Thursday, January 31, 2013

Caps Make AHL Trade

The Capitals and Hersey Bears make a pair of trades at the AHL level. First, per Capitals' PR:

The Washington Capitals have acquired forward Casey Wellman from Florida in exchange for center Zach Hamill, vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Wellman, 25, has recorded 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 37 games this season with San Antonio of the American Hockey League (AHL). He ranked third in points on San Antonio at the time of the trade. The Brentwood, Calif., native has tallied 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 41 NHL games with Minnesota from 2009-2012, and has recorded 105 points (44 goals, 61 assists) in 136 career AHL games with Houston, Connecticut and San Antonio.

The 6’0”, 185-pound forward was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Minnesota in March 2010. He spent two seasons at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) and compiled 78 points (34 goals, 44 assists) in 75 games and was named to the NCAA Hockey East All-Rookie Team in 2009 and the Hockey East All-Academic Team in 2010.

Hamill has registered 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 40 games this season with Hershey (AHL).

Second, the Bears acquired forward Peter LeBlanc from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forward Mathieu Beaudoin.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Caps Fall Apart

Capitals 2, Senators 3
Game Summary - Event Summary

It started well enough. The Washington Capitals were playing with a bit of confidence off their home winner against Buffalo. They would jump out to a 2-0 lead in the first period. But it would not last, and the Ottawa Senators would defeat the Capitals by scoring three unanswered goals, including a late power play tally. The Caps would blow their lead and lose the game 3-2.

Troy Brouwer scored on a nice little dish from Wotjek Wolski. His back hand saucer pass found Brouwer cutting to the front of the net and number 20 put it on his back hand to beat Craig Anderson stick side. Matt Hendricks scored just under five minutes later as the power play just finished for the Capitals. The offense took adavantage of the brief scramble for position by Ottawa as they returned to full strength. John Erskine kept the puck alive at the blue line and found Jay Beagle with a nifty pass. Beagle shot it at the net and it Hendricks tipped it in.

Given about a five minute span from the end of the second period and the beginning of the first, the Capitals allowed the Senators to climb back into the game. Ottawa scored late in the second period after some good offensive zone pressure by the Caps, but a sharp break out by the Sens and some poor back checking got Ottawa on the board. Followed by a quick goal early in the third off the face off where it looked like no one was quite ready for Milan Michalek's backhander that beat an unsuspecting Neuvirth.

The killer was a tough call late in the third period by the officials. Joel Ward took a swipe at a bouncing puck to shoot the biscuit deep. The follow through hit an Ottawa defender in the face and Ward was called for the high stick penalty. A tough call for the Capitals who would eventually allow the game winner power play goal in off a point shot by Sergei Gonchar deflected in front by a Caps player.

The Caps made a last ditch effort to tie the game and pulled Neuvirth with over a minute left. Mike Ribeiro scooped up the loose puck after some break downs by Ottawa in their own zone. Ribeiro was all alone on Anderson when he shot it right into the big goaltenders chest. It was the Capitals last opportunity to tie the game, snuffed out by Ottawa's net minder. 

What looked like a great game played by the Capitals was spoiled by some lapses in system late in the second period and for moments in the third. Just when they were getting the hang of it, the Capitals stopped moving their feet. Because of that, they had to retreat to a defensive shell. Instead of pressing the play, they were on their heels and Ottawa gained slow momentum from that.

The Capitals power play showed signs of more movement yet. It showed they are getting more confident in the power play system and they are showing better signs of creativity. On the last Caps' PP, they found success finding the open man only to see Alex Ovechkin pull a one timer and Brouwer break a stick on an open shot. The power play shows potential and with a little time, the players will adapt and play off one another.

The penalty kill just came up one goal short. It just happened to be the game winner.

There are plenty of silver linings to this tale of woe for the Capitals. If nothing else, games like these are sometimes the best teachers to correct problems. It is still an early season and it will be a work in progress for the Capitals. Games like this shows the potential of what the Caps can become, and shows the hardship when they get away from the basics of moving your feet, playing smart and playing as a team.

Caps Notes:
  • A good number of shots on net from the Caps originated at the blue line. Defenseman Mike Green led all Capitals with 5 shots on net, followed by John Carlson with 4.
  • John Erskine led all skaters with 8 hits.
  • Michal Neuvirth was 4-0-0 against the Senators coming into tonight's game with a 1.56 goals against average and a .945 save percentage in five career games. He played solid again tonight, but the team in front of him let him down with a few breakdowns and mental lapses.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"It Was Better"

Capitals 3, Sabres 2
Game Summary - Event Summary

A game of firsts. Alex Ovechkin's first goal of the season, head coach Adam Oates' first win as Caps' bench boss, John Erskine's first goal since May 4, 2011 (in came in the playoffs against Tampa), and it was the Washington Capitals first win of the 2012-2013 season. The Caps improve to 1-3-1 with a 3-2 regulation win over the Buffalo Sabres.

"Today I thought we played a pretty complete game," said Jason Chimera of the win.  "Neuvy played really well for us; he made some big saves for us. The power play got us one, which is huge"

The Buffalo Sabres would start the scoring off with a neutral zone turnover that made the Verizon Center faithful cringe. John Carlson, who has had a rough start to his season, coughed the puck up in just on the other side of the Caps defensive blue line. Drew Stafford picked up the loose puck, found a break Steve Ott on the wing who found the trailing Tyler Ennis breaking down the middle. A juke move that put Michal Neuvirth on his heals and the Sabres had the 1-0 lead.

But the Capitals didn't fold, or look exasperated following the Sabres goal. They stuck to their guns and rifled away three straight goals over three periods. Joel Ward scored his third of the season when Jason Chimera took a sharp angle shot at the goal line, the puck hit the net and skittered to the front to a waiting Ward. Big Erskine scored his goal by making a nice move on the blue line to avoid the shot blocker, his wrister skipped off of a Sabres defender and slipped past the Sabres' net minder Ryan Miller. Ovechkin scored on the power play. His first of the year was a pretty one timer from a Mike Green feed.

"He obviously could have had a couple in the first, and had a chance in the second," Oates said of Ovechkin's scoring chances. "He scored a big goal for us, and then could have had an empty netter. So I hope he would look at it like 'yeah, I had a lot of good chances.'"

It was a much better overall game for the Capitals this season. Some signs the new Oates system is starting to take shape are becoming more apparent. Players are better recognizing where their teammates are and the players seem to be finding their legs. It also helped that the Sabres were with out there top scorer Thomas Vanek who did not play.

The Capitals special teams turned the corner this afternoon. On the penalty kill, the Caps did a much better job picking up the right assignments. They also helped their cause by not taking penalties. The Sabres were 0-2 with the extra man.

"It was better," Oates said of the PK.  "I think we’ve had a couple of tough bounces, 5-on-3 goals are different. Our rebounds [were] bouncing over guys’ sticks whereas today they hit our guys’ sticks and we got a clear out of it."

While on the power play, the Capitals finally found a way to get Ovechkin the puck. After going 0-2 themselves, they had a chance on the power play in the third to find that off wing one timer. Green found him, and Ovi put it away. A big goal which would become the game winner.

Neuvirth is playing like he wants that number one job. And at the moment, there is no sign of him relinquishing that spot. Neuvy was dynamite today, making some solid saves, cutting down on rebounds and picking shots off with this glove. He made probably the save of the game early in the third period. The Caps were clinging to a 2-1 lead when a turn over led to a series of break downs in the defensive zone. Tyler Myers made a nifty pass from behind the net to an open Mikhail Grigorenko. The rookie tried to pull it around Neuvirth, but the goaltender flashed his right pad out in time and made the spectacular save.

While this is a great win for the Capitals, they now hit the road for Tuesday and Thursday night games. There are still some problem areas to clean up, like the sometime sloppy play in the neutral zone and better overal passing needs to improve.

Caps Notes:
  • The Capitals are 9-0-0 when Erskine scores in regular season play. 
  • Marcus Johansson, Tom Poti and Roman Hamrlik were the healthy scratches for this afternoon's game. Poti and Hamrlik are sitting out their second straight game.
  • It was the 56th career game winning goal for Ovechkin.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Horseshoes And Hand Grenades

Capitals 2, Devils 3 OT
Game Summary - Event Summary

It looked as if the Washington Capitals' string of bad luck would continue. But some late help from the Devils by taking a few penalties themselves helped the Capitals crawl back in. It would go to overtime and the Caps would fall to the New Jersey Devils in the extra frame 3-2.

"Everybody worked for sixty minutes," head coach Adam Oates said. "We played a much much better hockey game."

Mike Ribeiro got his first goal as a Washington Capital when the Devils took some bad penalties midway through the third period. On a long 5 on 3, Ribeiro finished off a nice tic-tac-toe play from Joel Ward and Mike Green. Green would complete the regulation come back with his tying goal just over three minutes to play.

"Even though we lost, it was a good game for us to see how we are supposed to play to win," Ribeiro said of the positives. "By doing that, I think I will play better and other guys will step up and play better."

Now showing some competitive signs of life, the Capitals still have a long way to go. They would fall behind by more than a goal again by taking some dumb penalties. They would once again find themselves down two men when the Devils already had a 1-0 lead. The Capitals have yet to kill off a 5 on 3 this season, tonight was no different.

Martin Brodeur looked like he could add another notch on his shut out bed post. The Devils though took a series of bad penalties that killed their momentum in the third period. It would lead to a long two man advantage that the second unit capitalized on. Ribeiro's first goal of the game was a nice tape to tape from Green and Ward. They would have a second opportunity to score with an extra two men, but the Devils did a good job killing off the remaining penalties.

Michal Neuvirth was lights out fantastic in this tilt. When the defensive break downs occurred, even when the Caps were on the power play, Neuvirth came up with the big stop. He turned aside more than a couple break away chances and kept his team in it for 60 minutes. He would be beat by a defensive breakdown in overtime that left Ilya Kovalchuk wide open on the far side.

"He played great, both goaltenders played great," said Oates of his thoughts on Neuvirth. "He really gave us a chance."

The Capitals would work off that momentum to create some headaches for the Devils' defensemen. After a few bad give aways, Green had three shots in a row before finally beating Brodeur on the stick side and sending the game to overtime.

Oates did mix up his lines. He had Joey Crabb, Jay Beagle and Alex Ovechkin starting on a line together. In an effort to find chemistry, the head coach wasn't afraid to blow up lines when given the chance. He also healthy scratched Mathieu Perreault, Tom Poti and Roman Hamrlik. That opened spots for Eric Fehr and John Erskine. 

The Caps' special teams still needs work. The penalty kill was at times brilliant in the overtime period. Down to a 4 on 3, with the combination of some timely saves by Neuvirth and some good work to detail by the defenders, the Caps tried to build off of that momentum in overtime. At other times, there were still problems with players picking up their assignments correctly that led to the 5 on 3 goal in the second period.

The power play still needs some tweaking. While the 1-3-1 is being strictly adhered to by the Capitals, there seems to be elements missing from the extra man attack. While the passing at times is erratic and sloppy, they players seem content not to move too much from their positions to create movement with the PP. It is still a work in progress.

There is a moral victory here for the Capitals. A light at the end of the tunnel that says if you stick with the system, you will be rewarded. As players start to feel more comfortable with their roles it will be easier for the team to transition to a sloppy brand of play to a more cohesive unit. It is a loss, but there is much to grow on.

Caps Notes:
  • Mike Green's first points of the year, an assist on Ribeiro's power play goal and the game tying goal. 
  • Peter DeBoer, Devils head coach, admitted he might have said something to the officials to earn the extra unsportsmanlike penalty that put the Devils down two men twice in the third. 
  • The Capitals were the last team in the NHL to earn a standings point. It is also the first game a Caps' player earned a star of the game. Green was given the game's second star.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Getting Nowhere Fast

Capitals 1, Canadiens 4
Game Summary - Event Summary

From bad, to ugly, to scary, the Washington Capitals are falling down a hole in only the third game of the season. Panic buttons sought after and pushed. The woes continue for the boys in red as they are manhandled in their third game in a row by the Montreal Canadiens 4-1.

Joey Crabb scored the lone Capitals goal. It came at just over two and half minutes play in the third period to break up Carey Price's shut-out.

The Capitals are off to their worst start since the '93-'94 season. If you are looking for silver linings, the dark clouds seem to be growing at a rate to over look the bright spot. While it is not the end of the world, there does need to see some sort of improvement. Just some quick points on the Caps loss.
  • Michal Neuvirth looked good through the first period. You can't really blame him for the four goals given up tonight, much like you could not fault Braden Holtby in the previous two games.
  • The Capitals' PK is terrible. There is just no nice way of saying it. And it's simple mistakes that are leading to goals with a man down. Defenders turning their back on plays, making the wrong read on plays developing in front of them. Making those corrections just comes with time, a luxury the Caps do not have. 
  • The Capitals' PP fares no better. The Caps were 0-4 tonight and what ever play they could muster, the shots seemed to be snuffed by a sprawling defender or Price was able to make the easy save. Lack of movement seems apparent on the new power play system.
  • Mathieu Perreault complained about his ice time, so coach Adam Oates gave him more time. Matty P seemed to add a spark through the night and at times had a few good looks at the net. That is a player rewarding his coach for giving him more ice time.
  • If you are looking for heart, Matt Hendricks has an Aorta the size of the Washington Monument. He fights, he hits, and he has scored. Hendricks might not have been on the scoring end tonight, but his hard work, tenacity and overall hockey sense makes him, thus far, this team's MVP.
  • Adam Oates said it. The Capitals are a "fragile" team right now. It showed. After the 5 on 3 goal and the following Habs PP goal, the Caps just looked beat. Body language spoke volumes following Montreal's two goal lead. Hanging heads, team mates not speaking on the bench, it looked as ugly as it was.
  • The line juggling in this game reeked of desperation on the behalf of the Caps' coaching staff. Alex Ovechkin started on the right wing, but moved back to his familiar left wing spot. Not that any of that juggling helped much. Ovi's move back to left wing was done in the hopes to get him going.
No time to dwell, Caps face Devils tomorrow night at "The Rock".

Caps Notes:
  • The Capitals are the only team in the Eastern Conference with out a standings point. Both Carolina and Philadelphia were the last hold outs, and both won their games tonight. If the LA Kings win or tie tonight, the Capitals will be the only team in the NHL with out points. Setting the bar high.
  • The tandem of Carl Alzner and John Carlson was broken up for the third period, at the mention of breaking the pair up by Alzner to the coaching staff between periods. The coaching staff obliged and Alzner played with Hamrlik to start the third.
  • The Habs broke a 6 game losing streak against the Capitals with their win tonight.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Home Opener A Dud

Capitals 2, Jets 4
Game Summary - Event Summary

NHL finally has returned to Washington DC's Chinatown. It is too bad the Capitals did not show up for the occasion. The growing pains of a new system seams to much to handle for the Capitals and the shortened season is making the urgency to correct mistakes has upped to critical. Caps drop their home opener and have yet to win a game to the Winnipeg Jets 4-2.

Matt Hendricks finished off a brilliant tic-tac-oops play. Alex Ovechkin found Nick Backstrom who quick passed it to a waiting Hendricks in front of the net. The pass from Backstrom hit Hendricks in the skate then off what looked like his shin and stick to plop in behind Ondrej Pavelec. It gave the Caps the early lead and a good start. Troy Brouwer got on the scoresheet late as the Jets took a late penalty. The power play finally nets a point for the Capitals, but too little too late.

Winnipeg took advantage of two early power play goals, coupled with a few lucky bounces and scored 4 straight goals to put the Caps on ice. What ever fight was left in the Capitals left with the early sold out crowd that looked for exits half way through the third period. There was no sustained attack by the Capitals whether it was power play or 5 on 5, it was a team just standing around.

The Capitals were thoroughly man-handled in the second period giving up a pair of goals on twenty shots by the Jets. In fact through the first two periods, the Capitals were out shot 33-17. Winnipeg peppered shots on Holtby and the lucky bounces went their way as they took a 4-1 lead into the second intermission.  

If you are looking for some positives, look no further than Hendricks. He scored the first goal of the game, then as the team deteriorated he picks a fight with Jim Slater at the end of the second period and danced with Chris Thorburn in the third period. Hendy has been so far the bright spot for the Caps in these last two games. His hard work ethic and ability to be a spark offensively or defensively has been a plus.  

The Capitals power play certainly needs some more work. While it showed signs of promise tonight, the overall effect is not one of pressure or gaining momentum. It more played out as a measured attempt at a system newly taught. The Caps are certainly feeling every bump in the road as they assimilate to this new season.

Oh that penalty kill came back to haunt the Capitals again. The Jets were right off the bat 2 for 2 in their power plays in the first period. It forced the Caps to play a more conservative brand of hockey for fear of getting penalized. The Jets from there controlled the pace and the physicality that the Caps just could not match as the game wore on.

Braden Holtby did his part. Often left in the cold by his "stand around and watch" defense, Holtby did make a few great saves that later translated to opportunities on the other end. But the Caps just couldn't play cohesively enough in front of him. Unlucky bounces and some sloppy defense made it another rough night for the Capitals net minder. 

Just as in the Tampa game, the Capitals did not look very sharp. Miscommunication, bad passes and sloppy zone play came to haunt them. And instead of seeing any kind of fight from the boys in red, there was a slow passiveness that was uncharacteristic of the team's past. They lost puck battles on the boards, made simple mistakes, were caught standing around and were beaten to loose pucks. In time these things can be tightened up, tweaked and revamped. But time is a luxury the Caps can not afford. They now have let four points go in their division to their rivals. 

Is there time to right the ship, of course. But the way this team is playing, the short season might be a mercy blessing in disguise.

Caps Notes:
  • Brooks Laich may return to practice with the team as early as tomorrow. But the coaching staff doesn't want to rush the injured forward back into the line up. Laich injured his groin playing overseas.
  • Mike Ribeiro was the recipient of a couple of missed high sticking calls off face offs and on the PK. Ribeiro kept on the officials until he was finally penalized a two minute minor and a 10 minute misconduct for unsportsmanlike conduct. Like lemon juice in a paper cut.
  • Head coach Adam Oates blamed the lack of energy from poor conditioning. "They didn't have much in the tank." I see sweating to the oldies in the Caps near future.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Caps Fall In Season Opener

Capitals 3, Lightning 6
Game Summary - Event Summary

Okay, let us go through the list of excuses. It is a new system. There was really no time to effectively implement said system. It is a work in progress. But a loss is a loss. The Washington Capitals failed to take two points from a divisional rival as the Lightning down the Caps in their season opener 6-3.

"I think some of the mistakes came from conditioning," said head coach Adam Oates of the loss. "We got tired at times, the game went in waves. I think some of the penalties in the third period, you can't really give them a five-on-three to start the third period. That obviously hurt us."

The Capitals got off to a good enough start. Two power plays right off the hop as Ryan Malone and Brian Lee took early penalties. But the Lightning would strike first with a point shot from Eric Brewer that beat Braden Holtby. Joel Ward would even the score with a late power play goal, but it didn't take long for the Lightning to regain the lead.

A complete break down in the defensive zone lead to a Vincent Lacavalier goal passed a sprawling Holtby. Ward would answer the call again as a quick rush up the ice with John Carlson led to a Bolts' delayed penalty. Not quitting on the play, Ward crashed the net and the puck ended up past the giant Anders Lindback to tie the game up at 2 a piece.

That is when Tampa's power play woke up. They would once again retain the lead when Marty St. Louis stuffed a back door pass from Lecavalier. As the Capitals landed in penalty trouble down the stretch, a four on four goal where new comers Mike Ribeiro fed a nice pass to Wotjek Wolski for his first goal as a Capital. It would tie the game up going into the second intermission.

But the third period did not fare well for the Caps' penalty kill. They allowed two more power play goals by the lightning and a bad break down by the Capitals defense made it a rough night. Conditioning was also a contributing factor according to Oates as the Caps seemed to lose steam as the game wore on.

"A lot of little mistakes, to be expected," Said Oates of his impression of the game. "And a little bit of conditioning; we got a little tired at times."

As predicted by Oates, the Capitals were sloppy and disheveled in his coaching debut. The Caps learning a new system on the fly cost them points early on, but as more games are played how this team will do under the new system will better take form.

"It's tough," Oates said of his team's chemistry. "It's going to take the guys a while. And we've talked about that, and hopefully we can win enough games until it becomes automatic. Tonight wasn't our night, but there's a lot of positives in the game and we'll talk about that on Monday."

The Capitals' power play could have capitalized early with the chances the Lightning gave them. Double that missed opportunities with the number of penalties the Caps took from lazy stick work, and the Caps were looking at a rough night with a potent power play facing them. The penalty kill was less than stellar, but give the Lightning as many opportunities as the Caps did with soft penalties bad things will happen.

There are no do overs for the Capitals, they are playing for points now. The learning curve will have to be quick. They have two days before the home opener Tuesday night. It should be enough time for the coaches to put video in front of the Caps and work out the kinks.

Caps Notes:
  • Jack Hillen was injured when he was taken out by Lacavalier who was not penalized for the hit. He did not return after the hit.
  • Tom Poti made his official return to the ice as a Cap. After missing almost two years, the veteran defenseman did not see a lot of ice time, but did get an assist on Ward's first goal.
  • Matt Hendricks and Troy Brouwer were the only centers over 50% on draws (Hendy 6-6 100%, Brouwer 6 -10 60%).

NHL Hockey Is Back... Finally

Just about 4 months of missed NHL action and it is finally here. A NHL season. It may only be 48 games, but it is better than sitting out for four months rather than 12, or longer. And tonight is the night. The Washington Capitals will start on the road taking on the Tampa Bay Lightning. Hockey is back in DC.

I had to go back and look at my season's previews that I saved, only to realize I did not save them. Bummer. And since everything seems to happen last minute, why don't we condense a season preview of the 2013 season for the Capitals. I will throw in some interesting tidbits and what ever is left over, I will find a link for you to follow. Deal?

Short Season

The lockout accomplished one thing, it will be a sprint to the playoffs. With only 48 games on the docket, teams will have to push to keep up with points early and often. The Caps are no different, and in a division where it seemed everyone got some talent it is going to be important to take a few points from your own division.

There is good news however, the Capitals will make a return to some aggressive offensive play. Adam Oates' new system will allow for the Caps to use an aggressive forecheck and let the defensemen jump in the play when the conditions warrant it. It is a system that seems to be more in tune with the personnel the Caps have this year. Unlike Hunter's defense first philosophy, the Caps will have some opportunity to attack in the offensive zone.

Savior of the Power Play

You probably have heard a 1-3-1 being tossed around on the blogs about the Capitals new power play system. Like Japer's Rink, Dump 'n Chase and Peerless to name a few. Until we see it in action, there doesn't seem to be a way to gauge if it will work or not.

For the Capitals, their system under Bruce Boudreau depended heavily on the power play. It allowed the team open space 5 on 5 and they took full advantage of teams not wanting to in any way take a penalty. But when the power play faltered so too did the offensive production at even strength. Teams found away to better defend the Caps potent offensive strife as well as played much tighter on snipers like Alex Semin and Alex Ovechkin with out worry that if they took a penalty, their team could kill it off.

Oates' system will depend on the power play somewhat, but he also wants his players to make better reads. A thinking offensive player is better than a head first into the zone then work it out approach makes better sense with the players Oates has to work with.

Get It Gone

Capitals sort of revamped the back end defensively speaking. Calle Johansson, assistant coach and former Caps D-man, has the boys getting the puck out of the zone quickly. The faster the puck is out, the more on the heels the Caps can have their opponents in transition. This requires a lot of work for the defensmen and the center who have to find outlets for the puck. Passes out of the zone to wingers or dumps off the glass, the Capitals will be looking to getting the puck out of their zone as quickly as possible.

Now that strategy could change game to game, but the overall scheme the Caps want is a quick transition game. How that will work with Tampa's infamous 1-3-1 trap, we will find out tonight.


Braden Holtby might get the start in net tonight against the Bolts. But the way Oates is going to be handling his goaltenders, there really isn't a number one or number two. 

"In my mind I think both guys are going to play a lot," Oates said of his goaltending pair. "There is going to be a lot of back to backs, it is going to be a different schedule, so I'd imagine both guys would get a lot of hockey."

Michal Neuvirth and Holtby will be tag teaming a lot of games. Especially the seven back to back games on this schedule. Riding the hot hand may be tough to do during the season, but the playoffs are another beast all together. So we will leave that beast for later.

Both goaltenders won't be taking any ego hits because of the way Oates plans to use the tandem. Both seem ready to accept their roles together.

"The one thing that is certain," Holtby said, "is that we will both be needed and be needed to win games in order to make the playoffs and put ourselves in a good position." 

It's Poti Time

It seemed like an unlikely return. Most of us had written him off. In fact you would have to go back nearly a year and a half for in this blog to even see his name mention (with out bringing up the salary cap). Tom Poti may make his long awaited return to the ice for the Washington Capitals tonight. It would mark an outstanding return for a player that has not seen NHL action in nearly two years.

You can read about his amazing journey back to the Capitals on Mike Vogel's Dump 'N Chase. Short story was Poti thought he just had a recurring groin injury, turned out to be a fractured pelvis. He keeps in shape, works out a plan to return, spent some time in Hershey (2 games) and has made the opening night roster. Uh, Bill Masterton trophy anyone?

What Needs To Be Done

All aspects of their offensive numbers, 5 on 5, power play, shoot out, empty net, needs to improve over this 48 game schedule.

If the Capitals want to return to the playoffs and make it deep once they get there, some key points will need to be addressed for it to happen. The overall census though is for the Capitals to return to being an offensive power house. What was once praised for their creative, explosive and consistent goal scoring prowess, needs to make a return for the Capitals to do well.

Ovechkin numbers need to improve, and Oates seems to have a plan for that. He has moved him to the right wing to open the wingers vision to more of the ice. Ovi, a right handed shot, had been playing left wing. Normally a scorer of his magnitude, being a right handed shot on the left side makes it easier for one to cut into the center of the ice and have your shot on the forehand. By moving him on the opposite side, Ovi will have better protection of the puck and a quicker release with out having to pull the puck back to his forehand side. Got it?

While we talk of offensive numbers improving, the team overall has to play with much better cohesion. That does not just mean chemistry through the lines, but also how the team moves as a unit transitioning from offense to defense and back again. Wingers have to get back, centermen have to cover defensemen on the defensive side, while the green light is given to defensemen to jump up in the play, creating odd man situations and more open reads for wingers looking to pass to open players.


Mike Ribeiro will play an important role in that second line setup to complete the one two punch. The second line has to support the top line with goals as well, something that has been thus far inconsistent for the Capitals. A crafty centerman, his talents will also be helpful on the Caps' power play.

Wojtek Wolski should add some stability to that second line as well. He will also bring some pizzazz to the shootout, an important part of the new NHL and important for the Caps in this shortened season to grab points where they can.

Final Thoughts

This is actually a very exciting time for the Washington Capitals. New coach, new system, new players infused with the old standards will make for an interesting season. Can it translate to wins? Can the Capitals finally make some headway in the playoffs? All of those questions will be answered staring with game one tonight against Tampa. As hockey pundits put it, we won't know until we play the games.

But no one, not even the coaching staff, is going to think a Stanley Cup is anywhere in the Caps near future. Oates admitting himself the first game of the season will be a sloppy mess. That is to be expected coming out of the blocks this way.

Players playing to their potential, should give Caps fans something to cheer and look forward to. After all, we waiting four months for this. Now it is here. NHL hockey is back.

Caps Notes:
Finally, Let's Go Caps

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Year Of The Back-up Goaltender

Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth sharing duties.
One week training camp, zero preseason games and a forty-eight game schedule makes for a tough challenge for any team to have a successful season and make the playoffs. Of the key factors teams will face this shortened season will be the net minders. With the many schedules that are cramped into this 48 game span, a large number of teams will be faced with 7 to 8 back to back games. It will be key for the back up goaltender to steal a few points here and there for his team.

Rather than looking at it as a number one and number two, the Washington Capitals seem content to share the duties of goaltender on their young talents Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Both have been capable number one goaltenders for the Capitals in the past. This season, the Caps have seven back to back night games and head coach Adam Oates seems ready to have the goaltending duties shared by both net minders.

"In my mind I think both guys are going to play a lot," Oates said of his goaltending pair. "There is going to be a lot of back to backs, it is going to be a different schedule, so I'd imagine both guys would get a lot of hockey."

"The way the season is going to come it is going to call for both of us to be playing well," Holtby said of the shared duties the tandem will see this season.  "I have no idea if there will be a number one or a number two."

The sentiment of both goaltenders being used seems to be radiating around the league. Teams might have an advantage if they can get their goaltending duties split and get consistent results doing that, especially if their back up can steal a game or two in that capacity. It has even lead to some early strategy by teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins who plan on having their tandem work for them in special circumstances.

''You're going to see the goalies be used more not so much based on who we play,'' head coach of the Penguins Dan Bylsma told reporters. ''Each goalie will get his share of games, his number of games.''

A good one two goalie punch can be looked upon as an advantage over other teams that might tend to lean on just one goaltender as they have in the past. Although some have suggested that since it is a shortened season, maybe teams will want to favor their number one goaltender. 

"I don't think anybody has a perfect formula," Oates said of the teams' strategies going into a shortened, condensed season. "Everyone is going to try and create one and we're no different. We are going to try to think of everything we can to try to make it right and make sure the guys play their best in a short amount of time."

Points will be at a premium and it is in the best interest for teams around the league to take a point or two with their back up goaltender in net. That would make the tandem of a team's goaltending unit seem more important with this schedule. 

"The one thing that is certain," Holtby added, "is that we will both be needed and be needed to win games in order to make the playoffs and put ourselves in a good position."

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Musings From Scrimmage

The Washington Capitals weren't afforded a preseason game. They would have to make do with an affiliate team from Reading Pennsylvania to bus in for a little scrimmage. The Reading Royals bused it to town to give the Caps and their coaching crew a chance to look at just what they have.

Things started off slow enough. Head coach Adam Oates thought as much as many of his players are not in game shape with the season opener in just 4 days away. It started slow for the Caps, but it would be a collision that would wake them open half way through the first period. Alex Ovechkin plowed into Marcus Johansson and it looked as if both players were seriously hurt and laid on the ice for a few heart stopping moments.

"I think that woke everyone up," said Oates. "I guess we better pay attention."

Ovechkin was cut on the chin from what looked like Johansson's helmet. Both returned to the ice shortly afterward. 

For the coaching staff, the scrimmage offered them a chance to use the system with their personnel the Caps have. "We filmed the whole game so tomorrow we can show the guys the reads," Oates said of the purpose of the scrimmage. "It's so much different when you can see yourself and your linemates."

"It's good for our team as a whole," Braden Holtby said of the scrimmage. "It gives us a chance to watch video of ourselves doing what Adam [Oates] is trying to apply here."

Getting Oates' system down was more of a priority for the Capitals than any evaluating players or even making sure the puck is in the back of the net. That competitive pace was helpful for both coaches and players get a better idea of how to see Oates' system.

The Capitals won the scrimmage 8-0 and below are just a few thoughts of the scrimmage in general.
  • Mike Green sat this one out. PR staff said it was due to a cold and the coaching staff said he was not going to lace 'em up for this anyway.
  • The overall action started slow, but picked up especially after the Ovi/MJ90 hit. Both teams were told to lighten up on hitting, but the Royals did play physical with the Caps. Hillen got popped late in the first period and drew blood, but didn't miss any significant ice time.
  • Ovechkin had a goal and two assists. Both him and Nick Backstrom looked pretty good. Backstrom was getting into board scrums and didn't look at all affected by any injury nor did he shy away from any hit. 
  • The talent level from the NHL to the ECHL is leaps and bounds. Often the Royals were left standing around in awe of the quickness and precision of the Caps with the puck.  
  • Oates certainly doesn't mind the defensemen jumping up on the play. On several occasions the D-men stepped up in to the play, John Carlson had a goal by doing just that.
  • Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth shared duties and both allowed 4 goals against each. When Holtby was asked if both it was the goaltenders plan to give up 4 each he chuckled, "I don't think either of us wanted to do that," he said.
Some pics I took, enjoy..

Holtby chilln' on the sidelines

Hearts stop as training staff checks on Ovechkin down on the ice

Troy Brouwer making a better door than window

Nick Backstrom gives Ovi a look as if to say, "You ready?"

Ovechkin talking to the Royals Russian players Galiev and Kostenko

A game well played deserves a handshake

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Element of Surprise

With only 48 games to play this season, it's going to be a time crunch for any coaching staff to scout another team's system. For the Capitals, that could give them the element of surprise. Head coach Adam Oates will have only a week to implement his system to his group of players. But as far as opposing teams scouting that system, it could take them 10 to 15 games to recognize it and to play effectively against Oates' system. In a shortened season such as this one, those first few games could be key for the Caps to find success.

A couple of factors go into the surprise element for the Capitals. The first will be Oates has never been a head coach in the NHL. While he probably has had say in how the New Jersey Devils played in some areas, Pete DeBoer was the head coach and had final say in what went on the ice. That leaves the elements that Oates would have like to implement if he were head coach. If opposing teams want to study the tape of the Devils to gauge how the Capitals might look this season will have to concede that it's DeBoer's system and not Oates'.

Along those same lines, if the opposing teams want to study tape of how the Devil's power play preformed under Oates' supervision they won't see Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green or Nick Backstrom on that tape. With a different personnel group (and a much better talented one in my opinion) infused in that same system, there are going to be differences. From who sets up the play to who shoots the open shot, the Caps' system under Oates will look strikingly different.

Most, not all, teams in the NHL when faced with a new system often fall back and play that team conservatively. With some teams dropping back to play the Caps defensively minded, the boys in red, white and blue might be able to steal a few extra games early. That is key to setting up for a run to the playoffs with only 48 games on the schedule. 

3 Critical Areas

Okay, warm fuzzy feelings are over. The Capitals are back to work today and they only have a week to get in game time condition. Learning Adam Oates new system and jumping into a shortened season brings two new challenges to the Capitals this season. They will begin their season Saturday, January 19th against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Oates admitted as much that today won't really be an opening for a training camp. Rather, it is the start of practice with a game in less than a week. It means the roster they have on paper is most likely the roster that will be on the ice on Sunday and starting just six days later.

There are three areas, which I believe, to be of the utmost importance for the Caps to get under grasps as the season begins. Learning these with in the framework of Oates' new system might help them get off the blocks quickly.

Power Play

The power play is the Capitals' most powerful weapon. Bringing in a power play specialist like head coach Adam Oates, this special team concept is a top priority for this team if they want to get out of the gates quickly.

A consistent and formidable power play does a lot for the offense of any team in the NHL. If a team can consistently and successfully convert power play opportunities it will soft the play of the opposition, leading to more chances 5 on 5. The Caps' bread and butter lies with a solid power play. Under Bruce Boudreau, as long as the power play was working, opposition teams couldn't play tight and physical with the Capitals for fear of getting a penalty.

With more open ice 5 on 5 the capitals will see their offensive production start to soar. That would make this team a very tough opponent when the post season arrives.


It will be key to a short season for sure. Guaranteed, the Capitals will utilize their two still young and budding goaltenders in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. With a condensed schedule, the Capitals have seven back to back nights in which both netminders most likely sharing duties opposite nights. Both will have to be on top of their game, then find something extra for the playoffs if the Caps should get there (knock on wood). 

That pretty much means a number one goaltender is a shared position this season. That should build up to some competition once the playoffs rears its ugly head. Holtby has shown some signs of solid goal keeping in Hershey. While Neuvirth has been playing the the Czech Republic with the HC Sparta Praha. Both had some success in both leagues.

Offensive Consistency

The Capitals struggled with producing goals last season. Part of that struggle came from a power play that was stifled. Part of it was team defenses did a better job of containing Alex Ovechkin by double teaming him. As that production suffered, so did the Caps hopes of doing much offensively. The Capitals made the switch from an all out offensive assault, to a controlled neutral zone play, to flat out defense first system under Dale Hunter.

Oates has said in the past that his system will be a balanced approach to playing both on the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. But the offensive numbers has to improve for the Capitals to gain much success this season. It will have to be a team priority too, as no player can be on an island the way opposing teams have been playing the Capitals.

Of course it will be up to the coaching staff on how to best do this. But some solutions could include getting the defense into play in the offensive zone. With a healthy and rested Mike Green should help with that. This requires more covering by wings and centermen when the blue liners do make a dash to the net. Another solution is for the Capitals to set up more in the offensive zone with cycles down low. If they can work the puck around and passing is crisp, the Caps could find the open guy for a few goals running the opposition around.

Capitals first day of camp starts today at 10:30 am, at Kettler Iceplex. They are open and free to the public. The Caps will hold camp all week before their first game against the Lightning on Saturday January 19th. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

One Big Happy Family

It was more for the benefit of the media than it was for the general manager George McPhee and head coach Adam Oates to address the press. The "oh so fluffy" feelings of a hockey season returning saw both media moguls and Capitals' players and staff wearing wide smiles and patting each other on the back in a hearty "Welcome back!"

Ovi walks in all smiles.
Alex Ovechkin was the marquee guy that the press had asked for since seeing his return at Dulles Airport being greeted by Mike Vogel. It looked like that was not going to happen, but in the end, classic Ovechkin strolls out, wide grin wearing a t-shirt that said in Russian "Am I really the prettiest one here, again?" To a Caps fan, yes, yes he was.

From Braden Holtby, to McPhee, to Oates and then Ovi finishing up the impromptu media day at Kettler, the mood was light, cheerful even. A sense of relief was on the faces of both players and coaches and the people that interview them. Even a spotting of Joe Beninati, who regaled his rough time finding work during the stoppage with fellow reporters, made it seem that hockey was right where it was supposed to be in DC.

Oates addresses the media.
While it is all smiles and cheerfulness, the seriousness of a sprint of a 48 game season is weighing on management and coaches. Anxious to get back to work, Oates told reporters of running line combos almost daily. Even McPhee is getting calls from other GMs around the league looking to trade once the CBA is ratified. It looks to be a confusing and fast start to the season, and the team most ready for it might be the one fighting for a chance in the Finals for Lord Stanley's Cup.

So the smiles are fine for now. The real work begins when "camp" starts most likely on Sunday.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Talkn' About... Practice

The earliest training camp would start is Wednesday. But to get players in and the coaching staff primed, the likely start of camp would be Friday. But this won't be like training camps of the past. With only a week (or less) to prepare for a sprint of a 50 game season, Adam Oates will be in cut down mode from the get go.

What would a shortened camp look like? More like a practice during the regular season. A small contingent of players form the AHL will make an appearance, but most likely it will be the contract players the Caps signed and have under contract. Formal rosters will be submitted in the next day or so, but for now we can speculate who will be at Kettler in the next week.

In the way of goaltenders, the possibility of bringing up three for camp seems likely, but the coaching staff might stick to two. Braden Holtby and Micheal Neuvirth most likely will be the team's one and two netminders, although not necessarily in that order. If Oates decides to make it a competition for the top spot, the Caps could see some young goaltenders duke it out over this 50 game stretch. To round out camp, the Capitals could bring up Danny Sabourin. It is more likely that the organization wouldn't leave the Bears with out a goaltender, so we may only see Holtby and Neuvirth at camp.

Your standards at defense will return. Karl Alzner and John Carlson most likely will be the top two blue liners. Rounding out Dmitry Orlov, Mike Green, Roman Hamrlik, John Erskine and Jeff Schultz will all report to camp. Jack Hillen will be the new face on the back line. Patrick McNiell might get a call up for a look.

Washington's forwards will have some new faces with the acquisitions of Wojtek Wolski and Mike Ribeiro. (Rumor has it Ribeiro has been playing in the DC area for the last couple of months with some men's leagues) They will be in fused with the return of Alex Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom returning from Russia where they played with Moscow Dynamo. Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, Matt Hendricks, Brooks Laich, Mathieu Perreault, Joel Ward and Marcus Johansson will be the regulars for camp.

Joey Crabb, Mattias Sjogren, Filip Forsberg and Stanislav Galiev might make an appearance to see if they need to call up anymore talent from Hershey or beyond. For them to crack the line up, they most likely would have to fill in for an injury (Laich ended his brief stint overseas after sustaining a groin injury) or if someone's game went downhill.

In any event, and who ever does show for camp, the Capitals' coaching staff will have to quickly evaluate, cut and mold their team for a short season. Oates priorities will to be bring a flowing chemistry to the team in a short amount of time, make the power play work at a consistent level and shore up the defensive end of the ice for the Caps to make a run at the playoffs and beyond.

Good Morning Hockey

Good morning DC, you are waking up to a NHL season this morning. The NHL and NHL players association has reached a tentative deal that could have the season starting in less than two weeks. One hundred thirteen days after the initial lockout by the owners of players, both sides have come to a basic agreement in a 16 hour marathon Saturday night into the early hours of Sunday morning.

"Don Fehr and I are here to tell you that we have reached an agreement on the framework of a new collective bargaining agreement, the details of which need to be put to paper," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman confirmed to reporters early Sunday morning. "We have to dot a lot of I's and cross a lot of T's. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the basic framework has been agreed upon."
Training camps can start as soon as Wednesday, as late as Saturday. Details of the deal are still emerging, but there was no agreement yet of NHL players participating in the winter games in Sochi 2014. But it is expected a deal to be reached by then.

As info comes in on the Capitals schedule of training camp and games, I will be sure to pass it along.