Thursday, December 31, 2009

Here Is To A Happy New Year

To Mike Green,

Sorry Team Canada is a bit short sighted not to have you representing your country. I guess with the offensive juggernaut the Swedes and the Russians are coming to Vancouver with, offensive defensemen were not high on their to do list. To deny a talent such as yourself a chance at a gold medal is down right criminal.

To Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Alex Semin, Tomas Fleischmann, Semyon Varlamov,

Congratulations boys on making it to Vancouver. Good luck to you all, do your home team of DC proud and we expect nothing but great things from each and everyone of you. Bring back a medal.

To my faithful readers,

I appreciate the regular readers I get on PHT, all 3 of you. I have been going through some tough times with my dad's stroke as well as starting a new family and getting moved into our new house in Alexandria. It hasn't been easy to try to work up the time to do the blog and twitter and what ever else I can do. I can only tell you that I will keep this up for as long as I can.

To Corey Masisak,

We will miss your wit, your writing and your wisdom. I know you will land on your feet soon. That "kid from Pittsburgh" is alright with me.

Here is to a happy and prosperous 2010.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Distracted Caps Lose Divisional Battle

If George McPhee was looking for a bit of "shock and awe" with his trade before the Capitals played the Carolina Hurricanes, the shock may have back fired. The Caps allowed 3 first period goals and never recovered as the Hurricanes blow away the Caps 6-3.

What preceded the game left both fans and players a bit on edge as the team's captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina were traded to Columbus for Jason Chimera. Yes, the same Chimera that got under the skin of the Caps and was involved in the play that may have injured Alex Ovechkin. McPhee wanted more grit and some salary space. He got it with this trade, but he also disrupted a very tight locker room.

The Caps changes in the past 2 and a half years has not had a shake up like this in it's ranks, unless we are talking about goaltending. McPhee even came out and stated he would like to keep the group together for as much as he could to give them another chance. He already has a tight nit group of guys and this shake up may have caught them off guard.

The end result is a team that was off kilter, off game and a team that failed to win against a weaker team and slipped in the standing a point behind the New Jersey Devils. All for more grit. McPhee may have realized his team lacked a bit of toughness. Chimera will bring that edge that is not quite a fighter and not quite a saint either.

What McPhee brought in was someone to add some energy to a team that seems to only thrive on goals. A player that can mix it up, and still have the speed to cut to the outside and make a play. Not so much a fighter, but an agitator. It is something the Caps have lacked since saying good bye to Matt Cooke, choosing Matt Bradley instead.

GMGM has also made room for another possible trade or pick up at the trade deadline. He dumps salaries of $2.5 and $1.375 million off his cap will only absorbing $1.875 and a contract through 2012. In a word, some cap "srtategery" going on here.

It was a shock for the Caps to make the move and deal the players that seemed to grow on the fans. Captain Chris Clark was the leader of this team, and a close friend to many in the locker room. His play through injury and hard working attitude seemed to satisfy the Capitals' faithful. Jurcina would probably be the last defenseman you would think be traded. He was a physical player that had a laser of a shot. The trade does ease the log jam of defensemen the Capitals have as well.

That shock seemed to rub on to the Caps as they took the ice to get their ninth straight win against a divisional foe. But that didn't happen. In one of the worst first periods I have seen the Caps play in some time, the Hurricanes took advantage of a stunned Caps' team scoring three goals in the first and never really looked back. When the Caps needed a save, they didn't get one from Jose Theodore. Not that it was entirely his fault, but he certainly didn't look very special out there.

In the grand scheme of things, it was simply just another loss. We sill need to see how Chimera fits into the locker room and how his play will affect the Caps as a whole. There might be more moves to come out of GMGM and that remains to be seen as well.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Spreading The Christmas Cheer

The Washington Capitals have been generous in the month of December. It's proving that it is better to give than receive. Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin have more assists than goals this month. A stat that seems to be gaining in popularity among the entire team. In fact only three Caps have more goals than assists and one player evened out.

Ovi, so far, has 7 goals and 10 assists during his short stint playing in the month of December. Compared to a year ago, Ovechkin was raking in the goals with 12 tallies and only 7 assists. It marks a turning point for the Capitals in more ways than one. They are not just relying on the star players to get the job done. Although the top line of Semin, Nick Backstrom and Ovi do account for 21 goals and 29 assists this month alone.

In fact, Backstrom has more points than Semin and Ovechkin with nine goals and nine assists. Never has Backstrom scored more goals than Ovechkin in a month (even if Ovi missed games due to injury).

Only three players have scored more goals than assists thus far in December (which has two more games to go). Tomas Fleischmann (7 goals, 4 assists), Matt Bradley (3 goals, one assist) and David Steckel (2 goals, one assist). The puck is definitely being passed around a bit more and secondary scoring seems to be hitting it's mark more and more. A good sign the team is playing better and will be tougher to beat down the road.

A sign of a championship team would be every line is a threat to score and tough to score against. The Caps are slowly making that happen. While lines 3 and 4 could produce more, the fact that the Caps are starting to get production outside of the top line is a promising sign.

Caps Notes:
  • The Caps face Carolina tonight and try to go 9-0 against the Southeast Division. The Caps are the only team in the NHL to be undefeated facing their divisional foes.
  • Backstrom’s three points Saturday night give him 202 points in 202 career games. He is one of only 10 NHLers with at least 100 games played to boast a point-per-game average in his career (Alex Ovechkin is another). Backstrom reached 200 career points before anyone else in his draft class (2006) had 150. -- Per Washington Caps PR.
  • Michal Neuvirth is off to a fast start, relatively speaking. In the last three games he has started and won he has posted impressive save percentages (.929 vs. EDM, .941 vs. BUF, and .967 vs. NJD). His numbers should make the Caps' management pretty happy, since they now have solid depth within the goaltending ranks.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Caps Dropped By Canuck Defense

Capitals 2, Canucks 3
Game Summary - Post - Times

The Washington Capitals in the middle of a long west coast swing road trip were not able to get past a stingy Vancouver Canuck defense. The Canucks would battle back from a one goal deficit to beat the a road weary Capital team 3-2.

In a strange first period, the Canucks opened the scoring as Ryan Kessler broke away from the Caps defense and was hooked from behind. The puck hit Jose Theodore, bounced off the leg of Jeff Schultz and into the net. Not long after that Brooks Laich took a hit along the boards after dishing the puck to Alex Semin. Laich was thrown over the boards into the Canuck bench. Semin scored off the play and the game had it's first two goals in very unconventional ways.

The Caps took the lead from there when Chris Clark scored off his own blocked shot. That is where the they would begin to sputter on offense. The Canucks tightened the defensive end and capitalized on opportunities given to them. Rookie Mason Raymond scored on a two on one when the Caps got caught deep in the offensive zone. Then the Canucks would take the lead on a Tom Poti penalty where he took an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike.

The story of the game was the ineffective power play for the Capitals. They had only one shot on net in all four of their power plays against the Canucks. Alex Ovechkin remained pretty much ineffective against a stingy defense. Through the first two periods, Ovi didn't even have a shot on net. He would finish pointless on the night.

Semin did have a late penalty shot but failed to score on his opportunity. It's a disappointing finish to a game that saw the Caps dominating play through much of the first period. Letting their power play chances slip away, there wasn't much room the Canucks afforded the Capitals as the game wore on.

The Caps have to put this behind them as they travel to Edmonton and face the Oilers for a second late night game in a row. The game against the Oilers will end the four game western road swing for the Capitals as they will play Buffalo at home on Wednesday.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Ovechkin Is Not A Dirty Player

There is a distinct difference between playing all out and playing dirty. To suggest that Alex Ovechkin's knee on knee hit with Tim Gleason was in any way dirty is absurd to say the least.

Was it a penalty? Yes. Was it worth a two game suspension? Not necessarily.

If anyone who has watched Ovechkin play, you know he doesn't cut corners nor does he let up whether it is game seven in the playoffs or just a divisional game between two teams separated by 21 (now 23) points in the standings. This is just an unfortunate incident that Ovechkin reacted late to a Gleason deke. If Gleason doesn't deke, he probably would have been buried by a crushing check. Ovi committed himself to the hit and as a last second adjustment stuck his leg out to catch the 'Cane defender.

I can see a game suspension and time served as Ovechkin was ejected from the game. But two games? Two game suspensions are handed out to players who have the reputation already as dirty players and those who go into situations with intent to harm (like let's say Matt Cooke's latest handy work against the Rangers). I can understand if the league wants to make knee on knee hits a thing of the past, but this was not an intentional event and Gleason finished the game (he didn't even miss a shift).

Coach Bruce Boudreau called the hit reckless, but would he be less apt to criticize if Ovechkin didn't engage in the play at all? I didn't see reckless in the hit, I did see a player making a last second mistake.

When a player is committed to the hit that player has two choices when the other player makes a move to avoid the hit. He can bail on the hit and go right by, which I have seen Ovechkin do on countless occasions (i.e. the last Caps/Flyers game where Ovi lined up Mike Richards and Richards made the move to avoid the hit. Ovi skated right past him). The other is to stick your leg out and slow them up (which is a penalty). At the speed of this game I am not surprised it happens more often.

Caps Notes:
  • The injury list is making the trip from Hershey to Washington a regular route for some players. Boyd Gordon, Alex Semin, Shaone Morrisonn, Tom Poti, Mike Knuble and Quintin Laing's injuries have made it tough for GM George McPhee and Boudreau to build any kind of chemistry through the lines. Hence, a slew of one goal games. Of the many that have traveled the road between farm club and Verizon Center have been Mathieu Perreault is making the most of his time as a Capital. Though small, Perreault has been a bright spot amongst the injury gloom and doom. He has scored 2 goals and has 4 assists. But the biggest stat of all would be his +6 rating. In fact, Perreault has yet to recieve a minus rating in any of the 13 games he has played.
  • Ovechkin is calling his injury just a bruise while his mother came out in defense of her son's suspension. Nice to see the mom standing up for her little boy.
  • Last but not least, Jose Theodore played one of the best games I have seen him play as a Capital against Carolina. True that the effort came against a struggling offense, but he flat out robbed Eric Staal of a goal on a what looked to be a tap in tally. Let's hope this is a more consistent trend.

On a personal note, my time is still torn between a new home (I put in dimmer switches in my new house and my wife thinks I am a genius, nice) and my job which has been pulling a good chunk of my free time from me. I am trying to even everything out, and hopefully things will clear up after the holidays. I will try to update as much as I can but I am watching the games and I appreciate all the friendly emails and the encouragement to keep P.H.T. going.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hi, You Have Reached Puckhead's Thoughts...

You are probably wondering where I have been for the past week or so. Things are changing rapidly in my life and it has been hard to keep up with a new job, a new house and the sweetest most wonderful pregnant woman in the world. I should be back to full speed after the Thanksgiving break.

The Caps played pretty solidly against the Rangers. They had to recall John Carlson in for an injured Shaone Morrisonn who took a heavy hit and went to "la la land" according to Bruce Boudreau. Quintin Laing's broken jaw will just add to the legend of the shot blocker. And Matt Bradley proves that you can bleed and be a hero all in the same game.

Next game is against the Montreal Canadiens. Alex Ovechkin always seems to ratchet up the skill against the Habs. I am not sure it is for the Habs' fans or to frustrate them, but Ovi loves to play against this team. Expect some lines to be shuffled as Hershey Bears come in for injured players, including Alex Semin's bum wrist.

I am a little surprised Carlson gets the call up over Karl Alzner, but Carlson has been playing solidly in Hershey. We might also get to see Michal Neuvirth in action in regular season action.

A lot is going on and I am moving boxes and catching cat naps on my breaks. Life is good.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Defense Leads Caps To Victory Over Wild

Capitals 3, Wild 1

The Capitals are finding ways to win with out franchise player Alex Ovechkin in the line up. The latest victim of the Caps sudden offense by committee were the Minnesota Wild. It would be the defense that would step in and help with the scoring as the Caps down the Wild and keep their hold on the lead in the Eastern Conference with a score of 3-1.

Mike Green scored his third goal of the season on a nice feed from Tomas Fleischmann (who is now on a seven game point streak). Brian Pothier netted the game winner in the third at the two minute mark when Eric Fehr set up a screen in front of Josh Harding. Brooks Laich would put the cherry on the top with an empty net goal.

The Caps played a pretty controlled game through out, although the start was a bit shaky. The Caps were out-shot 7-1 through the first half of the first period. But they more than made up for it by getting 13 shots in a span of about 6:01. From there it looked like they were playing a team that had traveled from Florida the night before.

Mike Knuble took a nasty spill into the net in the first. He went head first into the net after charging for the loose puck and a Wild defender shouldered him over Harding. Knuble left and did not return to the game. He would break his finger and expected to be out 3 to 4 weeks.

Semyon Varlamov could have had the shutout, but Cal Clutterbuck's point streak against the Capitals prevailed. He sent a knuckleball shot towards Varly and the puck snuck in on the stick side. The Wild would take a 1-0 lead early in the second period. But less than three minutes later, Green scored his third goal of the season on the power play.

The Capitals' power play was good through out the night, but it only yielded a single goal out of three chances. They enjoyed nearly a minute or more in the Wild's end with the man advantage. The power play's improvement had a lot to do with the Caps better passing. It seemed the passes were much crisper and on point than any game they have played in thus far in the season.

Pothier would score his second goal of the season early in the third when Mathieu Perreault found the defenseman trailing the play. Fehr was set up in front of Harding for the screen and Pothier was able to find the open net. The goal would stand despite some close calls in the Caps' defensive zone, including a barrage of shots where two defensemen and Varlamov were down in the crease blocking shot after shot.

In the end, it would be Brooks Laich scoring his 8th goal of the season into an empty net. The play looked to be an icing call, but the Wild's Nick Schultz didn't huff it down the ice and the linesman washed out the icing call. Laich was on the forecheck and was able to slap the puck off the stick of the defender and into the empty net.

The Caps retake sole possession of first place in the East with their win tonight. They can stretch a 2 point lead into a 4 point lead when they face the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night. The Devils are close on the Capitals' heels. What maybe helping the Caps is that they are playing the Devils in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils are 9-0 on the road, but are mortal on their own ice.

Caps Notes:
  • Perreault continues to impress the Caps' coaching staff. Since being called up he had accumulated 1 goal, 3 assists and is a +5 in 5 games played. Bruce Boudreau said that he most likely stick around to play against the Devils even if Ovechkin comes back to the lineup.
  • David Steckel was a whopping 83% on face offs (15-3). Steckel is second in the league in face offs won, Sid "the Kid" Crosby is first on that list.
  • Five different Capitals had 4 or more shots on net in the tilt against Minnesota. Brooks Laich led all Caps with 5 shots on net.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Caps Go Eleven Rounds With Isles

Capitals 5, Islanders 4 OT/SO (2-1)

The New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals seem to be getting used to extra time to decide a winner. This game would be no different as it would go into an eleven round shoot out for captain Chris Clark and the Capitals take the extra two points and the overall lead in the Eastern Conference. Clark's wrister beat Islander Dwayne Roloson winning the game 5-4.

Alex Semin had one of those nights where he dominated the ice, both in a good way and a bad way. Just :08 seconds into the game, Semin let a wicked slap shot go and it beat Roloson. It would tie a franchise record for fastest goal in a game. Semin would get a second goal on the power play and scored again in the shoot out. Tomas Fleischmann continues his consecutive game point streak to six games with a goal and Eric Fehr scored a neat little back hander that ricocheted off a defender and into the net.

The Caps got off to a quick start by scoring just eight seconds into the game, but the Islanders answered back with 3 straight goals. One of which came off of Semin's stick when he tried to cut down the middle of the ice and was hit by Trent Hunter. The puck ended up on Sean Bergenheim's stick and he had a clear break away and scored on Jose Theodore. It would be the last we saw of Theodore who was replaced after that with Semyon Varlamov.

That is when the Caps put their nose to the grindstone and worked their way back into the game. Nick Backstrom played a big part in the first period to get at least one goal back when he showed some stick handling skills on the power play. Cutting through Islanders he lost the puck in front of the net, but Fleischmann was there to shoot it past Roloson to make it 3-2.

Semin would tie it on a second period power play when Mike Green made a nice move in the zone, circled the net and found Semin in front for the quick high shot. Eric Fehr would give the Caps the lead not long after that when he tried a backhand pass to the front of the net. The puck hit the defender however and the puck found it's way into the net. The Caps answered the Islanders's three straight goals with three of their own.

It looked like the Caps were going to make it to another regulation win, but Trent Hunter rocketed a shot past Varlamov's shoulder and tied the game with just over two minutes to go.

In the overtime period, it seemed as if the Caps did not want to take it into a shoot out. They pressured often in the extra frame getting four shots on net. But the Islanders' goaltender came up with the saves and a shoot out was inevitable.

It would take eleven rounds of the shoot out before captain Clark wristed a shot past Roloson to give the Caps the win. Varlamov was only beaten once by Jeff Tambellini, but he remained solid for the remaining rounds. He gave a celebratory fist pump when he stopped the last player and as his teammates jumped the boards to celebrate the Caps' eleventh win.

With their two points, the Caps will take sole possession of first place in the East by two points. While they hold a two point lead in the East, they hold a 9 point lead in their division with Tampa Bay at the Caps heels. Doing this with out franchise player Alex Ovechkin makes the feat that more remarkable. 10 players have scored a goal since Ovechkin was injured, picking up the offensive slack.

It was not the prettiest game the Caps have played, but they were a resilient group coming back from a 3-1 deficit. It was a well earned win as the New York Islanders out worked the Caps many times. After Bruce Boudreau switched goaltenders, the Caps played a more balanced game. A good sign that the team doesn't quit, no matter the score.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Caps Punish Panthers With 5 Goals In Third Period

Capitals 6, Panthers 4

No one can really say the Washington Capitals suffer offensively with Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green out of the line up. With both suffering from injuries and out of the line up against the Florida Panthers the Capitals didn't have much troubles putting up seven goals from five different players, including a 5 goal third period. The Caps would sweep the home and home from the Panthers as they win 7-4.

Mike Knuble had a monster night with two goals and two assists. Tomas Fleischmann also had a big night scoring a pair of goals. Brooks Laich, Quintin Laing and Mathieu Perreault (scoring his first career NHL goal) also added markers for the Capitals. Alex Semin was held with out a point as 13 different Capitals' players earned at least a point in tonight's game.

It was almost a carbon copy start from the previous game with Florida. The Caps seemed to have to thwart the Panther's advances before getting a hard working goal. But the second period differed from the night before as the Caps allowed three Panthers' goals and trailed going into the third period 3-2.

But the Capitals would take over things in the third period. Perreault started things off with his first career NHL goal. His goal was a wrap around that caught the Panthers' goaltender off gaurd and it tied the game at three. The Caps would take the lead just :40 seconds later as Matt Bradley found Laing in front of the net for a redirected goal. Laing would block a shot with his ribs in the first period, break his nose in the second period before his goal in the third.

The Panthers would get a goal to tie the Caps at four as Corey Stillman deflected a shot from the point past Jose Theodore. But the Caps kept coming and Fleischmann got the lead back with a tight-in shot. Knuble would add another goal as he tipped in a Shaone Morrisonn shot and Fleischmann would add another goal to finish off the Caps' five goals in the third period.

The Capitals played a much better "grit" game against a Panther team that would have rather played it more wide open. 5 of the seven goals scored tonight were goals not further out than 10 feet from the net and often the result of winning a battle along the boards. It seems the Caps are a much more of a grittier team with Ovechkin and Green out of the line up.

Theodore didn't play poorly, but he was not as sharp as he was the night before in Sunrise, Florida. He was often the victim of misplays by his team mates on the goals against. Case in point; Milan Jurcina was a pitiful minus 4 on the night.

While the Caps have now a two game win streak going, they still have some mental breakdowns in their zone. It isn't as noticeable against a lesser team like Florida, but could be tougher when the Caps will struggle to get on the scoreboard against teams with much better defense and goaltending. Semin's pair of penalties still hindered the Caps in the second period.

The Caps will face off with the Islanders (again) on Wednesday night. It is unclear if Ovechkin will be ready by then, considering doctors have told him to stop practicing with the team as he nurses his injury. Green and Schultz are also questionable for Wednesday night, for now. They will be reevaluated soon.

Caps Notes:
  • Fleischmann has extended his point streak to 5 games with 5 goals and 2 assists. Laich has a four game point streak going where he has 3 goals and 3 assists in that span.
  • The salary Cap will hinder the Capitals if Ovechkin returns to the line up. Most likely, Perreault will be sent back down to Hershey after his solid play in the line up for the Caps in the past couple of games. Perreault earned the hard hat in the Caps win tonight, and got a shaving cream pie for his efforts.
  • Semin has been held pointless in the last two games (since his two assists against Columbus on Nov. 1). He also had two minor penalties; one for tripping and the other for cross checking. He has 8 minor penalties on the year with six of them coming in the offensive zone (@David_Getz).

Friday, November 06, 2009

Caps' Win Is Costly

Capitals 4, Panthers 1

The Washington Capitals may have won the game in convincing fashion, but it was the parade of defensemen off the ice that drew the most attention. The Caps were resilent when they needed to be and Brian Pothier had one heck of a hockey game with 3 points as they win game one of a home and home with the Florida Panthers, 4-1.

Mike Green left after only four shifts in the first period with an upper body injury. He was followed by Jeff Schultz in the second period who had a lower body injury. Shaone Morrisonn was called for a boarding call with eight minutes left in the third and was ejected for the game. Bruce Boudreau put Tyler Sloan in as a forward and it paid off as the blue line seemed to be dropping like flies.

The Caps however get some timely and much needed scoring from some lines that had been struggling. The second line of Mike Knuble, Brendan Morrison and Brooks Laich played hard all game rewarding Morrison with a pair of goals. While Pothier had a career night with a goal and two assists. Sloan scored his second in as many games as he has found some chemistry with Mathieu Perreault and Chris Clark.

This was a total team win tonight by the Capitals. It was made evident by the primary and secondary assists on the first three goals of the night. Jose Theodore stopped 28 shots and what he couldn't stop, his defensemen stepped in. Sloan even stopped a dribbler from making it past Theo towards the net.

"Jose was superb," Boudreau said. "Especially in the first five minutes of the game when they came right at us. He did a great job holding the fort until we got a goal or two."

Injuries seem to be mounting up for the Capitals. Green and Schultz will join Alex Ovechkin who is likely out for tomorrow's rematch game against the Panthers. Boyd Gordon and Eric Fehr are still nursing injuries.

For the most part, the Caps were successful in avoiding the penalty box. But Shaone Morrisonn hit a Panther right in the numbers into the boards. That led to a five minute major for the Caps' defenseman. The Caps did a fantastic job of killing off the major only allowing one shot on net for the 5 minute duration.

Caps Notes:
  • According to Bruce Boudreau, Shaone Morrisonn may be suspended for his boarding hit. The Caps received a letter from the league stating as much so if Morrisonn had a 5 min. major called on him in either the first 10 or 15 games (they weren't sure on the time frame). The letter claimed that Morrisonn had been called for two boarding majors last season, but he only had one (Feb. 7 against the same Florida Panthers). It's unclear if he will be suspended by the league.
  • Alex Semin may not have scored a point, but he didn't take any bad penalties either. His ice time was pretty even through out the game including some time on the ice when the Panthers had pulled their goaltender.
  • Nick Backstrom got his 15 assist on the season when he passed it to Brian Pothier and his one timer scored on the power play. He is now tied for second in the league with two other players.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Penalty Woes

Capitals 2, Devils 3

If you wanted to throw your hands up in disgust, there is a head coach that shares your sense of frustration at bad late penalties.

"They're automatic penalties," said Bruce Boudreau. "If you go behind the net and you put your stick on a guy you're going to get a penalty. Brendan Morrison has been in the league for 10 years, [Alex] Semin has been in the league for five years. These guys know this and it's just dumb penalties."

The Capitals had a great start, scoring the game's first goal, playing sound defense and Semyon Varlamov was even playing well. But it would be two bad penalties late in the third that would do the Caps in and the New Jersey Devils would take advantage beating the Caps 3-2.

It would be an awesome start for call up Mathieu Perreault. His speed caught the Devils off guard and got his first NHL point when Chris Clark had a great keep in the offensive zone. The puck would go to Perreault who made a pretty saucer pass to Tyler Sloan. The defenseman turned forward beat Martin Brodeur stick side high. That 1-0 score would hold up until the start of the second period.

The Devils would score when Brian Rolston center the puck from behind the net and Mike Green went down to block the pass. Instead, Green put it past his goaltender and the score was tied.

Semyon Varlamov was playing a pretty spectacular game besides the miss play in front of him. And the score would be deadlocked until Semin took a bad hooking penalty in the third. The result was a goal for the Devils, a shot by Niklas Bergfors that beat Varly's glove. Morrison was called for hooking not long after that and the Devils came back with the power play goal to go up two goals as Bergfors again beat Varly glove side.

Semin played one of his worst games of the season. He would be called for 3 penalties, end up an minus 1, only 3 shots on net and no take-aways. His poor play was rewarded with a nice cozy seat on the bench in the waning minutes of the game as the Caps tried to mount a comeback. Tomas Fleischmann made things interesting by scoring to make it 3-2 with about 1:37 left in the game. But it would be the high water mark for the Caps in this listless loss to the Devils.

"[No one in particular] stood out in this game," Boudreau said. "But they costs us the game. And that is a tough one to swallow."

Caps Notes:
  • Perreault would finish the game with a plus 2 rating and two assists. He could have clearly made at least third star of the game, but all three stars went to the Devils... homers.
  • Nick Backstrom was invisible for most of the game, expect on the face off dot. He was 63% (15-90). It is an improvement in an area where he has been struggling thus far in the season.
  • Sloan got his first goal of the season, and his first as a forward. His shot was a nice high quick wrister that beat Broduer stick side. He didn't look at first that it went in, but it definitely hit the white bar in the net. Sloan would finish the game with a +1.
  • Mike Green's consecutive game point streak was stopped at 9 games.

Monday, November 02, 2009

No Protection

When the Capitals decided not to give another year to enforcer Donald Brashear, their reasoning was simple; We just don't need a tough guy in the line up anymore. While good in theory, over the past few games the Caps seemed to played in some of the chippiest games ever.

In the past three games, the Caps leading scorer and franchise player has been victimized by cheap shots and after-the-play shenanigans. The pushes after the whistles, the snide remarks between players, the face washes and more seems to happen with regular occurrence. With Brashear in the line up, the teams didn't go after Alex Ovechkin or Mike Green or Alex Semin.

In the Columbus game, Jason Chimera took exception to the hit by Ovechkin. That led to some uncalled cross checks and slashes and the referees seemed to let it go. What resulted was a shove by Chimera on Ovi as he was leaving the ice for the bench after the whistle. Ovechkin gave a shove right back and a scrum ensued. Ovechkin was called for two minutes for roughing and would later be injured.

Against the New York Islanders, tough guy Tim Jackman seemed to slash and pick on Caps' players at will. He might have been called for a few of those infractions, but for the most part he did what he wanted. After a knee on knee hit with an Islander player, Green got a shot in the same leg by Jackman as they were setting up for the face-off. No penalty, and Jackman did it again as soon as the puck dropped.

The Caps have had their fair share of chippy games against lesser teams. Knowing those teams can't match the Capitals' skill, they much rather get under the skin of the best players. With no one to police that kind of thing, the Caps are left to deal with it on their own. So far, it has been a poor job.

One of the reasons Caps' management went with out a tough guy enforcer was, they felt, they had a pretty good power play. Teams would never be chippy if they were called for the infractions if they knew they would be scored against. But the power play has been less than stellar allowing more goals against than goals for with the extra man.

The Capitals also lack a spark that a fight sometimes brings to a game. When the game becomes stagnate , a fight can sometimes energize the bench. The benefits from a fight sort of breaks that tension where there is no real momentum swing.

It is still early, and maybe teams will stop the cheap stuff when it starts to get more serious as teams fight for playoff spots. But for now it is a issue the Caps have to face as teams may feel it is the only strategy that will help them win the game. A poke here, a cross check there and the Caps can only grin and bear it.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Weird Night

Capitals 4, Blue Jackets 5 OT
Scoresheet - Times - Post

It was a tale of two teams for the Washington Capitals tonight. The one with Alex Ovechkin in the line up and the one with out. In the first half of the game it seemed the Caps were lackluster and content, but when Ovechkin left the ice with 13:50 left in the second period the team seemed to rally around the star's absence. But it would be penalty woes that once again shoot the Caps in the foot as they can't seem to figure out how to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets and fall in overtime for a second straight game 5-4.

Alex Ovechkin took a tumble when he ran into Raffe Torres landing awkwardly and hard to the ice. When he got up, he favored his left shoulder and motioned with his hands as if to say, "I can't play" as he skated to the bench. Just 6:10 seconds into the second frame, Ovechkin would leave the game and not return. He is listed day-to-day with an upper body injury, his status will be re-evaluated on Tuesday when the team practices next.

The Capitals were down 2-1 to the Blue Jackets at that point, but the injury was a wake up call for the rest of the team. It seemed every line worked a little bit harder and the result was two goals back-to-back for Brooks Laich and the Caps would take the lead 3-2.

Jose Theodore played well the entire game, but he lost his stick on Torres' wrap around attempt and the Blue Jackets were able to tie the game again. But the Caps persistent hard work seemed to keep the Jackets pinned in their own zone and the result was a goal by the recently quarantined H1N1 flu survivor Quintin Laing.

Two bad penalties late in the game and in overtime, however, did the Caps in. Mike Knuble was called for a slash that resulted in a 6 on 4 situation. Just as the Caps were coming back full strength, the Jackets scored. Then, in overtime, Brian Potheir ran interference on a surging forward and Columbus takes the game as R.J. Umberger gets two whacks at the puck in front of the net to beat Theodore and the Caps.

With Ovechkin out of the line up, the Capitals seemed to put their hard hats on. Every line, not just one or two, had a great shift in the second half of that game. When one line had finished, the next would pick up where the other left off. The Caps seemed to be working harder and the result was two quick goals by Laich, who looked really good playing with Brendan Morrison and Knuble.

The Nick Backstrom, Alex Semin and Thomas Fleischmann line had a few good chances, but with Ovi out of the line up, the Jackets treated that line as the Caps number one line. Mike Green extended his point streak now to 9 games which is a career high for him, even when he broke the record of consecutive games with a goal by a defenseman.

The Caps earn a point for taking the game into overtime, but the Caps had the lead twice and let it slip away. It was the second straight game the Caps lost in the overtime period. The Caps will have some time to collect themselves before Wednesday's game in New Jersey.

Caps Notes:
  • Ovechkin and Jason Chimera are not the best of friends. Ovi pasted Chimera along the boards and in the first period. Chimera didn't like that and gave a few choice words to Ovechkin after the hit. Then Chimera gave Ovi a shove as he was going to the bench for a change between whistles. That set off a firestorm and a scrum ensued. There is some speculation that Ovi might have been hurt there. Ovechkin would leave the ice in the second favoring his left shoulder. He would only have one shot on net and two minor penalties for his efforts.
  • It was a game of weird tumbles. Milan Jurcina took a bad fall in the corner with Kristian Huselius. Both players would lay on the ice for some time before skating off under their own power. Both returned to make their next shifts. Whether it is a reflection on the ice conditions or not, players didn't seem to have a good footing on the Verizon Center floor.
  • The Caps did a better job in the face off circle in recent games. They were 53% in draws. Backstrom, who has been struggling in that department, was 10 of 19 draws. He scored the first goal on a beautiful passing play that involved Fleishmann passing it to Backstrom, Backstrom throwing a behind the back pass to Semin, Semin passing it to Fleischmann and Fleischmann finding Backstrom again for the goal. Highlight reel stuff. That line accounted for 14 shots on net.
  • Rick Nash loves playing the Capitals. He had another highlight reel goal when he walked around Green to score the Jackets' first goal. Green gave him the outside, not realizing that Nash has some wheels. Nash took it and deked around Theodore for his team's first goal.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Caps Game Winning Streak Snapped

Capitals 3, Islanders 4 OT
Scoresheet - Post - Times

The Washington Capitals didn't play a bad game, but they didn't win it either. The New York Islanders finally find a way to beat the Caps in overtime 4-3. The home team was able to put together a better effort and got some offensive infusion from Tomas Fleischmann who scored his first two goals of the season and had chances for even more as the game wore on.

Alex Ovechkin continues to be on pace for another spectacular season as he started the scoring after the Islanders' Kyle Okposo was called for a double minor high-sticking infraction. The Capitals' power play, which has looked inept and stationary of late, was more animated in this game. Knowing the Islanders were going to block a ton of shots, the Caps moved the puck well. They even showed some creativity that led to some pretty good chances, but just came short of scoring.

Fleischmann, who was playing in only his second game of the season as he was recovering from a blood clot in his leg at the end of last season, played one of his best games as a Capital. Both goals he scored were tight affairs where he was at the Dwayne Roloson's welcome mat.

The Caps played a pretty solid game, but it was very mistake ridden. Often they seemed to lose focus or just unfortunate luck did them in. Mike Green was a victim of some Halloween trickery. His mis-play of the puck led directly to a goal.

The Islanders just found a way to hang around and in the overtime period, they took advantage of a Caps team that was being just overly nonchalant with the puck in their net. Jose Theodore played an inconsistent game, but an overall good game. He came up with some whopper saves in the second and third periods. It was the first and third goals that seemed to give the Caps' goaltender fits. Both goals squeaked under Theo and he just didn't look ready to make saves on either shots.

New York kept in the game with some really good goaltending in Roloson. He stopped 37 shots and didn't face a single shot in overtime before his teammates scored the winning goal. The Islanders benefited from some hard work and some fortunate take-aways. But the Caps couldn't get their scoring going with any consistency. Their power play, which was 2 for 6 tonight, couldn't seem to get that next goal they needed.

Caps Notes:
  • The top line for the Caps of Nick Backstrom, Alex Semin and Ovechkin continues to struggle 5 on 5. The trio combined for one goal, one assist and a collective -2. Part of the problem is their willingness to give up a puck to their teammates instead of taking the shot. It was frustrating to watch the line get a great scoring chance and give it up for an extra pass. Bruce Boudreau is thinking about splitting the line up for Sunday's game.
  • The Caps have cut down on their penalties, only sitting in the sin bin three times this game. The new discipline is great as the Caps kept the Islanders from getting much on their power plays. Theo also played outstanding during the penatly kill.
  • When the Caps play on Sunday against Columbus, they will have a player very familiar with the Blue Jackets in Brendan Morrison. B. Mo has played in 30 games against the Ohio team and has 28 points in those games. The Caps have never had the best of luck when it comes to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Having B. Mo around should help.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Caps Struggle To Close Out The Thrashers

Capitals 4, Thrashers 3
Scoresheet - Times - Post

It should have been a open and shut game. The Capitals worked up a 3-0 lead. They were dominating the Atlanta Thrashers, who were without star player Ilya Kovalchuk (out with a broken foot), through the first half of the game. But it would take an empty netter to be the Caps' game winning goal as they let the Thrashers claw back into the game late. This should have been a story about how the Caps were back on track, instead it is about how a team stopped competing once they had the 3-0 lead.

"It's ridiculous," Caps' bench boss Bruce Boudreau said. "We just let up and let the other teams back into the game. It's very frustrating."

Alex Ovechkin continued his march to 50 goals in 50 games, a feat last done by Brett Hull in the '91-'92 season. Ovi has kept pace scoring goals 12 and 13 in the Caps' 12th game of the season. He also had an assist for his 8th multipoint game of the season (4 games in which he had 3 points). Brendan Morrison scored on the power play and Mike Knuble scored the eventual game winner when he score on the empty net.

The Caps came out playing really good hockey. They were dominating the play, drawing penalties and making the Thrashers pay for their infractions. Their power play looked much better scoring 2 goals in 5 chances. It seemed the Caps could do no wrong. But, they fell back into old habits. They stopped skating and stopped competing. Tyler Sloan took a lazy hooking penalty late in the second and the Thrashers found life with a power play goal to start the third period.

Atlanta would out hustle the Caps dominating them in the scoring chance column 15-3 in the third period. Semyon Varlamov, who had played a gem of a game to that point, was suddenly overwhelmed with what would end up being 20 shots on net in the final frame. He did the best he could keeping the score 3-1 but Atlanta just kept pushing. He made a stop on a penalty shot after Jim Slater was able to break out (although it didn't look as if he was quite in the clear), and made some stand-on-your-head saves in the third period.

"I wasn't happy [about our effort] for Varly," Boudreau sympathized with his goaltender. "He plays an outstanding game and ends up with three goals on him and [there was] nothing he could do. He kept us in the game in the third period."

The Thrashers were able to follow up their power play goal when Todd White caught the Caps' defense napping. He got behind the Caps' defense and beat Varlamov blocker side. Atlanta would pull the goaltender to try and tie the game up at 3, but Knuble scored on the empty net. Zach Bogosian would score his second goal as the clock struck 0:00 to make it a final 4-3.

Washington again lost their focus to allow a team they had all but beaten in the first half of the game to come back. If the Caps weren't able to score on the empty net the game would have been tied and gone into overtime. It is the same trouble they had a season ago, playing a full 60 minutes and keeping their foot on the gas pedal.

"I thought with about seven minutes to go in the second period we thought this was going to be easy," Boudreau said of his team's inability to finish the game. "And then we stopped skating and stopped playing and their crowd was out of it. But I knew once they got one goal, just like the last time, they would be flying ... we had a hard time getting it going after that."

Consider it a cheap lesson to learn, as the Caps do take the 2 points from a divisional foe and continue their winning streak stretching it to now 6 games. The Capitals have earned at least a point in 10 of the 12 games they have played this season. Mike Green stretches his point streak to seven games after he made a beautiful no look pass on Ovechkin's first goal. Dave Steckel was 72% on face offs. He ranks fourth in the league for face off wins with 61.5%. Nick Backstrom has been struggling on the face off dot, tonight he was a mortal 29% on draws.

Caps Notes:
  • Tomas Fleischmann made his season debut for the Capitals after he was shelved for having a blood clot in his leg. His conditioning stint in the AHL with the Hershey Bears was short lived before he started tonight in Atlanta. He finished the night a -1, but had two great chances and had 3 shots on net.
  • Eric Fehr sat this one out as he is ailing from a rib injury. Fehr had just returned to the line up after having successful shoulder surgery on both shoulders. He only has one goal in his six games this season.
  • Of the 5 games that Varlamov has started, he has let in 3 or more goals in four of those games. In fact he has allowed 4 goals in three of his five starts. The only game in which Varly has played and shut out the opponent is when Jose Theodore suffered back spasms in the San Jose game and he came in relief.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Caps Squeak Off Long Island

Capitals 3, Islanders 2 OT
Scoresheet - Post - Times

It may have not gone according to plan, but the Washington Capitals were able to grab 4 points on their quick two game road trip. The Caps rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the New York Islanders just a minute into the overtime period. The win wasn't a perfect game for the Caps as they were badly outworked through the first half of the game. Their power play has also suffered during this two game stint as it went 0 for 4 on the night.

"In the first period we were definitely out-worked and out-played and out-hustled," Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau said.

"The game in Atlanta, I thought we played well in the first half and then we let them back into it. And tonight I don’t think we played well in the first half and played well the second half," Brooks Laich said of their effort in the last two games. "Winning you are always happy. But we are not satisfied where our game is at. And we will be better."

Mike Green finally broke out of whatever funk he was in to score in the first half of the third period and get the helper on the game winner in overtime. Kieth Aucoin was able to tie the game just seven minutes later to get the Caps into overtime. From there Green sparked the game winning play by doing what he did best, using his speed to gain the zone. He threw the puck to the slot to a waiting Brooks Laich who squeezed the game winner under Dwayne Roloson's pads.

The Caps found themselves struggling early to get any kind of spark going as the Islanders played a solid defensive game against them. Jose Theodore, who returned to the ice after back spasms kept him from starting the last three games, played an inspired game stopping 28 shots and keeping the team within striking range.

But things seemed to turn for the Caps after a knee on knee hit. Nate Thompson took out Green in the second period by swiping his knee with the Caps' defender. The hit seemed to be a wake up call for the Caps, and to Green in particular.

"Maybe the hit woke him up a little bit, made him a little angry," Laich said of Green's performance in the second half of the game. "But the goal he scored was just a big time goal."

"[Green] got mad and he said “To heck with this” and he played the way he can," Boudreau quipped about his defenseman.

The Capitals power play through the last two games is 0 for 11 and has now allowed two short handed goals against. That is Caps power play zero, opponent's penalty kill 2. Not a especially good place for a power play of the Caps' caliber to be. There seems to be a lack of movement and an aggressive penalty kills knocks the them off kilter. Their pitiful power play will continue to hinder this team if they can not start scoring on opportunities their opponents give them.

Alex Ovechkin nearly spent a second game off the scoresheet, until his helper on Aucoin's game tying goal. He seemed to be struggling through the game to get shots through the Islander's defenders who blocked 25 Capitals' shots on the night. Ovi had 5 of his shots blocked on the night and only registered a pair of shots on net.

Bottom line, the Caps come away with 2 points. But their overall effort in the last two games has been not something the Caps are particularly proud of. Nothing will help the Caps more than some focus and effort on their part.

"[We are] happy with the four pionts," Laich summed up. "[But,] I think we still have a lot of things to work on."

Caps Notes:
  • Just when you think Don Cherry has run out of hot air, he comes back at Ovi over his "slew foot" hit at the end of the Atlanta game:
    "Ovechkin - I love you as a guy, I love you as a player, you play my type of game. You take no prisoners, that's fine. But you're running out of lives, I'll tell you right now. Watch what you've done. Too many times have you hit guys from behind. You won't fight so guys right now have you on a list. I'm telling you, you better be very careful right now. You're going to be very, very sorry some day because somebody is going to cut you in half. I hope it doesn't happen because he's an exciting player. ... When he gets it, it's going to be a goodie."
    Perhaps in response, Ovi was first to give Islander Thompson a good shove after his knee on knee hit on Green.
  • Jeff Schultz's goal in the Atlanta game maybe taken away after video shows the shot being deflected off of Mike Knuble's stick. Even if Schultz gets an assist on the play, he now has 4 points in the last two games with an assist on tonight's game tying goal.
  • Boudreau did some line shifting through out the game. Often putting Chris Clark on the top line with Nick Backstrom and Ovechkin and keeping the tandem of Brendan Morrison and Knuble together. The line shifting mostly had to do with poor play from some players and exceptional play from others. He put Aucoin on as a winger for his play making ability and it paid off with the game tying goal.
  • The face off dot was not a fun place to be for the Capitals. Backstrom was only 28% on draws and Dave Steckel was worse at only 28%. The Islander second goal was a direct result of Backstrom losing the face off.

    "I was just praying for no more face offs in our own zone," Boudreau said of the face off fiasco. "We got terribly out played in the face off circle tonight."

  • Backstrom was also the only Capital on the ice for both goals against and was not on the ice for any of the Caps' goals. He was listed as having a -2 rating. Which is incorrect, because a plus or minus would not be given to any players for short-handed goals just as they are not given on power play goals.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Odds and Ends

As The Nylander Turns

The Micheal Nylander drama that is starting to turn into the Capitals' "What not to do with a contract you not happy with" took a turn for the weird yesterday when they sent him to the minors for a conditioning stint. Send him to Hershey? Oh no, the Caps don't want to risk the playing time of their young prospects (I mean, they sent a first round pick back to Sweden to play a second tier team because he wasn't cutting it). Instead, they sent Nylander to Grand Rapids, the Detroit Red Wings' AHL affiliate.

This is not a trade, the Caps are still on the line for Nylander's salary and he still takes up a spot on the roster. Think of it as a young girl looking for the right prom dress, she has to put it on in the fitting room to see if she likes it. Nylander has to play so that teams in the KHL or other teams in the NHL have a chance to evaluate him. But why Grand Rapids?

Well if you ask anyone in management, on or off the record, they are pretty tight lipped about the move. A KHL team may have had some interest in taking the 37 year old forward off the Capitals' hands. But that interest waned when Nylander didn't see the line up. Whether George McPhee is keeping him off as to not hurt him, or McPhee and Bruce Boudreau can't stand it when he is in the line-up (or Hershey's line-up either) remains unclear.

If Nylander's presence is such a nuiscence, why are the Caps so hard pressed not to take a pitiful pick in return? Why not place him on waivers (not sure if that is stipulated in his contract)? Why not buy him out of his contract and take the hit (They are still on the hook for buying out Ben Clymer, remember him)? OR, why not just play him if other team's want to see his conditioning? No one really knows the answers to those questions but McPhee, and thus far his moves have been a quandary.

This move to send him to Grand Rapids could be a precursor to him being traded here or sold overseas. But at this point, who really knows.

Nylander's contract drops from $5.5 million down to $3 million next season.

Bank On Aucoin

Due to Alex Semin feeling a bit under the weather (hope it isn't H1N1), the Caps have recalled Keith Aucoin. Aucoin is quickly becoming a favorite of the Caps in call ups (mostly because Chris Bourque is a crutch they can't go to anymore). He shows flashes of brilliance at the NHL level and if given the time to work up some chemistry, I believe he could help the Caps' third line get a little offensive punch.

Back In The Southeast Division

Tonight marks the first time this season the Capitals will play a team from their division. The Caps head to HOT-lanta to face a Thrasher team that is off to one of their better starts. It looks more like a match up between friends rather than divisional foes. Head coaches from both teams shared a friendship in their AHL days (that still continues to this day). Star players from both teams also share an off ice friendship. But when the rink door closes, neither team seems to like each other.

The dislike stems from a Andy Sutton's high hit on Mike Green in 2006, although it could have been brewing way before that. Sutton's dirty antics set off a parade of Thrashers and Capitals to the penalty box with roughing and fighting majors sentences to serve. Ask any player on the Caps' squad and they will tell you that there isn't much love for Blueland.

The Dizzy Birds are 4-1-1 through their first six games of the season, hot on the heels of the Caps in the Southeast Division trailing by only one point (Caps 10, ATL 9). This should be a statement game for the Capitals who look to repeat as Division champs, otherwise the Thrashers could leap frog them for the lead in the division.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sluggish Start?

There is no real need to panic. So why is everyone acting like there is? Could this team have real problems with finishing games? Could it be the Redskin effect (great talent, marginal effort)? Could it be we are just too Cup fixated just 8 games into the season?

In the first eight games of the Capitals' season they have faced teams that have averaged 113 points last season, and six of those teams made the playoffs (four of those were division champions). It's easy to say that the Caps faced some of the league's toughest teams and the result was above .500. Also, they have yet to be blown out of a game (lost with a margin of two goals or more).

Compare that to someone who has a 7 and 1 record like, um... let's say the defending Stanley Cup Pittsburgh Penguins. In their first eight games, they have faced teams that had an average of 82 points last season and only three of those teams were in the post season last spring (none of which were division champs). Talk about a team easing into a schedule.

Part of the problem to this whole panic thing is we know how good the Washington Capitals can be. With convincing wins against teams like Boston and San Jose, fans have seen the best and want that result every time. But we haven't seen the Caps lose a game in total disaster. There haven't been 6-2 losses and the Caps have yet to be shut-out this season. All their games where they have fallen have been one goal games.

Small mental mistakes mostly do the Capitals in. Whether it is a bad penalty here, a must-stop save that isn't or a break down in defensive structure, the Caps do have the propensity for being human. These small errors in judgment are frustrating to witness because they end up resulting in a goal for the bad guys.

I am pretty confident that the Caps will be able to shore up those problems as the season progresses. The power play will show their bite against teams that don't have a great penalty kill unit. Mike Green will take advantage of those teams that can't handle the fourth man into the zone and Alex Ovechkin will feed on goaltenders that are destined to be back ups. That is why the Caps and a few level-headed fans are not worried about the sluggish start of the season.

Caps Notes:
  • Redskins' Chris Cooley took in a game Thursday night at the Verizon Center and as he was coming out of the locker room he was heard saying, "Isn't this environment so much better than ours? The people are so nice here."
  • If you think that the Caps' games are sold out, think again. According to the Washington Times, the Verizon Center can squeeze in about 800 more souls to see Ovi do this.
  • Caps finally face a team with in their division (to be honest, I didn't miss it). They play the hot Atlanta Thrashers who are off to their best start in franchise history Thursday night.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rough Finishes

Capitals 3, Predators 2 OT/SO (1-0)
Scoresheet - Post - Times

Just when you think the Capitals are unstoppable, they always seem to shoot themselves in the foot. On a night when it looked as if Washington was going to run away with a win, they once again allowed a lesser team to get back into the game. The Nashville Predators were able to erase a 2-0 deficit to tie and send the game to a shoot out. They would eventually lose to the Capitals 3-2.

Alex Ovechkin had another stellar start. He netted his first power play goal of the year then followed that up with a lucky bounce off the boards to give him two goals in the first period. The Caps looked as if they might dominate again, but mental breakdowns and unfortunate bounces gave the Preds a chance to get back into the game.

First periods for the Caps have been awesome. They have outscored their opponents 13 to 2 in the opening frame and have never trailed. Eric Fehr drew a couple of penalties that eventually led to the Ovechkin power play goal. Their execution in the first shows how dangerous this team can be.

But the Caps have once again failed to preserve that lead and fail to score when they seem to need it the most. The Caps had some very good opportunities to take to add to their score or to take the lead back, but failed to so. Either teams are making adjustments after the first period to counteract the Caps' offense or the Caps are just failing to execute what they were able to accomplish just one intermission ago.

The power play was a disaster to start with. The Predators seemed to be able to turn the puck over at their blue line and get a jump on the Caps aggressive defenders (Ovechkin and Mike Green were the defensive pair). It would give them two back to back breakaways on Semyon Varlamov. Varly would come up with both saves, bailing out the Caps power play that would eventually lead to Ovi's PP goal later. Varlamov, who came in for the injured Jose Theodore, played solidly through out the game but couldn't overcome a bad defensive play and a puck that he should have been able to stop.

A shoot-out was inevitable after the Preds played a much better defensive scheme and their goaltender, Dan Ellis, was able to bail them out with some great saves. The Caps dodged a bullet as the first two Nashville shooters missed the net and Varly came up with the save on the last one. Ovechkin's goal in the shootout was a show in stick handling and deke, as he got Ellis to move to the left as Ovi went right. The goal prompted a few fans to throw their hats on the ice, but it is not a hattrick for the Caps' winger.

Caps Notes:
  • Shaone Morrisonn was scratch after he suffered a lower body injury in the last game. Tyler Sloan was his replacement. Sloan nearly had a goal after an aggressive play, he shot the puck and the rebound came right back to him. He rang the rebound off the post.
  • Braden Holtby was called in to be Varlamov's back up. His stay with the club didn't last long, as he was sent back to South Carolina following the game. Theodore claims his back is now a dull pain rather than a sharp one that prevented him from finishing the game against San Jose.
  • The Capitals are second in the league in 5 on 5 goals with 20. They are second to Edmonton (22). On 5 on 4 power plays the Caps are tied in 8th place with 5 other teams at 7 goals. They are ranked 5th in the league in goals for average per game with 3.50.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Back On Track

Capitals 4, Sharks 1
Scoresheet - Times - Post

The Washington Capitals shook off some heavy woes in one game. They snapped a four game losing skid and stopped a San Jose Shark team at 11 straight wins by defeating them 4-1. In their first visit to Verizon Center since Feburary 21, 2007, the Sharks couldn't solve the Capitals.

Alex Ovechkin scored a pair of second period goals just :28 seconds apart. The fastest two goals of his career. Alex Semin scored a power play goal, much needed goal for a PP squad that has not been producing. Matt Bradley goal was icing on the cake as the Caps seemed to have put together a complete 60 minute game to put away a Western Conference foe.

The Caps got off to a quick start as the Sharks got into some penalty trouble early. Called for three straight minor penalties, San Jose gave the Caps nearly 5 straight minutes with a man or two man advantage. The Caps were able to take advantage on a 5 on 3 when Nick Backstrom fed a pass to a waiting Semin across ice. The Caps have struggled scoring with the extra man, scoring only 3 goals in the last 22 power play opportunities in their last three losses.

The Sharks were able to tie the game late in the period when Eric Fehr couldn't cover his man. Jose Theodore had a strong start, but an earlier play in when Ryan Clowe fell on him and injured the goaltender. Later when the Sharks were breaking down the ice, Theo did not step out to take the shot and the puck sailed over his shoulder and the period ended in a 1-1 tie. Semyon Varlamov took over in the second period as Theodore left the game with back spasms and did not return. He is listed day-to-day.

The Caps also took the lead in the second when Alex Ovechkin scored twice less than :30 seconds. Ovi was lined up with Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison for the first time in the season. The trio would connect for both goals with Ovechkin driving to the net. Bradley added the clincher in the third period as the Caps shut down the Sharks potent offense.

In only the seventh game of the season the Capitals have faced six teams that were in the playoffs last season, four of them division champions. Of the four division champs (Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils and San Jose Sharks) the Capitals had a 2-1-1 record and earned 5 of 8 possible points. In the two losses, one a shoot out loss and the other a loss in regulation, the Capitals have only lost those games by one goal. The Caps also had the lead and/or scored the first goal in each of the four games.

There is certainly some relief for the Capitals coming out of this one with a win. Even if the Sharks looked a bit travel weary in this one, the Caps did hold the to 8 shots in the second period and 7 shots in the third. Varlamov would step in for the injured Theodore and come away with the win stopping all 15 shots he faced.

Caps Notes:
  • The Caps had to deal with injury issues. John Erskine (IR, upper body injury), Boyd Gordon (day-to-day, back spasms) and now Jose Theodore (day-to-day, back spasms). Keith Aucoin was recalled from Hershey to replace Gordon and played on the third line with Fehr and Chris Clark. Tom Poti took a stick up high on a follow through on a shot. He left the game shortly to get stitches and returned to the line up soon after.
  • David Steckel was a monster in the face off circle. At one point he was a perfect 7 for 7 on draws, and would end up winning 75% of his face off battles (12-4). The Capitals as a whole were only 48% in face offs.
  • Mike Green was 2:01 short of logging 30:00 of ice time (27:59). Green spent over ten minutes in the first period due to the Sharks' penalty woes. He finished the night with an assist and three shots on net.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Put The Panic Button Down

Capitals 2, Devils 3 OT/SO (1-2)
Scoresheet - Post - Times

The Washington Capitals opened their three game home stand with a shoot out loss to the New Jersey devils 3-2. Much like the last game, the Caps played much better team defense, but it's the little mistakes and mental breakdowns that seem to cost the team wins. After starting off to a great first period, the Caps seemed to lessen the pressure and the Devils worked their way back from being down 2-0.

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau started the night by demoting Alex Semin to the second line and putting Mike Knuble up with Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom. The result was a stellar first period for the top line, netting two goals, one by birthday boy Mike Green and the other by Knuble. Ovi had assists on both goals. But after the first period the Devils started shutting down all of the Caps offense and putting the pressure back on the Capitals.

In the second period, the Capitals had a defensive breakdown and the Devils scored on a 3 on 2. Then in the third period, the Devils pinned in the Caps in their zone for what seemed an eon and scored the tying goal off of some outstanding board work. The Caps once again, for the fourth straight game, fail to hold on to a third period lead.

The game would go to over time, where Brendan Morrison took a bad tripping call and the Devils had a 4 on 3. Some how, some way, Jose Theodore stood on his head to keep the puck out. He made save after save keeping it a tied game and sending it to the shootout.

Backstrom was able to score on the Caps first attempt with a laser shot to the top right corner, besting Martin Brodeur's glove. But Theo couldn't keep out Zach Parise's wrister. Semin missed fired when he went glove side on Brodeur. Theo looked as if he had saved the Jamie Langenbrunner shot, but it ricocheted off his pad and into the net. Ovi couldn't deke Broduer on his back hand and the Devils take home 2 points.

The Caps didn't play a poor game. Besides the occasional mental mistakes, they were solid versus a very hard working Devil team. The Caps took fewer penalties and were able to kill off the ones they did take. But the Capitals couldn't score on the power play, including 53 seconds of a 5 on 3 in the third period. It is an area of concern for the Caps who know rank 20th in the league with the man advantage.

Is there cause for concern, sure. But it is not time to go full blown red alert. 5 of the six teams the Capitals have played so far were 95 points or better last year. Washington only lost by one goal in each of those loses. For the Caps to come out with 6 points is on the disappointing side, but not on the "let's blow the team up and start from scratch" side.

Areas that need improving are the power play, better defense and goal production from the second line. The Caps haven't pulled together a complete game either. Something they will have to do if they wish to simply repeat what they have done last year. What is frustrating about it all, it's the same problems they had last season. They couldn't score on 5 on 3's, they took bad penalties and they were prone to small mental mistakes.

I would rather have these breakdowns on game 6 rather than game 78, or in the playoffs. There are positives to pull out of this loss as well. The top line of Knuble, Ovechkin and Backstrom can be a really scary line. Theo is playing a much more focused game. And Mike Green finally has a goal.

Puckhead's Player of the Game: Jose Theodore. The game could have easily ended in over time when the Devils had a 4 on 3 power play. But Theo made the saves to keep his team in it. It's hard not to start this guy after the effort he put forth in the last two games. If the Caps could get him a win, it would help.

Caps Notes:
  • There was a fight in this game between Chris Clark and David Clarkson, but it was more hugging than throwing punches. Clarkson got in a cheapy at the end.
  • Ovi finished with 2 assists to bring his points total up to 12 and the lead in points in the NHL.
  • Green celebrated his 24th birthday by netting a goal, had 30:31 of ice time (most by any Capital), had 3 hits and 3 giveaways.
  • John Erskine blocked a shot and injured himself in the third period, he did not return to the game. He is listed as day-to-day, it opens the door for either Jeff Schultz or Tyler Sloan to see more ice time.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Few Surprises

We have made it a full week through the start of the '09 - '10 season and there have been a few surprises. It's still too early in the season for these to be permanent trends, but the good and bad starts have certainly raised eyebrows.

Phoenix Coyotes' quick start. The Coyotes weren't expected to do much this year, with their coach pushed out and the franchise in danger of moving to southern Ontario. But Dave Tippett may have got this team concentrating on playing more than worrying. They started with two big wins over division rival Kings and shut out the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. They have cooled a bit losing their last two games.

Vancouver's slow start. Roberto Luongo did start the season on a good foot, allowing 13 goals through his first 3 games. The Canucks have since turned it around, but he has a mortal .865 save percentage and a dismal 3.52 goals against. Not good for a team that believes they are Cup bound.

Ray Emery's return to the NHL. It started off pretty good, but in the last 3 games Emery has let in 13 goals. The Flyers see something in Emery that the rest of us can't see. But team mate Mike Richards is off to a great start, scoring a hat trick against the Capitals.

Montreal's slow start. I really thought the Habs got it right in the off season, re-vamping the team, making the right moves and getting a new coach. But that hasn't translated to wins. They lost an ugly one to Vancouver 7-1. With all that talent, they still don't have a consistent goaltender.

In a month we will see how this all shakes out, but there are some interesting storylines developing in the NHL. There are a few more interesting starts to the season for some teams, the Capitals' slow start and the Blues' big wins in Europe.

It is always nice to talk about what is happening on the ice, rather than the stuff that happens off of it. So far, the season is off to a great start.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Caps Fall To Red Wings

Capitals 2, Red Wings 3
Scoresheet - Times - Post - Exam

The Capitals answered their coach's desire to play better team defense, but it was bad penalties that give them fits again. The Red Wings took advantage of some free stick work by the Capitals beating them at the Joe 3-2. The Capitals drop their third straight game.

Matt Bradley opened the scoring with a tough angle shot that beat Chris Osgood. Brendan Morrison also scored on the power play to tie the game early in the third. But the lack of offense hurt the Caps in this one as Alex Ovechkin was held to an assist and Alex Semin and Nick Backstrom were left off the goal ledger all together.

It was penalties that led to the Caps demise once again. The Red Wings took advantage of the last two power plays to take the lead, the last one for good. Alex Semin and Mike Green were both called for penalties that lead to Red Wings' goals. It's been a carry over problem the Caps had from last season.

"It's the same culprits from last year," Bruce Boudreau said of the players that were in the sin bin. "We got to make them understand somehow that they can't do that."

It's not like the Caps played poorly, in fact they were much better at playing team defense. A problem against the Rangers on Thursday night. Bradley's goal early on gave the Caps some life early. The Red Wings tied it up by crashing the net and sneaking the puck past Jose Theodore. Then the penalties started to hinder the Caps. They were able to kill off the first three calls, but when Semin was called for interference late in the second period, the Wings took advantage with a boom from the slapshot of Jason Williams.

The Caps would get the game back to a tie early in the third on the power play carry over from the second period. Patrick Eaves crashed the net and was hit by Green and knocked the Caps net from its moorings. The Referee did not blow the whistle as the play went back down the ice and Ovechkin found Brendan Morrison in the slot. Morrison shot it passed Osgood and the Caps tied the game at 2.

Washington seemed to get a momentum swing from the goal, but Green took a lazy hooking call late in the third. He got his stick up into Ville Leino who didn't have the puck and was covered by Brooks Laich as he cut into the middle. There was just no justification for him to get his stick up like that. Green's penalty was answered by the Red Wings with a power play goal and the game winner.

Detroit badly out-shot the Capitals 37-24. The Caps only registered 4 shots in the third period.

The Caps played well all game long in a tough building to play in. But it was small mental mistakes that cost them the game. Jose Theodore deserved a better fate as he made 34 saves on the night and kept the score close for the Caps to claw back. They would pull the goaltender and get a chance late, but the damage had been done.

When Boudreau was asked about what is attributing to the Caps taking bad penalties, he shrugged. "It's just going bread dead, I don't know, I wish I could get inside their heads. It's not like they are raw first year guys doing that."

"We played a hell of a game tonight," the Caps head coach summed up. "And two bad penalties cost us."

Caps Notes:
  • Ovechkin had a great night, just didn't score. He had 4 or 5 great chances to score and Osgood was there with the save. He finished the night with one assist, 9 shots on net and 10 hits.
  • Bradley had a heck of a first period. Not only did he score, but he blocked a big point shot on the penalty kill and drew a penalty himself.
  • Green led all skaters (both Caps and Red Wings) with 26:50 of ice time.
  • A big thank you to for having me as a Guest Chatter on their live chat during the game. It was a lot of fun, even if there were not too many there. You can catch the replay of the chat here.
Caps face New Jersey on Monday night.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Chat Stew

The following is an embellishment of my email conversation about doing a live chat for Will you host a live chat on our website during the Caps/Red Wings game?

Me: Sure. I would be happy to. We will need a really big pic of your ugly mug.

Me: Uh, talk to my wife, she has more than a few. Great! See you tomorrow night.

Me: Sweeeet. Joe B. will say your name during the game too.

Me: *Passes out

So in short, follow a live chat with moi tomorrow night during the Caps/Red Wings game on

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tough Night

Capitals 3, Rangers 4
Scoresheet - Post - Times - Exam

For the third straight game, the Washington Capitals have failed to stonewall their opponents in the third period. They came up a goal short in the last two. The latest was a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers after they had built a lead with over ten minutes left in the final frame.

"Anytime you have a lead in the last ten minutes of the game you have to [win the game]," a visibly upset coach Bruce Boudreau said. "If you want to be a great team you have to."

The Capitals built a lead after a fluky goal let in by Ranger goaltender Henrik Lunqvist and a power play goal with just over 12 minutes to play in the game. But the Caps' defense took a turn for the worse allowing the tying goal just :18 seconds later.

"We've blown two leads... almost a third in four games," Boudreau was blunt. "It's really an upsetting trend that better stop in a hurry."

Nick Backstrom scored a pair of goals including one that was a dump in on Lundqvist from the red line. The puck seemed to hit the Rangers defenseman's skate and Lundqvist, who was square to the shot twisted a bit to try and glove the puck. But the puck went under the netminder's glove and into the corner of the net. Backstrom also scored a power play goal off of a well designed passing play from Brooks Laich and Alex Semin. Semin also made the score sheet with a goal and an assist. Alex Ovechkin was held pointless after three straight games in which he scored at least 3 points.

Backstrom is the first player in the NHL to have 10 points through the first four games in the season since Martin Havlat did it to start the '06-'07 year. But for Backstrom, stats just didn't mean much on a night the Caps took a loss.

"[The two goals I scored] didn't matter, we lost the game," Backstrom said. "We have to get back [to the way] we started the season. We have to play [for] sixty minutes. We can't just play a couple minutes a game. That is bad on us."

The game started on a good note for the Capitals. Brian Pothier created a passing lane with his ability to skate and found Semin cross ice to open the scoring for the home team. But the Rangers came back with Ryan Callahan goal that was practically a shorthanded goal and break down in the defensive zone goal by Ales Kotalik. The Rangers would take a 2-1 lead into the locker room after the second period.

When the third period started, the Rangers were in full defend-the-lead mode, shutting down passing lanes and blocking a slew of shots (22 blocked shots in all). But Backstrom's half court goal gave the Caps some life and the Rangers took a penalty soon afterward. Unlike the previous 7 tries, they were finally able to score on the power play with some nice passing. Backstrom again was the beneficiary.

But the Rangers answered back with Marion Gaborik who scored a pair of goals five hole on Jose Theodore to give the Rangers the lead with 9:18 left to play.

"There was time left," defenseman turned forward Tyler Sloan said. "You can't get down. The bench has got to stay up to come back the next shift and stay aggressive and try to create chances. We didn't do that, I felt."

The Caps' power play sputtered again for the second straight game. They were a pitiful 1 for 9 with the extra man, including 1:33 with a two man advantage. The top power play line once again has fallen into bad habits, being too cute with the puck at the wrong times and allowing the other team's PK unit out work them.

"We played as individuals instead of a unit," Boudreau commented on the Caps listless power play. "If you are going to play as individuals, you are going to get individual results and nothing is going to happen."

After such a good start against Boston, the Capitals seemed to fallen back to being too cavalier on defense. A defense core that doesn't have youth as an excuse anymore. A point that Boudreau brought up in his press conference.

"The guys that are making the mistakes are not first year guys," Boudreau said. "They are the guys that have been here for 10 years, 5 years... and it's been what their jobs are. There is not one first year guy on defense... these guys should know what the hell they're doing."

Caps Game Notes:
  • Sloan played his first game in the NHL as a forward on the fourth line. "[It's a] position that is foreign to me, I haven't played [forward] in a long time" he said. "But I settled in [during] the second and third period."
  • Mike Green has yet to score a goal this season. Not for lack of trying. Green had thirteen shots that either missed the net or were blocked (7 blocked, 6 misses). Only two of his shots hit the mark, both were saved by Lundqvist.
  • The Rangers' Sean Avery sat this game out, but that didn't stop him from signing some autographs for Rangers' fans from the Press Box.
Puckhead's Player of the Game was Brian Potheir. He has improved tenfold since last season. His vision is much better, he is skating smoother and making some great defensive plays. It was his vision that helped score the first goal, finding Semin cross ice and waiting for the passing lane to open up.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Ugly Game

Capitals 5, Flyers 6 OT
Scoresheet - Post - Times

In a see-saw game with plenty of weird moments, the Capitals came up short against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a game of anything goes as the two teams swapped goals and chances all game long. No one seemed to have the upper hand as the Flyers win in front of their own crowd and birthday boy Daniel Briere scored the game winner as the Caps fall 6-5 in overtime.

Alex Ovechkin added a pair of goals and an assist for his third straight three-point game to start the season. Alex Semin added another pair of goals including a beauty of move that undressed Braydon Coburn and beat Flyer goaltender Ray Emery. Brendan Morrison had a goal bounce in off of him to give the Caps the 5-4 lead in the third, but some defensive breakdowns lead to the Capitals' demise.

The game started with both teams playing it tight. The Flyers got into some penalty trouble early but the Caps were not able to capitalize. The period would end dead locked with no score. In the second, the Caps would get into some pretty heavy penalty trouble. They were called for six minors in the second frame. Whether they were deserved or not, the Caps could not hold back the Flyers power play for long. In fact, the Flyers first three goals were two power play goals and a goal scored on a delayed penalty.

Ovi would score goals 4 and 5 on the season to keep the Caps right in the hunt as both teams exchanged chances and goals. Semin broke the 2-2 tie with an highlight reel goal that left Coburn frozen before firing it through Emery. But the Flyers would come right back as Mike Richards shows why he wears the "C" for the Flyers netting two goals in 18 seconds to give the Flyers the lead right back. Richards makes Flyers history as the only Philly player to score a hattrick in the home opener.

Semin would tie the game at 4 apiece on the power play. The goal came off of a Nick Backstrom chip pass after the Flyers misplay the puck in front of Emery. Backstrom finished the night with 3 assists and make his eighth helper in the season thus far. Then the Caps took the lead again as Matt Bradley threw the puck to the net and the rebound deflected off of Brendan Morrison's body and into the net. The goal would go for review but ended up counting.

"I thought we were going to get out of here [with the win]," Caps' coach Bruce Boudreau said of the goal. "We were pretty determined to defend the lead. "

The Capitals couldn't defend the lead however. Tom Poti tried to clear a rebound from in front of Jose Theodore, but ended up hitting the goaltender with it instead and it bounced into the net. The Caps would get a late power play, but they were unable to score as the penalty carried over into the overtime period. The Flyers did what they did best, feed off their crowd and crash the net. The result is a game winner by the little guy and the Caps take away a point.

"I think tonight we [were] our worst enemy," Brendan Morrison summed up. "It's a game we should seal down and win with that much time left in the game."

Undisciplined play by the Capitals ended up costing them the game. They were called for nine minor penalties, six minors in the second period alone. The Flyers were 3 for 9 with the extra man, while the Caps were a mortal 1 for 5 on their power plays. The Caps just could not get into a rhythm as they marched in to the penalty box time after time.

"You take [nine] minors in a game, you are not going to win the game," Boudreau said. "Six penalties in one period, that is how you get four goals scored against you. It's unacceptable."

"Tonight was more penalties than anything," Brendan Morrison said. "We just couldn't stay out of the box." He continued, "We have to learn this lesson quickly if we want to be a great team, not just a good team."

Semyon Varlamov looked very much like a rookie goaltender tonight. To be fair, he was left to dry on a few Flyer chances, but as each goal went in he looked less sure of himself. He was pulled after the Flyers fourth goal, letting in four goals on 14 shots in the second period. Theodore came into the game and seemed to give the Caps some better balance in the second and third periods.

"Varly has got to be mentally tougher," Boudreau said of his young goaltender. "... They score in bunches on him. He can be fabulous for two periods then he gets scored on ... I think he gets down on himself."

Mike Knuble returned to Philly only to be left off the scoresheet and finished a -1.

"I had some butterflies before," Knuble said of his return. "But it was an interesting game, fun game to play in."

To pull some positives in the game, the Capitals do take one point for making it to overtime. Also the Caps battled back in the third to take the lead, but it was an unfortunate bounce that tied the game up and sent it to overtime. The Caps played much better 5 on 5 than the Flyers did. If they would have stayed out of the box, they could have spoiled the Flyers home opener. And the Caps did get good production from it's top line (4 g, 4a). This was a good effort in a tough arena to play in.

The Puckhead's Player of the Game was Nick Backstrom with his three assists on the night. For some reason, Backstrom loves to show up in games against the Flyers.

Caps come back to the phone booth to face the Rangers in their second home game on Thursday night.