Welcome!

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!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Updates from Practice - Jan. 31

The Capitals were on ice this evening for practice at 5 as they prepare for tomorrow night's tilt with the Montreal Canadiens.  Some personnel updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Brooks Laich did not skate with his teammates due to an issue with his plane back to Washington from Saskatchewan.  Laich is expected to be available for tomorrow night's game.  The two Caps who are currently on injured reserve, Tom Poti and Eric Fehr, skated before the rest of the team hit the ice in gold non-contact jerseys and are not expected to play tomorrow night or at all this week, though Bruce Boudreau did say that Poti could be back next week.

Alexander Semin skated beforehand in a gold non-contact jersey as well, but then took it off when practice started and took full reps on a line with Jason Chimera and Mathieu Perreault.  Semin also practiced on the first power-play unit with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin up front, and John Carlson and Mike Green on the points.  Despite all of these positive signs, however, Boudreau would not commit to Semin suiting up tomorrow night, saying that it will be the Russian's decision after the morning skate or maybe even after the warmup.

Michal Neuvirth and Tyler Sloan also returned to the ice for a full practice with their teammates.  Neuvirth made it through just fine said that he felt "Ok" afterwards.  He acknowledged his participation as a big improvement and hopes that he will be able to suit up tomorrow.  Sloan is back from his conditioning stint in the AHL and has not played in over two months, and he will almost certainly be the odd man out tomorrow night as a healthy scratch.

Lastly, Boudreau continued to tinker with his top line, adding Mike Knuble to the right wing alongside Ovechkin and Backstrom.  It remains to be seen at the moment how Brooks Laich's arrival tomorrow will affect this trio, but I doubt that it will.  Laich will probably end up on the third line with Matt Hendricks and Marcus Johansson.  That means that Boyd Gordon will be bumped off the third unit to the fourth line with Dave Steckel and Matt Bradley, sending DJ King to the press box.

That's all for now.  More in the morning.

Practice: Jan. 31 / Farewell to DJ Stretch

Stretch gets his catch on during an '09 warmup.
The Capitals will be on ice for practice tonight at 5, certainly their weirdest practice time of the season, at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex as they prepare to host the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow night at Verizon Center.  The late practice time is due to the fact that Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green are traveling today and would have had to get up at an ungodly hour to make an early practice this morning.

As of now, all of the Caps are scheduled to take the skate, including the injured ones.  Alex Semin and Michal Neuvirth are still expected to make their return to the active roster tomorrow night, although we do not know if Neuvirth will be awarded the start in goal, especially given Varly's great game against the Habs earlier this season.  No updates on Tom Poti or Eric Fehr are available at this time.

The Capitals made one personnel move this morning, calling up Mathieu Perreault from AHL Hershey.  85 has struggled over the last month or so after his great first six weeks with the big club, and is currently mired in a nine-game point drought, during which period he has an ugly minus 6 rating.  The Caps did not call up Braden Holtby, which indicates that Neuvirth should be available tomorrow night.

Lastly, there is bittersweet news out of the Caps' media fraternity as superstar web producer and beloved Verizon Center in-house DJ Brett Leonhardt has taken a job with the NHL in Toronto. He will, obviously, no longer work for the Caps, and will no longer be their super-secret emergency backup weapon in goal. Farewell, Brett.  We will miss you, and wish you nothing but the best as you continue your career path.

More from practice later.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lidstrom Comes Out On Top In Star-Studded Affair

Alex Ovechkin celebrates his goal with Daniel Sedin.
Team Lidstrom defeated Team Staal in the 58th NHL All-Star Game this evening, taking home the spoils with an 11-10 victory.  Team Staal skated out to a 4-0 lead in the first five minutes, but Lidstrom's squad stormed back to tie before the end of the frame, and from then on, it was a very even and entertaining game. However, in the end, it was the men in the electric blue jerseys who won, with Loui Eriksson of the Dallas Stars scoring the game winner into an empty net (Eric Staal scored to bring his team within one after the empty-netter, making Eriksson's tally the game winner).  Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp took home MVP honors for the losing side, with a goal and two assists on his ledger for the game, and Tim Thomas found a way to win his third consecutive All-Star game.
The contest was classic Alex Ovechkin as well: the Capitals captain had a goal, assist, and was minus-two in 16:02 of ice time.  He also gave team Lidstrom a penalty shot when he slid his stick at Matt Duchene while the Avalanche center was in on a breakaway.  Thankfully, the 20-year forward was still suffering the aftereffects from the "too much vodka" he had drank the previous night (just kidding), and he was stopped by Henrik Lundqvist, saving Ovechkin a lot of embarrassment and post-game ridicule.

And now, back to business.  The Capitals will be on ice for practice tomorrow morning at 5 P.M. at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex as they prepare to host the Canadiens on Tuesday night.  That must-win game (aren't they all?) is scheduled for 7:30 P.M. and will be broadcast on Versus.

Gameday: vs. Team Lidstrom, Jan. 30 - NHL All-Star Game

The Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green led Team Staal will take on Team Lidstrom tonight in the NHL All-Star Game for the league's annual exhibition showcase title and some serious bragging rights.

Team Staal cruised to victory in the Honda SuperSkills competition last night, winning five of six events en route to a 33-22 victory.  Islanders rookie Michael Grabner won the fastest skater, Ovechkin the breakaway challenge, Daniel Sedin the accuracy shooting, Zdeno Chara the hardest shot, and Corey Perry the elimination shootout.

Eric Staal is expected to start hometown boy Cam Ward in nets for his squad, while Nicklas Lidstrom will likely counter with Tim Thomas of the Bruins.  Game time is scheduled for 4, but with all the intros and pre-game ceremonies, the puck probably won't actually drop until sometime around 4:25 or 4:30.  Enjoy the game!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ovechkin Wins Breakaway Challenge

The Russian Spy takes to the ice Saturday night.
Alex Ovechkin's hold on the All-Star Breakaway Challenge did not loosen tonight, as he won the event by a landslide for the third consecutive All-Star weekend.  Ovechkin won the contest with multiple puck-juggling moves and mid-air cue shots. Montreal's P.K. Subban finished second.

No Surprises: Ovechkin Joins Team Staal With Green

Ovie was selected in the 2nd round for Team Staal, behind
goalie Cam Ward (R) and before winger Daniel Sedin (L).
Alex Ovechkin was picked third overall in last night's NHL All-Star fantasy draft, behind Carolina goaltender Cam Ward and Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos. Ovechkin was picked in the second round of the draft by teammate Mike Green, an alternate captain on Team Staal, and will join Daniel Sedin, Rick Nash, and Patrick Sharp, along with Green, on a loaded squad.  The other members of Team Staal are Ryan Kesler, Zdeno Chara, Henrik Lundqvist, Eric's brother Marc, Dan Boyle, Carey Price, Jeff Skinner, Kris Letang, Claude Giroux, Erik Karlsson, Corey Perry, Patrik Elias, David Backes, and Paul Stastny.  Detroit captain Lidstrom and his two alternates, Patrick Kane and Martin St. Louis, added Duncan Keith, Henrik Sedin, Shea Weber, Tim Thomas, Daniel Briere, Dustin Byfuglien, Jonathan Toews, Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonas Hiller, Brad Richards, Keith Yandle, Brent Burns, Martin Havlat, Anze Kopitar, Matt Duchene, and Loui Eriksson.  Toronto's mercurial star Phil Kessel was Mr. Irrelevant, being picked last by Team Lidstrom.  His pain was eased, however, by a $20,000 donation to a charity of his choice and a brand new Honda CR-Z.  Hey, at least he won something as a Maple Leaf.  That won't happen again for a long, long time.
The SuperSkills competition, presented by Honda, is tonight's showcase.  The traditionally goofy event is scheduled for 7 P.M., and can be seen on Versus.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Ovechkin, Green Miss Flight

Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green missed their flight out of Reagan National Airport this afternoon, which means that they will not be at the RBC center in Raleigh in time for the beginning of tonight's festivities.  In typical Ovie and Green fashion, they were there in plenty of time, they just were late getting to the gate.  As ESPN anchor Steve Levy put it, "Ovie was probably just doing some 'late night filings.'" Classic.

Semin's Agent Challenges Caps Brass

28 signed a 1-year, $6.7 million extension yesterday.
To no one's real surprise, the Capitals' recent re-signing of Russian winger Alexander Semin to a contract extension has come under fire in the 24 hours since it was announced.  The major issues with the signing are the usual suspects with Sasha: that he cracks under pressure in the playoffs, is fragile, and has an absolutely maddening Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde playing style.  However, a recent story published by the New York Times states that Semin's agent, Mark Gandler thinks that his client's inconsistencies are the fault of Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau's constant line-juggling and seemingly steadfast unwillingness to put star center Nicklas Backstrom with Semin for any extended period of time.  “The team has never had a second center, and they still don’t,” Gandler said in a telephone interview.  "[If he played with Backstrom regulary, he] would have very different statistics.”  Well, no cheese, my friend.  There isn't a player on the planet who would not love an opportunity to play with 19 consistently, save maybe Sidney Crosby.  But that does not mean that Semin cannot be effective without a center of Backstrom's quality in the middle.
In 2006-2007, Semin scored 38 goals playing most of the season alongside Jeff Halpern and Matt Pettinger.  No knocks on those guys, but they are not Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson, whom Semin has skated with most of the season at even strength.  Despite this supposed beef with Boudreau, however (pun very much intended), Gandler stressed in his interview that Semin would like to eventually work out a multi-year deal with the Capitals, and that Washington is his first choice city.  That seems to contradict a bit, but I'll take it.  I love Semin as a player and having him around long term would be great, providing it is at a reasonable price and he figures out how to play in April.  Some food for thought, though - would the Capitals perhaps be better served as an organization by trading Semin for some draft picks or younger players?

In other news, Capitals prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov has been selected as a Kontinental Hockey League All-Star, where he will play alongside former Cap Sergei Fedorov in the Russain league's midseason showcase.  Kuznetsov, 18, was selected in the first round, 26th overall, of the 2010 NHL entry draft.  The combination center/right wing has 14 goals and 26 points in 40 games this season for Traktor Chelyabinsk.

Lastly, today is the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which took the lives of seven American astronauts when their spacecraft disintegrated just 73 seconds after taking off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Please take a minute to remember their sacrifice today.

That's all for now.  Enjoy the draft tonight and check back tomorrow.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

All-Star Draft Tonight

All-Star weekend is finally here, and that means that the fantasy draft for Sunday's exhibition match will be tonight in Raleigh.  As you all know, Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is in the draft pool, and defenseman Mike Green is an alternate captain on the team captained by Carolina superstar Eric Staal.

The draft is scheduled for 8 P.M. this evening and can be seen on Versus.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Capitals Re-Sign Alexander Semin

Sasha celebrates his 1st of 3 hat tricks this season.
The Washington Capitals announced this morning that they have re-signed right winger Alexander Semin to a one-year contract extension through the end of the 2011-2012 season.  The deal is expected to earn the Russian about 6.7 million dollars next season. According to Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post, the winger was offered a multi-year extension, but wanted to stick with only a one-year deal.  Semin, 26, is currently playing in his sixth NHL season, all with the Capitals.  He has 18 goals and 17 assists this season in 39 games, but, like the rest of his teammates, has struggled mightily in the consistency department this year after scoring 40 goals during last year's campaign.  The currently injured winger is expected to be ready to return to active duty when the Capitals host the Canadiens on Tuesday. With news of this extension, the Capitals currently have just $45.8 million committed to 17 players for next season, well under the ceiling of $56.8 million, according to Capgeek.

As magic as Sasha's hands are, I feel as through this might be a tad irresponsible by Caps management.  Semin is undisciplined and injury prone, and I think that this money might have been spent a little better on a big defenseman.  But, we will see, right now the Caps' problems are not on defense, they are on offense.  Who woulda thunk it?

In other Caps news, Braden Holtby, Jay Beagle, and Mathieu Perreault were all assigned to Hershey of the AHL this morning to play in the minors during the All-Star break.  It is not known what the future of any of these players will be after the break is over, with both Semin and Michal Neuvirth expected to return from injuries.

That's all for now.  More if it becomes available.

Information from www.washingtoncaps.com was used in this post.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Pavelec Stones Capitals

8, 26, and 19 try in vain to tie late in the 3rd perod.  (AP) 
The Washington Capitals dropped a critical 1-0 decision tonight in Atlanta, falling to their divisional rivals the Thrashers at Philips Arena.  Ondrej Pavelec, as he always does, brought his A game against the Caps, making 36 saves, several of them impossible, for his second shutout of the season against the Capitals (he only has one other).  Once again, the Capitals were plagued by their inability to finish, and once again, it bit them in the rear end.  With the loss, the Capitals stay a discouraging four points back of the Lightning in the race for the Southeast Division, with both teams having played 51 games.  The Capitals now have to worry about the Rangers as well, as the Blueshirts are now only two points behind them for 5th place in the Eastern Conference.

The Capitals got off to a great start, as the trio of Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and Jason Chimera pinned the Thrashers inside their own zone for about a minute on only the second shift of the game. Despite this good forecheck and cycle pressure, however, the Capitals were not able to dent Ondrej Pavelec. The Capitals continued to carry the pace of play at the Thrashers, and Matt Hendricks sprung Marcus Johansson on a mini breakaway with a great lead pass about five minutes in, but Pavelec again was equal to the task.  Atlanta finally got a rush up ice with about 11 minutes left with a 3 on 1, and Semyon Varlamov had to be excellent to deny Anthony Stewart with his glove.  Soon after, Andrew Ladd sent Alex Ovechkin sprawling to the ice with a leg check, awarding the Capitals their first power play of the evening.  But as has been the case too often lately, the power play sputtered and generated little zone time or offensive pressure.  After the conclusion of the man advantage, both teams began to sit back and wait for the other team to come to them and not get pucks deep in on the forecheck, resulting in constant neutral zone play.  Alex Ovechkin attempted to wake his team up with a great shot inside of 20 seconds remaining in the frame, but Pavelec snapped out his glove and denied the Russian to keep the Capitals off the board.
In the second, game continued it's boring and slow pace for about the first five minutes before the Capitals started to ramp up their offensive pressure.  The visiting side pinned the Thrashers in their zone for extended periods again, but Pavelec was stellar all over his crease to keep the Capitals off the board.  About halfway through the frame, Brooks Laich missed a layup in close and the puck was quickly pushed up ahead by Ron Hainsey.  The bouncing puck went over Jeff Schultz's blade and was collected by the forechecking Fredrik Modin, who found Nik Antropov up high in the attacking zone.  The entire Capitals defense then thought it would be a good idea to let him skate into the middle of the ice, and Antropov made no mistake, ripping the puck past a challenging Semyon Varlamov for a 1-0 Thrashers advantage at the 11:51 mark.  The Capitals, now desperate for a goal, cranked their offensive pressure up even more, and continued to dominate the Thrash in their own zone, but simply could not get the puck through Pavelec.  With about five minutes left, the Caps were given another power play.  Despite tremendous puck movement and domination in their offensive zone, however, Washington could not break through again, with Pavelec making impossible save after impossible save.  With their frustration at the breaking point, the Capitals allowed their defensive zone play to slack off at the end of the period, and only the excellent play of Semyon Varlamov in close kept the Thrasher advantage at 1 after 40 minutes.
In the third, the Caps once again applied strong pressure on the Thrasher back end, but once again were denied by Pavelec time and time again.  Washington did catch a bit of luck when Dustin Byfuglien hit a post for the Thrashers about 8 minutes into the frame, which would have certainly knocked the Capitals clean out of the game.  Right off of that miss, Alex Ovechkin had another good rush up ice, but once again was robbed by Pavelec.  Soon after, Matt Bradley took a holding penalty, but the Caps were able to hold Atlanta off until Andrew Ladd took a penalty of his own, awarding the Caps an abbreviated power play.  During the man advantage, I honestly have no idea how the puck stayed out of the net; the Caps continually got pucks to the net and took good shots, but the Thrasher tender found a way to keep the puck out.  Brooks Laich took another penalty with about 6 and half minutes to go, but Varlamov was excellent once again to keep the Caps in striking distance.  Over the last five minutes of the frame, the Capitals pushed like no other, but Pavelec again had magic left over to rob the Capitals, including a blind glove save on Mike Green from inside the circles.  Despite the desperate attempts, however, the Capitals were not able to equalize, and the Thrashers snuck out of their own arena with a stolen victory.

Observations:

This is getting to be absurd.  If you look closely at the picture at the top of the post, I think you might be able to see a force field keeping the Capitals from scoring behind Pavelec.  I honestly have no idea how the Capitals managed to not score on any of their 50 chances in close.  The Caps have no finish what so ever.  They can get the pucks to the net when they want to, but literally cannot put the puck in the net to save their lives, especially on the power play, where they are now 9 for 88 in their last 27 games.

Boy does this team miss Alex Semin.  Not only does his presence keep opposing teams from keying in on the top unit of Ovechkin and Backstrom; he is a pure finisher and can pick corners from in close, unlike anyone else on his team right now.  I sure hope he's ready to come back soon, because the Capitals are in an even bigger heap of trouble without him.

Semyon Varlamov looked good tonight.  His defense was drunk on the goal he allowed and he made several excellent saves to keep the Caps within striking distance throughout the game.  With Michal Neuvirth set to return after the break, he will need to keep up the good form he has shown of late to keep the job, but he looks, at least for now, as the number one goalie we all know he can be.

This is just a really frustrating loss.  I can't remember being this frustrated in over a month, since the losing streak was in full swing.  There are so many things wrong with the Caps' offense and power play, I cannot even begin to talk about them all.  Last year, people criticized the Caps for their firewagon style and said it would cost them in the playoffs.  It did, and I can only hope that the opposite will hold true this season as the Capitals cannot score, but have a GAA near 2 and a quarter for the whole season.  I have a very bad taste in my mouth right now.

The Caps are off for the All-Star break for the next four days before returning to practice Monday.  Their quest to score goals will not get any easier for their next game, as they will welcome Carey Price and the excellent Canadiens' team defense to Verizon Center on Tuesday.  That game is scheduled for 7:30 P.M.

Gameday: at Atlanta, Jan. 26 - Bradley, Varlamov Return

Matt Bradley drives to the net in Ottawa last month. (AP)
The Capitals are in Atlanta tonight for a big game with the division rival Thrashers. Atlanta comes into tonight's game in 8th place in the Eastern Conference with 55 points, 8 behind the Capitals.  The Caps currently hold fifth in the Conference, with 63 points. Both squads are coming off tough losses: the Capitals 2-1 to the Rangers Monday and the Thrashers 7-1 at the hands of the Lightning Sunday.  The Lightning also won again yesterday, shutting out the Maple Leafs for their fifth consecutive victory.  With that win, the Lightning moved four points clear at the top of the division, having played one more game than the Capitals.

Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay will roll with Ondrej Pavelec in goal tonight, the Czech's eleventh straight start in nets.  Pavelec has fallen off a bit in the last three weeks after his ridiculous December, but he is still an excellent goalie and always seems to bring his best to the table against the Capitals.  The Capitals did manage to catch a break yesterday, however, when it was announced that Thrashers star defenseman Tobias Enstrom will miss 2-4 weeks with a broken finger.  Enstrom is the quarterback on the Atlanta power play, besides one of their best defensemen, and his absence will hurt his team.

For the Capitals, Semyon Varlamov is set to return to the ice as he will get the start in goal after a three game absence.  Matt Bradley is also expected to play after a month long absence, which means DJ King will join Brian Fahey as a healthy scratch this evening.  Brads' return should be huge for the Capitals, as he is a leader both on and off the ice and one of their best defensive forwards. Alexander Semin did not make the trip like some thought he might, and will not play tonight.  He is still expected to be ready after the All-Star break.

That's all for now.  Puck drops 7:07-ish.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Practice: Jan. 25

The Capitals were on ice this morning at Kettler Iceplex as they prepare for tomorrow night's big game with the Thrashers in Atlanta.  Some personnel updates from the skate:

Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marcus Johansson were the only Capitals on the active roster who did not skate today.  Bruce Boudreau confirmed after practice that they were only taking maintenance days, and there are no new injuries to report.  That is, obviously, good news for the Capitals and their fans.

Alexander Semin and Matt Bradley participated fully in practice and may make the trip to Atlanta for tomorrow night's game, but Boudreau was non-commital on their status.

Michal Neuvirth and Tom Poti also skated as they continue to work back from injuries.  They are not expected to make the journey down south, but could return for the Caps' first game after the break.

That's all for now.  Check back later.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Caps Blow It vs. Rangers

The Capitals fell flat on their faces...again. (Evan Vucci, AP)
The Washington Capitals fell at home to the Rangers tonight, falling 2-1 in a game that had to be decided by a shootout.  In a very discouraging display, the Capitals once again let a late lead slip away inside of ten minutes remaining and lost out on a big opportunity to keep pace with the Lightning in an increasingly tough Southeast Division.  With the loss, the Capitals are a full two points back on the Lighthing in that race and sit in 5th in the Eastern Conference.  Both the Caps and the Lightning have played 50 games.

The Capitals generated good pressure on their first shift were rewarded with a power play just a minute into the game when Alex Ovechkin was hauled down after taking a nice lead pass from Nicklas Backstrom.  However, the Caps did absolutely nothing on their man advantage, failing to even get a shot off on Ranger backup Marty Biron.  Both teams seemed to be content with not doing much at that point, and the first shot did not even come for either team until almost six minutes had passed.  Jay Beagle finally got a chance after taking a nifty pass from Marcus Johansson to get inside on Biron, but the netminder went old school with a two-pad stack to deny him.  That seemed to get both teams going offensively, and both teams had some good chances by generating solid forecheck pressure down low.  Marian Gaborik drew a penalty on the Capitals after he came oh so close on a rush up ice, and the Capitals headed to the penalty kill late in the frame.  The Rangers were unable to convert, however, largely in part to a great save by Braden Holtby on Marc Staal.  Neither team was able to get anything going in the final minute, and the teams headed to the locker rooms tied at 0.
In the second, the Caps got off to a great start when Marcus Johansson fed Matt Hendricks a beautiful cross-ice pass in front for a goal and a 1-0 caps advantage just over a minute in.  The Caps used their momentum from the early goal to get more chances, but could not pot another, and their agression cost them an odd man rush against that Braden Holtby countered beautifully.  Both teams picked up their offense rapidly as the period continued, and Holtby was called on again, this time in close on Brandon Prust, but the young netminder was again up to the task.  With about 8 minutes left, Alex Ovechkin weaved through the Ranger defense to get a shot on Biron, but the Ranger netminder was excellent on him and then on Brooks Laich off the rebound.  As the Rangers tried to counter, Brian Boyle got his stick up high on Mathieu Perreault, and the Capitals were awarded another power play with 5 minutes left.  Despite good puck movement, however, the Caps were unable to score, extending their frustrating futility a man to the good.  The Rangers tried to get some pressure going late, but the Caps defense and Holtby once again preserved the lead, and the second period ended with the Caps up 1-0.
In the third, the Capitals came out hard again, with both Matt Hendricks and Marcus Johansson getting early chances, but could not extend their advantage.  The Capitals were called for a penalty soon after when John Erskine took a high-sticking call.  But once more, the penalty killers and Holtby held the fort for the time being.  Soon after the penalty expired, Alex Ovechkin was called for the first backwards dive in the history of the NHL, negating a potential Capitals power play, and the 4 on 4 generated some good chances for both teams.  But it was the Rangers who began to dominate, pinning the Caps in their zone for extended periods.  They were finally rewarded when Marian Gaborik found a way to get a bouncing puck to go over Holtby's head and into the cage for the Rangers' equalizer.  Replay seemed to show that Gaborik punched the puck in, and the goal was reviewed, but it was determined that sufficient evidence did not exist to overturn the call.  The Capitals were right back at it, and contiuned to press hard, but Martin Biron was excellent in close, and Nicklas Backstrom had a miss from in tight as well.  After more chances at both ends, regulation ended and the game moved to overtime.
In the extra period, the Caps came oh so close multiple times, but Biron again was up to the task with excellent saves on John Carlson and Marcus Johansson.  After no scoring occurred in overtime, the game moved to a shooutout.  After Alex Ovechkin missed to open the shootout, four consecutive goals were scored by Wojtek Wolski, Matt Hendricks, Mats Zuccarello, and Nicklas Backstrom before Holtby stopped Brian Boyle.  Marcus Johansson was stopped by Biron in the 4th round, and Artem Anisimov then proceeded to dangle Holtby out of his pads and score to pot the win for the Rangers.

Observations:

Passive, passive, PASSIVE!  The Capitals, once they had gotten their lead, seemed like it was appropriate to sit back and let the Rangers come to them, instead of going in for the kill with constant offensive pressure like they did last year.  Guess what?  They got bit in the ass.  Again.  With the exception of a few odd man rushes and forecheck periods, Washington did not attack the way that we are used to seeing in the past from this team.  Their stars lack the ability to finish and the offense is simply not there right now.  They are passing up shots that they need to take on odd man rushes, set plays at even strength, and on the power play, and they cannot afford to do that if they want to win more.  Sigh.

Braden Holtby was great again and got his team a point that they did not deserve with several great saves.  He had no chance on the one goal he allowed in regulation, and although he was embarrassed in the shootout, he was the reason the Caps even got there and I'll cut a guy who has never seen an NHL shootout some slack in that department.  I bet we will see Varlamov on Wednesday, but Holtby has earned his keep for now.

We are back to square one after a promising weekend.  The wins over the Islanders and Leafs proved nothing to anybody, and the Caps were in position to make a statement tonight against a good, not great, Rangers team missing their best forward, number 2 defenseman, and their top goaltender.  If the Caps can't hold off a team like the Rangers, do you think they will be able to do it in the spring against a team like the Flyers (if they get that far)?  I sure don't.

The Caps will practice tomorrow to continue to work on their pathetic power play before jetting south to take on the Thrashers on Wednesday night in another must win game.  Puck drop for that one is scheduled for 7 P.M.

Gameday: vs. NY Rangers, Jan. 24

Braden Holtby will make his 3rd consecutive start tonight.
The Washington Capitals return home this evening after a three game road swing to take on the New York Rangers at Verizon Center.  The Rangers sit in 7th place in the Eastern Conference, coming into the game tonight with 59 points, and the Caps sit in 5th place with 62 points.  This is the third meeting of the two teams on the season, with the previous two coming at Madison Square Garden.  The season series has been split so far, with both teams taking home multiple goal decisions: the Caps 5-3 and the Rangers 7-0.  The Blueshirts are coming off of a 3-2 shootout win in Atlanta, while the Capitals are coming off of their 4-1 win in Toronto on Saturday night.

John Tortorella has elected to give star netminder Henrik Lundqvist the night off in goal due to the Rangers' recent heavy schedule, meaning that the Caps will face Martin Biron for the first time this season.  While Biron is no slouch, not having to face the red-hot Lundqvist is certainly a break for the Capitals.  Rangers defenseman Daniel Girardi is also expected to miss the game, which should ease the Capitals' attack.

Braden Holtby will make the start in nets for the Capitals tonight after two stellar performances in a row.  Holtby has only allowed two goals in two games since his call up and has stopped 59 shots in those contests, good for a .967 save percentage.  He has never faced the Rangers in his career.

No lineup changes are expected for Bruce Boudreau's men, which means that Brian Fahey will once again be a healthy scratch.  All the injured Caps except Eric Fehr skated this morning, which means that Michal Neuvirth, Alex Semin, Matt Bradley, and Tom Poti are making progress towards their returns.  Although they skated, Boudreau does not expect any of them to see game action until soon after the All-Star Break.

Puck drops for this one 7:37-ish.  Check back after the game.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lightning Continue Hot Run

The Lightning did not do the Caps any favors tonight, putting up a touchdown on the Thrashers and beating them by a final score of 7-1.  With their victory, the Lightning are now three points clear of the Capitals at the top of the Southeast Division.  The Capitals do, however, hold a game in hand.

Day Off for Caps

The Caps have today completely off, with no team related activities planned. They will be back on ice tomorrow morning at 11 for their morning skate at Kettler. The Caps will welcome the Rangers to Verizon tomorrow night.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Holtby, Ovechkin Power Victory Over Leafs

Braden Holtby stones Tyler Bozak on a shorthanded breakaway.
The Washington Capitals pulled out an excellent victory tonight during Hockey Night in Canada, defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs by a final score of 4-1 at the Air Canada Centre.  Alex Ovechkin had his first hat trick of the season, and Braden Holtby made 35 saves, several of them sensational, to send the Caps home from their 3 game road trip with two huge points and five of a possible six.  With the win, the Capitals are now only one point behind the Lightning for first place in the Southeast Division race.  Both teams have played 49 games, as the Lightning were off tonight after playing both nights prior to this one.

The Capitals got off to another slow start, taking a penalty barely a minute into the contest when Mike Knuble took a tripping minor to send the Maple Leafs to an early man advantage.  The Leafs were unable to convert despite good pressure, however, and the Capitals were awarded a power play of their own right after Knuble was released from the box.  The Capitals cranked up their own offensive pressure on the power play, but could not convert either and lazy play by the attacking team caused a 3 on 1 break the other way as the power play expired.  But Holtby was there for his team, and bailed out the Caps with a brilliant save on Tyler Bozak.  The teams continued some back and forth action for a bit before Nicklas Backstrom took a tripping penalty to give the hosts another power play.  But the penalty killers were strong again, and the Leafs could not convert.  About a minute after the penalty had ended, Nicklas Backstrom dug out puck in the corner and passed high to Jeff Schultz, who blasted a slapshot towards the cage, which Alex Ovechkin tipped past J-S Giguere to give the Caps a 1-0 cushion at the 14:27 mark.  Both teams continued to try and generate offensive pressure as the period wore on, but neither could get anything really going.  Backstrom took another penalty late in the frame, but nothing came of it and the teams headed to their dressing rooms with the Caps up 1-0.
In the second, the Leafs took an early penalty and the Caps began to attack with good puck movement on their man advantage.  Just when they had Mike Green set up for the shot they wanted, Green whiffed and Tyler Bozak poked the puck free and streaked in on a shorthanded breakaway.  But Holtby was up to the task once again with a sensational right pad save to keep the Caps advantage at 1.  The Leafs then really cranked it up, applying constant pressure on the Caps, but the defense played well, keeping most shots to the outside until Phil Kessel snuck in and got a shot off in tight; it took another quick flash of Holtby's pad to keep the Leafs off the board with about 9 minutes left in the period.  Both sides continued to generate good chances as the period contiuned, but the goaltenders played well, and the second period ended with the Caps still up 1-0.
In the third, it was the Capitals' turn to come out hard, as Alex Ovechkin scored his second of the night when he buried a loose puck in front to put the Caps up by 2 at the 1:12 mark.  But the Leafs struck back immediately, and Tim Brent broke up Holtby's shutout with a nice snapshot in close to cut the deficit to 1.  That goal brought the Air Canada Centre to life, and the Leafs had the Caps on their heels for the next five minutes as the defense and Holtby had to be heroic to keep Toronto from equalizing.  Just after the 8 minute mark, however, Matt Hendricks stole the puck at the defensive blue line and skated in on his own breakaway, converting on a beautiful move for a 3-1 Capitals lead.  But the Leafs would not go away, and decimated the Capitals down low for the remainder of the period, pressing Holtby to make several excellent saves once more.  Ron Wilson pulled his goaltender with 3 minutes remaining, desperate for a win, and the Leafs had the Caps pinned in their zone for most of those 3 minutes.  But the Caps' rookie goaltender continued his excellent play, absolutely robbing Bozak again with a miraculous glove save at about the 19 minute mark.  The Capitals finally won a defensive zone faceoff late in the frame, and Nicklas Backstrom sent the puck down the boards; Ovechkin chased the puck down and weaved through two Toronto defenders to pot the empty-netter.  The goal was Ovie's 19th and completed his first hat trick since his miraculous performance against Pittsburgh last February.  Holtby finished the game with 35 saves, and the Capitals defense blocked over 25 more.

Observations:

Braden Holtby was simply sensational.  He proved me wrong once again and single handedly won this game for his team tonight.  He shook off the HNIC jitters and made great save after great save all over his crease for the Capitals.  His glove save on Bozak, coming across the crease, has to be a candidate for save of the year.  Holtby, right now, deserves the Capitals' nets, but it remains to be seen who receives the start on Monday.

Alex Ovechkin finally had the game we all know he is capable of.  Three goals, plus-3, eight shots, and three blocked shots only begin to describe just how dominant the Great Eight was tonight.  He was full of energy and all over the place, trademarks of the two-time MVP's game that we have seen precious little of this season.  A big step in the right direction for the captain.

Mike Green had his best game in awhile.  Greenie had an assist, was also plus-3, and blocked four shots in an excellent all-around performance the day after being named an alternate captain on team Staal for the All-Star Game.  Green may not be scoring or gathering points at the frightening pace he has the last 2 seasons, but he is fine-tuning his game and his defensive progression has been a treat to watch this year.

The Caps will fly back to DC tonight and take tomorrow off as they prepare for Monday night's tilt with the Rangers at Verizon Center, their first meeting with the Blueshirts since that 7-0 shellacking in December in New York.  Game time for that one is scheduled for 7 P.M.

Gameday: at Toronto, Jan. 22

Ovi and Green celebrate vs. Toronto in '09.
The Washington Capitals are in Toronto tonight for their second of two must win games this week.  The Maple Leafs stand in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, reporting for action tonight with 43 points in 46 games played.  The Leafs have continued to struggle this season, but won their last contest against the Ducks by a score of 5-2, and this will not be an easy game for the boys in red.  The two teams have split their season series so far this year, with both games heading to a shootout and both games seeing the Capitals let a large lead slip away.  This is the first meeting of the two at the Air Canada Centre.

Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson is expected to roll with Jean-Sebastien Giguere in nets this evening for his team, coming off of his 26-save performance in Thursday's win over the Ducks.  J-S has not yet faced the Capitals this season, with Jonas Gustavsson picking up both starts at Verizon Center and playing well in those two contests.

For the Capitals, no lineup changes are expected from the team that won on Long Island on Thursday.  That means that DJ King will receive a sweater from head coach Bruce Boudreau again and Brian Fahey will sit, as it appears that John Erskine will be able to play through the minor undisclosed injury that has ailed him recently.  Braden Holtby was first off the ice for the Capitals at the morning skate, indicating that he is the likely starter this evening.  That means that for whatever reason, Bruce Boudreau seems to think that it's not a good idea to get Varly back on the horse. Hopefully Holtby is up to the task, because this is a game that the Caps cannot afford to lose, and the ACC during Hockey Night in Canada is a tough environment.

To update the Southeast Division race, the Lightning won in a shootout against the Panthers last night to move a full three points clear of the Capitals for first in the division. The Capitals do, however, hold a game in hand.

Puck drops for this one 7:10-ish.  Check back after the game.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Varlamov Update

Would you bench this if you had the choice?  I didn't think so.
It appears as though the Capitals may have dodged a major bullet with Semyon Varlamov as Bruce Boudreau revealed this afternoon during a conference call that the Russian goaltender will "be able to play for sure" tomorrow night in Toronto.  "That is, if I choose him to play."  Cool, Bruce.  Bench your best goaltender because Braden Holtby beat the Islanders.  Mercy, mercy.  Why can't the Caps just have someone seize the job? It would be so much nicer if that happened.

There is no other Caps news to post today involving personnel moves or injury updates.  Eric Fehr, Alex Semin, Michal Neuvirth and Tom Poti remain in DC as they continue to rehab from various ailments that have limited them over the last month or so.  None of them are expected to join the team for tomorrow night's game.

And in random hockey news, the immortal Peter Forsberg will practice with the Avalanche starting tomorrow to see if a comeback is possible.  Wow.

Thanks to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post for the quotes in this post.

No More Russians

The Caps announced today that they will not put in a waiver claim on Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who was signed by the Red Wings yesterday. Thank god.

No Practice for Caps Today

The Capitals have today off after their recent busy stretch as they prepare for tomorrow night's game.  The Caps are on their team charter to Toronto and will arrive in Canada sometime this afternoon, and will likely enjoy a team outing tonight.  Tomorrow night's game against the Maple Leafs is scheduled for 7 P.M. at the Air Canada Centre.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fleischmann Out For Season

Flash has seen better days...
Some sad news out of Colorado this evening as it was announced that former Cap Tomas Fleischmann will miss the rest of the season with pulmonary emboli, or blood clots, in both of his lungs.  Flash was traded to the Avalanche on November 30th for defenseman Scott Hannan.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Flash and his family as he battles this life-threatening condition that could have killed him if he had played tonight.  He is, however, expected to make a full recovery.

Rapid Rewind: Caps Hold Off Isles

Jason Chimera scores past Rick DiPietro in the first period. 
The Washington Capitals won the first of their two must-win games this week with a 2-1 victory tonight over the New York Islanders.  The Capitals struck first and seemed to have all the momentum until early in the second period until the Isles made it a game and almost tied the Caps on multiple occasions throughout the game.  With the win, the Caps remain only one point behind the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won in a shootout tonight, for first place in the Southeast Division.  Both teams have played 48 games.

The first period got off to a fast start for both teams.  The Capitals got a couple of good shots on Rick DiPietro within the fist two minutes that the American goaltender had to be sharp on, and the Islanders also got some good shots on Braden Holtby.  But the Capitals struck first when Nicklas Backstrom weaved through the entire Islander defense and found Alex Ovechkin at the top of the circles.  Ovechkin then dished a perfect pass to Jason Chimera, who tipped it past DP for a 1-0 Caps advantage almost 4 minutes into the frame.  The Capitals continued to apply good zone pressure with a cycle that had the Isles reeling for a good six or seven more minutes before Alex Ovechkin took a penalty that gave New York the momentum.  The Islanders pressured the Caps tirelessly on their power play and missed several wide open chances to equalize.  Soon after their first one expired, New York got another and continued to have the Caps back on their heels as Braden Holtby stood tall for the visitors.  The Caps were awarded a late power play, but could do nothing with it and the first frame ended with the visitors up 1-0.  In the second, the Caps applied good pressure early. They were rewarded when Alex Ovechkin made one of his patented drives around the circles and was stopped by DiPietro; however, Nicklas Backstrom was there on the doorstep to bury the rebound for a 2-0 lead, his first goal in seven weeks.  But the two goal lead was not to last, as Michael Grabner poked the puck free of John Erskine in the defensive zone and then beat the entire Caps defense down the wing, burying a backhander over Holtby's shoulder to cut the lead to 1.  The Islanders were awarded a power play soon after and had the Caps pinned in their zone for extended periods, and Holtby had to be brilliant on several occasions.  The Caps killed off another Islanders man advantage in the period but were unable to get anything going against a suddenly stiff Islander defense, and the period ended with the Caps ahead 2-1.  In the third, the Capitals came out hard and generated multiple chances within the first minute, but Nicklas Backstrom took a bad penalty and the Islanders got another power play, though they were not able to convert.  The Caps then began to gain momentum and attacked with purpose once more, getting pucks deep and forcing DiPietro to make good saves.  The Caps earned themselves a second power play about 7 minutes into the frame, but were not able to convert; and then Mathieu Perrault took a tripping call 200 feet from his own net to give the Islanders yet another power play.  The penalty kill was highlighted by a sparkling glove save by Holtby on John Tavares, and the Caps managed to hold off the Isles once more.  Then the Caps seized the momentum once more, but were simply unable to finish on multiple occasions to put the game out of reach.  The Islanders would not go away, and they almost tied it late, but Washington was somehow able to hold off the home side for a win they absolutely needed to have.

Observations:

Nicklas Backstrom was excellent tonight.  The game's first star had a goal, assist, was plus-two, and won 10 faceoffs in his best performance in awhile.  He controlled the tempo of the game when he was on the ice, something that we have seen precious little of this season from the Swede.  Hopefully this game can get him going for the long term, because the Caps really need him at top speed to be successful.  In addition, he called P.A. Parenteau a f***ing pu**y after the game was over (click post title for video).  Get it, Nicky.

Jason Chimera also had a great game as he remained on the top trio with Ovechkin and Backstrom.  Your shot leader on the night (6) used his speed on the forecheck well and to create chances by going to the net all game and seems to have found his inner Mike Knuble to compliment the Caps' two best offensive players.  Look for him to stick on that line for the foreseeable future, or at least until Alex Semin comes back.

Braden Holtby surprised me tonight and was very good.  He had a couple of huge saves early to keep the Caps' 1-0 lead and late to keep the win in check.  Hopefully he won't have to be around much longer so he can continue to mold his game at the AHL level, but for now, he seems to have earned another start and has given Bruce Boudreau peace of mind as BB will now likely see no reason to rush Neuvirth or Varlamov back from injuries.

The Caps will not practice tomorrow before flying to Toronto to prepare for Saturday's Hockey Night in Canada matchup with the Maple Leafs.  That game is scheduled for 7 P.M.

Fahey Recalled

Brian Fahey has been recalled from Hershey of the AHL by the Capitals.  Fahey practiced with the Bears this morning and is now on his way to Long Island.  He is not expected to play tonight; there is no reason for him to at this point.

More News on Neuvirth

Michal Neuvirth does not have a groin injury, as was thought by many, including me.  That means a new injury that the young Czech suffered in Philadelphia is holding him back.  Hopefully 30 will be able to recover quickly and restore the Capitals' strength in goal.

Gameday: at NY Islanders, Jan. 20

Nicklas Backstrom takes the ice at the Coliseum last season.
The Washington Capitals are on Long Island for tonight's matchup with the Islanders, who are in 14th place in the Eastern Conference with 34 points.  The Capitals are coming off of a 3-2 overtime loss in Philadelphia on Tuesday where they managed to salvage a point with 40 seconds of desperate play halfway through the third period. The Isles, however, are coming off of a loss to the only team worse than them in the East, the Devils, who they dropped a 5-2 decision to on Monday.  Remarkably, the Capitals are dead last in the NHL in first period goals scored with a meager 28; however, the Islanders are the only team close to them, as they have only scored 29.  Should be a doozy of a first period (now that I've said that, expect records to be set in the opening 20 minutes).  In their only other meeting of the season, the Capitals needed a late goal from Nicklas Backstrom to salvage a 2-1 victory at Verizon Center in mid October.

The Islanders will start mercurial franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro in nets tonight as he makes his return from an illness that forced him to miss the Isles' last game.  DP has, like the rest of his team, struggled this year to the tune of a 3.43 GAA and a .892 save percentage.  However, he has the potential to win a game for his team on any given night, so the Capitals should not take this game lightly (for that matter, they shouldn't take any game lightly).

Braden Holtby will make his fifth start, and sixth appearance, in the Capitals goal tonight, getting the nod from coach Bruce Boudreau.  Holtby has been decidedly bad this season for the Caps, with a 3.84 GAA and .845 save percentage, and has not appeared in the NHL since mid November.  He is, however, among the league leaders in the AHL in every goaltending category.  Semyon Varlamov did skate this morning and it does not look like his injury is as bad as initially feared.  He will be able to back up Holtby for this evening's contest.

Outside the crease, all 18 Capitals skaters on the road trip practiced this morning and all are expected to play as Andrew Gordon was returned to Hershey yesterday afternoon.  That means DJ King will stay in the lineup, which I cannot understand, considering King did nothing outside of get in a fight (he literally had zeroes across the board) in the Caps' last game.  Maybe give Gordo another shot?  The kid has impressed...

Puck drops 7:09-ish.  Check back later.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Neuvirth Sent Home

Michal Neuvirth has been sent back to DC for further evaluation following his exit from last nights game with a groin or hip injury. No word yet on the severity of the injury or it's exact nature; the same holds true for Semyon Varlamov, although the Russian is still with the team.

Practice: Jan. 19 - The News Gets Worse

The Capitals were on ice for practice this morning at the Wells Fargo Center as they prepare for tomorrow night's game with the the Islanders.  The Caps are expected to jet to Long Island later this afternoon.

News this morning is not good out of Philadelphia, as both Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov are considered day to day with lower body injuries.  Neuvirth aggravated a groin injury last night in the first period, and it appears that Varlamov may have suffered the same fate later in the game, considering that he always finds a way to hurt his groin when he is playing his best hockey.  As a result, Braden Holtby has been recalled from Hershey and skated this morning alongside Caps web producer Brett Leonhardt as the two goalies for practice.

Outside of the crease, the only Cap on the trip who did not skate today was John Erskine.  No word on why he is absent, I will update his condition and the conditions of the goalies if they are given after practice.

Check back later.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Caps Salvage Point in Philly

Semyon Varlamov was excellent in relief Tuesday. (Getty)
The Washington Capitals fell to the the Philadelphia Flyers tonight in overtime by a final tally of 3-2.  The Capitals trailed the game 2-0 heading into the third, but were able to tie it up on two goals within 40 seconds of each other to send the game into extra time, only to have Andrej Meszaros score the game winner for Philadelphia.  With the loss, the Capitals drop one point behind the Lightning, who won in a shoouout, for first place in the Southeast Division.  The Lightning also hold a game in hand on the Capitals, only extending their divisional advantage.

The Capitals once again put themselves in a hole early by allowing the Flyers to score barely a minute into the contest.  After Jeff Carter corralled a loose puck in the neutral zone and took it into the Caps zone, John Carlson did his job and forced Carter to the outside.  But Michal Neuvirth was caught way out of position on the play, and Carter wrapped around and buried the easy lay up for a 1-0 Flyer lead at the 1:31 mark.  The Flyers continued to crank up the pressure, bombarding Neuvirth with shots as the frame wore on, and it took some serious luck for the Capitals and Neuvirth to keep the deficit at 1.  The Caps were able to mount no offensive pressure on the Flyers' cage and Sergei Bobrovsky had to exert little effort to thwart the men from DC, save one good chance from Nick Backstrom, and the teams headed to their locker rooms with the Flyers up 1-0.  In the second, the Flyers blitzed the Caps full tilt and dominated them in every facet of the game.  Semyon Varlamov, who replaced Michal Neuvirth at the start of the frame after the latter aggravated a groin injury during the first period, was stellar early, making several ten-bell saves on the Flyers, including a jaw-dropping stop on Mike Richards on the doorstep.  However, despite their best efforts, the Caps could not break through for a goal as they continued to mount offensive pressure as the period wore on.  But the Flyers soon turned the tables again, pressuring the Caps back and back and pinning them in their own zone for extended periods.  The inevitable finally happened when Claude Giroux banged home his own rebound at the 13:38 mark to put the Flyers up by 2 and take all of the wind out of Washington's sails.  The rest of the period was insufferably boring as the Caps began to get sucked into the Flyers' strategy as they began to try and kill clock with puck possession, and the period mercifully ended with Philly only up by 2.  In the third, the Caps came out strong for the first period in awhile, pressing Bobrovsky into his first real duty of the night.  The young Russian had to make several great stops on the Caps, including excellent saves on Ovechkin and Jason Chimera.  But the Caps were rewarded nearly 8 miutes into the period when Marcus Johansson collected an errant clearing pass and cut in on Bobrovsky, only to hit the post.  But former Flyer Mike Knuble potted the loose puck to cut the disadvantage to 1.  Just 40 seonds later, Alex Ovechkin took a pass from Nick Backstrom down low and equalized with a wrist shot from in tight.  The goal was reviewed after strong protests from Flyer coach Peter Laviolette to see if Ovechkin punched it in, but the goal stood.  The Flyers then seized the momentum once more, and Varlamov had to be great again to preserve the tie throughout the dying moments of the frame.  Nevertheless, the Caps kept the score knotted through 60, earning them a big point.  In overtime, the Caps had one chance before the Flyers attacked in transition, with Andrej Meszaros taking a drop pass from Matt Carle and ripping it past the screened Varlmov to send the Flyer faithful home happy.  Varlamov finished with 20 saves.

Observations:

I have to wonder what BB was thinking when he gave Michal Neuvirth the start tonight after he had to leave the morning skate early to ice his wonky groin.  It was clearly affecting Michal through the first period and his lack of lateral movement caused by the injury cost the Caps their first goal against.  Look for Varly to get the majority of starts in the near future after his excellent performance tonight.

This was a big point.  Even though the Caps did not win, they played very well in the third period, taking it to the class of the East and not backing down even when most (especially me) thought they were going to roll over and die.  This was a good momentum game and if they play like they did in the third for the majority of their games, they are going to win a bunch of games in a row.

Nick Backstrom now has not scored in 21 consecutive games (cue Jeopardy! theme song).  He is not playing well at all and his assist was a product of luck more than anything else.  He also only won 5 faceoffs.  If the Caps think they need to get 8 going, they also really need to get 19 going just as badly, as he is the best two-way player the Caps have and is just as instrumental to their success.

The Caps will travel to Long Island tonight before practicing tomorrow and then taking on the Islanders on Thursday in a must-win game.  Puck drop for that one is scheduled for 7 P.M.

Gameday: at Philadelphia, Jan. 18

Marcus Johansson has impressed with his play of late. (AP)
The Washington Capitals are in Philadelphia tonight to take on the Eastern-Conference leading Flyers in a huge game.  The Flyers have been on quite a roll of late and are second only to Vancouver for the best record in the NHL.  The Caps, on the other hand, have lost four of their last six, but did defeat the Senators with a promising comeback victory in their last game.  The Caps and the Flyers have developed a solid rivalry over the last three seasons, and tonight's contest should be no different, with both teams looking to make statements against the elite of their conference.  In their only other meeting this season, the Capitals defeated the Flyers at Verizon Center in Novemver, with Mike Green scoring the game-winner in overtime.

The Capitals did get some good news this morning when it was revealed that Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger will not return from injury tonight.  Pronger has been out since December 17 with a fractured bone in his foot that required surgery for him to repair.  There was some thought from Flyers coach Peter Laviolette that this would be his return game last week.  The Flyers will start Russian rookie Sergei Bobrovsky in goal.

For the Capitals, Michal Neuvirth will get the nod in nets from head coach Bruce Boudreau.  Neuvirth made 22 saves, several of them stellar, in the Capitals' 3-1 win over the Senators on Sunday.  Mike Green is expected to play after missing practice yesterday with a cold.  DJ King will get a sweater from Boudreau to help fend off the Flyers' multiple goons, which means that Andrew Gordon is likely to take a seat.  King will skate on a line with David Steckel and Jay Beagle.  Other than that, there are no lineup changes expected, which means that Alex Semin will not play, nor will Matt Bradley or Tom Poti.

Puck drops 7:07-ish.  Check back later.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Practice: Jan. 17

The Capitals were on ice this morning for practice as they prepare for their big game tomorrow night against the conference-leading Flyers. Some personnel updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Tom Poti, Matt Bradley, Eric Fehr, and Alexander Semin did not skate due to their injuries and will not accompany the team on their road trip. This is especially discouraging for Semin and Bradley as it was thought that they were close to returns.

Mike Green has a cold and did not skate as well, but he will accompany the team on the trip and should play tomorrow night.

More if it becomes available.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Captain America to the Rescue

Carlson celebrates his game winner. (AP)
The Washington Capitals busted out of their losing streak this afternoon at Verizon Center, beating the Ottawa Senators by a final tally of 3-1.  With the win, the Caps move into a tie for first in the Southeast Division with the Lightning, although Tampa Bay does hold a game in hand.

Washington got off to another dreadful start in this one when they conceded the opening tally barely a minute into the game when Mike Fisher snapped a shot past Michal Neuvirth at the 1:12 mark, a goal that Nuevy probably would like to have back.  The referees immediately awarded the Caps a power play after the goal, but the home side was unable to convert on the man advantage, continuing (at least up until then) their sloppy play a man to the good.  Throughout the rest of the frame, both teams were able to mount small amounts of offensive pressure on the opposing goaltenders, but neither side could break through.  Michal Neuvirth redeemed himself with a couple of nice saves during that period as well.  In the second, the game turned into a total snoozer, as lazy zone play and passes quickly killed any tempo that had developed over the course of the contest.  The Senators were awarded a power play about halfway through the frame that had the Caps on their heels a bit, as the away side spent the first minute and 40 seconds in the attacking zone.  Neuvirth also had to make a stellar save on Mike Fisher in close late in the frame in order to keep the Caps down by only 1, but the teams did indeed head to their dressing rooms with the Senators up 1-0.  In the third, it looked for a while as though the Capitals were going to go quietly, generating little offensive pressure and letting the Senators come at them full tilt.  But then the Caps came alive at the 7:15 mark when Brooks Laich scored an unassisted goal to bring to crowd to life and equalize for a team that really needed it.  Milan Michalek took a bad cross checking penalty soon after, and Nicklas Backstrom drew the faceoff right back to John Carlson, who leaned into a bomb that found the back of Brian Elliott's cage for a power play marker that put the Caps up 2-1.  Alive and full of energy, Washington began to press the Ottawa cage like crazy, and Jason Chimera was rewarded for his efforts five minutes later when he banked a goal in off of Elliott's shoulder for a critical insurance marker.  Although the Senators tried to come back, the Caps had too much momentum by that point, and Michal Neuvirth stood tall late to preserve the victory.

Observations:

Where is Alex Ovechkin?  The Russian spy has disappeared again, and has now gone three consecutive games without a point to his name, making this the latest point during the season in his career where he has had fewer points than games played.  That's a testament to how good he's been in the past, but also how bad he is now.  He's not involved, he's fighting the puck, and he looks lost.  He's too good to keep this up, but we've been saying that for two months now.

Nicklas Backstrom has now gone 20 consecutive games without a goal.  20!  What the hell?  He scored 30 plus last season, and he, like his linemates, has simply not been good this year, at all.  He has the occasional flash of brilliance, but his lack of production is extremely discouraging.

John Carlson played hero.  A huge goal for 74 and for the team, he gets better and better every game and has made me extremely happy with his play.  He's confident is his own zone, blocks shots, hits people, and he keeps coming up with clutch plays as he has his entire career at every level.  He's a special talent, Caps fans.  Be happy he's ours.

The Capitals will practice tomorrow at Kettler before jetting to Philly to take on the Flyers in a HUGE game Tuesday night.  That one is scheduled for 7 P.M.

Gameday: vs. Ottawa, Jan. 16

The Washington Capitals welcome the Ottawa Senators to Verizon Center today for a matinee contest between struggling teams.  Both teams are coming off losses Friday - the Capitals 4-2 to the Canucks and the Senators 3-2 to the Flames.

Andrew Gordon is expected to play for the Capitals this afternoon after being recalled from Hershey of the AHL to replace Eric Fehr, who is expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a shoulder injury.  As of right now, no other lineup changes are expected for the Capitals, which means Alex Semin likely will not return to active duty.

Bruce Boudreau has not yet tipped his hand as to his expected goaltender for the game.  One would, however, expect Semyon Varlamov to get the nod.

Game time is 3 P.M.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Practice: Jan. 15

The Capitals were on ice for practice today at Kettler Capitals Iceplex as they prepare for tomorrow's game with the cellar-dwelling Senators.  Some personnel updates from the skate:

Eric Fehr is expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a shoulder injury that he sustained in last night's loss to the Canucks.  Bruce Boudreau would not elaborate on the exact nature of the injury but Fehr does have his arm in a sling.  Andrew Gordon has been recalled from Hershey of the AHL to help the void left by 16.

The other injured players who did not skate today were Alex Semin and Tom Poti.  Semin may play in Philly in Tuesday, but there is no timetable for Poti's return.  They are battling thigh and undisclosed injuries, respectively.

The Caps take on Ottawa tomorrow at 7.  More for that game in the morning.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Caps Fall to Canucks

I'm thinking the exact same thing - WTF?
First off, my apologies for not blogging the past two games.  I was in Vermont with a couple of my best friends and was unable to get any internet, at all.  From what I gathered, though, I did not miss much, because the Caps dropped two games this week they absolutely had to win.  How does Dwayne Roloson manage to have two good games so far in his career as a member of the Lightning, and both have come in the form of shutouts against the Capitals?  Yuck.

And guess what?  The Capitals continued their losing ways tonight, falling to the NHL-leading Vancouver Canucks by a final score of 4-2.  With the loss, the Capitals stay in 6th in the Eastern Conference with Montreal idle.  However, with the Devils pasting the Lightning 5-2 late in the third, the Caps will only remain two points out of the Southeast Division lead after the conclusion of tonight's play.

The Capitals got off to a poor start once again, letting up multiple early shots and scoring chances and having to be bailed out by Semyon Varlamov early.  The Caps had an early chance of their own however when Nicklas Backstrom broke in on Roberto Luongo alone on a breakaway, but was stopped by the Canucks goaltender.  The Caps then did something that they hadn't done in almost two weeks, by scoring first when Matt Hendricks took a Boyd Gordon lead pass and beat Luongo on a breakaway of his own to give the Caps a 1-0 advantage.  However, the Canucks fired back quickly, tying up the score just over two minutes later when Alex Edler bombed a slapshot through a maze that found the back of the net on Semyon Varlamov.  The Canucks continued to press for the remainder of the period, but Varlamov stood tall with 14 saves, and the teams headed to the dressing rooms tied at 1.  In the second, however, the Canucks took control of the game.  Jason Chimera took a roughing penalty three minutes into the frame and the NHL's best power play made no mistake as Christian Ehrhoff let loose a blast from the point that Varlamov let squeak through his legs for a 2-1 Vancouver advantage.  The Canucks had the Caps on their heels after that, continually pressing the Caps zone, but were unable to break through despite another power play opportunity, and the Caps got little going on the other end.  Then Daniel Sedin broke in on a breakaway and scored to put the Canucks ahead 3-1, which took almost all of the wind out the the Caps' sails.  They were gifted two consecutive power plays late in the frame, but were unable to score and gain any momentum back.  In the third, the Caps came out with more energy than before and got another power play, but Luongo stood tall in the Vancouver cage to keep the Caps from scoring again.  Washington continued to press, and were finally rewarded at 9:21 when Marcus Johansson took a pass from Nick Backstrom and buried a one-timer past Luongo to bring the Caps within 1.  The Caps continued to gain momentum, playing with a real sense of urgency, but could not break through Lunogo again in the final 10 minutes of the game.  Daniel Sedin rounded out the scoring with an empty netter inside the 19 minute mark to end the game.

Observations:

Same song, different verse.  The Caps have hit another rut after a promising stretch over the end of December and the earlier stages of this month.  They are playing lazy, undisciplined hockey and only play with a sense of urgency when they are losing, not the mark of a winning hockey team.  If they want any chance at winning the division, let alone anything in the playoffs, their attitude has got to change.

The Caps' best players are not their best players.  My friend Ben Ross texted me during the game that he feels more comfortable with Hendricks, Gordon, and Steckel out there than he does Ovie's line.  And he is totally right.  Nicklas Backstrom is not what he needs to be.  Ovechkin is not what he needs to be.  And Mike Green is sacrificing his offense for defense.  Those players need to step up for the Caps.  You keep thinking that it is going to happen, but it just hasn't.

The power play is in shambles.  My high school team had better zone entries.  There is no puck support and the Caps' big guns always look to pass instead of shoot, which is unbelievably frustrating to watch.  If Boudreau is going to stick with the defense-oriented trap at even strength, the power play has got to score some goals, or the Caps are sunk worse than the Titanic.

The Caps will practice tomorrow at 10:30 before taking on the Senators at home on Sunday in a game that they really have to win before they travel to Philadelphia on Tuesday to take on the conference-leading Flyers.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Crosby Calls Out Steckel's Hit - Again

74 checks Crosby in the Winter Classic
Yesterday, Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma revealed that Crosby will not practice or play until he is totally symptom free from the effects of a concussion that he suffered last week.  After his teammates had skated, Crosby sat at his locker with the media and found it necessary to call out "blind side hits" again, as he has been doing all week.  "I know it's a fast game, and I think if anybody understands it's a fast game -- I've been hit a thousand times," Crosby said Saturday. "But when you get hit like that, there's nothing you can do. There's no way you can protect yourself. Those are things that hopefully [the NHL] pays more attention to."

Crosby is, of course, referring to the instance late in the second period during the Winter Classic when David Steckel, perhaps the nicest and least dirty guy ever, turned up ice and knocked into him.  Stecks hit him in the head during the collision and 87 had trouble skating off the ice with what he called "neck soreness."  But he came back out for the 3rd period of the game and struggled to get anything going offensively as his team attempted to come back.  After the game, he insisted that the hit was intentional and dirty, saying: "how tall is Steckel? Like 6'5"?  Seems like it would be pretty hard for him to hit me in the head by accident."  This, despite the fact that the video clearly shows Steckel looking the other way and simply cutting up ice at the end of the period when he ran into Crosby.  It was the accident to end all accidents, a hockey play that happens every night in every NHL game.  It was not a "hit" even, Steckel did not attempt to drive his body into Crosby's, and the NHL did not credit him with a "hit" on the play.  But somehow, it's a dirty play, and Steckel is out to get him.  Hmmmmm.  However, towards the end of his interview yesterday, after making his comments, Crosby retracted his words about Steckel because that's the smart thing to do, and he is a smart man.

I do not understand why Sidney Crosby does this.  He is the best player in the world at this juncture, no question about it, but is also the biggest whiner in the world.  David Steckel is a quintessential grinder, a guy who has worked his tail off to make the NHL and be a fixture through faceoffs and penalty killing.  He rarely, if ever, takes penalties.  He would have no reason to run Sidney Crosby at try to put him out.  I also would like to know where this opposition to blind side hits was after Matt Cooke knocked Marc Savard out cold last year with one of the worst blind side hits I have ever seen.  Yell at Victor Hedman, who actually ran you with a check to your backside and made you realize that you got your bell rung.  Or, just let it be.  The NHL is spending entire board meetings addressing blind side hits and what to do about them.  Clearly, the NHL did not deem either hit dirty or blindside, either with on-ice or supplemental discipline of the player who hit him.  Even though I don't like him, I respect Crosby as a player and the fact that he is tarnishing his extraordinary ability with his whining is a shame.


The Capitals have today off.  More on practice tomorrow.  And, lastly, a verry happy f%$#*&@! birthday to Bruce Boudreau.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Caps Survive Panthers, Semin Hurt

Eric Fehr celebrates his goal Saturday. (AP)
The Washington Capitals defeated the Florida Panthers tonight at Verizon Center by a final score of 3-2.  With the win, the Caps picked up 2 big divisional points and guaranteed that they will only stay a point behind the Lightning in the Southeast Division race, and perhaps take a one point lead.  The win was not without a cloud, however, as Alexander Semin did not return after the second intermission with an undisclosed injury.

The Capitals got off to an awful start.  They were given a power play about a minute into the game, but were out of sync and took three offsides penalties during the man advantage, a mark of sloppy, undisciplined play.  The Panthers capitalized right after the power play expired, as Mike Santorelli cashed a beautiful pass from Dmitry Kulikov in tight to take a 1-0 lead at 3:49.  The Caps tried for the remainder of the period to mount offensive pressure, but were unable to, as were the Panthers, and the teams finished with a combined 11 shots in the first period.  In the second, the Caps showed more life, attacking early and often on Florida goalie Scott Clemmensen, but where unable to penetrate for a score of their own.  But the Caps broke through at the 5:32 mark of the frame when Mike Green took one of his patented rushes up ice and dangled through the Florida defense behind the goal and dished to a cutting Eric Fehr in front, who buried it for the Caps' equalizer, their first since the third period of the Winter Classic.  As the second period began to wear on, however, the Panthers began to battle back, and applied extended pressure on the Caps end, with Semyon Varlamov making several good saves in tight on the Florida skaters.  The second period ended without any further scoring, and the teams headed to their dressing rooms tied 1-1.  In the third, the Panthers were on their heels as the Capitals continued to press for the lead goal.  But their aggression took a sour turn when Mike Knuble was nailed for a penalty about halfway through the frame, leading to a Panthers power play.  Varlamov stood tall with the penalty killers, and the Caps earned their power play during their penalty kill when Michael Frolik was sent off for tripping.  Mike Green promptly created a play again, taking a pass from Eric Fehr and backhanding a power play marker past Clemmensen with about 8 minutes left to play.  Alex Ovechkin extended the lead three minutes later, barreling down the wing and scoring a tremendous goal while falling to push the advantage to 3-1.  But the Panthers would not go away, scoring with just under 2 minutes left with a pulled goalie off a scrum in front.  Nicklas Backstrom then took a bad cross-checking penalty in the defensive zone, and the Panthers came oh so close to equalizing in the closing moments.  But Varlamov stood tall and the Caps brought home the victory for their fans.

Observations:

Mike Green was great again.  52 had an great assist, a clutch goal, and was also good defensively.  He finished checks, blocked shots, and was all over the place in an excellent all around performance.  If he can continue to play like this, the Caps are going to be in great shape for the long run.

Lightning struck.  Meaning, Alex Ovechkin scored a goal that didn't go into an empty net.  Ovie created well when he had the puck, too, in one of his better games in awhile.  He even backchecked with more urgency than he usually does.  Ovie really needs to get going, and this game was a step in the right direction for the Captain.

Semyon Varlamov is on one hell of a roll.  The young Russian continued his recent run of stellar play, making 25 saves for the victory.  He did not get rattled when the Panthers scored a late goal on him, as he has in the past, and made several good saves all game, but especially in the dying moments as the Caps protected a one goal lead.  Michal Neuvirth will get another shot, but it probably won't be for awhile.

The Caps will likely have an optional skate tomorrow followed by practice Monday before they travel to Sunrise on Tuesday to take on the Panthers again.  Game time for that one is scheduled for 7:30 P.M.  More on Alexander Semin when/if it becomes available.

Gameday: vs. Florida, Jan. 8

Semyon Varlamov is expected to get the start tonight.
The Capitals welcome the Florida Panthers to Verizon Center tonight for a big Southeast Divison matchup.  The Panthers currently sit in last place in the division, but defeated the Capitals by a 3-0 score during their last visit to the nation's capital.

Semyon Varlamov was first off the ice at the morning skate and is expected to make the start in goal for the Caps.

No lineup changes are expected for the home side.  That means John Erskine, DJ King, Tyler Sloan, Matt Bradley, and Boyd Gordon will not play tonight.  Gordon could be back next week, according to coach Boudreau.

More after the game.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Practice: Jan. 7 - Ovechkin Returns

The Caps were on ice this morning for practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex as they prepare for tomorrow night's tilt with the Florida Panthers at Verizon Center.  Some updates from the skate this morning:

Alex Ovechkin participated fully in practice after being a limited participant yesterday because of a cortisone shot that he received in his left arm.  The cortisone injection prohibited him from handling the puck for two days.  Ovechkin skated on the right side of a line with Brooks Laich on his opposite wing and Marcus Johansson in the middle and is expected to play tomorrow night.

Matt Hendricks and Mathieu Perreault both also returned to practice as full participants.  They skated on the fourth line alongside Dave Steckel, with DJ King also taking reps with that unit.  Jay Beagle has been bumped up to the third line at his more natural center position, playing between Eric Fehr and Jason Chimera.

Boyd Gordon and Matt Bradley both skated before practice with the Caps' strength and conditioning coach.  Bradley is recovering from a broken finger and Gordon is recovering from a foot infection that required stitches.  Neither is expected to make their return tomorrow night.

More if it becomes available.