Sunday, January 31, 2010

Matching History With 10

Capitals 3, Lightning 2
Game Summary

The Washington Capitals matched a franchise record they set back in back in 1984, ten straight wins. But getting number ten proved to be a bit difficult for the Caps as the Tampa Bay Lightning, the last team to hand the Caps a loss, made things interesting late in the third. It would be the team's captain that settled the score and handed the Caps a piece of history as the Caps undo the Bolts 3-2 at Verizon Center.

Ovechkin scored the game winning goal over halfway through the third period after the Caps had let a 2-0 lead slip away. The Lightning were able to tie it in the third and pressured to get the late goal to force overtime. Nick Backstrom scored his 23rd goal of the game (a career best) and Brooks Laich gave the Caps the two goal lead after Lightning goaltender Mike Smith blew a wheel.

The game started pretty physical, the Lightning taking it to the Caps pretty quick. Ovechkin was nearly run by everyone on the first line in the first minutes. But the top line for Washington was able to dominate the play when they wanted too and often times pinned the Bolts into their own zone. The Caps would benefit from a penalty call early in the second period and Backstrom scored off of a rebound shot in from the point by Alex Ovechkin.

The Caps would extend their lead later in the second period when Smith took a tumble as Alex Semin and Tomas Fleischmann moved the puck from east to west. The return pass to Semin gave him an open net, but a Lightning defender blocked the shot. Laich was there to puck up the loose puck and still take advantage of the awing net. It looked as if the Caps were going to run away with another game.

But in the third period, the Lightning seemed to turn their game around and put forth a better forecheck inside the Capitals zone. Martin St. Louis scored off of a deflected point shot to make it 2-1. Then for some reason, the officials blew Backstrom for hooking on the ensuing face off. It was clearly a phantom call as replay showed nothing out of the usual, but it put the Caps down a man. While on the PK, Fleischmann pickpocketed Vincent Lecavalier but gave up the puck right after. Flash picked up the hooking call giving the Lightning a 5 on 3 advantage and extended time with the extra man. The PP time paid off as Steven Stamkos scored his 29th of the season on a one timer feed.

Alex Ovechkin seemed determined to get shots on net, but the Lightning were quick to get into the shooting lanes. Ovi would have 11 of his shots blocked. But when he found an open pocket and a Bolt defender reaching he score the game winning goal low, just past Mike Smith as he went to the butterfly. The Caps would hold on to win their tenth straight, besides a late push by the Lightning at the end.

With an all important face off in the Caps zone, the Bolts lost their cool as Lecavalier couldn't let his displeasure from being tossed from the face off dot get past him and took an unsportsmanlike that killed the last chance the Lightning had in the game. The Caps would take it and the ten straight wins.

It wasn't the Caps most perfect game, a little sloppy here and there. But the win at the end of the day is what counts. In previous games, the Caps seem to get some help from secondary scoring, but it seemed the Lightning did a good job of bottling up the other lines. The Caps did not get a goal from the defensive line like they had in the previous two games.

Tyler Sloan made an appearance as Karl Alzner was sent back down and Mike Green is serving his 3 game suspension. Sloan played very well through out the game, including making some key poke checks on the Lightning's young superstar Stamkos.

History can be made if on Tuesday night the Caps can make it 11 straight when they have to walk into TD Banknorth Garden in Boston to take on the Bruins.

Caps Notes:
  • Fleischmann had two assists in this game, both secondary helpers on the first two goals. He had a chance to score off of a rebound but couldn't play the puck cleanly from his skates. He has improved somewhat since moving to the center position but his face-offs were only so so as he was 5 for 10, 5o%.
  • Ovechkin is now just 4 points shy of hitting 500 career points. He also leads the teams in game winning goals with 6. Knuble is second with 4 GWGs.
  • Tampa Bay Lightning had 13 giveaways in this game, included two by their goaltender Mike Smith.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Green's Karma

Mike Green's elbow on Micheal Frolik was not pretty. Green lead with his elbow into Frolik as he entered the zone. The hit and the debate over his suspension by TSN analysts can be seen below:

According to TSN's Bob McKenzie on his twitter account (@TSNBobMcKenzie) Mike Green received a 3 game suspension by the NHL.

Green would be hit later in the in that game late in the second period by Dmitry Kulikov on a knee on knee hit. Green would leave the game, come back in the third only to be sent back into the locker room by the coaching staff. Bruce Boudreau related the injury to a bad "charly horse."

Green's aggressive it was met with a bad knee on knee hit that made him leave the game. But just like anything dealing with karma, Green gets three games to heal this bad charly horse.

Friday, January 29, 2010

9 Is Fine

Capitals 4, Panthers 1
Game Summary

The Washington Capitals started this nine game winning streak with a shoot-out win over the Florida Panthers. During that span they have scored 44 goals while only allowing 19 goals against, scored 11 goals on the power play and one goal shorthanded and increased their lead in the Southeast Division to 22 points and 6 point lead in the Eastern Conference. Their ninth win came over the same Panthers that forced overtime nearly two weeks ago and it would not take overtime or a shoot-out for the Caps to come away with a 4-1 win.

Mike Knuble scored a pair of goals, while Nick Backstrom and the Sarge Jeff Schultz made up the difference. Alex Ovechkin factored into the score sheet just on an assist.

But the win did come with a cost as Mike Green took a knee on knee hit and took the worst of the encounter from Dmitry Kulikov. Green would come back in the third but the coaches decided against him playing any further in the game. The hit was clean as Kulikov led with his shoulder and the knee on knee contact just was a consequence of the hit. Bruce Boudreau called it "more of a charly horse than anything else."

Michal Neuvirth played well, controlling his rebounds and coming up with the big save when the team needed it. Jose Theodore did dress to back up the young goaltender, but he might be in danger of losing his number one seat if Neuvirth continues to play at the level he is. His calm demeanor in net and his ability to gobble up shots, not giving the opposition a second chance on rebounds, has made Neuvy a goaltender that might have some staying power with the big club.

What is more remarkable than winning nine games in a row is the fact that the Capitals do not have to rely on Alex Ovechkin to carry the team. Even though the Caps' superstar has managed an average of two points a game during the winning streak, the large amount of their scoring has been sprinkled around. Fifteen different Capitals have scored a goal during the game winning stretch.

The Caps also have won five straight just against the Florida Panthers. Their dominance in their division continues as the team has now stretched out to a 22 point lead in the standings over their closest rivals Atlanta Thrashers.

Special teams again have come through for the Caps as they were able to score a power play goal while at the same time killing off all of their penalties.

Caps notes:
  • In 6 of the nine games the Caps have won during their winning streak, a Cap player has scored two goals (Semin in two games, Knuble in two games, Laich and Ovechkin). The Capitals do not have a single player with a hattrick yet this season.
  • This would tie the second longest winning streak for the Capitals Franchise and just short of the ten straight wins in '83-'84. This is the longest winning streak for Bruce Boudreau since taking over as the Capitals head coach.
  • The last time the Capitals lost was against the next team they face. The Tampa Bay Lightning embarrassed the Caps at St. Pete Times Forum 7-4 before the Caps went on to beat Florida, Toronto, Philadelphia, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, New York Islanders, Anaheim and again Florida in that order.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Some Surprises

Who would have thought the Washington Capitals would play both Conference Champions from a season ago and beat both. Including a playoff atmosphere game in Pittsburgh. But that is just the start of some of the surprises around the league.

Boston's Fall

Following a 5-1 drubbing from the worst team in the league, the Bruins have fallen out of a playoff spot and seem to be spinning their wheels. Not that the Eastern Conference standings leader from last season is out of the playoffs all together, but they have lost their offensive punch. One of their top offensive producers, Blake Wheeler, had a spectacular season a year ago. But now he a -8 with only 29 points on the season. They have had injury problems and did trade a huge offensive threat to Toronto in Phil Kessel. The Bruins have only managed a league worst 2.37 goals per game. Their defense can only win so many games.

The Log Jam in the East

There are seven teams in the Eastern Conference near the last playoff spot that are with in a 4 point window. We are used to seeing that kind of jam for 8th place in the West, but the jam has some good teams in danger of missing the post season. What may not be a surprise is that every Southeast Division team besides the Capitals are not in the top 8. Florida, Tampa and Atlanta are still in the race and are three of the seven teams locked up in the jam at the cut off line.

The Western Conference Gap

San Jose and Chicago seem to be on a different level these days. Both teams have opened up at least a 6 point jump from their nearest foe Colorado in their Conference standings. The pair face each other on Thursday night for the last time this season. The Blackhawks lead the season series 2-1.

A Lot of Shots

You are probably thinking that the Capitals are leading the league in shots with their high powered (and league leading) offense, right? Wrong. In fact the Caps are fifth in the league in shots per game. Who is first? Struggling Toronto. The Maple Leafs have are peppering 33.8 shots a game on their opposistion, but are 16th in the league in goals for. Phil Kessel leads the Leafs with 186 shots on net. Impressive considering he has only been playing in 41 games.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Thriller At The Phone Booth

Capitals 3, Red Wings 2
Game Summary

It didn't start they way the Capitals had hoped. It was over ten minutes into the game until they had their first shot on net, they were badly out shot in the first period 15 to 3. It would take a super goaltender performance just for the Caps to stay in the game. They got that from Jose Theodore. He turned away a whopping 44 shots as he helped his team to a 3-2 victory over last season's Western Conference Champion Detroit Red Wings.

Jose Theodore performed outstanding from the very first moments of the game when Tom Poti turned the puck over in the neutral zone. Todd Bertuzzi had a semi break away and Theodore waited him out to make the save. From that moment on, Theo was rock solid. If it were not for Theo's heroics, Caps would easily been down 3-0 or 4-0 into the first intermission. It would take a broken play in the second period that had the Caps' goaltender laying flat on his back.

The Caps would answer that goal with a beautiful stretch passing play that started with Mike Green finding Boyd Gordon on the opposite boards while the Red Wings were changing. Gordon made a nifty back hand pass to a breaking Matt Bradley who beat his defensive counterpart. Bradley made a nice cut in front of the net and put the puck up and just past Chris Osgood's out stretched glove and into the net for the tying goal.

But the Caps still didn't seem to coordinate following the goal. Alex Semin turned the puck over inside the zone. The Red Wings jumped on the puck and caught the Caps scrambling in their zone. Brian Rafalski, the game's third star, exploited Theodore's five hole to give the Red Wings the lead back.

The Caps' power play had stalled up to their last 3 chances, not even getting a shot on net. The Red Wings were doing a superb job of keeping the Caps outside and closing down on shooting lanes. But when Nick Backstrom found out he was one on one with Brad Stuart, he made a smooth deke around the defender and scored the game's only power play goal. It tied the game with over six minutes left in the game.

Some good luck saved the Caps less than a minute later when Karl Alzner dropped the pass to Semin who took the shot. The puck was deflected by the Red Wing defender's stick and arched towards the net. David Steckel got his stick on it to deflect it past Osgood and gave the Capitals the lead for good.

Special teams was key for the Capitals win. They killed all five minors they took, thanks in part to Theodore. When the Caps did have defensive breakdowns, it seemed Theo was there with the save. He controlled his rebounds, squared up to the shooter and made his home about 3 to 4 feet from the top of the crease.

The Caps keep their assault on the Eastern Conference by earning another 2 points. Next up is another tough challenge as the Caps will take on the Eastern Conference Champs Pittsburgh Penguins at the igloo. The Pens are just 3 points behind the Caps in the conference standings. A win would stretch that lead as well as put the pressure on the Devils and Sabres to play catch-up.

While the result was favorable, the Caps need to shore up their break out and neutral zone play. It was a problem for them against the Red Wings tonight, it will be more difficult against a team that perfected it against the Caps last post season. The power play needs to have more movement and the passes have to quicker.

Caps Notes:
  • The Capitals is the first team in the NHL to have three 20 goal scorers. Alex Ovechkin (30), Alex Semin (20) and Nick Backstrom who scored his 20th goal on the power play.
  • This is only the third time in Ovechkin's career that he has been without a shot on net. He had four shots blocked and 2 shots that missed the net. He did have an assist on the Backstrom power play goal.
  • CSN's Lisa Hillary reported that Semyon Varlamov will not be going to Vancouver for the Olympics. He is still nursing a sore knee (MCL). He has been skating on his own, not with the rest of the team.
  • In AHL news, Alex Giroux scored the tying goal sending the AHL All Star game into a shoot out where Team Canada beat Team PlanetUSA. The Bears were represented by four players, Giroux and Andrew Gordon for Team Canada and Keith Aucoin and John Carlson played for Team PlanetUSA. Aucoin scored a goal while Carlson and Gordon were held pointless. Michal Neuvirth was supposed to be in net for Team PlanetUSA but due to Varlamov's injury, he was on the bench backing up Theodore against the Red Wings.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I Laich It

Capitals 5, Flyers 3
Game Summary

Because of the tight schedule due to the upcoming Olympics, Bruce Boudreau admits he has not had the time to get to individual evaluations. But before facing the Philadelphia Flyers, he showed some tape to Brooks Laich. It made the Caps' bench boss a bit late to address media before the game but the one on one session seemed to awaken Laich's game, netting him a pair of goals and an assist as the Capitals defeat the Flyers 5-3.

Along with Laich's goals, Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal on a penalty shot. Previously he was 0-6 on penalty shots in his career. Alex Semin and Mike Knuble added goals for the Caps. The win gives the Caps the lead in the Eastern Conference, besting the New Jersey Devils by a single standings point.

The Caps got off to a slow start, as the Flyers looked to avenge an 8-2 drubbing the last time these two teams faced off. It looked as if Philly was determined to outwork the Capitals in their building. They took advantage of an early Caps' penalty and took the lead as Jeff Carter exploited the middle of the zone and snapped a wrister past Jose Theodore.

The home team would answer as Ovechkin dug the puck from the corner and dribbled it to the front of the net to a waiting Knuble. Knuble is riding a hot streak scoring six goals in his last six games, mostly of those coming off of an Ovechkin shot. The Flyers would answer back as rookie James Van Riemsdyk scored his eleventh from the high slot.

That is when Laich took his video session to heart as the coaching staff wanted him to crash the net more, move his feet and get into scrums and fight for the puck more. Laich scored in front of the net, kicking the loose puck from Ray Emery and scoring his twelve goal of the season.

Unlike the Capitals five minor penalties on the afternoon, the Flyers stayed disciplined, allowing only a holding minor from Carter in the second period. But it didn't take long for the Caps' power play to score, just 8 seconds in to their man advantage the Caps would score to take the lead. Mike Green would keep his point slapper low, allowing Laich to deflect it to an open Semin who had a wide open net to score on.

Laich would score his second goal of the game shorthanded after some sloppy passing by the Flyers in the neutral zone. He moved his feet and caught up to the puck, made his move on net by backhanding it top corner past Emery who was already down in his butterfly.

Ovechkin scored his thirtieth goal after he was slashed on a take-away for a break away and rewarded a penalty shot. He beared down on Emery and faked the wrister and went back hand beating the Flyer goaltender top shelf. The Flyers would get one back on a late power play, but it was too little, too late as the Caps would take the two standings points and the win from the Flyers.

The Caps have now won six of their last seven. They also have the least number of losses at home, proving the phone booth is a tough place to earn a win from visiting teams. Jose Theodore played okay, not great. But this team seems to be geared to a goaltender that can simply keep them in the game long enough for the offense to make a difference.

The Caps get a late start on practice tomorrow and face the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Birthday Boudreau Bests Thrashers

Capitals 8, Thrashers 1
Game Summary

Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau could not have scripted a better game on his birthday. On his 55th birthday, number 55 Jeff Schultz had two assists and was a plus 5, Alex Semin and Mike Knuble had a pair of goals and the Caps routed the Atlanta Thrashers 8-1.

"Any time you can score 8 goals and [Alex Ovechkin] only got one assist [and] you are getting balance from four lines, " the birthday coach told reporters following the game, "it's pretty nice as a coach."

Sixteen Capitals scored at least a point tonight. Besides goals from Knuble and Semin, the Caps got contributions from David Steckel, Tom Poti, Nick Backstrom and Jason Chimera (his first goal as a Capital). The Caps chased Thrasher goaltender Johan Hedberg from the game after they jumped to a 4-0 lead but back up Ondrej Pavelec didn't fare much better, besides turning away 10 shots in just over four minutes in taking over in net.

While the Dizzy Birds had a rough time in their net, Michal Neuvirth looked like cool hand Luke making a series of great stops early in the game. "[The Thrashers] were very good in the first period," Boudreau said, "Our goaltender should have been the first star."

When the Caps did turned over the puck, Neuvy was there with the stop. He stopped 38 shots on the way to his fifth win of the season. The Caps young goalie is in a really good headspace right now, he did not get rattled when it seemed his team seemed back on their heels. "To me," Boudreau continued, "he was the pivotal player in the game. He held us in."

The defensive core had a great night as Poti had a three point night, Schultz was a plus 5 and had two assists and only John Erskine (who left the game with an undisclosed injury in the third period and did not return) and Shaone Morrisonn were held off the scoresheet. "We wanted them to get more involved, and they did get more involved," Boudreau said. While they helped out on the offensive side, they did have some holes at times on the defensive end. When they did leave a hole, Neuvirth was quick to come in with the save.

The Capitals made a pretty loud statement to the rest of the Southeast Division. It is a win they needed to keep the pressure on the Eastern Conference. They are three points behind first place Devils and have increased their point lead in the division by 16 points.

Caps get a much needed day of rest tomorrow before they practice Monday in Tampa Bay then face the Lightning on Tuesday night for a 7:30 pm start.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Game For The Ages

The 2010 World Junior Championship could have been another snoozer. Canada could have blown everyone away and win their sixth straight gold medal in this tournament and we could have all called it a day. But what fans didn't count on was the two epic games these two teams played. One for first place in the round robin, the other for the gold medal.

Canada played almost a "Oh hum, here we go again" tournament before they played the USA. Canada went on to win games 16-0 against Latvia, 6-0 versus Swizterland, and 8-2 against the Slovakians. Other teams cowered before the Maple Leaf logo. But the dominance seemed to falter on New Year's Eve.

The Americans took it to Canada jumping to a quick 4-2 lead and seemed to have everything under control in the third. Perhaps it was that bit of over confidence that was USA's downfall. The lead would be consumed by Canada's talented forwards. USA would fall in the shootout and Team Canada would win the round and, more important, get a day of rest.

For the USA, the path would not be an easy one to make it to the gold medal game. They had to play the next day in an elimination game against Finland, then try to defeat a heavily favored Sweden the next night. Team USA defeated the odds by handling the Fins 6-2 and made it to the gold medal game by upsetting the Swedes with 3 third period goals.

For the Canadians, the path was a bit easier. They got the day of rest between the round robin and the elimination games and faced a easy target in Switzerland who had upset Russia in the previous round. Canada skipped their way into the gold medal game by drubbing the Swiss 6-1.

That set up for an epic gold medal game between the two rivals. There were four game tying goals, two lead changes, USA going up 5-3 and Canada storming back to take the game into overtime. The excitement grew with each goal, the anticipation was palpable. Whether it was Canada or the USA who scored the winning goal, this was a very special game to watch, even more special to see a team you root for is playing in a game of this magnitude.

In the end, it was a Caps' prospect that had to be talked into playing in the tournament by his teammates in Hershey. John Carlson scored the game winning overtime goal to cap a riveting series between the two teams and where Canada won the round robin, the USA was more than happy to take home the gold.

Games like the one between Canada and the USA for the WJC gold medal come few and far between. It is a game in the hockey world that will be talked about for sometime, until the next WJC, of course. NHL Network will replay the game today at 6 pm if you missed any of the action. Even if you know the outcome, it's worth a look as both countries have much to be proud of in a game such as this.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Caps Stop Losing Skid, Name Ovechkin Captain

Capitals 4, Canadiens 2
Game Summary

Just hours after naming Alex Ovechkin the franchise's 14th captain, the Washington Capitals got the win for their new leader by defeating the Montreal Canadiens 4-2. But it would be the supporting cast that gets it done for the Caps leaving Ovi without a point.

Alex Semin scored a pair, the game winner and the insurance goal. Add goals by Tomas Fleischmann and a lucky bounce off a Eric Fehr shot and the Caps put a stop to their three game losing streak. Even though Ovechkin was held off the scoresheet, the new captain's presence was felt. He had a monster hit in the third and created some great scoring chances. There was nothing wrong with his speed as he was all over the ice.

Michael Neuvirth is slowly becoming the Caps "go to" goaltender. He had 24 saves. As he gets more time in the net for the Caps, the more calm and collected he looks. He is standing great in the crease and is very sound and square to the shooter. When he is in trouble, his flexibility and his athleticism is making up for any missed steps.

Fleischmann had a heck of a game, closing quick on the puck and making some great plays with the puck. Very deserving of the game's first star. His pass to Semin to set up the insurance goal broke the backs of the Habs. Flash finished with a goal and two assists.

Overall the Caps played a gritty and emotional game. A great game to play to get themselves out of their 3 game slump. There were a fair amount of scrums with the Habs after plays. The intensity seemed to boost the Caps play. That emotion is something they seemed to lack on the western road swing.

Caps Notes:
  • On a night that they named Ovi captain and beat the Habs, Caps' prospect John Carlson scores two goals including the game winner in overtime as Team USA defeats Team Canada in the World Junior Championship Gold Medal Game.
  • Tarik reports that Dave Steckel has signed an extension with the Capitals after the game.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Caps Drop Third Straight

Capitals 1, Kings 2
Game Summary

Every time the Caps seem to build some momentum, beating New Jersey and riding a three game winning streak, they lose the steam against teams they should be beating, losses to the LA Kings and the Carolina Hurricanes and losing their last three games. They always seem to take one step forward and three steps back. The latest was a lackluster game against the Kings at Staples Center 2-1.

Mike Green responds to his snubbing of Team Canada by coming out physical against the Kings. He racked up seven hits and scored the only Capitals' goal. It was an inspired game played by the Caps' d-man, but the intensity wasn't matched by the rest of the team.

Even with some moments of strong domination, the Caps were not able to capitalize on their opportunities. Their power play woes continue on the road. They did not score on a :53 two man advantage. They missed, in part, Nick Backstrom who only played two shifts and only :56 seconds in the second period before leaving the game with an undisclosed injury (Update: Boudreau told WaPo that Backstrom was suffering from a migraine).

As far as the game was concerned, the Caps lacked anything resembling anything to really write about. Brendan Morrison had a nice semi break away where he pulled the puck between his legs to get a shot on net. But the Caps opportunities seemed to just fizzle on them.

If Jason Chimera is suppose to bring some sort of spark or "edge" to the Capitals, I am having a hard time seeing it. In two games, he has produced zero spark, zero energy and one assist. If I heard right on the interview Bruce Boudreau gave to CSN, the Caps' coach didn't quite know where to put the forward. I am not totally convinced the trade was totally worth the price of losing a solid defenseman and a forward you could depend on.

The Caps need to stomp out of what ever funk they are in. The Caps return home to face the Montreal Canadiens. A team where the Caps seem to play tough and Alex Ovechkin plays his best. The Caps schedule goes into overdrive as they still have to fit in 21 games before the Olympic break in mid February. That includes three weeks in which the Caps will play 4 nights. They also have 4 back to back nights during this upcoming stretch before the Olympic break that begins on the 14 of February.

That means the Caps will have less time to practice over the next six weeks. Changing the chemistry will have to happen at game speed.