Saturday, January 31, 2009

Caps Beat Defending Stanley Cup Champs

Capitals 4, Red Wings 2
Scoresheet - Wash Post

The Verizon Center hasn't been a house of horrors for the Detroit Red Wings or their fans. Anytime the Wings would be in town, the building seems always split in two. Red Wings fans even out numbered Caps fans for the last couple of years when the Wings were in town. And the Wings had no problems winning in the nation's capital with their last loss in DC was in 2000. That changed today as the Capitals keep their winning ways at home beating the Wings 4-2.

Alex Ovechkin, the game's first star, came up with two very big goals including the game winner. Mike Green also grabbed a goal and Viktor Kozlov scored after a Milan Jurcina shot ricocheted off his leg and past Ty Conklin. Jose Theodore snared 25 shots for his 18th win of the season.

The first two periods were tense filled chess battles that saw the Caps sometimes smothered in the Red Wing trap. The second period was not the Capitals' best as the Red Wings seemed to keep the Caps deep in their defensive zone. Both teams were able to answer goals scored against them.

Eric Fehr had better chances than most through the first two periods. Fehr matched Ovechkin in shots getting at least three golden opportunities in front of the net to score. He didn't score and Ty Conklin did make a couple of huge saves on Fehr. But Eric Fehr needs to start burying those goals.

In the third, Alex Ovechkin turned it up a notch. He even let Conklin know.

"I tell Conklin," Ovechkin told reporters after the game, "'It's coming, it's coming - and it's coming in the third period.'"

His game winning goal came off an errant pass from Kozlov, but Ovi wrangled it in from behind him, through his legs and got the puck from his back hand to his forehand sneaking the shot just under Conklin's glove for the tally. The goal broke a stalemate between the two teams.

The Caps got into a little penalty trouble late, although Tom Poti's late delay of game penalty was perplexing because the puck clearly hit a Winger stick. The Caps had to kill off a 5 on 3 in the final seconds and a lucky ring off the post they were able to keep Red Wings at bay to get their 31st win of the season.

The next game is another 12:30 pm start against Ottawa here at Verizon Center. The Caps have fallen to third in the Eastern Conference off of some bit wins by the New Jersey Devils who are making a late season push themselves. Boston also won their afternoon game to keep a 12 point lead for first in the East. The Caps have to walk a fine line of winning without wearing themselves out if they want to catch the Bruins.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lucky Bounce Do The Caps In

Capitals 2, Bruins 3 OT
Scoresheet - Wash Post - B Globe

The Capitals held the lead or tie for the entire game, but a bad bounce gave the Boston Bruins the overtime winner 3-2. Shaone Morrisonn, the Capital player in the wrong place at the wrong time, was the defender in front the pass bounced off of and past Jose Theodore. Boston gets the two points, stretching their lead in the East to 11 points over the Caps who only get a single point.

Mike Green scored what really was a power play goal to start the scoring off. Micheal Nylander scored for his fifth goal of the season. Alex Semin extends his point streak to seven games with 4 goals and 4 assists.

Alex Ovechkin
had a scare after he was hooked from behind by Zdeno Chara and went hard into the boards. The Bruins were on a mission to hurt the Caps anyway they could by playing physical and sometimes making the hit on a Capital who didn't have the puck.

Nick Backstrom had a quiet night, but was the best skater on the ice for the Caps. It was his hook on Chara in the overtime period that lead to the game winner. The hook was a combination of a tap of the stick by Backstrom and a foot first dive by Chara. Chara crashed into the net and Backstrom got a seat in the sin bin.

Jose Theodore played his best game ever for the Capitals (he continues to impress every game). He made impossible save after impossible save to keep his team in it. I knew he was in the zone when early in the game Theo saw zero shots as the Bruins took a penalty early. The first shot came well after the 16 minute mark and he was swallowing point shots and not allowing rebounds. Theo gave the Bruins only one chance at scoring, not chance after chance by giving up bad rebounds.

Several times during the game the Capitals seemed to be limping or nursing some injury. While the Capitals dominated much of the play, the bruising seemed to tire the Caps out. The Bruins were able to play their system and it finally did the Capitals in. However, this game could have gone either way for most of the third and all of the even strength time in the overtime.

The Caps will get some much needed practice time as their next game is not until a back to back on the weekend. My bet is the first practice back at Kettler will not be fun for the Caps. Bruce Boudreau will be working the boys hard working on the penalty kill and power plays.

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Monday, January 26, 2009

East's Fortunes Begin And End On The Tip Of Ovechkin's Stick

East All Stars 12, West All Stars 11 OT/SO (2-0)

Alexei Kovalev may have won the car, but Alex Ovechkin had to have been a close second. Ovi started the scoring off with a cute passing play with Boston's Marc Savard. The two passed it back and forth until Ovechkin buried it for his 4th career goal at the NHL ASG. The unlikely combo didn't stop there as Savard and Ovechkin's pinpoint passing set up two other goals.

With the game tied and headed into overtime, Ovi got some penalty killing time after Canadiens' Mike Komisarek was called for a hooking penalty in the over time frame. The first penalty at an All-Star game in seven years. But the West couldn't capitalize and the game was destined for a shoot out.

Kovalev scored on his attempt and Ovechkin won it for the east. Ovi's flair for the dramatic didn't stop at the skills competition as he deked Vancouver's Roberto Luongo (a goaltender that has frustrated Ovechkin to no end in the past) and slipped the puck past an outstretched right pad to ice the shoot out and game. Ovi stood beside the net with his stick raised.

Boston's Tim Thomas was outstanding in the final period, overtime and then in the shoot out. He was pretty close to reaching MVP honors with two tremendous saves in the third. Although he was slow to get started, when the Eastern Conference was down a goal with 15:00 left in the final period, Thomas stopped every shot, then he stopped everything in the overtime period, then he stopped both shoot out shooters for the win.

Now that the festivities of the ASG are over, it is time to concentrate on more pressing matters. The Capitals next game is right in the thick of it as they head for Boston for a Tuesday night showdown at the "Gawrden." The Caps are ten points from first in the East and it should be some fireworks on the heels of the All Star Game.

Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ovi Having Fun, But Is Mindful Of Caps' Next Game

The NHL All Star Game is a time for fun and relaxation. A time to see players let down their guard and see them in a different light. At the Bell Centre in Montreal, players have a chance to showcase their skills in a non pressure atmosphere. They are not worried about a coach bearing down on them.

While it is a welcome break in the middle of the season, Alex Ovechkin is still mindful of the next challenge in front of the Washington Capitals. In an interview with TSN following his win in the Breakaway Challenge, apart of the Honda Super Skills competition, Ovechkin listed his priorities.

TSN: What can we expect from you [in the All Star Game]?

Ovi: Score a couple of goals, then go back in Boston and beat Boston.

The Capitals are ten points from Eastern Conference leading Boston Bruins. They have also yet to play in Boston. The Caps have defeated Boston both times in their regular season match ups (the Bruins did beat the Caps in preseason action). If they want to catch the Bruins for lead in the Conference, they will have to win these regular season tilts in regulation.

Ovechkin is frank about his intentions. It's okay to have fun here, but it's back to business as soon as the the All Star Game concludes. It is also a call to his teammates who most are taking it easy this week (although a few Caps were spotted at Kettler to get in some ice time during their time off).

The Caps next official practice will be in Boston at Boston College's facility. One of the many things they will be working on recommitting on the penalty kill that has let in a least a power play goal in the past 9 games. In their loss to Ottawa, all three goals were scored when the Capitals were a man down.

The game in Boston will be much like a playoff game. Boston will want to keep it's winning ways going and the Capitals are looking to make up some ground.

NHL ASG Notes:
  • The passing fued between Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin seems to have subsided for the All Star Game weekend. Both were seen talking to one another, shaking hands and Malkin helping Ovechkin with his props in the Breakaway Challenge. "Before he never talk to me," Malkin said in broken English, "Now, he talks all the time."

  • Zdeno Chara won the hardest shot competition beating out then Washington Capital Al Iafrate (or Al "I'd be" Iafrate). Although Iafrate did do it with a wooden stick.

  • While the crowds showed up in force in Montreal, the crowd seemed lathargic through out the skills competition. Chara's hardest shot and Ovechkin's antics seemed to get the biggest cheers from the crowd, but for the most part the die hard crowd seemed bored through much of the night.

  • Tim Thomas is a nice enough guy, but a horrible interview. In every interview he did, he was akin more to a deer caught in the headlights. Although credit him with at least thinking before speaking, even it's taking a minute or two after the question is asked.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Maybe Peace In The Middle East Is Possible

Then again, maybe not.

Ovi Not The Only Capital At All Star Game

Besides Caps' superstar Alex Ovechkin, Slapshot made the trip to Montreal, so did Caps' owner Ted Leonsis who made several appearances at some of the ASG parties.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Stupid, Dumb, Selfish"

Capitals 2, Senators 3
Scoresheet - Wash Post

You may be asking yourself how does a team beat the Eastern Conference leading Boston Bruins twice and follow that effort up with an overtime winner against the Conference's worst team and lose to the second worst? Bruce Boudreau might be shaking his head at the same question as the Capitals are guilty of playing to the level of their competitors. The Caps will go into the All Star break with a disappointing loss to the Ottawa Senators 3-2. Now they have seven days to contemplate the loss before playing the Bruins again in Boston.

Sergei Fedorov scored in the second and Dave Steckel added another. Both goals were at even strength. But the Capitals gave up 3 power play goals and their own power play was stifled, 0 for 5. Boudreau wasn't too happy about the effort put forth.

"It's a question of stupid, dumb, selfish - it's just not winning hockey," Boudreau commented to reporters after the game. "The bottom line is with three minutes to go you don't go cross-ice pass in the zone, you get it at the net."

Alex Semin took a ridiculous penalty with three minutes left when Daniel Alfredsson intercepted a pass. The play was well defended, with no need to reach out and trip up the Senators' captain. The Caps had fought back after surrendering a 2-0 lead in the first period. But it was all for not as the Sens were able to score with the extra man.

Again, the Capitals just couldn't close out a back to back and their road record remains a losing one. They do have a plethora of excuses to use if they really wanted to. The Caps did look tired toward the end of each period, showing some travel fatigue. The Caps are still with out key injured players. But those are just excuses.

Alex Ovechkin was held scoreless. Nick Backstrom, Viktor Kozlov and Semin were all quiet tonight in terms of offensive production. Puckhead's Player of the game happens to be Donald Brashear, who seemed to have more pep and jump in his step.

Since the Capitals are taking a week off, I will be doing the same. I may blog if something fantastic happens at ASG. Otherwise this All Star break is a welcomed break for myself as well.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ovechkin To Defend Title At ASG

At the All Star game in Montreal, it should be no surprise that Capital Alex Ovechkin was going to be in the Breakaway Challenge. An event in the Super Skills portion that has more to do with style than substance. Hockey's answer to the slam dunk contest in the NBA.

The NHL announced today the rosters for the Super Skills Competition of the All Star game at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

But Ovi will have some competition. Patrick Kane from Chicago is also in the line up. As well as Ryan Getzlaf from Anahiem, Alex Kovalev from Montreal and Sid "the Kid" Crosby from Pittsburgh.

Ovechkin won the first ever Breakaway Challenge with a move that could have been inspired by Tiger Woods. He flipped the puck into the air, batted at it a couple of times, spun around and took a swing at the puck. Although he didn't connect or even registered a shot on net, the judges were impressed enough to grant him the first crown.

Now that crown is in serious jeopardy with the following players ready to take it from the crafty Washington forward. And now that players seem to have more of a idea of what to expect, it should be that much more entertaining.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ovechkin Nets Overtime Winner On Isles, Again

Capitals 2, Islanders 1 OT
Scoresheet - Wash Post

Alex Ovechkin figured in on every goal this afternoon. He opened the scoring with a power play goal, took a bad penalty for delay of game that gave the Islanders a two-man advantage and subsequently scored and Ovi netted the over time winner with another power play goal. Ovechkin was all the offense the Capitals needed as they gain a point on Eastern Conference leading Boston Bruins by beating the New York Islanders 2-1.

The penalty that led to the game winner was a slashing call on Brendan Witt. Witt, who claims his innocence saying, "It was a pretty weak call," took a few whacks at Ovechkin. Most refs would let you get away with one, maybe two good whacks at someone's stick, but Witt hit Ovi's stick a good four or five times even prompting my wife (who was casually watching) to speak up, "Isn't that slashing?" If the wife can pick up the penalty, you know it's bad.

While the attention went to Ovechkin (with his now league leading 31 goals), Islander goaltender Yann Danis kept the Islanders in the game even blanking Ovechkin on a early break away and getting lucky on a attempted clear that was picked off by Ovi who in turn hit the post instead of a wide open net. Danis played well enough to put the game into overtime, but Witt's penalty was too much for the Islanders to over come.

Danis' counterpart, Jose Theodore, had a pretty good game himself stopping 24 shots and seemed to stifle any Islander chance with some solid saves and gobbling up rebounds. It was worthy of a third star. When a goaltender makes hard saves look easy, you know they are very focused. Theo is starting to warm up to a goaltender we all hoped he would be.

Puckhead's Player of the game (a new feature I am playing around with) goes to Brooks Laich. Laich logged just over 18 minutes of ice time and had seven shots on net and an assist on Ovechkin's first goal. Laich also had a pure hustle break-away. Caught between two defenders, he simply outskated them both to give himself a sudo-breakaway. Although he did not score on that chance, Laich had a quiet but effective game today.

  • The Capitals have the fastest 30 wins in franchise history beating the old record by two games. Coincidentally the '84-'85 team won their 30th game in 49 games against the New York Islanders, the '08-'09 Caps get their 30th win in 47 games.
  • I am not sure if Alex Semin is breaking in new skates or if the ice was bad at Nassau, but he seemed to slip around on the ice more than usual.
  • Viktor Kozlov had the most shots on net, surprisingly, beating out Ovi by one shot (Kozlov 9, Ovechkin 8).
  • Islander Bill Guerin only had one shot on net, but he had seven shots that missed the net.
  • Boyd Gordon made his return from back spasms, and was a welcome sight in the face off circle.
  • The Caps head to Ottawa to face the Senators. The Caps played the Senators on election day and now will play them on inauguration day.
Photo Getty Images, Bruce Bennett

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Playoff Preview?

Caps 2, Bruins 1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Globe

Both coaches for the Capitals and the Boston Bruins knew the atmosphere would have a playoff feel to it. The Bruins coming off a spectacular December in which their only loss came to the Capitals. The Caps would be intent on chasing down and catching the Bruins for top honors for the Eastern Conference. It would be a defensive battle, and a particular defensive play, that would decide this contest as the Caps hand the Bruins a loss 2 to 1.

Mike Green scored another power play tally off a nice pass from Micheal Nylander. Green continues to lead all defensemen with power play goals in the league with his tenth. Then Alex Semin iced the game in the third with a rare slap shot that beat Tim Thomas in the crook of his glove arm. Semin's goal was unassisted, but his goal came off of a diving defensive play by Milan Jurcina. Jose Theodore did let in the first goal of the game, but buttoned it down for the rest of the tilt making 23 saves.

The Capitals played one of their best defensive games of the season. John Erskine played a big part in that. Erskine's return added some more grit to the Caps blue line, and Erskine played his game. He was a presence on the ice, both physically and defensively. He delivered some big hits, mixed it up in front of the net and was all around a thorn in the side of the Bruins' forwards. It was enough of a performance that earned him a number two star on the night.

Milan Jurcina also played well defensively. When a turnover caught the Capitals off guard sending the Bruins on a two on one with Jurcina the only Capital back, Jurcina dove and poked the puck off the winger's stick. With the Bruins' offensive threat neutralized, Semin stripped the puck off the player that recovered the puck and streaked down the right wing side. He howled a slap shot (unusual since Semin prefers the wrist shot) past Thomas for his 5th point in the last four games.

The Capitals played a simple and patient system against the Bruins and it seem to pay off in both wins. And if this regular season match up continues to a post season one, it would be tantamount to a physical chess match. The Alex Ovechkin/Zdeno Chara match up is one of those closely watched. When Ovi was on the ice, so was Chara.

It seemed the Caps coaching staff was looking to wear down the tall defenseman throughout the game by keeping the puck deep in the Bruins' zone and quickly changing Ovechkin on and off the ice. They sometimes even played Ovi on the right wing side just to give him some space.

Whatever they tried to do seemed to work as Chara by game's end was uselessly tired, hardly able to lift the puck past a Capital defender in the waning seconds of the third. The Caps seemed to have an answer for every Bruin attack, frustrating and tiring the Boston squad, sending them home with no points on this night.

Nick Backstrom showed some grittiness of his own. After Bruin Marc Savard took out Viktor Kozlov against the boards, Backstrom gave a forearm shot in response. It was an uncharacteristic for him, but it is the same toughness he showed late in the Philadelphia series. For showing some toughness and standing up for his linemate, Backstrom earns the Puckhead Player of the game.

Caps' Dave Steckel also had a good night, playing well defensively and earning the night's red hard hat. Nylander also played his best overall game as a Capital this season. His assist on the game tying goal was the answer the Caps needed to the Bruins first tally.

The Caps did their part in catching the Bruins who now are only 9 points behind the Eastern Conference leader. They have also opened a 12 point lead in the Southeast Division. The next two games will be road games for the Capitals, Monday at Long Island and Tuesday at the Canadian Capital before the All Star break. The Caps need to be careful not to overlook either, as both teams will want to show up the Capitals in their buildings.

Photo AP, Nick Wass

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Showdown At The Igloo

Capitals 6, Penguins 3
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Pitt Post Gazette

Probably the most anticipated rivalry since October 16th and it didn't disappoint. While both teams scoff at any animosity and claim it's only "Washington versus Pittsburgh," the game was heated, emotional and very tense. While there is talk about how much a rivalry the Capitals have against the Flyers, it doesn't compare to the hate these two teams seem to have for one another.

The Capitals were on a losing streak and looked a bit snake bitten. The Penguins thought they had turn things around in Philly and were about to start a five game home stand. At the end of the night those roles seemed reversed, it was the Caps with the confidence and the Penguins did what they always do when they are frustrated, chirp. In the end it was the Capitals that came out on top beating the Penguins for a second straight time at Mellon Arena, 6-3.

Alex Ovechkin pulls back into a tie with Flyer Jeff Carter for scoring leader in the league scoring his 28th and 29th goals. Both goals were huge, but Tomas Fleischmann's power play goal was the back breaker for the Penguins. Alex Semin, Viktor Kozlov and a Jeff Schultz empty netter rounded out the scoring. Nick Backstrom had a good night with a play maker, three assists.

Don't let the score fool you, the game was pretty tense through two and a half periods. It seemed when one team scored the other team responded. When one team made a big hit, the other team had to answer. Whether you are a superstar or not, it really didn't matter. The hitting was intense and purposeful and Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby were not immune on this night.

Evgeni Malkin scored the game's first goal, and that was the last you heard of him (besides a couple of hits on Ovechkin). At the end of the night he was the only Penguin to finish with a -3. Instead it seemed that Sid "the Kid" wanted more to do with the Caps/Pens rivalry than Malkin. Crosby was enemy number one for the Caps, hit early and often. The only good chance 87 had to score was just 1:20 into the game when he broke loose for a break away and shot it wide.

For the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin had another one of those amazing nights, a MVP night if you will. But he didn't do it with one of those blinding slap shots or laser wristers to the top corner. Two of his biggest contributions, an assist on Fleischmann's game winner and the added security goal later on, were light wrist shots to the front of the net. On the game winner, Ovi simply put the puck on net with a shot that would be considered more of a pass than a shot. The puck thudded off of Marc-Andre Fluery's pads (who I believe thought it was a harder shot than what it was) and right to a diving Flash who buried the puck.

On Ovi's insurance goal, instead of taking the puck shooting from the boards (patent Ovechkin) he cut the puck to the middle and went to his off wing and simply threw the puck to the front of the net, a planned pass to Backstrom. The puck went off of a Penguin defenders foot and past Fluery. Both goals were simple hockey plays, getting the puck to the front of the net and good things will happen. It didn't have be a blinding slapper that screams wide or is quieted by the goaltender's glove.

The Capitals' power play was better, they were 2 for 6 and one of them turned out to be the game clinching goal. Their penalty kill improved as well, only allowing a goal and killing off a full two minute 5 on 3 (although the Penguins scored mere seconds after the penalized Cap player stepped on the ice to make it 5 on 4). Ovi had a ten shot night, seconded only by Semin's 7 shot night. Bryan Helmer had a tough night, besides being almost completely invisible, he was a -2, while Schultz had a good night with a goal and the only Capital with a +3.

The Capitals break a 3 game losing skid. Under Bruce Boudreau the Capitals have never lost four games in a row, and it looks like that trend will continue for now. The Caps jump back to a three point lead over the Rangers for second in the Conference. They are now 12 points ahead of Carolina for the division crown.

Photo AP, Gene J. Puskar

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Oilers Spoil

Capitals 2, Oilers 5
Scoresheet - Wash Post

Apparently, the Caps may have the Penguins on the brain. Per Tarik on his blog: "Boudreau said he warned his players this morning about looking past the Oilers and ahead to Wednesday's showdown with Pittsburgh. We'll know by about the middle of the second period tonight whether they were listening."

Obviously they weren't.

Tomas Fleischmann scored a highlight reel goal and Mike Green added another power play goal. But both goals weren't enough to beat former 'Cane Eric Cole who pounced on some Caps turnovers and put up the hat trick against the Capitals.

The Capitals outshot, outhit, out-took-away the Oilers. But they also gave up the puck 26 times. Alex Ovechkin finished the game with out a point, 7 shots on goal and four give aways. In the third he was pushed to the second line with Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov. Or Nick Backstrom and Alex Semin were pushed to the second line with Brooks Laich. Either way, Bruce Boudreau sent the message loud and clear.

Green had a career night of sorts. He scored his ninth power play goal leading all defensemen in the league in power play tallies. He also scored his 100th and 101st points of his NHL career.

Fleischmann had a spectacular goal. His speed caught three Oilers off guard as he broke down the middle into the Oilers' zone. When he crossed the blue line the puck started to ride on it's edge, Flash split the defenders but flipping the puck up over the stick checks and his speed was too much for them to recover. The puck settled back down with Flash through the defense and he beat Dwayne Roloson blocker high.

Jose Theodore played okay, not great, but not his best. Part of the problem was the giveaways and poor defensive coverage after the turnover. It would have to take some pretty outstanding goaltending for him to make those saves, but Theo just wasn't on.

Dwayne Roloson, who some think this was an audition for a possible trade with the Caps, played much better. Controlling his rebounds and gobbling up shots. If he is rumored to be possible trade fodder, he made his case turning away 34 shots, including a barrage of early first period shots.

The Caps drop their second straight at home and lost their third straight which matches two other times they have lost three in a row. I would not want to be on the plane ride to Pittsburgh, as the Caps play their second back to back. The Caps have never won both games of a back to back, why start now.

Photo AP, Lawrence Jackson

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Some Perspective, Bam!

I am not one to jump on many Caps fans, but the whining about the last two games has got me perplexed. Perhaps we need some perspective ala Emeril Lagasse.

Would you rather have a team that is 18-21-5 through Jan. 13th? That was where the Capitals were a year ago. How about a team that is 14-24-5 ('05-'06)? The Caps are 27-13-3, sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference, first in the Southeast and have a 18-2-1 record on home ice. Bam! Perspective.

The Captials have called up 12 players from their farm club due to injuries and still the team is performing at a high level, including putting two long winning stretches together. A five game winning streak (Dec. 10-18) and a seven game winning streak (Dec. 23 -Jan. 6). Bam! More perspective.

They lost the last two games, it happens. It is an 82 season schedule in a very competitive league, losses are going to happen. It's how you respond to those losses that is key. When the Caps were shut out 3-0 against Columbus they came back and played a tough game the very next night against Montreal at the Bell Centre. I would imagine with a couple of days off the Caps are ready to respond tonight against Edmonton. Bam!

Caps Notes:
  • The Capitals spent some good quality time working on the power play during practice yesterday. They moved Alex Ovechkin from the point to down below, replacing him with Sergei Fedorov. Having Fedorov back there is more defensively responsible. The Caps have let in 4 short handed goals this season, in Bruce Boudreau's mind that would be four too many. At least they are not as bad as the Rangers who have 13 shorthanded goals against so far this season. Ouch.

  • The potent line of Ovechkin-Nick Backstrom-Alex Semin has stalled Ovechkin's scoring. When it has been Ovechkin-Backstrom-Viktor Kozlov, that line seemed to have more chemistry. The last goal Ovi registered was a shorthanded tally in the New York Ranger win on January 3rd. Currently he is on a 3 game scoreless skid.

  • Tonight's game against Edmonton and then subsequent game tomorrow night in Pittsburgh is the second straight back to back games where the Caps must travel. The Capitals this year have never won both games on a back to back this year.

  • Tyler Sloan and Sean (don't call me Shawn) Collins have been sent down to Hershey making way for the return of John Erskine and Jeff Schultz. Tom Poti is still on the LTIR until Wednesday. Karl Alzner's days are numbered if Poti comes back.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Thank Hockey The Next Time You Fly"

Sometimes when someone finds out that I write a hockey blog, I get these random nuggets of hockey information from out of nowhere. Some people feel the need to show you they know the same or more about hockey than you. Annoying as it is, there are times when someone does give you a nugget that you have to stop and become intrigued.

Recently, a person did come up to me to spew her keen knowledge on hockey upon the knowledge that I have a blog about the Capitals.

"Did you know," random girl starts, "that Orville Wright was hit in the face with a hockey stick? You know the guy that invented flying?"

No, I didn't know that. Didn't dinosaurs, birds and kites beat us to the punch inventing flying?

Random girl continues, "Yea, he lost a bunch of teeth and it was so bad he was bed-ridden and he while he was in bed he read all about flying. So, you should thank hockey next time you fly."

Indeed. It turns out it was half true. It was actually Wilber Wright that was hit with a hockey stick in the mouth in the winter of 1885-1886. About 3 years before the institution of the Stanley Cup. According to Wikipedia, Wilber did lose his front teeth although the injuries were not that severe. He became more withdrawn during his recovery. He did some extensive reading which sparked his interest in flying. Orville dropped out of high school.

No word from the league whether or not there was a fine or suspension.

NHL Notes:
  • Back to the beginning, Brendan Shanahan agreed in terms with the New Jersey Devils. The Devils picked Shanahan No. 2 in 1987. Good for Shaney.

  • The KHL had their All-Star game in an outdoor game on Red Square in Moscow. You can watch the game on Universal Sports' website. The setting is a pretty unique and a very cool one. Although, the game was only played in front of 3,000 people. A hare shy of the 42,000 at Wrigley Field. Former Cap Ben Clymer had a goal and former Cap Jaromir Jagr had the game winner.

  • It's not a good time to be in management if you are with the Ottawa Senators. Things seem to be spiraling from bad to worse, and this time there is no goaltender controversy. Could the Senators be in line for a power shift before the All-Star game? If they do, it would be an eternity compared to Tampa Bay.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Oh Merd.

Capitals 4, Canadiens 5
Scoresheet - Wash Post

Lately when a game opens up for the Capitals, they have taken full advantage of their opportunities. Some of the most exciting games the Caps have played they have found a way to come out on top, but not tonight. Montreal seemed to always have an answer for the Capitals and in the end it was a goal that should have been a save that gives the Capitals their second straight loss.

Alex Semin found the scoresheet again netting two goals in this game (although one was off his leg). Micheal Nylander scored his first since scoring his late goal in Montreal (that went off his leg too). Tomas Fleischmann made a steller return scoring a goal for himself and Mike Green had a couple of assists.

The most frustrating part of the night had to be Brent Johnson's netminding. While he did come up with a couple of really big saves, it was two goals he should have had that did the Capitals in. The first one was the Habs shorthanded goal by Tomas Plekanec. Johnny has to make that save. It subsequently killed that offensive push the Caps had on the power play and when the Caps did regain the lead, it should have been 2-0, not 2-1.

The second goal Johnny should have had was the game winner. Milan Jurcina got the puck mixed up in his feet and Sergei Kostitsyn got a shot away as Jurcina was doing the two-step trying to find the puck. The puck never left the ice and slipped right under Johnson's pad. After looking at the replay, it's a tough one to watch. The puck just goes through Johnny's pad, like a bad Chris Angel magic trick. With just 22 seconds left in the game the Caps couldn't mount a comeback and they leave the Bell Centre empty handed.

While the outcome is disappointing, keep in mind that for the Capitals to be an elite team in the Eastern Conference they will have to play many tight games like this with other good teams. Sometimes those games end in a win, sometimes they will end with a foul taste in your mouth. That is part of being the best, you will get the best of every one else too. Overall the game was a pretty darn good one in a playoff-like atmosphere.

The Capitals need some work though if they want to keep on trying to be the best. The Caps power play was only 1 for 4, but every one of their man advantages could have swung momentum the Caps' way if they could have converted. On the PK side, they are still taking dumb penalties and good teams (like the Montreal Canadiens) will make you pay for it. They did by scoring twice out of six chances.

There were also some prime scoring opportunities early in the game that the Capitals should have capitalized on. Sometimes (cha, like all the time) the Caps are too cute for their own good. When a curl and drag should really be a shot on net, they sometimes curl and drag themselves right out of a shot. **News Flash** You can't score if you don't shoot (Wayne Gretzky taught me that).

So where does this leave the Capitals? Well, Bruce Boudreau is now free All-Star weekend and yet another Montreal Canadien will go (although, I really do think Guy Carbonneau is deserving of the honor as much as Gabby is). Florida (with another win) draws closer to the Capitals who are now ten points ahead of Carolina and eleven in front of the Panthers. While the lead looks impressive, if the Caps don't get points it could evaporate.

Photo AP, The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson

Friday, January 09, 2009

Oh Crap.

Capitals 0, BJ's 3
Scoresheet - Wash Post

I never in my life time have hated the phrase "Stopped... by... Mason!" as much as I did tonight as I listened to Steve Kolbe do the play by play on 1500 while watching the Caps on glorious non-HD standard 4x3 television on good ol' CSN+ (the plus is really for less!). "Pad save... by... Mason!" "Mason covers the rebound!" "Mason... robs... [enter Capitals player name here]!" Mason, Mason, MASON.

The Capitals put up a goose egg as the Columbus Blue Jackets basically bore their way to a win. If it were not for Steve Mason (rookie phenom that is either too brilliant for words, or too stupid to fear the Caps offense) the Blue Jackets may have had more of a problem on their hands. But when the BJ's were giving up oppurtunities, Mason was there to shut the door.

It was just a matter of a very good defensive team riding a very hot goaltender that gets the Blue Jackets a rare win at the Verizon Center. They frustrated the Capitals from start to finish, and the Caps could not escape Ken Hitchcock's trap and shut down, trap and shut down, transition, trap and shut down hockey.

"Their style of game is frustrating," Rookie Karl Alzner told reporters. "They're trapping and they're very tight defensively. If you don't get a goal quickly on them, they get a lot of confidence and get rolling."

Alex Ovechkin had a fluery of shots late, 12 shot in all, but all to no avail. In fact 13 Capitals peppered the rookie goaltender with 45 shots and Mason turned them all away. There is not much I would have liked the Caps do differently in this game, except for the bad penalties toward the end that stymied the Capitals' offensive push and allowed two BJ power play goals late in the second and third periods. Those were pretty bad penalties.

When you thought that maybe the Caps would come out and prove to the world that more than just Ovechkin should be donning an All-Star sweater, they post a dud. In a game where the Caps slighted Columbus in shots, hits, take aways and face-offs, the back of the net is somewhere the Caps just couldn't put it.

What now? Regroup.

"You get snakebitten," Bruce Boudreau shrugged at the reporters following the game. "But good teams rebound from it and, hopefully, we're a good team."

The Caps do end a four game homestand with a 3-1 record and 6 points out of eight possible. Now they hit the road to Montreal, where confidence is abound in the Habs. There is not much time to dwell on the second straight loss to Columbus by the exact same score.

Editorial Note: Being a radio guy myself, it's not unusual for me to turn down Joe B. and Locker to listen to Steve Kolbe every now and then. The audio on my TV was fine, thanks for asking.

Photo AP, Luis M. Alvarez

Some-Stars Game

All-Star. That word used to have some kind of meaning. Like, the best or the most talented. It was a team that was thought to be the best of each conference. A dream team of sorts. This year, it just seems all wrong. And the most talented players seem to be just getting a long weekend off instead of being center stage at the NHL All-Star game.

Part of the flaw is fans choosing the starting line ups. While it seems some players belong there, others don't just because they happen to play in Montreal. Because they are there, that leaves little room for anyone else to be named to the reserve list. If Alex Ovechkin was voted into the starting line up, then the door could have been opened for Mike Green, Alex Semin or Nick Backstrom to be there. Green has to be in the top 6 defensemen in the Conference (if not the league). As it is, it will only be Ovi there for the Capitals.

It didn't seem to be a problem when it came to the Bruins. Zdeno Chara, Marc Savard and Tim Thomas were named even though there is not a single Bruin on the starting line up. Boston maybe first in the Eastern Conference, but Washington is second, and there is only room for Ovi.

As flawed as the NHL All-Star voting process might be, it would be a bigger mistake taking the fans out of the equation. Yes, it's hard to deal with the unemployed Montreal slugs who have nothing to do all day but vote for their "All-Stars." Maybe voting multiple times should come to an end. One fan, one vote. That would make some think more carefully at who their selection might be.

I don't think Caps fans are in a position to whine too much. The Capitals do have the best record through 41 games in franchise history and the fans get to see their All-Stars for every home game. Who needs an All-Star game in Montreal when you could be raising a Cup at the phone booth.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Theodore Shines In Tight Game

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

The may have been some concern in the net for the Capitals. A shaky start to the season for Jose Theodore left many to believe that the Caps would have to win with questionable goaltending. In the last 6 starts, those who had doubt might have to eat a bit of crow. Theo has now won his last 6 starts, allowing 2 goals or less in the last 5 games and helping the Caps to a 2-1 shootout win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Nick Backstrom scored the opening goal on the power play. Alex Semin got the assist. It looked early on that the Capitals had a jump on the Flyers, but the Marty Biron (who looked pretty shaky through the first two periods) kept the Flyers in the game long enough to get a power play goal to tie the game at one early in the third. Overtime settled nothing and Viktor Kozlov scored the only shootout goal as JT60 stopped all three Flyers (Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter) to give the Caps an the best home record in the Eastern Conference (18-1-1).

The game had a playoff atmosphere. While there was a few Flyer sweaters peppered throughout the crowd, the Caps clearly had the home advantage as the fans were abundant and loud. While the game was low scoring, there was no lack of excitement through an intense game.

The Capitals' chances seem to outnumber the Flyers' but they just couldn't convert. Micheal Nylander had practically an open net in the second period but couldn't get the puck over the diving defender Ossi Vaananen. Eric Fehr had some great chances in the first and second, but couldn't find the back of the net. Semin had a sick move in overtime on a two on one, but maybe held on to it for just a half a beat too long.

Meanwhile, Theo made great save after great save even getting a standing ovation for a save on a broken play by the Caps and the Flyers had a two on one. Both Biron and Theodore had 33 saves, but it seemed JT60 had more quality saves when the Caps were just hanging by a one goal lead. Theodore was good with the initial shot, good with his rebound control and was there with the big save when the Caps needed him to be.

Both teams may have considered themselves lucky, Flyers to escape with a point and the Caps with their win. With Boston losing at home in regulation against Minnesota, the Capitals now have the best home record in the East (Bruins now 14-2-1, Caps 18-1-1). The Caps celebrate the best record to the halfway mark in franchise history. The schedule doesn't get any better. In the next five games the Caps will face Montreal, Pittsburgh and Boston.

Photo AP, Luis M. Alvarez

Serious Rivalry Brewing With Caps And Flyers

As much as the National Hockey League would like divisional rivalries to become more the norm, the Washington Capitals seem to be an anomaly that Gary Betteman probably didn't consider. Even though the Caps have been sent to the Southeast Division in the '98-'99 season, old habits die hard. It's still a Patrick/Atlantic Division rivalry that has now the whole league seemingly on the edge of their seats to see.

Even though the Flyers took the first game decidedly 7-1, that hasn't seemed to cool the jets of head coach Bruce Boudreau.

"They have 50 points and we have 55. ...a) we don't like them and b) the importance is continually getting ahead of them in points," Boudreau told reporters Monday morning at practice in the Kettler Iceplex. "It's either going to be a three point lead or a seven point lead. We want to be the first place team. If we want that to happen, we have to go through the Flyers."

For the Flyers, this is more about ending a road trip healthy. It's a different attitude for the Philly side, who are coming off a long holiday road trip that saw them finish their last five games 2-2-1. And while venom is spewing from D.C., Paul Holmgren paid a compliment when asked what he thought about the All-Star selections: "The fans must not have been watching Ovechkin."

While the rivalry seems more low key from the Philly camp, Alex Ovechkin is getting his house pelted with eggs for a 7-1 defeat to the Flyers, the head coach is looking for just desserts over last game's loss and urinals will be filled with Flyers' faces at the phone booth.

Even in the rookie game, weeks before the season was to start, Caps fans were ravenous for a Capitals win at Kettler over the Flyers' rookie team. It was a charged atmosphere that the Caps' camp attendees fed off of and beat their guests 7 to nothing. The Caps fans took some consolation in that win. It was not a suitable vengeance win over the Flyers who had ended an amazing Caps' season-ending run. While it doesn't avenge the game seven's overtime sting back in April, it did feel good to see that score.

The rivalry isn't one sided, maybe just more intense on one side more than the other. It is clear that the Flyers don't care for the any Capitals, and the Capitals don't care for any Flyers. Even when the Flyers took Steve Eminger during the summer, they couldn't get rid of him fast enough to Tampa Bay. Just because he still had that Capitals' smell to him (in all fairness, I am almost certain that is not the case, but it is funny to surmise it).

Simply put, the Flyers are now an elite Eastern Conference team. For the Capitals to climb atop the conference, Boudreau hit the nail on the head: they have to go through Philadelphia to get there. And a rivalry is only good if both teams are at or near their peak.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Putting Ovechkin's Snub In Perspective

Montreal will host a peculiar All-Star game that will feature a starting line up of nothing but Canadiens and Penguins. But if you are going to leave the voting up for fans to decide, then you are going to get results like this from time to time.

Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Canadiens Alexei Kovalev, Andrei Markov, Mike Komisarek and Carey Price makes the starting roster for the Eastern Conference. Since Malkin leads the league in points and assist, his selection makes sense. Crosby is going to get selected no matter what, he is the face of the league and apart of the NHL PR machine.

I can buy into Mike Komisarek and Andrei Markov, they are very good defensemen. Markov is seventh in the league in points and Komisarek is just a smart tough blue liner. Price is a stretch considering Manny Fernandez or Tim Thomas would be good selections considering the Bruins perch atop the Eastern Conference. Kovalev? No clue. He doesn't rank in the top 30 in goals, assists or points.

Alex Ovechkin is mysteriously left off the list with only 470,000 votes. It could be because of Ovi's slow start to the season or because Canadien fans who would vote in a rock dressed in a Montreal sweater. But another good reason for a low vote count is no one wants to face Ovechkin. The Capitals are quickly becoming the team that fans across the league hate to see playing their team. That sort of animosity could get a few people to choose Kovalev over Ovechkin.

It's not like Ovi is going to miss the All-Star game. I wouldn't be surprised if after the opening face-off someone comes off the ice and Ovechkin is the next player on. Two other Capitals make strong arguements to make the All-Star team in Mike Green and Nick Backstrom.

I guess I am not the only one who thinks that the fans voted weirdly. Craig Custance of Sporting News puts the 411 on who should really be there, for both Eastern and Western Conferences.

Caps Notes:
  • Alexandre Giroux was sometime frustrated after getting open when he was a Capital. He would have a beautiful scoring chance that only turned into a great save. But in the AHL those shots are going in a plenty. Since being demoted back to the Hershey Bears Giroux hasn't found it hard to find the back of the net, including four goals last night against the Worcester Sharks. He has nine points in the past two games.
  • Speaking of the Hershey Bears, bench boss Bob Woods was chosen for the AHL All-Star game. He will coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars.
  • The game Tuesday against the Flyers could not only push the Caps up further away the remaining teams in the Southeast Division (currently 10 points better than Carolina), but it could also push them 7 points away from 3rd in the Eastern Conference, who just happens to be the Flyers.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Semin's Night: The Bitch Slaps Heard 'Round The League

Capitals 2, Rangers 1
Scoresheet - Wash Post

Alex Semin's first night back from injury didn't disappoint. It was... well, entertaining. It was a pretty eventful night for him, he had a game tying assist and came up with one of the most hilarious fights I have seen since... ever.

Mike Green now leads all defensemen in power play goals with his tally tonight. Alex Ovechkin pulled into a tie for scoring leader and got the game winner on a shorthanded tally. The Caps show that they can win in a wide open scoring affair or in a tight checking low scoring game. They knock off the New York Rangers 2-1.

While the story of this game could have been the Caps amazing record at home (17-1-1), or Alex Ovechkin atop of the league in scoring (tied with Jeff Carter with 27 goals) or defeating a team that was 7-1-2 on the road when scoring first, it was mostly about Alex Semin's unusual fight with Marc Staal.

It was fine enough when the two dropped the gloves after Staal got in a few too many jabs in front of the net, but when Semin's gear came off and Staal fell to the ice it just got weird. Semin began hitting the downed Ranger like a 4 year old boy would slap at a brother that just stole his ice cream or a mad man banging on bongos. It was borderline crazy, a little metrosexualish and all the way funny to watch.

Semin was disqualified after the fight for not having his jersey tied in the back (which by the looks of it, he couldn't because of the huge back guard that was there to prevent another injury). Of course the blogging community can't stop giggling at it: Puck Daddy, OFB, Peerless. Some of his teammates took notice as well.

"He stood up for himself, so good for him," Dave Steckel (the game's number two star) said about Semin. "The guy scores 30 goals a year and you see him go to the net hard and get in a fight after - it riles the boys quite a bit."

"He's not a fighter," Ovechkin said of Semin. "But if you have to fight, you have to fight."

I guess so.

Whatever Jose Theodore is drinking, it's working. Since the game against the Rangers where he gave up 4 goals, Theo hasn't let more than two goals in the last five starts. He is playing more compact and with more confidence. When the Rangers seem to be pressing the play, Theo seemed to vacuum up the rebound and stop the Rangers momentum cold. While his rebound control isn't 100%, it is 98% better.

Alex Ovechkin was snubbed by hockey fans world wide and was left off the starting roster for the 2009 All-Star game. Penguin fans and Canadien fans seemed to want nothing to do with the reigning MVP. Off of that kind of news, Ovechkin played his style of game, getting his shots on net, scoring and laying some pretty big hits. Maybe you have to win MVP twice to get noticed.

The Capitals get a day off tomorrow, but Tuesday the big bad Flyers are in town to challenge the Caps really, really, really good home record. Now that Philadelphia has taken the lead from the Rangers in the Atlantic Division (a Division that might see four teams in the playoffs), they will be looking to add to that.

Photo AP, Luis M. Alvarez

Home Record At Risk?

Philadelphia just leaped frog over the Rangers last night with a shoot out win in Anaheim. The Rangers and Flyers are now tied, but Flyers lead the charge in the Atlantic Division due to games played. This is going to make the game against the Rangers tonight that much more of a challenge for the Capitals. Teams always seem to play better when they have a goal or a hurdle in front of them, and I don't expect the New York Rangers to be any different.

Not only that, but the Caps face a familiar foe in the Philadelphia Flyers not too long after that. It's a confident Flyer squad that seems to have the Caps number. That impressive 16-1-1 record is definitely going to be challenged tonight and on Tuesday.

Makes you wonder what the heck is going on with Pittsburgh?

Caps notes:
  • According the the St. Pete Times Forum, Jamie Heward didn't remember much about the hit that landed him at Sibley Memorial Hospital. But when he was told it was Alex Ovechkin, Heward was quick to dismiss any dirty notion.

    "Once I found out it was Alex, he's in my opinion, he's probably one of the cleanest players in the NHL as far as being honest," Heward said. "He'll play hard on you, but now that I know it was him, I know it wasn't intentional. I played with him for two years. We were pretty tight when I played there. I totally agree, and I think it was an accident."

  • Jose Theodore gets the nod tonight against the Rangers, a team he sort of turned it around on. Not that Brent Johnson is no slouch either. But the team really needs consistency in net. Who is going to provide that? Your guess is as good as mine.

  • Alex Semin is back. Another dangerous weapon on the ice (with some kind of back protection hopefully). Chris Bourque has been sent back to Hershey.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Dirty Ovi?

Let me preface this by saying that I only saw highlights of Ovechkin's hit on ESPN and this morning. I was at a wedding yesterday that managed to suck all the hockey out of my New Year's Day.

But reading the recaps and articles on Alex Ovechkin's hit on former Capital Jamie Heward, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of punishment is heading Ovi's way. No penalty was assessed on the play at the time and the league is reviewing the hit.

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet didn't think the hit was premetetated. "It's a tough one because consistently they're calling anything [involving] heads, a blow to the head," Tocchet told reporters following the game. "I don't think Ovechkin intentionally was trying to hurt him and be dirty. We were just asking if he left his feet a little bit."

Ovechkin was following the puck around the boards and Heward was in front of him. Whether the puck had stopped along the dashers or if Heward was trying to get it back to behind his own goal is uncertain as the action was against the near boards and you couldn't really see what happened puck-wise. Heward turned hunched over trying to play the puck, Ovi didn't play the puck but went for the hit. Heward's head was crunched between Ovechkin and the boards. He then laid motionless on the ice as trainers rushed to help.

The hit, looked innocent enough. Except for the fact that Heward was on the ice in a heap. It didn't look to me that Ovi left his feet, but he definitely went for the hit. With the NHL cracking down on head hits, should Ovechkin be facing punishment?

In my opinion, sure. Ovechkin's hit was unintentional, but Ovi is not above the game. If we are talking about Doug Weight facing punishment for his hit on Brandon Sutter, then how can we not bring up the fact that Ovi might face a fine as well. Do I expect Ovi to miss games? No, but a fine could be in order.

I don't really thing Alex Ovechkin or Jamie Heward did anything wrong, it is hockey and hard, physical hitting is apart of the game. So are injuries. Ovechkin is also known for his physical side, just ask the plethra of defenseman that have battled for a puck in the corner against Ovi. And sometimes that hit can hurt, just like Chris Pronger's monster hits on smaller forwards or Scott Stevens hitting anybody, star or not.

But I do think that players need to think twice when they go for a hit. To hit with respect if you will. Players need to recognize when the opposing player is more vunerable to an injury before they smash their head into the boards. I am not saying that is going to be easy, especially with the speed of the game where it is.

Capitals move on from here and keep their monster 12 point lead on the southeast division. Not the 21 point lead that Tarik reported on. A math major he is not. Caps start the home stand on a good note, but two very tough teams come to the phone booth in the Rangers and Flyers.

Peerless brings up an intersting point too.

Photo AP, Luis M. Alvarez

Thursday, January 01, 2009