Saturday, February 28, 2009

Long Shot Gets Fortieth Win

Capitals 4, Bruins 3 OT
Scoresheet - Post - Times

In a playoff intense game, the highly anticipated clash between Boston and Washington was nothing short of an amazing game. The Bruins matched the Capitals goal for goal as it took overtime to settle the game. The game winner came off of a neutral zone shot by Alex Semin that found its way past Tim Thomas and into the Bruin net. And just like that the Capitals are able to win in Boston for the first time since Alex Ovechkin was a rookie 4-3.

The Capitals' power play started the scoring off when the Bruins' penalty killers got caught pinching a little too much in the Caps' zone. It created a 4 on 2 in the other direction and Nick Backstrom was the beneficiary of a juicy rebound. Alex Ovechkin scored his league leading 45th goal and Tomas Fleischmann got lucky when his pass bounced off of a Bruin defender and past Thomas.

Boston however is too good of a team to keep down for long. Boston answered every one of the Caps' goals, even getting the second equalizer just :18 seconds after the Caps tally. The Capitals were guilty of letting up on their play a bit and the Bruins took full advantage. But what the Caps' defense couldn't stop, Jose Theodore came up big. He had some huge saves late in the game that kept the Caps in the game. Theo wanted that last goal back that he gave up late in the third, but his play was pretty spot on.

The Caps were able to hold themselves to just four minors, but two of those penalties came late in the game as the Bruins ramped up their attack. Backstrom had no choice but to take a slashing call with just over 5 minutes left in the game. That lead to Zdeno Chara's game tying, power play goal and forced overtime for the two Eastern Conference giants.

The extra period didn't last long as Alex Semin crossed into the neutral zone and shot a puck that looked like it was drifting wide just outside the blue line. Thomas skidded out to make the what looked like an easy save, but the puck trickled out behind him and puttered to the left side of the net and in. Just :22 seconds into the extra period it was over, and the Capitals get to their fortieth win faster than any Capital team before them.

Puckhead's player of the game is Jose Theodore as he stopped 34 shots and made some pretty spectacular saves to keep the Caps alive and kicking when Boston seemed destined to score. While I am sure he would like to take back the Chara goal, he played well enough given some of the defensive breakdowns in front of him.

The Caps don't have much time for celebration as they have another matinee at the phone booth taking on the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are coming off a tough loss to New Jersey. They should be a desperate team as they are keeping their playoff hopes alive.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Closer Than It Should Have Been

Capitals 4, Thrashers 3
Scoresheet - Post - Times

The Capitals get off to another quick start but squandered it once again. If the Thrashers had a little more umph, the outcome could have the Caps letting another 2-0 lead dissipate into another loss at home. But Mike Green came to the rescue scoring on a potent Caps' power play to help finish off Southeast rivals Atlanta 4-3.

Alex Semin had a good night scoring the night's opening goal and had two more assists. Brooks Laich scored not long after that and the Caps quickly jumped to a 2-0 lead before the first period was even seven minutes old. But the Caps allowed the Thrashers some breathing room by being too cute according to head coach Bruce Boudreau.

"We get cute," Boudreau addressed the media. "Once you have a little bit of success instead of bearing down and doing the things that got you that success we sort of ad lib a little bit and it gets us in trouble as it did in the third period."

The Thrashers closed the gap on a power play goal off a rare Alex Ovechkin roughing call. Ovi just moments before was clearly hit with a high stick as he crossed zone with the puck. 18,275 people saw it, the two that didn't (or did see it and refuse to call it) were the ones in orange arm bands.

Ovechkin was a more than a little peeved at the non call and took his frustrations out on the only thing he could take it out on, anyone wearing white. He hit Marty Reasoner high and started a raucous at the bench. Ovi lost his cool, and those kind of penalties always come back to hurt you.

And it did, Ilya Kovalchuk scored on the ensuing power play and in the second, the Thrashers to tie up the game. In fact, Rich Peverly scored that game tying goal. Peverly was the one that high sticked Ovechkin.

Mike Green gave the Capitals the lead back in the second off a laser beam of a shot in the high slot. It capped a good Capitals' power play that had the Thrasher squad scrambling all night.

"We're just moving it simple," Green talked about the power play's success. "When we shoot pucks things usually open up. I thought tonight we made very smart plays.

Eric Fehr gave the Caps some insurance early in the third and they needed it as the Thrashers came back to score on them shorthanded.

Overall the Capitals dominated play, they even kept down their penalties. But if they had played this way against more talented teams, they are going to lose a lot of games late, blowing 2 and 3 goal leads.

Puckhead's player of the game would have to be Michal Neuvirth. The twenty year old goaltender got his second win on his second start. And in the first he was gobbling up rebounds like a poor man catching a quarter, once the Thrashers shot it, they never saw it again.

This all sets up for a Eastern Conference showdown between Boston and Washington. It's a busy weekend for the Caps as they travel up to beantown for a tilt there then turn around for home to face a very tough Florida Panther squad that is trying to keep a hold on a playoff spot.

AP Photo, Luis M. Alvarez.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How To Make Ted Leonsis' Heart Skip A Beat...

Close call!

Great Start, Bad Finish

Caps 2, Flyers 4
Scoresheet - Wash Post

The Philadelphia Flyers are known for their shorthanded goals. The Washington Capitals had two prime opportunities shorthanded to increase their lead in the first period. Both breakaway chances, one by Nick Backstrom and the other by Dave Steckel, were wide shots. Missed opportunities the Capitals should have capitalized on, because it came back to bite them in the butt.

Alex Ovechkin was quite the force early in the game. His fake shot pass set up an easy power play goal for Backstrom. Then in the second period, while being hit by his own player (Mike Green), he snapped the puck for the Caps second goal.

It looked like that Caps could do no wrong, but the Flyers are too talented of a team to be counted out. The Flyers got a little bit of life in the second period scoring on the power play. Then they played their system to a tee, wearing down the defense with their physical play and letting their talented forwards go to work.

"We kind of lost our head there in the third. We didn't play smart defensively. We were running around a little bit," Boyd Gordon told reporters after the game.

The Capitals continue to hurt themselves night after night by taking bad, unneccisary penalties. Alex Semin's delay of game penalty after throwing the puck out of the rink set up the Flyers power play goal. The Caps took nine minor penalties, the Flyers only eight. Everytime the Capitals go shorthanded, it kills their offensive momentum. And the Caps seemed to have the Flyers on the ropes playing 5 on 5 for at least two periods.

"They want to limit the obstruction," Brooks Laich told reporters following the game. "We just seem to take lazy, undisciplined, sometimes they can be criticized as selfish penalties. Every game we shoot the puck in our zone over the glass. We've got to limit that. We spent basically [the second period] short-handed."

If the Caps had survived the first two with two goal lead, the third might have been different. But they didn't capitalize on their chances. Backstrom had a breakaway chance and hit the post, Dave Steckel had a breakaway and missed the net by a country mile. Both opportuinties could have put the Caps up 3-0 by the end of the third. Brooks Laich had a chance when he split the defense in the second period but was walled by Antero Nittymaki.

"That was theme of the whole night: not cashing in on chances," Bruce Boudreau said. "We had five or six breakaways. Brooks Laich hit the net on his, but everyone else missed the net. If you don't score when you have the opportunities to, eventually the opportunities dry up and the other team gets opportunities."

The Caps just lost all of their energy in the third. What is so frustrating is we know this team can be so good in the third period. But the game tying goal by the Flyers and the Caps' penalty trouble was just too much to overcome. It is a perfect equation for a loss.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Closing The Gap

As of this morning, Boston retains a seven point lead over Washington in the Eastern Conference standings. The Bruins are at 88, the Caps at 81. Both teams are playing tonight against formidable foes. The Caps are hosting Philadelphia and the Bruins are hosting Florida. Both the Caps and the Bruins have hit the 60 game mark so that means there is just 22 games left on the schedule for both teams.

The Caps can catch the Bruins, but it may take winning stretches of 6 to 7 games at a time to match the earlier pace of Boston. There is some hope on the horizon, the Bruins have dropped their last two games versus opponents they should have no trouble with, like Florida and Tampa (although Florida has been on fire of late). Their last two losses came at the end of a five game road trip that did not go as smoothly as the Bruins may have wanted it to. In fact there are some signs of slowing in the Boston machine as they have only garnered 4 points in their last seven games. The Caps have 11 points in their last seven.

Boston and Washington will face off for the last time this season on the last day of February. It is a chance for the Caps to help their own cause, but they will have to do it on enemy ice. So far the Caps have the upper hand on the season series between the two 2 games to one and they were the only team to beat the Bruins in the month of December.

For the Capitals to win in Boston, they will need to bring a bit of emotion into the game. Their last foray into New England, the Caps were done in by a lucky bounce in overtime. The two teams played a systematic game that showed just how evenly matched both teams seemed to be. The hard working defensive Bruins against the extremely explosive offensive Capitals should be another intense, hard fought game.

Both teams are looking for a good month of March to keep their fortunes going. The road may be harder for the Caps as they will be on the road for seven of their 13 games in March due to the NCAA's Frozen Four hosted at the phone booth.

The Caps also have to mindful of their back end. The New Jersey Devils have been hot on the heels of the Caps and the Flyers will most likely make a run themselves at an Eastern Conference title.

NHL Notes
  • Welcome back Tortorella! Rangers didn't waste much time in dismissing Tom Renny and jumping on the John Tortorella bandwagon, just before trade deadline too. The Rangers at one time held a commanding lead in the Eastern Conference, but their scoring went on the fritz and now they are just fighting to regain a playoff spot. If Florida should beat Boston tonight, they could leap-frog the Rangers and Montreal and be sitting pretty in fifth.
  • While the Caps aren't making a big deal of it, the media is making quite the deal about some of the smack talk between Sid Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Because the two are such polar opposites and both are marketable ambassadors to hockey, fans and media types alike are intrigued by the match up more so now than in previous years. Before, the two have always down played their rivalry. Now it's heating up and everyone seems to be interested by it. For as many times Crosby says "that's hockey" you think he would know by now that when he has the puck, guys are going to be physical with him. He'll learn, he'll learn.
  • Nothing new on the trade front for the Caps. Although, Japer's Rink has some good ideas on where to improve. Caps most likely to be traded, in my opinion, are Micheal Nylander, Shaone Morrisonn and Sami Lepisto.
That is all I got.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Trash Talk To A New Level Between Foes

The Sunday afternoon affair was anything but cordial. It started even before the drop of the puck when Alex Ovechkin was getting ribbed from the Penguin bench during the Pierre McGuire interview at the top of the telecast. It continued until it was certain the 5-2 score would hold up for the Washington Capitals and they go on to win the season series between the two for just the second time in 14 seasons (3-0, the two teams meet for the last time on March 8th).

It might have been the sabbath, but the skaters were anything but Sunday schoolers with all the mouthing off at one another. All the talk seemed to be centered at Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin. Both of whom where riddled with jabs from the benches as they skated by. Then that led to late hits, stick jabs and eventually an encounter in front of the Capital bench where the two had to be separated.

The snide remarks didn't slip past McGuire who was planted between both the benches and was aware of everything going on. As Crosby would skate back to his bench, he would deposit his mouth piece into his glove and jaw at the bench. "Crosby just told [Brooks Laich] that he better look out next time he is on the ice," Pierre would scream into his mic during the broadcast.

"He started it," Caps' bench boss Bruce Boudreau laughed when reporters asked him about Crosby's chirping during the game. "Sidney was jawing at everybody. Every time he would come off, you see him talking to our bench and our bench talking to him."

The Capitals for awhile have tried to find a way to get under the skin of Crosby and the Penguins. It appears to be working. It is also for good reason too, Pittsburgh has always had the upper hand on the lowly Caps since Sid's inception to the NHL. Crosby didn't mind all the talk about Ovechkin when the Penguins were beating them handily every time they played one another.

Now it is a different team, a different season. The Penguins are fighting for life in the playoffs and the Caps are trying to track down the Bruins and accumulate as many points as they can. It wasn't too long ago that those roles were switched. Crosby enjoyed all the success, Ovechkin was on a struggling team and maybe, in some weird way, that was how Crosby always thought it was going to be between the two.

"We are growing up as a team," Ovechkin said as he talked about the change in tide in the Penguin/Capital rivalry. "We played well on the power play, penalty kill. We just didn't give them any chance [today]."

Crosby had been harboring grudges against Ovechkin. He still does. Those grudges are now defining Sidney Crosby's play during these games. He seems too bent on teaching Ovi a lesson or tries to be a more physical player than Ovechkin or a plethora of other nonsense he seems to be doing on the ice instead of playing. The Caps will take it. While Crosby throws a tantrum, the Caps are throwing pucks past him into the Penguins' net.

Instead of a deflating loss for the Penguins, Crosby would rather talk about Ovechkin's questionable style of play. "I was just skating to the bench and he pushed me from behind," Crosby told reporters after the game. "So, I just gave him a shot back. That's hockey, and he likes to run around these days, so that was it."

"Like it or lump it, that's what he does," Crosby continued. "Some people like it, some people don't. Personally, I don't like it."

The Caps don't mind the rough talk from the Kid, for them they seemed to have their eyes on a bigger prize. "We always want to beat those guys. We might face them down the road in the playoffs so we want to put in their minds that they can't beat us," Caps' enforcer Donald Brashear said. "That's the spirit you've got to have and you've got to have the killer instinct. If it were us that was down there, I'm sure they would want to push us out of the way and we are just trying to do the same thing."

NHL Notes
  • Unfriendly Florida foray! The Boston Bruins may have had more beech on the mind instead of hockey as they took the Florida road swing. Not only beat by the Florida Panthers (geez these guys are playing good), but lost in the waning moments of the game to Tampa Bay (wait, what?). The Capitals now jump to just nine points away from the Eastern Conference leaders, and if they won against Colorado it would have been just a 7 point lead. Ahh, the games you wish you would have had.

  • Scotty Gomez is none too liked in western New York these days. After tangling up with Sabre netminder Ryan Miller, Miller left the game with a high ankle sprain and is questionable for the rest of the season. It couldn't have happened at a more terrible time for Buffalo as they are trying to hold on to a play off spot.

  • The Washington Capitals have been named in numerous trade rumors. Talk of the Caps working on getting some experience on the blue line has several defensemen on a short list for what the Caps need. But talk of goaltender has all but dropped off the radar for the Capitals as Jose Theodore's play in the second half of the season seems to appease management.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Little Push And Shove Encounter

Capitals 5, Penguins 2
Scoresheet - Wash Post

As much as both players have tried so hard to keep their rivalry with each other from becoming front page fodder, the two just couldn't let their disdain of one another from spilling out on the ice. Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby maybe the two best players in the league and it's no secret that there is a dislike of one another. But for all of Crosby's chirpping, he couldn't help his team much at the phone booth as the Penguins get dropped by the Capitals 5-2.

"What I can say about him?" Ovechkin told reporters following the game. "He is a good player, but he talks too much."

And what does Crosby think of Ovi's style of play? "Some people like it, some people don't. Personally, I don't like it."

The two got into a altercation near the Caps' bench where the referee had to separate the two. Crosby gave Ovi a shot from behind and started yapping at the reigning MVP.

"I was just skating to the bench and he pushed me from behind," Crosby said. "So I just gave him a shot back. ...He likes to run around these days, so that was it."

If Crosby means Ovechkin likes to run around defensemen and score, well then sure, he has a point. It seemed the more frustrated Crosby got, the chippier he got. I was surprised at the amount of stuff he was able to get away with. An extra shove after the play here, a face wash way after the whistle there, the "Kid" just looked and acted like a 5 year old when you take their teddy bear away.

Bruce Boudreau summed up Crosby's antics best: "I think he got frustrated because he wasn't getting the freedom he's had in this building before. It adds spice. It's entertainment. It gets your blood boiling a bit. And every time Alex gets a little more excitable, it can be good for us."

Beside the little sideshow that was a crying Crosby, the Capitals' offense woke up. The Caps were able to get five goals off of 5 different skaters. Ovechkin started the scoring with power play goal. Alex Semin, Sergei Fedorov, Shaone Morrisonn and Brooks Laich rounded out the scoring after the team was only able to put up a single goal against Colorado on Friday night.

Boudreau's Saturday practice was an exercise in getting that scoring motivation back as he skated the boys hard. It had an effect as the Capitals came to play with emotion and strong rested legs. The Penguins at times did look pretty worn down and that led to bad decisions with the puck and poor defensive coverage.

Jose Theodore looked as if he was going to have one of those kind of games where he just couldn't get it right. But he shored things up and played pretty solid through out the game. Credit the Caps' defense too as they jumped into passing lanes, read the play well and blocked their fair share of shots.

However, the Caps did play a very undisciplined game being called for nine penalties. The penalty kill did the job though, only allowing one goal in eight chances. Their power play was dynamite as they were 2 for 3. Forcing the Pens to play a clean game played into the Caps hands as they were able to forecheck and pressure the puck carrier leading to turnovers and odd man rushes on the transition.

Penguin Matt Cooke did his job well: agitate. He got away with a late hit on Mike Green, but the hit took him out of position and the Caps were able to score against his line. Green got his revenge with a monster hit against Ruslan Fedotenko late in the game.

The Caps host the Flyers next then Atlanta before heading up north to Boston to take on the Bruins. They will have to work on their consistency to keep their scoring ways up against good Flyer and Bruin squads.

AP Photo, Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Friday, February 20, 2009

West Continues To Frustrate Caps At Home

Capitals 1, Avalanche 4
Scoresheet - Wash Post

The Western Conference apparently didn't get the memo about how hard it is to win at the Verizon Center. For that matter the Caps may have used the home ice as too much of a crutch. The Colorado Avalanche played a well defended game in front of the Caps' faithful and come away with the win as the Caps looked tired and lethargic in another lose to a western team at home 4-1.

Nick Backstrom was the only goal scorer on a beautiful pass from Tomas Fleischmann. That goal came with just 15 seconds left in the first and it was the only life the Caps could muster for the rest of the game. Jose Theodore played well, but was bombarded with too many odd man rushes off of bad turnovers that in the end he just could not deny the offensive savvy of his former team.

It was mostly turnovers that haunted the Capitals all night. Failure to get the puck out of their zone, bad passes in the neutral zone or playing out of position were the glaring mistakes made by the home team. Normally, the Caps talented stick handling forwards are able to get themselves out of trouble, but the Aves strong stick play caused turnover after turnover and the Aves transition often caught the Caps badly out of position.

The puck was a bouncing terror for the Caps in this game too. Most likely due to the bad ice, but it is not an excuse to use for the way the Capitals played tonight. Remember, this is the same ice the Caps have a 23-5-1 record on, so I don't think the ice is the overall problem.

Bruce Boudreau shook the lines up in the third breaking up the SOB line and demoting Alex Semin to the second line and promoting Eric Fehr to the top line. While the change brought some chemistry and a couple of golden chances in the third, the line did fail to score.
Micheal Nylander had a pretty bad game tonight as well. He had turned over the puck in the neutral zone that led directly to a goal, and he just couldn't keep the puck on the end of his stick. Mike Green's jumping up in the play also seemed to do more damage than good tonight.

Backstrom threw a late hit that besides being interference was pretty clean. Avalanche WojtekWolski thought the hit was a little too high and went after Backstrom and it took Alex Ovechkin to step in to prevent any punches throw. Backstrom's high hit maybe have been a show of frustration on the night as the Capitals were just stymied all game long.

Credit Aves' coach Tony Granato and his team for pressuring the Capital wings in this game forcing turnovers that favored them. Instead of their forecheck going after the Caps point men, they went after the players the pass was coming too. They quickly jumped on the puck carrier after the first pass and didn't allow much freedom in the neutral zone. The Caps just couldn't shake the defensive system the Aves played.

Puckhead's player of the game has got to go to Fleischmann. His play was the best of any other Capital. He played strong for his line, setting up numerous opportunities for his linemates and had the pretty assist on Backstrom's goal. He was also the only Caps' player to finish the night a +1.

Whatever is ailing the Caps they need to shake out of it by Sunday when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins on NBC's game of the week. The Caps did have a chance to pull away from the NJ Devils with a win, but that didn't happen. It's looking more and more like there is no way any one is going to catch Boston atop the Eastern Conference standings.

AP Photo, Nick Wass

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Talk Of The League

Capitals 4, Canadiens 3 OT/SO (2-0)

I missed the game and had to watch the replay today on Comcast Sportsnet to get to see the latest Alex Ovechkin marvel. Since this recap is a day late and a dollar short, it's better just to give a few of my thoughts on the game:
  • Habs' player Roman Hamrlik had a rough game, not only being the defenseman that was turned inside out by Ovechkin's self pass to himself, but also was the defender turned inside out by Sergei Fedorov and Nick Backstrom's pinpoint passing on the Caps only power play goal.

  • The Caps penalty kill was a sad sight to see in this game. They allowed all three of the Canadien's goals with a man down. It didn't take them long on power play for the Habs to score either taking advantage of a disorganized defensive squad that couldn't cover quickly enough. Although two of those power play goals by Montreal should have been stopped by Jose Theodore.

  • John Erskine had spurts of good and bad moments on the ice. There were times he was tough on defense, while other times seemed too concentrated on getting a hit in that he misread the play.

  • The puck in this game was out for some blood, Mike Green was hit high with a puck, one of the referees was it in the cheek and a couple of Canadiens and Capitals took hard shots to the leg. In all 30 shots were blocked by both teams.

  • Whatever the Caps were doing at even strength against Montreal was working. While the Habs had a few chances 5 on 5, the Caps dominated the play, especially the number line of Backstrom, Alex Semin and Ovechkin (or the SOB line).

  • Seven different Capitals scored a point and no one had more than one.

  • Dave Steckel's goal was his first in eight games and his seventh of the season. It is his first game tying goal of his NHL career and was his only recorded shot on net in the game. The deflection came off of a Tom Poti blast who was the only Capital that was a +2.

  • Montreal Canadien player Andrei Markov had the best stats of the night with three primary assists and finished a -1. He was named the game's first star.

  • Donald Brashear and Georges Laraque almost came to blows and might have if Laraque hadn't taken a penalty against Brash. On the skate back to the bench after the penalty call, several Canadiens chirped at Brashear, but he just smiled back at them as the linesman escorted him just in case.

  • This shootout line up by Bruce Boudreau made more sense rather than the last one. Alex Semin and Nick Backstrom both scored on their chances putting the pressure on the Canadiens to answer, which they couldn't. JT60 did a great job of outlasting the shooter in the shootout.

  • Puckhead's player of the game would have to be Shaone Morrisonn. He played solid and didn't take any late penalties in this game, he was called for hooking in the first period. He also had a big hit in the first a played a pretty solid second and third periods.
In all it was a good effort by the Capitals against a team desperate for the win. Special teams however, seems to be the Achilles heal for the Caps and that has to be cleaned up before the end of the season. Caps continue their home stand with a game against the Colorado Avalanche Friday and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday which is NBC's game of the week.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

More Garbage For The Caps

If there was one area the Capitals struggle offensively it would be the garbage goals. The tough work done down low, paying a price for being in the crease and the work off the boards.

The Caps are often guilty of being too cute, doing the extra pass instead of getting the puck at the net. A frustration for head coach Bruce Boudreau especially in losses where the Caps clearly outplayed the opposition.

But the Caps are starting to get that support from an unlikely source. Dubbed the "F Street" like, Sergei Fedorov, Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr are on to something and Fehr is cashing in on those garbage goals. Whether it's the work down low by Fedorov or a behind the back pass from a flashy Fleischmann, Eric Fehr has been okay with getting those close in garbage goals and the Caps are grateful for everyone of those goals.

Fehr has six goals in his last seven games and a goal in the last four straight. All this from a replacement for an injured Chris Clark. Nearly every goal is off a broken play. Fehr's chances seem to be increasing as he is simply just heading to the net and good things are happening there.

The goals too have been timely. They have been the kind of goals that made it that much more difficult for the opposing team to overcome. If the Capitals can rely on that goal support, all the better as the season wounds down to a close and the push in the playoffs ramps up.

Caps Notes:
  • Don't forget, it is a 7:30 start for the game tonight against the Canadiens.
  • Mike Green is not parting with his record breaking stick, nor should he. Even after it breaks, the stick will be most likely on Green's mantle than in the Hockey Hall of Fame. I'd keep it too.
  • Brent Johnson's underwent successful surgery but whether or not there will be a return for the goaltender this season is still up in the air. "They had to do more than expected," Johnny told reporters after practice yesterday. He was seen on crutches walking very gingerly.
  • Alexei Kovalev didn't even make the trip to Washington as he is struggling of late. The Canadiens wanted him to take some time and work things out. Or maybe he is in charge of the secret surprise party when the Habs return home. I'd like to think it's the later, sounds more fun.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Thoughts On Therrien, NHL Notes

I wanted to wait to talk about Michel Therrien's sudden unemployment until I talked to a few of my Pittsburgh Penguin friends. It's only fair to get their side of the story before I start teasing them mercilessly. So far, from what I can gather, the Pens fans feel that the wrong person was fired.

From the two and a half Pens fans I talked to, the consensus was executive vice president and general manager Ray Shero should have been the one on the chopping block after his inability to sign Marion Hossa and not finding proper replacements for character players like Gary Roberts and Ryan Malone.

Once thought a very deep team, the Penguins suddenly have lost that support that Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had just a year ago. They sorely miss Sergei Gonchar on the back line and I don't think his return is going to help them close that gap to the playoffs.

There are some coaching aspects that did affect the Penguins directly however. The power play for example was ranked 4th in the league a year ago, now it is a dismal 24th this season.

One thing is for sure, it is a good thing the Pittsburgh Steelers took the NFL championship or else the Steel Town faithful's tears it would overflow the Monongahela river.

NHL Notes
  • Even though Michel Therrien was fired, he still optimistic about the Penguins making the playoffs. Although that is Dan Bylsma's job now and his first game was a shoot out loss. In the post game interviews, you would have thought someone died.
  • The trade deadline is looming, and already the Atlanta Thrashers are in selling mode. The Thrashers dumped Mathieu Schneider to the Montreal Canadiens for some draft picks. Another Southeast Division foe that will be easier to beat.
  • Toronto Maple Leaf Tomas Kaberle is reported to have given GM Brian Burke a list of teams he would want to be traded with. The running rumor out of Toronto is Washington is on that list. Also rumors have been circling around a Duck coming to DC (among other places), J.S. Giguere has also been rumored to be moved before the deadline.
  • 2010 is only a year away, and Team Canada talk is the buzz of the hockey world north of the border. Pierre McGuire already has his picks out. No surprises that Mike Green is the Capital representative at the Winter Games even getting some pretty amazing praise: "Green has established himself as the world's best goal-scoring defenceman." World class, that's how we roll!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

"Your Best Players Have To Be Your Best Players"

Capitals 4, Panthers 2
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Mia Herald

Alex Ovechkin has a way of taking over games. Whether his chances are there all game or not. In tight games Capitals' head coach Bruce Boudreau expects his best players to be the best players on the ice. Ovechkin is one of those players and was he ever at his best when the Caps needed him the most.

Ovi gets the hattrick and Eric Fehr scores to get a goal in his last four straight games. Jose Theodore stopped some big shots, in fact he turned away 29 shots. Nick Backstrom had two assists including the game winner when he passed it from below the goalline in his own zone to a waiting Ovechkin.

After the Capitals jumped to a 2-0 lead, it seemed thing were going to go their way. But a defensive break down midway through the second and a stupid delay of game penalty that lead to a Panther power play goal early in the third and the heat was turned up. The game suddenly was tight.

After the Sergei Fedorov penalty, it looked as if the Caps could do no right. Besides a few offensive bites, they just couldn't get it going against the Panthers. What looked to be just a dumped puck by Backstrom was actually a pass to a very covered Alex Ovechkin. When Ovi took the pass and was one-on-one with Jay Bouwmeester the play looked as if was going to die. But Ovechkin pulled up and used Bouwmeester as a screen to beat Tomas Vokoun five hole.

Ovechkin's hattrick came off a clearing attempt when the Panthers pulled the goaltender for an extra attacker.

The Caps defense was brillant at times, broke down other times. Credit the Cats with a good game plan to stretch their opponents. Their speed did test the Capitals' defense, much the same game plan of the LA Kings who humbled the Caps at the phone booth. The Capitals penalty kill did let in the game tying goal, but it was perfect for the rest of the game. They took 8 penalties all together and killed seven of them.

Puckhead's Player of the game is Tom Poti who was a solid figure on the back line. Although he was on the penalty kill that let in the game tying goal, but his experience on the back line was key through out the tight checking game. He also blocked two shots and finished the game with two shots and was a +1.

Mike Green goal scoring streak came to an end. It wasn't for lack of opportunities, Green had 4 shots on net and one missed shot. Although he looked more contained in this game and he didn't jump up in the play as much as he had in previous games.

This is a huge win for the Capitals as they try to gain ground on Boston (if that is possible this late in the season) while keeping their distance to second place in the Southeast Division. The Caps wrap up their three game road trip with 5 points. Now it's home sweet home for the next five games. During that stretch they will be facing some pretty tough teams in Montreal, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Green Valentine

Capitals 5, Lightning 1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - St. Pete Times

A few names come to mind when you talk about the National Hockey League's best defensemen. Bobby Orr, Raymond Bourque, Paul Coffey and Al MacInnis just to name a few. But none of them have scored a goal in eight consecutive games. Only one has, Mike Green. The historic goal came off of his own blocked shot and beat Kari Ramo in the second period for his 22nd goal of the season and biggest goal of his career.

"It's incredible," Green told reporters following the game. "I'm playing with some of the best players in the world."

Green was soon mobbed on the ice after his goal by his teammates.

"I wasn't expecting that, but I was excited," recalled Green about his teammates joining him on-ice. "It almost brought a little tear to my eye."

He even got a little praise from the opposition. "That's a hell of a feat for him. Got to tip your hat to a kid like that," Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet told reporters.

Alex Semin started the scoring off in the first with his 21st goal of the season. Alex Ovechkin also made the score sheet with a goal. Shaone Morrisonn had his point shot find its way to the back of the net. Eric Fehr stays red hot scoring in his third consecutive game and rounding out the scoring at 5-1.

Michal Neuvirth got his first ever start in an NHL game and nearly got a shut-out in his first game. His was solid in net, turning away 31 shots for his first NHL win. Neuvirth's glove was a tough thing to beat tonight as he flashed the leather stopping some pretty intimidating shooters from the Lightning like Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis.

"What can I say? It's unreal. An unreal feeling right now," Neuvirth said. "I still can't believe that. That was my best feeling ever."

Neuvirth's dad was in attendance as well as many other players' fathers were there to celebrate including Mike Green's dad as the Caps do their annual mentors trip through the Florida road swing. Both Green and Neuvirth got the shaving cream treatment in the locker room following the game.

To be honest, this game was about a very honed team that took on a very disorganized one. The Tampa Bay Lightning just couldn't do the simple things like a break out or a line change. Any AHL team could have taken on the Bolts tonight and come out with a victory in my opinion. They were sloppy with the puck often passing right to a waiting Capital. Starting goaltender for the Lightning, Mike McKenna, didn't last long in net after giving up three goals in the first and was quickly replaced by Ramo in the second.

The Capitals defense shored up their play in this one as Staffan Kronwall got his first start of the season as a Washington Capital. He played well, strong defensively, quick on his feet and got some time on the second unit power play, not bad. Although, it was Kronwall's stick the only Lightning goal came off of, I still think he played well. The Caps defense played well overall only allowed four shots in the third, putting the kibosh on any hope of a rally by the Bolts.

Puckhead's player of the game is Sergei Fedorov. He won 80% of his face offs and was a pain for Lightning defensemen all night, picking off passes, getting into passing lanes and creating offensive opportunities off of quick transitions after pick offs. He was even credited with a blocked shot. Overall, I think he just had a great game.

A lot of good things happened for the Capitals tonight, it was their night. But now they take on a red hot Florida Panthers squad tomorrow in Sunrise, FL. Their celebrations will be short lived tonight as it's back to work tomorrow. The game is a early evening showdown with the puck being dropped at 5 pm.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thoughts On Ice Condition

I know I might be Johnny-come-lately on the topic of the ice conditions at the Verizon Center, but apparently the blogosphere is obsessed. On the heels of Tom Poti's comments, many area bloggers have made the condition of the ice at the phone booth their number one priority of griping (when your team is winning, I guess you pick on the little things).

Being a hockey player myself and playing on a plethora of ice surfaces I can tell you that it doesn't matter how good or bad the ice is, good players are still good players.

There are obviously factors involved to creating great ice and the effort of getting water to freeze at all is quite the challenge in the District of Columbia. A lot of people forget that we do live in a swamp where humidity and heat are enemies to solid forms of H2O. Not to mention a building that sees a lot of activity.

Normally, good ice for hockey is a very cold building and thinner ice. Ice that is thin and hard is perfect for speed, allowing less of the skate blade to sink in. The colder, the better because the ice is stronger, allowing a better cut for the skate blade and supporting the force needed to get up and go.

In contrast, good ice for figure skating is a warmer building and slightly thicker ice as the volume of the ice allows it to be softer and better for jumps and toe picks (enter Cutting Edge jokes here). Thicker ice is also slower.

It is a challenge to skate on poor ice. Anyone who has ever skated in a rink during a public skate knows if they catch a skate in a rut it is hard to get your skate out of it. There are basically three things you can do. 1) Ride the rut out, it eventually ends, 2) lift your foot and 3) build up your leg strength in order to skate through it. If you try to change course or if your body momentum is heading in a different direction, that is when bad things happen (i.e. groin pulls, ankle sprains, so on).

Bad ice can also create bouncing pucks as it is hard for a puck to stay flat with deep grooves and ruts. A bouncing puck always favors quicker hands. A coach told me once that the best way to play bouncing pucks is to play with bigger sticks and be a short stop. He didn't want us to actually get bigger sticks but to increase the surface area of your blade by chopping or waving your stick to stop the puck. Being a short stop simply means use your glove, arm, leg, skate, any part of your body to stop the puck, like a short stop in baseball.

Part of the problem for hockey players is they are not thinking about the ice surface. They are skating with their heads up, watching the play and reacting to the other skaters and the puck. It different than a public skate around the rink. Catching a skate in a rut when you are not expecting it can strain the muscles in your leg when you try to correct the course, especially if all you weight is on that leg (gearing up for a shot or making a turn).

Creating the ideal ice is a battle of the ambient conditions. Normally buildings like the Verizon Center are never great places to put a rink in the first place. Keeping the building's temperature is pretty hard to do with 18,000 people in it is a nightmare not to mention controlling the humidity levels. I have a hard enough problem keeping my apartment a comfortable atmosphere for my wife, I can't imagine what it is like for a building like the phone booth.

I am not here to make excuses for the condition of the ice. If we lived in a ice rink utopia, the ice would be fast and smooth, but we don't. The conditions are just going to get more complicated as we shed our winter coats for light jackets and take long walks on the national mall with out scarves. If the Capitals do make it deep in to the post season, the Verizon Center will get help from the league in order to make the ice a non factor in the playoffs.

I don't envy the job maintenance has to maintain the ice here in DC. It is hell somewhat frozen over.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kronwall's Leagal, NHL Notes

Staffan Kronwall maybe seeing some significant playing time now that his green card as gone through. Kronwall adds size and some puck moving capabilities to the Capitals' blue line. And being pulled off waivers from a team struggling in tenth place in the Eastern Conference and going through a rebuilding phase to a team that has a commanding lead in the Southeast Division is not a bad transition.

Kronwall saw some significant time on the Caps' second unit power play during practice on Tuesday. Which leads me to believe that he will play a pretty big roll on the blue line and see some significant ice time this weekend. Now With Brian Potheir getting his sea legs back, the Capitals could be looking at a 9 man defensive unit going into the trade deadline. Remember, there is no salary cap past the deadline.

However, the defensive line still looks unsure of itself. That was painfully obvious in the Ranger game when the Caps lost a one goal lead twice against a team that was struggling offensively coming into last night. Their goaltender Jose Theodore has even given the Caps some outstanding goaltending, but in return the Caps still need to be responsible on the defensive end.

NHL Notes:
  • Penguins' Sergei Gonchar has been cleared to play. That is welcome news to the Pittsburgh faithful but is it too little too late? Hey, any way I can rain on their parade, I will. The Pens are still on the outside looking in, but they are only a point away from 8th place. With a big win against San Jose, we can't count them out just yet.

  • In the Southeast Division, the battle between Florida and Carolina is red hot. Florida leads the fight with one point more than the 'Canes. But the Panthers are still 13 points from division leading Capitals. The pair play tonight and can be seen for free on Yahoo Sports. A good deal especially if you do not have Center Ice package or NHL Gamecenter Live.

  • Things in Ottawa have turned from bad to ugly. Former head coach John Paddock called out GM Bryan Murray. Per the Camden Courier-Post:
    "I think now he's [Bryan Murray] next in line. We were 14 games over .500 when I was fired. They're seven under now. Somebody needs to take responsibility for that. Whether the coaches he hired and fired were good or not, they're his players and they're either not playing good or can't play, one or the other."
    Ooo, snap!

Holy Great Gobs Of Goals By Green ... Batman

Capitals 4, Rangers 5 OT/SO
Scoresheet - Wash Post

A great thing happened in the '83 -'84 season when Boston's Mike O'Connell scored in seven straight games. It would take over twenty years for that record just to be matched. Mike Green scored a pair of goals scoring now in seven straight games tying O'Connell's record. During that seven game stretch Green has amassed 9 goals and 16 points. He can set a new NHL record against Tampa over the weekend. But the Caps can't hold off the Rangers and lose in the shootout, 5-4.

Tomas Fleischmann got the goal scoring started in the first and Eric Fehr did give the Capitals a brief 2-1 lead. In fact the Caps blew a one goal lead twice to the Rangers (and New York has had trouble scoring in their last 5 games). The game wouldn't be decided in regulation so we went to a scoreless overtime period and finished it off with a shootout.

The Capitals sorely missed Viktor Kozlov, a shoot out specialist of sorts this year for the Capitals. Actually, the line up for the shoot out was a bit perplexing to say the least. Micheal Nylander and Sergei Fedorov where the first two shooters. Really?

Nylander deke didn't do anything and Fedorov wasted his shootout effort with a 10 foot slapshot. Alex Ovechkin came in the third spot and went back to basics on the shootout. Instead of dekeing he just used his quick wrist shot to beat Henrik Lundqvist. Brooks Laich was the fourth shooter, again probably not the best choice after the efforts of Fleischmann and Fehr. I felt that they were much more deserving.

Jose Theodore played well besides the shot that beat him in the shootout. The shot rang off the crossbar and hit Theo on and bounced back in the net. I thought the rule was a shot in a shoot out could not be scored on a rebound, but that isn't the case if it bounces off the goaltender. A lesson that both Theo and I learned in this game.

The game was pretty open and there were a plethora of chances for both teams. There were two early fights, Donald Brashear and Colton Orr took up relations in the first. The fight was one of the better ones the Caps have been involved with this season and I think it came to a draw. The next drop of the puck there was another fight with Matt Bradley and Aaron Voros. The fight didn't seem necessary since the Brashear/Orr bout happen in the play before. Voros got some good shots in, giving him the edge in the second fight, although Bradley did take him down.

Fleischmann had one of his better games against the Rangers. He had a goal and an assist and finished the night a +3. He was pretty physical along the boards when he needed to be. Eric Fehr also had a good game.

The power play only had two chances and failed to come up with a goal. While the Caps are still taking bad penalties. The Caps took four penalties, including a double minor for a Shaone Morrisonn high stick, in the third period. Thus killing any offensive momentum on the Caps behalf. While the penalty killers did their job, the Caps were just too undisciplined down the stretch in a game they could have clearly won if they were not in the penalty box.

AP Photo, Kathy Willens

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Taking In A Practice

There are a few new faces at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington VA. It was time for a day trip to check out the new arrivals of Staffan Kronwall and Michal Neuvirth.

Kronwall is pretty big. When he lines up with Shaone Morrisonn or Milan Jurcina, the pair make quite the wall. At 6'3" and 209 lbs. (his stats according to, Kronwall also has pretty good hands and is known more for his puck moving ability than anything else. His speed is where it nees to be, he looks pretty healthy and ready at a new chance in Washington, DC.

Bruce Boudreau worked on the power play a bit today and Kronwall found himself on the second power play unit. It might just to get him into how the system works, but players Karl Alzner, Milan Jurcina and John Erskine didn't see time during the power play practice.

Michal Neuvirth looked pretty comfortable at practice. Besides coming up with a few good saves, he seemed to be engaging himself with the other players. Even Alex Ovechkin stopped to talk to the twenty year old. I still don't think he is as advanced as Simen Varlamov but he looked okay today at practice.

A couple of Caps were missing from practice. Alex Semin stuck around long enough to go through a drill or two before retiring to the locker room. Viktor Kozlov was a no show as he is still nursing a groin pull. Obviously Chris Clark and Brent Johnson were not on the ice because of their surgeries.

Some one who surprised me was Brian Pothier who was on the ice participating fully. Even at full speed and contact, he looked pretty good. He really wasn't showing any signs of slowing down or playing at a lower gear. He did some drills as a defenseman than jumped up to wing when Semin left.

The team mostly worked on the power play. On one particular play they were setting up, Boudreau yelled to his team, "I want three goals tomorrow on this play!" They are trying to speed up the passing and getting the forwards to move more quickly to open passing lanes. At times the play seemed to generate a golden opportunity right away, other times it took a while for them to get it right.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Neuvirth's Rise

For the first time in a long time the Washington Capitals have some significant depth at goaltender. With the Caps' farm system entrenched with prospects Simeon Varlamov, Daren Machesney and Michal Neuvirth, not all of them could play for the Caps farm team in Hershey when the '08 - '09 season started.

Michal Neuvirth was a second round pick for the Capitals in 2006. A year later he was signed to an entry level three year contract which put the prospect goaltender into the Capitals' system. But with so many goaltenders and only so many spots the Capitals had to find what to do with him.

Both Varlamov and Machesney out played Neuvirth to take the two spots in the AHL forcing the prospect to play in the ECHL with the South Carolina Stingrays. GM George McPhee had considered loaning the goaltender across the pond, but a deal just couldn't be worked out. Not long after that the Capitals goaltending situation looked a bit dire.

With Varlamov struggling to stay healthy and Jose Theodore and Brent Johnson struggling at the big club with their play and injuries, Neuvirth played some musical chairs often getting called straight from South Carolina to sit on the bench to play back up for the Capitals.

Now with injuries looking to sideline Johnny for some time and Varlamov still recovering from his hurts, Michal Neuvirth could have his NHL debut with the Washington Capitals this week. It could even happen on this three game road trip. It caps a rollercoaster year for the 20 year old goaltender that has seen Neuvirth wear three different jerseys.

He was sent down briefly to the Hershey Bears to get a start under his belt and played to a 3-2 loss. The last time the Neuvirth had seen anything similar to NHL action would be back in training camp. He was recalled, as expected, joining the Capitals as they prepare for their brief three game road trip.

Per Tarik's blog: "It's been crazy," said Neuvirth, who added it was nice to pick up some clothes from Hershey though. "If someone would have told me I'm going to be in Washington in February after starting the year in the ECHL I don't know if I would believe it."

The boyish goaltender will be thrown right into the fire if he does get a start as backup to Jose Theodore. In the preseason games, Neuvirth did look vulnerable in net due to his apprehensive play. But he has yet to play with the full starting roster for the Capitals. It will be interesting to see his technical butterfly style at work against high intense NHL games.

It's a chance of a lifetime, Neuvirth has to "Just do it."

Trade Talk - What Do The Caps Really Need?

Long time Bruin GM Harry Sinden once said of late season trades, "Moving-van trades, I call them, because the moving-van companies are the only ones that make out well. Neither team benefits." With the trade deadline looming, the Capitals may not take any of Sinden's advice and will look for some help down the stretch. But where do they need it and from who?

The first priority the Caps need to fill, in my opinion, is the lack of grit among the forward lines. Donald Brashear adds muscle and policing but you really need an agitator that can play well enough to sit on the second or third line. Last season, Matt Cooke filled that role to a tee. He was versatile enough to be used on the third and checking line as well as some penalty killing duties. We could be talking a Sean Avery-type character, but I don't think the Capitals have the patience to deal with that much character.

Who would be available? Good question. It's been a tough season for the Colorado Avalanche and Ian Laperriere could be an interesting pick there. No one would doubt Laperriere's toughness or his grit, but he also brings in Stanley Cup experience. He only has 14 points through 45 games but he is a +4 and brings in 96 PIMs. But it's too early for the Ave's to talk about being a seller as they are still only 5 points from a playoff spot.

Second priority seems to be already in the works for the Capitals and that is the unproven defensive line. With Chris Clark out, it frees up enough cap space to pull up Karl Alzner who now can be considered a top 2 or 3 defenseman for the Caps. George McPhee also picked up Staffan Kronwall off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs (which, I am sure, puts him in the good graces of Brian Burke). The Capitals could make a trade for a bigger named defenseman closer to the deadline, preferably one that adds more toughness to the blue line.

Third would be goaltending. That priority, if it is one at all, has been less and less prominent due to Jose Theodore's excellent play of late. If we were talking 3 months ago, we might be more concerned about who was in front of the cage for the Caps with Theo's numbers looking dismal and Brent Johnson was looking more like the starter than the one we were actually spending money on. JT60 is playing with a little bit more confidence and is swallowing up rebounds.

Being on the look out for a good deal will be hard. Long time St. Louis Blues defensman Bob Plager nailed it on the head when talked about how "Everybody's out to trade a row boat for a battleship." The Caps are looking to keep their prospects but improve their team at the same time.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Caps Squeak By Cats

Capitals 3, Panthers 1
Scoresheet - Wash Post - Herald

The Florida Panthers have been a dangerous team of late. They are making the push to break the playoff bubble and secure a spot above ninth in the Conference. That path takes them through the Verizon Center, a place they have already won. With a new coach and a new attitude the Cats are making that push for the coveted second place spot in the Southeast Division, a spot that they have teeter tottered with Carolina. But it's the Capitals' penalty kill that would undo that plan as the Caps edge the Cats 3-1.

Mike Green had another big night with two specialty team goals and the two biggest goals of the game. A power play tally that gave the Capitals the lead and a shorthanded, empty net goal that iced the game. Eric Fehr started the scoring with his sixth goal of the season.

Just like the game against the LA Kings, the Caps get off to a very quick start. Fehr's goal was just 33 seconds into the game. And just like the Kings game, the Panthers were quick to get that goal back. This time however, the Caps played much better on the blue line and the game quickly became a stalemate at 1-1 through two periods.

It looked as if the Caps power play was going to come up empty when the Panthers were able to to kill a double minor for high-sticking and dismantled the Caps power play on a Jassen Cullimore holding call. But when Stephen Weiss took a late penalty in the second that carried over to the third, Green was able to break that 1-1 stalemate.

The power play goal was actually a fake shot and brilliant pass by Alex Ovechkin. A Panther defender bit on the Ovi shot leaving Mike Green open with time and space. Green buried it high glove side. With the way things were progressing in the game, it looked as if that would be the final score if both teams played 5 on 5.

However, Shaone Morrisonn took a bad penalty with 5:01 left in the third period. It was a 5 minute major for checking from behind and a game misconduct. The Caps were already down a man so they had to kill off a 5 on 3 for a 1:08 and play the rest of the period killing off a major. But the Caps were able to do that even netting an empty net goal as Green threw it down to clear the zone. The Caps ended a stretch in which they have allowed an opposition powerplay goal in 13 straight games, a franchise record.

Green gets snuffed from getting a game star for Jose Theodore (number one star) and Dave Steckel (number two star). Tomas Vokoun was the game's third star. Green's efforts gives him goals in six straight games and is one goal shy of leading the league with power play goals. Not sure who was giving out the game stars for the game, but they did Green a big disservice.

The Capitals penalty kill is the puckhead player(s) of the game. The Caps spent nearly one third of the third period a man down. The kill was able to get the job done against a team that has been making a push to the playoffs and treated this game as a playoff game. They deserve a pat on the back for their efforts.

AP Photo, Nick Wass

Friday, February 06, 2009

Defense Is The Problem

The Washington Capitals did not sit back after one of the poorest defensive efforts by the Caps this season. They recalled Karl Alzner and picked up Staffan Kronwall off waivers today from Toronto.

Kronwall may just be a replacement for Alzner in Hershey. He has battled trying to stay in the NHL only to play the tug of war between the AHL and the big club. He was drafted by the Maple Leafs in '02, a ninth round pick. Kronwall doesn't really add any grit for the Caps, something I think they need a little more of. He is known more for his puck moving ability and is a good assist man. He also has had some injury woes that has set him back some.

Alzner makes the jump back to the big club as there were some very apparent holes in the Capitals' defense Thursday night against LA. Alzner should shore up a pourous defense that allowed too many break out chances to their opposition.

Trades may not be too far off the horizon either with the deadline looming. The Caps will be looking for either better defense or more grit for the third and checking lines.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Too Little, Too Late

Capitals 4, Kings 5
Scoresheet - Wash Post

The story of the Capitals' season seems to be their inability to beat the teams they should be able to especially in situations that favor their strengths. Playing to the level of their competitors, the Capitals started on the right foot by scoring just 14 seconds into the game. But that is were the bright spots for the Capitals end. The Kings take advantage of some poor defense to shock the Caps at home 5-4.

Alex Ovechkin finally has his goal against the Los Angeles Kings, leaving only the San Jose Sharks as the only team Ovi has yet to score against (Winnipeg Jets and Quebec Nordic jokes aside). While it was his first agianst the Kings, it was his 200th NHL goal for his career. Putting him in the in the top four of elite players to score 200 or more goals in their first four years in the league. A list that includes Mario Lemieux, Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy.

Alex Semin scored on a early Kings break down in defense. Mike Green also scored in his fifth straight game and Brooks Laich was credited with a late goal to pull within one with just a minute left in the game. But their late efforts were futile as Jonathan Quick was clearly the game's best player. Jose Theodore played great, but he can not beexpect to stop all the break away chances the Kings were able to get away with.

Besides the first game of the season, this was the worst defensive outing by the Capitals. The Kings were able to exploit the Capitals on turnovers after several Capitals were unable to get the puck deep. The score could have easily been 8-2 by the third period as the Caps defense were just too overwhelmed by the Kings' speed and quick transistion game.

Eric Fehr was one of several Capitals that had a hard time tonight. Fehr was doing some first line duty in this game but his key turn overs led to more than a few break out chances for LA. It wasn't his best night.

The defensive core in general had a bad night. Far too many defensive break downs may give GM George McPhee cause to look for help on the blue line at the trade deadline. Jeff Schultz was badly out skated in this tilt, beaten to an icing touch. Shaone Morrisonn just couldn't stay out of the penalty box for one reason or another. Green sometimes overstayed his shift allowing the Kings to overcome his play on the defensive end. If you are tired, it is harder to be an effective defenseman. John Erskine just lost track of players behind him. Milan Jurcina seemed to get hit more than being hit.

The Caps took two bad penalties on the penalty kill that forced a 5 on 3 with significant time. Bruce Boudreau has already stressed the importance of playing a more disciplined game, but that reasoning seemed to be thrown out the window against the Kings. The Caps have now allowed a powerplay goal against in a franchise record 13th straight game. They also allowed a short handed goal against completing the collapse of their special teams play.

In the end the Caps fail to gain any ground on Boston who won against Ottawa in a shootout. The Caps struggles against the western conference continues, even if it's a team that is on the playoff bubble. A team the Caps should be having little trouble with.

Puckhead player of the game is tough one to pick, but Jose Theodore played well despite the bad situations his defensive core put him in.

AP Photo, Nick Wass

29 Down, One Team To Go

Halfway through the third period, Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal ... against Los Angeles. Actually, the even strength goal is Ovi's 200th career NHL tally. The only other team Ovechkin has yet to score against is San Jose.

The team, at the moment, still trails the game by a goal.

Update (9:34 pm): Caps end up losing to the Kings ... again. Final score 5-4. PHT recap to follow soon.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

More On The Win At The Rock

Some further thoughts on the game last night.

Viktor Kozlov left the game after the first nursing what a team official called a groin tweak. Kozlov did leave without a limp and Bruce Boudreau kept him out of the last two periods as a precaution.

The Caps power play was good and bad at the same time. The Devils did an excellent job of frustrating the Capitals with the extra man. They had possession problems as the Devils were able to keep the puck for long stretches during the power play. While the problems seemed shadowed by the three goals on the power play. It seemed when the Caps are more pressured to score, they do.

Eric Fehr is making the most of his new found ice time. With Chris Clark out for the remainder of the season, Fehr has no choice but to pick up his game. But he has to start burying his chances and turn shots into goals. From the Detroit game to now, Fehr has scored in the past three games, but his chances far outnumber his goals. I am hoping that changes with time and more ice time under his belt.

Alex Ovechkin recorded only one shot on the net, a season low. The Devils seemed to do a good job of isolating him and clamping down on his explosive speed and his quick shot. But they couldn't contain Ovi entirely as the left winger had two helpers. Ovechkin also seemed to play a better defensive game against the Devils, back checking to break up odd man rushes.

When the star players for the Washington Capitals get suffocated by a good defense, shots seemed to come from unlikely sources. Ovechkin and Alex Semin were held to only 3 shots, one for Ovi, 2 for Semin. Brooks Laich, however, was bathing in shots getting 6. He had a goal and an assist on the night.

The last time Micheal Nylander had a multiple goal outing for the Capitals was December 29th, 2007. Nylander's play seemed to improve since he was a healthy scratch. He did seemed to be uncomfortable with the snub, but his offensive production has picked up including the two goals last night.

Micheal Neuvirth sat on the bench backing up Jose Theodore. He was recalled after Brent Johnson aggravated an injury. Johnsons's injury woes and Theo's solid play had made Jose the number one goaltender for the Capitals. Theo's play in this game was pretty good. Many of his saves seemed routine, even though a lot of them were not. It is a good sign to see a goaltender not allowing many rebounds. Right now it looks like JT60 is swallowing up shots and is looking more focused and more comfortable in net.

The Capitals canceled practice today, they just need the rest. The Caps go through a tough February with virtually a game every other day. Rest is something this team has to cherish. With a big win over the Devils, they earned the day off.

Tonight, Donny Brashear, Nick Backstrom and NHL diversity director Willie O'Ree will be at Fort Dupont Ice Rink in DC. Also Los Angeles King Wayne Simmonds will be in attendance as they visit the oldest minority hockey program in the United States.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Caps Cool Devils

Capitals 5, Devils 2
Scoresheet - Wash Post

Micheal Nylander's second stint in Washington could be something of a enigma. After coming off his successes in New York, Nylander's effort as a Capital has been that of marginal at best. His injury that kept him sidelined for a majority of last season seemed to keep him on the outside looking in. When he did make a return, it still seemed as if he just didn't fit. But you can't deny the skills Nylander has for too long. Maybe facing a former rival in the Devils got his blood boiling as Nylander scores a pair to help the Caps cool down a red hot New Jersey Devils 5-2.

Beside Nylander's tallies, the Caps also got key goals from Mike Green (who now has goals in four straight), Eric Fehr also scored and Brooks Laich got a power play goal. Alex Ovechkin added a pair of assists and Jose Theodore played solid making 32 saves. The Caps had 5 players with two points in tonight's tilt (Nylander 2 goals, Green a goal and an assist, Fehr a goal and an assist, Laich a goal and an assist, Ovi two assists).

A lot could be said about the Devils eight game winning streak and how they may have been ripe for a loss, but the Capitals approached this game as a playoff challenge. The Devils came out a bit sluggish as apparent by trailing early 3-0. When they finally found their grove against the Caps it may have been a bit too little, too late.

Special teams was the story of the game for the Caps as they came away with three power play goals. In fact, the Caps were only stopped once on the powerplay, the very powerplay that the Devils scored shorthanded. While the Caps were deadly with a man advantage, the penalty kill was okay. They did allow a power play goal on a 5 on 3, but were able to kill off everything else.

If the Capitals keep up their power play fortunes, teams will have to watch what they do against the Capitals offence. That should open up the play for them and allow them to be more dominating with the puck. It just makes it that much harder to stop the Capitals' offensive machine.

The Caps get a monster win that they really needed. The win solidifies their second place standing in the East. With Boston playing the way they are, the Caps are going to need every point they can grasp. That means this team needs to flat out win.

Photo by Jim McIsaac, Getty Images

Monday, February 02, 2009

Clark Could Be Gone For The Year

George McPhee confirmed that Chris Clark could be done for the year. Clark has had a nagging wrist injury he has had since training camp. The injury will likely require surgery which will take some significant time to recover from. That would mean Clarkie is done for the year.

Clark had to finish last season early with a groin strain that took a majority of the off season to heal. His return to the lineup some how made the Capitals whole, now there is just a hole where the Capitals' captain should be.

"Clark is our captain," Bruce Boudreau said as he fielded questions after practice at Kettler. "There's no controversy there. When he gets healthy, he'll come back and be our captain."

McPhee hasn't committed to making any moves as of yet according to Tarik via the Capital Insider blog. There is room to bring up Karl Alzner if they wanted if Clark goes on the LTIR (long term injured reserve), but it looks as if McPhee might just wait. The likely-hood of another forward will be more likely.

Bring On Detroit Fans, I Don't Care

While a lot of Capitals' fans are getting annoyed at all the Detroit Red Wings fans in attendance at the game Saturday afternoon. Peppered through out the stands were the faithful of the red and white cheering on their team. It seemed to upset some fans prompting a response by Caps' owner Ted Leonsis. Per Ted's Take:
We didn’t sell any group tickets to any fan clubs from Detroit. We didn’t sell any tickets to any travel agencies from Detroit either.
We didn’t have to since we were sold out with fans from our own community. My goal is to start next season with 14,000 season tickets sold!

What I do see happening though now is this: Many season ticket holders are now selling off some key games against big rivals on ticket exchange services. They get a huge markup on their tickets that helps defray the cost of tickets for the rest of the season.

There were about 5 rows in front of me where there are usually a large group of season ticket holders that had sold their tickets to local Detroit fans. I may have to find a way to get first right of refusal on resell of our seats. :-)

Many fans that were rooting for Detroit are actually our season ticket holders. They are happy Caps fans and loyal customers and they root for the Caps always except when we play Detroit. When we sell out the bottom and top bowl, the club seats go on sale via Washington Sports and some of those tickets get sold as groups or online to Detroit fans.

It is obvious that we have made progress. Perhaps ten percent of the arena was rooting for Detroit at yesterday’s game. I won’t rest until we have 100 percent Caps fans in our building but I admire what Detroit has built in terms of fan loyalty. Thank you Caps fans for being loud and proud. We are building a Hockeytown right here in DC.

While it's been annoying to have those fans sitting next to you at the Verizon Center when the Caps were struggling, it is a tad more entertaining when the Caps winning. Much like it was on Saturday. When the Red Wings scored, we saw the normal yelling and hooting from the Detroit faithful. But when the Caps scored, especially Alex Ovechkin's first goal in the third, the look on their faces was picture perfect.

When Ovechkin scored on the power play to put the Caps up by two, it was even more fun to tease those red and white jerseys right out of the building. "Beat the traffic, beat, beat the traffic!" If the Capitals keep winning at the phone booth, I will take those opposing fans any day of the week.

To see those Detroit Fans not only leave disappointed that their team lost, they had to put up with Caps fans teasing and in a happy mood. That is worth the price of admission. It should be a warning for any opposing team's fans who decide to take a game in at Verizon Center, there is a good chance your team is going to lose and that $200 bucks you spent on a $90 ticket really wasn't worth it, was it?

So bring on the Detroit fans, the Penguins fans, Ranger fans, Carolina fans, Flyer fans. We can handle them, and they are just going to go home hurt and broke. Uncle Ted, your warning and actions are not really needed, we can handle them. Just like the Caps can handle any opposing team that takes to the phone booth's ice.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Afternoons Are Alright By The Capitals

Capitals 7, Senators 4
Scoresheet - Wash Post

The Ottawa Senators were able to beat the Capitals in their previous meeting with three power play goals. Bruce Boudreau thought the Capitals took too many penalties, commenting that three penalties were all the Capitals could really afford in any game. The Caps were called for six, but this time only allowed one goal with a man down, including killing a 23 second 5 on 3. Meanwhile the Capitals own power play was lethal, scoring on the first two power play within just 4 or less seconds with the man advantage. Special teams hurt the Caps at Scotiabank Place, but it helped at home as the Caps rip the Senators 7-4.

Alex Ovechkin was in the zone scoring a hat trick and could have had more. All this from a player that doesn't really enjoy these early games. When asked about whether he liked the afternoon affair, Ovechkin gave a simple answer. "No," He simply stated. In the past two games, both in the afternoon, Ovi has 5 goals. His three goals today were two even strength tallies and a power play goal.

Mike Green had a spectacular afternoon netting a goal and playmaker (three assists). He was the only Capital with four points and one of his assists was Superbowl inspired lob that bounced right onto Alex Semin's stick who broke in for a pretty back hand goal for his 19th tally of the year. Eric Fehr also got on the scoresheet who was due for a goal after his preformance in the past two games. Nick Bacstrom scored an empty netter to put the cherry on top.

It wasn't a total domination. The Capitals put up a 6-2 lead at the end of the second period, but allowed the Senators to pull within two early in the third. "It's hard to keep the momentum going when you've got a team down 6-2," Boudreau told reporters following the game.

The Caps seemed to let up some and the Senators tried to save face. This is not girls high school basketball, it's professional sports and let up is not an option. If the Caps were able to let the Sens back into the game, we would be talking about the utter meltdown of the Caps play rather than Ovi's heroics and Mike Green's assist show.

Nick Backstrom and Sergei Fedorov also played really well. For Backstrom he had a goal and two assists, while Fedorov had a playmaker himself. Both moved the puck very well against a pourous Senators' defense.

After a bit of a slump Jeff Schultz finally had a solid game. In the past three or so games Schultz has been having a hard time moving the puck up on the break out. In this game he was a +4 (the next highest Capital was a +2) and had himself an assist.

Jose Theodore took the day off in favor of Brent Johnson who played okay. He came up with some pretty big saves especially on the penalty kill. He was able to gobble up 34 saves for his 11th win of the season. In fact both goaltenders for the Capitals are sporting winning records with Johnson's 11-6-2 record and Theo's 18-9-2 record.

If the Capitals are thinking of chasing down Boston, they are going to need some help from the rest of the league because Boston is on a tear right now. They won today to keep ahead of the Caps by 12 points. The Caps were able to over take the Devils to regain second in the Conference, but the games don't get any easier for the Caps. The Caps will face the New Jersey Devils at the Rock for their next game. The caps can solidfy their second place ranking or give up the ranking to the Devils.

AP Photo, Evan Vucci

Boudreau Not Afraid To Mix It Up

The Capitals found themselves in an unique position coming into the game with the Detroit Red Wings, they had a full line up. Not since November 6th have the Capitals played with their opening night roster. It didn't look as it were the right time for Bruce Boudreau to start mixing up the lines just before taking on the defending Stanley Cup Champions, but it was.

The top line featured the Russian trio Alex Semin, Sergei Fedorov and Alex Ovechkin. Boudreau obviously wanted his firepower known on the front line. But this line would be broken up for another Russian trio in the third period.

Nick Backstrom dropped to the second line with Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann. Backstrom's play has been stagnate of late, perhaps a line demotion would spark something for him. While Eric Fehr's promotion to the second line seemed to get him more chances to score.

Third line consisted of veterans Viktor Kozlov, Micheal Nylander and a demoted Brooks Laich. The last scoring line is sort of a left overs line that bumped both Kozlov and Laich down. And the checking line is pretty much the old staple of Donald Brashear, Dave Steckel and Matt Bradley.

The power play and penalty kill lineups pretty much stayed the same.

During the course of the game, Semin was demoted to the third line after taking yet another bad penalty late in the second period that lead to a game tying power play goal for the Red Wings. Kozlov made the jump up to the top line and it was his pass that was behind Ovi that lead to a pretty game winning goal.

Boudreau's mixing the lines seemed to stir the pot for the Capitals. It seemed to work as the Caps beat the slumping Detroit Red Wings who have now lost their last five games.

  • Looking back at the replay of the third period, both delay of game penalties actually weren't. Brooks Laich clearing attempt actually was a deflection after Brian Rafalski got his stick on Laich's when he cleared. Tom Poti's delay of game penalty was directly off a Dan Cleary's stick. Two phantom calls that the Capitals were able to overcome.

  • Detroit's head coach Mike Babcock downplayed Ovechkin's effort against his team. "When you think of dominating a game, I don’t think Ovi did that tonight. They pay him to score and that’s what he did at the end." That's adding a bit of fuel to the fire.

  • There were a lot of red and white Wing's jerseys at the phone booth, but they were quickly drowned out after Ovechkin's game winning goal. A long time Capitals' season ticket holder was seen wearing a Detroit sweater and cheering for the visiting team. When we asked her why she was suddenly a Red Wing fan she looked at us annoyed and said she was always a Red Wings fan. Which a friend of mine retorted, "You are buying tickets in the wrong building." She didn't talk to us for the rest of the game.