Friday, November 20, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Defense Leads Caps To Victory Over Wild

Capitals 3, Wild 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Caps Go Eleven Rounds With Isles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Caps Punish Panthers With 5 Goals In Third Period

Capitals 6, Panthers 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 06, 2009

Caps' Win Is Costly

Capitals 4, Panthers 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Penalty Woes

Capitals 2, Devils 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 02, 2009

No Protection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Weird Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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