Monday, March 31, 2008

Sunny Days

I remember earlier this season finding my seat for a Caps/Thrashers game and looking at nearly an empty section to my right and a sparsely filled one to my left. I felt frustrated that DC had turned it's back on the team and on the sport. I felt sort of selfish too, thinking that maybe it wasn't a bad thing that the stadium was just pulling even and I had a whole row of seats to myself. They were playing for just me.

Now, the Caps are just a game or two out of a playoff spot. Now everything has changed. I was talking to a few friends about how important this home stand was to finish the season, when they chimed in they were shut out from getting tickets. Excuse me? Beg your pardon, did I hear you right? No I had heard them right, the Verizon Center was sold out.

To put it in perspective, in DC the Redskins are king and the rest is just stuff to do during the off-season. But Cap fever seems to have choked the city. Even with a brand new stadium, the Nats game saw a spattering of Capitals' sweaters and fandom around. And now I have to find some Red to wear to the "Red Out." Playoff hockey may not be here (yet), but the Capitals are back. The fair weather fans are starting to see some sun.

Sold out seats usually means the Penguins are in town, but this is for the Hurricanes. Maybe it's 62 goals that's bringing them in, or two points from a divisional title, or Uncle Ted's brilliant marketing. Whatever the reason, seeing the Caps logo around town is a sudden change and a welcome sight.

Instead of a quick trip to get beer and pretzels, it's a planned excursion that includes waiting in longer lines. Empty rows now have raucous fans. And a Caps hat or jersey here and there at Tyson's Corner gives hope for the franchise after all.

But it begs the question, where have you all been? We sorely missed you. But we are happy you are back. Maybe you're just curious about Alex Ovechkin (yes, he is that good every night), or wrapped up in the race to make the playoffs, or just realizing that Washington has a hockey team.

I think I speak for a lot of us by say we are happy to have you all back at the phone booth. LET'S GO CAPS!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Perfect Roadtrip (Sorta)

Capitals 3, Panthers 0
Scoresheet - Wash Post

If you told me three weeks ago that the Capitals could go on a six game road trip and pull out with ten points, I would've probably shook my head and said, "Maybe six." Oh, I love how this team proves me wrong. The Caps keep pace with surging Philly and Boston clubs to stay within the hunt for an eighth place spot. Plus they get a little help from Halpern and the Lightning as the Hurricanes drop one in regulation.

Viktor Kozlov started the scoring on a broken play that gave the Capitals the lead for good. Kozzie had a three point night with a couple of assists too. Mike Green found his scoring touch again and Alex Ovechkin padded his Rocket Richard Trophy lead with another goal for 62 on the year. But the bigger story was Cris Huet in net. He stopped 32 shots for the shut out, and not all of them were a walk in the park.

This was just about a picture perfect road game on behalf of the Washington Capitals. Except for the fact that they were 0 for 6 on the powerplay. But the Caps seemed to be in charge of the game and never yielded their strategy. The Panthers were also guilty of standing around a bit and letting the Caps do their will. And if the Caps faltered, Huet was there with the stop.

Now let's hope this pressure the Caps seem to be building can pay some dividends. Every time I think Carolina is uncatchable, the Caps pull within a couple of games of the division leaders. Now just a game back of the 'Canes (90 points), the Caps (88 points) could be shooting for 3rd in the Eastern Conference, never mind 8th. They will play the 'Canes and finish their season on home ice.

The Caps have now won 8 of their last nine contests and are not showing any signs of slowing down. While they may not be able to help themselves against Boston or Philadelphia (since they will not face each other for the rest of the season), they can finish strong down the stretch against their division and let the chips fall where they may. Remember that Philly plays their next two on the road and has two games against Pittsburgh to play and Boston goes on a three game road trip of their own. No easy task for either team.

A lot of people counted the Caps out as they had to go on a six game road trip and faced the likes of Nashville, Carolina, Atlanta and Florida. While they got wrecked in Chicago, the overall road trip was beyond a success. It's not easy for any team in the NHL to go on the road and get wins. For the Caps to pull 10 points out of a possible 12 is a remarkable feat.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cardiac Caps Pull Out Another Late Win

Capitals 4, Lightning 3 OT
Scoresheet - Wash Post

Never, ever, never, ever, ever count out the Washington Capitals. Even when all seemed lost and the Tampa Bay Lightning playing a solid defensive game with a lead into the final minutes of the third, the Caps found a way to win. The Cardiac Caps make the impossible possible once more. They would have to win anyway they could with Boston getting two points tonight as well.

Before the game, Bruce Boudreau talked about how badly the team needed secondary scoring. His wishes were granted tonight. Brooks Laich started the scoring with a shorthanded goal in the first and Matt Bradley added a tally of his own. The Caps let a 2-1 lead squander and then the lead went Tampa's way. Then Alex Semin tied the game at three late in the third, and Tomas Fleischmann made the game worth going to overtime giving the Caps a much needed two point win.

The Bolts counter punch was very potent, and the Caps were on their heels for much longer than Caps fans and Gabby would care to see them be. Cris Huet was again amazing in net, even being called the "Almighty" Cristabol Huet by some of the Tampa Media. But when the Caps vanquished the lead off a Milan Jurcina cavalier play on an icing call where the Bolts out worked the Caps and scored what would seem to be the game winner. The Lightning did their best to clog up the neutral zone, block shots and play the spoilers to the Caps playoff run after they took the lead. They were doing an excellent job too.

But the resilient Caps would not be denied. Much like the Atlanta game before, the Washington squad made a late push, and somehow, someway they pulled out another win, while the rest of us pulled out our hair.

The game was an exciting one with both teams sharing chances and both top lines going head to head. Special teams didn't really factor in as both teams only enjoyed only a 5 second powerplay thanks to a hooking call five ticks in to a Capital man advantage in the first period. Besides that both teams played pretty clean.

As exciting as it was, both top lines for the Lightning and the Capitals were held in check. In fact only Vincent Lecavalier recorded an assist (his 600th career point). It became a battle of second and third lines as the game wore on. Lucky for the Capitals, it was a good time for those secondary players to start burying pucks.

Former Capital Jeff Halpern didn't seem too phased by the pomp and circumstance that was the Ovechkin/Backstrom/Kozlov line. But I do have to say the Bolts went out of their way to be a nuisance to Ovie often cutting the forward off when he didn't have the puck and hitting him when they could (I was surprised how often he was interfered with and no calls).

Now the Caps are still just a game from Boston and now Philly too. This could come down to the wire. For the Caps they just need to keep pace, and let either the Flyers or the Bruins crack under the pressure (if the Caps don't crack first). Just when Boston thinks they are making strides, the Caps match them point for point. Now the Flyers, who looked safe, are suddenly in the thick of it again.

The Caps need to keep up their winning, or call it quits. By the way Ovie is playing, I don't think quit is in their vocabulary.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Cream Starts To Rise

Capitals 3, Hurricanes 2 OT/SO (1-0)
Scoresheet - Wash Post

The goals would have to be flukes for the Carolina Hurricanes, because the Caps made it pretty clear in the first 8 minutes that they were there to get two points. The Capitals outshot the 'Canes near 10-1 in the first minutes of the game. The Caps were on a mission to get a win and keep the pressure on Boston and Philadelphia. Mission accomplished.

Alex Ovechkin scores his 61st goal of the season, surpassing Dennis Maruk for most goals by a Capital in a single season. Add a powerplay tally from Alex Semin off a pretty pass from Sergei Fedorov and a shoot out winner by Viktor Kozlov and the Caps get their two points the desperately needed.

The game had a playoff feel to it from the drop of the puck. Ovie was involved in 4 big time hits just in his first shift. Nick Backstrom may not have scored, but he played the best hockey I have seen him play this year. Backs assisted on both goals and seemed to find an open Ovechkin (which was hard to do with the 'Canes draped all over him) in almost every shift.

Cris Huet played spectacular, when the Capitals' defense faltered he was there. Viktor Kozlov also played well, and did his shootout skills ever help the Caps out here. Usually you see a shootout particapant work his speed up as he closes on the goaltender, but Kozlov's style is so matter of factly that the anticipation was palpable and the finish was explosive. In, what could be considered the biggest shootout for the Capitals this year, Kozzie should made his shot count.

The Carolina goals were what I call "lucky." A 40 ft. deflection late in the first and a goal to which I have still not seen any video proof of going in. If Toronto and the upstairs booth had another shot and could show conclusively that the puck was in the net then okay, I am fine with that. But they sure didn't share any of those highlight video shots to Comcast or the NHL Network because I never saw the puck over the line and in the net. That goal was waved off and there has to be conclusive evidence that the contrary happened. I don't think that there was.

This was a game the Caps desperately needed, and they sure played like it. The Caps did have plenty of momentum and opportunity to ice the game but the powerplay was stagnant in the later half of the game. They were just 1 for 6 including a overtime powerplay that the 'Canes played just about the perfect 3 on 4 you will ever see.

There shouldn't be any shame at the Caps inability to get the win in regulation, instead it's two points they needed to get. Remember the Caps are still in the middle of a six game road trip, they still have Tampa Bay and Florida on the horizon before finishing the season at home. The Caps have pocketed 6 standings points out of 8. That is a huge accomplishment. Sure the surrendered a point to Carolina, but there playoff hopes are still intact.

Of course for there to be a chance for that to happen, Boston and Philly have to start struggling. So far that's not happening. Boston got a big road win against Toronto and the Flyers slip past the Rangers. However, the teams below the Caps seemed to have broken off. Both the Sabres and Panthers fell last night give the Caps some cushion, not that they should rely on that.

I am a bit concerned about the Caps failure to capitalize on their opportunities. They had 3 key powerplays down the stretch of the game that could have taken the lead for good. You had a feeling that after each powerplay, it was going to be near impossible for either team to score at even strength. The Capitals must be able to take advantage of their chances as there is little room for any mistakes.

Just 5 games left. If you haven't been biting your nails now, where have you been for the past month?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Outside Help

The Caps are looking to taste the post season once again. Now that the League is down the final stretch of 5 to 6 games left, the Caps will need some outside help too. All they have to do is win, and let us, the fans/experts/media, do the worrying for them.

One way to see if the Caps even have an outside chance of slipping into that 8th and final playoff spot is to look at the records of the teams in front of them. Since every team will be finishing the season playing within their own division it's even easier to find out that answer.

#6 NY Rangers - It might be a long shot to catch the Rangers, but hey, the Caps are only 6 points away from the Broadway Blues. Unfortunately the Rangers have a good record versus their division (17-6-2). Not very likely the Caps will be able to catch them.

#7 Philly Flyers - The Flyers have quietly put together three straight wins and are just 2 points behind the Rangers, and 4 points ahead the Caps. The good news here is the Flyers are a so-so team against their division with a 13-11-2 record. True that is on the winning side, but they do have to face down the Rangers, Devils, Islanders and the Penguins on a 4 game road trip in their next 5. I can see them getting 4 out of 8 points on this road trip.

#8 Boston Bruins - Let's face it, the Bruins are suffering a mini collapse of late. Sure they secured a point in a shoot out loss to the Canadiens, but they also got swept this season by the Habs. Good news for the Bruins, they won't face them again for the rest of the year, but bad news is their divisional record has suffered because of it (9-12-5). Clearly they are catchable, but don't count them out. Teams play differently under pressure, they could go on a late surge to keep themselves in it. They have a home and home with Toronto (who seems hard to beat all of a sudden) then face off with Ottawa, Buffalo and New Jersey in their next 5.

#9 Washington Capitals - Keep winning.

#10 Buffalo Sabres - These guys are hard to figure out. Just when you think they have called it quits and send Brian Campbell to the west coast, they put a beat down on the Hurricanes and are still fighting for a playoff spot. Right now they are .500 against their own division (11-11-3). They have a chance to make up some ground with a home and home with sagging Ottawa then face the Habs, Bruins and the Maple Leafs for their next 5. 3 games will be at home, so I can see the Sabres coming away with 6 points in the next 5.

#11 Florida Panthers - The Panthers are playing really, really, really good hockey right now (14-10-2 in the SE). Their offense is sparking and their goaltending is solid. But here the Caps can help themselves since the two will face off together twice before the season concludes. However, the Caps won't get much help since the Panthers face the Bolts and Thrash in their next two games before the Cats face the Caps. The good news, Florida's last three games are on the road against Atlanta, Carolina and the Capitals.

#12 Toronto Maple Leafs - They are only two points away from the Caps, and they have been playing better than expected as the season winds down. While the Capitals would like to see the Leafs lose a few here or there, the Leafs can help the Caps. The Leafs play well against their own division with a 13-9-4 record. They will play a home and home with Boston, and then play Buffalo at home a few days later. If the Caps can stay two points ahead of the Leafs and the Leafs beat Boston on both nights and Buffalo, that could mean playoffs for the Caps.

The Capitals are still just 5 points from Carolina (17-8-1 in the division by the way). With a couple of wins against the divisional leaders, they could catch them. The Caps don't have to be perfect in their last few games, but it doesn't hurt.

Friday, March 21, 2008

No Freaking Way

Capitals 5, Thrashers 3
Scoresheet - Wash Post

If you are a Caps fan, you basically went through every emotion you could muster in this important game for the Capitals as they took on their divisional foes Atlanta Thrashers. There was happiness as Alex Ovechkin opened the scoring in the first period. Thrilled when Cris Huet made save after save. Disgust and frustration as they allowed a power play goal early in the second. Horror as the Thrashers took the lead on a shorthanded goal. Sadness and anger when the Thrashers built a two goal lead in late in the second and it carried to midway in the third. Proud as Ovie scored his 60th goal, becoming the first player in 12 years to accomplish the mark. Hopeful as Nick Backstrom knocked in the tying goal. Elated when he put in the game winner just 30 seconds later. Giddiness as Boyd Gordon slapped home the empty netter. Relief that the Capitals are still in the playoff race.

As I am watching all of this, my wife is sitting next to me in disgust at every emotion I showed, celebrating with them when they started strong, yelling at them when all seemed lost. She thought I was going to cry by the end of the game (to be honest I damn near did). The Capitals looked as if Kari Lehtonen had gotten the best of them again. But they kept shooting, they kept pressing. In the end they outshot the Thrashers 44-18 including a 22-2 barrage of shots in the third period.

Ovie scored his 59th and 60th goals and added a couple of assists to get his team back in it (4 point night, and was a +4). Ovechkin was on the ice for all 5 goals. Nick Backstrom scored a pair that included the game tying goal and the game winner just 32 seconds apart to be exact (3 point night). Add a Boyd Gordon empty netter and the Caps pull their 5th win in their last six games. Mike Green added two assist and even Huet got into the offense with an assist himself.

While Backstrom scored two of the biggest goals of the season, Ovie played his best "play making" game of the year. He knew the Thrashers were going to double up on him late in the game to keep him from taking over. Ovie recognized it and was able to dish off several pucks to open shooters like Backstrom in front of the net.

Alex Semin spent most of the game on his butt, as the Thrashers took just about every opportunity to put the crafty forward down to the ice. He looked a little in slow motion, but that is how you should play against a stickhandler like Semin; knock him off the puck.

The Dizzy Birds did play one tough game, but couldn't finish it out. Again the Caps defense did come up big, not allowing Blueland's best line to score, even when the Thrash had the momentum. Ilya Kovalchuk was held without a point and was a -3.

Special teams does need some work though, as the Caps allowed a goal both on the penalty kill and the power play. All of the Capitals' goals came at even strength. They were able to stay out of the penalty box after Quintin Laing's hooking call and Matt Bradley showed some extreme discipline early as he was being harassed by Boris Valabik. Bradley kept his gloves on after being goaded into a fight by the large Valabik and that helped the Caps get the early lead.

The Caps must continue this streak to the end of the season now that it looks like both Philly and Boston are catchable teams. They are now just a point from 8th place Boston as Philadelphia won tonight and jumped over the Bruins for 7th. The Caps once again leap frog Buffalo for ninth place as they are on the verge and it's making for some great drama down the stretch. The Caps will not play out of their division for the rest of the season so it's these last games are pivotal for them making the post season.

For now it's a good win against a strong foe.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Blackhawks Dominate Caps

Capitals 0, Blackhawks 5
Scoresheet - Wash Post

The Caps couldn't match the intensity of the Chicago Blackhawks. Knowing the Capitals had played the night before they push the Caps to the brink and over. On Tony Esposito night, you know goals were going to be tough to come by for the Caps. Throw in a late whistle, a bad penalty and two goals Olie Kolzig should have had and the Caps get a can of whoop ass opened up on them.

Olie should have been replaced after the 3rd goal, and why they continued to keep him in I am not sure. The Caps were pretty worn down from the night before and it was evident in the second and third. The pace of the game drop drastically, and played right into Chicago's hands. After that they sat back and played strong defense. Alex Ovechkin had a guy in his back pocket for the entire game and the Caps had no answer for it.

The Caps offense took a bad night off. They only produced 6 shots in the first, and 25 for the game. Compare that to the Blackhawks 42 shots on net. Playing games back to back on the road took an extreme effect on the Caps. They just couldn't match the Hawks' intensity. It couldn't have happened at a worse time either.

Buffalo retains their ninth place position by beating Tampa Bay and Carolina won their game over Atlanta. The Caps fall back to tenth in the Conference and drop to 5 points behind Carolina. Now the Caps face off against divisional foes for their rest of their road trip. If they are hoping to reach the playoffs, they must get wins against their division. The Caps have little room (if any) for mistakes anymore. One can hope a lesson was learned in Chicago.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Caps Barely Make It Out Alive

Capitals 4, Predators 2
Scoresheet - Wash Post

The Washington Capitals are happy to leave Nashville with two points, after building a three goal lead in the first and then letting it dwindle in the second and third. The Caps dominated the play in the first, but were suddenly privy to what the Preds could do. The Nashville squad roared back to pull the game back to a one goal game before Alex Ovechkin showed his geometry skills and banked the puck off the boards into an empty net to finish the night with a goal and two assists (his 58th goal on the season, achieving the century mark for points for second straight season and he broke the 300 points for his career).

Alex Semin, Nick Backstrom and Matt Bradley all scored in the first in what was looking like a rout for the Caps. But the Preds dominated the play in the second and third pulling the game into a 3-2 nail biter. Cristabol Huet can be thanked for keeping the Caps in the lead. While the Predators pushed, Huet was cool and calm in the crease stopping chance after chance. If he had not been acquired at the deadline, the Cap would have certainly lost this game.

Perhaps the Preds were a little too in awe of the Caps in the first period. They were standing around a little bit taken in by the beauty that was Caps aggresive forecheck. But in the second and third, a different team came out of that locker room. They were playing the Caps' aggresive style right back at them, forechecking and pressing the play. The Capitals nearly lost it had it not been for Huet in net.

While the first period goals eventually held, that killer instinct problem needs to be revisited. And it starts by not taking stupid penalties. The Caps did everything they could do wrong when playing with a lead. They allowed some light at the end of the tunnel to their opponents. The Preds scored both goals as a result of penalty calls against the Caps. While some could be called questionable (like Tootoo's dive into the boards after Tom Poti nudged him), the Caps need to be able to stay out of the box. Too that point the they had the game at hand and were dominating, but that first Pred's goal ignited the Nashville squad. And the Caps had to play on their heels for the next 40 minutes.

Alex Semin is playing better and better with every game. I think I actually saw the crafty forward back check. He now has 22 goals on the season and has helped spark an offense that often is stagnate when Ovie doesn't score. But Semin has been passing the puck more, playing smarter with the puck and playing a bit more defense.

It's pretty clear that no one is going to do the Capitals any favors. Atlanta couldn't beat the Flyers and the Caps could only keep pace. The Caps are able to leap frog the Sabres for ninth in the Conference but the Caps don't get much rest as Chicago is next. The Caps don't have a winning record against the Blackhawks. But Alex Ovechkin does have a goal and an assist against the Chicagoland hockey club. You can bet the rookies (Kane, Toews) on this team will want to put some distance between themselves and Nick Backstrom for the Calder trophy honors.

The road trip started on a so-so foot (the Caps got the win, but played poorly in the late periods) and the Caps need to keep their foot on the accelerator. For their mental state, it's a good thing this goes in the win column. But there is a long way to go.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Boudreau Discusses Tightness

Capitals 2, Bruins 1 OT/SO (2-0)
Scoresheet - Wash Post

I thought I would catch your eye with that title. We will get to Bruce Boudreau's comments in a bit. But first, the Caps pulled out a big win and it certainly didn't come easy. Even with the Bruins missing Zdeno Chara, Boston clamped down on the high flying Caps. It did it make for heavy drama in Chinatown.

Sergei Fedorov scored his first goal as a Capital (only his 10th on the year) and Cris Huet showed why he was one helluva goaltender as the Caps get two points via the shootout. Ideally the Caps would have loved to come out with 2 points and leave Boston with nothing, but I also want a swimming pool lined with gold (some things just aren't in the cards).

The Caps were able to hold off the Bruins who suddenly found their offensive spark, but they didn't do it the easy way. Milan Jurcina allowed the Bruins to tie the game in the second with some pretty stupid penalties. But Huet was up to the task, and the Caps survived a third period onslaught of Bruin attacks. He stopped 39 shots, allowing only a power play goal by him. The Caps survived overtime then took it to the shoot out. Both Alex Semin and Viktor Kozlov scored while Huet was made a stellar save on Chuck Kobasew and the Bruins were held scoreless in the SO.

The Caps gladly snatch up their two points and now find themselves just 2 points from Philly for eighth. They are still 5 points from Carolina (who won again) and still tied with Florida (who have also been successful in keeping pace). The Caps still have a game on Carolina and Florida, but lost their game advantages to both the Flyers and the Sabres. And things don't get any easier.

Now the Caps hit the road as the phone booth plays host to the NCAA basketball tournament and the Circus (everyone loves the Circus). Six games on the road where they will face off with Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta, Carolina, Tampa Bay and finally Florida to round out the month of March. The last four against all Southeast Division foes if you weren't paying attention.

Bruce Boudreau talked about how tight the players were in his post game comments. It's something that plagued them the last few games that were huge. "It looked like we were afraid to make a mistake instead of, 'Let's go get them,' and play the way we can," Boudreau said. "That's the difference between teams that aren't in it, they play loose... A lot of times they're beating the other teams because they're playing loose. We were tight a little bit out there because of the importance of the game."

I couldn't agree more. The Caps do tend to psych themselves out when it comes to big games or "must win" situations. If not for Fedorov's heroics (he looked pretty calm to me putting the puck in the net), the Caps may have never scored. That is what veteran leadership can bring to this team. So many times the Caps have rolled over, too scared to make a mistake that they don't play their game. The other team takes advantage, and soon they are making mistakes because they aren't playing their game.

Under Glen Hanlon, it was X's and O's and if the Caps lost it was because they didn't know them well enough. But these guys know it and it's time to push past whatever mental hangups they have and just play the game. The X's and O's will always be there, this team has the talent and the know how to completely control a game. Just play. Do what you know you can do. Boudreau knows it isn't a strategy problem like Hanlon fell back on, it's an attitude adjustment. They need some of that kind of swagger for the next six games.

An interesting moment happened last night that made me smile. At the end of the game Fedorov and Olie Kolzig were the last ones off the ice. Both gave each other a pat on the back and a wide smile. My, how life has changed in the past ten years for both players. It's hard to describe what I was feeling seeing that moment the two veteran players shared, but I couldn't help but smile seeing two old foes walk off victors.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Who To Cheer For, Part 2

The Caps may have won, but they are going to need some help along the way. Some good and bad things that came out of last night:

Buffalo Sabres 7, Carolina Hurricanes 1 - So the Hurricanes are human after all. Just when Cam Ward was looking like a brick wall, the young goaltender allows 4 goals on seven shots. Ouch. Is it just a hiccup along the road, or did the 'Canes peak too soon? The Caps would have liked to see the Buffaslugs lose one to jump into 9th in the Conference, but if this brings the 'Canes down to human strength that might not be a bad thing.

Florida 3, NY Rangers 2 - Ugh! Florida just beat a very good team, and stopped the Rangers cold to keep pace with the Caps. The Capitals could have used a loss by the Miami squad, but that just wasn't in the cards last night was it!

So who do we have on tap for tonight:

Philadelphia at Boston: This is a toss up. Both teams are hovering at the 8th place spot, a spot the Caps would like to be at. I think at this point we would like to see Philly win here and keep Boston on the down slide. I think the Flyers are going to make the playoffs anyway, but Boston just seems catchable. I wish both could lose, but what can you do? Worse case scenario is that it becomes a 3 point game with both teams getting points and distancing themselves from teams surging.

Buffalo at Toronto: Another toss up. If the Leafs win, they are tied with the Caps in the Eastern Conference standings, if the Buffaslugs win they move farther away from the Caps. As much as we would like to not see 5 teams tied with the Caps down the stretch, I am going with the Leafs here. Keeping Buffalo within striking distance (a single standing point) is more important than three teams tied at 76 points (and the Sabres 3 points ahead of the Caps).

Those are the only games that directly affect the Caps at this point. As you can see, not a cheery outlook tonight. Like I have said before the Caps just need to keep winning.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Thrashers Get Capped

Capitals 4, Thrashers 1
Scoresheet - Wash Post

The Thrashers might have been a little tired from the game the night before where they mustered a comeback win at home against the Calgary Flames. The wear and tear started to show. But in a playoff race there is no mercy for the wicked and the Caps pulled a giant win and played the possession game to a tee. If there was any doubt about the lopsided tilt just look at the shots: Capitals 37, Atlanta 12.

Brooks Laich is the man with two goals and Alex Ovechkin and Matt Cooke added tallies as the Capitals steam rolled the Dizzy Birds. Ovie scored his 57th and added an assist to keep him atop the league leader board for both goals and points and puts him near the century mark for points with 99. Sami Lepisto scored his first NHL point (an assist) and nearly scored his first NHL goal moments later but his shot rang off the crossbar. The Verizon Center horn even thought it was a goal. Cooke's goal was a shorthanded tally at a crucial point in the game, the Thrashers will still in it on the power play, but that goal was the knife in the heart of any comeback like the night before.

Olie Kolzig won his 301st game, it might have been his easiest of the previous 300. He only faced 12 shots and made 11 saves, that included only 2 shots in the first and 4 shots in the second. Sergei Fedorov also played his best game as a Capital. Although he only had an assist, Fedorov seemed to have a lot of jump in his legs and looked that of a Red Wings Fedorov from years ago.

The Caps took full advantage of a tired Atlanta Squad keeping the puck deep in their zone and peppering Kari Lehtonen with shots. When the Capitals put their mind to it, they are a down right scary team. The Caps relied on all four lines tonight and the Thrashers had little answers to stop the Caps momentum. The only reason this wasn't a 8-1 or 10-1 slaughter was Lehtonen in net. Despite a tired team in front of him he did manage to make 33 saves on the night and at times doing it on top of his head.

Both teams I told you to cheer for tonight lost, what does that tell you about my smarts. The Panthers were able to keep pace with the Caps by beating the Rangers and Buffalo broke out of whatever slump they were in to crush the Hurricanes. So now the Caps find themselves 5 points behind the 'Canes and just three points from Philadelphia for the 8th place spot in the Conference and still a point under Buffalo. But if the Hurricanes have hit a sudden rut, the Caps could once again be looking at a chance at Southeast Division leaders. If they can just shake Florida.

If this is giving you a headache, I will simplify it for you. For the Caps to make the playoffs, they must keep winning, period. Lose more than 2 games down the final stretch and the season is done for the Washington Capitals.

Who To Cheer For (Like You Need To Know)

Really, you need to know huh? Okay, well first let's recap what happened last night.

Tampa Bay 3, Boston 1 - Great! The Capitals best chance to make the playoffs is to catch both the Bruins and Sabres hitting a lull down the stretch. The Bolts help the Caps out a little by keeping them with a couple of games of the black and gold.

Atlanta 6, Calgary 4 - Eh! It has no bearing on the standings for the Caps, but the Flames did blow a 3 goal lead in this game and if the Thrashers (or the Dizzy Birds as my dad now calls them) gain some confidence, that could bode trouble for the Caps since they are in town tonight. The Capitals need some of that killer instinct and keep the Dizzy Birds from gaining any momentum.

New Jersey 4, Minnesota 3 SO - Good! Anytime the Penguins get unseated from first in their division and/or conference is a good thing in my book. Not much bearing on the Caps though.

Pretty exciting stuff, but here is who you should cheer for tonight:

NY Rangers - They take on Florida tonight and the Caps need some breathing room in the conference to make a run. The Rangers have been playing so-so of late, while the Panthers are playing better and better hockey since Vokoun has taken a few nights off (coincidence, I think not!) If the Rangers can pull a win out in FLA that helps the Caps a whole lot.

Carolina - Yes I said it. If you are a Caps fan, you should be cheering on the 'Canes. Why? The likelihood of the Caps catching the Hurricanes is closer to slim and none, but Carolina will play the Buffaslugs tonight and the Caps could surpass the slumping Sabres if they lose to the Stiff Winders. Even though that pulls Carolina further away from the Caps, it will make it easier on them to take over 9th and a step closer to 8th in the standings.

And the Capitals - Well of course you are going to cheer for them, the good guys. The Caps hate the Dizzy Birds as much as Tom Poti hates nuts. That sounded bad, anyway, one good thing the Caps have going for them is their power play which seems to be working all of a sudden. They were 2 for 4 against Calgary and 2 for 7 against the Penguins. Plus the penalty kill is getting the job done. The Whirly Chickens maybe out of the playoff race, they would still like to play spoiler for the Caps.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Flamed Out

Capitals 3, Flames 2
Scoresheet - Wash Post

It was exactly what the Capitals needed. A solid win against a team desperate for points too. The Calgary Flames are in the hunt to win their division, which has three teams tied for the top position. The Caps came out of nightmarish weekend and needed some points of their own to keep the playoff hopes alive. The Caps jumped out early, lost the lead then took it back. The only team with an even strength tally won.

Alex Ovechkin got his 55th and 56th goals on the power play. Nick Backstrom had a huge assist early, :53 seconds in. Viktor Kozlov scored his 15th goal snapping his 4 game goalless streak. Olie Kolzig was the big news of the night though, notching his 300th career win. It was very deserved as well.

Tonight was also the OvechKam night. Just as I suspected, it wasn't really that cool to watch when I came home and watched the tape. Seeing Ovie sit through Caps penalties got a little boring, and there wasn't much I was missing there, not to say that I was to begin with. One thing that did annoy me was the constant promotion of it on the regular channel. It seems Joe B and Laucher couldn't stop talking about it. It waned a bit as the game went on, but it was a tad annoying to hear it ever 2 minutes or so.

There were a few collapses tonight by the Caps. Even if the calls were a bit phantom, the Caps did give up two 5 on 3 chances to the Flames. The Caps need to be more disciplined down the stretch. Thankfully the penalties happened early enough for the Caps to rectify the situation.

The crowd was fun and a bit rambunctious. A few chants of "Ref you suck!" substituted the "Let's go Caps!" cheer. I can't remember a time when it has been this fun to be in the stands at a game. To see the building loud and full was pretty fun to be a part of.

Caps face division foe Atlanta at home then they see Boston again. Catching Carolina maybe a much harder route for the Washington squad, but catching Buffalo and Boston is doable. With Buffalo and Philadelphia losing tonight and Boston struggling, the Caps could sneak in 8th. They will have to just keep winning because Florida and Toronto are hot on the Caps heels.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Today Is The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Season

For the Caps, it's time for a reset. Maybe this frustrating weekend was exactly what the Capitals needed. No one said it was easy just to make the playoffs. The Caps will have to just about go 10-2-0 if they want to make the playoffs. That means putting together a strong run of at least 6 to 7 games which has foreign to this team this season.

The Caps did get some help last night. Boston, NY Islanders and Philadelphia all lost last night. Philly was able to gain a point, but they didn't get two and that keeps the Capitals close. It seems there are things in motion that are helping the Caps.

Boston can't seem to find their scoring touch (unless it's a 5 on 3). In their last 5 games they have been outscored 15 to 6. That's a bad time to have an offensive hiccup. Boston at this point is a bubble team with 80 points and stalled in 7th place. The Rangers surpassed them for some playoff insurance and Boston can't seem to stop their down slide, which is not helpful when you are setting up for the playoffs. The Caps are just 8 points from Boston and if their misfortunes continue, that is good for the Capitals.

The Flyers will make the playoffs, but both Boston and Buffalo are struggling down the stretch. It's a perfect opportunity for the Caps to pounce. In order for them to do that, they must take their game to the next level. Even though they are just 7 points from Philly, so are two other teams in Toronto and Florida, and both playing outstanding hockey.

Plus the Caps are a mere 7 points from Carolina as well. While the 'Canes are built for the playoffs, they are going to have to go through the Caps to get there. Unfortunately for the Caps, Carolina has been playing their best hockey late, something good playoff teams do before getting there. For the Caps those games will be a battle, but not an impossibility.

In other news, former Cap Jeff Halpern helped light up the lamp last night and in a way helped his former team as the Lightning defeated the Islanders to keep the Caps in 10th. Halpern had a goal and 2 assists and since becoming a Bolt he has 4 goals and 5 assists in 8 games, including 4 power play assists. He must have been pissed being traded off a potential Stanley Cup winner in Dallas to a basement team in the Southleast Division.

Monday, March 10, 2008

I Knew There Was A Curse

Compliments of the Peerless Prognosticator. It's the Bob Gould curse. Made worse by the Jaromir Jagr curse of the 2000's, perhaps.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

To Add Insult To Injury

NHL Front page on Yahoo! Sports...
I mean c'mon!


Capitals 2, Penguins 4
Scoresheet - Wash Post

If there was ever a more fitting proof that the Capitals are cursed with bad luck, it reared it's ugly head this weekend. With a mere 12 games left the Caps are left scratching their heads. Did what happen, just happen? Yes it did.

Before that, just like in the Boston game, the Caps had the game in hand. If this team didn't have bad luck, they would have no luck at all. Too many times we said this season, "The Caps deserved a better fate in that game" or "Just one more goal." There in lies the problem. What killed this team wasn't the close wins in the waning moments of the season. It wasn't the mid season trades that now seem like futile attempts. The Caps lost the post season long before Bruce Boudreau took over, long before December. The rest could just be for show.

The playoffs are close to being a pipe dream (although still mathematically possible) and the efforts of Alex Ovechkin to win a Hart trophy may be dashed as well. It was a bad weekend. Both Boston and Pittsburgh had no business winning those games, but somehow they did. And the Caps, who could have made up some serious ground this weekend, are stuck at 72. Only 2 points better than last season.

Brooks Laich and Alex Semin both scored powerplay tallies for the Caps. Ovie had 2 assists. Cristobal Huet played his heart out, making spectacular save after spectacular save. Sergei Fedorov was outstanding in the faceoff circle winning 17 of 21 draws. If you wanted to look at the silver lining.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

What Is Done Cannot Be Undone

Capitals 1, National Hockey League "B" Referees/Bruins 2
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times


A blow up from Donald Brashear, two phantom penalty calls late and the Caps are left feeling sorry for themselves. I could have come on and written a scathing review of the game right after, I could have blasted the Referees and questioned their family heritage, but I had to really pull myself out of the emotion of a tough loss and look at what really happened in this game as a whole. Hence the late post.

As much as the Caps may have been wronged at the end of the game, credit the Boston Bruins with playing staunch defense and keeping it only a one goal game to that point. The Caps had opportunities to bury the Bruins before that, and they didn't. There were times in the game that the Caps had the Boston squad on the ropes, but couldn't score.

As far as the last 6 minutes of the game, you can thank Nashville's Jordin Tootoo for that triple minor on Don Brashear. Tootoo is notorious for hitting players then taking a whack at the third man in. He took out a player against Vancouver then went head hunting for the third man in. This was similar except for the fact that Brashear was already getting the penalty. Shane Hnidy engaged him, and yes, Brash lost his cool. But in all fairness Hnidy should have been tattooed with a roughing penalty as well.

As far as the other two calls, they were just bad inconsistent calls. I don't mind Refs calling slashes, but call them all game long, not just when you find it convenient. The test of a good Referee crew is that you don't notice them during the game. If they do their job right, it's like they are not even there. Unfortunately, the Refs played a big part of determining the outcome of this game. They were very obvious in this game, and that's not a good thing. Just ask Japer.

All of that aside the Caps can only do what they can do in a situation like that. They lost a game, it was going to happen at some point in the next 14 some games. Now the hill just becomes that more steep. If we could go back in time, I think we would have put a stop to the debacle that was the beginning of this season rather than just fix this problem. The Caps have their work cut out for them. The playoffs are still a possibility, but they have to work for it. Nothing comes easy these days.

Brooks Laich scored his 16th of the season, and Alex Ovechkin continues his point streak now through 5 games. Pens next. Let's move on and get a win at home.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Has It Really Been 10 Years?

It has, almost. The Caps seemingly impossible trip to the Stanley Cup Finals was nearly a decade ago. Some aspects of it seem like a hundred years ago, others it's hard to imagine that it has been so long. Ten years. My, how this team has changed. April 22nd, 2008 marks the decade date when the Caps started their playoff run to the finals ten years ago (first game in round one against the Boston Bruins).

In the '97-'98 season, it was the year it all seem to come together. The Capitals had missed the playoffs a year before under head coach Jim Schoenfeld and before that the Caps had made the playoffs an astounding 14 straight seasons. During that stretch the high tide mark the team ever reached was the third round in '89-'90. Mostly they were a first or second round step teams had to go over to make it to the conference finals.

Ron Wilson took over the Capitals in '97 and led them to a 40-30-12 season record (92 points) that year. Players like Peter Bondra (52 goals, 78 points) and Adam Oates (58 assists, 76 points) led the Capitals to their first ever Stanley Cup Finals. They had superstar defensemen in Calle Johansson, Phil Housley, Mark Tinordi and up and comer Sergei Gonchar. Tough guys Chris Simon, Joe Reekie, and a young Brendan Witt. Hardworking forwards like Steve Konowalchuk, Dale Hunter and Todd Krygier. The Caps also acquired some rental help in Jeff Toms (from Tampa Bay), Jeff Brown (from Toronto) and Esa Tikkanen (from Florida). They had even moved into a brand new building downtown D.C.

The Capitals took advantage of the crease rule against the Boston Bruins in the first round. A couple of goals by the Bruins were disallowed and the Caps came back to win in a couple of thrilling overtimes. They made quick work of Ottawa in the next round with Olie Kolzig shutting out the Senators in the final two games. In the conference finals they met up with the Buffalo Sabres and then first year coach Lindy Ruff. Who could forget Matthew Barnaby's "raise the roof" dance in game one at the still new MCI Center where the Caps were shut-out. Wilson turned it into a motivational tool for the Caps, who went on to win the next three games and then finally win the series in 6 games.

Then the finals. The Caps were up against a mountain that was the Detroit Red Wings. They were the dominant team of the 90's and they were coming off an emotional off season where fellow teammate Vladimir Konstantinov was sidelined indefinitely with paralyzing injuries following a Red Wing championship celebration. The Red Wings swept the Caps in four games.

The '97-'98 team changed the next season, seeing Dale Hunter traded to Colorado in hopes of giving the Cap veteran a Stanley Cup ring. And new faces like James Black, Dmitri Mironov and Matt Herr couldn't fill the shoes of those that had left. Bondra and Oates point totals drop from the highs 70's to the high 50's. The Caps would not make it to the playoffs the following season and the three times they did make it there, they were all quick first round exits.

What followed the next couple of seasons for the Caps would be a tailspin that would drastically change the team and see them break apart and rebuild. There was the Jaromir Jagr experiment that went south very quick. Then the sell off that sent Peter Bondra, Steve Konowalchuk, Mike Grier, Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar, Anson Carter, and even Micheal Nylander to different teams in the '03-'04 season (In return we did get Brooks Laich and Shaone Morrisonn plus draft picks). The Caps went through yawner Bruce Cassidy and then savior Glen Hanlon for head coaches before settling for Bruce Boudreau who has turned this season 180 degrees. While the ride was not always the most enjoyable one, it has been amazing looking back over those ten years and see the progress that was made. George McPhee conducted it all.

When the Caps made the finals in '98 they didn't have a superstar like Alex Ovechkin. Sure, the Capitals had Peter Bondra, but he didn't create a buzz like Ovie has across the league. Back then Jaroslav "Yogi" Svejkovsky was the Caps' best prospect. For the most part the team was made of transients and veterans like Brian Bellows, Mark Tinordi and Joe Juneau to name a few.

The Caps made the most of their sell offs, drafting solid prospects and landing Ovechkin in the lockout draft. The team went through its most stagnate seasons after the lockout of '04-'05 as the young players and prospects were allowed to grow in the new NHL atmosphere. They had to lose to learn how important it is to win.

Now there is ever mounting pressure for the Caps to make the playoffs this season, a do or die attitude that seems to have gripped Caps' fans. However, this is not like the finals team of '98, rather a better improved team that is set up for not just one run at the Cup, but several.

In '98 Peter Bondra was 29 years old, Adam Oates 35, Calle Johansson 30, Joe Juneau 29, Phil Housley 33 and Dale Hunter 37. By contrast, the top scorers for the Caps now are Alex Ovechkin age 22, Nick Backstrom 20, Mike Green 22, Alex Semin 24, Brooks Laich 24. I can understand the impatience that is on the faces of all Caps' fans to make the playoffs once more, but I can easily see this team fighting for championships (plural), not just a playoff run.

Looking back over the past 10 years has sort of changed my mindset about the Caps "needing" to be in the playoffs now. While this playoff run is exciting, it's not the end of the road for the Capitals if they don't make the playoffs.

We would all like to see them there, we have expectations of them being there. I mean we have waited 10 long years. But just look at those 10 years, and you will see the Capitals are in the best position to become a dynasty, not just a step other teams have to go through to get to the conference finals.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Ovechkin Takes Over NHL Network

If you have the NHL Network, then get your popcorn ready for a night of "An Ovechkin Ovation." The NHL Network will be showcasing his best performances of the season with a rebroadcast of 3 games.

Starting at 5:00 pm et Sunday (March 9), they will be showing the Caps games vs. the Senators (Ovie had 4 goals and 1 assist). Then after that the game that Ovie willed a win, Caps vs. the Canadiens (4 goals and an assist), then the beat down on the Bruins from a few nights ago (3 goals and 2 assists). Pretty much from 5 pm to 11 pm it will be an Ovechkin love-fest on the NHL Network.

Don't forget to "spring" forward on Sunday as well.

Getting Closer

Capitals 3, Sabres 1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times

The Capitals find themselves in a rather unique position for them. They could be in the hunt for a playoff spot whether they are first in the Southeast or not. The Caps played a hard working 60 minutes and propelled themselves to within 4 points for the 8th in the conference.

This mini race in the Southeast seems to be eclipsing the Sabres and the Flyers who are both slowly sliding down the standings. What is significant about this win is Buffalo needed to win this game to get themselves into a playoff spot. Maybe it was the looming season sweep of the Caps or the over aggresive play, but the Sabres overlooked the Washington squad.

Alex Ovechkin scores a pair as his quest continues for 60 goals (his 53rd and 54th). Nick Backstrom scored a goal that has him on a 2 game goal streak. Olie Kolzig played well, even registering an assist. Interesting observation on Ovie and Nick's first goals, they were scored with the puck along the ice instead of trying to strike the top corner.

The Caps are winning big games against teams that are expected to make the playoffs, like Buffalo, Boston and New Jersey. Plus it was nice to see them get this win at the HSBC Center as Bufallo always seem to give the Caps fits. There is no rest for the wicked though as the Caps have to walk into Boston and grab a win on Saturday before facing off against the Penguins back at home on Sunday in front of a national audience.

Speaking of which, I saw Sid "the Kid" Crosby's return and the Pens had won. But in the after game interview with Crosby he sounded like they had lost. He was clearly upset with himself after not scoring and getting only a single assist. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but I would think that a win is more important than any personal milestones. It was an interesting insight to Crosby's mindset. It seemed to me that he made some rather selfish comments.

Monday, March 03, 2008

When It Rains...

Capitals 10, Bruins 2
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times

You could tell that this team was dead tired of being bottled up offensively against the Bruins. The Caps were going to do something about that. In the process the Caps crush the Boston squad by eight goals. Alex Ovechkin had a hattrick and 2 assist for a five point night (also breaking the 50 goal barrier for a second year and getting 51 and 52 in the process). Instead of breaking down the entire game, I will instead just give you a couple of tidbits I found interesting during the game.
  • Only Boyd Gordon, Sergei Fedorov, Milan Jurcina and the goaltenders were held pointless on the night.
  • Brooks Laich, Sergei Fedorov and Alex Semin were all a -1. Rough night.
  • Two players had playmakers (three assists), one was Nick Backstrom. The other was Hershey success story Eric Fehr.
  • Nick Backstrom caught the Bruin defense napping and snapped a pass to Ovechkin breaking him free in the first, Ovie returned the favor for Backstrom in the second period.
  • Matt Cooke had a career night being the catalyst the Capitals have been looking for all season. He scored the opening goal and finished the night with his one goal and 3 points. Welcome aboard Cooke. He also did the most amount of damage while only getting 10 minutes and 21 seconds of ice time.
  • The Caps made amends on two fronts, a lackluster shut out from the last time they lost to the Bruins and the mistake-laden game from Saturday night.
  • Alex Ovechkin looks like he got that "50 goal monkey" from his back. After that goal he looked more like Ovie we know and love. Fast, strong and a nice scoring touch.
  • Brooks Laich scored two goals and was still a -1. Hmm.
  • Alex Semin is starting to pass the puck a bit more than I have seen him do in his last few games. Sure, he is a bit of puck hog, but he did set up a couple of pretty shots including a powerplay tally that Ovie scored sneaking behind the defense.
  • Tim Thomas is a brave, brave man to come back on the ice in the second period. He must have been called out in the locker room.
  • All four goaltenders from both teams saw action. Thomas was pulled twice in favor of Alex Auld, and Cris Huet was suffering from an injury after the second, Olie Kolzig played the third period. Olie was a perfect 5 saves on 5 shots, including a couple of great saves on the penalty kill. Huet gets the win though.
  • The Verizon Center faithful were actually enjoying themselves. It was the first time in a long time I actually saw smiles on just about every face, except for you Bruin fans. "Beat.. the traffic! Beat, Beat the traffic!"
  • Zdeno Chara is a pretty big push over when his team is down by 6.
  • Donald Brashear was an assist shy of a Gordie Howe hattrick. But he was involved in two fights, I think that makes up for it.
  • Matt Bradley did have the Gordie Howe hattrick, a goal, an assist and a fight (two goals actually).
  • The Caps were 4 for seven on the powerplay. The Caps and Bruins were called for the exact same number of penalties.
  • Ted Leonsis was almost constantly on his cell phone all night. Big deal going down? They even caught him on the Versus broadcast and you can clearly see him mouth "Ovie has a hattrick already." Wonder who he was on the phone with? Probably Ben Affleck.
  • If I had a dollar for every time I heard: "...and there are two periods still to go." or some variation of it, I would be sitting in the owner's box too.
  • Hart Trophy talk for Ovie?
As much fun as this game was, it's still only worth 2 points in the standings. Although it was a pretty big statement to the Eastern Conference and Carolina. "Here we come!" was heard loud and clear. Now the Caps have to back it up. They are still 3 points behind Carolina but they did match their season record for points for the previous two seasons. The Capitals hit the road for two games where they face off with a surging Buffalo and Boston again.

The Caps' game on Sunday has been moved up to 12:30 pm as NBC picks up the broadcast. They will be playing the Penguins and it's rumored that Sid "the Kid" Crosby will be back in the line up for that game. Evgeni Malkin must be hogging the spotlight a bit too much.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

When Mullet Meets Management

Thanks to Uncle Ted who found this jewel. GMGM looks pretty good with a mullet. Bring it back George!

Find the video here.

I wonder if the food was any good.

Caps Shoot Themselves In The Foot

Capitals 2, Maple Leafs 3
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Wash Times

It seems every time the Caps come off a big win they follow it up with a dud. The Capitals maybe thought they were getting an easy opponent in the Toronto Maple Leafs, but there are not more gimmie games at this point in the NHL. Every team is coming prepared to win, whether they are in the playoffs or not. It wasn't that long ago the Caps were in the same situation, out of the playoffs, but they played tough and pulled a few good wins down the stretch against very good teams.

Alex Ovechkin finally gets off his goal scoring drought to get his 49th goal of the season and he also recorded an assist. But that wasn't enough, although you would think the Caps thought it was. As soon as Ovie scored it was like someone let the air out of the confidence balloon for the Capitals. They let up. Viktor Kozlov was the beneficary of the Ovechkin helper to pull the Caps to a goal with about 10 minutes left to play.

Mike Green looked pretty green himself when he actually poked the puck away from Olie Kolzig (who played okay) then lost his balance and the Leafs scored the deciding marker early in the third. Green couldn't make up the goal although he sure tried to do that all on his own. I see this team trying to be too cute sometimes when they desperately need a goal. So listen up kiddies to a good lesson, when your goaltender has the puck frozen leave it, get the whistle.

The Caps needed to stop grabbing those sticks too tight and get back to a simple get the puck to the net. That's how they scored their second goal, but they couldn't repeat the effort to tie. Instead there were one too many passes, one too many toe drags, one too many shots right to the Leaf logo on Vesa Toskala.

The youth of this Capitals team needs to get this lesson through to their thick helmeted heads. Just because you have Ovechkin and Fedorov on your team doesn't mean you can let up on your own game. Keep pressing, play better than them. Or suffer more deflating losses.