Monday, February 28, 2011

At Trade Deadline, Capitals Make Big Splash

Ever since the Washington Capitals gut wrenching 2-1 loss in Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the Montreal Canadiens, one of the main questions that has followed the team is when was General Manager George McPhee going to address the teams need for a proven two-way second line center?
On Monday afternoon, McPhee finally addressed that need by trading for veteran center Jason Arnott of the New Jersey Devils. In return for Arnott, the Capitals send fourth line center David Steckel, and a second round pick in 2012 to the Devils.
In Arnott, the Capitals get a two-way center who can immediately step in and center the Capitals second line with Alexander Semin and either Brooks Laich, who has played on the second line with Semin the majority of the last two seasons, or the newly acquired Marco Sturm whom the Capitals acquired off of waivers from the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
The Capitals also acquired Dennis Wideman from the Florida Panthers for a prospect Jake Hauswirth and a third round pick in 2011. The puck moving defensemen will most likely be asked to quarterback the Capitals top power play unit while defensemen Mike Green continues to recover from a blow to head suffered in Friday night’s 6-0 loss to the New York Rangers.
After constant criticism from fans, and on occasion the local media, George McPhee pulled off three moves in the last two days that on paper, at least, have addressed weaknesses the Capitals have ignored all season long.
The question now is did McPhee make the right moves?
Do Arnott, 36, and Sturm, 32, have enough left to improve the lack of consistent scoring that has plagued the Capitals since December?
In four seasons with the Nashville Predators, Arnott was unable to get the Predators passed the first round of the playoffs, and in 62 games with the Devils this season only produced 24 points, and Sturm is less than a year removed from tearing his ACL and MCL in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
However, Arnott averaged nearly 28 goals a season in the first five seasons after the lockout, and Sturm did manage four goals and five assists in the 17 games he played with the Kings this season from December 21 to February 24. Giving both veterans a fresh start in Washington playing with the likes of Semin, Laich, Marcus Johannson and Jason Chimera could help both produce at the level they are used to.
Today’s moves brought back memories of the deals McPhee made on deadline day in 2008 when he acquired goalie Cristobal Huet and forwards Sergei Federov and Matt Cooke. All three were key contributors in the Capitals winning their first Southeast Division title since 2001 as they provided the veteran leadership the Capitals young core so desperately needed.
Federov even hung around for another year, and proved huge in the Capitals first round matchup with the New Rangers in the 2009 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals as he sent the Verizon Center into a frenzy with his late third period goal in Game 7 that gave the Capitals a 2-1 win and their first trip to the second round since 1998.
These moves have a bit of the same feel. Arnott, too, has scored big goals in the playoffs, none bigger than his goal in double overtime in Game 6 of the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals. The Capitals have struggled since December 1 going just 15-14-6 while being shut out seven times in falling to fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The Capitals needed some fresh blood, and McPhee got that in Arnott, Sturm, and Wideman. The question now is will these three provide the Capitals the spark they need to get over the hump come April and May?
If the results are anything like they were in the spring of 2009, the answer just might be yes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Caps Today and Top Game Notes

Per the Washington Capitals Media Relations department:

Not very often do the Washington Capitals play a Western Conference team twice, but this season the Caps will play three Western Conference teams twice (Anaheim, St. Louis and San Jose). In the first meeting between these two teams Brooks Laich scored the only goal, while Semyon Varlamov stopped 22 out of 24 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss Dec. 15 at Verizon Center. Washington has won the two previous meetings in Anaheim against the Ducks dating back to Jan. 13, 2006. On that night, rookie Alex Ovechkin recorded his first career hat trick for a 3-2 overtime win against Anaheim. Ovechkin will look to rekindle the same magic tonight.

NOTE OF THE NIGHT
Duck Hunter – Alex Ovechkin has registered 11 points (5-6-11) in five career games against the Ducks, his highest career point total against any Western Conference opponent despite being held scoreless in the meeting with Anaheim earlier this season. In his first four career outings against the Ducks, Ovechkin scored three or more points in three of the four games. His first career NHL hat trick came against Anaheim when he scored all three Washington goals in a 3-2 OT win on Jan. 13, 2006.

FIVE MORE NOTES NO MEDIA PERSON SHOULD BE WITHOUT
Pacific Tour - Tonight’s game marks the fourth of five straight games against Pacific Division opponents for the Capitals, who began the stretch by hosting the San Jose Sharks on Feb. 8 and the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 12. The Caps continued the run by playing at Phoenix on Monday, play in Anaheim on Wednesday and at San Jose on Thursday. Alex Ovechkin has registered 31 points (16-15-31) in 27 career games against Pacific Division opponents.

Back in business – Alexander Semin collected an assist Monday night in Phoenix to record his first point since Dec. 26. Semin, who ranks third on the Caps in scoring with 18-18-36, missed 12 games due to injury from Jan. 11 to Feb. 6.

Net ‘virth’; – Michal Neuvirth has started three of the last four games for the Capitals, going 1-2-0. He has allowed just five goals in that span while posting a 1.69 goals against average, a .934 save percentage and recorded a shutout win over Pittsburgh on Feb. 6.

50-50 proposition – Alex Ovechkin (56 points) and Nicklas Backstrom (50) made the Capitals one of just five teams in the NHL with at least two 50-point scorers (Anaheim, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Vancouver; through Monday’s games).

PK replay – The Capitals have killed off 39 of their last 42 shorthanded situations (92.9%), a run that stretches back 14 games. Washington’s 86.2% penalty-kill ranks second in the NHL; the team hasn’t finished among the league’s top 10 in penalty killing since 1999-00 and hasn’t been higher than 17th (or 82.2%) in the past eight years

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Capitals Recall Patrick McNeill from Hershey

Per the Washington Capitals' Media Relations Department:

The Washington Capitals have recalled defenseman Patrick McNeill from the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL), vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

McNeill, 23, registered 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) and 16 penalty minutes in 26 games with the Bears this season. The 6’0, 198-pound defenseman has played in 182 career AHL games with Hershey and could make his NHL debut tomorrow night as the Capitals play against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center.

McNeill collected 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) in 62 games with Hershey last season, almost doubling his point total from the previous season. His 27 assists and 35 points ranked second on the team among defensemen behind John Carlson. In addition, McNeill registered six points (three goals, three assists) in 11 playoff games to help Hershey win the Calder Cup.

McNeill, who wears No. 46 with the Capitals, was Washington’s fourth-round choice (118th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

LEONARD SHAPIRO JOINS COMCAST SPORTSNET MID-ATLANTIC

Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic, the region’s premier source for multiplatform sports coverage, has announced that award-winning sportswriter Leonard Shapiro is joining the network’s rapidly-growing digital media properties, where he will serve as a regular contributor to CSNwashington.com and CSNbaltimore.com. Shapiro, who has earned a reputation as one of the nation’s leading voices during four decades in sports media, will be featured on the network’s digital platforms beginning on Wednesday, Feb. 16.

Shapiro, 64, recently retired from The Washington Post, where he served as a sports reporter, editor and columnist. Shapiro has already amassed more than 7,400 newspaper bylines, authored six sports-themed books and appeared in numerous national publications. He has covered more than 70 major golf tournaments, including every U.S. Open since 1991, five Olympics and numerous Super Bowls, World Series, NBA playoffs and NCAA championships.

“Len is an institution with a loyal following because of his unique gift for telling stories with passion, insight and color” said Comcast SportsNet Mid-Atlantic Senior Vice President and General Manager Rebecca Schulte. “He is part of the region’s sports culture and a significant addition to our expanding team of leading reporters, analysts and insiders serving Washington and Baltimore sports fans.”;

Shapiro is the latest sports media veteran to join Comcast SportsNet’s digital media team. Former Washington Times sports reporter Mark Zuckerman and longtime Redskins correspondent and football authority Rich Tandler – along with their established sports websites – joined the network in January. Ray Frager, a 24-year veteran of the Baltimore Sun sports department, was named digital media managing editor earlier this month to direct the sites’ expanding editorial content.

Comcast SportsNet’s digital masthead of reporters, bloggers and producers also includes Ryan O’Halloran, a former sports reporter for the Washington Times, and longtime Baltimore Sun sports columnist John Eisenberg. Their coverage, which is complemented by the network’s vast television video and news resources, provides fans with the region’s most complete multiplatform sports news, information and analysis.

“Our strategy is to give sports fans the most comprehensive and accessible coverage of their hometown teams,” said Comcast Sports Group Executive Vice President and Chief Digital Officer Eric Grilly. “Fans are tuning in because of our investments in our digital platforms and the addition of talented and respected journalists like Len Shapiro.”;

During the fourth quarter of 2010, CSNwashington.com earned a 310 percent increase in unique visitors and a 151 percent gain in page-views compared to the same period in 2009. CSNbaltimore.com, which debuted in July 2010, has delivered similar traffic growth, including a 101 percent month-over-month gain in visitors and a 92 percent increase in unique visitors in January. CSNwashington.com was recently honored with three CableFAX ‘Best of the Web Award’ nominations, including one for best overall website.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

First Period Recap

Alex Ovechkin got the Verizon Center rocking just 66 seconds into the game with his patented use the defensmen as a screen move on the Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty to give the Capitals a 1-0 lead.

Ovechkin skated into the zone down the left wing, cut to the right as he got to the top of the left circle and fired a shot through Doughty's legs that beat the Kings' Jonathan Bernier to his blocker side.

The goal was the quickest of the season for the Caps, and came on the games first shot.

Washington was solid defensively in the first period as they limited the Kings to just four shots while blocking 11.

The Capitals were unable to generate much offense after Ovechkin's initial tally; they had just seven shots on goal the rest of the period, but did manage several quality scoring chances.

Matthew Perrault took a pass in the neutral zone and after entering the Kings zone cut to the top of the slot and fired a shot on Bernier that was deflected into the air with Jason Chimera parked in front of the net.

Brooks Laich also had several scoring chances, his best coming on a back hand shot from the low slot midway through the period.

Mike Green skated for 7:57 of the first period after missing Tuesday's game against the San Jose Sharks after taking a shot to the back of his right ear in Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Niemi, Sharks, Blank Caps

For two periods Tuesday night, Michael Neuvirth and Antii Niemi went save for save as neither looked like they were going to yield the critical first goal.

As it turned out, Neuvirth would be the one to finally falter as he allowed two goals 2:12 apart in the third, and a flurry of shots in the dying minutes proved too late as the Capitals were blanked by the Sharks, 2-0.

Logan Couture and Dan Boyle beat Neuvirth at the 11:55, and 14:07 marks of the third after Neuvirth stopped the first 31 shots he faced.

Washington has now been shutout eight times in their last 36 games, and have won just one of their last four home games.

After consecutive wins of the Tampa Bay Lightning and arch-rival Pittsburgh Penguins over the weekend in which the Capitals put together their best back-to-back performances of the season, Washington struggled to keep the puck in the offensive zone on Tuesday and failed to do the things that led to this past weekend's strong showing.

The Sharks also did their part as they blocked 25 Capitals shots, six of which came off the stick of Alex Ovechkin.

Tuesday night saw the return of Alexander Semin, who had missed the Capitals last twelve games after suffering a groin muscle injury on Jan. 8.

Semin did manage four shots on goal, but was unable to truly establish himself in the game.

After neither team could muster anything on the scoreboard through two periods, Couture beat Neuvirth stick side to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead with less then nine minutes to go in the game.

After a long shift where the Capitals were unable to clear the puck, Boyle scored on a slapshot that beat Neuvirth short-side with 5:53 left.

The play of the game came with just over a minute to go in the second.

David Steckel intercepted a pass at the San Jose blue line, and forced Niemi out of position after a nice backhand to forehand move. But, Steckel was unable to gather the puck after he pulled it back to his forehand and wiffed on the shot with the left side of the net open.

Washington has three days off before hosting the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday afternoon.

Second Period Recap

The Capitals and Sharks remain scoreless after two periods at Verizon Center as both Antii Niemi and Michael Neuvirth continue their steller play.

Niemi and Neuvirth combined for 16 saves in the period; 4 and 12 respectively, as the Sharks, again, managed to put double digit shots on goal.

Neuvirth was tested several times early in the period, but managed to make every save and got steady help from his team as the Capitals defense was able to clear loose pucks.

While they managed just four shots on goal in the period, the Capitals managed the best scoring chance of the period.

With just over a minute to go in the period, David Steckel intercepted a San Jose pass at the Sharks blue line and raced towards Niemi. Steckel went backhand to forehand to force Niemi out of position, but was unable to regain control of the puck as he went to his forehand and wiffed on the shot.

The Caps have been outshot 27-13 through the first two periods, but have not allowed a goal now in six straight periods going back to Friday's contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

First Period Recap

The first period has concluded at Verizon Center with the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks still scoreless.

The Capitals managed several quality scoring chances, one each from Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, but Sharks netminder Antii Niemi managed to stop them all.

The best of Niemi's nine saves came with the Capitals on their only power play of the period. Alexander Semin, back after missing 12 games with a groin muscle injury, found Backstrom wide open in the left circle who shot high to the glove side. Niemi managed to get the tip of his glove on the puck which forced the puck wide right of the net.

Semin also threatened Niemi as a shot from the right cirlce trickled through between Niemi's right arm and side. Unfortunately for Semin and the Caps, the referee lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle before Niemi inadvertenly knocked the puck into the net.

Michael Neuvirth, making his second consecutive start, stopped all 15 shots he faced.

Capitals Assign Jay Beagle to Hershey

The Washington Capitals have assigned center Jay Beagle to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL), vice president and general manager George McPhee announced today.

Beagle, 25, has played in 22 games for Washington this season, registering three points (2 goals, 1 assist) and six penalty minutes. The 6’3”, 210-pound native of Calgary, Alberta, has collected 11 points (7 goals, 4 assists) and 20 penalty minutes in 24 games for the Bears this season.

Beagle has appeared in 32 career NHL games for the Capitals, posting five points (3 goals, 2 assists) and 10 penalty minutes. He also played in 66 games for the Bears during the regular season last season, collecting 35 points (16 goals, 19 assists) and 25 penalty minutes while also recording nine points (2 goals, 7 assists) in 21 playoff games.

Beagle was signed as a free agent by the Capitals on March 26, 2008.

Caps Today and Top Game Notes

From the Washington Capitals Media Relations Department:

Today’s Storyline
Tests vs. the best – San Jose comes to Verizon Center on a 7-0-1 run, one of the hottest teams in hockey hoping to strengthen its playoff positioning with another win tonight. It’s the kind of test, however, that Washington has answered of late. After going a month (Jan. 2-Feb. 3) without beating a team that was in a playoff position at the time, the Capitals have posted consecutive wins against two of the best in the Eastern Conference. Friday’s 5-2 win at Tampa Bay halted the Bolts’ six-game winning streak on home ice, while Sunday the Caps ended Pittsburgh’s five-game winning streak. A win tonight would give Washington a three-game winning streak of its own, its first since Dec. 26-Jan. 1.

NOTE OF THE NIGHT

50-50 proposition – Alex Ovechkin (55 points) and Nicklas Backstrom (50) make the Capitals one of four teams in the NHL with two 50-point scorers (Dallas, Tampa Bay, Vancouver; through Sunday’s games). Twenty teams don’t have a single 50-point scorer. Friday night at Tampa Bay was just the first time that both Ovechkin and Backstrom had four points in the same game. The first instance came in Washington's 10-2 rout of the Bruins on March 3, 2008, when Ovechkin tallied five points and Backstrom chipped in with four.

FIVE MORE NOTES NO MEDIA PERSON SHOULD BE WITHOUT

Blank stare – Sunday’s shutout was Michal Neuvirth’s second of the season, matching Semyon Varlamov for the team lead. The last time the Capitals had two goaltenders with multiple shutouts in a season was 1999-00 (Olie Kolzig and Craig Billington). Washington’s four shutouts as a team are its most since 2002-03 (4). Sunday marked the first time Washington shut out the Penguins since Oct. 29, 1991 (Don Beaupre).

Kids are all right – Washington had five rookies in the lineup Sunday against Pittsburgh. Among that group Michal Neuvirth had a 22-save shutout, John Carlson led the team in ice time, Mathieu Perreault set up the first goal (eventual game-winner) and Marcus Johansson scored the second goal while shorthanded. The four rookie skaters were a combined +5.

Two few – In their last nine games the Capitals are 5-1-3 and have not allowed more than two goals in regulation (1.30 goals-against average). Stretching back 22 games, the Capitals have allowed just 39 goals, with the team’s three goaltenders combining for a 1.71 goals-against average and a .942 save percentage in that time. The team ranks fifth in the league in goals against (2.39); Washington hasn’t been in the top 12 in the league in goals against since finishing fourth in 1999-00.

PK replay – The Capitals have killed off 35 of its last 37 shorthanded situations (94.6%). Washington’s 86.3% penalty kill ranks second in the NHL; the team hasn’t finished among the league’s top 10 in penalty killing since 1999-00 and hasn’t been higher than 17th (or 82.2%) in the past eight years.

Six shooter – The Capitals offense has produced at least a goal in six straight periods for the first time since Nov. 24-28 (seven straight).