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Caps Bury Boston in Greatest Opening Night in Team History

Posted on 04 October 2018 by Ed Frankovic

We are the champions, my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting ’til the end
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the world

After 44 years of often times crushing defeats, the Washington Capitals players and fans were finally able to sing this legendary song together at Capital One Arena on Wednesday night in what was the greatest opening night in Caps history. The team was honored in a pregame ceremony that saw Alexander Ovechkin skate the Cup onto home ice to a thunderous ovation followed by an amazing video montage, and then the raising of the 2018 Stanley Cup Championship banner to the rafters.

To top it all off, the Capitals came out and buried the Boston Bruins, 7-0, to start the 2018-19 season in fine fashion.

Evgeny Kuznetsov notched two goals, Nicklas Backstrom had three assists, and Alex Ovechkin, T.J.Oshie, and John Carlson all had two points each while Braden Holtby stopped all 25 shots he faced in this affair. It was the 13th straight victory for the Caps over the B’s and more importantly, it gave Head Coach Todd Reirden his first NHL win in his debut as Washington’s bench boss.

This was a fun game and the fans, many of whom paid top dollar for tickets to attend this tilt, certainly received their money’s worth. The atmosphere was absolutely electric during the pregame ceremony and when Oshie scored just 24 seconds into the contest, it was apparent this was going to be Washington’s night. Kuznetsov followed that tally up just 83 seconds later on a power play goal right off of the face off and then the Caps exploded for three goals in the first seven and a half minutes of period two to put this one out of reach before the game’s midway point.

Below are my thoughts and analysis on the game and other impending Capitals issues:

Special Teams were a major key as the Caps went four for six on the power play and thwarted both of the Bruins man advantage situations. The Capitals are typically deadly with a manpower advantage and Boston certainly felt that in the season opener. Ovechkin and Carlson both tallied from the “Ovi spot” and Backstrom was just a magician on the ice dishing the biscuit around like he had the puck on a string. There is no doubt that if you take penalties against the Caps, you are going to pay the price. On the PK side of things, with Tom Wilson out 20 games due to suspension (more on that later), Devante Smith-Pelly stepped up and did a marvelous job while shorthanded and Reirden’s tactical change to add Kuzy to the mix paid off, as well. Evgeny logged 1:02 of penalty killing time and he helped the Caps to generate four shots on goal while down a skater, including a golden chance for Nathan Walker (Brooks Orpik had a nice pass on that sequence, too). The Caps penalty killing was somewhat of a weakness last season, but there is cause for optimism after game one, although they will face one of the best power plays in the league in the Penguins on Thursday night in Pittsburgh at 7 pm.

The Capitals played a really solid first period and big credit goes to the defense for moving the puck well out of their own end, which allowed the Caps to dominate possession. Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey, who were both rookies last season, played superbly on Wednesday. Coach Reirden was especially pleased with Bowey, who was paired with Orpik, given that this was his first meaningful hockey game in a long time. Even with Michal Kempny out due to injury (concussion – but skated for 15 minutes on Wednesday morning), the blue line was really solid. Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, and Matt Niskanen were stellar.

I spent a good part of my summer watching reruns of the Capitals Stanley Cup run and the thing that really stood out to me was the commitment level of the players, especially the forwards, to maintain their gap control through the neutral and defensive zones on the back check. The game winning goal against Pittsburgh was the result of that type of effort since it was Kuznetsov who knocked the puck off of Sidney Crosby’s stick before he went in and scored on a breakaway to send Washington to the Eastern Conference Finals. In the season opener, the gap control and commitment to back checking/pressure was still there. There were lots of sensational plays in this contest, but to me the one that stood out the most was DSP hustling and getting his stick in the passing lane on a potential golden chance for the Bruins. This came late in the second period with the score 6-0! Coach Reirden smiled when asked about that play and said everyone on the bench really noticed it. He also stated that this team is accountable and really plays for each other. In the post season the Capitals moved their feet and had a focus on taking the body, but there is no way to keep that style of physical play going through all 82 games and then the post season. However, you can continue to move your feet when you don’t have the puck and if you do that well, you are in position to steal or intercept the disc night after night and keep your opponents off of the score sheet. In game one, the Capitals skated hard on the back check and as a result, they dominated the game taking away time and space from some top notch players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.

Goaltending is so important in hockey and even though the Caps grabbed a two puck lead early, the Holtbeast was still needed. His best save of the night was on Bergeron, who was in all alone on #70, in period one. Boston didn’t get a ton of quality shots because of the great play in front of Holtby, but Braden did have a few ten bell saves in this tilt. He simply owns the Bruins and it was his first regular season shutout since 2016-17. The Holtbeast did have two shutouts in the playoffs, games six and seven against Tampa in the Eastern Conference Final. Game six was arguably the best playoff game I’ve ever seen Washington play.

With Kempny out due to injury and Wilson suspended on Wednesday for the first 20 games (eligible to return on November 21st), there were available spots in the lineup for new players. The aforementioned Bowey stepped up on the blue line and Nathan Walker and Nic Dowd received sweaters up front. Dowd filled the fourth line center role vacated by Jay Beagle (signed by Vancouver for four years at $3M per season) and scored a sweet backhanded tally in the high slot to make it 4-0 at the 6:13 mark of period two. DSP made a nice keep in at the point as Washington played their aggressive fore checking system perfectly on that goal scoring instance.

Willy, who will likely appeal the length of the suspension, is going to be missed because of his physical presence and talent. He’s helped make the top line with Ovi and Kuzy one of the best in the league. He is also a great penalty killer and gets in the collective heads of the Capitals opponents. He is a major plus to the Caps over 99% of the time, but hits like the one against St. Louis that led to the suspension need to be taken out of his game. As a result of his absence, the Capitals will have to play more of a finesse and high skill style early on, but the good news is the first half of the NHL season is nowhere near as physical as it is after January 1st, so if he was going to be out, this is the period where his loss should work best. As Backstrom said afterwards, the team needs Wilson, but it is also an opportunity for other players, such as Walker and Brett Connolly, to show that they can step up and minimize the impact of #43’s absence.

In summary, this was about as perfect of an opening night as you could get for the Capitals organization. The fans were energized from the time they walked into the arena and the players fed off of that energy with a quick start. Hearing We Are The Champions on the jumbotron and from the fans was special, and Backstrom summed it up best when he noted, “It was an amazing feeling, I want to experience that again.”

Cue the Osh Babe and the fans with the “Back to Back” chant.

Notes: Shot attempts were 64-53 for the Caps. Shots on goal were 37-25, Washington…Carlson led the Caps in ice time with 24:06. Djoos logged 17:23 as #74’s partner at even strength. Niskanen (21:48) and Orlov (22:00) were a dominant duo in this game…the Caps were a putrid 19-41 from the dot, but one of the wins resulted in Kuznetsov’s first goal. Face offs are an area that will need improvement going forward. Beagle is no longer around to take the key defensive zone draws…Tuukka Rask has still never won at Capital One Arena…Marchand jumped Eller with just over six minutes left because he was being a baby and didn’t like Tiger’s celebration after his goal that made it 7-0. Lars was cut when Marchand ripped off #20’s helmet. Eller also never took off his gloves but still received the fighting major. I imagine Wilson took note of Marchand’s pest-like sequence and will file it away for reference for future games against Boston.

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Kuznetsov’s OT Goal Puts the Caps in the Eastern Conference Final

Posted on 08 May 2018 by Ed Frankovic

Ding Dong, the witch is dead!!

Evgeny Kuznetsov scored 5:27 into overtime on a breakaway after a great defensive play and pass from Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in a playoff series in the Ovi era, four games to two. This was only the second time in 11 tries that the Caps have won a post season matchup against the Pens (last time was 1994). For the Penguins, their hopes of being the first team to threepeat since the New York Islanders won four Cups in a row from 1980 to 1983 has ended, but what a run they had. I tip my hat to that club, especially Sidney Crosby, the best player in the NHL.

So how did the Capitals win a game six without Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson, and Andre Burakovsky?

They received super goaltending from Braden Holtby and they played as a team, sticking to the game plan the coaching staff gave them. There was complete buy in from every player on that roster and they outworked Pittsburgh in a contest the Pens had to have in their own building. The leadership from the coaching staff to the captain to the alternate captains to the veterans on down was just amazing.

To come back and win game five without Backstrom, who has a right hand injury, and then game six in PPG Arena is the stuff of legends and that Kuznetsov goal and “Bird Celly” will go down in Caps lore along with Dale Hunter’s OT goal against the Flyers in 1988 and Joey Juneau’s OT goal in 1998 that put the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final.

The postseason is so much about goaltending and all year on WNST I’ve been telling station owner and host, Nestor Aparacio, that the Caps needed 2012 Braden Holtby this spring. The Holtbeast didn’t even get the starting nod against Columbus, but after Philipp Grubauer’s early struggles, #70 took over and he’s locked things down for Washington making the key saves at the right times. The Penguins had more high danger chances than the Caps in this series, but it was Holtby who badly outplayed Pens goalie Matt Murray and that’s why the Capitals are moving on. It was a reversal of last spring when Marc Andre-Fleury stole the series from Washington. The Holtbeast went 8-3 in the first two rounds with a 2.04 GAA and a .926 save percentage.

Goaltending alone, however, was not enough to do it. Washington’s defensive unit of John Carlson, Matt Niskanen, Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny, Brooks Oprik, and Christian Djoos was dynamite. The Penguins averaged five goals in their first round victories over the Flyers and they are a team that loves to score on the rush and on the power play. The Caps, for the most part, did not allow the Pens to get into their rush game, especially in game six when the commitment from a lineup with five rookies (Djoos, Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Nathan Walker, and Travis Boyd) was just outstanding. The Pens only goal came off of a faceoff win that clicked off of Stephenson and by Holtby. What I really like about this defense is their ability to move the puck. We all knew Carlson, Niskanen, and Orlov were adept at that, but the sneaky low cost deal to obtain Kempny by GM Brian MacLellan has turned out much better than the Kevin Shattenkirk move last spring. Credit goes to Brian, pro scout Chris Patrick, and the rest of the pro scouting staff that identified Kempny as well as Jakub Jerabek for two low cost, but much needed acquisitions. Bringing in Jerabek worked for quite awhile and it allowed Djoos to reset and become a strong and confident player again after some expected mid season rookie struggles. Niskanen and Orlov had the daunting task of facing the Jake Guentzel-Crosby-Patric Hornqvist line all series and they did excellent work. Nisky logged a team high 29:38 in game six. Carlson was a stud, as well, providing timely offense, especially on the power play. He is a big game player and I’ll say it again, “Pay the Man!”

Up front, Backstrom was a beast in games two and three when the Capitals really took over this series before the league derailed things by incorrectly suspending Wilson for three games. Nicky dominated Crosby in those tilts and was playing his best hockey. Unfortunately a Justin Schultz shot injured his right hand in period one of game five and he finally said “No Mas” in period three. At that point, there was one player who had to take over for the Caps, and that was Kuznetsov since he is the club’s other top center. Boy did Kuzy step up! In period three of game five he was as strong on the puck in all zones as I’ve ever seen him and in game six, he made the big finish to end the second round curse in the Ovechkin era. Kuznetsov only had one point in the first three contests, but he finished with a flourish getting five in the last three tilts. He was especially dominant in game five when his early final frame goal tied the game up and allowed Washington to take over that period and contest after being badly outplayed for 40 minutes.

As for the captain himself, his goal in game three in Pittsburgh was a real back breaker for the Pens and then his defensive steal and alert pass to Kuznetsov in OT finally put Alex into round three. The Gr8 had three goals and four assists in the series.

Let’s also not forget the work of T.J. Oshie who notched some big power play goals and also a huge empty net clincher in game five when he stripped Phil Kessel of the puck clean in a move that would make a Chicago pick pocket artist from the 1920’s proud. The Osh Babe is playing his best hockey of the year in this postseason.

Another big reason the Capitals are finally into the third round is they’ve had secondary scoring, unlike the droughts they’ve had from the third and fourth lines in the last three postseason second round losses. Alex Chiasson delivered a huge goal to give the Caps the lead in period two and it was set up by Nathan Walker, who was making his NHL playoff debut. The insertion of Walker, after Shane Gersich struggled in game five, was a move of brilliance and it paid off. #79 only played 8:29, but he was a positive on each of his shifts with energy and hustle that wore out the Penguins.

Lars Eller was a quiet hero in all of the action and he stepped up in Backstrom’s absence as the second line center in game six. In the previous two playoff losses to the Pens, centers Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen were the big difference makers for Pittsburgh. This spring, Eller outplayed big dollar trade deadline acquisition, Derrick Brassard, and Jay Beagle’s unit each game was better than the Pens fourth line.

After the terrible decision by the league to suspend Wilson, and I firmly believe it was media and Pens pressure induced, the Penguins dominated the next five periods of the series. Game four was pretty much all Pittsburgh and the first 40 minutes of game five certainly indicated that a getting healthier Pens team was starting to click. Fortunately for the Caps, the Holtbeast kept them in it and then two Kris Letang mistakes opened the door for the comeback and victory in game five. Washington dominated the third period of game five and they were the better team in just about all four periods in game six. That was what was so special about this win, on paper there was no way the Capitals, with all of the rookies and patched together forward lines, should’ve defeated the two time Stanley Cup Champions to close out the series on the Penguins home ice.

But they did and major credit goes to the players and the coaching staff for coming up with a game plan that worked. They stayed out of the box (only 1 penalty) and they didn’t get into a rush game. Washington had far more odd man rushes in this affair and ultimately it was one of those that decided the series.

For Coach Barry Trotz, this has to be big time satisfying for him and his staff. He’s taken heat all year for not being able to take a team, on paper that looked better than the Penguins in 2016 and 2017, into the Eastern Conference Final. Sometimes though, it’s not about what’s on paper, it’s how a team responds to each other and the heart they display on the ice.

Trotzy told Nestor and I out at Michael’s Café in Timonium in late March, “Last year I’d try to move guys around and I almost always got push back from some players who claimed they didn’t perform well with certain guys. This season, I’ve moved guys around all of the time to try things out and I’ve had no issues from anyone.”

In Carroll County back in March 2017 Trotz talked about that Presidents’ Trophy winning club and said this, “This may not be our best team, we won’t know until the year is over.”

Those two quotes from the coach certainly make a lot of sense now. That 2017 team was very talented, but maybe it was too talented and perhaps a bit selfish?

It’s safe to say now that this 2018 Washington Capitals group is clearly their best team, at least in the Ovechkin era. This is a club that has seen player after player step up when someone has faltered, injured, or gotten ridiculously suspended. It’s seen a Vezina Trophy goalie get benched, not pout but work harder, and then come back to take over and win two playoff series. It’s seen their best center go out due to injury and their second best pivot step up and become the dominant player we all knew he could be. It’s seen a Captain who was overweight and ultimately injured because of it last spring check his ego at the door and work his butt off to become a faster and better player in 2017-18. You can go on and on down the list at the players who have stepped up after the salary cap and expansion forced some big holes in this roster, especially on defense and on the wings.

This was certainly one huge game and series victory over Pittsburgh. The Capitals will have all Monday night to celebrate it, and they should.

But they are only halfway to their ultimate goal and the test gets much harder in round three. The Tampa Bay Lightning are an extremely good hockey club that is well rested and healthy. Coach Jon Cooper’s squad is heavy favorites to knock off the Caps in round three.

Then again, the Penguins were heavy favorites to win game six on Monday night, and that didn’t happen.

The game is played on the ice, not on paper, the Capitals have proved that.

So keep the faith, get behind the team like Coach Trotz has asked of you, and let’s play round three!

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Ovechkin Does it Again in Caps Rout of Habs

Posted on 08 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Leave it to Alexander Ovechkin to do something that hasn’t happened in 100 years of National Hockey League action – score a hat trick in each of his first two games of the season.

What is more amazing is that he tallied four times on Saturday night in the Capitals home season opener at Capital One Arena with Evgeny Kuznetsov notching an assist on each marker. The Gr8 now has seven goals in just 125 minutes of hockey and Kuzy has a helper on each one of them.

This tilt became a blowout rather quickly with Ovechkin scoring on an amazing top shelf spin around shot after some great forechecking by Jakub Vrana and Kuznetsov. The snipe by Alex on Carey Price came just 20 seconds into contest. 

Before Montreal knew what had hit them it was 2-0 just 26 seconds later. Washington’s other top line of Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky, and T.J Oshie did the damage with the Osh Babe scoring his 1st goal of the year on a rebound of a Backstrom shot after a super steal by Burakovsky on the forecheck.

Things were about to get even worse for the Habs after Ales Hemsky slashed Aaron Ness just 2:02 into this affair. 49 seconds into that man advantage, Kuznetsov made a sweet cross ice feed to the Gr8 in the Ovi spot and Alex lifted one top shelf to make it 3-0 with less than three minutes gone in the game.

With a minute and 50 seconds to go in the opening frame, Washington began putting the lid on Montreal’s coffin on this night. Ness made a nice feed to Kuznetsov just inside the offensive blue line and #92 fired the biscuit at the cage. Ovechkin was parked in front of Price and tipped the disc home to increase the lead to 4-0.

It was a dominant first period by Washington with the Capitals outshooting Montreal, 14-7.

When the Caps went on the power play just over three minutes into the middle frame, it looked like the rout would continue. Washington, however, lollygagged with the puck and after a couple of shorthanded chances for Montreal, Brendan Gallagher finally put the puck by Braden Holtby (38 saves) to close the deficit to three.

For the next 10 minutes, the Habs were all over the Capitals, but there was no denting the Holtbeast. The Caps netminder was stellar while Montreal dominated Washington by winning one puck battle after another. 

Luckily for Coach Barry Trotz, the Ovi-Kuzy duo stopped a long succession of bad Washington shifts with just over three minutes remaining in period two. Kuznetsov carried into the offensive zone on a three on two with Ovechkin and Oshie. Evgeny cut to the middle of the ice drawing the Montreal defensemen to him and he slid the puck to Ovi to his right. The Gr8 took the puck to the cage and his backhander pinballed into the net right before Oshie could get his stick on it at the far post.

That was one of the final nails in the Canadiens coffin with 3:14 to go in the middle stanza and just 79 seconds later, it was shut for good. Jay Beagle won a faceoff directly back to Devante Smith-Pelly and he fired it towards the cage. On the way to the net, it hit Nathan Walker and went past Al Montoya, who had replaced Price after 20 minutes. For Walker, it was his first goal in his first NHL game on an evening when he became the first Australian raised hockey player to make it to “The Show.” Well done, Nathan.

Wow, what a start to the season by Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, and Holtby! With the departures of several accessory lineup pieces due to the salary cap, the Caps really need their star players to be their star players in 2017-18. So far, the aforementioned trio has more than delivered. The Gr8 and Kuzy have seven points each, with six of those goals coming at even strength, and the Holtbeast is dialed in with a .930 save percentage and two victories. Ovechkin only had 16 even strength markers in all of 2016-17, so he is clearly focused to start this campaign and his new off-season training methods are paying huuuuugggeee dividends.

Other positives so far have been a perfect penalty kill, it’s gone nine for nine primarily thanks to #70. However, an average of four plus penalties per game is not something that Washington wants to get in the habit of doing, so starting Monday night in Tampa, the number of infractions by Capitals players must decrease.

On Saturday, the Caps also dominated from the dot, winning of 41 of 67 draws. Beagle was 11-3, Lars Eller went 12-7, and Kuznetsov was 8-5. It’s a lot easier to generate shots when you start with the puck and that’s what Washington did in period one. After they got the lead though, the Canadiens naturally fought hard to try and get back in the game. They hijacked puck possession in period two, firing 20 shots on goal on the Holtbeast. They would add 12 more in period three and for the night Montreal had a 39-23 edge in shots on goal and an astounding 70-37 advantage in shot attempts. Much of that, however, can be attributed to score effects.

The victory improves the Caps to 2-0, but they still have work to do to clean up things in their game. There are many new faces in the lineup to include Vrana, Walker, Smith-Pelly, Ness, and Graovac (scratched for Walker on Saturday) so this is a work in progress.

The good news is how well the mighty triumvirate of Ovi, Kuzy, and the Holtbeast are playing, and when those guys are on their game, the Caps are hard to beat.

Notes: Ovechkin had 10 of the Caps 37 shot attempts, including eight on goal…Walker played 11:23 and led the team in hits with four…John Carlson logged 23:08 in ice time to lead the Capitals. Coach Trotz was able to spread the minutes around with a big lead. Taylor Chorney played 17:39, which was five minutes more than he logged on Thursday in Ottawa…next up for the Caps are the Lightning in Tampa on Monday night.

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Caps Thoughts After the Season Opening Victory in Ottawa

Posted on 06 October 2017 by Ed Frankovic

Alex Ovechkin’s hat trick and shootout tally allowed the Washington Capitals to overcome 3-1 and 4-3 third period deficits to win, 5-4, in Ottawa on Thursday night in the Caps season opener. Evgeny Kuznetsov had three helpers and Braden Holtby made 28 saves, several of which came at key junctures in the hockey game.

Simply put, when your star players are your star players, you often win.

With that, here are nine thoughts on the Caps victory over a very good Senators team that was missing its best player in defensemen Erik Karlsson.

I predicted 50 goals for Ovi this year after he changed his offseason training and slimmed down. The Gr8 was super in this affair with 11 shot attempts, 3 goals plus a shootout tally. He also hit the post in period two. The Gr8, Kuzy, and Jakub Vrana were a very good line and when #13 keeps his legs pumping he opens up space on the ice for his teammates.

Brett Connolly has a good shot and he buried his 1st of the season from the high danger area. It was a great keep in and pass by Matt Niskanen at the offensive blue line and Lars Eller made a great feed to #10 on that goal. I really liked the way Eller went to the net and created space for Connolly to score.

It’s not often your goalie plays well giving up four goals, but the Holtbeast was strong in the cage. The 1st Sens marker was eerily reminiscent of the weird lamp lighters Toronto scored in the playoffs last season. Braden made several big stops, including a gem on Johnny Oduya early on. His best of the night was likely the shoulder save when Ottawa was on the power play in overtime.

Ottawa had five power plays to just one for the Caps, yet Washington out shot attempted them 62-56. Nine of the Senators 32 shots on goal came on the power play. Simply put, the Capitals were very good at even strength and the season opening performance in terms of puck possession is encouraging.

Washington won this game thanks to four even strength goals and a perfect 5 for 5 on the penalty kill. Holts was stellar in net while the team was shorthanded and the Caps did well with their clears. Brooks Orpik and John Carlson were super in shorthanded situations. Devante Smith-Pelly also did well on the PK stepping in for the suspended Tom Wilson (out for the first four games).

Three of the four Ottawa goals were off of bad turnovers (Carlson, Niskanen, and Smith-Pelly). Better puck management is paramount going forward. There were forced passes in the neutral zone and pucks sent up the middle of the ice in the defensive end. Both of those are no no’s. In the words of famed Charlestown Chiefs goalie Dennis Lemieux, “You don’t do that, never, never…”

Coach Barry Trotz rode his top players in the season opener. The top two lines each played right around 20 minutes. On the back end, Trotzy rode his top 4D hard. Orpik played 24:47 while Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen were each over 25 minutes. Carlson logged 27:45 to lead the club in ice time. I thought Orlov was fabulous in this contest and it’s amazing how much his game has progressed since he has been paired with Minnesota Matt. The third pairing of Aaron Ness and Taylor Chorney were right around 11 to 12 minutes of ice time.

The referees were Chris Lee and Frederick L’Ecuyer and the power plays were 5 to 1 for Ottawa. The league is supposed to be cracking down on certain things (slashing) yet Washington’s only man advantage was the result of Ottawa having too many dudes on the ice. Those are the facts. It was a bit of a head scratching game from a zebras perspective. Anyone seen Oliver Stone lately??!!

Tyler Graovac only logged 6:22, a team low, and was a minus one. He didn’t get any PK time either. I’d expect that Nathan Walker goes into the lineup on Saturday night for the 7 pm home opener against Montreal. Congrats to Nathan on being the 1st Australian hockey player to make it to “The Show!”

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Caps Still A Contender Despite Off Season Losses

Posted on 03 July 2017 by Ed Frankovic

For the past three years Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan built a squad to compete for the Cup with entry level or bridge contracts working in his favor. Unfortunately, despite having a complete roster this past season, which led to a second straight Presidents’ Trophy, they did not get the job done.

The Caps had the best team on paper this past spring, but when it came down to it, they couldn’t defeat Pittsburgh, once again.

Bottom line, they couldn’t handle the pressure of the top seed and they under performed.

They choked.

There is no way around that, all you have to do is go back and watch the panic they displayed in game seven after the Penguins took a 1-0 lead.

But we’ve already dissected that loss and the disappointing end to the season, so it’s time to move on.

On this journey, however, MacLellan, while talking about what he called a two year championship window (2015-16 and 2016-17), also clearly pointed out that after those two years were up that roster changes were inevitable due to the salary cap.

As the Caps GM and anyone else that closely follows this team knew all along, they had 11 players from this past spring’s roster that were up for new contracts.

Eleven!

So there was NO WAY this team was going to be the same and they were going to lose many pieces, especially with the salary cap only going up to $75M after the NHLPA mistakenly didn’t take advantage of the full escalator clause. That error is now putting many veteran NHL players out of work and could force many of them to have to take major pay cuts just to stay in the league.

So with five unrestricted free agents, six restricted free agents and the expansion draft guaranteeing one unprotected player was going to be taken by Vegas, the Caps GM had his work cut out for him.

MacLellan wisely took a strategy that focused on keeping the core of the team intact while letting players be exposed, unsigned, or traded where they had other options in the pipeline at those positions, such as on defense and at wing.

For the expansion draft he took the 7-3-1 protection approach which left them most vulnerable with either their 4th defensemen (Nate Schmidt) or the backup goalie (Philipp Grubauer). Leaving just those spots exposed was good asset management, especially when the Capitals knew they were losing one good player NO MATTER WHAT. That turned out to be the very popular, but still relatively inexperienced Schmidt. The 88 car, who is a very good skater and a positive player, was an undrafted free agent that had yet to play a full 82 game season and playoffs as a top four defensemen. The Capitals clearly liked Schmidt and openly stated the plan was for him to have the first shot at the fourth blue line slot this upcoming season, despite not having lengthy experience in that position at the NHL level.

Vegas GM George McPhee, who knew Schmidt well from his days with the Caps, opted to take Nate instead of Grubauer and the first roster hole became official.

Immediately after the expansion draft, the T.J. Oshie signing occurred allowing Washington to keep the 33 goal scorer and top line right wing at a bargain price of $5.75M for eight years.

This past weekend, with the start of free agency on July 1st, MacLellan focused his efforts on signing his restricted free agents. He inked defenseman Dmitry Orlov to a six year $30.6M deal, winger Brett Connolly to a two year $3M contract, and center Evgeny Kuznetsov to an eight year $62.4M monster extension. Over the same period unrestricted Washington free agents Karl Alzner signed with Montreal, Kevin Shattenkirk went, as expected, to the Rangers, and Justin Williams received a high paying two year deal ($9M) to return to Carolina.

The problem with the Caps signings was that the Orlov and Kuznetsov numbers came in a bit higher, especially in Kuznetsov’s case, than originally anyone expected. Both had leverage with the KHL, primarily Kuznetsov, and with Washington thin at center in the organization, Kuzy had even more extra leverage to get a big pay day. After all he could bolt to Russia, play in the Olympics and KHL this season, log another year overseas and then become an unrestricted NHL free agent in the summer of 2019. With no clear top two centers in the Capitals organizational pipeline, MacLellan had no choice but to re-sign Kuznetsov, mostly on #92’s terms. At that point, with restricted free agents Andre Burakovsky and Philipp Grubauer still the only ones needing new deals, someone was going to have to be moved now or in the future to make the overall salary cap dollars work.

The NHL allows teams to carry up to 10% over the salary cap until final roster cut downs, but with so many veteran players on the market likely to be cheaper going forward due to the small salary cap increase (bad move again, NHLPA) it was clear that the trade market was going to be decreasing rapidly going forward. Add in the fact that most teams spent a lot of money to give big increases to their own players (see Connor McDavid and Carey Price) and you can see why there hasn’t been a big trade market since the NHL expansion draft.

Case in point, just last week Vegas GM George McPhee, who selected top four defensemen Marc Methot from Ottawa in the expansion draft, was only able to obtain from the Dallas Stars a 2020 2nd round pick and goalie Dylan Ferguson (a 7th round pick in the 2017 draft) for the blue liner. You read that correctly, it’s the year 2020 for that second round pick!

So with MacLellan needing to deal because the trade market was looking bleak going forward, the Caps GM had to pick a player to move for salary cap room while also finding a dance partner. Marcus Johansson, who carries a $4.583M cap number, was the most likely candidate, especially with Burakovsky and 2014 NHL first round pick Jakub Vrana in place and ready to move up the depth chart at wing. Luckily the New Jersey Devils, who had set aside money to try and lure Shattenkirk to their club on July 1st, but failed to do so despite likely offering more money than the Rangers, had remaining budget and needed to make a splash to improve their team and appease their fan base.

So on Sunday night, just after announcing the blockbuster Kuznetsov deal, the Caps traded Jojo to the Devils and received 2018 2nd and 3rd round picks for the forward who just completed a career year in Washington with 24 goals and 58 points. 19 of those 58 points came on a first power play unit with Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Oshie, but Marcus did his share to earn those points by being the best on the team in man advantage zone entries (Kuznetsov will assume Johansson’s 1st PP spot going forward).

With the departure of the also very popular Johansson to go along with Schmidt and the three EXPECTED unrestricted free agent losses, some in the fan base and local and national media went nuts. This despite the fact that MacLellan had managed to pretty much ensure he’d re-sign six of the 11 players that needed new contracts for 2017-18 while also getting two draft picks for the departed Johansson to fill in holes that they had in the 2018 draft as a result of previously traded choices. Those draft picks should prove to be valuable going forward.

Following the Johansson trade, the fan response on Twitter and blog/Twitter posts of some in the local and national media were emotionally charged and a major overreaction in a negative sense. It seems that many conveniently forgot the facts, or chose to ignore them: the Caps were going to lose good players this off-season and when prices went up in the restricted free agent market, it likely cost them one more that they did not originally expect or could reasonably prepare for given the expansion draft.

Suddenly MacLellan, who along with Coach Barry Trotz and his coaching staff have done a wonderful job of turning around a team that was an absolute train wreck just three years ago, had become the village idiot on Twitter for losing Schmidt and Johansson. But in reality they are two replaceable players in the grand scheme of things when you look at the Capitals organizational depth. They have young quality defensemen in the organization and at wing both Burakovksy and Vrana are ready to move up to fill in the gaps left by the departure of Jojo.

Overall, the expansion draft and the upward costs of the restricted free agents resulted in the loss of those two players in addition to their unrestricted free agents (although MacLellan did keep Oshie from the UFA pile). In my opinion, however, you’d be hard pressed to pick any other two players from the 7-3-1 protected list and restricted free agent crew that make the dollars work while resulting in a better overall scenario for Washington going forward, especially given the other assets they currently have in the organization for replacements. Keep in mind that Vegas had the final say for the expansion draft, too, so the Caps did not get to choose who the Golden Knights selected. In addition, the idea of buying out Brooks Orpik was never a viable option and it would not have resulted in enough salary cap savings (only $3M) this season to allow all of the restricted free agent signings to occur (not to mention it would add wasted dollars to the salary cap for the next four seasons).

The Caps lost good players, but let’s get one thing straight in spite of everything that has transpired since the end of the season – the Capitals still have a VERY GOOD hockey team heading into 2017-18.

The projected line-up, based on input from the Caps GM during his Monday morning conference call, is now as follows:

Forwards:

Ovechkin – Backstrom – Oshie

Vrana – Kuznetsov – Burakovsky

Connolly – Eller – Wilson

TBD – Jay Beagle – TBD

Defense:

Orlov – Matt Niskanen

TBD – John Carlson

Orpik – TBD

Goalie:

Braden Holtby

Grubauer

The TBD’s at forward, right now, include the possibility of several Hershey players such as Chandler Stephenson, Nathan Walker, Travis Boyd, Riley Barber, or recently acquired players such as Tyler Graovac, Anthony Peluso or Devante Smith-Pelly (signed from New Jersey on Monday on a two way contract for the league minimum, $650,000). On defense, the TBD’s appear to be two of Taylor Chorney, Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, Aaron Ness, and Tyler Lewington.

Yes, this is no longer a 118 or 120 point roster, but it’s still a good one, likely in the 100 to 105 point range given the strong centers, skilled scoring wingers, and quality goaltenders. In my opinion, Vegas not taking Grubauer will be a blessing in disguise for the Caps in 2017-18 because goaltending is the most important position in hockey. There will also be a lot less pressure on this team, the media and many fans have already written them off.

Finally, keep in mind that the other playoff teams in the Metropolitan Division have lost players too, due to the salary cap. In Pittsburgh, the two time defending champs saw Marc Andre-Fleury (expansion draft), Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey all depart. Without Fleury, who was a great insurance policy for the oft-injured Matt Murray, the Capitals win that second round series this spring. The Rangers signed Shattenkirk, but they traded their number one center, Derek Stepan, backup goalie, Antti Raanta, and bought out defensemen Dan Girardi in the process of doing so. Columbus traded forward Brandon Saad to Chicago for Artemi Panarin, so they are still looking for a number one center to fill their biggest need. Bottom line, nobody has a roster without holes.

It’s clear the fact that the salary cap is impacting all teams gets lost in the noise when some look and analyze the Capitals.

Yes, they’ve become “top heavy” as MacLellan called them, but they are still a playoff team, at a minimum.

Fans are fans, though, so the negativity is to be expected, that’s just the way it is in professional sports. But you’d expect more out of the local and national media. Keep in mind, though, that there are critics in parts of the media who are fans, at heart, of other Metropolitan Division teams (for example, the Devils and the Flyers, to name a couple), or flat out just don’t like the Capitals organization, there’s no denying that. Then there are others who are just not experienced enough when it comes to the workings of the NHL or are trying to make their mark in their craft to move up the sports media ladder via page clicks – so please take their criticism and bashing with a grain of salt. They have an agenda.

In full disclosure, I won’t walk away from the fact that I worked for this organization for 11 seasons either, but my track record of calling the team out when they make mistakes is well documented (see my 2014 end of season fire McPhee and Oates blog or simply check out the first few paragraphs above). If I thought MacLellan did a poor job of handling this off-season, I’d call him out. But given what he was up against and the undeniable rising salary costs for the top players in the game, I think he’s done the best job he possibly could to keep the Capitals a playoff team and, depending on how the new players that make the lineup this fall pan out, still a Stanley Cup contender.

It’s now up to the Capitals star players, starting with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Holtby, to produce their best performances to help carry this club through the regular season and deep into the postseason.

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Hershey Advances To The AHL Eastern Conference Finals

Posted on 15 May 2016 by Ed Frankovic

Travis Boyd’s game seven top shelf snipe past Casey DeSmith 10:57 into overtime propelled the Hershey Bears to a 3-2 victory over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and into the AHL Eastern Conference Finals.

Justin Peters made 32 saves in a very strong effort in the cage. He was the big difference between the Bears moving on to face Toronto or Albany instead of going golfing.

Hershey jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 1:33 into this one as Dustin Gazley stole the puck behind the net from DeSmith and then beat him five hole on a backhander before the Pens goalie could get reset in goal. The Baby Pens, however, would answer on the power play following a very iffy head contact call on Zach Sill.

After the Pens dominated possession for much of the middle frame, Hershey was able to hem Wilkes-Barre in their own end for a long shift. The Pens got the puck out and tried to change, but Ryan Stanton made a quick pass to Carter Camper coming off of the bench. #18 then stick handled his way in and beat DeSmith with a nice move and backhander that froze the goalie at 18:43 of period two.

Hershey hit the post on a deflection early in period three that would’ve given them a two goal cushion. Then at 3:37 the Bears gave up a rush and the Penguins scored on another goal mouth scramble. From there the Bears played tight defensively around Peters and they didn’t generate many good offensive looks.

Overtime featured more of the same, but at the midway point Hershey once again had some extended zone time. Wilkes-Barre iced the puck with 9:24 left and following a mandated break, the Bears kept up the pressure to set up Boyd’s series clincher.

Overall, this was not pretty hockey, but Hershey prevailed.

Ryan Bourque, who is one of the smallest guys on the ice, had several good shifts and he routinely won the loose puck battles. He was one of Hershey’s best players and played large. Several other Bears will need to match his drive and effort if they want to win the Calder Cup.

Jakub Vrana was a plus one, but he only had one shot on net. His focus needs to be on working harder to get to the tougher areas on the ice to be more successful.

Madison Bowey certainly appears to be the Caps best blue line prospect. He moved the puck well and he is improving at using his size to play defense and win puck battles.

At the end of the night, though, Peters was the key at being able to keep Hershey tied until Boyd’s heroics.

The triumph in no way comes close to making up for the Capitals series loss to Pittsburgh last week, but it was nice to finally defeat the Penguins in the playoffs for once, even if it was just at the AHL level.

Notes: Shots on goal were 34-24 for the Penguins…Wilkes-Barre was 1 for 3 on the power play while Hershey went 0 for 2…Liam O’Brien was called for roughing when he was on the bench and engaged Tom Sestito, who was on the ice. That was a really bad penalty to take…Nathan Walker had three shots on goal in a spirited effort…Riley Barber didn’t have a shot on goal…special thanks to JustSports Photography for the photo.

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Bruins Best Caps in Shootout in Baltimore Hockey Classic

Posted on 17 September 2013 by Ed Frankovic

On a night with former all time great Capitals Rod Langway, Bengt Gustafsson, and Peter Bondra in attendance, the Washington Capitals lost to the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins in a shootout, 3-2, in the Baltimore Hockey Classic. Boston won the gimmick in the eighth round after the B’s rallied from a late two goal second period deficit to force overtime. Tom Wilson and Casey Wellman tallied for Washington.

Here are my thoughts, observations, and analysis of the Caps third preseason tilt, all of which have gone to a shootout (Caps are now 2-1):

– Wilson continues to impress and seems a better than 50% chance to make the Capitals this season. He is big, skates well, hits like a freight train, and has a nice scoring touch. He has all of the makings of a good NHL power forward. When GM George McPhee and Director of Amateur Scouting Ross Mahoney selected the winger out of the Ontario Hockey League with the 16th pick of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, some of my sources from around the league felt that the Caps hit a home run with this player. He’s still only 19, but boy does he look the part.

– Braden Holtby received the start in net and in his 30 minutes of action was stellar. He made numerous quality stops and his poise and confidence in the cage continues to rise. He just looks to be on the verge of moving into the upper echelon of NHL goalies. Goaltending is a clear strength on this hockey team with Michal Neuvirth backing up and Philipp Grubauer third in line. Goaltending coach Olie Kolzig has to like coming to work each day with this crew of netminders.

– The birthday boy, Alex Ovechkin (28), didn’t score but he was all over the ice. He broke through the Bruins defense and skated in alone on B’s goalie Niklas Svedberg late in the contest but the young goalie denied the Gr8 of the game winning tally. Ovi did beat Svedberg in the shootout. Outside of nearly getting cut by a broken pane of glass, it was a good night of work for the reigning NHL MVP.

– Choppy ice made passing and handling the puck difficult but Washington’s power play was still able to do some good things. The Caps rode the man advantage to many victories last season and it will be interesting to see how opponents adjust to what made Washington successful last season and then how Coach Adam Oates and assistant coach Blaine Forsythe react to opposition adjustments. With the talent and skill Washington has, my money is on the Caps to continue to have a high ranked power play.

– Of the guys in the pipeline that still need development time, forward Nathan Walker and defensesmen Nate Schmidt made positive impressions once again after strong play in Saturday’s tilt against the Jets. Walker is not tall at 5′ 8″ but he isn’t afraid to go into tight spots. He skates well and has a knack for the puck. He set up Wilson’s first goal after stealing the biscuit on the left wing boards. Walker, who is only 19, is from Australia but played in the United States Hockey League last season notching 27 points in 29 games. He also had 63 penalty minutes. As for Schmidt, the Minnesota native is a smart hockey player who is excellent in the offensive end of the ice. It takes time to learn how to play in your own end at the professional level so going to Hershey and playing this season will be good for the 22 year olds development.

– After this group played on the big Olympic ice on Saturday, it was good to play a contest on a regular sized rink against a physical team like Boston. The Bruins are one of the elite teams in the NHL and having a game where you know you are going to get hit each time you have the puck is super preparation for the regular season.

Overall, it was a positive night in Charm City for the Caps and their fans, who got their money’s worth with the eight round shootout. After a day off tomorrow, the Caps will practice on Thursday at Kettler IcePlex and then they play their first preseason game at the Verizon Center on Friday night against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Saturday brings the Caps Convention, which is a big event for Capitals fans (check out washingtoncaps.com for details).

 

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Here’s what your local “sports media personality” needs to know in 2012

Posted on 15 June 2012 by Nestor Aparicio

It was so much easier when I was growing up, this sports media thing. First, you learned how to write and then you went to some journalism or “communications” college or university, you did an internship and then sent resumes out and you got your dream job and lived happily ever after.

And maybe you got a gold watch if you hung around at the newspaper or TV station for 25 years or more?

Here at WNST.net this summer, we’re extending an open offer to any Baltimore sports fan who wants to be the next Baltimore Sports Media Superstar via our competition. All of the info is here…

The harsh reality of media and new media in 2012 is that it’s an all-encompassing commitment of time, experience and continuing education that makes a local personality or entity relevant as breaking news, information, analysis and the games themselves fly by in real time with your mobile device with you at all times.

And that’s just the content side.

Here’s a speech I gave to a Loyola Sports Marketing class in May 2012. This is Part 1 in a series about my current thoughts on the state of Baltimore sports media and the industry as a whole:

If you can’t sell your own personal brand – by bringing in audience, engaging them, adding value to their life experience and adding expertise or analysis that people care about – you will NOT be successful in the new media world.

If no cares to be your audience – or in this era that would be “opt in” or “follow” or “subscribe” — then no one will be available to stimulate the commerce necessary that ultimately will pay your salary via local sponsorship dollars..

In the old days it was easy – there were three TV channels, a few radio stations and a newspaper or two. Whoever the local program director or editor hired was all that the public got and all that you’d ever get from the “inside” of a sports team. The competition for those scarce jobs and the outstanding pay via expensive local television news ads fueled by automotive dealers and local advertisers was all coveted. And the public in Baltimore essentially had three choices for the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news – WBAL, WMAR and WJZ. There were two newspapers – The Sun and The News American. And sports radio didn’t exist except for Charley Eckman screaming bloody murder about some local issue on the Johnny Walker show on WFBR.

That was the entire world of Baltimore sports media in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

And the only ones who really did it the “new world” way were Coach Eckman and Tom Davis, who bought and sold their own “in-show” advertising and made far more money than most radio “talking heads” did and certainly more than the folks at The Sun or The News American.

All of the TV and newspaper people were part of a larger ensemble and staff. The radio sports talk guys needed to fight for audience and those radio stations needed hosts who garnered real traffic and real new business for local sponsors and advertisers.

This is the world I lived in on local AM radio from 1992 until 2006, when tens of thousands of you crashed my webpage and my email with traffic from all over the world after the initial “Free The Birds” walkout and showed me a new world of WNST.net on the internet.

In the new media world, if you can’t sell your own brand as a sports media expert then how can a local sponsor or business owner trust that you can help them sell pizza or cars or beer?

The reality is that I’m in college every day at WNST.net. The college of life, emerging media and business in 2012 and how it relates to the changing ways of sports fans’ consumption of information via mobile devices in real time.

It’s taken two decades but I’ve finally figured out why I went to college back in the 1980’s. All of those beers at Jay’s off campus at the University of Baltimore and all of those evening classes about Marshall McLuhan — it’s all finally paid off. All those classes with Julie Simon and discovering the roots of communication and theory of how the “medium is the message” and emerging “global village” has changed the world in the last decade since the internet has extended our FCC towers at what was formerly a “little AM radio station” at WNST-AM 1570 and brought video and words and statistics and instant feedback into the realm of the palm of our hands via mobile via WNST.net.

I’ve finally figured out the value of my University of Baltimore education and Corporation Communications degree – it just took me 20 years!

While I’m not going to be donating to UB anytime soon – or anytime that the name of Peter G. Angelos

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Caps Rookies Ready For Flyers

Posted on 16 September 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Thursday afternoon at 3pm the Washington Capitals rookies will take on a similar crew from Philadelphia down at Kettler IcePlex in Ballston to conclude the rookie portion of the Capitals training camp. The veterans officially start training camp on Saturday morning but most are in town skating already. This is the fourth straight year that the two organizations will meet up for a contest with home ice alternating each September. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau talked about the game Wednesday afternoon after his rookies concluded a practice that included a short scrimmage and he summed up the Thursday afternoon tilt fairly well.

“I don’t know what to expect because I don’t know who their rookies are, we just want to compete, but it doesn’t matter, when you put on a Philly jersey and a Washington jersey the two teams try very hard because there is not a lot of love between the two teams,” said the 2007-08 Jack Adams Award Winner.

Boudreau, whose voice was a little hoarse from coaching up the young guys on the ice the last four days, appeared raring and ready to go and seemed estatic that there would be a full house on hand to watch this tilt (all tickets were previously distributed but you can watch it live on washingtoncaps.com with Steve Kolbe and Mike Vogel bringing you play-by-play and analysis, respectively).

“I think Washington is an unbelievable hockey town. I’ve been impressed all summer, everywhere we went or I’ve gone, with how much people watch the game and unfortunately they knew everything that we did last year or fortunately,” started the three time Southeast Division Champion bench boss, who was laughing during the ‘unfortunately’ part of his quote, “We had a great year and a bad finish,” summed up Boudreau.

A bad finish is correct and the team did not bring back any of the four players that were acquired at last year’s trade deadline (Joe Corvo, Eric Belanger, Milan Jurcina, and Scott Walker). GM George McPhee also did not re-sign veteran goalie Jose Theodore so the Caps will go with Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth in the cage for at least the first part of the season. Journeyman Dany Sabourin was signed to play in Hershey along with 2008 draftee Braden Holtby so those two will battle for the 3rd goalie position in the event that one of the top two gets injured.

McPhee also did not ink any free agents from other clubs, although they did try to sign former Canucks physical defenseman Willie Mitchell, who took a two year deal with the Kings. The GM re-signed his restricted free agents, most notably Eric Fehr, Jeff Schultz, and Tomas Fleischmann. Young defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson, who were both a big part of the Hershey Bears repeat Calder Cup Championship team, will start the season in the NHL and several other Bears, such as Andrew Gordon, Jay Beagle, Mathieu Perreault, and Keith Aucoin will have a chance to make the big club that will begin the regular season on October 8th in Atlanta. So clearly the message from McPhee and the Caps organization is that they like the players they have in their system and they want to see how they do before deciding to make any more changes.

As I mentioned last season, there remains an immediate hole at second line center, something that hurt Washington in their seven game loss to the Canadiens last spring. However, in the system are some very talented young players that can play the pivot such as 2010 first round pick Evgeni Kuznetsov (playing in the Russian KHL this season), 2009 1st round pick Marcus Johansson, and 2010 3rd round pick Stanislav Galiev. All three impressed the Caps and anyone who ventured out to Caps development camp in July saw that center could be a position that Washington is deep in in a few years (Nicklas Backstrom, the first line pivot, is already one of the top players in the NHL and he is only 22 years old). In the short term Fleischmann, Perreault, and perhaps Aucoin will get looks in the exhibition season because as good as Johansson and the others might be right now, they are still very young and their bodies have not fully developed. Thus they would likely not be able to handle an 82 game schedule and the post season. It is a younger NHL these days but the bottom line is that it is still a “Man’s League.” Also, historically the Caps have not been a club that has chosen to rush their draft picks to the NHL, instead wisely deciding to let them mature physically and gain confidence.

Johansson, who is wearing #90 in camp, has been mentioned in the media and around town by bloggers as a possibility to make the Caps out of training camp this fall. The young swede is a very good skater and creates opportunities on the ice. Today during the scrimmage, on one occassion, he gathered in the puck at his own blue line and skated around a couple of opponents easily through neutral ice and as he ventured inside the offensive zone he made a brilliant pass to Patrick Cullity. However the young defenseman overdeked and did not get off a shot. Still the sequence showed the speed and brilliance of the man most Caps fans refer to on twitter as MJ90. After today’s session I caught up with Marcus, who played last season in the top league in Sweden on a bigger ice surface than the NHL, and below is a transcription of the majority of the interview:

WNST: There is a lot of talk about you right now. Tell us where you are at physically, how you are fitting in with the team, and what your expectations are for camp and the season.

MJ90: I feel okay, I guess, it’s a different type of game but it’s getting a little better. Physically I feel great, I’ve been working out hard all summer. I feel like I am ready to take the next step in my career and I am excited about the game [on Thursday] and it’s going to be fun.

WNST: You’ve talked about the adjustment you have to make because of the rink size. How much of a difference is it for you?

MJ90: Yes, in Europe it is wider and the neutral zone is bigger. It is a little different. I think the difference is more straighter hockey – straight to the net – not the way it is at home. It is a little different but I’ll get used to it.

WNST: Your goal is to be up with Washington this year?

MJ90: Yes, I hope so. I am going to give it my best shot and see where it goes and hopefully I can stay.

WNST: Have you talked to [fellow Swede] Backstrom and gotten any advice?

MJ90: Yes, I’ve been talking to him but not that much about hockey. It has been talking and trying to get to know each other better and stuff like that. The hockey part is coming up.

WNST: If someone came up to you and asked you what your strengths were what would you say?

MJ90: I think it is playing with speed and being able to play with the puck with high speed, that is what I do best.

WNST: What if you were asked what is the part of your game that you need to improve the most?

MJ90: I don’t know, that is hard to say. I want to improve and just try to bring my A game every night. Just try to be as good as I can every night and not have too much ups and downs. I just want to be able to keep at a high level all of the time and that’s something I want to learn.

WNST: It will be pretty intense in here for the rookie game. What are your thoughts on the town and the fans so far?

MJ90: It is a great crowd and you know they just love hockey. It’s a different atmosphere than it is at home. It’s awesome.

Galiev, who is wearing #49, speaks english extremely well as a result of playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) last season and the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League (USHL) the year before. He is a very skilled forward who had 60 points in 67 regular season games for Saint John in 2009-10. In the playoffs he notched eight goals and added 11 assists in 21 games as his team lost in the finals of the QMJHL to Moncton, four games to two, in their best of seven series. Had Galiev’s club won that series then the young Russian would have been playing for the 2010 Memorial Cup. Galiev played left wing last season and in development camp but after the July session the Caps asked him to try center. Below is a transcription of the majority of the interview I had with him after Wednesday’s practice.

WNST: Tell about your game and what your strengthts are.

Galiev: Probably my speed and my skills. Usually on the ice I make goal chances and create some good passes.

WNST: What area do you really want to improve this year?

Galiev: Gain some weight and be stronger in the d-zone. Maybe try and play center this year because Bruce wants me to try and play it so I am going to keep working.

WNST: Center, right now at the NHL level, is something that the Caps don’t have a lot of, but in the system they have Kuznetsov, Marcus, and you so obviously they want to get as many guys as they can playing center, which is arguably the most valuable position. So they’ve talked to you about moving over but have you played it before?

Galiev: Not really because it is kind of different for me right now. If I have to play center I go and play it, it doesn’t matter for me.

WNST: So do you think your team, Saint John, has a chance at making the Memorial Cup this year?

Galiev: Yes, we still have a good team but a couple of new guys. They are doing good, the season has already started and they’ve won two games.

WNST: What position did you play? You shoot right.

Galiev: Left wing. I can play right too. Sometimes I switch my wings.

WNST: In the Caps system the center position is different, not as much focused on always being the 3rd man back and it’s aggressive. What do you think of that?

Galiev: I feel a little bit not comfortable because sometimes I don’t know what I have to do. But I’ve been watching Caps games from [last] year to try and focus how to play center. It’s fun, you are always aggressive and you try to make [the other team have] mistakes.

WNST: What are your expectations for the year coming up?

Galiev: Just keep working hard every game the hardest I can. Do my best and try to get 80 points this year, get the Memorial Cup. I have great linemates who are great guys that help me a lot, Nick Peterson [2009 4th round draft pick by the Penguins] and Mike Hoffman [2009 5th round draft pick by the Senators]. It was a good experience for me playing the [QMJHL] finals.

WNST: What are you looking forward to tomorrow in playing the Flyers?

Galiev: Oh I am so excited, I can’t wait for this game. It’s great because I like to play with so many people watching me. I try to do my best.

NOTES: Check back on Thursday night for the transcript of an interview I conducted Wednesday with 21 year old defenseman Dustin Stevenson, who played in the tier II Saskatchewan League in 2009-10. The Caps announced their television schedule today and ALL games will be broadcast in HD this season for the first time ever (yes Comcast Plus is now in HD!). For some great pictures of today’s rookie practice please check out Chris Gordon’s “Caps Snaps” website.

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Caps Wisely Quiet on Day 1 of NHL Free Agency

Posted on 02 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

NHL free agency began on Thursday, July 1st and the Washington Capitals did not make a single signing. Based on the dollars and length of contracts being inked on day one, it appears to me that Caps GM George McPhee was very wise to stay out of the bidding wars and prevented himself from overpaying for a player that the organization might regret acquiring in a few months or a year or so down the road (see Michael Nylander in 2007).

There has been a lot of talk about the Caps needing a second line center and some even want a physical defenseman to improve the back end. I have been an advocate of another player at center ice but given that the Sharks Patrick Marleua re-upped in San Jose there was not what anyone would call a blue chip player to be inked starting Thursday at noon. One of the next best options appeared to be Matt Cullen from Ottawa, but he hit the jackpot getting $10.5 over three years from the Minnesota Wild. At this late hour, not much is left on the center market, and the player some are calling the best pivot man available, Matthew Lombardi of Phoenix, is asking for $4M plus. In the immortal words of Jeff Spicoli and his stoner buds from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I say, “No Dice!” to that figure.

On defense, there were some big signings, such as former Nashville Predators blue liner Dan Hamhuis cashing in for $27M over six years in Vancouver. In addition, the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Ottawa Senators essentially “traded” defensemen with Sergei Gonchar going to Ottawa, Anton Volchenkov moving to New Jersey, and Paul Martin headed to the Steel City. The Penguins also gave former Phoenix Coyotes d-man Zybnek Michalek $20M over five years. In summary, each of these moves was for too much money and too long in terms of years.

Other acquisitions by some NHL general managers were bordering on ridiculous,  especially the Toronto Maple Leafs signing of third line forward Colby Armstrong for $9M for 3 years or the New York Rangers inking fourth line heavyweight Derek Boogaard for $6.5M for four years. Basically, it was a crazy day and those teams that didn’t spend a large sum of money or none at all, were the winners.

Back to the Caps. Just because McPhee did nothing on July 1st, and he hinted at that possibility when he was on the Comcast Morning Show on WNST on Wednesday morning, doesn’t mean the roster is set with what they finished the season with personnel-wise. There are still three more months before the season starts and seven months until the NHL trade deadline. Sure the team and its fans are disappointed with the round one playoff failure this past spring and there is certainly more heat on both McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau for the 2010-11 season, but the bottom line is the Capitals still have a young team with a great deal of talent that should continue to mature and improve. 

Yes, the club needs to get tougher and grittier, especially in front of both nets, but to go out and throw caution to the wind in free agency would have been a “panic” move. Looking inside the organization first for improvements, makes the most sense. Washington’s farm team, the two time defending AHL Champion Hershey Bears, definitely has some players up front that warrant further evaluation such as center Mathieu Perreault and wingers Andrew Gordon and Steve Pinizzotto. Jay Beagle and even Chris Bourque could be guys who have outside shots to make the club in training camp, as well. Both McPhee and Boudreau have already pretty much stated that d-men Karl Alzner and John Carlson will be up full time during 2010-11 and that instantly improves a blue line crew that had its issues, at times, this past season. Another player who the squad will keep an eye on at development camp and then in September is 2009 1st round pick Marcus Johansson (center), but given that he is only 19 and the Caps don’t like to rush young players to the NHL, that possibility appears to be a much longer shot.

The reason so many of the aforementioned players will get a good look in September is because Washington has already indicated that several skaters from the roster, such as Joe Corvo, Eric Belanger, Scott Walker, Brendan Morrison, Shaone Morrisonn, and Milan Jurcina will very likely not be back with the club. Therefore, just because there were no July 1 acquisitions does not mean McPhee and company are going with the same crew they had last season when they won the Presidents’ Trophy, change is going to occur by attrition and internal promotion alone. The question still remains, and likely will do so for several months, what will the Caps bring in from outside of the organziaton for 2010-11, if anything at all? That answer is as clear as mud right now, but McPhee appears to be sticking with an astute plan of “Right player, right price” at this juncture. Stay tuned.

Note: For all of my instant thoughts on free agency and the NHL, please follow me on twitter (@Emfrank123). I had several tweets this evening that formed the basis for this blog, all available at twitter now.

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