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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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Caps Skate By Isles, 2-1

Posted on 21 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

The Washington Capitals have been accused in the past of being unable to win 2-1 games. Cross that item off the criticism list because the Caps raced to an early 2-0 second period lead, allowed a breakaway tally by  Michael Grabner in the middle frame, then put their defensive system to work in the third period en route to a 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders on Thursday night. It wasn’t pretty hockey and it was boring to watch, at times, but there are no style points in the NHL and as a result, the Caps exit Long Island and the Nassau Coliseum with the two points they wanted to grab on the second tilt of their three game road trip. The win pushes the Capitals overall record to 26-14-8 (60 points) and they still trail Tampa Bay by a point in the Southeast Division since the Bolts knocked off the Atlanta Thrashers, 3-2, in a shootout.

Here are the highlights and analysis of an “ugly win” over the young and pesky Islanders:

- Last time Braden Holtby was recalled to Washington he started with a bang by winning his first two appearances (one in relief and one as a starter), played well in an OT loss in Buffalo, and then imploded in two road tilts at Atlanta and New Jersey. #70, after those two defeats back in November, went back to Hershey and worked hard on his game posting several shutouts with the Bears while awaiting his next recall. Well the phone rang once again and Holtby was coming up to “The Show.” To top things off, he would start in his first contest with the Capitals on this recall due to minor injuries to Michal Neuvirth (sent back to DC after Tuesday’s OT loss in Philly) and Semyon Varlamov (dressed as the backup goalie on Thursday night). The result was a very solid 24 save effort from the young goalie from Saskatchewan. Holtby did not make some of the mistakes he made in his last two disastrous NHL starts, such as overplaying the puck or over challenging the shooters, and he looked very comfortable and in control during all 60 minutes. The only tally he allowed was to Grabner on a breakaway at 5:15 of the second period. Kudos to Braden for keeping a good attitude and showing once again that he has NHL game.

- Towards the end of the second period in the OT loss to the Flyers on Tuesday, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau put Jason Chimera on the top line with Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and it worked well against a very good Philadelphia club. On Long Island on Thursday, the Caps bench boss kept that trio together and it paid dividends as the Great #8 set up both Chimera (1 goal, +2) and Backstrom (1 goal, 1 assist, +2) for easy goals. For the most part this line dominated on the ice, except for some shifts towards the end of period two and in the final stanza where I thought Ovechkin (2 assists, +2) tried to do too much himself in the offensive zone and he also floated a bit in his own end. However, when the Capitals needed a key defensive play late in the game, the Great #8 cleared the puck off of the boards and down the ice without getting whistled for icing. That play by the team captain sealed this victory. For Backstrom, his tap in from the crease on a rebound of Ovechkin’s power move and shot on net, was his first tally since December 1st in St. Louis when had two goals (a 21 game drought). Adding Chimera to the line has been a great move because #25′s speed seems to open the ice up for the other two. In addition, Chimera is not afraid to go to the net and that is where he scored the Capitals first goal on Long Island.

- The Caps were fortunate to only give up one goal and once again they can thank their stellar penalty killing unit. Washington took six careless minors but the shorthanded crew was outstanding only allowing eight shots on goal over the 12 minutes. The Islanders moved the puck well, at times, on the man advantage but they could not solve Holtby. New York took only two penalties and they held the Caps to just four shots on those two man advantage situations. It is a good thing the Capitals did not need a power play goal to win on Thursday because once again they struggled to get pucks to the net on their PP opportunities.

- On the backend, the Capitals got very good performances from all of their blueliners. The Mike Green-Jeff Schultz pairing logged the most ice time and weren’t on for a goal against. John Carlson had an assist on the Caps second goal but was beat on the Grabner breakaway and #74′s usual partner, Karl Alzner, was +1 in 17:51 of ice time. Scott Hannan (+1) had his 14th straight contest with the Caps without being a minus player. If you watch #23 closely when he is playing you will see that he is a great communicator and is often talking to his d-partner. Hannan does a great job with this and he appears to be getting more and more comfortable with his role on this team. Finally, John Erskine was even (other d-man on the ice on Grabner’s goal) in 15 minutes of action dealing with a minor lower body injury (d-man Brian Fahey was recalled from Hershey in case #4 could not play).

- From the dot, the Caps once again dominated winning 34 of the 55 faceoffs taken. Boyd Gordon went 12-2 and Backstrom was 10-4. #1 NHL faceoff man, Dave Steckel, won four of his five draws. Only Marcus Johansson (-1) at 0-6 and Jay Beagle (1-4) struggled on draws.

- In summary, a win is a win is a win, and the Capitals will take it. However, if they are going to compete against the elite NHL clubs they need to find a way to get more offense going. They should get a boost once Alexander Semin returns to the lineup but the glaring need on the club still remains the second line center position.

Notes: Tomas Fleischmann, who was traded to Colorado in exchange for Hannan, was declared out for the rest of the NHL season Thursday due to a pulmonary embolism. Flash had been scoring consistently for the Avs…forward DJ King played only six shifts and logged 3:25 of ice time…next up for the Caps are the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday at 7pm. The Leafs have given the Capitals fits over the last two seasons and both contests this year at the Verizon Center went to the shootout.

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Punchless Caps Lose 3rd Straight

Posted on 14 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Remember those Wendy’s commericials with the “Where’s the Beef?” lady? These days you could rerun those ads to describe the Washington Capitals but modify the line to be “Where’s the Offense?” Once again a lack of scoring and some boneheaded plays led to a Caps defeat, this time at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks at the Verizon Center by a 4-2 count. Washington has now gone nine straight contests without scoring more than three goals and going back further it has been 15 of 16 games at three goals or less. Clearly some changes need to be made because this club is not getting it done offensively and they show no signs of breaking out of that funk. The loss keeps the Capitals at 55 points and thanks to an unlikely New Jersey Devils victory in Tampa, Washington is still only two points out of first place in the Southeast Division. The Caps are also seven points ahead of the ninth place Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference but the Canes have two games in hand.

Here is my analysis of a game that going into I thought would bring out a strong Washington effort:

- After two periods the shots were 29-16, Canucks, with Vancouver carrying the play and having a large terroritorial edge. They were winning nearly every battle for the loose pucks and they were working harder than Washington, which kept the Caps pinned back in their own zone for much of the first 40 minutes. The Capitals continually tried to break out up the boards but nearly every time there was one or two Vancouver players waiting and as a result there were numerous Washington turnovers. Either the Caps weren’t as focused as I’d thought they be against the NHL’s top team in the standings or they simply are not that good. The Caps were playing their third game in four nights, but given that Vancouver played Thursday night in New York, fatigue was no excuse.

- In the third period the Caps played better, outshooting the Canucks 11-6 and getting one tally, but it was nowhere near enough. Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo only had to face 27 shots and he pretty much saw all of them. Washington continually made poor decisions entering the opponents zone and when they dumped the puck in, the Capitals forwards were not working hard enough to get in position to hit the Canucks defense. That allowed the Vancouver blue liners to have an easy time of getting the biscuit out of their zone. Bottom line, outside of Alexander Ovechkin and perhaps Brooks Laich, the Capitals don’t have any forwards that have the ability to scare an opposing defense into turnovers. If that doesn’t change over the next few months, then the local Dicks sporting goods store will need to stock up on extra golf balls because that is what sport the Caps will be playing in late April and into the rest of the spring.

- Washington’s power play once again failed to click going 0 for 3 in 4:09 of ice time. If you don’t shoot the puck you can’t score. Guess how many shots the Caps had in those three power plays? Three! That is pathetic. It is maddening watching Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Nicklas Backstrom pass up shot after shot from the point or high half wall. At this point, things can’t get any worse by sitting those guys out with the man advantage and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau should consider going with some d-men who will shoot the puck and forwards who will crash the net in Sunday’s 3pm matinee against Ottawa.

- Boudreau switched up two of his defensive pairs in this one, putting Jeff Schultz back with Green and having Scott Hannan with John Erskine. The results were not good as Schultz looked woefully slow against a speedy Canucks club and Green had one of his worst outings in quite some time. Sarge is -5 in his last two tilts and it boggles my mind that he is getting more ice time than Karl Alzner, who had another strong game going +2 in 16:31 of ice time compared to 19:43 for #55.

- Up front, after Marcus Johannson (1 goal) and Matt Hendricks (1 goal, +1) there wasn’t much to like. Backstrom waited until the third period to show up and Ovechkin only had 3 shots on goal in just over 25 minutes of action. The Great #8 did have seven hits but once again he struggled with his stickwork and failed to get off shots on some good chances. The worst forward on the ice for Washington was Jason Chimera (-2 in 7:24 of action). #25 took a stupid roughing penalty 3:02 into the middle frame and the result was a Christian Ehroff power play goal just 44 seconds into the Vancouver man advantage. But things would get worse for Chimera as he carelessly turned the puck over at the red line allowing Daniel Sedin to skate in on a breakaway and beat Semyon Varlamov with 4:01 to go in period two. That tally made it 3-1 and given the way the Washington offense is struggling, the game was pretty much over at that point.

- The positives were again few and far between. Alzner had a strong game going +2, Johansson had one of his better outings in a very inconsistent rookie season (but that is to be expected, for the most part), Varlamov (31 saves on 34 shots) made some good stops to give the Caps hope after 40 minutes, and the team was strong from the face-off dot winning 38 of 57 draws. Backstrom was 19-5 while Dave Steckel went 8-1. Manny Malhotra, who was a close second to #39 in the race for the NHL’s best faceoff man, was abused by the Caps on Friday night losing 10 of 12.

- In summary, this third straight loss was another bad outing and the question I have after 45 games is: Is this team just taking it easy and hoping to kick it into gear in the spring or are they really not that good? Right now, given the lack of offensive production, I am leaning towards the latter and as I’ve blogged lately, GM George McPhee needs to upgrade his top six forward crew with at least two fresh faces if they want to go deep into the playoffs.

Notes: The Canucks fourth goal was into an empty net (Daniel Sedin floated at center ice waiting for the freebie)…Defenseman Tom Poti is out for at least a week with a lower body injury (i.e, he hurt his groin again)…Eric Fehr started on the top line, was yanked off of that for lack of production, and then left the game in the third period after colliding with Steckel by the bench area. It appeared #16 injured his arm (Update: Fehr injured his shoulder and is out 3-4 weeks)…Alexander Semin is still out with a lower body injury…Down on the farm, the Hershey Bears got goals from Zack Miskovic, Brian Willsie, and Steve Pinizzotto while Dany Sabourin made 25 saves in a 3-0 victory over Adirondack.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: At 1040 am on Saturday morning I will be on with Stephen Pepper and Russell Waxman on Japers Rink Radio talking Caps hockey. The full show starts at 10am. Click here to listen in live.

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Bolts Blank Uninspired Caps to Take Southeast Lead

Posted on 13 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

There was a battle for the top spot in the Southeast Division on Wednesday night between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals, but only one team showed up. I am not surprised. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season and getting bounced in the first round by Montreal, the Caps have been inconsistent this regular season and have appeared to basically be in a “waiting for the playoffs mode” with this contest being no exception. When the Capitals want to play, as they will likely do on Friday against the NHL standings leading Vancouver Canucks or next Tuesday night in Philadelphia against the Flyers, they typically can compete with anyone. But the Lightning, who Washington has owned in the Bruce Boudreau era, despite having a great season, just do not get the Capitals motivated, yet. As a result, a tired and uninspired Capitals club fell behind 2-0 in the first period and mailed it in the rest of the game en route to a 3-0 defeat. The Bolts now lead the Southeast Division over the Caps by two points (57 to 55):

Here are the lowlights and analysis from a lackluster Capitals performance:

- It is clear that the Capitals are definitely becoming the Penguins or Flyers to the Lightning. Guy Boucher’s club came out flying while the Caps still looked like they were sleeping following Tuesday night’s OT loss in Florida. Nate Thompson, who isn’t exactly going to challenge Steven Stamkos or Sidney Crosby for any all star spots, cruised into the Washington zone with speed forcing a slow footed Jeff Schultz to back up way too far. #44 then hit the brakes and threw the puck on net and Tom Poti, who really shouldn’t be playing yet because he isn’t 100% healthy, couldn’t handle Dominic Moore in front of the net. #19 then banked one in off of a sprawling Semyon Varlamov for the first marker just 3:58 in to the contest. Varly would then give up a rebound on a Victor Hedman point shot, because he had too much traffic in front of him (3 and 55 didn’t box out well), and Sean Bergenheim batted the biscuit in the basket baseball style to make it 2-0. The Bolts outshot the Caps 14-9 in that first intermission and dominated the play.

- From there, things just got worse for Washington as they didn’t play hard and the referees, Tim Kowal and Steve Kozari, officiated this one like they had money on the game in Vegas. I could try and list all of the missed and incorrect calls but in the immortal words of Mark Ratner from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, “That would take too long.” However, the sequence where Steve Downie dropped his mitts early and got two sucker punches in on Scott Hannan bears mentioning; not only because Downie is a gutless thug, but because the zebras, who I termed the Krusty the Klown pair, gave four minutes to #23 and only two to the Lightning pest that you just want to crush with your shoe. The referees were not the reason the Capitals lost on this evening, their lack of effort and the solid goaltending from Dwayne Roloson (23 saves) takes precedence, but the NHL seriously needs to look at many of these crews to try and find some sanity and consistency because I sure as heck am not seeing it in the league so far this season from the zebras.

- The positives for Washington were few and far between:

  • Varlamov did stop 35 of 38 shots. He was totally hung out to dry by Schutlz and Mike Green on the Simon Gagne goal to make it 3-0 late in period two. The former Flyers tally came on a 2 on 0 break after Sarge and #52 lolligagged it from the Bolts blue line after an offensive zone faceoff.
  • The Caps killed off all six Tampa power play chances (9:37 of shorthanded time).
  • Blue liners John Carlson and Karl Alzner logged 25:27  and 24:35 of ice time, respectively, and did not allow a goal. Most of those minutes came against the Bolts top line. Stamkos and Martin St. Louis were both held without a point thanks to the two young defensemen.
  • Alexander Ovechkin (-2, 4 hits, 2 shots on net in 18:38 of ice time) didn’t run out of hockey sticks. Well he almost did as he broke numerous twigs on the night and word has it that the team equipment crew had to run out to the truck to reload on the bench for the Great #8.

- Poti (-2), who only played five minutes and change before leaving with yet another injury, and Schultz (-3) had bad nights on defense. However, as I mentioned in this video that was shot with my media friends John Keeley of On Frozen Blog and Ted Starkey of The Washington Times on Saturday night at the Verizon Center, the Capitals are in good shape from a defense and goaltending posture. What General Manager George McPhee needs to do is go out and get at least one, and likely two, top six forwards to give Washington a better chance at going deep into the post season and competing for a Stanley Cup. With Varlamov and Neuvirth, they have improved in the cage and the defense is much better this season thanks to the emergence of Alzner and Carlson plus the acquisition of Hannan, so that leaves an offense that has been blanked six times this year as the club’s problem point. That is no surprise since last year’s squad finished games five through seven of the Montreal series with exactly one goal in each tilt. The Caps GM has until 3pm on February 28th to make some moves to get this offense going again, stay tuned.

Notes:  Boyd Gordon returned to the lineup after missing close to a month due to injury, and as a result forward Brian Willsie was sent back to Hershey after just one game (1 assist in just over six minutes of ice time)…Each team won 31 faceoffs on Wednesday. Dave Steckel went 5-1 for Washington.. Nearly 500 fans helped the Washington Capitals raise $304,900 for charity at the second Caps Care Casino Night and Auction on Jan. 9 at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center in Alexandria, Va. A majority of the money raised will benefit Washington Capitals Charities, which supports community programs in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

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Penalties, Special Teams Cost Caps in OT Loss

Posted on 12 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth received his first start since the Christmas break but his outstanding play (37 saves) was not rewarded as the Caps took too many penalties that resulted in three power play goals for the Florida Panthers, who won, 4-3, in overtime at home on Tuesday night. Washington rallied from an early 3-0 deficit in this one, but their inability to convert on the power play, and their own penchant for heading to the box on this night, eventually cost them. Nonetheless, the point they picked up moves them to 24-12-7 and puts them in a tie with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division with 55 points. On Wednesday evening the Caps and Bolts will face off in Tampa with the victor taking over the top spot in the division.

Here are the highlights and analysis of Washington’s first of six games on the road in the Sunshine State this season:

- I get it, the Southeast Division is better this year, but if you don’t show up in the first period, and the Capitals as a group collectively failed to move their feet in that opening stanza, you are going to make it easier for a less talented team to gain a victory. That is what happened on Tuesday as Washington was outshot 20-7 and fell behind 2-0 heading into the first intermission. The Nicklas Backstrom boarding penalty, after a questionable delayed infraction on Mike Knuble was being whistled, was a terrible one, although David Booth did a nice job of selling it. Florida scored on the ensuing 5 on 3 when Karl Alzner left his feet (bad move) to try and block the pass and Mike Santorelli banged it home from the doorstep. Santorelli has been very impressive in these two games between the two squads. That makes two games in a row that #19 has taken a bad boarding penalty and he needs to clean that up.

- The Panthers scored three power play goals but the improved Washington shorthanded unit was put in BAD spots on all three. The first two were 5 on 3 tallies and the third, the game winner in OT, was on a tougher to defend 4 on 3 marker. However, the Caps had that thing killed off until Matt Hendricks decided to try a fancy and stupid backhanded play up the right wing boards. The result was a turnover and disaster as the Panthers won the game just seconds later. That whole power play was set up by another bad backhanded play, that one coming from Mike Green, who for some crazy reason backhanded the puck right up the slot forcing #52 to then take down Corey Stillman as he was about to get a quality chance in front. Simply put, the Capitals were lazy on those plays and several others for getting rid of the puck on their backhand in dangerous situations. They should know better and I hope Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau goes through the tape tomorrow morning and shows his crew ALL of the lazy plays that allowed a less talented Panthers team to steal a victory.

- I said this a few games ago and I will say it again: Blow this power play configuration up! Simply put, the top skill guys for the Capitals are downright horrible with the man advantage because they do not want to work hard and simplify in those situations. Alex Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green all want to continue to try and make the perfect play instead of getting the puck in the middle of the ice at the top of the point and blasting away. I watch game after game of other teams doing this, it is no secret how to score and Boudreau and assistant coach Dean Evason keep telling those guys to do what I am saying, but they aren’t listening. My opinion:  Sit those guys on the bench and send out some guys who will shoot the puck and crash the net. You can’t get any worse results right now. Washington’s power play carded a big freaking donut hole on Tuesday in five chances. That is UNACCEPTABLE!

- On the positive side of the ledger, the team came back hard and gained a point, but it never should have been like that at all and the players can thank one guy, Neuvirth, for that point because it could have been worse than 3-0 at the game’s midpoint. Marcus Johansson (2 goals) had a super game as well using his speed to help get Washington back in this one. The night would have been perfect for #90 had he gotten more wood on a point blank shot from right in front of Tomas Vokoun (30 saves) in the last 10 minutes. MJ90 would have had a hat trick and the Caps would have likely stolen a victory but #29 got his glove on a shot that the young Swede would love another crack at.

Notes: The Caps have lost their last five contests that have gone to the extra session (three OT losses & two shootout defeats)…Alex Semin, who was hurt (lower body) in last Saturday’s game against Florida, did not make the two game road trip and Brian Willsie was recalled from Hershey. #24 had an assist in 6:15 of ice time…The Caps lost the faceoff battle, 34-32, and top draw man Dave Steckel was only 11-9. Many of the losses were at the beginning of special teams play giving the Panthers an advantage right off the bat in each of those situations (Backstrom was a pitiful 5-12 on faceoffs), allowing the Panthers to win the special teams play, 3-0…D-man John Erskine (-1 in 13:27) returned to the lineup in place of Tom Poti, who was deemed a healthy scratch, but healthy he ain’t, #3 is still trying to get his wheels back…Knuble had the Caps second tally on a super feed from the Great #8…Ovechkin and Green were announced as participants in the NHL All Star game today while goalie Braden Holtby, blue liner Lawrence Nycholat, and winger Andrew Gordon, all Caps players with the Hershey Bears, were named to the AHL all star squad.

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Ovechkin, Green, Fehr Lead Caps in 3-2 Win

Posted on 09 January 2011 by Ed Frankovic

Remember that Washington Capitals eight game losing streak, a stretch in which they went 0-6-2? Well that is now a distant memory and after Saturday night’s Caps 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers the team is 6-0-2 in their last eight contests to put their overall record at 12 games over .500 for the second time this season (24-12-6). Alexander Ovechkin scored one of his patented highlight reel variety goals with 3:55 remaining to put the Caps up 3-1 and after giving up a goal with 97 seconds to go, they hung on for the win. Mike Green and Eric Fehr each added a goal and an assist after the Panthers drew first blood and the Caps now lead the NHL in wins (12) when surrendering the first goal of the game. Semyon Varlamov was excellent in the cage stopping 25 of 27 shots to get his 8th victory of the 2010-11 season.

Let’s get to the quotes and analysis from a victory that allows the Caps to remain just a point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (55 to 54) in the Southeast Division standings (the Bolts defeated Ottawa, 2-1, on Saturday night):

- The first period of this game was some of the ugliest hockey I have watched all year. There was little to no flow in the opening frame and the Caps struggled to make good passes and get out of their own zone. The shots were 6-5, Florida, as the Panthers took a one goal lead on a defensive breakdown just 3:49 into the contest. Prior to the game, Boudreau shuffled up his lines in an attempt to get Nicklas Backstrom (1 assist, +1) and Alex Semin (left game injured in 2nd period) going. It didn’t work and #19 and #28 now have 16 and 14 game goal scoring droughts, respectively. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau wasn’t very happy with that opening period and afterwards he was asked what he told his troops heading into the middle stanza.

“I didn’t curse,” joked Boudreau as he started his answer, “I just said quite frankly that we are not forechecking at all. We’re getting it in and we are worried about positioning and systems but if we don’t go and put pressure on them nothing’s gonna happen. That’s why I think we had only five shots in the first period,” said Boudreau on his speech after 20 minutes. The head coach switched his lines back to their normal configuration in the middle frame reuniting Backstrom, Ovechkin, and Mike Knuble.

- Boudreau frequently says that in order to win your best players have to be your best players each night. Tonight Green was the top player on the ice and Ovechkin was solid as well adding an assist on #52′s tally to go with his game winning marker. In addition, Varlamov was excellent in net and he made some big saves when the Caps were running around in their own end on numerous occassions in this game (mostly in period one). Washington has now given up only 11 goals in this eight game stretch and just 16 in their past 10 tilts. The team defense has been strong and the Green-Scott Hannan pair was praised by the Caps bench boss afterwards.

“They’ve been excellent, but all of the defensemen have been excellent. You just look at our goals against in the last eight games and it’s been as good as any team. It’s better than we’ve ever had it here before in my tenure. But you can see Mike is starting to get his legs and his confidence and he’s doing a great job,” said Boudreau about his blue line’s solid play and #52.

 

“It’s been great. Scotty is so experienced and the one thing that he helps me out with is I like to hang on to the puck and carry the puck and he’s directing me before I even get it, so it makes my job a lot easier and any time there is that communication it’s easier out there,” added Green on why he and Hannan are playing so well together.

 

- In my mid-season grades and analysis blog I pointed out the Caps penalty killing has been the most improved area over the 2009-10 campaign. Washington killed off all four Florida power plays and in fact, it was forward Jay Beagle who drew the tripping call, while shorthanded, that led to Green’s power play goal in the third period to give the Caps their first lead of the night. The Capitals have killed off 27 consecutive shorthanded situations and 33 of 34 (97.1%) in their last nine games. Washington, who came into tonight’s contest ranked fourth in the NHL in penalty kill percentage (85.4%), hasn’t allowed more than one power-play goal in a game in 29 games, the team’s longest stretch since 1997-98 (36 games). Once again the key to the shorthanded success is the 30 second short shifts and winning defensive zone draws (Dave Steckel had another monster night from the dot going 13-4). Last season when Washington took a penalty tied or down a goal it was usually trouble for the team, but not this year, as the PK is actually turning games around.

 

“What we’ve been trying to do on the bench is stay up when we get penalties and gain momentum from killing penalties. That is a huge momentum boost for the team when you kill a penalty off. Tonight we got lucky they hauled me down and we got a power play out of it,” added Beagle on the mindset of his club when they go shorthanded.

 

- This year’s black sheep of the special teams package, the power play, actually came through tonight with a goal in three attempts.

 

“Any power play goal at this time, just to get the lead in the third period, it was like a breath of fresh air. It seems when you come off of a shutout, it seems you are never going to score. Every goal you get is such a difficult goal and then you go watch the highlights [of other games] and you are wondering if you are ever going to score again,” said Boudreau on the feeling of relief that occurred when they seized the lead on Green’s power play tally, set up by Backstrom and Ovechkin (who was on the half wall in this instance with the man advantage and not on the point).

 

- Beagle is playing extremely well and making it tough for GM George McPhee and Boudreau to send him back to Hershey when Matt Bradley and Boyd Gordon return from injuries. #83 drew the game’s key penalty and he, Steckel, and Matt Hendricks dominated in the 10 minutes the trio were on the ice together (each played just over 12 minutes total). Beagle has good speed, size (6′ 3″, 201 lbs), can kill penalties, and he can take faceoffs. Each game he seems to get better.

 

“We worked hard down low and we had some chances early and even late. As long as we are getting chances and doing things right, good things are going to happen. I feel better every game. I’m just more confident and there’s more confidence shown in me by the coaches. I just build off that, try to play my game, and contribute to the team,” said the 25 year old undrafted forward, who won back to back AHL Calder Cup titles with the Hershey Bears in 2009 and 2010.

 

- The Florida Panthers are a much improved team but once again they aren’t going to make the post season (now 18-20-2). They have good speed and they compete, which is why the Caps are only 1-1 against them this year (they lost 3-0 to them on 12/9 at the Verizon Center). Washington was 6-0 against the Cats last year so a case could be made that the Capitals have overlooked them. Whatever the reason, it was a victory and Boudreau felt that as the game went on his club, who hadn’t played since Tuesday’s 1-0 OT defeat to the Lightning, steadily improved.

 

“We have to better. I think we are too good to be this mediocore, that is what I said in the first period and I thought we picked it up in the second period and I thought we played better in the third period as well,” concluded Boudreau on how the game unfolded for his club.

 

“They played hard. They’re one of the fastest skating teams we play all season. They played really well and they didn’t want to give us a whole lot and we had to earn the win,” added Fehr, whose 8th goal of the season came from the top of the crease after Green centered the puck on a wrap around attempt.

 

“[Washington’s] a team that if you make a mistake, they make you pay.  They have those types of players.  You see the guys that scored the [last two] goals in the third, Green and Ovechkin.  That’s the story.  Those are game-changing players and they delivered in the third when they needed to,” concluded Florida head coach Peter DeBoer on why his team lost.

 

Notes: There was no information provided afterwards on Semin’s condition, who took a knee from Steve Bernier on a 2nd period play in which #28 passed up a shot and tried to make an extra deke. That delay not only took away his scoring chance, but eventually ended his evening…the Caps won the faceoff battle, 26-24 thanks to Steckel…Tom Poti played 7:01 in the first period but only 10:58 more over the last two frames. He does not look 100% to me as his skating is a step slow…Green talked about the importance of on ice communication. On two occassions in this game Marcus Johansson was wide open in the offensive zone and neither Ovechkin nor Laich attempted to pass to #90 in prime scoring position. I wonder if the rookie is verbally letting his teammates know he is open?…John Erskine and Tyler Sloan were scratched on defense…the Caps next game is on Tuesday in Florida against the Panthers. They follow that tilt up with a game in Tampa on Wednesday before coming back to face the Vancouver Canucks at home on Friday, January 14th.

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