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
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
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

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).