Friday, December 09, 2011

Power Play Pumps Caps Over Leafs

Capitals 4, Maple Leafs 2
Game Summary

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
After stifled for a good portion of the season, the Capitals power play was a non-producer. Tonight, thanks to Dennis Wideman, the Caps could do no wrong with the extra man. The Capitals' power play carries them over the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.

Wideman scored three of the four goals on the power play that went four of eight against the Leafs. It was the first hat-trick by a Capitals defenseman in nearly 12 years, the last by Sergei Gonchar on January 4, 2000. It would be Wideman's first career hat-trick and first career four point game. Add another goal on the power play after Wideman passed up the shot and passed it in front to Nick Backstrom who scored his 11th goal of the season.

The Capitals were 22nd in the league coming into tonight's tilt with the extra man advantage. The last time the Capitals scored multiple goals on the power play was against Detroit on October 22 and both goals were scored by Mike Green. The Capitals found some success by getting a ton of traffic in front of the net. Since Dale Hunter took over bench boss duties, the Capitals have been working on getting the system down. Simply getting to the puck to the net on the power play worked dividends for the Capitals who struggled with that last season.

The Caps took the lead on the very first penalty by Jake Gardiner who was called for slashing. Backstrom's point shot ricocheted in front and Mike Knuble somehow settled it down with a chop and the puck landed right on Wideman's stick and he buried it past James Reimer. Both Knuble and Backstrom got helpers on the play.

In their best job of bending but not breaking, the Capitals seemed to have a little bit of luck on their side. A shot got through Caps' net minder Tomas Vokoun and trickled through the blue paint. Phil Kessel, all alone aside the Caps net, could not get his stick in front to bang home the easy goal on the yawning net and the puck bounced off the post and then cleared by Joel Ward.

The second goal was scored on the second power play early in the second period when the Leafs were called for too many men on the ice. With Knuble and Troy Brouwer parked in front of the net, Wideman took the point shot after a pass from Alex Ovechkin. It beat Reimer just passed his outstretched blocker glove.

The Leafs hung around and out played the Caps at times five on five. They would score when Vokoun let a trickler in behind him from a sharp angle shot. Kessel was there to bang home the puck. But the Caps answered right back when the Leafs could not stay out of the box and gave the Capitals a 5 on 3. With just one second left on the two man advantage, Wideman found Backstrom in front. Backstrom tipped the puck to the open net and the Leaf goaltender actually made the save with the paddle of his stick, only to knock it in a split second later with the end of the stick giving the Capitals their 2 goal lead back.

Caps went to shut down mode after that and although the Leafs made it interesting after a point shot took a funny bounce and beat Vokoun, they were able to hold off Toronto for the win. Wideman scored his third goal by bombing a laser beam one timer past Reimer on a late third period penalty by Joey Crabb.

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Ovechkin had a slew of golden chances to score, but unfortunately he could not find the back of the net. Not for lack of effort, the Capitals' captain was able to muster 8 shots on net and laid the hit of the game early on Dion Phanuef in the first period. He also blocked a pair of shots on a long shift when the Caps were pinned in their own zone.

The win is a solid confidence booster for the listless power play. The Caps were only called for two penalties, a Joel Ward closing his hand on the puck penalty and an Alex Semin hooking call. They killed both penalties. Caps get their first multiple nights off after playing every other night for the last two and a half weeks before they face the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night at the phone booth.

Caps Notes:
  • Semin had one assist, no shots on net and a hooking call on the night. 
  • Kessel is tied for the scoring lead with his goal in the second period.
  • Wideman's triple goals was just the third by a Caps' blue liner in franchise history. Wideman denied he had the hat-trick saying the second goal went off Mike Knuble's "skate laces".

Thursday, December 08, 2011

"That's More Like It"

Capitals 5, Senators 3
Game Summary

(Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
The words uttered by play by play John Walton on Alex Ovechkin's goal and Troy Brouwers tally just :15 seconds later were, "That's more like it." Besides a few late flubs that made the game a bit more interesting, the Capitals seemed to find some success with head coach Dale Hunter's system and they snap a 5 game win-less streak on the road with a 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators.

Capitals would get goals off of Jeff Halpern (his first goal in 15 games), Nick Backstrom (10th of the season), Troy Brouwer (gwg, a), Alex Ovechkin (his first goal in 6 games) and John Carlson with the empty netter. Carlson would add two assist in this second straight 3 point game (3 assists against FLA).

The Caps got off to an okay start, jumping on loose pucks and getting scoring chances on the transition. But they flubbed a first period 5 on 3, and couldn't solve Craig Anderson through the first 20. The Caps would get the first goal by Halpern who broke the 0-0 tie early in the second period as he crashed the net, took the hit and got the rebound off of a Dennis Wideman slapper. It was a great effort through the neutral zone the Halpern, Brouwer and Matty Perreault  puck supported each other with Wideman jumping up on the play.

However, the Caps were a bit too cavalier on the defensive side of the puck as the period wore on and the Senators jumped on those mistakes about five minutes apart to take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission. Erik Condra scored on a lucky rebound bounce that went the Senators' way. John Erskine couldn't tie up Condra's stick in time and was going to take a penalty anyway for the hook. Nick Foligno not long after the Caps killed off a "Too many men" penalty.

(Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
The third period was full of action as the Capitals answered back with three straight goals spurred on by a power play goal by Nick Backstrom half way through the third to tie the game. Then Alex Ovechkin scored a beauty of a goal that was very Ovi-esque. Four on four, Ovi picked up the puck in his own zone and broke down the wing and around the Senator's net to a chorus of boos. He stopped hard on the far half boards and faked the slapper to snap it past Anderson. Ovi finished seven shots on net.

The Caps would score just :15 seconds later when Marcus Johansson fed a pretty pass to a breaking Troy Brouwer. The Sens took their foot off the accelerator for just a moment and the Caps jumped on the their opportunities. Brouwer would get the Gordie Howe hat trick with a goal, assist and a fight.

The Capitals did a much better job on keeping the Senators' shots to the outside and Tomas Vokoun ate up shots and had better rebound control since becoming a Capitals. Vokoun has been shaky in net of late, but he looked a bit more solid against the Senators tonight.

Caps special teams did okay, they allowed a power play goal against but were able to kill 5 other power plays including a :51 second two man advantage. Backstrom's power play goal gave the Caps their first power play goal under new coach Dale Hunter and their first PPG in the last six games (last ppg against Rangers 11/25). The Caps, however, still got into some penalty trouble late in the game and nearly gave up a 4-2 lead they accrued in the third period. Alex Semin and Joel Ward both took bad stick penalties in the dying minutes of the third giving the Senators some life.

Karl Alzner had the blocked shot of the game. In the waning moments of the last Senator power play, Daniel Alfredsson had a wide open shot from the hash marks in the slot. But he could lift the puck over a sprawling Alzner behind a out of position Vokoun.

The Caps were able to kill off the late penalty and Carlson scored his fifth of the season on an empty net goal. The Caps take back second in the division by staying a point ahead of the Winnipeg Jets, but still trail the Panthers by 5 points for division lead. They are still hovering around the 8th place spot in the Eastern Conference standings.

Caps Notes:
  • Roman Hamrlik skated in warmups, but did not dress for the game. Mike Green missed his 13th game of the season still nursing a groin injury. Matt Hendricks was dinged up against Florida and sat out with a knee injury. Alex Semin returned to the lineup only to get one shot on net, no points and was a -1.
  • Caps return to the Verizon Center to face a team they had a lot of success against last year in the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, the Leafs routed the Caps in Toronto scoring 3 power play goals and down the Caps 7-1 on Oct. 7.
  • This is the first two goal win for Dale Hunter who has only lost and won games decided by one goal through his first five games.
  • Senator forward Chris Neil took a run at Ovechkin and hit him clean in the first period. Both players skated back into the play with Neil chirping at him all the way. Ovi gave him a bit of a spear and Neil dropped like a ton of bricks. Neil would take an unsportsmanlike conduct minor and Ovechkin could not escape the wrath of the Ottawa crowd who loudly booed the Capitals winger whenever he touched the puck.

Monday, December 05, 2011

NHL Gets Approval For Re-Alignment

NHL.com
Good-bye two conferences, eight divisions. Hello four conferences. The NHL Board of Governors approved a new look alignment for the league next year.

What does that mean for the Capitals?

How about a conference that features the Capitals with the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the New York Rangers and Islanders, the New Jersey Devils, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Carolina Hurricanes? Is that more to your liking?

Most Caps' fans will see this as the return of the old Patrick Division (minus the Hurricanes, of course, who were the Hartford Whalers at the time). Per Dan Rosen at NHL.com:
The four conferences are designed to alleviate geographic concerns among several current Western Conference teams that had been unhappy about their extensive travel through one, two, and sometimes even three time zones. Some of those teams argued that the late start of road games in the Pacific time zone were affecting fan interest, especially among younger fans.
While in many ways this would be a dream come true for the Capitals who have argued that they were stripped of some really good rivalries with the Flyers, Rangers and Penguins when they were stashed in the then very weak Southeast Division. Division foes with the Florida Panthers, Tampa Lightning and Atlanta Thrashers seemed to weaken interest in Caps' fans when the move was first made. Since then, some good rivalries have come into place, especially with the Lightning and Caps of late.

The overall structure still makes some radical lines drawn mostly in the eastern side of things. While the travel will be confined and easy for those in Conference D (Caps, Pens, Rags, Flyers, Isles and 'Canes), Conference C stretches over and around the later and includes the Leafs, Habs, Sabres, Bruins, Panthers and Lightning.

Again, the West gets the shaft as their Conferences contain 8 teams per instead of the Eastern side that only has 7 per Conf. As far as playoffs are concerned:
The top four teams in each Conference qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The first-place team would play the fourth-place team; the second-place team would play the third-place team. The four respective Conference champions would meet in the third round of the Playoffs, with the survivors playing for the Stanley Cup.
 Almost a blueprint from taken from the Final Four's Elite 8 to give a comparison.

Rally Short A Goal

Capitals 4, Panthers 5
Game Summary

AP
The Washington Capitals could always count on being the dominant team with in their division in the past. But the Florida Panthers put some serious doubt into the Capitals ability to get easy points from their division with a 5-1 effort through the first half of the game. The Capitals made it a game late by some hard work and tightening their own zone play but would come up short on goals by one and short points by 7 in the division standings as they fall to the Panthers 4-5.

The Capitals Rally fell short a goal to tie the game in the waning seconds of the game. But it was remarkable there was a nail biter ending to begin with as the Caps struggled through 33 minutes of the game and the Panthers pounced to a 5-1 lead half way through the second. Mike Knuble managed the only Caps goal through that first half after a great entry by Marcus Johansson. It opened time and space for Knuble to slap it through Panther goaltender Scott Clemmensen.

Cody Eakin scored his third of the season after his line did some great forechecking late in the second period. With just :20 left in the second frame, Eakin gave a glimmer of hope to the Capitals going into the intermission.

If the first period was awful to watch, in stark contrast, the third period was the Caps best by far.
Pressing the play, strong on the forecheck, and maybe playing a team that had packed it in with the score seemingly out of reach, the Caps out chanced the Panthers 8 to one in the final period of the game. Goals by Brooks Laich and Jason Chimera made the game a bit more interesting, but the Caps couldn't find the equalizer.

The Caps' special teams let them down. Their penalty kill was a horrendous 3-6 while the power play was anything but special going 0-2. John Erkine picked up an instigator penalty when he fought Bracken Kearns in the first when the Capitals were down 2-0. The Panthers three power play goals were the deciding factor in the Caps' loss.

Michal Neuvirth let in possibly the softest goal of his career just :13 seconds after the Panthers' first goal. A knuckler that beat him 7 hole seemed to deflate the team and with some bad penalties and a Florida power play that was clicking, it was lights out soon after that.

The silver lining was the Caps drive to even make the comeback. It was lead, in part, by John Carlson who was the only player on either team to have a +3 with his three assists. He trailed only Dennis Wideman (29:00) in ice time minutes (26:15).

Until the Capitals can solve their woes on the PK and on the PP, it would be wise for this team to steer clear of the penalty box. Take away the three power play goals the Caps gave to the Panthers and it's a 4-2 game.

Caps Notes:
  • Alex Semin has missed his second straight game with an undisclosed upper body injury. Anyone miss him?
  • Alex Ovechkin did play but was ineffective with only 4 shots on net and a miserable -2. 
  • Capitals outshot the Panthers 32-30 but only outshot them in the third period (13-6).

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Woods Out, Johnson In

Well, that didn't take long. After some question on whether the assistant coaches would remain the same, GM George McPhee assured reporters the assistants weren't going anywhere. That lasted for a day. Bob Woods will be replaced by Jim Johnson, another ex-Cap. I am not sure if Woods was let go, or he quit the team. But per Caps PR:
ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals have named Jim Johnson the team’s assistant coach, replacing Bob Woods, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Johnson, 49, took over as the head coach of the Norfolk Admirals of the American Hockey League (AHL) at the end of the 2009-10 season, finishing with a record of 15-5-0-2 (.727) in his 22 games behind the bench. Prior to his time with Norfolk, Johnson was an assist coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2009-10 season.

The former defenseman played in 829 NHL games with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars, Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes from 1985-1998. Johnson tallied 195 career points (29 goals, 166 assists) and 1,197 penalty minutes. The New Hope, Minnesota, native appeared in 121 games with the Capitals from 1993-1996, collecting 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) and 89 penalty minutes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Different Coach, Same Result

Capitals 1, Blues 2
Game Summary

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Dale Hunter had one practice and a morning skate to work with his new team. Not much time to turn the team on its rear and start playing like the Washington Capitals should. It was clear that not much changed as the players took the ice and dropped Hunter's coaching debut to the St. Louis Blues and their new head coach Ken Hitchcock 2-1.

Nick Backstrom scored the only Caps' goal after a pretty feed from Alex Ovechkin in the first period. But that would be all the offense the Caps could muster as the Blues choked the top lines. Typical Hitchcock-coached team, the Blues stifled the Capitals high powered offense and took advantage of the few chances they did get from some break downs by the Capitals.

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Matt Hendricks picked probably the best time for a fight early in the third period, but the Caps gained little to no momentum from it. Jason Chimera had a strong game too moving his feet and registering 4 hits.

The Blues have been a hot team of late since their coaching change. The Caps are still in slump mode and it showed for most of the game. The Caps had a weak second period mustering only 6 shots on Halak. Granted the Caps were forced to kill off a double minor by Troy Brouwer but the Caps were only able to get 19 shots total on Jaroslav Halak.

While it's not that great of a measuring stick on how Dale Hunter will ultimately coach his team, it does show the work that is cut out for him. With just one more day of practice before Conference rival Penguins are at the phone booth, Hunter is going try and solve the offensive woes of the Caps while keeping an eye on the defensive side of the puck.

Caps Notes:
  • Tomas Vokoun registered his first point of the season with an assist on the Backstrom goal. He was credited with the secondary assist.
  • The ice times for each player was pretty consistent. No player averaged more that :50 seconds per shift, and only Troy Brouwer was the lowest at :37 seconds per shift (mostly due to his double minor in the second period).
  • Both John Erskine and Marcus Johansson left the game with injuries and both returned before the end of the game.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Just Let Him Play

With the coaching change for the Washington Capitals, Bruce Boudreau out and Dale Hunter in, a lot of things will change as this team struggles to find identity. Lately there has been a lot of talk lately of Alex Ovechkin's under performance over the past two years as a part of the Caps' failures. Some draw that under-achievement to the C that rests on the wingers left shoulder. In some ways, I believe that to be true.

The expectation level for the one of the league's most captivating forwards in the modern NHL has been an awful burden on the 26 year old. Ovechkin not only puts the pressure of a NHL team that was picked by some to win the Cup this year, but of his country's duties and the up coming Olympics in Sochi in 2014. The pressure Ovi puts on himself to win a gold medal and win the Stanley Cup, not to mention be the leader of his team, seems be too much to bear. I do think that it is affecting his play on the ice night in and night out.

Let's be clear, this is Ovechkin's team. It was built around him from the moment the Caps picked him in 2004. Nick Backstrom was brought in to support him, the Caps have drafted grinders to help his line produce and the young guns are all centered around Ovechkin. It was the logical choice to make him captain when Chris Clark was traded to Columbus leaving the office open. At first Ovechkin reveled in the spotlight. But of late, it seems to be more of a hindrance than an asset.

With the changes the Caps have made behind the bench, maybe one of the first duties is to get Ovechkin back into his predator-like offensive mode. One of the ways to do that is just let him be a player. Not a captain, not a country's only hope for a gold medal, not a city's savior for the Cup, just a player. Just let him play.

When the Capitals played like the low expectation team with nothing to lose, they seemed to play their best. Now with expectations through the roof, it has become more of a burden on the team than some thing to inspire them to play like champions. The run to the playoffs when Boudreau was first hired is a perfect example of how low expectations seemed to inspire the Capitals to push them further.

Just let him play, when Ovechkin isn't worried about how badly his team needs him make the perfect play, the Capitals win. He is better when he is getting 40 shots a game and playing for the fun of it, rather than treating the game like a job where all eyes are bearing down on him. He relished in rivalries, was spectacular for the cameras on HNIC, he played best when he just played the game.

Does that mean stripping him of the C? That locker room the Capitals have is full of leaders that don't wear a letter on their shoulder. Ovi doesn't need that C to be great, he doesn't need the responsibility of taking ownership of the teams failures either. He just needs to play the game. If that means stripping the C to make a point, I wouldn't be all that surprised.

Boudreau Out, Hunter In

A shocker, but not really. The Washington Capitals fire head coach Bruce Boudreau after what General Manager George McPhee cites as Boudreau's poor performance over "the last few weeks". The Capitals go in a different direction by hiring ex-Caps captain Dale Hunter. Per Caps PR:
ARLINGTON, Va. – The Washington Capitals have named Dale Hunter the team’s head coach, replacing Bruce Boudreau, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.  
Hunter, 51, becomes the 15th coach in Washington Capitals history and will make his debut behind the bench tomorrow as the Capitals host the St. Louis Blues at Verizon Center.  
Hunter helped the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) win their first Memorial Cup Championship in 2004-05 and is the fastest head coach in OHL history to record 300 and 400 career wins. The Petrolia, Ont., native owns the highest winning percentage in league history with a record of 451-189-23-24 (.691) in his 11 seasons behind the bench for London and was the 2003-04 winner of the Brian Kilrea Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Coach of the Year.  
Hunter played 19 seasons in the NHL from 1980-99, appearing in 1,407 games and collecting 1,020 points (323 goals, 697 assists) along with 3,565 penalty minutes with Quebec, Washington and Colorado.  
Hunter is one of just four players to have their numbers retired by the Washington Capitals as his No. 32 was retired by the team on March 11, 2000. Hunter captained the Capitals from the 1994-95 season until the 1998-99 season and was named to the NHL All-Star Team in 1997. He played in 872 games for the Capitals from 1987-99 and compiled 556 points (181 goals, 375 goals) and 2,003 penalty minutes. Hunter ranks first all-time in Capitals’ history in penalty minutes, fourth in games played, tied for ninth in goals and third in assists. His 100 career playoff games with the Capitals rank tied for first in team history while his 72 points and 47 assists both lead the franchise.  
OHL Images
Hunter is the only player in NHL history to record more than 1,000 points and 3,000 penalty minutes. He ranks second in NHL history in penalty minutes, 53rd in assists and 73rd all-time in points and his 186 playoff games rank tied for 23rd all-time. He was originally drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the second round (41st overall) of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft.  
This season the Knights lead the OHL with a 20-5-0-1 record and 41 points. Hunter earned his 450th career win on Saturday, Nov. 26 in a 7-2 win over Erie. The Knights are currently the top-ranked team in the CHL and have been ranked No. 1 for seven of the 10 weeks this season and each of the past six weeks (CHL’s Top 10 teams are selected by a panel of National Hockey League scouts).  During his time in London, Hunter has coached current Capitals defensemen John Carlson and Dennis Wideman and has worked with numerous other current NHL players such as Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Kane and John Tavares.  
London has won 50 or more games three times and finished first in the OHL four times under Hunter, including a CHL record-setting season in 2004-05 when the Knights finished with a record of 59-7-2-0 and went 20-2-0-0 in the playoffs on the way to the first Memorial Cup championship in London history.
 What I will most about Gabby? His glorious hair:

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Befuddled In Buffalo

Capitals 1, Sabres 5
Game Summary

AP
You hear that noise? That is the sound of Bruce Boudreau's job security hitting the rocks. The Capitals can not seem to right the ship as they fall hard to the limping Buffalo Sabres 5-1.

Facing a team mainly consisting of rookies due to nine injured players out of their normal lineup, the Capitals couldn't even muster a forecheck on the young defenders. Add a few soft goals and some poor play by the defense, it made for a rough night for the away team. Instead of writing this one out, lets just go to some pointers.
  • Jason Chimera is the best thing that has happened to the Capitals in the month of November. A beauty of a penalty shot he earned by moving his feet and using that great speed of his. His shot beat Buffalo's goaltender Jhonas Enroth over his right shoulder and got stuck in the net. The awesome part of the whole thing was to see Buffalo fans that cheered thinking he didn't score, oh but yes, he did.
  • Tomas Vokoun is the biggest buzzkill the Capitals have right now. After a cutting into a 2-0 lead with Chimera's penalty shot goal, the Caps looked poised to get back into the game. But Vokoun let in a softie and it killed whatever momentum the Caps had to that point. 
  • It's clear to me that one of two things are falling apart on the Capitals. Either their offensive strategy is not working, or the players are not executing. Either way that points to a clear coaching conundrum. While I don't think Boudreau is entirely at fault, but a coaching shake up (head or assistants) could be in the near future. 
  • The Sabres followed the Rangers strategy to put pressure on the back line. With the effective forecheck they executed, it lead to a slew of chances and kept the Caps chasing the Sabres. 
  • The Capitals definitely felt the effects of playing the day before. With tired legs and a shortened bench, the Caps legs wore out on them. In the third they were pretty worthless. 
  • Roman Hamrlik has had a terrible November. He was a -3 in this game and hasn't been the solid rock on the back end the Caps were hoping for when they signed him. 
  • When things go south for the Capitals, it usually goes bad for the Caps top lines. Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom were held with out a point and were a -4 to finish off the night. The ineptitude of the top line is a problem, especially when the Caps seem to need them to produce. 
The teams the Caps face over the next few nights don't get any easier. Even though they return to the phone booth, they face the St. Louis Blues and then the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Caps will have to nail down some kind of consistency and a bit more competitiveness.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday Stinker

Capitals 3, Rangers 6
Game Summary

AP
If you thought getting a face full of pepper spray on "Black Friday" because you thought you might miss out on a smoking hot deal was hard to swallow, how about a lackluster performance by the Capitals against the New York Rangers? Out-hustled, out-goaltended, out-witted, out-played, just about out everything as the Rangers embarrass the Capitals at home 6-3.

There were some silver lining to said embarrassment. John Carlson had a pretty good day with a goal and an assist. The Caps were down 3-1 when Carlson scored a scorcher on the power play beating Henrik Lundqvist's glove and hit the inside of the far post and in. Troy Brouwer also had a goal himself scoring off the Carlson point shot. Alex Ovechkin looked like the Ovi of old with a streak up the left side, used Dan Girardi as a screen, and smoked it over the shoulder of Lundqvist.

But the Caps played with fire allow the Rangers five power play chances and the Ranger built momentum off of the extra man opportunities. With a little hard work and some great forechecking ability, the Rangers were able to jump to a 3-0 lead in the second period. To that point, the Capitals didn't look half bad, playing solid in their zone and getting chances on turn overs in the neutral zone.

The PK has been better, but it did allow a goal at the worst time. Add some standing around in the defensive zone and the Caps just looked like they were chasing the play all game long. Stark contrast to the 4-3 winner against the Jets two nights before. The Caps' power play was able to convert one, and made the game a bit more competitive, but the Caps just got out-played with a late second period goal and a poorly covered transition game that put the Rangers up for good.

A few of the bright points were Joel Ward's tough work in the neutral zone. It led to a few chances early, but the lack of an elevator on Ward's shot made it almost too easy for Lundqvist who is so good down low. Dmitry Orlov had another solid game himself. Since being called up he has been a hitting machine and this evening was no different. Jason Chimera also played well despite the score.

Denis Wideman and Marcus Johansson both had tough outings in contrast. Both were a -3 and MoJo had 4 giveaways, one that lead directly to a goal, and Wideman was credited with 5 giveaways. Alex Semin was a bit of a enigma in this game. He did make a few good plays, but he took another hooking minor and went for the puck instead of taking his man on a back check that lead to the Brad Richards' goal. Another player that didn't seem to have the heart tonight was Cody Eakin who has the wheels, but I have yet to see them in action at this level yet.

The Capitals need to quickly put this one in the past as they travel up to Buffalo to face the Sabres tomorrow night. 

Caps Notes:
  • The Caps continued taking the body registering 40 hits on the Rangers. Ovechkin had 8 hits himself including one that led to the Capitals first goal of the game. He took the body on Marion Gaborik allowing Nick Backtrom to pick up the loose puck and find Carlson in the high slot. Carlson's shot snuck through Lundqvist and Brouwer made the slam dunk.
  • Zack Bogosian will not face any supplemental discipline for his hit on Cody Eakin. Although Eakin was hit in the head, Bogosian lead with the shoulder and didn't make any motion as if he was targeting the head. Playing for Winnipeg probably helps too. 
  • Mathieu Perreault was the healthy scratch.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chimera Gives Thanks To OT Winner

Capitals 4, Jets 3 OT
Game Summary

AP
Ondrej Pavelec has been nothing short of a brick wall against the Capitals of late. But the Caps finally solve the pesky goaltender and put forth an inspired effort to earn a 4-3 overtime win against divisional foe the Winnipeg Jets.

Jason Chimera had himself a game scoring a pair of goals (his seventh and eighth of the season) including the game winner 1:52 into the overtime period. He could have easily scored a pair more but some outstanding goaltending by Pavelec kept Chimera from scoring a few more. Alex Semin scored his fifth of the year after getting a beautiful feed from a hustling Alex Ovechkin. Birthday boy Nick Backtrom also added a tally to round out the scoring for the Capitals.

Unlike games before, the Caps seemed to put forth a better effort this game. They were moving their feet, beating Jets to loose pucks and making the defensive effort to block shots. Rookie Dmitry Orlov might have had the hit of the game in the second period when he laid a spectacular hip check on the speedy Blake Wheeler. That set off a flurry of hits and physical play from both teams that added to the intrigue of the game. The Capitals would outhit the Jets 35 to 27.

The Caps power play only had three chances to work. It did lead to a slew of chances, but the Caps could not convert on the man advantage. While the power play stumbled, the penalty kill was fantastic killing off two minor penalties including a 1:20 five on three with Brooks Laich sans stick for a majority of it.

Tomas Vokoun was at times spectacular, while at other times looked a bit slow to react to the play. While two of the goals came off of some lucky bounces for the Jets, the tying goal was savable. Wheeler's pass to Bryan Little seemed to freeze Vokoun up and he was late to get over to cover the shot by Little. The goal by the Jets was preceded by a waived goal by the Caps just moments before.

After sitting a game, Semin roared back into the lineup. Not only did he start the scoring with a pretty slapper off of a great feed from Ovechkin, but he did not get called for stick infraction. In part it was due to Semin moving his feet and trying not to do too much with his stick (other than shooting pucks on net and curl and drags).

Caps Notes:
  • Caps win their second straight after struggling to win games losing 6 of the previous 7. Both games ended with the scores 4-3.
  • Cody Eakin had a scare as the hitting escalated in the second period. He took a high hit to the head from Ron Hainsey that looked very close to a targeted hit to the head. While the Caps held the lead, Eakin's ice time diminished.
  • Eric Fehr returned to Washington to face his former team as a Jet. He was a -1 with one shot on net and one blocked shot.
  • Backstrom scored on his birthday. He is 24.
  • Rookie defenseman Orlov nearly had a second hip check that would have sent another Jet flying, but this time it only jettisoned Kane's stick into the crowd. A fan caught the stick, but was forced to give the stick back in return for a game puck as seen here.  Lame.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Penalties Stops Caps' Streak Cold

Capitals 1, Oilers 2
Game Summary

AP
The Capitals stormed out in the first period jumping on the young Oilers early with a 1-0 lead and out shooting them 6-1. But then they just could not stay out of the penalty box. The Caps were whistled for 9 penalties and gave up two goals to the Oilers' power play to see their best start in organization histroy halted at seven games. Edmonton jumps on the Caps misfortunes to beat them 2-1.

Karl Alzner scored his first of the season off of a nice slapper from the point to beat Nikolai Khabibulan over the shoulder. Joel Ward set the screen and the Oilers goaltender froze from the distraction. It would be the Caps high water mark in the game despite some heroic effort in the third period to try to tie up the game.

Oilers net minder Khabibulan only needed one good period and he was fantastic in the third. The Caps out shot the Oilers 18-6 in the final period and dominated the play for the most part. But shot after shot was turned away by the Edmonton goaltender. He was spectacular killing off a pair of late penalties for the Oilers. For all the offensive power the Caps poured on in the final period, it was all for not as Khabby got hot late.

The Caps inability to stay out of the box in the second period and having to play catch up for the rest of the game ends their winning streak at seven games. The power play did not see the time it could have, or should have, in this game but it is clear they miss number 52 back on the blue line.

Mike Green sat out for a tweeked ankle and the Caps seemed to miss the quarterback for timely break outs and setting up the power play. They missed his sneaks up the back side on the power play that kept the top penalty killer honest. The power play instead was a mortal 0 for 4.

A lot of this game could be excused away as unfair officiating as the Caps were called for 8 penalties including 5 calls in the second period alone. Four of them were hooking calls, some legit, some borderline. But the Caps just did not make good decisions on the ice and in the end it cost them. Credit the Caps' penalty killers for only allowing two power play goals against as it could have easily been 4-1 or 5-1 at the end of the second period.

Both of the Oilers goals came off of the power play. A tic-tac-toe passing play on the 5 on 3 goal, and a defensive break down and a juicy rebound on the second 5 on 4 goal. Both goals hard to avoid, but good lessons for the Caps to learn. Winning streaks sometimes hides imperfections and the Caps can use this game as a teaching tool, a lesson learned on their way through the season.

Caps catch up with the Western Conference Champs Saturday night and will have to bring a better game with them to Vancouver. The power play will have to reconfigure itself to better create chances with out Green on the back end.

Caps Notes:
  • Alex Ovechkin had six shots in attempt to get the tying goal. But Khabibulan turned aside all six. Alex Semin went through most of the game with out a registered shot on net through most of the game until he snapped two on net in the third.
  • Nine different Capitals were called for penalties, 5 penalties were stick infractions (4 hooking, 1 slash), 2 were delay of game (hand covering puck, puck over glass), a diving call and a holding the stick call.
  • Green is still questionable for Saturday night, Jay Beagle remains a scratch with a concussion.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Dramatic Home Opener

Capitals 4, Hurricanes 3 OT
Game Summary

AP
It was not pretty at times, but the Washington Capitals win their home opener in dramatic fashion with an overtime goal by Mike Green to beat division rivals Carolina Hurricanes 4-3.

Alex Semin scored his first of the season when he got behind the defense and John Carlson zipped a pass to break him open and alone on Brian Boucher. Semin scored a pretty backhander past the down 'Canes net minder to tie the game at one. Jason Chimera scored his first of the season when Joel Ward found him along the boards. Chim's speed caught Boucher off guard and puck trickled over his shoulder into the net. Brooks Laich broke up the 2-2 tie with a power play tally when he slid in a rebound off of an Alex Ovechkin slapper. This was the third straight home opener in which Laich has scored a goal. Green scored the game winner in overtime with a slapper that deflected off of a 'Canes' defender.

In a back and forth game, it looked as if the Capitals let their lead slip away twice. After going down after an Eric Staal power play goal, the Caps jumped out to a 2-1 lead off of goals by Semin and Chimera. But another Staal power play tally that was off another back door pass knotted the game up at 2 apiece. The Caps looked as if they were on their way to a win when Laich scored his goal on the power play with less than four minutes to play in the game. But with the goaltender pulled, the Hurricanes sent the game to overtime with another back door play and a goal scored by Jussi Jokinen.

But just going to overtime was seemingly not hard enough for the Capitals. Semin took a boarding penalty as the horn sounded to end the third period. The Caps started the overtime period having to kill a 4 on 3 Hurricane power play. Unlike power plays before, the Caps were able to kill it with some spectacular play by Nick Backstrom. Not only did he win some key face offs, he also drew a penalty to negate the man advantage and give the Caps the power play in which Green scored the game winner.

There was a bit of goaltender controversy when the game started. Michal Neuvirth got the nod in net, while Tomas Vokoun had to settle for back up. Vokoun's agent called it a slap to the face after head coach Bruce Boudreau vowed Vokoun would be the Caps no. 1. But Caps' goaltender coach David Prior down played the controversy simply saying the Tampa game on Monday night was a more important start for Vokoun.

But the call for Neuvirth in net was the right call. Even though Carolina seemed to find that back door open for a few goals tonight, late in the game Neuvirth wised up to it and cheated a little to make some fantastic saves to keep the game tied in overtime. He played solid and looked better as the game wore on.

Backstrom played his best game in quite some time. He finished the night with two assists and the only Capital with two points on the night. He also registered 4 hits, was 60 percent on faceoffs and was connected some good passes to set up his linemates. One of his linemates, Ovechkin certainly gave the effort but only finished with an assist. He drew the penalty that led to the 5 on 3 goal by Laich and played well on both sides of the puck. The top line was definitely a threat after a shaky first period. 

Special teams again helped and hampered the Capitals as it has in previous years. The Caps allowed a pair of Hurricane power play goals. But the Caps scored a pair of their own with the extra man, including the game winner by Green and that was the difference.


The Capitals' penalty kill needed some help at times. The 'Canes power play was able to pass right through the penalty killers and Eric Staal benefited from the break down with two wide open net goals. Neither goal Neuvirth could do much about. The 'Canes exposed the Caps with some good passing and some tic-tac-toe puck movement. The Caps just need better communication between the defensemen which should improve with more games played.

In all, it looked exactly like the first game of the season for the Capitals. The problems that faced them most are for the most part simple fixes. Most of the problems the Caps faced were mostly because of breakdowns between defensive partners. Those communication problems tend to fix themselves with more games played.

The Caps will have to be more in sync when they face Tampa Bay on Monday night. The Lightning are a structured team with their one-three-one trap that gave the Caps fits all last season. The Caps will have to be much more focused when the puck drops at Verizon Center.

Caps Notes
  • Joel Ward's assist was his 100th career point.
  • Jeff Halpern's first night back as a Capital he finished the only Cap with a -1 and he was 5 of 12 on face offs (42%). 
  • Mathieu Perreault stared the night instead of Marcus Johansson. He was dismal on face offs winning 1 of 5 draws. Perreault nearly had a goal in the third period but a great save by Boucher stole that opportunity away.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Is This The Season?

5 Things The Caps Must Improve

The Hockey News may have put the expectation of a Stanley Cup Championship on the shoulders of the Washington Capitals, but the Caps will have fix some demons that plagued them (and seem to continue to plague them) last year.

1. Power Play Production

The power play is an effective tool for a team that wants to find success in the regular season and in the post season. What an consistently dangerous power play does is put the other team and an immediate disadvantage. When opposing teams are more concerned about not taking penalties against sure goals on the power play, that opens up ice and opportunity at even strength. But if a team is confident that they can kill off the power play, they can take liberties to shut down any open opportunities.

The Capitals power play is an exercise in conformity that is easily recognizable. They like to overload the stick side of the goaltender and "hide" Alex Ovechkin's one timer on the far boards. Nick Backstrom is the quaterback, often near the goal line on the other side with a player out front and a forward and defenseman high for options.

If opposing teams can isolate Backstrom along the boards and negate the pass to Ovechkin or any other back door play, the goaltender will square to Ovechkin's shot from the mid boards if Backstrom pass up the the defenseman, or look for the give and go if Alex Semin cuts into the box. If the penalty kill can clear any rebounds, the Caps have put all there hopes on one-timers and give and gos through the slot.

What needs to change is position with more movement. Interchange the QB Backstrom with Ovi or Semin and work in quick succinct passes. If the power play can not put the other team behind the eight ball, the Caps are looking at another disappointing off season.

2. Goaltender Consistency

George McPhee knew that veteran goaltending could settle a team down. The Caps might have been more concerned about helping out rookie goaltenders Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth last season instead of relying on them to make the save. Tomas Vokoun comes in to bring in some relief in that department.

Vokoun is known for giving up a 6 goal game from time to time (with a team like Florida in front of you, that will tend to happen). But he does bring some veteran presence in the net and a want to play for a championship rather than a contract. Taking a one year, $1.5 million (a pay cut by his standard), Vokoun is playing for much more than just money. Having not played in the playoffs since he was a Nashville Predator, the Caps' new number one is looking to prove he is an elite goaltender.

To do that, Vokoun has to be a consistent back stop for the Capitals. He doesn't have to be a brick wall, but he does have to have a few big grabs so the pressure is off the Caps defense. A healthy Denis Wideman and off season acquisition Roman Hamrlik should help with that too.

3. Time To Mature

It was said best by Mike Green, "We have wasted enough time." The Capitals "Young Guns" are now middle aged players with the window closing on them. Semin and Green are on their final year of their contracts. Ovechkin is now 26 years old and entering his 7th year in the NHL. It's time for the Guns to grow up.

After Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin numbers crumpled last season, the Capitals need for them to get over their slump. Injuries might have played a role in the post season disappointments, but the core players have to produce.

4. Role Players Have To Add Something

I get it, it is the fourth line. The checking line is not expected to score, but they sure are not supposed to allow goals against either. Whether it's a fight to up the moral, a big hit, winning a face off, or a solid shift against an opposing top line the third and fourth line have to do their part.

If the top players continue to play in a fog, the last two lines have to add some kind of spark to propel the team to action. Additions of Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern will help in this area. The pair bring in a good energy and some consistency at their positions.

Halpern will fill in for the loss of Boyd Gordon in the face off dot.

5. Coaching Must Do Better

Bruce Boudreau may not have all the answers. Not every NHL coach does. But simply just changing linemates is not going to cut it anymore. Boudreau must step up his end and find solutions game to game. Find the issue and make the correction to change the course of any game.

Last year, Boudreau raised some eyebrows when his response to a struggling power play was simply to replace a player here or a player there. The structure wasn't even attempted to be changed until late in the season when it was clear that the PP was going no where fast.

Boudreau, Bob Woods and Dean Evason have to up their game too. They have to find answers to areas of weakness on their team. Especially now that the Division has improved in the off season to take on the Caps.

None of these problems have a single silver bullet. Instead it will take several experiments to get the concoction just right. The advantage the Capitals have is some world class talent through out the ranks. Whether it's the big names in Ovechkin and Backstrom or solid young talent in John Carlson and Marcus Johansson, the Caps will steal quite a few games on the backs of just good solid talent on the ice.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Caps Waive Three

Francois Bouchard, Kyle Greentree and Zack Miskovic were put on waivers Saturday according to TSN.ca. Hershey Bears are set to start their training camp Monday and Keith Aucoin and Dany Sabourin were sent down. They join players Andrew Carroll, Jacob Micflikier, Joel Rechlicz, Brett Flemming and Julien Brouillette.

Bouchard was signed about the same time as Mathieu Perreault but has failed to be even considered a call up from Hershey. His production numbers have plummeted since his arrival from Juniors where he had 125 points (45 g, 80 a) through 68 games in '05-'06 with Baie-Comeau. Since being with Hershey, he has only mustered an average 52 points through 77 games in '09-'10 and dropped to just 24 points and a -5 through 74 games last season.

Miskovic was a free agent signed by Washington, but was another prospect that did not pan out.

Since attacking the free agent market this summer, it is likely the Capitals might be thinning the ranks through Hershey so clear way for cheaper call ups with a tight salary cap. It is also likely that the players they waived (which none have been claimed as of yet) were players that could flourish in a different organization since space is tight with the Caps new additions.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Just Short

Capitals 3, Blue Jackets 4 OT
Game Summary

#25 Jason Chimera wears the captain's C in preseason action
The Washington Capitals came out with a bit more urgency in their second preseason game. Out shooting the Blue Jackets in their home preseason opener 6-1, the Capitals looked like they might have found an offensive groove. But some flubs on special teams again confound the Caps and they fail to complete the comeback in overtime to lose 4-3.

Jeff Halpern started things off with almost a lucky bank shot off of Columbus' goaltender Steve Mason for the early lead. The BJs scored three straight and took a 3-1 lead into the midway point of the final period. After Columbus scored early in the third, Andrew Carroll got into a scrap and later would cut the BJ lead to one with a garbage goal. Roman Hamrlik scored just over a minute and half later through heavy traffic in front of the net pushing the game into overtime.

Jeff Schultz, of all people, took a hooking call trying to reign in Rick Nash and the BJs win on a power play goal scored by Alexandre Giroux (former Hershey Bear/Washington Capital property).

Again, special teams hindered the Capitals as the power play went 0-4 and allowed a shorthanded goal in the second period that made the game 2-1. The Caps penalty kill was okay, but did allow the game winning goal in OT. The Capitals still have not found the magic bullet with the extra man. A luxury they had prior to the last season was a solid power play to put teams on their heels.

While it is still preseason, there is the feel of "Oh, this again" when it comes to special teams. The Capitals are able to play tight 5 on 5, which can only benefit from a good power play that will keep the opposition honest at even strength. The Blue Jackets scored a goal in every period. Washington will finish the game out shooting their opponent 30-24.

Halpern was a stand out for the Capitals scoring a goal and getting an assist to finish a +2. Hamrlik had a goal and assist himself. Matt Hendricks played well, getting  and Jay Beagle was the only other Cap to finish with a +2. Chris Bourque did play his best as he finished with a -2.

Braden Holtby made some great saves only allowing 2 goals after being pulled after the second period. He faced 14 shots and finished the game with a respectable .857 save percentage. Philipp Grubauer finished the game in the third period.

Jason Chimera returned to Columbus wearing the captain's "C" on his jersey in the absence of Alex Ovechkin who got the night off.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bad Ice In B-More

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Capitals 0, Predators 2

It should have been about the amazing skill of the players on the ice inside the 1st Mariner Arena at the 2011 Baltimore Hockey Classic. Or how great it was to see a Caps' sweater in Baltimore for a preseason match up with the Nashville Predators. But instead, the poor ice conditions overshadowed what should have been a great start to an annual event for the Washington Capitals. Add a 2-0 loss to the Preds and the Caps preseason begins with a disappointing start.

It certainly was not a good game to really gauge the players trying for positions on tight rosters. Stand outs for the Capitals would have to be Garrett Mitchell, Cody Eakin, Chris Bourque, and Jay Beagle. But early attempts at some pressure just was droned out by bad ice conditions.

Alex Ovechkin would have a solid game, but a late slashing call with under 4 minutes left sealed the deal for the Caps who were held scoreless since facing Carolina to start the '05-'06 season where they lost 6-0. He did have a big hit when Ryan Ellis tried to take a run at the All-Star foward, but Ovi was able to thwart the hit away sending Ellis flying as a result. 

The power play lacked any substance, again. The Caps special teams again suffered with the extra man. It did look like they scored in waning seconds of the game, but the whistle had blown leaving the Preds to hold the Caps off for their first preseason win.

DJ King was the overall stand out player for the Capitals. King, who is in roster limbo with the team since signing here a year ago, played a tough physical game, but also added some offensive pressure with Beagle on his line.

Caps don't have time to wallow in there sadness (or grab a sock). Some of the team will head off to Columbus tonight to face a preseason game against the Blue Jackets tomorrow night.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Access Denied

This is not how I got snubbed or how unfair the Capitals PR staff is (I actually think they are pretty cool). Rather this is one blog that is struggling just to keep up this summer and has come to the proverbial fork in the road. 

The Washington Capitals officially denied credentials to puckheadsthoughts.com. Hey, I would have done the same thing based on the last few months. Truth is, life has gotten a little more complicated with home ownership, a one and half year old, and an unforgiving work schedule. I have been more on the outside these last few months since I first got credentialed by the Caps. It's funny how life gets in the way of a good thing. Several times I have contemplated ending it all and killing the site (it would save me ten bucks every year for the domain name). But on the behest of my wife and several other bloggers and well wishers, I have trudged through the summer months and these last few days with a flooded basement pumping out basement water and so so posts. 

Finally I have come to the decision to not make my mind up on abandoning the site just yet (how's that for an answer). It will be fun to casually blog and get back to just being a fan. Back to my roots. Respect. 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

"I'm in shock!!!!!R.I.P."

Those were the tweeted words of Russian phenom Alexander Ovechkin upon hearing about a plane crash the took the lives of several Russian and Czech hockey players. TSN.ca has the entire story here. Not only were they just KHL players, but some notable NHL players and prospects as well. It hit the Ranger organization the hardest.

It tops one of the saddest off season for the NHL. The loss of enforcers to depression, and now this horrific plane crash remind us how human these players are. In a series of unfortunate tragedies, the league will start camps soon with heavy hearts. It times like this, we have to remember it is just a game.

New Look Division - Lightning

The Washington Capitals might have made the Southleast Division into one of the toughest divisions in the NHL. After winning the division title for the last 4 years (regular season eastern champs for the last two), the division is wising up and bettering their teams to make the playoff push. The influx of better talent into the division makes this year's division champ a toss up. But all the pundits agree, it is Washington's to lose.

Tampa Bay Lightning:

The Lightning took just about everyone by surprise last season. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2004, the organization has floundered. Even with some great draft picks, the Lightning could barely climb into a playoff spot. After a circus of free agency two seasons ago and some ownership problems, they cleaned house and Guy Boucher gave them the one-three-one. The team finally found it's stride and did away with their divisional champs with a four game sweep in the playoffs. The Lightning were one game, one goal, one game seven from making it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Who's in: Teddy Purcell and Steven Stamkos were resigned over the summer. Tom Pyatt, Micheal Ouellet, Ryan Shannon, and Matt Gilroy were signed in July. Dwayne Roloson signed on for another year.

Who's out: Matt Smaby, Simon Gagne, goaltender Mike Smith, Sean Bergenheim, Randy Jones were all allowed to sign with other teams.

Not much is going to change this team since they have found some chemistry under the direction of Guy Boucher. The core of Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier will remain the Lightning's solid production. Their special teams, mainly their power play is dynamic and dangerous.


With the addition of Eric Brewer, the Lightning defense took their play to a different level. Along with Victor Hedman on the back end and their one-three-one system, the Lightning will be tough to score against. Add in veteran goaltender in Roloson, the Lightning are hungry for more.


With any new fandangled system, it doesn't take long for the league to find a way to beat it. While the one-three-one confounded some teams, the Capitals included, other teams have found ways to beat it. If the Bolts want to take the division title away from the Washington Capitals, they either have to perfect their new trap system or mix it up against teams they face the most.


The Lightning are a dangerous team, and it is likely they can take the division. If Stamkos has another big year and the offense continues to hurt teams on transition, Tampa could find themselves battling for another Eastern Conference championship.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

New Look Division - Panthers

The Washington Capitals might have made the Southleast Division into one of the toughest divisions in the NHL. After winning the division title for the last 4 years (regular season eastern champs for the last two), the division is wising up and bettering their teams to make the playoff push. The influx of better talent into the division makes this year's division champ a toss up. But all the pundits agree, it is Washington's to lose.

Florida Panthers:

If anyone took the new look thing to a whole new level, it was the Florida Panthers. Just when it looked like it was about to blow up their organization and start from scratch, they instead rebuilt through free agency.  Of the twelve forwards in this new look roster, 7 are new faces to the Panthers. But it is not just new faces, the club went and got players that can add to the team dynamic now. Add some new coaching and the Panthers could be the wild card of the division. It is still remains to be seen if the new-comers can translate to wins.

Who's in: I guess the better question is who isn't in. Scotty Upshall, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischmann, Sean Bergenheim, Tomas Kopecky, Marcel Goc, and last but not least, tough guy and easy bleeder Matt Bradley. That is just the forwards, Brian Campbell, Keith Seabrook, Nolan Yonkman, Ed Jovanovski, and Erik Gudbranson were acquired on defense. Shake in one Jose Theodore and it's a team almost on it's own.

Who's out: Rostislav Olesz was involved in the trade with Campbell as was Bryan McCabe traded to the Rangers at the deadline. Marty Reasoner, Darcy Hordichuk, Sergei Samsonov and Tomas Vokoun were lost to free agency.

As with any team with a slew of new coming players, success lies with chemistry. The head brass made it clear that things have been cleaned out from the top down just hours after the season ended and Peter DeBoer was shown the door. New bench boss Kevin Dineen definitely has the resume to coach at the NHL level after his years as a player and his success at the American Hockey League level.

The Panthers are not just looking for some wins. They want to put the organization back on the playoff map. So far, on paper anyways, it looks like they have taken the step in the right direction. It could easily look like DC south with the additions of Fleischmann, Bradley, Theodore and Yonkman. All alum from the Capitals organization.

The only setback or downgrade in the team is in the goaltending ranks. With Vokoun chasing a championship with the Capitals, the Panthers really need to find a stand out starter to fill out the roster. The problem is, the goaltending in free agency was not the best. They got what they could in Theodore who should give them a good 50 to 60 games as a starter. But whether he is the answer in net remains to be seen.

The rest of the team looks to be pretty solid. Upgrades in defense, offense and even their special teams should improve with the new additions. Plus add the core of young talent they have kept. Dmitry Kulikov and David Booth now have the tools to expand their talent with out taking the brunt of the work. It could be a break out year for the pair if the Panthers can find their chemistry in time.

Caps Notes:
  • In a press conference today, Alex Ovechkin took his gear in a different direction. Dropping the CCM label for Bauer gear. He is also helping youth hockey in both Washington DC and Moscow Russia with some new Bauer gear. It was not a surprise that Ovi went in a different direction. He often would use Alex Semin's stick when the going got tough. 
  • In more touchy, feely good news, per Caps PR:
    The Capitals have donated $25,000 to the Potomac Valley Amateur Hockey Association (PVAHA) to help grow the sport of hockey, the Washington Capitals announced at a press event today. In addition, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Bauer Hockey have donated 108 full sets of youth hockey equipment to Kettler Capitals Iceplex and PVAHA.
    Cute.

Friday, September 02, 2011

New Look Divsion - Hurricanes

The Washington Capitals might have made the Southleast Division into one of the toughest divisions in the NHL. After winning the division title for the last 4 years (regular season eastern champs for the last two), the division is wising up and bettering their teams to make the playoff push. The influx of better talent into the division makes this year's division champ a toss up. But all the pundits agree, it is Washington's to lose.

Carolina Hurricanes:

The Hurricanes have been in a position to make the playoffs down the final few games of the season far too many times than they cared for. If they had just beaten the Lightning at home in game 82 last season, they would have been there. Instead, it's been a long summer. Not much changed for the 'Canes as they were pretty quiet at the free agency market. But the changes they did make seem more like minor adjustments to a struggling Eric Staal who Carolina would like to see him back in the 100 point range for next season.

Who's in: Alex Ponikarovsky, Anthony Stewart and Tim Brent signed on board to add some depth on the offense. The 'Canes resigned Joni Pitkanen after failing to draw bigger names in the free agent market. Also add free agent defensman Tomas Kaberle and back up netminder Brian Boucher.

Who's out: Eric Cole couldn't reach a deal to stay in Carolina, which has been the best place for him after he briefly played for Edmonton. Corey Stillman was also allowed to walk. Joe Corvo was traded for a draft pick to the Boston Bruins.

The 'Canes really had hoped to beef up their defensive squad. But instead seemed to have been stuck with what they got. After trying for Kevin Bieksa and Christian Erhoff, Carolina had to go back to Pitkanen. While they have a solid four blue liners in Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, McBain and Kaberle, the depth chart drops sharply after that. Unless they have some phenom rookie defenseman in the pipeline, look for the 'Canes to struggle all season with defensive talent.

They are really looking for solid second seasons from rookies Jamie McBain and Jeff Skinner. Both entering their sophomore years, the 'Canes are hoping some of the add-ons over the summer help accustom Staal and the youngsters to make a push for the playoffs. Ponikarovsky should add some offensive spark to replace the speedy Cole. It does not look like the 'Canes will have trouble generating some offense.

In net, they are solid. Cam Ward continues to be a consistent bright spot for the Hurricanes. Add in a capable back up in Brian Boucher who could steal a few games in relief. The 'Canes were below average on the power play and penalty kill last season (they were 24th and 20th respectively in the league). Both will need to improve for them to even consider the playoffs. Especially since the 'Canes have spent more time than any other team on the power play.

Caps Notes:
  • Tomas Vokoun's reported new mask is here, courtesy of I Love Goalies!. Some are already drawing similarities to Varly's mask. One thing is for sure, there is no nickname on the chin.
  • Enforcers are getting some acknowledgement for all the depressing reasons. Matt Hendricks and D.J. King shared their thoughts about the recent tragedies over the summer to the WaPo.
  • Alex Ovechkin will be in town, a few days more than he is used to. He is making a special announcement next week at Kettler. Maybe we get to see his six pack as proof he is in shape? Never know.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

New Look Division - Jets

The Washington Capitals might have made the Southleast Division into one of the toughest divisions in the NHL. After winning the division title for the last 4 years (regular season eastern champs for the last two), the division is wising up and bettering their teams to make the playoff push. The influx of better talent into the division makes this year's division champ a toss up. But all the pundits agree, it is Washington's to lose.

Atlanta Thrashers, eh hem, Winnipeg Jets (version 2.0):

They left town seemingly in the dead of the night. Those Dizzy Birds left Atlanta almost like it was no big deal (since the NHL has gone out of it's way to keep hockey in Phoenix, why they just didn't make the effort to keep it in Atlanta bogs the mind). But not only did the Winnipeg Jets bump the Capitals up a spot on the alphabetical scale (29 now baby, Whooo!) but they made the overlandish promise to bring a winning team north with them. Silly Jets.

Who's in:
Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd re-signed with the Jets. Eric Fehr traded from the Capitals for a draft pick and a Matt Cooke wannabe (Danick Paquette). Add Randy Jones, Tanner Glass and the late Rick Rypien.

Who's out:
Eric Boulton (Devils), Radek Dvorak (Stars), Rob Schremp (Europe) and Anthony Stewart ('Canes).

The Jets look to capitalize on trades made as Thrashers. Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd were the two players they will need to make any kind of push for playoff aspirations. The Jets, however, did change the overall feel of their hockey club. They will have returning goaltenders Ondrej Pavelec and back up Chris Mason. A good core of defensive pairings with the like of Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom and some great talent up front with Nik Antropov, Bryan Little and up and coming phenom Evander Kane.

The Jets have a lot of Stanley Cup experience with the additions of Blackhawk free agents last year, but couldn't turn that into any kind of success. With a new coaching staff and new city, the organization hopes the change will spark some success. The Jets did not make any knee-jerk reactions to off season free agency and look to build off of previous trade dumps over the last couple of years.

Claude Noel makes his NHL head coaching debut and is challenged with making the team gel quickly. A veteran coach at the AHL level, Noel has had success on the AHL, ECHL and IHL levels. Familiar with the area, he coached the Manitoba Moose and did a brief stint behind the Columbus bench as interim coach after the Blue Jackets fired Ken Hitchcock.

The Jets not only have to contend with a tough, new look division but travel will be an issue for them as they must play in a division that is geographically not very convenient to them. It will be a tough test for a team in new surroundings. How understanding are those new fans going to be?

Caps Notes:
  • Semin-gate (and we aren't talking about blue dresses): It seems the Canadien media is more obsessed about the recent comments about Alex Semin's lack of desire from former teammates than Caps fans are. Sadly, Caps fans are all too familiar with the lazy attitude of the Russian winger (like the time he was caught smoking cigarettes between periods outside Verizon Center when he was on the injury list). Japer's has a wonderful article about it all that pretty much dulls the shock of the comments that were made. Just old news.
  • George McPhee made a trip up Calgary way to have a sit down with Mike Green. Nick Backstrom happened to be there too attending Green's charity event. The meeting was casual according to TSN and the tone was serious. TSN video of Green's off season preparedness.
  • Sad summer indeed, another great article about those we have lost this summer from Japer's Rink. Also bad news about Marc Savard in the Bruins' camp, looks like the crafty forward may be out for this season and maybe done with the sport all together. Tough one.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Off Season Doldrums

In the words of an assistant coach, "Development camp is... development camp". It is no more or less of what you make of it. For the Capital brass, it is more about inventory. What do they have and what can they use down the line. Rosters are not set because of last week, and no eyebrows were really raised. Take from it what you want, but it is simply a gauge that some players will be measured at when fall camp takes place.

17 year old Garrett Haar turned heads with his play (what a fantastic first name too). It even compelled a general manager to call in a favor with Boston College to get the prospect a chance to continue his development at the NCAA level. Not bad. "Just have to have the right school come through for him here," George McPhee stated about Haar's development and the "I can neither confirm nor deny" way of telling the media he wants to see him improve in the NCAA.

Cody Eakin, the new dark horse to make the roster since pint sized Chris Bourque (who also returned to the organization this off season), had a pretty flat camp. That was to be expected since he played some pretty spectacular hockey just 5 weeks ago. "I think he will be ready in September," scoffed GMGM. Take that critics.

Caps new play thing from Sweden, Mattias Sjogren, looked out of sorts at times. It was to be expected from a European player faced with North American hockey up close and personal for the first time. Good thing he is taking this experience as a learning tool to prepare him for camp. "It is just about orientation," McPhee said of his summer signing Swede. "He has probably not been in too many games where they are hitting and scrapping like this."

The slew of other players did okay, or did alright. No one knocked the socks off the coaching staff. When the big boys come to town, one will see the difference between professional athletes and prospects that might never see the light of Hershey (Josh Godfrey ring a bell?).

What took most people by surprise was the gigantic red wall that was once white behind the stands at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. It took awhile to get used to it along with the team secondary eagle logo and "Home of the Washington Capitals" sprawled along the side. Just in case you did not know where you were.

It is more important for the fans in way than it is for the players or coaches. Fans will not see the red, white and blue for another month, month and a half as we have reached the dead zone for hockey in Washington DC. The long period where replays of the recent playoff stretch dominates the NHL Network and news travels the speed of print journalism.

Getting through this period of time takes a bit of patience and a little luck that the Washington Nationals are actually flirting with the idea of staying above the .500 mark for the rest of the season. The other is to talk hockey with friends and family or any one who will listen. I have had the same conversation 5 times with another hockey fan at work about Tomas Vokoun, and I am sure we will discuss it again this morning.

It sucks, but hold out hope. The season is not as far away as you might think and you have the bloggers who will speculate, the writers who will fact find, and Bruce Boudreau's ketchup smeared face on DVR recordings of 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic (oh, you didn't save those, bad fan!).

Friday, July 15, 2011

Alzner's In

The Washington Capitals wrapped up some RFA business by signing Karl Alzner to a two year contract. The estimated contract is worth $2.57 million ($1.3 this season, $1.27 next, cap hit just under $1.3 million). Per Wash Caps PR:
The Washington Capitals have re-signed defenseman Karl Alzner to a two-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“We are pleased to have re-signed Karl Alzner to a two-year contract,” said McPhee. “We feel he’s an important part of our defensive core who logs critical minutes against other teams’ top players.”

Alzner, 22, recently completed his first full season in the NHL, playing in all 82 games with the Capitals and posting career highs in goals (two), assists (10), points (12), penalty minutes (24) and plus/minus (+14). His 132 blocked shots were third on the team while his 98 hits were tied for seventh. Alzner was one of just three NHL defenseman aged 22 and younger to play in all 82 regular-season games. In addition, he ranked sixth on the team in average time on ice per game (20:00). The Burnaby, British Columbia, native recorded an assist in nine playoff games and was tied for second on the team with 20 blocked shots.

From 2008 through 2010, Alzner appeared in 103 AHL games with the Hershey Bears, collecting 41 points (seven goals, 34 assists) and a plus-57 rating while helping lead the team to the 2010 Calder Cup championship.

A two-time gold medalist at the IIHF World Junior Championship with Canada, Alzner captained the Canadian team in 2007-08 and was named one of the team’s top three players by the coaching staff. Alzner also represented Canada in the 2007 Canada/Russia Super Series and played for the WHL team in the 2006 Canada-Russia Challenge.

The 6’3”, 206-pound blueliner collected 117 points (19 goals, 98 assists) in 260 games with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League (WHL) from 2004-2008 and was named the WHL Player of the Year and Defenseman of the Year in 2007-08.

Alzner was drafted by Washington in the first round (5th overall) of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Just When You Figured GM Out...

The Washington Capitals looked like they had goaltending set. But George McPhee thought bringing in some veteran presence wouldn't hurt either. The Caps sign Tomas Vokoun to a one year contract worth $1.5 million. Vokoun, rumored to be traded at the deadline last year to the Capitals now signs a contract with them.

"We are excited to add an elite veteran goaltender to the Capitals," said McPhee. "We now have a nice blend of talent, depth, experience and youth in the goaltending position."

Drafted in 1994 by the Montreal Canadiens, he was a long time Nashville Predator then Florida Panther. He is a goaltender the Capitals know well in the three games he played against them, he won all three with a .969 save percentage and a .98 GAA. Vokoun had a shutout streak of 142:04 last year to start the season.

Vokoun is a solid goaltender who seems to thrive on big games and plays tougher teams tough. But when things go wrong, they go wrong in a hurry for the 34 year old goaltender.

The Capitals looked like they were going to lean hard on their youth when they traded the rights to Russian goaltender Semyon Varlamov to Colorado for a pair of picks in next year's draft. McPhee instead brought in some proven backstopping in Vokoun to fill the gap left by Varly. 

Caps Notes:
  • Capitals also signed another player that has played for them in Chris Bourque. Bourque spent last season with two teams in the KHL and has been signed to a 1 year contract.
  • Matt Bradley signed with the Florida Panthers with a 2 year deal. Bradley will join former Caps Jose Theodore and Tomas Fleischmann.
  • Roman Hamrlik addressed the media via conference call and he talked about his time dwindling in the NHL.
    “It’s a really good team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup,” Hamrlik said. “The decision was clearly made. The money was not an issue. I’m not getting any younger and I really like that team. We played against [the Caps] in the playoffs and always watch them play, and it’s an honor to play for the Washington Capitals."

Friday, July 01, 2011

McPhee Flys Through Free Agency

The Washington Capitals' general manager George McPhee is a pretty simple kind of team builder. He pushed through NHL drafts stockpiling his farm team as he goes. When a hole opens up, he simply looks down his depth chart in Hershey and systematically fills positions with players he has observed and players he knows well. Very rarely has he gone outside that system unless there is a missing piece that needs replacing.

It was really no different in this year's free agency. Faced with a series of gaps in his team, McPhee simply looked to what he needed and focused on the players he wanted. He didn't jeopardize what he had built through countless good draft picks and trades in which he acquired youth and talent in a way that benefited the team he was molding.

He had some holes, mainly at the center position. With Boyd Gordon likely to test the market, McPhee didn't wait around and pulled the trigger to sign Jeff Halpern, a player he knows well, to a one year $825,000 contract (basically for rock bottom price). Too bad for Halpern they retired #11 for Mike Gartner.

McPhee also brought in a gritty, hard working forward in Joel Ward from Nashville. Ward was signed to a four year deal reportedly at $3 million a season. He amassed 29 points in 80 games this season, but his playoff numbers were fantastic with seven goals, six assists in 12 games played. GMGM brings in a fast skater and hard nose forward to the table in Ward.

There was some question on the blue line for the Capitals last season, so McPhee addressed that through free agency by resigning Sean Collins and signing Roman Hamrlik to a two year, $7 million deal. Hamrlik (a possible trade deadline chase for the Capitals in March), had 29 assists last season and was the Canadiens shut down guy. Hamrlik was fourth last season in blocked shots (192) and led the team in February in points (9, tied with 3 others), assists (9, led all NHL defensemen) and blocked shots (35).

McPhee also had a tough choice to make in goaltender. Semyon Varlamov was traded to free up the traffic jam of goaltenders caught in the Caps farm system. Varly spent a good portion of the season fighting for the number one spot with Michal Neuvirth. But injuries kept him out of the line up and there are rumors he will forgo the NHL to return to Russia to play in the KHL. McPhee traded the goaltender to at least get something in return. Which was Colorado's first round pick in 2012's draft and a second round pick in either '12 or '13.

This allows the Capitals to call up Braden Holtby, who is starting to show some promise, to fill the role of back up or even fight Neuvirth for the number one spot. The jam of good goaltenders through out the system made it difficult to pick a clear winner, but McPhee cleared up the mess and got something worthwhile for it in the end.

On a grading scale:

Signed Roman Hamrlik, 2 years $7 million: A+

Signed Jeff Halpern, 1 year $825,000: C

Signed Joel Ward, 4 year $12 million: B

Acquired 1st round draft pick '12, 2nd round in '12 or '13 for Semyon Varlamov: A

A busy day for George McPhee. But he did make his team much better. Add the re-signing of Brooks Laich and the trade for Troy Brouwer, the Caps are looking to make things uncomfortable in the Eastern Conference.

Caps Notes:
  • Hershey had a minor signing of Ryan Polutny and Matthew Ford. Both most likely will stay with the Bears for the season. 
  • Former Capitals Jose Theodore, Nolan Yonkman and Tomas Fleischmann have returned to the Southeast Division with the Florida Panthers organization.
  • Phoenix Coyotes signed Boyd Gordon to a 2 year $2.65 million contract.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Laich'n It

I guess we can stop trending Brooks Laich's name on twitter and endless blog post on whether we should keep him or dump him, because the Washington Capitals have resigned him to a 6 year contract (people who get flat tires after game 7 enter cheers here).

Per Caps PR:
ARLINGTON, VA. – The Washington Capitals have re-signed center Brooks Laich to a six-year contract, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today. In keeping with club policy, financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
 
“We are very pleased to have Brooks Laich continue his career as a Washington Capital,” said McPhee. “Brooks has excelled as one of the League’s finer two-way players and is just entering his prime. His combination of size, speed, versatility and leadership makes him a valuable part of our club.”
 
Laich, 28, finished fourth on the Capitals in points (48), fifth in goals (16) and third in assists (32) while posting a plus-14 plus/minus rating and collecting 46 penalty minutes. For the third time in his career, he played in all 82 of Washington’s regular-season games and finished second on the Caps with 207 shots on goal. In addition, Laich closed out the 2010-11 campaign fifth on the team in hits (113) and won 51.3 percent of his faceoffs. He scored his 100th career NHL goal on Mar. 15 at Montreal and finished second on the team in points during the playoffs (7) while leading the Caps with six postseason assists in nine games. Laich also finished first amongst Capitals forwards in average shorthanded ice time per game (2:18) and was instrumental in leading the Caps penalty kill unit that ranked second in the NHL during the regular season.      
 
“I’m thrilled to make the commitment to remain a Capital,” said Laich. “It is a wonderful organization with terrific fans and I’m very happy to continue to call Washington home for many years to come.”
 
The 6’2”, 215-pound center set career-highs in goals (25), assists (34) and points (59) during the 2009-10 season and scored 20 or more goals in three straight seasons from 2007-2010. In 475 career regular-season games, Laich has recorded 237 points (100 goals, 137 assists) and is a plus-14. In 37 career playoff games, he has tallied seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points.
 
The Wawota, Saskatchewan, native is second among active Capitals players in franchise games played (474), fifth in points (237), third in goals (100) and fifth in assists (137). Laich is 15th amongst his 2001 draft class in points but is one of only three players in the top 15 to be drafted later than the third round.
 
Laich was a sixth-round draft pick (193rd overall) by Ottawa in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. He was acquired from Ottawa along with the Senators’ second-round draft pick in 2005 (traded to Colorado) and future considerations for Peter Bondra on Feb. 18, 2004.