Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympic Winners And Losers

What a finish in men's hockey in Vancouver. From the intense preliminary games, to a gold medal finish between two rival countries, you could not ask for a better Olympic tournament. The following is my list of winners and losers over the last two weeks. It will be my last look at the XXI Winter Games of the Olympiad as the NHL returns and heads down the homestretch.

The winners:

Team Canada - The pressure of winning gold in front of the home crowd nearly did them in. They started sluggishly having to beat the Swiss in a shoot out and a shocking loss to USA in the preliminaries. But they turned it around. Minus a few close calls, they demolished their biggest rival in Russia in the quarter finals sending them home with no medals. And they played the two most watched and most revered games against a new up an coming rival in Team USA. It would be an assistant captain scored a goal that sent a country into a frenzy. Congratulations to Canada for winning the gold medal.

Team USA - Not expected to do much (in fact many experts had not put USA in the top 4 at this tournament) USA did much better than that winning silver and gave the home country's team fits in both games they played against them. The team played a scrappy, aggressive style that propelled them to the gold medal game. They were never out of any game they played, and even when they were down 2-0 to Canada, they found a way to tie it and send it to overtime. Well done boys!

Ryan Miller (USA)- What a tournament. He may only leave with a silver medal, but Miller was by far the best goaltender in the tournament. Just in the medal playoff round, Miller only allowed four goals past him. That includes the three goals that beat him in the gold medal game. He was also named the tournament's MVP and took a stroll with the other Olympic athletes at the closing ceremonies.

GM's Brian Burke (USA) and Steve Yzerman (Canada) - When putting a team together for international play, you are going to break some hearts of your fellow countrymen. But both Yzerman and Burke were able to build teams that dominated the tournament. USA towered over their competition outscoring the competition 24 to 9 in six games and Canada dominated by outscoring their opponents 33 to 16 in seven games. Both teams had little trouble getting to the gold medal game.

Jonathan Toews (Canada) - He had 8 points for Team Canada, the most of any player. One goal and seven assists for the first time Olympian, Toews opened the scoring in the gold medal game. He had a spectacular tournament.

Ryan Kesler (USA) - He played the best two way game than any other player in the tournament. Kesler would only finish with a pair of goals, but one of those goals epitomizes the USA hard work ethic that got them to the gold medal game. He hustled to the open puck behind Canada's Corey Perry and knocks into an empty net sealing the win for USA. He was a spectacular back checker as well as a good forechecker for Team USA.

Olli Jokinen (Finland) - The Finnish forward had a pretty quiet tournament. That was until he scored a pair of goals against Slovakia helping Finland to win Bronze. Just when you thought Jokinen did have a big game in him, he comes up with two great goals.

The City of Vancouver - I mean what a great host city. Not only is it a beautiful city, but they understood the game of hockey and gave a standing ovation to both Ryan Miller and Ryan Kesler. Class act.

Alex Ovechkin's hit on Jaromir Jagr - The hit heard around the world and pretty marked the beginning of the end for the Czech Republic in these winter games. It was the talk of the tournament, even if Russia faltered down the stretch.

Which brings us to this tournament's losers:

Team Russia - A major disappointment as Russia didn't make it to the medal round. It might not have mattered as the faced power house Canada in the quarterfinals, but they didn't even show up for the game. Letting in 4 first period goals and losing 7-3, the Russians left with more questions about their goaltending, coaching and players. You can only help but wonder what changes will come from this disappointing finish.

Jaromir Jagr - The Czech came back to play for his country and looked good. That is until he got bonked by Ovechkin. Then he just couldn't help his team out when they needed him most. Jagr finished with 2 goals and one assist in five games played. He was hoping that maybe he could make a return to the NHL, but after seeing him in this tournament, maybe not.

Team Sweden - A favorite for a medal, they couldn't get out of the quarterfinals against a less talented Slovakian team. Their goaltending looked human, they struggled for goals and the defense was just not a factor. Their bright spots were Capitals Nick Backstrom who lead the team with 6 points, a goal and five assists.

Team Latvia - There had to be a team that couldn't buy themselves a win. That team was Latvia. Although they played the Czech Republic tough only losing by a goal in the medal playoff round. Latvia has pulled out upsets in the Olympic games before, but they couldn't do that in Vancouver.

Gary Betteman - Make a decision on Sochi already. If Betteman hasn't realized what having NHL players in the Olympics does for the sport, then he needs to cease being a commissioner. Let 'em play Gary, let 'em play.

In all, it was a great Olympics for hockey. The ratings, I am sure, will reflect that. While it got off to a slow start, its midpoint and ending couldn't have been scripted any better. It marks a great tournament for the Americans, who exceeded expectations.

Now that the games are behind us, it's off to more important things. Like the Stanley Cup. The Capitals will get all of their athletes (if they have not returned already) for a couple of practices. They will return to the NHL schedule on Wednesday night when they face Olympian and American hero Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres. The Caps are only a point ahead of San Jose for lead in the league. But they have a 13 point lead in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey will be trying to chase them down in the conference.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Full Flight Home

Every Washington Capital involved in the Olympics saw their dreams of winning a medal dashed yesterday on what is being dubbed Wild Wednesday. They will return to DC to rejoin the Caps as they push to finish the season strong and pursue the next best thing, the Stanley Cup.

Nick Backstrom and Team Sweden could not overcome a third period Slovakia power play and lost 4-3. Backstrom played well, getting on the scoresheet with an assist and nearly scoring himself to tie the game. In the end it would be Slovakia, who also went on to beat Russia in the preliminaries, that will continue on. Former Capital, now Blue Jacket, Milan Jurcina will continue to represent his home country of Slovakia.

Tomas Fleischmann did not advance past Wednesday as the Czech Republic fell to Finland. It was a goaltending duel between Tomas Vokoun and Mikka Kiprusoff that Vokoun just came up on the short end of the game. Flash would score no points in the shutout, but had some great chances in front of the net. His teammate, Jaromir Jagr, looked like he was going to break out, but in the end he just didn't have it in his gas tank. Jagr could have played his last game in North America despite rumors of a return to the NHL.

Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Semyon Varlamov would be the most disappointed athletes of the winter games to be making a return home early. Team Russia, a gold medal favorite, were overwhelmed early in their marquee matchup against Canada. The Canadians scored 4 goals in the first period and the Russians just could not overcome the onslaught of physical and aggressive play.

"I think we was not ready for first five minutes of game and when we wake up it was too late," Ovechkin told reporters following the game. "It was 3-0 and it's pretty hard to come back, especially that game."

All of the Capitals players return either today or tomorrow to resume practices with their teammates in Washington DC. And practice they will need. The Caps are looking at snapping a three game losing skid that they carried over into the Olympic break. Now that the Olympians are returning healthy (for the most part, Ovechkin stopped a puck with his hand. He claimed it pinched a nerve) and hopefully ready to return to their day jobs.

Russia Bombs

The most anticipated game of the Olympic games turned out to be nothing more than a dud. Thanks to some poor plays in the first period by the Russians. Canada took it to their arch rivals. They scored 4 goals against the Russians in the first period, added three in the second and Canada continues on to play for a medal. Meanwhile the Russians' end up scratching their heads and leaving empty handed.

It would be the combination of KHL and NHL players for Russia that seemed to keep them off kilter all tournament long. Slovakia beat them in the preliminaries and they just didn't play dominate over the Czech Republic. Questions about the coaching, the players and the goaltenders swirled around Russians' heads as they packed up and headed home.

The Canadians did play a very good game, not to take away from their win that keeps them in the hunt for gold on home soil. But this wasn't the kind of game we expected by Russia. The anticlimactic conclusion leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of hockey fans who were drooling to see both teams on the same ice. Instead of an epic game, they got an epic stinker.

They weren't just beat in the score, or in shots, the Russians were outplayed in every aspect of the first 30 minutes of the game. Alex Ovechkin would finish with no points against Canada and was a -2. Alex Semin would be blanked as well. It would not just be a player here or a player there, it was a total team breakdown.

What the problem could have been was Russia's coaching. It seemed suspect that it took Slava Bykov, Russia's bench boss, six goals to pull Evgeni Nabokov. The lines did not gel, the passion wasn't there and the players didn't seem prepared at all at the onslaught Canada brought in the first period. That comes down to who would prepare them, who would get the chemistry going, it came down to coaching. They didn't seem to get that support from their Russian coaches.

Canada played a rough, knock-them-off-the-puck style of play. The Russians could not handle the aggressive and physical nature of their opponents. Then mistake beget mistake. Before all was said and done, Canada built a significant lead. Insurmountable as it would turn out.

With the very short schedule the Olympics crunches its games in, it is hard for any team to get chemistry with their lines quickly. For Russia, it just didn't pan out for them. They didn't make it a game. There is something more sad about that, than just another blow out game.

Olympic notes:
  • USA continues its march to the finals. They defeated the Swiss 2-0. It has been the second time the Americans have played Switzerland and beat them by two goals.
  • Team USA will face Finland after their 2-0 win against the Czech Republic in a goaltending duel.
  • Canada will face either Sweden or Slovakia following their late game outcome.
  • In one night, Capital Olympians are saying good-bye to Vancouver. Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Semyon Varlamov and Tomas Fleischmann were all eliminated on the same day.
  • Dan Boyle took exception to a hit by Alex Semin. Boyle got up and slew footed Semin to the ice. Both were given minor penalties. It is unlikely Boyle's slew footing will be reviewed or any more punishment will come from it as the IIHF does not review minor penalties.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

USA Upsets, Russia Wins On Super Sunday

If you are taking in all the action at the Olympics, you will know that heavy favorites for gold are Canada and Russia. Canada on their home ice, Russia still basking in the winning glow at the World Championships. Both seem hard to beat. But no one expected that USA would come in and tilt the ice their way. But the Americans did just that with an upset win against heavy favorite Canada.

I always use the saying that a coach once told me when I was playing hockey. "Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard." That saying does apply to the boys from US. They simply outworked their neighbors to the north, on their soil. Here are some thoughts from that game and the other two games today.

Russia 4, Czech Republic 2
  • Russia badly needed this win after dropping to Slovakia a couple of nights before. They made up for it by defeating the Czech Republic and doing it in dominating fashion.
  • Alex Ovechkin didn't score a goal, but his presence was felt all game long. Whether it was a big hit, or a couple of helpers, he played a monster game. He laid out Jaromir Jagr as the forward cut up the ice with his head down. That set up the clinching goal on the transition. Ovi has had 2g, 2a through 3 games in the preliminary round.
  • Jagr was a non factor in this game. Not only did he get his bell rung by Ovechkin, he just couldn't get any kind of flow going. The rest of the team followed suit.
  • Russia wins their group and gets a first round bye.
USA 5, Canada 3
  • Riding a hot goaltender, and I mean smoking hot, Team USA got the upset of the tournament so far. Ryan Miller turned away 42 shots to help the cause.
  • Miller played out of his mind. He let in a softie or two, but besides that, he bent but never broke against the Canadian onslaught. He made some spectacular saves, including one that was Varlamov-esque on Rick Nash. Nash had an open net after a fantastic pass from Sidney Crosby. Miller was badly out of position but reached back with his stick and somehow kept the puck from going into a wide open net.
  • Ryan Kesler made good on his promise. He played a spectacular two way game, blocking shots and was dynamite on the backcheck. He also beat out Corey Perry in the waning moments in the game to get the puck into the empty net. If they gave out stars of the game, I am certain Kesler would have gotten second star, if not the first.
  • Brian Rafalski had another giant game for the US. Scoring two goals in this tilt, he helped USA dictate the goal pace for the game. Just when you though his career took a turn toward retirement, he comes up clutch in a big game.
  • There were other players that were considered just role players that made a difference playing in this tournament. Chris Drury was one of them. He scored a momentum changing goal for USA. Before the tournament started, the coaches told him not to expect a lot of ice time. Drury's play has earned him the right to be a regular on the checking line.
  • Canada just can't seem to get their bench revved up, unless they score. Miller's performance in net deflated Canada's high powered offense. Ryan Getzlaf seems so close to being a threat in each game he has played, but he hasn't really made a difference when it counts most.
  • USA won their group, earn a first round bye.
Sweden, Finland
  • Will update this after I take in the game tonight.

Friday, February 19, 2010

USA Cruises, Too Close For Canada, Russia Stunned

It was only day three in the tournament, but the Olympic Men's Hockey is looking more and more wide open as two of the power houses that played last night were caught off guard. Close games by Canada and Russia against teams that are not favorites to even medal made for some pretty heavy drama. It is setting up some important and what could be very close games over the weekend. Here are my thoughts on the games yesterday.

USA 6, Norway 1
  • It wasn't perfect, but it was enough. A good first and third periods gets the easiest win of the day for team USA. Besides a shaky second period, the Americans bookended it with 3 goals each to do away with Norway.
  • Patrick Kane finally got a goal, but it was his line mate that had a spectacular game. Zach Parise was all over the ice, making room and creating chances for the top line. Parise didn't score, but did have a pair of assists.
  • US goaltender Ryan Miller looked a bit out of sorts. Not sure if was because he faced so few shots, just 11 shots and only 2 shots in the first and third periods. He did let in a shortie, but the Norway player just had a spectacular shot that snuck in on the far post.
  • The defense were very aggressive through out the game, which created a lot of odd man rushes. I doubt they will pinch as much as they did with Norway when they face Canada, but it needs to be shored up by then.
  • Good win for USA considering another power house in their group struggled against a team that US didn't have too much trouble with in Switzerland. It sets up for a big game between Canada and USA on Sunday.
Canada 3, Switzerland 2 SO
  • Canada showed they didn't like being hit, some stupid penalties seemed to catch the Canucks off guard. Chris Pronger took exception to a hit late in the second and was going to be called for retaliation. But the Swiss scored not long after. Canada may be looking forward to US, but the Swiss game should have been much easier for them than the final result.
  • Sidney Crosby had the game winning shoot out goal. It would be his second chance at beating Jonas Hiller in the shoot out. Martin Brodeur was able to make the stop to give Canada the win and two points in their round robin group standings.
  • Speaking of Hiller, wow! He had a spectacular third period, bending but never breaking. The Swiss owe a lot of their success in the game to their goaltender. He made some outstanding saves in the third forcing overtime and then the shoot out. Player of the night for sure.
  • The pressure to win for Canada is hurting them more than it is helping. Every little play is being scrutinized by their countrymen. I think this team would have much better success if it wasn't played in Canada.
Russia 1, Slovakia 2 SO
  • Slovakia played a well coached, very comfortable game against the gold medal favorite. They stunned Russia with a 2-1 shootout win in a spirited and intense game.
  • Alex Ovechkin scored in the shoot out, but it was failure in the two chances after his first attempt. He was a monster in this game, going after Zdeno Chara hitting him a couple of times, laying him out more than once. He was very physical, but it was hard for him to put puck on the net. The Slovaks did a fantastic job of jumping or getting sticks into the shooting lanes.
  • Simply, the Russians did not get many quality shots on net on Jarolav Halak. But Halak made the saves he needed to. After Russia scored their goal to give them a 1-0 lead, the team seemed to let up a bit. A bit too much as Slovakia tied up the game.
  • The Russian choices in the shootout confused some. With dynamic players who have a high percentage in the shootout, they instead went with the players that are ranked very low in that category. Ovechkin did score on his first attempt, but in the NHL he is only 16.7% in the shootout this season. Pavel Datsyuk, who had a chance and didn't score, Alex Semin, and Evgeni Malkin (who also missed on his chance) have much better percentages were seldom used.
  • The road for Russia gets tougher. They need a win against the Czech Republic to ensure a spot in the medal round. That makes for a more intense game on Sunday for the Russian squad.
  • Although very fashionable, Ovechkin's flaming 8 and sheep skates didn't last too long. After problems with the blade holder (the part of the skate that holds the blade under the boot) he had to use a different skate. He had one flame skate and the other was normal for half of the game.
Some amazing games yesterday will lead into some good games (I hope) today and on Sunday. While a lot of people only see two teams in the gold medal final, Russian and Canada, other games like Canada/USA and Russia/Czech Republic will make for some must see hockey in the tournament thus far. Hockey fans can only find fault in the coverage, because the hockey to this point has been outstanding.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It Just Gets Better/Tougher From Here

Alex Ovechkin will not admit it. Most of the Russian players will down play it. But Russia may be the team to beat in this year's tournament. Their first test against Latvia was not a perfect game for them. They have some growing to do, some chemistry to find with their teammates. But if a 8-2 drubbing is not perfect, I hate to see what the end game will look like for Russia.

The biggest concern for every team in this tournament is quickly learning to mesh with your line mates. Team USA's top line of Patrick Kane, Zach Parise and Paul Stastny got off to a dominating start against Switzerland, but they didn't produce any goals. Gaining that chemistry is important for all the teams, but especially those teams stacked with NHL players.

"To be honest, right when I found out [who I would be playing with] I started to think," Parise said. "You start to think about the way Stastny plays and where he likes to go on the ice. What does Kane like to do. You start to think what you can do to help these guys and make the line better."

For three of the big power houses, USA, Canada and Russia, they faced rather easy foes to open the Olympic games. Soundly beating the Swiss, Team Norway and the Latvians respectfully has proven that these three are the heavy weights, but it's tough to know just how good these teams until they face one another.

That will be tested by Russia first on Thursday when they play a much better national team in Slovakia. "Our game is not perfect yet," Russian forward Ilya Kovalchuk told reporters following their 8-2 victory over Latvia. "We need to play simpler in defense. Our next opponents will make us do that."

When the international powerhouses start to face one another, the games will be more intense, more scrutinized and a whole lot more fun to watch.

Team USA's Upcoming Schedule:

Feb 18, 12:00 n - vs. Norway
Feb 21, 4:40 p - vs. Canada
Team Canada's Upcoming Schedule:
Feb 18, 4:30 p - vs. Switzerland
Feb 21, 4:40 p - vs. USA
Team Russia's Upcoming Schedule: (Ovechkin, Semin, Varlamov)
Feb 18, 9:00 p - vs. Slovakia
Feb 21, 12:00 n - vs. Czech Republic
Team Sweden's Upcoming Schedule: (Backstrom)
Feb 17, 4:30 p - vs. Germany
Feb 19, 12:00 n - vs. Belarus
Feb 21, 9:00 p - vs. Finland
Team Czech Republic's Upcoming Schedule: (Fleischmann)
Feb 17, 9:00 p - vs. Slovakia
Feb 19, 4:30 p - vs. Latvia
Feb 21, 12:00 n - vs. Russia

All times are Pacific (local Vancouver time)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

USA, Canada Off To Good Starts In Olympics

The Olympics have arrived, and more importantly Men's hockey started their tournament with Team USA, Canada and Russia dropping the puck. Since you haven't come here for the results here are a few thoughts on the nights action of the games I saw.

USA 3, Swiss 1
  • Ryan Miller looked good in net, but not great. Could be just some first game jitters. But he made the saves he needed to, even if he only saw 15 shots. The only goal he let in was of his own doing. He stuck his stick to stop a cross ice pass, but the puck jumped over his pads and in the net behind him.
  • Chris Drury played well for being one of the senior members of this USA team filled with youngsters. He also did well on the PK, and seemed to have a scoring chance every time he hit the ice.
  • Bobby Ryan scored the first goal of the tournament as USA's forecheck broke the Swiss down in their zone. He beat his Anaheim Duck teammate Jonas Hiller top side.
  • All the goals USA scored came from players 6'2" and taller. The big guys Brian Burke chose paid off early for the Americans.
  • Some one should keep an eye on Roman Wick, the Swiss player with their only goal. This kid is fast and talented. He didn't directly score the goal, but he did give the Swiss an offensive threat. He was deserving of a one of the game's 3 stars, if they only did that for international play.
  • Good start for Team USA. We can only hope they can build off that win as they face some of the tougher teams in their group (yes, we are talking about Canada).
Canada 8, Norway 0
  • Canada looked pretty shaky in the first period going 0-2 on the power play and blanking in the first frame. That would change in the second period with a power play goal by Jarome Iginla. The flood gates would open with 3 goals in the second and 5 more in the third.
  • Norway's goaltender Paal Grotnes played very well. He was square to the shots and his team played pretty good team defense around him. He was calm and collected even after the goals that may have made it easier for the Norway players. He was pulled after letting in four goals.
  • Roberto Luongo played okay, considering he spent more time watching than actually doing. He wasn't controlling his rebounds as well as he should have. That could be a bigger problem against a better team.
  • 17 different players made it to the score sheet for Canada with at least a point. 4 of those players had 2 points and Sidney Crosby had three assists.
  • Unlike the USA/Swiss game, this one had commercial breaks between whistles. It often came back with play already in process. CNBC also game in late in the first period with just a couple of minutes left in the first frame. Not great coverage, but better than nothing.
  • Mike Richards had a good game with a goal and did a good job both ways.
  • It is hard to really judge this team considering this is just Norway. Not one of the power houses going for gold. They will not play USA in their group until Feb. 21st.
  • Crosby led all Canadians with three assists and three points. He also took a strange penalty at the start of the third period as he took out Norway's smallest player 5'7" Mats Zuccarello Aasen. It was a two minute roughing minor.
Russia 8, Latvia 2
  • Alex Ovechkin had a strong game netting two goals. He was paired up with Washington teammate Alex Semin and Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk. I am not going to lie, he would have had the hat trick if Nick Backstrom was on his line.
  • While Ovi tops the list of players from the NHL, it was the KHL players that seemed to get Russia off to a good start. Former Cap Sergei Fedorov had a pair of assists and his countryman, Danis Zaripov, had a couple of goals as well.
  • Russia looked good, probably the best start of the tournament so far as the Russians came out to a early 3-0 lead in the first. The game fell into a lull in the second period but when Latvia scored early in the third, the Russians answered back (following Ovechkin's lead) with three goals. In fact in a span of 2 minutes and 2 seconds 5 goals were scored, two for Latvia, 3 for Russia. 5 goals on 5 shots straight.
  • Latvia showed signs of some pretty good pressure, but they were just outmatched by Russia's talent.
  • Evgeni Nabokov played well through out. But he did let in a couple of softies. Again, it is hard to gauge how good or how bad these teams are against foes that are not at the same talent level.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Caps Drag 3 Game Losing Streak Into Break

Capitals 3, Blues 4 OT/SO (0-1)
Game Summary

Often during a winning streak, little mistakes can be missed if you end up winning the game. Those mistakes can become bad habits and bad habits are hard to break. For the Capitals, the past three games have exposed some of their bad habits and the result is losing three straight games after a record run of 14 consecutive wins. Their latest loss was a shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues 4-3.

The Caps once again allowed their opponents the first goal, forcing them to come back. They gave up the first goal mid way through the first period after Blues forward Cam Janssen blindsided Matt Bradley along the boards a good 3 seconds after Bradley had given up the puck. Janssen was given a (get this) 5 minute major for interference. But the Caps never got to use the major as Quintin Laing came in defense of his teammate and the officials threw the book at him giving him two minors and basically washing out the Janssen major and making it 4 on 4 for four minutes.

The Blues would score while 4 on 4 but would take a penalty not long after that. As Laing's penalties expired, it would give the Caps a 5 on 3 power play which Mike Knuble scored on in front of the net. The Blues would again take the lead in the second, only to be answered once again by Alex Semin who fired it off the cross bar and in the net. Again, the Blues would come back to score on the power play.

Knuble would tie the game up again and the Caps tried to make an effort to shut down the Blues. But the third period the game would become a stalemate between both teams. The Caps would only manage 4 shots in the final frame. They had more chances than the Blues in the overtime period, but they couldn't put the game away drawing it to a shootout.

The Caps sudden loss of scoring seemed to hinder them in the one on one shootout. Not one Capital was able to beat Blues' goaltender Chris Mason. David Perron would win it for St. Louis and the Caps can only manage two points in their last three games.

It is a terrible way to end the stretch going into a long break. But maybe the two week Olympic Break can help the Caps correct those bad habits. Among some of the bad habits are not tying up men in front of the net, bad breakouts and turnovers in the neutral zone. They also have had troubles with an aggressive forecheck as the Capital defenders seem to miss play or turnover the puck on the break out and not able to cover as their opponent transitions.

The Caps have also run into special teams problems. While their power play tops the league, it is their penalty kill that is suffering. They rank first in the league with the extra man, they are a mortal 25th in the league (79.1%) dealing with the other teams' power play. On the road, it's ranked 29th (72.3%). Second only to Toronto for the worst penalty kill on the road. Washington's penalty kill was 17th in the league a season ago.

Caps Notes:
  • Olympians Alex Ovechkin, Semyon Varlamov, Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann will spend the night in St. Louis before heading to Vancouver to join their respective teams for the Olympics. Russia will play Latvia on Tuesday (9 pm), Sweden will play Canada on Wednesday (2:30 pm) and Czech Republic will play Slovakia in the late game on Wednesday (9 pm). Team USA will play Switzerland 12 noon on Tuesday. Check here for your local TV listings.
  • Mike Knuble had a pair of goals tonight and was the game's third star. He has capped a wonderful run scoring 15 points in the last 11 games. Ovechkin's 9 game point streak was snapped against the Blues.
  • Matt Bradley was hit early in the first period, blindsided by Cam Janssen after he made the pass. Janssen caught the Caps' forward looking the other way after Bradley made a pass. Bradley would not return to the game.
Happy Olympic Break!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Going For 15

Ask any Capital about the winning streak, most would say, "It's great, but we have a bigger goal." It is true that many of the players in this locker room know what a mountain it is to climb to be on a streak such as this. They may have reached the steepest part of the mountain.

If the Caps want a shot at the record, they would have to win the next three on the road before the Olympic break. And the teams they face will not be push overs. The Canadiens, Senators and Blues are on the calendar before the NHL takes their pause for the Olympics. The Capitals have to deal with teams looking to topple the top team in the league and one team in particular had a nice win streak of their own.

The Senators were trying to match the Caps' winning ways as they were on their own 11 game winning streak. They saw that streak come to an end, but the team has been playing very well with improved goaltending and impressive wins against the Devils, Penguins, Bruins (twice), Blackhawks and Rangers. The Caps can not take any of the remaining teams lightly if they want the streak to continue.

Caps Notes:
  • The next home game for the Capitals is on March 4th when they finish a back to back that starts in Buffalo and the next night they face Tampa Bay at home. After the Lightning game, the Caps will play every other night until the 21st of March when they get 3 nights off. 5 home games to start, then 4 games on the road. 10 games in 18 nights.
  • Think there is NBC bias? DC Bog breaks it down.
  • The Caps moved up their practice today to get out of dodge before the another snow downpour hits the area. They will leave this afternoon for Montreal.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Capitals Cancel Events On Monday

Due to the snow, two Capitals' events have been cancelled:
Washington Capitals left wings Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, assistant coach Dean Evason and Slapshot’s visit to Emery Education Campus in Washington, D.C., at 2 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 8 has been canceled due to the snow.

Caps center Brooks Laich’s visit to Fort Dupont Ice Arena in Washington, D.C., at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 8 is also canceled due to the snow.

Per Caps PR

Epic Game Marks Caps 14th Straight Win

Capitals 5, Penguins 4 OT
Game Summary

The story could have been about the Penguins' journey to Washington DC after two and half feet of snow that fell in a blizzard the day before. Or it could have been about Sidney Crosby's dominance over the Washington Capitals with two goals in the first period. Or it could have been about Jordan Staal's late in the second period goals nearly putting the Caps away for good and going up 4-1. Instead, this story is about a winning streak that 14 and got some help from #8.

Alex Ovechkin would be the first Capital of the year to net a hattrick, Eric Fehr got a timely goal late in the second period and Mike Knuble scored the game winner in overtime. And the winning streak continues.

The game had a playoff feel to it as both teams came out flying. It had a little bit of everything. "It's what people paid to see," said Caps' bench boss Bruce Boudreau. "When the superstars shine and there is tension and excitment and there is physical play and you can see the passion on both sides. That is what hockey is all about."

It was all the NBC analysts could talk about as the Penguins jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period. The Penguins were sending a message. The Caps were turning the puck over in the neutral zone and the Penguins were quick to jump on the play. Crosby benefited of a turnover scoring unassisted. Then he scored on the power play moments later as the Caps missed played collapsing on Evgeni Malkin and leaving #87 wide open. Just like that, the Pens were up 2-0.

Ovi would open the scoring in for the Capitals mid-way through the second period. He took a pass from Jeff Schultz up the middle and shot the puck so hard, it shattered the camera box in the back of the net. There would be a delay after the goal as they replaced the shattered shield.

But the Penguins would not let up on their attack. Staal, brother to Marc (Rangers) and Eric ('Canes), scored a pair of goals to stretch the lead to 4-1. It seemed that Eric Fehr's goal later in the period wouldn't matter much as the Caps got into penalty trouble. Late in the period they found themselves down two men as the period finished.

The Caps would kill the penalty and then turn on the offense in the 3rd period.

"The crowd kept pushing us in the third period," Ovechkin said. "We just kept going and kept going. It was pretty sick."

Ovechkin took over the game netting a goal after Tom Poti's shot was knocked down in front. Ovi's quick hands propelled the puck past Marc Andre Fluery's pads. Then he buried an off speed shot from the face off to beat the Penguins' goaltender to tie the game. Just like that, the Penguins watched a three goal advantage slip away.

The Penguins would not quit, pressuring the Caps late. Even with the travel difficulties the Penguins endured, they seemed to keep the Caps on their heels late in the game. "I felt our team had plenty of jump," Penguins' coach, Dan Bylsma said about using the tough travel into Washington. "I think our guys looked good, it didn't have anything to do with [the travel]." But they couldn't convert and the game would go into overtime.

In overtime, both teams had their chances. Brooks Orpik would take a high sticking call 2:26 into overtime. Orpik caught Alex Semin high after Semin got rid of the puck. "He’s a baby," Orpik told reporters after the game. "I don’t know [if it was a high stick] but he does that all game long. I got zero respect for the kid."

But a penalty was called and it would only take 13 seconds later when Ovechkin rang a shot off the post and the puck trickled back into the blue paint under Fluery. Mike Knuble wins the game as he slides the rebound in under the Penguins' goaltender. It capped a 3 goal deficit and keeps the Capitals' win streak alive.

The game had it's share of chippiness and some cheap plays. Craig Adams pushed Ovechkin into the boards in the first, the All Star fell awkwardly into the dasher. Adams would not be called for the penalty, but Mike Knuble came to the rescue. Knuble would receive two minutes for instigating as well as a 5 for fighting, 10 misconduct.

The Caps will get a day off tomorrow before facing Montreal and Ottawa on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. They are have just three games before the Olympic break. If they win against the Habs and Sens, they have a chance to tie the NHL's record for longest win streak at 17.

Caps Notes
  • In a weird coincidence, the Capitals farm team Hershey Bears found themselves down by three goals to come back and win it against Pittsburgh's farm team Wilkes/Barre Penguins on a hattrick by Mathieu Perreault to win 5-4.
  • Nick Backstrom and Mike Knuble both had a pair of points (Backstrom 2a, Knuble 1g, 1a).
  • Crosby tied Ovechkin for the goals lead in the NHL with his two goals, just to see Ovechkin score three goals and lead by as much.
  • Ovechkin is the first player with 40 goals every season since the lockout (only Ilya Kovalchuk can join him) via @washcaps.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Lucky Eleven

When the good times roll, they really roll for the Capitals these days. Eleven straight wins is an accomplishment that does not come often in the NHL. And in a lot of ways, it does not come with the type of dominance the Capitals have shown in their past eleven games.

Averaging nearly 5 goals a game during their winning stretch they have defeated two Stanley Cup and Conference Champions in Pittsburgh and Detroit. They have taken on divisional foes fighting for playoff spots and four of those games were on the road (including a 6-3 win against the Penguins). But you do not get to this point with out getting some help.

Call it luck, call it fate or good tidings from the hockey gods but the Capitals are lucky to get out of Boston with the historic win. Not one player played a full 60 minutes.

"We didn't play really well, but we found a way to win, because they believed we could win," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "When you're on a winning streak, you find ways. Good things happen. When you are losing, you hit crossbars and the other goalie makes incredible saves like Theo did tonight."

Watching the game last night, the Caps should not have won that game. But it took a few good plays at the right time that gave them the win and walk out of Boston with two points. Sluggish play was more in domination than a team with the best offense in the league at TD Banknorth Garden last night.

But like Dan Pollard said this morning on NHL on the Fly, it was like a switch. Even Jose Theodore, who looked at times shaky in net, seemed to turn on the juice at the right time and made stop after stop. He did not have to be perfect. He just needed to give his boys some time. Sure enough, the Caps struck quickly and scored 3 unanswered goals.

From that point on the Bruins struggled to get their offense going, and hometown boy Tom Poti seemed to ratchet up his game getting two assists. "We haven't played as well as we wanted," Poti said to reporters following the game. "But we seem to have picked up at the right moment, and tonight was no different. We came out to play in the third and that ultimately got us the win."

They do not have to be perfect and they can still win. Pretty scary revelation. The concern now however is have the Capitals peaked too soon. There is still the Olympic break in which three of the Capitals most important players Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and Nick Backstrom will be playing playoff type of hockey. If the Caps come out of the break rusty, it could set the tone going into the remaining schedule and into the post season.

For now it's a nice run, historic as they bested a fifteen year old record with their win. But they can not be complacent. They have to keep this emotion, this edge to their game. Otherwise they risk the entire season and let the Cup slip from their fingers.