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!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wideman Out With Hematoma

Dennis Wideman will miss some significant time.
During the middle stages of Thursday night's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a report from TSN's Bob McKenzie stated that Capitals defenseman Dennis Wideman is in the hospital with hematoma and compartment syndrome in his leg.
Wideman suffered the injury during Tuesday's loss to the Hurricanes when he fell awkwardly and was then the victim of a flying knee from Tuomo Ruutu, which caught him in the leg.  The fact that Wideman is in the hospital is obviously very bad news, and doctors have had to cut open the area once already to relieve the serious pressure that is building in his leg.
According to forward Mike Knuble, who has been exchanging texts with Wideman, the injury is "gruesome," and it is "grotesque how much (Wideman) is opened up right now."  Knuble also divulged that Wideman is "pretty much high all the time to deal with all the pain."  Seriously?
This injury makes it unlikely that we see Wideman before the start of the playoffs, and we might not even see him after that for a significant portion of time.  My uncle, an orthopedic surgeon, says that it could sideline him for to three weeks, but Caps forward Matt Hendricks was kept out for two months with one while playing overseas during the lockout.  This is not good.
Information from Brandon McNally was used in this post.

Rapid Rewind: The Columbus Clipper

Jason Chimera put the dagger in his old team Thursday.
The Washington Capitals squeaked out a big win Thursday, defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets inside Verizon Center by a final score of 4-3 in overtime.  Jason Chimera scored the winner for the home side exactly halfway through the extra session, extracting revenge on the team that traded him away last winter.  This game was not without flaws, however.  The Caps took the lead three separate times and let Columbus tie it each time before finally winning it in OT.  Michal Neuvirth made 20 saves for the win, and John Carlson, Mike Knuble, and Jason Arnott scored the other goals for Washington.  With the win, the Capitals remain six points clear of the Lightning for first place in the Southeast Division, as the Bolts won tonight; Tampa Bay holds a game in hand on the Capitals.  They also pull four points clear of the Bruins for second place in the Eastern Conference, as the Bruins fell in a shootout tonight.  Boston also holds a game in hand.

Washington got off to a good start, controlling play early and getting two great chances from Alexander Semin just over a minute into the game, but the Russain was stopped on the doorstep by Steve Mason.  The Capitals would pounce soon after, however, as John Carlson buried a rebound at 1:39 for a 1-0 Washington lead.  The Caps kept controlling the play as the period continued, outshooting the Blue Jackets by a wide margin.  Their pressure would pay off at 7:18 when Scottie Upshall was given the gate for tripping, awarding DC their first power play. Washington was unable to keep their advantage for long, however, as Marco Sturm took a hooking call at 7:59, leading to some four on four.  Neither team was able to score of the four on four nor the Blue Jacket's abbreviated power play, and the game returned to five on five.  Inside of ten minutes remaining, Columbus began to control the puck some more and got their first sustained pressure, but Michal Neuvirth made a great save through traffic to keep the Jackets off the board. The Capitals then picked up their offensive pressure again, setting up a solid offensive zone forecheck, but were unable to beat Mason for a second time to increase their lead.  With 3 minutes left, John Erskine and Jarred Boll threw down in a nice fight, a bout that big John won soundly.  As the period began to wind down, the Caps again ratcheted up their pressure, getting some amazing chances in close, but Mason was impressive to keep the deficit at one after the opening 20 minutes.
The Capitals got off to another solid start in the second, as Alex Ovechkin broke in on a rush in the first minute, but he was denied by Mason.  Washington again continued to control the play early with more good puck possession and solid shots, but Mason continued to hold strong against the attack.  The Blue Jackets then began to come on strong however, getting their own puck possession that kept DC on their heels, and the Caps had to rely on Michal Neuvirth to make some nice saves to keep them in the lead.  Matt Hendricks was able to break up the momentum with a break of his own with about 12 minutes left, and then the Capitals began to set up some good pressure of their own in the offensive zone.  Columbus was able to break back soon after, however, and Antoine Vermette equalized in front at 11:10.  The game would not stay tied for long, as Mike Knuble took a great pass from Nicklas Backstrom just over a minute later to restore the Washington lead at 12:32.  Columbus responded immediately, as Fedor Tyutin's point shot beat Neuvirth short side at 13:16, but the Capitals kept right at it, and Jason Arnott scored in front off a great pass from Marco Sturm to take the lead again just 13 seconds later at 13:27.  The Blue Jackets were awarded a power play at 16:06 when Matt Hendricks was boxed for a hold, but the Caps were able to kill off the infraction with relative ease.  The rest of the second period expired without incident, and the Caps took a 3-2 lead to the locker room after the middle stanza.
Washington got off to their third consecutive strong start in the third period as Alexander Semin got a good shot off early that Mason had to make a nice play on to keep DC from extending their lead.  The Capitals then set up shop in the offensive zone with more good forecheck pressure and puck possession, but again were held off by Mason.  Then it was the Jackets' turn, who came hard at the Washington defense with a cycle of their own, but Neuvirth was again able to keep Columbus from drawing even.  Inside of ten minutes remaining, the Capitals began to try and shut the game down with a full trap, controlling the puck and getting it deep on the Blue Jacket defense to prevent sustained pressure.  The strategy didn't work, though, as Scottie Upshall collected a pass high in the offensive zone and blasted a shot past Michal Neuvirth to equalize at 14:23.  The Blue Jackets then really began to crank it up, coming at the Caps in waves and forcing them to play defensive hockey.  Washington was able to break the pressure a little inside of about 2 minutes remaining with some rushes, but could not put another one past Mason.  Regulation then expired without incident, and the game moved to overtime.
In the extra session, the Caps got off to a good start, with Alexander Semin again coming close on an offensive zone rush.  After some Columbus pressure, however, it was Jason Chimera who ended the game with a beautiful tip-in goal at 2:30, sending the Verizon Center into pandemonium.

Observations:

This was not a pretty game and it was not one that the Capitals deserved to win. I'm sorry, but this is the Blue Jackets.  They are one of the worst teams in the West.  They were missing their best player and captain in Rick Nash. Washington needs to be able to beat this team in regulation convincingly.  This is now two subpar games in a row against non-playoff opponents that the Caps have allowed to become tied late in the game after holding a lead into the third period.  But hey, we won.  So there's that.

John Carlson was amazing.  Captain America was second on Capitals in ice time, blocked a shot, and took four shots in addition to his goal and assist.  He was called on bigtime to fill in for the injured Dennis Wideman and then John Erskine, and he responded beautifully.  Carlson was all over the ice, making smart plays and taking away passing lanes, and his goal was a product of pure offensive instict.  Just another night at the office.  Carry on.

Michal Neuvirth was ok.  His stat line was not spectacular by any means, but he got the job done late in the game when it mattered most.  He got some great run support again, and he benefited from it again.  I think we see him on Saturday; though he wasn't great, he got the job done and brought home the win.  You can't argue with that.

The Capitals will likely hold an optional practice tomorrow morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.  Their next game is Saturday night against the Sabres, and that one is schedule for 7 P.M.  And in other very bad news from the Caps today, Dennis Wideman is out indefinitely.

Updates From the Morning Skate

The Washington Capitals were on ice this morning at 10:30 AM as they prepare for tonight's clash with the Blue Jackets at Verizon Center.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

The big, bad news out of of Kettler today is that defenseman Dennis Wideman is now listed as "week-to-week" with his lower body, and will not play for the rest of the homestand, if not longer.  He did not skate today and Bruce Boudreau was not able to provide an extensive update on his condition.  Tyler Sloan will take his place in the lineup.  This is not good.
Michal Neuvirth has been confirmed as tonight's starter in goal.  He will face off against Steve Mason.
Alex Ovechkin, Jason Arnott, and Alexander Semin all took their option and chose not to skate this morning, but will play.  Eric Fehr will be a healthy scratch, which means that Marcus Johansson will skate between Jason Chimera and Marco Sturm on the third line.  DJ King and Jay Beagle have been confirmed as the other healthy scratches among the forwards.
Mike Green skated for about 20 minutes before the rest of the team hit the ice for the skate and is progressing well, according to Bruce Boudreau.  He may practice tomorrow.  Tom Poti also participated in the full skate, including late conditioning drills, but there is still no timetable for his return.

That's all for now.  Check back after the game.

Gameday: vs. Columbus, Mar. 31

Dennis Wideman (left) will likely miss tonight's game.
The Washington Capitals will round out the month of March this evening when they welcome the Columbus Blue Jackets to Verizon Center.  The Capitals come into tonight's game with 99 standings points, which places them first in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference, coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to Carolina on Tuesday.  The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, have 79 points, which puts them in fifth in the Central Division and thirteenth in the Western Conference; the beat the Panthers on Tuesday 3-2.  This will be the one and only meeting between these two teams this season.

Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel is expected to start Steve Mason in goal for his team after he beat the Panthers earlier in the week.  Mason has never lost to the Capitals in his career, including two shutouts, and will bring 24 wins, a 2.95 GAA, .904 Save%, and two shutouts in 51 games to the table.  On the injury front, Columbus will be missing winger Kristian Huselius and defenseman Grant Clitsome for tonight's game.  Puck-moving blueliner and power-play quarterback Anton Stralman is questionable; he has missed more than a month with a lower-body injury.

Bruce Boudreau is expected to give the call to Michal Neuvirth in goal for the Capitals; his first start in over a week.  The young Czech has 24 wins, a 2.46 GAA, .915 Save%, and four shutouts in 44 games to his name this year and won his last start in Philadelphia before falling ill last weekend.  On the injury front, the Capitals are expected to be missing Dennis Wideman with a lower-body injury. The defenseman missed yesterday's practice, and although he is officially "day-to-day," don't expect to see him in the lineup; Tyler Sloan will replace him in the likely event that he can't go.  Mike Green and Tom Poti have both been ruled out on the back end with a concussion and a groin injury, respectively.  Jay Beagle and DJ King are expected to be healthy scratches up front, and it remains to be seen who will sit from the third line left wing spot: either Jason Chimera or Marco Sturm.

Puck drops for this one 7:08-ish.  Be sure to check out last night's Around the NHL post for all your scoreboard-watching, and check back later for updates from the morning skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Around the NHL: Good News For Caps

The Capitals got good news in their hopes (among most fans) to avoid the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs tonight, as the results of two separate games had an impact on their potential matchup with Washington.
In one of the games, the Sabres knocked off the Rangers inside HSBC Arena by a final score of 1-0. Tim Connolly scored the only goal on the power play in the second period, and Jhonas Enroth made 23 saves for a shutout.  It is worth noting that the Rangers had a goal waved off in the first period when it was ruled that Ryan Callahan interfered with Enroth, negating a tally by Artem Anisimov.  The win pulls the Sabres into seventh in the conference, and bumps the Rangers down to eighth.
In the other game, the Hurricanes smacked the Canadiens 6-2 inside the RBC Center.  Jeff Skinner scored two goals in the first period and the Hurricanes jumped out to a 4-1 lead to chase Carey Price after 40 minutes.  Cam Ward made 38 saves in the Carolina nets, his second outstanding performance in a row, and the Hurricanes kept pace with the Sabres and Rangers for the final spot in the East.  Montreal's loss also pushed the Canadiens to the brink of falling out of contention; their loss puts them only two points up on the Rangers and Sabres, and both of those teams hold a game in hand.

Practice: Mar. 30

The Washington Capitals were on ice this morning at 10:30 following last night's disappointing loss to the Hurricanes.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Dennis Wideman did not skate today with what is now being declared a lower-body injury. Wideman was injured during last night's loss in the second period after taking a hard hit in the corner from Tuomo Ruutu. Bruce Boudreau said he was uncertain that the defenseman would play tomorrow.  Reading between the lines, it looks quite doubtful that we will see him uniform against the Blue Jackets.  Ugh.  That's a big loss for the Capitals, particularly with no Mike Green.
Speaking of Green, the defenseman skated for about 30 minutes prior to the start of practice by himself before he was joined on the ice by Tom Poti.  Green left the ice as soon as regular practice commenced, and there is still no timetable for his return from a concussion.
Aside from Wideman and Green, every Capitals player on the roster partook in the skate, including Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott, good signs that they are both still feeling good after playing last night.  Most of the practice was spent on special teams, as the Capitals took another 0-fer in the power play department last night.

That's all for now.  Check back later.
Information from Katie Carrera was used in this post.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Brooks Laich and the Caps really should have won this one.
The Washington Capitals let one get away tonight, falling at home to the desperate Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in a shootout.  The Capitals let the Hurricanes take a 1-0 lead in the second period before rebounding to take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission.  But the lead would not last, as Jeff Skinner scored a soft goal on Semyon Varlamov just over a minute into the final frame.  In the shootout, the Caps were held scoreless, while Skinner and Tuomo Ruutu scored for Carolina.  All game, the Caps continued to be plagued by untimely penalties, lazy play, and an awful power play, and it came back to bite them in the end.  With the loss, the Capitals are now six points clear of Tampa Bay for first place in the Southeast Division, as the Bolts won tonight.  The Lightning also hold a game in hand.  The loss also enabled the Bruins, who beat the Blackhawks 3-0 tonight, to move within three points of the Capitals for second in the Eastern Conference.  Boston also holds a game in hand.

The Capitals got off to a great start, as Alex Ovechkin drove to the net inside the first minute and dished a nice pass to Mike Knuble, but defenseman Tim Gleason made a nice play to keep the puck away from the winger.  Washington continued to press the Hurricanes defense as the early part of the period continued, applying good forecheck pressure, but were unable to put one through Cam Ward despite some quality shots by Alex Ovechkin.  At 8:23, both Bryan Allen and Jason Arnott were boxed for roughing after a scrum in front of Ward's net, and the game moved to four on four.  Just 33 seconds into the mathcing minors, however, Brooks Laich was sent off for interference at 8:56, giving Carolina a rare 4 on 3 power play.  Washington was able to execute a perfect penalty kill that was aided by some nice stops by Semyon Varlamov, however, and soon after, the Caps were awarded a power play of their own when Chad LaRose  was boxed for boarding at 11:39.  Despite some excellent chances, though, the Washington power play continued to struggle, and could not convert.  The Capitals were then given another power play less than a minute later when Erik Cole was penalized for hooking at 14:34.  But Cam Ward continued to play very well, and made three solid saves to keep DC off the board.  The penalty parade continued less than a minute later again, as Scott Hannan was given the gate for interference at 18:05. Washington's penalty killers stood strong once more, however, and the period ended with the teams tied at 0.
In the second period, it was the Hurricanes who got off to a strong start, as a chance for Jeff Skinner inside the first 60 seconds was closely followed by a tripping call on Nicklas Backstrom at 1:06.  The Capitals could not kill this one off, however, as Jussi Jokinen waltzed right down the middle of the ice and put the puck past Varlamov at 2:29 for a 1-0 Carolina lead.  Washington was then assessed another minor at 2:41 when John Erskine was sent off for roughing, but were able to kill that one off without much difficulty.  The Capitals then set up a great shift by their top line in front, but again, the great play of Ward kept them from equalizing.  Washington was then awarded a power play at 11:03 when Jamie McBain was penalized for slashing. The early part of the Capitals' power play was brutal, and Chad LaRose was awarded a shorthanded penalty shot after a questionable call on Mike Knuble, but Varlamov was able to make a poke-check save.  Washington was unable to score on the rest of the power play, but finally got their equalizer soon after when Alexander Semin roofed a puck past Cam Ward at 14:18.  After Dennis Wideman was injured by a hard hit along the boards, the Caps continued their pressure and missed a few chances, particularly Alexander Semin.  Soon after, however, Marcus Johansson collected a pass from Semin and deked in on Ward, burying it past the Carolina goalie at 17:35 for a 2-1 Caps lead.  As the period wound down, both teams looked fired up and got some great chances, but the score held and the Caps took a 2-1 lead to the dressing room.
In the third, the Hurricanes got off to a good start again, and Jeff Skinner was able to tie the game at 1:46 when he wristed a weak shot past Semyon Varlamov, a goal that the Russian definitely would want back.  As the period continued, the Capitals were really deflated, clearly having lost their momentum after that soft Varlamov goal, and were not able to mount any sustained offensive pressure against a desperate Carolina team.  Inside 13 minutes remaining, the game began to tilt in Carolina's favor, as the Hurricanes took advantage of lazy play in the defensive zone to get several good shots off that were stopped by Varlamov. The loss of Dennis Wideman really began to hurt them as well, as the Washington defenders looked tired as they were forced to rotate five blueliners instead of the usual six.  With about six minutes left, the Capitals tried to mount another offensive, but were again unable to get anything through Ward.  The Hurricanes started to mount pressure after that, and got a break when Alexander Semin took a hooking call at 16:41 for late Hurricanes power play.  During the penalty kill, the Capitals were completely on their heels early, but managed to pull off the kill with the aid of some good saves by Varlamov.  Despite some late rushes by the Caps inside the last minute, however, Washington was not able to break the tie and the game moved to overtime.
In the extra frame, the Caps got off to a good start with a chance in the first minute off the stick of Brooks Laich and then soon after a great chance from Alex Ovechkin.  Overtime continued with good pace and back and forth action from both teams, but neither team was able to score, and the game headed to a shootout.
In the shootout, Jeff Skinner scored and Alex Ovechkin was stopped in the first round.  In the second round, Jussi Jokinen was stopped by Varlamov, but Nicklas Backstrom missed wide.  The final round saw Tuomo Ruutu put a backhander past Varlamov, and the Hurricanes skated away with a 3-2 win.

Observations:

Semyon Varlamov has got to be better.  He made some nice saves early in the game and late in the third period to keep the game tied, but the second goal he allowed was very soft.  That goal cost the Caps the game and cannot be allowed in a game like this late in the season.  In order to be the man at the NHL level, especially in the playoffs for a team like the Capitals, you have to make saves like that.  We'll see Neuvirth on Thursday.

The biggest news of the night, despite the loss, has got to be the health of Dennis Wideman.  The defenseman took a hard hit in the corner midway through the second period and though he was able to skate off under his own power, he was clearly favoring his leg.  The Capitals simply cannot afford to lose Wideman for an extended period, not only because of his skill set, but also because the backup plan is Tyler Sloan.  After the game, all Bruce Boudreau would divulge was that he was "ok" and "day-to-day."  Of course.

Alex Ovechkin was solid in his first game back after missing three to rest multiple nagging injuries.  He didn't register a point, but laid five hits, took five shots, and had good energy all night.  He also showed good leadership by going after Tuomo Ruutu after the latter nailed Wideman in the corner.  Ovechkin looked comfortable, though he did flex his rest noticeably a number of times during the game.  I'm not worried, though.  Not yet, at least.

The Capitals will practice tomorrow morning at 11 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Their next game is scheduled for Thursday night, when they will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets at 7 P.M. inside Verizon Center.

Updates From the Morning Skate

The Washington Capitals were on ice earlier today at 10:30 AM for their morning skate as they prepare to take on the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at Verizon Center.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott are both expected to return to the fold for Washington tonight.  Both players took the skate this morning and although neither they nor Bruce Boudreau would confirm their status, Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle both stayed out late for an intense workout after the skate with the healthy scratches.  It looks like the Caps will get two big pieces back tonight.
Semyon Varlamov has been confirmed as the starter tonight in goal for the Caps, as he was first off the ice. This will be his fourth start against the Hurricanes this year.
Alexander Semin, Marco Sturm, Dennis Wideman, and Scott Hannan all took their options and did not skate this morning, but will not play.  Tom Poti did not skate either, though no reason has been given for his absence.  He will not play tonight.  Nor will Tyler Sloan and DJ King, who will be healthy scratches with Chimera and Beagle.
Finally, Mike Green skated for about 15 minutes before and during the early stages of the practice.  There is still no timetable for his return.

That's all for now.  Check back after the game.
Info from Sky Kerstein was used in this post.

Gameday: vs. Carolina, Mar. 29

Can the Caps keep up their dominance of Carolina?
Lineup updates from the Morning Skate.
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The Washington Capitals will welcome the Carolina Hurricanes to Verizon Center tonight as they take to their home ice for the first time in over two weeks.  The Capitals come into tonight's game with 98 points in 76 games, which places them first in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference, coming off a 2-0 win in Montreal Saturday night.  Washington has clinched a playoff spot. The Hurricanes report for duty with 80 points in 75 games, which is good for third in the Southeast Division and ninth in the East, five points behind the Sabres for the final playoff spot.  Carolina lost to the Lightning at home last time out, falling by a score of 4-2.  This will be the sixth and final meeting between these two teams this season; the Capitals have won all five games in the series, the last four coming by one goal.

Carolina coach Paul Maurice is expected to roll with Cam Ward in nets for his team for the tenth consecutive game.  Ward is having an excellent season, leading the NHL in saves and posting 32 wins, a 2.64 GAA, .920 Save%, and three shutouts in 67 games played.  Ward has played the Caps tough all year and DC will need to be on top of their game to get some past him and this desperate Hurricanes team.  On the injury front, Carolina got a boost over the weekend when defenseman Jamie McBain returned after breaking his arm in early March; he is expected to play.  Top defenseman Joni Pitkanen is questionable with food poisoning.

For the Capitals, Semyon Varlamov is likely to get the call in goal from head coach Bruce Boudreau, as Michal Neuvirth skated yesterday at practice but is likely not back to full strength.  Varlamov is 3-0 against Carolina this year, and has allowed 2 goals in all 4 starts against them.  On the season, the young Russian has compiled ten wins, a 2.26 GAA, a .923 Save%, and two shutouts in 25 games.  Outside the crease, the Capitals will be without defenseman Mike Green, who is still working his way back from a concussion.  Alex Ovechkin (undisclosed), Jason Arnott (groin) and Tom Poti (groin) are all considered "questionable." Returns from Ovechkin and Arnott would likely push Jay Beagle and Marco Sturm to the press box, while Poti's return would likely bump John Erskine from the lineup.  DJ King and Tyler Sloan are expected to be healthy scratches regardless.

Puck drops for this one 7:08-ish.  Check back for updates from the morning skate.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Practice: Mar. 28

The Washington Capitals were on ice this morning at 10:30 AM as they prepare to take on the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night at Verizon Center.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

The big news of the day is that defenseman Mike Green returned to the ice with the team for about 25 minutes before leaving practice.  Green said after the skate that he is feeling a lot better, but there is still no timetable for his return to the Caps' lineup.  He hopes to get a full practice under his belt sometime this week, but will not rush, as the playoffs are what is important at this point.  I must say I agree; with DC having clinched a playoff berth, the Caps need him at full strength in April.
Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott returned to full practice with the team in full pads, skating on the "fifth" line with Jay Beagle.  They took contact and skated in full drills with their teammates.  Ovechkin said after practice that he feels good, and thinks he should be good to go tomorrow, but it is not his decision.  Jason Arnott says that he is making good progress, and will take the morning skate tomorrow before a decision is made on his status.  Arnott did say, however, that he thinks it's "realistic" to expect both he and Ovechkin in the lineup by the end of the week.
The forward lines were as follows; Sturm-Backstrom-Semin, Chimera-Johansson-Knuble, Hendricks-Laich-Fehr, King-Gordon-Bradley, and the aforementioned "fifth" line of Ovechkin-Arnott-Beagle.  Michal Neuvirth also returned to the ice after being scratched this weekend with an illness; Bruce Boudreau indicated that he should be ready to at least back up tomorrow night. Tom Poti continued to skate with the team for a full practice, but there is still no timetable for his return to the Washington lineup despite the fact that he is "getting better."

That's all for now.  In other reading from 24/7 today, I take a look at potential first-round playoff opponents for the Caps.
Thanks to Sky Kerstein and Katie Carrera for info used in this post.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Playoff Roulette

Will the Caps see a rematch of 2009 in the first round?
With the Capitals having officially clinched a playoff spot as of last Tuesday night's win in Philadelphia, the time has come to look at potential playoff matchups. As of now, it seems like a pretty good bet that Washington will finish in the top three in the Eastern Conference as the champion of the Southeast Division, which means a matchup against a 6,7, or 8 seed in the first round.  The race has narrowed to pretty much four teams for those three spots: Carolina, currently ninth; Buffalo, currently eighth; the Rangers, currently seventh; and Montreal, currently sixth.  So I decided to take a look at these teams and how the Capitals match up with each of them for the first round.  No playoff series is easy, but there are certainly teams the Caps would rather face than others.  Let's have ourselves a little look-see:
Carolina: Probably the team that the Capitals are least likely to face in the first round, the Southeast Division rival Hurricanes have played Washington tough all year.  The Caps are 5-0 against them this season, with one more game to go, to be played March 29th at Verizon Center.  However, four these games have been one-goal affairs that came down to the wire.  The Hurricanes' strength is in goal: Cam Ward is a stud has a history of playoff success, most notably a Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup ring as a rookie in 2006.  Superstar captain Eric Staal and rookie Jeff Skinner provide punch up front, but the Carolina offense is not fearsome, and the defense is very weak, especially with the diminished play of Jamie McBain.  Verdict: Fine.  Carolina presents no matchup problems for the Caps on paper, and likely will be gassed if they make the playoffs.
Buffalo: Like the Hurricanes, the Sabres are relevant for one reason: Ryan Miller.  The hero of the 2010 Olympics is among the best in the league and even though he has had a down year still is capable of getting hot at any time (like he is now).  The Caps are 2-0-1 against Buffalo this year, with one more game to go on April 2nd at Verizon.  The Sabres are missing their best forward (Derek Roy) and after the news broke Sunday that star defenseman Jordan Leopold will miss at least the end of the regular season with a broken hand, they are a lot less intimidating.  Verdict: Meh. Ryan Miller is scary, but the loss of two of their top players will likely prove too much for Buffalo to overcome.
Montreal: Three words: One man show.  All season, the Canadiens have relied on star goalie Carey Price to remain relevant, and they are going to ride into the playoffs on the shoulders of their young netminder.  Are you sensing a theme here with these teams?  The Capitals are 3-0-1 against the Habs this season, including two impressive wins at the Bell Centre this month.  Montreal is missing three of their top five defensemen to knee surgery in Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges, and Jaroslav Spacek, and none of them are expected back this season. Their top forward, Tomas Plekanec, is playing hurt, and something has been off with Mike Cammalleri all season. Verdict: Nervous.  While the Habs provide few matchup problems on paper, Carey Price has been able to carry this team all season.  Why should the playoffs by different?  Oh, and then there's, well, yeah. Let's not go there.
New York: The Rangers are by far the most complete hockey team that the Capitals could potentially face in the first round.  They have two solid forward lines with some skill, they have an excellent defense that blocks shots, and they have one of the best (and hottest) goalies in the entire NHL in Henrik Lundqvist. Then, there's the fact that the Capitals are 1-2-1 against the Rangers this year, and both regulation losses have been utterly humiliating: 7-0 and 6-0 shutouts. New York is really rolling as of late, too, and will for sure be the hottest team entering the playoffs in the East barring an epic collapse.  Verdict: Be afraid. Be very afraid. (This is not an earth-shattering assessment.) The Rangers present matchup problems up and down the board, most notably Marc Staal on Alex Ovechkin, and have found ways to exploit the weaknesses of the Caps all season.  They don't score much, but they don't need to, they grind everything out. And then there is Lundqvist.  Ruh-roh.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs start April 13th.  Who do you not want to see on opening night?  Drop a comment below.

Around the NHL: Big Win for Bruins

The Boston Bruins got back in the win column Sunday, knocking off the Philadelphia Flyers by a final score of 2-1 inside the Wells Fargo Center to clinch a spot in the playoffs. The Flyers took an early lead five minutes off the stick of Kris Versteeg, but the Bruins then began to take control of the game and tied it with 12 minutes left in the second; Nathan Horton equalized for Boston.  After furious next 29 minutes that saw both teams get great chances to take the lead, the Bruins finally capitalized on a power play and Brad Marchand scored the game winner with about four minutes to go.  With their win, the Bruins pull within four points of the Caps for second in the East, and they also hold a game in hand on Washington. Since the Penguins also won Sunday, clinching a playoff spot in the process, the Flyers' loss now has them only two points ahead of the Pens for the Northeast Division lead. Philadelphia does, however, hold a game in hand on Pittsburgh.

Day off for Caps

The Washington Capitals are off today following their impressive 2-0 win over the Canadiens last night in Montreal.  The Caps have earned this day off with games on back-to-back games this weekend.
They will return to practice tomorrow morning at 10:30 A.M. at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex.  That practice, Bruce Boudreau hopes, will see the return of Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott from one and two week absences, respectively.  There is no word as to whether or not Mike Green will be able to practice fully with his teammates.  The Capitals' next game, which will be their first at Verizon Center in over two weeks, will be against a desperate Carolina Hurricanes team on Tuesday night.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rapid Rewind: La Vie est Belle

Braden Holtby broke out more magic Saturday night.
The Washington Capitals ground out a huge victory tonight, knocking off the Montreal Canadiens by a final score of 2-0 inside the Bell Centre.  Marco Sturm and Alexander Semin scored for Washington, who rebounded very nicely from their poor showing on Friday.  Braden Holtby, called into action due to a Michal Neuvirth illness, was excellent again, stopping 18 shots for his second NHL shutout, as well.  With the win, the Capitals remain seven points clear of the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Southeast Division, as the Bolts won tonight.  The Lightning also hold a game in hand.  They did pull six points ahead of Boston for second place in the Eastern Conference, as the Bruins lost this afternoon.  Boston does hold two games in hand, however.

The Capitals got off to a great start, with three shots within the first minute, but all three were stopped by Carey Price or missed the net.  After a turnover in the neutral zone, however, Nicklas Backstrom collected the puck and ripped a shot that was stopped by Price, but Marco Sturm was there to cash the rebound for a 1-0 Caps lead at 1:24.  Washington continued to pressure the Habs, and were rewarded with a power play at 5:02 when P.K. Subban was sent off for holding, giving DC their first man advantage.  The power play was not very good, however, though the Caps got a little zone pressure until the end.  Montreal took another one almost immediately afterwards, however, as Andrei Kostitsyn was boxed for holding at 7:36.  The Caps got some great chances on their man advantage, but Price again was up to the task with two amazing saves to keep Washington from extending their lead.  The Habs then came right back after the expiration of the penalty and got a great chance in front, but Braden Holtby made a nice stop off a mad scramble to keep the Caps ahead by 1.  Washington then slowly began to pick up momentum and earned another power play at 15:23 when Lars Eller was given the gate for high-sticking.  Once again though the Capitals power play was pathetic, getting no zone time and committing two offsides infractions during their man advantage.  Montreal then amped up the pressure inside the final minute and got some shots off on Holtby, but the Caps goalie punched them aside, and the period ended with DC up 1-0.
Washington got off to another solid start in the second period, using size and speed down low to establish a good forecheck and solid zone pressure.  The Capitals earned another power play at when Benoit Pouliot was sent off for tripping Nicklas Backstrom at 4:05, but they again laid an egg on the man advantage and got absolutely nothing going for themselves.  The Canadiens roared back after Pouliot was released from the box, getting several shots on Holtby, and had him down, but they simply could not beat him.  Nicklas Backstrom broke in right after that scrum, but Price was able to kick out the pad in time to deny the Swede was well.  But the Canadiens kept coming, and set up a great forecheck of their own that created several solid chances and forced the Caps to ice the puck twice in a minute.  As the period continued, both teams got some good chances, but it was Lars Eller who waltzed in alone on Holtvy with about six minutes left that had the best one; he somehow put it wide.  Inside of four minutes remaining, the Canadiens finally caught a break when Matt Hendricks was given the gate for holding at 17:21, giving them their first power play.  Montreal got some amazing chances early on their man advantage, but Braden Holtby stood strong with some good saves to keep the Canadiens from equalizing.  The remaining 39 seconds expired without incident, and the Caps took a 1-0 lead to the locker room after 40.
The Canadiens came out hard in the third, with good pressure on the Capitals defense and some shots on Braden Holtby that the young goalie had to be sharp on to snuff out.  Montreal continued to get solid chances inside the first five minutes as they set up another forecheck, and the Capitals defense had to be solid again with timely shot blocks to keep too many more shots from getting to Holtby.  The Montreal pressure paid off again at 6:40 when Alexander Semin was sent off for an offensive zone holding penalty to grant them another critical power play.  The Canadiens got off to a great start on the power play, forcing Holtby to make some stellar saves early, but could not break through.  After Carey Price made another good save on Mike Knuble in front with ten minutes left, the Habs kept coming at the Caps with more pressure, but were unable to get the puck through.  Inside five minutes remaining, the now desperate Canadiens threw everyone forward, and it cost them when Nicklas Backstrom collected a loose clearing pass and laid a perfect pass to Alexander Semin, who chipped it past Price for a 2-0 lead at 16:19.  But Marcus Johansson was assessed a delay of game penalty at 16:49 to put the Caps on the penalty kill again.  Washington killed the penalty, but Jacques Martin pulled Carey Price to give the Habs a man advantage with 1:06 left.  The Caps shut down the rest of the game, though, and walked out of the Bell Centre with a 2-0 win.

Observations:

Braden Holtby had another absurd game and officially has nerves of steel. Montreal on Hockey Night in Canada?  No problem.  Holtby was square to the puck all night, didn't overcommit, and didn't make any mistakes.  All of that adds up to 18 saves and his second NHL shutout.  How do you send him down after a game like this?  I think he will be sent down because I still don't think he's the answer in the playoffs, but he sure is making a name for himself.

The new top line of Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Marco Sturm had a nice game, most notably in the form of Marco Sturm's first goal as a Cap, which also happened to be a game-winning one.  Sturm cut to the net admirably and did exactly what he gets paid to do: find rebounds a find a way to bury them.  I also think that this game might have saved Sturm's lineup spot; though he won't stay on the top line when Alex Ovechkin returns, he should still stick on the third line at this point.

Can we fix the power play?  Lost in this game were four miserable man advantages.  Yes, Carey Price is good, and yes, the Canadiens have shot-blocking defenders who take away passing lanes.  But seriously, come on.  Even without Ovechkin and Green, the power play still has Dennis Wideman, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alexander Semin, among others.  They really need to fix this thing; they would be so much more intimidating of they did.  Please?

The Capitals will travel back to DC Saturday night and will likely have Sunday off. They will return to the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex for a practice at 10:30 A.M. on Monday before hosting the Hurricanes at Verizon on Tuesday.  That game is scheduled for 7 P.M.

Gameday: at Montreal, Mar. 26

Can we get back to winning, please? It's much more fun.
The Washington Capitals are in Montreal, Quebec, this evening to take on the Canadiens and round out their six-game swing away from Verizon Center on Hockey Night in Canada. Washington comes into tonight's action with 96 points in 75 games, which places them first in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference, coming off their brutal showing in Ottawa last night.  The Canadiens, on the other hand, report for duty tonight with 87 points in 75 games, which has them placed second in the Northeast Division and sixth in the Conference.  They were demolished by the Bruins their last time out, 7-0. This will be the fourth and final regular season meeting between these two teams this season; the Capitals lead the series, 2-0-1.

To no one's suprise, Canadiens coach Jacques Martin will roll with Carey Price in goal for his squad, as he has all year.  Price is having a terrific season, posting 34 wins, a 2.41 GAA, .921 Save%, and eight shutouts in 66 games for the Habs. He has allowed eight goals in three games against the Caps this year, and has won one of the contests.  On the injury front, the Canadiens will be without three of their top defensemen tonight, as Josh Gorges, Andrei Markov, and Jaroslav Spacek are all out with knee injuries that have required them to miss significant time this season.

For the Capitals, Braden Holtby has been confirmed as tonight's starter at the morning skate. Holtby beat the Canadiens 4-2 in his only start against them this year, which came on March 15th inside the Bell Centre.  On the season, the 21 year-old has nine wins, a 1.95 GAA, .930 Save%, and a shutout in 13 games. Outside the crease, the Capitals are still missing four regulars, as Alex Ovechkin (undisclosed), Jason Arnott (groin), Mike Green (concussion), and Tom Poti (groin) are all not on the trip and will not play tonight.  Eric Fehr is questionable with another shoulder injury as well.  If he can't go, DJ King will get a sweater for the second consecutive game.  Tyler Sloan will be a scratch barring an injury.

Puck drops for this one 7:15-ish.  Check back later for updates from the morning skate, and be sure to check this one out.  It's going to be a great game.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Goose Egg'd Again

Varly's return could not spark the Caps Friday night.
The Washington Capitals failed to show up tonight in Ottawa, getting beaten by a final score of 2-0 inside Scotiabank Place by the worst team in the East.  Washington ran into a hot goalie and was the victim of some poor officiating, but still looked listless at times and were unable to overcome an undermanned Senators squad, being shut out for the tenth time this year (as opposed to once last year).  Semyon Varlamov made 21 saves in his return to the Capitals lineup after missing more than a month with a knee injury for the Capitals.  With the loss, the Capitals remain seven points clear of the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Southeast Division, as the Bolts lost to Carolina tonight, but Tampa also has a game in hand.  The Capitals also remained four points ahead of idle Boston for second in the East, though the Bruins now hold two games in hand.

The game got off to a relatively slow start, with three stoppages in the first 90 seconds and little offensive pressure, though there was a fight at 2:52 betweeen DJ King and Francis Lessard.  Ottawa drew a power play soon after the fight, however, when Scott Hannan was boxed for cross-checking at 3:11.  Semyon Varlamov was pressed into action early in the power play with a couple of nice saves, and the penalty killers stood tall for the rest of the penalty to kill off the chance.  After the penalty expired, the Caps got a little offensive pressure on the Ottawa defense, but weren't able to penetrate Craig Anderson and his defense. The game continued at a bit of a back and forth pace for the next four minutes or so, with neither team getting much going, but the Capitals then got a nice offensive zone shift from their top line, though nothing came of it.  The Senators cam right back, though, forcing a great save from Varlamov on an odd-man rush and then setting up some impressive pressure of their own that had the Capitals defense reeling, as they were forced to ice the puck twice in the span of a minute. The Capitals then caught a break, however, when Erik Condra was sent off for high-sticking Matt Hendricks at 17:34 for the first Washington power play of the game.  The power play was fruitless, however, with only a two shots and little sustained zone time on the attack.  After the penalty expired, the remaining 34 seconds expired without incident, and the first period ended with the Sens and Caps deadlocked at 0.
The Senators got of to a good start in the second period, as Jesse Winchester broke in on a breakaway just nine seconds in, but Varlamov was able to flash out the pad in time to deny Ottawa from taking the lead.  About three minutes later, however, Alexander Semin was penalized for hooking at 3:39, which gave Ottawa their second power play of the game.  The Caps killed off the penalty easily, and Semin broke in alone right after he was set free from the box, but Anderson made a great save on him and then on Brooks Laich soon after to keep the game tied.  Washington was soon awarded a power play of their own, however, when Chris Neil was boxed for interference at 7:04.  The Capital power play got off to a great start with marvelous chances on Anderson, but the Ottawa goalie made several spectacular saves to keep Washington off the board, and the Senators killed off the penalty.  Soon after, the Senators got another good period of pressure, and it payed off at 13:25 when Colin Greening forced a puck through Varlamov for a 1-0 Ottawa lead.  The goal was reviewed to see if the puck was kicked in, but the call stood, and the Senators then came out hard soon after to put the Caps on their heels again.  The Capitals defense was able to hold off the hard onslaught that came at them, but then, instead of pushing back, allowed the game to drop into a lull as Ottawa attempted to start shutting the game down.  The rest of the period ran out without anything significant, and Ottawa took a 1-0 lead to the locker room after the middle stanza.
The Capitals got off to a good start in the critical third period, taking shots at Anderson early, but the Ottawa goalie was again up to the task.  The Senators then broke right back, and took a 2-0 lead when Milan Michalek stole a puck in the corner and fed it in front to Erik Condra, who beat Varlamov five-hole at 2:12. Washington tried to get something going right after the goal, but began to be totally shut down by the Senators, who had no trouble stopping them in the neutral zone and preventing many good shots on Anderson.  Washington was awarded a power play at 7:43 when Nick Foligno was boxed for kneeing Alexander Semin, but again, the power play was fruitless and the Capitals got nothing going on the stout Ottawa defense.  As the third period wore on, DC kept trying to set up more offensive pressure, but simply were unable to as the clock began to tick away.  With about seven minutes left, Matt Bradley took a boarding penalty in the corner, but it was negated when Zack Smith instigated a fight with the Professor right after the hit.  Now desperate, the Capitals again tried to break through Anderson again, but the Senators goalie was simply magnificent on every shot.  Dennis Wideman then took a slashing call to try to break up a breakaway at 15:32, which effectively ended DC's comeback hopes.  The Senators then just bled out the last two and a half minutes, and the Caps were shut out for the tenth time this season.

Observations:

Yuck.  This, Caps fans, is what you call "playing down to the competition."  The Senators are the worst team in the Eastern Conference.  They are missing their best defenseman and their captain, who is their best forward.  You would think that the Capitals might win this game rather easily, coming off a win over the best team in the East on Tuesday.  You would be wrong.  Washington made mistakes all night and showed the inability to finish that has plagued them all year.  Craig Anderson was good, but the Caps still should have beaten him.  This was a terrible, terrible loss.

Semyon Varlamov looked okay tonight.  The Russian had no chance on the first, and deciding, goal, as he was both interfered with and the puck was kicked into the net, but the second one has GOT to be stopped.  That goal took away all of the momentum that the Caps have built over the first part of the third period and ended the game on a night where it was going to take a miracle to beat Craig Anderson anyway.  I'm not about to pin this loss on a guy who hasn't played in over four weeks, because he played well at times, but if he wants to be the man in the playoffs, he has to be better.  Period.

If I had to take a positive?  Marcus Johansson...again.  The young Swedish pivot was all over the place, driving his legs and using his speed to try and create plays all night, though he was a miserable 1-for-10 in the faceoff circle.  He was so good that Bruce Boudreau even yanked Nicklas Backstrom from the top line center role late in the game and put MoJo there instead.  This kid is for real, and if the Capitals all come back healthy, the trio of him, Backstrom, and Arnott is going to be a pretty awesome lineup down the middle.  That is, if, the Capitals can get healthy.

No time to dwell on this pathetic showing as the Capitals are right back in action Saturday night against the Canadiens on Hockey Night in Canada.  The Canadiens, playing their last Saturday night home game of the year in front of their always raucous fans, will be attempting to recover from a 7-0 drubbing at the hands of the Bruins on Thursday.  Think that atmosphere will be electric?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gameday: at Ottawa, Mar. 25

Can the Capitals continue their winning ways in Ottawa?
The Washington Capitals are in Ottawa, Ontario this evening to take on the Senators as they begin their brief road trip through Canada this weekend.  The Capitals come into tonight's action with 96 points in 74 games, which places them first in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference, coming off a 5-4 shootout win in Philadelphia on Tuesday.  The Senators, who have kind of turned it on of late, have 64 points in 75 games.  That places them fifth in the Northeast Division and fifteenth in the East; they are coming off a 2-1 shootout win over the Rangers last night at Madison Square Garden.  This will be the fourth and final meeting between these two teams this year.

Senators coach is expected to roll with Curtis McElhinney in nets for his club after Craig Anderson started last night.  McElhinney has been very good since he game over from the Ducks in February, allowing 10 goals in 5 games; he has won three of those contests.  On the season for Ottawa and Anaheim, he has nine wins, a 3.15 GAA, .899 Save%, and 2 shutouts in 26 games.  On the injury front, the Senators will be without "star" defenseman and former Capital Sergei Gonchar, who is sidelined with a concussion and may not play for the rest of the season.  The Senators may not have a good record, but they are a solid team and have been beating good teams recently.  This is not going to be an easy game.

For the Capitals, Michal Neuvirth has been confirmed as the starter in Bruce Boudreau's nets, his fourth consecutive starting nod.  This year against the Senators, Neuvirth has allowed 5 goals in three games and has won all three contests.  On the season, the young Czech has 34 wins, a 2.46 GAA, .915 Save%, and 4 shutouts in 44 games played.  Outside the crease, the Capitals will be without four regulars for this game: Alex Ovechkin (undisclosed), Jason Arnott (groin), Mike Green (concussion), and Tom Poti (groin).  Marcus Johansson, who took a puck to the face during yesterday's practice, got some stitches but will likely play.  As is Eric Fehr, who only skated nine minutes last game because of a wonky shoulder.  Tyler Sloan and DJ King are expected to be the healthy scratches for Boudreau this evening.

Puck drops for this one 7:39-ish.  Be sure to follow me on Twitter for your morning skate updates, and catch up on your scoreboard-watching in last night's Around the NHL post.

Around the NHL: Another Boston Massacre

This one speaks for itself.
Tonight there were two games on the NHL schedule that Capitals fans were paying attention too.  One of them was close.  The other, not so much.

We'll start off in Boston.  The Bruins destroyed the Canadiens tonight, beating them by a final score of 7-0 inside the TD Garden to bring the season series to 4-2 in favor of Montreal.  Both Zdeno Chara and David Krejci had three assists, and Nathan Horton scored twice during the rout, and Tim Thomas made 24 saves for his eighth shutout of the season.  Carey Price made 28 saves on 33 shots for the loss; he was pulled with 16 minutes left.  The win pulls the Bruins within four points of the Capitals for second place in the Eastern Conference, and Boston has a game in hand.
In New York, the game was much closer, as the Senators beat the Rangers 2-1 in a shootout to snap the Blueshirts' five-game winning streak.  After falling behind the second period 1-0 on a goal from Ryan Shannon, Brandon Prust tied the game early in the third, and Erik Karlsson scored the shootout winner in the sixth round to lift the visitors.  The Rangers got a point, though, which brought them within two of the Canadiens for sixth.  Both teams have played 75 games.  The Caps take on the Senators Friday night.

Practice: Mar. 24

The Washington Capitals were on ice today at 10:30 AM as they prepare for tomorrow night's matchup with the Ottawa Senators.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

First, the bad news: Mike Green didn't skate today.  The Capitals' star defenseman is still out with a concussion and, due to the fact that he has yet to skate, his return date is likely quite far off.  Once he returns to the ice, he needs to work his way up to a full practice and remain symptom-free.  After he works his way to full practices, he needs to complete at least three of them without incident and remain symptom-free.  Then, he needs to pass more tests and only after that is completed can he suit up for a game.  Bruce Boudreau did say after practice that he is feeling alot better and is doing off-ice work, which is certainly a good sign.  Despite this positive news, I doubt he will be able to return with much more than two or three games left in the regular season; Bruce Boudreau said this week was critical in knowing if he will be back before the playoffs.
Next, the good(ish): Both Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott skated for the second day in a row.  They participated in a workout with the strength and conditioning coach before the rest of the team took to the ice for practice, and both of them were wearing warmup suits instead of full pads, although Ovie was wearing knee pads.  According to Katie Carrera, the workout was "brisk"and neither seemed particularly bothered by anything that they were doing.  Despite this, neither are expected to play this weekend, and will not travel.
OK, on to the real practice.  Tom Poti returned to the ice for a full practice after sitting out yesterday's optional skate; there is still no word on his potential return to the Washington lineup.  The lines were as follows: Semin-Backstrom-Laich-Fehr, Chimera-Johanssom-Knuble, Sturm-Gordon-Bradley, and King-Beagle-Hendricks.  On the last drill of the day, however, Marcus Johansson took a puck in the face and did not return to the ice.  According to Boudreau, he got cut pretty badly and will need stitches, but should play tomorrow night.  Phew.  As if the Caps didn't have enough injury problems...mercy.  Lastly, Michal Neuvirth said he is starting tomorrow in Ottawa, with Semyon Varlamov getting the call Saturday in Montreal. Sounds good to me.
That's all for now.  In other reading from 24/7 today, check out my profile on Caps prospect Stanislav Galiev, who begins his quest for the QMJHL's President's Cup this weekend with the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Thanks to Katie Carrera and Sky Kerstein for information used in this post.

Prospect Watch: Stanislav Galiev

Galiev skates this past summer in Caps development camp.
Prospect Watch is back this week, as I continue my run through the ranks of young players in the Washington Capitals' system.  This time around, I take a look at Stanislav Galiev, another young Russian forward who is currently in his second season playing for the St. John's Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.  Galiev, 19, was the Capitals' third round pick, 86th overall, in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and was one of two Russians Washington took last year (the other being Evgeny Kuznetsov). Unlike fellow Russian Capitals prospects Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov, Galiev has been in North America for the last three years of his career, and there are no lingering concerns about him making the transition from the major junior level to professional level.
This season for St. John, Galiev was the fourth-leading scorer on his team, tallying 37 goals (one on the power play) and 28 assists for 65 points in 64 games.  The left winger also complied an excellent plus-36 rating on the campaign, but that was likely a product of the Sea Dogs' dominance this year: they went 58-7-1 to win the league by 17 points, and had a ridiculous plus-129 goal differential to boot.  With their regular season now over, Saint John is the top seed in the QMJHL's President Cup playoffs, which will start for them on March 25th with their series against the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
Profile: Galiev profiles as a slick, playmaking winger who has excellent puck handling skills and can finish a bit in close.  He is very hard to knock off the puck because of his strong hips and wide skating stance, particularly in the corners and along the boards, and displays good ability to move around in tight space while still controlling the puck.  He has good size at 6'2", but could certainly benefit from putting on some muscle, he weighs in at only 180 pounds.  The young Russian has shown the ability to engage in physical play as well, though he needs to improve that aspect of his game in order to make himself a more complete player.  In addition, like most of his fellow Russian wingers, he has some issues in his own zone; though his positional and defensive play is improving to the point where it could be an assett.  When he does reach the NHL, he will likely slot in on the second or third line as a forward with some two-way and scoring ability.
Career Notes: Galiev is currently in his third season of playing hockey in North America and his second in the QMJHL.  His first year away from Russia, 2008-2009, he played for the Indiana Ice of the United States Hockey League.  That season, he scored 29 goals and 64 points in 60 games, which earned him a spot on the USHL's All-Rookie team.  The next year, he jumped to major junior with St. John, where he racked up 15 goals and 60 points in 64 games, and was named to the QMJHL All-Rookie team.  This year, as you already read, has been his best year with 37 goals for the first-place Sea Dogs.  In international competition, he has represented his country once; he won the silver medal with Team Russia during the 2009 Ivan Hlinka tournament.  He was invited to and did participate in the Capitals' Summer Development Camp last year.
ETA: 2012-2013.  Only 19, Galiev stil has a lot of development in front of him, and hasn't yet been signed to a professional contract which would enable him to play in Hershey.  That contract is likely coming after the QMJHL playoffs are completed this spring, which makes it likely that he spends most, if not all, of next season with the Bears.  However, because he has already been playing here three years, he will need less time than most normally would in the AHL, and could be called up at some point next year if injuries mount and he shows good growth in his first year as a pro.  Despite this potential for growth, because of his inexperience and the depth that the Capitals have at forward next year I don't think that he will have a full-time impact in Washington until the 2012-13 campaign at the earliest.
For information on the Caps' March 24 practice, including injury updates on Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott, click here.
Information from Hockey's Future and the QMJHL were used in this post.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Practice: Mar. 23

The Washington Capitals were on ice for an optional practice this morning at 11 AM following last night's thrilling shootout win that put them in the playoffs for the fourth year in a row.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals iceplex:

Alex Ovechkin and Jason Arnott both skated before practice, seperate from the rest of the team.  Arnott took to the ice in a warmup suit, without pads, and skated around to test his supposedly strained groin.  Ovechkin took to the ice in full pads and doodled around for a bit, but did not do much other than skate a bit and shoot a few pucks as he works his way back from "general soreness."  Both he and Arnott left when the rest of the team hit the ice for practice.  After he left the ice, Ovechkin told reporters that what he is out with has been bothering him for about two months, and the thought of him taking a seat had been kicking around for about two weeks.  He also said that he feels better now, and that this is a good time to rest.  Arnott said that he is out with something that has been building "since he got traded," but that he wants to play in a couple of games before the playoffs, and is progressing every day.  Bruce Boudreau said that they "might" travel to Ottawa and Montreal this weekend.
As today was an optional practice, a few of the Caps' top players who are presumably healthy took the day off: Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, and Mike Knuble were all absent.  The rest of the team was on ice, however, including both goaltenders and Scott Hannan, who took a slapshot off the foot last night. Neither Mike Green, who is still on the sidelines indefinitely with a concussion, nor Tom Poti, who's groin is still not feeling too hot, skated at all, and no updates on their conditions were given.  Sigh.
Today is Michal Neuvirth's birthday.  Click here for a look at his birthday cake!

That's all for now.  Check back later.
Information from Sky Kerstein and Mike Vogel was used in this post.

Happy Birthday, Michal Neuvirth!

Today, March 23, is Capitals goaltender Michal Neuvirth's 23rd birthday.  The young Czech netminder has been terrific in his first full season with the Caps, compiling 24 wins, a 2.46 GAA, and a .915 Save% in 44 games played.  He has also registered four shutouts, which lead all rookie NHL goaltenders, and has been the Capitals' most consistent goaltender this year due to the extended injury absences of Semyon Varlamov.  Check out this picture of the cake that tweeps Abigail and Garrett made Neuvy for his big day, delivered after practice on Saturday. They painted the mask, too.  Impressive!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Back to the Dance

Sasha deked us into the playoffs Tuesday.  Word.
The Washington Capitals pulled a rabbit out of the hat tonight, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in a shootout inside Wells Fargo Center by a final score of 5-4.  Missing Alex Ovechkin, Jason Arnott, and Mike Green, Washington took advantage of some horrid early goaltending by Sergei Bobrovsky to take a 3-0 lead, but after Bobrovsky was pulled in favor of Brian Boucher, watched the lead evaporate and then saw themselves fall behind with five minutes left.  Marcus Johansson was able to equalize for the Caps about 100 seconds later, however, and Alexander Semin scored the winning goal in the shootout to secure Washington's fourth consecutive trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  With the win and Tampa's loss tonight, the Capitals pulled seven points clear of the Bolts at the top of the Southeast Division, though the Lightning do hold a game in hand. Since the Bruins won tonight was well, DC's lead over them for second in the Eastern Conference remained at five points; Boston holds two games in hand.

The Flyers got a great chance early when an over commitment by Karl Alzner caused an odd man rush, but Michal Neuvirth was able to get across in time to keep Scott Hartnell's shot out.  Philadelphia continued to press the Washington defense as the early stages of the game passed, getting some good open looks, but were fought off by some timely shot blocks and two nice saves from Neuvirth again.  Inside 13 minutes remaining, however, the Capitals got a break when Nicklas Backstrom collected a loose puck in the neutral zone and skated in on Sergei Bobrovsky, putting a shot through his seven-hole for a 1-0 lead at 7:52. Things got better for the Caps soon after when Scott Hartnell was sent off for high-sticking at 8:26.  After an awful start to the man advantage, Alexander Semin was then sent off for a four-minute high-sticking infraction, evening out play at 9:40.  After some uneventful four-on-for action, the Flyers got an extended power play, generating amazing chances in close, and Michal Neuvirth was spectacular to deny them their equalizer early in their man advantage.  With some more excellent penalty killing, the Caps were able to eliminate the rest of the power play, and got a nice rush up ice of their own, but that was snuffed out by Bobrovsky.  About three minutes later, however, the Capitals extended their lead to 2 when Mike Knuble cashed a goal in front off a great pass from Marcus Johansson down low following a great forecheck; the goal came at 17:46.  The Caps were then awarded another power play at 19:24 when Daniel Carcillo was boxed for cross-checking, but Washington was unable to convert in 36 seconds, and the period ended with DC up 2-0.
On the power play to start the second period, the Caps were able to extend their lead to 3-0 at 1:22 when Dennis Wideman blasted a slapshot past Bobrovsky from the point; the goal earned Bobrovsky an early shower, as he gave way to Brian Boucher.  After the goalie change, the Flyers began to come at the Caps harder, and they earned themselves another power play when Jay Beagle was given the gate for holding at 3:54.  Philadelphia got off to a poor start on their power play and never recovered, as Washington killed off the penalty with ease. The Flyers would break back at 8:05, however, when Kris Versteeg banked a crossing pass into the back of the Washington net off of Dennis Wideman's skate to draw within two.  Philadelphia then really got going, pinning the Caps in their own zone for extended periods, owning the puck, but Michal Neuvirth was somehow able to withstand the onslaught.  The Capitals were then able to get a couple chances in front, but Boucher was able to keep the deficit at two on his first real test of the night.  But the Flyers would not stay quiet, hitting a goalpost on an odd-man rush soon after and establishing more dominating forecheck pressure.  Philadelphia was rewarded with only 33.8 seconds left when Claude Giroux buried a one-timer from the circle off a beautiful pass from Andreas Nodl to draw within one, certainly not how the Caps wanted to end the third period. The remaining half minute expired without incident, setting up a very interesting final period.
The third period got off to a relatively slow start compared to the first two, but the Flyers again were able to get a great chance in close on Neuvirth after about three minutes, but the Czech rookie was able to hold off Daniel Carcillo on the doorstep.  Philadelphia continued to up the pressure as the period continued, controlling the puck in the Caps' zone and getting excellent shots in front, but somehow the Capitals were able to hold them off with a combination a goal post, some heroic shot-blocking, and a couple of nice saves from Michal Neuvirth. Inside 11 minutes remaining in the frame, Philadelphia again cranked up their pressure, and were rewarded when Claude Giroux forced a horrid turnover by Jeff Schultz, and Andreas Nodl finished to equalize at 9:58.  Now totally on their heels, the Capitals continued to let the Flyers carry play to them, and again were very lucky to not give up a fourth goal to give Philadelphia the lead.  But the Flyers finally broke through for their lead goal at 14:15 when Daniel Briere tipped a slapshot past Neuvirth on the doorstep, completing the Washington meltdown. After another dominating shift by the Flyers, however, the Capitals got their equalizer when Marcus Johansson  one-timed a pass from Mike Knuble through Boucher at 16:41.  As the period wound down, the Flyers set up another dominating shift, but Michal Neuvirth was able to keep their attack at bay and earn them a point, as the game headed to overtime tied up at 4.
The Flyers got the first chance in the extra frame, but were denied by a brilliant Neuvirth leg save.  Washington came back with a few chances off the sticks of Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Smein, but could not break through.  The teams alternated chances for the next two minutes of overtime, but could not score, and the game headed to a shootout.
In the shootout, Daniel Briere opened the scoring in the first round, but Matt Hendricks equalized with a beautiful move.  After Claude Giroux missed on his attempt, Nicklas Backstrom put the visitors ahead 2-1, meaning a stop on Danny Briere would mean a Caps win.  Briere was able to score, however, giving the chance for Alexander Semin to walk off with a win.  Sasha did just that, roofing the puck backhand, and the Capitals clinched their fourth consecutive playoff berth.

Observations:

OK, let's not kid ourselves here.  While I am very impressed with the resolve that the Capitals showed tonight without three of their best players, the Flyers absolutely dominated this game from the drop of the puck.  It only LOOKED like the Caps were dominating early because Sergei Bobrovsky was doing his best impersonation of a slice of Swiss cheese in the goal.  Don't get me wrong, this is still a huge win, one that I am very happy with, but it's not like we walked in and stomped on the best team in the East - and make no mistake, the Flyers are the best team in the East.  Fine, Enough negativity.  I wear myself out sometimes.

Michal Neuvirth deserved better.  While not his best night by any stretch, the rookie did play well and gave his team a chance to win.  The only goal he really had a chance of stopping was the first one, and even that one went off a Capital skate: the second he couldn't see the pass, the third was a blatant turnover that lead to a wide open shot in front of his cage, and the fourth was a perfect deflection off a perfect pass.  His defense did not do him any favors tonight, and he was certainly a big factor in the game.  I think we'll see Varlamov on Friday, though.

Mike Knuble had another great game, his second three point outing in a row, and how has scored 20 or more goals in eight consecutive seasons.  The elder statesman of the Washington forward corps had a goal and two assists and again looked rejuvenated by the presence of Marcus Johansson on his line.  He was wreaking havoc in front of the Flyers net all night, using his body well, and again looked to have some speed that just wasn't there earlier this year.  Well done, 22. Keep it up, eh?

The Capitals will return to Washington tonight, where they will practice tomorrow and Thursday before leaving for Ottawa on Thursday afternoon.  Their next game will come north of the border on Friday night in Ottawa against the Senators; that game is scheduled for 7:30 P.M.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Gameday: at Philadelphia, Mar. 22

Can Michal Neuvirth continue his run in the DC goal?
The Washington Capitals are in the city of brotherly love (or not) to take on the Philadelphia Flyers in a clash of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals come into tonight's game with 94 points in 73 games, which places them first in the Southeast Division and second in the Eastern Conference, coming off their 3-0 shutout of the Devils Friday night.  The Flyers, on the other hand, have 96 points in 71 games, which places them first in the Atlantic Division and first in the East.  They won 3-2 in their last game against the Stars.  This is the fourth and final regular season meeting between these two teams this season; the Caps are 1-0-2 against the Flyers this year.

Flyers bench boss Peter Laviolette is expected to roll with Russian rookie Sergei Bobrovsky in nets for his squad.  Bobrovsky, who has burst onto the NHL scence out of nowhere this year, won the Flyers' last game by making 28 saves on 30 shots.  On the season, he has 26 wins, a 2.56 GAA, and a .916 Save% in 43 starts, and will be a tough task for the Capitals' depleted forward corps.  On the injury front, the Flyers are missing a big piece on their blue line, as stalwart defender Chris Pronger is will miss the game and another three weeks due to surgery on his hand.

Michal Neuvirth is expected to get the call in the Capitals' goal for the third consecutive game, as he is coming off a masterful 33-save shutout in New Jersey in his last game.  On the year, Neuvy has an impressive 23 wins, 2.42 GAA, .916 Save%, and four shutouts in 40 games played.  Outside the crease, the Washington infirmary list continues to grow.  The Caps will be without Alex Ovechkin (undisclosed), Jason Arnott (groin), Mike Green (concussion), and Tom Poti (groin) for this game, as well as at least the next week.  Eric Fehr is also questionable with another upper-body injury; he will take the morning skate and see how he feels, and then a decision will be made on his status.  As a result of Ovechkin's injury, Jay Beagle will return to the lineup, and DJ King will play if Fehr can't go.  On the back end, John Erskine is believed to be ready to return to active duty, which means that Tyler Sloan will return to the press box.

Puck drops for this one 7:38-ish, and the game will be broadcast on Versus. Make sure to follow me on Twitter for all your morning skate and lineup updates, as I will be working tomorrow and won't be able to write until later in the evening.

Practice: Mar. 21 - No Ovechkin This Week

The Washington Capitals returned to the ice this morning at 10:30 as they prepare for tomorrow night's clash with the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:
The big news this morning is that left wing and captain Alex Ovechkin will not make the trip to Philadelphia as the Caps will take advantage of their light schedule over the last three and next four days to rest him.  According to senior writer Mike Vogel, Ovie is suffering from a "nagging ailment."  He is expected to miss the next 7-10 days, so he will not play at all this week.
Jason Arnott skated for about 10 minutes before anyone else this morning only in his warmup gear for the first time since being pronounced out with what is not believed to be a groin injury.  He did not return to the ice when the regular practice began, and is still about a week from returning.  Mike Green did not skate before or during practice, either, placing his status for the week in doubt.  Remember, he is out indefinitely, and with a concussion, so the Capitals will not rush him.
Other than Ovechkin, Arnott, and Green, however, everyone on the roster took the practice.  The lines were as follows: Backstrom-Semin-Laich, Johansson-Knuble-Chimera, Sturm-Gordon-Bradley, and Hendricks-Beagle-King-Fehr.  Tom Poti, again, started his practice early and participated in drills with the rest of the team as well.  Semyon Varlamov was on the ice again, participating fully and taking shots during drills.  He also seemed to have a marked improvement in his skating from Saturday; he looked much more confident and less ginger.

That's all for now.  Check back later.
Information from Katie Carrera and Mike Vogel was used in this post.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Around the NHL: Matt Cooke Strikes Again

Today, I bring you (again) the dirty side of the game that we all love.  This afternoon during NBC's game of the week, former Cap and Penguins "tough guy" Matt Cooke charged into Rangers rookie defenseman Ryan McDonagh with his elbow up - and this happened:

Predictably, Cooke received his marching orders for that hit, earning himself a five minute major penalty for elbowing and a game misconduct.  This, coming on the heels of Pittsburgh owner Mario Lemieux calling out headshots and proposing steep fines for teams who have players conduct themselves in this manner.  If those rules were in place, Matt Cooke would have just cost his owner a cool two million dollars.  How are those rules sounding now, Mario?
This is starting to become absurd.  Cooke deserves at least an eight-game ban for his actions per Rule 48, as he is a repeat offender, not only this season but in seasons past.  But, as we have learned in the past with Cooke, that clearly doesn't deter his actions.  Cooke needs to be banned for the rest of the season. What does he bring?  He has now all but ended one career in Marc Savard's, and if he is allowed to continue like this, who knows how many more he may diminish or end. As Montreal Gazzette writer Dave Stubbs so eloquently put it: "Cooke must have a few screws loose.  You can't be that stupid naturally."
The Rangers won the game, getting two power play goals on the major penalty. Their win moved them into seventh place by themselves, and if the playoffs started today, they would play the Capitals.