Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Carlson Gets AHL Rookie Honors

John Carlson was named to the AHL's all rookie team. A high honor to a player that may not even return to Hershey with the way he has been playing. Per Caps' PR:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson, the team’s first-round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft (27th overall), was named to the American Hockey League (AHL) All-Rookie Team, as voted by AHL coaches, players and media in each of the league’s 29 member cities, the AHL announced today.

Carlson ranks fourth among AHL rookie defensemen with 39 points (four goals, 35 assists) in 48 games with the Hershey Bears this season. His +37 rating is good for a share of third place in the entire league. The 20-year-old native of Natick, Mass., has appeared in 20 games for the Capitals this season, with five points (one goal, four assists), six penalty minutes, and a +11 rating. Carlson scored his first NHL goal on March 25 in a 3-2 shootout loss at Carolina.

Carlson is the first Capitals prospect to be named to the AHL All-Rookie Team since Mike Green, who earned the same honor in April 2006. Carlson made his pro debut with Hershey during the 2009 postseason, recording two goals and one assist with a +3 rating as the Bears won the Calder Cup.

In addition to his time in Washington and Hershey, Carlson skated in the 2010 AHL All-Star Classic and scored the overtime gold-medal-winning goal for Team USA at the 2010 World Junior Championship.

The Caps expect Carlson to return to the line up after he got dinged up with an upper body injury in last night's game against Ottawa.

Caps Notes:
  • Brooks Laich may make his return Thursday night against the Atlanta Thrashers. The Caps have been a sluggish 1-1-2 without him in the line up.
  • Speaking of Atlanta, the Thrash are looking to sneak into the playoffs just two points behind Boston for 8th place in the East. The game against the Capitals should be a very spirited affair and have a playoff type feel to it. This will be good for the Capitals who are trying to get into playoff shape.
  • Caps' prospect Cody Eakin got his debut with the Hershey Bears and sported a pink helmet. Full story here compliments of
  • The Capitals got together for a team photo before practice today. You can see the fun here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Caps Comeback Not Enough

Capitals 4, Senators 5 OT
Game Summary

Another bad start got the Capitals off on the wrong foot. But they battled back into the game and eventually got the lead back. But a bad bounce and some badly timed penalties helped the Ottawa Senators over take the Caps in overtime 5-4.

Alex Semin scored a pair of goals and Mike Green and Mathieu Perreault added goals to what looked like a successful come back for the Caps. But some bad penalties did the Caps in the end. Not to mention the bad start.

Once again, the Capitals fell behind in the first period. And once again it would be an extreme angle shot that caught Jose Theodore off guard. Peter Regin scored from an extreme angle and the puck bounced off of Theo's blocker and into the net. The Capitals would answer with a power play goal by Alex Semin who caught Sens' goaltender Brian Elliot deep in his net.

But the Caps would give up a power play goal to Jason Spezza (even though it looked as if Mike Fisher interfered with Theodore on the goal). Chris Campoli added another goal to give the Senators a 3-1 lead in the first period. The Caps would wake up in the second period.

Alex Ovechkin briefly took over the points lead when he fed Semin a pretty pass on a two on one (Henrik Sedin took back the scoring lead against the Coyotes). Ovi drew the defender in and found Semin breaking in alone. Semin put the puck top shelf as Elliot went for the poke check. It started the Caps comeback. Green would score just :54 seconds later as Tom Poti fed him a nice one timer that beat Elliot over his left shoulder. Just like that, the game went into the final framed tied up.

In his second game, Perreault scored a goal. Right off the face off, Eric Fehr won the battle in the corner for the puck and found Perreault chugging to the net. The little guy was able to get an angle on Elliot and beat him with his back hand shot. That would give the Caps the lead, but it wouldn't last.

The Caps would take some ill-timed penalties and the Senators would make them pay. Spezza scored his second power play goal when he centered the puck and it ricochet off of a sprawling Jeff Schultz and beat Theodore. In overtime, Nick Backstrom would take a tripping call with just over 30 seconds left in overtime and Alexei Kovalev scored the game winner off of a deflected shot.

The Caps have slumped to a 1-1-2 in their last four games. While the games have been close, the Caps still have not had a win in their last three games. The team doesn't seem like it is helping Alex Ovechkin win any hardware this summer as Ovi has only managed 5 points in his last 5 games.

Washington needs to come to the realization that other teams are going to bring their best when they play the Capitals. They have to be more prepared early in games. Falling behind in the first period by 2 or more goals is just too much to ask against teams that are fighting for playoff spots. They need to clean up their act, and put forth a better effort in the first period.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fun With Numbers

This is just a few numbers that jumped out at me as I surf NHL's site. It might put a few things in perspective.

+78 - That is the goal differential for the Capitals that was at one point as high as 85 at one point this season. This is the difference in the Caps goals for and goals against. The Caps are number one in this department in the league. In fact the closest team to the Caps in goal differential are the Chicago Blackhawks at a +50. In the Eastern Conference the closest team to the Caps are the Buffalo Sabres at +25.

.659 - The Capitals' winning percentage when they out shoot their opponents, best in the NHL. Washington has the sixth best winning percentage in the league when they are out shot at .667.

.552 - The Caps' winning percentage when their opponents score the first goal. That too is the best in the NHL in that department. They are a mortal 11th in the league when they score first (.717).

100 - The points Alex Ovechkin has accumulated this season, it is the fourth time in five seasons Ovi has hit the 100 mark. That puts him in some pretty elite company as only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Peter Stastny and Dale Hawerchuk have accomplished the century mark in four times in their first 5 seasons in NHL history. Ovi is just a single point behind Henrik Sedin for points lead and one goal behind Sid Crosby for the Rocket Richard trophy.

25 - The number of goals that both the Ottawa Senators and the Capitals have scored in their previous three meetings (6-5 Ott. Feb 11, 5-2 Wsh. Jan 7, 4-3 Ott. Nov 23). The Caps are looking to tie up the 4 game series against their Conference foes after dropping two close games in November and February.

Caps Notes:
  • Rumors have been running more and more rampant about the Capitals and Penguins playing each other in the 2011 Winter Classic. Ovechkin thinks it will be fun, Ted Leonsis tells us to chill, and the rest are giddy about doing it here in DC (like it's cold enough in January to have it outdoors in DC). I will believe it when it happens.
  • Injuries will continue to plague the Caps as Brendan Morrison and Scott Walker are still a week away from returning to the lineup. Brooks Laich will probably return by the weekend. Boyd Gordon doesn't seem to be returning to 100% anytime soon as he is back in Hershey getting work done on his ailing back. Shaone Morrisonn will return to the line up against Ottawa.
  • There is an outside chance that Ottawa could be a possible match up for the Caps when the post season begins. At the moment the Senators are sitting in fifth place in the Conference but a lot can happen in the last 6 to 7 games as the 8th place Bruins could still catch them.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Caps Post A Stinker At Home, Clinch East Anyway

Capitals 3, Flames 5
Game Summary

It wasn't pretty. The Capitals came out with little energy as the Calgary Flames pretty much wrapped up this game all in the first period off of four goals in just eleven shots. From there the Caps could do little else to salvage a poor start, even with Alex Ovechkin scoring his 46th goal of the season. Some thoughts on the game.
  • Mathieu Perreault was recalled after Brendon Morrison left practice with a lower body injury. He rewarded the coaches decision by scoring a goal in the third in an attempt at a comeback. It wouldn't go any where as the Flames sucked what ever energy was in the building. Perreault's goal may have not have sparked the big time comeback the Caps were wishing for, but it's nice to know even with the injuries that are plaguing the team late, someone from Hershey can step in.
  • Alex Ovechkin held the scoring title briefly. Before Sidney Crosby scored a pair against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is good to see Ovi start to score again and hopefully this will spark a strong end of the season for the reigning MVP.
  • Jose Theodore for the first time since January looked human. No fault of his own mind you. Theo was a victim of some unfortunate bounces from extreme angles. He allowed 3 goals in nine shots prompting his exit just over half way through the first period. Semyon Varlamov came in relief and allowed a late period goal that for the most part did the Caps in.
  • The Capitals defense was downright terrible. Players were badly out of position and a step behind the play. It just wasn't a good night for them. End of story, move on.
  • I think this was more of a team that got reamed the night before against a team that is destined to bigger things. The Flames got a stern talking to last night by the GM. As a result, they came out with a bit of vinegar in their veins. The Caps just didn't match that intensity. End result, a 5-3 drubbing by the team that needed the win more.
  • The crowd was a restless one. Several times they were on the home team with some jeers and boos when things weren't going their way. I think as a paid ticket holder, you can boo all they want if you think the team deserves it. Do you think they deserved it?
If anyone has been reading this blog for a while knows my philosophy on blow out losses. The Caps could feel bad for themselves and shake their confidence. Or they can learn from it. Use it to their advantage and come out the next came with a commitment to fixing their mistakes.

Even with the loss, the Caps wrap up the Eastern Conference as teams below them just couldn't keep up the pace. No team in the east will be able to over come the Capitals 109 points and 49 wins. It is comforting to know that the Eastern Conference title will have to go through Verizon Center. The Caps still hold a 5 point lead overall in the NHL as they look to secure the franchises first President's Cup.

Monday, March 22, 2010

NHL Network Puts Best Foot Forward

The NHL Network is free (if you don't already get it) this week. They have a week long plan to reel viewers in and expand the base of NHL fans who don't already get it (odds are, if you follow this blog you already have it).

Their bait? Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby as they face off at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night. But they are also showing specialty programs like "The Battle of Comm Ave" at 6 pm tonight, or "50 Years Behind the Mask" on Friday night.

While some of the programming is good, like NHL on the Fly; Recaps and highlights of last night's NHL action and HD Classics; Replays of some of the great games in High Definition, lately the NHL network has taken a turn away from some of the older specialty shows they used to show.

Gone are history time pieces like Classic Games that featured Gordie Howe taking several rookies down with his manly elbow and opposition teammates just telling the rooks to "watch out for the elbow." Or maskless goalies making unbelievable saves in the playoffs. Rarely (if not at all) does the network show any of the good ol' days of hockey.

Flowing locks of hair (or balding spots if your are Langway) racing down the boards. Fights were guys back away from the two and let the two of them settle it (Bradley not included). Hard clean hits that were never retaliated. Some of what the NHL was born on seems now disregarded by the network that once loved to show off it's past.

Don't get me wrong, I love the NHL network. The channel number is worn down on my remote control. But I would like to see those classics again. If for nothing else, but to say I at least saw Bobby Clarke cheap shot someone in front of the net.

Caps Notes:
  • Scott Walker's ailments maybe more than just a "tweaked" knee. He canceled his appearance at the "Caps on the Fly" show at Hilton Garden Inn. Walker left after his bout with one of the forwards from Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. Walker fell awkwardly after getting an upper cut from Zenon Konopka early in the second period. He would not return.
  • Warner Video and the NHL have come out with a DVD set just for Capitals fans (about time). Warner Home Video Washington Capitals: 10 Greatest Games DVD Set is available for $49.99 on Get yours today!
  • File this under "counting chickens before they hatch" column: The Pens are busy tonight facing off against the Red Wings in Detroit. If Sid and his band of merry men happen to lose tonight to the Wings, the Caps could clinch the Conference with a win against the Penguins Wednesday night. That is right, they could clinch the Eastern Conference with 8 games remaining to play (knock on some major wood) IF the Penguins lose tonight and Wednesday and the Sabres lose to Montreal Wed. night and Devils lose their game to Columbus as well.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


If... the Chicago Blackhawks won every one of their remaining games in regulation they would finish the season with 120 standings points.* The Capitals can reach 120 points by winning 7 of their last 10 games. If the tie breaker is the stat "goals for", the Blackhawks have 230 goals, while the Caps easily beat them in that category with 283 goals for as it stands this morning. That means the Hawks would have to score 53 goals in that time (and the Caps would have to be shutout for their remaining games).

If... the Pittsburgh Penguins won every one of their remaining games in regulation time, they would have a 110 points. The Caps can match that mark by just winning 2 of their last 10 games. The Pens would also have to score 59 goals for the tie break.

If... Sidney Crosby wanted to win the Rocket Richard trophy, he would have to score at least 8 goals in his last ten games to overcome Alex Ovechkin's .73 goals per game average. Ovechkin's average would give him about 7 goals in his last ten games. While Crosby's average would likely only give him 6 goals in his last ten games (.63 goals a game average).

If... Henrik Sedin wanted to overcome Ovechkin in points, he would have to grace the scoresheet with assists or goals totaling at least 16 in his last ten games. Ovechkin is averaging 1.56 points a game.

If... Nick Backstrom wanted to overcome Henrik Sedin for assists leader in the league he would have to pass the puck to a goal scorer at least 10 times in the last 10 games of the season to overcome Sedin's average assists per game of .93. Backstrom has .82 for this season.

If... The standings remain as they are to finish the season, the Capitals would play the Boston Bruins in their last game in the regular season and then see them in the first round of the playoffs.

*- Editors note: These numbers were compiled before the Coyotes defeated the Blackhawks in overtime and shootout last night. As it stands now, the most points the Hawks can get is 119.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Caps Finish Road Trip With Win

Capitals 3, Lightning 1
Game Summary

Alex Ovechkin returns from his two-game, league-enforced suspension. His return meant a winner in Tampa Bay for the Capitals and a goal to put him back in the swing of things. Just a few thoughts on the game tonight.
  • Ovechkin's goal was pretty, but the pass by Nick Backstrom to the Cap's top scorer was even more impressive. Nick passed it off the boards past the Bolt defense to Ovechkin in full stride past them. Before anyone in a Tampa jersey knew the better, Ovi was in on Antero Nittymaki and made good on his held shot to beat the goaltender. Backstrom has been on fire for the Caps as he has accumulated 8 points in this last four games (3g, 5a). If Backstrom directly passes to Ovi, it's picked off. Ricocheting the puck off the boards, he catches Ovechkin onside and the puck is in the net.
  • Tomas Fleischmann is probably the most underrated player on the Caps. His numbers aren't sky rocketing, but he is quickly making a name for himself in the league. Tonight he finished off a pretty passing play for the game's opening tally. Flash will sometimes cough up the puck, but tonight he made up for Martin St. Louis stealing the puck from him by picking his pocket afterward.
  • David Steckel loves to play the Lightning. Tonight he was sort of the quiet guy that made the difference. He had a secondary assist on Flash's goal and drew the penalty after Steve Downie punched him to try and goad him into something. Steckel didn't retaliate and the end result is a hard earned two points from a divisional foe.
  • Speaking of Downie, here is a guy who should just get an automatic two minute penalty for being an idiot. Downie tried to get under the Caps skin rather than playing the game. For the most part, he seemed to be getting away with it. That was until hockey karma caught up with him with less than two minutes left in the game when he tried to goad Steckel into a fight or penalty by punching him in the face. Just not smart.
  • Jose Theodore had a great game. So did Nittymaki for that matter. Both goaltenders really could not be blamed for the their goals against. Saying that, Theo just came up with save after save after as the Capitals clung to a one goal lead. He made 33 saves in route to the game's number one star. Well deserved.
  • Congratulations to Scott Walker on being the only Capital not named Matt Bradley or John Erskine to drop the gloves this season. I kid of course, but his fight with Zenon Konopka did seem to spark both teams and set the tone for the game. This was a dirty game, a lot of swings thrown on both teams and some nasty talk and unsportsmanlike candor to this one. All in all, one of the more entertaining games from a nasty physical standpoint the Caps have played all year.
Unless the Lightning actually make the playoffs and sneak into eighth place (they are just 6 points from 8th in the conference), this will be the last time these two teams will meet this year. The Capitals stretch their lead in the league to 10 points with just 10 games remaining in the season.

Their lead in the East has grown to 16 points over the second place team Pittsburgh. And wouldn't you know it, they face off on Wednesday night. All eyes will be on Verizon Center as these two teams duke it out in their last regular season meeting. Should be a good one.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Caps Win Without Ovechkin

Capitals 4, Blackhawks 3
Game Summary

Since everyone has their recaps up and most of you have read them, I am just going to give my 5 thoughts on the games.
  • Chicago never had an answer for Nick Backstrom. He had a spectacular game. I think if Alex Ovechkin had not hit Brian Campbell and been ejected (my thoughts on that in a bit) he could have easily scored at least two goals off of Backstrom feeds. His goal in overtime was astonishing. He even knew the hit was coming as he cut in the slot and he still put a perfect shot through Antti Niemi's 5 hole.
  • Eric Belanger was the only Capital with over 50% on his face off draws (he had 59%). The Caps were terrible in the face off circle and were 39% for the game. Dave Steckel was one who did not do well in draws, but his play right after Brooks Laich scored the power play goal was 100% pure hustle. He beat out the icing then found Eric Fehr wide open in front.
  • The Capitals do not have an exceptional defense. They just have an average one which is prone to make mistakes. It looked as if the Caps were playing a rover to cover Patrick Kane. Early in the game when both teams were down a man, Joe Corvo continued to shadow Kane, while Steckel came off the face off he went high to cover the point instead of low to cover Jonathan Toews who didn't move from the face off dot. 5 on 5, that strategy would have (and did) worked, but instead it leads to the first goal of the game for Chicago.
  • Jose Theodore played outstanding as in both games, you could not really fault the goaltending of either Theo or Semyon Varlamov. The difference between this game and the one before is the Caps work ethic in the third period. The Caps seemed to gain momentum off of hard work that finished off the second period and continued on into the third. When the Caps put on their hard hats, they are a tough team to beat.
  • The hit by Alex Ovechkin was unfortunate. It happened in a bad area of the ice and it caught Campbell off guard. Campbell passed the puck across his body to reverse the flow. Ovechkin was on the other side of the Hawk player and gave him a push at the wrong time. Campbell, who was already vulnerable having passed behind him had very little time to protect himself as he went into the boards. Ovi clearly knew the hit was bad, maybe even wrong once he looked back at an injured Campbell. He would be ejected from the game. Should have Ovi been kicked out of the game? It is a tough call, but I think the NHL crew got it right. Keeping Ovechkin in may create the game to get out of hand. At times, it was about to with Blackhawks looking to land that revenge blow.
All in all, I think the Caps had played well all game, despite a few mistakes that the Blackhawks took full advantage of. It is a good character win, and they can learn and grow from it I believe.

The Capitals next three games will be against divisional foes all on the road. The Caps have opened a 5 point lead in the overall league standings. They keep their 14 point lead over the Penguins in the Eastern Conference.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Caps Outworked

Capitals 2, Lightning 3
Game Summary

The Washington Capitals dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning at times. But that didn't matter. The Caps had the Bolts on the ropes, outshooting them 13-0 at the start of the second period. But the Bolts found ways to score anyway. The Capitals fail to hit the century mark in standings points as they drop a tough one against the Bolts 3-2.

"There is no excuse," Bruce Boudreau said about his player's effort tonight. "[They] just got outworked."

It started well enough for the Caps. They seemed to have the legs and the jump on the Lightning. But Antero Nittymaki came up with some big saves. The Bolts took some penalties in the first and the Caps were quick to get things going. Alex Ovechkin pulled the puck out of the corner and found a perfect passing lane to Tomas Fleischmann on the far side. Flash put in the puck and the Caps looked good from there.

But the Lightning would work their way back into the game. Brandon Bochenski fired a rocket past Semyon Varlamov that gave Tampa life. It looked as if Varly wasn't square to the shooter and the puck was a perfect shot to the top corner. Then the bounces went Tampa's way.

Matt Walker scored off the face off when his shot bounced off Brooks Laich's foot and past Varly. Then a point shot hit Vincent Lecavalier in the arm and the puck bounced into the net under Varlamov. The goals happened less then four minutes apart and late in the second period.

"Once they started to believe that they could win, they won every battle and they outworked us," Bruce Boudreau said of the Lightning effort. "It's pretty simple, you don't win if you don't work hard."

They were able cut into the two goal lead when Matt Walker took a slashing penalty. The point shot was deflected by Laich and he slapped the rebound past Nittymaki. But it would not be enough as the Caps drop one to their divisional rivals. It could have been chalked up as a bit of bad luck, but not according to Boudreau.

"You make your own luck," Boudreau frowned. "Very rarely in any sport that luck is the outcome. If you are not working hard you are not going to get [bounces] in the front of the net... Did we do it enough? No, we didn't."

The Caps just didn't have the jump in the third period like they have before the Olympic break. "We certianly haven't been scoring at the clip that we did before the break," Mike Knuble said of the Caps sudden scoring woes. "I am not sure what the reason is."

The Lightning played a gritty game that seemed to keep the Capitals off sync. Most of their shots were from the outside and most were blocked, making it easy for Nittymaki. While the Caps looked to be dominating the Bolts, they looked more tired than the team the Lightning that played the night before.

"We should never lose in regulation in our own building," Joe Corvo said. "There are key moments in the game where we are scrambling in our own end. It's just costing us."

It is not too much cause for concern yet, the Capitals are 14 games away from the playoffs. But consistency and work ethic has always been an issue for the Caps. Things need to be nailed down before they even start thinking about playoff hockey.

"We didn't do the job as forwards and defensemen," Boudreau said shedding his goaltender of any fault to the loss. "We stayed out too long, we got outworked and we didn't play the way we are capable of playing and that's the reason we lost."

"If we are not going to work then, you know, it doesn't mean a whole lot," Knuble said. "You got to have the effort."

How Far They Have Come

There was no big celebration at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. In fact it wasn't anything out of the ordinary than a typical morning skate for the Capitals as they prepare to face the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight. The only difference is, the Washington Capitals took to the ice today as the reigning Southeast Division Champions for a third season in a row. An accomplishment with still 15 games remaining on the schedule.

"I don't think anyone came in rejoicing," Brooks Laich said of Caps clinching the division. "It's nice to know we are not going to finish lower than third. But other than that, we have bigger goals."

The Capitals have certainly come a long way. From just four years ago this was a team that underachieved, finishing a sore second from last in the Eastern Conference and fourth from last in the league overall. Now, not only are they considered Cup contenders, but they have clinched the Southeast title for a third year straight.

For the Caps' players, the path to this point has been a team effort from the coaching, to the management, to the players themselves.

When GM George McPhee worked on building up the Capitals to be a championship team, he did around some key players. With one building block after another he made a formidable wall of offensive talented players. Getting Alex Ovechkin in the first round of the '04 draft and building up players around him is what got the Capitals to this point.

"It's a big turnaround," Brooks Laich said. He joined the Capitals in '03-'04 in a series of trades the Capitals did in order to rebuild the team. "It's what management said to us the first day since I have been here. There is going to be a core group of guys that we're going to grow with and learn with and get better with. Now we are starting to reap the rewards of that."

Laich is an important key to the Capitals success and has been there for the hard times, as well as the good. "Back then, there was a lot of long nights," he said. "Nights that were tough when we took some lumps. But we knew down the road we were going to be a very good hockey team."

Another big piece to the puzzle was coaching. Bruce Boudreau has yet to have a season when the Caps have not clinched the division. When Gabby took the team over in November of '07 the Caps were in a bad slump losing 16 of their last 18 games. Boudreau's style of play and accountability would turn things around for the Capitals.

"It first started with the coaching change," Mike Green said. "Bruce coming in brought a lot of excitment and structure to our team and our organization."

But Boudreau would deflect any notion that the only contributing factor to the Caps' success is anything other than the boys in the locker room.

"We got really good players," Boudreau said. "Three years ago Mike Green is 21 and Jeff Schultz is 20 and Alex [Ovechkin] is 22 and Nicky [Backstrom] is 19. Now they have had two, three years of experience of being put under the gun, sort to speak. And they have gotten better, like players are suppose to get better."

"We have just kinda grown up together," Green remarked about his team's success. "A lot times when you try to build a team and add guys, sometimes there is not a lot of chemistry. The thing is, we are like best buddies. We play for each other on the ice and that's what makes it successful."

When Green was asked what keeps a team that is 33 points ahead of their divisional rival, 14 points ahead of the next team in the conference going, he responded: "The passion. The passion for the game."

Caps Notes:

There is just one today. Eric Belanger, Quintin Laing and Boyd Gordon will be the forwards sitting out tonight against the Lightning. Varlamov will be in net to start and Jeff Schultz will likely sit this one out as well.

Capitals Clinch Southeast

The Washington Capitals clinched the Southeast Division thanks to losses by both the Atlanta Thrashers and the Tampa Bay Lightning last night. With only 16 games remaining on the Thrashers and Lightning's schedules, both rivals can only amass 32 points if they won every game. That is good enough for second, because the Caps have a 33 point lead in the division.

The Capitals also have a comfortable lead in the Conference with 14 points separating them from the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have a four point lead over the San Jose Sharks and the entire league.

This will be the Caps third straight year with the Southeast crown and are the first in the NHL to clinch their division.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Caps Sign Dmitry Kugryshev

Caps signed a development player in Dmitry Kugryshev. The right winger had a good camp in the summer and has been playing well in juniors. He was signed to a three year, entry-level contract. Here is the whole press release on the signing per Washington Capitals PR:

The Washington Capitals have signed right wing Dmitry Kugryshev, a second-round choice in the 2008 Entry Draft, to a three-year entry-level contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Kugryshev (koo-GRIH-shev), 20, is a 6’0”, 185-pound native of Balakovo, Russia, who is in his second season with the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). He has 83 points (28 goals, 55 assists) in 64 games this season and is Quebec’s leader in points and assists. He is seventh in the QMJHL in points and fourth in the league in assists.
Kugryshev recorded 74 points (34 goals, 40 assists) in 57 games for the Remparts last season. He participated in the Capitals’ development camp last summer as well as the team’s rookie and training camps in September.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Ugly 3rd Period Does Caps In

Capitals 3, Stars 4 OT/SO (0-2)
Game Summary

With two fist pumped and a look to the rafters as if to say "It's about time," Alex Ovechkin shook the slump he was in off with a snap of a stick past Stars' goaltender Marty Turco. But the second period power play goal would not stand as the Caps lost their two goal lead in the final period and the Stars score three to take their own lead. The Capitals would tie it up with a beauty of shot from Ovi, but they would end up losing it in the shootout to the Dallas Stars 4-3.

"I think the whole team had a hiccup in the third period," Bruce Boudreau said.

The Caps 13 home game win streak came to an abrupt end as they unraveled in the third period. Before then, they were riding high. The home team was dominating with 42 shots on net through the first two periods, a franchise record. The took a two goal lead into the third. Things were looking all rosy for the Capitals.

Tom Poti opened the scoring in the first off of a smart pass by Dave Steckel who saw his defenseman breaking for the net. Poti put it past Turco for his fourth goal of the year. Then the Stars started taking penalties. They would only take three minors in the second period, even giving the Caps some 5 on 3 time. Ovechkin would make them pay with his first goal since his hat trick against the Penguins on February 7th.

The only reason the Caps were held to just two goals in the first two periods was the play of Marty Turco. He was able to thwart the Caps 5 on 3 advantage and came up with a few good saves. "He was on top of his game tonight," Boudreau said.

But the Dallas Stars came out with a better work effort in the third period. A stupid hooking call penalty against Brooks Laich would give the Stars some life. Brad Richards shot a laser past Semyon Varlamov who had looked sharp up until then. Matt Bradley took a holding call and the Stars again scored evaporating the Capitals lead on a power play goal by Trevor Daley. They would take the lead when rookie James Neal snapped a shot through Varlamov's five hole.

"We were due to get a [power play] against us," Mike Knuble said. "We weren't able to kill them off. That is obvious what got them back in the game."

The Caps would tie up the game on a beautiful deke and shot in one by Ovechkin. His second goal of the game would pull him up to a tie with Sidney Crosby for the league's scoring title. It would force the game into overtime, where the Caps nearly ended it there. But Turco came up with the saves.

In the shoot out, the only Capital able to score was Nick Backstrom. He had a pretty deke to the back hand that had Turco cursing at the ice. But Ovechkin (14.3% on shootouts this season) and Alex Semin (20% on shootouts this season) could not beat Turco. Brad Richards scored and Loui Eriksson would score for Dallas giving them the extra point.

The Caps laid down in the third and the Stars fought back by outworking them. Normally when the Caps have the lead going into the third, it is a sure win. They are 28-0-3 when they have the lead going into the final frame. But they just got out worked and nearly let the Stars get away with three unanswered goals by the Stars.

"We had the chance to bury them, put [ourselves] up three nothing," Poti said. "We couldn't get that done and ultimately that is why we lost."

This can not happen so late in the season. It has been a problem for the Caps in the past where they were unable to keep a lead late in the game. It is a wake up call for the Caps as this month gets tougher, not easier. They have to be able to put teams away, especially when they show such dominance in the first two periods as they did tonight.

Washington will play Carolina Wednesday night.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Theodore Shuts Down Rangers

Capitals 2, Rangers 0
Game Summary

It wasn't pretty, but the Washington Capitals get by on a 5 on 3 power play goal by Eric Fehr and a great passing play that ended with Eric Belanger getting his first goal as a Capital. The Rangers couldn't get anything going offensively giving Jose Theodore his first shutout of the year as the Caps down them 2-0.

The Caps really had a problem with the Rangers shot blocking. Instead, the Caps' shooters found themselves looking for the pass before the shot. It lead to a lot of broken plays. But the Rangers couldn't stay out of the penalty box and the Caps would score the game winner on a 5 on 3 power play. It was scored on the break late in the two man advantage. Tomas Fleischmann's pass to the slot was deflected off a Ranger stick, but it still found its way to Fehr's stick and he tapped it high over Auld's shoulder.

The second goal would be a complete break down by the Ranger defense. The Caps entered the zone with a cross ice pass by Brooks Laich to Alex Semin. Semin returned the pass inside the zone spreading the Ranger defense and allowing Belanger to get in behind them. Laich found him open in the slot and Belanger scored on Auld's five hole. The Ranger goaltender was unable to react fast enough to the play.

"It feels great to get it out of the way," Belanger said of scoring his first as a Capital and wearing the hard hat in the locker room. "[It takes] a lot of pressure off my shoulders and now I can just play."

While the win keeps the Capitals home win streak intact at 13 games, it's their top scorer's funk that has the rest of us worried. It is nice that Alex Ovechkin's lack of offensive hasn't hindered the Caps yet. But his scoring drought has given Sidney Crosby the scoring lead in the league.

It seems that both Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom have not gotten over their post Olympic hang over. Ovechkin would finish with seven shots and no points in this game. His partner Backstrom would not score a point and struggle in the face off circle winning only 8 of 20 draws.

"They are just off by a half a second," Bruce Boudreau said of his two star players. "Their timing since the Olympics has just been a little off. But you know they are going to catch on and it's going to happen sooner or later."

The Caps made plenty of mistakes. Shaone Morrisonn turned the puck over in the slot to Branden Dubinsky. Theodore was there with the save, sticking his blocker out after Dubinsky deked to the backhand. It seemed when the Caps turned it over, Theodore played well enough to make up for it. Since January 13, Theo has been better than just good enough, posting a 12-0-2 record, 2.38 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.

"We played a solid game," Theodore said to reporters after the game. "During the break we were talking alot about solid defensive hockey and in the playoffs that is how you are going to win games."

"I though [Theodore] was great," Boudreau said. "I thought by far he was our best player."

Friday, March 05, 2010

Walker Warms Up To Caps Fans

It takes alot to impress a Caps fan. What with the best player in the league on your team, it would seem hard for any player let alone a trade deadline pickup to get fans excited. But Capitals fans sensed something special in Scott Walker.

On a skillful team like the Capitals, it's sometimes the grit players that get overlooked but are sometimes the most important players. Against the Lightning the Caps top forwards seemed stifled and off kilter. The Bolts were able to block shots, get sticks in passing lanes and contained the top guys. It would be the two grinders, the crash the net and arrive ill tempered players that follow point shot rebounds like fat kids to cake.

Mike Knuble has been lighting the lamp with 11 goals in the last 15 games that way. So GM George McPhee wanted another guy with the same tenacity. Walker fit the bill. He scored a pair of goals in his first game as a Capital. The first to do so since Alex Ovechkin took to the ice in his first game as a Cap.

Already fans have taken to the scrappy toothless forward who came from Carolina.

"He just fits in," a season ticket holder told me. "It took him a couple of periods to figure it out, but he knew where to go. It was clutch from someone not named Alex. Guys wanted to chant his name in my section."

"I was nervous, probably didn't get a good pregame nap, and I was just trying to play and fit in," Walker told reporters after the game. "They're playing so good, you just don't want to disrupt them."

The funny thing is, it's just one game. And we have been seeing plenty of Walker at Verizon Center, just in a Hurricane uniform. Even with just three goals on the season with Carolina, Walker endeared himself to the fans there's so much that many cried when they found out he had been traded.

But that toothless grinned tough guy has made good impressions on the Capital faithful. And all done on the fourth checking line who are put out not for the offensive talents. Well, not as planned now anyway.

"It was nice to chip in and help out," Walker said. "But two points is what I'm looking for every night."

And that makes him most endearing of all.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Night Of The Garbage Men

Capitals 5, Lightning 4
Game Summary

Who says the Southeast Division is boring. The Capitals insert the new guys and the Lightning take advantage of a team that played the night before. The result, a 5-4 win for the good guys and a couple of grinders makes the difference.

Mike Knuble and Scott Walker were two players meant to give the Caps a better presence in front of the net. The pair of them contributed 2 goals each. Even if you do everything to keep Alex Ovechkin off the score sheet, it is the grinders that add the offensive spark the Caps needed.

Knuble has been hot, scoring 18 points in his last 15 games (11g, 7a). He would score two in this game, his 24th and 25th of the season. Eric Fehr scored his 16th of the season, a shot that fooled Mike Smith and hit top corner.

The Caps got into some penalty trouble late in the second period giving the Lightning a prolonged 4 on 3 power play. It would be the shot blocking heroics by Nick Backstrom who was with out a stick to stall the Bolts advantage. He blocked two big point shots and when Semyon Varlamov covered the puck, Backstrom got a pretty loud ovation for his efforts from the hometown faithful.

But give the Lightning credit, they didn't sit back. Vincent Lacavlier seemed to get the big goals when the Bolts needed most. The Caps, maybe a bit road wary, seemed to let up in the third. A few defensive miss reads kept the game interesting before Walker sealed the deal for the Caps. But we will get into the newcomers in a bit.

Varlamov was good in places. It was mostly a let down by his defensive squad and he had little chance of making the save. He did get some help at the beginning from his defensive squad, but the goals the Bolts were able to score Varly was left high and dry.

Newbie Capital Walker may have come to this team with only 3 goals this season, but he scored two big goals and shook off his offensive drought he had in Carolina. It made Eric Belanger and Joe Corvo's arrival seem less enthusiastic. But, overall, the new guys did well for the Caps.

The newcomers were learning on the fly, so I expected not to see too much from them. They didn't have a practice with the full team, only a morning skate. Walker seemed to fit right into the Caps aggressive forecheck and he quickly found a home in front of the net to gobble up rebounds and send them past the Lightning goaltender.

Belanger looks like he needs more adjustment time, but he showed some promise. He played on a line with Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann. It was a quick line, showing a lot of spark for a third line. Belanger would finish with a plus 1 and a few really sneaky shots that just missed the net.

Corvo did not overly stand out, but that might have been a good thing. He was on the ice for two of the Lightning goals, one on the penalty kill and the other was the tying goal by Steven Stamkos. He saw some power play time too. He looked okay to me, was solid defensively.

Milan Jurcina was the only "newcomer" not on the ice. He was a scratch, but I suppose we will see him in the lineup shortly.

With a day off, it will be interesting to see if the new players find new spots in the lines as Bruce Boudreau has time to teach their system and the boys work out the kinks.

The Caps jump out to a 14 point lead in the east over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens are looking to chase down the Caps with their improvements at the trade deadline. The two teams meet up later this month.

Finally In FM

Washington Capitals announce today that 106.7 FM will be broadcasting Capitals games. No more will you have to worry about impending bridge crossings or driving between two tall buildings downtown. Per Washington Caps PR:

The Washington Capitals and WJFK 106.7 The Fan are partnering to broadcast at least four of the  Capitals remaining regular-season games in 2009-10 and possibly more pending the station’s schedule availability. WJFK 106.7 The Fan carried the Capitals’ season opener and home opener this season and has broadcast the Capitals’ Stanley Cup playoff games the past two seasons.
WJFK 106.7 The Fan’s Caps coverage begins Saturday, March 6, against the New York Rangers and continues with March 10 against Carolina, April 1 against Atlanta and April 11 against Boston. In addition to the games, WJFK 106.7 The Fan will carry a complete pregame show and an extensive postgame show, which will be presented by Eye Doctors of Washington, the official eye doctor of the team.
All four games also will be heard on the Capitals’ flagship station, WFED 1500 AM and 820 AM.
WJFK Broadcast Schedule
March 6 – Saturday vs. New York Rangers
March 10 – Wednesday vs. Carolina
April 1 – Thursday vs. Atlanta
April 11 – Sunday vs. Boston

Caps Shake Off Cobwebs

Capitals 3, Sabres 1
Game Summary

Not much to say about this one. The first half of the game looked just like it was a team that had not played in two weeks and another team that played the night before. But the Caps would find their flow again and they outskated the tire Sabres to eek out a win 3-1.

Alex Ovechkin did not score a point, but he was in the game physically. I think he needs a game or two to return to normal. Ovi puts so much heart in what he does, that the Russians' disappointing loss to Canada may have sort emotionally drained him. He had a few hits to start the game, but the top line didn't really play to their potential. It will come back though.

Originally Eric Fehr was credited with the opening goal, but that changed to Jason Chimera. He was in front too when Jeff Schultz unloaded one from the point. It deflected in past returning USA Hockey hero Ryan Miller. Up to that point, the play was sloppy and the game had little flow.

Buffalo would answer right back when Mike Green lost the puck in Brooks Laich's skates. The puck went right to an open Jochen Hecht and he scored to tie the game up at one apiece. It wouldn't be until half way through the third period when it seemed the Capitals found their legs and a bit of a stride.

Tomas Fleischmann carved a half circle to the outside and found a trailing Green. Green shot it high and it beat Miller. It broke the defensive stalemate and a Boyd Gordon billiard shot into the empty net sealed it for the Caps. They would also break a three game losing skid in the process.

Jose Theodore played very well. He looked rested and focused. For not being a very big goaltender, Theo has to play the angles and read the play faster than a bigger goaltender could. He made some dynamite saves in the third and he got help from a defensive squad that might be fighting for jobs now that two more faces are at practice.

The Caps keep their 13 point lead in the East safe as well as open a game and a half lead for the league lead overall. Both Chicago and San Jose are tied at 89 (Caps have 92). This kicks off a very difficult schedule down the stretch where at one point the Capitals will play back to back games then a game every other night for two straight weeks. Their only break will be three days off before they face Pittsburgh on March 24th.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

GM Adds Plenty Of Depth

George McPhee had a plan going into this year's trade deadline. Add some depth to get through the playoffs. Injuries played a bit role in the past two post seasons for the Capitals. Forcing younger players to mature much faster than planned.

"I like what we did," McPhee told reports as the dust settled on trade deadline day. "We got better, and deeper, and we didn't give up our future to do it, and we didn't take on any bad contracts to do it, so I was really pleased with the way it went."

What they got were a pair of forwards and a pair of defensemen for a development player, a defenseman and two second rounders, a sixth rounder and a seventh rounder.

The Capitals bolstered their blue line with the return of Milan Jurcina come back from Columbus and big guy Joe Corvo from Carolina. McPhee felt that getting Juice back puts his best shut down pair of Poti and Jurcina back together. Jurcina played solid enough to get a start every night for the Blue Jackets earning him a roster spot on the Slovakian national team at the Olympics in Vancouver.

Joe Corvo will bring a heavy shot to the point and some solid veteran defensive skills back there too. analyst Micheal Peca broke down Corvo's role with the Capitals: "I think Mike Green's going to need some support. You get into the playoffs, as an opposing team you identify certain players that you're going to target and try to affect physically, and I think if Washington has the ability to reduce Green's minutes early on in the playoffs, it'll benefit the team in the long run. I think Corvo's the guy."

With the pair of defensemen, McPhee took on some more grit and veterans up front. Eric Belanger and Scott Walker add some muscle and some set up ability for the Capitals up front.

"Belanger brings us some speed and experience at center ice," Mcphee said of his new centerman. "[It's] the sort of thing we were looking for, and he's also real good on faceoffs."

"We like his experience and his ability to shut people down, he's on pace for probably 18 goals this year, which is fine; he'll help us on our penalty killing. We just got another player who is a hard guy to play against."

"I like Walker because Ovechkin and Semin are going to face a lot of physical attention, come playoff time," Peca said on TSN. "Walker is a great equalizer. He's a guy who will identify the other team's best player and you don't know what's coming."

The Capitals did lose Brian Potheir and development player Oskar Osala. But for the most part, McPhee was able to keep his core of youth together while getting the players he wanted. "We had an untouchable list and we didn't give away any of those players," McPhee explained.

Overall, I give the Caps and GMGM a B. He was successful in adding the depth he needed, but the market wasn't there for better players. He didn't give up anything he couldn't live without and in the end that is probably the most important fact on day's end.

Fitting the new players in will take some time for everyone. But they won't have too much time to think about it since they play a pair of back to back games, then play a game every other night through March. A busy schedule will force the coaching staff to figure it out on the fly.