Friday, October 30, 2009

Caps' Win Streak Snapped in Overtime

Washington's six-game win streak came to an end in overtime, as the Islanders' Mark Streit scored :53 into the extra session to give New York a 4-3 overtime win.

Tomas Fleischmann scored a pair of goals, his first since returning from missing the start of the season with a blood clot in his leg, but the Capitals couldn't cash in on a late power-play advantage and the Isles returned the favor of last weekend's overtime loss at home.

The Caps finish the month of October 8-2-3, and couldn't get the go ahead goal to equal the best first month of the season in team history. Alex Ovechkin did record his 14th goal of the campaign, but once again, Washington had trouble putting 60 good minutes and it cost them against a beatable opponent.

The Capitals got a great chance to open the game with a goal when Kyle Okposo was whistled for a double-minor just 1:37 into the contest, and Ovechkin scored his third goal in two nights with a blast that Dwayne Roloson couldn't stop completely 4:41 into the period to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.

Shaone Morrison took Washington's first minor of the night, and Jose Theodore came up with a pair of nice saves on John Tavares and the Capitals held onto the early lead.

Like the previous night, though, the Capitals got a bit too fancy with the lead, as one one shift, Ovechkin fed Semin, who passed up a good scoring chance to feed Backstrom and the Islanders broke up the play.

The Islanders got the equalizer shortly after with 9:23 left in the first when Okposo put a shot through Theodore's legs to even the score.

Washington got another chance with the extra-man when Tim Jackman cleared the puck over the side glass, but couldn't convert with the advantage and left the score at 1-1 after 20 minutes.

Richard Park started off the second breaking in alone on Theodore, but the goaltender came up with the save.

However, the Islanders did take the lead shortly after, as Mike Green coughed up the puck in front of Theodore and Frans Nielsen deposited in the corner for a 2-1 lead with 12:48 left in the middle frame.

However, Fleischmann brought the Caps even just 1:38 later with a great effort behind the net, as Chris Clark caught Roloson with a sloppy pass and feeding Fleischmann with a pass before Roloson could recover for Fleischmann's first goal since coming back from blood clots in his leg.

It didn't take long for Fleischmann to get his second, as he was parked in front of the Islander net and picked up the rebound of a Mike Green shot and in for a 3-2 Washington lead with 3:17 left in the frame.

However, the Islanders tied it up just 1:07 later, as Nielsen scored through traffic to even up the game at 3-3 to send the teams to the locker room after 40 minutes.

The Capitals got a scare when Ovechkin got hurt during the third period and skated back to the bench slowly, but he came back on his next shift and almost scored on Roloson.

However, the third proved to have a sluggish start, and another bad turnover almost led to an Islanders goal as Tavares fed Sean Bergenheim in front but Theodore held his ground and kept the game tied.

The Capitals then got a golden chance to finish the Islanders off when Mark Streit was called for interference with 4:20 left in regulation, but Washington couldn't convert to take the lead, and the two teams headed for their second overtime game against each other in a week.

It didn't last long, however, as Tavares fed a streaking Streit, who beat Theodore to send the sellout crowd home unhappy and give New York just their third win of the campaign.

Washington gets a short turnaround to get back on track, hosting the Blue Jackets Sunday afternoon, and looking to score their first goal on Steve Mason in three games. Still, the Capitals have points in all but two of their first 13 games, and finish the month with 19 points.

Capitals Play Host to Tavares, Islanders

Jose Theodore was terrific in his past two starts, and now he gets a chance for his third straight win when the Islanders make their first visit to Chinatown this season.

This year, the Isles have the top pick from this summer's draft in John Tavares, and after a good start, the top pick has cooled off a bit with just one goal in his last five contests after recording 10 points in his first six contests. Still, he has been good in keeping the Islanders in contests, as New York has at least one point in seven of 11 contests (2-4-5).

Last Saturday, the Islanders outplayed the Capitals for a good portion of the contest, but thanks to some timely saves by Theodore and a good finish by Mike Green, Washington grabbed a 3-2 overtime win.

After Semyon Varlamov grabbed the win in Atlanta, with Columbus on tap for Sunday, Theodore is expected to get the nod against the Islanders.

The Islanders were good in containing Alexander Ovechkin by limiting him to just two shots in their last meeting, but the Caps' star has been terrific the last two games, scoring four goals and adding an assist for a league lead in goals (13) and points (22), not to mention a league-best plus-11. Ovechkin was stellar against the Isles last season, scoring six goals in four meetings, but went goalless against New York for the first time since February of 2008 last week.

With their third game in four nights, the Caps will need to try to jump on top of the Islanders early, as New York has been able to jump out to leads against some quality opponents this month, only to see those leads evaporate - as it did Saturday. But in New York's last game against their crosstown rival Rangers, the Isles held on for a 3-1 win against a quality opponent.

With a chance to equal the franchise's best October win total, the Caps look to get out to a good start and then play a bit more than 25 minutes to see if they can close out with a 9-2-2 start to the campaign as the calendar turns to November before the Blue Jackets pay a visit to Verizon Center on Sunday.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Capitals Make Life Too Interesting Again

For the first 25 minutes of their game in Atlanta, the Capitals were firmly in control, as Alex Ovechkin's three points had staked the team to a 3-0 lead and without their top star, the Thrashers seemed to be on the ropes.

However, as they did last week at Philips Arena, Washington began to take its foot off the gas, and the Capitals became too cute with the puck and passed up some good scoring chances to try and make a perfect pass, so despite a chance to bury Atlanta, the Thrashers chipped in two third-period goals to put the outcome in doubt until Mike Knuble slapped in an empty-netter with :52.1 left in regulation.

Like they have for much of their six-game win streak, the Capitals played enough good hockey to get the win, although they certainly could have made their lives easier by putting another goal or two in the net before going on cruise control.

Washington simply got too sloppy, allowing the Thrashers some prime chances and giving up 33 shots over the final 40 minutes and forcing Semyon Varlamov to have to make some good saves to preserve the win. The Caps even allowed a shorthanded breakaway, after having allowed two shorties in their previous three games.

Certainly, the Capitals' start was solid, with Ovechkin moving into the league lead in goals and points with two goals and one helper, and the sputtering power-play going two for their first three chances. But with a chance to put away the Thrashers halfway through the third, Washington's power-play was terrible, and poor coverage by Mike Green and Ovechkin didn't help as they gave up the best chance of the two-minute advantage.

Fortunately for the Capitals, one player who was good for 60 minutes was Varlamov, stopping 38 shots and moving to 5-0-0 on the season, making some great stops and keeping Washington ahead and keeping the win streak alive.

But, Washington now gets a chance to close out October with its ninth win of the month, against another team they had some trouble putting away on Long Island Saturday. The Capitals played roughly 25 minutes of good hockey in that game as well, the only difference is this one came at the end of the game and the team was able to erase a 2-0 deficit after a lackluster start.

To be sure, the Caps have been very good this month, dropping just two regulation games. But they certainly seem to be making some games more interesting than they need to be.

Ovechkin Scores Twice as Caps Hang On

While his good friend Ilya Kovalchuk notched a pair of goals in last week's Capitals-Thrashers tilt in Atlanta, Alexander Ovechkin picked up the slack with the Thrashers' star injured this Thursday. The two-time Hart winner got two goals of his own as the Capitals grabbed a 4-3 win at Philips Arena for Washington's sixth straight victory.

The Caps' star scored a pair of goals to extend his lead in the Richard Trophy race and also added a nifty assist in the second period to retake the points lead as Washington moved to 8-2-2 on the season with one game left in the month of October.

However, like last week's game, the Capitals held a three-goal lead heading into the final frame, but the hosts thoroughly outplayed Washington over the last 20 minutes but got some nice goaltending by Semyon Varlamov to hang on for the win.

After a slow start to the contest, the Thrashers got the first extra-man advantage just under five minutes into the contest when Tom Poti was whistled for holding Maxim Afinogenov.

The Caps killed off the penalty, and got a power play of their own when Jim Slater was whistled for hooking Nicklas Backstrom, and cashed in. Halfway through the advantage, Mike Green did a nice curl pass to Ovechkin, who blasted the feed past Ondrej Pavelec for his league-leading 12th goal of the campaign with 9:57 left in the frame.

Slater got a chance for redemption at the 6:12 mark, as he was hauled down on a partial breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot, but one that Semyon Varlamov handled without too much trouble.

Ovechkin then boosted the lead to 2-0 when Backstrom picked off a bad Afinogenov pass in the Caps zone and then fed the breaking star and shot it past Pavelec at the 5:04 mark for his 6th multi-goal game of the month of October.

Washington finished the first outshooting Atlanta 13-8 and with a 2-0 lead, pushing their advantage in the first 20 minutes to a 15-5 count this month.

Afinogenov was whistled for another minor just 1:52 into the second, and although the Thrashers killed most of it, Evander Kane took another minor for a :15 5-on-3 advantage for Washington.

The Capitals scored on the Kane minor, as Ovechkin fed Brendan Morrison, who put a shot on Pavelec that the goalie got a glove on, but couldn't stop all the shot and the puck trickled in the net for a 3-0 edge 4:10 into the second. It also was a nice showing for Washington extra-man unit, who scored on two of their first three chances on the evening after scoring just two power-play goals in their last four games.

The Thrashers had trouble trying to get back in the contest minus their leading goal-scorer, and Atlanta's best chance came halfway through the period when Afinogenov couldn't covert on a good chance in front of Varlamov to keep the Thrashers scoreless.

Washington nearly got a fourth goal when Alexander Semin couldn't quite finish a nifty move with a couple of minutes left in the frame, but the Capitals were still firmly in control of the action on the ice as the period wound down.

The Thrashers did get on the board early in the third as Zach Bogosian blasted a puck past Varlamov just 1:23 into the season, delivering a shot that sprang back off the puck of the back of the net to cut Washington's lead to 3-1.

The tally woke up Atlanta, forcing Varlamov having to make a couple of nice saves to keep the Capitals up by two as the Thrashers took the first nine shots of the period before Ovechkin finally put one on the cage for Washington just before the fourteen-minute mark.

Atlanta had some more prime chances to cut the lead to just one, but Varlamov made some nice saves - despite the lack of support. Even a late power-play created by a nice dive by Mike Knuble only created a Thrashers shorthanded breakaway where the Capitals had to count on Varlamov to make the save.

Todd White then cut the lead with one with 2:23 to play, as he caught the Capitals on a bad line change and broke in to beat Varlamov and for the second time in a week, Atlanta roared back to make the Capitals sweat out what had been a comfortable lead.

However, Mike Knuble allowed the Caps to breathe a bit easier, firing a puck into an empty net with :52.1 left in regulation to grab the win. Atlanta scored a goal at the final buzzer, but thanks to Knuble's empty-netter, it just made the final 4-3.

Varlamov moved to 5-0-0 on the season and earned his ninth straight regular-season victory to start his career with a 38-save effort.

The Caps, who recorded nine wins in the tenth month only once in their history (1991-92) will get a chance to match that mark in their final game of October. Washington heads home for a quick turnaround, playing the Islanders for the second time in a week when New York pays a visit to Verizon Center for John Tavares' first appearance in D.C.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday's Game Sets Versus Mark

From Puck Daddy, Tuesday night's Capitals-Flyers telecast on Versus set a record for the network, becoming the highest-rated regular-season game since the former Outdoor Life Network picked up the NHL after the lockout.

This despite the network's dispute with DirecTV.

Just in from Versus: Last night's Philadelphia Flyers/Washington Capitals game set a new regular-season ratings record for the network's NHL coverage: a 0.6 national rating.

That's up from the 0.5 the Capitals and Boston Bruins did on opening night. But no, the Capitals would have been a lousy draw for the Winter Classic, right NBC?

The Capitals/Bruins game still holds the title for "most watched" in Versus history based on total viewers (501,000). Viewership totals for last night's game will likely become available on Thursday.

If It's Thursday, It Must Be Atlanta

Thanks to a scheduling quirk, for the second straight Thursday, the Capitals will take the ice at Philips Arena, although this matchup is a bit different than the one just a week ago.

The Caps entered last week's matchup just a point ahead of Atlanta in the Southeast standings, now, thanks to three straight Washington wins over the past week - and two Atlanta losses - that figure is now seven.

Unfortunately for the Thrashers, those losses in the standings won't have the lasting impact of Ilya Kovalchuk's injury in a loss to the Sharks, meaning a team that had performed well with their Russian sniper will have to make up for his production without him.

Kovalchuk has scored nine of Atlanta's 28 goals this year, accounting for nearly a third of their offensive production. By comparison, Alexander Ovechkin has contributed 11 of Washington's 41 tallies, for 27 percent.

So it's not going to be easy for the Thrashers to match that production, with just two players on their roster that have more than two goals this season (Rich Peverly and Evander Kane). Likely, the Thrashers will have to play a much more defensive style than they're used to, as if they play run-and-gun with the Capitals as they did last Thursday, they aren't going to outscore Washington that way.

Trouble is for Atlanta is that their defense and goaltending will be put under a lot of strain playing that way. Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg have both been pulled in each of their last starts, so they will need a better performance in net to try and keep their surprising start going.

As for the Capitals, they aren't having the goaltending issues right now, as Jose Theodore was the No. 1 star in a 4-2 win over Philadelphia and has contributed some spectacular saves in his last two starts. Theodore now has a 2.47 goals-against and a .922 save percentage, and is playing some of the best hockey he has ever played wearing a Washington sweater.

As for the forwards, Bruce Boudreau reunited the top line with Alexander Semin's return, and the trio combined for nine points and accounted for all four Capitals goals. The power-play, which had struggled for a couple of games, finally got on the board thanks to Nicklas Backstrom's second-period strike, and now hope to improve on a lackluster performance last Thursday where they yielded a short-handed tally that helped the Thrashers make a game of it in the third period.

The Capitals will get a compressed schedule this weekend, with three games in four days, as Washington plays home games on Friday night (Islanders) and Sunday afternooon (Blue Jackets).

Laing Has Swine Flu

Per Capitals Insider, Quentin Laing came down with a case of the swine flu.

Laing wouldn't be the first NHL player diagnosed with H1N1, as Colorado netminder Peter Budaj and Edmonton Ladislav Smid were diagnosed with the illness on Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Capitals Finding Ways to Win

Through 11 games, the Capitals have amassed a 7-2-2 mark, built a seven-point lead in the Southeast Division and are just two points behind Pittsburgh for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

And scary part is, they haven't even been playing 60 full minutes of hockey for most of the season.

Like Saturday night's win over the Islanders, the Caps really didn't kick into gear until the last minutes of the second period when Alexander Ovechkin beat Ray Emery, and then Nicklas Backstrom struck quickly to wipe out a two-goal deficit. While Alexander Semin put the Caps up with a well-placed shot in the third, Jose Theodore made sure the door shut on a Flyers' comeback attempt, stopping 39 of 41 shots and even a penalty shot in the final frame.

Besides the first two games of the campaign, Washington has certainly not been perfect, having a struggling power play and an inconsistent effort. But the important thing for the Capitals is they keep accumulating points, earning at least one in nine contests.

Even the team's two regulation losses weren't horrible efforts, losing a one-goal game to the Rangers at home and another one-goal defeat at Joe Louis Arena to the defending Western Conference champions.

Part of the success has been Oveckhin's stellar start, as his first goal Tuesday really sparked the Capitals' comeback, as they had failed to convert on a 5-on-3 and then fell behind by two as the middle frame moved into the final minutes and were struggling for momentum.

The Caps' star, who had been goalless in two games, still has six goals during the five-game win streak, and retook the NHL lead with 11 thanks to an empty-netter in the final minute of regulation. Semin, who had missed the two-game road trip with an injury, made his presence known with his third-period rifle shot that was the game-winner, giving the stacked top line four goals (and nine total points) on the evening.

Now, the Caps get a busy weekend of teams that have given them some trouble to see if they can extend their win streak further.

Thursday night, the Capitals play the Thrashers for the second time in a week, coming off a 5-4 win that saw Washington narrowly hang onto the lead at the end. However, Atlanta will be without their top goal-scorer, as Ilya Kovalchuk was injured over the weekend and will miss around a month of action for the second-place Thrashers.

Then, Washington returns home to face the Islanders, another team that gave them all they can handle during this win streak, needing to erase a 2-0 deficit in the third period and managing to grab a 3-2 overtime decision at Nassau Coliseum just a couple of days ago. New York, who has just one win so far on the season, has managed to collect a league-high five overtime losses in just 10 games.

Then the busy weekend wraps up with a late Sunday afternoon date with the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team the Caps failed to score on in 120 minutes of play last season thanks to Steve Mason.

But, considering the Capitals still have a long way to go before reaching their peak potential, getting off to a 7-2-2 start has to be very encouraging for the team and its fans.

Capitals Surge Past Flyers With Rally

The last time the Capitals carried a win streak, it was the Flyers that broke it, snapping Wahsington's brief two-game surge with a 6-5 overtime win in early October. Tuesday night at Verizon Center, the Capitals were able to stay hot, erasing a 2-0 Philadelphia lead late in the second period and taking a 4-2 win to move to 7-2-2 thanks to a five-game winning streak.

After a two-game drought, Alexander Ovechkin scored his 10th and 11th goals of the year and the power-play unit scored their first goal in four games as each one of the Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Alexander Semin line contributed at least a goal apiece in the victory.

The Capitals started off the night slowly, failing to convert on a 5-on-3 before falling behind 2-0 with 5:31 left in the second period. However, sparked by Ovechkin's goal with 3:52 left in the middle frame, Washington was markedly better and was able to beat Emery twice more for the difference in the contest.

The two teams traded chances out of the gate, with the Flyers nearly taking the lead five minutes in as a shot eluded Jose Theodore, but bounced off the bar post and out of harm's way.

However, with a free-flowing period, the teams traded some chances, and Theodore was called upon to make a big save with 4:22 left in the period to keep the game scoreless.

Washington's best chance of the frame when Semin broke in alone on Emery, but couldn't finish the backhand to put the Capitals on the board. The Capitals did get the first power-play chance of the game as Ole-Kristian Tollefsen was called for cross-checking with 2:09 left, but remained unable to use the extra man to their advantage and the first period ended scoreless.

However, Brendan Morrison took a penalty by hooking Chris Pronger 1:16 into the frame, and Scott Hartnell beat Theodore on a cross-ice feed from Mike Richards to put the Flyers up with 3:09 in the period. The Flyers then kept up the pressure and hit the post less than a minute later and Nicklas Backstrom was sent to the box with 3:58 elapsed in the frame, but Washington killed that minor off.

Hartnell had a golden chance to make it 2-0 with 12 minutes left in the frame, but shot the puck over a wide-open net and it remained a one-goal game. Ovechkin had a good chance to square the score just over a minute later, but couldn't get the puck past Emery before the whistle.

Washington got its second power play when the Flyers were caught with too many men on the ice with 8:48 left in the period, but Philadelphia got a break off the faceoff - but Darroll Powe was called for goaltender interference, giving the Caps a 5-on-3 for 1:41. However, despite some decent chances, the Capitals couldn't get on the board despite the two-man advantage.

Tyler Sloan was then called for hooking with 5:40 left in the frame, and the Flyers took advantage just nine seconds later, as Kimmo Timonen passed over to Braydon Coburn, who fired it past Theodore for a 2-0 edge.

However, Ovechkin put Washington on the board with 3:52 left in the frame, breaking in and beating both Timmonen and Emery with a shot for his 10th goal of the campaign and third against the Flyers this season.

Washington then got a golden chance to pull even when Mika Pyorala was whistled for holding with 2:59 left and Backstrom finally ended the Caps' power-play drought by taking a Semin feed and putting it through Emery's wickets to erase Philadelphia's two-goal lead in just a 2:08 span and send the two teams to the locker room even at two.

Washington gave Philadelphia a chance to retake the lead when Jeff Schultz was whistled for a penalty, but the Caps killed it it off, and right after Schultz came out of the box, Semin took the puck and broke in and beat Emery high to give Washington their first lead of the night with 14:36 left in regulation.

However, less than two minutes later, Tom Poti was called for tripping Rowe on a breakeaway and the Flyers were awarded a penalty shot, but Theodore was able to stop the shot to keep the Caps in front.

Philadelphia then got another chance to put their potent power play to work when Mike Knuble was whistled for hooking with 8:47 gone in the frame, but Washington's penalty-killing was up to the task.

Ovechkin capped the night with an empty-netter with :45.1 left in the third, giving him the league lead with 11, surging past Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar.

Theodore was up to the task with the lead as well, stopping 41 of 43 Philadelphia chances - several good ones - to earn his second straight win since coming back from injury.

Washington has a busy stretch the next few days, heading to Atlanta Thursday night before returning home to face the Islanders and Blue Jackets on Friday and Sunday. The Caps have beaten the Thrashers and Islanders on their current streak, and will look to earn their sixth straight win against an Atlanta club missing Ilya Kovalchuk at Philips Arena Thursday night.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Flyers Make First Visit to Verizon Center

The last time the Capitals had a winning streak this season, it was the Flyers that broke it. Now, armed with four wins in a row and four points in a two-game road trip, Washington returns back to Verizon Center to play host to Philadelphia Tuesday looking to improve upon some sloppy play despite its early success on the season.

With a 5-2-2 mark as the season hits the 10-game mark, the Caps are off to their best start in a dozen years, but the team still has struggled in some areas. Most evident is the sputtering of their power-play unit, which has gone 0-for-11 and allowed two shorthanded tallies in their last two games. Now, Washington returns home looking to avenge a wild 6-5 overtime loss in Philadelphia earlier this month.

In that game, Mike Richards netted a hat trick as Semyon Varlamov was pulled in the second period, but the Caps took a 5-4 lead before a late goal by Scott Hartnell forced overtime, where Daniel Briere notched the game-winner. Washington did get a pair of goals by both Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, and certainly played well enough to win but were undone by sloppy play and bad penalties.

The Flyers - who are 5-3-1 so far this year but in fourth place in the Atlantic - are playing just their fourth game on the road Tuesday, are coming off a 4-1 loss to San Jose that ended a 2-1-0 homestand for Philadelphia.

The Flyers' special teams have been good so far this campaign, with the power-play and penalty-killing units in the top eight in the league and helped the team off to its good start.

While the Capitals are slightly better at scoring goals this season (3.60 goals-per-game pace to the Flyers' 3.33 per game), the goals-against are virtually identical (2.90 for Washington to 2.89 for Philadelphia), meaning the special teams likely will be key Tuesday night.

For Philadelphia, 11 of their 30 goals are with the extra-man, while only eight of Washington's 37 goals have come with the power play, and the discrepancy was evident in the teams' first meeting three weeks ago, when the Flyers scored three of their six goals with the extra attacker.

The Capitals will need to have discipline and avoid taking bad penalties, and also not let the Flyers cash in, something Washington hasn't shown a tendency to do on a regular basis. It certainly figures to be another entertaining contest between the two rivals.

Unfortunately for fans with DirecTV, it also marks the third game this month fans will miss thanks to the dispute between the satellite provider and the cable network. Fortunately, it's also Washington's last appearance on Versus until March 8th, when hopefully the two sides will have resolved their dispute.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Green's Finish Powers Capitals

While Mike Green hasn't played so well so far this season, he delivered the best 28 minutes of his season so far after getting felled by a hit by Nate Thompson, rushing the puck up twice and resulting in a pair of goals that got the Capitals two points they probably didn't deserve Saturday night.



For too much of the game against the Islanders, Washington wasn't generating many close-in shots, while allowing the young New York squad a lot of good opportunities. The Caps were flat and being beaten to loose pucks by the Isles, and simply weren't delivering the effort they needed to be successful against a squad that despite having just one win on the year had hung tough with several teams so far this year.

But once Green went down and his teammates rushed to defend him, the Capitals played with new vigor, using their speed and making the Islanders at times look like a one-win team. Even after the Isles notched what could have been a deflating goal in the third, Green got back to his old form, rushing into the Islanders' zone with the puck and blasting a perfectly placed shot under the crossbar to put the Capitals on the board.

In overtime, Green delivered the key rush, allowing Brooks Laich to crash the net and beat Dwayne Roloson for the decisive tally.

Green finished the night with three shots, a goal and assist as the game's third star.

Also strong for the Capitals was Jose Theodore, returning after back spasms knocked him out four games ago against San Jose. Washington allowed New York some prime chances and the score could easily have gotten out of hand had Theodore not been solid, stopping 28 of 30 shots.

Washington's power-play also continues to hamper the team, and again yielded another shorthanded goal. The Caps went 0-for-4, keeping them without a goal in their last 13 chances, dating back to the opening minutes of last Saturday's game against Nashville - while allowing two against with the extra man. While Alexander Semin's absence doesn't help, the team still at times had trouble even keeping the puck in the zone.

But, despite the sloppy efforts, the Capitals came away with four points on the trip, but will need to sharpen their game when the Flyers pay a visit next week.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Capitals Overcome Slow Start to Top Islanders

Two nights after a sloppy effort in Atlanta, the Capitals turned in another sloppy start to their game in Long Island, but Washington responded late to grab a 3-2 overtime win over the Islanders for their fourth straight victory.



Mike Green responded to a questionable hit by the Islanders' Nate Thompson late in the second period, delivering the Capitals' first goal and then adding a nice feed to Brooks Laich for the game-winner in overtime. Washington, lackluster before the hit, seemed to play with more intensity after it, allowing them to erase a 2-0 third-period deficit and win both games of its road trip.

Jose Theodore also was strong, stopping 28 of 30 shots - several from close range - and kept the Islanders down enough to allow the late heroics by Green, Keith Aucoin and Laich.

Washington was very sluggish in the first, getting outshot in the period 10-5 and yielding their second shorthanded goal in as many games. With Blake Comeau in the box for tripping, the Islanders delivered more pressure on Theodore than the Caps could muster on Dwayne Roloson, and Radek Martinek blasted a puck past Theodore with 7:46 left in the frame for the only goal of the period.

The Capitals delivered a bit more pressure in the second period, but still couldn't get one past Roloson despite having three power plays in the frame. However, Washington picked up their play when Thompson kneed Green along the boards with 6:43 left in the second period, causing a lengthy scrum.

Following the hit, the Capitals played with more intensity and began to outwork the Islanders, but couldn't dent Roloson before the end of the frame.

New York then boosted their lead to 2-0 with a nice deflection just 3:44 into the third, tipping a shot from Blake Comeau over Theodore's glove and putting the Isles up by two. However, as the Islanders have had trouble protecting multiple-goal leads so far this young season, Saturday was no different as the Capitals finally dented the twine behind Roloson.

Just 2:18 after Comeau's goal, Green broke in on a rush and blasted the puck in the net for his second goal of the season, and giving new life to the Capitals - while also planting the seed of doubt in the hosts' minds.

Washington then got the equalizer on a nice individual effort by Aucoin, as he picked up his own rebound, circled behind the net and tied the game on a wraparound with 6:52 left.

New York had some good chances to retake the lead late, but Theodore stood strong, stopping 15 of 16 shots he faced to force overtime.

Once overtime started, it didn't take long for the Caps to complete the comeback, as Green skated in along the boards, and fed a puck that Laich redirected past Roloson for the winner 60 seconds into the extra time.

The win moves Washington to 5-2-2 on the year, and was the fifth consecutive game the Caps recorded a point (4-0-1). As for the Islanders, it was another disappointing outing as they are now 0-1-3 when leading after 40 minutes.

Washington heads home for a game Tuesday night with Philadelphia, then the Islanders make a visit to Washington Friday night.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nylander Records Three Assists in Griffins Debut

Michael Nylander finally got on the ice for a game this season, and was named the second star in Grand Rapids' 5-3 win over the Abbotsford Heat on Friday night.

The exiled Capital had an assist in each of the game's three periods, all of which came on the power play, meaning despite getting the three helpers, he ended up even in the plus-minus department.

Nylander, who hadn't suited up in the AHL since being a member of the Springfield Indians for just four games in the 1993-94 season as a Whaler farmhand, will get another game tomorrow when the Toronto Marlies pay a visit to western Michigan.

Capitals Try to Keep Islanders Struggling

The Capitals wrap up their brief two-game road trip Saturday night on Long Island, meeting the Islanders for the first time this season.

New York played Washington tough last year in Uniondale, requiring the Caps to use overtime twice despite the Isles coming into the contest having lost seven and eight games, respectively.

This year, while the Islanders have struggled out of the gate, they aren't carrying a long losing streak, having defeated the Hurricanes Wednesday night in a shootout for their first win of the campaign before falling to Montreal 5-1 on Thursday night.

Like their efforts against the Caps last season, the Islanders have played a couple of their opponents tough, but some poor third-period efforts have cost them a few points. In their season opener, the Isles twice blew a lead in the third period, and fell to the Pens in a shootout. Against the Bruins on Oct. 10, New York blew a three-goal lead in the final 8:01 to fall in a shootout.

Wednesday night, New York blew a two-goal lead to Carolina in a 1:02 span in the final six minutes of the contest, but managed to earn their first victory of the season thanks to a John Tavares shootout goal.

Although Tavares has been strong in the first eight games of his NHL career with three goals and seven points, New York's offense continues to struggle, scoring just 18 goals and currently tied for 25th in the NHL in offense with a 2.12 goals-per-game output. The defensive effort hasn't been much better, allowing 3.62 goals-per-game, third-worst in the league.

That thin defense certainly will be appealing to Washington, who is third-best in the league with a 3.67 goals-per-game scoring pace, and Alexander Ovechkin certainly liked playing New York last season, scoring six goals and eight points in four games against the Isles, with four of those coming at the Nassau Coliseum.

Coming off just his second pointless game of the season, Ovechkin figures to be a factor against the Islanders with 12 goals in 15 career games against New York.

Washington has run off three straight wins following their 5-4 win over the Thrashers, and despite having a nasty habit of their own of letting leads evaporate late, the Capitals are 5-2-2 on the campaign. Semyon Varlamov won his second straight start Thursday, and is 4-0-0 on the campaign despite a slow start and some shaky moments on the season.

Like their game against Nashville last Saturday, the Capitals will need to take the Islanders out of the contest early, as New York certainly has shown capable of skating with some good opponents - at least for the first 55 minutes of a contest.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Power Play Not Special in Atlanta

While overall the Capitals' effort was solid against Atlanta, the team's special teams almost cost them at least a point with another subpar effort with the man-advantage and penalty-killing, which led to three of the Thrashers' four goals - two coming in the third period as the hosts attempted a comeback.

Washington went 0-for-7 on the power-play, even allowing a Zach Bogosian shorthanded tally in the third period that gave the Thrashers new life late in the contest. Armed with a chance to put the game away with a 5-on-3, Mike Knuble was whistled for a penalty and the Capitals took two more minors in the final minute of the contest to allow a rare 6-on-3 power-play for the Thrashers for a majority of the final minute of the game. The penalty-killing went 6-for-8, but three of four of Atlanta's goals were on special teams.

The Capitals' power-play, which started off the season at a torrid pace, has continued to sputter, dropping to 19th in the league and 18.2 percent success rate, or 8-for-44 for the season and allowed their first short-handed tally of the season. The entire effort left Bruce Boudreau shaking his head afterwards, as he told reporters it was the worst effort he's seen by the Capitals' extra-man unit.

The penalty-killing unit allowed a pair of quick goals on Thursday as well, allowing Maxim Afinogenov free space in front of Semyon Varlamov after a face-off win and enough time to deke the netminder and beat him with a backhand in the first period. The third-period marker against was more the streak of bad penalties to finish the contest, as they allowed the Thrashers a rare three-man advantage which led to Ilya Kovalchuk's second goal of the night just as Mike Knuble made it a 6-on-4.

While the absence of Alexander Semin from the lineup certainly didn't help Washington's struggling power-play, the Caps certainly could have made their lives easier with even one extra-man marker down the stretch, and will look to improve as teams are willing to take penalties if Washington can't make them pay with the extra man.

Caps Hang on For Win in Atlanta

While the Capitals pulled away from the Thrashers with a three-goal second period Thursday night, Atlanta stormed back late thanks to its special teams, but Washington was able to hang on for a 5-4 win in its first divisional game of the season.

While Alexander Ovechkin was held pointless for just the second time this year, fellow Russian Ilya Kovalchuk scored a pair of goals to pull even in the goal-scoring race with nine on the campaign. However, Jeff Schultz notched the first three-point night of his career - including a fluky goal that opened the floodgates in the middle frame - and three other Caps notched their first goal of the season in the victory.

Alexandre Giroux also scored a goal filling in for Alexander Semin, who didn't make the trip due to an undisclosed illness, while Eric Fehr, Chris Clark and Matt Bradley all scored for Washington.

The Capitals jumped out in front quickly, as Fehr took a long feed from Jeff Schultz and broke in alone and beat Ondrej Pavelec just 2:02 into the contest. However, Atlanta took advantage of a Shaone Morrisonn penalty just 2:04 later, as Maxim Afinogenov scored a goal off the faceoff win from Nik Antropov as the former Sabre broke in in to tie the game at the 4:09 mark of the period and put a backhander past Semyon Varlamov.

However, Giroux, playing in his first game of the season after being recalled from Hershey this morning, put Washington back in front at the eight-minute mark by blasting home a feed from another player recalled from Hershey, Keith Aucoin. Mike Knuble appeared to give the Caps a 3-1 lead on the next shift, but he was ruled to have kicked in a puck past Pavelec and the score remained 2-1.

Kovalchuk struck for his eighth of the season with just 2:58 left in the frame to bring the Thrashers even into the first intermission.

The game turned in Washington's favor with a strange goal just over the halfway mark of the second, as Schultz, circling behind his net, let go a clearing attempt from the face-off circle in the Washington end. The long clear appeared to change direction and eluded Pavelec to put the Caps back in front at the 10:20 mark.

With the fluke tally, Pavelec stumbled a bit, and Bradley put the lead at 4-2 just 1:14 after Schultz's goal with a wrist shot high for his third goal of the season. Just :14 after that, Clark scored his first of the campaign to put Washington in control 5-2 by depositing a wide Mike Green drive past the Atlanta netminder before he could protect the post.

All seemed to be going well for Washington, beating Pavelec five times on 14 shots, and reeling for the most goals it had allowed all season, Atlanta brought in Johan Hedberg in relief in the third period to limit the damage. However, Washington couldn't take advantage of several power-play opportunities in the third period, and it almost caused them to lose their three-goal edge.

While Marty Reasoner was in the box for an interference call early in the third, Zach Bogosian scored shorthanded for the Thrashers with 4:51 gone in the frame, beating Varlamov with a long low shot from the circle. The Thrashers gave Washington two more power-plays - including a 5-on-3 - to put the game away, but the Capitals couldn't light the lamp, and then some late penalties by the Caps led to Kovalchuk's second goal of the night with a blast from the point just as Knuble was skating back on the ice following a 6-on-3 situation with :49 left in the period.

Ovechkin took a penalty with :30 left to give the Thrashers a two-man advantage with Hedberg on the Atlanta bench, but fortunately for Washington, Varlamov held the late barrage for the 5-4 win.

Varlamov ended the night stopping 22 of 26 Atlanta shots, and earned his second straight win in as many starts and moved to 4-0-0 on the campaign.

Washington moves to 5-2-2 on the season, and 2-1-1 away from Verizon Center, and moves three points in front of Atlanta in the Southeastern race. The Capitals now head to Long Island to take on the Islanders Saturday night to wrap up the brief road trip before returning home Tuesday night against Philadelphia.

Aucoin, Giroux Recalled from Hershey

With Alexander Semin and Boyd Gordon ailing, the Capitals brought up two forwards from Hershey to take their place should they need them in the brief two-game road trip, as Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux were called up from Hershey.

Aucoin was actually in Washington's lineup the past two contests, but had been sent down to the Bears on Monday. But with Semin fighting an illness and not making the trip to Georiga, and because Gordon also unable to play Thursday against Atlanta, Aucoin's return to the AHL was a short one.

Giroux continues his strong play in the AHL, scoring five goals and five assists in six games with the Bears, and will be skating in his first regular-season action with the Capitals this season. Giroux had a good start to the preseason with Washington, but his play tailed off at the end and he didn't make the cut of being on the Opening Night roster.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Loan Another Strange Twist in Nylander Saga

When the Capitals had Michael Nylander participate in training camp yet failed to dress him in the team's six exhibition games, it certainly raised some eyebrows among observers that while the team was looking to move the forward, not having him play certainly wasn't helping matters.

Perhaps the Caps felt a move was more inevitable than it was during preseason, but Nylander's absence from the Capitals lineup certainly would make any team think twice about adding him to their roster sight unseen.

As one of the few who saw Nylander in September during a Duchesne Cup scrimmage, it certainly wasn't a good showing, as he coughed up the puck while attempting to curl at the blueline and leading to an odd-man rush against his squad. The lack of playing time in the preseason certainly would serve as a warning flag to potential suitors, as while there is some merit to keeping a skater out of action with a pending trade, leaving him out completely certainly sends the wrong signals.

Now, with the Grand Rapids Griffins looking to turn around from a 1-4 start and the Red Wings having called up some of the Griffins' key forwards, George McPhee found a partner willing to take a two-week loan of Nylander to give him a chance to showcase his skills without taking ice time away from the Capitals or their prospects in Hershey.

While there certainly are some NHL teams that might potentially be interested - the Bruins with two key forwards out this week for extended periods come to mind - it seems the Capitals seem intent on trying to send the veteran to Europe rather than having him play in the NHL where he could come back to hurt the Caps despite paying a large percentage of his salary - potentially a bigger percentage than they gave the Rangers to take Jaromir Jagr off their hands.

The question which will be answered is if this is the beginning of the endgame for Nylander with Washington, or if it's a desperate gambit to try and jumpstart a non-existent trade market with five AHL contests before his two-week stint ends.

Nylander Assigned to Grand Rapids

After spending over a month without appearing in a preseason or regular-season game, the Capitals finally are going to see Michael Nylander on the ice.

Except with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League.

Grand Rapids, the top affiliate of the Red Wings, has agreed to let Nylander skate on a conditioning stint, to let the veteran get some game action in without being officially sent down to the AHL.

The Capitals, who certainly haven't helped Nylander's value by keeping him in the press box for 13 games, hope that they can work out a deal to send him elsewhere and reduce his salary cap hit. Even with a pair of forwards potentially out for Thursday night's game, it was clear that Nylander wasn't getting any ice time with the Capitals.

Early Lead in Southeast is Up for Grabs in Atlanta

While it's only October, few people expected much from the Atlanta Thrashers this season, other than to be a popular team at the trading deadline as the team is weighing to trade star Ilya Kovalchuk at the deadline to avoid letting him possibly walk away as an unrestricted free agent over the summer.

However, thanks to Kovalchuk's seven goals in six games, Atlanta has suffered only one regulation loss in those games (4-1-1) and sits one point behind the Capitals heading into Thursday's matchup at Philips Arena.

Despite being three weeks into the new season, the Capitals haven't faced a Southeastern opponent yet so far this year, even facing Central Division opponents more (twice) than their own 24-game divisional slate so far this campaign. But Atlanta is up first - with another game in the same venue slated for next Thursday - and the Caps certainly had their troubles in Georgia last season, dropping two of three games before salvaging the last visit in the final week of the regular-season.

After a four-game losing skid (0-2-2), Washington has rebounded for two straight wins over San Jose and Nashville, mostly thanks to Ovechkin's four goals in those two contests. The two-time Hart Trophy winner is on pace to equal Wayne Gretzky's 92 goals in a season with his early performance, already notching more points this October than any first month of his career with five games yet to play.

Atlanta is coming off a 2-1 shootout loss in Montreal Tuesday night, a game where Slava Kozlov hit Scott Gomez from behind and could face some NHL discipline as a result.

With Jose Theodore battling back spasms and unable to dress for last Saturday's game, Semyon Varlamov probably will get the start for Washington after a decent performance against Nashville, although unfortunately for the young Russian, featuring another brief flurry of ineffectiveness that allowed the Predators two quick goals.

Up front, the Capitals may be a bit thin should Boyd Gordon not play, as well as Alexander Semin, who missed two practices this week due to an undisclosed illness. The Caps might opt to recall a forward or two from Hershey should those two be unable to play against the Thrashers, or they could be forced to dress Michael Nylander for the first time this year, who has been a healthy scratch for 17 consecutive playoff, preseason and regular-season contests dating back to Game 3 of the Penguins series last spring - although Bruce Boudreau threw water on using Nylander after Wednesday's practice per In the Room.

Semin would be a tough to replace, as he is currently tied for fifth in the NHL in goal-scoring with six goals in eight games, and certainly makes the team's forward corps more dangerous with his presence. While he did skate in Tuesday's practice, he missed Monday's and Wednesday's practices, so his status remains up in the air for Thursday's game.

Thursday night's contest could shed some light on if the Thrashers will be a season-long threat to the Capitals in the Southeast, and should provide some entertaining hockey with two of the league's top-goal scorers going head-to-head.

Could Leafs Threaten Capitals' Mark?

If you want to find the hockey equivalent of Redskins panic in the NHL world, look no further than north of the border in Toronto, where some are already comparing this year's winless edition of the Maple Leafs to some of the worst teams of all-time.

There's one record that the Washington Capitals franchise likely will hang onto for a long, long time, and it's one they want no part of. The first edition of the Capitals went just 8-67-5 in 1974-75 to set the distinction of the fewest points in an NHL season with just 21.

That year's Capitals scored 181 goals on the season (2.26 GPG) and allowed 446 (5.57 GAA), and didn't manage a win away from the Capital Centre until beating the Golden Seals late in the campaign for their lone road victory of the season.

In the 35 years since that campaign of bad hockey and white pants in Washington, only two teams have made a serious run at the Capitals' record for futility, with both coming during the 1992-93 season where the expansion Ottawa Senators and second-year San Jose Sharks both finished with 24 points, and the two teams not able to surpass the 21-point mark until Feb. 28th and Mar. 7th, respectively.

Now, having started off the campaign with seven straight losses (0-6-1) and the team on pace for 11 points, some in Toronto wonder if the Leafs are really record-setting bad.

The Leafs have averaged just two goals per game so far, and allowed 4.57 per contest, earning their lone point in their opening game with an overtime loss against Montreal before Toronto dropped six regulation losses in a row, only managing more than two goals with four against the Capitals on Oct. 3rd in those contests.

Of course, people forget how bad that 1974-75 Caps team really was, as a combination of adding 12 NHL expansion teams over a period of seven years and competition from the World Hockey Association for hockey talent produced a bare-bones expansion franchise in Washington that took years to become competitive.

While the Leafs are heading for what appears to be a battle with the New York Islanders for the top pick in the NHL - although in Toronto's case, that likely high pick becomes property of the Boston Bruins thanks to the Phil Kessel deal - they certainly appear capable of notching the equivalent of 10 wins over their remaining 75 contests.

Remember in 1974-75, there was no overtime points or shootout losses, something the Leafs will get a chance to add at least a couple of points from, not to mention the schedule allows them two more games to earn points.

So while the media in Toronto may fret how bad this Leafs team really is, it would be quite a reach for them to take the Capitals' unwanted record off their hands.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Odds and Ends from a Couple of Days Off

With the Olympic break this February, the Capitals get a rare four-day break this week, as the team its longest time away from game action until the league shuts down for a couple of weeks during the Vancouver games.

Washington has a couple of three-day breaks in the next few months, one in November and one in December, but thanks to the compressed schedule, days off will be at a premium with the league fitting in an 82-game schedule with the time off in February factored in.

That doesn't mean the Capitals have been taking it easy, however, as per Capitals Insider's Twitter feed, Bruce Boudreau skated the Capitals very hard in the last two practices at Kettler.

Per Tarik El-Bashir, the players indicated it's for conditioning purposes, which does make sense since it's difficult to simulate game conditions with an extended break, and the Capitals get some busy travel in the next two weeks, heading to Atlanta for their first divisional game of the year against the Thrashers Thursday, then up to Uniondale for a game with the Islanders Saturday, returning home for a home game with Philadelphia and then back to Philips Arena next Thursday before a pair of home games against the Isles and Blue Jackets Friday and Sunday following their second trip to Georgia.

That's six games in 10 days for the Caps following the break, with some points on the table with two against the currently-winless Islanders and also a pair against the surprising Thrashers. Philadelphia and Columbus are no treat either, with the Flyers offering a physically tough challenge while Washington still looks for its first-ever goal against the Blue Jackets' Steve Mason.

One player who could be back to help out by that point is Tomas Fleischmann, as per Caps Insider said he felt good after skating in practice for the first time this season. While Fleischmann is at least a week away to ensure he's healthy and ramp up his conditioning, he certainly will help make an already potent Capitals team even more dangerous to opposing goaltenders.

With Branden Holtby back in South Carolina and Keith Aucoin back in Hershey, the Capitals will also see if Jose Theodore is healthy enough to at least take the backup role in Atlanta before making a decision on if they need to recall a goaltender, but likely Semyon Varlamov will get the start against the Thrashers even if Theodore's healthy with the Islanders looming on Saturday night.

Washington will skate tomorrow morning at Kettler before jetting south to Georgia, and after a much-needed couple of days away from game action will be tossed back into another very busy stretch.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Quite a Display on Tap for Thursday

With the Capitals getting their first extended break of the season before Thursday night's game in Atlanta, it's worth noting that two of the game's brightest stars will be going head-to-head, with both of them scoring goals at record pace.

While Alexander Ovechkin has recorded nine goals in eight games so far - including four in the past two - Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk has also been stellar, notching seven goals in five games, putting him on pace for 114 goals heading into Tuesday night's game against Montreal.

Ovechkin has more points in October (16) than any of his previous four seasons, despite still having six games left to play. Kovalchuk has only reached seven goals in October three times in his career, and this time he's done it in just five games.

The two friends have also been intertwined in the NHL since the lockout and both playing in the Southeast Division against each other several times a season, with both having their public spats with Penguins star Sidney Crosby, brokering a peace between Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin at the 2009 All-Star Game, and of course, being part of the vocal Russian contingent pushing to go to Sochi in 2014.

And, if past history on the ice squaring off against each other is any indication, both stars figure to boost their totals on Thursday.

Ovechkin has more goals (23) and points (49) against the Thrashers than any other team in the league, scoring at a pace of 1.6 per contest vs. Atlanta, including recording nine points in six contests last season.

For his part, Kovalchuk is also at a better than a point-per-game pace against Washington with 50 points in 42 contests, only behind Florida and Carolina in his career, with six points in five games last season vs. the Caps.

Kovalchuk, whose future in Atlanta is still up in the air with unrestricted free agency looming after the season, certainly has been boosted by the arrival of Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov in the off-season, and has played almost as well as he did when he scored 52 goals a couple of seasons back.

However, off-the-ice, Kovalchuk certainly had the upper hand over Ovechin, thanks to scolding Ovechkin for not calling him in this faux public service announcement shown at Philips Arena last year.



All parodies aside, Thursday's game should be a treat for fans, as two snipers playing at the top of their game and look to outdo each other. And, if you can't tune in, the two teams meet again in the same venue a week from Thursday.

Ovechkin Nets NHL, Hockey News Honors

After Alexander Ovechkin's four-goal, two-assist week, he earned the Hockey News' Player of the Week honor, as well as the NHL's third star of the week.

Scoring twice against the Sharks and Predators, Ovechkin earns his first THN award of the year, and his second NHL star of the season, finishing behind Ilya Bryzgalov of Phoenix and Craig Anderson of Colorado. He finished the first week of the season as the first star.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Ovechkin's Brilliance Shines vs. Nashville

Coming off back-to-back Hart Trophy-winning seasons, Alexander Ovechkin has had a tremendous start to the current season, scoring a pair of goals and adding the game-winner in the 3-2 shootout victory over Nashville to race out to the early lead in the Richard Trophy and Art Ross Trophy race.

Ovechkin's eighth and ninth goals puts him at better than a goal-per-game pace (one that would equal Wayne Gretzky's record-setting 92-goal season), and also has the superstar at a two points-per-game clip of 164 points.

While Ovechkin has always been a streaky scorer and certainly will be hard-pressed to keep those torrid paces up over 74 more contests, he currently has two more goals than fellow countryman Ilya Kovalchuk of Atlanta and three more points than San Jose's Joe Thornton who is currently second in the scoring race.

Saturday's game was quite a showcase for the Russian superstar, as he scored on a power-play with a one-timer off of Mike Green's feed, did an offspeed shot through Dan Ellis' pads on a break and then capped his evening with a nifty shootout goal that earned the extra point for Washington - earning chants of "MVP" and a shower of hats for his unofficial hat trick against Ellis.

The rest of Ovechkin's teammates were glad to his production, since the only player to dent the twine was their star against a goaltender struggling in the very early stages of the campaign. It also was Ovechkin's fourth multi-goal game of the campaign, and his second straight with his two-goal performance against San Jose Thursday night which proved to be the difference in that contest.

Just under a tenth of the way through the season, the usually slow-starting star has been anything but quiet out of the gate this season. With his two points Saturday, Ovechkin already has more points in this October than he has in any other October in his career - besting his 15-point performance in 2007-08 - with five games still left to play in the month.

Add to that as well that he has contributed seven helpers along with his nine goals, and it certainly bodes well for Ovechkin's chances to recapture the Art Ross after Evgeni Malkin edged him out of the scoring title last season.

It certainly would be difficult for Ovechkin to match Gretzky's 92-goal watermark, it is worth noting through eight games of the 1981-82 campaign, the "Great One" only had notched five goals, going scoreless against the Hartford Whalers in Edmonton's eighth game that season - with Gretzky having four fewer goals than Ovechkin stands after Washington's eighth game of the current season.

While Ovechkin has been simply brilliant during his tenure as a Capital, this season stands to be better than his previous four campaigns in D.C. thanks to a quick start. And, thanks to him, the Capitals took a pair of points largely thanks to his sheer talent and scoring touch.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ovechkin Does It All Against Predators

Against a team stuggling to score goals, the Capitals had only one player put the puck in the net against Nashville Saturday night.

But fortunately for Washington, it was enough.

Alexander Ovechkin staked the Capitals to a 2-0 lead in the first period, and after a mini-meltdown in the second period by Semyon Varlamov, Ovechkin finished the job with the only goal in the shootout for a 3-2 victory over the Predators.

The victory gives the Capitals their second straight win, and gives them a boost heading into a four-day break before they hit the ice again in Atlanta Thursday night. The Caps almost let the downtrodden Predators grab a victory with a less-than-stellar 45 minutes following a solid first period, but Ovechkin's heroics were enough to give the home team the extra point.

Ovechkin began the scoring just 5:27 into regulation, as he scored a power-play goal by slamming home a cross-ice feed from Mike Green for his eighth goal in eight games, with Mike Knuble getting the secondary helper.

The two-time Hart winner then put himself ahead of the goal-per-game pace by taking a Brendan Morrison feed in on Nashville goaltender Dan Ellis and then beat him through the pads with a soft shot for a 2-0 lead with just 1:45 remaining in the first period.

However, despite some struggles by Ellis, that was the last goal he allowed until the shootout, and a brief flurry by Nashville allowed the Predators to draw even in the second period.

With just 5:01 left in the middle frame, Shea Weber rocketed a shot under the crossbar to cut the Capitals lead in half. Then, Varlamov allowed a very soft tally to J.P. Dumont just 1:35 later, as he allowed a shot from along the goal line in the corner to get past to even the score at 2-2.

The Predators scored as many goals in 95 seconds as they had in their previous 240 minutes of action, and energized by the rare scoring outburst, Nashville flashed new life after being very flat through the first 34 minutes of the contest.

Mike Green took a penalty late in the second period, but a Predators unit that came into the game at just a five percent clip couldn't put another one past Varlamov to keep the score even after 40 minutes.

The third period started out slowly, but the Preds got a good chance to take the lead when Nicklas Backstrom was called for a hook in the offensive zone halfway through the frame, but once again, the Caps were able to drop Nashville's success rate to just 1-for-24 on the season, a league-worst 4.2 percent.

Knuble had a pair of chances to win the game in the dying minutes regulation, as he couldn't connect on a cross-ice feed and then missed a golden chance in close on his next shift, but both teams earned a point and the game went into a strange overtime session.

Unlike most East-West overtimes where the two teams open up the action, both teams were very tenative, with just one shot on goal total in the exta session.

That brought up Washington's second shootout in the last three games, and Backstrom couldn't get the puck past Ellis in Washington's first attempt. Steve Sullivan missed the net on Nashville's first shot, and then Ovechkin capped his evening by beating Ellis for the lone shootout tally.

Ovechkin's goal was followed by a strange scene where dozens of fans threw hats on the ice mistakenly thinking it counted as a hat trick, and delaying the Predators' second shooter, David Legwand.

However, Varlamov took advantage of the break, causing Legwand to shoot wide. Brendan Morrison had a chance to finish the game with Washington's third shot, but was stopped on the backhand. But Varlamov helped wrap up the extra point by stuffing Martin Erat's wrist shot for the 3-2 win.

Washington certainly was fortunate not to allow a slumping Predators team to steal a victory after dominating them early on, and Varlamov's nasty habit of letting in goals in bunches continued with the brief flurry in the second period.

But, the Capitals did get the two points to move to 4-2-2 on the campaign heading into their first divisional clash of the season Thursday against the Thrashers, thanks to their superstar giving them all the goals they needed on the evening.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Capitals Welcome Struggling Predators to Town

Washington wraps up its three-game homestand with the slumping Nashville Predators to Verizon Center, as the Preds certainly have been powerless over the past couple of games.

After starting out the season 2-0-0, Nashville has been outscored 16-2 in its last four games, getting shut out twice in the process. The Predators are averaging a league-worst 1.17 goals-per-game and also feature a sputtering power-play that also is the bottom of the NHL with a 5 percent success rate (1 for 20).

Even worse, four of their first six games have come at home, and now the Predators head into the second game of a six-game Eastern road trip, one that started off with a 3-1 loss to Chicago Thursday night.

To put their offensive woes in perspective, the Predators have just four players who have scored a single goal this season, and only Jason Arnott (3 goals) and Patric Hornqvist (2 goals) have scored more than one. To put that in perspective, the Capitals have eight players with at least one goal so far, and Alex Ovechkin matched the Predators' entire offensive output of the last 240 minutes in just :28 Thursday night.

It's not that the Predators aren't putting shots on net, as they are averaging 28.5 per contest so far, it's just that they're connecting on just 4.7 percent of them.

The Capitals finally broke their four-game losing skid on Thursday with a 4-1 win over Nashville, as Ovechkin's two goals were the difference in the contest. They did lose the services of Jose Theodore, who will miss the Predators contest, and Semyon Varlamov will look to build on his two strong periods in relief against San Jose with Branden Holtby being the emergency backup after three solid appearances in Hershey.

Of course, sometimes a struggling team is primed for a breakout, so the Capitals will need to beware of giving up an early goal or two to boost the Predators' confidence and opening the floodgates. It will be important to break the Preds' will early, and pop in a goal or two against them to increase the pressure on the struggling club.

Dan Ellis has been the better of Nashville's two netminders, posting a 2-1-0 mark, but he was brutal in his last appearance, allowing three goals in three shots in a 6-0 loss to Dallas on the 14th.

One game after breaking their slump, the Capitals will have to be careful not to allow a struggling Nashville team to break their own Saturday night.

Caps Recall Holtby

To back up Semyon Varlamov, the Capitals recalled Braden Holtby from South Carolina as an emergency backup for tomorrow night's tilt against Nashville.

Holtby, who had appeared in three games for the Hershey Bears before being send down to the ECHL, was 2-1-0 for Hersey with a 1.01 GAA and a .967 save percentage, including a shutout of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He has not appeared for the Stingrays yet this season.

Wearing No. 70, Holtby will make his first NHL appearance for the Capitals tomorrow, as with Jose Theodore injured and Michal Neuvirth making his first appearance for the Bears tonight in Glens Falls, N.Y., Holtby was the best option for the Caps with a couple of days before the team's next game Thursday in Nashville.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Theodore's Injury Could Crowd Crease

While the Capitals' goaltending situation seemed to be sorting itself out nicely with Jose Theodore playing well to start the year and assuming the No. 1 role, but that came undone when the veteran's back spasms caused him to have to leave Thursday's game against San Jose.

To his credit, Semyon Varlamov showed none of the jitters that had led to him losing the top spot, as the rookie faced a tough San Jose squad for 40 minutes and stopped all 15 shots he faced.

Should Theodore's issue not dissipate by Saturday, the team likely will recall Michal Neuvirth from Hershey, giving the team a taste of its future with the two young netminders. However, with the Capitals having a couple of days off before a brief two-game road trip through Georgia and Long Island kicks off next Thursday.

With Theodore in a contract year and playing well - and potentially being an attractive rental for teams needing help at the deadline - it will be important to see if the Capitals feel confident in their young tandem to take a chance and lose Theodore's veteran presence, or if they feel they need to retain him in order to remain a Cup contender.

Theodore has posted a 2.67 GAA so far this year with a .910 save percentage, and at times has been brilliant for Washington, but would free up ample cap room should the Capitals decide to deal him and bring in an experienced defenseman to boost the team's chances.

Varlamov, who was tremendous in last year's playoffs, hasn't been quite the same in his three appearances this year, although his strong performance lowered his goals-against to 3.58 and raising his save percentage to .887. He also has been brilliant at times, but he has been vulnerable to high shots and has shown a tendency in the preseason and regular season this year to allow goals in bunches.

As for Neuvirth, his chance to make the opening night roster was undone by injury, but he will be making his first start of the season for the Bears Friday night in Glens Falls, N.Y. against the Adirondack Phantoms. If he is healthy enough and Theodore can't skate Saturday against Nashville, he likely get called up to back up Varlamov if he is healthy enough. If not, Jason Bacashihua will get a chance to see his first NHL action since playing 38 games for the Blues between 2005 and 2007.

Theodore's back spasms certainly will be worth watching to see how the young goalies perform with their chance and make a tough decision for George McPhee at the trade deadline.

Ovechkin, Capitals Snap Streak vs. Sharks

Neither Alexander Ovechkin or the Washington Capitals had much luck against the San Jose Sharks, with the Caps winless against the Sharks since Bill Clinton was in the White House and their two-time Hart Trophy winner never having lit the lamp against the club.

All that changed early in the second period of Washington's 4-1 win over San Jose at Verizon Center, as the Caps snapped their four-game losing streak overall, and an 11-game losing streak to the Sharks. Ovechkin netted a pair of goals just :28 apart to give him at least one goal against every NHL club and also reclaiming the NHL lead in that category with seven overall.

Needing a solid effort against last year's President's Trophy winners, the Capitals got it, outshooting San Jose 37-28 and getting some good goaltending from both starter Jose Theodore and replacement Semyon Varlamov, who came into the game at the start of the second period after the veteran suffered back spasms late in the first period.

Washington got the early breaks, getting a pair of five-on-threes early in the first period, and finally cashed one in when Nicklas Backstrom, parked next to the post, fired it across to Alexander Semin who scored while falling down to put the Capitals up just 7:21 into the period.

However, Theodore was bothered by spasms just over halfway through the period, and he was bothered by them when Benn Ferriero put a puck over his shoulder with 5:53 left in the first. Despite the issue, he turned away 12 of 13 San Jose shots before getting replaced by Varlamov at the start of the second period.

However, Mike Knuble set up Ovechkin's first-ever goal against countryman Evgeni Nabokov, threading a pass through Marc-Edouard Vlasic and to No. 8, who deposited the puck in for a 2-1 Capitals lead 2:55 into the period.

It wasn't long before Ovechkin got his second of the night, firing home a rebound of a Knuble shot to put Washington up 3-1 just :28 later and sending the home crowd into a frenzy.

Armed with the lead, Varlamov showed none of the shakiness that got him bounced out of the No. 1 role, as he was perfect with eight saves in eight shots and making some nifty stops in the process.

Unlike the previous losses where the Capitals squandered a lead late by letting the other team take control of the contest, there was no such case on this evening, as Washington outshot San Jose 12-7 in the final 20 minutes and Matt Bradley picked up his second of the season with a shot just under the crossbar 5:11 into the third period.

The result was Washington's first win against the Sharks since February 20, 1999, and just the second time in its last dozen games against the San Jose franchise (1-10-1). More importantly for this year's team, it ends a 0-2-2 streak and certainly was an impressive win over a solid club with some firepower.

Washington wraps up its homestand against Nashville Saturday, and also will end an eight-game stretch against non-divisional opponents which will come to an end next Thursday when the Capitals visit Atlanta.

Limited Tickets Remain for Most Games

An interesting piece in the Washington Times today regarding single-game tickets for the Caps this season, as while the team cut off the season-ticket sales, it held back about 1,500 per game for public sale - which haven't quite been gobbled up by the general public.

"Part of it is that people think we're sold-out," Leonsis said. "So I get e-mails from people saying, 'I can't go to the games.' So we carved out seats. ... It's still great attendance. I have no complaints. But we have left some tickets aside. And to be sincere, if we don't sell them day of game, I'll reconsider selling maybe another 500 season tickets."

As of Wednesday afternoon, roughly 500 tickets remained for the game against San Jose, a total that includes a handful of unclaimed tickets that had been set aside for Sharks players and personnel. Hundreds of tickets are also available through the Washington Capitals Ticket Exchange, which allows season-ticket holders to sell tickets they can't use. About 1,300 tickets for Thursday's game were up for re-sale on the site, with many priced at face value. StubHub.com, another popular reseller, showed about 100 tickets available for as little as $12.
Of course, October weeknights against Western opponents have always been tougher sells, but Leonsis also said that he'd consider selling up to 500 more season-tickets if the single-game allotment doesn't sell out more consistently.

Right now, according to the Caps' Kurt Kehl, an average of 800 tickets remain for the remaining 38 home dates.

Aucoin Recalled From Hershey

Keith Aucoin, one of the last players cut before the season began, is heading back to Washington for Thursday night's game against San Jose. Aucoin had four points in four games with the Bears so far this season, and now will look to build on a good preseason and see if he can stick with Washington.

Aucoin, who is in the second year of a contract that pays him $500,000 regardless of if he skates in Hershey or Washington, had two goals and three assists in 12 games with the Capitals last season.

The roster spot and cap space for Aucoin's recall was cleared when the team put John Erskine on IR, as the big defenseman was injured in Monday's 3-2 loss to New Jersey.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sharks Skate Into Chinatown

One of the better October tilts takes place Thursday at Verizon Center, as last year's Western Conference regular-season top seed makes its only visit to Washington on the season, as the Capitals will battle the Sharks.

The game features a pair of dynamic teammates going head-to-head, as while Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have combined for 22 points, new Shark Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton have combined for 20 points in the young season.

Although San Jose was blanked in a 1-0 shootout loss to Phoenix Monday, Jose Theodore still figures to be busy in what's expected to be his fourth straight start since relieving Semyon Varlamov in Philadelphia 10 days ago.

Washington is looking to bounce back from an 0-2-2 skid, and despite blowing a 2-0 lead against the Devils, Bruce Boudreau was happier with the team's effort than he had been in the team's previous three losses. However, he put the Caps through a rigorous practice on Wednesday, even calling out players for a lack of effort during the workout, perhaps as a motivator against one of the West's top clubs.

John Erskine, who left Monday's game with the generic "upper-body injury" didn't skate and is expected to miss the game against the Sharks, although that allows the Caps a chance to insert a little more speed - although less toughness - in the lineup.

The last time the two teams met, it was a pretty ugly affair for Washington, as coming off a rough game where they lost Mike Green in Anaheim two nights earlier, the Sharks jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period and didn't look back in a 7-2 thumping at the Shark Tank. The now-departed Brent Johnson went the entire way, stopping only 21 of 28 shots put on him, while Brian Boucher had a light night facing just 21 Capitals shots.

The Caps also haven't tasted a win against San Jose in a decade, with their last win coming February 20, 1999, going 0-10-1 since, with the lone point coming in the Sharks' last visit to Verizon Center in 2007 with a 3-2 shootout loss.

Alex Ovechkin hasn't had a lot of success against the Sharks either, recording just one point in three games against them, picking up an assist on Tomas Fleischmann's third-period tally in last year's blowout. San Jose is also the only NHL team that has kept the the two-time Hart Trophy winner from lighting the lamp, and the Sharks are one of two teams (Colorado is the other) that he has just a single point against during his career.

It's certainly not an easy team for Washington to climb back into the win column against, as the team certainly is dangerous if the Caps continue to allow some of the chances they've allowed in the last couple of games.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Too Early to Panic

Perhaps it's fallout from the reaction to the self-destruction of the city's NFL franchise, but while there seems to be a bit of self-doubt following four straight losses for the Capitals, it's important to step back and take a look at where the team is, and how much that is left to play out in the campaign.

When I first met Ted Leonsis in the November of 1999, just a couple of months after he had plunked down a nifty sum for the club, he wasn't thrilled with the team's very slow start to the season, but my words of wisdom to him was to remember the NHL season is a marathon, not a sprint. While the Capitals that year started out of the gate very slowly, they roared into the team's first divisional title since 1988-89 with a tremendous finish.

This year the Capitals came into the year with sky-high expectations, as after two years of being just expected to be playoff contenders, this year, they are carrying a lot bigger aspirations with them into the season.

But after a 2-2-2 start, how do they stand compared to the last two years?

Well, compared to last year's record-setting season, they're just one point different through six games (and the Caps then fell to .500 in the seventh game with a loss at Phoenix). Two years ago, they were 3-3-0 for six points, and then lost their seventh to fall below the break-even point.

In NFL plarlance, it's the equivalent of a snap judgement one game in after suffering a disappointing tie to being the same campaign.

The Capitals have some issues they need to address, to be sure.

The defense likely won't be the same as it will be in April, as the team has too many lower-tier defenseman, particularly with Karl Alzner and John Carlson playing well in Hershey, and that's not to rule out a rental at the deadline should George McPhee be able to move some cap room before the deadline. Injuries to Tom Poti and John Erskine Monday night could bring some changes, particularly if they're serious and allows the Caps to put one of the blueliners on IR and then bring up Alzner to help add a stay-at-home type defenseman that Washington doesn't have with the current eight up with the big club.

Offensively, the Capitals have been streaky, but that's the nature of their stars, as Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have historically been very hot-and-cold through their careers, blazing hot at points and sometimes trying to do to much at others (the latter of which certainly can describe at least Semin's game Monday). On a game-to-game basis, they're not overly consistent, and a lot depends on how the supporting cast perform when it isn't a night for the Alexes.

Last night, Mike Knuble did his part with a goal and an assist, but they will need some more of the others to pop in a goal, but that also will get a boost once Tomas Fleischmann returns to the lineup.

Probably the best surprise so far this year is the improved play of Jose Theodore, as he has a .908 save percentage and was brilliant at times against New Jersey. This, of course, is a welcome development on two fronts, since not only does it help the team on the ice, it also boosts the value of perhaps their top commodity come spring, since a team needing a goalie might be able to allow Washington to free up the cap room to make an impact deal to shore up the blueline or another need at that point.

For all the comparisons between this year's team and last year's Pittsburgh Penguins that have been made, it's important to remember the Penguins were sitting just two games above .500 in February and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings. But, like the current Caps, the talent-laden Pens got their act into gear in time, made a shrewd deal to land Bill Guerin at the deadline and were able to roll into the last four months of the season despite a thin blueline and an somewhat suspect netminder in Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Caps have some company in the early-season doldrums, as the Bruins (2-3-0), Hurricanes (2-3-0), Red Wings (2-2-0), Canucks (2-3-0) and the Caps' next opponent, Sharks (3-2-1) all aren't where they wanted to be out of the gate.

But while the Capitals have some questions to be answered, there is a long race ahead. Theodore's status will be one key development, not to mention if they can find a solution to Michael Nylander's status.

While pundits (myself included) will be critical of the team's day-to-day performance, in the grand scheme of things, right now while it isn't the start the team wanted, it certainly has plenty of time to be fixed. Even when teams have rolled off to great starts (see, 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres, 2007-08 Ottawa Senators or 2008-09 San Jose Sharks), it hasn't meant a June parade (or even a Finals berth), so the key in the NHL nowadays is to qualify for the playoffs and put yourself in a better position at that point than you started the season with.

Your Moment of Zen


The Caps may have lost the shootout, but they won the spelling bee.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Caps Can't Protect Lead, Fall in Shootout

While the Capitals did their best in the first period to snap their three-game losing streak by taking a 2-0 lead, Washington couldn't finish off the Devils and ended up dropping a 3-2 shootout decision in front of a sold-out Verizon Center Monday.

The loss is Washington's fourth straight (0-2-2), and despite getting a better effort from their penalty-killers, the power-play failed to score on a 5-on-3 in the third period to put New Jersey away and David Clarkson scored with 6:26 left in regulation to force the extra session.

Mike Green was able to finally put some bad games behind him, notching his first of the campaign, and Mike Knuble scored a goal and an assist to stake the Caps to the early lead. Jose Theodore was also good in net, although he allowed a pair of goals in the shootout that led to the defeat.

The Caps came out strong, and despite being outshot 7-6 in the first period, put together the better chances. Washington took the lead on a strange play, as an Alexander Ovechkin pass went across the ice, deflected off Knuble's skates and right to Green, and who beat Martin Brodeur for a lead 9:06 into the contest.

Knuble then added a marker of his own, as he put on a shot that Brodeur slowed with his stick, but the Devils goalie couldn't get all of it, and it dropped in the net just 5:10 later for a 2-0 lead and the Capitals finished their best 20 minutes in over a week in control of the contest.

However, Brian Rolston got the Devils on the board 8:18 into the second, and despite some decent chances, Washington couldn't get the third goal of the contest to restore its two-goal lead.

The deciding factor in the contest came in the third period when Bryce Salvador was whistled for roughing just 4:05 into the frame, then Brodeur was called for a high-stick just 1:07 later, giving the Capitals a 5-on-3 to really drive a stake in the Devils. But Washington didn't really create any quality chances despite the two-man advantage and couldn't get another goal, and even handed a too-many-men minor just :23 after the Brodeur minor expired, New Jersey held the score at 2-1.

The Devils then started to take control of the latter stages of the third, and a long flurry resulted in Clarkson's equalizer with less than seven minutes to play. New Jersey got a chance for the go-ahead goal when Boyd Gordon was called for slashing just :52 after the tying goal, but the penalty-killers held off the Devils and the two teams headed to overtime.

Washington had a couple of good chances early in the overtime, but Brendan Morrison was whistled for tripping 1:56 into the extra session, and Theodore was called upon to make some spectacular saves to keep the game going, and the Capitals headed to their first shootout of the year.

Nicklas Backstrom scored first to put the Capitals up, but Zach Parise answered on New Jersey's first shot. After Alexander Semin's slap shot was blocked by Brodeur, Jamie Langenbrunner's shot went off the post but then off Theodore's skate to put the Devils up in the shoout, and Brodeur stopped Ovechkin on Washington's last shot for New Jersey's third straight win.

The loss is Washington's fourth straight one-goal defeat, with three of those losses coming to Atlantic Division teams (0-1-2). The Capitals now have two games against Western Conference opponents (San Jose and Nashville) before playing their first divisional contest next Thursday in Atlanta.

While Monday's game was an improvement in some areas, the power play continues to be a problem after the hot start, falling to 6-for-34 overall (17.6 percent) and only 2-for-22 at Verizon Center (9.1 percent). The Devils presented a chance for Washington to really seize the contest late, and the Capitals couldn't produce with the extra-man and had to settle for the single point and were bumped out of the Southeast lead by the Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-2).

Washington gets two days off before getting a tough test as the San Jose Sharks skate into Chinatown Thursday, a squad that has won two straight heading into tonight's late game in Phoenix.

Capitals Look to Bounce Back Against Devils

Even it's still October - with 77 games left on the schedule - there's a bit of uneasiness around the Capitals in the last couple of days, especially in the way the team has fallen into a three-game slide.

Bad penalties, poor defensive coverage and goaltending breakdowns have contributed to losses to the Flyers, Rangers and Red Wings, and now the team will look to regain its swagger when the New Jersey Devils roll into town Monday night.

Jose Theodore, following a good performance on Saturday, will get the start against a New Jersey club that's won two straight against Southeast opponents after starting off the season 0-2.

It hasn't been pretty for the Devils so far, as Martin Brodeur was called upon to make 41 saves against the Lightning to take the season's first points in Tampa Bay, and despite that, the future Hall-of-Famer has posted a 3.22 GAA so far with an unhealthy .890 save percentage. But the Devs have won the first two on their three-game road-trip, and are looking to return to Newark with six points after tonight's tilt.

While Washington's defense has struggled, allowing 18 goals in five games, the Devils haven't been much better, allowing 13 goals in four games, with New Jersey only scoring 11 goals in those contests.

However, even Washington's offense has slowed from its torrid start, with Alexander Ovechkin in a relative mini-slump with no goals in the past two games.

The killer has been giving up careless penalties with the team's penalty-killers not getting the job done, as the Red Wings went 2-for-5 with the extra man, including the game-winner down the stretch with the game knotted at two. Mike Green and Alexander Semin took a pair of penalties each, with the defenseman already having taken six minors in five games in a tough start for last year's Norris Trophy finalist.

But, with a lot more attention being placed on October hockey than normal around town with the Redskins struggling to outpace the Caps in wins, Washington looks to put aside a trio of sub-par performances to rest before the very tough San Jose Sharks hit town on Thursday night.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Leonsis Isn't Happy After Wings Loss

In his blog, Capitals owner Ted Leonsis wasn't too pleased with last night's 3-2 loss in Motown entitled "Yuck."

That game looked like a game played between grownups and some spoiled teenagers.

Leonsis added this later in the post:

We have much to learn from a perennially great team like the Red Wings: Mostly don’t believe the press clippings; play hard, play disciplined; have everyone contribute on playing good D; and hold on when you get a lead.

Washington gets a chance to correct those errors tomorrow night when the Devils pay a visit to Verizon Center.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Caps Drop Third Straight

While the Capitals got a better performance from Jose Theodore and some scoring from other than their top six forwards, some bad penalties led to a 3-2 loss to the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena Saturday night.

Theodore stopped 34 of 37 Detroit shots, but Tomas Holstrom's power-play goal with 6:57 left in regulation was the difference as Washington dropped their third straight (0-2-1) after a 2-0-0 start.

Alexander Ovechkin was held goalless for the second straight contest as well, but he did pick up an assist on Brendan Morrison's third-period equalizer, but it wasn't enough to earn a point in Detroit.

Matt Bradley put the Capitals in front 3:58 into the contest, blasting a shot past Chris Osgood for his first of the season and giving Washington an early lead.

The Red Wings pulled even before the end of the first period, as Ville Leino wristed a shot past Theodore to knot the score at 1-1.

But Alexander Semin took back-to-back penalties in the second period, and on the second one, Jason Williams made the Capitals pay, beating Theodore with 3:34 left in the middle frame for the only goal in the period.

However, Morrison pulled the Capitals even 1:25 into the third on a strange play, as Patrick Eaves broke in on Theodore and put the net off its moorings, but the play was allowed to continue, and Ovechkin fed Morrison in the middle, who beat Theodore to put the Caps even.

Detroit poured it on in the third, outshooting the Caps 11-4, and with Mike Green in the box for the second time on the evening, Holstrom put the Wings ahead for good with 6:53 left in regulation.

Despite the better effort, the Capitals still hurt themselves with bad penalties, as the Wings went 2-for-5 with the extra man and it proved to be the difference in the contest. Semin and Green were both whistled for a pair of minors, and the two were in the box during Detroit goals.

Washington now gets three straight at home to try and stop their slide, with New Jersey coming in Monday for a Columbus Day evening game at Verizon Center.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Caps Head to Motown

Following a lackluster loss to the Rangers Thursday night, it certainly wasn't a normal day for the Caps.

Eric Fehr was told to head to Hershey for a conditioning stint with the Bears, then was called while driving up I-270 near Frederick and told to return for the team's trip to Detroit, as coach Bruce Boudreau looks to shake up the team's ineffective third and fourth lines and will shake up the lines with the return of the injured forward.

They head to Michigan and are facing a club that got bad news when they learned Johan Franzen tore his ACL in a 3-2 win over Chicago and will be missing one of their top forwards at least until after the Olympic break.

Detroit, which lost a pair of games in Sweden before righting the ship against Chicago thanks to a good performance from goaltender Chris Osgood.

Washington will be looking for more stability from their 'keepers, who have performed well at times, but both have been susceptible to giving up rapid-fire goals like the two by Marian Gaborik in short order in Thursday's setback.

The Caps have had reasonable success against the Wings in recent seasons, beating Detroit in the teams' only meeting last year and earning a shootout loss in their last trip to the Joe in 2007.

Washington's performance level has dropped in each of its four games, although it will be interesting to see if the Caps boost their effort level against a prime opponent than a Rangers team that they didn't work hard enough against.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Once Again, Caps Can't Finish

Three games, three poor finishes for the Capitals.

Last Saturday, the Capitals did their best to squander a 6-1 lead to the Maple Leafs in the third period, allowing three Toronto goals and then hanging on for a two-goal victory.

Tuesday night, Washington took a 5-4 lead halfway through the period despite a sub-par performance but a late penalty and fluky goal eventually led to an overtime loss in Philadelphia.

Then, Thursday night, after a gift goal thanks to Henrik Lundqvist and a quick strike shortly after that for a 3-2 lead, the Caps took only 18 seconds to squander their momentum and the lead, and crumbled down the stretch to suffer a 4-3 loss that left Bruce Boudreau testy.

While Jose Theodore was good for 48 minutes and kept Washington in the contest until that point with some good saves, his allowing two goals through the pads to Marian Gaborik certainly irked his coach, as Boudreau said afterwards that "you have to stop them."

Unfortunately for the Capitals, a growing problem in this season is something that dogged them last year, as while the team is terrific when they play 60 minutes of hockey - as evidenced by the impressive season-opening 4-1 win at Boston - they tend to try and get away with playing less than that and it burns them against good teams.

Against Toronto, they played two solid periods and a lousy third and put a game that was a laugher in doubt. Philadelphia, they probably played a period-plus of good hockey, but still managed to grab a standings point. Thursday night, although they played decent for some small stretches in the game, with their lack of success despite getting nine power plays - including two 5-on-3s - they perhaps played one period's worth of strong hockey against a team that was willing to slow down the Caps' free-wheeling ways and took advantage of a shoddy defensive effort.

Of course, it's just the fourth game of the season, and the first game Washington has been held without a standings point. But some of the issues that raised eyebrows last year are returning in full force in this year's edition of the Capitals.

Boudreau, while critical of his team's effort, also has to be questioned for his decision to play no defensemen on a 4-on-3 in the second period, using Alexander Ovechkin and Brendan Morrison at the points, a pairing that resulted in two odd-man rushes for New York, and eventually a goal against.

He also used Chris Clark extensively on some critical junctures, including the final power play and when Theodore cleared the crease for the extra attacker, and it seemed like an odd choice to use the captain in a situation where they needed a goal, particularly when he couldn't cash in on a golden chance in the first period. He wasn't particularly effective in that role, and there certainly were other players more capable of putting the puck in the net when they needed it most.

So, with just 48 hours to regroup before hitting Joe Louis Arena, the Capitals have some questions to try and solve in a hurry. The Red Wings are more likely to trade chances with the Capitals than the Rangers with, but of course, Detroit is also a lot more likely to bury several of those chances.

With all the talent the Caps have, to go 1-for-9 on the extra-man isn't acceptable, particularly with the two-man advantage opportunity. Washington made too many passes and too little going to the net, and Mike Knuble, who was brought in to crash the net in those situations, was surprisingly absent from those chances.

Another player who had a particularly lackluster performance was Mike Green, who couldn't hit the net on several good chances, and took a terrible penalty on a 5-on-3 in the offensive zone that eventually led to New York's first goal.

And, Boudreau has to decide who will be in the net on Saturday, as he has to choose which of his goaltenders that had mini-meltdowns this week will face the dangerous Red Wings that finally got in the win column Thursday with a win over Chicago.

But the Capitals will look to buck the downward trend they've had since the third period last Saturday, as they certainly need a better effort - and more consistent goaltending - against a very tough Detroit squad - to avoid falling to .500 after their 2-0-1 start.