Tag Archive | "varlamov"

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Caps Fans Will Like Troy Brouwer / Other Caps News

Posted on 27 June 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals Media Relations staff arranged a conference call this afternoon with the Caps latest trade acquisition, former Blackhawks forward Troy Brouwer, and based on the way he handled himself during the question and answer session, the physical winger will be extremely liked by his teammates and the local fans. Brouwer talked about his style of play, the things he learned from former teammates to include Cup winning veterans Andrew Ladd and John Madden, and how he thinks he’ll fit in with the Capitals. He was very straightforward and honest and seems like a natural leader. Here is one of the more interesting quotes from the conference call when I asked Brouwer about playing on the top line in Chicago and how it might translate to Washington:

“In Chicago we had quite a few players that would move around the line-up a little bit. I think I was one of the guys who changed lines a little bit more than most people just because the coach used me as a pretty versatile player where I could play on the penalty kill, I could play in the shutdown role, but I could also be put on that first line to finish my checks and create room for [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews. If I was to play on the top line in Washington, I don’t think I would change much, Kane and Toews are both guys that demand the puck all the time and they want the puck on their stick. I’m assuming [Alex] Ovechkin and [Nicklas] Backstrom are the exact same type of players who want the puck and make things happen. And with the world class skill that those two players have you are going to give them the puck and they are going to be able to get it back to you. So playing in Washington, if I am able to play on those top two lines, I am going to play exactly the same as what got me to the NHL and what made me successful in the NHL so far, which is trying to help out my linemates, make sure that they are controlling the play. I’ll stand in front of the net, I’ll take my shots when I need to, but those are two players that are going to want the puck and to be successful they need to have the puck and I’m just going to go get the puck and work hard to try and make sure that they have space.”

The full audio of the session is up on the Caps website.


In other Caps news, the team issued qualifying offers today to restricted free agents Karl Alzner, Semyon Varlamov, Brouwer, Mathieu Perreault, and Francois Bouchard. By doing this the Capitals retain the right to match any contract offer made to those players by any other NHL team. Brouwer, as noted by Mike Vogel in his blog on the offers over at WashingtonCaps.com, is the only one with arbitration rights.

Varlamov is the most interesting case and twitter was a buzz last night and this morning after a tweet from Dmitri Chesnokov of Puck Daddy that Varly was not likely to be back with the Capitals. Chesnokov said the situation would be resolved by July 1st. The Russian Kontinental Hockey League is clearly on the table for a player that GM George McPhee selected in the first round of the 2006 NHL draft. Last week, however, the Russian goalie told The Washington Post that he wants to play in the NHL. All of this info has led many to speculate that Varlamov could be dealt to another team. If Varlamov bolts to Russia for the KHL, for a reported $4M a season, then Washington retains his rights.

Personally, I believe that Varly is the best goalie of the three young Washington net minders. His performance in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs was outstanding and he kept the Caps in the series with a superior Pittsburgh Penguins team until he ran out of gas in game seven. The biggest downside to Varlamov has been his injury issues but recently hired associate goalie coach, Olie Kolzig, believes that the physical issue is all that is holding him back.

The question is how much money will it take to keep Varlamov? I threw out a $3M figure on twitter today and Chesnokov replied that the young Russian goalie wasn’t even asking for that much. Michal Neuvirth, who started all nine Capitals playoffs games in 2011, signed a two year deal for $1.1M per season last fall before he went on to have a great 2010-11 campaign. Washington also has 2008 4th round draft choice Braden Holtby in the system (10-2-2 with Caps this past season) so McPhee has other options should he choose to let Varlamov go to the KHL or trade him to another NHL team.

I’d like to see Varlamov, a guy I believe can be a franchise type of goalie, stay in Washington, but you can bet if the two sides can’t agree that GMGM will get good value for the young Russian goalie with huge upside.

Finally, Caps owner Ted Leonsis blogged today that changes are inevitable in hockey and for Capitals fans to expect guys to leave in free agency, others to possibly be signed to come to DC via that route, or others to be added and subtracted via trades. McPhee also stated over the weekend that he is seeking more players with Cup winning experience, something I did a significant blog on back in May. So if you put all of the rhetoric from the owner and GM together, Capitals fans should really pay attention these next few weeks as the organization tries to re-shape its’ club in an attempt to get over the dreaded playoff hump they have run up against the last four years.

Note: The Caps waived defenseman Tyler Sloan, who was set to make $700K in 2010-11. No word yet on if there will be a buyout of his salary or not.

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Caps Announce Regular Season Schedule / NHL News on Eve of Draft

Posted on 23 June 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals released their 2011-12 regular season schedule today. You can check it out on the Caps website. Here are some of the key dates on the slate:

Oct. 8 – Home opener at Verizon Center vs. the division-rival Carolina Hurricanes.

Oct. 10 – A Columbus Day rematch of the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinal series vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Oct. 22 – The 11-time Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings make their first visit to Verizon Center since 2010.

Nov. 23 – Team Winnipeg makes its first appearance at Verizon Center.

Nov. 25 – The New York Rangers return to Washington the day after Thanksgiving for the first time since the 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

Dec. 1 – Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins make their first visit to D.C. of the season.

Jan. 3 – The Capitals kick off 2012 when they host the Calgary Flames at Verizon Center for the first time since 2010.

Jan. 24 – Washington welcomes the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to Verizon Center for the first time in 2011-12.

April 5 – Washington concludes the regular-season home schedule at Verizon Center vs. the Florida Panthers.


The first round of the 2011 NHL Draft is on Friday night on VERSUS at 7 pm from Minnesota (rounds 2-7 are on the NHL Network starting at 11am on Saturday). The Capitals pick 26th in a draft that GM George McPhee stated lacks difference makers. In the recent past Washington has picked up some quality players late in the first round including Mike Green, Semyon Varlamov, John Carlson, Marcus Johansson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. This year getting a player of that caliber that late seems very unlikely. Based on what McPhee told us on his conference call last week, the GM seems open to making some deals to improve his club, if they are there for the taking, so don’t be surprised if he moves his first round pick.

The Caps have a very solid young core but lack experience and leadership, as I blogged in my 2010-11 season summary back on May 17th, so I expect the GM to be active this summer to improve Washington’s chances at going deeper in the playoffs next season.


Speaking of trades, the Philadelphia Flyers went radical today trading their top two centers, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, in two different deals. Richards, the former team captain went to the Los Angeles Kings for Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds, and an undisclosed draft pick. Carter was sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek, the Jackets 1st pick in the 2011 draft (8th overall), and a third round pick. They basically dumped two high priced long term contracts in return for two young promising players in Schenn and Voracek, a third line grinder in Simmonds, and draft picks.

GM Paul Holmgren did this because the Flyers signed 31 year old goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov, to a mammoth nine year, $51M deal with an average cap hit of $5.6M per season. So Philly now has a ton of money locked up in both the former Coyotes/Ducks goalie and Chris Pronger. This is a huge risk for the Flyers and I don’t see it panning out. Carter and Richards each apparently had internal team issues so I am not surprised they were moved, plus both are coming off of injuries, but the decision to put so much money in a goalie that has never single-handedly won a playoff series is mind boggling. I do like Voracek and think he can be an impact player, but overall, I think the Flyers traded one set of problems for some new ones.

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Caps Hire Olie Kolzig As Associate Goalie Coach (Updated w/Quotes from #37)

Posted on 16 June 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Capitals Press Release:  The Washington Capitals have hired former Capital Olie Kolzig as associate goaltender coach, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. Dave Prior will return to his role as director of goaltending and NHL goaltender coach.

“We are excited to add a familiar face to our staff in Olie Kolzig,” said McPhee. “Olie had a tremendous impact on this franchise as a goaltender as well as an individual, and we are looking forward to him having the same impact as a coach.”

Kolzig, 41, played in 711 games as a Capital from 1989-90 through 2007-08. He currently owns nearly every all-time Capitals goaltending record, including games played, wins (301), shutouts (35) and minutes (41,259) and ranks fourth (minimum 3,000 minutes played) in goals-against average (2.70) and third in save percentage (.906). In terms of single-season records, Kolzig leads in games (73), minutes (4,371), wins (41) and is second (minimum 1,200 minutes) in goals-against average (2.20), save percentage (.920) and shutouts (6).

The Johannesburg, South Africa, native was awarded the 2000 Vezina Trophy, awarded to the league’s top goalie, and was named the 2005-06 King Clancy Memorial Trophy winner (awarded to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and who has made a significant humanitarian contribution to his community). He was also named to two NHL All-Star teams (1998 and 2000) as a member of the Capitals.  

A former Caps first-round draft pick (19th overall) in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, Kolzig helped guide Washington to its only Stanley Cup Final in 1998. During his final season with the Caps in 2007-08, Kolzig was teammates with several current Capitals, including captain Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green. The three-time German Olympian (1998, 2002 – sat out due to injury and 2006) appeared in 719 career NHL games with Washington and Tampa Bay before retiring in September 2009.

Prior spent 12 seasons as the Capitals goaltending coach from 1996-97 through the 2008-09 season, including 11 seasons coaching Kolzig, and worked in the Capitals organization as a goalie coach this past season. Under his watch, Washington goalies posted three of the five lowest team goals-against averages in franchise history, including Kolzig’s Vezina-winning season (1999-2000) and the Caps 1998 Stanley Cup appearance. The Capitals won four divisional championships and made six playoff appearances during Prior’s tenure.

Before joining the Capitals’ coaching staff, Prior worked as a goaltending coach for the Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets. In addition, the native of Guelph, Ontario, gained international experience mentoring goalies on the German National Team and spent seven years working with the NHL Central Scouting Bureau.

Both coaches will attend the Capitals’ Rookie Development Camp, running from July 11-16 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington, Va.

COMMENT: With previous goalie coach Arturs Irbe not returning after two years, McPhee needed to bring in a new goalie coach so he will go with the Prior-Kolzig duo for the 2011-12 season. More to come following the Kolzig and McPhee conference call at 230pm.

UPDATE: Kolzig was made available to the media via conference call on Thursday afternoon and in vintage Olie fashion he provided some outstanding insight on his situation and the Capitals three young goalies. Below are the highlights:

– On coming back to the Caps organization:

“I’m estactic to finally be coming back to the place I call home. After over two years away it will be nice to come back and be around family.”

– On how the associate goalie coaching position with Washington materialized and why he took the opportunity:

“Prior pitched the idea a couple of weeks back to me. I thought there is not a better person to work with than him and he was the biggest reason for my success. I was sort of floundering in the minors [when playing early on] and my issues were not so much technical as mental. He helped me have a lengthy and enjoyable NHL career.”

– On Semyon Varlamov and how he might be able to help him improve and stay healthy:

“His is a physical issue. He is an explosive guy and he has to find a way for his muscles to keep up with his agility. I will likely talk to [Caps strength and conditioning coach] Mark Nemish about it. He is such a talent and such a big asset to the team.”

– On the Caps goaltending depth and which goalie he thinks is most like him:

“There isn’t another organization in the league that has such depth at the position at such a young age. The guy I can relate to is [Braden] Holtby because he is a big guy. He has better hands but his temperament is similiar.”

– On Michal Neuvirth:

“I barely met Neuvirth at the end of my career with the Caps but he was a quiet guy who seemed to go about his business.”

– On how he plans on focusing his coaching efforts and some of the logistics involved:

“A lot of my coaching will be on the mental part of the game, especially with the guys in the minors. I have a bad hip, so I won’t be on the ice in gear. I won’t be working a full time schedule. I just want to work with the kids and see if this is something I want to do going forward. Kind of see if I want to be the head guy, as a goalie coach.”

– On the Caps and their struggles to get deeper into the playoffs:

“I think [in 2010] they didn’t have the killer instinct in game five and gave up those two early goals. They need to find a good balance of offense and defense. They may need to look at bringing in a few new players, they have too much talent to not go further than they have.”

– On being around Alexander Ovechkin again, his thoughts on how the Great #8 has progressed on the ice, and what he should do going forward:

“I will have to back off on what I might say to him being a coach and not a player any more. His improved play on defense will him help go along way. As he gets older he needs to keep himself healthy. He’s like a raging bull out there and as he gets older he will need to reign that in a bit.”

FINAL COMMENT: McPhee, in his part of the presser, noted that Irbe had to return to Latvia for family reasons and that Prior expressed interest in directing the department again. The GM said Prior had done a good job before, Dave’s first choice was Kolzig, and they actually had talked about him a couple of years ago before Irbe was brought in, but #37 wasn’t quite ready. Overall this looks like a very good decision by the Capitals. Prior can handle the primary load for at least the upcoming season and if Kolzig enjoys it and does well, he is the frontrunner for the long term solution as Washington goaltending coach.


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Evaluation Process Time for Caps. Who Stays, Who Goes?

Posted on 06 May 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Today was breakdown day for the 2010-11 Washington Capitals, the least favorite day for NHL teams that do not win the Stanley Cup, and with it came interviews with General Manager George McPhee, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau, and several players at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. We’ll get to that info in a minute, but perhaps what was even bigger news, at least in my view, was Thursday morning’s blog entry from Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis. Particularly the following sentences:

In times like these people are emotional; angry; and demand change. I understand.

The best course of action for us though is to let a few days pass; be very analytic about what needs to be improved; articulate that plan; and then execute upon it.

Clearly we know we have to improve to build a franchise that is as good as our fan base.

I appreciate your emails. I appreciate all of the advice we are being given by media and bloggers. I understand that we are what our record says we are.

Thank you for your support during this grind of a season.

Thank you for caring so much. I am so very sorry we let you all down.

Wow! That is some true, from the heart, direct feedback to the Caps fan base (gratuitous shot at Orioles ownership can be taken at any time). Leonsis clearly gets it and he realizes that he has a problem right now. It is nice to win four straight Southeast Division titles, a Presidents’ Trophy, and a second Eastern Conference regular season title, but his club is two for six in playoff series’ the last four years. Both wins came against mismatched New York Rangers teams and this year’s four game second round loss to Tampa Bay was shocking to nearly everyone. Right now, this club bears a lot of resemblance to those great 1980’s Capitals teams that were coached by Bryan Murray that also could not get past the second round. Back then the major problem was poor goaltending, but that wasn’t really the case this post season. So what are the problems, how are they going to be identified, and what will be done to fix them?

That brings us back to breakdown day and the evaluation process that McPhee described begins today.

“It’s important to do [an evaluation] and what we’ve always done is meet with the coaches and get their evaluations of players, and how the season went. Then I’ll meet with our pro scouts and then I’ll meet with ownership and we put it all together. We put together a plan and then move forward. I’d like to think we’ve been doing a lot of good things,” stated the man who has been the Caps GM since the summer of 1997.

Immediately following that response, Tarik El-Bashir of The Washington Post asked the GM if Boudreau would be back next season. After a slight pause, the GM gave the following answer.

“I expect him to be back, yeah, he’s a good coach..either you are a good coach or you are not,” stated McPhee.

So clearly the GM is likely in the coach’s corner at this stage of the process, which is at the absolute beginning. If we combine what McPhee said above about the evaluation process with the owner’s blog, it is clear to me that NOTHING has been decided yet, so the decision on Boudreau and anyone else in the organization has yet to be finalized. In addition to Leonsis, I would also imagine that Team President Dick Patrick will have a say in all hockey matters too, so we may be several days or weeks from decisions on management and coaches. After that is decided, the entire hockey department will focus on which players stay and which go, in addition to preparing for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Locks to be back are Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, right off the bat, because of their talent and long term contracts. #19 struggled in the post season and courtesy of Mike Vogel of Dump ‘n Chase we learned today that Backstrom re-injured his thumb in the Rangers series and played hurt against the Bolts. Additional players who will most certainly be back are John Carlson, Michal Neuvirth, Karl Alzner (although he is a restricted free agent), Marcus Johansson, Braden Holtby, and Dennis Wideman. Mike Green, Mike Knuble, and Alexander Semin are under contract for another season. Knuble played with a fractured thumb that required four pins (hurt in game 3 of Rangers series), Green suffered a hip flexor injury, and Carlson played in pain with a hip pointer making it difficult for him to hit or be hit. With #52 and #74 ailing, and #6 out due to injury, it was clear that the Capitals biggest problem in the Tampa series was the lack of puck rushing defenseman, like I stated after game four. McPhee discussed that today.

“I thought that the [blue line] was our biggest issue in the playoffs. I thought our puck distribution and puck possession wasn’t where it needed to be due to those injuries,” commented GMGM on why he thought his team failed against Tampa.

As a result, slower defensemen Jeff Schultz, John Erskine, and Scott Hannan were exposed by a quicker Tampa crew of forwards. Both #4 and #55 are resigned for next year but are third defensive pair guys, at best. Hannan is an unrestricted free agent and will not get anywhere close to the $4.5M he made this season.

McPhee talked about the infusion of young talent into his lineup this year and the Capitals will certainly benefit going forward from their progression.

“The good news is we introduced some really good young players to our team this year to our fans and we think they liked what they saw in Neuvirth, Johansson, Carlson, and Alzner and we have some terrific young players I am thinking hard about introducing next year,” stated McPhee, who did not dismiss the possibility of center Evgeny Kuznetsov, d-man Dmitri Orlov, and forward Cody Eakin getting a shot at playing for the 2011-12 Caps squad.

It’s pretty clear from hearing McPhee today that he thinks he has the personnel on the roster or in the system to get the Caps where they want to be.

“There’s a certain place I want to get to with the team. I think we have it within in our organization to get there. I don’t think we have to go outside the organization. I want to spend more time talking to our scouts about that. We’ve really got some good ones, some difference makers,” added McPhee on how he sees team improvement occuring on the personnel front.

This squad, if it does not bring back Jason Arnott, who hurt his knee shortly after coming to the Caps at the trade deadline and had minor surgery done on it in March, still needs a second line center. Johansson made a lot of progress this year but he is really a third line center. Kuznetsov suffered a shoulder injury this spring and given that he will be only 19 and is not physically developed, he likely isn’t the answer at the two hole, yet. So maybe #44 is back? He told the media today that he wants to return. As for #90, he was playing hurt against Tampa, but he impressed the GM with his rapid development this season.

“He’s really good defensively, a lot of kids don’t have that this early in their careers and we expect his offensive game to continue to blossom,” added GMGM on his young Swedish center, who was selected in the first round of the 2009 NHL entry draft.

On the goaltending front, the GM is extremely happy with his trio of net minders.

“I’m really pleased with where we are with the goaltending. We drafted well, we’ve developed them well. They are three terrific kids with lots of upside.We are in no rush to change anything there. No pressure points in terms of waivers or anthying like that. We’re comfortable with that. It’s the most important position in the league. They’re good. We’ll continue to play them to see how they do. They did really well this year. All three of them played and played well. We have good goaltending,” said McPhee of a stable of goalies that many teams in the league would love to have.

I was happy to hear that the GM plans to stick with all three of them. To rush out and trade one of them would be a big mistake. What would have happened to this franchise had Olie Kolzig been traded in the early or mid 1990’s when he was seemingly passed in the organization by Byron Dafoe and Jim Carey? “Olie the Goalie” turned out to be the best of the three despite early injury problems that had him playing in the ECHL, at one point. #37 was the face of the franchise for many years until Ovechkin arrived on the scene. So a cautious approach with young goalies is a must for the Capitals brass. None of us, at this time, know who will be the best goalie long term between Semyon Varlamov, Neuvirth, and Holtby.

So it was clear, when hearing what McPhee had to say today, that he is pretty confident in staying the course, for the most part, and continuing to improve from within.

“We were the #1 seed in our conference and we played the #8 seed, and we had just four more wins than them. Nobody is that much better than everyone else. What we’re doing here, I believe is we are putting a good team on the ice every year, and hopefully one of these years we win it. But we’re in the mix every year, it could be worse, we could be missing the playoffs…thank goodness we’ve been drafting well, we’ve been really good at it recently…so I don’t expect us to lose any ground, I expect us to get better,” stated McPhee on player development.

“I don’t see major changes. Every team can continue to add to it and make it better. But we’ll see this summer. It’s not easy to step back for a manager either, we’re all here to win a Cup, as we all know, only one team wins it. Hopefully it will be that much better when we win it,” finished McPhee.

I wouldn’t expect McPhee, who has drafted or acquired all of these players, to think otherwise on where his personnel is right now given the fairly successful results of the past four seasons, at least based on the regular season. But to me there are major questions with how his talent is being implemented and that could impact some of GMGM’s personnel decisions going forward.

Are the Capitals playing the right system? Why does the power play continue to struggle after it was such an achilles heel in the 2010 post season? Why does Ovechkin continue to be placed on the point when it seems he would be better served down low or on the half wall? Had the power play been corrected could it have been the difference in games one and two of the Tampa series and allowed the Caps to overcome their key defensive injuries? Speaking of injuries, why is it that Green gets hurt every year? Is he not taking care of himself, is he being over targeted by other teams, or is it a function of not being taught how to move the puck more efficiently and avoid big hits? (You don’t see Nicklas Lidstrom with these continual post season injury issues). Why is Semin so inconsistent? Are the star players listening to the coaching staff? How come Tampa was able to hide its non-highly mobile defense and be so effective?

I could go on and on with these questions but you get the picture. Hopefully the evaluation process examines all of these issues because as I stated on twitter today, “collectively” this group of coaches and players have NOT gotten it done in the post season. This franchise needs to figure out why that is happening and fix it going forward before another year is wasted.

NOTE: Special thanks to Ted Starkey of The Washington Times for sending me the audio for Boudreau and McPhee’s media sessions from breakdown day.

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Caps Swept Out of Post Season by Tampa

Posted on 04 May 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Prior to the series, Tampa Bay Coach Guy Boucher attempted to take the pressure off of his tired club by comparing his team’s plight against the Eastern Conference #1 seeded Washington Capitals as “David vs. Goliath.” In the end, his team turned out to be the Goliath while the Capitals looked disorganized and ended up being over matched. The Lightning took out the brooms and completed a sweep of the Capitals with a 5-3 game four victory that certainly has to have Caps Nation in an uproar. Tampa will move on to the Eastern Conference Finals to likely take on the Boston Bruins while Washington will pack up their stuff and disperse for the summer.

To recap game four won’t take long. Tampa continued to stick to their system and used their superior speed up front to take advantage of an injury decimated Capitals blue line. With Mike Green and Dennis Wideman still out of the lineup the Caps dressed Sean Collins in his first NHL playoff game, and #62 only played 6:10, which made every other d-man have to play more. The Bolts were supposed to be the more tired club but they continued to beat Washington to loose puck after loose puck. Sean Bergenheim and Dominic Moore totally dominated play when they were on the ice, and they are third line guys. When you get that kind of production from the supporting cast, your club is tough to defeat. The Bolts were clearly the stronger team in front of both nets and as a result they scored more goals.

Washington was supposed to have an advantage with their forwards against a slow Tampa blue line in this matchup but it never really played out that way as the Capitals struggled to defeat the Bolts 1-3-1 scheme. Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson was good, but he wasn’t great. His team played better and more structured in front of him while the Caps had too many defensive zone breakdowns.

I am sure we will hear all about the injuries that several Capitals played through but after 80+ games nearly every team has guys who are hurt. There is no doubt though that the injury to Dennis Wideman was one that has to have Washington management thinking “what if?” #6 was great on the back line and quickly became the team’s go to d-man with Green out injured. He was also a super power play point man. General Manager George McPhee and Coach Bruce Boudreau never had the chance to play Wideman, Green, and John Carlson all in the same game. In fact, with Green missing nearly the whole third period in game three and all of game four it put a ton of pressure on #74 and he finally wilted, playing one of his weaker games of the year. But Carlson is one of the the last guys I will blame for this series loss and he will only get better.

What is disturbing is the drop off in production from Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin. #28 looked totally disinterested in game three and was marginally better in game four after he had a very strong first round series against the New York Rangers. He seemed more focused on going over to the World Championships to help out Team Russia. Backstrom was uncharacteristically moved off of the puck too often and seemed to lose his hands. I would bet the farm that he had some injury, but still, he was given a ton of ice time and didn’t produce.

Michal Neuvirth started strong in the post season but seemed to wear down at the end. Still, to blame the goalie for this series loss would be ridiculous. I was a little surprised that Semyon Varlamov was not brought in when the score reached 3-1 in period two, but given how tough the Bolts were making it on the Capitals offense, it likely wouldn’t have mattered. So in the end, you have to tip your hat to Lightning GM Steve Yzerman who went out and acquired Roloson to make up for his otherwise horrible goaltending and the trade for defensemen Eric Brewer at the deadline was monumental. Boucher did his part by coaching brilliantly and his top players, Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, and Martin St. Louis produced. The Bolts deserved to win this series.

On the Caps end, there is nothing but questions now and this series will most likely be remembered for the worst line change in Washington Capitals franchise history, which cost the Capitals game two and likely the series. The “too many men” penalty that wiped out the first goal in game three was inexcusable, as well. After two straight seasons of stunning playoff endings, changes have to be made. How far reaching they go is now up to the ownership to decide because this growing fan base cannot be pleased with another post season loss to a lower seeded club, regardless of who was healthy or not. Another summer of incremental changes just doesn’t seem to hold water right now. So you can bet that owner Ted Leonsis will do a full analysis of the situation and provide rationale for what he does or doesn’t do. Stay tuned for an interesting next several days…

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Caps – Rangers 1st Round Schedule & Analysis

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The National Hockey League announced their first round Stanley Cup Playoff schedule on their own television network (The NHL Network) on Sunday night at 10 pm. So without further adieu, here is the schedule for the matchup between the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers:

Game 1: Wednesday, April 13 at Washington, 7:30 p.m.

Game 2: Friday, April 15 at Washington, 7:30 p.m.

Game 3: Sunday, April 17 at New York, 3:00 p.m.

Game 4: Wednesday, April 20 at New York, 7:00 p.m.

*Game 5: Saturday, April 23 at Washington, 3:00 p.m.

*Game 6: Monday, April 25 at New York, TBD

*Game 7: Wednesday, April 27 at Washington, TBD

So the series starts hot and heavy with three games in five days before there is a two day break leading up to game four in Madison Square Garden. Game five, if necessary, would be in Washington on NBC at 3 pm on April 23rd. Game three is also on NBC while the series opener will be shown on VERSUS and also Comcast Sports Net (CSN).

For the Caps, this is what they’ve been waiting nearly 12 months for, a shot at redemption after blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Montreal Canadiens last spring. The Capitals have made some big changes to their roster, and more importantly, have become a better defensive team since the debacle against the Habs in 2010. Defensemen Mike Green is expected to return to the lineup for game one while Dennis Wideman is pretty much out for the first round.

With the high expectations comes pressure for Washington. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and captain Alexander Ovechkin are under the microscope locally and across North America. The change in style has certainly lowered the glamorous statistics that several individuals on this club historically enjoyed and Boudreau did a superb job of getting his club to forget individual awards, point totals, and big contracts to focus on winning when it matters most. The Great #8 has been adamant that all he cares about is winning and the fact that he and Alexander Semin have been spending lots of time with trade deadline acquisition Jason Arnott is an indicator that these guys are tired of the playoff loser label.

Here are my keys for the Caps to win this series:

1. Match the Rangers physical intensity – New York, who are coached by the very intense John Tortorella, will have a pretty simple game plan to dump the puck and try and hit the Caps to death. Washington needs to be ready for that and the best way to beat that is to get the Blueshirts to be the ones constantly turning and chasing the puck in their own zone. The Caps must be physical and willing to take the body. Finesse will not win against New York and the Capitals cannot turn the puck over at the offensive blue line. The Rangers outscored the Capitals 18-6 in the four games played this season so there is absolutely no reason for the Caps to be overlooking New York. The Rangers are mostly a young, blue collar type of team but they do have some snipers in Marian Gaborik and Cap-killer Vaclav Prospal. The best way to get numbers 10 and 20 off of their game is to get in their grill and hit them. Washington must not allow these two pure goal scorers to find space in the Caps zone where they can set up shop and unleash their deadly shots.

2. Get traffic in front of Henrik Lundqvist – King Henrik is one of the best goalies in the NHL and he can win a playoff series on his own. The Caps were blanked by the superstar Swedish net minder twice this season. Washington must be willing, unlike last spring, to pay the physical price and get bodies to the net. In addition, they need to get the puck there. The Rangers are very good at blocking shots so Boudreau must direct his blueliners where to put the biscuit so it can make it to the cage then the Capitals must go there and score the ugly goals. A perimeter game is not going to get it done so it will be interesting to see if a guy like Semin will go into the higher traffic areas to take more advantage of his super skill set. Lundqvist has played nearly all of the Rangers games down the stretch and New York has no real back up goalie so anything Washington can do to get him off of his game is needed.

3. Limit turnovers – The Caps cannot turn the puck over from their offensive blue line on back. The Rangers, if they get a lead, will no doubt try and play a neutral zone trap and counter attack the Capitals. In addition, when tied or trailing, Tortorella’s crew will apply a vicious forecheck on Washington. The Caps centers will be the key to the break out as the Rangers will likely jam the walls. Nicklas Backstrom, Jason Arnott, and Marcus Johansson will be the ones who have to be in the proper position to burn New York’s pressure and use their skill and speed to get the Caps some odd man rushes in transition.

 4. Solid Goaltending – Michal Neuvirth, who is expected to the get the game one start, and Semyon Varlamov, if he plays, must be on their respective games from the outset of this series. In game one of the past two post season openers Jose Theodore allowed some questionable goals to put Washington behind the eight ball early against the Rangers in 2009 and the Habs in 2010. #30 and #1 can’t do that and they also must be positionally sound to prevent allowing rebounds to a Rangers team that is offensively challenged and tries to compensate for that by going to the net hard.

5. Win the Special Teams Battle – The first thing the Caps need to do is be disciplined and not take retaliation penalties against a team that will try and goad you into those type of infractions. Sean Avery is the Rangers number one pest and he will do his best to get Washington off of their game. In addition, the best way to stay out of the box is to work hard and move your feet. Penalties happen from laziness and the Capitals can’t afford to put the Rangers on the man advantage. The Caps have improved their PK this year but the best way to do well in the playoffs is to not take many penalties. On the power play, the Caps showed signs of breaking out of their season long slump with the man advantage. The power play must continue to be simplified with pucks coming from the point with traffic in front. The Caps like to employ forwards on the points, at times, so Oveckhin, Brooks Laich and any other forward put back there must remember to be responsible. Shorthanded goals in the playoffs can really change momentum in a game and series so it is imperative that Boudreau’s crew not allow any.

6. Maintain Their Focus & Play It One Shift At a Time – A series is not won in a single game. The Caps, if they get ahead in the series, can’t get complacent or start looking ahead. On the flip side, if they get behind they can’t panic and stop playing their system. That is what happened in the two blow out losses to New York in the regular season. Given that Washington had a 10 minute lapse to start game five last year that likely cost them the Montreal series, I don’t think we’ll see that this year, but that is easier said than done. The first round is the hardest one to get out of and teams that have success don’t get too high or too low. They stick to their system and play it one shift at a time. The Caps must learn to do that this post season.

In summary, this series is going to come down to hard work and determination. The Rangers definitely bring that and for the Caps to win they need to match or beat New York’s intensity and desire. Washington is the more skilled team but playoff hockey is a different animal where many contests are of the one goal variety. The Capitals played over 40 one goal games this season and as a result should be more battle tested. New York is a club that never quits and proof of that is the way they made the playoffs on the last day of the season as well as their 5-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday night after trailing 3-0. Coach Tortorella’s crew believes in themselves and the only way to beat a team like that is to out work them. If the Caps don’t do that this post season, then there is no doubt that there will be changes in Washington.

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Varlamov, Ovechkin Lead Caps Over Cats

Posted on 07 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Playing on back to back nights and traveling home from a late tilt in Canada the night before, the Washington Capitals were ripe for the taking in the first period of Wednesday night’s contest with the Florida Panthers. The Cats tried to take advantage of a tired Caps team and threw everything they could at Washington, but goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped all 18 shots he faced in the opening frame, many of which were of the quality variety. Varly blanked the Panthers while Mike Knuble and Jason Chimera both tallied on a recently resurgent Capitals power play to give Washington a 2-0 first period lead and from there the Caps closed the deal with a 5-2 victory. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s squad is now 48-22-11 (107 pts) and if Washington gets either one point in Florida in Saturday’s season finale or the Philadelphia Flyers don’t win both of their remaining two contests then the Capitals clinch the first seed in the Eastern Conference for the second straight year.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the Caps 101st straight sellout at the Verizon Center:

– If Varlamov doesn’t play superbly in period one then Florida likely jumps to an early lead and wins this game. #1 was outstanding with his positioning and as a result he didn’t give up many juicy rebounds after doing that on the first shot he faced. The young net minder, who has performed well in the large majority of his outings this season, has not received much in the way of offensive support from his teammates. Varly is now 11-9-5 on the season, is fourth in the NHL in GAA (2.23), and is tied for fourth in save percentage (.924). That win-loss record is much better if the Caps could score some goals for him and on this night they took advantage of two power plays in the opening frame to finally give him a lead to work with. Overall, the Capitals goaltenders are playing well and afterwards Boudreau talked about the great play from his Russian net minder.

“Yeah, we weren’t very good [in period one]…He kept us in it in period one. If it wasn’t for Varly it probably would have been 3-1 for them. We would have had to expend an awful lot of energy just to come back. It is difficult to do sometimes,” said Boudreau on Varlamov’s play and what his team would have needed had #1 not been so good.

“I feel we can put one of three guys in and I know we are going to get a good game. Again, it is no knock on anybody else but it is just the way I feel. It may not happen, but that is just the way I feel,” added the Caps head coach on the faith he has in all of his goalies for this upcoming post season, which will start next Wednesday or Thursday.

– The power play is rounding into form at the right time and the Caps have five tallies in man advantage situations in the last three games. Brooks Laich (two assists) is doing an excellent job on the right point of the power play by keeping it simple. #21 is moving the puck quickly and firing the biscuit at the cage often. Boudreau also likes having #21 out there because of his ability to play defense.

“[John] Carlson was getting too much ice time and he was getting tired. We seemed to have a defensemen injured in almost every game in recent weeks and I’ve always wanted a left-right combination [at the point] rather than two rights. And Brooks is such a responsible person, I thought he could get back there and do it, and he has, he’s done quite a fine job,” said Boudreau on his thought process for employing #21 on the point on the power play.

– Alexander Ovechkin had excellent passes to help set up goals one and three and he added goal five into an empty net on Nicklas Backstrom’s (two assists) shifty move and feed. The Great #8’s drop pass to Sean Collins (1 goal in 18:36 of ice time) at 11:42 of period two pretty much ended any thought of a Florida comeback. Alexander the Great now has 32 goals and 53 assists (85 points) in 78 games this season. He played 18:39 in the game against Florida and appears to be the healthiest he’s been heading into the postseason in his career.

“A couple of things happened, you either get very frustrated if you are their team or be very angry [when the other goalie is playing well]. I thought it was very important to get that third goal. Because you saw what finally did happen when they scored a goal. They came on and they played the last five minutes and I started to think of the Toronto game in November was reoccuring all over again because they were outworking us,” added Boudreau on the big tally by Collins and what he was thinking when Florida put a late push on in the final six minutes after Washington was up 4-0.

– In that opening frame, which was pretty much all Florida, the Cats had a full two and a half minutes of zone time on Washington starting after Laich was called for holding the stick. Backstrom, Carlson, Boyd Gordon, and Karl Alzner were pinned in their end and could not clear the puck. They finally iced the biscuit and with the Caps up 1-0 at the 13:05 mark Boudreau called his only timeout. It was a shrewd move by a very experienced head coach because his skaters were clearly gassed and were not allowed to change due to the icing infraction.

“I hate calling it out in the first period if you don’t have to because you don’t know how the game is going to go. But they were on the ice for two minutes and the other guys were putting on a fresh line so I thought this was as important a time as we were going to get, especially when we had the lead. If we were behind and I thought, geez, I might need it later, then I might have changed the goalie to give us a break or something but it’s what we did,” said Boudreau on his wise and successful decision to take the timeout early in the contest.

– Jason Arnott, Alexander Semin, and Scott Hannan all received the night off to rest nagging injuries and with those top players out along with Mike Green, Dennis Wideman, and Tom Poti, the Capitals had a depleted lineup for game #81 of the 2010-11 season. Green is expected to see action on Saturday in Florida while Poti will not suit up for that contest. General Manager George McPhee, in an interview with the Sports Reporters on 980 am, stated that Wideman’s leg is still open [to relieve pressure from his hematoma], and that the muscles around it are okay. GMGM said his hope was that #6 could come back in the second round of the playoffs, if the Caps make it that far.

– In summary, the Caps were far from perfect on this night but they have some excuses given injuries and a grueling schedule. But somehow this team keeps winning and it is 19-4-1 in the last 24 contests. Washington is now 3-1-1 versus the Cats, who give the Caps problems because they are a fast team that puts out a solid effort.

“Give them credit, they worked hard, and I think we were a little tired at the end. We’ve played a lot of hockey and that is a long flight from Toronto when you have to go through customs you get home late and stuff. I know it is a bit of an excuse but that’s the one I’m using tonight,” finished Boudreau on why the team struggled, at times, in this victory.

Notes: Washington closes out the regular season home schedule with the best winning percentage on home ice (25-8-8) and the least number of home losses (8) in the NHL…Knuble now has 13 points (nine goals, four assists) in his last 13 games. The old man seems to have found the fountain of youth again. Former Cap and CSN broadcaster Alan May told me after the second period that #22 said his success was due to his body getting in better shape as the season wore on…because of the one long PK shift, Alzner played 10 minutes in period one but only ended up logging 23:50 for the game. Boudreau was able to better monitor ice time when the Caps performed better in the final two frames. They only gave up 15 shots in the final 40 minutes after allowing 18 in period one…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:24…The Capitals won the face-off battle, 29-28. Laich was 9-3 while Gordon won 10 of 16 draws…final shots on goal were 33-25 in favor of Florida…Washington was 2-4 on the power play while Florida was 1-4, scoring on David Booth’s laser with just seven minutes remaining.

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Chimera Lifts Caps in OT, Wideman in Hospital

Posted on 01 April 2011 by Ed Frankovic

You know that sports story about the guy who was benched the game before coming back the next time out and being the hero? Well that happened on Thursday night at the Verizon Center as Jason Chimera scored the game winning goal in overtime to give the Washington Capitals a 4-3 victory against a scrappy Columbus Blue Jackets squad after being scratched in Tuesday’s shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. #25 took the rebound of a Brooks Laich shot and potted it at the door step against his old club at 2:30 of extra time to improve the Caps record to 45-22-11 (101 points). This is the third-straight season the Capitals have reached the 100-point plateau and the only other time Washington has recorded three consecutive 100-point seasons was from 1983-84 through 1985-86. Tampa Bay defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins on this night so the Caps need any combination of points for or Bolts points lost that totals to four to clinch their fourth consecutive Southeast Division title. In addition, they pulled within one point of Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia, but the Flyers have a game in hand.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis of a contest in which Washington played nearly the last 40 minutes or so with just five defensemen due to John Erskine’s injury:

– This game was an up and down performance by the Caps and they did do some good things, like forwards going to the net for the tough, in traffic tallies. All four Washington goals came from in front or in the slot. John Carlson scored first on a rebound of a Laich shot, the second marker came from Mike Knuble at the top of the crease after Alexander Ovechkin (1 assist, +1 in 20:51 of ice time) set up Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist, +1 in 21:42) for a shot in the high slot, Jason Arnott  then notched his 16th goal of the season by finding open space in the slot and burying a nice feed from Marco Sturm, and then you had #25’s tap in for the win.

– On the down side, the Capitals were sloppy in their own end quite a bit and two of the three goals allowed were from defensive zone breakdowns. Columbus’ first goal was the result of Matt Calvert beating Karl Alzner out of the corner and when Carlson went to challenge #11, Calvert banged the biscuit off of Michal Neuvirth (20 saves) and into the slot where Antoine Vermette beat Boyd Gordon to the puck and deposited it in the cage. The Blue Jackets second tally was aided by linesman David Brisebois picking Scott Hannan off while he was covering Tomas Kubalik in the left wing circle and that gave #33 time to find a charging Fedor Tyutin who put a point shot by #30 short side. That shot may have been tipped, which threw the young Czech goalie off. Finally, the Jackets tied the game with 5:37 left in regulation when Alzner and Sturm both seemed to think the other had Scottie Upshall in the right wing circle, and when #9 shook free he fired one past a seemingly stunned Neuvirth. The play away from the puck by Washington was something that Arnott commented on after this tilt.

“We definitely need work. In our own zone, little things, panicking with the puck too much. It all comes with confidence and everything and we got a few key defensemen out right now that can move the puck real well and can skate. I think everybody’s just got to chip in a little extra for us. But our zone, we have to clean up our own zone and its’ starts tomorrow with the video and try and correct it and come out with a better effort to back our goaltender up,” added a straightforward #44, who has become a major team leader since coming over on NHL trade deadline day (February 28th).

“Tonight we had a lot to learn. We talked about it before the game that this was an important thing about playing away from the puck and I thought we weren’t that good at it. So it will be hopefully a learning session tomorrow watching the video,” said Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau when asked for his take on Arnott’s post game comments.

– The two blue liners that Arnott was referring to are Mike Green, who has been out since February 25th due to a concussion, and Dennis Wideman, who was injured on Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes on a hit from Tuomo Ruutu. TSN’s Bob McKenzie tweeted tonight that #6 is in the hospital with a hematoma and the deadline day acquisition is out indefinitely. Knuble mentioned that Wideman had sent teammates some gruesome photos (h/t to Katie Carrera of The Washington Post) of the injury. Based on what I could gather from media members and then talking with a medical doctor there are A LOT of variables to this injury. A hematoma is basically a blood bruise and they are sometimes opened up to relieve pressure. Healing time depends primarily on how deep and large of an incision was made. The good news is that this is not a broken bone or ligament injury. In fact, Wideman could likely be able to work out with this injury once cleared and can stay in shape without contact. Given that the playoffs are two weeks away, it is highly possible he won’t play the rest of the regular season. It is far too early to tell if he will be able to play game one of the post season but again, the fact that this is not a bone or ligament issue is a good thing, according to the doctor I spoke with following the victory. As for #52, there was talk that he could take part in his first practice with the team on Friday. Green has been skating all week on his own before the rest of the Caps have begun their full sessions.

– Erkine got into a bout with Jared Boll, the player who injured Ovechkin on November 1st of 2009 . #4 pounded #40 but he only played one shift afterwards. Boudreau quickly dismissed any hand injury and said that the physical defenseman is day to day and was held out for precautionary reasons.

“It happens to everybody. Everybody’s got injuries. I’ve been on a lot of winning teams and they’ve had to fight with more guys being out than we have,” commented Boudreau when asked about the rash of injuries occurring this close to the post season.

– Jeff Schultz had a solid outing going +2 in 26:35 of ice time. #55 was very strong in the first period and was more physical than usual. With so many of the Caps top d-men out the club will need Sarge to get back to playing at the level he was at in 2009-10 when he lead the NHL in plus/minus at +50. Thursday night was an encouraging step for a d-man who has struggled, at times, this season.

– The Capitals top line was their best on the night, especially in the first two frames when the Caps had a 27-15 shots advantage. Ovechkin was buzzing all evening and narrowly missed notching his 30th goal of the season. I also thought Laich turned in a superb game. Alexander Semin was held off the scoresheet in 18:54 and he had a golden chance early in the contest and then kind of disappeared. He did get to take the first shift in the overtime period after being benched for the extra session on Tuesday following his bad penalty late in regulation. Washington has to hope that #28 ramps his game up in the post season. Too many times tonight he fumbled the puck or fell to the ice without cause or barely being touched. It is one of the reasons that he doesn’t draw as many penalties as he should, the referees see him going down so easy that sometimes they overlook when a penalty really is warranted.

– Speaking of penalties, there were only three minors called on this night and two of them overlapped. As a result this was mostly an even strength affair with the Caps having 41 seconds of man advantage time while the Blue Jackets logged 2:41 on the power play. Neither team scored during that time.

“That seems normal for us. I mean if you look, I think we’re, I didn’t look today, but I thought we had the second fewest power play opportunities in the league and in the upper third of penalties being called [against], so I think there is quite a discrepancy there,” added Boudreau when I mentioned that he didn’t get much time to work on his power play in the game on Thursday.

– At the end of the day, the Caps received a big two points but the injuries on the blue line are becoming a concern. Columbus plays a much more aggressive style under first year coach Scott Arniel, and as a result the shorthanded Washington defense struggled in numerous situations.

“Yes, and add to the fact that that is a really good forechecking team and they came at us and for two periods we only had five D and [that] didn’t help,” finished Boudreau when asked if his team struggled to move the puck out of their own zone versus Columbus.

Notes: Columbus won the faceoff battle, 32-26. Backstrom was 10-7 to lead the Caps…Hannan led the Capitals in ice time with 28:19 and was +2…Washington’s 4th line did not have one of their better tilts going -1. The holding call on Matt Hendricks, however, was pure nonsense and should have been a hook the other way…Tyler Sloan was -1 in 12:55 on the back line, not good, but Boudreau mentioned he was likely tired from lack of recent game time…Ovechkin led the team in shots with five but was not credited with a hit…the Caps are tied for second in the league in penalty kill percentage (86.2%)…next up for Washington are the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night at the Verizon Center at 7 pm. Buffalo is in a dogfight for a playoff spot.

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Caps Lose in Shootout, Wideman Hurt

Posted on 29 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After the Caps defeated the Carolina Hurricanes for the fifth straight time this season back on Friday, March 11, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau stated that the “Canes were due to beat them.” On Tuesday night, in a game that meant far more to Carolina’s playoff fate than the Capitals, Boudreau’s words became prophetic but Washington didn’t fall easily, losing in a shootout, 3-2. In fact, Washington carried the play in much of this game but a somewhat soft shot by Jeff Skinner alluded Semyon Varlamov (24 saves) early in the third period to tie this tilt up after the Caps had seized the lead on goals by Alexander Semin and Marcus Johansson late in period two. The victory for Carolina pulls them within three points of the Buffalo Sabres for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Washington now has 99 points (44-22-11) and leads the Tampa Bay Lightning by six points with five games to go (the Bolts have a game in hand). Any combination of points gained by the Caps or points lost by Tampa that adds to six and Washington wins the Southeast Division for the 4th straight season.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a very fast paced and entertaining game:

– Many will be quick to point to the soft goal allowed by Varly and his inability to do well in the shootout as a reason for the loss, but #1 made some very big saves in this contest. He stopped a penalty shot by Skinner in period two and his left pad save on Eric Staal with the game tied in period three was stellar. Varlamov is just not getting much goal support and his squad didn’t tally until 34 minutes into this tilt, this coming off of 60 minutes of Caps scoreless hockey in Ottawa on Friday with the young Russian in the cage. It will be interesting to see what Boudreau does in these last five games with his goaltenders. Varlamov has the only NHL post season experience but Neuvirth is 14 for 14 in the last four years in North American playoff series’ (thanks @JapersRink).

– Alexander Ovechkin and Jason Arnott returned to the lineup on Tuesday night after missing three and six games, respectively. Both showed some rust but also made nice plays with the Great #8 having at least four great chances to win the game in overtime. Ovechkin (5 shots on goal), after playing only 4:53 of time in period one, ended up with 19:20 logged while #44 was -1 in just 14:13 of action. Ovechkin certainly looked totally healthy while Arnott seemed a little off. He also got in a bit of a goal mouth scrum early in the tilt, something the Caps brass likely didn’t want to see happen.

– Oh, Alexander Semin, where to begin? #28 looked so good at times and his wicked top shelf shot from a really bad angle beat Cam Ward (38 saves) to tie the game in the middle stanza. At first I thought it was a bad goal allowed but given Semin’s skill, I am not sure there are any other players in the NHL who could bury it from there. Semin also had an assist on Johansson’s great individual effort and was +2 but his galactically stupid penalty late in regulation nearly cost Washington the game and Boudreau sent #28 a message by not playing him at all in the overtime. The Caps bench boss commented to the media afterwards that he was “Washington’s best offensive player, but again he’s been doing the same thing he’s been doing for five years with the penalty.” (h/t @SkyKerstein of DC’s 106.7, the FAN).

– Perhaps the most important, and also worst news of the night, was an injury to defensemen Dennis Wideman. #6 left in the second period with only 12:42 of ice time total after he went down trying to avoid a hit from Tuomo Ruutu. The Canes forward came barreling in and Wideman went down after being struck up high by #15 in either the upper chest or head. #6 stayed down on the ice for a couple of minutes but then got up under his own power, went to the bench, and then down the runway to the locker room. After the game Boudreau said Wideman was day to day (h/t @TedStarkey of The Washington Times). It will take a major CIA undercover operation to find out the true injury from Washington given how close it is to the NHL post season. Joe Beninati and Craig Laughlin were guessing a leg or knee but it could be upper body as well. Given that Mike Green is still not recovered from a concussion, the Capitals cannot afford to lose a player who had recently become their ice time leader on the blue line.

– Johansson scored a dazzling goal that could have been the game winner and the young Swede continues to get better and better. Other teams are obviously starting to respect his speed and #90 is starting to take advantage of that and use his powerful legs and surprisingly strong frame to generate scoring chances. MJ90 now has eight points in his last eight games and he was +2 in 16:52 of ice time in this contest. He does not appear to be hitting any rookie wall at all, he is improving as the season continues on.

– In summary, losing in the gimmick to an extremely desperate team is not a bad thing. The Caps did have some defensive breakdowns and their power play continues to be terrible (0 for 3). They did have Arnott and Wideman on the points with Ovechkin on the half wall on the three attempts but I would much prefer Backstrom be on that first unit rather than Semin, who seems to make the wrong play too often with the man advantage. The penalty kill went four for five with one major bad coverage situation leading to Carolina’s first tally. But the Capitals had several quality chances too, especially at even strength, so Ward deserves a great deal of credit for the Carolina win. All eyes will be on the Washington practice tomorrow and the status of Wideman and then the Caps are back at it at the Verizon Center on Thursday night versus the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 pm.

Notes: John Carlson had an assist and logged a team leading 28:12 of ice time. It was the 19th time this season that #74 has been the team leader in that category…Washington is now 27-0-3 when leading after two periods. They are 26-11-8 in their last 45 games…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 31-24. Boyd Gordon was 8-5…the referees missed an inadvertent high stick on Karl Alzner against Staal (likely a double minor on the young Capital) and they missed a few other things as well, both ways! Memo to the NHL: Fredick L’Ecuyer probably shouldn’t be officiating NHL playoff games.

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Backstrom, Holtby Lead Caps over Habs

Posted on 26 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals went into what Coach Bruce Boudreau stated at the morning skate would likely be a “Hornets Nest” to face a Montreal Canadiens team that had been shut out 7-0 by the Boston Bruins on Thursday night. But the Caps bench boss, who laid into his own squad following a weak effort in a 2-0 Friday night loss against Ottawa, came out a 2-0 winner at the Bell Centre thanks to a super defensive effort by his club. Nicklas Backstrom led the Capitals offense by setting up two goals and Braden Holtby, who took a three hour drive from Glen Falls, New York, to meet the team at 2 am in Habsville (h/t @VogsCaps), stopped all 18 shots he faced as Washington moved a step closer to clinching their fourth straight Southeast Division title. The Caps are now 44-22-10 (98 points) and any combination of seven points gained by the Caps or lost by the Lightning will likely clinch at least the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a win that gives the Capitals a 4-2 record on this now completed road trip:

– Backstrom was easily the best player on the ice tonight. #19 showed no ill effects of that fractured thumb he suffered via Kris Letang’s cheap slash back in February firing seven shots on Carey Price (31 saves). His first shot on #31 led to a rebound up the slot and Marco Sturm one timed it home for his first goal as a Cap in his 13th game just 84 seconds into the tilt. Backstrom had several quality chances but Price denied him from making it a greater margin for Washington, who dominated much of this contest. #19 and his linemates Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin carried nearly every shift they had and they finally closed the deal with 3:41 remaining on Semin’s tap in from Backstrom after Sturm made a nice play at the center line. The final statistics for Backstrom in this victory: 2 assists, +2, 21:25 of ice time, seven shots on goal, and 8-8 on faceoffs.

– The Caps came out red hot and drew three power plays in the opening stanza. As a result they had a 12-3 shots advantage and they kept the heat on in the second frame to take a 26-11 edge after 40 minutes. Holtby did have to make some quality stops during that time, and #70 did a good job of not giving up many rebounds by snaring the puck with his glove. The young net minder from Saskatchewan looked so calm and confident in net, like he said he would be at the morning skate (h/t @kcarerra). Boudreau has three goalies he can use and feel confident in. Semyon Varlamov had a solid return on Friday in Ottawa and Michal Neuvirth was playing super before getting sick this weekend.

– The Caps, who were 18-1-5 when leading after 20 minutes and 26-0-2 with a lead after two periods coming into this game, added one to the front end of those totals by playing a text book third period from a defensive standpoint. Montreal only had seven shots on net and most came from the perimeter. Washington routinely won the battles to the loose pucks and they were content to dump the biscuit deep as soon as they reached the center line, a great strategy when nursing a lead. The Capitals were also more physical than on Friday in Ottawa and in addition, their puck support was top notch. Whenever a Capital had the puck another Washington player was close by in case something happened. There were lots of good things on videotape for Boudreau to show his club “the right way” to play with a lead or dominate a team.

– Price was very good after the bad rebound on the Sturm tally and kept his club in it on some early Capitals power plays. Washington had four man advantages but the last two were pretty bad. The Caps struggled to get set up and get shots on net, something they did fairly well on their first two attempts. On the PK, the Capitals were a perfect 3 for 3 and they allowed only five shots on net in those six minutes. The return of Jason Arnott, Alexander Ovechkin, and hopefully Mike Green before the playoffs start has to help out a struggling Washington power play. Before #44 was injured, the configuration with him and Dennis Wideman on the points with the Great #8 down low resulted in some of the best man advantage situations the Caps have had all season.

– After a poor defensive effort on Friday, the Caps six blue liners were all very good on Saturday with Wideman, Scott Hannan, Karl Alzner, and John Carlson all standing out. Wideman is so tough, in fact, I think he eats rocks for breakfast. #6 was slammed into the boards in the third period and appeared to injure himself yet he seemed to just “rub some mud on it” and come back and play solid the rest of the way. That acquisition by George McPhee has been a huge difference maker for this team.

– So a road trip that looked extremely tough before it started and then even more daunting as the injuries to Arnott and Ovechkin were revealed ends with the Capitals getting eight out of a possible 12 points. Clearly this team has good depth and if they get healthy they can match up with any team in the NHL.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 35-30. Laich was 11-6…Wideman once again logged the most ice time for the Caps (25:31)…Kelly Sutherland was one of the officials again on Saturday after Friday’s refereeing debacle and was much better…Boudreau wisely used his timeout in the second period when the Caps five skaters were gassed after back to back icings. The move paid off as Washington won the draw and cleared the zone, great coaching!…the Capitals went 3-0-1 against Montreal this season…next up for the Caps are the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night at 7pm. It is a must win for the Canes, who have not defeated Washington all season despite playing the Capitals very tough on each occassion. After the last Caps victory over Carolina, Boudreau said to me afterwards, “that means they are due to beat us,” when I brought up Washington’s 5-0 record against them in 2010-11.

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