Sunday, January 31, 2010

Capitals top Bolts for 10th Straight win

By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC- It took an early third period meltdown and a late goal by Alex Ovechkin, but the Washington Capitals managed to make history on Sunday afternoon against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning.

Ovechkin’s late goal, his 35th of the season, gave the Capitals a 3-2 victory after the Capitals allowed the Lightning to score twice in the first 7:42 of the third period to erase a 2-0 deficit. The win, the Capitals 10th straight, ties the franchise record for consecutive wins in a season set by the 1983-84 Capitals.

“It’s kind of fun,” said Ovechkin about tieing the franchise record. “We don’t want to stop. We want to keep winning and playing well.”

The Capitals can set the franchise for consecutive wins Tuesday night against the Boston Bruins at TD Banknorth Garden, where the Bruins have not won since December 30. The Capitals won their previous trip to TD Banknorth Garden, 4-1, on the opening night of the season.

Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau is not getting to caught up in the winning streak, saying that his emotions after Sunday’s win were dole, and that he wasn’t going to make a big deal about the possibility of winning 11 straight.

“The number 10 is pretty tough to get to and I told the guys this is something you might go your whole career without getting it, so enjoy it,” said Boudreau. “But, I haven’t thought about Boston’s game being any bigger then that it’s Boston.”

The game, however, did end with a bit of controversy as Tampa Bay Captain Vincent Lecavalier was ejected with 2.4 seconds remaining for arguing about being kicked out of the faceoff circle as the Lightning were hoping to get a shot on Capitals goaltender Jose Theodore off the faceoff. Lecavalier was assessed a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct, which forced the faceoff from the Capitals’ defensive zone to the Lightnings, nullifying any chance at a last second shot.

“Yea I was surprised, but I don’t think he thought about the penalty,” said Capitals center Brendan Morrison of Lecavalier. “It’s a stretch that they are going to pull off a play with 2.4 seconds left. It has happened, but it completely killed any thought of them even getting a shot on net.”

The Capitals carried a 2-0 lead into the third period on goals by Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich. Backstrom scored 57 seconds into the second period on a power play after Ovechkin’s initial shot was stopped by Lightning netminder Mike Smith.

Neither Smith, nor Lightning defensemen Mattias Ohlund could locate the puck, which allowed Backstrom to poke it through Smith’s legs. The goal set Backstrom’s career high for goals in a season with his 23rd.

Laich was just as fortunate as Backstrom in that the Lightning, again, failed to locate a loose puck in front of their net.

Victor Hedman blocked Alexander Semin’s shot from the left circle, but was unable to locate it, and Laich skated into the crease for the easy tap in at 12:56.

Laich acknowledged the fortunate bounces after the game.

“You work for your bounces too,” said Laich. “We were able to keep the puck in, and then make a couple nice plays and have some patience and then you do the right things, you shoot the puck and you go to the net and pucks go in.”

The Lightning did make things interesting in the third period, as Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos scored 2:42 apart early in the third period to tie the game.

St. Louis deflected a Kurtis Foster point shot passed Theodore, then with Tomas Fleischmann in the box for hooking, Stamkos fired a slap shot passed Theodore from the left circle.

During the current streak, the Capitals have been solid in the third period, several times blowing the game open with solid third periods. Laich said he thought the Capitals would benefit from the tough third period against the Lightning.

“We’re not going to win every game 5-1, 6-1,” said Laich. “It’s nice to be tested [and] have to bear down and win the game at the last minute, because if you float around winning 5-1, 6-1, then you really don’t find out what your metal is late in the hockey game. I think tonight we found out what it was tonight.”

Second Period Re-Cap

The second period just ended with the Capitals leading the Lightning 2-0. Nick Backstrom and Brooks Laich tallied for the Capitals with Backstrom's goal coming on a power play.

Backstrom put home the rebound of an Alex Ovechkin shot 57 seconds into the period. With Jeff Halpern in the penalty box for tripping, Ovechkin's shot was stopped by Mike Smith, but he and Lightning defensemen Mattias Ohlund were unable to locate the puck and Backstrom pushed the puck through Smith's legs and into the net.

Laich's goal was similiar in that it was a failed clear by the Lightning that contributed to his goal. With Smith scrambling in his own net, Semin passed from the left circle to the right cirlce to Fleischmann, who with Smith still unsteady, passed back to Semin. Semin's shot was blocked by Victor Hedman, but Hedman, like Ohlund, failed to locate the puck which allowed Laich to put in the easy rebound.

First Period Re-Cap

The first period just wrapped up with the Capitals and Lightning tied at zero. The Capitals outshot the Lightning 11-7, but were unable to get one passed Lightning netminder Mike Smith.

The Capitals had several quality scoring chances in the first period, but were unable to finish any of them.

Tomas Fleischmann missed on a rebound of a Brooks Laich shot on the power play as Laich's shot deflected off of Smith's pads and right to Fleischmann. Fleischmann tried settle the bouncing puck, but was unable to and pushed the shot wide of the net.

Alex Ovechkin also had a chance on a rebound of a Shaone Morrison point shot, but pushed the puck high and over the net as he attempted to go top-shelf.

The save of the period, however, goes to the Capitals Jose Theodore. Tampa Bay's Matt Walker took a slap shot from the point around the nine-minute mark that beat Theodore. But, the puck hit the left cross-bar and bounced off of Theodore's back.

Theodore, however, was able to turn around and clear the puck out of the crease before it rolled into the net.

Update

Matt Bradley took the pre-game skate and will be in the line-up this afternoon for the Capitals.

Pre-Game Notes

The Washington Capitals square off with the Tampa Bay Lightning this afternoon at Verizon Center with an opportunity to make history. With a win, the Capitals would tie the 1983-84 Capitals for most consecutive wins in franchise history with 10.

Jose Theodore will start in goal this afternoon after Michael Neuvirth started the previous two games. Theodore suffered a hip flexor strain in the second period of Tuesday night's win over the New York Islanders.

Coach Bruce Boudreau had this to say about Theodore in his pre-game presser.

"Theo was playing really good before [his injury]," said Boudreau. "He deserves to come back, and Michael struggled against these guys last time."

Boudreau was referring to the last loss the Capitals suffered. The Lightning beat the Capitals, 7-4, on January 12, and chased Michael Neuvirth from the net after the first period in which the Lightning scored 4 goals.

Here is what Boudreau said when asked what he might say to his team about their last meeting with the Lightning.

"That we weren’t very good," said Boudreau. "That we got our butts handed to us."

Matt Bradley will be a game-time decision after suffering what Boudreau called "an upper body ouch" on Friday against the Florida Panthers. Bradley did not practice yesterday, and his status will determined after the pre-game warmup today.

If Bradley can't go, look for Quintin Laing to take Bradley's spot with David Steckel and Boyd Gordon on the fourth line.

Tyler Sloan will dress today in place of the suspended Mike Green.

Foward pairings:

First line- Ovechkin, Backstrom, Knuble
Second line- Semin, Fleischmann, Laich
Third line- Chimera, B. Morrison, Fehr
Fourth line- Gordon, Steckel, Bradley/Laing

D-pairings:

1st pairing- Schultz, Pothier
2nd pairing- Poti, Erskine
3rd pairing- S. Morrison, Sloan.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Capitals’ Knuble finally feeling at home

By: Justin Creech
Mike Knuble is currently enjoying the best goal scoring month of his National Hockey League career. The rugged forward has 11 goals in the 14 games the Capitals have played this month including three two-goal games with the last of those two-goal games coming Friday night in the Capitals 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers.
Knuble, who now has 18 goals on the season, has flourished since being reunited with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the Capitals top line at the beginning of the month.
“I obviously play with good line mates,” said Knuble about his play this month. “If you’re going to be successful in this league it’s always about who you’re playing with. “To be honest I’ve got a lot of breaks in front of the net with a lot of my bounces and loose pucks and stuff, so, kind of what I’ve done the last few years and what I intended to do at the beginning of the year .”
Since Knuble, Ovechkin, and Backstrom were reunited on January 5 against the Montreal Canadians, they have flourished. The trio has combined for 49 points (25g, 24a) in the thirteen games since.
“We can get the puck in deep and we know with [Knuble] that he can play physical game and win the battle in the corners,” said Ovechkin. “He’s that kind of guy, and he’s unbelievable in front of the net. You can see how by how many goals he has scored in front of the net.”
Knuble began the season on the first line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, but was quickly removed after the line struggled to gel and Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau continued to search for four consistent forward lines.
“It was frustrating to not have it work out right away,” said Knuble of not gelling early in the season with Ovechkin and Backstrom. “Bruce, coaching wise, [is] not a real patient guy. If he’s not getting results he likes to shake things up because he wants something to happen right away.”
Despite his recent prosperity, Knuble struggled to find his way with the Capitals at the beginning of the season. After playing in Philadelphia the previous four seasons under then Flyers Coach John Stevens, Knuble struggled to adjust to Bruce Boudreau’s more up-tempo style, which is far different then the system Stevens utilized with the Flyers.
“At the beginning the season [it was] just some detail stuff,” said Knuble of adjusting to Boudreau’s system. “It takes a little while and sometimes you’re in one system for a long time and one train of thought, it takes a little while to change gears because you learn to see the game a certain way and now you have to learn to see the game in a different way. So, it takes a little time sometimes.”
Through the first 19 games of the season, Knuble had just five goals and 10 assists as he continued to adjust to Boudreau’s system and the Capitals continued to tinker with the forward line combinations.
It also didn’t help that Knuble missed 12 games from November 14 to December 9. Knuble broke a finger in his left hand in the first period of the Capitals November 13 victory over the Minnesota Wild, which required surgery.
Though the injury tested Knuble’s patience, it never affected his confidence in his abilities.
“As a player it’s not like you feel like you’re not the same player you used to be,” said Knuble of the injury. “You miss a dozen games and it’s like you’re starting the season over, and through the holiday’s, to be honest, I came back out of shape a little bit. I had to do some extra skating, and do a little extra biking. Maybe the results would’ve happened even if I wasn’t trying to get in shape, but I feel like I did something proactive away from the ice and it translated to the ice.
Knuble also acknowledged talking to Boudreau about keeping the forward lines the same. The Capitals second, third and fourth lines have also put up impressive numbers during the team’s current hot streak, which prompted Knuble to speak to his coach.
“We had personnel meetings half way through the year and discussed how things were going, and I probably expressed my frustration that things had not gone as well as I had hoped,” said Knuble of his talk with Boudreau. “I’ve just seen the last few year’s coaches are really sticking the same guys together, it’s not always about poking guys and trying to motivate them by moving a guy to the top line and moving another guy to the third line. You can’t have three of the same type of guys on the same line, so you want to get guys that do different things and that can work together. So, we’ve obviously gotten some results and I think Bruce is following the combinations.”
Knuble’s aggressive style of play hasn’t been more apparent than this past Tuesday in the Capitals 7-2 win over the New York Islanders. After being stopped on a semi breakaway by Islanders goaltender Dwayne Roloson, Knuble wacked at the puck numerous times before finally jamming it through Roloson’s pads and into the net.
Knuble said he hopes his aggressive style of play has rubbed off on his teammates.
“Hopefully that feeds to other guys,” said Knuble. “Brooks [Laich] does stuff like that and Eric Fehr is scoring around the net a little bit. Everyone loves the pretty goals, but you have to get some of the ugly ones to.”

Mike Green suspended three games

Washington Capitals defensemen Mike Green was suspended for three games late this morning by the NHL for his elbow last night on Florida Panthers center Michael Frolik.

Green elbowed Frolik at the 4:24 mark of the first period last night and was assessed a two minute minor.

Green spoke with the NHL front office at 10:30 this morning about the incident and the league announced its decision shortly after.

The young defensemen was fined 81, 606.21 for the hit and would not elaborate on his feelings about the suspension after practice, only saying that he would "Let Bruce talk about it."

Boudreau, however, did speak about the suspension.

"I don’t know how react anymore," said Boudreau. "Obviously, I’m very upset about it, but what can you do? It’s like fighting when you get a ticket when you know you didn’t do anything wrong, from the police. You can’t argue with them. So, you sit there, you take it. I better not say anything. I’m livid about the whole thing anyway."

This is the second time this season that a Capitals' player has been suspended for an on-ice incident. Alex Ovechkin was suspended for two games in early December after a knee on knee hit on Carolina Hurricane's defensemen Tim Gleason.

Boudreau did express his reaction to the announcement of Green's suspension.

"I’m using livid right now," said Boudreau. "I’m not going any further with it, so don’t put any words into my mouth where I end up saying something stupid. Let’s talk about something else."

Moments before the hit on Frolik, Green was checked cleanly by the Panthers Cory Stillman. Green, however, said that hit had nothing to do with his hit on Frolik.

"That was not at all the case. I’ll let Bruce talk about it," said Green. "I got body checked clean and I wasn’t mad or anything. He didn’t hurt me."

Green did say, though, that he didn't think he should've been penalized for the hit.

"I threw a body check when he kind of cut across [the ice]," said Green. "I didn’t come across to aggressive."

The question surrouding Green today was the condition of his right knee. Green took a knee on knee hit from Dmitry Kulikov late in the second period and stayed on the ice for several minutes. Green did skate at the end of practice this morning, but according to Boudreau, probably would have still missed tomorrow's game with the Lightning even without the suspension.

Green had a different assessment.

"I don’t know it depends," said Green. "You try to play when you can play. It’s not broken, so."

Update from Kettler

The Washington Capitals are on the ice at Kettler Capitals Ice Plex preparing for tomorrow afternoon's match up with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Mike Green just stepped on the ice after a phone hearing this morning with NHL Deputy Commissioner William Daly about his hit on the Florida Panthers Michale Frolik in the first period of last night's game.

Green was given a two minute minor penalty for elbowing.

Conspicuous by his absence this morning is Matt Bradley.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Two third period goals fuel Caps 9th straight Win

By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC—The Washington Capitals earned their 9th straight win Friday night against the Florida Panthers by repeating a familiar trend. The Capitals scored an early first period goal, got solid goaltending, and used a strong third period to close out the victory.

Nicklas Backstrom scored 7:26 into the first period on a power play, Michael Neuvirth stopped 35 of the 36 shots he faced, and the Capitals got early third period goals from Jeff Schultz and Mike Knuble, who also scored a goal in the second period, to secure a 4-1 win over Southeast Division rival, the Florida Panthers.

The Capitals are now within one game of tying the franchise record for consecutive wins at 10, which was set by the 1983-84 edition of the Capitals.

“Nope, sorry it hasn’t sunk in,” said a jovial Bruce Boudreau after the game. “It’ll sink in later as six game win streaks do. It’ll be nice if it happens, but it’s not our goal.”

Schultz scored on a slap shot from the point that found its way through traffic at 4:46 of the third period to give the Capitals a 3-1 lead. Knuble followed with his second goal of the game on a wrist shot from the right circle on a pass from Backstrom for the game’s final margin.

It was Knuble’s fourth multiple-goal game of the season, and with his assist is his ninth multiple-point effort. His 11 goals this month match the best goal-scoring month of his career.

“Linemates,” said Knuble of his play this month. “You’re talking arguably two of the top young guys in the league, if not the world. So, I’ve just been able to find a way to play with these guys and compliment them and we’re cling and playing good in our own end.”

The big story of the night, though, was the apparent injury to defenseman Mike Green. Green took a knee on knee hit from the Panthers Dmitry Kulikov with a little more than three minutes to go in the second period.

Green was chasing a puck into the Panthers zone, and after poking further down the ice attempted to cut across a charging Kulikov. However, Green’s right knee connected with Kulikov’s right knee, sending Green to the ice. Green lay on the ice for several minutes before being helped off by the Capitals’ trainers.

Brendan Morrison was assessed a two-minute roughing penalty for grabbing Kulikov around the neck, but the more pressing matter was Green’s health.

“I tried to jump out of the way because I saw him coming,” said Green of the hit. “But, it kind of caught my knee. It’s not serious.”

Green said he took the hit in the upper knee area, and the injury was more of a Charley Horse then an actual injury to his knee.

Boudreau said he thought Green was a little careless in his decision to cut across Kulikov, an assessment that Green agreed with.

“I was just trying to get the puck deep,” said Green. “It was behind me and I [saw] him coming, so I didn’t want to turn it over and I just got it deep and tried to jump out of the way and it happens.”

Green attempted to come out for the third period, but was told to go back to the locker room with the outcome of the game no longer in question. Green and Boudreau both said they expect him to play on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

With Panthers’ Captain Bryan McCabe in the penalty box for hooking, Mike Green skated into the Capitals’ zone and dished to Knuble who was coming down the right wing. Knuble’s backhand was stopped by Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun, but Backstrom reached between Knuble’s legs with his stick and pushed the puck into the net.

The goal was Backstrom’s 22nd of the season in his 54th game, matching his previous career high set last season in 82 games.

The Panthers did tie the game at 4:22 of the second period on a goal by Stephen Weiss, but Knuble scored 25 seconds later after Ovechkin’s rebound attempt deflected in off Knubles’ left skate.

Second Period Re-Cap

The Capitals outshot the Panthers 14-9 in the second period and take a 2-1 lead into the third period.

After a goal by the Panthers Stephen Weiss at 4:22 tied the game at 1, the Capitals answered 25 seconds later on a goal by Mike Knuble. Knuble had the puck deflect in off his right skate after Alex Ovechkin attempted to put home the rebound off a Nicklas Backstrom shot.

The big story of the period, though, is the apparent injury to defensman Mike Green. Green took a knee on knee hit from the Panthers Dmitry Kulikov as Green chased a loose puck into the Panthers zone. Green pushed the puck forward, then angled left to avoid an oncoming Kulikov.

Kulikov attempted to turn to finish the hit, but his right knee collided with Green's right knee. Green lay on the ice for several minutes, not moving, and was subsequently helped off the ice by the Capitals' training staff.

The Panthers were awarded a power play as Brendan Morrison was assessed a two-minute minor for roughing as he grabbed Kulikov around the neck after his hit on Green.

Washington killed the first 1:23 of the penalty before Panthers' Captain Bryan McCabe was whistled for roughing Alexander Semin after Semin was stopped on a short-handed breakaway.

First Period Re-Cap

The Capitals lead the Panthers 1-0 after one at Verizon Center. Nicklas Backstrom has the Capitals lone goal so far tonight on a power play goal.

Backstrom put home the rebound of a Mike Knuble backhand shot in tight. Backstrom actually poked the puck between Knubles legs as Knuble was searching for the rebound himself. Mike Green started the rush by skating into the high slot and feeding Knuble, who was cutting down the right wing.

Backstrom's goal came with 18 seconds remaining on the power play.

Michael Neuvirth made several key stops in the first period, the first coming 27 seconds into the game. Dominic Moore came in on a semi-breakaway after getting behind the Capitals defense, but hit the crossbar on a wrist shot.

Rostislav Olesz test Nevirth a little over a minute later, but Neuvirth forced Olesz to skate across the front of the net, thus nullifying his scoring attempt.

Pre-Game Notes

Here are the forward lines and D-pairings for tonight's game:

1st forward line- Ovechkin, Backstrom, Knuble
2nd forward line- Semin, Fleischmann, Laich
3rd forward line- Chimera, B. Morrison, Fehr
4th forward line- Gordon, Steckel, Bradley

1st D-pairing- Schultz, Green
2nd D-pairing-Sloan, Poti
3rd D-pairing- Erskin, Pothier.

I have not received conformation, but based on what I'm seeing in the pre-game skate it looks like Michael Neuvirth will get the start in goal tonight for the Capitals.

Pre-Game Notes

The Capitals are about 45 minutes from dropping the puck against the Florida Panthers. This is the fifth meeting of the season for the Caps and Panthers with Washington having won the previous four.

The Capitals won the first three meetings with Florida with relative ease, 4-1, 7-4, and 6-2. The f ourth meeting was far more arduous as the Capitals overcame at 4-1 second period deficit to beat the Panthers, 5-4, in a shootout.

Tomas Fleischmann scored the decisive goal.

With a win tonight, the Capitals will have won nine straight games, a feat no Capitals team has accomplished since February of 1984. That Caps team won a franchise record 10 straight games from January 27, 1984-February 18, 1984.

During the current eight game streak, the Capitals have outscored their opponent 40-18; an average of 5-2 per game.

Here are a few more notes to keep in mind as you watch tonight's contest:

Route 28 –Alexander Semin has back-to-back two-goal games and points in seven straight (6g-8a), tied for the longest active streak in the NHL. Semin has 11 goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, all in January, putting him second in the month in goals and third in points. It’s the best point-scoring month of his career and one shy of his best goal-scoring month (12 in January 2007). Semin ranks fifth in the NHL in goals per game (0.57) and seventh in points per game (1.20; entering Thursday’s games).
Goal oriented –The Capitals lead the NHL with 203 goals, 26 more (or 12.8% more) than any other team. Washington leads the league in goals per game (3.83), even-strength goals (133), power-play goals (53), road goals (103), first-period goals (66) and third period goals (71). At their current pace the Capitals would finish as the highest scoring team since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins.
K Street –Mike Knuble has goals in five of the last seven games and has nine goals in the last 11 games. His nine goals this month are tied for sixth in the NHL and mark the best goal-scoring month he has had since March 2003 (11). With 16 goals –despite missing 12 games with a broken finger –Knuble is tied for the league goal-scoring lead among players 35 and older.
Follow the leader –The Capitals are 11-1-0 since Alex Ovechkin was named the team captain Jan. 5. Ovechkin has 23 points in those 12 games (8g-15a) and shares the NHL lead in points for January.
Follow the leader II –Alex Ovechkin leads the league in goals per game (0.76), points per game (1.62), plus/minus (+32) and shots on goal (237). He is closing in on the league leaders in goals (one behind Patrick Marleau) and points (three behind Henrik Sedin).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Caps Penalty Killers Make Big Statement

By: Justin Creech
The Washington Capitals garnered much praise this past week for victories over the Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and the up-start Phoenix Coyotes. The Red Wings and Penguins have squared off in the last two Stanley Cup Finals while the Coyotes are currently fifth in the Western Conference Standings.
While the wins were impressive considering their opponents credentials, the Capitals ability to shut down their opponents’ power play was the most important, and impressive, factor in each win.
After allowing the Flyers two power play goals on five opportunities last Sunday, the Capitals’ penalty killers responded with perfect outings in the next three games going a combined 14 for 14.
“Yea, that was kind of one are that we needed improvement,” said Capitals’ defenseman Jeff Schultz. “It seems like this past week we really bared down on opportunities to get the puck out when we have it on our stick, or clear it out whenever we can. We know that if we can build off our PK’s it will help us down the road here.”
Washington’s penalty killers were 5 for 5 against the Red Wings, 4 for 4 against the Penguins and another 5 for 5 against the Coyotes.
The Capitals also killed a 5 on 3 disadvantage in the final minute of the second period on Saturday against the Coyotes with the Capitals protecting a 3-1 lead.
“We’ve killed timely penalties and we’ve killed penalties that just come throughout the course of the game,” said David Steckel. “I think for the most part as group we’ve done a good job at being more aggressive, not giving them time when they do get in the zone and getting pucks down the ice. It always helps when you can send the puck 200 feet and make them come through you again.”
One factor that aided the Capitals, as Schultz alluded to, was the team’s ability to clear the puck out there zone. The Capitals have struggled all season long clearing the puck out of there zone while on the penalty kill. Many of the power play goals the Capitals have surrendered this season are a direct result of their inability to clear the puck.
“I think sometimes we’re maybe trying to make a play instead of shooting [the puck] down the ice,” said Schultz. “Guys are maybe trying to go for those short-handed goals where sometimes it kind of backfires and comes back and hurts us. But, we addressed it in a meeting and we have to just keep up what we are doing.”
The Red Wings and Penguins entered their respective games against the Capitals ranked 17th and 26th respectively on power play percentage, a far cry from where both teams have ranked the last two seasons. However, Capitals assistant coach Dean Evason, who works exclusively with the teams’ penalty killers, said he told the team before each contest not to worry about where each team ranked on the power play, but to worry about who is on each unit.
“These guys are great, great players,” said Evason of the Red Wings and Penguins power play units “[Pavel] Datsuyk and [Henrik] Zetterberg then [Sidney] Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin. We really challenged our guys to get the job done and fortunately they were able to do it.”
Though they have been solid the last three games, the Capitals have been streaky on the penalty kill throughout the season. They currently ranked 20th in the league with an 80.1% kill rate, and have allowed at least one power play goal in 27 of 51 games played, including nine games in which they have allowed multiple power play goals.
Four times this season, the Capitals have allowed at least one power play goal in three straight games, but also have three separate occasions in which they have not allowed a power play goal in three straight games. The unit’s two worst performances this season came on October 6 when they gave up three to the Philadelphia Flyers and gave up a season high four to the Tampa Lightning on January 12. Evason is well aware of his units up and down play.
“It seems like we get one scored against us and then we have a little bit of a letdown and then we get the second and third one,” said Evason. “Let’s forget about the one, and if we can just let them go and after they score a goal in one game the next game we don’t necessarily have the confidence in the kills that we should have. So, that’s certainly an area we’ve talked to the group about as well.”
One way in which Evason and the Capitals coaching staff have thought about improving the penalty kill is using more of their skill players. Evason and the Capitals staff like this idea because it puts players with better stick handling skills on the ice which leads to pucks being cleared out of the zone faster. It also puts players on the ice that are familiar with how a power play unit is run.
“You’ve got to have some guys that can handle the puck and anticipate,” said Evason. “Nicklas Backstrom is one of our best penalty killers because he knows where the passes are going to go and he gets his sticks in those lanes before they even pass the puck.”
Though they were strong this past week, the Capitals know they most learn how to be consistent on the penalty kill if they are going to go as far as they want come playoff time.
“We talk about our goals against and our defensive game has to get better for us to be successful in the playoffs,” said Evason “And certainly the PK is a start of that.”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Caps Notes and Quotes vs. Phoenix

The Capitals extended their win-streak to six games last night with a 4-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes at Verizon Center.

Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr led the way on offense with a combined six points. Semin finished with a goal and three assists while Fehr finished with a goal and an assist; both coming on the power play.

Michael Neuvirth stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced in his first game action since January 13.

Capitals Head Coach Bruce BoudreauOn tonight’s game…“I was really worried about this game because Phoenix is a good team but also because of an emotional letdown after playing Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. I thought our guys answered the bell pretty well emotionally in this kind of game. We kept saying ‘stay the course.’ Today was going to be a game about patience. They’re very good defensively. I thought we did a good job of just staying that course and doing what we had to do. We scored five-on-five and two power-play goals and that was the difference. ”On the play of Capitals Right Wing Alexander Semin …“He’s playing well right now. He’s so skilled. He’s one of the few people that I know of…Nicky {Capitals Center Nicklas Backstrom} may be the other one, that can pass it from one side of the ice to the other side and it lands flat all the time. It’s a real skill. He’s got it. He’s sort of on his game right now.”On Capitals Right Wing Eric Fehr getting more time on the power play…“We haven’t had many power plays to speak of {lately}. We’ve got two power-play units. Nobody’s had {power play} minutes except Alex {Capitals Left Wing Alex Ovechkin} and Mike {Capitals Defenseman Mike Green}. Today we had {seven} power plays. The {two units} come at you from different sides and Eric’s on {one of the units} and he’s going to get that extra time.”On the play of Capitals Goaltender Michal Neuvirth…“I thought he played really good. I thought he was a little nervous at the beginning of the game. He really smothered pucks in the third period and allowed our centermen to win a lot of face-offs, so we could get line changes and weren’t caught out there too long. That was a real big factor.”Washington vs. Phoenix CoyotesVerizon Center, Washington D.C.January 23, 2010Head Coach Dave TippettOn the way his team worked on the ice tonight…“We ended up having to work too hard because we took too many penalties. When you give the top power play in the league that many power plays it wears down a lot of people. It wears down your defense. We had some people out there that competed very hard. [Coyotes forward Lauri Korpikoski] was excellent out there. It comes down to discipline and not put a high skilled team on the power play. In the end, it comes down to a special teams contest and we lost that contest tonight.”Coyotes defenseman Adrian AucoinOn how the penalties cost the team tonight…“We were undisciplined. We know how good they are, they’re a skilled team. Specialty teams is something that’s going to win or lose games and if you give a team that many power plays and take away our power plays, it’s going to cost us and it did.”On the Caps puck possession…“They just skated the puck. We gave them the puck a few too many times. It’s a real tough game to play when you give a skilled team the puck and we know that and we should have worked on keeping the puck, especially when they keep getting it behind you and play an aggressive game.”Coyotes forward Lauri KorpikoskiOn the penalties costing the team in tonight’s contest…“You can’t take penalties against a team that has a lot of skill on the [power play]. Specialty teams kind of haven’t been there for two nights so we have to improve. It starts with the penalties, we can’t take so many, and our power play has to be better.”On how things may have been different for the Coyotes…“It’s almost like a playoff atmosphere here, playing against a highly skilled team the way we’re going to win is play harder than them. I think we can improve that.”Washington vs. PhoenixVerizon Center, Washington D.C.January 23, 2010Caps Forward Eric FehrOn the first goal…“I was trying to go over to Mike Green coming back down and he gave it right back to me and I just took a quick shot.”On Brooks Laich’s goal…“I thought we were moving the puck pretty well. We were going high to low to try and get their forwards turned around and [Alexander] Semin made a great pass to Brooks [Laich] and he put it in.”On power-play opportunities…”It feels good. We’re taking advantage of our power-play opportunities right now. Hopefully that will keep teams from taking penalties against us and if they don’t, then we can make it cost them.”Caps Defenseman Tom PotiOn the game…“Our forwards did great. We tried to wear them down by dumping it in and getting on them down low because they played a real patient game and waited for us to make mistakes. And I think we made one or two and they scored on those two. So our forwards did a great job tonight.”On playing disciplined…“We were very disciplined early on; we knew the game was going to come down to special teams.”Caps Goalie Michael NeuvirthOn playing in the game…“I wasn’t really feeling very good before the game and I didn’t really expect to play because Theo [Jose Theodore] was playing really good now. I was shaky at first, but I settled down and just played my game.”On working with Arturs Irbe after getting pulled two games…“Just get my confidence back. I was really down after those two games. I felt like my career was over. So Archie [Irbe] helped me a lot and it’s a big win. Big thanks to him.”Caps Winger Alexander SeminOn the game…“We had a lot of chances and we capitalized on some of them. The main thing is that we won and the game went just as we expected. The main thing is that we won.”On his play picking up lately…“I haven’t changed anything really. I just go out and play. I try not to think about it.”On making so many great passes lately…“I haven’t really changed anything. Sometimes I shoot and score. Sometimes I give passes. It depends on the situation really. It’s situational hockey for me. It depends on the moment I am in.”

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Caps Finish Emotional Week with Win over Coyotes

By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC—Eric Fehr has spent the last several seasons as one of the Capitals most overlooked players. Though some of that is because of injury problems, Fehr had yet to establish himself as a reliable NHL player.

The wait is over.

Fehr scored on the power play late in the second period and assisted on the Capitals first goal of the game, also on the power play, to go along with Alexander Semin’s four point night, as the Capitals capped off an emotional week with a 4-2 win over the upstart Phoenix Coyotes at Verizon Center.

“I’m definitely feeling the best I’ve felt out there,” said Fehr. “I feel healthy for a change, I feel strong and I’ve been getting a lot of good bounces. I can’t really complain right now and hopefully it will continue.”

Fehr, who set his career high for goals in a season in Thursday’s win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, set a career high for points in a season with his effort against Phoenix. Fehr now has 26 points on the season (14g, 12a) in 40 games which is one point better than his previous career high of 25 points (12g, 13a) set last season in 61 games. Last night was also Fehr’s fourth multiple-point game this season.

With the Capitals on the power play Fehr sent a cross-ice pass to Alexander Semin, who was waiting in the left circle. Semin sent a pass to Brooks Laich who deflected the puck in to put the Caps ahead 1-0. The goal was Laich’s 14th of the season and his seventh on the power play.
In the second period with the game tied at 1, Fehr took a pass from Semin near the goal line; had his first shot deflect back to him and fired his second shot over Coyotes’ goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov’s right shoulder for a 2-1 lead.

The Capitals, who finished 2 for 7 with the man-advantage last night, have now scored on 12 of their last 27 power play opportunites.

Fehr scored a similar goal on Thursday against the Penguins early in the second period when his shot deflected off of Pittsburgh goaltender Brent Johnson and into the net.

“I’ll take those breaks right now,” said a jovial Fehr after the game. “They feel great, so hopefully they can keep coming.”

Semin added a goal late in the second period, his 21st of the year, on a pretty behind the back pass from Tomas Fleischmann to put the Caps ahead 3-1 and assisted on Alex Ovechkin’s empty-net goal with six seconds remaining.

The three assists matched a career high in a single game for Semin and his four point outing set a season high. Semin has 16 points in the 10 games since Ovechkin was named Captain.

“I haven’t changed anything really,” said Semin of his recent play. “I just go out and play. I try not to think about it.”

Added Boudreau. “I don’t know maybe he’s listening to him. I thought it was the lines being able to stick together and we’ve got our pp working pretty well at this stage, but if it’s because Ovechkin is the Captain then that’s great.”

Laich’s goal came on the Capitals third shot, but was followed by 15 straight saves by Bryzgalov until Fehr’s tally. Boudreau said he was proud of the way his team responded last night coming off such an emotional week of games.

“We kept saying stay the course, today was going to be a game about patience,” said Boudreau. “They are very good defensively and they just keep doing the same thing and we didn’t want to sit there and say ‘hey this game is boring let’s make it exciting’ and I thought we did a good job of just staying that course of what we had to do.”

The Capitals were also bailed out by rookie netminder Michael Neuvirth.

Neuvirth, who made his first appearance of any kind since January 13, made 28 saves including two pivotal breakaways. Neuvirth stopped Phonex’s Vernon Fiddler on a short-handed breakaway in the first period, then stopped Lauri Korpikoski, who scored both of the Coyotes’ goals, late in the third period to preserve a 3-2 Capitals lead.

“He’s a pressure goaltender,” said Boudreau. “You don’t win the Calder Cup and play every game and I don’t care what league it is. You’ve got to be good and sometimes he wants to be in this league so bad that he lets things get to him. He just needed a break and Arty [Irbe] practiced him pretty hard and he had a great game.”

Notes: The Capitals are 11-1-0 in their last 12 home games and are 18-3-3 on the year at Verizon Center.

Pre-game Notes

The Washington Capitals will square off with the Phoenix Coyotes in little more then an hour, so let's get you caught up on all the pre-game news and notes.

Mike Green and John Erskine will return to the line-up tonight. Erksine has missed the last six games since being injured in the Capitals 8-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers January 9th, while Green missed Thursday's victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

I have not heard an official announcement, but I wouldn't be surprised if Michael Neuvirth got the start in goal tonight for the Capitals. Neuvirth has not played since being pulled in the second period of the Capitals 5-4 shootout victory over the Florida Panthers on January 13.

Here are five more notes you can't do without before tonight's game:

Home run –Washington returns home Saturday night to Verizon Center, where the Capitals are 17-3-3 on the season and have won five in a row, matching their season-long home winning streak. The Capitals are 10-1-0 in their last 11 home games and their three regulation losses at home are the fewest in the NHL. Washington has sold out all 23 home games this year and a club-record 30 in a row dating back to last season.
FIVE MORE NOTES NO MEDIA PERSON SHOULD BE WITHOUT
Going streaking –The Capitals enter Saturday’s game with a five-game winning streak, tied for the longest active streak in the league. A win would give the Capitals their third six-game win streak of the season; San Jose, with two six-game winning streaks, is the only other team with more than one.
Historic Ovi –Alex Ovechkin scored his 250th and 251st goals Thursday night, joining Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy and Mario Lemieux as the only players with 250 goals in their first five seasons. Ovechkin has points in eight straight games with five multiple-point games in that time (6g-12a, +11 total). Ovechkin has 38 points (15g-23a) in 21 games since returning from suspension and leads the league in goals per game, points per game, plus/minus and shots on goal (tied).
Never say die –For the third game in a row Thursday the Capitals won despite allowing the first goal. They are now 11-6-2 when allowing the first goal, the only team with a winning record in that situation. The Caps also have the league’s best winning percentage when trailing after the first period (4-5-0, .444).
Full 60 –Jose Theodore has won five straight games for the Capitals while posting a 1.96 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage. Theodore is one win shy of his best winning streak as a Capital, a six-game stretch from 12/23/08 –1/6/09.
Special stuff –In each of the last two games –facing the two Stanley Cup finalists from last season –the Capitals scored a power-play goal and did not allow one. On the year the Capitals:
- lead the league with a 25.9% power play this season. They are 10-for-20 (50%) in the last seven games.
- are 19-1-3 when they do not allow a power-play goal (13-0-1 they also score a PPG of their own).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Late Rally Leads to Win over Red Wings

By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC—Through 51 minutes last night it looked like the Washington Capitals weren’t going to have enough to defeat the Detroit Red Wings.

The Red Wings had outshot and outworked the Caps the entire night, and had just taken the lead on a goal by Olympic bound defensemen Brian Rafalski. Yet, somehow the Capitals were able to muster enough energy and mental toughness to keep battling and they were rewarded for doing such.

Nicklas Backstrom and David Steckel tallied 46 seconds apart on consecutive shots and Jose Theodore made a key save with 2:16 remaining as the Capitals beat the defending Western Conference Champions, 3-2, to move back into sole possession of first-place in the Eastern Conference.

“They outworked us,” said Backstrom whose goal was his 20th of the season. “But, we finally got it going a little bit in the second and third. It’s a great thing to win.”

Backstrom deeked Red Wings defensemen Brad Stuart in the mid-slot and beat Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood five-hole on the power play at 13:15 to tie the game at 2 and Steckel put the Capitals ahead for good on a fluky goal.

Alexander Semin took a shot from just above the right circle that deflected off a Detroit defensemen and up into the air. Steckel, who was tied up with Detroit’s Darren Helm, got enough of his blade on the puck to deflect it passed Osgood at 14:01 for his fourth goal of the season.
“I saw it bouncing I was just trying to get it on net,” said Steckel. “I honestly thought it went wide at first until I looked back, so, I was kind of lucky there.”

Matt Bradley also tallied late in the second period on a pretty backhand saucer pass from Boyd Gordon to give the Capitals fourth line of Bradley, Steckel and Gordon a three-point night.

“Obviously we are not going to hit the score sheet every night, and Detroit pretty much outplayed us for the entire game,” said Steckel. “But, when you get in games like this your fourth line is vital whether it’s creating energy with a hit or scoring a timely goal, and we were fortunate enough to do both tonight.”

No Capital was more vital last night then Theodore. Theodore made 44 saves, including all 15 he faced in a first period that saw the Capitals get outshot 15-3.

“That was probably the best I’ve seen him,” said Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreua of Theodore. “I’m watching him thinking ‘this must be how he looked when he won the Vezina and the Hart Trophy in Montreal that year because without him, it very well could’ve been 6-0 at the end of the first period’.”

The Capitals were outshot in the first period for the fifth time in the last six games and did not record their first shot of this game until the 14:23 mark. However, Boudreau did not seem to think it was a big deal considering the Red Wings are currently ninth in the Western Conference standings after having gone the Stanley Cup Finals the last two years.

“I’m sitting their thinking this is what Stanley Cup Champions that are desperate do,” said Boudreau. “And it’s a bar that we have to get to. We were fortunate our goalie was great in the first period.”

The game went scoreless until the 4:17 mark of the second period when Detroit’s Dan Cleary beat Theodore on a fluky goal. Valtteri Filppula’s shot was stopped and Cleary wiffed on the initial rebound chance, but when the puck came back to him he used a 360 backhand that deflected in off of Theodore.

At that point the Red Wings were outshooting the Capitals 21-9.

The Capitals had several chances to tie the game throughout the second period, but were unable too until Matt Bradley beat Chris Osgood with 1:55 left in the second period.

Mike Green found Boyd Gordon just inside the Detroit blue-line, and Gordon found a cutting Bradley, who beat Osgood high to glove side as Osgood knelt down to attempt to make the save. The goal, Bradley’s eighth of the season, tied the game at 1 and sent the Capitals into the third period with some much needed momentum.

“I think he thought I was going to go to my backhand, so he kind of cheated across,” said Bradley. “But like I said it was a lucky goal I was able to get it up and it was a great pass by Gordon.”

Though they acknowledged they were lucky to win, the Capitals know they need to learn how to win games like this if they are going to make a run at the Stanley Cup.

“The third period was like a playoff game, it was tight and we need to know how to win games like this with everyone contributing not just our superstars,” said Steckel [Detroit] is battling for a playoff spot right now. I thought we could have played better, but to their credit they prevented us from doing that.”

Second Period Re-Cap

The second period was much like the first in that the Red Wings outshot the Capitals, but this time it was only 16-11.

Each team scored once as the Red Wings got on the scoreboard at 4:17 on a fluky goal by Dan Cleary.

Theodore stopped Valtteri Filppula's initial shot and Cleary actually wiffed on the intial rebound, but the puck came out to the right off Theodore and Cleary did a 360 before taking a backhand shot that deflected in off of Theodore. It was the Wings 21st shot as they were outshooting the Capitals to that point 21-9.

The Capitals tied the game late on a pretty goal by Matt Bradley. Mike Green sent a cross-ice pass from the neutral zone to Boyd Gordon who was just inside the blue-line. Gordon then sent a pass to Bradley who was cutting through the slot.

Bradley fended off Detroits' Jonathan Ericsson and beat Osgood high to the glove side at 18:05. Osgood was actually going down when Bradley shot, but still managed to lightly tip the puck before it went in. It was the Capitals 14th shot of the game.

First Period Re-Cap

The Wings and Capitals just wrapped up the first period at Verizon Center with neither team lighting the lamp. The Wings badley outshot the Capitals, 15-3, as the Capitals did not register there first shot until the 14:23 mark.

The Capitals did manage a small push on a late power play, but only got one shot through to Osgood. Alexander Semin had a quality chance just as the penalty expired, but was unable to gather the puck to the left of the goal crease after a cross ice pass from Tom Poti.

Jose Theodore looks to be on his game tonight as he his seeing the puck and moving very well. He stopped Kris Draper in front on a one time pass from Darren Helm two-minutes into the period, then stopped Todd Bertuzzi on a breakaway early in the Red Wings second power play.

Bertuzzi snuck behind the defense and took the puck just inside the blue-line, but Theodore forced Bertuzzi to skate wide of the net and stopped his shot.

Pre Game Notes

Here the forward lines and D-pairings for the Capitals tonight as they host the Detroit Red Wings

1st forward line- Ovechkin, Backstrom, Knuble
2nd forward line- Laich, Fleischmann, Semin
3rd forward line- Chimera, B. Morrison, Fehr
4th forward line- Gordon, Steckel, Bradley

1st D-pairing- Schultz, Green
2nd D-pairing- Poti, Sloan
3rd D-pairing- Alzner, S. Morrison

Chris Osgood is expected to start tonight for the Detroit Red Wings. Osgood is getting his first start since Dec. 20 against the Chicago Blackhawks, a contest in which he allowed three goals on 35 shots in a 3-0 Blackhawks win.

This will be Osgood's first game action of any kind since January 12. Osgood allowed three goals on 11 shots in a 6-0 Islanders win.

Here are a few more notes to keep in mind as you watch tonight's game.

Measure up –The Capitals face last year’s two Stanley Cup finalists in back-to-back games Tuesday vs. Detroit and Thursday at Pittsburgh.
FIVE MORE NOTES NO MEDIA PERSON SHOULD BE WITHOUT
Going Green –Defenseman Mike Green is the only player in the NHL with three eight-game point streaks this season (3g-8a, +6 in his current streak). Green has points in 35 of the Capitals’ 48 games, the most on the team. He leads all NHL defensemen with 12 goals and 49 points. With a point against Detroit he would match his season-long nine-game point streak and would become the fifth Capitals defenseman to post three straight 50-point seasons (Scott Stevens, Sergei Gonchar, Kevin Hatcher, Larry Murphy).
Green, who has led NHL defensemen in goals each of the past two seasons, has scored 21 more goals than any other defenseman in that time (61 to Zdeno Chara’s 40) and has 24 more points (178 to Nicklas Lidstrom’s 154).
Just Laich this –Brooks Laich had two goals and an assist Sunday against Philadelphia, matching his goal total from the previous 26 games and point total from the previous nine games in one outing. Laich, who started the season with 18 points (7g-11a) in the first 17 games, ranks fifth on the team with 34 points and shares the team lead with seven power-play goals.
Powerful stuff –The Capitals, who only trailed Detroit on the power play last season, lead the league at 25.1% this season. They were 1-for-1 in only 8 seconds of power-play time on Sunday and are 7-for-14 in the last five games.
Ovi elevates –Alex Ovechkin has points in six straight games with four multiple-point games in that time (4g-10a, +10 total). He has moved within two goals and three points of the league lead in those categories despite missing eight games and passed teammate Jeff Schultz for the league plus/minus lead (+28). Ovechkin has 34 points (13g-21a) in 19 games since returning from suspension. Ovechkin leads the league in goals per game and points per game.
Leading the way –This marks the latest point in a season that the Capitals have held first place in their conference. Their 17-point division lead entering Monday’s Tampa Bay-Florida game is the largest division lead in franchise history. The Capitals affiliates in theAHL (Hershey) and ECHL (South Carolina) both have 16-point division leads.

Team Camaraderie at an All-Time High for Capitals

By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC—The Washington Capitals have become one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NHL the last several season’s for several reasons. They have the game’s best player in two-time reigning league MVP Alex Ovechkin, the game’s most prolific scoring defensemen in Mike Green, a head coach whose biggest claim to fame just a few years ago was having been an extra in the cult film “Slapshot”, and a supporting cast of young, energetic players.

Of the many reasons why the Capitals have become was on the league’s biggest draws, one of the reason’s, and probably the most important, is how close the team is both on and off the ice.
Over the last several seasons, the Capitals players have formed a camaraderie with one another that has had just as much to do with their success on the ice as the talent that is on the roster.

“We’ve pretty much had the same team for the last two and a half to three years, so we all know each other,” said defenseman Tom Poti. “We all get along really well, and we are happy to be in here with each other.”

Poti, who is in his third season with the Capitals since signing with the club as free agent in the summer of 2007, said the team is closer now then it was when he first arrived.

“Well three years ago there were a lot of new guys and a lot of new faces,” said Poti. “The old guys welcomed us with open arms and we’ve just been a great fit for each other. There are no cliques on this team. Everyone hangs out together and I think that makes for good camaraderie and a fun atmosphere to play in.”

The average age of the Capitals’ current roster is only 27 years old, with the average age of the team’s core group only 24.

Several Capital’s including Eric Fehr, Mike Green, Tomas Fleischmann, Boyd Gordon, Brooks Laich and David Steckel were all a part of the Hershey Bears, the Capitals minor league affiliate, run to the 2005-2006 Calder Cup.

Those players, along with Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom have been with the Capitals since the start of the 2007-2008 season, which has allowed the group the opportunity to mature in the NHL with one another.

“A lot of guys first pro years were here in DC, and for a lot of us it was in Hershey in the minors, so whether we’ve come up through here or Hershey it’s been a pretty big journey,” said Steckel. “There’s some pretty big things that happen in life that happen in your early 20’s, and I think we’ve experienced those things together and I think that makes us very tight knit.”

The closeness amongst the players has been evident several times this season both on and off the ice.

Just last week, the Capitals had several incidents during games that called for teammates to physically stand up for one another with the most notable incident occurring a week ago against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Late in the third period with the Capitals trailing 7-4, Lightning forward Steve Downie challenged Oveckin to a fight after the two came out of the penalty box. Ovechkin obliged by dropping his gloves and taking off his helmet, but Capitals forward Matt Bradley quickly came to Oveckin’s aid by stepping between Ovechkin and Downie.

On Friday, defenseman Shaone Morrison did the same after Toronto Maple Leafs enforcer Colton Orr knocked Mike Green to the ice with what was perceived to be a cheap shot. Morrison quickly grabbed Orr and began throwing punches.

“Whenever you have a guy like [Downie] who likes to disrupt things on the ice and a guy like that going after the best player in the world you can’t allow that to happen,” said Bradley. “We’ve got a bunch of guys on our team that you wouldn’t want fighting [Downie], so whether it’s me or other guys that are on the ice at that time we’d jump in there and we don’t want those guys fighting.”

Another example of the Capitals’ team first attitude is the recent acquisition of forward Jason Chimera. Chimera was traded to the Capitals just before there December 28 game against the Carolina Hurricanes for then Capital’s Captain Chris Clark and defensemen Milan Jurcina. Clark had been the teams’ Captain since the start of the 2006-2007 season, however, Chimera said he was welcomed to the team with open arms.

“I think anytime you get to a new team you are welcomed,” said Chimera. “Hockey players in general are pretty good guys. It is a business, guys realize that and the guys have been pretty good, it’s been a pretty easy adjustment so far, but it doesn’t hurt when you are winning to make an adjustment.”

Chimera arrived in Washington on December 28 to take physical at Verizon Center, then hitched a ride with Brooks Laich to Dulles International Airport so the team could fly to San Jose. Chimera said Laich’s gesture made the adjustment period a lot easier and also gave him an opportunity to learn about his new team.

“I was like a kid again asking him 35 questions,” said a smiling Chimera. “It was nice of him to stay back and give me a ride and let me know what was going on. It’s nice when guys take it upon themselves to help a guy out when he comes in. Stuff like that makes a good team and shows you how dedicated they are to the guys that come here and it’s nice to have that.”

While Laich waiting for Chimera was a stand-up gesutre, he is not the only player on the team willing to step forward to help out a teammate, which is something the Capital’s know will go a long way as they hit the stretch run of the season.

“That could be any guy on this team doing that,” said Bradley of Laich’s gesture. “It could be Ovie. We are lucky to have a great group of guys in here and that goes a long way come playoff time.”

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Laich’s Two Goals power Capitals Past Flyers

By: Justin Creech
Washington, DC—Before Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau showed forward Brooks Laich video clips of all of Laich’s goals this season; stressing to the young forward the manner in which he scores most of his goals.
Laich got his coaches message.
Laich scored his 12th and 13th goals of the season on Sunday, the first coming late in the first period after crashing the net and putting home a rebound of Tomas Fleishmann’s wrist shot, and then on a shorthanded breakaway 4:56 into the third period to defeat the Flyers, 5-3, and push the Capitals back into first place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“He’s a very intense young man and sometimes he tried to do too much,” said Boudreau of his recent conversations with Laich. “We just went back and looked at his goals to see if we could find anything he was doing different. He watched his goals this morning and how he scored the first one [is] how he scores a lot of [goals]. You’re never going to find anyone that cares as much as Brooks Laich.”
The goals were Laich’s first markers since December 28 versus the Carolina Hurricanes, and only the second game he has scored a goal in since December 5, which ironically was the last time the Capitals played the Flyers.
Three of Laich’s 13 goals this season have come against the Flyers.
“Bruce said I was existing, but the term I use is I looked uninspired,” said Laich of his recent conversations with Boudreau. “He said get back to being determined and skating and using your assets and go to the net. Good things will happen.”
Laich also said he got a confidence boost from Boudreau’s decision to use him in the Capitals shootout victory over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday. Needing a goal to keep the shootout alive, Boudreau summoned Laich, who came through by beating Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun five-hole.
“It’s a confidence booster that Bruce put me in there,” said Laich. “You have a guy that hasn’t scored in ages and [Boudreau] puts you in the shootout when the game is on the line. It means the coach has faith in you and you want to reward him for that.”
Mike Knuble, Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin also tallied for the Capitals who scored four or more goals for the seventh straight game.
Ovechkin's goal was his 30th of the season.
Jose Theodore stopped 30 of the 33 shots he faced including 24 of the final 25 shots he faced after allowing two goals on the Flyers first eight shots.
After Jeff Carter scored on a power play 6:03 into the game, Knuble tied the game on a one-time pass from Ovechkin through the crease that beat Flyers netminder Ray Emery underneath his right arm.
Laich’s first goal tied the game again at 13:28 of the first period, and Alexander Semin’s power play goal at 7:05 of the second period gave the Capitals the lead for good at 3-2.
Ovechkin scored on a penalty shot at 15:48 of the third period after he was slashed by Braydon Coburn on a breakaway. The goal came on the Capitals 21st shot and was their 10th goal on their last 38 shots against Emery.
The Capitals chased Emery from the net in the second period of their 8-2 win in Philadelphia on Dec. 5 after Emery surrendered five goals on 17 shots.
Sunday’s was Emery’s first game action since Dec 5 after having surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle.
“When guys haven’t played a lot of hockey they’re probably a little rusty,” said Boudreau when asked of the importance of scoring on Emery early. “But I don’t know how important it was in the grand scheme of things.”
With the game tied at 2 and the Flyers Jeff Carter in the box for holding, Mike Green sent a shot from the point that was re-directed by Laich to the right of the net where Semin was waiting and easily put home the rebound.
The Flyers had several chances late in the second period with Jeff Schultz in the penalty box for tripping, but were unable to capitalize.
The win was the Capitals sixth in their last seven games after a brief three game losing streak.
“We’re not going to score five goals every game,” said Boudreau. “But it’s nice when it happens. Guys are feeling it. They are shooting and they are skilled.”

Second Period Re-Cap

The second period was much like the first in the sense that neither team was able to get any consistent offensive pressure. The Capitals, however, were able to put one more goal on the scoreboard.

With Jeff Carter in the box for holding Tyler Sloan, Alexander Semin put in Brooks Laich's re-direct to give the Capitals a 3-2 lead.

Off the faceoff, Mike Green sent a wrist shot to towards the net, which was re-directed by Laich who was standing in front of the Flyers net. Semin put the rebound into a wide-open net with authority at 7:05.

The Flyers had an opportunity late in the period to tie the game on the power play. With Jeff Schultz in the box for tripping, Matt Carle's point shot was gloved down by Theodore with little effort. That was the only shot the Flyers were able to muster on the power play.

The Flyers outshot the Capitals 12-9 in the second period, and right now have a 21-17 edge in shots entering the third period.

First Period Re-Cap

The Capitals and Flyers just finished period one with each team tallying twice. The Flyers got on the board first on a power play goal by Jeff Carter at 6:03.

With Brendan Morrison in the box for cross-checking, Kimmo Timonen sent a pass from the point to Carter who was in the left circle. Carter spon around and snapped a shot through Jose Theodore's five-hole.

Just 1:46 later the Capitals tied the game on a goal by former Flyer Mike Knuble. Knuble finished Alex Ovechkin's one-time pass through the crease by beating Flyers goaltender Ray Emergy seven-hole. The goal is Knuble's sixth in the last six games and first against the Flyers after signing with the Capitals this past off-season.

James Van Riemsdyk put the Flyers back in the lead at 9:16 on a wrist shot from the high slot that beat Theodore low to the glove side. It was the Flyers eighth shot of the period.

Brooks Laich tied the game for the second time at 13:28 by putting back a rebound of Tomas Fleischmann's wrist shot from the mid-slot. Emergy failed to control the rebound which came out to Laich who was skating across, in front of Emergy.

The goal came on the Capitals' seventh shot, and was Laich's first since December 28 against Carolina, and just his second goal since the Capitals last meeting against the Flyers on Dec 5.

Line combinations

Here are the forward lines and defensemen pairings for the Capitals

First line- Ovechkin, Backstrom, Knuble
Second line- Laich, Fleischmann, Semin
Third line- Chimera, B. Morrison, Fehr
Fourth line- Gordon, Steckel, Bradley

First D pairing- Schultz, Green
Second D pairing- Poti, Sloan
Third D paring- Carlson, S. Morrison.

Caps-Flyers Pre-game Notes

Just a few notes before the Capitals clash with their old Patrick Division rival the Philadelphia Flyers. The Capitals won the previous meeting at Verizon Center this season, 4-2, back on October 27. Washington erased a 2-0 second period deficit as Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom tallied at the end of the second period, and Alexander Semin scored early in the third period to give the Capitals the lead for good.

The most recent meeting between the teams was on December 5 in Philadelphia where the Capitals beat the Flyers, 8-2, in Peter Laviolette's first game behind the Flyers bench.

Flyers goalie Ray Emery was pulled with 9:46 to go in the second period of that contest after allowing 5 goals in the Capitals' first 17 shots, will be making his first start this afternoon since that dreadful night. Emergy has been out since then after it was revealed he had been playing with a torn abdominal muscle.

The other interesting story line to follow is what happens between Matt Bradley and Flyers forward Daniel Carcillo. Carcillo was ejected with 5:27 remaining in the first period after sucker punching Capitals forward Matt Bradley after Bradley cleanly checked Carcillo in front of the penalty box.

Carcillo was assessed a five-minute fighting major, a two-minute minor for instigating, two-minutes for cross-checking and a 10 minute game misconduct penalty.

The Capitals scored three times on the ensuing nine-minute power play to grab a 4-1 lead which they never came close to relinguishing.


NOTE OF THE NIGHT
Six shooters –Washington has scored at least six goals in a game eight times this year, including Friday vs. Toronto, after doing so five times all of last season. The Capitals have scored at least six goals twice in the last four games and did so in their last meeting against Philadelphia (8-2, Dec. 5).
FIVE MORE NOTES NO MEDIA PERSON SHOULD BE WITHOUT
Ovi elevates –Alex Ovechkin had his fourth career five-point game Friday night to give him 62 points on the season, within two of the NHL lead (entering Saturday’s games). Three of Ovechkin’s five-point games have come against Canadian teams (Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Boston). Ovechkin has 32 points (12g-20a) in 18 games since returning from suspension and has a five-game point streak (3g-9a, +8 in that time). Ovechkin leads the league in goals per game, points per game and shots and leads all forwards at +26.
Double trouble –The Capitals (33 multiple-goal games) and Flyers (23) are the only teams in the NHL whose players have combined for more than 18 multiple-goal games (entering Saturday’s games). In fact, Capitals players have scored two goals in a period 15 times; 23 teams have fewer multiple-goal games than that.
Despite their success with multiple-goal games the Capitals do not have a hat trick this season.
30-15 club –Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are two of four players in the league with 15-plus assists and 30-plus goals (entering Saturday’s games). Henrik Sedin and Patrick Kane are the others.
Positive thinking –Defenseman Jeff Schultz leads the NHL with a +27 rating, including a +12 mark in the last six games. Schultz was +25 the past two seasons combined. He also has assists in three of the last five games (4a in that time) and leads the team with 66 blocked shots.
The Capitals boast four of the top nine NHLers in plus/minus, with Alex Ovechkin (2nd, +26), Mike Green (tied for 4th, +20) and Nicklas Backstrom (tied for 7th, +19) entering Saturday’s games.
Goal oriented –Washington has scored 31 goals in its last six games (5.17 per game, not counting a shootout goal), including tying a season high with eight goals last Saturday night. Eleven players have scored goals in the last six games. The Capitals’ league-leading 3.68 goals per game are 0.41 more than the next-closest team (Chicago, 3.27). Washington has never led the league in scoring for a season (best was second in 1991-92).

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Caps Close Out Season Series With Flyers

After taking two of their first three meetings with Philadelphia this season (dropping the other in overtime), Washington wraps up the four-game set against its old Patrick Division rival with a Sunday matinee at Verizon Center.

Widely expected to be a Stanley Cup contender with their offseason moves, the Flyers right now are fighting for their playoff lives, and despite a strong stretch where they have gone 8-2-1, they still sit a point out of the final playoff spot in the East - and one point behind last year's worst overall club, the New York Islanders.

Part of the reason the Flyers haven't sunken into the abyss is the play of Carolina castoff Michael Leighton, who is 8-1-1 as a starter for Philadelphia. However, with the return of Ray Emery from injury, new Flyers coach Peter Laviolette isn't saying who will get the start vs. Washington. However, it certainly figures to be Leighton, since whomever starts for Philly will be taking on the high-scoring Capitals, who lead the league in goals and have 22 tallies in their last four games.

Across the ice, Jose Theodore has gotten the decisions in all three games against Philadelphia this year, winning two and coming in relief in the overtime loss, allowing just two goals in just under two periods before Daniel Briere notched the game winner.

Theodore was solid - and got some help from the posts - after performing well in relief of Michal Neuvirth in both Tampa Bay and Florida, stopping 28 of 29 shots, including keeping the Caps ahead early when they were being outgunned 11-2 and faced a pair of Toronto power-plays.

After a shaky road trip through Florida, the Caps roared back to smack down the Maple Leafs Friday night, shredding a porous defense to generate several great scoring chances and netting six goals. The Flyers certainly won't be quite as open as Toronto, as like several teams have in the last few games, Philadelphia certainly will look to bring out the physical play against Washington.

Ironically, the Flyers have been idle since Thursday, when they were handed a 4-0 defeat - at the hands of Toronto.

As for the Caps, with the Devils' loss to Colorado Saturday afternoon, they get a chance to retake first overall in the Eastern Conference with a win, as they sit with 64 points and just a point behind New Jersey and are tied (although with more games played) with Buffalo.

After a quiet few games for Washington's superstar (at least relatively), Alex Ovechkin certainly shone bright against Toronto, having a hand in Washington's first five goals and recording his first-ever four assist performance - not to mention potting his 29th goal.

Ovechkin has had some terrific moments against the Flyers - and has four goals and a helper in two games against Philadelphia this season - but the Flyers figure to try and get physical with the Caps' star.

Speaking of physical play, Jason Chimera will be in Washington's lineup despite getting an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of the 6-1 win over Toronto, avoiding a possible one-game suspension. John Carlson also will get another chance to show his stuff as the NHL level, although per Capitals Insider, he likely will be sent back down to Hershey Monday so he can participate in the AHL's All-Star Game.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Post Game Insider

The question has been posed many times this season. Do the Washington Capitals need to trade for a legit enforcer? If you have watched the Capitals the last four days, I think that answer is pretty clear.

No.

After Matt Bradley stepped in for Alex Ovechkin on Wednesday at St. Pete Times Forum and went toe to toe with Tampa Bay Lightning tough guy Steve Downie, Shaone Morrison followed Bradley's lead on Friday night; not hesitating to duke it out with Toronto Maple Leafs tough guy Colton Orr.

Orr has a well earned reputation as one of the top enforcers in the National Hockey League, but after a hit late in the third period that sent Capitals defensemen Mike Green crashing hard to the ice, Morrison made a be-line for Orr, dropped his gloves and quickly landed two right hands to the side of Orr's head.

Just over three minutes later, Capitals left wing Jason Chimera traded blows with Toronto's Jay Rosehill after tying Rosehill up on the near boards.

"Guys will get in there and we're not carrying around heavyweights," said forward Mike Knuble, who had two goals on the night. "But, you have guys that will jump in and help out and that's what you want to see from your team."

Morrison and Chimera were both penalized for instigating and also received five minute fighting majors and a game misconduct. The fight was Chimera's second in as many games after his tussle with the Florida Panthers Gregory Campbell Wednesday night. The penalties were small prices to pay for standing up for teammates, according to Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau.

"I'm all for protecting our guys," said Boudreau. "We don't start a lot of the [fights], but we're there. It doesn't matter how tough the guy is we want to protect our guys."

There were questions as to what might happen to the Capitals' team chemistry after the trade that sent Captain Chris Clark and defensmen Milan Jurcina to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Chimera. Judging by the last four days, it doesn't seem like there is any reason to worry about the Capitals' chemistry.

"When you hit one you hit them all," said Boudreau when asked if his team's recent physical play says they have grown closer together. "I'm not in the [locker] room all the time, but they've been together a long time and they get a long well. So, I'm hoping it does."

Quick-Starting Capitals Blow Away Leafs

With a chance to finally play an extended stretch of their schedule at home, the Capitals opened up a three-game homestand by blowing out the Maple Leafs, thanks to a five-point night by Alexander Ovechkin and a pair of goals by Mike Knuble.

After the Caps went ahead in the first minute on Ovechkin's 29th tally of the year, Jose Theodore made some early saves - and got some help from the pipes - alowing Washington to take the season series (2-1-1) from the Leafs with a 6-1 win after dropping a pair in Toronto.

Catching a Leafs team that shut out Philadelphia the night before but had to cross the border and deal with the customs issues that Washington had visiting Air Canada Centre twice this season, the Capitals had little trouble denting Vesa Toskala, potting four of their first 17 shots en route to the win.

Unlike the last two games, the Caps jumped in front early, as Ovechkin got his 29th of the season, breaking down and beating Toskala for a 1-0 lead just :49 into the contest.

Toronto nearly tied it up just over three minutes later, as Nicklas Hagman had Theodore beat, but hit the post to keep the Caps in front. Toronto then had another golden chance with 4:29 gone as Lee Stempniak buried a feed from Ian White, but the net had been dislodged when Tom Poti knocked Jason Blake into the cage, resulting in a Washington penalty but Toronto's golden chance was nullified.

Unfortunately, just seven seconds after the Capitals successfully killed the Poti delay-of-game minor, Nicklas Backstrom was whistled for a boarding call in the defensive zone and Toronto went back to the power play.

But despite a big shot advantage for Toronto thanks to the two power plays, Theodore held the Leafs off the scoreboard, and the Capitals were able to boost their lead before the period would down.

During a delayed penalty, the Capitals had some sustained pressure, and Eric Fehr, after missing a golden opportunity just a minute before, redirected an Ovechkin drive past Toskala for a 2-0 lead with 2:09 left in the frame.

Toronto had a good chance to cut the lead after Francois Beauchamin hit the post, but the Caps broke down the other way and Knuble knocked in an Ovechkin feed for a 3-0 lead 4:03 into the frame.

The Caps then got a chance with the power-play, and scored on a ridiculous passing play, as Backstrom fed Ovechkin in the face-off circle, then who fed Semin with a backhand pass, who then returned the puck to Ovechkin by the cage - and after the star hit the post, Knuble knocked in the loose puck for a 4-0 lead 6:48 into the period.

Toronto did get on the board before the period was out, as Tomas Kaberle shot from the point on a power play past a screened Theodore to make it 4-1 with 1:23 left in the second. The Leafs appeared to cut it to 4-2 with :34.7 left, but Matt Stajan's tally was negated by an unneccessary Alexei Ponikarovsky high stick on Green and the Caps held their three-goal lead into the second intermission.

In the third, the Capitals played back a bit more, content to play with the lead. However, with a power-play, the Caps upped the lead to 5-1, as Tomas Fleischmann tipped in an Ovechkin shot for an insurance goal 6:47 into the final period.

With his four assists and early goal, Ovechkin had his fourth career five-point night - and his first-ever four-assist effort - and also vaulted into second in the NHL's points race, moving just a pair of points behind Henrik Sedin's 64 in the Art Ross chase.

Tom Poti then capped the scoring with 8:54 to play, taking a feed from a circling Alexander Semin and firing one past Toskala for a 6-1 score.

Things got chippy in the latter stages, as Shaone Morrisonn took exception to a Colton Orr hit on Green, dropping the gloves and leading to an altercation with six minutes to play.

Jason Chimera also got into a scrap with Jay Rosehill in front of the Toronto bench with 2:34 to play. The Leafs got an extended 5-on-3 in the closing minutes thanks to Chimera's instigating call and a penalty on Boyd Gordon, but the Caps killed it off to preserve the five-goal edge.

The Capitals' torrid scoring pace continues as well, as Washington now has 22 goals (not including the shootout tallies in Florida) in its last four games, with the NHL's most potent team having scored more than six goals twice in that span.

Washington continues their homestand Sunday afternoon when the Flyers pay a visit to Verizon Center. Philadelphia, having last played Thursday night in its shutout loss to Toronto, will look to continue its otherwise solid play of late having won four of five.

Carlson Recalled From Hershey

Fresh off his heroics at the World Junior Championship, the Capitals recalled John Carlson from Hershey to play in Friday night's game against the Maple Leafs.

Carlson, who made his NHL debut and played three games for Washington before being returned, scored the game-winning goals for the United States in the semi-finals against Sweden and the overtime winner against Canada.

With Hershey, Carlson is tied among AHL defensemen with 25 points and is second among AHL rookies with a +17 rating.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sprint to the Olympic Break

In case you hadn't noticed, the Vancouver Olympics are just a month away, and now with 30 days until the Capitals part ways for two weeks for the tournament, the schedule gets a lot more hectic until the long break that begins Feb. 13.

Washington has just two breaks longer than a single day until that point, and both those two-day breaks involve at least one day of travel to road games on Long Island and Montreal, respectively.

What makes this year's schedule even more quirky for the Caps is that the last game before the break (Feb. 13 at St. Louis) is also the team's final game before the trade deadline, since Washington doesn't play again until four hours after the deadline passes on Mar. 3 in Buffalo.

This all means that whatever moves the Capitals want to make for a Stanley Cup run - and judging by the cap management put on with the Michael Nylander loan and Chris Clark trade, there will be at least one significant move - will have to be determined before the team resumes action.

Washington figures to make a couple of upgrades, at least one of which figures to be dealing Jose Theodore, as if the team feels Semyon Varlamov or Michal Neuvirth can't quite handle the load - and Bruce Boudreau has shown a lot of confidence in both youngsters - the team might opt to get a proven backup and free up the remainder of Jose Theodore's $4.5 million contract. Should the Capitals move Theodore, they certainly could get a prime rental if they choose to move a pick or two, or pick up a couple of solid role players that could make a big impact (see: Guerin, Bill of 2009).

Probably fortunately for the Capitals, most of the team will be resting during the break, as the team has five players representing their nations in Vancouver. Of those, four figure to have ample playing time, with Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin going to be relied on to help Russia try for a gold medal, while Nicklas Backstrom (Sweden) and Tomas Fleischmann (Czech Republic) will look to help their countries go far. Semyon Varlamov, who has been injured the last couple of weeks, might not see a ton of action for Russia in net behind Evgeni Nabokov and Ilya Bryzgalov, and in theory might be replaced on the roster should the nation's federation feel he's not set to play.

But, for the next 30 days, the Capitals will have a sprint to the Olympic break, not only looking to bury the competition in the Southeast but make a bid for the top seed in the Eastern Conference and figure out what pieces the team will make for what figures to be their best chance to contend for a Stanley Cup in perhaps over two decades of play.

Caps Open Homestand vs. Toronto

After playing just 20 of their first 46 games at Verizon Center, Washington gets a chance to get comfortable at home in the next few weeks, playing seven of their next nine at home, kicking off with a three-game homestand that begins Friday when the Leafs come to town to close out the season series.

After Washington played a strong 40 minutes against Toronto in the home opener, the Leafs have beaten the Capitals twice at Air Canada Centre, meaning the Caps will need a win Friday to salvage the four-game set.

The Maple Leafs have been a strange team this season, at time, among the NHL's worst, while certainly talented enough to contend for a playoff spot, Toronto is just six points ahead of last-place Carolina after Vesa Toskala shut out Philadelphia 4-0 Thursday night to snap Toronto's four-game losing skid.

Despite the win over the Flyers, Toronto has been back to playing poorly as of late, losing six of nine, and now will have to deal with the hassle of traveling and passing through customs that the Caps had to deal with on both their previous trips to T.O. this season.

Washington certainly will look to tighten up after a strange two-game swing through Florida which saw the team get outscored 6-1 in the first periods and needing to rally twice from a three-goal deficit against teams fighting for their playoff lives.

Toronto's hopes of qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since the lockout certainly are on life support, as they now stand eight points out of the final playoff spot in the East, with five teams to jump over in order to move into a postseason position.

Add to that the team's decision to trade their first overall pick in 2010 to Boston for Phil Kessel, and the second-guessing over dealing away a potential lottery pick for the former Bruins star certainly will take place over the summer should the team continue to struggle.

In the middle of the controversy is former Capitals coach Ron Wilson, whose job security has come into question with his team sinking towards the bottom of the standings and closer to last overall than eighth in the East. Toronto GM Brian Burke told reporters Thursday that Wilson wasn't going anywhere, but, of course, the natives are getting restless as the team has never missed the playoffs five years in a row in the team's long history.

In fact, only four NHL teams haven't qualified for the postseason since the lockout, with only Florida, Los Angeles and Phoenix joining Toronto for the unwanted distinction - and of those four, the Leafs are the only squad currently not within four points of a playoff spot heading into Thursday's action.

For Washington, though, the team certainly needs to up its performance against Toronto, having played a pair of lackluster games (and a sub-par third period back on Oct. 3 when they nearly blew a large lead) against Toronto. Following allowing six goals to the Caps in the first two periods of Washington's home opener, Toronto has held the Caps to just four goals in seven periods, slowing down the play and limiting Washington's chances.

The Capitals need to shake their recent first-period doldrums and play with the lead, as falling behind Toronto would certainly pose a tougher challenge for Washington despite the Leafs' recent woes. Washington also certainly wants to make a strong bid for top seed in the East, something they can accomplish if they play well with their longest home stretch before the final seven games of the regular season.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Second Time Around, Caps Complete Comeback

After Tuesday's wild 7-4 loss to Tampa Bay, the Capitals followed a familiar script in south Florida Wednesday night, falling behind by three goals thanks to some uninspired and sloppy play to open the game, then erasing the deficit with a strong surge on the road.

Washington fought back from a 4-1 deficit in the final 24 minutes of regulation to force overtime, as goals by Brian Pothier, Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom drew the Capitals even at four.

On this night, however, there was a much happier ending for the Capitals, as Washington salvaged the latter half of their two-night Florida tour with a 5-4 shootout win over the Panthers, with Tomas Fleischmann ending a six-round shootout with a goal over Tomas Vokun's shoulder and delivering two points for the Caps.

Following a poor first period in Tampa Bay, the Capitals once again got themselves in big trouble early, giving up a pair of goals to fall behind early with a lackluster effort to open the game.

After some nice saves by Vokun on Alexander Semin kept the Caps off the board, Michael Frolik then made a nice move to put the puck past Michal Neuvirth 6:44 in to put the hosts up 1-0.

Before the period was out, the Panthers doubled their lead on a goal by Dominic Moore that initially the referees missed and let play continue. After Moore's shot hit the back of the cage, the puck bounced out and the teams kept playing on until the next whistle, when replay officials confirmed Moore's shot went in and put Florida up 2-0 with 4:49 left in the frame.

Like Tuesday's game, the Caps struck early in the second period, when Jason Chimera broke in on Vokun and beat him with a move to the backhand and deposited it in the cage with just 18 seconds gone in the period. The goal was Chimera's second in a Washington sweater, and also his second on the three-game road trip.

Unfortunately for the Capitals, a penalty on Backstrom turned into a soft goal allowed by Neuvirth, as a long shot by Stephen Weiss trickled through the goaltender's pads for a 3-1 Panthers lead just 3:50 after Chimera put Washington on the board.

Gregory Campbell then dropped the Capitals behind 4-1 for the second straight night, as he backhanded a puck past Neuvirth with 9:49 gone in the frame, and leading to the young goalie getting the hook on two consecutive nights.

Brian Pothier brought the Caps within two with 3:48 left in the period, as he pinched in and got the feed from Brendan Morrison and buried the puck to make it 4-2.

Ovechkin then pulled the Capitals within one just :27 into the third, picking up a loose puck that the Panthers' defensemen couldn't handle and beat Vokun for his 28th goal of the campaign.

Washington then got a golden chance to draw even with their first extra-man advantage of the game with 16:11 left in regulation, but couldn't really get much going failed to get the equalizer.

However, for the second straight night, the Capitals erased a 4-1 deficit on the road, as Mike Green's shot was redirected by Backstrom past Vokun with 7:35 left in the third.

With the game beginning to open up and seeing the two teams trade good chances, Mike Knuble nearly gave the Capitals their first lead of the night with 3:15 left in the third, as redirected a shot that beat Vokun but not the post and the score remained tied up at four.

Despite some good chances during the last 195 seconds of the third, regulation ended with both teams getting a point.

Like the end of regulation, the overtime period was a wild back-and-forth affair, with Keith Ballard, Nathan Horton and Frolik getting good scoring chances on Jose Theodore, while Backstrom and Mike Green had a chance to end the game for Washington. Florida even got a chance with the extra man for the last :49.4 of the five-minute session, but could not net the winner in overtime and the game went into a shootout.

Theodore forced Rostislav Olesz to shoot wide to open the shootout, but Backstrom hit the post on Washington's first chance. Stephen Reinprecht then was stopped by Theodore, and Vokun answered by stuffing Semin's backhand attempt. Horton failed to score in Florida's third shootout attempt, and Ovechkin couldn't deliver with the win on his stick.

Weiss then broke the shootout shutout by Theodore, beating him through the legs, and with the pressure on, Morrison answered Vokun's pokecheck attempt by delivering a puck through the legs to force a fifth round. Frolik then beat Theodore high to give the Panthers another chance to win, but Brooks Laich delivered to keep the shootout going.

Corey Stillman hit the post with Florida's sixth attempt, and Tomas Fleischmann beat Vokun for a shootout win against his Olympic teammate.

After spending a bulk of the first half of the season on the road, the Capitals will finally get a chance to hang around Washington for a long stretch, with a three-game homestand beginning Friday when the Maple Leafs pay a visit to Verizon Center, and also seven of Washington's next nine games will be at home.

After Ugly Loss, Caps Get Back to Work

The good news in the wake of a bizarre and bumbling 7-4 loss to the Lightning is that it won't be long before the Capitals get a chance to make amends before heading back to Verizon Center, making a stop in Sunrise, Fla. for a battle with the Panthers.

Sloppy play, bad penalties and uninspired effort marked the loss, as after everything went right in an 8-1 win at Atlanta Saturday, pretty much everything outside a 12-minute span in the second period went wrong.

Fortunately for the Caps, Washington also avoided further bad news when Matt Bradley stepped in to take on Steve Downie late in the third period as the game devolved into a beer-league conclusion in the latter stages. Some of the Lightning accused the Caps' star of a dirty hit along the boards which sparked the first of two meelees involving Ovechkin, including the rare sight of him coming out of the penalty box and quickly responding to a challenge.

But, the Capitals leave relatively chilly Tampa Bay and head down to south Florida to meet a Panthers team that has seen feast-or-famine since Dec. 23, going 2-5-0 and scoring 9 goals in the two wins but just eight in the five losses.

Likewise, so far Washington has owned the season series against the Panthers, outscoring Florida 17-7 - but of course, the Caps just lost their 12-game domination over the Lightning. The teams met once at BankAtlantic Center, with the Caps taking the first end of a home-and-home back on Nov. 6.

But key for the Capitals will be to finish off an uneven road trip with a win before they begin a three-game home stand and a stretch where seven of their next nine are on home ice.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Penalties Kill Capitals' Chance for 13 Straight

Special teams led to a wild affair at the St. Pete Times Forum, as the Capitals and Lightning combined for a 5-for-11 performance in a wild 7-4 victory for the hosts that snaps Washington's 12-game win streak against the Bolts, and also hands the Caps just their second divisional loss of the year (9-2-0).

Washington was slow out of the gate, in part thanks to its morning skate getting scrapped due to some ice issues, falling behind 4-1 after just 19 minutes. However, the Caps battled back before a Martin St. Louis goal late in the second period changed the momentum back Tampa's way and ended Washington's franchise-record win streak against any club and brought the hosts their first win against the Caps since 2007.

For a team that doesn't light the lamp often, Tampa Bay's big line powered the Bolts to a 4-1 lead after 20 minutes, thanks to a pair of extra-man goals by Steve Stamkos.

Vincent Lecavalier opened the scoring off a bad Mike Knuble pass that didn't clear the zone, with the Lightning's star taking the pass and then completing a give-and-go with Alex Tanguay for a 1-0 lead 6:34 into the contest. Stamkos then upped the lead to 2-0 with a power-play tally by taking a set shot wide from Brandon Bochenski and depositing a backhand past Michael Neuvirth with 7:57 left in the frame.

The Capitals did cut the lead in half briefly, as Alexander Semin took a cross-ice feed from Tomas Fleischmann and buried it past Mike Smith just 2:02 after the Stamkos tally.

However, another Capitals penalty turned into another Stamkos power-play tally, as the budding star scored his 25th of the campaign with a wrister past Neuvirth with 2:32 to play. Stephane Veilleux then gave Tampa Bay a 4-1 lead with 1:25 left in the frame to cap a flat period for the Capitals.

The Capitals pulled Neuvirth during the intermission, although Washington was badly outplayed in the first 20 minutes, getting outshot 15-7 and facing a rare large deficit.

However, Washington responded thanks to its power-play, equalling the score in the next 12:08. Mike Green brought the Capitals to 4-2 just 1:34 into the contest with a backhand past Smith. Smith then came out of the game, and Antero Nittymaki was put into the cage and put in front of a Washington barrage.

Eric Fehr beat the ex-Flyers netminder with a shot over the glove hand to pull the Caps within one 7:44 into the frame, and then on a subsequent power-play, Green blasted a drive that was redirected by a Lightning defenseman in front of Nittymaki to square the score with 8:52 left in the middle frame.

But the Bolts got another power-play chance before the period ended, and moved to three-for-three with the extra man when Martin St. Louis beat Jose Theodore with 2:32 to play in the period to restore the lead for the hosts.

Washington was finally able to complete a successful penalty kill after five failed attempts by both teams on a Jason Chimera minor at the end of the second. But Curtist Foster blasted one past Theodore to give Tampa a 6-4 lead with a blast high into the net four minutes into the third. Then, ex-Cap Jeff Halpern iced the game with a goal with 10:06 left in regulation, on yet another power play as he buried a pass from Lecavalier.

The offensively-challenged Lightning hadn't scored more than six goals in a game this season, but the Capitals' slow start turned the game into a track meet with Tampa's talented top line. Likewise, it was Washington's worst defensive performance of the year, eclipsing three six-goal performances against by the Flyers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes earlier this season.

Washington also only managed to go 3-for-7 on the penalty kill, which was fatal against the Lightning in a game in which Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos combined for eight points.

Ovechkin got into a scrap with Chris Downie after the Caps' star hit the defenseman along the boards. Then, once the two were released after roughing minors, Downie jabbed his stick in the midsection, and the two dropped gloves - however Matt Bradley stepped in to take on Downie and protect his captain.

Washington won't have much time to lick their wounds after their poor performance, heading down to south Florida to take on the Panthers Wednesday night.