Sunday, August 30, 2009

Leftover Chocolate

Thanks to a misplaced media card, here are some leftover pictures from this past June's Calder Cup:

The Bears celebrate a goal in Game 3.

Michal Neuvirth

John Carlson

Karl Alzner

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bears Get New Threads

On the heels of their 10th Calder Cup celebration, the Bears are getting a new look for 2009-2010 by redesigning their jerseys to the new designs below.

(Hershey Bears)

Instead of having the retro-like "HERSHEY" and "BEARS" across the front of their chests as they had been wearing the past few seasons following Hershey's last Calder Cup title in 2005-06, the new jerseys bring back the team's primary logo to the front as they were before the club tweaked their jerseys. They do have a retro-like alternative as a third jersey, with the a college-like "HERSHEY" across the chest with the number on the same design as the home jersey.

Unlike the NHL, the AHL still has home teams wearing white on most nights, with the Bears sporting a new brown road jersey. Both versions have the club's original skating bear logo on one shoulder and the Capitals logo on the other.

And, fans going to the Bears game on February 27th will get a glimpse of future Capitals in familiar uniforms, as the team will wear modified Washington uniforms on Caps night while the NHL club is on the Olympic Break.

Caps Set Dates for Training Camp

The Capitals announced some of the key dates of training camp Wednesday, which will begin on Sept. 7th when rookies arriving at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, while the team's veterans will arrive on Sept. 12th and begin on-ice sessions the next day.

Washington rookies will also get a chance to take on the Flyers rookies in a scrimmage to be held on Friday, Sept. 11 at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J. at 3 p.m. The scrimmage is free to the public.

The Capitals begin pre-season play on Thursday, Sept. 17th, when they head to HSBC Arena to face the Buffalo Sabres, then another group will head to Chicago to face the Blackhawks two days later at United Center. Washington begins its home schedule on Monday, Sept. 21 when they host the Sabres, with the 'Hawks making a visit two nights later.

The regular season begins on Oct. 1 at Boston as part of an Opening Night doubleheader on Versus, with the regular-season home schedule opening Oct. 3 against Toronto.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Big O Reportedly Not in Capitals' Future

While there were rumors bubbling north of the border that Washington's Nov. 28 game in Montreal would be held at Olympic Stadium rather than Bell Centre, according to Capitals Insider, those plans are now reportedly dead - thanks to the CFL.

The unofficial reasoning given is the Montreal Alouettes, who are considered a contender for the Grey Cup, could make the timing tough to set up the portable rink in the stadium should they go deep in the playoffs.

So, the game will be held in the smaller venue as originally scheduled.

So, after being bypassed for the Winter Classic and now with the Montreal game staying in a smaller venue, the Capitals will have to wait until 2011's Winter Classic to possibly get their chance to play at a large venue.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Letter "F"

An entertaining interview over at Puck Daddy with Alexander Ovechkin, well worth the read to spice up the dwindling days of the offseason.

An English word you say the most?

It starts with the letter "F".

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Caps Featured Prominently on National TV

The NHL released its national TV schedule for the upcoming season, and not surprisingly, the Capitals are featured prominently on the slate.

Washington will appear seven times on Versus, including the season opener on Oct. 1 in Boston, which will be part of the channel's double-header which also features Joe Sakic's jersey retirement in Colorado. Just six days later, the Caps' first visit to Philly will be on the network, then the same two teams will tangle at Verizon Center on the 27th of that month.

The Caps' first-round rematch with the Rangers will be on Nov. 17th on Versus, then Washington isn't scheduled to be on until after the Olympic Break on March 8th, when the team visits Dallas. Washington's April game against Boston on April 5th and the prerequisite battle with the Penguins is on the next night to wrap up their regular-season scheduled appearances.

North of the border, the Capitals are on five times on Hockey Night in Canada, with three of Washington's four games against Toronto on CBC (Oct. 3, Nov. 21 and Dec. 12). The other two are the rumored match against the Habs at Olympic Stadium on Nov. 28th, and Washington's visit to Edmonton on Dec. 19th.

NBC, which kicks off its telecasts on Jan. 1 with the Bruins and Flyers from Fenway, still hasn't announced its schedule past that point. However, there are several Saturday and Sunday afternoon games that could be picked up, not least being Feb. 7 with the Penguins. Other good candidates to be picked up are the team's Jan. 17 against the Flyers, March 14th against Chicago and the season finale April 11th against Boston.

Strasburg: The Second Ovechkin?

Friday afternoon at Nationals Park, the team will officially welcome Stephen Strasburg to the fold, as the prized pitching prospect will begin his long road to trying to turn around a team that only has contended for the top draft pick the last couple of seasons.

Now, Capitals fans remember a similar storyline well back when Washington won the draft lottery in 2004, winning the right to pluck a young Russian phenomenon that had been a star at the World Junior Championships and the World Cup named Alexander Ovechkin, and he was able to turn around a team reeling after the Jaromir Jagr contract went south and brought the team along with it.

So, in what will be one of many comparisons between the two potentially franchise-changing faces, what kind of impact will the young pitcher have compared to Ovechkin?

First of all, the circumstances surrounding Strasburg's arrival are much different, just thanks to the economic climate of the sport. While Ovechkin brought new hope to the Caps, it would be suspended hope, since the storm clouds that threatened to wipe out the 2004-05 NHL season were looming, with most knowing the young star wouldn't cross the sea until the labor dispute was settled.

While that extra year in the Russian league helped Ovechkin mature as a player, it also somewhat muted his arrival, since once the NHL returned after an ugly lockout, it took some time for the impact to be felt outside the core audience.

The other factor is that another phenom was up for grabs the next June, as Canadian prospect Sidney Crosby's fate was determined by lottery after the washed-out season.

(On a side note, can you imagine had the bare-bones 2004-05 Caps actually taken the ice? They would have had a great shot at landing Crosby had the lockout ended before the season was scrapped.)

Strasburg arrives in town five years later with a lot more hype surrounding him, simply because of baseball's compressed signing period (the Nats had him under control for a couple of months while the Caps had two years to get Ovechkin inked). Nats fans had been fretting over the past few weeks if they could appease super-agent Scott Boras in time to get him on board, or else potentially lose him to another struggling club next year.

However, even though he's inked for the remainder of this season, local baseball fans will have to wait to get a glimpse of the phenom, as he likely will head down to the team's spring complex in Viera, Fla. to work out, then head to the Arizona Fall League. Next year, after spring training, he perhaps will throw in Potomac or Hagerstown early next season before likely he will finally show up at Nationals Park sometime next summer.

Of course, the inherent nature of the sports make the impacts of both stars much different. Ovechkin logs between 20 and 30 minutes of ice time per game, and certainly can have a strong impact in all of Washington's 82 games.

Strasburg, on the other hand, while he could dominate the games in which he throws, still will be appearing in one of every five contests, meaning even if he's dominant, the rest of the team could still be terrible in the other four games - or perhaps not provide him any offense or adequate bullpen support - to really turn it around himself.

The odds are also long on Strasburg's success, as while the NHL Draft's top pick sometimes has turned out a clunker (Patrik Stefan, anyone?) the odds are even longer for a No. 1 pitcher, with arm trouble and the inability to elevate one's game to the major league level a common tale among those who couldn't live up to the expectations.

Of course, we know how Ovechkin turned out, as a Calder Trophy and two Hart Trophies later, he certainly has succeeded in turning the Caps around on - and off - the ice.

Now, baseball fans will see if Strasburg can live up to his ample hype and deliver on a promise to do the same thing for the capital's beleaguered baseball franchise. It is quite an exciting time when a town already holding one young star in its midst could potentially have another game-changing one playing just down South Capitol Street.

Hockey News Pegs Caps Second in the East

If it's August, it's prediction time, and the Hockey News sees the top two in the East just the same as last year. After rolling out teams day-by-day, the Capitals finally appeared as the second seed in the conference, with them forecast to win their third straight Southeast title.

Why: Alex Ovechkin and his mates are the most electric team in the NHL. The Caps have lost some veterans to the Kontinental League, but none were the straws that stir the drink. Last season’s crushing playoff loss to the Penguins taught hard lessons about team defense, ones that will resonate this season and keep Washington near the top of the East.

Check out their full rankings here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Boudreau Finally to Take the Mound

Back in June, when the Bears were battling Manitoba for the Calder Cup, Caps coach Bruce Boudreau got in a bit of a dilemma.

You see, he was scheduled to throw the first pitch at a Nationals game in an arrangement made before the Calder Cup series was announced, but due to some unfortunate conflicts, Boudreau had to back out of the pitch since Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals was going on at the same night.

To some relief of Boudreau, who was in the press box at Giant Center that evening, the Nationals game against the Reds was delayed by rain, not starting unitl late and taking a bit of the edge off missing his chance to take the mound at Nationals Park.

Well, now, the event has finally been rescheduled, and Boudreau is scheduled to throw the first pitch in Thursday's game against Colorado.

Fortunately, there shouldn't be any more conflicts with the Calder Cup.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bears to Raise Banner on Oct. 3

The AHL released the full 80-game schedule for the Hershey Bears on Thursday, and the franchise raises its 10th Calder Cup banner to the rafters on October 3 when they host Norfolk.

Other highlights of the new schedule are four games against the team the Bears defeated in the Calder Cup Finals, as they pay a visit to Manitoba in early January and then host the Moose later that month.

Hershey's first visit to Glens Falls, N.Y. since the old Adirondack Red Wings left town to face the relocated Philadelphia Phantoms on October 16, face the Providence Bruins in an Eastern Conference rematch on the day before Thanksgiving, and also features out-of-conference games against Toronto and Lake Erie.

Theodore vs. Varlamov, Round Two

With a month to go before the Capitals open training camp, people who presumed Semyon Varlamov would be the No. 1 goaltender after taking over in the playoffs are incorrect, according to Bruce Boudreau and Capitals Insider.

"Right now José is the number one guy and the other two young men [Varlamov and fellow prospect Michal Neuvirth] have got to come in and play the way they did last year and try to push him out," Boudreau said. "José won [32] games for us last year, and like the year before when Cristobal Huet got hot down the stretch, Varly came in and did a great job where we just couldn't take him out."

Of course, Boudreau's logic makes sense. With Jose Theodore being an unrestricted free agent following the season, to stick him on the bench for a majority of the 82-game regular-season schedule only would hurt his possible trade value at the deadline, something the Capitals could use to add a piece by swapping out the remainder of his salary. As the season progresses, his untradeable contract will become more attractive to teams needing a goaltender, and therefore be useful to the Caps to either rely on him for the playoffs if he plays well, or unload his contract and bring up presumably Michal Neuvirth in that case.

Varlamov's progression also will be worth watching, as while the rookie dazzled in the first round by taking away the lower half of the net with his style, he became vulnerable to high shots as the Penguins series progressed, culminating in the clunker of Game 7.

Theodore certainly was wildly inconsistent in 2008-09, starting out poorly but then going on a hot streak around the holidays to propel the Caps into an insurmountable lead in the Southeast Division before going cold again late in the regular season. But with a contract to play for, making the veteran the No. 1 for the beginning probably makes sense to maintain his value, and since the Capitals are certainly solid enough to withstand his slumps during the regular season, it certainly won't hurt to start him out as the incumbent.

And, the competition certainly won't hurt, as Varlamov is already working out in Russia to try to win the job, and Theodore has been skating at Kettler to do the same. Look for the pairing to start the season in Washington, with Neuvirth to come up in case of injury or trade.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Mid-Summer Day's Thoughts

We've officially hit the dead spot of NHL news, but it's just the calm before the storm, as teams will be back on the ice looking to begin a long journey to what they hope will be the Stanley Cup in 10 months' time.

Besides NHL stars allegedly punching out cab drivers over $15 fares - beware of Chippewa Street, Patty Kane - the summer has slowed with just tidbits of news coming out from various parts of the globe, but that trickle will soon turn into a stream of news as the various national teams get ready for the Vancouver Olympics later this month and the NHL's training camps will open shortly after Labor Day.

After spending a busy weekend in Hershey (who knew they had an big amusement park right next to Giant Center?), Pittsburgh and Canton, there was plenty of time to reflect on what could unfold over the next few months after spending way too much time on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

For their part, the Bears certainly had a ton of Calder Cup championship merchandise up for grabs at Hersheypark, and the Steel City was the same for retailers selling Penguins items. It was hard to go anywhere around town without seeing the flightless waterfowl logo, and a reminder of what the Caps want to accomplish next season.

With a month until camp, the Capitals certainly have some big questions answered, although the big question in the room is still what moves the team will make before the season opener on October 1st. It's likely the final version of the roster won't be clear until right before the opener, with so many uncertainties and the salary cap playing a big role.

What was the team's weakness last spring in their seven-game loss to the Penguins certainly will have a cast of characters looking to take up a blueline roster spot, with Karl Alzner and John Carlson looking to break into an already crowded field of six or seven blueliners.

It's likely the Caps will move at least one of the incumbents from last year, not only to shore up cap room, but to clear the logjam at the position.

Speaking of cap room, there's nothing new on the Nylander front, as the team looks like they're going to have to find a role for him with no end to the stalemate. Both sides might be waiting until the last minute to try and make their move, as perhaps both sides hope a good camp by Nylander (or a key injury on another club) could entice a team to take a jump at his salary.

This year too, the Capitals will have to deal with increased expectations of being a true Cup contender, as they certainly won't be sneaking up on any teams - and won't be able to take some nights off like they did last season. A more consistent effort would be a big boost to the team, as they need to avoid playing pedestrian hockey for two periods and then turn on the switch in the third as they did on several occasions last season.

But, while the nation's capital has its first real taste of heat this summer, it's worth knowing that the game isn't too far away from returning and another chance to make an extended run at the Stanley Cup.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Giroux Heading Back to Hershey

Alexandre Giroux was the dominant player in the AHL this past season, scoring 60 regular-season goals for the Bears, then adding in another 15 as Hershey claimed its 10th franchise Calder Cup.

While Giroux's return certainly wasn't a given, he's going back to Chocolatetown, and reportedly signs a two-way deal that will pay him $500,000 if he plays for the Capitals. The re-signing bolsters the Bears' bid for their third championship in six seasons this winter, as the core will be mostly intact with the presumed addition of John Carlson on the blueline.

However, Giroux struggled a bit at the NHL level, notching just two points in a dozen games with Washington last year.

Goodbye Simeon, Hello Semyon

Per the Caps, it's official, goaltender Simeon Varlamov is no more, as the young Russian netminder has changed the spelling of his name to Semyon.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

News of the World

Used to be that to catch up with a Capital during the summer meant heading up to Canada or Massachusetts, but now, all you need is a translator and the web.

A pair of interesting nuggets come via the world wide web, the first being Michael Nylander claiming to a Swedish paper that Bruce Boudreau told the forward he "wasn't good enough" and that's why he ended up in the press box during most of the Caps' playoff run.

The piece, which is translated by Japers' Rink, also says that he'd like to be moved, but realized with his deal, it's difficult to find a taker. The Caps also can't hide his contract in Hershey, and despite Jaromir Jagr's apparent overtures, he claims he can't go to the KHL either.

One interesting tibit is he "would like to try" Edmonton, something that probably wouldn't exactly thrill the Oilers after he apparently spurned them a couple of years back.

For his part, Boudreau issued a statement disputing the claim, saying "I do not have any recollection of saying that to Michael," Boudreau said. "That is not my style, and not something I would say."

This certainly is going to rachet up the pressure to get Nylander out of Washington, but with his hefty deal and the Swede's lack of production, it'd be difficult to get a team to take on his contract.

The other is an interview with the always-entertaining Alex Ovechkin, who we couldn't give the golden nuggets in this video justice in this short space.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Four Caps Nab Olympic Camp Invites

Russia and Slovakia introduced their Olympic candidates to the IIHF, and four Caps were named as possibilities to throw on their nation's sweater in Vancouver this February.

As for the Russian camp, which will be held on Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, two slam-dunks for the final roster and one young Cap were invited, with half the team coming from the NHL and the other half from the KHL.

Of course, Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin were invited, and Simeon Varlamov earned a chance to play for a backup or reserve role with his strong performance in the playoffs this spring. Ovechkin and Semin will be in Vancouver barring injury, while Varlamov will be up against Evgeni Nabakov, Ilya Bryzgalov and KHL netminder Alexander Eremenko.

As for the Slovaks, Milan Jurcina earns an invite, and is a good bet to earn a spot on his nation's roster.

The U.S. and Canada will hold their respective camps as well later this month, with Mike Green looking for a spot on the Canadian roster.