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Senators Blank Caps, 2-0

Posted on 25 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Absolutely nothing went the Capitals way on Friday night in Ottawa. Craig Anderson made several good saves plus was a little lucky when he had to be, Washington made some huge defensive gaffes, and the officiating was downright horrible. When you add that all up it leads to a Caps shutout loss, 2-0, to the Senators. The defeat drops the Capitals record to 43-22-10 (96 points) but they still lead the Southeast Division by seven points as a result of Tampa’s 4-3 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game in which the NHL Director of Officiating, Terry Gregson, should be pretty embarrassed about:

– Anderson (31 saves) was very good for the Sens but he was also the beneficiary of some overpassing by Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin on a Washington power play in the second period when the game was scoreless. In addition, rookie Marcus Johansson rifled one through #41’s pads in the third period but the puck just trickled wide and an Ottawa defender scooped it out of harm’s way. Still, the journeyman goalie, who recently signed a big four year contract ($12.75M total) to stay in Ottawa, was very solid and calm in net and was easily the game’s number one star.

– The Caps made some big mistakes in their own zone and it cost them on both Ottawa goals. On the first tally, Scott Hannan chased Jason Spezza the wrong way around the Capitals cage and that allowed #19 to put a pass in front to a streaking Colin Greening out of the corner. Greening badly beat Caps d-man John Erskine to the front of the net but the puck hit both of his skates and then he interfered with Semyon Varlamov (21 saves) as he knocked the puck in the cage with his skate for an Ottawa 1-0 lead at 12:25 of the middle frame. Referee Stephane Auger called it a goal but then huddled with the other zebra, Kelly Sutherland. After they conferred with the league in Toronto, the goal stood despite being obvious goalie interference, which apparently is not reviewable. On the second Senators goal, early in period three, Karl Alzner blindly throws the puck up the boards right to Milan Michalek, who feeds it to Erik Condra in the slot. #38 then slid one by Varly as he went down too late into the butterfly position. There were other poor plays by the Washington defensemen on this night that didn’t lead to goals. Overall I would grade the defense as “below average” in this contest. They only gave up 23 shots but they made some big mistakes that will cost them in the post season if they don’t clean it up.

– As for the offense, the Caps did have the 31 shots but there were not a lot from in front of the cage. The Capitals showed some very good puck movement on their first two power plays and Brooks Laich looked excellent on the right point, but Semin made several wrong decisions with the biscuit that prevented Washington from lighting the lamp. On one sequence #28 held onto the puck below the goal line and skated up the right wing boards when Backstrom was wide open in front. He also was a victim of too many moves and over passing on some down low two on ones with the man advantage. Backstrom also tried to force a pass when he had a great chance on Anderson with the game scoreless. The Capitals routinely didn’t get pucks deep and cycle the Senators defense, who likely would have tired having played in New York the night before. Simply put, this was a LAZY offensive effort by Washington, in my book.

– Varlamov, who started for the first time since winning in Buffalo on February 20th, was good in goal. He had to face some quality chances and he did fairly well. He’d probably like another shot at the 2nd goal but Alzner did help Michalek put that one on a tee for Condra. Michal Neuvirth was slated to start this game but came down with an illness and it is possible that Braden Holtby could be recalled for Saturday’s game in Montreal either to start or backup Varly.

– As for the officiating, it was definitely the worst Caps game I’ve seen called all season. I’ve already talked about the mistake on the Senators first goal, which was the result of goalie interference, but there were two other BLATANT mistakes made in this game. First, Matt Hendricks took a stick to the head early on but after an initial high sticking penalty was called on David Hale, and it should have been a double minor since #26 was cut, the referees took #36 out of the penalty box. Shortly thereafter Al Koken of Comcast interviewed assistant coach Bob Woods on the bench who told him that the referees thought that Hendricks was cut with a skate. If you ask me, not only were the four referees blind for missing that, but they are also stupid. If a skate was up that high around Hendricks head and caught him where he was cut, he likely would have lost his eye and bled pretty badly. The other big miss was on a clean shoulder check on Patrick Wiercioch by Matt Bradley above the goal line. Wiercioch went down hard and slid into the boards. Somehow the referees called it boarding prompting Hockey Night in Canada’s Jeff Marek to question that logic via Twitter. Bradley also got jumped for the clean check by Zack Smith and the Caps would have had a power play if boarding wasn’t called on #10. Finally, the game was also called very inconsistently with hits and holds not very clearly defined, which had to make it tough for the players to know what the rules were on this given night. After the game on Twitter, HNIC’s Cassie Campbell stated how bad the officiating was and referenced the no call on the high stick to Hendricks. Gregson and the NHL cannot let this type of officiating happen starting April 13th.

– The Caps are now 3-2 on this six game road trip and they once again played without Alexander Ovechkin, Jason Arnott, Mike Green, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti. On Monday we should know more about the status of those five with Green’s injury being the most concerning. Saturday’s tilt in Montreal is the final meeting between the Caps and the Canadiens in the regular season (Caps are 2-0-1). Right now the Habs sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference and both teams could meet again in the first round of the playoffs depending on what happens down the stretch.

Notes: Dennis Wideman led the Caps in ice time with 24:25. Laich led the Caps forwards playing 23:30…the Capitals were smoked on faceoffs, 32-19. Johansson went 1-9 and Backstrom was 7-13…Washington had five shots on net on their three power plays. They only gave up four shots while shorthanded on three attempts.

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The Playoff Impacts of Alexander Ovechkin’s Injury

Posted on 21 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Caps Beat Stanley Cup Champs in OT

Posted on 13 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau felt that his club was fortunate to get a victory against Carolina on Friday night. On Sunday afternoon they clearly deserved to win against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks but due to a soft goal allowed and a late power play tally with the net minder pulled, the Caps needed overtime to defeat the Hawks, 4-3. Mike Knuble scored on a nifty move in front of Chicago goalie Corey Crawford (38 saves) after some hard work and then a sweet pass from Marcus Johansson with 1:09 remaining in the extra session. Washington won its’ eighth straight overall, the fifth in a row since the NHL trade deadline on February 28th, and all three tilts at the Verizon Center on this most recent homestand. The Capitals are 40-20-10 (90 points) with 12 games remaining and they lead the Tampa Bay Lightning by five points in the Southeast Division race (Bolts have a game in hand). They also trail the Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Flyers by a single point, but Philly has two games in hand.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a game in which the Caps had the lead after 20 minutes for the first time in 14 contests (Caps 15-1-5 when ahead after the 1st period):

– With the playoffs coming up in about a month, we’ve heard Boudreau talk a lot about how important matchups are to his club’s success. The squads that typically give Washington trouble are fast teams, such as Montreal, and Chicago fit that mold today. The Hawks have some great skating players and for the Capitals to get a victory they were going to have to get the puck deep and use one of their biggest strengths, their size.

“I think we are a bigger and fairly strong team, but there are teams that are definitely overall quicker, so we have to play to our strengths to succeed and lately we have been doing that. I think we were overall carrying the play. We played better than them. I mean it might not happen the next time we play them, and they might not be tired from being on the road for eight or nine games, but I thought today that we were the better team,” said Boudreau, providing his analysis of the victory.


“We’ll take the point. We weren’t very good today. They [the Capitals] played well. They played hard. I thought we had a little delay in our game. We were very generous in all the goals that we gave them and could’ve done a better job defending in those situations,” added Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville agreeing with “Gabby” that the Caps were the dominant team on Sunday.


– Let’s get to those Capitals goals as all four came from hard work and the last two were the result of the Caps winning one on one battles below the goal line. Washington fell behind early on a Nick Leddy blast from the top of the slot but after Chicago received a power play the biscuit bounced over the stick of Brent Seabrook at the left point and Boyd Gordon took advantage getting a break down the right wing boards and he lasered one by Crawford for a Washington shorty. Goal number two came from Jason Arnott on the power play with Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin crashing the net down low. #44’s laser from the left point hit the inside of the left post to give the Caps a 2-1 lead. The most important goals though, were the Laich marker in the 3rd period that put Washington ahead and the game winner. Matt Hendricks and Eric Fehr completely outworked the Hawks defense down low and #16 found an all alone in the slot #21 and he buried it. Finally, in OT, Johahnsson did some of his finest work of the year below the circles and fought off a Chicago check then worked his way to the top of the left wing circle where he put a perfect pass on Knuble’s forehand with #22’s back to the cage. Knuble then spun around and potted the puck by Crawford for the win. Those last two tallies were the direct result of Washington using size, speed, and determination.


“Real heads up play by Marcus. It would have been very easy for him to bury his head there and try to jam it through, but I kind of laid my stick to the side and he put it on the tape. It was a very smart play by him,” said Knuble on MJ90, who has stepped up in a big way with Nicklas Backstrom missing his third straight contest (more on MJ90 later).


– With Ovechkin (0 points, 6 shots on goal) and Alex Semin (1 assist, 4 shots on net) unable to light the lamp for Washington this game became all about the Caps grinders and role players. Laich earned his 15th goal of the season and he is heating up at the right time while third line left wing Jason Chimera likely earned the unsung hero of the day award. #25 was very physical all game and his speed and desire to go the net rattled not only Crawford, who will likely win an Oscar next year for his fall and stick throw late in period two that would make Saturday Night Live’s Chevy Chase proud, but also the Hawks number two d-man in Brent Seabrook. #7 stupidly fought Chimera late in period two and with Brian Campbell not taking a shift just after the game’s midpoint, Quenneville was short two blue liners for a good stretch, which clearly worked to Washington’s advantage.


“I thought he was real big factor in the game tonight…He’s a physical guy. He’s the one who sort of instigated that little [dustup] there and he does a good job and takes one of their top defenders off the ice. I think he did a good job,” added Laich on the role Chimera played in the win in just 10:26 of ice time.


– Braden Holtby (27 saves) won his fourth game of the week and in his last seven games in “The Show” he’s turned aside 201 of 208 shots (.978 save percentage). That is amazing for a 21 year old! #70 would probably like to have the first two goals back, especially the second one that Tomas Kopecky scored from behind the goal line when Holtby failed to cover the near post correctly. On the initial tally, Leddy beat him in the slot but Michael Frolik likely screened him. On that play Chicago scored on a 3 on 5 rush, which should never happen. The d-men, Karl Alzner and John Carlson played it right but the forwards did not. Both Fehr and Hendricks got caught out of position and Leddy had time and room to shoot from a prime position. The Caps have been much improved in their own zone but that was not one of those occassions. The back pressure must be consistent otherwise skilled forwards will get the Washington d-men backing up and then cut to the middle to get in the quality scoring areas, like Jonathan Toews did in period one. Overall, Holtby did what he had to do, he made some huge stops, including one on Frolik late in the game after a Dennis Wideman giveaway. Still, I expect to see more of Michal Neuvirth on this upcoming six game Caps road trip.


– As for the 20 year old Swede, I am not sure if the Caps win all four games this week with Backstrom out if #90 is also not in the lineup. Johansson has amped up his game big time and he has four assists in his last five games and is +4. He is a great passer and today he fired seven shots on the cage as well. MJ90 could have had two or three goals and he likely will want the two shots he had alone in front on Crawford back after Ovechkin set him up on the doorstep in the third period. He took two minors but to me they were ticky-tacky calls, especially the one that allowed the Hawks to pull their goalie and get the equalizer. What Johansson did in the last two minutes happened over 20 times previously in the contest with no call but because MJ90 is a rookie and he put his hands up as if to say “I did nothing,” the zebras sent him off. Boudreau after the game labeled the call as “Chintzy” (h/t Sky Kerstein of 106.7 FM in DC). My only advice to Marcus is to keep playing and don’t put your hands up next time because when you are a rookie or a new guy in the league, the referees will try and make an example of you.


– In summary, the Hawks could have been labeled as tired from a long road trip but they hadn’t played since Wednesday so I am not buying it. Washington showed that they can match up with a very good club even without their #1 center (Backstrom), #1 blue liner (Mike Green), and top two goalies (Semyon Varlamov and Neuvirth). With the five point division lead the Capitals now embark on what is a grueling six game road trip. They start Tuesday in Montreal, then have to clear customs and travel to Detroit for a date with the Red Wings on Wednesday before going to red hot New Jersey on Friday for a game against the desperate Devils. Things then pick up again in Philadelphia on Tuesday the 22nd and on Friday the 25th they are in Ottawa followed by a tilt against the Habs on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday the 26th. Simply put, if the Caps come out of this trip with six points they have to be happy and anything at eight points or more could set them up for locking down the Southeast Division and give them a shot at first overall in the East. But that doesn’t appear to matter to a lot of people in the organization, who seem to be focused on getting their players back healthy and then putting things together on the ice for the post season. This team, when healthy, can compete with any club in the league if they buy in to what their coaches are selling.


Notes: The Caps once again captured the faceoff battle, 27-23 and Laich won seven of eight draws…Washington, who came into tonight’s contest ranked third in the league in the penalty kill (85.8%), killed off three of four Blackhawks power-play chances. Until Toews’ third-period goal, the Caps had 12-consecutive penalty kills over their three-game home stand against Edmonton, Carolina and Chicago…the Caps only had two power plays (go figure?) but connected on one in fine fashion. They are 22-3-4 when scoring a power play goal…Scott Hannan was +3 in 18:44 of ice time while John Erskine was +2 in 15:32…Wideman had two assists…the Hershey Bears lost in a shootout to the Norfolk Admirals on Sunday at the Giant Center, 3-2. The Chocolate and White just concluded a very tough 7 games in 9 day stretch at 3-2-2, which was pretty good considering their best goalie carried the load for the big club this week (Holtby).


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Ovechkin, Holtby Lead Caps to 6th Straight Win

Posted on 10 March 2011 by Ed Frankovic

After two thrilling and draining victories on the road in Florida where the Caps seized first place in the Southeast Division for the first time since December, Washington came home to Verizon Center to face one of the worst teams in the NHL in the Edmonton Oilers. The question of the night for Capitals fans was which version of their team would show up? After 25 minutes the answer wasn’t really clear in a scoreless game but shortly thereafter the Caps took over in dominating fashion with Alexander Ovechkin potting two goals and adding an assist and Eric Fehr, who returned to the lineup after missing the last 22 games due to a bad shoulder, tallied twice as well. Alexander Semin (1 goal, 1 assist) capped the scoring on a pretty give and go with newcomer Marco Sturm and Braden Holtby earned his first NHL shutout stopping 22 shots.

The victory was Washington’s sixth straight and they improve to 38-20-10 (86 points) to remain two points up on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division (The Bolts beat Chicago, 4-3, in a shootout, aka the “Carnival Game” as coined by Greg Wyshynski over at Puck Daddy). The Lightning have a game in hand on the Caps. Washington is also now in second place in the Eastern Conference, just two points behind Philadelphia (who have two games in hand).

Here are the highlights and analysis of the Capitals first victory by more than a goal in their last eight wins:

– On paper, this doesn’t look like it was a tough shutout for Holtby but I beg to differ. The 21 year old from Saskatchewan received no goal support for the first 25 minutes and with the game scoreless he had to face Andrew Cogliano on a shorthanded breakaway after an Ovechkin turnover. #70 made a nice pad save and then the Great #8 paid Holtby back with a power play goal on the ensuing rush. Jason Arnott made a super pass to set Ovie up for an easy marker. Holtby faced 10 of his 22 shots in the first period and once the Caps seized the lead, his night did become a lot easier. Still, with Holtby, Michal Neuvirth, and Semyon Varlamov the Capitals continue to be loaded with young goalies. General Manager George McPhee and his scouts have drafted well and the two goalie coaches since the trio was selected, first Dave Prior and now Arturs Irbe, deserve a great deal of credit for their development. In addition, the kids themselves get kudos for listening, competing, and getting better. All three of them are fierce competitors. Heck, who can forget Holtby tomahawk chopping Evgeny Kuznetsov in development camp last July after the young Russian did too much showboating after a goal in a scrimmage? And don’t forget that Neuvirth had to listen to Jonathan Bernier hype last May when the Hershey Bears were set to face the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL Eastern Conference Finals. In that series Neuvy totally outplayed the Kings first round draft pick, who was the first goalie chosen in the 2006 draft (same one in which the Caps took both Varlamov and Neuvirth). All three aforementioned Capitals goalies has at least one shutout this season (h/t Caps Media Relations department).

– After a franchise record of 43 games without doing so, Washington finally scored two power play goals in a contest (h/t Mike Vogel), and as hard as it is to believe, it was Ovechkin’s first home PPG of the 2010-11 season. The Great #8 scored his down low after a great cross ice feed from Arnott from the right point. The second power play goal is what this team needs more of – a John Carlson point blast with Brooks Laich and Fehr in front (Fehr banged home a lose puck). The additions of #44 and Dennis Wideman now gives Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau much more flexibility with his power play units and he can take the Great #8 off of the point for at least half of the two minutes, especially when Mike Green returns to the lineup later in the month (more on that in the Notes below). The Caps were 2 for 5 with the man advantage and 4 for 4 on the PK against the worst special teams club in the NHL. Edmonton is ranked dead last in the league on the power play and is 29th out of 30 teams in penalty killing. Despite the weak competition, the Capitals needed to have a night of success on the PP in order to get their confidence with it going up again.

– The Saturday before the trade deadline I had an email discussion about the Capitals with NHL On The Fly’s Craig Button and he was quick to point out that a return of Fehr to the lineup would help a struggling power play unit. He was clearly right and #16 was playing his best hockey of the season right before he was injured in a collision with Dave Steckel in January. Fehr can play on any of the top three lines and I really like it when assistant coach Dean Evason puts the big bodied forward in front of the opposing goalie with either Mike Knuble or Laich on the power play. There is no substitute for big players who are tough to move from in front of the cage (see former Flyers tap in machine Tim Kerr back in the 80’s).

– There were several Capitals players who had good outings on Wednesday night but rookie Marcus Johansson continues to take his game to a higher level. With Nicklas Backstrom missing his first NHL game ever (stopping a streak of 341 straight contests), MJ90 got the tough task of centering Ovechkin, something he had not had much success with this year, granted it has only been a handful of games. Tonight, the two seemed to finally show some comfort together and the third tally of the night, which broke the game open in the third period, was of the highlight reel variety. The Great #8 hustled in the offensive zone and stole the puck from Kurtis Foster allowing he and the young Swede to go in alone on Nikolai Khabibulin (31 saves). The two made four quick passes to get the 2004 Stanley Cup winning goalie moving back and forth like a tennis ball and Ovechkin finished the deal with a top shelf wrister inside the right post. Johansson has definitely improved since the all star break and instead of hitting the rookie wall, like one would expect, he has taken his game to an even higher level in the last three Capitals victories (2 assists, +2 in those 3 games plus played over 17 minutes in last two tilts).

– Overall this was a solid win but Washington still has gone 12 straight games without leading after the first 20 minutes. The six game winning streak is nice but this team still has lots of room for improvement. But they have been winning through injuries to Green, Fehr, Backstrom, Varlamov, and Tom Poti so once Boudreau gets his full complement of players back and in game shape this team could be a daunting force heading into the post season. The key is for the whole squad to continue to buy in to the defensive mindset and improve their commitment to limiting their turnovers which will force the opposition to chase pucks in their own end.

Notes: Green was placed retroactively on LTIR back to 2/25 to make salary cap room for Fehr to return to the roster. #52 is eligible to return on 3/22 when the Caps face the Flyers in Philadelphia…Backstrom’s fractured thumb was banged up in Tampa on Monday and he might miss Friday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes at the Verzion Center (7 pm) as well…Varlamov skated briefly prior to the pre game skate today (h/t Katie Carrera of The Washington Post)…the Caps are 17-0 when Semin scores a goal this season and 31-0-3 when they tally 3 or more times…the Caps won the face-off battle, 33-22, and Laich won 15 of 21 draws.

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Caps Get Big Road Win in Buffalo

Posted on 20 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals came to play in Buffalo on Sunday afternoon, but so did Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. In a town that the Caps have an awful record playing in, it took a third period power play goal from Marcus Johansson to finally get a victory in Buffalo over Miller, who made 37 saves, several of which were of the ten bell variety in the first period when Washington was storming the castle. The former Michigan State goalie is one of the best in the league and it was play like we saw today from him that allowed Team USA to nearly defeat a much better and stronger Team Canada in the Winter Olympics last February. But much like Team USA’s fate, the Sabres fell as well and the Capitals improved to 31-19-10 (72 points) overall and trail the Southeast Division leading Tampa Bay Lightning by just three points. The Caps are also 12 points ahead of the tied for ninth place in the Eastern Conference Sabres and Atlanta Thrashers.

Here are the highlights and analysis of the Caps eighth victory in nine Sunday games this season:

– The Caps scored a power play goal! Repeat, the Caps scored a power play goal!! And it was the game winner as well. Granted they had four power plays in the first period, including a 94 second two man advantage, that they did not score on so it is not like this struggling unit is anywhere near fixed. Washington’s game winner did not come via an in-zone set up, rather it came off of the rush as Alexander Ovechkin carried the puck in and fired it on Miller, who gave up a rebound. Mathieu Perreault (1 goal, 1 assist) alertly fired it quickly from the left wing boards and Marcus Johansson went to the net and tipped it in with 9:50 remaining. On the day this unit was 1 for 5 in 7:31 of power play time and that is just not going to get it done when the chips are on the line for Washington. Yes they miss Mike Green, but John Carlson is not a big drop off and my problem with this unit is the lack of traffic in front and the minimal movement from the five guys on the ice. If Ovechkin was switched down low on the half wall and replaced by a to be brought in strong left handed point shot, then I think this unit would improve quite a bit. Some options could be d-man Bryan McCabe of Florida or forward Alexei Kovalev of Ottawa. Both are expected to be moved by the trade deadline on February 28th.

– Washington dominated this game for the first two frames but there was the nine minute stretch to start period three where Buffalo really came on strong. However Matt Hendricks, like he has done so many times this season, made a play to turn this game around. #26, who has a great on ice work ethic, dumped the puck in on the right wing boards and former Cap Shaone Morrisonn took his second penalty of the game with a lazy play like he had done for the Caps too many times over the last several seasons before being let go via the free agency route. The Sabres had outworked Washington up to that point of the final stanza and the hard work of Hendricks turned the whole period around. Johansson’s power play goal ensued to set up the victory. Kudos to Hendricks, who brings the intangibles and energy to this club.

– Once Washington got the lead, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wisely shortened his bench and the Sabres saw a steady dose of Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Boyd Gordon down the stretch (5 or 6 shifts each in last nine minutes). The 39-10-15 unit stifled any Buffalo attacks and it was Steckel who won the last face-off with four seconds remaining to close the victory out for the Caps.

– Semyon Varlamov (28 saves) was very solid in net and his best save of the game was likely on Mike Grier on a reboud attempt in close when the outcome was very much in doubt. The one tally he allowed was a Buffalo power play goal in which Scott Hannan skated in his sight line and Jason Pominville snapped one by him on the high glove side. The goaltending for Washington continues to be very good and I will be very surprised if GM George McPhee makes any type of major goalie move at the deadline. He may get some depth for Hershey, but I don’t see him wasting salary cap space on goaltending when the team has other more pressing holes.

– Carlson led the Caps in ice time (24:29) and because so much of that came on the power play, the blue line duo that saw the most ice time was Hannan (20:38) and Jeff Schultz (22:07). Karl Alzner only played 15:43 because his partner needed to rest after each power play. However, at the end of the game, when it mattered the most, it was 27 and 74 out for the last 37 seconds of this contest.

– In summary, this was an important victory for the Caps as they move to 2-2 on their 10 day, five game road trip which wraps up in Pittsburgh on Monday night (730pm on VERSUS). They performed well against a Buffalo team that was desperate for a victory, yet the Capitals outplayed them for the majority of this contest. They still have issues, like up the middle of the ice where the smallish and young Perreault and Johansson just aren’t consistent enough for the post season plus the power play is in peril, but they still have Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin who are elite players in the NHL and when they want to play, they can carry this club.

Notes: Mike Green missed his fourth straight game on this road trip and fifth contest in the last six…Tom Poti is still out injured as well so the blue line continues to be filled with a few players who aren’t good puck carriers/movers…Washington lost the face-off battle, 29-24 (Backstrom went 7-12)…Ovechkin and Semin made some nice defensive plays in the final period but the Great #8 was also guilty of some floating in the neutral zone or in his own end, at times…Tyler Sloan did block three shots in just over 15 minutes of ice time, but Brooks Laich and Bradley had the most important ones of the game in the third period…Perreault took a bad hooking penalty in the third period and his defensive zone play is his biggest weakness. If only Johansson had Perreault’s offensive skills to go with MJ90’s fairly strong defensive prowess you would likely have your number two center, but that is not the case. Johansson will eventually be a strong third line center, he is only 20 years old. But the future is now for the Caps and since this is a wide open Eastern Conference, the need to upgrade at the trade deadline at the center position is vital for a long playoff run and shot at the Stanley Cup.

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Semin’s Hat Trick Leads Caps in 7-6 Wild Win

Posted on 17 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

If this was the first Capitals game of the season you chose to not watch, shame on you because you missed a dandy. Alexander Semin, who hadn’t scored a goal since November 28th, netted his fourth hat trick of the season, the last with just 1:47 left in regulation as the Caps rallied from 4-2, 5-4, and 6-5 deficits to win 7-6 in Anaheim. It was an entertaining game with some amazing goals, including a beauty from Alexander Ovechkin in the first period, but it also had bad goaltending and shoddy defensive zone coverage. At the end of the night, it doesn’t matter for Coach Bruce Boudreau’s club as they got a much needed two points to move to 30-18-10 (70 points). They trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by four points in the Southeast Division race and more importantly, they are now 10 points above a playoff spot with just 24 games to go in the regular season.

Here are the highlights and analysis of a game that pretty much had it all:

– Mentally tough is something this Caps team has not been called much in the past. Tonight they absolutely were, especially after giving up a shorthanded goal to give the Ducks a 4-2 lead and more importantly, in the third period when Anaheim scored on a play that just might have been offsides. In the first instance, Boudreau called his timeout and told his club that there were still 30+ minutes to go. They quickly tied the game up after that smart decision by the Caps bench boss. Then when Bobby Ryan scored with just over 14 minutes to go on the controversial rush that looked to be initiated via an offsides pass, the Caps righted the ship and the Semin show took over down the stretch.

– Before getting too excited about this win, the Caps need to realize that they scored all of these goals against Curtis McElhinney (24 saves), who is at best a backup in the NHL. The Ducks net minder was terrible in this outing and he continually bobbled the puck into the slot for rebound chances. Every Caps goal came in close so it is very encouraging that Washington was going to the high priced areas on the ice. At the other end, Semyon Varlamov got the start and was yanked after giving up three goals on nine shots after 20 minutes. #1 was left out to dry by his team, particularly his forwards who didn’t cover their men (Marcus Johansson and Mathieu Perreault were the first period culprits). Michal Neuvirth (only 9 saves but got the win) didn’t get a lot of help either. Ovechkin was terrible on the Corey Perry shorthanded goal and he didn’t do a good job of stopping Lubomir Visnovsky from firing at the point on the fifth Ducks marker, which was deflected past Neuvirth by Nicklas Backstrom. But the offense woke up on a night when the team needed them most.

– Once again the best d-pair on the ice for the Caps was the John Carlson (+4) and Karl Alzner (+3, 3 assists) duo and they had to be with Mike Green out of the lineup for the third time in four games (inner ear issue). For Anaheim, rookie blue liner Cam Fowler, who played on the Memorial Cup winning Windsor SpitFires the last two seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, was a -5 and he was unable to handle the stronger Capitals forwards.

– In summary, this game was not a thing of beauty at all, but who cares?? The Caps finally scored some goals and perhaps those sticks won’t be so tight from here on out? In addition, a mentally fragile club would have packed it in on Wednesday night when some of the bounces and bad breaks were going against them, but the Capitals did not do that and for that they deserved this victory.

Notes: Perreault was -2 and he is having problems in his own zone…Backstrom had two assists but he still can’t hit the ocean from the beach and his late icing with the net empty was a head scratcher…Brooks Laich got a much needed goal and he, Semin, and Johansson had a strong final 40 minutes…John Erskine fought Andy Sutton after #25 cheap shotted Matt Hendricks behind the Capitals net late in period two…Tyler Sloan struggled and his bad penalty led to the Ducks first goal…Washington’s power play is still terrible. They were 0 for 2 and gave up a shorty. It reverted on this night after a decent showing in Phoenix…Ryan Getzlaf had four points for Anaheim, man is that top line good!…the Caps will be in San Jose on Thursday at 1030pm and given that it is games on back to back nights, we just might see blue liner Patrick McNeill get in the lineup after his recall from Hershey on Tuesday.

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Caps Totally Awful In Loss to Kings

Posted on 12 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

When Alexander Ovechkin scored just 1:06 into Saturday’s Capitals game against the Los Angeles Kings for their fastest start to a contest all season, it looked like Washington was poised to show that Tuesday’s lackluster loss to the San Jose Sharks following two strong wins against Tampa and Pittsburgh was just a minor bump in the road. Just under 59 minutes of hockey later, after the Kings scored three times in the third period to win 4-1, it looks more and more like the Sharks defeat was a more accurate description of where this Capitals squad is right now, and the picture is not good. The Caps, who held a players only meeting following the contest and then boarded a flight for Phoenix where they will begin a five game road trip on Monday night (8pm on VERSUS), seem to have more questions than answers with the playoffs just two months away and the NHL trade deadline looming on Monday, February 28th at 3pm. Simply put, Washington General Manager George McPhee is likely doing a lot of thinking after this game, which drops the Caps record to 29-17-10, given what he’s seen from his club since December 1st.

So with that lead in, get ready for some hard hitting analysis of an awful loss and a team that currently looks like it will be a one series and done squad in the postseason, unless changes are made:

– To me this was the WORST loss for the Caps all season. I know that they’ve had some stinkers this year like the 7-0 loss to the Rangers or the 5-0 defeats in New Jersey and Atlanta or the listless 3-0 performance in Tampa, but those games came with key players out of the lineup or were the result of tough stretches in the schedule. In today’s debacle THERE ARE NO EXCUSES! Washington had three days to prepare for the Kings and the only players missing were defenseman Tom Poti (chronic groin problem) and right wing Eric Fehr (shoulder). Mike Green was back after missing a game due to a head injury (puck in the noggin vs. the Penguins) and Alexander Semin was in his second straight contest since returning from a lenghty groin problem, so #28 should have had the rust worked off of his game. After a decent first period, in which the Capitals led 1-0 and held the Kings to just four shots on the cage, Washington played horribly and Terry Murray’s team outworked them and showed Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau’s club how to go to the net and get rewarded, something that the Capitals seem to refuse to do.

– At this point in the season the players should be competing hard and making a statement about their respective games if they want to stay on a team that some still believe has a shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup this spring, especially borderline guys like Jeff Schultz, Marcus Johansson, and Mathieu Perreault. #55 was easily the worst player on the ice on Saturday playing on what is supposed to be the team’s top defensive pair with Green. Sarge was -3 in 14:35 and was on for the first three Los Angeles goals. He only played two shifts after the third Kings tally. He was downright awful and slow, and on that third Kings goal I think an orange road cone could have played better defense than what he displayed on that sequence. Schultz doesn’t look anything like the player who went +50 in the 2009-10 regular season and seems to be very much the player who struggled in the post season against Montreal. Boudreau, who broke up the Scott Hannan-Green duo in an attempt to get more balance on his blue line pairs with Poti injured, should reunite 52 and 23 and just drastically cut the ice time of #55 and his likely new partner until #3 returns, John Erskine. I have no idea how this coaching staff and team can have any confidence in Schultz right now, he seems to have lost any step he may have once had.

– As for Perreault and Johansson, I’ve seen enough of these two little guys as the 2nd/3rd line center combo. If you add their ice time together from today it comes to 28:56 total and they were a combined -3. You cannot win with centers performing like that. Perreault had his worst game of the year and too many times he tried to carry the puck into the offensive zone when he had forwards waiting ahead of him at the blue line (typically Brooks Laich). The result of this tactic is often an offside infraction. #85 needs to learn to either pass the puck up to a leading forward and use his quickness to get open for the return pass after the biscuit is carried across the blue line or dump the puck into the offensive zone. His neutral zone puck hogging is zapping the Capitals of any speed entering the offensive zone and if you don’t have that it is very difficult to create time, open space, and scoring opportunities. Perreault also was woefully out of position on the two goals that were scored against his line. Johansson just continues to be a no show on two of every three nights. But he is a rookie and I will give him a little bit of a break. Let’s be honest though, if the Caps had any other decent options at center only one of these guys would be in the lineup, if that. I do not think Washington can win a playoff series unless they go out and upgrade the middle of the ice before the trade deadline because Montreal showed that all you have to do is shut down the Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom line and you can win. I would like to see McPhee try and bring in either R.J. Umberger or Jason Arnott, two players who could be available over the next two weeks. Either one is a big upgrade to the pivot position.

– Semin is sure giving Caps fans a warm and fuzzy about his $6.7M one year contract extension, isn’t he??!! #28 hasn’t scored a goal since November and we’ve all heard the injury excuse but this guy simply is a “ferrari with a volkswagon engine,” as one former NHL executive described him to me last season. He drew a penalty in period two but after that he disappeared and sat the pine with Laich over the last six plus minutes. As for #21, he had a great game against the Penguins last Sunday and a good one in Tampa two nights earlier, but over the last month when taking out those two tilts, he has one goal, one assist, and is -5 in those 10 other games. That doesn’t cut it.

– Boudreau talked after the game about his struggling power play and the excessive amount of work they’ve put in on it in practice over the last month in an attempt to get it back to the 25% success ratio it had in the 2009-10 regular season. The bench boss said he is puzzled why they can’t connect more often given that it is the same players on the ice. He finally sent a message to his top unit by putting out DJ King, Dave Steckel, and Matt Bradley on a man advantage after this one was pretty much over. With those guys on the ice and John Carlson playing the point, the Caps SHOT the puck, something that Ovechkin, Green, Backstrom, and Semin seem to forget you need to do to score goals. Those guys are running a power play these days like it is all about style points by trying to score the prettiest goal possible and it is NOT WORKING. Memo to 8, 52, 28, and 19:  It is not rocket science on how to succeed on the power play, you get the puck to the point and blast away while the other guys crash the net for rebounds. I will also say this for what seems to be the 1,000th time, I don’t like the Great #8 on the point on the power play and he should be on the half wall, where he scored his last PPG against Tampa just eight days ago. Green has to start firing the slapper again like he did back in 2007-08 and if he can’t do it, then Carlson should get even more PP time. I believe that McPhee needs to trade for a heavy left handed point shot at the deadline to help get this unit back on track (Bryan McCabe? Tomas Kaberle?)

– Semyon Varlamov (24 saves) did not have one of his better afternoons. Sure he was left out to dry by the 55-52 duo, but #1 had a hard time with his rebound control today. Still, he was far from the reason why the Caps lost.  Varly and Michal Neuvirth should sue the rest of the club for the non-suport they’ve received over the last two months.

– When the Caps switched to a more defensive hockey posture in mid December, the message was that they were working on that style so that they could use it in the playoffs, when needed. The result has been that the goal scoring has practically disappeared due to the lack of offensive zone pressure that used to create turnovers and scoring opportunities in Boudreau’s aggressive scheme. The players don’t look like they are having fun playing this system, nor do they look like the right combination of guys to do it. McPhee and Boudreau need to take a hard look at this scheme change and determine if it is the correct one, and if so, figure out which guys they should keep around to play it come April. If you ask me, there are a lot of players who could be moved out if a better commodity is made available. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Green, Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Knuble and Hannan all appear non-tradeable based on either ability or their contract, but I would have to say that every other skater could be shipped out for the right price in return.

– In summary, the direction this team is going right now leads to early tee times. The thought by some that the Caps can “turn on the switch” and be ready for post season hockey is becoming less realistic as this season has evolved. Bad habits die hard and the Capitals inconsistent play has to give McPhee and Boudreau a major uneasy feeling with just over two weeks until the trading deadline. I’ve seen enough myself, it is time to deal if Washington is to get where they want to be come late May/early June.

Notes: For the second straight game Washington, normally a good faceoff team, was buried from the dot, 27-17. Steckel went 6-4 and every other draw man lost more than they won…after this Monday’s game against the Coyotes, the Caps go to Anaheim on Wednesday and then San Jose on Thursday before finishing in Buffalo and Pittsburgh on Sunday and next Monday, respectively…Tampa blew a two goal lead to Carolina in the last two minutes on Saturday but then won in overtime to increase their Southeast Division lead over the Caps to five points…the 5th place Capitals are eight points ahead of the 9th place Atlanta Thrashers in the Eastern Conference standings.

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Not So “Shaky” Caps Neuvirth Blanks Pens, 3-0

Posted on 06 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

During the Capitals-Penguins game back on December 23rd at the Verizon Center, Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma was captured on camera by HBO in their superb 24/7 series as saying that Michal Neuvirth was “shaky.” Well Bylsma’s crew may have won that contest, 3-2, in an extended shootout, but as they say, revenge is a dish best served cold. On Super Bowl Sunday at a sold out and rowdy Verizon Center, Neuvirth (22 saves) and his teammates ICED the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-0, in the second straight strong team performance from the Caps. Brooks Laich, Marcus Johansson (shorthanded), and Mike Knuble (empty net goal) scored for Washington, who improved to 29-15-10 (68 points) and remain three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division race. The Caps are a comfortable 10 points ahead of the ninth place Atlanta Thrashers in the Eastern Conference standings and they have a game in hand on Atlanta. The top eight teams in each conference qualify for the postseason.

Below are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from the Caps eighth straight victory on Super Bowl Sunday at the Verizon Center (Washington is 14-3-1 since 1988 on the NFL’s biggest day):

– It was important for Washington to follow up a 60 minute Friday night winning effort in Tampa with another strong showing. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau received all of that in this contest’s first 30 minutes as Washington raced out to a 2-0 lead and held a dominating 17-8 advantage on the shots board. For the next 14 plus minutes the Capitals would skate hard and deliver a strong effort, however, their hockey IQ was not good at all. Time after time during that stretch Washington had opportunities for quality chances yet they continued to over pass the puck and failed to get off any good shots on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (21 saves). In fact, from the 9:55 mark of the second period until 4:24 into period three the Caps did not register a single shot on goal. Nicklas Backstrom tried forcing a pass on a two on one rush and Boyd Gordon attempted to pass the biscuit across the slot when he was all alone on #29 were two specific examples of numerous instances during that stretch when a shot on net may have led to a three goal lead. Boudreau’s crew seemed to forget, like they did when up 2-0 on Montreal on Tuesday evening, that the simple hockey strategy of getting pucks deep and to the net were what gave them the lead in those games. Afterwards, Washington defenseman Karl Alzner talked about what the Caps did so well to get the two goal margin and then agreed that the club lost its focus for that shotless stretch before regrouping.

“I think it was just sticking to the system, we did everything the way we wanted to do it. We got pucks in, we didn’t have many turnovers at the offensive blue line, defensive blue line, and that’s what we need every single game. That’s two games back to back where we stuck to everything the coaches told us to do and we got good results,” said #27 on what is driving the team’s recent success.

“We started taking the foot off of the gas a little and they put on a bit of a push. When you have a lead sometimes the tendency is to make nice plays to try to get more points and more goals on the board and that is what was happening. We came back after the intermission and we’ve got a lot of guys who are thinking the right way now, just kind of focus back in together and turn it up again,” added Alzner when asked what happened during the last 10 minutes of the second period.

– Neuvirth, who found out on Saturday night that he possibly would be starting with Semyon Varlamov feeling sick, was poised in the cage and did a super job of not giving up juicy rebounds and he froze the puck when the Capitals occassionally started scrambling around in their own zone. He didn’t have to be spectacular because his teammates were willing to sacrifice their bodies to block shots but #30 was clearly determined to make Bylsma regret his in game comments from that pre-Christmas tilt.

“Of course. I watched every episode (of HBO’s 24/7), but this is hockey. It didn’t really bother me. But now I’m really happy that I shut them down. It’s even better for me right now. Before the game, I remembered when he said that and I kind of looked at him during the warm up and told myself that I got to shut these guys out tonight,” responsed the rookie goalie, who earned his second shutout of the season and NHL career, when asked about Bylsma’s 24/7 captured comments.

– The Caps did right the ship during those last 15 minutes of period three by getting back to dumping the puck deep and forcing a depleted Pittsburgh squad, that was without Sidney Crosby (concussion) and likely Evgeni Malkin for the season (torn ACL and MCL in his knee), to try and go through all five Capitals to score. Washington, who was also missing Alexander Semin, Eric Fehr, and Tom Poti, plus lost top defensemen Mike Green for the last two periods due to a shot that hit him near the ear and required stitches, played their defensive system superbly and when guys like superstar Alexander Ovechkin are laying out on the ice to block slappers from the point, you know the team is committed to winning at all costs.

“It’s all about commitment. It’s a commitment to winning. You block shots, one of your teammates goes down, another one picks it up,” commented Boudreau on the excellent defensive effort.


– Washington’s power play, which went 0 for 4, did have several good chances to score on Sunday as the Capitals did a decent job of getting the puck between the dots at the top of the point and blasting away. Ovechkin had a few slappers that made their way to the cage and the Caps just missed banging home rebounds from in front. The Capitals had registered man advantage markers in their two previous games and Boudreau felt that this unit was good once again on Sunday.


“I thought we could have had three or four. Sometimes you just don’t get it in and you are playing against the league’s best penalty killing team. But we had good chances and bottom line there is Fleury made some great saves there in the end to keep it at two,” said Boudreau on his power play unit.


“It’s really tough, guys they sacrifice their bodies all of the time now. They block absolutely everything. So it’s difficult. That is why we are trying to move the puck, spread it out as much as we can and get shots. Nobody likes when we don’t shoot the puck, we can hear that, but sometimes you just can’t do it. You have to shoot it off to the side of the net there or make plays. It doesn’t always work out but you do what you can,” added Alzner when asked about the difficulty in today’s NHL of getting off center point blasts with the man advantage.


– There were no penalties called in the first period and with the majority of the action in the Caps offensive zone it was clear that referee Dave Jackson was going to let the teams play in front of him. I was fine with that and I imagine the players and coaches did as well. As for the other zebra, Paul Devorski, one of the worst officials in the league still needs to buy a clue. Specifically, the man who allowed the Flyers to score their first goal in game seven of their 2008 playoff series against Washington because Philly ran Caps goalie Cristobal Huet, still has no idea on how to properly call goaltender interference. On Sunday, Matt Hendricks was shoved into Fleury while Knuble appeared to score the Capitals second goal and #10, instead of waving the goal off due to coincidental contact with the net minder and calling for a faceoff, said no goal and also assessed #26 with a two minute minor for goalie interference. It was a terrible interpretation of the rules, but fortunately for Washington they scored shorthanded on Johansson’s screened backhander with just five ticks left in the Penguins man advantage. Devorski also only assesed Pittsburgh cheap shot artist Matt Cooke a two minute minor when he delivered an ugly knee to knee hit on Ovechkin late in the contest. The Great #8 was luckily okay but one can’t help but wonder how Cooke, who has a history of dirty play, escaped a major and what should be a suspension? After all, Ovechkin received a five minute major, game misconduct, and then a two game suspension for a similar play in Carolina last season.


“I’m never going to say anything bad about an official. They are watching from their own eyes, they are seeing what they are seeing and they are making calls that they think are right. I am not always going to agree with them, on the same point, but I didn’t feel like I purposely went into the goaltender, I felt like I was pushed from behind. I don’t think I was in the blue. I think Fleury was out quite a bit out of his crease. That’s the game I play, the style I play, those things are going to happen. It’s tough when we score a goal too,” said Hendricks on the goalie interference infraction he was incorrectly assessed.


“It’s Matt Cooke, okay, need we say more. It’s not like it’s his first rodeo, he’s done it to everybody and then he goes to the ref and says ‘What did I do?’ He knows damn well what he did. There is no doubt in my mind that he’s good at it and he knows how to do it and he knows how to pick this stuff. We as a league still buy into this, that ‘Oh, it still was an accidental thing’,” said Boudreau on the dirty play by #24 against his former teammate, Ovechkin.


Notes: Despite the fact that everyone who knows anything about hockey and Dave Steckel realizes that the contact he had with Crosby on New Years Day was incidental, Penguins forward Tim Wallace tried to make a name for himself by challenging #39 to a 3rd period fight, which Steckel obliged…the Capitals dominated the Pens from the dot winning 32 of 49 draws. Backstrom was a sensational 14-3…Johansson and Mathieu Perreault, two young small centermen, have had back to back strong contests but Boudreau has often commented that he’s seen flashes of this before and wants consistency from the pair. He also mentioned today that MJ90 has had to deal with numerous differences in the NHL game and he pointed out that in the Swedish league that Marcus played in last season skaters aren’t even allowed to use their feet to win a faceoff…Green was dressed and doing interviews after the victory but I suspect the area where he took the puck will swell and it might be wise to sit him out until he is totally healthy. “He’s day-to-day. He’s got a little bit of a headache right now. You get hit in the head with a puck and you’re gonna have a headache. We’ll reevaluate him tomorrow,” added Boudreau….the Caps killed off both Penguins power plays and are still ranked 2nd in the NHL on the PK (86.3%)…Boudreau improved to 10-1-3 in his tenure against the Penguins and the Capitals are 9-0-2 in the last 11 regular season meetings versus Pittsburgh…Semin is expected to play in Washington’s next game against San Jose at the Verizon Center on Tuesday night. #28 hasn’t played since early January.

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Caps Smoke Bolts in Tampa, 5-2

Posted on 05 February 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Not so fast, Tampa Bay Lightning, on claiming that Southeast Division title just yet. Your daddy, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, just came to town and his club laid another rear-end whipping on you by a 5-2 count, behind a four point night from Alexander Ovechkin (1 goal, 3 assists, +3). Nicklas Backstrom also had four points (2 goals, 2 assists, +3) and Semyon Varlamov (23 saves) recovered from allowing a bad goal on the first shot he faced to get the victory as Washington pulled within three points of the first place Bolts. The Caps are now 3-1-1 against Tampa this year and Boudreau is 18-3-1 against them since taking over as the Capitals bench boss on Thanksgiving in 2007.

Below are the highlights and analysis from a Caps game that the NHL Network’s Billy Jaffe afterwards called “One of the most complete games they’ve had in a while.”:

– We’ll get to the Ovechkin/Backstrom show in a minute but this night, that started ominously with Washington outshooting the Bolts 10-1 but had the Caps trailing 1-0, turned around thanks to a Dale Hunter like move and performance from Matt Hendricks. Tampa goalie Dwayne Roloson had owned the Capitals in his first two games against them as a Bolt keeping them off of the scoreboard for all 125 minutes played. But #26 changed that by running into the Lightning goaltender at the 8:21 mark and the 41 year old goalie snapped by punching Hendricks with his blocker numerous times to set up a 4 on 4 situation. Actually, according to the rulebook Roloson should have been given a major and kicked out for attempt to injure (h/t Caps VP @nateewell) but it turned out to be good he stayed in because he lost his focus after the altercation. Just 48 seconds later Roloson had trouble with a Mike Green shot and Backstrom put in the rebound as he and the Great #8 were crashing the net. That goal knocked the Roloson monkey off of the Caps backs. Hendricks also held his own in a fight with Tampa’s top pscyho and chief punk, Steve Downie, at the 10:39 mark.

– Now on to the 8 and 19 show. The Capitals top line, which featured Jason Chimera (1 empty net goal, 1 assist) back on the 1st unit, abused a very slow and methodical Lightning defense all game. Chimera’s speed was a huge difference and both the Great #8 and Backstrom were as focused as I’ve seen them in months. That line continuously cyclced the puck well and generated pressure and scoring chances. Ovechkin also scored his first power play goal since October (he scored two in Calgary) and it came from the half wall, a position I have been calling for him to play more of on the PP, with Mike Knuble doing a super Tomas Holmstrom like screening job in front of the Tampa net. #22 was battling with the talented yet slow Victor Hedman and it rattled Roloson. That marker made it 3-1 Caps less than two minutes after the Capitals took the lead for the first time. Then after Tampa scored on the PP late in period two to make it 3-2, Ovie would set up Backstrom’s second tally of the night with just under eight minutes left in regulation. Alexander the Great took a Chimera feed and fired the biscuit on net and then crashed it for the rebound. When all three Bolts, including Roloson, went to Ovechkin, #19 skated down the slot all alone and fired the biscuit into a vacated cage. The final tally for that line came with the empty net and Ovechkin unselfishly fed Chimera for a wide open goal that closed out the scoring. Simply put, if Ovechkin and Backstrom play like that on a consistent basis, this team is very hard to beat.

– While the top line was sensational, there was a lot of good work from the supporting cast. In particular, Boudreau received a strong performance from his second line and the second Washington goal was a thing of beauty. All three Caps forwards, Mathieu Perreault, Jay Beagle, and Brooks Laich were working hard on the left wing boards and #83 managed to get the puck in the left wing circle to #85 who made a gorgeous pass to #21 in the slot. Laich then made an even prettier backhanded shot upstairs past Roloson that gave the Capitals their first lead of the game 6:38 into period two and it was one they would never relinquish. #85 only logged 12:53 of ice time but it was of the high energy variety, something he has to bring every night if he is going to stay in the NHL.

– Steven Stamkos, who is leading the NHL in points, was hardly noticeable thanks to an outstanding defensive job by the John Carlson (1 assist in a team leading 26:49 of ice time) and Karl Alzner (19:40 of ice time) duo. Both were +2 on the night and they held Stamkos (0 points, -2) to just one shot on net in this tilt! #74 and #27 are only 21 and 22 years old, respectively, yet they are routinely called on by Boudreau to match up against the opponents top line and they are getting the job done.

– Washington, who won despite two of their top three right wings, Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr, still out of the lineup, played a very smart game. They routinely got the puck deep in the Tampa zone and abused a subpar Lightning defense. In addition, with the Bolts playing a 1-3-1 neutral zone configuration, the Caps blue liners were patient and did a good job of not forcing passes. Guy Boucher’s club prefers to sit back and counter attack against the Caps but Boudreau’s crew did not allow the Bolts to have much success with that plan on Friday night. Simply put, Boudreau outcoached the rookie NHL bench boss on this night.

– Varlamov was super solid after giving up the first goal to Teddy Purcell (1 goal, 1 assist) from a bad angle just 3:21 into the contest. There were a few flurries against #1 in the first period and during the second but he stayed calm in net and didn’t give up any quality rebounds. Credit the defense for protecting the front of the cage as well and the whole team deserves kudos for being mentally strong and not letting the bad first goal get them down.

Notes: The Caps outshot Tampa, 36-25 in an excellent 60 minute effort…Washington also buried the Bolts in the face-off dot going 41-27. Marcus Johansson (10:53) and Jay Beagle (1 assist in 11:44 of time) were both 7-1 while NHL leading draw man Dave Steckel went 6-1…Matt Bradley fought Adam Hall in period one after the Hendricks-Downie bout…Ovechkin had four hits, including a good one in the opening frame against cheap shot and skate away artist, Mattias Ohlund…Tampa’s Brett Clark deflected a Purcell shot on the PP past Varlamov to end a Washington string of 27 straight penalty kills in the second period…both teams went 1 for 4 with the man advantage…the Caps are now 11-3-2 when Ovechkin scores a point on the road…next up for the Caps are the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center on Sunday at 1230pm on NBC. Both Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee) are expected to miss the game for the Pens…the Hershey Bears, who lost goalie Dany Sabourin for 2 to 3 months due to a knee injury, knocked off the Albany Devils, 5-3, in Atlantic City on Friday night. Brian Willsie had two goals and Todd Ford, on recall from the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL, made 21 saves (h/t to my main man John Walton from the Bears for the info on this victory).

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Caps Lose in Shootout Again

Posted on 25 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Seven and counting. That is how many games in a row the Capitals have lost in overtime or the shootout this season after a 2-1 defeat to the New York Rangers at the Verizon Center on Monday night. Matt Hendricks scored the lone Caps goal early in the second period off of a gorgeous pass from rookie Marcus Johansson but then the Blueshirts tied it on a fluky goal that hit the arm of forward Marian Gaborik and then Caps d-man Karl Alzner’s stick before going into the cage with 6:41 left in regulation. At that point the Caps were being outshot 28-17, but they would take 10 of the next 11 shots before the game went to the gimmick. In the shootout, the Rangers took advantage of an “overly aggressive” Braden Holtby, scoring on 3 of 4 attempts while Washington went 2-4. The Caps record now stands at 27-14-9 and the missed points in the extra sessions are the big reason they now trail the Tampa Bay Lightning by two points in the Southeast Division race.

Here are the highlights, quotes, and analysis from a tightchecking game that didn’t have too many scoring opportunities:

– With the Caps missing Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr up front while the Rangers were without top forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan, this game turned into a John Tortorella special, a hard working, grind it out type of affair. Each team had stretches where they controlled the puck for long periods of time in the others zone but the Capitals were on the short end of the shots on goal board because they often overpassed looking for the perfect play. The Rangers forecheck, at times, was also relentless and early on Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau made a tactical adjustment on Washington’s breakout with Tortorella’s crew clogging all zone exits on the boards.

“Patience from our D and then hitting the middle. I think our D did a great job once we changed the game plan a little bit. Me and [Johansson], and [Hendricks] had a couple of 3 on 2’s and [Hendricks] almost scored their in the third on that one shot. Their D came down the boards hard so it was either a chip from the winger or else hit the center. They played a tough game,” said Caps forward Jay Beagle on the changes Boudreau made almost right away in the opening stanza to combat the New York forecheck.

– Holtby only surrendered one goal for the third straight game but this time he did not get a victory because the Capitals continue to struggle to score. Problem number one was a lack of shots and compounding that was the fact that the Caps had two power plays for a total of four minutes and they had exactly ONE shot on goal. That is totally unacceptable. At this point, Boudreau likely needs to just put out the grinders and a set of different defensemen to see what they can do to get this unit going. On the first attempt, it looked like the Caps might finally break through as Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Mike Green were up top on the umbrealla on the first unit, while Mike Knuble and Brooks Laich played screen men in front of Rangers goalie Martin Biron. That setup was good except for one thing: the point men were reluctant to fire away! Boudreau attributed the Caps lack of offense to the inability of the power play to score.

“We scored 90 some goals on the power play last year, that is one a game, we are in our 20’s still at 50 games, so that one goal a game, it constitutes the difference between people saying we are not an offensive team to an offensive team. A goal a game it goes from 2.80 to 3.80 which is what we had last year and was the best in the league. So when you are not scoring on the power play things are not working,” said Boudreau on the primary reason the offense is down this season.

– While Ovechkin isn’t doing a good job at all on the power play, the rest of his game continues to be on the rise. The Great #8 was all over the ice and his stick handling and moves were much more effective in this contest. Ovie had six shots on net, two hits, and three takeaways in 24:08 of ice time and I thought he was the best player on the ice. Ovechkin’s center, Nicklas Backstrom, had a strong game as well (13-7 on faceoffs, 2 shots in 23:55) but winger Jason Chimera did not have the same success he had with #’s 8 and 19 in the last two tilts. #25 seemed to fight the puck all evening struggling to retrieve passes and thus slowing down the rush.

– After that, there wasn’t much to this game, other than a lot of work on the wall by both clubs. The line of Mathieu Perreault, Brooks Laich, and Mike Knuble seemed to struggle but the Johansson (1 assist, +1), Matt Hendricks (1 goal and a great shootout tally), and Jay Beagle (+1) line was arguably Washington’s best three man crew. Johansson, in particular, had a really solid outing in 16:41 of ice time and his overtime play was much improved versus the defensive mistakes he made in the OT loss to the Flyers last Tuesday night.

Notes: Washington won the faceoff battle, 32-24…the Caps killed off both Ranger power plays allowing a total of four shots…Scott Hannan had the second assist on the Hendricks goal, his first point as a Capital…next up for the Caps are the Atlanta Thrashers in Hotlanta on Wednesday night. It is the last game before the All Star Break. I would expect Semyon Varlamov to get the start in goal, if he is healthy, because he is the Caps goalie who has had the most success in Phillips Arena.

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