Saturday, September 29, 2007

Caps Win, Season Starts

I missed the game, but it's preseason no big deal. Until I read the recap. The Caps came back from a 4-1 deficit to win 7-5 over the Flyers. Alex Ovechkin had 4 points and Thomas Fleischmann got the game winner in the third. I am kicking myself for missing that game.

Also the season is officially started, even though there are still preseason games still on the schedule. The Kings beat the Ducks in jolly ol' England 4-1. The game was delayed about 10 minutes at the start after the national anthems because the lights were slow to come on. The sold-out crowed seemed pretty into the game, standing during the fights, cheering for their teams and a plethora of NHL jerseys in the stands.

The stand out of the game was Los Angeles' rookie goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who nearly posted a shutout in his first ever NHL game. The two teams will face off again tomorrow, and will be broadcasted on Versus at 12 noon (for some reason only the local FSN carried the game).

Friday, September 28, 2007

81 Ain't Bad

Yesterday, Comcastsporstsnet announced their schedule to broadcast 81 games. That is one less game than they broadcasted last year (if you are keeping score). I hate when they wait just days before the season to come out with the broadcast schedule. I don't know why they wait this long, I think last year, it was mere hours before opening night before a television schedule was posted.

Versus will spoil the Nov. 6 game against Atlanta because for some reason they found it necessary to make their game exclusive. I don't think that will translate to ratings for Versus, but what do I know. You will be able to listen to the game online at, on the radio, and on XM Satelitte radio. You will just have to imagine what the sucker punch Brian Sutherby gives to a Thrasher looks like.

NHL Notes's came out with their power rankings and had the Caps ranked 25th. Only the Bruins, Oilers, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets and Coyotes were worse. The Capitals have officially become underdogs. It's time to cheer for the little team that could.

There has been a lot of talk about Steve Downie's hit on Dean McAmmond a few nights ago. I agreed with Bill Clemet's thoughts on the policing of head shots: A suspension from the league is only treating the symptom. The Players Association has to step in and be more proactive about protecting their own. Instead of fighting Downie's suspension, they should be sitting players down and show what is acceptable and what is illegal.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Flyers Fry Caps

Having to work last night, I didn't see the game, but by all accounts the Caps came out really flat against the Flyers. The Capitals lose a snoozer 2-1 at the Wachovia Center to Philly. Brian Sutherby scored for the Caps whose power play was a dismal 0-7.

This is the kind of game I expect from the Capitals if Tom Poti, Micheal Nylander, Alex Semin, Viktor Kozlov, Alex Ovechkin were all out of the line up as they were last night. In fact Daniel Briere and Simon Gagne combine had 20 more goals in the NHL than the entire Capitals line up. Ouch.

I suppose this was the fish fry, throwing some of the younger talent in for a last ditch effort to impress the coaches. Some full time talent last season might be looking for apartments in Hershey if their play doesn't improve. I mostly talking about Brooks Laich here, since going to arbitration the Caps prospect has had a pretty quiet preseason.

Also the Caps are - do I dare say it - overloaded on defensemen. There is a possiblity of the likes of Steve Eminger or John Erskine going down to Hershey. I can see a rotating seven defensemen, but that still leaves someone out. Tom Poti will get his playing time as will Brian Potheir, but for everyone else it's a battle for those last 4 to 5 spots. I expect the hitting on the defensive end to significantly increase as players are feeling the squeeze.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Season So Close

Not to scare anyone, but the NHL season begins on Saturday. I know what your thinking - I haven't cleaned up the house, or gone to the grocery store, or showered yet. The Anaheim Ducks arrived in London and have started practice and the Los Angeles Kings rallied to beat the Red Bull Salzburg team in Austria. Both are getting ready for kick off of the NHL season this Saturday noon.

While it's still a week to a week and a half for the rest of the league to get into the games that count, the league is looking at a more global look with its start in London England. The Kings and Ducks will play two games on back to back days splitting the home and home. So not only are the Ducks and Kings season ticket holders getting shorted by a game, but Betteman is promising more of this over the pond nonsense.

There is talk of expanding the league to Europe. Whoa, whoa, hold the phone. Last time I checked Kansas City and Las Vegas were on this continent. The logistics - I hope - will shoot this theory down. While traveling to Europe is not that big of deal, going there for a day to play a game and return for a athlete can make jet lag worse than just an afternoon nap can remedy. Especially if you have to play the next day.

In the meantime, it's nice that the league wants to expand it's fan base - cute even. The season starts on Saturday, and I haven't even shaved my playoff beard yet (if only I could grown one). So much to do, so little time. The London game will be broadcast on the Versus network 12pm eastern.

Hard Times Chicago

Chicago Blackhawk fans have not been a fan of the team's owner. Its been a rough couple of years to be a Hawk's fan. Games were never televised, the team lost it's franchise players and an owner that was more about save a dime than making the team competitive. That may all change with the passing of William Wirtz, the Blackhawk's long time owner.

As much as the fans may have had less than a pretty word for the owner, Wirtz did help to shape the league we know today:

Wirtz served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Hockey League for 18 years and was responsible for negotiating the merger between the NHL and the World Hockey Association in the late 1970’s as well the expansion of the league.

Wirtz is survived by his wife, five children and seven grandchildren.

Staying Power

David Steckel is making a pretty strong argument for a full time job in Washington. Of course it helps to hear things like this from head coach Glen Hanlon:

"They played together for a long time and they do a lot of things naturally,” says Hanlon of the Boyd Gordon-Steckel duo. “They sort of read off each other. Sometimes when things are all going goofy on turnovers and running amuck, it’s nice to put them on the ice.”

Steckel held his own against the Hurricanes. Plus he is gaining some chemistry on a line which is the buzz word around this year's training camp. That could give the left winger some all important staying power to make the club.

Also having a good preseason has been Thomas Fleischmann. Flash has been quick and strong with the puck. It always looks like he is on top of the play, which earned him some time on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Viktor Kozlov. During the game last night against the 'Canes, Flash had a pretty pass into the slot to a breaking Mike Green who scored the first Capitals goal.

While cuts are not likely until after the Philly game (if not after the Ottawa preseason game), Steckel and Fleischmann maybe seeing their names on a roster lineup more regularly beyond the preseason.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Nicklas Backstrom was clutch scoring the overtime winner as the Capitals exacted revenge over the Carolina Hurricanes. It was almost a carbon copy from the first preseason game the Caps played against the 'Canes. Except this time the it was Backstom's night scoring the overtime winner 3:36 into the overtime giving the Caps the win 3-2.

Mike Green also had a good game assisting Backstrom's game winner and scoring a tally himself. Based on game stats, it looked like Green and Shaone Morrisonn who both finished the game a +2. David Steckel got some playing time, while Chris Bourque and Jakub Klepis time on the ice was short. Maybe a sign to come on who is being sent back to Hershey. Viktor Kozlov also scored a goal for the Caps.

I missed the game but was able to see the Verizon Center's newext additions. A high definition scoreboard that was pretty cool to watch, video screens that wrapped around the stadium's teirs. The whole look was pretty cool to see. It should add to the experience at the Phone Booth.

A Word Before The Game

Just got a look at the new scoreboard. Wow. The Video is crisp and clear. It's much bigger than the scoreboard that was in before. Also the video screens around the rink is a great touch. The whole Verizon Center a fluid, bright and fun experience with the new additions. I couldn't stick around for the game however, previous engagement.

Welcome home Caps.

P.S. If you were hoping to see the Capitals in their home reds, not tonight. The team just took the ice in their road Whites that we have seen all preseason long.

New York, New York

Even in preseason these teams hate each other! Very nice. The Rangers at Islanders game turned out to be a brawl fest with Chris Simon and Ryan Hollweg both in the line up.

The goalies had to represent, both Rick DiPietro and Al Montoya got to blows. The fight was awkward to watch with the two net minders and it looked as if DiPietro was giving pointers to the young ranger goalie Montoya before going to blows. The video is on TSN's recap about half way down. Both goaltenders were tossed after the fight as were Hollweg and Simon. Simon still needs to serve his 5 game supension for slashing Hollweg last season, he is allowed to play in preseason games.

Nice to see there is no love lost against the two squads that share a first name (NY). Bill Guerin was a little surprised at all the commotion:
''When I talked to (Mike) Sillinger, I asked if there would be any overflow from last season,'' new Islanders captain Guerin said. ''He said that it was over. He was kind of wrong.''

This should be an interesting series this year. By the way, Islanders won 5-4 in overtime.

Editors Note: Watch the fight on YouTube here.

They're Special

The biggest improvement that will come from off season signings of some playmakers will be on special teams, where the Caps struggled last season. Tarik talked about it in the Wash Post this morning.

For the Caps to have any hope of making the playoffs, their special teams had to be significantly better. Both the power play and the penalty kill have to hold their own if this team is to make it past 70 points. It was frustrating to watch this team not capitalize on 5 on 3's for a minute or more, then watch the opposing team build off of those kills.

The Caps also have to refine their killer instinct. It's promising to see this team jump to early leads, but it's so important for the Caps to keep that foot on the throat of the opposition. This new system of puck possession that Glen Hanlon is preaching in this year's camp should help with that too. Look for the Caps to utilize the defense a little more and more passes back to the blue line with a breaking defenseman.

The Caps do have an opportunity to exact revenge on the Carolina Hurricanes today in their second preseason match up here at the Phone Booth. In the first game the Hurricanes were able to come back from a 3-1 deficit. The Capitals must look to keep that foot on throat thing when leading by a goal or more or the cardiac Caps are golfing early again this season.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sad News

On the eve of the Caps preseason home opener, there is some bad news. Capitals owner Ted Leonsis lost his father. I know how much my pop means to me, so I can empathize with Mr. Leonsis and offer my condolences.

Having said that, the Caps are busy practicing at the Kettler Iceplex again today in preparation for tomorrow night's match up with the Carolina Hurricanes. The Caps' roster is coming more into focus and the next few games are crucial for those wanting to make the line up. Players having a good preseason so far are Dave Steckel and Thomas Fleischmann. Also still in the mix is my dark horse, Chris Bourque, who looks fast and a little beefed up this year to me. His size will always be a factor but if Marin St. Louis, Dan Briere, and Jason Blake can do it, little Bourque can too.

But there are question marks on players that were regulars last season. Mike Green, Brooks Laich and even Brian Sutherby could all be looking at spending some time out of the lineup. That roster wasn't as open and friendly as it was last season when the Caps struggled. It's make it or break it, and the coaches are using the games as an indicator on a players performance. Not only do I think that the Caps play will get better, you will see more chemistry start to evolve and lineups come more into being over the next 4 games of the preseason.

Also at the Phone Booth, the new HD scoreboard is up and operational, just in time for the Caps first game at home. It should add to the experience greatly, although I have not seen it myself.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Okay, Jersey Talk

Everyone has their opinion on the new league mandated jerseys. Now that they have all been revealed (thanks Rangers for leaving it to the last possible second just to show that there was no change to your jersey design), I guess I can bestow upon you my glorious position on some of the new sweaters.

Amongst the jerseys I like are the Caps sweaters (which at first I hated, but after seeing them in action, I am actually enjoying the new look). I also loved the new St. Louis Blues jerseys. They put a new spin on the same basic design from their old look. I have to admit, I really do like the home jersey look. I am glad to see Toronto, Montreal, Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and the Rangers not deviate from their original look. There is just something sacred about those jerseys that modernization shouldn't touch.

The sweaters I hated were both Dallas and San Jose. What the hell happened to San Jose? They tried to go for a classic look, but it just looks awful. The only thing good about the Sharks look this season is their new logo. I was expecting more I guess.

Dallas just doesn't make sense. On the home jerseys it says "Dallas." Huh, yea, I think that the home fans know where the team is from. It would have made more sense to have that on their away jerseys. But what do I know.

I know a lot of Oiler fans are upset about their jersey look, but I kind of like it. Like a classier look to their away jersey with the piping down the front. I did not like Phoenix's jerseys, the shoulders just look stupid on the away jerseys. There was a lot of grumbling about about Vancouver's sweater too, but there is some history there with the lettering so I am okay with it. And at least it's both on the home and away jerseys, unlike Dallas.

There has been issues on the new jerseys ripping during fights, which could be a problem for the goons of the league. If a players jersey rips and slips over his head during a fight, it's cause for injury, which in a fight isn't that the point? Also due to the fitted style of the jersey, punching and grasping is a much harder exercise, and limits full range of motion during a fight. No word though if that is going to be fixed.

Getting It Done In Tampa

I didn't get a chance to see the Caps narrowly escape with a win in Tampa by a 2-1 margin. I say narrowly because looking at the score sheet in the third, the Caps couldn't stay out of the penalty box. The discipline was there in the first and second periods, but the third was meltdown city with 5 penalties (while only 4 in periods 1 & 2).

Who would have ever thought Brent Johnson would have a better Save % than Olie in the preseason? Johnny stopped all of his shots in Carolina, and only allowed a goal in the Tampa game. Johnny faced 19 shots last night and 12 shots against Carolina a week ago. Maybe all this criticism is getting to the net minder. And - it may just be me - Brent Johnson's new mask brings back memories of Don Beaupre with the Capital on the front.

Also we may see Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom combination a bit more, as I can see the rookie playing center with Semin on the wing. Some one to set up one of the hardest shots in the league (and one of the most accurate), you'd think that Glen Hanlon had died and gone to heaven.

I have been noticing that Nick Backstrom has been skating pretty hard over the last month or so with rookie camp and now training camp. There are obvious times the kid looks down right tired. Even if your 19 and feel strong as an ox, this much skating can wear a player down and that leads to injuries. I have full confidence that the coaches know how hard to push Backstrom, but it would be nice for the rookie to get a couple days rest.

Ben Clymer seems like he is playing for a bit more than just a roster spot. A couple of conversations point to the fact that Clymer wants out of DC as it looks like his playing time will surely diminish once the season starts. The two way forward has to prove he can make the roster before he can prove to other teams he's worth a look first, maybe the reason for his good play of late. It's a shame too, I was starting to like him.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Caps Start Strong, Lose Again

It might sound like a broken record, but the Capitals keep seem to be playing the same old tune, bad penalties at the wrong time. After a quick lead 3-1, the Caps blow the advantage to lose 5-4 to the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place.

The Caps gave up a power play in the second period drawing a penalty. 4 on 4 the Senators took advantage and then the lead on a later powerplay. The Capitals came out strong again, as they did in Carolina, but the Senators were able to take that lead away before the end of the second period on a tying goal by Nick Foligno.

The Caps did out shoot Ottawa 32-30, but it was to no avail as the big guns for the Senators responded in the second and third periods. Jason Spezza, Chris Kelly, Dany Heatly and Daniel Alfredsson all scored for Ottawa. Chris Clark, Alex Ovechkin, Thomas Fleischmann (goal and assist) and Tom Poti (goal and assist) tallied for the Caps.

Former Cap Lawrence Nycholat made his presence known after being traded late last season to Ottawa. The Senator defenseman elbowed Brian Sutherby then fought him in the second. Nycholat was called for an extra minor for elbowing but Clark was penalized for tripping turning the power play to a 4 on 4 which Ottawa capitalized. It was the turning point for the Senators.

The Caps did try to rally late in the third after a goal by Ovechkin, who seemed in fine form. But the Capitals could not convert on two late power plays. A powerplay that seemed to help them early in the game build their 3-1 lead. Olie Kolzig played the entire game, stopping 25 shots.

The Caps return home for a quick practice (and more cuts likely) tomorrow before heading to Tampa Bay for their third straight away preseason game. The Caps are 0-1-1 in preseason action, losing their opener to Carolina at the RBC Center in overtime.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Schedule Changes

Every team will play every team next season. So says the board of governors yesterday after talks about the season changes made after the lock out three years ago. Now every team gets a chance to see the likes of Alex Ovechkin and Sid "the Kid" Crosby. The playing of division rivals eight times will cease next year as owners and fans alike are a little tired of playing the same division foes a little too much.

Also discussed was the possibility of expansion which seemed to be shut down by the owners. Right now the league is evened out at thirty and to add two new teams would off set a division in each conference.

The Caps return to practice today concentrating more on their preseason match against the Ottawa Senators. Traing Camp has turned serious over the last two days amongst the cuts that happened after the Carolina game where Karl Alzner and Francois Bouchard were both sent back to there junior teams. Also a long list of players were sent to Hershey for the start of their camp tomorrow.

The Wash Post's Tarik did an article on Ben Clymer who looks good at practice and played well in Carolina. Clymer is fighting for a new contract, and you can see he has improved greatly after his abdominal injury last year. I am starting to agree with Tarik, Ben is fast becoming a favorite of mine.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Monday Workout

It was clear today at Kettler Capitals Iceplex that the fun and games were over. The Capitals got down to business in practice working harder than I have seen over the past few days. The coaches worked the players hard after the team's overtime loss to Carolina on Sunday afternoon.

The practices took a more serious turn as the both ice sheets were used. There seemed more tension in the players that were still looking for a spot on the regular season roster. The coaches seemed to be testing the players even more with some longer and more complex drills.

Olaf Kolig lost his cool a little bit during his workout. He was working on stopping one-timers from the slot when Jame Pollock slipped the puck past Olie twice in a row. Kolzig took out his frustration on his stick slamming it on the goalpost and snapping it in two. He wasn't done there though, as he skated to the bench for a new stick, he took a couple more swipes with his broken stick at the players bench. I couldn't help but tell the guy next to me, "Too bad Kolzig doesn't play with enough passion."

Kolzig's rant may have been funny, and a bit odd to the maybe 20-25 people who attended the practice, but it did show how much of a perfectionist Olie wants to be this season. It's that competitiveness that both helps and hurts the veteran goaltender. Kolzig is becoming a little more like himself, and for the Capitals, that is a very good thing.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Caps Drop Preseason Opener

The Caps lost to their southeast rivals Carolina Hurricanes in the preseason opener 4-3. The Caps were perfect through two periods with Brent Johnson in net and a two goal lead going into the third. But the Caps' lead soon slipped away when Michal Neuvirth took over in net and the Hurricanes tied the game at 3 late in the third on a Justin Williams slap shot that beat Neuvirth. That set up a power play goal for Erik Cole late in the overtime frame.

The Caps seemed to come out in this game hungry, dominating the 'Canes in shots and hits. But all that fanfare slipped away in the third. The Hurricanes dressed Eric Staal, Cole, Williams, Mike Commodore and Corey Stillman while the Caps played with out Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Micheal Nylander and Olaf Kolzig to name a few.

Nicklas Backstrom did score in the second period as did Mike Green and Ben Clymer who also tallied for the Caps. Clymer had a busy game a goal and a fight in the third.

Don't read too much into this game. I think the boys did pretty well in a hostile environment. You kinda had the feeling that the 'Canes were not going to be shown up on their preseason opener at home. I don't think this was a good game to gauge how good Neuvirth will be. Watching him at training camp and at the rookie camp, this kid is pretty good. But some bad penalties (that seem to continue to plague the Capitals) really put the kid against a rock and a hard space.

Caps return back to some more comfy confines of KCI for practice at 10:30 am tomorrow. Cuts will be made as their will be just two groups practicing instead of 3. Their next preseason game will be at Ottawa Thursday.

Just got this from Tarik off his blog:

Update:Alzner just called Matt Pettinger "Mr. Pettinger" in an interview. He said he calls all the vets Mister. That will only change, he said, when he makes the team.

Talk about repect this guy has!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Southeast Division Overview (Tampa)

Just like the Thrashers and Hurricanes, the Tampa Bay Lightning did very little this off season adding anything significant to their team. GM Jay Feaster feels confident that this is a playoff caliber team despite it's recent downfalls in the playoffs over the past few seasons. The only good thing that did happen for the Lights this off season was a brand new ownership that pumped life back into the franchise.

Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis all return for Tampa Bay. That makes their offense a dangerous one. Lecavalier could be scoring champion again with the supporting cast he has. Both Richards and St. Louis both had solid seasons and will likely do the same. The only problem Tampa really has is in net.

There is an issue in goaltending as neither Marc Denis or Johan Holmqvist were the clear number one goaltender. The Lightning were able to make the playoffs, but couldn't finish off the New Jersey Devils even with a 2-1 series lead. Head coach John Tortorella is looking for near perfection in his goaltending, so both Denis and Holmqvist have to up their performance. If either can't take the reigns, rookie Karri Ramo could find himself with a full time job in the NHL.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were the only team in the Southeast Division to get six wins against the Caps (6-2-0) last season. Tampa just seemed to have the Caps number. For me, how the Capitals do against the Lightning will be a determining factor how this team will fair this season.

For the Caps to make the playoffs, they will have to do better than 11-15-6 (28 points out of a possible 64) in the Southeast Division. And this season could be the best season to do that. The Capitals made some significant and wise moves to fill out their roster while other teams in the Southeast and other Eastern Conference teams that did very little to improve during the summer.

NHL Notes:

The LA Kings edged the Anaheim Ducks as the NHL Preseason officially starts in Anahiem 5 to 4. Both teams are getting an early start due to the trip they will be taking to England where the NHL wants to showcase to a much larger global audience. Former Cap Brian Willsie scored the game winner with 5:06 left in the third.

The Capitals Training camp officially opens today at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Practices start at 10:30 am and both ice surfaces will be utilized with squads. Full schedule is here. The practices are open to the public for free. They will be practicing all weekend. Oh happy day, the season is nearly here!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Southeast Division Overview (Florida)

The only other team that made some significant changes besides the Capitals in the Southeast Division would have to be the Florida Panthers. A team that seemed to have a Roberto Luongo hangover after trading the goaltender to Vancouver, the Panthers were high on promise and low on achievement in last years campaign.

The biggest problem the Panthers had was in net. With Luongo traded to Vancouver, Florida had hoped their prospect Alex Auld would step in and veteran Ed Belfour could mentor the youngster. Well, that didn't happen and Florida felt the crunch. Hence the trade that needed to be made. Tomas Vokoun moved from a turbulent season in Nashville where Chris Mason wrestled the starting job away from the all star goaltender. Vokoun will bring stability to the Panthers net that they once enjoyed with Luongo.

The offense is basically the same for the Panthers this year, just tweaked. Florida was able to resign some important players in Jozef Stumpel, Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss. As well as able to sign some veterans in Richard Zednik and Brett McLean to a 2 year and 3 year deals respectfully. The Panthers offense should be filled out a little more, but whether there is any chemistry that will return with the resignings remains to be seen.

Jay Bouwmeester may want to forget his off season as the Florida defense looks to remain intact for the most part. The 23 year old blue liner plead guilty to a DUI charge in Edmonton. Doesn't look like that will stop him or resigned Bryan Allen as the Panther defense looks to be solid and a little more confident with a secure goaltender to back them up.

Florida did show it's dominance over the Capitals with a 5-3-0 record last year. The Caps desperately need to solve this problem if they want to leap frog the Panthers to avoid ending in last again. But this is a retooled team and could be making a move to make the playoffs themselves. I think though the Panthers are another year from making the dance. Look for them to finish 4th or 5th in the '07-'08 season.

Tomorrow: Tampa Bay

NHL Notes:

The big news yesterday wasn't the new sweaters for Toronto, it was the 15 game suspension the league handed down to Mark Bell for a DUI charge in California in September. The league wanted to make an example of Bell who will be serving a 6 month jail sentence in a county jail at season's end. "Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, and with that privilege comes a corresponding responsibility for exemplary conduct off the ice as well as on it," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Looks like public executions may not be out of the question in the NHL either.

The Nashville Predators name Jason Arnott their captain. Kimmo Timonen was the Preds captain before they traded the defenseman to Philly. Hopefully the same fate doesn't fall on the new leadership.

Many NHL teams open their camps today and tomorrow. Caps will go through some off ice training exercises and media interviews. Official camp opens tomorrow at 10:30 am at Kettler Capitals Iceplex with the team split into 3 squads. Both ice surfaces will be used at the new training facility in Arlington, VA. Alex Ovechkin is returning with a little fire in his belly for the new season. Check out the pumped up all star in the Wash Post.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rooks Drop One Against Flyers' Rooks

As per Tarik:

Flyers win, 5-3. Patrick McNeill, Nicklas Backstrom and Mathieu Perreault scored for the Caps. Darren Machesny played the first period in goal, allowing two scores, both on the power play. Michal Neuvirth played the next 40 minutes, yielding three goals, two of which came on the power play.

Defenseman Sean Collins, meantime, left the game in the third period with an apparent knee injury.

Looks like the Flyers took advantage of some key power plays and our boys come home with a good learning experience. Too bad there was no media coverage other than Tarik's blog on the game for Caps fans.

See a slide show of the game on the Flyers' website here.

Southeast Division Overview (Carolina)

When you think of the Carolina Hurricanes, you think one more game. That was all that separated the '05-'06 Stanley Cup Champions from repeating another playoff run. Just one game out.

Carolina's off season was a very quiet one. GM Jim Rutherford believes if it ain't broke, why make changes. "We have the structure here of a team that can win the Stanley Cup again," Rutherford told the Raleigh News Observer upon missing the playoffs last year. "That's why we have to be very careful with the decisions we make in June as to who will start the season with us next year. And that's why we want to get away from all the emotions and disappointment now and start to talk about who fits on our team and how we can improve our team to get back to winning."

As far as the 'Canes forwards are concerned, there is little change. But more is needed from Eric Staal who is returning from an off season (and a bachelor party) he would like to forget. Staal heroics in the play off run two seasons ago made him a star, but the Hurricanes need more out of the forward during the regular season if they wish to wash away an early departure come April. Eric Cole returns healthy and ready and Carolina has brought back Matt Cullen from the Rangers. It should be a dangerous offense working off the disappointment of last year.

Carolina's defense has also remained intact. Names like Mike Commodore, Frantisek Kaberle, Niclas Wallin and Bret Hedican will all be on the Hurricane blue line again.

Goaltending is not really in question for the 'Canes. Cam Ward will be the work horse for most of the season. But a costly John Grahame is also a capable starter.

Carolina's coach Peter Laviolette will have this team buzzing at the start of the season. The 'Canes are a dangerous team in the Southeast, and I think they have the potential to kick it into gear and take either first or second in the division.

For the Capitals, it will be important series for them this season to play Carolina tough. The Hurricanes have a well rounded team that has now played as a unit for a couple of years. Their offense will be as dangerous as it was last year, and it's defense just as gritty. Last season Carolina was 5-3-0 against the Capitals.

Tomorrow: Florida

NHL Notes:

Uncle Ted has set the bar for the Capitals. "Every person in the organization's expectation is that we will make the playoffs," Leonsis told reporters. Not so much as a promise, but a goal. We are all behind you Ted. Make it happen. "I could be wrong," Leonsis added. "Time will tell - but at least I've got a plan." Good high note to end on.

The season hasn't started (some training camps haven't even started yet) and already teams are trading. The Islanders traded Petteri Nokelainen for a conditional draft pick and Ben Walter from Boston. Not sure what this does for either Boston or Long Island, but time will tell I'd imagine.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Southeast Division Overview (Atlanta)

What better way to start the season than by looking at your closest foes. Since the Caps play teams in their division 8 times during the course of the season, it's only fair to take a closer look at the Southeast Division. So over the next 4 days, we (meaning I) will look at the Capitals' biggest foes.

Let's start alphabetically. Atlanta was the darling of the Southeast Division last year, only to get upset in four games by the New York Rangers in thier first playoff series in team history. It seemed that the Thrashers had everything going for them into last season's playoff run. But something went terribly wrong. Now, Atlanta needs to prove itself once again. Something hard to do in a division that looks like a toss up this year.

The pluses for Atlanta far outweigh the minuses. But this was an off season that saw some good defensive talent looking for greener pastures. The Thrash will be without Andy Sutton and Shane Hnidy. But the Thrash were able to sign Ken Klee, a former Cap and solid defenseman. Both Niclas Havelid and Alexei Zhitnik will be back on the blue line again for the Thrash.

The offense is still a threat with Ilya Kovalchuk, Bobby Holik and Steve Rucchin returning. Atlanta also secured a couple of other key forwards to keep a core of the players that helped the Thrashers make the playoffs last year. This team is still a big and very dangerous offensive threat.

In goal will be Kari Lehtonen, Atlanta's top prospect will return this time with some important experience. Johen Hedberg is a capable back up for the young talent. Goaltending shouldn't be much of a problem for the Atlanta squad.

In the off season the Thrashers did very little, obviously general manager Don Waddell is satisfied his team has a good farm system. "I think we have an opportunity next year. Let's face it, we haven't had a lot of young guys ready to compete for jobs," Waddell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the end of the season. "We think we'll have positions for those guys. We also have a couple European players who are ready to compete for jobs here. I think there are going to be opportunities and availability. It'll be up to those players to take advantage of it." Bob Hartley will surely make this team a playoff contender once again.

Atlanta's record over Washington was 5-1-2 last season. Atlanta should finish first or second in the division for the '07-'08 season. The Thrashers will be a tough test for the Capitals defenses. The Caps must be able to shut down the Thrashers offense if they hope to gain an edge on the Thrashers this year.

Tomorrow: Carolina.

Other NHL Notes:

Alex Ovechkin wasn't too surprised about Canada's supremacy in the Super Series this summer. Ovechkin told a CP reporter in Toronto that Canada's hockey program was the better system. Looks like Russia needs to retool.

Scott Niedermayer was suspended by the Anaheim Ducks today, a move that was expected by everyone. It may free up some cap space for the Ducks and may be the first move that leads to Niedermayer's retirement.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Boys Are Back In Town

Having some time to check out the Rooks take the ice at Kettler, I made my way to Ballston on a muggy D.C. mid morning to the chilly Capitals practice facility. As I was watching Glen Hanlon put the youths through their paces with complex and intense drills, one by one the veteran Capitals arrived for their workouts in preparation for Official start of training camp in the next few days.

Milan Jurcina walked in looking very fit and toned. Olaf Kolzig's smile meant that he was happy that this season was finally getting underway. Mike Green - who clearly beefed up this off season - walked in all taking a look at the rookies working out their drills.

I couldn't help but get a twinge of excitement about the oncoming season. It clearly has not come soon enough. So now it's time to dust off the keyboard and get those creative hockey juices flowing. It's time to start analyzing the division, and the conference to see where the Caps might shake out. The Caps made some smart off season moves, but will they pay dividends.

It's good to be back.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Good News, Bad News

Maybe it’s a midwest thing, but when I was young my mother would always try to spin bad news in a good way. A ‘glass half full’ philosophy, if you will. So why not apply that to some recent events in the hockey world over the past week. I picked out some recent headlines showing the good news and bad news of the NHL news.

Instead of picking a head of the NHLPA, the players association will let the 30 team reps run the union. Bad News: Getting anything done will take forever and a day to get approval from thirty reps during the season. Good News: Some one will actually care what players think.

Pavel Bure won a suit against British Airways for kicking the All-Star forward off an airplane after the pilot was convinced that Bure was a soccer hooligan. Bad News: Bure did not receive the sought 20 million rubles but only received 67,000 Rubles (C$2,750). Good News: It’s hard for real soccer hooligans to get on a flight!

A local group in Nashville has put down $10 million deposit to purchase the Predators and keep the team in Tennessee. Good News: The Preds seem to be staying put. Bad News: We have to see those ugly uniforms for another season (Sorry KC/Hamilton, wasn’t meant to be).

Many NHLers are opting to play in Europe rather than wait to be signed as a free agent (J. Heward, J. Bulis, M. Giordano, E. Belfour). Bad News: The NHL is losing some talent over the pond. Good News: Do we really care.

Mark Bell got caught and suspended for violating the NHL substance abuse policy. Bad News: The NHL does not need a steroid controversy to start the ’07-’08 season. Good News: No one seems to care about the NHL in the U.S., Sidney Crosby could be caught in bed with two hookers and a tequila hang over and ¾ of my office will say, “Who?”

In the Super Series pitting Canada in a 8 game series against Russia has been lopsided with Canada sweeping the Russian leg 4 games to 0. Bad News: The rivalry is not what it used to be. Good News: I can at least watch hockey on to get me through the week.

More teams will be showing the new sweaters as teams camps start revving up. Bad News: The jersey replicas (not the actual jerseys themselves, just the cheap version) will cost $115 or higher. Good News: I can finally afford an Alex Ovechkin sweater in the old jersey.