Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bears Draw First Blood In OT

The Hershey Bears came back from a 3-1 Manitoba Moose lead to eventually take the lead in the third period 4-3 with under five minutes left in the game. But the Moose tie the game and the Bears are forced to kill a 5 on 3 in the waning moments of the game to send it to overtime.

Alexandre Giroux is the game one hero as he scores not only a hattrick on the game, but the overtime game winner off of a Tyler Sloan shot from the point. The rebound bounce right to a waiting Giroux and the Bears defeat the Moose 5-4.

In a thrilling game one, the Moose were able to get some great break away chances as the Bears' defense scrambled. If they didn't score, Manitoba was able to draw penalties.

Highlights of the game can be found here.

Oh, and the Red Wings take a game one victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a little thing called the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not as important, but I thought I should mention it.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Moose and Bears Are Set For Finals

Waiting for the Capitals franchise to turn this:Into this:
For the first time in nearly ten years in the AHL, the number one teams from their respective conferences end up in the finals. The Bears and Moose have both finished the regular season atop of their Conferences and now will battle it out for the Calder Cup. The Moose lead the league in defense with only 188 goals against, while Hershey lead the league in scoring with 296. The contrast for these two teams should make for an interesting series.

While it is only the first ever Finals appearance by Manitoba, Hershey will compete for the 21st time in AHL's history and will be looking for their tenth championship. Hershey won the Calder Cup in '06 and was runner up in '07. Their appearance in the finals for a third time in four seasons is the first in the AHL since Rochester did it in the early nineties.

The series that starts tonight, the same night the Stanley Cup finals start. Micheal Neuvirth will be the starting goaltender for the Bears. He has been brilliant thus far in the post season with a 2.03 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. His counterpart is Cory Schneider for the Moose, he has posted similar numbers in the post season with the same 2.03 GAA and a .924 save percentage.

The Bears have only four returning players that were on the team that won the Calder Cup in 2006, Graham Mink, Chris Bourque, Tyler Sloan and Dean Arsene. Bryan Helmer won the Calder Cup as a second year pro with the Albany River Rats in 1995. He also skated for the Manitoba Moose from 2001 to 2003 and ranks seventh all time in career AHL playoff games played with 111.

The Hershey Bears have ranked first in the league in attendance for the regular season, while the Manitoba Moose rank first in attendance for the post season. For the people in Winnipeg, this series is a big deal.

"This is the Super Bowl to them," Voice of the Bears John Walton said on his blog. "We had more media requests this morning from Manitoba than Hershey, and we hold our own pretty well here when it comes to media coverage. I was told yesterday that one of the local papers up there is planning a 20-PAGE pullout section Saturday to mark the opening of the Finals. What NHL team heading into the Stanley Cup Final outside of Toronto or Montreal would ever get something like that?"

John Walton also has pictures up on his blog from Manitoba on the Bears excursion thus far.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Capitals Work Quickly To Douse Steroid Flames

When a report came out that a steroid seller in Lakeland Florida sold substances to players in the Washington Capitals, they Caps did what they do best; they went on the offense.

The Caps released a statement early in the afternoon and players were quick to shoot down the allegations. Pending any real proof, the Capitals seemed to have their affairs in order from the top of the organization to the players themselves.

"We're not worried because I don't think any of our guys have done it or have tested positive for it," Brooks Laich told Tarik on his blog. "[One,] the last two seasons we've been tested three times each, which is the maximum allowed. Two, we're not worried because he hasn't specified whether it was 10 years ago. He said he's been selling for 10-plus years. He just threw a name out there and knew the media was going to run with it."

The man who made those allegations is sitting in a Polk County jail tonight on ten counts of steroid possession with intent to distribute, ten counts of importing illegal steroids and one count of maintaining a residence for drug sales. He also had a number of assault rifles and weapons that were seized in their residence.

"Richard Thomas told Sheriff's narcotics detectives when he was asked if he had sold steroids to professional athletes, 'Name the sport - if they played it, I sold it,'" a Polk County Sheriff's report claimed. "Then Richard Thomas went further and specifically mentioned two professional sports teams from the Washington D.C. area whose players he had sold steroids to - the DC Nationals baseball team, and the Washington Capitals hockey team."

But the Caps were quick to deny the charges starting with a radio interview with Donald Brashear. Brash was scheduled to be on the Big O and Dukes show on WJFK 106.7 FM as a guest before the story broke. He was quick to deny any knowledge of the allegations.

"I would really doubt it," Brashear responded to a questions on whether he thought there were any Capitals that were doping. "I mean, I would really doubt it. I don't know. It's a tough position; it's hard to say, I mean, maybe there is and we don't know the ones that are doing it. They wouldn't necessarily tell us."

The NHL does drug testing on players three times a year and they are unannounced tests. Recently Mike Green told the Washington Post about the experience. Players must pee in a cup in the presence of the testers. Because of the randomness of the tests, players play it safe.

"If someone was doing it, he would come in at the end of the summer looking huge," Laich was quoted on the Washington Post blog. "And you would have already written a story about it, 'Jeez, he looks great. Look how big and fast he is.' But by midseason, he would have shrunk down again because we have testing. There hasn't been any of that. So as far as I'm concerned, it's just a rumor and it doesn't concern any of our present guys."

The Caps released a statement by Dick Patrick, the Capitals President. He was quick to dismiss the charges.

“We have no reason to believe there is any merit to this story, but the National Hockey League and the Washington Capitals take all such allegations seriously," Patrick said in a statement. "Capitals players have fully participated in the NHL’s random drug testing program, and at no point has a Capitals player tested positive."

Capitals' owner Ted Leonsis also responded to the allegations on his blog:

"I hope you all understand that while there is research and investigating going on that we will have to be silent as we cooperate and hope to exonerate our team and players from these allegations. Thank you for understanding."

The Caps jumped on the story quickly and for the moment control the debate on the issue. But a long investigation will proceed these statements, made both by law officials as well as the NHL will look into the allegations. Bill Daly, Deputy Commissioner for the NHL released a statement.

“Even though there are no specifics provided in the story and we have no reason, at this point, to believe the allegations are true," the statement read. "The National Hockey League takes all matters of this nature very seriously and will conduct a prompt investigation.”

It will take time to sort out the charges. Answers may not come until deep into next season.

Report Links Caps And Steroids, Updated

A report out of Florida has linked steroids with the Washington Capitals and Nationals. A couple was arrested in Florida with $200,000 worth if illegal steroids late last night. The story is still developing. The report is out of Lakeland Florida.

Polk County Sheriffs arrested Richard and Susan Thomas on ten counts of steroid possession with intent to distribute, ten counts of importing the drugs and one count of maintaining a residence for drug sales.

The sheriff department issued the following statement:
"Richard Thomas told Sheriff's narcotics detectives when he was asked if he had sold steroids to professional athletes, 'Name the sport - if they played it, I sold it.' Then Richard Thomas went further and specifically mentioned two professional sports teams from the Washington D.C. area whose players he had sold steroids: to the DC Nationals baseball team, and the Washington Capitals hockey team. While he stated to detectives that he sold steroids to professional athletes on those teams, he did not mention any specific players' names."

The Capitals released a statement this afternoon in response:
“We have no reason to believe there is any merit to this story, but the National Hockey League and the Washington Capitals take all such allegations seriously. Capitals players have fully participated in the NHL’s random drug testing program, and at no point has a Capitals player tested positive. In addition our players have been tested at international events, such as World Championships and Olympics. We welcome and will fully cooperate with the NHL’s investigation.”

Dick Patrick, President Washington Capitals

And the NHL has also weighed in:
“The Washington Capitals have no knowledge of any aspect of this allegation. Capitals players were subjected to no-notice testing three times in each of the past two seasons pursuant to the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and there was no indication of any improper conduct or wrongdoing.

“Even though there are no specifics provided in the story and we have no reason, at this point, to believe the allegations are true, the National Hockey League takes all matters of this nature very seriously and will conduct a prompt investigation.”

Bill Daly, NHL deputy commissioner

No specific players were named in the report from either the Nats or the Caps. Donald Brashear was on Big O and Dukes radio show on WJFK 106.7FM. Tarik has a rough transcript of his reaction to the allegations on his blog.

Corey Masisak got hold of a couple of players for some comments. Both Eric Fehr and former Capital Steve Eminger have witnessed any wrong doing in the Capitals' dressing room.

Regaining Some Offense

There is a good chance the NHL will lower the salary cap for teams in '09 - '10 season. For those teams up against the ceiling it will be tough to put a competitive team on the ice for the campaign. The Capitals are one of those teams that are up against that level. But there will be some reprieve for them if Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov make the move across the pond.

That also leaves room for younger (and cheaper) talent a chance to crack the lineup. The newbies would have to replace 24 goals and 50 assists. That is the total offense of both Kozlov and Fedorov in regular season play. And the Caps do have some talent that could help in that regard.

Oskar Osala is one of those players that had a good year in the AHL. Osala, 6'4" 220 lbs., is a big kid that uses his size well. He was good for 23 goals and 14 assists in regular season play. His entry contract is a tad cheaper than the paychecks for Fedorov, but he still has to prove he is NHL material.

Another young prospect that could help replace the two Russians is Chris Bourque. Bourque had 21 goals and 52 assists for the regular season in Hershey, and like Osala saw some time up with the Capitals. Bourque has tried to break the line up for now four seasons and time is a factor for him (if his size isn't a hinderence already). But he has been a producer in the playoffs for the the Bears. In the post season he has accumulated only 4 goals, but has 14 assists.

There are others that can come in and make some noise if the Capitals chose to resign them. Alex Giroux is a UFA in the off season, but was Hershey's top scorer with 60 goals and 37 assists. He had his chances with the Capitals but only scored one goal and one assist in 12 games when called up to the big club.

Keith Aucoin has a year left on his contract and came in second in the scoring race behind Giroux. He mounted 25 goals and 71 assists and also saw some time with the Capitals. Aucoin is an energy guy who played well when he was called up.

The Caps will bring a few new faces into the fold for training camp in Anton Gustafsson and Jake Hauswirth. This will be the first time we will see Gustafsson at Capitals training camp since he was drafted by the Capitals a year ago. Hauswirth had a good rookie camp last year.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back On The Block

A plethora of issues have crept up on Washington Capitals fans, it's too hard to ignore for some one that is on a mini vacation. Some of it is good, some bad. All of it can and will change the face of the Capitals in the future.

First, the reports of Sergei Fedorov signing a two year contract with a team in the KHL for next season. The last time I saw Feds was at Kettler Iceplex's pro shop last week where he was purchasing $1400 worth of Caps' jerseys with his name on them and a few Caps' pucks. They must be cheaper here than in the father land. I asked Feds when he was heading home, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Sometime next week."

Fedorov had made several comments on break down day that he would like to re-up with the Caps for another year. So this signing seems to be out of right field (if it has much merit at all). But he also takes up a huge chunk of the salary cap, and his presence this season was good for only a handful of key plays to help his squad. There have also been reports of Viktor Kozlov returning home to play as well, even though he too has mentioned to reporters that he would like to return.

Second, the Caps signed today some good talent in Jake Hauswirth. We have already done our research on him (ironically the same article included the resigning of Fedorov, weird). Hauswirth played last season at Michigan Tech, a school his father attended. Hauswirth will attend training camp in August.

The Caps also have signed Anton Gustafsson just after Game seven against the Penguins to an entry level contract. Both will be at the Caps training camp in a few short months.

Thirdly, there may be a shuffling of bench bosses as the future of Assistant Coach Jay Leach is still in question. Leach may not return next year to be behind the bench for the Capitals, while his cohort, Dean Evason, resigned for another year with the club. Leach, the defensive coach probably took the loss against the Penguins the hardest as his defensive squad was embarrassed in game 7.

Lastly, one time Capital Peter Zezel was reported as near death at a Toronto hospital as he was taken off life support. At only 44 years old, Zezel is being treated for haemolytic anaemia, a rare disorder in which red blood cells are destroyed faster than the body can replace them. Zezel played 20 games with the Capitals in 1990 when they traded Geoff Courtnall with St. Louis. He was traded to Toronto for Al Iafrate.

Good to be back.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Some Time Off

I am going to be taking some time away from updating the blog for now. It's been a great season and an emotional playoffs. I just need a little time to recharge the batteries before I get into off season mode.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Higher Bar Has Been Set

Getting to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs really was not the goal of the Capitals. If it was, why be in this tournament in the first place. But the expectation to take that next step for this team has been taken. Making the second round the Capitals did meet their expectation level, even if they feel they could have (and should have) gone farther.

"We're very close to being a good team and maybe all it is is a little bit more maturity in some areas and I think we'll be able to make that step," Bruce Boudreau said. "I believe next year, I would be very disappointed if we weren't in the final four."

What may be more painful than a game seven let down, was the two games to none lead the Capitals enjoyed earlier in the series against Pittsburgh. They had the Penguins frustrated and making mistakes. Besides a few key saves, Marc-Andre Fleury was ripe for the picking. The Caps were scoring goals, they were making strides against a very good team. But they just couldn't translate it into some wins.

"It's good steps for us for sure," Alex Ovechkin said. "We take the good experience and take the bad experience. We can't play like we played when we got a lead 2-0. We have to make a little bit more push and everybody now knows we were so close, but close is not good enough."

Now the Caps have some motivation. And they will have some key returning players. Mike Green, Tom Poti, John Erskine and Brian Pothier are all still under contract for next year for the defense. The Caps will keep Ovi, Alex Semin, Micheal Nylander, Nick Backstrom, captain Chris Clark, Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley, Tomas Fleischmann and Dave Steckel.

There is still quite a bit of work to do for the off season. Key players that could be lost are Viktor Kozlov, Sergei Fedorov and Donald Brashear who are unrestricted free agents this off season. Shaone Morrisonn and Milan Jurcina with restricted free agent status for the summer.

Kozlov would be the biggest loss as he shared time on the top line and some chemistry with Ovi. His size and stick handling skills seemed to create offense deep in the offensive zone for the Caps. Kozzy racked only 13 goals and 41 points for the regular season and struggled with injuries through out the year.

Another big loss could be Morrisonn on the back end. While he hasn't set the world ablaze on the blue line, Mo had put together a solid season and had good games in both post season series with his defensive play. Morrisonn is a restricted free agent this summer, but the Caps are so deep in defensemen he might be one of the sacrificial lambs for younger talent.

The Caps have plenty of good things down the pipeline. Defenseman Karl Alzner, goaltender Micheal Neuvirth and forward Oskar Osala makes for a bright tomorrow. The tough choice is who to replace to give their younger talent a chance. It should be a very active off season for George McPhee.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

More Questions Than Answers

The Washington Capitals complete collapse in game seven was a story of injury and fatigue. The Capitals insist that injuries were not the reason for the series break down with the Penguins. But now that the reports become more clear on who was hurt and how many were hurt. It raises more questions.

Based on several reports, as many as seven Capitals were playing with injuries. Included in that list are Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Mike Green, Tom Poti, and John Erskine, to name a few. If they are not going to use injuries as an excuse, than why play those players when they were clearly not effective against a high powered offense like the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Green, who did not score a goal in this series, has been less than stellar since his run-in with the boards in game five in the Rangers series. But his ice time increased since his injury and his ineffectiveness. When the Caps have been the deepest they have been in years, especially in defense, why not give Karl Alzner a look. Or play Tyler Sloan who had two good games against these Penguins. Sloan sat out the last three games for injured John Erskine.

I can understand why Ovechkin has to be in the line up, and to some extent Semin. But for seven players to limp through the a series against a very good team is almost selfish. Which makes sense the way the Caps were playing through the 2 and a half periods, they were disconnected, not feeding off of one another and passes were less than crisp.

The Penguins took full advantage of a team that was struggling just to show up to the rink. Why was there not a decision to bring up more players from Hershey to replace injured souls? When a hockey player is hurting, they don't do the right things for the full 60 minutes. They cut corners to save energy, they misread plays, lose focus and get routed in an all important game seven.

If you have a two game series lead and blow the next three games, why not use your depth?

The Capitals took today off and will address the media tomorrow, hopefully to answer that and many more questions.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Capitals 2, Penguins 6
Scoresheet - Times - Post

The Pittsburgh Penguins dominance finally caught up with the Capitals and their rookie goaltender. Out shot for the seventh game in a row, the Caps just could not keep the dam from breaking and they end their season in one of their worst games of the entire season. It's not exactly how the Caps envisioned game seven, in their building with some momentum from game six. But they end up getting routed 6-2.

Alex Ovechkin and Brooks Laich both scored for the Capitals. But there wasn't much good to talk about any of the players performances. Ovi had a early first period breakaway that was stonewalled by Marc-Andre Fleury who came up with the only hard save of the night to keep the game tied. But after the 8 minute mark of the first period, the Capitals could do no right.

"Every time we touched the puck it would explode," Brian Pothier said. "Every time they touched the puck it was a goal. It was just crazy, you have these nights in the regular season, but I have never seen this in the playoffs in a game seven."

It is a terrible way for the Caps to end their season. When everything looked as if it were on the up and up, a two game series lead on the Pens, the Caps crash and burn. They played 14 games in just two rounds. They certainly will not use it as an excuse, or go into detail, but their top performers were hurt.

At his post game press conference Bruce Boudreau was asked if Mike Green was hurt. "Yup." And Ovi? "Yup."

When asked why Green didn't play in the third, Boudreau chalked it up to his poor play. "He puts too much pressure on himself," Boudreau said. Green would finish this series with out a goal, and was a minus three for tonight's game (the Caps' worst).

"You've got to be ready every night," Boudreau said. "It's the playoffs, and if you put yourself in position like this, eventually you're not going to win games."

The Capitals really can't call the end to their season, as a whole, a disappointment. To be routed at home in game seven is a hard pill to swallow, but the Caps have had more than enough to celebrate than be discouraged by for their '08-'09 campaign.

"We made it further than we did last year," Chris Clark said. "We're one step closer to where we want to be, obviously it's disappointing not to get to the next round."

Semyon Varlamov definitely looked human, although the Caps didn't give him much protection. Forwards didn't back check and the defensemen continued to make poor reads on the Penguins' offense. When the Pens opened the scoring early in the second to make it 3-0, Boudreau said Varly's attitude looked "deflated" and considered taking him out then. But after the fourth goal, "It took the wind out of his sails," said Boudreau.

Jose Theodore, who had been shelved since his rocky start in the New York series came in relief. He would allow another two goals after a bad defensive series in front of him and the other on a Sidney Crosby break away after all four penalty killers were caught in deep in the Pens' zone.

The Caps had to deal with the Pens excellent puck control. As the game wore on the Penguins would not relent. The Caps just had to take their lumps and kiss their season good-bye. The Pens came in to the phone booth and did what they had to do.

Needless to say the mood in the locker room following the loss was one of shock (almost disbelief) and deflation. The players that did address the media following the game were Ovi, Pothier, Clark, Tom Poti, Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley. Ovechkin actually stayed in his locker stall and answered every one of the reporters' questions as did Pothier and Clark.

The Penguins deserve a ton of credit as well. They came out ready to play. Crosby had a pair of goals, while Fleury came up with the saves he needed. Their forecheck was relentless all night. That was a product of their focus and hard work.

I caught up with Tyler Kennedy in the hallway and asked if they had any preference of either Boston or Carolina in the next round.

"It doesn't matter," Kennedy said. "They are all good teams from here on out."

The way the Caps ended their season hurts, there is no doubt about that. But the Caps have a good future ahead of them. There will be a time for more questions about that future and what the Caps expect to get done in the off season. But for tonight it's a somber D.C.

What Would Coach Say?

The following is what I imagine what the coaches would say in each locker room for tonight's game seven:

If I were Dan Blysma, head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins:

"Tonight boys, is a night made for heroes. We have dominated this team in 6 straight games. They have been lucky, but not tonight. We have to keep the puck deep, put pressure on their defensemen and get shots on Semyon Varlamov. The dam will break for us tonight. Don't mind the raucous crowd, what matters is in the rink.

Marc-Andre Fleury is going to make the saves, and we will come out victorious if we stick to our game plan. We can't lose. Hard work can beat talent when talent does not work hard. We need to be physical on their top guys but play smart. Dumb penalties is just as good as a goal in this game.

We are going to rely on our experienced players like Bill Guerin and Hal Gill and listen to our team leaders in Sid Crosby and others. Do the right things, and make those passes count. Boys, you know what you need to do. Now go do it."

If I were Bruce Boudreau, head coach of the Washington Capitals:

"I don't care what history says about this team. That was then. What matters is right now. We have faced down the barrel of elimination 4 times already this season. Who knows better what needs to be done but you guys, right here, right now.

Feed off of our fans, they will energize you. Feed off your teammates and they will come through for you. They can't beat us when we are at our best, and they have yet to see our best boys. They don't know how to play in a game seven. Crosby has never played in a game seven. We have. We know what it is like to lose a game like this, but we also know how to win a game like this.

We can't rely on Alex Ovechkin or Alex Semin to score all the goals. We will need effort from everyone of you. All of you must bring you "A" game, and you must work as a team. There is a job for each and every one of you and you need to do that job the best you can.

Varly will be our rock. He will make the saves, we just need to give him support. No open shots from the slot, keep those white shirts along the wall. Control the puck and don't run around out there. We dictate the play. We dictate the game.

There are a lot of people out there that would like to see us lose, but if something doesn't go our way, we need to forget it. Penalties will be called against us, it will happen, it's the world against us. But we are resilent. We recover. This is the night where history will be thrown out the window. There is only us.

This is our house, and this is our time."

Let's Go Caps!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Third Time's A Charm: Caps Force Game 7

Capitals 5, Penguins 4 OT
Scoresheet - Times - Post

In another action-packed, edge-of-your-seat, overtime-again game, the Washington Capitals steer away from another game six elimination and force game seven against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It would take overtime to decide the outcome for a third time in this series. Finally, the Caps get the breaks (kinda) and get the walk off goal to win game six 5-4.

Dave Steckel was the hero of game six. He deflected a Brooks Laich shot to beat Marc-Andre Fleury. It came 6:22 in the extra frame and the Caps poured on the ice to celebrate the game winner. Steckel nearly had a overtime goal in game five, it was sweet retribution for him.

"Been lucky enough to win a couple [face offs] tonight," said Steckel. "Matt [Bradley] made a great play on the wall to Brooksie. Like the other goals, it's about getting shots to the net and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time."

Alex Ovechkin was clearly the Caps best player tonight. He didn't score a goal, but he had three assists and finished the game a plus 3. The best rating for any Capital. He only had 5 shots on net, but he is producing goals in other ways. The Caps also got contributions from Alex Semin who has been silent for most of the series. They also got goals from Tomas Fleischmann and Viktor Kozlov, who scored twice in a game that has seen 4 lead changes.

The game didn't start how the Caps may have wanted. The Penguins came out with a full attack and a barrage of shots at Semyon Varlamov. It was obvious the Pens had no intentions of returning to Washington for a seventh game. They would take the early lead and the Caps' defense looked as if it were about to collapse. The first period would end with a 18 to 5 shot advantage going to the Pens. The Caps were just hoping to keep the dam from breaking.

"We knew we had to weather the storm in the first period," said Steckel to reporters about escaping the first period only one goal down. "They came out and got one. I thought we did a great job, we did get pucks deep, I thought we kept their perimeter shots outside, so it was great."

In the second period the Caps came out with a better effort, and they netted two goals as a reward. Kozlov breathed life back in the white team's bench with a pretty wrister that beat Fleury up over his shoulder. Kozzy's goal seemed to spark the Caps and Semin who started to be more of a factor in this series.

Semin was moving his feet, making plays and drawing penalties. When he was nearly sprung free on a break away, Semin drew a penalty on the Pens' defense. With the extra man, the Caps were able to maintain control (with Semin's help) and the puck went back to the extra attacker Sergei Fedorov at the point. The point shot bounced to the open side of the net to a waiting Fleischmann who buried the puck in the empty net. The Caps lead would not last long as the Penguins got a big goal at the end of the period off of another misplay by the Caps' defenseman.

Then early in the third, the Pens score to take the lead off of Kris Letang power play goal after Steckel was called for slashing in the offensive zone. But the Caps would get a power play of their own and Semin again helped his team score. He shot about half way on the boards with Laich in front of the net posting the perfect screen in front of Fleury. The puck had eyes as it beat Fleury and tied the game at 3.

Then just :29 seconds later, Kozlov took advantage of a little bit of miscommunication from the Pens as the puck was shot through the crease and Kozlov, at an extreme angle, shot the puck in as Hal Gill ran into his goaltender keeping him from getting over to make the save.

The stunned Mellon Arena crowd just saw their team's lead disappear like that. But there was still 14 minutes left in the third and the Caps were guilty of sitting back a bit too much. After keeping the Penguins at bay and some marvolous saves by Varlamov, the sitting back would bite the Caps in the butt as Sidney Crosby ties the game with under five minutes left in the game.

With the game tied, the referees felt they weren't getting enough attention. First they decided not to call a take down by Mark Eaton who tackled Semin in front of the net. Then they call a slash penalty on Laich who knocked Kris Kunitz's stick from his hand with 2:02 left. Cooke had one hand on his stick and was outstretched, a ticky-tack call. It nearly cost the Caps the game but they were able to fight off the late power play and regain some composure for the overtime period.

In the overtime, the Caps did a better job this time of limiting the Penguins' chances. The Pens still had some dynamite chances to score and one shot did be Varly and hit the crossbar. But it would be the Laich, Matt Bradley, Steckel line that would decide the out come. Steckel won the face off and Bradley was able to get the puck to Laich who was the top of the circle towards the boards. A shooting lane opened up for him and he shot it with Steckel breaking toward the net. Steckel got his stick on the shot and it bounce underneath Fleury.

"It just so happens that [Ovechkin] is so dominant and so good that we all talk about Alex, but that line of Stecks, Laich and Bradley were great all night," Boudreau said. "Kozzy getting two big goals and Varlamov standing as tall as any 21-year-old can stand."

Varlamov would finish game six by making 38 saves on 42 shots. While it looked like he overplayed the Penguins' first goal, he would come away with save after save that would keep the Caps in the game. His counterpart Fleury would make the big save here or there, but he didn't face the amount of shots Varly did. Fleury is being outplayed in this series and if the Caps do move on, it would be because of Varlamov outplaying the Pens' net minder.

The cardiac Caps once again get things done to force a game seven. The Penguins come into a game seven which they have never won when they have lost a game six in their playoff history. This is what home ice advantage is all about and the Penguins where trying their best not to return to the phone booth to face a team that just took an emotional win from their building.

Evgeni Malkin was good in this game getting the playmaker (three assists). Crosby gave it a valiant effort, but he could only score the game tying goal late in the third and an assist on an earlier goal. The high water mark for the Pens was probably the first period where they dominated the play and took the early lead. But for the fifth time in six games, the team that scored the opening goal lost.

For the Capitals to win the series, they will have to play much like they have in the previous two games: get the puck deep and crowd the net. That is where they have found success. Varly will have to keep up his good play, the scoring will have to come from every line and the defense has to keep everything in front of them.

"We've been through one before, we know what to expect," Steckel said. "It's a great win, especially on the road for us. This is all we could ask for. We just wanted a Game 7. It's not done yet."

The win is huge, but the job isn't done. Game seven. Wednesday night at 7 pm. No Yanni required. Rock the red. Let's Go Caps!

Forcing A Game 7... Again

In Game 6's the Washington Capitals have a perfect record since the lockout. They have also had a perfect record in game 6 on the road. When things seem to be at their worst, the Capitals play at their best. For a third post season series in a row, they will have to once again climb out of a three games to two hole.

The difference between the first two series would be that in this series they are playing the Eastern Conference Champions of a season ago. A team that has faced down teams for elimination and got the job done. And the Pittsburgh Penguins know what is coming for game six.

"This is a position for both teams where our desperation has to be there to finish it," Sidney Crosby talked to reporters. "For them, they want to stay alive. I'm sure you'll see two desperate teams. For us, we have to make sure we're matching it."

"You have two teams that really want to win," Bruce Boudreau said. "The will is there in both teams and I think the want is there in both teams. Whoever executes the best is going to win."

"It's not over yet," vowed Alex Ovechkin. "If somebody thinks it's over, it's not over. We're gonna come back here again Game 7. That's our goal."

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Caps Squander Series Lead

Capitals 3, Penguins 4 OT
Scoresheet - Post - Times

History has a funny way of repeating itself. The Capitals have squandered a series lead of at least 2 games for a fifth time against the Pittsburgh Penguins in playoffs. In a game where the Caps played much better, sustaining pressure and getting pucks deep and letting the forecheck work for them, the Caps lose the heart breaker in overtime in similar fashion to game four. The Caps are pushed to the brink of elimination for a second series in a row as the Penguins win game five in overtime 4-3.

It was a game that everything seemed to work in the Caps favor. They were sustaining pressure, making good decisions with the puck in the neutral zone and playing pretty good defense. But the Penguins found away late in the game to get goals and get the overtime winner. The Caps did not even register a shot on net in the overtime period.

Alex Ovechkin gave another superstar effort. He tied the game after the Pens got the first goal by pulling up after gaining the zone and letting his wicked writer go. It beat Marc-Andre Fleury high glove in the top corner.

Then Nick Backstrom, who played his best playoff game ever, scored the Caps second goal on the power play. He had a good give and go with Sergei Fedorov and roofed the shot over Fleury's shoulder. The Caps would take the 2-1 lead into the locker room.

"[The Penguins] had the most come from behind wins in the NHL this year with 11," Bruce Boudreau said. "We knew they were going to come out very aggressive and they did."

The Penguins certainly did come back in the third netting two goals quickly to get the lead back. One of a nice shot from Ruslan Fedotenko and the other off a bad coverage in front of the net and Matt Cooke cashes in. It looked like the life just went out of the Capitals as they couldn't do anything quite right and the Pens laid back to play defense.

But that changed with just over five minutes left in the third when Boudreau put his best offensive players out on the ice. Ovechkin, Backstrom, Fedorov, Alex Semin and Mike Green made up a potent line that was meant only for one thing, score. They did as Backstrom fed Ovechkin a pass on the rush and Ovi beat an outstretched Fleury.

"Once we got a little behind we played a little more relaxed," Boudreau said. "I thought we played better. But it was an up and down game, a heck of a game."

Game five would go to overtime to settle it and the Penguins came out with a fire in their belly. After Dave Steckel had the only Capital chance in the overtime period, the Penguins went right to the net. Sidney Crosby rushed the net, knocking Semyon Varlamov over. Varly would shake it off, but not long afterward Evgeni Malkin would make a rush and Milan Jurcina was forced to take a penalty as Malkin muscled his way into open ice.

The Penguins power play didn't produce in the overtime until the very end. With just a second left in the penalty to Jurcina, Malkin created a turnover in the neutral zone and beat Fedorov along the boards forcing a two on one. Tom Poti was the lone defenseman back and he dove to prevent the pass to an open Penguin on the other side. But the puck bounced off of his block attempt and beat Varlamov to end the game and give the Pens the series lead.

"It happens to everybody in the National Hockey League," Brian Pothier said to reporters regarding the funny bounce off Poti that was the game winner. "Anybody who has played any length of time, you get fluky bounces. [Poti's] stick was probably in a great position. Nine times out of ten, he stops the puck and one fluky time it goes into the net.

"The timing unfortunate," Pothier continued. "but Tom is our steadiest and our best defenseman all year and it's not going to phase him. He is going to show up on Monday and he is going to be ready to perform again."

It was a horrible way for the game to end, but it is the second game in a row that those weird bounces have beaten the Capitals. This could be the back breaker for the Capitals who had put forth a much better effort than in the previous two games. The stunned fans could not believe their eyes as the Penguins poured off their bench to swarm Malkin and reveal in their second overtime win of the series.

"We will regroup tomorrow," Boudreau responded to a question on what he told his players following the overtime loss. "We have been in this position before. It's a tough hill to climb, but you just have to think of it as one game."

There were some positives to pull out of this game. The Caps held Crosby scoreless in the last two games and he was a minus two in this one. Backstrom played on of the better games he has played as a Capital. He finished the night with a goal and an assist and with seven shots.

"It's not over yet," said Backstrom. "I mean it's a tough series and it's hopefully going to go to seven games."

"It's a hard situation for us," Ovechkin told reporters following the game. "Next game is going to be biggest game for us."

"It's another elimination game for us," Pothier added. "We are sort of getting used to these. We just have to make sure to have some success on Monday."

The Caps do seem to play their best when their backs are to a wall. When the task is seemingly impossible, the Capitals thrive. They kind of like doing things the hard way. They are not in unfamiliar territory as this team will face elimination for the fourth time this post season. The game will be Monday night at 7 pm as the Caps will try to force a game seven back in Washington.

If Anyone Is Paying Attention...

...Canada and Russia will be in the IIHF World Champoinship tournament in Bern, Switzerland. The United States lost to Russia in the semifinals 3-2 in a closely played game. Robert Esche (KHL) started in net for the Americans while Ilya Bryzgalov (PHX) played outstanding in net for the Russians.

U.S. got on the board first with a Dustin Brown (LA) goal. But Ilya Kovalchuk (ATL) couldn't be kept down and scored the tying goal, then the Russians took the lead. U.S. came back to tie it at 2. However, the Russians would come away with the win and a chance to defend their title against Canada.

But it's not over for Team USA.

"We came here to get a medal," said Ron Wilson, coach for the U.S. "The tournament isn't over for us."

They will play Sweden in the Bronze medal game.

If you want to see the game, they are being broadcasted in the United States on the US channel which is a NBC digital channel available through some cable and satellite providers. Contact your provider for more detials. The US channel usually shows olympic sports like track and field, cycling and 2009 IIHF World Championship tournament.

Early Morning Preview

If you think North America is going crazy about the Penguins/Capitals series, then imagine what they are thinking an ocean away in Russia. It is an article from our friend Slava Malamud who writes for Sport Express on the other side of the world (or if you Palin, just over there).

It is an interesting article as the Caps and Pens go at it again, just 24 hours from the drop of the puck in game 4. The Capitals are hoping for some home-ice help while the Penguins want to keep things rolling. It is a critical game for both teams.

In game four, Semyon Varlamov looked human. He allowed 5 goals on 28 shots and more than a few softies. Bruce Boudreau was asked if he was going to stay with the rookie goaltender for game 5. "As far as I'm concerned, yes," he responded.

We will wait to see if the league takes any action on Alex Ovechkin's hit knee-on-knee with Sergei Gonchar. The extent of Gonchar's injury is not known but he did not return to the game. If the league suspends him, that would be a big mistake. If they allowed Chris Kunitz to cross check Varlamov in the neck and just fine him, that should be the same punishment here. But you never know what they are thinking.

After the last three games were nationally broadcasted on NBC and Versus, Comcast Sportsnet took over the local area broadcast and stepped in to do a great job. Lately, both CSN and VS. have missed showing big play replays in favor of playing commercials. But Comcast in game four did okay. It was a bit comforting to hear Joe B. and Locker do the play by play and color.

Finally, this will be the last game Donald Brashear has to sit out. His six game suspension for hitting Blair Betts in game six in the Ranger series will run out after tonight's game 5. It might be a blessing to have the bruiser out there to keep the Pens honest. As much cheap things that are going on between both teams, maybe having an enforcer out there will help.

Don't forget, game tonight, 7 pm. If you are going to Verizon Center, expect a big crowd and allow plenty of time to get there. Expect delays on both the red line and orange lines on Metro as they are doing track maintenence. And watch where you park. I have had some friends get towed for not correctly reading the signs when they parked. It took 3 days before one of my friends got his ride back.

Let's Go Caps!

Friday, May 08, 2009

It's A Three Game Series

Capitals 3, Penguins 5
Scoresheet - Times - Post

Another great start for the Capitals turns to disaster as we finally see the human side of Semyon Varlamov. The Penguins finally soften up the rookie goaltender and got the goals they needed. The Cap however looked lethargic at times and just out of sorts others. The Penguins bring the series back to Washington with the series now tied at two games a piece with a 5-3 win.

Again, the Caps get off to a great start when Nick Backstrom scored just :36 seconds into the game. His slapshot slipped past Marc-Andre Fleury and the away team had scored it's fourth straight first goal in the series. The celebration was short lived as the Penguins came back to score the next three goals.

Varlamov, for the first time in the playoffs, has looked beatable. The first goal was a clear shot from Sergei Gonchar that beat him. Then the Pens got a garbage goal from Bill Guerin and Varly was beat again. This time from a Ruslan Fedotenko shot that somehow beat Varlamov's glove. Soft goal number two allowed the Pens to build up a two goal lead.

"He struggled," Bruce Boudreau said of his goaltender's performance. "There were four soft goals out of the five. But he'll bounce back. He's a real competitive guy."

From that point on, the Caps just did not look very good. They couldn't get their break out under control, their passes were sloppy and they just looked disconnected. The Caps did get a late goal in the second to make it interesting. Alex Ovechkin carried it over the blue line and centered the puck to a break Mike Green down the middle. Green made a few good moves and hit the post with his shot. But Chris Clark was there to put in the garbage when the puck bounced on the goal line.

The Caps power play could have been called their sloppy play. There was no movement, they were just standing around watching the puck carrier. The passes were sloppy and often anywhere but on the tape of their teammate's sticks. Some key power plays ended up with one shot on net and a slew of missed opportunities.

"They were desperate down here," Boudreau said. "Alex is only human, he can't be unbelievable every night. He's a great player, he just had one of those nights where he's not going to get three goals."

The Caps felt they had to press and got caught being a bit too aggressive. The result was a two on one the other way for the Penguins. They restore their two goal lead and the Caps took a penalty not too long after that. Things were looking pretty dire for the Caps when a surprise shorthanded goal gave the Capitals some late life. Milan Jurcina cashes in on some great hitting by Matt Bradley. The puck gets up to Jurcina on the point and he rifles a shot past Fleury.

But that would be the high water mark for the Capitals as once again Varlamov let in a soft goal with just over 5 minutes left in the game. The Caps pulled the goalie in a last ditch effort to score, but the damage had been done. They couldn't get past the Penguins' as they built up a wall around Fleury by blocking shots. The Caps just couldn't get the puck to the slot in front of Fleury.

The Caps, once again, did not play their game. Instead they sat back and let the Pens come at them. When they had the momentum, they just couldn't sustain any more pressure. They just need to pick what kind of team they are going to be when they play the Penguins. They either have to be the aggressive team or the lay back defensive team. This hybrid way of playing is screwing them up.

There was some dirty stuff in the game that seemed to stem from Ovechkin's leg hit on Sergei Gonchar. The hit was leg on leg and Ovi was penalized for tripping on the play. The Penguins, however, want the league to look at the tape and deal with Ovechkin's hit severely by suspending him. Ovechkin did look like he was going for the shoulder check when Gonchar stepped aside to try to avoid the hit.

"Yeah, it probably was knee on knee. I tried to hit him with my shoulder and he just moved left [into] the same spot," Ovechkin said.

The Penguins took some liberties toward the end of the game as well. Chris Kunitz and Jordan Staal double teamed a hit on Shaone Morrisonn. Evgeni Malkin elbowed Jurcina that was not called either.

As bad as things look, there are some positives. Clark's goal was a good for the Caps who need to start crashing the net and putting pressure on a defensive squad that does break down. Jurcina's goal was a goal of opportunity and the Caps needed a shortie just to get something down for special teams. And the Caps can pull from Bradley's push in the offensive zone to create havoc and give his team a chance. If they can add more energy and spark, the Caps will do okay.

Jay Beagle was the recalled forward who saw some good action early and played well for a shift and half. That was until he got hit in the first and we never saw him again. He played two short shifts in the second and didn't see any ice time in the third period.

Tyler Sloan sat out in favor of John Erskine coming back into the line up. Erskine played okay, but he was a little out of sorts at times with his team. Karl Alzner was sent back down to Hershey as the Baby Pens won tonight 6-3 to tie their series in the AHL with the Bears at two games apiece.

Now the series returns to Washington, just 24 hours after the drop of the puck for game four. The Pens have the momentum coming back to DC as each team jump on a plane and head back to the phone booth. The Caps can draw on their home crowd for some jump, but they can't afford to play like they did in games three and four. It's the little things that are killing them, that extra little effort that the Penguins are showing and the Capitals aren't.

Beagle In, Alzner Out, And Other Loose Ends

The Capitals recalled Jay Beagle from Hershey to replace an injured Eric Fehr and a healthy Micheal Nylander. Beagle will bring a better effort along the boards. A gritty forward that never quits and should add some energy to the Caps. Fehr did take part in the morning skate.

Instead of keeping Karl Alzner on the sidelines, the Caps have sent him back down to Hershey. That most likely means Tom Poti is feeling just fine. John Erskine is still questionable for game 4. That is why Tyler Sloan is still around. Erskine also took part in the morning skate.

Alex Semin did not take part in the morning skate, but several sources have reported that he is not injured, just resting. Since there was no practice for the Capitals yesterday, Semin will be taking the ice with two days off. His teammate and friend Alex Ovechkin wasn't too worried as he told reporters he expected Semin in the lineup.

As far as the death threat is concerned, the Caps aren't really worried about it. They have not increased any security or made any changes to their schedules. Ovi did know about the threat before game 3, but was not concerned about it. It just seems another distraction along the path that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Bruce Boudreau has finished "whining" about the penalties in this morning's press conference.

"I'm usually not a whiner," Boudreau said. "I think I've exhausted my bad officiating comments. Let's just let it go."

Both George McPhee and Boudreau complained after game 3 about the discrepancy in the penalty calls in the series thus far. The Penguins have had 17 power play opportunities to the Capitals' 9.

Finally, the game tonight is back on good ol' Comcast Sportsnet in the DC area. That means that the Versus broadcast will be blacked out in favor of the local broadcast team. Comcast Sportsnet will finish the series off with broadcasts of games four, five, six and seven as needed.

Let's Go Caps!

Penalties, Quotes And Death Threats, Oh My!

The Pittsburgh Penguins have had the luxury of having 17 power play opportunities against the Capitals through three games. The Caps have only had nine. Bruce Boudreau made his displeasure known about how game three was officiated.

"As far as penalties go, I hope I never hear them complain about penalties again, picks, and everything else," Boudreau told reporters following the game. "I think we might have deserved the penalties, but they sure as hell deserved a few more than they got."

He got some back up today from his boss, GM George McPhee.

"I agree with Bruce," McPhee addressed the media. "One team gets seven power plays and the other team gets two. It's hard to win that game. Your defense is tired, your role players are tired from killing penalties all night and your top players don't get on the ice as much as they'd like to."

When McPhee decides he is going to go in front of the cameras and reporters to talk, the media pays close attention to what he is say because it rarely happens. Which means what ever he has brought up to the league's supervisors is probably falling on deaf ears.

"The supervisor in this series is as good as they come," McPhee said. "Terry Gregson is terrific. But if the referees aren't going to listen to them, what good is it? We asked them to protect our goaltender, and they're not."

McPhee is referring to the obvious call to take out rookie goaltender Semyon Varlamov. With the slash to the neck in game two and the bowling over of Varly by Evgeni Malkin in game three, these obvious attempts to take out the goaltender are some how not seen by the zebras.

"They just don't protect this goaltender," McPhee continued. "He got punched in the head in the first series [against New York Ranger Sean Avery] and cross-checked a couple of games ago. Malkin ran over him last night, and [Varly] gives them a flick of the stick and we get a penalty. It's not right. Those aren't slashes. Those aren't things you call in NHL playoff games."

"We talked to the supervisors last series about protecting the goalie and Avery punched Varlamov in the face," Boudreau said. "We talked after Game 2 about [Chris] Kunitz cross checking Varly to the face. Yesterday, Malkin runs into the goalie with no purpose; just comes in from the corner and barrels right into him. There is no protection of the goalies and I thought that was a big point. We have to reiterate that. The goalies need protection and when you retaliate from something like that - and it was a flick of the stick, it wasn't even a slash that we get called for. So, I mean, the 17-9 should be at least equal at this stage."

If protecting the goalie wasn't bad enough, some teenager in Chambersburg Pennsylvania put out a death threat for Alex Ovechkin on a message board. Ah, to be young and stupid. Much like the Kunitz cross check on Varlamov that the league just looked the other way and did not suspend him, no immediate charges were filed against the 17 year old. The kid has some issues to work through.

So while the Caps have to avoid death threats and an officiating crew that could care less about keeping it level here are a couple of quotes on game four, which will be played tonight.

"I feel like we've out-chanced them over the three games," Sidney Crosby told reporters. "It doesn't matter, because we're down 2-1. But the belief in what we need to do is there and we're seeing some good results. We're confident that if we play this way, we're going to give ourselves a good chance."

"We can't play like that [in game three]," Ovechkin said. "It's not our game. We take too many penalties and we can't take too many penalties, especially in the playoffs. In the offensive zone we have to play better. The defensive zone, we have to play better. It's in all aspects."

"We're up 2-1," Boudreau said of the series. "They outplayed us for sure, but I'd much rather be where I am right now than where they are."

When asked about how the Caps can stop Malkin in game four, Mike Green offered his thoughts: "We let him skate too much in the neutral zone and create plays that in the first two games we didn't let him do. If we eliminate those things, eliminate him, we should be fine."

"There was definitely more open ice for Malkin out there to roam around and skate," Dave Steckel added. "I thought they did a very good job closing gaps on Ovi, but it's easier when you control the puck in our own end all game."

A recall could be likely for the Capitals since a few forwards are a bit banged up and the Caps will be playing in back to back games tonight and Saturday night. Neither McPhee or Boudreau could confirm or deny that will happen. One concern on defense would be Tom Poti, who looked gassed in game 3. This might be a chance to see what Karl Alzner can bring to the series.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Caps Outplayed

Capitals 2, Penguins 3 OT
Scoresheet - Post - Times

Outside of the first ten minutes of the first period, the Washington Capitals did not even looked like they belonged on the same ice as the Pittsburgh Penguins. Out shot in nearly every period outside of the first, the Caps played sloppy and undisciplined game and they only reason the game propelled itself into overtime was because of the outstanding play of Semyon Varlamov.

Things started off pretty good for the Caps. A funny bounce off of a Mike Green dump in caught Marc-Andre Fleury off guard. The puck squirted out front and Alex Ovechkin had a wide open net to score the game's first goal just 1:23 into the game. The goal seemed to stun the home crowd and the home team. But the Caps couldn't take advantage of their next opportunities and the tide began to turn as the Caps took some ill advised penalties.

"The first 10 minutes wasn't our sharpest," Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. "This was a big game with implications of possibly going down 0-3, and we executed like that was the case. Once we got our feet under us we started getting in the offensive zone with execution and speed. The second period was a really good period for us to push and drive."

From then on it was all Penguins. Sure the Caps seemed to have a chance here and there, but Pittsburgh turned up the heat and the ice was tilted through the second half of the first period and then for the second and third. The Pens scored in the second as Milan Jurcina, who had a good game for the most part, blocked the pass on the two on one. But the puck went right back to the passer Ruslan Fedotenko and he beat Varlamov for the Penguins first goal.

The Pens seemed to do no wrong and the penalties just started mounting for the Caps. The sleeping giant in Evgeni Malkin finally woke up in this series as he was clearly the Pens best player. He drew a hooking call on Alex Semin as the constant pressure from the Pens caught Caps out of position. On the ensuing power play, Malkin roofed the puck past Varlamov for the power play goal.

The Caps made a last ditch effort to tie the game up when they pulled Varlamov for an extra attacker. And miraculously, Nick Backstrom got the game tying goal with just over a minute left in the game. In a game that the Capitals had no business scoring another goal, they did and forced overtime.

In the overtime period, the Caps came out with some life. Early on, Ovi had a prime opportunity as the sea of Penguins parted and he had a perfect shooting lane. But Ovechkin put too much bend in his stick and the curve allowed the puck to slip past and he whiffed the shot. The game winning shot came off of Kris Letang's stick off of a face off win by Sidney Crosby. The point shot was deflected in front of Varlamov by Shaone Morrisonn and that sent the home crowd into a tizzy.

It also, thankfully, ended that game for the Capitals who just didn't look very good in this game at all. Tom Poti may be the other defenseman hurt, because he just didn't look very effective in this game. But that could be said of just about every Capital. They couldn't get the puck deep and when they did, their forecheck was nonexistent. The frustration level seems to hit a new level for Caps coach Bruce Boudreau.

"They were in our zone, we were backtracking and I think I told them after the second period that we were playing not to lose rather than to win," Boudreau said. "That's just what it looked like because we were getting the puck in, but we weren't forechecking so we were just sitting back and letting them come back at us."

Unlike in games one and two, the aggressive nature of the Caps defense was not there. Instead they laid back and allowed the Penguins to set up in their zone. From then on it was just chasing the puck around for long stretches in their own zone.

"We still have a lead [in the series], but I think they deserved to win," said Ovechkin. "They played better than us, and I think everybody saw it."

Both Boudreau and Ovechkin called attention to the officiating in the game. The Caps were called for 7 minor penalties while the Penguins were only called for two.

"They had only two penalties," Ovi said. "It's kind of a joke."

"As far as penalties go, I hope I never hear them complain about penalties again, picks, and everything else," Boudreau told reporters at his press conference. "I think we might have deserved the penalties, but they sure as hell deserved a few more than they got."

The only bright spot and the only reason the game even had an overtime period was the spectacular play of Varlamov. He stopped 39 shots and all three goals couldn't really be blamed on him. He earned the game's third star.

"He was outstanding," Boudreau said at his post game press conference. "When you get a goaltending effort like that, you have to win because they don't come around every day."

The Capitals have once again squandered an excellent goaltending effort and come up short handed. If this is not a wake up call for the Caps, than this maybe a team that doesn't deserve to win. As it stands right now, they do have a 2-1 series lead and they have another chance to make go up 3-1 with a game on Friday night.

This is just a disappointing game for the Caps. We have seen them play much better than this. And it was just a matter of time that the Caps would break. They have to get back to their aggressive nature, getting the puck deep, putting pressure on the Pens' defense and jumping up on their explosive forwards.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Three Concerns Before Game 3

These are the three concerns I have about the Capitals for game 3.

1. The injured ones. John Erskine is still out and most likely will be replaced by Tyler Sloan who played well in the last game. Eric Fehr is a game time decision. He missed nearly all of game two after taking a bit hit in the corner. The Caps have not recalled any players from Hershey. If Fehr can't play, Micheal Nylander will be his replacement. Karl Alzner made the trip to Pittsburgh which means there could be another defenseman on the fence.

2. Evgeni Malkin. You could say that Malkin has been invisible for this series thus far. Or you could say that the Matt Bradley, Dave Steckel and Brooks Laich line played fantastic against Malkin's line. Still, you can't keep good talent down for too long.

And finally...
3. The Penguins' home ice. The Penguins play well at home, and that hasn't changed in the post season. If the Caps can score first and get the crowd out of it, they have a very good chance to win the game. If the Caps get behind by two or more goals, it will be a very tough road for a comeback.

Let's Go Caps!

Caps Taking Game Three Seriously

If you have not seen the last two games between the Capitals and Penguins, you certainly would not know the Caps were up 2 games in the series by the way they acted at Kettler yesterday.

"I hope we're not going to be lulled into a false sense of security because we haven't really played well," Caps' defenseman Brian Pothier said. "We've had timely goals and great goaltending, but as a team I don't think we've played nearly as well as we can."

The Capitals have had their fair share of scary moments in their own zone with the Penguins pressuring. But they have had plenty of help off of Alex Ovechkin's stick and a rookie goaltender. The call to play better can be heard from the head coach Bruce Boudreau down through the ranks. The Caps feel they are capable to play better and have been lucky thus far.

"When you are playing good teams with a lot of character like Pittsburgh it doesn't get any easier." Boudreau cautioned. "If this was a game of tennis, we've held serve."

They have also have had a hard time staying out of the penalty box. The Caps have been whistled for 5 minors in game one, and seven minors in game two. Seven penalties total in the first period in both games.

But the bright spot for the Capitals of late has been their play on the road. Once a concern earlier in the season, they have simplified their game in a different barn and come away with a win. They will have to keep their focus and keep up their winning ways.

But the Caps have to be able to contain the only scorer in game two for the Penguins, Sidney Crosby.

"We can be more cognizant of where he is," Boudreau said. "That's what we can do, but if he wants to go there, short of taking a penalty every time, he's going to go there."

All three of Sid's goals in game two were down low and in tight to the net. A contrast to Ovechkin's tallies that were 10 to 15 feet out and were great shots that beat Marc-Andre Fleury. But the Pens remained frustrated as they have played well, but have nothing really to show for it.

"I'm sure Pittsburgh's a little frustrated by that," Pothier said. "They have been playing pretty well but they haven't been able to score, We cannot think for a second that we've been dominating the series or anything. We need to play a much better game."

Caps Notes:
  • According to Tarik on his blog, the league will not suspend Chris Kunitz for his cross check to the neck of Semyon Varlamov late in the third. However, he will be fined. The only quote offered about the hit came from Dan Bylsma:
    "Chris is going to the net trying to create a loose puck and jam home a rebound, We have no other intention than that. For me, it was a battle and he was in there tight and making contact with the goalie."
  • Fleury was asked if Ovechkin is playing with an illegal stick. "I don't know," he responded. "Haven't really taken a look at it. The puck kind of sticks to it pretty good." When asked if he would be surprised if he was using one Fleury responded with a "No."
  • Eric Fehr is questionable for game three as he was hurt in the first period after getting hit by Ruslan Fedotenko. He only played three shifts in game two. No word if they will recall a player or if Micheal Nylander will get a game sweater.
  • The Penguins are whining about picks. They claim that the Capitals are making illegal picks and interfering with defenders to get players open. I guess that is better than saying "We blew the coverage."

Monday, May 04, 2009

Superstars Shine In Game Two

Capitals 4, Penguins 3
Scoresheet - Post - Times

Two superstars, two superstar performances. But both Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin performed a "What ever you can do, I can do better" as each scored a hat trick. The teams' best players played up to the hype.

"We have to win the games," answered Ovechkin about his goals. "It doesn't matter if I score or somebody else score it's more important to win the game."

"I think it's great for our sport," Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau said when asked about the pair's performance. "When you have hype of superstars playing against each other and then the superstars play like superstars, it's a neat thing [to watch]."

"They apparently heard the hype and are living up to it," Pens head coach Dan Bylsma said. "It's interesting to watch the two battle and watch the story unfold. They were both very good tonight. And Obviously huge factors in the game and rising to the occasion."

"It's nice to score, it's better to win," said Crosby of his hat trick.

Both teams were beneficiaries of three goals from their star players. But the deciding factor came from a fourth line role player in David Steckel. Steckel's game tying goal in the second set up Ovi's go ahead and insurance goals in the third. It was the second straight game that Steckel scored the tying goal. Once again the line of Steckel, Matt Bradley and Brooks Laich were one of the best lines on the ice.

Marc-Andre Fleury and Semyon Varlamov both were at the mercy of the other teams' big stars. Both played really well, but both allowed 3 goals with Fleury the only goaltender to give up that fourth goal. This is the first time in thirteen years that both teams had a player with a hat trick in the same game and it's only happened four times in playoff history, twice to a Capitals team (Al Iafrate had a hat trick while the Islanders' Ray Ferraro had four goals 4/26/1993).

It wasn't the prettiest game for the Capitals. At times the play was wide open allowing scoring chances on both ends of the ice. The Caps started off very poorly as the Pens came out with the jump and the early goal, for a second game in a row.

"We did better but not great," Steckel said of his team's overall performance. "We still turned the puck over an abundant amount of times and they came back. We didn't give up as many odd man rushes but we can always do better."

Crosby scored the game's first goal on the power play as he put in the point shot rebound under Varlamov. The first period would end with the Penguins up 1-0. The Caps were undisciplined as they took five penalties in the first period alone. Varlamov was the only thing keeping the Capitals in the game as the Penguins took their lead into the first intermission.

Ovechkin answered for the Caps with a pretty play to set up the Ovi one timer just 2:18 into the second period. The Caps had better puck movement through the second period but at times, got caught deep in their zone off of turnovers. Once again, Crosby scores down low to answer Ovi's goal. Steckel would tie it with less than five minutes left in the second.

In the third, both teams were at a tug of war. The Penguins turned up the pressure and drew an interference call on Milan Jurcina. But the Caps were able to fight it off and Evgeni Malkin, who has been a non factor for the Pens in this series thus far, took a bad tripping penalty. Ovechkin scored just 3 seconds into the power play to give the Capitals their first lead of the night. Not long after that goal, Ovi caught the Pens' defense off guard and scored his patent wrister through the defense that beat Fleury and gave him his first career playoff hat trick.

The Penguins made a last ditch effort to tie the game up and a late penalty by Jurcina would give them a chance to over load the Caps 6 on 4. The Caps did a good job of holding them at bay until the puck got down low. The puck jumped up in the air and Crosby whacked it in the net. He also scored his first career playoff hat trick and pulled the Pens within one.

During that play, dirty boy and not a nice man, Chris Kunitz, crossed checked Varlamov in the face mask. Mike Green saw the infraction but the officials didn't. Just another cheap shot by a player that has yet to score in this series or help out in any way other than being a sore loser.

Varlamov played very well, keeping up his great play as he has now started in more NHL playoff games than NHL regular season games. While he got beat for three goals by the same player, he came up big on every other Penguin. Including a dynamite save on a Kris Letang break away and a few out of this world saves while the Caps were killing off a 5 on 3. He stopped the puck down low and then coming out and stopping the point shot a split second later.

"He's made some timely saves," Crosby said of the Capitals' rookie goaltender. "The difference is a few inches but he battles and he competes. There are times were he is out of position but he finds a way to get a piece of his body on it."

This win caps a fifth straight playoff win by the Capitals, a franchise record. Sergei Fedorov surpassed Mario Lemiuex for points in the playoffs with his two assists tonight. Viktor Kozlov also had a pair of assists. Tyler Sloan, who was recalled after John Erskine was a scratch, had the primary assist on Steckel's goal. The Caps also did well in the face off circle winning 62% of their draws.

However, Boudreau was quick to point out that they haven't won anything just yet.

"The one thing we have learned from experience is you can't take for granted that you are going to be successful," Boudreau said. "When you playing good teams with a lot of character like Pittsburgh. It doesn't get any easier. If this was a game of tennis, we've held serve."

But it was Ovechkin and Crosby's night. The pair have accounted for 6 goals, 17 shots (Ovi 12, Crosby 5) and two first career playoff hat tricks.

"Its good for fans to see great players play against each other, two great teams play against each other," Ovi said of the superstars' efforts tonight. "It's interesting time, interesting game. It's unbelievable when you play against great players and you win the game like this."

"I am sure it's entertaining for people to watch," Crosby said. "As a player, you don't like seeing a guy on their team get a hat trick, that's usually not a good sign. But at the same time, yea I realize people are entertained by that. But at the end of the day as a player you want to win games."

Both Alex Semin and Malkin were non factors tonight in terms of scoring and both took bad penalties that the opposing team took advantage of.

The Capitals take game 2 to give themselves a 2-0 lead. They are the only team in the playoffs right now with a lead as the other series are all tied. But the Caps aren't whistling Dixie just yet. They have two games in Pittsburgh and are expecting an even better Penguin team in their barn. The series starts up again on Wednesday night.

What The Heck Are They Doing Here?

Seen at the morning skate at Kettler, Karl Alzner and Tyler Sloan. Neither started in the Hershey Bears' win last night as they took a 2 games to 0 lead over WBS baby Pens.

Both were held out of the line up last night due to what the coaching staff called "illness." There might be some concerns that some of the defensive core are hurting a bit for the Capitals. John Erskine took a slap shot to his ankle that stung him a bit late in game one. Tom Poti could also be hurting.

The two could be here for a "just in case" scenario, and neither Alzner nor Sloan looked very sick right now.

Caps Choose Attack Rather Than Lay Back

In game one the Pittsburgh Penguins looked to have an advantage in odd man rushes. It seemed that they could get a two on one or three on two through the neutral zone as the Caps defense stepped up on them. It led to a slew of chances for the flightless fowl and it resulted in a lot of shots on net for them as they out-shot the Capitals 11 to 8 in the first period and held them with out a shot through the first 9 and a half minutes of the game.

The Caps defense is not about to take a lay back attitude when it comes to the Penguins. With their offensive talent, the Caps would rather step up on them in the neutral zone than allow them to set up a play inside their zone. The Capitals' high risk aggressive play has created prime chances against them.

"They've got some great offensive players out there," Mike Green told Pierre McQuire after the game. "If we sit back and let them do what they can do we will be in trouble. As long as we play aggressive on their top guys we will be fine."

Washington did do a good job of disrupting the play in the neutral zone, but if the defender that stepped up was beaten then the Caps found themselves in a little bit of trouble. Instead of just sitting back and let the Penguins come at them, they want to keep up the effort but play a smarter and simpler game.

"The more simple, the better," Dave Steckel told reporters at Kettler. "When we turn the puck over we are not as successful as a team. They can come the other way and score in a heart beat, so we have to make sure we keep it simple."

The best line in game one was the line of Steckel, Matt Bradley and Brooks Laich. The "Allstate" line (because when you play them, you know you are in good hands) was able to keep the Penguins deep into their zone. Their aggressive forecheck and ability to keep puck low was key for them against the Penguins' top line.

"Anytime you can get it deep and work it down low - even if you don't score - you are tiring them down a little bit," remarked Bradley.

It seems teams that are the higher seeds in their second round series won their first game at home, but lost the second. Every series besides the Washington/Pittsburgh series is tied at one game a piece, with the away team winning game two. The Caps are looking to break that cycle and be the first team to reach two wins in the second round. To do that, they will have to keep at bay a very good team.

"We thought [the Penguins] played really good [in game one]," Bruce Boudreau told reporters at Caps optional practice on Sunday. "This is a team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals and knows what it's all about. They are going to ramp it up a little bit."

The Penguins made it no secret that the Capitals' rookie goaltender was their number one target in game two.

"You have to put pressure on a goalie to see if he's cool or not," said Pens top center Sidney Crosby after practice at Verizon Center. "We did a pretty good job of that and he made some good saves. Early on we had some really good chances, we didn't execute. Whether that was him or us, who knows? I think we felt we could have made it more difficult on him."

Meanwhile Alex Ovechkin conceded that we haven't seen the Caps' best, yet.

"We didn't play our game I think all game," Ovechkin told reporters. "We didn't play well all game. Yeah, we played sometimes good, especially in the first 10 minutes in the second period, but we have to play that same way every game. You can feel good or bad, but you have to say, 'OK, right now it's time to jump.' "

The Caps power play and penalty kill was not an area of concern for them. Special teams have already played an important role in this series. The Penguins can not afford to take penalties and have to stay disciplined against the Capitals potent power play. While the Caps' penalty kill was able to kill all five minor penalties, it would unwise for themselves to take careless penalties against a Penguins team that is just looking to turn its power play around.

Washington has found ways to put some offensive pressure on the Penguins. While they will stay secret about the keys to some of their successes, Bradley offered his technique:

"I got a rule," Bradley said straight faced. "If I ever have a chance to pass it to a Russian I do it, because good things will happen."

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Say What?

On Tarik's blog is the correct pronunciations of our Russian brothers in Capitals sweaters. I believe Puckhead is not translatable to Russian. But, that is a conversation for another day. I am working on my Russian with out saying comrade or Bolshevik. Impressive, I know.

I have just watched the game two marathon between Anaheim and Detroit that went to 3 overtime periods. The game started at 2 pm and nearly went the distance to connect to the evening game between Bruins and Hurricanes at 7:30 pm on Versus. The long game also saved us from watching ponies on Channel 4 (apologies to those who like ponies, like every little girl I knew in first grade).

Spoiler alert:, Ducks won just 1:15 into the sixth period. Todd Marchant (which is correctly pronounced Todd Mar-CLUTCH) scored the winner off a wrister that found its way through two defenders and beat Chris Osgood (correctly pronounced Chris NOT-az-good) high glove, top corner. The Ducks' netminder Jonas Hiller (not sure if you pronounce that any differently) was spectacular. He stopped 59 shots after his team was out shot by the Red Wings in the extra frames, 29 to 15.

The other Western Conference battle between Chicago and Vancouver took an interesting turn. The youth of the Blackhawks does not seem intimidated by Roberto Luongo (that is pronounced LU-shut-out-ongo, weird I know). The Canucks have blown a 3-0 lead and a 2-0 lead in back to back games, losing the later. I am starting to really like this Chicago team.

Finally, I am waiting for the Boston and Carolina game to start tonight. The Hurricanes just didn't look like themselves in game one. They were a bit overwhelmed by Boston's offensive talent and Tim Thomas' goaltending. The 'Canes need a win badly or their series will be over before they know it. Let's hope you don't pronounce Eric Staal "Cha-OKE."


What is the difference between this hit...

... and this hit?

Five games apparently. Donald Brashear's hit on Blair Betts cost him a five game suspension (an extra game suspension for his pregame antics). Mike Brown's hit on Jiri Hudler, however, cost him nothing. Brown was just ejected from the game.

The hits are almost identical, both late and to the head. If I were Caps' GM George McPhee, I think I would be looking for an explanation and would appeal Brash's suspension.

Caps Notes:
  • Thanks to Japer's Rink, there is a note of caution. The Caps have won seven of eight game ones against the Penguins all time, but only have won one of six series. We don't want to make the same mistake as some New Yorkers did just because of a win.
  • Simeon Varlamov has been the talk of the league. His save has been called the save of the playoffs. He even took the number one top play on ESPN's Sports Center top ten plays. I doubt the Penguins did much to shake his confidence and the team is playing well in front of him.
  • The best sign of game one by the Capitals fans was an image of a dollar bill with Bruce Boudreau in place of George Washington. Pretty funny, but I would think he would be worth more than just a dollar.
  • The Capitals' AHL affiliate Hershey Bears took a 1-0 series lead against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last night. They won 5-3. Game 2 is tonight at 5 pm in Hershey. It is a full-on franchise battle!