Welcome to Caps 'Round the Clock, a blog covering the Washington Capitals and the NHL. In season, I update the Blog after every practice and on game day with Caps news and information, and then provide a recap and analysis after each contest. I also write a periodical Prospect Watch and weekly feature pieces on the state of the Men in Red and other things Capitals. And of course, I will post videos and tidbits from around the League and offer my two cents as the season wears on. In the offseason, I write a Report Card for each player, and will keep you updated on all the news about the Caps through the summer. I'm glad you're here, and hope you come back!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Alas, There is Hope: Varlamov Unsigned

At around 11:15 Thursday night, 13 hours before the NHL free agency period is scheduled to begin, Russian hockey reporter Dmitry Chesnokov tweeted that, in fact, Lokomotiv Yaroslav has NOT exchanged Semyon Varlamov's rights to SKA St. Petersburg, as was reported earlier today by Sports.ru.  Apparently, Varlamov's agent has stated that his client will not play for Lokomotiv, one of the poorer clubs in the KHL, as his primary reason for leaving the NHL would be money.  However, Loko has remained firm on their stance that they have no intention of trading Varlamov's rights to any team.
This whole thing is clearly, for lack of a better word, nuts.  Friday is going to be a very interesting day.

Report: Varlamov Signs With SKA St. Petersburg

Via a report out of Russia's Sports.ru, Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov has signed a deal with Kontinental Hockey League club SKA St. Petersburg in Russia.  The length of the contract is not known at this time, but it is believed to pay Varlamov an average of about $4 million per season, according to the report. His signing with SKA also indicates a serious change of direction from earlier in the week, when his original KHL club, Lokomotiv Yaroslav, said they would not trade Varlamov's rights to SKA.  But St. Petersburg, the richest club in the KHL which also happens to be lead by the president of the KHL, has apparently won the battle and has acquired Varlamov.
Of course, none of this has been confirmed by the Capitals as until 12:01 AM on July 1, the young Russian is still under contract with DC.  But at this point, it is only a formality; it looks as though Varly is gone.
Thanks to Fedor Fedin and Adam Vingan for passing this along.

Rocking the Red 'Round the Clock

It is with great pleasure that I announce that I have half jumped ship to write for RocktheRed.net.  I will be writing for both my own blog and RtR from now on, but one thing will be removed from this blog's rotation in the fall, and that will be the Rapid Rewinds after games.  Those will be found on Rock the Red postgame, and I will link to those stories here.
Thank you all so much for reading and interacting with me over Twitter and this website.  There is nothing that I love more than discussing Caps hockey with fellow fans, and I hope to continue doing so.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Report: Varlamov Chooses KHL

As rumors around the future of restricted free agent goaltender Semyon Varlamov continued to swirl Wednesday, Russian hockey reporter Dmitry Chesnokov reported at around 1 PM that Varlamov has chosen to play in the KHL next year. Varlamov's agent informed Sovietsky Sport's Pavel Lysenkov of his decision. Neither the name of the club, nor the terms of the deal, are available at this time. If the report is accurate, Washington would still hold Varlamov's NHL rights.  The Capitals have not confirmed this report.  More as it becomes available.

You Can Never Have Enough, But...

Is Boyd Gordon an odd man out in DC?
With the news on Tuesday morning that the Capitals had re-signed forward Brooks Laich to a six-year, $27 million contract, Washington locked up their best two-way player for the next half-decade.  They secured a fan favorite and a home-grown talent who has blossomed in his time in the Disctrict.  But perhaps most importantly, they sent a clear message: the time is now.  By both acquiring multi-faceted talent Troy Brouwer on draft night for their first-round pick this year and re-signing Laich, the Caps have made a statement as an organization that they are going for it now.
These are the kinds of players you win Cups with.  George McPhee knows that. Look at Boston and Chicago - up and down, their rosters are full of speed, grit, and two-way ability, possibly the best combination of a player you can ask for other than a guy like Alex Ovechkin.  Both of these roster moves were huge steps forward in terms of adding character.  You can never have enough of players like Brouwer and Laich.
But...these two deals will likely tie up between $6.5-$7 million in salary cap space for however long Brouwer signs on (assuming he does).  It's alot of money in two non-elite scorers or defensemen.  That leaves around $6-6.5 million in space left. Now, that's a problem, considering the other free agents that Washington has this offseason.  This numbers crunch is almost certain to drive out Scott Hannan, Marco Sturm, Jason Arnott, and Matt Bradley.  That leaves Semyon Varlamov, Boyd Gordon, and Karl Alzner.
Alzner has to stay, no matter what.  He and John Carlson are solid gold together and are the Caps' top defensive pairing by a mile.  The Capitals cannot afford to let him go, and they know that.  Thankfully, it seems as though Alzner wants to come back based on comments he made at the end of the year, and that he will take some sort of pay cut to stay in Washington.  I think that he'll get somewhere along the lines of 4-5 years, $10-12 million, which is reasonable.  That leaves around four million...
Which brings us to Boyd Gordon.  Because the Caps traded David Steckel to get Jason Arnott, he is the only faceoff man that DC has, and one of their top four penalty killers.  For a team that has changed to a defense-first philosophy in the last year, Gordon is an invaluable role player.  And again, I'll bring up the faceoffs, which are huge.  You may laugh, but do you want Nicklas Backstrom taking a d-zone faceoff against Sidney Crosby in the final minute of a playoff game?  Yeah, me either.  Gordo made $761,250 last year, and is due for a small raise based on his good season last year.  I think he'll get around $1 million per year for three years.  That leaves around three million...
Which brings us, finally, to Semyon Varlamov.  The young Russian goaltender is receiving lucrative offers from the KHL in his homeland, but so far seems committed to remaining in the NHL, even if it's not with the Caps.  If he comes back, he will be given every opportunity to win the starting job and, if he can stay healthy, probably has a good chance at succeeding.  And if he signs, it likely won't be on a one-year deal as that would eliminate his restricted free-agent status (for more on this, click here).  But in the end, I think a two-year, $5-million deal could be settled upon.  Which leaves us with (roughly) a relatively flexible $1 million to play with.

Of course, this is all purely speculation, and I could be completely wrong.  But this is going to be a very interesting week, and the situation bears very close watching.
Thanks to the website Capgeek for salary information.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Capitals Sign Brooks Laich

As first reported by Capitals senior writer Mike Vogel this morning, the Washington Capitals have re-signed forward Brooks Laich to a six-year, $27 million contract. The agreement was reached only days before Laich would have become a unrestricted free agent and he surely would have fetched large offers from many teams, including Boston, Toronto, and Los Angeles, among others. Laich's contract will have an annual hit on the salary cap of $4.5 million, but is front-loaded, and he will be the third highest-paid Capital next season behind only Alexander Ovechkin and Alexeander Semin, according to the website Capgeek. The deal also includes a limited no-trade clause for the first four years.
If you've been paying attention over the last two months, I have been saying repeatedly that Brooks Laich is the one player that the Caps cannot afford to lose this offseason. Well, they won't. There is no doubt that this contract is a little steep for a player like Brooks, and his cap number is inflated for the skill set that he brings to the table.  But the team really had no choice to bring him back based on all the positive things he brings to the table and the way he has meshed with the club. I like this deal to an extent, and it still gives the Caps room; though they overpaid a bit, they still did not break the bank. But now, the question becomes - who are the odd men out? Time will tell.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Steal of the Draft: Why Boston Will Love Dougie Hamilton

Highway robbery.  Robbery, I say!
In the first round of last week's entry draft, there were several puzzling picks that included, among others, Adam Larsson falling to fourth overall to New Jersey, Mika Zibanejad jumping to sixth overall to Ottawa, and Mark Scheifele jumping to seventh overall to Winnipeg.  These last two picks, in particular, allowed prized defensive prospect Dougie Hamilton to fall the Boston Bruins at ninth overall.  As many know, this pick was gifted to the Bruins by Toronto GM Brian Burke in one of the worst trades in the last 25 years two seasons ago.  This treade sent the Maple Leafs' first and second rounders last year (Tyler Seguin and Jared Knight) and this first-rounder to Boston for Phil Kessel.  So, in other words, the Stanley Cup Champion Bruins are only getting younger and better.
Although Pierre McGuire felt it necessary to call pretty much every pick after fifth overall a steal, in my eyes there is one that stands above the others, and that is young Mr. Hamilton.  I think that he is the best value in the draft in terms of where he was selected compared to his NHL upside.  Dougie was ranked in the top five overall skaters at one point and was ranked number four for North American skaters on draft day for a reason.  To me, in a league where young defensemen are prized above almost all else, the fact that he dropped to ninth overall is ridiculous, especially because he is perfect for the Bruins.
For one, Hamilton is a gifted offensive defenseman (he had 58 points in 67 games this year in the OHL) who will remind Bruins fans of one Robert Orr.  No, he's not the next #4, but he will bring back memories of him with his moves and his speed and will create offense off the back end possibly as soon as next year.
Second, he's huge.  Dougie is 6-5, 195, and will only get heavier and stronger as he begins to work out with pros more often and he grows into his body.  Put simply, he's a beast, and though he's not as big as Zdeno Chara, they will be a great pair for many years to come as other Bruins' defensemen get older.
Lastly, and possibly mostly, Hamilton is a wrecking ball.  He uses his size very well and loves to hit people and play physical, as evidenced by his 77 penalty minutes last year in Juniors.  From watching video on him, it seems as though flooring people is what he does best, and though that may catch him out of position at times early, he will definitely adapt well.  He's also not exactly afraid to get into after the whistle.  You want a big, bad Bruin?  Look no further. Oh, and I'll say this one more time: Boston stole him.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Why the Capitals Should Look at Matt Gilroy

Gilroy won the Hobey.  So did GMGM. Omen? We'll see.
Lost in the commotion over the weekend of all of the draft picks made and trades completed, the New York Rangers made a curious move when they released defenseman Matt Gilroy. Gilroy had been in the Rangers organization for two rather lackluster seasons after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2009. After the Blueshirts failed to make him a qualifying offer before the deadline imposed by the NHL, he became an unrestricted free agent, available to any team.
So why am I talking about a free agent defenseman who used to be on the Rangers?  Well, it's because I think the Capitals should make him an offer.  I know, I know: the Caps have too many defensemen signed to NHL contracts as it is, aren't we trying to get rid of one (Tom Poti, cough)?  There is no room for him on our blue line.  He was released by the Rangers, why would Washington want him?  All of these are valid questions.
I respond with: this dude is good.  While at Boston University, Gilroy was a three-time All-American (2x first team in '08, '09, 1x second team in '07) and won the Hobey Baker award in 2009.  That same year, he won the national championship with the Terriers inside Verizon Center, becoming only the fifth player in NCAA history to accomplish the feat of winning both the Hobey and a ring in the same season.  His stats in college are nothing to sneeze at, either; in 160 career collegiate games he scored 25 goals and collected 92 total points.  He has skill, that is not the question.
Another reason is that he has played in a poor offensive system both of his years in the NHL, as the Rangers ranked 16th in goals scored in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011.  Gilroy is an offensive, puck-moving defenseman who likes to jump into the play and create; the MO of the typical Rangers' defenseman is pretty much the exact opposite.  John Tortorella is also not particularly kind to younger players who make mistakes, putting them in the doghouse and keeping them there for often irrational amount of time. His inconsistent playing time on the senior circuit has no doubt contributed to his poor offensive totals so far as a pro: he has only 26 points (7 goals) in 127 career games.  Bruce Boudreau, on the other hand, seems to have a knack for helping younger players develop to their full potential. Maybe a change of scenery is all he needs (just look at Michael Grabner).  Hey, you never know.
Look, I am not saying that Gilroy is going to be the next Mike Green.  He's obviously not.  But he'll be 27 years old on opening night, he's skilled, and he won't cost that much to bring on board.  Maybe invite him to training camp and see how it goes from there.  For a team that suddenly seems to need offense from the back end, especially if  Green gets traded, I've heard worse ideas.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Capitals Select Garrett Haar 207th Overall

The Washington Capitals closed out their selections Saturday by drafting defenseman Garrett Haar with the 207th overall selection in this year's NHL Entry Draft.  Haar is from Huntington Beach, California, and spent last season playing for the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League.  He is listed by Fargo's website as 5-11, 188, and scored 7 goals and 16 assists in 51 games this year to go along with 38 penalty minutes.  He will play for Northeastern University next year.
This again is exactly the kind of player that you can expect George McPhee to draft late: he seems to have few holes in his game, he moves the puck, and fills out a position of relative need within the organization.  He's not particularly big, but his high PIMs indicate a little pepper and his scoring numbers are solid for a defenseman.  A fine way to close out 2011.

Capitals Select Travis Boyd 177th Overall

The Washington Capitals have drafted center Travis Boyd with the 177th overall selection in this year's NHL Entry Draft.  Boyd is from Hopkins, Minnesota, and has spent the last two seasons playing for the United States' Development Program.  He is listed by HockeyDB as 5-10, 185, and scored five goals to go along with 13 assists in 24 games this year to go along with 18 penalty minutes.
Boyd is the type of player I expected DC to take at this point in the draft; he is a player with a little offensive punch and possesses some good skill but can also be a solid two-way player. He appears to have some penalty-killing potential as well.  Boyd will play for the University of Minnesota next year.

Capitals Select Patrick Koudys 147th Overall

The Washington Capitals have drafted defenseman Patrick Koudys with the 147th overall selection in this year's NHL Entry Draft. Koudys is from Smithville, Ontario, Canada, and spent this past year playing for the RPI Redhawks.  He is listed by RPI's website as 6-4, 210, and will certainly bring some punch to the organization.  In 31 games for the Redhawks this year, Koudys had one goal, two assists, and 14 penalty minutes.
I like this pick.  It adds Canadian blood at a position of need in the organization deep in the draft, pretty much exactly what you are looking for in the fifth round. It looks as though he may eventually develop into a Scott Hannan-type player; a big, physical, tough defenseman who does all the little things well.

Capitals Select Steffen Soberg 117th Overall

The Washington Capitals have drafted goaltender Steffen Soberg with the 117th overall selection in this year's NHL Entry Draft.  Soberg is from Oslo, Norway, and was regarded as the seventh best goaltender available in the draft. He had a 4.17 GAA and a .884 save percentage to go along with five wins in 27 games last year in Norway's GET-Ligaen. Surely these are not impressive numbers in Norway. They can't be.  Right?
Soberg may be well regarded by some, the fact that the Caps already have four goalies in their system makes this pick rather silly to me.  Washington does not need goalies, they need role players and defensemen.  I guess we'll need to get them later in the draft.  More to come on this.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What About Brooksie?

Sad face.
With the news that the Washington Capitals had traded their first round pick, 26th overall, to the Chicago Blackhawks on draft night for Troy Brouwer, it became apparent to me that George McPhee has given up hope on signing Brooks Laich to a new contract.
Brouwer is a restricted free agent who made $1.025 million last year and is due for a significant raise.  He has a cup ring and he is only 25 years old, so he is a valuable player who can score some.  He's not a stud, but he plays the game right and like I said before, he has won and knows how to do the little things. Brouwer is a grinder who Caps fans will instantly love for what he brings to the table.  He's good  But...
But...there is no way that the money is going to work.  With Laich an unrestricted free agent and the de facto number two forward on the market this offseason, Washington simply does not have the cash to lock up 21 for a deal at a price that will be able to compare to what a team like Toronto will.  It's really a shame, because I think Laich is one of the most important players on the team and his loss would be (will be) tough to compensate for.  You have to give up something to get something. Brouwer has a ring, so I guess in GMGM's mind, that was the trump card.
What did John Mellencamp say again?  "Life goes on long after the thrill of livin' is gone?"  Yeah, that.  We'll miss you, Brooks.

Capitals Acquire Troy Brouwer

The Washington Capitals made a trade on the opening night of the 2011 NHL Draft, acquiring right winger Troy Brouwer from the Chicago Blackhawks for their first round selection in this draft, 26th overall.  Brouwer is an RFA, due a raise, and this is, put shortly, a risky move by George McPhee.  The Capitals do not have the money to sign Brouwer to a good deal AND keep Brooks Laich, and lose the chance on drafting a young, exciting player.  This deal may also force out Semyon Varlamov and pretty much eliminates any chance at re-signing Scott Hannan.
Brouwer is a solid player, who has won a cup with Chicago, but to me, the money is the biggest issue.  As I said earlier, this virtually guarantees that both Semyon Varlamov and Brooks Laich have played their last game in Capital red.  It's a risk, but Brouwer could bring some unforeseen positives, providing his surgically repaired shoulder holds up.  The power forward had surgery earlier this spring after Chicago was eliminated; McPhee fully expects him to be ready for training camp.

First Round Draft Summary

1. Edmonton Oilers - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Red Deer Rebels

2. Colorado Avalanche - Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Kitchener Rangers

3. Florida Panthers - Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Saint John Sea Dogs

4. New Jersey Devils - Adam Larsson, D, Skelleftea AIK

5. New York Islanders - Ryan Strome, C, Niagara IceDogs

6. Ottawa Senators - Mika Zibanejad, C, Djurgardens IF

7. Winnipeg Jets - Mark Scheifele, C, Barrie Colts

8. Philadelphia Flyers - Sean Couturier, C, Drumondville Voltigeurs

9. Boston Bruins - Dougie Hamilton, D, Niagara IceDogs

10. Minnesota Wild - Jonas Brodin, D, Farjestads BK

11. Colorado Avalanche - Duncan Siemens, D, Saskatoon Blades

12. Carolina Hurricanes - Ryan Murphy, D, Kitchener Rangers

13. Calgary Flames - Sven Bartschi, RW, Portland Winterhawks

14. Dallas Stars - Jamie Oleksiak, D, Northeastern University

15. New York Rangers - JT Miller, C, U.S. Development Program

16. Buffalo Sabres - Joel Armia, RW, Porin Assat

17. Montreal Canadiens - Nathan Beaulieu, D, Saint John Sea Dogs

18. Chicago Blackhawks - Mark McNeill, C, Prince Albert Raiders

19. Edmonton Oilers - Oscar Klefbom, D, Farjestads BK

20. Phoenix Coyotes - Connor Murphy, D, U.S. Development Program

21. Ottawa Senators - Stefan Noeson, RW, Plymouth Whalers

22. Toronto Maple Leafs - Tyler Biggs, RW, U.S. Development Program

23. Pittsburgh Penguins - Joe Morrow, D, Portland Winterhawks

24. Ottawa Senators - Matt Puempel, LW, Peterborough Petes

25. Toronto Maple Leafs - Stuart Percy, D, Mississauga St. Michael's Majors

26: Chicago Blackhawks - Philip Danault, LW, Victoriaville Tigres

27: Tampa Bay Lightning - Vladislav Namestnikov, C, London Knights

28: Minnesota Wild - Zack Phillips, C, Saint John Sea Dogs

29: Vancouver Canucks - Nicklas Jensen, LW, Oshawa Generals

30: Anaheim Ducks - Rikard Rakell, RW, Plymouth Whalers

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's Draft Day!

Tonight, June 24th, is the first round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft in St. Paul, Minnesota.  For the second consecutive year, the Capitals will be drafting at number 26 overall, in front of only Tampa Bay, Boston, Vancouver, and San Jose.  Last year, as many know, the Caps drafted dynamic Russian scorer Evgeny Kuznetsov, with that pick and George McPhee will look to duplicate this success this time around.
McPhee has said several times in the months leading up to the draft that he does not see very many "game changers" in this year's crop of entrees, which is his way of saying he does expect to get a player ready to contribute right away or even a year down the road in the first round.  Nevertheless, GMGM has had alot of success late in the first round, so whoever he does pick bears some serious watching.  That being said, here is some info on players that are rumored to be on DC's radar or who could fall to them.

Philip Danault: Danault is a center for the QMJHL's Victoriaville Tigres, and scored 24 goals and 43 assists while going +17 in 61 games this year.  Danault is a good old Canadian boy, viewed by many as a "willing" player which means that he is the kind of guy who will do the little things consistently to help the team win. He's not the most talented guy in the draft by any stretch, even though he can score, but he does have an abundance of hockey smarts and is very reliable, two qualities that the top-heavy and skilled Caps lineup could use.  He's molded around a Cody Eakin; a guy with a relentless motor who just plays the game right. Danault is a sleeper, and to me, you cannot have enough of these guys.  I like.
Nicklas Jensen: Jensen is a winger for the OHL's Oshawa Generals, and scored 29 goals and 29 assists while going +14 in 61 games this year.  A native of Denmark, Jensen is a strong skater and and a gamebreaker who uses his size to create offensively and can battle well in the corners.  He's big and physical, so there is little doubt about his ability to hold up in the NHL, and he is responsible defensively for the most part; many think of him as a Lars Eller type player (think Brooks Laich with more skill).  He would be an ideal pick for DC.
Alexander Khokhlachev: Khoklachev is a center/winger from the OHL's Windsor Spitfires, and scored 34 goals and 42 assists this year while going +9 in 67 games this year.  A Moscow native, just like one Captain of the Washington Capitals, he is an elite offensive talent, with superior vision, stick skills, and speed.  But he does not come without several red flags: he's small both in height and weight and he's not very responsible in his own zone.  There is no denying his offensive upside, but he's risky, and he is not the kind of player DC needs. But because of GMGM's policy of "best player available," if he's left at 26, he'll probably put on the Red.
Tomas Jurco: Jurco is a winger for the QMJHL's St. John Sea Dogs, and scored 31 goals and 25 assists while going +47 in 60 games this year.  Jurco, who is Slovakian, spent the majority of this season as a linemate for Caps prospect Stan Galiev, and is potentially the best pure offensive scorer in this draft class and, based on skill alone, is a clear first round pick.  However, he is incredibly inconsistent and also struggles with the defensive side of his game. Hmmm, sounds a lot like Alexander Semin to me. Nein!  NEIN!
I will be live-blogging the Draft starting at around 6:30 Friday night.  Don't forget to tune in to watch on Versus at 7.

To catch up on a crazy day of trades and signings in the NHL yesterday, click here.

Flyers Trade Richards, Carter; Sign Bryzgalov

Both of these cornerstones are on their way out in Philly.
The Philadelphia Flyers made two massive roster moves Thursday afternoon, trading in essence their top two forwards in exchange for younger players and draft picks.

The first trade saw star center Jeff Carter traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for winger Jakub Voracek, the 8th pick in this year's draft, and a third rounder in this year's draft.  The deal takes Carter's 11-year, 58 million dollar contract off of Philadelphia's books so that they could have more money to sign superstar goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who came over to them from Phoenix earlier this month.  This deal gives the Blue Jackets two legitimate superstars in Carter and Rick Nash, and their power play should be just plain stupid.

The second trade saw the Flyers trade their captain, star center Mike Richards, to the LA Kings for prospect center Brayden Schenn, winger Wayne Simmonds, and a second round pick in this year's draft.  The big part in this deal from Philadelphia's point of view is Schenn, the 5th overall pick in the 2009 draft, who is considered by many to be hockey's best prospect currently playing in the American Hockey League. Richards, though he was the captain of the Flyers, reportedly was not in good standing with a number of players in his own dressing room, and this opens the door for Chris Pronger to become captain and takes Richards' 12-year, 69 million dollar contract off the books.  It also gives the Kings an elite second center to play alongside Anze Kopitar.

Following the completion of both of these deals, Philly signed Bryzgalov to a monster contract, which will pay him $51 million over the next nine years, with an average annual cap hit of $5.667 million.  This gives the Flyers the elite goalie they have long been searching for, but also puts their backs firmly against the wall in terms of salary cap space; Bryz will be 40 when his deal expires.  In addition, the way his contract is structured, Bryzgalov will be the highest paid player in the NHL next year.  Not goalie, player.  Wow.

What is going on?

Monday, June 20, 2011

What Boston's Stanley Cup Tells the Capitals

Another year, another ring.  Fear not, our time is coming.
Unless you've been living under a rock for the last month, you know that the Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup Championship in 39 years last Wednesday.  The Bruins twice came back from 2-0 series deficits in their Cup run, including in the Final, and won the most game sevens (three) in the history of the NHL for a Cup winner.  They also became the first team since the 1992 Penguins to go seven games in the first round and win the Stanley Cup.  It was a truly magnificent performance from a team many expected to drop out in the first round after their pathetic showing in games one and two of their series with the Canadiens.
Enough of me rattling off stats.  With only 9 weeks left until the puck drops on the 2011-2012 NHL season, the time has come to start, well, thinking about next year.  Everyone knows that the Capitals and their fans are after one thing and that only one thing matters.  And yet, the Capitals have followed three consecutive seasons of regular season dominance with two epic collapses and a sweep in the postseason.  Sounds like another team...the Bruins.
Though Boston was not swept recently, they did underachieve in the playoffs for three consecutive years before they broke through for their Championship, including losing a 3-0 lead to the Flyers in last years' conference semifinal.  The Bruins also kept the Winter Classic streak alive this season; all three winners of the Winter Classic have won a Cup in the last four years and a team from the Winter Classic has been in the Final since it's inception.
But outside of "this team did this just like the Caps so now we can expect the Caps to do the same thing" comparisons, there are actually some things that Capitals fans can take solace in when examining their chances to bring home the franchises first Stanley Cup.  For one, the Bruins did it the old fashioned way: with tough, defensive hockey that wore down their opponents and allowed them to be in literally every single game they played this postseason.  Boston struggled with this method at first.  Washington, led by Bruce Boudreau, began to adopt this philosophy over the last six months of the season, and it began to work. The Capitals need to stick to their guns on this front.  This is the way to win; it just didn't work this time around for DC.  They have the right model for a team, and they cannot blow it up.
Like I said earlier, this was a team win for Boston.  The Bruins didn't rely on one player to do everything, every skater contributed something big.  You saw flashes of that this season and playoffs with the Caps, but it never came full circle.  You think people thought Rich Peverley was a big acquisition for the Bruins?  Nope. That Brad Marchand was going to be arguably their best skater?  Nope.  I, for one, thought they had way too many centers.  Nope.  You win with too many centers; they are invaluable.  DC needs at least one more good, 60-pt center to win.  Get on that, George.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Boston showed the Capitals and other long-suffering franchises that dreams do come true.  The Bruins were thought to be down and out in two of their four series after falling behind 2-0 and lost game one in three of four.  It didn't matter.  There is a reason that the Stanley Cup is the most treasured and hardest trophy in sports to win, and that's because it is the single toughest test of endurance in sports.  More sweat, blood and tears has gone into that trophy since it was bought for ten guineas in 1894 than any other in professional sports.  That endurance lasts for games, weeks, months, seasons, and decades, and it hurts.  But our Capitals are on the right track.  There is hope.
Hold on tight.  Because when it comes, it's the greatest feeling in the world.

Congratulations to the Bruins, my friends who are true fans of theirs, and the city of Boston.  Hopefully we're next.
And by the way, you're not allowed to complain about your sports teams ever again.  But really.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Report Card: Alex Ovechkin

Well, he probably have sensitive skin, no?
Today I give you the twenty-ninth and final installment of my "Report Card" series, as I conclude my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is dynamic team captain Alex Ovechkin, who finished his sixth year in the organization this season.

Season Summary: Ovechkin played in 79 games this year, recording 32 goals, 53 assists, a +24 rating, and 41 penalty minutes during his first full season as captain.  This was by far his worst statistical season since joining the league in 2005-06; his 32 goals were a career low by 14 and his 85 points were a career low by seven.  For the first time in his career, we saw long offensive droughts from Ovechkin throughout the first half of the season and he never really had that breakout game that we have been accustomed to seeing from him.  He got better as the season wore along, as it would have been a tall task to be as bad as he was for someone of his talent early, but nevertheless was not very good by his standards. Grade: B-
Role Play: As a three-time players' MVP, two-time Hart Trophy winner, one-time Art Ross Trophy winner, and two time Rocket Richard Trophy winner, Alex Ovechkin is expected to be at or near the top of the point scoring list each year. He is expected to be at or near the top of the goals list every year.  Barring injury, he is expected to be a nominee for the Hart Trophy.  Ovechkin did none of these things this year.  He struggled pretty much all year by his standards, particularly during his awful start, which I wrote about above.  The team was able to deal with it for the most part because he played better defense, but Ovie isn't being paid 13 million bucks a season to play defense.  He needs to be better offensively, period. Grade: C+
Playoffs: Ovechkin's playoffs were very good; he had by far the best playoffs of any Capital.  He led the team in postseason scoring with five goals and five assists, and compiled a -1 rating and 10 PIMs.  Throughout the postseason, especially against the Rangers, Ovechkin looked dominant for long stretches and scored a few highlight-reel goals, which was a nice improvement over last season.  Alot of people called him out for the playoff sweep, saying it was his fault; I think this could not be more ludicrous, as Ovie showed how much he cared with his effort.  That being said, the result was still a sweep in the second round.  That has to change. Grade: B+
Future Potential: Ovechkin, who will be 26 when the season starts, has (hopefully) not yet reached the prime of his career.  He is still a physical specimen and he is still one of the world's most talented players, but his year this season was a huge setback.  The decline in numbers wasn't that big a deal because DC still found a way to win, but then the playoffs happened.  He has pretty much all the individual accolades  a player could want, but now, only one thing is left.  That silver chalice.  His ability to use his world of talent to get it is how he will be remembered. Grade: A

Well, that's it for Report Cards.  Time for the draft!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Caps Name Olaf Kolzig Associate Goaltending Coach

As first reported by Mike Vogel early Thursday, the Washington Capitals have hired former goalie and all-time fan favorite Olie Kolzig to be the teams' associate goalie coach.  The move also promotes scout and former assistant Dave Prior to head goaltending coach to accommodate for the loss of Arturs Irbe, who left the coaching staff a week ago citing "personal reasons."
According to Caps reporter Stephen Whyno, Kolzig will be expected to work with the teams' three (possibly two) excellent young goalies next year full time.  Kolzig has said that he feels he compares best to Holtby in terms of playing style and energy on the ice.
I love this move.  I think Olie is a class act and though he went out kind of sourly, he's still the best goalie this franchise has ever had and will be the fifth retired number to be raised into the rafters possibly as soon as next season.  Kolzig was obviously an outstanding goalie and he should be great for all of the masked men in DC's system in many ways.  This is where he belongs, period.

In other reading from 24/7 day, take a look at my evaluations of John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom.

Report Card: John Carlson

The speed, the development...it's all a blur. Go on the 74.
Today I bring you the twenty-eigthth installment of my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is young stud defenseman John Carlson, who finished his third year in the organization this season.

Stats/Season Summary: Carlson had a very good year, playing in all 82 games and recording 7 goals, 30 assists, a +21 rating, and 44 penalty minutes in his rookie year.  Carlson also lead all Caps players in blocked shots, getting in front of 160 pucks a game.  He played almost all of his minutes on the de facto number one pairing with Karl Alzner and saw extensive minutes on both the power play and penalty kill.  He was not without rough patches, however; he had a dry spell in the middle of the season that had many (including me) wondering if he had hit the rookie wall and was running out of gas after his terrific start. But he finished hot, so...yeah.  That pretty much eliminated that theory. Grade: A
Role Play: Not expected to make the team out of training camp by some, Carlson made it and was a factor pretty much from the start.  He jumped in and utilized all of his talents without hesitation, exactly what you want but not what you might expect from someone who was at that time still 20.  But he was rewarded for his aggressive and non-hesitant play by January, forming the number one pairing with Alzner and doing things that nobody, probably not even George McPhee, thought he would be able to do this early in terms of both offense and defense. He exceeded expectations for himself by several miles, and it was very exciting to see. Grade: A+
Playoffs: As good as his regular season was, Carlson's playoffs were not as good, mainly because he was hurt and ineffective in the Tampa series.  He played in all nine playoffs games and recorded two goals, an assist, a -2 rating and four PIMs, but could not find a way to be effective after suffering that hip pointer in game one against Tampa.  He was good against the Rangers, though, never looking out of place or overwhelmed.  But injury or not, his lack of productivity in the second round is a reason the Caps got broomed. Grade: B
Future Potential: Only 21 years old, Captain America's best years are not even close, and he will continue to get better this season and beyond.  He is mature and skilled beyond his years and will hopefully be a big part of a championship in the near future.  Right now, he's DC's best all-around defenseman in my book, and that is saying something despite his age.  He's a keeper and he needs to be locked up before he really breaks out offensively (that would mean, like, now). Grade: A+

The final report card of the year will be posted on June 17 and will feature captain Alex Ovechkin.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Sir Stanley

Un performance exceptionnel de Tim Thomas...
The Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup in 39 years Wednesday night, going into Vancouver's Rogers Arena and knocking off the Canucks 4-0 to win the series four games to three.  Tim Thomas was spectacular, making 37 saves to set a record for most saves in a Stanley Cup Final, while the Bruins got two goals each from both Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in their win.  Not only did the Bruins win the Cup, but they also became the first team in the history of the NHL to win three game sevens in a single postseason.  And now the hardest three months of the year are here (really 10, until the playoffs start again).  Oh, my.

The Canucks came out with pressure, controlling the forecheck early and forcing the Bruins defense to make a few nice plays to keep them from opening the scoring.  Boston then pressured back and forced Roberto Luongo to make a desperation save on David Krecji to keep it scoreless, and as the early stages of the period passed both teams continued to get good chance and the game carried with much pace.  Through the middle of the period, the pace continued to be furious as the refs let them play; the action was virtually nonstop.  But Patrice Bergeron scored the opening goal off a faceoff with 5:23 left in the period from the slot, whipping a shot through traffic past Luongo, who had no time to react.  Vancouver pushed back well but Thomas was there to shut the door, keeping the Canucks from breaking back.  As the period wound down the home side kept coming at Boston, but could not break through, and the first period closed with Boston ahead 1-0.
It was the Bruins' turn to come out fast in the second, with Brad Marchand hitting the post a little more than a minute in; the Canucks came back hard and got two open looks at Thomas, but whiffed both times.  Vancouver kept coming as the second frame continued, and again got some great chances at the Bruins' goal, but somehow the away defense and goaltender kept the puck out.  With about ten minutes left in the period, the Canucks were able to draw Thomas out of his net and Alex Burrows had an open net, but Zdeno Chara somehow got a block to keep it out.  Boston made them pay on their next rush, as Brad Marchand collected a loose puck behind the net off a rebound and poked home a wraparound for a 2-0 lead at 12:13.  Again, the home team pressed back hard, and again, Thomas was there to keep them out.  But the Canucks' pressure drew a penalty with 3:54 left, and halfway through the power play, Patrice Bergeron scored a shorthanded goal to make it 3-0 and effectively end the game.  This time, there was no push back from Vancouver and the period ended with Boston ahead 3-0.
As the final period started, the Bruins began to set up a wall in front of Thomas, employing a full trap to shut the game down until the end.  At 5:33, Jannik Hansen was called for interference after smashing Andrew Ference from behind, but the Bruins could not convert on the power play.  Vancouver's offense flickered feebly again as the clock began to wind down, but the fact of the matter was the the Canucks were no match for Boston's defensive style as the Bruins totally locked up the game.  With 8:26 remaining, Vancouver was spotted a power play, but again flopped with it and got nothing from it.  Boston applied the sleeper hold, and Brad Marchand made it 4-0 with 2:43 left.  And then it was over.  The Bruins won.


And that is all she wrote.  The Bruins wanted this game more than the Canucks did, and it was clear.  Vancouver may have come out hard, but they could not cash in on their chances and kept trying to beat Tim Thomas in ways that had not worked, and they payed for it by crushing the dreams of a City and most of a Nation.  You have to feel for the Canucks fans who don't get to cheer for three of the best professional sports teams in North America when the ice melts.

About not cashing those chances - the Canucks (Henrik Sedin, cough) must be deathly allergic to shooting, or something, because if they were not, they would have cashed in on some of their opportunities.  Tim Thomas may have just had the best season ever for a goaltender, but he can's stop the puck when he is literally out of the net.  As I tweeted, I literally could have cashed some of those chances.  This was just as an embarrassing performance for the Canucks as it was an excellent one for the Bruins.  And I didn't even start to mention Luongo.

In the history of the National Hockey League, exactly three teams have come back from 2-0 down on the road to win the series.  The last two, in the last three years?  Boston and Pittsburgh.  Nice.  No, really.

This first season has been one heck of a ride.  Congratulations to the Bruins and their fans.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Gameday: Boston at Vancouver - Stanley Cup Final, Game Seven

The Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins will meet tonight in game seven of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.  The series is tied three games to three, and the series has been a tale of two cities as the Canucks have won all three games at Rogers by one goal, while the Bruins have won all three at TD Garden by a combined 14 goals.  In game six, the Canucks started brutally, allowing four goals in 4:14 within the first ten minutes, but bounced back to play a better final 50; however, at that point the game was way over.  Now, this is it.  It's game seven for all the marbles, and this is without a doubt the biggest game of the NHL season, as well as the last in what has been a long and interesting season.

For Boston, Tim Thomas will receive the nod in goal, as he has for every game in these playoffs.  Thomas is having a magnificent postseason, leading all goalies in GAA (2.06) and save percentage (.937) while also being second in shutouts (3) and tied for first in wins (15).  He was magnificent in game six, as he has been all series, making 31 saves for the second consecutive game to lead Boston to victory.  With 33 saves tonight, he will set the record for most total saves in a Stanley Cup Final.  The Bruins are paced in scoring by David Krejci, who has 23 points and 12 goals (both of those numbers also lead the NHL).  On the injury front Boston will be without Nathan Horton, who has a severe concussion, but other than that Claude Julien is expected to keep the same lineup that saw their game six win.

Vancouver bench boss Alain Vigneault is expected to give the nod in goal to Roberto Luongo, who was pulled just 8:35 into game six after allowing three goals on eight shots.  Overall he is ninth in postseason GAA (2.54) and eighth in postseason save percentage (.916) but somehow leads in shutouts (4) and is tied for first in wins (15).  Luongo needs to be absolutely brilliant in this game for Vancouver to win; Boston is going to come hard and fast at him and try and shake him early.  Vancouver is led in scoring by captain Henrik Sedin, who has 22 points, 19 of which are assists; the second number leads all postseason skaters.  In terms of injuries, the Canucks are racked with them.  Winger Mason Raymond had his back broken just one shift into game six, and is out for four months at least.  Both defenseman Dan Hamhuis (ruptured testicle) and winger Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder surgery) are out as well, while blueliner Aaron Rome is suspended for the hit that knocked Horton out.  After injury scares in game six, however, defensemen Alex Edler and Andrew Alberts will both play.

Puck drops for this one 8:15-ish.

Report Card: Nicklas Backstrom

Don't know what's wrong?  Me either, pal.
Today I bring you the twenty-seventh installment of my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is top center Nicklas Backstrom, who finished his fourth year in the organization this season.

Stats/Season Summary:  Backstrom, by his standards, had an awful year, setting career lows in games played (77), points (65), and assists (47); the low number assists is particularly depressing.  He also only scored 18 goals, only four off his career low, while compiling a +24 rating and 40 penalty minutes. Backstrom looked lost basically the entire year, never gaining a rhythm and going 7 games without an assist at one point (unthinkable for a passer of his caliber) and a ridiculous 22 games without a goal at one point.  You knew is was going to say it.  He was bad, and especially coming off the year he had last year (there was a FORTY point drop off), it was particularly tough to deal with. 'Twas bad. Grade: C
Role Play: After Nicky had his awesome year in 2009-10, he was rewarded with a 10-year, $67-million deal.  That says top center.  That says top-20 NHL player. And that says a point per game player.  Backstrom was none of these things. Backstrom was asked, as he has his entire career with the Caps, to be a facilitator on the power play.  Could he do that?  Nope.  The power play struggled all year, and he was one of the reasons for it.  He refused to shoot when he had wide-open looks, he forced passes, and he made bad decisions up and down the ice.  The only thing he did well was penalty killing, which he deserves some credit for as he expands his game.  But that shouldn't mean a 40-point drop off in offensive production. Grade: C-
Playoffs: Backstrom was nothing short of atrocious this postseason, being held goalless and only recording two assists in the nine games he played.  He had an even rating and four penalty minutes, while taking 25 shots total in those nine games.  The playoffs were more of the same off the regular season for Nicky, who struggled tremendously to put together even one vintage Backstrom shift. The news surfaced later that his thumb was bothering him again, but two points in the playoffs is inexcusable for a player of his caliber.  He is in the "goat" class in terms of reasons the Caps were swept. Grade: D-
Future Potential: Regardless of this off year (this BETTER be an off year), Backstrom still has the skills and potential to be a top-10 NHL player and be named in the same class as Crosby, Toews, Sedin, and Datsyuk when it comes to centers.  He's not going anywhere, and he will continue to skate alongside the Captain almost every night and see big minutes in every situation.  Hopefully, he'll be healthy in the fall, if and only if he can keep from raging all summer. Grade: A

The next report card will be posted on June 16th and will feature defenseman John Carlson.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Pour Another Round

We're going streaking! Everybody! Across the quad!
The Boston Bruins took game six of the Stanley Cup Final tonight, knocking off the Canucks 5-2 and sending the series back to a game seven in Vancouver. Boston scored early and often, setting a Stanley Cup record with 4 goals in 4:14 before the game was ten minutes old, and never looked back.  The Bruins got goals from Michael Ryder, Brad Marchand, Andrew Ference, Milan Lucic, and David Krejci in their win, while Tim Thomas was magnificent again, making 31 saves.  The Canucks got their goals from Henrik Sedin and Maxim Lapierre, his first point in the Final, and Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, who was pulled 8 minutes and 35 seconds in to the game, combined for 35 saves in the Vancouver net.  With the win, the series is now tied 3-3 and Lord Stanley will come off the shelf Wednesday night.  Oh, the drama.

The game got off to a bad start for the Canucks, as Mason Raymond was driven into the boards by Johnny Boychuk only 20 seconds in, and had to be helped off the ice.  Henrik Sedin then whiffed on a wide open net less than 30 seconds later but he and Zdeno Chara were called for matching minors at 56 seconds to open up some four on four.  Nothing came of both teams being down a man, but then the Bruins broke back and opened the scoring when a defensive breakdown sent Brad Marchand in alone on the wing; he made no mistake and ripped it near side for a 1-0 lead at 5:31.  Just 35 seconds later, Milan Lucic walked in through the Canucks defense and buried one past Luongo five-hole, taking a 2-0 lead and sending the Garden into an uproar.  At 7:55, the Bruins were awarded a power play after an Alex Edler boarding call, and Andrew Ference made no mistake with a blast from the point to take a 3-0 lead and chasing Luongo at 8:35.  But not even two minutes later, Michael Ryder deflected a shot past new goalie Cory Schneider for a 4-0 lead, and then Ryan Kesler was called for holding, giving Boston another power play at 10:31.  Boston was not able to capitalize again, and slowly Vancouver tried to make a push back but Tim Thomas was superb to keep them out.  With 2:51 remaining, Vancouver was called for too many men; this time Boston was not able to convert.  Nevertheless, the period ended with Boston ahead 4-0.
Just 28 seconds in to the second period, the Patrice Bergeron was called for goalie interference to give Vancouver a power play; the Canucks were unable to convert, even though Daniel Sedin rang iron with a wrist shot.  As the period continued Vancouver simply missed several great chances to make it a game, including two 2 on 1s, and the Bruins started to shut the game down in the middle of the second period.  The Canucks' offense flickered feebly a few times, trying desperately to get something going against Thomas, and they got another chance when Bergeron was called for another penalty, this time interference, at 12:15. Again, however, the Vancouver power play sputtered horrifically, sinking them deeper into the doldrums of a 0-20 man advantage slump.  The away side was gifted another power play with 51.5 seconds left after another call on Bergeron, this time for elbowing, but nothing came of it and Boston finished the second period with a 4-0 lead.
On the power play to open the third period, the Canucks got one back just 22 seconds in when Henrik Sedin roofed a backhander past Thomas, giving the away side life.  Vancouver continued to buzz and Jannik Hansen appeared to have brought them back within two at 3:17, but video review showed that the puck had clearly gone square off of Thomas' right post.  But any momentum they had was snuffed out at 5:23 when Raffi Torres was sent off for tripping, followed by another call, this one on Andrew Alberts for high-sticking at 6:11, setting up 1:13 of 5 on 3 power play time for Boston.  The Bruins struck this time, with David Krejci banging one home from the doorstep at 6:59 for another four goal lead. That goal sniffed out any chance Vancouver had at a comeback, and Boston slowly applied the sleeper hold and started to totally shut down their opponent. As the third period wound down, neither team did much of anything as the Canucks began to rest their key players for game seven and the Bruins employed a full trap to keep anything and everything away from Thomas.  Max Lapierre found a hole in the defense with 2:22 left for a goal to make it 5-2, and the Canucks were awarded a 6-on-3 late in the game, but nothing came of it. Bruins win, 5-2. Game seven, herrrrre we come!


What an atrocious opening from the Canucks.  Henrik Sedin missed a wide open, yawning net less than three minutes in with a whiff, and although Luongo was really bad, his defense did him no favors allowing odd-man rushes and open looks at the net from the hashmarks.  They did not play like a team who is one win away from the Stanley Cup early, they played like a beer league team early. They got better as the game went on, but by that point, it was too little far, far too late.

The Vancouver power play is embarrassing.  They haven't scored a meaningful power play goal in 20-plus opportunities, and their best weapon is deserting them on the biggest stage of the year.  Because the Bruins are not afraid of the Vancouver power play, they are able to take liberties that they might not if it was clicking, because they know that they can kill off the penalties.  The physical play is also wearing down the Canucks even more in turn, making it a very bad situation for Alain Vigneault's men.

About those two key injuries that the Canucks suffered - Mason Raymond left the building on a stretcher with a rumored back injury and therefore is unlikely for game seven, while defenseman Alex Edler is believed to have a groin injury. Edler obviously didn't leave the building, but if he is limited, it is going to be very difficult for Vancouver to but a decent corps of defensemen on the ice on Wednesday.

Game seven is Wednesday night in Vancouver.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Gameday: Vancouver at Boston - Stanley Cup Final, Game Six

The Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins will meet Monday night in game six of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden in Boston.  The series is currently lead by Vancouver, 3 games to 2, who after jumping out to a 2-0 lead and then being blitzed in Boston in games three and four, came up with a huge win Friday night to re-take the lead. The Canucks got their game winner from Max Lapierre and 31 saves from Roberto Luongo in that victory.  That game kept with the theme of the series; it has been a tale of two cities with both teams playing much better at home than on the road.  Tonight is the biggest game of the series so far, as the Canucks try and close out the series in six while the Bruins look to keep their season alive and grab the momentum heading in to a potential game seven in Vancouver.

For Boston, Claude Julien will give the nod in goal to Tim Thomas, who has played every minute of these playoffs so far.  Thomas is having a magnificent postseason, pacing all goaltenders in GAA (2.07) and save percentage (.937) while placing second in both wins with 14 and shutouts with 3.  If the Bruins are to extend the series, Thomas will need to be at his best.  Boston is led in scoring by center David Krejci, who has 22 points.  Those 22 points, eleven of which are goals, lead the postseason in both categories.  On the injury front, winger Nathan Horton is out with a severe concussion that he sustained in game four.  No lineup changes are likely to be made from the team that played in Vancouver late last week.

Canucks coach Alain Vigneault will give the nod in net to Roberto Luongo, coming off his shutout in game five.  Bobby Lou has had an up and down postseason, but overall is sixth in both save percentage (.919) and GAA (2.43) in these playoffs. Luongo leads in both shutouts and wins with 4 and 15, respectively, this postseason. He, too, will need to be at his best if Vancouver is to close this out. The Canucks are paced in scoring by their captain Henrik Sedin, who has 21 points, 19 of which are assists.  In terms of injuries, both defenseman Aaron Rome (suspension) and winger Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder) are out and will not be back for the rest of the Final.  Defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who is believed to have a ruptured testicle, is with the team in Boston and will skate in the morning; he is, however, considered doubtful (for good reason).  It is not known who he would replace in the lineup.

Puck drops for this one 8:15-ish.

Report Card: Mike Green

The speed...we need to increase the speed.
Today I bring you the twenty-sixth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is puck-moving defenseman Mike Green, who finished his sixth season in the organization this year.

Stats/Season Summary: Green was limited by injuries to only 49 games this year, the majority of which were due to a concussion he suffered in February. Even when he was able to play, he was far from his regular offensive stud self, tallying only 8 goals and 24 points along with a +6 rating and 48 penalty minutes. He struggled offensively from the start; so I don't think it was the shift to defense first that hurt him; I just think he had a bad year.  Things were not right for him all season, and it ended up being a lost season for Greenie offensively.  His defense got better, and he was top-five on the team in hits and blocked shots despite those missed games, so there were some positives. Grade: B
Role Play: Mike Green is an offensive defenseman.  Not a stay-at-home, defensive defenseman; he's a scorer.  He had a very bad year by his standards offensively, and the fact that he played defense, while good in a large sense, is disturbing when you consider what makes him so valuable.  It is not a coincidence that the power play was so bad and Green was so bad, they are a big piece of one another.  He needs to be better offensively next season, no questions asked, and he needs to do it while keeping his defense up.  I get that his injuries were not ideal, but he's been nominated for two Norris Trophies. Grade: C
Playoffs: Despite his slow regular season offensively, Green had a good playoffs, scoring a goal and adding five assists to go along with and even rating and 8 PIMs in eight games.  He missed that one game because of a hip flexor injury he suffered in game three of the Tampa series.  When he was able to play, he looked good; he did his job for the most part and didn't look out of place. Overall, a very solid performance. Grade: A-
Future Potential: Green is signed for one more year before he becomes a free agent, and he is going to be a big part of the Caps next year (obviously).  He'll have a full summer to get completely healthy and focused, and he will have a big year next year to try and amp his next contract up.  The skill set is still there, and like I said before, this is a two time Norris nominee.  He's gonna be good as long as he plays to his strengths - speed and attack. Grade: A-

The next report card will be posted on June 14th and will feature center Nicklas Backstrom.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Report Card: Scott Hannan

Hmmm....where do I play next year?
Today I bring you the twenty-fifth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is stay-at-home defenseman Scott Hannan, who finished his first season in the organization this year.

Stats/Season Summary: Hannan played in 55 games for the Caps this year, scoring one goal and adding four assists to go along with a +4 rating and 28 penalty minutes.  He was acquired in late November for forward Tomas Fleischmann, and really struggled at the outset with a -8 rating at one point but really turned it around as the year wore on and he became more accustomed to DC's defensive system.  Hannan also blocked 122 shots this year, a key component on a Washington team that placed more reliance on that than ever this year.  By the end of the year, he was the Caps' best defensive defenseman by a mile. Grade: B+
Role Play: George McPhee brought Hannan in to be a calming and reliable presence on the back end.  Mission accomplished.  Like I wrote above, Hannan got off to an absolutely dreadful start in the Nation's capital, but by the end of the year was an absolute ace blueliner.  His lack of speed was exposed on occasion, but he managed to make up for it with sound positioning most of the time. Another thing that Hannan brought to the team that he was asked to was veteran leadership; he also played that role admirably. Grade: B+
Playoffs: Hannan played in all nine playoff games, collecting a single assist, a +1 rating, and two penalty minutes.  He looked very good against the Rangers, but like most of his mates on the back end began to wear down as he was asked to play big minutes in the Tampa series following injuries to the top guys.  Again, speed was a problem, and he seemed to panic far too often and make rash decisions that lead to goals for the Bolts in that series.  Still, not a train wreck like it was for some. Grade: C
Future Potential: An unrestricted free agent, I believe that Hannan has played his last game in Capital red.  This is not by a matter of choice, as I outlined here last month, but the reality is that very little money exists for the Caps to resign players, and Hannan is not a priority in my eyes.  He's good, and he will be good and stable somewhere, but I seriously doubt that it will be here unless he takes a significant pay cut for a better chance to win.  That's a shame, but that's the salary cap. Grade: B

The next report card will be posted on June 12 and will feature defenseman Mike Green.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Lu.

Alex Burrows is yelling something.  G-Rated, I'm sure.
The Vancouver Canucks took game five of the Stanley Cup Final Friday night, rebounding from an awful two games in Boston to defeat the Bruins 1-0 inside Rogers Arena in a hard-fought, gritty, defensive affair.  Maxim Lapierre scored the only goal of the game 4:35 into the third period and Roberto Luongo was spectacular, making 31 saves for his fourth shutout of the playoffs and second in this series to lead Vancouver to the win. Tim Thomas was also stellar in nets, stopping 24 of 25 for the visiting side.  With the win, the Canucks take a 3-2 series lead and have the chance to bring home their first championship in team history early next week.

The Bruins came out hard and drew a power play just 1:39 into the game when Raffi Torres was called for tripping, but Boston was not able to capitalize on the early chance despite a few close calls.  Vancouver slowly began to gain some offensive momentum of their own and Mason Raymond got a golden chance in front, but he was denied by Tim Thomas.  Boston was awarded another power play at 6:54 when Henrik Sedin was boxed for interference, but again were held off during their man advantage time.  Using momentum from another successful kill, the Canucks started to press again, but that momentum was killed when Andrew Alberts gave the Bruins another power play with 5:47 left.  This Boston power play was dominant, but Roberto Luongo made several big saves to keep the Canucks from falling behind.  The rest of the period was fast and furious but neither team could break the ice and the period ended tied at 0.
After Alex Burrows and Milan Lucic were called for matching minors at the end of the opening period, the second frame started four on four.  Nothing came of the extra ice, but the Canucks then began to try and tilt the ice towards Thomas again, to no avail.  Ryan Kesler was called for interference after trying to rattle Thomas at 4:18, and again Bostons power play was dominant but unable to break through Luongo.  Even at five a side, the Bruins kept the pressure on the Vancouver net full tilt, until Chris Higgins was called down on a fast break by Adam McQuiad and the Canucks got a power play at 7:22.  Though they got some solid zone time, the Canucks were unable to convert; but kept up their pressure in the Boston zone.  With abound eight minutes remaining, a furious scrum occurred in front of the Bruins net and Tanner Glass had a yawning net to shoot at, but whiffed clean to keep it scoreless.  After another dominating shift from the Canucks, they were awarded a power play with 4:04 remaining when Patrice Bergeron was called for a hold, but again, Thomas stood tall and they could not take the lead.  The period closed with even more furious back and forth action, but no one could score and it ended still tied at 0.
The Canucks got the first chances in the third period, but whiffed again; this time it was Alex Burrows with the great chance that he could not put on goal.  Finally, however, Maxim Lapierre was able to convert a beautiful pass from Kevin Bieksa to take a 1-0 lead at 4:35, sending Rogers Arena into bedlam.  Vancouver kept coming after their goal, refusing to sit back on their lead, and Lapierre got another chance four minutes later on a 2 on 1 that Thomas was able to stop with a sprawling save.  Then it was Boston's turn to come at Vancouver, but Rich Peverely was called for a hook at 12:39 to set up a critical Canucks man advantage.  The home side set up a dominating man advantage but Thomas held firm, refusing to let Boston fall behind by two.  Inside three minutes, Boston began their final charge, but despite many great chances, could not equalize.

What a performance by Roberto Luongo.  After being shellacked in two games away from Vancouver, including being pulled last game, Bobby Lou put together a masterpiece.  He made several amazing saves and never looked nervous; it seemed as though he got better as the game wore along.  I said in my preview that he had to be at his best for Vancouver to win.  He was, and they did. Coincidence? Um, no.

Tim Thomas is some kinda goalie.  I don't know how he does it, but he is without a doubt the best goaltender in the league.  He was absolutely incredible tonight, as he has been in every game this series, and he had no chance on the one goal he allowed (which has been the case for all but one goal in this Final).  Now it's his turn to have the biggest game of his career in Boston on Monday.

Max Lapierre scored the game-winner?  Seriously?  The hockey gods must be up to something funny, because he is probably the most hated Canuck besides Raffi Torres and Alex Burrows (they scored game winners too). Especially against Boston, Lapierre has been a thorn in their sides and it must be all the more cruel that he scored the goal.

**Bonus observation: the Canucks may try out for Canada, Sweden, and the United States' diving teams in the 2012 Olympics.

Game six is Monday night in Boston.

Gameday: Boston at Vancouver - Stanley Cup Final, Game Five

The Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks will meet tonight in game five of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena in Vancouver.  The series is tied two games to two, and has been a tale of two cities as the Canucks have won both games at Rogers by one goal, while the Bruins have won both at TD Garden by a combined 11 goals.  Vancouver has looked totally lost in games three and four, and it looks as though their defense is being worn down by the physical play of the Bruins especially since they lost Dan Hamhuis in game one.  It would not be a stretch to say that whoever wins this game will take home the Stanley Cup; it is that big of a moment in the Final.  It should be electric.

For Boston, Tim Thomas will get the nod in nets as he had for every game this postseason.  Thomas has had an absolutely stellar playoffs, leading the NHL in both postseason GAA (2.11) and save percentage (.936) while being tied for first in both wins (14) and shutouts (3).  He pitched a 36-save shutout in game four, and only allowed two goals in the two games at the Garden.  The Bruins are paced in scoring by David Krejci, who also leads in NHL in postseason scoring with 22 points.  On the injury front, Boston is without winger Nathan Horton, who has a severe concussion, and no lineup changes are expected from Claude Julien.

Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault is expected (for now) to give Roberto Luongo the call, as he has for all but one game this postseason.  Luongo has been dreadful his last two games, including being pulled in game four, and overall is ninth in postseason GAA (2.45) and eighth in postseason save percentage (.916). He, also, is tied for the lead in shutouts and wins with 3 and 14, respectively, and the Canucks need a monster showing from him tonight. Vancouver is led in scoring by captain Henrik Sedin, who has 21, 19 of which are assists.  Outside the crease, defenseman Aaron Rome has been suspended for the rest of the Final for the hit that knocked out Horton, while both defenseman Dan Hamhuis (groin/leg/ankle) and winger Mikael Samuelsson (shoulder) are both done for the Final as well with their injuries.

Puck drops for this one 8:15-ish.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Report Card: Alexander Semin

History was red for a bit.  His sweater shouldn't be next year.
Today I bring you the twenty-fourth installment in my "Report Card" series, as I continue my evaluation of each Capital throughout this past regular season and playoffs.  Today's player is mercurial winger Alexander Semin, who finished his sixth year in the organization this season.

Stats/Season Summary: Semin had a down year by his standards, as did pretty much every Capital.  Sasha had his second worst season in the NHL, tallying 28 goals, 26 assists, a +22 rating, and 71 penalty minutes in 65 games.  The 17 games that he missed, as always, were due to nagging injuries, and the majority of them occurred in January and early February due to a groin ailment.  Semin also struggled with inconsistency; 12 of his 28 goals came in four games and he suffered a goal drought that lasted the better part of two months.  He also continued to take momentum-killing, head-banging stick penalties at bad times. Overall, not very good. Grade: C+
Role Play: When you are paid more than Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Kesler, and both of the Sedins, you need to set the world on fire offensively.  The Capitals need him to be a dominant offensive force and this year he wasn't. Blame whatever you want, but for someone of his pay level and talent, his numbers this year are not going to cut it, nor is his inconsistency putting them up. Less than a point per game is simply unacceptable, especially if you are going to take stupid penalties like Semin does alot.  He's going to get injured, so that's not an excuse; he has had dominant years when being injured before. #BadSasha. Grade: C
Playoffs: Alot of people were after Semin's head after the sweep to Tampa, and I don't get that.  His stats were acceptable compared to what he's done in the past in the postseason overall: four goals and two assists, as well as a +2 rating and 8 PIMs.  Now that's not spectacular, but Nicklas Backstrom was far worse, just to name one, and Semin scored the goal that allowed the Caps to come back in game four of the Rangers series as well as the OT winner in game one of that set.  It wasn't nearly as big a disaster as the regular season. Grade: B
Future Potential: Semin is under contract for one more season for way too much money ($6.7 million), and I am of the firm and humble opinion that they should TRADE HIM this offseason.  He still has the tools to be one of the best offensive players in the world, but for this Caps team that seems more committed to defense now, he is not a good fit and could get rid of Cap space that would allow DC to sign better players, such as a really good number two center, and to bring Brooks Laich back. He'll be electric somewhere else, and then he'll take a penalty somewhere else.  That's fine with me. Grade: A-

The next report card will be posted on June 11 and will feature Scott Hannan.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Rapid Rewind: All Square

The Boston Bruins evened the Stanley Cup Final at two games apiece tonight, hammering the Vancouver Canucks for the second consecutive game by a final score of 4-0.  Boston got goals from Brad Marchand, Rich Peverley twice, and Michael Ryder in order to help draw even, while Tim Thomas made 37 saves for his third shutout this postseason.  Roberto Luongo was awful, getting pulled in the third period, and for the second game in a row the Canucks looked lost and totally clueless for pretty much the entire game.  It's a real series now, and it's going to be a barnburner.

Both teams got off to solid starts, getting rushes in the early going that both Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas had to be strong on in order to keep it scoreless.  With five minutes gone, the Vancouver set up a dominant shift in the offensive zone and got many chances at a sprawling Thomas, but simply could not capitalize.  At 6:58, the Canucks were awarded a power play when Michael Ryder tripped Ryan Kesler, but could not capitalize despite good zone pressure on the Boston net.  As soon as they killed the penalty, Boston came at the Canucks full tilt and had Luongo down and out, but somehow the Bruins were not able to put one away.  But Boston finally was able to take the lead at 11:59 when Rich Peverley was sent in on a breakaway by David Krejci and buried it through the legs of Luongo.  The Canucks came back hard, and were given a power play at 16:10 when Brad Marchand was boxed for cross-checking.  However, the Vancouver man advantage was fruitless, and the period ended with Boston ahead 1-0.
Boston came out hard to begin the second period, pressuring Luongo with alot of rubber, but the goaltender was able to absorb those shots and keep the Bruins from taking a 2-0 lead.  As the period continued, the game really opened up, with both teams getting rushes up ice and lots of chances, although Vancouver began to get more shots and than the Bruins.  At 7:49, the Bruins were awarded their first power play of the game when Mason Raymond was penalized for high-sticking, but they were unable to capitalize despite excellent pressure; Luongo made some very nice saves as well.  With 8:49 left in the period, however, Luongo allowed a very weak goal when Michael Ryder walked in and beat him high on the glove side for a 2-0 lead.  The Bruins struck again a little more than two minutes later when with 6:31 left Brad Marchand was left alone in front and roofed a rebound past Luongo to take 3-0 lead.  The Bruins continued to blitz Vancouver after their third goal, but Boston was unable to get a fourth.  With 1:11 left, Vancouver got a power play when Johnny Boychuk shot the puck over the glass, but again Vancouver fired blanks and the period ended with Boston up 3-0 and thoroughly controlling everything.
On the power play to start the third period, the Canucks got nothing going before Henrik Sedin took a slashing call at 52 seconds, giving Boston a man advantage; but the Bruins did not score on the power play.  They did score soon after, however, as Milan Lucic charged into the offensive zone and threw the puck in front, where a driving Rich Peverley knocked it in for a 4-0 lead a 3:39.  As the final frame wore on, the Bruins really began to try and shut the game down, not being overly aggressive and seemingly being content to sit back on their lead. With 10:45 left, the Canucks were given a power play when Mark Recchi was sent off for high-sticking, but Ryan Kesler took a penalty soon after to negate it. Nothing came of the shorthanded ice for either team, and after a lull in the middle of the frame as the Bruins locked things up, fireworks began to fly inside of three minutes remaining as both Brad Marchand and Tim Thomas took shots and Canucks players after being provoked, which lead to melees all over the place. The final 60 seconds ticked off, fight-filled, as Boston took a 2-2 into the locker room.


So who starts game five in goal for the Canucks?  This is a serious question. Luongo's stats are much better on home ice than away ice (he's actually been dominant at Rogers Arena), but he was pretty awful in this game for the most part.  Cory Schneider is young and untested for the most part, but he can play goalie.  He also grew up rooting for...the Bruins?  Weird.

Something is wrong with Ryan Kesler and the Sedins.  After looking very good in games one and two, the Canucks' superstars have fallen off the face of the earth in these two games in the Hub.  I don't know what it is, but if Vancouver has any hope at all of turning this series around and bringing the Cup with them, those three have to be at their best.  Anything less is not good enough; this is the Stanley Cup Final.

I am going to go out on a not-so-brittle limb and say that whoever wins game five will win the Stanley Cup.  The Bruins are roaring right now, and the Canucks have absolutely no answer for them.  Right now, it's ugly, and Boston has all the momentum.  Can Vancouver pull theirselves together?  Don't put your money on it.

Game five is Friday night in Vancouver.