Thursday, April 29, 2010

First Round Winners And Losers

Well, that was an interesting first round. I do it every year, it's my list of the winners and losers. Already this post season seems chocked full of them.


Opening wins from the underdogs: In the Eastern Conference everyone of the lower seeds beat their higher seed foes. In the West, only top seeds Phoenix and Vancouver got off on the right foot. It made for an interesting start.

Jaroslav Halak: Halak played and outstanding series against the Capitals. He stopped 41 shots in game seven, another 53 shots in game six as the Habs come from behind to beat the Capitals in round one.

Phoenix Coyotes: Even though they had home ice advantage, the Coyotes were clearly the underdog in their series against Detroit. But they stretched it to seven games before they totally lost in the final one by a score of 6-1. Give the 'Yotes credit for playing a great season, and following it up with some good playoff performances. That was gutsy season for a team struggling to stay in Glendale AZ.

Jacques Martin: The head coach of the Montreal Canadiens had a plan and stuck with it. And he finally wins a game seven. He played the system best suited to beat the Capitals, and it worked. Get the early goal and shut 'em down. He had some help form a great goaltender, but in the end he finally gets a game seven win.

Sidney Crosby: I hate to say it, but Crosby single handily did away with the Ottawa Senators. Talk about a leader, he lead by example with some key goals and great assists to keep Ottawa from every really having a chance.

1 through 8: Every seed is represented in the second round. 1. San Jose, 2. Chicago, 3. Vancouver, 4. Pittsburgh, 5. Detroit, 6. Boston, 7. Philadelphia and 8. Montreal.

Zdeno Chara: He started the series with a cage, but he would end it leading his bruised and battered team past the Sabres for the series win. Not sure how long he can lead his team on, but he did everything to help his team win, getting into a scrum and scoring key goals.


Washington Capitals Offense: Where did it go? To lose by such a low score is not normal for the Capitals and it was the main reason for their first round loss. Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom were held scoreless in the last games. Mike Green, Tomas Fleischmann and others didn't even get a goal.

Buffalo Sabres: They just couldn't over come Zdeno Chara and Tuuka Rask. They were a bit beat up and Ryan Miller played spectacular in net. But the Sabres are upset by Boston proving a great goaltender only gets you so far.

NHL Officiating: 5 minute or longer reviews, bad calls that decide game sevens, and overall consistency. It has been a bad first round for the boys in the black and white stripes. And all the Commish has to say is, "Well human error is part of it." Hmm.

Versus: Blocking every game in the post season by scheduling them, even if they are not full games. Those with Center Ice were forced to watch partial games because of Versus trying to satisfy every one's needs. The NHL really needs to either open up the blocked games, or find several channels to carry the games through the first round. Hello, NHL network?

Bruce Boudreau: Now 1-5 in series clinching games, Boudreau played on his hunches a bit too much in the series against the Canadiens. Making changes too late in the series did not help his team in the end. His authorship of the power play was abysmal. Even with the extra man with over a minute left in game seven, the Caps could not produce a power play goal.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Playoffs End For Capitals

Capitals 1, Canadiens 2 - Habs win series 4-3
Game Summary - Series Totals

A record franchise season in wins, road wins, points, number one overall seed in the league and President Trophy winners. But it all ended in seven games. The Washington Capitals could not figure out Jaroslav Halak or the Montreal Canadiens' defensive trap. All the Habs needed was the first goal of the game, and it paid off for them as they do away with the Washington Capitals in seven games with a 2-1 win.

Shock, would be one word to describe it. That the one thing that would bring the Caps' season to a screeching halt is the lack of offense. The Capitals could only muster a single goal in the waning moments of the game off of Brooks Laich stick. That was all they could do, and it wasn't good enough.

During the season, if I had told you the Capitals were down by a goal or two going into the third many Caps fans would not even bat an eye to say that they were out of the game. But early goals by the Canandiens in three straight games put them on the ropes. A rare sight for a team that had no problem scoring goals.

The Habs got lucky too. Jaroslav Halak played probably the best three games a goaltender can put together in the post season. Credit his defense too, for clearing out the space in front of him and giving him a chance to see the puck. When everyone said that the Caps' size was an advantage, I doubt they envisioned the Habs doing what they did defensively. Or what the Caps lack to do offensively.

Twenty four seconds into the third period, the Capitals thought they had tied the game up off of a great shot by Alex Ovechkin. But NHL official Brian Watson waved off the goal, deeming Mike Knuble was in the crease and interfered with Halak. But the replay showed if Knuble interfered, it was by the narrowest of margins. Instead of that, the Habs come back later in the period and score the eventual game winner.

The Caps lose another series after taking a commanding lead. In the history of the Caps' post season, blowing a series lead is nothing new. But this one stung, with what the Capitals have done all season long.

Questions now arise in the off season for the Capitals too. What new faces will be here in the fall? Nick Backstrom will have to negotiate a contract. Veteran goaltender Jose Theodore will most likely not get a contract renewal in the off season. Non-playoff performers like Tomas Fleischmann and others may find themselves in different sweaters come September. And will Bruce Boudreau be back?

All questions to be answered in due time.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Holy Halak

Capitals 1, Canadiens 4 - Series tied at 3
Game Summary

The Washington Capitals brought their shots to the game, the problem was Montreal Canadien goaltender Jaroslav Halak had an answer for just about every one of them. In a game that was mostly dominated by the Capitals Halak turned away 53 shots and only allowing one goal against the offensive juggernaut that are the Washington Capitals. While Halak was brilliant, Caps' netminder Semyon Varlamov was marginal. The result, a 4-1 win and a forced game seven by the Canadiens.

Eric Fehr scored the only goal for the Capitals who once again were frustrated by the Habs defense. The Capitals were only able to score one goal out of 54 shots as well as 23 shots that were blocked and 17 shots that missed the net. For a whopping total of 94 shots the Caps attempted.

Special teams again do the Caps in as they went 0 for six on the power play and allowed a power play goal against. Mike Cammalleri came up huge with a power play goal in the first period. It was really all the Habs needed, as Halak seemed to find a zone. The puck was a beach ball to him and he was stopping everything.

The Capitals were unable to do anything to the three straight diving calls the Canadiens' took. The power play just was not clicking for them. Even with a 5 on 3, the Caps were guilty of being "too cute." A problem that has plague them all season long.

When the Canadiens' took the 3-0 lead, game seven was inevitable. It would be the Capitals fourth straight playoff series that has gone to seven games. There record is a humble 1-2, including a drubbing on home ice by the Pittsburgh Penguins last post season.

The Capitals are guilty of relying too heavily on their offense that has, thus far, fallen short of expectations. Besides Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin who both have 9 points (both have 5g, 4a) and Mike Knuble who has 6 points (2g, 4a) thus far in this series, no Capital has more than 4 points or 3 goals. And when that top line is shut down, the Habs are getting by with shots from second and third lines with no damage at all.

Alex Semin has taken the most shots in the post season by any other player, 0 goals. The top scoring defenseman for the Capitals Mike Green has yet to score a tally. Eric Belanger, Tomas Fleischmann and Brendan Morrison all have zero goals. There is nobody adding goal support for the top line and the Caps will suffer another game seven loss if that does not change.

The Caps can not ask Semyon Varlamov to be any better in net for them. The Caps' netminder has done exactly what was expected of him, keep the opposition's score low enough for the Capitals' offense to take over. In fact the Caps concede that the goaltender doesn't have to be perfect to win. That may be true in the regular season, but that logic is slowly slipping in post season play.

The Capitals can ill afford to give up the first goal again to the Habs. When they have done that, it has taken a monumental effort to get back in the game, if they do at all. If the Caps are eliminated in the first round, best bet is Bruce Boudreau gets the pink slip for his team's inability to put a little 'ol puck in a 6' x 4' frame.

Game seven is at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

NHL Logic

.. or lack there of.

Colin Campbell handed down the sentence for Marian Hossa's hit on Dan Hamhuis in game 5 of the Blackhawks and Predators series today. It was a verdict on a hit that was identical to that of Alex Ovechkin's hit on Brian Campbell in the very same building in the regular season. As everyone looked at both hits side by side the reaction was the same from every analyst and commentator; Hossa is going to be suspended for that hit.

Here's Hossa's hit:

Here is Ovechkin's hit:

So when the Colin Campbell came out with Hossa's punishment, it was understandable everyone was confused when the verdict was not a suspension. Nothing, nada, not one game missed for the exact same hit that forced Ovechkin to sit out 2 games.

You can see why players and coaches are confused when it comes to the league's supplemental discipline. Campbell released this statement in his defense of the decision:
"I have made the decision that this play does not warrant supplemental discipline after considering all of the facts, including reviewing the video and speaking with Mr. Hossa. This play is distinguishable from recent incidents by a number of factors, including the degree of contact involved; the fact that the consequences of the play do not appear to be as severe; that this was a hockey play involving a race for the puck; that Mr. Hossa is not a repeat offender; and that the call of a major penalty by the referee was significant and appropriate."

To be honest, I don't get it. It is the exact same hit, the exact same incident. Both players pushed the opposing player from behind and both slammed into the boards uncomfortably. So what are we suppose to surmise from this? You can run a player as long as you don't hurt him or have any prior "history" (whatever that means, since it is Ovechkin's first offense of hitting from behind or boarding penalty).

What fans, players and general managers are really looking for is just some consistency. And I am not even a Hossa hater. I could care less if he gets off or not. But I do believe in fairness, and by the decisions of the league office that fairness thing is not present in their actions.

Caps Notes:
  • Caps spent their last free day working on the power play. Just 1 for 24, the leagues best PP has been a non-factor in this series. Bruce Boudreau worked a new player into the mix, tough guy Eric Belanger.
  • After blowing some steam right after Friday night's game, it was a calmer Boudreau at Caps practice. After saying 5 or 6 players were just along for the ride, he back tracked a bit. As per Tarik's blog:
    "The other day he was more irritated, and today he was a little more calm," Mike Knuble said of Boudreau, the power play's architect. "Today, it was, 'Alright guys, I know we can do this', now that he's had a day to get away from it. It was just little things like puck recovery and being on rebounds a little more. Little things to focus on."
  • "Sno-vechkin" has taken on new levels. Habs fans are incensed over Alex Ovechkin spray one of the Canadien kid flag bearers with ice as he is coming to the bench. You can make up your own mind on the video below:

    The best commentary was when NHL on the Fly commentator Larry Murphy blamed the kid for "waving the flag in front of him." The Habs' fans have problems if this is their rallying cry.
  • The Hershey Bears have opened a 2 games to none lead on the Albany River Rats with a 6-3 win tonight.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Caps' Guns Go Quiet

Capitals 1, Canadiens 2 - Washington leads series 3-2
Game Summary

There was only one mood in the Washington Capitals' locker room: irked. The Caps were irked they got off to a slow start, irked they once again let power play opportunities go awry, and irked that the Montreal Canadiens only needed two goals scored in the first ten minutes of the game to decide game 5 and force a game 6 back in Montreal.

"We're not getting 20 guys playing," An irked head coach Bruce Boudreau said in his press conference. "We're getting thirteen and fourteen guys every night rather than every one playing. Tonight we had 5 or 6 passengers again."

Alex Ovechkin was the only goal scorer in the game. His tally was of the garbage goal variety as John Carlson's point shot bounced off Jaroslav Halak and Mike Knuble in front and Ovi dumped in the loose change. It would be the only bright spot in the game for the Capitals who came out flat to start.

"It's not like we didn't address the start," an irritated Bredan Morrison said to reporters. "We knew they were going to come out and [try to] put our backs to the wall and they out played us in the first twenty minutes. We made too many glaring mistakes that ended up in our net."

Right off the face off, Montreal had a scoring chance. Just nine seconds in Brian Gionta gets the Habs off to a great start, nearly scoring and having Caps' goaltender Semyon Varlamov make the save early. Then in the shift after next, 1:30 into the game, the Canadiens would get a puck past Washington's netminder. Mike Cammalleri had the honors.

"We wanted to win the game," Ovechkin said of the slow start. "We start[ed] pretty badly right away, and they get opportunity to score goals in the first ten seconds. We [can't] start like this."

It would take just six minutes later for the Habs to score again. It would be the eventual game winner as the Capitals' defense bit on the low forward Gionta and Travis Moen was alone in front of the net. Moen made a move and put the backhander past Varly and the Habs had the lead from there.

Montreal would come back and play tough defense against the Caps. Falling back into their trap, the Habs' defense did a great job of getting sticks into passing lanes and jumping on loose pucks. The Caps' high octane offense was forced to take outside shots to no avail. Halak seemed to gobble up shots and avoid any reckless rebounds.

"We missed some very good looks," Boudreau said of his team's lack of offense. "When you have players that are suppose to be scorers and they miss really good looks, it's like a checker not doing his job in my mind. They got to score those goals."

The Capitals sudden loss in offense was helped along also by a struggling power play. The best power play in the league is one of the worst in the playoffs, just one goal in 24 chances. Montreal's penalty killing is not that special either, they are clogging up passing lanes and playing aggressive on the player who is bobbling the puck.

"Our power play is not helping us," centerman Brendan Morrison said. "It is not helping us right now. They're doing a good job pressuring us. We talk about adjustments, but it hasn't translated onto the ice yet. If we want to win this series, it has to help us win a game. So far it hasn't done that."

The game was laden with missed calls on both side of the puck. Varlamov played the puck outside the trapezoid area but the refs missed it. Eric Belanger took a stick up high by Andrei Markov and ended up losing a tooth, but the officials seemed to miss it. They also called a slash and a too many men penalty on Montreal, but only awarded the later to the Capitals. Instead of a 5 on 3, it was a 5 on 4.

It seemed the Caps couldn't catch a break when they needed it either. The officials didn't miss the mix up with Eric Fehr and Varlamov as the pulled the goaltender, leading to a too many men call on the Caps which thwarted any chance of a comeback.

"If we score goals we feel good," Ovi said. "But we didn't score."

The series goes back to Montreal, where the Capitals are hoping to wrap things up to avoid a 4th straight series that has gone to seven games. If the Caps wish to end things quickly, they will have to come out with a much better effort early. They will also have to crash to the net as well.

Boudreau made things clear that a shake up is likely with his lines. Most likely Tomas Fleischmann whose play has been stagnate in this series will be a healthy scratch, but more players could be watching from the press box at Bell Centre.

When asked if he was going to shake up his lines, Boudreau responed, "I will think very deeply about it in the next few days."

Caps Notes:
  • David Steckel has been a healthy scratch for three straight games after starting in the first two. Shaone Morrisonn also has an undisclosed injury keeping him from being in the line up, he has missed two straight games. Tyler Sloan replaced Mo on the back end and finished the night with two blocked shots and a minus one rating.
  • Alex Semin leads the league in shots with 29. He has zero goals.
  • Former Capital Donald Brashear was at the game, a guest of Alex Ovechkin. A brief montage of number 87 flashed on the big screen and he got a standing ovation from the crowd.
  • In response to the Habs' fans booing the American National Anthem in Montreal, Caps fans cheered when " O' Canada" was sung at Verizon Center.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Caps Take Habs To The Brink

Capitals 6, Canadiens 3
Game Summary

Washington Capitals' star players are finally hitting a stride. Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble scored a pair of goals as the top line with Nick Backstrom accounted for 8 points tonight against the Montreal Canadiens. They would take a three games to one lead over the Habs as they take over the game in the third period and take the game 6-3.

Ovechkin started the scoring on the power play. The Caps' power play had been stifled up until game four. Nick Backstrom carried the puck up the ice and found Ovechkin on the wing as the Canadiens' defenders backed away from the oncoming Capitals. Ovi snapped it past Montreal's netminder Carey Price.

The Habs would answer back just over a minute later as Mike Cammalleri put away a centering pass up over Semyon Varlamov. Then Montreal would really take over the game in the second period.

The Capitals seemed to lose their cool a bit, taking some bad penalties off of some bad discipline. They took three pealties in the second allowing the Habs to build some momentum. Semyon Varlamov made some spectacular saves including three glove saves on what looked to be sure goals. Varly would weather the Habs' storm only allowing a power play goal in the second period.

It happed on the second penalty of the second period by the Capitals, Jason Chimera was called for roughing after a Canadien took a swipe at Varly. Andrei Markov shot it from the point, but missed the net. The puck bounced back into the crease behind Varlamov and Brian Gionta stuck his stick in and tapped it into the net.

Bell Centre erupted and the Canadiens had the Capitals on their heels out shooting the Caps 21 to 9 in the second frame. Ovechkin did draw a Hal Gill holding call close to a minute later, but the Caps would be guilty of a too many men penalty after some miscommunication on the bench. It looked like the Caps wasted another opportunity to get back into the game. That was until the Habs let up in the last seconds of the period.

Boyd Gordon took a clearing pass from John Carlson with Roman Hamrlik pinched in and took himself out of the play. Gordon broke into the Habs' zone with Knuble on the wing creating a 2 on 1. Gordon waited out Josh Georges, who sprawled out to block the pass, and he sent a saucer pass over Georges stick onto Knuble's. Price had no chance as Knuble buried the shot and all the momentum the Canadiens built crashed with a little over six seconds left in the middle frame.

The Caps seemed to come out with some jump in the third and it would be Ovechkin once again who would find the back of the net to give the Caps the lead. Less than a minute later Jason Chimera would score to make the hole a bit deeper for the Habs. Add two empty netters by Mike Knuble and Backstrom to round out the scoring for the Caps.

Both goaltenders started the series as back-ups, but they took center stage in this on. Varlamov out played Price, coming up with the saves his team needed. Varly showed flashes of his performance in last year's playoff run making some great saves. He would stop 36 Canadiens' shots.

The Capitals will take a commanding 3 games to one lead over Montreal by winning three straight games. They have the chance to clinch the series and move to the second round back at the Verizon Center Friday night.

Caps notes:
  • Since their disappointing start in game one, the top line of Knuble, Backstrom and Ovechkin have been on fire. Backstrom has nine points (5 goals, 4 assists), Ovechkin has 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists) and Knuble 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists).
  • Alex Semin finally made the scoresheet with a single assist, his first and only point of the series thus far. Semin has been trying to fight his scoring funk. He has 20 shots on net in the series but has yet to score.
  • The Caps again dominate in the third period. The Caps have 80 shots in the final period to the Canadiens' 35.
  • Montreal's goaltender Carey Price was not very sportsmanlike in the waning moments of the game. On the Jason Chimera goal he was tagged with an unsportsmanlike penalty when he chipped the puck at Jeff Schultz as the Caps celebrated. Then when Nick Backstrom scored his empty netter, he gave him a two handed swipe of the stick from the bench. He would be tagged with a double minor for unsportsmanlike for that tap to the Caps's forwards legs. "It's just frustration," Price told reporters following the game. "It's not a good move. But let them know you're there. I didn't mean to actually hit him, but it's over."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Caps Stage A Dramatic Come-Backstrom To Even Series

Capitals 5, Canadiens 5 OT
Game Summary

Once again the Caps got off to a less than desirable start. Two shots and two goals ended the night for Jose Theodore. But Nick Backstrom's monster night would overshadow Theo's mis-steps in net. The Washington Capitals big players showed up for game two and they would even the series at one with an over time winner against the Montreal Canadiens 6-5.

Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom both had a 4 point night. One goal and three assists for Ovi, a hattrick and an assist for Backstrom. Eric Fehr would score his first of the series and 20 year old John Carlson had a goal and assist. A big goal that would send it to overtime. The win would snap a 6 game playoff home overtime losing streak for the Caps and it would come in comeback fashion.

The Canadiens would get the start they wanted in game two. The first was a turn over by Jason Chimera at the Habs' blue line. Scott Gomez would turn the play around and find Brian Gionta wide out at the top of the circles. The shot seemed to handcuff Theodore and find it's way to the back of the net. It was a shot the Caps' goaltender should have had.

Theo would be terrorized again by a seemingly innocent play. The Caps had been dominating the play when another turn over in the neutral zone had the play going in the opposite direction. Andrei Kostitsyn put a nice wrister up over Theo's shoulder and that would do it for the Caps netminder. Enter Semyon Varlamov.

The Caps would cut into the lead as Eric Fehr sniped a snap shot past Jaroslav Halak. It was a break away for Fehr set up by line mate Tomas Fleischmann who capitalized off of a Canadien turn over and found Fehr breaking toward the middle of the ice. But the Caps couldn't build off of that goal.

In the second period Kostitsyn would score a pair of goals on replacement Varlamov giving him his first playoff hattrick of his career. One of them was on the power play after Brooks Laich took a tripping call, the other at even strength. It would build a 4-1 lead for the Canadiens and it looked they would be en route to a two game series lead from there on. They would quickly clog the neutral zone and the Caps could not get into Montreal's zone.

The Caps would eventually break their offensive woes when Backstrom shot one that bounced in off traffic in front. It would cut into Montreal's 4-2 lead and start a Caps resurgence. They were crashing the net with vigor and kept Montreal on their heels with time squeezing away in the second period. They would not score, but it didn't take long for them in the third.

Alex Ovechkin would strike early, just under three minutes in. John Carlson blasted a shot from the point and Halak seemed to make the save. Ovi was in front and poked his stick into Halak's pads and the puck trickled in behind him and the Caps were now only down by one. The goal would be Ovechkin's first of the series.

Then at the midway point in the third, Backstrom and Ovechkin would tie things up. Ovi skated down the right side and attempted a shot through Jaroslav Spacek but it was blocked. After the shot laid back in front of Ovechkin and the Canadiens broke coverage for a second, he found a wide open Backstrom in front of the net for a tap in play to pull the Caps even at 4 apiece.

The tie would not last long as the Caps once again turn over the puck. Mike Cammalleri and Tomas Plekanec played a little give and go that ended up behind Varlamov. With just over five minutes to play, it had looked as if the Canadiens would steal another game at Verizon Center and put their foes in a 2 game series hole.

The Caps mounted a come back by double shifting the top line and it payed off when Ovechkin drew a slashing call and the Canadiens seemed to let up their play for a bit. Backstrom kept the play alive cutting down the middle and found 20 year old John Carlson who was on the outside lane. He cut in to the upper slot and ripped a wrist shot past Halak and sent the Verizon Center crowd into a frenzy as well as tying up the game with 1:21 left to play.

Not much could be generated after that and the game would once again go to overtime. The Canadiens had the first scoring chance, nearly redirecting one past Varlamov. But the counter attack by the Caps saw Backstrom score his game winner through a screen on the Habs' defender and beat Halak high glove side. The building exploded and the Caps showered the ice to congratulate their first win, and hopefully celebrate a momentum change in the series.

The Caps draw even with the Canadiens as the series moves to Montreal at a game apiece.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Room For Improvement

The Capitals are a game down in their opening series. Not that anyone should panic, but there are some mistakes that can be rectified. There are just a couple of things the Caps could do better going into game two. They can not afford to go down two games in this series. Here are simply 5 things the Caps can do to improve their chances on getting that important win and some of them are redundant problems they seem to have.

1. Giving is bad: The Capitals were guilty of 15 give-aways in game one. The Canadiens only had 6. And it was the defensemen that were coughing up pucks. It often lead to a Montreal chance on net. Mike Green lost control 4 times, John Carlson turned it over 5 times.

The Caps' defense has to make better decisions with the puck inside their own zone. The Habs seemed to clog the half boards and broke up Washington's break out. The end result is scrambling forwards coming back and the defense quickly trying to cover everyone. There needs to be a better way for the Caps to clear the zone with out turning the puck over.

2. Bring hardhats for 60 minutes: The Capitals were awesome in the first period. They were dominating, getting chances in front of the net and forcing the play. But that effort was not matched in the second or third periods.

The Caps have often been guilty of playing well and then letting that effort go lax thinking things are going well. Relying on other lines to carry the effort for the entire game is a mistake the Caps must correct.

3. Broken record but, Stop taking stupid penalties: The Habs are second best on the power play. The Caps PK is less than stellar. It doesn't take Stephen Hawking to figure out that taking penalties against Montreal is a huge mistake. The Caps are clearly the better team 5 on 5. Stay out of the sin bin, or get significantly better on the penalty kill.

4. Power play has to be better: The Caps were 0 for 4 with the extra man. When the other team takes a penalty and gives you a chance to score, you have to take it. Anything other is just not acceptable in playoff hockey.

It's not like the Caps are playing the best PK in the league either. The Canadiens were a marginal 16th in the league during the regular season. There needs to be more urgency to score when the Capitals have that opportunity.

5. Hit the net: The shots the Caps got to the net are not the problem, but they could have bested the 47 shots they had if they hadn't missed the net with high shots. The Caps had 20 shots that sailed wide or high.

Those shots are going to catch up to Jaroslav Halak. When they do, the flood gates will open for the Caps.

Caps Notes:
  • Alex Ovechkin once again has brought over a trainer from Russia during the playoffs. Bruce Boudreau denied the star forward might be nursing an ailment. "He's a 100-percent healthy so we'll get that out of the way," Boudreau said. "I heard a couple of people say last night that he might be playing hurt. No, we're making excuses for him. He just didn't have a great game."
  • Ovechkin, Jose Theodore, Alex Semin, Nick Backstrom and Mike Green did not practice with the team Friday. If line changes were made, it was hard to tell what they were with missing players. Although Boudreau promised no overhaul changes to the line up for Saturday night's game.
  • It was good numbers of the Capitals in the Washington area for game one. The game held an average of 5.1 through out the game and peaking at 7.4 during the overtime period (approx. 210,000 viewers). It is the fourth highest ranked game in Capitals post game history, dwarfed only by game 7 against Philly in 2008, and games 6 and 7 against Pittsburgh last post season.
  • There were no new injuries reported by the Capitals. Milan Jurcina remains out for 2 to 4 weeks.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Caps Take A Beating Not Just By Habs

Capitals 2, Canadiens 3 1OT
Game Summary

The Washington Capitals dropped game one in their series against the Montreal Canadiens. They took a bigger hit in the headlines:

As seen above on the website with the headline that reads No-Vechkin. Kinda harsh, but a little bit true as Alex Ovechkin was held at bay in Game 1.

Then there is this one from Yahoo! Sports:

"Party Time." Really? It's not like Montreal won the series. It's game 1.

Or how about

It's like the Capitals can't even move because they are so "Stunned."

Other interesting headlines:

Longest headline ever: "Top-seeded Washington Capitals fall, 3-2 in overtime, to Canadiens in Game 1 of first-round Stanley Cup playoff series" - Washington Post

"Habs topple Caps in OT" - Globe and Mail

"Canadiens beat Caps 3-2 in overtime" - Montreal Gazette ... with the first paragraph reading: "Anyone who wrote the Canadiens off in their first-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals is guilty of premature resignation."

Interesting Quotes of the night:

"Our best players weren't our best players tonight and their best players were. Our role players were really good." - Bruce Boudreau

"They just don't give us the room. They just put two guys in front of me, two guys in front of [Backstrom]. I don't know. We just have to talk each other and what we have to do better." - Alex Ovechkin

"He didn't play good. I can't put my finger on it right now, but when you get 50 shots on goal and Ovechkin doesn't get any, and you have four power plays, there's something... They took him away. But I didn't think he was very good." - Bruce Boudreau

"He did a good shot shooting against the grain. I was moving one way, and he went the other. He's a skilled player, and he was able to make that shot." - Jose Theodore on the game winning shot by Thomas Plakanec

"I don't think it's a surprise. There's a belief in this room that we can win this. We have a lot of respect for the team over there – and they’re going to come out hard on Saturday, but we like our group too." - Mike Cammalleri

"We were giving them so many chances and so many shots in the first period. In the second and third our guys started skating." - Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 18 of 19 shots in the opening 20 minutes.

“It’s not like we thought we would win it in four.” - Jose Theodore

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Stanley Cup Fearless Predictions - Western Conference

The Western Conference wasn't as much of a log jam as they use to be in seasons past. In fact the West was decided pretty early, with about 3 or 4 games left in the season. Not bad. From the previous year's conference winner that looked all but out of it pre-Olympic break to a team that surprised everyone owned by the league, the West is definitely wild.

Western Conference Quarter-Finals

#1 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Colorado Avalanche

Everyone thought the Avalanche were going now where this season. They lost Joe Sakic to retirement and the team basically blew up their roster going with youth with a few vets sprinkled in. Bottom line, they really were not suppose to do much this year. But Craig Anderson and rookie Matt Duchene made this team competitive and the Avs are sitting pretty in the playoffs. The Sharks will have a pretty motivated, feisty team on their hands.

San Jose defeats Colorado in 6 games.

#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Nashville Predators

A Central Division showdown, the Preds made a run in what may be the toughest division to play in. Led by Patric Hornqvist, the Predators just fell two points shy in the standings of best Detroit for the first time in their franchise's history. They draw a tough opponent in Chicago, who are hungry for more after making it to the Western Conference Finals and fell to the Red Wings. If the Blackhawks get some consistent goaltending, Nashville shouldn't be a problem.

Chicago defeats Nashville in 5 games.

#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #6 Los Angeles Kings

The Canucks are riding a heck of a season led by Art Ross Trophy winner Henrik Sedin. With gold medal winner Roberto Luongo in net, they look to be on paper a shoe in against a younger, less experienced team. But don't count out the Kings. They have a 24-14-3 record just on the road, while the Canucks have only managed 19 wins away from home. If Ryan Kesler plays like he did during the Olympics and the Kings fall into a slump or have injuries, Vancouver shouldn't have a problem. But I think they have a problem.

Los Angeles upsets Vancouver in 7 games.

#4 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #5 Detroit Red Wings

For a team that doesn't have an owner, the Coyotes are showing some gumption this season. They nearly made a successful run in their division by besting the Sharks, but they couldn't keep up with San Jose and instead settled on 4th in the Conference. Ilya Bryzgalov has been their savior in net for the 'Yotes and they made some important moves at the trade deadline to help with some injuries. They, however, drew a tough first round against Detroit. The Red Wings have been on a tear since the Olympic break. Two upsets in a row, wow.

Detroit upsets Phoenix in 6 games.

Western Conference Semi-Finals

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

I don't see the Sharks having much of a problem with the Kings. But stranger things have happened. Joe Thornton will be trying to shake the playoff monkey from his back and try to help the Sharks move along. Getting some good goaltending in Evgeni Nabokov doesn't hurt either. The Kings will have to rely on a lot of inexperienced players like goaltender Jonathan Quick to help them move to the next round. But the Sharks are just too talented for them.

San Jose defeats LA in 5 games

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Detroit Red Wings

Last year's Western Conference Final is this year's Semi-Final. The Hawks are a much more experienced team this time around and the Red Wings will have to lean pretty hard on rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard. It should be a wide open, high scoring affair between the two. If the Blackhawks don't get the consistent goaltending they need, they will be ending the post season prematurely.

Chicago defeats Detroit in 7 games.

Western Conference Final

San Jose Sharks vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Now this is a series to watch. The Sharks and Blackhawks will have to do with some pretty hefty travel in this series. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews against Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Danny Heatley. The names make it sound more like an All-Star game rather than a Western Final. The Blackhawks need to rely on their speed and scoring strengths, while the Sharks come in the bigger team and need to take up some space from the Hawks. Goaltending will be key again for both teams.

Chicago upsets San Jose in 6 games for the Western Conference crown.

Stanley Cup Final Fearless Prediction

Washington Capitals vs. Chicago Blackhawks

Two young teams going head to head and there is already drama between the two. Alex Ovechkin's little push from behind that sent Brian Campbell into the boards should be enough motivation for these two teams to be on less than civil terms. And with the Stanley Cup on the line as well. If you want scoring, you got it. Both teams can play a wide open, shoot-0ut style game. So defense will be key. If Campbell returns to the line up by then, he will be the Hawks rally cry. For the Capitals, they will have to depend on Tom Poti and Mike Green on the back end to keep the high powered Hawk offense at bay. Their goaltending will have to be spectacular for them to down an original six team and their franchise's first Stanley Cup. It all comes down to home ice advantage.

Washington defeats Chicago in 7 games for the Stanley Cup.

Okay, I know what you are thinking, "He is a blogger for the Capitals, of course he is going to pick them all the way!" Well, your right in some respects. I think the two best teams should meet in the finals, and right now those two teams happen to be Chicago and Washington, in my opinion.

For the Capitals, a lot of things have to go their way. They need the best out of Jose Theodore to make it to the Finals and they need goal support for their top line. If they can get both, they shouldn't have a problem getting to the Finals (as long as they don't play down to their competition in the early going).

I really like the Hawks coming out of the west. They surprised everyone last year by getting to the finals, but I don't think that was a fluke. They post some size and grit in their line up and if Cristobal Huet or Antti Niemi can get hot down the stretch, I don't see why they can't overcome the West.

If anything, I don't want to see another Pittsburgh/Detroit final. Nor really do other fans out side of Pittsburgh and Detroit. This predicted final would boost the NHL's image as the two have a history from the regular season and both are in good markets.

Stanley Cup Fearless Predictions - Eastern Conference

The Washington Capitals finished an amazing season winning the President's Trophy and the race for eighth was a bit riveting with a near miss by the New York Rangers who lost their playoff spot by a shoot out. It makes panning out the Eastern Conference no easy chore. But I will try anyway.

Eastern Conference Quarter-Finals

#1 Washington Capitals vs. #8 Montreal Canadiens

There will be a more comprehensive breakdown of this series hopefully by tomorrow. But the long and short of it, Montreal just doesn't have the guns to run an open style of game with the Capitals. Canadien coach Jacques Martin will most likely play a controlled game where one goal will be the deciding factor and bet his team can grind out a defensive transition game to make it close. But the Caps are far to skilled and if the games are going to be decided by a goal or less, the best bet is the Caps score it.

Washington defeats Montreal in 5 games.

#2 New Jersey Devils vs. #7 Philadelphia Flyers

If there was ever going to be an upset in the first round of the playoffs, best bet is it is in this series between the Devils and Flyers. The Flyers played New Jersey surprisingly tough this season, partly because of their size. The Devils don't usually like to get into a physical type game and the Flyers aren't happy unless someone is getting thrown out of a game. It is going to come down to goaltending, and my money is on Martin Brodeur.

New Jersey defeats Philadelphia in 7 games.

#3 Buffalo Sabres vs. #6 Boston Bruins

This is actually a tough series to figure out. Buffalo just doesn't score much and Boston is a very defensive team. So it is going to come down to goaltending. Boston's Tuuka Rask is a rookie, but has played strong enough to over take the number one job from veteran Tim Thomas. While in the other net, Ryan Miller has played so well for the Sabres that many are considering him this year's MVP. Rask was 4-1 against the Sabres, while it's hard to ignore Miller's good play. It is literally a coin flip. Injuries also play a pretty big factor as both seem to be limping into this series.

Boston defeats Buffalo in 7 games.

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 Ottawa Senators

When are these two not going to square off in the first round of the playoffs. Ottawa was destined for disaster at the beginning of the season, but they found a savior in Brian Elliott. He helped the Senators rise to a playoff spot when most left the team for dead. The Penguins are the returning Stanley Cup Champs, and taking on Ottawa was not what it was like 3 years ago when they lost that emotional series. If the Pens come out sluggish or play to Ottawa's level, the Sens could steal a series away. I doubt if a healthy Evgeni Malkin and their coach Dan Bylsma will let that happen.

Pittsburgh defeats Ottawa in 5 games.

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals

Washington Capitals vs. Boston Bruins

The Caps offense against the Bruins defense. They should be close games and the Caps will have to deal with a lot of Bruin hard work. If the Capitals can hold their own on the defensive end, it's no contest. The Bruins don't have the offensive power to over match the Caps. Most likely the Bruins will play a tough game keeping the score close to one goal differential as possible, much like the Canadiens did the round before.

Washington defeats Boston in 6 games.

New Jersey Devils vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

A divisional matchup with Stanley Cup implications. The Penguins will have to face down a tough defense in the Devils while holding their own on the back end. This is were they will miss a few of their defenesmen gone way of free agency. Marc-Andre Fluery will have to out duel the best if the Pens hope to repeat. The Devils will have to lean heavily on Ilya Kovalchuk to get them to the next step.

Pittsburgh upsets New Jersey in 7 games.

Eastern Conference Finals

Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

The road to the Stanley Cup Finals in the Eastern Conference will go through these two teams. Again, the ratings will be huge, the games will by hyped and Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will not disappoint. But just like the Penguins were determined after they lost to Detroit to not repeat, the Capitals will look for the same. Last post season, this series would eventually decide the Stanley Cup winner. A possible repeat of the same?

Washington defeats Pittsburgh in 7 games for the Eastern Conference Crown.

Caps move on, at least in theory, to the Stanley Cup Finals. But wait, no fearless prediction can go much further with out a look at the Western Conference first. That will come out this afternoon along with my pick for the Stanley Cup winner. I am so excited, I could just spit.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Caps Finish With 121

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

For a game that really did not mean much in the standings there was plenty of fireworks between these two Eastern Conference foes. The Washington Capitals would come up just short and Alex Ovechkin would miss out on any hardware for the regular season as they drop one in a shoot out against the Boston Bruins 4-3.

Alex Semin scored to reach 40 goals on the season, a career high for the Caps' forward. Capitals also got goals from Eric Belanger and Mike Knuble. While the Caps had the lead twice (1-0 and 3-2) but some break downs in defense and the Bruins new found confidence in offense were able to match the Caps with some big goals by Micheal Ryder and Marco Strum.

The real fireworks came just 2:43 into the game, just twenty seconds after Semin's goal to give the Caps the lead, when Jason Chimera ran Tim Thomas. Thomas returned the favor with a few jabs of his blocker into Chimera's face. The Bruins goaltender would draw a double minor for the punches and Chimera would get a misconduct later when he went back to talk to Thomas about the rest of his blocker that was still in Chimera's face.

That seemed to wake Thomas up and the Caps seemed to struggle after that encounter. The Bruins seemed embolden by the incident. The result was a gutsy game by the Bruins and a well earned 2 points won in the shoot out.

It was clear the game didn't mean much for the Capitals' head coach Bruce Boudreau. He put Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley out to take the shots against the Bruins goaltender. Both failed to score, as the Bruins got scores from David Krejci and Miroslav Satan.

Ovechkin came up short on both the Rocket Richard Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy as he was shut out from getting a single point or goal. Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos would tie for the Rocket and Henrik Sedin will win the Ross.

The Capitals finish the marathon season with a franchise record 121 points, the President's Trophy for best regular season record in the league (a franchise first), franchise record road wins at 24 and the first team outside the original six to get 120 points in a season.

It was a season of firsts as the Caps finish first in team goals (318), first in the league in wins (54), first in the league on the power play (25.2%, the Caps have never led in the NHL), first in the league in road goals (157), first in power play goals on the road (38), first in team +/- (+74, the closest team in second is Chicago with +46), first in Goals For average of 3.8.

The Capitals also found out who they will face the Montreal Canadiens. Preveiw of that match up will come soon.

This was a great season by the Washington Capitals. But turning that success into playoff success depends on a great deal for them. If Jose Theodore continues to hold true to form, the Caps would benefit from a tighter defensive crew. There is not much to complain about though, since the goal differential of +85.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Red Letter Night For Capitals

Capitals 5, Thrashers 2
Game Summary

Tonight the stars aligned for the Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin would take the lead in both the Rocket Richard (50 goals) and Art Ross (109 points), reach the 50 goal mark in 4 of his first 5 seasons (only accomplished by Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky) and had a 3 point night. Nick Backstrom would reach the 100 point milestone in a season with 2 goals and a helper. Alex Semin got the playmaker, three assists. The Caps would once again save their best for the third period as they opened up against a divisional foe, the Atlanta Thrasers, 5-2. And all on the night in which the NHL awarded the Caps with the President's Trophy.

And both Ovechkin and Backstrom realized the implications of having a big night ahead.

"When I came in at five o'clock, [Ovi] said to me 'Hey Backie, are we going to score tonight?'" Backstrom said of Ovechkin approaching him before the game. "I said, 'Why not?'"

Backstrom would get the scoring started thanks in part to his line-mate Ovi. Ovechkin shot the puck close in, but miss the net wide. The bouncing puck dropped back in front of the net where Ovi tried to bury the shot, but it was blocked aside by a Thrasher defender and the puck went to an open Backstrom who buried his 32nd goal of the season. The goal would give Backstrom his 99th point. The Caps would take the 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

The Caps looked as if they were going to dominate the rest of the night, but in the second period Evgeny Artuykin sent a pass to the slot. The puck hit Brendan Morrison and beat an unsuspecting Jose Theodore. Then the Thrashers would get a shortie after Ovechkin miss handled the puck. Atlanta's penalty killer Clarke MacArthur took the puck in alone on Theo beating him over his right shoulder top shelf. The Thrashers found themselves with a 2-1 lead. With some spectacular goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec, the Thrashers found some life.

"[Ovechkin] hates making mistakes that causes goals," Boudreau said of Ovechkin's flub on the power play. "I heard him between periods apologizing to Jose. He knew he made a mistake and he went out and tried a little harder."

Ovechkin would make up for his mistake. He would score his 49th goal as Alex Semin found him open at top of the circles. Ovi would pound a one timer along the ice to the back of the net and tying the game up late in the second period.

The Thrashers would get into some penalty trouble in the third period, but the Caps power play was not it's sharpest. They would let a 5 on 3 go to waste even though getting three shots on net. Scott Walker would take an interference call to negate the rest of the power play after that. But it wouldn't take long for the Caps to strike 5 on 5.

On a 3 on 2 rush, the Caps' top line would once again go to work. Backstrom would pass it to the right to Alex Semin who found Ovechkin cutting into the middle. Ovechkin made no mistake beating Pavelec for his 50th goal of the season. The play also resulted in Backstrom getting a career high 100 points for the season.

"I am sitting there going, 'Okay, Nicky just got his 100th, Ovi just got his 50th, Who picks up the puck?'" Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau said of the record setting play for both players.

Turns out the two gave up a big hug and promised to share the puck. It was not clear if sharing meant the puck was going under a saw or not.

While it was a bright spot for the Capitals, it was the straw that broke the camel's back for the Thrashers.

"We had two or three chances in their zone and they came out on a three on two and [Ovechkin] made a pretty good shot. It was tough to muster anything after that," Thrashers coach John Anderson said.

From then on, the Caps just dominated the play and pace. The line of Jason Chimera, Eric Belanger and Tomas Fleischmann wore down the Thrashers' defenders with some great cycling. Chimera would end up top shelfing a one-timer as a result.

Less than a minute later, Nick Backstrom would score after a Semin shot rebounded in front of the net. Atlanta's defenders seemed to take their time trying to clear the rebound, but Backstrom beat Ron Hainsey to the puck and slipped it under Pavelec to make it 5-2 and putting the game away.

Theodore would get to 30 wins in the season, marking a goal his coach wanted for him. He stopped 29 shots in the Capitals win.

"I felt pretty good in the first period," Theodore said. "From there I just pretty much kept my focus for sixty minutes. In the third I made a couple of big saves and after that the guys just picked it up and scored some big goals. It was great to see."

His counterpart also played well, even though the Caps lit him up for 5 goals. Pavelec turned aside 42 shots, including stoning Alex Semin eleven times as the Caps' forward was gunning for his 40th goal of the season. Semin instead would have to settle for 3 assists and the game's third star of the night.

"They played a pretty good game throughout," Anderson said of the Caps explosive third period. "We kept up with them for two periods, but they're a bit of a juggernaut and we are not the only team they have done that too."

It would be a fitting cap to a spectacular regular season, but the Capitals have one more game. They face the defensively tight Boston Bruins. Semin has another chance to get to the big 4 - 0. He has not scored against Boston this season, but has accumulated 4 assists in three games. The Caps could still face Boston in the postseason depending on a few factors.

"We are constantly looking at it," Boudreau said of who might end up in the eighth spot and be the Capitals first opponent in the post season. "Obviously the quicker we know the more preparation we can do. But it is going to come down to Sunday now."

Caps Notes:
  • "It's not the one we want," Boudreau said of Ovechkin not touching the President's Trophy at the ceremony at the beginning of the game. "It's one we are glad we have. Not that I am superstitious or anything but if you are not suppose to touch it, you are not suppose to touch it."
  • Backstrom not only picked up his 100th point but he has scored 3 points in three straight games (3 goals, 6 assists). Semin would also finish with 3 points and has 7 points in his last 4 games.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A Clean Sweep

Capitals 6, Penguins 3
Game Summary

The Washington Capitals have never had a regular season clean sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have also never won 24 road games, finished first in the Eastern Conference or won the President's Trophy either. Clearly it is a season of firsts for the Washington Capitals and it shouldn't be surprising that they would be able to keep an Eastern Conference foe and defending Stanley Cup Champions at bay in a 6-3 win at Mellon Arena.

Alex Ovechkin broke a four game goal drought to score a pair of goals. He pulls even with Sidney Crosby (who also had a goal tonight) for the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals at 48. The Caps also got some goal production from some other lines as well as Alex Semin, Tomas Fleischmann, Mike Knuble and Matt Bradley all made the scoresheet.

"We got a team that is built as an offensive team," Bruce Boudreau said. "You've got other lines that [besides the top line] can come in. You've got Steckel's line, I thought Beagle's line played good and Flash's line. I mean they all chipped in."

It was a physical affair as the Penguins tried to out muscle the Capitals in the first period. John Erskine left the first period with a lower body injury, the Capitals ended up playing with only five defenseman for the last two periods.

"Pittsburgh was pretty physical against us," Boudreau said of his defense core taking a beating. "I thought all five [remaining defensemen] came to play."

"It's tough when you get down to 5 guys," Tyler Sloan said to reporters, wearing the Caps' hard hat as the players' choice for the game's MVP. "But the group of five back there did a heck of a job, I thought. We just banded together and grind it out."

It would be a miss step by Alex Goligoski who stumbled with Semin bearing down on him to get the Caps going. Semin took the open ice and waited out Penguins' goaltender Marc-Andre Fluery before top shelfing it over the netminder's left shoulder for his 39th goal of the season.

The Capitals got an early jump in the second period when Mike Knuble shot a harmless looking slapper towards Fluery. The shot had eyes as it squeezed under Fluery's right goal pad and giving the Caps the 2-0 lead.

The Penguins fought to get back into the game and would eventually draw a penalty out of Knuble who was sent to the box for holding. Crosby took advantage of Dave Steckel floating high to cover Sergei Gonchar and skated into the open ice and shooting it past Semyon Varlamov to get the Pens on the board.

The Capitals would respond just 21 seconds later when Semin beat out an icing call centering the puck off the half boards to Fleischmann. Semin would take an elbow to the side of the head from Maxim Talbot in the process. Flash took the pass and shot it over Fluery's right shoulder to give the Caps the two goal lead back. That goal would end the night for Fluery. Brent Johnson would come in relief.

The Pens were not finished there. Jordan Leopold took advantage of Caps' defenseman Shaone Morrisonn for a pair of goals. The first was a point shot where Mo lost his stick and tried to block the shot with his skate. The result was the puck deflecting in on Varly and through his pads into the net.

"When you see a lot of bodies in front sometimes you look for sticks and skates what ever it may be," Leopold said of his deflection goal. "That is how I ended up scoring my first one and I was looking for that again."

But the Caps scored again to regain their two goal lead. Bradley would score his 10th of the season with two minutes left in the second period as he deflected a Quintin Laing shot past Johnson.

"It's not a big milestone," Bradley said with a smirk. "But it felt good to get to ten and get a big win."

Leopold wasn't done with Morrisonn, early in the third Leopold lined up a shot on net. Morrisonn may have screened his goaltender going down for the block and the puck sailed past Varly. The Penguins would pull into one goal for the third time in the game.

"We were trying to get the momentum back," Penguins' coach Dan Bylsma said. "When we did ... numerous times tonight [the Caps] were able to come back and get a goal immediately, in that type of fashion. And we kept having to restart."

"We fought back a couple of times," Crosby said. "They took that momentum away pretty quick."

The Penguins took their first and only penalty of the game not long after clawing back into the game. Bill Guerin got his stick a bit high on Morrisonn, knocking the defender's lid off. It would only take Alex Ovechkin 4 seconds to score on the ensuing power play. Right off the draw, Ovechkin took in the loose puck and buried it past Johnson's left arm.

"I had a few chances to score [in the last few games] but it didn't go in," Ovechkin said of his recent scoring drought. "Finally it goes in and I feel pretty good."

Ovechkin would complete the series series sweep with an empty net goal that drew him even with Crosby for most goals in a season. While the Caps have swept the regular season series, the Caps know the playoffs are a different story and they may be back here again.

"It's nice to win all our games [against Pittsburgh] in the regular season," Bradley said. "But the regular season doesn't mean anything when it comes to playoffs. And everyone knows that they are a playoff team."

"It was a tough one to lose," Crosby opined after the game. "I thought we did a lot of good things and any little space they had they made it count."

The Caps will finish their road campaign with a 24-10-7 record. No team in the NHL can match Washington's 10 road regulation loss record for the '09-'10 season. Ovechkin pulled up into a tie with Henrik Sedin for points, but Sedin had an assist in their game against Colorado. The Penguins loss drops them down to fourth in the Eastern Conference as the New Jersey Devils won their game tonight against Atlanta.

The Capitals' top line got some much needed goal support with goals from the second and fourth lines. Besides a few miscues by the Caps defense, the Penguins were stifled on the offensive side. Special teams was also a bright spot as the Penguins were 1 for 4 power play chances spending 6:46 with the extra man. In contrast the Caps were 1 for 1 on the power play and only had 4 seconds of extra man time.

Caps Notes:
  • Just before the game, Capitals recalled Jay Beagle and Karl Alzner. Beagle had a good game filling in for Eric Belanger who was one of the banged up players Boudreau sat. Beagle was the best Capital in the face off dot winning 7 of ten draws (70%). Alzner did not play.
  • Mike Green was sat for a second game in a row to "rest." The Capitals may choose to rest more players in the last two games of the season.
  • This may be the last time the Capitals will play in Mellon Arena. They finish up their stay at the "Igloo" with a regular season record of 34-51-7-1 and 8-16 in the playoffs. I highly doubt it will be the last time these two meet at Mellon, but it would be nice if was the last time.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Caged Laich Takes Down Bruins

Capitals 3, Bruins 2 OT
Game Summary

Brooks Laich took a late penalty in the third period when the game was tied at 2. He sat in the box feeling helpless. He didn't have to worry about it for long, the Caps were able to kill it off and take it to overtime. Then Laich turned his fortunes around as he blocked Alex Semin's shot and put in the rebound himself. The Capitals win a big 3-2 in overtime against a team desperate for as many points as the Boston Bruins can get to stay in the playoff picture.

These two teams have not seen each other since February 1st. Both teams spent the first half of the first period. Nick Backstrom would break the stalemate after Zdeno Chara left him to hit Alex Ovechkin. Ovi saw Backstrom open and passed it to his linemate and took the hit from Chara.

"I saw Chara right away and I said, 'Oh geez'" Ovechkin said about absorbing the Bruin defender's hit.

The open Backstrom squeezed the puck through Tuukka Rask and trickled over the line. The play went to review to see if the puck had crossed the goal line completely as Dennis Wideman tried to clear the puck behind his goaltender, but there was not enough to overturn the goal called on the ice.

"I thought I had it," Bruins goaltender Rask said. "It's obvious it's a goal because (the league) took a look at it upstairs. Tough goal."

"I am not one hundred percent convinced [the puck went over the line]," Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. "But the decision is made and you move on and that's what we did."

Move on they did as the Bruins came on late in the period with their forecheck. Jose Theodore came up with some big saves as the defense were caught running around a bit. One of his saves included a two pad stack denying a Micheal Ryder shot, a save he called "Old school."

"I have been approaching the last twenty games like the playoffs," Theo said of good play of late. "You can't get away from the details and that is what I am focusing on right now, just controlling rebounds, challenging shooters and feeling comfortable."

But the Bruins won the face off and Chara shot it towards the net, Wideman tipped it past Theo and the game was tied with just 1.6 seconds left in the first period.

The Bruins worked off of their late period goal and pressed the play as the Caps just looked content enough to keep the B's at bay. The Caps got away with a penalty as Semin clipped Chara in the face, forcing the defenseman to bleed badly. He would return to the game. Boston took the lead moments later when the Caps defense broke down leaving Patrice Bergeron on a semi break away and he made a nice move on Theo to put it behind him.

"I liked the way we fought back," Julien said.

But late in the second period, the Caps would strike as Ovechkin seemed to get his legs back. he made a move out wide on the Bruins defenseman and tried to pass it out front. The blocked pass came back to him and he shot it to the front of the net where Mike Knuble was crashing in. The puck went off Knuble and into the net with :30 seconds left in the second period. He played well enough to earn the game's number one star.

"[Ovi] competed, he got involved," Boudreau said of Ovechkin's play in this game. "He wasn't afraid to hit .. ever since that suspension I think when he is going into hit guys, he has been turning away a little bit."

Both team had chances in the third, but couldn't capitalize sending the game into overtime. Wideman would once again play a big part in the turning point in overtime as he took a high sticking call on Tomas Fleischmann just :24 seconds into the extra frame.

On the ensuing power play, Bruce Boudreau put out 4 forwards; Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nick Backstrom and Brooks Laich. Laich would score in front of the net just :44 seconds into the overtime period to give the Caps the win.

While it is just another regular season game, there is a possibility the two teams are a possible first round matchup.

"We want to play well against anybody," Laich said of playing the possible first round foes a couple of games before the post season. "I don't know if it helps or not, maybe we make them angry."

Since wrapping up the President's Trophy, the Caps sat Mike Green and John Carlson out as healthy scratches. Others may also be scratched for tomorrow night's game against Pittsburgh as well.

Caps Notes:
  • Per Caps PR: The National Hockey League will conduct media conference calls this week with head coaches Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings (Tuesday), Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins (Wednesday) and Bruce Boudreau of the Washington Capitals (Thursday). Not sure if these are the finalist for the Jack Adams award.
  • In prospect news, the Capitals signed free agent Dustin Stevenson to a three year entry-level contract. The 6'5", 220 lbs. defensemen was named the SJHL Player of the Year after posting 47 points (11 g, 36 a) and 134 penalty minutes in 56 games. Currently he plays for the La Ronge Ice Wolves and is playing in the SJHL playoffs. He leads all defensemen with 17 playoff points (7 g, 10 a).

Sunday, April 04, 2010

'09-'10 Presidents Trophy Winners

Congratulations to the Washington Capitals for being the best regular season team in the NHL and winning their franchise first President's Trophy.

The Caps clinch with 114 points and 4 games left on the schedule. The only team that was close to upsetting the Capitals were the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks lost in overtime to the Colorado Avalanche tonight.

The Capitals are guaranteed home ice advantage throughout the post season, even in the finals. The Caps were the first team to wrap up their division and Conference in the league.

Who Would You Like?

There is no question the Capitals will finish first in the Eastern Conference. It who is going to come in eighth to face them that is the real question. The Caps have a chance to face up to four different teams depending on how the rest of the season shakes out. The Boston Bruins (84), Philadelphia Flyers (84), New York Rangers (82) and Atlanta Thrashers (81) are all fighting for the last spots into the playoffs and a chance to play the Washington Capitals.

So let's take a look at these four teams and how they have matched up with the Capitals through the past season. Unlike the Rangers and Flyers, the Bruins and Thrashers still have games remaining on their schedule against the Caps (Bruins 2 games left, Thrashers 1 game left). All bring unique challenges to the Capitals come post season.

Boston Bruins

The Caps have yet to play this team post trade deadline, so until we see them in action, there is no real way of figuring out how either team will fare in the post season against one another. To gauge how these two teams will match up, we will have to go on nearly season old data and how each team has been playing lately.

When I think of the Bruins, I think of Zdeno Chara and a pretty good defensive core. When Tuukka Rask plays his best, the Bruins are a tough team to score against. There troubles come on the offensive end of the game. The lose of Marc Savard hurt them pretty bad and they are not getting the output from others like they did a year ago when they won the Eastern Conference.

The first meeting between these two was a 4-1 win for the Caps as the two faced off to open the season in October. Alex Ovechkin had two goals and Brooks Laich scored a pair of power play goals. The second meeting didn't come until February where the exact same result 4-1.

If the two were to meet in the post season, I highly doubt the Bruins have the offensive punch to match the Caps. The only way the Bruins have a chance is to lock down defensively and wait out the Caps onslaught. And that could lead to a frustrated Washington squad. I highly doubt the Bruins could shut down the Capitals for long.

We will have a better idea how these two teams match up as they play their final two games of the season in the next two weeks.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers have a goaltending problem, they just can't stay healthy in net. The Caps and Flyers have a post season history, and it would probably be one of the most watched series outside a second match up between the Penguins and Caps.

The Flyers won the first game of the season series as Danny Briere scored the OT winner 6-5. After that the Caps handled the Flyers with little trouble winning 4-2, 8-2, and 5-3. Ovechkin scored on his 2,000 career shot on a penalty shot on Ray Emery the last time these two teams faced each other.

This first round match up will be a physical one as the Flyers will try a intimidate the Captials since they can't really match the Caps potent offense. Role players like Scott Walker, Jason Chimera and Matt Bradley will have to go to work defending their team's top players.

If the Flyers aren't looking to take Alex Semin and Ovechkin's heads off, they will be trying to get at the Caps defensive core and should take a few penalties in the process. The Caps power play will play an important role in a series like this, and the way the Flyers goaltenders look shaky that will not bode will for them.

New York Rangers

Another team the Capitals have some history with. The Rangers bring another good defensive squad. They also bring a lot more speed than any of the other teams. They have some scoring threat with Marion Gaborik and if Henrik Lundqvist is playing his best it could be another hard series for the Capitals.

The Rangers won the first game in the season series 4-3, then lost the next three to the Caps 4-2, 6-5 and 2-0. The Rangers were one of the teams that were beat by the Caps during their long win streak in January.

If these two teams meet in the post season in the first round, look for the Rangers to attempt to block just about every shot the Caps try to take. If they are not blocking shots, then Sean Avery will be trying to get a burr under Mike Green's butt. There should be plenty of left over emotion from the last time these two met in the post season.

While the Rangers will try to shut down Ovechkin by blocking shots, the Caps found away around it last time. I don't see any reason why they wouldn't again. If they can get some solid goaltending from either Semyon Varlamov or Jose Theodore and the defense holds up the Caps should have a better result.

Atlanta Thrashers

The Thrashers were essentially sellers at the trade deadline. They unloaded Ilya Kovalchuk and the sudden loss in weight gave the Thrashers a bit of life. They are normally an aggressive team, but have found a good balance of offense and defense to make a run to the playoffs.

The Caps will play the Thrashers Monday night to finish off the season series and are going for the season sweep of their division rivals. The Caps have won the previous five games 5-2, 8-1, 4-3, 5-4 and 2-1.

The Capitals have had some heated exchanges with their divisional foes. But the Caps have dominated the team this season, with or without Kovalchuk. But they are a handful if Nik Atropov and Maxim Afinogenov decide to poor on the offensive talent. The bottom line is though, Ilya Kovalchuk is still the Thrashers top scorer this season and he isn't on the team.

If these two were to face each other in the first round, Atlanta will have play more defense than offense. They just can not play an open aggressive style of play with the Caps. They have lost that way before.

Who would you like?

Of the four teams and the possible outcomes the team I would like for the Caps meet in the first round would probably be the Boston Bruins. The Bruins will be limping into the post season playing the least consistently. Having Marc Savard out of the line up hurts the Bruins offensive threat, but the team is still dangerous because of their defensive play. It should be a hard fought first series that would be good for the Capitals to get their offense some confidence.

The Thrashers would not be a challenge enough for the Caps to prep them for tougher battles down the road. The Rangers have some settling to do from a season ago and could be dangerous if they get on a roll. The Flyers might wear the Caps down and test their depth if they start getting the injury bug. Boston just seems like the right fit for the Caps.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Theo Helps Caps Seal Historic 51st Win

Capitals 3, Blue Jackets 2
Game Summary

Jose Theodore didn't get a lot of help after the Capitals jumped out to an early lead. But the Columbus Blue Jackets were a goal shy of a come back and the Caps earn an historic franchise record breaking 51st win and 23rd win on the road as they down the Jackets 3-2.

It started out well enough for the Caps, Alex Semin opened the scoring with a dazzling slap shot to beat the Blue Jacket goaltender Mathieu Garon. A Jacket defender stumbled allowing Semin the time to tee up the slapper that found room under Garon's arm and in the back of the net. It was Semin's 38th goal of the season.

The Caps would take advantage of some bad penalties by the Jackets and even though they didn't score on the power play, they did score just as Derick Brassard stepped out of the penalty box. Eric Fehr dug the puck out of the corner to Mike Knuble who chip passed it to an open Tomas Fleischmann who found the back of the net.

That goal would mark the end of Garon for the Jackets who surrendered 2 goals on just 4 shots. Steve Mason would take over from there, but the Jackets would once again take a couple of bad penalties giving the Caps a 5 on 3. This time the Caps would make good with the two man advantage as Mike Green scored his 19th of the season and set a career best in points at 74 points. Green would keep in the dump and pound the slap shot past Mason.

The Caps looked as if they were going to cruise against a non-playoff team, but the Blue Jackets would make special teams a wash as they scored shorthanded. After that the Caps played more on their heels rather than a team that made scoring 3 goals against the Blue Jackets an easy thing. Antoine Vermette's short handed goal, assisted by Rick Nash, would spark the Blue Jackets as they out shot the Capitals in the last two periods 27-16.

In steps Theodore, who made two great saves early in the second period to keep the Blue Jackets at bay. Theo looked calm and poised in net making some solid saves when the Caps defense were making mistake after mistake.

The Jackets made things interesting scoring after Tom Poti and Tyler Sloan both chased Nash behind the net, leaving the slot open. Nash found Vermette for their second set up of the game. The goal gave the Jackets confidence and they nearly scored on the following shift. Bruce Boudreau called a time out to calm his troops down. After that the Jackets found it hard to get shots in on Theodore.

It is a record winning game for the Caps, but they are still struggling scoring when they want to or playing sore defense allowing a team to stay in it. Alex Ovechkin continues struggle scoring goals. He had a few chances to get pucks on net, but he missed the net completely or had his shots blocked. He remains a goal behind Sidney Crosby for scoring lead and 3 points behind Henrik Sedin for points lead.

The Capitals will come home to face the Bruins, a team that is a possible first round match-up against the Caps. Then they will head to Pittsburgh to face the Penguins on the following night. Both games will be broadcasted on Versus.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Bradley Helps Win A Tight One

Capitals 2, Thrashers 1
Game Summary

In the previous 4 meetings, the Washington Capitals and Atlanta Thrashers played a wide open, end to end, aggressive games. But this time it was more of a thoughtful defensive battle between the two divisional foes with playoff implications on the line for the Thrash. But even a change of pace couldn't stop the Caps from closing in on a season sweep of the dizzy birds, defeating them for a 5 straight game 2-1.

Nick Backstrom would score his 30th goal of the season as he deflected a Mike Green point shot in on net. Matt Bradley scored the game winner and his ninth of the season. Semyon Varlamov played pretty solid in net as the Caps defense smothered the Thrasher's offense for the most part.

Unlike their previous meetings, the Caps and Thrashers played a tight defensive game. It was intense and hard fought, with very little chances either way. It would until the last minute in the first period for the Caps to open the scoring. Alex Ovechkin worked the puck out of the corner finding Green on the blue line. Green let a slapper fly and Backstrom was there at the side of the crease to knock in the shot behind Ondrej Pavelec.

The Thrashers would come back to tie the game late in the second period. They drew in the Caps defense along the side boards and as Tom Poti pinched in and Shaone Morrisonn miss read the play in front of him allowing Tim Stapleton an open look at the net. He shot it up high over Varlamov's glove and the Thrashers make it a game.

In the third period, it would be an unlikely hero for the Caps. Bradley shouldered away veteran Chris Chelios and went to the front of the net, slipping the puck under Pavelec. Once the Caps got the win, the Thrashers found it hard to get any kind of momentum going as the Caps started to clamp down defensively on the visiting team.

Varlamov had a good solid game. He got the confidence booster type of game where he felt the puck enough to feel involved in the Caps' win. He even took a couple of shots off his mask as the Thrashers tried to beat him high.

Colby Armstrong did make any friends at Verizon Center when he tried to decapitate Mathieu Perreault with his elbow. Perreault was able to duck in time, but was still pretty shaken up after the play. The officials missed the attempt at Perreault's life by Armstrong and he only got a two minute minor after Shaone Morrisonn grabbed him and both were shown the sin bin for roughing.

The Caps did a great job against a team hungry for a playoff spot. They will face the Thrashers one more time as well as the Boston Bruins twice as both teams are trying to gobble as many points as possible to get into the playoffs. Both teams were working hard and it was nice to see the Caps step up and played well. Contributions from someone other than the top two lines was good to see.

Ovechkin failed to add any goals for his bid of the Rocket Richard trophy. He added a point to get a tad bit closer to Henrik Sedin for the Art Ross and points leader in the league. He still has 5 games left in the season to make his case for some hardware in the off season.

Follow Along On Twitter

I am at the game tonight and will be on my twitter account. Check it out, follow if you wish. It's gonna be fun.

Let's Go Caps!!

3 In Hershey Get AHL Honors

The Washington Capitals show off their depth as three Bears make the AHL's All-Star Teams. Per Washington Caps PR:
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Hershey Bears forwards Keith Aucoin, Alexandre Giroux and Andrew Gordon have been named to the American Hockey League (AHL) All-Star Teams, as voted by AHL coaches, players and media in each of the league’s 29 member cities, the AHL announced today.

Aucoin and Giroux were named to the first team – both for the second year in a row – while Gordon was named to the second team. Aucoin, Giroux and Gordon have all appeared in games for the Capitals at some point this season.

Aucoin (oh-KOIN), 31, established a career high with his 100th point of the season Wednesday night. The Waltham, Mass., native, who signed a two-year contract last month that will keep him in the Washington organization through the 2011-12 season, leads the AHL in points and assists and ranks fourth in goals. This is the fourth appearance on an AHL All-Star Team for Aucoin, the highest scoring American-born player in AHL history.

Giroux (jhi-ROO), 28, last season’s AHL scoring champion and most valuable player, leads the league in goals with 44 after scoring twice Wednesday against Syracuse. He scored his 300th career AHL goal on Sunday and has scored 104 goals in the last two seasons with six games remaining in 2009-10. He is currently second in the AHL in scoring with 97 points.

Gordon, 24, has been named to the league’s all-star team for the first time. Washington’s seventh-round choice, 197th overall, in the 2004 Entry Draft, is currently third in the league in goals with 36. He is also tied for the league lead in power play goals (18).

The Hershey Bears have been creating havoc on the history books as the team sails to new heights (and probably another Calder Trophy [knock on wood]).

Caps Notes:
  • Brooks Laich makes his return tonight for the Capitals against the Atlanta Thrashers. Caps still are dealing with the injury bug for others though, John Carlson (upper body), Quintin Laing (lower body), Boyd Gordon (back injury), Scott Walker (knee) and Brendan Morrison (groin) are out.