Wednesday, September 30, 2009

1,000th Post

It seems the right time to do a season preview on my 1,000 post. It has taken me 4 years, some bad grammar, a few hate comments and nearly 100,000 hits a year in that time to get to this point. It seems apropos that it will be on the verge of what could be the year for the Capitals.

But Commissioner Gary Bettman isn't just going to hand the Capitals the Stanley Cup (unlike some other teams he would). That means the Caps will have to meander through another 82 game schedule to reach just a chance at that prize. It seems a bit cliche to make it "movie" themed, but this year's season preview will look at The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The Good

If the Capitals even want a chance at the Cup, they will need another great year from the anointed next great one. Alex Ovechkin may get some much needed help in that regard and hopefully he will not have to carry that load alone. After the departure of Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov, the Caps needed to fulfill those veteran skates. Instead of just getting the best free agent on the market, they looked at what they needed. They needed some grit to accompany the skill.

Mike Knuble was brought in to add some sandpaper to the silky smooth play of the top line. One of the frustrating problems for the Caps a season ago was the amount of rebounds and loose pucks that were gobbled up by the opposition. Knuble should fix that problem. We have already seen that in the preseason. The Caps also pulled in some solid second line talent in Brendan Morrison to fill those two way center shoes.

The Caps also will benefit from a competitive goaltending battle. Jose Theodore was donned the number one crown by head coach Bruce Boudreau over the summer. That meant Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth would have to fight for the back up position. Don't think of it as a headache, it is a nice problem to have.

A healthy defensive core should also be a plus for the Capitals this season. The returning group will have new comer Tyler Sloan in tow for the '09 - '10 season. With players ready to expect how each of them plays their position, it should make for a stronger defensive core. Mike Green will add some offensive punch to the blue line, while John Erskine will make a few opposition forwards keep their heads up through the neutral zone.

Another positive for the Capitals is their penalty kill. With returning defensive specialists Dave Steckel, Boyd Gordon and new comer (and shot blocking machine) Quintin Laing, when the Caps do take a penalty they will be in good hands. The PK was flawless through the first three games of the preseason. But too many penalties can tax the players and throw off line combinations. It is best for this skill to be used as little as possible through the course of a game.

The Bad

Bad habits haunt the Capitals. Whether it is taking lazy penalties or not finishing their games, the Caps have a slew of bad habits they have to kick. They need to beat the teams that they need to beat as well as have good games against the teams that will challenge them through the year.

One aspect may help the Caps in that regard. Their schedule is a little tougher at the beginning and end of this season. They should be good barometers to gauge where this team falls in the league. Starting their season against some elite teams on the road in Boston and Detroit will hopefully show how good this team really is or what they have to work on early in the season.

Penalties are a sore spot for the Capitals. When they stop moving their feet, they start swinging with their sticks and that leads to a plethora of 2 minute infractions. The Caps can ill afford to allow good teams to play their best players with a man advantage. In many ways, it should be the other way around, the skill on the Caps should be drawing more penalties. For what ever the reason is, the Caps just can not stay out of the sin bin.

The Capitals also have to improve on their power play. While they showed some success late last season, they tend to get cute with the extra man. That has lead to shorthanded chances for their opponents. Not exactly how that is suppose to work. Coaches will have to shore up the special teams and get it back to basics (shots on net). The Caps most likely will put the puck onto the stick of Alex Semin, but don't be surprised to see Nick Backstrom quarterback for a few power plays either.

The Ugly

Micheal Nylander has been a "non-problem" problem for the Capitals. A forward with amazing skill that just doesn't fit the Boudreau mold and that has created problems for the Caps. Even before they have played their first game. In order to fit under the salary cap, management had to put Chris Bourque on waivers after telling him he had made the team.

It is clear that Boudreau and GM George McPhee aren't keen on having Nylander in the fold. But with little options left, he will be on the opening night roster since they do not want to buy him out of his contract. Nylander was signed when the team had a more defensive feel under Glen Hanlon, but the whole philosophy of the team has changed and Nylander has been left in the cold. He has not suited up for a single preseason game, and it is likely that he will not see ice time when the Caps open their season in Boston.

What the Caps will do with Nylander remains a mystery. What McPhee has been working on is pawning the forward off to Europe, but it's not likely that will happen anytime soon. What ever rift that lays between management and Nylander will most likely start to be a distraction as the season wears on. An elite player that earns just under $5 million is going to be making appearances in the press box more than the ice. That just doesn't sit well.

The other ugly thing about the Capitals season will be the condition of the ice at Verizon Center. An issue as the league's MVP will most likely playing on a surface of deep ruts and cold puddles on the Chinatown floor. I am sure that the phone booth staff is doing the best job with what they have. But having poor ice conditions that can possible endanger $56.8 million in player asset, the Caps should be looking into ways to improve the frozen stuff.

The Intangibles

February in Vancouver, the world will rear it's ugly head at a very beautiful city for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The Caps will have possibly 7 to 8 players that will compete. It will be 7 to 8 of the most irreplaceable and very expensive players that will play very competitively for a gold medal. McPhee, as well as the other 29 general managers, will be holding their breaths between February 15 and March 1.

The Prediction

There will be a lot of ups and downs for the Capitals this season. But their goal is closer now than it ever has been. There is a chip on the shoulders of the players, one can feel it just by being in the locker room. This is more than the game seven loss to Philadelphia two seasons ago, it's something much deeper, much more profound. They have learned some very hard lessons as they finished their season months ago. Those lessons should propel them through the tough times they will face as a team this season.

The Caps shouldn't have a problem within their division. Carolina and Florida are serious threats, but the Capitals have shown they can play with them and win. In the Eastern Conference there is more for the Caps to worry about. A strong team in Boston and New Jersey, a rivalry with the Penguins and Sidney Crosby, tough squads in Toronto and Philly and tough goaltenders in Tomas Vokoun, Henrik Lundqvist, Marc-Andre Fluery and more. They have the skill to beat any of those teams on any given night, and should.

I do predict the Capitals will make it to the number one spot in the East and should go far into the post season. I do predict that this team will make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Whatever happens beyond that, I don't want to jinx it. Hey, I am a Caps fan after all.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

It's A Beast In The East

The Eastern Conference is getting much more competitive as teams look make an impact in the playoffs. At the beginning of last season, there seemed to be a toss up for the lead in the East. The Penguins got off to a sluggish start and other teams seemed poised to take top spots from teams that have enjoyed success in seasons before.

Two teams stand out as favorites, but as always we start with the worst, first.

15. Tampa Bay Lightning: Do they even know who their owner is? The debacle that was last season for the Bolts will continue into this season as management is not sure what its doing. It certianly won't be a boring year for Tampa as they try to make all their off season signings somehow all fit together into a cohesive team. They did clean up some of the mess this off season by buying out a few contracts and getting solid talent in return, but will it be enough for the once darlings Vincent Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis return to the spotlight? In a word, no.

14. New York Islanders: Long Island is putting all their eggs in the John Tavares basket. They have brought in some good goaltending in Martin Biron and Dwayne Roloson as they will fight for a number one spot as Rick DiPietro recovers from injuries. But with injuries already hampering the Isles, it's doubtful they will make much noise in the East this year. If Kyle Okposo didn't get demolished in the preseason game against Calgary, it might be a different outcome for the once great franchise.

13. Atlanta Thrashers: The Thrashers just need an identity going into this season. The management has made an effort to continue to build a team around Ilya Kovalchuk and young goaltender Kari Lehtonen. They traded for Pavel Kubina and Tim Stapleton from the Leafs and adding some punch from the free agent list in Nik Antropov, Noah Welch and Anthony Stewart. The Thrashers are a much better team than the 13th place in the East they received last year, but when this team's chips are down, they would rather cash in and leave the table rather than tough it out. Blue land will be signing the blues this season again.

12. Ottawa Senators: The Danny Heatley saga took up most of the Sens off season. In return though they do get Alex Kovalev. The team is trying not to let the whole Heatley situation bother them, but usually moral is low after that kind of public affair. Their new acquisitions in Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek in the trade should help them get a few games under the belt. But their goaltending situation still stinks and there defensive core never recovered when Wade Redden and Zdeno Chara left. It will be a disappointing year for the capital city.

11. Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers got some size on the blue line by bringing in Chris Pronger. But there has been a slow leak on the forward lines. Joffery Lupul and Scottie Upshall were contributors to the Flyers rough offense. The Flyers didn't make very many changes up front but got bigger and tougher. But the bigger and tougher you get, the less talented you get. If their top forwards in Daniel Briere, Jeff Carter and Michael Richards can stay healthy, the Flyers might be okay.

10. New York Rangers: It is not going to be John Tortorella's fault, but this team will underachieve yet again. Newcomers Marian Gaborik, Vaclav Prospal, Ales Kotalik, Tyler Arnason and Donald Brashear should keep them in the hunt for a playoff spot. But they lose quite a bit of talent in Scott Gomez, Nikolai Zherdev, Derek Morris, Paul Mara, Nik Antropov, Colton Orr, Fredrik Sjostrom and Blair Betts. The Rangers have a salary cap problem that forces them to bring up more youth.

9. Toronto Maple Leafs: Sure some toughness is going to give the Maple Leafs some respect. But they will need to follow that up with some scoring. They are hoping Phil Kessel will help in that regard. With Brian Burke at the helm, you know the Leafs will not back down from a fight. But he also added some good goaltending talent bringing the "Monster" Jonas Gustavsson and solid defense in Micheal Komisarik and Francois Beauchemin. If the Leafs can get some chemistry, they could be battling for a playoff spot late in the season.

Playoff Bound

8. Carolina Hurricanes: There will be a couple teams that will fall from grace this year in the East. I think the 'Canes is one of them. After making a coaching change late in the season and a few last minute trades, Carolina made a better effort to finish their season and earn a playoff spot. But they have a bad habit of taking things for granted. They made very little changes to the line up, a change here or there. They bought out Frantisek Kaberle and traded Patrick Eaves to bring back Aaron Ward. Add Stephan Yelle and the 'Canes should make the playoffs, barely.

7. Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres won't be denied a second season in a row. The changes are minimal, but it may be all they need. Coming into the Buffalo fold are Mike Grier and Steve Montador. The Sabres will also allow their young talent develop naturally. They will have Ryan Miller back in net with Patrick Lalime back him up, the pair should able to get the team into the playoffs.

6. Florida Panthers: The Panthers were oh so close to that last playoff spot last season. But this might be the year that they shed all that have held them down and make a run into the playoffs. Tomas Vokoun has to have a good season for this to happen since Craig Anderson left for Colorado. The Panthers have good core of young players returning in David Booth, Keith Ballard and Stephen Weiss. When these players get into the winning ways, I smell a playoff spot for an up and riser in the Southeast Divsion.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins: The hangover from the Stanley Cup will hamper the Pens all year. With Sidney Crosby injured so early in the year and the loss of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill, the Pens lose a little expertise and strength on the blue line. But they are still a dangerous offensive team that should make the playoffs no problem. They won't have the chip on their shoulders they had last year, and that may lead to a lack of motivation.

4. Montreal Canadiens: The Habs did a major overhaul. Normally that would be cause for concern. But this could be a good thing for the Canadiens. A change in attitude and a new coach the Habs have replaced the same old disappointments from seasons past. Talent streaming into Montreal include Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta, Travis Moen, Jaroslav Spacek, Hal Gill and Paul Mara and goaltender Curtis Sanford. Chemistry should be key through the first half of the season, but I expect the Canadiens to be fighting rival Bruins for first in the division.

3. New Jersey Devils, Atlantic Division Champions: Everytime they are counted out, the Devils prove people wrong. They have a system that works, a GM that knows his team inside and out and quite possibly the best goaltender of all time in net. Bottom line, they compete every season for top spot in the East. Bringing back Jacques Lemaire as head coach for his second stint with the Devils fits into the defense/goaltending first, every thing else second. Expect the Devils to be a tough team to beat this year.

2. Boston Bruins, Northeast Division Champions: Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas and Marc Savard. Three names that will make the Bruins a tough team to face this year. They were almost unstoppable, until they faced the Carolina Hurricanes in the playoffs. They finished first in the East last season, and they should play with a bit of a chip on their shoulder this year. With all their off season drama behind them (mainly with the deal that sent Kessel to Toronto). Now all is left to do is lean on Milan Lucic, Savard and Blake Wheeler for some offensive production.

1. Washington Capitals, Eastern Conference Champions: The Capitals felt they had the Stanley Cup Finals with in their grasp. But one bad game left an unsettling feeling in their stomachs. The game 7 debacle against the Penguins have made the Capitals even more ready for this season. Alex Ovechkin put on some weight in the off season and the goaltending battle has heated up between Jose Theodore, Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. This is basically the same team returning, very little change over the off season. The additions of Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison replace the departing Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov. There is only one goal for this team, and that is the Stanley Cup.

Top spot in the Eastern Conference could go either way between the Bruins and the Capitals. But both will have to save enough for the post season too. The biggest improvement from last year would be the Panthers. I didn't give them much respect last year, but they surprised me. I don't think they are going to waste another season trying to get to the playoffs, and I see them being a good team this year.

I will work on the Caps season preview before the game on Thursday.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Go West, Young Man, Go West

Players in the Western Conference can breath easy knowing that they have dominated the Stanley Cup Finals in over a decade. The West have beaten the east 8 of the last thirteen finals. Those odds are pretty good and are only getting better as many of those teams have youth maturing.

Ranking the Western Conference is no easy task with teams on the rise and other teams in such turmoil. But there will be a lot of familiar faces back in the playoffs when the 82 games schedule comes to a close. Let's start with the bottom and work our way up.

15. Phoenix Coyotes: Three words, off ice drama. That is what keeps this team from moving forward. As far as player personnel are concerned, the 'Yotes had a busy off season. The signed goaltender Jason LaBarbera, forward Vernon Fiddler and defenseman Adrian Aucoin in free agency. They resigned Scottie Upshall to a one year deal and worked the trade route to acquire Lauri Korpikoski and Radim Vrbata. They seem like the right moves, but with ownership in question and a new coach to boot, there is a lot of chemistry questions to deal with. A team with this much turmoil up top is going to hinder this group through out the season.

14. Colorado Avalanche: Things in Denver are not good. With the departure of Joe Sakic over the summer, the team has lost its prolific leader and fallen from the elite grace they enjoyed just a few seasons ago. With a slew of veterans on their last year of their contracts, this looks more like a shopper's paradise for teams looking to beef up their line-ups come the trade deadline. Players afraid of being traded through out the season very rarely play their best. It is rebuilding time in Colorado.

13. Edmonton Oilers: They made a play for Danny Heatley, but in the end they couldn't pull the forward their way. The Oilers did however get a good goaltender in Nikolai Khabibulin. It is pretty much the only positive to come out of the off season for the beleaguered Oilers. They spent too much time on trying to get a deal done with Ottawa, there is not much improvement on this team from a season ago. They are going to have to rely on the players that gave marginal performances last year. It's a tough spot to be in.

12. Los Angeles Kings: Every time the Kings get some good news, something happens that dissolves it. But they may have some hope after signing Rob Scuderi in the off season and trading for Ryan Smyth to give them some leadership. What gives this team hope and heartache is youth. Jack Johnson, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown make up the core of the Kings youth movement. If they can show some more mustard early in the season they could finish higher than 12th. But their goaltending is still marginal and they still need a super-star to make the big plays when they need it most.

11. Minnesota Wild: With the departure of some good talent late last season, the Wild replaced it by signing Martin Havlat, Greg Zanon and Shane Hnidy in the off season. The Wild are under new management though, getting a new GM and coach to lead the team in a new direction. It may take a season or two for the organization to get out of some old habits. They do have the pieces to possibly make the playoffs, but it remains to be seen if the Wild can pull it all together this season.

10. Nashville Predators: Nashville let a few players walk in the off season. They were able to keep Steve Sullivan and Joel Ward, but it may not be enough to make the playoffs. Part of Nashville's problem is the small amount of fans and money to work with. The management have failed to pull a team in around Sullivan and team captain Jason Arnott. The Preds still have a good core of defensemen and the combo of Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne should steal a few games this season.

9. Dallas Stars: This team made some smart moves in the off season, and it should show in the standings. Will they make the playoffs? They could, but it will depend on how well the changes at management and coaching affect the team. The big D signed some good defense in Karlis Skrastins and Jeff Woywitka. Jere Lehtinen resigned for another year and the Stars have a better back up in Alex Auld who was acquired in the off season. Low expectations may hinder the Stars this year, but if they grow in the right direction, they could knock off someone on the next list.

Playoff Bound

8. St. Louis Blues: On the verge of something good, the Blues have to build on their experiences from a season ago. But they have to be careful, they are also in a division that highly competitive. One bad stretch could be doom for this young team on the rise. Veterans Keith Tkachuk, Jay McClement, Mike Weaver and Brad Winchester were all resigned and goaltender Ty Conklin should be a capable back up. Head coach Andy Murry has to get the youth of his team to start to believe in themselves. Once the kids start to buy in to the system, the Blues will have a good team on their hands.

7. Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are a shell of their former selves. Chris Pronger, Rob Niedermayer, Francois Beauchemin and Brett Hedican all left for greener pastures. What saves the team from total breakdown is what they got in return. Saku Koivu, Nick Boynton, Steve McCarthy were signed in the off season and Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa and Ryan Dingle were acquired in the Pronger trade. The Ducks should make the playoffs again.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: After making the playoffs for the first time in their franchise history, it is understandable that they might have a bit of hangover when teams start taking them more seriously. Lucky for the fans, the Jacks resigned Rick Nash. They also added Sammy Pahlsson to add some punch at center depth. But the BJ's need consistency in the division they are in. If they can build on what they started last year, this team should find a comfortable spot in the post season and will look for their first playoff win.

5. Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks shed some big contracts in the off season. Some of that shedding will hinder them, and maybe they won't win their division. But with Roberto Luongo in net and the Sedin Twins signed on for another go, there is no reason this team should miss the playoffs. They took advantage of San Jose's roster shedding by getting Christian Erhoff and Brad Lukowich in exchange for some prospects. They also pulled Mikael Samuelsson from the Red Wings pool. The Canucks should have a good year, but they have to grow some tougher skin to get further in the playoffs.

4. Detroit Red Wings: How can the Red Wings not win their division but still get home ice advantage? Because they are the Red Wings. Whether fans show up to the games or not, the Wings is a hard team to beat night in and night out. A few support players found spots on other teams, but the core of Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, the Wings will be okay. Their hold on goaltending greatness in Chris Osgood may prove their downfall if Osgood is not playing his best.

3. Calgary Flames, Northwest Division Champion: Theo Flurey certainly created a lot of buzz in camp this off season, but his comeback was dealt a huge blow when he was released a week before opening night. It was a distraction for Flames' fans, but the real excitement will be the arrival of Jay Bouwmeester. Acquired in the off season, Bouwmeester's arrival bolsters Calgary's defensive squad that is already beefed up with Dion Phaneuf and Robyn Regehr. If the Flames can score, their defense should hold up fine, and they will win their division.

2. Chicago Blackhawks, Central Division Champion: This team is riding a good vibe right now and it should carry through to another playoff run. There are few messy ends for the Hawks, the change in GM after Marion Hossa was signed to a ridiculous contract and the release of Martin Havlat and the NHLPA filing grievances with the team after they resigned a bunch of their young talent. The core of Chicago's youth is really is what is exciting about this team. Patrick Kane and Johnathan Toews make this team an offensive juggernaut. Solid defense led by Brian Campbell and good goaltending by Cristobal Huet can make this team a dangerous Conference foe.

1. San Jose Sharks, Western Conference Champion: The Sharks have been a tough team to play in the West for quite some time. But getting over that first playoff series seems to give the Sharks fits. San Jose did change up their look a little bit by shipping off Jonathon Cheechoo and Milan Michalek to Ottawa for Danny Heatley. The Sharks are looking for that certain something to push them over the edge. They should win the West again, but it still remains to be seen if they can do any real damage in the playoffs.

The Sharks have the talent to top the West again, but they need to show their stuff in the post season to really get any respect. I like the Blackhawks despite their off season shenanigans. They have now the experience and the coaching to help them win games, it will be hard to count them out come spring. The Coyotes are in trouble, which is sad since hockey did take root in the desert for a few years. I just don't see them coming out with a whole lot of get up and go when their coach was forced out and the league is fighting with a billionaire over their future.

Tomorrow, the Eastern Conference preview.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Canadian Press Confused?

The following was posted on, a story by the Canadian Press on the preseason game between the Capitals and Rangers:

I think they meant Michal Rosival instead of Alex Giroux. But hey, it is preseason.

Caps Finish Preseason With Win

Preseason: Capitals 4, Rangers 3

It was almost a complete game for the Capitals. They jumped up to 4-0 lead in the first two periods, then the Rangers finally got angry and came out with a much better effort in the third. The Broadway Blueshirts cut it to with in one goal, but the Caps squeak away with the win 4-3.

The Caps seemed to have a pretty good handle on the Rangers early on. Brooks Laich made a great individual effort, stripping the puck from Michal Rosival and pulling the puck around Henrik Lundqvist to get the game's first goal. It sparked the Capitals' energy and they got the second goal late in the first when Alex Semin scored with Brendan Morrison lurking in front of the net.

Chris Bourque had a good game as he is trying to make the team. He deflected a shot past Lundqvist to make it 3-0. Mike Knuble will make goaltenders pay for bad rebounds. He put in a rebound off of Mike Green shot on the point to make it 4-0 Caps.

But in the third period, the Caps didn't put the game away. Instead they allowed the Rangers back in the game with a pair of power play goals and a bad play that caught the Caps with too many players deep, resulting in a 3 on 1 the other way.

The Caps were a little thankful the preseason is done, in record time too. Every player seems ready for the regular season to start. But there should be a few more cuts in the roster for the Caps to be under the salary cap. Both Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann will be placed on the injured reserve (IR) list, not the long term injured reserve (LTIR) to start the season. Four players are still battling for those last two spots.

On the defensive side, Tyler Sloan made it a tough decision for the Caps' management to send him down again. Both Karl Alzner and Sloan have been working for that last open spot (if there even is one).

The Caps are back at it tomorrow with a practice before the team photo and media day on Tuesday. The Capitals will open their season on the road, facing the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Caps Fall To Rangers In Preseason Action

Preseason: Capitals 2, Rangers 3

Five games in eight nights is pushing it, even in NHL standards. So it is understandable if the Caps are a bit inconsistent coming into the last game of a back to back where travel was involved. The Capitals played a lackluster preseason game against the New York Rangers and just came up short 3-2.

"It's back to back for the first time this year," Bruce Boudreau explained after the game. "Here, you are flying into New York, with the traffic and you have to go early. I know it's an excuse, but I thought we hung in there really well. But with a little more fatigue than normal."

The Caps got scoring again from Keith Aucoin and Alex Semin. But it was poor defensive plays that lead to the Caps demise. John Erskine misplayed the puck early in the second period, giving Marion Gaborik a break away on Jose Theodore and beat him 5 hole. The game winner for the Rangers came when David Steckel failed to tie up Chris Higgins' stick in front of the net.

"I didn't know [Higgins] was there," Steckel said to reporters in the locker room after. "It was a mis-communication [with Jurcina]. But those are the kinda things that you have to weed out here in preseason."

The Capitals may have lost the game, but I am sure they don't miss Donald Brashear all that much. Brashear had 4 penalties racking up 14 minutes in sit down time in the penalty box and fought the same guy twice. The first fight Brash loses his balance after he lunges at Brandon Sugden, the second bout was pretty much a draw. No word on whether Sugden will stick around for Sunday's matinee with the Rangers at Verizon Center if Brashear stays in the line up for New York.

The Caps power play was non-existent. another 0 for 5, allowing a short handed goal and nearly another shorty where Alex Ovechkin had to take a penalty. A sort of Dr. Jeckel/Mr. Hyde effort; the Caps' PP has yet to be really worked on by the coaching staff.

"We are working on different stuff," Boudreau said of the inconsistent power play. "[The Rangers] came at us differently than Chicago did. [There is] no change from yesterday, we still haven't practiced it."

The poor special teams' effort aside, players fighting for roster spots played well. With one exception, Alex Giroux. After getting off to a great start in the preseason, Giroux has since cooled. He may be one of those players that does well in the AHL, but struggles in the NHL. Somehow he will have to find ways to score in a Capitals' sweater. His window for making it into the NHL is shrinking.

Aucoin, Jay Beagle and Quintin Laing all had good games and were singled out by Boudreau. Theodore also played well, but was hampered by poor defensive plays.

The Caps will play the Rangers once more Sunday at noon. It will be their last preseason game, and the roster should look as close to the final set-up as it can be. A few players will still get to hang around and get another look at the phone booth.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What Olie The Goalie Meant To Me

Goaltenders are a funny bunch. Ask any rational person to stand in front of a screaming 100 mile per hour slap shot and they will tell you how crazy you are. But then expect to be hit by the screamer line drive shot to keep it from going into the net is somewhere between lunacy and committed-in-asylum crazy. It takes a special personality to do it. Olaf Kolzig was definitely special.

Kolzig wasn't a household name in the league when he was drafted in 1989 by the Washington Capitals. He played only two games in the NHL that year, he lost both games and was a disappointing .810 save percentage and had a 6.oo goal against average. He was sent to the minors for some seasoning. He was knocked around in the lesser leagues for a few years, even spending time in the ECHL (remind you of Micheal Neuvirth?).

Olie would ping pong from the Portland Pirates to the Washington Capitals from '92 to '96 before he finally stuck in the NHL. Playing backup for Jim Carey, a young goalie that seemed to leaped frog over Kolzig for the number one spot. Carey would carry the team until his numbers slipped in the '96-'97 season.

Biding his time, in comes Olie the goalie. Kolzig would used his size to his advantage, challenging shooters on the first shot, making the save and allowing his speedy defensemen like Calle Johansson and Sergei Gonchar pick put the rebounds. The only thing that hampered Kolzig was his temper. Stick breaking rages were common in practices and even between periods in the locker room. But while some would call it a temper, others saw it as passion. And did Kolzig ever have passion.

That passion would carry them through to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998. From that point on Kolzig would endear himself to Washington, and as Capital fans, we acknowledged him as our number one guy in net. No matter how bad things got, with Olie in the net, things were going to be okay. It would be a decade before anyone could knock him from the number one spot. Partly because of some failed prospects behind him, partly because he was that good. Olie and the Caps would fall to the Red Wings that year four games to none in the Finals, but Kolzig solidified himself as an elite goaltender in the NHL.

It wasn't long before the Caps desperately wanted to taste the Finals agian and they made the mistake of bringing in free agent after free agent. Jaromir Jagr was one of those big signings that had the Caps' fans chomping at the bit for another run in the playoffs. But that would end in disaster. When the Jagr experiment failed, the Capitals vowed to rebuild. That meant a long time commitment to developing players and a lot of good talent would be lost. But the Caps could never get rid of Olie. What he meant to this city, for hockey here, and to the fans, it would take something drastic to drag our goaltender from guarding the net.

Not only have fans gotten used to seeing Kolzig between the pipes, we overlooked his bad temper. We overlooked when he started missing the second and third saves that he used to make. His name and past record was good enough for us.

As a teenager, I even made a sign in his honor that read "Go-Olie!" Not only did it get me some jumbotron action (thank you ladies for the nice compliments following the game), it also got a rise from the crowd. Olaf Kolzig will always be a Capital, there will never be another quite like him. When the reality came that maybe Kolzig just wasn't up to the challenge any more, our hearts all just ached a little. We wanted him to succeed, because his success was our success too.

Olaf Kolzig will hang up the skates this season, calling it a career after 14 years guarding a 6 foot by 4 foot net from a black rubber puck. His amazing play in '98 when he brought us so close to the Stanley Cup are now apart of Capital legend and lore. While he didn't get to raise the Cup, Kolzig was always a champion to us.

Caps Nots:
  • Rusty no more. The Capitals pulled a 6 spot on the visiting Chicago Blackhawks beating them at the phone booth 6-2. Mike Knuble finally looked comfortable on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and the pair accounted for 2 goals each. You can get a recap and the scoresheet from
  • Expect more cuts to come, but the Caps have already bid a farewell to a good number of players including John Carlson and Francois Bouchard. All will be in the Hershey Bears training camp in the coming days. You can catch up with everyone on
  • The Caps will do a home and home preseason tilt with the New York Rangers. Donald Brashear should be in at least one of the two games. We are now just under a week away from the start of the regular season.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

NHLPA: Kolzig Retires

In a statement released by the NHLPA, Washington Capital great Olaf Kolzig will retire after 14 seasons in the league.
Statement from Capitals chairman and majority owner Ted Leonsis:
“Olie was the face of the Capitals franchise for years, on the ice, in the locker room and around Washington, D.C. He was a great Capital and the organization and our fans will always have fond memories of ‘Olie the Goalie.’ We wish him and his wonderful family all the best in his retirement.”
Kolzig retires with a number of Capitals goaltending records, including:
- Career games played (711), minutes (41,259), wins (301), save percentage (.906), saves (18,013) and shutouts (35)
- Single season games played (73, 1999-00), minutes (4,371, 1999-00), wins (41, 1999-00) and save percentage (.920, 1997-98).

Kolzig spent last year in Tampa Bay before he was traded to Toronto. I will have more about Kolzig's time in DC later tonight.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Preseason: Capitals 1, Sabres 2

The Capitals' big names look like they need some work to do. In their first look at the preseason, the trio of Nick Backstrom, Mike Knuble and Alex Ovechkin didn't leave much to be desired. In a sloppy game for the returning veterans, the Capitals wasted power play opportunities, had poorly executed breakouts, missed passes and missed shots. Clearly there is some room for improvement as the Caps fall to the Sabres 2-1 in preseason action.

The Capitals were not being dominated in the first half of the game, but the Sabres seemed to be able to pepper Jose Theodore with shots. The Caps frustrations seemed to begin on a couple of power plays that the vets just couldn't convert. John Erskine hit a Sabre with his head down late in the first period and a scrum ensued when Paul Gaustad tried to get at Erskine. The Caps were awarded a 5 minute power play, but they couldn't convert.

"On a lot of their powerplays, they are trying so hard," forward Andrew Gordon said about the Caps top guys on the PP. "There is a lot of skill and they want their abilities to click right away. Some times it doesn’t happen."

It didn't happen tonight for the Caps with the extra man. They went 0 for 5, and only had 6 shots in 13 minutes of power play time.

When asked how long the Caps had worked on the powerplay, head coach Bruce Boudreau deadpanned, "The first time they practiced it was this morning." Asked if they were holding back Boudreau responded, "I don't know if they were holding back, they were trying to be too cute."

One thing that wasn't broken was the Caps penalty kill. They only needed to kill off four penalties but they have yet to allow a power play goal in the preseason. Plus the Caps just couldn't cash in on their chances. Mike Knuble had 3 or 4 good chances in the second period, but shot it wide or Sabre goaltender Patrick Lalime was there with the save.

"You feel like you are thinking a lot, maybe too much," Knuble said. "The pace goes up from training camp scrimmages."

The Sabres took advantage of some defensive miscues to score two goals just 11 seconds apart. The first was a deflection in front, while the second was a bobbling puck that got past Theodore. Besides the defensive lapses, Theo played very well. He was square to the puck on just about every shot and the Sabres didn't have very many second chances to put back a rebound. "What ever he saw he stopped and kept us in the game," Boudreau commented.

It was a night where every one was just a bit off. Mike Green had three give-aways, the most of any skater. Alex Ovechkin had six of his shots blocked by Buffalo. Mike Knuble and Matt Bradley both missed the net with their shots three times.

"This is their first game and that is how they played it as," Boudreau reasoned. "I thought their timing was off. But, that is why you have preseason games."

"[Sometimes] that’s what you need," Knuble summed up, "a [bad] game to humble yourself."

Caps notes:
  • Bruce Boudreau singled out Chris Bourque and Jay Beagle on having good games. He also saw some improvement in Sean Collins from the other night.
  • Keith Aucoin scored the only Capitals' goal. He was cycling with Alex Semin and he walked from the boards and shot it off of either Semin or a Sabre defender. Alex Giroux was also on that line until Boudreau moved Semin up to the number one line.
  • Mike Green and Karl Alzner were on the ice for both goals and both finished the night a minus 2. "I definitely overplayed it," Alzner said of the second Sabre goal. "But they say if you that if you are going to make mistakes, make aggressive ones. So I guess that was an aggressive one."
  • Boudreau expects the veterans to start filling the roster for the rest of preseason, with his roster close to set by the last two games. That leaves little time for players wanting to make the team to make a wowing impression.
Hey, it's only preseason.

Photo by Ned Dishman/Getty Images

5 Teams To Watch Out For In The East

It could be said that the Eastern Conference is the bridesmaid of the Stanley Cup. The East has only won the Cup 5 times in the last 13 Finals. In fact the Western Conference has a 46-29 record against the East in the Stanley Cup Finals during that same span. But the Eastern Conference is making a turn around through youth. The following list is of the five teams I believe the central, mountain and pacific time zones should keep an eye on. In no particular order.

The Washington Capitals. Well, duh. Second place finish in the East last year, a core team returning, and the leagues reigning MVP all leads to a dangerous Capital squad that felt if they had a better game 7, they might have been the ones with the silver chalice. The Caps have brought in some grit in the off season in Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison to replace skilled Russians Viktor Kozlov and Sergei Fedorov who joined KHL when their contracts expired. The Caps also have a competitive battle for second seat in the goalie department, which should make the Capitals very strong in net.

The Pittsburgh Penguins. Another team that rebuilt through youth and kept its core players intact. With the additions of defenseman Jay McKee and back up goaltender Brent Johnson, the moves seem almost minor. I guess when you when the Cup, there is not much to tinker with in the off-season. For the Pens, it was more about keeping the players they had. They resigned Billy Guerin, Alex Goligoski, Russlan Fedotenko and Craig Adams. Max Talbot will miss a portion of the season after successful shoulder surgery, but it shouldn't slow them down.

The Florida Panthers. Yea, I said it. The Panthers made some smart moves in the off season. They resigned franchise player David Booth and utility winger Radek Dvorak. Then they dealt dead wood in Jay Bouwmeester for Jordan Leopold and a third round pick. The Panthers are going to put all their eggs in the youth basket and hope that Booth, Keith Ballard and Stephen Weiss can pull the weight. They will have to with Richard Zednik and Ville Peltonen heading off to Europe. I think they are ready for the next step and I would expect this team to do well, if Tomas Vokoun plays to his potential. Add in a little animosity for missing the playoffs last season and this team has a lot of motivation to take that next step.

The Boston Bruins. Tim Thomas, Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic. Three major reasons teams will not like to play the Boston Bruins. The team hasn't changed their dynamic too much. The Phil Kessel saga is finally done and the Bruins can move on. There is some concern on the offense that Kessel takes with him to Toronto, but the Bruins defense will still be a tough nut to crack. The Bruins most likely will lean on their up-and-comers like Blake Wheeler and playmaker Marc Savard to produce a majority of their offense.

The Montreal Canadiens. The Habs decided to revamp their team. They have said good bye to a good number of players like Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang, Mike Komisarek, Alex Kovalev and captain Saku Koivu. Then they have added on Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri, Hal Gill, Paul Mara and goaltender Curtis Sanford. It is a new look and a new attitude and I think it will result in wins for the Canadiens. If they can keep the off ice distractions to a minimum, this team does have to potential to fight for home ice in the playoffs. They will also need a consistent effort from goaltending. Carey Price should have a capable back up in Sanford and that should make things easier.

Caps Notes:
  • The Caps have cut a fair number of guys yesterday for the start of the Hershey Bears' camp which starts today. Among some of the names that were sent down were Jake Hauswirth, Anton Gustafsson, Micheal Dubuc, Joe Finley and Josh Godfrey. Some of the notable stays are forwards Kyle Wilson (who had a goal and an assist in the preseason game against Chicago), Chris Bourque, Mathieu Perreault, Francois Bouchard, Andrew Gordon and Steve Pinnizzotto and defensemen Karl Alzner, Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins and Patrick McNeill.
  • The Caps play their first preseason game at home at the Verizon Center against Buffalo tonight. The Caps played them last Thursday and beat the Sabres in overtime off of a Brian Pothier point shot. Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Mike Green will make their first appearance in preseason play tonight.
  • There has been a lot of chatter about Chris Bourque possibly being traded to Boston in the event he doesn't make the Caps starting roster. That was denied by Bourque on Tarik's blog. Since then, the Boston source that published the rumor took it down.
Go Caps!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Caps Win In OT... Again

Preseason: Capitals 3, Blackhawks 2 OT

In almost a repeat of the first preseason game, the Capitals have to come from behind to get the win in overtime against the Chicago Blackhawks. In front of 19,734 in attendance at United Center in Chicago, the Caps' start was a little slow. The Blackhawks jumped to the early 2-0 lead. But Washington came back with goals in the second and third periods to force overtime and eventually winning with just :12 seconds left in the extra frame.

The Caps got off to another shaky start, but goaltender Micheal Neuvirth kept them with in reach. Chicago got some jump from the crowd early and scored in the first five minutes of the game off of a Patrick Sharp clean up shot with the puck in the crease.

The Caps then started taking penalties, much like they did in the game against Buffalo. They were called for four straight infractions for a total of 5 penalties in all. But the penalty killers did their job, not allowing a single Blackhawk power play goal. That seemed to build the momentum for them and Chris Clark's goal that bounced off a Blackhawk's skate to beat Huet seemed to energize the team.

The line of Clark, Alex Giroux and Kyle Wilson were on the ice for Chicago's 2 goals, but they made up for it by scoring the next two. Wilson scored late in the third to tie up the game and Neuvirth continued to look strong in net, killing off a 3:19 Blackhawk power play when Giroux took a 4 minute high sticking double minor.

Cam Barker took a high sticking call late for the Hawks and the Caps had a late power play to finish regulation, but their power play didn't click. It wasn't until late in the overtime period did Shaone Morrisonn dig the puck from the corner and feed it to a waiting Mathieu Perreault. Perreault buried the walk off goal and the Capitals stay perfect in the preseason.

The battle for second chair in goaltending has reached a boiling point. After Semyon Varlamov gave a spectacular performance in Buffalo, Neuvirth answered with a pretty well played game in Chicago. Both are making the decision harder for the coaching staff to pick one over the other, but one thing is for sure: the Caps have some great goaltending for the future.

Kyle Wilson and Mathieu Perreault played well for the Caps as the battle for the forward spots heat up. Wilson finished with a game tying goal and an assist, while Perreault scored the game winning goal in OT. Andrew Gordon also played well although he didn't make the scoresheet.

The Caps' defensive squad played well overall. Although there were some breakdowns, Neuvirth was there for the save. John Erskine had 5 hits, while Morrisonn assisted on the game winning goal. Tom Poti and Milan Jurcina both finished a plus 2.

The Blackhawks had a lot of stars on the ice for this exhibition game, but the Caps held pretty firm. Jonathan Towes, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Dustin Byfuglien and Cristabol Huet were all in the line up for the Hawks and the Caps still were able to hold their own. A positive sign.

Caps have one day of practice before their next game at the phone booth in Chinatown versus the Sabres. Caps may have more cuts on the way before the game Monday night.

Photo: AP

Friday, September 18, 2009

Things Get More Serious At Camp

Bruce Boudreau is giving the guys who deserve a shot at making the opening night roster their due. As more cuts are eminent, the competition for any open spots is starting to ramp up in practices and in the preseason games.

"We've got too many guys that deserve a shot," Boudreau addressed reporters at practice today. "We want to get to our team as quick as possible like everyone else does."

With four games in seven nights through the preseason the pressure is on for the management and coaches to settle on a team. For the youngsters, unseating a veteran will be a tough job. They would have to wow the coaches to make any headway.

"If it's a championship fight and it goes down to a decision, usually the champion gets the decision," Boudreau explained. He was equated that analogy to the goaltending job, but it is also his philosophy for filling out the rest of the team as well.

Players look much more focused in practices, working that much harder today at KCI. The fun and work done during the Duchesne Cup games has faded to a much more concentrated group as guys start to peel away at camp. As more leave, the more intense it should be for the remaining players.

"Tomorrow, we will lose 15 to 20 guys," Boudreau said ominously.

Other camp notes:
  • Micheal Nylander looks much more stocky to me this year. After seeing him at practice for the first time, Nylander can still stick handle in a phone booth. But he also looks like he is working harder on what the coaches would like to see out of him. He is finding the open man much quicker, he is not shying away from hits in the corner and he is letting his speed and experience show. It remains to be seen if Nylander can continue the trend, but he looks very focused on the ice.
  • Nylander and Anton Gustafsson look like that have a healthy relationship on the ice. The two would often talk between drills. It reminds me of a couple of years ago when another young Swedish kid, Nick Backstrom, made his way to Washington for the first time and Nylander took him under the wing. Maybe there is hope for Lil' Gus after all.
  • Boudreau ran the first practice while Bob Woods took charge of the second session. Woods gave the second group a hard skate that had many players, veterans and rookies alike, crouched over with their sticks on their knees. It leads me to think that players in the second group weren't going to be making the trip to Chicago.
That is all I have got for today.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Caps Win First Preseason Game

Preseason: Capitals 4, Sabres 3 OT

In a game when the Caps seemed to look a bit shaky for their first preseason game, Semyon Varlamov was anything but. Varly stopped all 17 shots in the first two periods and held on in the third to help his team beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 in overtime. Brian Pothier scored the game winning goal on a 5 on 3 power play carry over from the third period to give the Caps the win.

The Capitals didn't quite get the start they wanted in HSBC Arena at the start of the first period. They were badly outworked and out hustled. The Sabres offense seemed to be in fine form as the Caps struggled. Well all but one, Varly. Varlamov came up with save after save against the Sabres who were trying to score on the young goaltender by finding the open man across the ice. But each time Varly had an answer robbing Jason Pominville a couple of times with his athletic splits to cover the once open net.

With the Caps' goaltender keeping them in the game, the Caps seemed to get a good start as Alex Giroux scored the opening goal in the first period. He scored on a feed from Brendan Morrison and it gave the Capitals the early 1-0 lead. Thanks to Varlamov's heroics that scored held until the third period. Then the Sabres finally started getting the shots to go in.

The Sabres scored 2 goals jumping up to a 2-1 lead on goals by Pominville and Clarke MacArther. Mike Knuble tied things up with a goal right in front of the net. The Sabres answered with a goal of their own again going up by a goal. Just 23 seconds after the Buffalo goal, Jay Beagle tied the game.

Buffalo took a couple of bad penalties late, one was a delay of game foul called on goaltender Jhonas Enroth. The other was a check from behind by Mike Weber that had B. Mor injured on the ice for a spell. The Caps carried over the 5 on 3 power play into the overtime period where Pothier beat Enroth with a point slapper and wins the game for the Caps.

The standouts tonight for those gunning for jobs were Karl Alzner, Chris Bourque and Jay Beagle. Alzner cool, calm demeanor seemed to help the Caps get out of sticky situations. Bourque seemed to be Bruce Boudreau's safety blanket for this game. When his line was out there it seemed to even things out a bit. Beagle had 4 shots on net (second only to Nick Backstrom who had 5 shots) and scored the game tying goal just 23 seconds after the Sabres scored their go ahead goal late in the third.

Anton Gustafsson had his moments, both bad and good. The good was he did get his nose dirty in front of the net and that lead to some scoring chances and his two registered shots on net. The bad was when he broke his stick and went to the bench to get a replacement which gave the Sabres a scoring opportunity.

Joe Finley didn't really stand out at all, but he didn't make any glaring mistakes either. He registered two blocked shots and gave the Caps some good size up front.

The Caps come back to DC to get a few practices on Friday before heading to Chicago to play their second preseason game against the Blackhawks Saturday night.

Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Saturday, September 12, 2009

3 Interesting Things To Watch For At Camp

The Washington Capitals technically started their camp today with veterans reporting to Kettler Iceplex for physicals and information. They also had a chance to meet up with the press. Questions about last year's disappointment to the outlook for this upcoming season were zinged left and right at players who just got into town. When the players do hit the ice tomorrow, they will just be four days from their first preseason game against Buffalo.

Just about every player has his own story and what they will try to accomplish in this year's camp. There are three that are interesting to watch as you gaze upon the practices at KCI.

Battle Between The Pipes

Bruce Boudreau is pretty big on seniority. That was made clear when he told reporters over the summer who was the number one goaltender for the Capitals. It was Jose Theodore.

Theo was benched in favor of the up and coming Semyon Varlamov in the playoffs and was returned only when the Caps trailed badly in game seven against the Penguins. But Theo has always claimed (and rightly so) that he was the whole reason for the Caps second place finish in the Eastern Conference to begin with.

But who is number two (bad bathroom humor aside). That is a battle to watch. Varlamov seems to be the obvious choice, but Micheal Neuvirth was in net when the Hershey Bears won their championship. It should be the battle to watch between the two. While Varlamov had some success in the NHL and in the playoffs, Neuvirth jumped from the ECHL to the AHL and going on to backstop for a championship. The battle should be one to watch and the Caps could gain from some outstanding goaltending throughout the preseason.

Knuble's Chemistry

Mike Knuble was the biggest off season acquisition the Capitals made. He comes in to replace the leaving Viktor Kozlov(who choose to go home and play in the KHL), which means they are most likely going to use Knuble on the Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom line as a grinder. It's not a guaranteed spot for Knuble, but his signing in the off season is meant to add some sandpaper to the Caps forward lines.

If Knuble can dig in the corners and win battles on the boards, that could mean some open ice for Ovi and his wicked shot. The two are expected to work off of each other if they are paired on the top line, and it will be interested to see if the two really have some chemistry together. The two may not be paired until late in the preseason, but I would expect Knuble to share some time up on the top line during practices and scrimmages.

De - De - Defense

If there is one position the Caps have a log jam of good talent, it is on the blue line. Here is the list of defensemen who have a good shot at one of the six to seven positions available on the Caps roster: Karl Alzner, Sean Collins, John Erksine, Mike Green, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrison, Brian Pothier, Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, Tyler Sloan and an outside chance for John Carlson. That is eleven players for only six spots.

I don't think there is doubt that Green, Poti, Pothier, Morrisonn and Jurcina will make the opening night roster. That really only leaves one or two spots open for the rest. That battle for those final spots should make any mistake by a defensive player a huge deal. The competition should make for some great defensive efforts on the Capitals' blue line.

NHL Notes:
  • Dany Heatley is a Shark according to A trade that took long enough. Heatley and a 5th round pick to San Jose for Milan Michalek, Jonathan Cheechoo and a second round pick. I think Ottawa won in this trade to be honest. I don't think that Heatley will boost the Sharks offense anymore than Cheechoo could.
  • If the Coyotes weren't confused enough about their owner, they are really confused now that Wayne Gretzky was a no show for the first day of camp. No owner, no coach, what is going on in Phoenix? Ulf Samuelsson is filling in as head coach. This organization just went from sad to pitiful.
  • On a totally non-hockey subject, things will be changing big time for the Puckhead family. We found out in July that my wife is expecting our first child. It is the reason I have not been updating the blog as often as I would like. So as my life changes on the home front, I am sure it will be more difficult to keep the blog up to standard at all times (considering I do this for the love of it and don't get paid at all). We are super excited and before the season is out, there will be a new little Caps fan that Uncle Ted will want to sell a season ticket to.
Thank goodness hockey is back!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rookie Camp Ends On Sour Note

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their rookie camp with a rookie game against the Philadelphia Flyers rookies/AHL players. While the end result wasn't the what the rookies hoped for (a 7-3 loss), the week proved to have more positives than negatives for the young skaters.

Having a good week was John Carlson. Not only was he one of the best players on the ice for the rookie game, but Carlson just seemed head above shoulders over the other players though out camp. He has improved his hockey sense to go with his heavy shot and good speed. It will be interesting to see how he progresses into next week with the veterans.

Trevor Bruess also had a great camp and played very well in the rookie game. He is all sandpaper in the way he plays. He spent some time this summer before camp practicing with some of the veterans. Cody Eakin also impressed. Eakin had a goal and his speed was lethal against the bigger Flyer defenders and through out camp.

It was a bit disappointing not to see Stephan Della Rovere take the ice for practices or the rookie game. I am hoping to see more of him in the next couple of weeks and maybe for some of the preseason games.

The players that just didn't impress through out the week includes Anton Gustafsson. Lil' Gus has some seasoning to do. Not to say that the son of Caps great Bengt Gustafsson hasn't been working on improving, but he is just not there yet. He needs to work on core strength and staying on his feet. As well as a season or two in the minors should help improve his hockey sense a bit.

A few of the defensemen had good camps, but in the rookie game they were a bit sub-par. Eric Mestery and Kevin Schmidt had a rough go of it through out the rookie game. They just could not control the Flyers forwards in front of the net.

Dmitri Kugryshev also had a rough game. Not only was he elbowed in the first period and shook up, but his play was a bit sloppy and took a bad offensive zone penalty when the Caps seemed to build momentum. He was eventually replaced on the power play line for first time forward Joe Finley (that could be they wanted to use Finley's size in front of the Flyer goaltender).

Speaking of Finley, the once defenseman now forward was the talk of rookie camp. He did okay for his first game as a winger. He still looks a bit shaky on the break out and has to learn to make that transition and head man the puck once the pass comes his way. Otherwise he was sound positionally and made a few good cuts to the net during the rookie game.

As a whole, the Caps rookies did a good job up in Voorhees New Jersey to take on the Flyer rookies. It was a bit of a lopsided affair with the Flyers 20-21 year-olds against the Caps 18-19 year-olds, but I felt the Caps future held their own. They definitely out chanced the flyers and out shot them. A few lucky bounces the other way and it is a different game.

Now camp goes from development to the real deal. Veterans report to camp tomorrow and are available to the media in the morning. Their first practice is not until Sunday morning, but they will be going through physicals and some off ice testing until then.

It will be interesting to watch what happens when the rooks skate with the big boys. It will be easy to see how jumps out and who just gets washed away in the crowd. There will be some big battles for back up goaltender, defense jobs and third and forth line jobs. Will the Caps take chances on some up and comers in the system, or will we see basically the same roster as last year? All questions will be answered in a few short weeks.

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Quest For The Cup Starts Here

71 players, two practice rinks, rookie and regular training camps, and six preseason games. It's the dawn of a new season. One that finds the Washington Capitals' expectations far exceed just getting to the next round.

Their hope is not only to battle for first in both their division and in their conference, but a team that can and will make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. This is a team that felt if they had different fortunes in a certain game seven, they would be the ones lifting a special banner this October. This is the Cup or bust season for the Capitals.

Not that any player would say such a thing, but read between the lines and you will notice this team finds its exit from the post season last spring a bit unsettling. They plan to fix that bad heartburn they had just 4 months ago.

And it all starts here, at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. 71 players will take to these two rinks atop the Ballston Commons parking garage to take on another grueling NHL season. Rookies will take the stage first, then veterans wander in a week later. And just ten days from now, the Caps will be playing in their first preseason game in Buffalo N.Y.

Here are a few interesting things you will see and want to keep an eye on this week at KCI.

Semyon Varlamov changed the spelling of his first name and has some new pads. He will also be on the ice for the rookie camp. Along with Braden Holtby and Micheal Neuvirth, the goaltenders will be battling for spots in Hershey and for the Capitals. Don't think that Varly the number one position in the bag. Jose Theodore is in the final year of his contract and I would expect that he will be playing top notch goaltending throughout camp and the preseason to retain his formally number one spot.

At this point the battle really comes down all three goaltenders, Theodore, Neuvirth and Varlamov for spots one and two on the Caps roster. And the competition looks fierce.

There will be some new goaltending faces at camp, like Jason Bacashihua. He was originally drafted by Dallas in '01, and played a game or two for the St. Louis Blues. He was signed as a UFA by Hershey/Capitals in July. Also Todd Ford, a tall goaltender at 6'4", who was originally a Toronto draft pick in '02. Ford has struggled being sent back and forth from the one minor team to the next, but found a nitch in the ECHL with Victoria where he had a .915 save percentage and 2.64 GAA.

Joe Finley is listed on the forwards side of the roster instead of defense. It is not that big of a surprise as the coaches made the switch at developing camp in July. It a lot of ways I can see what they are trying to get out of Finley, a big gritty forward that has size and isn't afraid to hit wearing down opposing defenders and playing a good two way game. Think of it as a David Steckel clone perhaps. Finley's move to the forward position has been one he has been told to work on all summer. Per Tarik on his blog:
"We told [Finley] we wanted to try him at forward and we wanted him to go back to North Dakota to practice as a forward," [Bruce] Boudreau said. "We want to see how much that has improved because I asked him on the last day [of development camp]. Now he's had a couple of months."
We will see how that little experiment goes.

Micheal Dubuc returns. He easily impressed the coaches in development camp and could fight for a spot on the squad. It will be easier to gain a grasp of what he is capable of when he is mixed in with the veterans, but he should be the one to watch for the rookie game and in intrasquad scrimmages. He just has a nose for finding the back of the net.

Some noticeable misses in the rookie camp roster are defenseman Patrick Wey, forward Greg Burke, center Phil DeSimone, goalie Dan Dunn, forward Andrew Glass, and defenseman Dmitri Orlov (all were at the summer development camp, but according to the list generated by the Caps media relations none of these names appear on the rookie or training camp rosters).

Battles for defense should be a good one. Black horse and underdog Karl Alzner could crack the opening night roster. So could Tyler Sloan, a popular choice of the coaches when the blue line was hurt last season, and also rookie John Carlson, who has done nothing but improve every time we see him. It will be a tough nut to crack because the Capitals did not lose a single starting defensemen in the off season. All will return and all will be looking to keep their spots with the big club.

The Capitals training camp practices are open to the public and start today at 10:30 am. Rookie Camp is first and ends on Friday with the rookie game against Philadelphia in Vorhees N.J. Then the Veterans report on Saturday, September 12th and training camp begins on Sunday with the first squad hitting the ice at 10 am, the second at 11:45 am and the third group at 2:15 pm. Times are subject to change. Schedule of all the caps training camp practices and schedules can be found on the Caps' website.

Hockey is back!