scored twice  in his meaningless game against the New York Islanders to overtake Ovechkin by one (51 to 50) to tie for the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals). With the shootout defeat, the Capitals end the 2009-10 regular season with a franchise high 54-15-13 (121 points) and were the first non-original six team to reach the 120 point threshold (only Montreal (4), Detroit (2), and Boston had done it previously). Boudreau was certainly impressed with the effort he received from his club all season.

“They lost 15 games out of 82, they never quit. Getting points in 67 of 82 games is great. They are a great team. Today’s shootout loss, not withstanding, we’d won 5 in a row, lost only 2 regulation games since the Olympic break…so there is a lot to like about the character and ability of this team because there seems to be a lot of people who don’t believe in this team,” said Boudreau, noting that he hears some of the critics who dismiss his teams chances of winning the Stanley Cup.

As for today’s contest, Julien rested some of his top guns, including 2008-09 Norris Trophy winning defenseman Zdeno Chara and 2010 Team Canada gold medal winning forward Patrice Bergeron while Boudreau put out Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley in the shootout instead of Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, or Semin, as he would normally do in a game that meant something. The Capitals also spent most of their efforts trying to set up Ovechkin for goals, even when that wasn’t the smart play. But there wasn’t a lack of intensity in certain stages as evidenced by Mike Green throwing caution to the wind and sliding on the ice to block a late Boston slap shot with his pants (luckily they are well padded) or Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who has a Hanrahan type edge to his cage minding, nailing Chimera several times with his blocker after #25 was shoved into him by a Bruin on a scoring chance in the early stages of the game.

“Boston looked like their whole concern was to not let Alex score and our guys were also looking for him. We’ll get back to normal this week,” added Boudreau on the different flow of Sunday’s tilt.

“The last couple of games we didn’t play our game, we didn’t finish our checks because we want to save ourselves, I think. I think, I hope, we’re going to play our way in the playoffs,” commented Ovechkin about a post season that finally has arrived.

“It didn’t effect Boston’s seed and it didn’t effect ours, so why not give some guys who’ve worked their rears off a chance to get in the limelight? We didn’t succeed but I’d do it again if I had to,” finished Boudreau on his unusual shootout choices.

As for Varlamov, he got the loss but made 35 saves, his highest save total since recording a career-high 38 stops on 11/21 at Toronto. Varlamov fell to 3-4 lifetime in shootout games. In the shootout both David Krejci and Miroslav Satan beat Varly with dekes after #40 got caught out too far from the cage. Boudreau, who still has not revealed his starting goaltender for the Montreal series and likely won’t until close to puck drop for game one, had the following comments on Varlamov’s performance against the B’s.

“The second and third goal that went in, you said, ‘Should he have had them?’ They were both good shots. He made some big saves. I got all of the confidence in the world in Varly. Until he tired out, he was tremendous in the playoffs last year,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner on his young goaltender.

As for Green, he played superb all year but seemed to take his entire game to another level down the stretch, especially in his own end. #52 recorded his career-best 57th assist on Knuble’s third-period goal. Green also finished the season with a new career high with 76 points (19 goals, 57 assists). He lead all NHL defensemen in goals, assists and points plus he finished +39 overall. The “One Man Breakout” talked afterwards about the Caps season and where he sees them heading into the postseason.

“I think there’s been expectations all season. We’ve done a fairly good job of trying to achieve them. The bar’s set so high for us now that we have to make sure that we stay intact and reach our goals. Since training camp, our goal has been a Stanley Cup. The real season starts now,” started Green, “I think we’re more hungry, we’re more focused and you can really sense that around the dressing room guys really want this. It’s obviously a different game in the playoffs and we have to adjust,” finished the man who should win the 2009-10 Norris Trophy after narrowly missing last season. 

 

Notes: Jeff Schultz was +2 today and ended up leading the league in that category at an astounding +50! Let’s hope he stays healthy this post season because he makes a huge difference on the blue line for the Capitals…The Capitals finished the season with an NHL-leading 313 goals (not counting shootout “goals” reflected in the standings) and are the highest scoring team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins (362). Washington leads the league in goals per game (3.82), even-strength goals (233), power-play goals (79), home goals (156), road goals (157), first-period goals (92), second period goals (103) and third-period goals (112)…Chimera played in his 500th NHL game…The Capitals closed out the year with the NHL’s best home record at 30-5-6. They set the team record for points at home (65) and tied the team mark for home wins, set in 1985-86. Washington hosted sellouts for all 41 home games and a club-record 48 games in a row dating back to last season (56 in a row including playoffs). The Caps broke the club total attendance record this afternoon (749,357).

 

Hershey Bears News: The 2009 Calder Cup Champion HERSHEY BEARS announced today in conjunction with the American Hockey League that the team will face the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the 2010 East Division Semi-Finals. The announcement was made today by BEARS President/GM Doug Yingst.

 

The BEARS will begin its Calder Cup title defense Wednesday night at Giant Center, hosting the Sound Tigers at 7:00 p.m. Game 2 will also be held at Giant Center Friday night before the series shifts to Bridgeport Saturday for Game 3.

 

The full schedule of the 2010 East Division Semi-Final between the BEARS and Sound Tigers is as follows:

 

Game 1:            Wednesday, April 14       Bridgeport at HERSHEY    7:00 p.m.          Giant Center

Game 2:            Friday, April 16               Bridgeport at HERSHEY    7:00 p.m.          Giant Center

Game 3:            Saturday, April 17           HERSHEY at Bridgeport    7:00 p.m.          Arena at Harbor Yard

Game 4:            Sunday, April 18             HERSHEY at Bridgeport    3:00 p.m.          Arena at Harbor Yard

*Game 5:          Wednesday, April 21       Bridgeport at HERSHEY    7:00 p.m.          Giant Center

*Game 6:          Friday, April 23               HERSHEY at Bridgeport    7:00 p.m.          Arena at Harbor Yard

*Game 7:          Saturday, April 24           Bridgeport at HERSHEY    7:00 p.m.          Giant Center

 

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My Version of Hockey’s 30 Thoughts

Posted on 27 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada does a nice weekly blog called “30 Thoughts.” With the Caps off until Sunday I decided to bring you the Ed Frankovic version of 30 thoughts but it includes opinions, tweets, stats, left over answers to my questions from Capitals players following Wednesday night’s victory, things to look out for from Calgary, etc.:

1. With the Buffalo Sabres losing 4-2 to the Senators on Friday night, the Washington Capitals just need a single point, either gained themselves or via any New Jersey Devils loss, to clinch the Eastern Conference regular season title for the first time in the history of the franchise. The Caps also have a nine point lead over the Sharks with 8 games left in the race for the President’s Trophy.

2. Caps rookie defenseman John Carlson on playing with Shaone Morrisonn: “He makes me feel really comfortable out there. He’s always talking to me, he’s been around awhile and he’s a great player so it is nice to have someone back there to police me everywhere and it really helps as a young guy.”

3. The Capitals opponents on Sunday afternoon, the Calgary Flames, look like they will miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2002-03 season. That was Darryl Sutter’s first full season as Coach and GM of that club. In 2003-04 they came within a game of winning the Stanley Cup but since the lockout have yet to win a playoff series. I wonder how patient Flames ownership is going to be with the GM after a season that started with such promise turned into a disaster?

4. With the Caps all but locking up the #1 seed their first round playoff matchup will likely be either Montreal, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, or the Rangers. My order of who I prefer Washington to play going from best matchup to worst matchup is as follows: Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Rangers, and Montreal. Rationale: Goalie Carey Price gives Washington fits at times not to mention forward Tomas Plekenec is a major Caps killer. Playing a physical New York team with the pesky Sean Avery plus Henrik Lundqvist in net is not appealing at all. I’ll take any of the other three with the Flyers bothering me most just because of past history, although the Flyers appear to be weaker in net with Brian Boucher. Boston scares me a bit because cage minder Tim Thomas could catch fire at any time but the B’s struggle to score, especially if Marc Savard does not return. Overall Atlanta seems like the best matchup.

5. An NHL scout, who is involved in his team’s selection process but will pick nowhere near #1 overall, said if he had the first pick in the 2010 NHL Entry draft he would go Taylor Hall first (Windsor Spitfires of OHL) with Tyler Seguin (Plymouth Whalers of OHL) a close second.

6. So Guy Carbonneau was on Hockey Night in Canada radio today with super host Jeff Marek and talented co-host Scott Morrison and the topic was the NHL disciplinary process, which is not working now with Colin Campbell in charge. Specifically they discussed using a panel that consisted of ex-NHL players, recently retired and older ones, to dole out suspensions. One of the advantages of such a panel is the debate that would take place between guys that liked certain hits and those that didn’t. Instantly former Capital and Hall of Famer Scott Stevens’ name came up as someone Guy would not put on that review crew. I’m not sure if he was joking or not, but it was Stevens, the former Kitchener Ranger, who dumped Eric “Mr. Skate with his head down” Lindros to effectively end his career.

7. I’m tired of hearing the fact that the Caps went 7-3 without Alexander Ovechkin is a reason to not give the Great #8 his third straight Hart Trophy. Four of those wins were versus Florida while the two regulation losses were against New Jersey. With Ovie in the lineup against the Devils the Caps are 1-0-1. Another reason, besides his outstanding scoring statistics, to vote Alexander the Great as MVP again: Leadership. The Caps are a staggering 25-3-5 since the organization named him their team captain.

8. Some excellent Hershey Bears news courtesy of the great John Walton (Hershey Senior Manager of Communications): The Bears clinched the Eastern Conference regular season championship Friday night, defeating the Worcester Sharks 7-2 at the Giant Center. Alexandre Giroux scored three goals, giving him 40 on the season and 100 over the last two seasons. The win was Hershey’s 54th of the season, three wins away from tying the 1992-93 Binghamton Rangers for most wins in a single season in AHL history.

9. Eric Fehr on his tip in goal (career high 21st of the season) of Mike Green’s point blast on Wednesday night versus the Pens: “It just hit the back of my stick and I put it in along the ice. I didn’t want to try anything too fancy, it was a pretty hard shot, so I was lucky to get ahold of it.”

10. Caps forward Eric Belanger on his assist on that big third goal in the Caps-Pens contest on Wednesday: “It was one of those things where I got the puck in the neutral zone and I felt tonight my speed was good and I just felt I could go around [the net] and Greenie just opened up for me and he made a great play on the goal.”

11. More John Carlson on playing with Karl Alzner and the comparisons to the Morrisonn pairing: “I think they are both great players and they are pretty easy to play with, so I’m lucky enough to have both of them as my partners and I look forward to keep going.”

12. So you’ve obviously heard about Flames captain Jarome Iginla and his outstanding abilities but here are a couple of players that Washington needs to look out for on Sunday afternoon: 1. Rene Bourque (#17) - The speedy, tenacious, and relentless left wing has 23 goals and 28 assists in 65 games and is having a career year. He gets 1st power play unit time and kills some penalties too. 2. Mark Giordano (#5) – Yes, Ovechkin will see alot of former Panthers d-man Jay Bouwmeester, who has had a down year since going from East to West, but ”Gio” has arguably been the Flames best defenseman this season. His speed and offensive prowess made the trading of Dion Phaneuf a possibility, although if I was the GM I still don’t move #3. 

13. More Belanger, this time on the number of infractions and penalty killing versus Pittsburgh: “I just think it takes away from the momentum on the bench. You try to get going and then you get a penalty so guys are sitting on the bench for a few minutes and then it’s tough. For the guys that aren’t killing it is tough to get into the game. I thought we did a good job tonight but they have some good players.”

14. Former Capitals center Dave Tippett, who was fired by the Dallas Stars last season but is now coaching the Phoenix Coyotes, is my pick as the 2009-10 Jack Adams Trophy winner. Tippett has taken a young team that has had to deal with ownership distractions all season long and has them at 46-23-6, good for 98 points, the third best total in the Western Conference. Meanwhile the Stars will be golfing come April 12th. Bad move by new GM Joe Nieuwendyk to get rid of the successful Tippett, who had a rough 2008-09 due to injuries and the galactically stupid decison by former co-GM’s Brett Hull and Les Jackson to sign Avery.

15. After the Red Wings victory on Friday night, the Calgary Flames are now six points out of a playoff spot with just eight games left. On a related note, I hear Golf Galaxy has a good sale going on Titleist Pro V1′s.

16. Does anyone want to play the super hot and finally healthy Red Wings in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?..I didn’t think so…

17. Former Caps GM David Poile and former Baltimore Skipjacks Coach Barry Trotz have the Nashville Predators, who have one of the lowest payroll budgets in the NHL, poised to make the playoffs. The Preds currently sit 5th overall in the West with a 47-23-5 record.

18. Former Caps Coach Bryan Murray has his Ottawa Senators in good shape to make the Eastern Conference playoffs at 40-30-5. Forward Dany Heatley forced Murray’s hand last summer and #15 was subsequently traded to San Jose prompting many to proclaim that the Sens were destined for a season of trouble. But Coach Cory Clouston has done a superb job and Murray appears to have significantly more job security than he did this time in 2009.

19. The Flames, who lost against the Islanders on Thursday evening, play in Boston on Saturday afternoon. Goalie Mikka Kiprusoff played against New York so it would appear that Coach Brent Sutter will go with Kipper in one game and backup Vesa Toskala in the other this weekend. The Flames-B’s game starts at 1pm so after the puck drops we should have a pretty good idea of who will be behind the mask for Calgary on Sunday at the Verizon Center.

20. Wayne Gretzky said Friday on the NHL Network, in a sitdown with EJ Hradek and Craig Button, that if Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby wins the Hart Trophy this year noone will argue, but in his mind Phoenix Coyotes goalie Ilya Bryzgalov should really be the NHL MVP.

21. More Fehr, on the mood on the bench with the team down 2-0 in the shootout versus the Penguins: “Shootouts are so tough. It is a tough part of hockey to let an individual thing settle it. We just wanted to go out and let Ovie do his thing.”

22. Only one NHL team, the Boston Bruins (183), has scored fewer goals than the Flames (189) this season. Clearly if you are in Las Vegas you should bet the under in their Saturday matinee.

23. Thursday tweet courtesy of Caps Senior Media Relations Director, Nate Ewell (@nateewell), who retweeted the following from @jeffphowe: “Oh boy. Rock-solid BC dman Patrick Wey diagnosed with mono and is expected to miss the entire NCAA Tourney. Huge blow to Boston College.” For those following at home Wey was a 2009 4th round NHL Entry draft pick by the Capitals.

24. More Carlson on playing in front of great goaltending in Hershey and now in DC: “It makes the game alot easier knowing you have a good goalie and every mistake that you make isn’t going to be in the back of the net. I’ve been blessed with a lot of great goalies in this organization.”

25. Friday night tweet courtesy of @CapsMedia: Caps picks Phil DeSimone (2a) and Greg Burke (1a) help University of New Hampshire beat Cornell in the NCAA tourney.

26. More Fehr, discussing the challenges associated with playing the Penguins forecheck: “They were pressuring us pretty well but our D did a good job of getting back, moving the puck up, and giving our forwards an opportunity to get down the ice.”

27. And Belanger on that Penguin forecheck: “[Pittsburgh] is a team that is very patient in the neutral zone, they wait for you to turn the puck over. We knew we had to make sure we got pucks deep and it was one of the elements we talked about before the game.”

28. The Penguins and Devils are battling for the Atlantic Division title and the loser will be the #4 seed in the East. Therefore, if the Caps win their opening round series and both the Penguins and Devils are victorious as well, then Washington will play the #4 seed (Atlantic Division runner up), assuming the Buffalo Sabres win their first round matchup. So in order for the Pens and New Jersey to meet in the second round, and likely wear each other out before potentially facing the Caps in the Eastern Conference finals, Buffalo must lose their series.

29. Friday night tweet courtesy of Corey Masisak (@cmasisak22), former Washington Times Caps beat reporter and now seemingly everywhere freelance hockey writer (somebody hire this Terp alum full time!): Local kid Garrett Roe had 3 points to help St. Cloud State to the 2nd round of the NCAA Men’s Hockey Tourney.

30. After Sunday’s home tilt versus the Flames, the Caps get Ottawa and Atlanta at the VC before traveling to Columbus on Saturday night. Last time the Capitals played Columbus (November 1st), forward Jason Chimera started a scrum with Ovie that resulted in a six game injury absence for the Great #8. That was also the game where former Columbus Coach Ken Hitchcock afterwards said he wanted his team to “hunt down” Ovechkin. Fortunately Chimera is now a Capital but will Washington seek some revenge against Jared Boll, who appeared to cause the injury to Alex via a wrestling move?

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Caps Response to Steroid Investigation / Wanna Meet Mike Green?

Posted on 23 March 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Washington Capitals Statement in Response to Steroids Investigation

Florida law enforcement authorities have continued their steroid investigation following the arrest of Florida resident Richard Thomas in May 2009. The Washington Capitals are not the target of this investigation, and there is no evidence that steroids were provided to any Capitals players.

This has been a thorough investigation, and we are satisfied that law enforcement, the NHL and our own internal investigation have not led to any link of steroid use by Capitals players. 

The investigation included conversations with the Washington Capitals as far back as September 2009, and we were and have been fully cooperative and transparent in the past as well as today.

Dr. Douglas Owen Nagel, a Virginia chiropractor who was arrested today, is not affiliated with the Washington Capitals and is not the “team chiropractor,” as he has stated. Dr. Nagel’s office, however, has seen some of our players for standard, routine chiropractic services.

As part of the NHL’s drug policy, Capitals players are randomly tested up to three times per year by an independent testing agency, which sends the samples to the World Anti Doping Association for testing. Capitals players have been tested twice so far this year. At no time in our history has a Capitals player ever tested positive.

COMMENT: It is unfortunate that the Capitals have to respond to an investigation that to date has shown no linkage at all to their organization, especially when the club is just days away from clinching their first ever Eastern Conference regular season title which will shortly be followed by the franchise’s initial President’s Trophy (best NHL regular season record). In this day and age, however, crazy statements can lead to the perception of some as ”guilty until proven innocent” and therefore force the release of memos such as this one.

Mike Green in Columbia on Saturday, March 27th

Live in the Baltimore area and want to meet Mike Green, the 2008-09 Norris Trophy Finalist who is currently the NHL’s leading scorer for defenseman? Well you have the chance on Saturday, March 27th at the Giant at 8805 Centre Park Drive in Columbia, MD from Noon to 1pm. #52 is doing a promotion in conjunction with Muscle Milk.
 

 

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Theodore, Poti Carry Caps to Club Record 11th Straight Win

Posted on 02 February 2010 by Ed Frankovic

If you are not watching the Washington Capitals these days you are missing out. Tuesday night in Boston the Caps defeated the Bruins, 4-1, and set a franchise record with their 11th straight victory thanks primarily to a monster goaltending performance by Jose Theodore (41 saves). The best skater on the ice was defenseman Tom Poti, who went to college at nearby Boston University, and #3 set up two goals (2 assists), was on the ice for every Caps tally (+4), and logged 6:28 of penalty killing time (played 21:11 overall). All three Washington goals, before Alexander Ovechkin’s empty net clincher, came from right in front of Boston’s Tim Thomas (22 saves) as Mike Knuble, Brooks Laich, and Boyd Gordon all got “points from the paint’ to pace the Capitals offense. The Caps, who played fairly poorly in 30 of the first 40 minutes, are now a staggering 38-12-6 (82 points) and they lead the entire Eastern Conference by at least 10 points! They are 14-1 since Ovechkin was named team captain back on Tuesday, January 5th.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis:

$4.5 Million Man on Fire: The night the Caps last lost a game, a 7-4 stinker in Tampa, I tweeted (@Emfrank123) that is was time for the guy making $4.5M to step up in net. Since that game #60 is 8-0 and up until tonight the game he played against the Detroit Red Wings back on January 19th, where he stopped 44 of 46 shots, was his best as a Cap. However, having seen the highlights of this contest against the Bruins again after watching it live, I am ranking this performance as #1 by Jose as a Capital. The Caps had numerous defensive zone breakdowns and Theo was hung out to dry several times but he would only be beaten on a Bruins 5 on 3 power play tally. Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler had at least four golden opportunities and were denied plus David Krejci (who scored the only B’s goal) received a questionable penalty shot but when Jose challenged him #46 fired wide. Theodore has a history of playing his best hockey in the final year of his contract and guess what? This is the last season of his two year deal with the Capitals.

“Jose was tremendous. They had so many more quality chances than we did,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau on his goalie.

Caps No Shows in First period: The Bruins came into this one having lost seven straight contests and 11 of their last 13 games. They had not won a game in 2010 but you couldn’t tell that by the way they played most of the first 40 minutes. Boston thoroughly outplayed the Caps in period one but only had a single tally to show for it, thanks to Theodore. Poti also was one of the few Capitals to have a good first period, one in which Washington took four penalites, two of which overlapped for 41 seconds and Boston took only eight seconds to convert for their only goal of the evening. Overall the Bruins had 6 power plays in the contest and Washington needs to get back to being more disciplined.

“I thought they played to win and they kept coming at us but I thought they got frustrated. We hung around in the first period when they had four power plays and I figured if they didn’t have a two goal lead after one then we got a chance to win it,” commented Boudreau on the Bruins effort.

Third Period Domination: Much like they did in Pittsburgh on January 21, the Caps took control in the final period of a contest that was tied and denied Boston the lead in a game they should have been winning. Alexander Semin, who was having an off night up until that point primarily due to three stick infractions, made a super pass to Laich in the slot to give the Caps a 2-1 lead. 2:47 after that Poti, who had set up Knuble’s first tally by pinching down on the left wing boards and centering the puck, did the same thing except from the right wing boards and Gordon potted his first tally in 11 games to make it 3-1 to stun the hometown Bruins and their fans.

“When you have really skilled players they can go along all game normal and then be difference makers and he is one of those guys that when you need it he will make the great play whether he has had success or whether he has taken three hooking penalties,” added Boudreau on Semin.

Washington knows how to win: Let’s face it, the Caps really didn’t have a right to win this one after their lackluster opening period but in hockey, a goalie can keep a team in it, and that is what happened on Tuesday night. Add to the fact that this highly skilled Washington team continues to mature and seems to just know how to win you end up with an 11 game club record winning streak.

“We didn’t play really well yet found a way to win because [the players] believed that they could win,” finished Boudreau.

There isn’t a whole lot to add to this one, several Caps did not have good games tonight so it doesn’t make much sense to pick at this guy or that guy. Theodore and Poti really stood out and they deserve the accolades for the victory and were my (and officially the NHL’s) number one and two stars, respectively. Laich was my third star but a guy like Gordon, who scored a big goal and killed 4:12 of Bruins power play time had a nice night as well.

Next up for the Caps are the New York Rangers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden (Comcast HD). Rangers GM Glen Sather just made a big trade with the Calgary Flames getting center Olli Jokinen and the tough Brandon Prust for stiff Ales Kotalik and snake bitten Christopher Higgins so I expect the Blueshirts to be pumped up to try and prevent the Caps from winning their 12th straight. But for tonight (and tomorrow), we can all say, “The Caps go to 11!”

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Caps News: Ovechkin in NYC and Single Game Ticket Info

Posted on 03 September 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Ovechkin in New York City

Alexander Ovechkin, who was recently named the most popular athlete in DC (the first time ever that a Redkin has not won the award), will be in New York City on Wednesday, September 9th to promote an NHL video game. Below is the NHL press release:

NHL stars Chris Pronger of the Philadelphia Flyers, Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals will appear at the NHL Powered By Reebok store in New York City next week in anticipation of the upcoming NHL season.

Both events are open to the public and media. On Tuesday, September 8, Pronger and Thomas will sit down with ESPN the Magazine’s EJ Hradek for a Q&A session discussing the upcoming NHL season and their thoughts on playing in the 2010 Bridgestone/NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day at Fenway Park.

On Wednesday, September 9, Ovechkin will celebrate the launch of the highly-anticipated hockey title, NHL 2K10, by offering fans an exclusive opportunity to be among a select group to pre-order the video game directly from the cover athlete.  The Capitals star will personally ring up a limited number of fans who pre-order NHL 2K10 and play against a number of pre-determined contest winners in the Nintendo Wii version of the game.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 9
WHO:         Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals forward, NHL All-Star, winner of the Hart Memorial, Calder Memorial, Lester B.Pearson, Art Ross and Maurice “Rocket” Richard trophies and cover athlete for NHL 2K10

WHEN:       4pm – 6pm ET

WHAT:  Ovechkin will personally ring up a limited number of lucky customers who are among the first to pre-order NHL 2K10 as well as go head-to-head with the finalist in a pre-determined contest in the Nintendo Wii version of the game.

To enter for your chance to take on Ovechkin in his own video game, visit the NHL Powered By Reebok store by 3pm ET on Friday, September 4.  A tournament will be held on Friday, September 4, from 3-6pm ET in the store.  The winner will be invited back on Wednesday, September 9, to take on Ovechkin in NHL 2K10.

WHERE:      NHL POWERED BY REEBOK STORE
1185 Sixth Avenue
Between 46th and 47th Streets

CONTACT: Kerry McGovern / NHL: 212-789-2172 or 347-853-6009

Caps Ticket Info

Tickets for preseason and regular-season games will go on sale at 10 a.m. at 202-397-SEAT, on WashingtonCaps.com, at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and at all local Ticketmaster outlets, including the Verizon Center box office.

Thanks to significant demand for season tickets and partial plans as well as presale single-game ticket purchases by season-ticket holders, some games will have a limited number of tickets available when individual tickets go on sale Sept. 12.

The home season begins with Opening Night at Verizon Center presented by Geico on Saturday, Oct. 3, against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Capitals will unveil their 2008-09 Southeast Division championship banner prior to the game, and the first 15,000 fans will receive a Mike Green bobblehead, courtesy of Geico.

Additional giveaways during the season include a 2009-10 schedule magnet presented by Comcast SportsNet on Saturday, Oct. 17; Upper Deck trading cards on Friday, March 12; and an umbrella presented by Verizon on Sunday, April 11. There will also be a giveaway on Saturday, Jan. 23.

The Capitals will host two special Kids Days for children between the ages of two and 14 and will have activities set up on the concourse of the 400 level. Kids Club members will be able to enter an hour before the gates open to the general public. The first is on Friday, Dec. 11, and will also feature a mascot hockey game during an intermission. The second Kids Day is on Sunday, Jan. 31.

The Capitals are also proud to once again host Hockey Fights Cancer Night (Oct. 27), Hockey is for Everyone Night (Feb. 5) and Military Night (March 4). The team’s popular Courage Caps presented by Microsoft will also return for a third year, and the program launch will coincide with Veterans Day on Nov. 11. The team’s inaugural Club Scarlet Night will take place on April 1.

Among the ticket options available is the Washington Capitals Pregame All-Inclusive Package, which starts at $99 per package and includes a game ticket, a pregame all-you-can-eat buffet in the Dewar’s 12 Club, unlimited beer, wine and soda, a Caps New Era hat and a Caps rally towel.

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Caps, Bears, Red Wings, and Other Hockey Things

Posted on 02 June 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps News

For those who missed it, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau was on TSN’s Off the Record with Michael Landsberg last week and the biggest news out of the interview, which ranged from the steroid allegations against the Caps to the overblown topic (and I thought dead) of Alexander Ovechkin’s 50th goal celebration in Tampa, was that Washington defenseman Mike Green is believed to have mononucleosis. Thus the so-called “flu” we heard as a reason for #52′s subpar play early in the playoffs is apparently more serious. And given that Green re-injured his shoulder in the Rangers series it is likely that the lack of energy he was feeling from that illness helped contribute to the shoulder situation. What is the bottom line in all of this? Green, who is only 23 years old, needs to take better care of himself in the future.

Another interesting thing in that interview was Landsberg mentioned that Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov were signed to play in the Russian Kontinental Hockey League next season, meaning they will no longer be Capitals. Boudreau didn’t contest the statement nor react to it indicating either the pair is definitely gone next season or he is just leaving that issue for General Manager George McPhee (who is in charge of team personnel) to handle.

Last bit of Caps news before moving on to discuss the Calder Cup, here is a link for the latest update on the steroid allegations that were made by Richard Thomas against Washington last week: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/news/story?id=4220886

Bears News

The Hershey Bears went into a sold out (15,003) arena in Winnipeg last Saturday night and stunned the Manitoba Moose, 5-4, in overtime in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals. Alexandre Giroux had a hat trick, including the game winner, and continues to show why he was the MVP of the American Hockey League (AHL) this past season. Game 2 is on Tuesday night at 830pm. You can watch it live on the internet via http://www.theahl.com/ for only $8. Games 3 through 5 are in Hershey on Saturday, Sunday, and then next Tuesday.

In game 1, the Bears took too many penalties giving the Moose 10 power plays to only 5 for Hershey. In addition, Manitoba’s Matt Pope had a penalty shot 14:14 into the second period with the Moose up 3-1, but Hershey rookie goalie Michael Neuvirth came up big with the save. Manitoba also had a two minute 5 on 3 power play in the final minutes of regulation but could not score. Neuvirth made 26 saves on 30 shots but two of the goals he gave up were on breakaways. Oskar Osala, who has NHL potential, had the other two goals for the Bears.

If you haven’t yet seen the incredibly exciting highlights from game 1 click here: http://ahl.neulion.com/team/console.jsp?catid=2&id=2242

Stanley Cup Finals Analysis

The Detroit Red Wings held serve at home this past weekend to take a 2-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Finals with game 3 scheduled for Tuesday night in Pittsburgh. Much was made, especially by Detroit, of the schedule change that moved the series up for NBC and had the two teams playing on back to back nights in prime time. Many people felt that favored the younger Penguins but the defending Stanley Cup Champions persevered.

Defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom returned from a lower body injury and helped to hold Penguins star Sidney Crosby scoreless through the first two games. #87 has been as good as you can be without scoring a point and he had five shots on net in the loss on Sunday night. Crosby has been all over the ice and Wings goalie Chris Osgood, who is a big reason why this series is in favor of Detroit so far, has robbed the superstar on several occasions. Crosby also set up winger Bill Guerin for some “layups” yet #13 has either hit the post or been denied by Osgood.

For some strange reason Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma decided to go back to dressing 12 forwards on Sunday night (he had been going with just 11 since early in the Caps series) inserting the supersoft Pascal Dupuis, who’s turnover to Marian Hossa led to Detroit’s go ahead goal, instead of giving extra ice time to Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (who has been flying around the rink as well). Dupuis tried to blame Hossa for breaking his stick on the play and wanted a penalty. I still haven’t seen where Hossa broke #9′s stick, in fact, it looked to me like Dupuis broke it on Hossa. Regardless of that, if Dupuis was stronger and had more heart he gets the puck out of the zone before his stick breaks. He belongs in the press box, if you ask me.

Crosby and Malkin seem to be the only guys who have really shown up for Pittsburgh and goalie Marc Andre-Fleury displayed in both games that he is definitely the weak link on that team. The goal he gave up off of the backboards in game 1 to Brad Stuart was horrible and the two goals he has given up to Justin Abdelkader (Red Wings 2nd round pick, 42nd overall in 2005 NHL Entry draft) were soft ones. Abdelkader only played two regular season games with Detroit this year as he spent most of his time in the AHL for Grand Rapids (Wings farm team). Detroit’s depth has been another reason they are up two games to none since they have had to play without Hart trophy finalist, Pavel Datsyuk, in those contests.

I still think the Penguins can get back in the series because they have dominated portions of the first two games. However, goaltending and experience (players and coaching) seem to be decidedly in Detroit’s favor. I do expect the Pens to win game three but if they don’t it is time to start the engraving process for the Red Wings and plan the Cup parade and parties.

Finally, a good piece here ( http://sports.yahoo.com/nhl/blog/puck_daddy/post/Malkin-Non-Suspension-The-embarrassment-continu?urn=nhl,167172 ) by Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski on the instigator rule and the various ways it has been interpreted since enacted by the NHL head shed in New York.

NHL News

Wild news out of Montreal today as current Florida GM Jacques Martin, who had four more years left on his contract as Panthers GM, stepped down to become head coach of the Canadiens. I have criticized Martin’s poor managing ability in this blog before and you combine that with the word that the Panthers owners are looking to sell the team and you see why the former Ottawa Senators coach wants to get back behind the bench. Martin is a good coach but he has his work cut out for him in one of the toughest cities to work in pro sports.

Former NHL star Joe Nieuwendyk has been named GM of the Dallas Stars since owner Tom Hicks, as I mentioned in this blog before, is holding former co-GM’s Les Jackson and Brett Hull accountable for the Sean Avery debacle. Jackson is going back to scouting and pro player personnel while Hull is being moved to an executive VP position and out of personnel management. This seems like a smart move by a man who sources have told me doesn’t mind spending money but does not like to waste it (and that is exactly what happened in the Avery debacle).

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NHL and Caps Response to Steroid Allegations

Posted on 27 May 2009 by Ed Frankovic

A man arrested (Richard Thomas) in Florida yesterday for possession of anabolic steroids bragged to law enforcement officials that he has sold the performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes, including those on the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals, according to a report from Tampa Bay Online.

Here is an official NHL response and one from the Capitals as well:

NHL STATEMENT

“The Washington Capitals have no knowledge of any aspect of this allegation. Capitals players were subjected to no-notice testing three times in each of the past two seasons pursuant to the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and there was no indication of any improper conduct or wrongdoing.

“Even though there are no specifics provided in the story and we have no reason, at this point, to believe the allegations are true, the National Hockey League takes all matters of this nature very seriously and will conduct a prompt investigation.”

– Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner

CAPITALS STATEMENT

“We have no reason to believe there is any merit to this story, but the National Hockey League and the Washington Capitals take all such allegations seriously. Capitals players have fully participated in the NHL’s random drug testing program, and at no point has a Capitals player tested positive. In addition our players have been tested at international events, such as World Championships and Olympics. We welcome and will fully cooperate with the NHL’s investigation.”

– Dick Patrick, Washington Capitals president

Also, Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post has some feedback from Brooks Laich and Donald Brashear on the allegations. See http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalsinsider

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Caps News, Penguins Series Preview and Bruins-Canes Series Preview

Posted on 30 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

(2) Caps vs. (4) Penguins

Today at Kettler Ice Plex in Ballston, Virginia, the Washington Capitals hit the ice for the first time in preparation for their upcoming series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, which starts Saturday at 1pm at the Verizon Center on NBC. The biggest news of the day: Alexander Ovechkin did not practice but he did meet with the throngs of media afterwards (see WashintonCaps.com 365 for the full interview) and when asked about the Great #8′s absence from practice head coach Bruce Boudreau responded, “He’ll be practicing tomorrow (Friday). Sometimes his body gets beat up because he plays so much, he’s just plays a lot so he needs a little bit more rest, so he’s just resting today.”

Naturally the focus of many of the questions from the media were of the Ovechkin vs. Sydney Crosby variety and the Caps and their coach did their best to play down that angle.

“I think we have to just look at it as a team game, Washington vs. Pittsburgh, there will be talk of Ovie vs. Crosby but we have to focus on what we’re going to do and how we’re going to play against them. We just have to focus on our game plan and go out there and get it done,” said Washington forward Boyd Gordon, who will play a very key role in this series on the penalty kill and trying to slow down the Penguins offensive talent.

“Any little thing that is being said is going to be magnified. If Alex says anything about Sydney or anybody it is going to be maginified. I’m sure they’ll be cameras on Sydney, [Evgeni] Malkin, Ovechkin, [Mike] Green all the time if the puck is near them or not. We’ll magnify every situation, I’m sure,” added Boudreau who said “Welcome to the Circus” when describing what the media attention will be like as soon as he found out the Caps were playing Pittsburgh after the series win over the Rangers.

There is no doubt that the level of hype is high in this series and many are saying this is big for the NHL from a marketing standpoint. They could use a good US television contract going forward and this series could help by bringing in the cross over fan who normally would not watch hockey.

“I hope it draws tons of fans. We all love our game so much that we hope it is something that people want to watch on a national level. Anything that is good for our game is great. We want to build it. We want to show the people that don’t know our game how great a game it can be,” said Boudreau.

As for the massive hype impacting the series itself, Boudreau downplayed that.

“I don’t know, the Super Bowl has an awful lot of hype and I think the last couple of games have been pretty good. I think the teams are focused and the hype shouldn’t matter. We’ll be in our own zone, hopefully, understanding what we have to do and I think the guys are focused so as much hype as [the media] want to bring on, bring on,” finished Boudreau.

With that, it’s time to move away from the media fluff and get to the meat of this series matchup, the things I prefer to focus on.

Let’s start with the goaltenders, Simeon Varlamov vs. Marc Andre-Fleury. The Caps rookie, Varlamov (turned 21 on April 27), has played 12 games in his career going 4-0-1 in the regular season and then 4-2 against the Rangers in the first round while Fleury, who was taken #1 overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, led his team to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 (lost to the Detroit Red Wings in six games). The advantage, on paper, appears to be for Pittsburgh. Boudreau was asked today to compare Fleury with Henrik Lundqvist, the goalie for the Rangers that the Caps just defeated in round one.

“Lundqvist is great and Fleury’s played great so I guess we’ll be able to know after the first couple of games. I would think that Fleury is more acrobatic and probably more gifted in that sense and Lundqvist is better positionally but that is just off the top of my head. Fleury was taken #1 overall for a reason and Lundqvist is one of the best for a reason. Either way we are not playing bad goaltenders,” said last year’s Jack Adams Trophy winner.

Both teams have big name offensive players that lead their defense and run their power play, Green for the Caps and former Capital Sergei Gonchar for Pittsburgh. Gonchar missed the first five months of the season due to a shoulder injury he suffered in pre-season and when he returned he, along with the addition of forwards Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin at the trade deadline, plus new Coach Dan Bylsma propelled the Penguins to a 18-3-4 stretch run.

“They have a lot of weapons and Gonchar is obviously their quarterback on the point. It’s kind of pick your poison. We’d like to stay out of the box as much as possible. When we get out there [on the penalty kill] we have to get it done and do whatever it takes, block a shot, be in the right position, you have to do the job. He’s a good defensemen. He’s got a good shot and he’s calm and poised with the puck. He fits in well with their team and he does a great job for them on the power play,” said Gordon on #55 and the Penguin power play.

As for Green, he had a goal and four assists in the first round, a series in which he had the flu and didn’t have his full energy back until the last few games.

“I think, as I’ve said all along, that Mike is going to be fine. He puts a lot of pressure on himself because of what has happened this year but again, he played 26,27 minutes a game and we allowed the fewest goals we’ve allowed in a seven game stretch all year. He must have been doing something right. Just because he wasn’t scoring at a point a game pace in the playoffs I’m still very happy with the way he is playing,” added Boudreau on #52.

The Penguins also have Hal Gill (big defensemen), Brooks Orpik (good, physical defenseman), and Rob Scuderi on the back line. Washington adds puck moving Tom Poti and the more physical Shaone Morrisonn to go along with vastly improved Milan Jurcina and John Erskine plus Brian Pothier (out for 14 months with concussion until returning in March). On paper this appears to be a wash or perhaps a very slight edge to Washington, only because of #52.

Up front is where the fireworks start. The Penguins are loaded up the middle with Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal. On the wings they have Guerin, Kunitz, and Ruslan Fedotenko who all can go to the net and create havoc. Another forward to watch is Maxime Talbot who kills penalties, checks well, and is very successful at whatever role Bylsma throws him into. For Washington, they go deep as well with the Great #8, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Sergei Fedorov, Brooks Laich, Viktor Kozlov, Chris Clark and then good role players like Gordon, Matt Bradley, Eric Fehr, and Dave Steckel. The Penguins have the advantage at center because they go three deep with top five draft picks but I give the Caps the edge on the wings. Both teams have potent power plays but the Caps were #2 in the league and can throw a variety of looks at you, as confirmed by Boudreau this afternoon.

“We’ve changed our power play so much all year and still been at 25% so I think it is a real advantage for us when we can, as a team, throw out many units doing many things and they’re all quality players so Tom [Poti] hadn’t played the point on the first unit in a long time and he did a great job. He might have to do it again,” said Boudreau.

When you just look at personnel this is a very evenly matched series and Boudreau stressed that his coaching team will highlight certain things about Pittsburgh but the focus will be on his own team.

“We’ve gone through a lot of video and I’m sure they’ve gone through our video and seen our tendencies and individualities and we go over that but we don’t want to harp on that too much. We want to do what we do well. We certainly would be remiss if we didn’t make the players aware of certain things that these players are really good at,” commented Boudreau on the film study of Pittsburgh.

I asked Boudreau about puck possession and how he defines it these days, given that many people consider both of these squads those type of teams.

“I don’t really know, I often wondered, they say they are a big puck possession team and I go, Wow, what is a puck possession team? They call us that all of the time and all I say is dump it in, get it deep. So I don’t know what the deal is. We’ve got guys who are pretty good stickhandlers but then so do they. I mean Detroit seems to have the puck all the time, not because they don’t want to dump it in, but because they are really good. So good teams are puck possession teams because they have it all of the time, that is the way I’m looking at it.”

Analyzing these quotes and info I think the Penguins focus will be on trying to rattle a young Varlamov, who has had nothing but success so far in his dozen games. Bylsma has already said they will try to get him moving back and forth and there is no doubt the Penguins will go hard to the net to create traffic. They may also try to throw pucks off the near backboards and out the far side like Pittsburgh used to do during their back to back Stanley Cup wins with Hall of Famer Larry Murphy running the power play and Mario Lemieux stationed on the opposite side of the net just waiting to one time the puck home. Pittsburgh likes to get out in transition, like the Caps do, and they will seek to create turnovers at their own blue line to try and counter attack Washington and receive odd man rushes.

Therefore, Washington will have to limit their turnovers and play a SIMPLE game like they did in games three, five, and six plus the third period of game seven against New York. Boudreau will be repeatedly telling his players over and over, especially guys like Ovechkin and Semin who fancy one on one moves and cross ice passes at the opponents blue line, to DUMP the puck behind the Penguins defense, then go get it, and outwork them. If I am Boudreau I am going with a strategy on Gonchar that the great Scotty Bowman mentions he used effectively against Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr of Boston: dump the puck behind him and when he goes back to chase it pound him into the glass so that he becomes more turnover prone as the series wears on. The Caps can use their speed to stick handle at times when guys like Gill are on the ice but the type of puck possession strategy that Boudreau described of dumping the puck deep in the corners and half wall seems like the best way to use Washington’s excellent size and speed at forward. Gonchar can be giveaway happy and Caps fans remember all too well former Penguin Martin Straka picking Gonchar’s pocket at the Washington blue line and skating in alone on Olie Kolzig in game six for the series winner in 2001, the last two times these teams met in the playoffs (Pittsburgh has won six of the seven meetings with the only Caps win coming back in 1994).

Series Prediction: This series is an absolute coin toss. Past history between these teams doesn’t matter but playoff experience does so I am going with the Penguins. However, if Washington plays smart with the dump in game (the Alex’s must heed Boudreau’s advice for them to be come out on top) and limits their turnovers and penalties they could win this series instead. I’m picking the Penguins in six but if the Caps manage to force a game seven then Washington wins.

(1) Bruins vs. (6) Hurricanes

The NHL is four for four on good Conference semi-final match-ups as this one pits a very hot and fast Carolina team against an extremely hard working, top seeded in the East, Boston squad.

We’ll start with the goalies, Tim Thomas (Bruins) vs. Cam Ward (Hurricanes). Thomas led the NHL in save percentage during the regular season while Ward got red hot from February on and is playing at the level he was at when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup for the Canes in 2006. Thomas has an unorthodox style that sees him flop and throw his body all over the ice while Ward is the classic butterfly type goalie who goes down to the ice and tries to take up as much net as possible. I think this is a toss up but Ward has been real hot and has major past playoff success.

On defense, the Bruins have a big edge because of Norris Trophy candidate Zdeno Chara who is on the back line with Denis Wideman, Aaron Ward, Steve Montador, and Shane Hnidy. Carolina’s defense will not scare you but they’ve been very effective the last three months. The defensive corps is led by Joni Pitkanen and Joe Corvo (both averaged 25 plus minutes in round one against New Jersey) and they also rely on their second pair of Denis Seidenberg and Tim Gleason to log around 20 minutes a game. Advantage: Bruins.

Up front for Carolina you have speed. Eric Staal (5 goals against Devils in round one) can skate as well as anyone and he has been on fire since the Canes re-acquired line mate Erik Cole from Edmonton at the NHL trade deadline. Ray Whitney is fast and is a sniper and they grind out goals with Chad LaRose, Jussi Jokinen, and Matt Cullen. Boston is loaded at forward but the debate about Marc Savard being a true #1 center rages on but based on his production he is playing at that level this season. The Bruins can get scoring from lots of players and Michael Ryder (4 goals in 4 games in first round against Montreal) performs well whenever he is coached by current Bruins bench boss, Claude Julien. Former Flames 2001 first round draft pick, Chuck Kobasew (3 points in 1st round), can flat out fly plus they have David Krejci, Phil Kessel (6 points in first round and appears to be finally over mononucleosis), Milan Lucic (brings power and toughness), and Mark Recchi (two time Stanley Cup winner – Pittsburgh in 1991 and Carolina in 2006). I think Staal is the best forward in the series but I give the edge to Boston because of their depth.

Given that Boston only had to play four games in the first round and Carolina went the distance against New Jersey, I expect the Canes to jump out and steal a game in Boston but I see the Bruins coming back and wearing the fast Hurricanes down. Another very close series, I’m tempted to go with a hot Carolina team but I just see too many good things from the Bruins. Boston in seven.

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Who will the Ravens pick this weekend? Some clues here…

Posted on 24 April 2009 by Nestor Aparicio

You gotta love the NFL. The league hasn’t snapped the football in almost three months and the buzz is as strong for the draft as it is for Week 7 of the regular season. It never ends this love of American football. So much enthusiasm and energy and talk about the 26th pick on Saturday for the Ravens.

Amidst that, there are all sorts of stories and storylines:

What will happen with Anquan Boldin and are the Ravens really involved?

My gut AND my sources tell me that it’s not very likely. The notion that Ozzie Newsome would trade a No. 1 and a No. 3 and then have to back up a brink’s truck for Boldin is highly unlikely. Plus, the cap issues of taking on another superstar making a super premium salary seem daunting. If the Ravens had that kind of money, they should’ve kept Bart Scott, right?

Who are the players the Ravens really like and would select at No. 26?

It’s always a crapshoot on draft day when you pick so low. The Ravens were greatly affected by the Atlanta trade for Tony Gonzales yesterday because it’s clear that the Falcons won’t be taking tight end Brandon Pettigrew with pick No. 24. Every name that comes off the board in the first 25 spots – and every trade up or back, and we expect a few – will affect what’s left when the 26th pick hits the clock.

So, when people ask me today and all day tomorrow, “Who will the Ravens pick?” I tell them the same thing every year: “Even Ozzie Newsome has no idea who they’ll wind up getting with a pick so low.”

That said, I’ll take a low pick on draft day every year into perpetuity. The joy of a single-digit pick is far outweighed by the agony of dealing with 16 weeks of bad football during a 6-10 season. Let Cincinnati and Cleveland pick early every year from now until the end of time.

All of these weeks and months of mock drafts are just that: a mockery. One unexpected trade on draft day – and with lunatics like Al Davis, Mike Brown and Daniel Snyder running drafts there’s always somebody doing something – not to mention other legitimate trades for more picks or value, it’s more impossible to predict a mock draft correctly than filling out a perfect March Madness pool. I think you’d have a better chance of hitting the lotto tonight for $150 million.

And once one team or one player goes awry, the whole draft changes. Everyone tries to handicap it but it’s a futile effort.

But this much I know: The Ravens would LOVE to trade a few times over the weekend, which is all the more reason to be on our text service. They only have six picks. They’d rather have seven or eight.

Here are some names of guys — and some key positions of need for the Ravens — that you should keep an eye on over the weekend as the names come off the board:

Center – Alex Mack, California. The Ravens brought him into town and checked him out thoroughly. He’s a tough, smart “Raven” kinda guy. If they trade out of No. 26 to move backward (and I still think this is VERY likely because they really want more picks), Mack would be a early 2nd rounder that will help the team. The only question is whether he can help the team at guard because the team already has a two-year solution at center in Matt Birk.

Tight end – A “dream” scenario for the team would be if Brandon Pettigrew fell to them at No. 26. The Philadelphia Eagles at No. 21 would be the one team to tie them up but that’s looking less likely. Again, the Falcons deal yesterday to acquire Gonzales helps the Ravens if they indeed covet Pettigrew, who is a beast at 6-6 and could help the pass protection and provide a safety valve for Joe Flacco.

Wide receiver – While the whole universe seems to think the Ravens are desperate for a wide out, I’m not convinced they’ll take one in the first round. Perhaps they’d select Kenny Britt of Rutgers if he’s still on the board but I don’t think Hakeem Nicks will be their choice. I’ve been saying for two months that WR is not the team’s most acute need nor should they burn a first-round pick on the riskiest of all positions on draft day.

Defensive back – Vontae Davis and Darius Butler. You can never have too many cornerbacks. They’re like pitchers in baseball. If you don’t get one in the first round you’re probably not getting one you feel comfortable in calling a starter. It’s the toughest role this side of QB to fill in the NFL. Davis comes with some immaturity and a little bit of baggage, but he’s the closest thing to a poor man’s Chris McAlister in this draft.

Defensive line/LB – Rey Maualuga. He’s probably the only player in the No. 26 range that the Ravens would consider and this isn’t their greatest need. If they were to take a LB here it would tell you a lot about how highly rated this player would have to be on their overall board. Honestly, all of the USC linebackers look attractive and will almost certainly be gone by the time the Ravens get on the clock in the second round with pick No. 55.

Here’s my hope: Brandon Pettigrew

Here’s my “prediction”: Rey Maualuga

The real story of the Ravens’ drafts and their relative success since 1996 has been tied to what happens AFTER the first round. Between Newsome, Eric DeCosta and Phil Savage and their staffs, over the years the Ravens have become the best team in the league on the last weekend of April. It’s how Newsome and this department has survived so long in one place. It’s an absolute anomaly.

Think about it: What were the odds that in 1996 when Ozzie Newsome passed on Lawrence Phillips and selected Jon Ogden and then went on to take Ray Lewis instead of Leland McElroy at the No. 26 pick that he’d STILL be here in April 2009 making decisions for Baltimore’s football team?

Newsome is still here because he’s really, really great at evaluating talent. He’s got a gift. He’s not always right but he’s been right more than virtually anyone on the planet at doing this.

And most experts say this draft is NOT deep for starting talent beginning Sunday morning. For whatever reason, most scouts aren’t feeling great about finding the next Adalius Thomas or Jason Brown late in the day on Sunday.

It’s a great weekend to be a football fan. It’s a great weekend to be a draftnik. Or just a nerd, like me.

I’ll be bellied up to the bar at Padonia Station at 3 p.m. drinking $2 Michelob Ultras and watching the draft and sending texts to everyone on the text service.

We’re having a “Textathon” weekend because this is the one weekend when we know we’ll be sending you a lot of stuff.

We hope if you’re not on the service you consider joining. And, if you are, we hope you’ll forward our texts to your PSL, purple-loving friends so they know the news and know about WNST.net and our cool text service.

Thanks!

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Caps/NHL News and Other Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions

Posted on 14 April 2009 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Update

So I just finished watching Ray Ferraro of TSN via the NHL network declare that Caps goalie Jose Theodore can’t win 16 playoff games to lead Washington to the Stanley Cup this year. Ferraro, who pretty much single handily ended the Caps playoff season back in 1993 with his overtime winning goals with the Islanders (not to mention the Caps goaltending was awful that year) is in DC for game one. Ferraro, who used to do studio analysis for ESPN, now spends most of his time doing the analysis for Edmonton Oilers games.

For those of you who have read my blog all season long, I disagree with the criticism of Theodore and will remain in his corner. The weakness for the Caps this year has been their defensive zone play which makes it very difficult for a goalie to know where the shots are coming from. Since December 23rd Jose has been good primarily because he’s learned the tendencies of his defensemen (when they show up to play, and that has been the case when the team has felt challenged), so if Washington can play solid positionally and with the puck in their own zone I don’t see why #60 can’t take this team to a championship. However, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves as the first round is going to be tough against a very good Rangers team but chalk me up in the crowd (and it sounds like it is a small one in media circles) that says Theodore is the right guy to lead the Caps in net this playoff season.

NHL News

For those teams that are not in the NHL playoffs, especially ones in the bottom three of the league, (Islanders, Tampa, and Avalanche) tonight was a big night to see who would win the draft lottery and get the first pick in the 2009 entry draft (which appears to be a no-brainer in John Tavares). The Islanders won the lottery but Leafs GM Brian Burke said before it took place that he will make a serious attempt to pry the number one pick away from the winner (he obviously wants the local Ontario boy Tavares to lead Toronto in the future). Now that New York has won it could the Islanders, who had a horrible track record in keeping high draft picks under former GM Mike Milbury’s regime (Garth Snow is the current GM), make another colossal mistake and trade away this top notch player? Don’t be surprised if the Islanders get sucked into an offer from Burke and move the pick. I talked to one scout tonight who thinks they will trade the choice to the Leafs. I think the Islanders have to keep the pick and take Tavares.

Remaining Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions

Series A: Boston vs. Montreal

History says that Montreal has the edge here as they hold a 24-7 overall playoff series advantage, including a 4-3 win last year in the first round. But Boston was the best team in the Eastern Conference and Montreal has folded under the pressure of playing in their 100th season. Before the season I had the Habs picked first in the East and the Bruins to finish right behind them in second in their division and a team on the rise. Montreal had no team chemistry this year while the physical Bruins gelled as a team.

What I like about Boston: There is a lot to like about this club from Zdeno Chara, who is one of the best defenseman in the league, to goalie Tim Thomas who led the NHL in goals against average and save percentage this season, to a solid group of forwards that include Marc Savard, Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic, Chuck Kobasew, Michael “I only play for Claude Julien” Ryder, David Krejci, and Blake Wheeler. Boston has home ice advantage and can be physical. They were the only team in the league to give up fewer than 200 goals (196)! Their power play clicked at 23.6% which was second to the Caps in the East.

The concern about the Bruins: As Peter Laviolette pointed out on TSN tonight they could be considered weak at No.1 center with Savard and he does not have a lot of playoff experience. Boston has had some trouble with fast teams (like the Caps), but it is hard to find weaknesses with this club.

What I like about Montreal: Not much as they collapsed down the stretch and the loss of Robert Lang to an achilles tendon injury seemed to really hurt them. Carey Price has potential but he has had a horrible year in net. The Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu, and Alex Tanguay line seemed to click late in the year

The concern about the Habs: There are lots of them. Inconsistent goaltending, a key injury to defenseman Andrei Markov, small forwards who can be pushed around. Too many unrestricted free agents. The pressure on them to produce in their 100th season. I could go on and on.

Analysis: Despite the playoff dominance Montreal has had over Boston throughout the years I just can’t see the Canadiens winning this series, especially if Markov can’t go.

Prediction: Boston in 5

Series C: New Jersey vs. Carolina

These two teams met back in 2006 when Carolina knocked off the Devils en route to their first Stanley Cup. I was totally surprised when the Canes beat New Jersey but I won’t be surprised at all if this red hot team knocks off Martin Brodeur and company this year. The Canes went 13-3-2 down the stretch (losing their last two) to make the playoffs after being a bubble team. Will that effort wear them out and can the Devils, who struggled down the stretch, ramp up their game in the second season?

What I like about New Jersey: Martin Brodeur, the best goalie on the planet and in the history of the NHL. He should be able to overcome his 4-6-1 finish after setting the NHL record for wins. Zach Parise (94 points in 82 games), Patrick Elias (78 points in 77 games but banged up down the stretch), Jamie Langenbrunner (69 points), Travis Zajac, and Brian Gionta carry the scoring load. Brian Rolston has a huge shot that he unleashes on the rush and on the power play. A good defensive team that only gave up 209 goals and sticks to Coach Brent Sutter’s system.

The concern about the Devils: They really lack scoring from the blueline which allows team to focus on their forwards. New Jersey’s forwards are not big so a physical approach could work against them.

What I like about Carolina: Their speed, this team can fly with Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, and Sergei Samsonov. Staal seemed reinvigorated when GM Jim Rutherford went out and re-acquired Erik Cole from Edmonton at the trade deadline. Cam Ward has been playing at the same level that won the Stanley Cup for his team and the Conn Smythe trophy for himself.

The concern about the Hurricanes: Did they burn themselves out during the month of March playing so many intense hockey games? Can their fairly weak defensive corps hold up?

Analysis: This will be another very good series and it will be interesting to see how Paul Maurice does as a coach back in the playoffs for the first time since losing the Stanley Cup finals to Detroit in 2002. Also, there are reports that Sutter wants to move back closer to his family and could hang it up after this season as the Devils coach. Could Sutter be Calgary bound to work with his brother Darryl should Mike Keenan get the boot after the Flames get knocked out by the Blackhawks?

Prediction: Carolina in 7 games.

Series D: Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia

For Caps fans this series will be fun to watch as one of the two teams Washington fans despise the most will be golfing in two weeks. The bad news, one of these squads moves on and would face Washington if the Caps win and the Canes upset the Devils. Washington fans, can you say let’s see a long series with lots of physical play between these two teams? The battle of Pennsylvania will be a good one and I think the winner might be too worn out to go far in the East.

What I like about Pittsburgh: 18-3-4 in the 25 games since Coach Dan Bylsma took over for Michel Therien. This change seemingly brought Jordan Staal and Sydney Crosby back to life this year as it was reported that neither of them cared for the Frenchman’s coaching style. Evgeni Malkin, who led the NHL in points with 113. Sergei Gonchar is back on defense after missing four plus months of action. Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin are forwards who know how to win and can get to the front of the net.

The concern about Pittsburgh: Team defense and consistency from Marc Andre-Fleury. Fleury appears to have found his game but is he at the level he had his game last spring? The defense really improved once Ryan Whitney (-15) was shipped to Anaheim for Kunitz and a prospect (Eric Tangradi).

What I like about Philadelphia: They have a great group of forwards that go hard to the net. I am a huge Scott Hartnell (30 goals) fan and Mike Richards (80 points) and Jeff Carter (46 goals) are outstanding two way players and leaders. Simon Gagne, Daniel Briere, Mike Knuble, and Joffrey Lupul are also major threats to put the puck in the net. On defense they rely heavily on the pair of Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen.

The concern about the Flyers: Goaltending is the top issue with Martin Biron and Anterro Niittymaki still trying to establish themselves as the go to guy. Biron seems to have that job, for the moment. Lack of defensive depth – Coburn and Timonen play so much and the rest of the defense is not that good. Will head Coach John Stevens wear his top two defensemen out?

Analysis: As much as I like Philadelphia’s ability to go to the net I just think the Penguins are too strong for them. For the Flyers to win Fleury needs to be average and Biron must catch fire.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

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