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!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Practice: Apr. 30

The Washington Capitals were on ice this morning at 11 for a skate following yesterday's disappointing loss.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Today was an optional practice, with a few of the Caps' top skill players opting not to partake. Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, John Carlson, and Jason Arnott were all absent as they took therapy days.
This is not encouraging for Carlson, as he almost always takes part in optional skates.  The young defenseman is believed to be suffering from a knee or leg injury that he suffered late in the second period last night.  However, Bruce Boudreau said after practice that there's a "good chance" Carlson will play tomorrow, although he's not sure.  I am not buying it, as Carlson looked pretty badly hurt, but we will see.
With the bad news, however, comes a little bit of good.  Both Dennis Wideman and Mike Knuble skated with their teammates for the first time in over a week, which is highly encouraging.  Wideman is not ready to go, however, so if Carlson cannot play tomorrow, Sean Collins would take his place.

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

Friday, April 29, 2011

Guy Boucher, Thespian

"This is my 'blow hot air' face.  I have many others."
First off, I am going to say that I have alot of respect for Guy Boucher.  I have for a long time.  The man knows hockey and he has worked hard to get to where he is. He has a prussian fightning scar that he definetely got in a dark alley in Montreal, and he has a no-nonsense attitude that makes him very intimidating.  But ever since the Lightning knocked off the Penguins to advance and play the Capitals in the second round, he has put on a very interesting and convincing act during every one of his meetings with the media.
I am referring, of course, to Boucher's stance that the Capitals are a much better team that should dominate the series.  "I do not see any weaknesses in their game," he said Thursday afternoon.  "It's like David and Goliath," he added.  He then went so far as to add the ultimate dagger: "If they lose, it's a failure.  They have the tools to win now.  They are in year five of their process, we are in year one of ours."
The savvy Quebecois then continued his mind games after Friday's win over the Caps. Boucher continued to insist that the Caps are the better side, speaking as though he was coaching a minor league team against the 1976 Soviet National team: "That team we're playing is quite a hockey machine.  At the ice level, I can tell you, they're looking outstanding out there.  It was surprising to come in here and get one of the two games.  I'll be honest, we weren't expecting that."  Before he closed out his media time, the Lightning bench boss also tried to tell the assembled media that the scheduled back to back games at home next week somehow hurt his team.
Okay, Guy, hold the phone for a second.  True or false, the Lightning just came off a convincing 3-1 comeback against one of the best defensive teams in the league?  True or false, the Lightning finished a (truly whopping) four whole points behind the Caps for the Southeast Division, and led it for most of the year?  True or false, you have a Hart Trophy Candidate on your team, as well as Steven Stamkos, who is probably the best young goal scorer in the NHL not named Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin?
Drop the underdog schtick already.  We get it, Guy, and it's really starting to get annoying.  Everyone is on to you, and you're not fooling anybody.  You basically think your team has no shot against a "machine" like the Caps.  It's gamesmanship, and it's okay on day one, but saying after a win on hostile ice that your team "did not expect" to win just makes you look foolish.
Maybe it's just because I'm frustrated, but this is really starting to grind my gears.

Rapid Rewind: Thunderstruck

Seen Stamkos?  The Capitals sure did.
The Washington Capitals let one get away Friday night, falling at home to the Lightning 4-2.  The Caps had the lead late in the second period, but completely stopped playing and let Tampa charge right back into the game, which they did with authority.  Alexander Semin and Eric Fehr scored for the Capitals and Michal Neuvirth made 20 saves for Washington.  With the loss, the Caps now trail in the series one game to zero and have lost home ice advantage, at least for now, heading in to Sunday's game two.  This was a very discouraging came if you are a Caps fan.

The Lightning got off to a good start, capitalizing on a bad early turnover to get a chance in front of the net' Michal Neuvirth had to do well to deny Ryan Malone. But the Bolts kept coming and kept dominating DC down low, and converted just 2:12 in when Sean Bergenheim buried a rebound to put the Caps in an early 1-0 hole.  The Lightning were relentless and continued to force turnovers on the Caps, but Washington was finally able to get some momentum when Alexander Semin stole a puck at the attacking blue line and fired it through Dwayne Roloson's legs at 4:08 to equalize.  The game then began to settle down a little as both teams aimed for more puck possession, but slowly the Caps were able to get some momentum and generate some chances.  This momentum was killed at 10:28, however, when Jeff Schultz took a delay of game penalty to send DC to their first kill.  The explosive Lightning power play got some solid chances early but could not convert on the equally excellent Washington penalty killers.  Brooks Laich appeared to have given the Caps the lead with 6:26 left, but it was reviewed and then overturned; Laich had clearly kicked the puck in.  Washington got their first power play at 14:32 however when Steve Downie was sent off for elbowing. The power play got good zone time early but passed too much and could not generate a goal.  As soon as the power play expired, though, the Caps got another one when Brett Clark was called for delay of game.  This power play was brutal, with Washington getting no flow or zone time early and then giving up a shorthanded chance that was bailed out by Neuvirth.  Tampa Bay came hard as the period expired, but could not capitalize and the period ended tied at 1.
The Caps came out hard to start the second period, getting an opportunity from their top line, but Roloson was able to get across in time to deny Ovechkin.  After an offensive zone faceoff, however, Jason Chimera collected a loose puck and dished in front to Eric Fehr, who roofed one for a 2-1 DC lead at 1:51.  The Lightning came hard after the goal with a push of their own, and Michal Neuvirth had to make a great glove save on Ryan Malone to prevent an equalizer following a neutral zone turnover.  Tampa continued to press however and got a power play at 6:38 when Boyd Gordon was given the gate for slashing.  The man advantage saw a number of chances, most notably a point blank chance for Vinny Lecavlier, but Neuvirth was able to shut the door and kill it off.  Washington then got a golden chance off a rush with 10 minutes remaining, but the puck somehow stayed out despite a mad scramble in front that had Roloson down and out.  Soon after, however, Matt Hendricks was called for interference at 12:06 which gave the Bolts their third man advantage.  The Caps were able to counter the power play admirably and drew a call on the Lightning at 12:51, resulting of 4 on 4 play, but the penalties expired without incident.  After a poor line change, however, the Lightning broke in and Steve Downie chipped a puck past Neuvirth at 16:17 to equalize, killing all of the DC momentum.  Jason Chimera was then called for roughing at 18:00, giving Tampa a critical late man advantage.  Steven Stamkos then finally potted a goal on the power play, giving the Bolts the lead with 40 seconds to play in the period.  The frame closed with the Lightning up 3-2.
To open the third period, the Caps got a great chance early when Marco Sturm was set up with a golden chance in front but his slapshot went right into the glove of Roloson.  Washington slowly tried to get momentum and build offensive energy as the early stages of the period continued, but the Tampa defense and Roloson continued to find their groove, frustrating the Caps' forwards.  At 5:58, however, the Caps were awarded a power play when Brett Clark was boxed for holding the stick.  The man advantage was fruitless, however; the Caps got almost no zone time or chances as they were doomed by awful decision making.  Clearly beginning to get desperate as the clock started to put pressure on them, Washington got a few good chances but simply could not finish what they got, the same story as the earlier parts of the game.  Inside 10 minutes remaining, Tampa Bay came back with a press of their own and almost scored but another timely save from Neuvirth kept the deficit at 1.  The Caps got another power play with only 5:58 left when Teddy Purcell was called for hooking, and DC embarked on a critical power play.  Again, however, the power play was brutal, getting minimal zone time and chances and being called for several offsides infractions.  With four minutes remaining, the Caps went for their final push, throwing men forward as the clock ticked down.  After Guy Boucher called his timeout with 2:08 left, the Caps got all their men forward in one last desperate gasp, but Dominic Moore put one in the empty net to seal game one for the Lightning.

Observations:

This game was going very well for about the first 30 minutes.  The Caps were able to get several chances after going up 2-1 early in the second period, but wasted them in spectacular fashion, and it came back to bite them in the end. The Lightning sure didn't look like the team that had just played a game seven.  They won every battle, drew penalties effectively, and they deserved to win the game. The Caps also blew a chance late in the second to kill off a penalty and enter the third with momentum, as well as the fact that the Bolts were down a man and then two almost the entire game.  They didn't.  It's that simple.  Nothing short of an embarrassing performance from Washington.

Michal Neuvirth is certainly not to blame for this loss, but he could have done better on both the second and third goals that he allowed which really broke the backs of the Caps.  He has been brilliant so far in these playoffs and hopefully tonight was a minor blip, because the Caps absolutely need him at his best if they are to have any prayer of winning this series.

John Carlson is hurt, and it does not look good.  The young defenseman appeared to injure himself late in the second period and headed down the tunnel with about a minute left in the period.  After re-appearing to start the third, he only took two shifts the remainder of the game and was really laboring the entire time he was out there.  He couldn't even climb over the boards to get onto the bench when he was coming off of the ice.  Bruce Boudreau said postgame that Carlson is "day to day" and that he hopes to go Sunday, but from watching him, that does not look very likely. Ruh-roh.

The Caps will be back to the drawing board Saturday for a practice as they try and figure out what went wrong Friday.  Game two, an absolute must-win, is Sunday night at Verizon.

Go Time

Here we go, Caps fans.  The journey continues tonight inside Verizon Center. Less than 90 minutes to go until puck drop.  Four wins down, twelve to go.

Updates from the Morning Skate

The Washington Capitals were on ice at 10 AM for their morning skate as they prepare to open the second round against Tampa Bay this evening.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

There were no surprises out of the Caps camp. Mike Knuble and Dennis Wideman will not play with their injuries, and skated after the healthy players did with the Hershey call-ups.  Healthy scratches have been confirmed as DJ King, Jay Beagle, Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins, and all of the Hershey men.
Michal Neuvirth has been confirmed as the starter in goal for Washington.  He will face off against Dwayne Roloson.

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

Gameday: vs. Tampa Bay, Apr. 29 - Round Two, Game One

Michal Neuvirth has been as solid as they come so far.
The Washington Capitals will welcome the Tampa Bay Lightning to Verizon Center this evening as they open their second round playoff series with the Bolts.  The Capitals won their last series over the Rangers four games to one; while the Lightning came back from a 3-1 series deficit to knock off the Penguins in the first round.  The Capitals won their season series with the Bolts with a 4-1-1 mark, but Tampa was able to frustrate them continuously, and were missing some key players during those games.  Tonight is obviously a huge game as the Caps try and hold serve on home ice.

Tampa Bay bench boss Guy Boucher will start Dwayne Roloson in nets for his team.  The ageless stopper has had a ridiculous postseason so far, leading the NHL in save percentage with a .949 mark and ranking second in GAA at 1.77. The Lightning have relied on Roloson since they acquired him, and tonight will be no different; the Caps need to get in his head early.  On the injury front, the Bolts are not expected to be missing any key cogs with ailments.  Healthy scratches will be determined after their morning skate.

For the Caps, Michal Neuvirth is expected to get the call in goal for the sixth game in a row.  Neuvirth was a rock in the first round; he comes into tonight's game leading the NHL is postseason GAA with a 1.38 mark, and has posted a .946 save percentage so far, which is second behind Roloson.  Neuvirth will need to be at his best tonight, as Tampa's attack is far more imposing than that Rangers'.  Outside the crease, Mike Knuble, Dennis Wideman, and Tom Poti are all but certain to miss the game with their various injuries.  The healthy scratches are expected to be DJ King, Jay Beagle, Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins, and all of the "black aces" that were brought up from Hershey earlier this week.

Puck drops for this one 7:08-ish.  Check back for updates from both morning skates later in the day.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Practice: Apr. 28

The Washington Capitals were on ice this morning at 10:30 as they prepare for their second round series against the Lightning. Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Mike Knuble, Dennis Wideman, and DJ King skated with the Hershey call-ups for the second day in a row on the B rink at Kettler.  Both Wideman and Knuble are working their way back from injuries, and there is no specific timetable for either of their returns to the active Washington lineup.
The only player who did not skate was Tom Poti, who is still out with a groin injury.  The lines remained the same from yesterday: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Laich, Semin-Arnott-Sturm, Fehr-Chimera-Johansson, and Hendricks-Beagle-Gordon-Bradley.
The Lightning flew directly to DC from Pittsburgh last night and did not practice today.

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

The Breakdown: Lightning vs. Capitals, Round Two

Get in the man's head.  Please.
With Wednesday night's win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Consol Energy Center, the Tampa Bay Lightning secured a date with the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.  The Caps have had about a week off now to try and rest up some injuries, but now it's time to get back to business again.  The Lightning are bigger and faster than the Rangers, they have a hot goalie, and they have a brilliant coach.  It's heart attack time again. Aren't you excited?  That being said, let's take a look at how Washington matches up with Guy Boucher's men.

Summary of Season Series: The Caps won the season series 4-1-1, and outscored the Bolts 19-8 in the process, but two of those wins were blowouts that came without Dwayne Roloson in net for Tampa.  Roloson shut out the Caps twice in his first two starts against them, but allowed four goals in one loss and then a single goal in a shootout loss.  Overall, it was a very evenly matched series, and the Caps need to be ready to bring their A game.  Like, really bring it.
By Positions: The Lightning and the Capitals are pretty even up top; Tampa is able to counter the star power of Alex Ovechkin and company with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and other top-flight offensive players.  If Mike Knuble is missing for an extended period of time, however, this matchup swings more in their favor.  The Capitals hold a distinct advantage on defense, where they are younger and more dynamic, especially with John Carlson and Karl Alzner.  In goal, the Lightning have a slight advantage, as Dwayne Roloson is playing very well right now; he esentially stole that series from the Penguins.  Michal Neuvirth is obviously playing brilliantly as well, but Roloson has never lost an elimination game in his career.
Key Player: You knew it was going to be Roloson.  Tampa Bay's star goaltender is at the top of his game right now, and he faced over 240 shots in round one. He's not a pretty goalie, but his reflexes are ridiculous and he always finds a way to stop the puck.  He shut out the Caps in two of his four starts against them this season and allowed one goal in another.  Washington has to make him work, just like the Penguins did, and get in his face, making him frustrated and rattled.  If he gets in a groove early, much like Henrik Lundqvist, it is going to be very hard for Washington to watch, because he will steal a series.  He's done it his whole career.
Key Matchup: Washington forwards on the Tampa Bay fefense.  This may sound very broad, but hear me out. With the exception of Victor Hedman, the Lightning defense is older and much slower than Washington's; they don't have a Mike Green or a John Carlson type player.  If the Caps are able to set up their forecheck well and establish good offensive zone pressure, they should be able to wear down the Tampa blue line and get good open looks because of it. Offensive zone pressure will not only get the Caps chances, but it will prevent the Lightning's awesome transition attack from getting too many good rushes off poor zone entries.


Game one is Friday night at 7.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Caps to Face Tampa Bay In Second Round

After the Tampa Bay Lightning completed their comeback from a 3-1 series deficit inside Consol Energy Center Wednesday, it became official that the Caps will face the Bolts in the second round.  Washington won the season series with a 4-1-1 record, but the defensive play of the Lightning frustrated them at times. Washington will also have to deal with Dwayne Roloson, who is playing out of his mind right now; he almost singlehandedly won the series for the Lightning against the Penguins.  Game one is schedule for Friday night.
And so, it begins.  Round two.

Happy Birthday, Semyon Varlamov!

Ah, wonky groin? No problem!
Today, April 27th, is Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov's 23rd birthday, so wishes are in order for the young Russian.  Varly struggled with his typical groin and knee injuries this year, but when he was healthy, was as his usual solid self. He registered 11 wins, a 2.23 GAA, and a .924 Save% in 27 starts, also adding two shutouts on the campaign.
The highlight of his year was, without a doubt, his stellar performance in the Winter Classic, where he made 32 saves on 33 shots in a 3-1 Caps win.  With the steady play of Michal Neuvirth throughout the season, however, Varly has taken a backseat to the young Czech so far in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Practice: Apr. 27

The Washington Capitals were on ice this morning for a practice as they prepare for the second round of the playoffs.  Some notes from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

The Capitals officially called up three Hershey Bears this morning: Mathieu Perreault, Steve Pinizzotto, and Patrick McNeil.  They skated by themselves, along with DJ King, Dennis Wideman, Mike Knuble, and Braden Holtby, on the "B" rink at Kettler before the Caps practiced.
Both Knuble and Wideman skated in full pads, but there is still no timetable for either of their returns.  All that Bruce Boudreau would say is that Wideman is likely to return to full team practice next week, while Knuble should be back "sooner rather than later."  Knuble, however, did not seem as optimistic, saying that he could "conceivably" be back in the next round.  Color me totally unconvinced he does not have a broken hand or finger.
Other than that, the Caps had their full team on the ice for the main practice, including Alexander Semin who had missed the last two skates with the "flu."  The lines were as follows: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Laich, Sturm-Arnott-Semin, Fehr-Johansson-Chimera, and Hendricks-Beagle-Gordon-Bradley.

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

And the Best Game You Can Name...

Late on Monday night, while watching the Kings/Sharks game, I was reminded of a old hockey song that became a hallmark of Caps games in the early 2000's. Have a listen to a classic, Stompin' Tom Connors' "Good Old Hockey Game."

I miss this song.  It brings back memories of when I was a young kid in my old black Peter Bondra jersey, screaming for the likes of Richard Zednik, Brendan Witt, Steve Konowalchuk, and Bonzai himself in the then-MCI Center.  Think of how far the franchise has come since then for the better.  We've traded those black jerseys for red ones, Bondra for Ovechkin, Witt for Green, Zednik for Laich. We traded all the empty seats and the boos for a full house of red every night and raucous cheers.
In all seriousness, though, what happened to the song?  I know we placed Unleash the Fury in that final third period TV timeout spot once the Caps got intimidating again, so that is a good reason.  Maybe because we all replaced "Bobby scores!" with "Jagr Scores!" and were permanently scarred?

Black Aces On Their Way

As of noon eastern time on April 26th, the Washington Capitals have announced the recall of one player from the American Hockey League's Hershey Bears, who were eliminated from the Calder Cup Playoffs over the weekend. This player is goaltender Braden Holtby, who has been an instant fan favorite in Washington since his magical run in March helped fuel the Caps' turnaround.  Holtby has been called up purely as a backup, and is with the team for depth at an obviously critical position.
However, Hershey Bears writer Tim Leone reported at about 12:15 that four other position players will be called up to the Caps by the end of the week: forwards Andrew Gordon, Mathieu Perreault, and Steve Pinizzotto, and defenseman Patrick McNeil.  Again, these are purely precautionary moves.  Barring injury, it is not likely that any of these players crack the playoff lineup.

Practice: Apr. 26

The Washington Capitals were on ice for a practice this morning at 10:30 as they prepare for their second-round playoff series.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Dennis Wideman skated again today in full pads, taking reps with the strength and conditioning coach for about 20 minutes before he left the ice.  His continued ability to skate is obviously good news, but there is still no timetable for his return to the lineup.
Mike Green returned to the ice after taking yesterday's option following his head's encounter with a slapshot on Saturday.  Green participated in the full practice and reiterated repeatedly after skating that he feels "great."  The defenseman also became frustrated when reporters continued to press him about his health, and Bruce Boudreau affirmed that Green is ready to play in a game after practice.  I guess we'll see later this week just how good he feels.
Mike Knuble participated in practice for the second day in a row, but is still day-to-day.  The veteran right winger only said after skating that he expects to play "at some point" during the second round.  Okay then.
Alexander Semin was the only Cap besides Wideman missing from practice with what is being called a "maintenance day."  Bruce Boudreau later elaborated to explain that Semin is suffering from the flu, so he was told to stay home.

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

Monday, April 25, 2011

Practice: Apr. 25

The Washington Capitals were on ice this morning at 11 AM for an optional practice following yesterday's day off.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

The big news out of KCI today is that defenseman Dennis Wideman skated in full pads for the first time since suffering his injury in late March.  He skated for about 45 minutes before practice and then left the ice after ten minutes of the structured skate.
Mike Knuble skated in full pads as well, participating before practice with Wideman and then again with his teammates afterwards.  Despite this positive news, there is no timetable for either his or Widemans return to the lineup..
Seven Capitals took their options to not skate today: Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, Alexander Semin, Jason Arnott, Nicklas Backstrom, Marco Sturm, and Mike Green.  Of course, Green's absence raises red flags following his unpleasant meeting with a puck on Saturday, but he was at the rink walking around and Bruce Boudreau insisted that he was okay.  Now, we wait to see if he skates tomorrow.
With the Hershey Bears eliminated from the Calder Cup Playoffs last night, it seems extremely likely that both Braden Holtby and Mathieu Perreault will be called up to the big club in the next 24 hours.  These moves would be purely precautionary, and neither would be expected to crack the lineup unless an unfortunate injury occurred.

That's all for now.  In other reading from me today, I take a look at what John Carlson and Karl Alzner have meant to the Caps here.
Information from Sky Kerstein was used in this post.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Carlzner Effect

It's like...they cover the ice...with their minds...
Throughout this entire season, and especially during these playoffs so far, a large amount of attention has been placed on the Capitals' newfound attention and focus on defense.    For about 35 games, the Caps were the same firewagon offensive juggernaut that they were last season. Then came a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in December.  It was then that Bruce Boudreau decided to make the switch to defense-first hockey, and it was a painful transition.
But as we all know, the Capitals recovered admirably.  Washington earned the top seed in the east and then proceeded to win their Quarterfinal series against the Rangers 4-1.  At the center of the change, and the center of the success, have been two young defensemen: John Carlson and Karl Alzer, Washington's top pair, dubbed "Carlzner" by fans and media alike.
It is not very often in the NHL that an organization is able to boast a top pairing that is entirely home-grown; that is, drafted and developed entirely by that organization.  Washington has that in Carlson and Alzner.  In addition to being drafted by the Caps, Carlson and Alzner have played almost their entire professional careers together, first with the Hershey Bears, and now with the Capitals.
Carlson and Alzner are roommates on the road, and they live in the same apartment building.  They are best friends.  They constantly chirp each other on Twitter.  They go to sporting events together.  And they play really good defense together.  The two young defensemen, ever since they were put on the same pairing, have drawn the opposition's toughest lines every night.  They play on the penalty kill, and they are on the ice in the final minute of tight games.  That's not a coincidence.  They know each other very well because of their history together, and in hockey, chemistry is almost as important as skill level when it comes to picking lines.
These two young gentlemen have in spades, and it shows on the ice.  Alzner's stay-at-home, defense-first style is a perfect match for Carlson's attacking, move-the-puck first style; they complement each other beautifully.  They always know where the other one is going to be, and they rarely blow coverage.  When they do, the other one is often there to cover up.  One of my friends Matt told me earlier this year that they "cover the ice with their minds," and I think that sums it up perfectly.  They really are a treat to watch, and it will be fun to see just how they continue to mature, because they are only going to get better.  That's the scary thing.
After Sunday's 3-1 win, which clinched the Caps a spot in the second round, they spoke with NBC's Pierre McGuire, who, to no one's surprise, was yelling.  Check it out.

Off Day for Caps

The Washington Capitals are off today, having earned a respite following their 3-1 series clinching win over the Rangers yesterday afternoon.  They will return to practice with an optional skate Monday morning at 11.
In other reading from me today, a look at the tradition of the handshake line.

The Handshake Line

Often lost in the exuberance of victory or agony in defeat among fans following Stanley Cup Playoff series is the handshake that players participate in after the final game is over.  For about a minute and 30 seconds, the players put away what just happened on the ice and shake hands with their opponents, congratulating them on a job well done and wishing them well as they move towards either the next round or the golf course.  Players are often seen laughing or smiling, no matter what side they are on.  This is one of the grandest traditions in sports, and is something the NHL prides itself on.
Take a look at the video of Saturday's handshake line between the Caps and Rangers, in which Alex Ovechkin makes peace with Marc Staal, Sean Avery doesn't bite anyone and Michal Neuvirth shares a laugh with Henrik Lundqvist:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rapid Rewind: NEXT!

I think this says it all.  Tell me if it doesn't though.
The Washington Capitals exorcised their game five demons from last year Saturday afternoon, dominating from start to finish and winning game five against the Rangers, 3-1.  Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin all scored for the Capitals, while Michal Neuvirth made 26 saves to help the Caps advance in front of a raucous Verizon Center crowd.  Washington also managed to win the game despite missing Mike Green for the last 45 minutes of the game after he was hit in the head with a slapshot; Green did return to the bench but did not skate a shift.  With the win, the Caps win their opening round playoff series by a final of four games to one, taking advantage of home ice to close out an opponent and win a game they really needed to have.  And, I did NOT have a heart attack.

The Rangers came out hard, getting a shot inside the first 30 seconds that Michal Neuvirth had to make a great recovery on to stop. The Capitals then cranked up their pressure with a series of great chances on Henrik Lundqvist off a forecheck, but he was able to make some nice saves as well.  Washington continued to be very aggressive in the early stages, and earned a power play at 5:42 when Bryan McCabe was boxed for tripping.  The Caps took immediate advantage of the man advantage as Mike Green scored at 5:59, but a melee ensued after he scored and the Capitals were awarded another power play when Vinny Prospal was sent off unsportsmanlike conduct.  DC was not able to convert on their second power play, however, as the home side could not get much zone time or shots.  As the middle stages of the frame approached, the game's pace began to settle down as Washington attempted to control the tempo rather than just get in the Rangers' face.  The Caps continued to get the majority of the chances as well, but Lundqvist came up with some great saves to keep DC from extending their advantage.  With 6:11 left, Mike Green was hit in the face again during a shot block and went down the tunnel immediately, although he was able to skate off on his own power.  With the crowd in shock following Green's injury, the Rangers began to get some momentum of their own, crowding Neuvirth and getting some shots off that the rookie had to do well to respond to.  As the period wound down, however, Washington began to get some of the momentum back, and the period closed with the Caps ahead 1-0.
Still without Green to start the second period, the Capitals got off to a good start nonetheless and and got a chance early that was denied by a brilliant Marc Staal block.  DC continued to press early with a solid forecheck and puck control, but New York's defense would not break.  About six and a half minutes into the period, however, Alex Ovechkin beat Marc Staal cleanly down the wall and skated in front, backhanding a shot past Lundqvist for a 2-0 lead at 7:04.  Soon after, at 7:53, the Caps were awarded another power play when Brandon Prust was boxed for interference.  On their man advantage DC got off to a very slow start and never recovered, again getting little zone time or shots; Washington was then finally called for a penalty at 10:20 when Matt Bradley was whistled for hooking.  On their power play the Rangers got great chances during the full two minutes but some smart plays by both Boyd Gordon and John Carlson, as well as some nice saves from Neuvirth, helped DC knock off the shorthanded ice. New York would not go away, and continued to press as the latter stages of the period approached, but Michal Neuvirth kept holding the fort admirably.  With only 2:41 left John Erskine was called for interference and the Rangers set up a critical man advantage.  Again, New York got great chances on the power play, but the penalty killers stood tall and the rest of the period expired without incident; the Caps took a 2-0 lead into the dressing room after 2.
Now missing Jason Arnott to start the third period, the Caps were on their heels early as the clearly desperate Rangers had them pinned in their zone for an extended period of time.  Slowly, DC began to turn some pressure back on the Rangers as they got their feet back under them and began to implement their system well, keeping most shots to the outside.  Inside 11 minutes remaining, the Rangers really began to come hard, throwing men forward in another desperate attempt to get some life.  Their aggression cost them soon after as Jason Chimera and Marcus Johansson broke free on a two on one, but Chimera could not bury the chance.  Alexander Semin got another amazing chance with about eight minutes left, wide open in the slot, but Lundqvist's acrobatics robbed him again.  New York kept coming at the Capitals inside of six minutes remaining, getting continued pressure on Michal Neuvirth, but the Czech rookie kept coming up with big saves to keep the advantage at two.  But immediately after, Alexander Semin converted off a beautiful pass from Marcus Johansson to extend the lead to 3-0 at 16:23.  John Tortorella pulled his goaltender with 3:03 left and the Rangers's Wojtek Wolski scored with 31.5 left, but it was just too little, too late, as the Capitals skated away with a 3-1 win.

Observations:

New. Vee.  Michal Neuvirth played out of his mind, again, to lead the Capitals to victory in this game.  He has been their MVP so far and he is literally unflappable no matter what the Rangers or anyone else throws at him.  His positioning is impeccable, his timing is brilliant, and his technique is perfect.  He knows when to cover the puck and get a faceoff and he knows how to win.  He has been nothing short of stupendous in these playoffs.  People wondered whether or not he should have been the starter.  They got their answer.

Alex Ovechkin had another great game, adding a goal and an assist to his ledger during an already impressive playoffs so far.  His goal was vintage, embarassing Marc Staal down the wing and cutting to the middle to score a huge goal which game the Caps some distance and really got the crowd going.  If he can keep up this elevated play up, and Washington can keep playing defensively, they are going to be scary.  About that system...

The Capitals absolutely dominated this game defensively.  Dom-in-ated.  They kept to their game plan throughout the whole game and the Rangers had very little real chances despite forcing Neuvirth into making some nice saves.  This is what it takes to win in the playoffs, and the Capitals have finally learned from their mistakes and made the switch.  They won this game because the deserved it and they won the series because the deserved it.  Onward.

The Capitals will have tomorrow off before returning to practice on Monday.  Their next game, and next playoff opponent, will not be determined for awhile, so YOU can sit back and relax (and root against the Penguins).  Huzzah!

Go Time

This is it, Caps fans.  The journey continues this afternoon inside Verizon Center. It's game time. Three wins down, thirteen to go.

Gameday: vs. NY Rangers, Apr. 23 - Round One, Game Five

Michal Neuvirth has been stellar so far, along with MoJo.
The Washington Capitals will welcome the New York Rangers to Verizon Center this afternoon for game five of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.  The Caps currently lead the series three games to one, having won games one, two, and four; game four's win came deep into a second overtime period with a goal from Jason Chimera.  That win was critical because Washington trailed 3-0 after 2 periods, but battled back in a tough building and a great defensive team to steal a win.  With tonight's game, the Caps have a chance to close out the series on home ice, something that they (and their fans) really want to see.

Unless you've been under a rock while watching this series (is that even possible?), you know that Henrik Lundqvist has been an absolute rock for the Rangers.  To that end, he will receive his 31st consecutive start in goal tonight for John Tortorella's side; Lunqvist has allowed eleven goals in four games so far. On the injury front, alternate captain Ryan Callahan is still on crutches because of his broken leg and obviously will not play tonight.  Steve Eminger will be the healthy scratch, as he has been all series.

For the Capitals, Michal Neuvirth will receive the start in goal for the fifth game in a row from Bruce Boudreau.  Neuvrith has held the Capitals in games brilliantly all series, and has allowed seven goals in the four games he has started.  Outside the crease, Mike Knuble, Dennis Wideman, and Tom Poti will all miss tonight's game with a hand injury, hematoma, and a pulled groin, respectively.  As such, it is expected that the lineup will remain the same for game five, which means that Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins, Jay Beagle, and DJ King will be healthy scratches.

Puck drops for this one 3:12-ish due to all of the NBC hoopla.  As there are no morning skates tomorrow because of the early start time, updates will come via Twitter all morning.  Do join me.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Practice: Apr. 22

The Washington Capitals were on ice this morning at 10:30 for a practice as they prepare for game 5 tomorrow night.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Mike Knuble and Dennis Wideman both skated before practice, Knuble in full pads and Wideman in a warm-up suit.  Even though he skated in full pads, Knuble will not play tomorrow night, nor will Wideman.  Knuble is believed to be suffering from a hand injury sustained late in game 3, while Wideman has missed almost a month now with hematoma.
Everyone besides those two players partook in practice.  Brooks Laich stayed on the top line with Ovechkin and Backstrom, as he was for the last fifty minutes of game four.  The other three units remained the same: Sturm-Arnott-Semin, Fehr-Johansson-Chimera, and Hendricks-Gordon-Bradley.  Jay Beagle and DJ King took some reps with the third and fourth lines, respectively.
Practice was rather long today, as Bruce Boudreau is stressing to his team that they cannot relax with a 3-1 lead.  Of particular importance was the power play, which the team worked on for the better part of twenty minutes.
That's all from Kettler today.  Game five is tomorrow, and don't you forget it.

On a non-hockey related note, seven years ago today Pat Tillman was killed. Please take a minute today to remember his sacrifice, giving up fame and fortune to fight for the greater good in the name of his Country.
Information from Dave Nichols was used in this post.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

History Can't Hear You

Following the theme of "History Will Be Made" commercials, video artist Max Duchaine has made another commercial following last night's incredible win over the Rangers.  Check it out.

Thanks to Russian Machine Never Breaks for passing this along (again).

Practice: Apr. 21

The Washington Capitals were on ice today for an optional practice following last night's thrilling, come-from-behind, double-overtime win in the Garden last night.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

According to Katie Carrera, injured players Mike Knuble and Dennis Wideman both skated before practice with the strength and conditioning coach. Knuble was not shooting much and was shooting gingerly when he did, so it does not look like he is feeling that much better.  He said that his status is up in the air for game 5, but was insistent that he would play this postseason.
Wideman is continuing to work his way back, but there is still no timetable for a return, although he did say he hopes to practice by the end of the week.  The defenseman says that the only time he feels pain is when he is in the trainer's room.
Today was an optional practice after 92 minutes of hockey last night, so only the scratches partook in the actual practice:  Semyon Varlamov, Sean Collins, DJ King, Tom Poti, Tyler Sloan, and Jay Beagle.  Players participated in some drills with the coaching staff but other than that, it was a rather quiet day in Ballston. As it should be.

That's all for now.  Check back later.
P.S. - If you're into that sort of thing, this is today's famous back page from the New York Daily News:

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Miracle on the Plaza

Yes, I know the quality is bad.  Do I care?  Probably not.
The Washington Capitals pulled off another amazing victory tonight, outlasting the New York rangers through over ninety minutes of hockey to steal game four by a final score of 4-3.  The Rangers had the Caps down and out after 40 minutes after scoring three goals, including two in seven seconds, in the second period, but Washington battled back to score three goals in the final regulation frame before winning thirty minutes into overtime. Jason Chimera scored the winner off a turnover down low, while Marcus Johansson scored twice and Alexander Semin added a tally for Washington.  Michal Neuvirth made 36 saves on 39 shots for the visitors.  With the win, the Caps take a 3-1 series lead and can close out the series with a win at Verizon on Saturday.

Both teams got off to good starts, garnering chances in the opening two minutes, but could not convert as both Henrik Lundqvist and Michal Neuvirth made solid first saves.  As the early stages of the period continued, both teams continued to get chances at both ends, but solid defensive play by both teams, particularly in the neutral zone, limited odd-man breaks.  At 7:06, Brian Boyle was sent off for goalie interference when he literally decked Neuvirth, sending DC to their first power play of the game.  On their man advantage, Washington got off to a slow start and never really achieved momentum or zone time; New York was able to kill off the minor easily.  Immediately after, Boyd Gordon was boxed for tripping in the offensive zone at 9:46.  The New York power play got great chances with zone time but timely shot blocks and some luck kept the puck out of the DC net. After the penalty ran out, both teams got quick chances, but Alex Ovechkin fanned on a shot in front, and then a minute later Marco Sturm was called for interference at 16:21.  On this power play the Rangers got no shots and the Caps were able to keep the pressure off, resulting in a successful kill.  Immediately after, Brian Boyle was called for another goalie interference call at 18:55; the Washington power play got better zone pressure but was not able to score in the remaining minute and 3 seconds.  Alex Ovechkin took an interference call with two seconds left, negating the rest of the power play, and the first period ended tied at 0.
With 55 seconds of four on four to open the second period, the Rangers took advantage early and got a nice chance early that was stopped by Neuvirth, and then the New York power play commenced.  The Rangers got few chances on their man advantage but Matt Gilroy was sprung on a breakaway just after it expired that Michal Neuvirth had to be excellent on.  Mike Green was called for a penalty soon after, a trip, and 2:56, and the Rangers set it up again.  New York had another brilliant set of chances but Washington was able to kill it off.  But the Rangers broke through at 5:24 with another impossible angle goal when Artem Anisimov banked one in from almost behind the goal line.  Washington was kept totally on their heels by relentless Ranger forechecking as the period continued, and had no answer.  The Caps tried to set up some zone time after the goal, but simply could not, and the Rangers had all of the momentum in the middle part of the period.  New York continued to dominate and Michal Neuvirth made several great saves to keep it a one goal deficit.  But the Rangers scored two goals in seven seconds immediately after, one off the stick of Marian Gaborik and then Brandon Dubinsky to take a 3-0 lead at 13:40 and then 13:47, respectively.  The Caps kept trying to come at the Rangers but simply could not get anything going, with Lundqvist making several nice saves.  Alexander Semin was boxed for boarding at 19:16, but the rangers were not able to score on the power play to close out the frame and it ended with New York leading 3-0.
On the power play to start the third period, the Rangers got a few shots early but were not able to add another marker.  Clearly desperate, the Caps tried to get something going, and were rewarded when Alexander Semin stole the puck and poked it past Lundqvist at 2:47.  Then Marcus Johansson cut the lead to one less than a minute later, putting one into the goal on the doorstep at 3:44.  John Tortorella called timeout and then the Rangers came hard again, relying on Neuvirth to make another potentially game-saving stop with about 14 minutes left. Washington began to try and regain control as they attempted to generate more chances to tie, and were given a power play at 10:03 when Sean Avery was given the gate for slashing.  On their man advantage, the Caps got some shots up high but again Lundqvist was excellent and DC could not score on the power play; but John Carlson took a bomb towards the net just after the power play expired that was tipped by Johansson to equalize at 12:07.  Immediately after the goal, however, Boyd Gordon was called for another penalty at 12:48 to send DC shorthanded again.  Washington killed off the penalty however, and they were aided by two brilliant saves from Michal Neuvirth in front to keep the game tied. As the late stages of regulation approached, New York came hard again at the Caps, forechecking down low and generating chances, but DC was able to hold them off and the game moved to overtime, tied 3-3 after regulation.
Both teams came out strong in the first OT, getting chances early but really trying to control the pace of play defensively to start.  The Rangers began to control as the early stages of OT wore on, however, getting the better chances and controlling the puck for long stretches in the offensive zone.  The Rangers continued to get the better chances with close-range shots as the middle stages of the extra frame approached, with DC playing solid defense.  Washington got a few chances with abut 12 minutes left, but they were both snuffed out by Lundqvist as well.  Past the midway point, with 8:59 left, Alex Ovechkin was sent in on a breakaway but he was stoned by a magnificent Lundqvist save to keep the game going.  After Bruce Boudreau was forced to call his timeout with 7:05 remaining following a Caps icing, the New York kept coming and got a great chance in front but Neuvirth was again there to keep it out.  With 5:16 remaining, the Caps were given a power play when Derek Stepan shot the puck over the glass, resulting in delay of game.  Washington got great chances during the first minute of their man advantage but could not break through; Lundqvist continued to play out of his mind.  As the first OT drew to a close, both teams came close again but could not break through, and it ended still tied at three.
In the second OT period, Alex Ovechkin got a chance early but was again denied by a great Lundqvist save.  Washington continued to play well in the early stages, but Lundqvist kept coming up with stellar stops to keep the game going. Washington was finally called for a penalty at 5:21 for too many men, giving the Rangers a critical power play.  More close calls abounded during the man advantage, but DC was again able to hold off New York.  As the middle stages of the period approached, the Rangers began to pick up their play again and had the Caps pinned in their zone for extended periods.  But Washington finally caiught their break when a freak bounce put a puck on Jason Chimera's stick in front, and the maligned winger buried it for a 4-3 win just over 12 minutes in.

Observations.

Be still my heart.  I was totally convinced after forty minutes that the Caps were going to let this one slip away and waste another 2-0 series lead, as has been their all-too-repetitive history.  But this team showed unbelievable resolve, battling back against a brutal crowd, a shot-blocking army, and one of the best goaltenders in the world to steal this game.  They continued to battle despite many amazing saves from Lundqvist, and they never gave up.  For this one night at least, I am very proud to be a Washington Capitals fan.

Michal Neuvirth deserves a cookie, or a beer, or at least a hug, from every single player on the Caps.  The young Czech was unreal throughout the entire game; he had no chance on any of the goals that he allowed.  He made big save after big save in all five periods, and he was the only reason the game wasn't 4 of 5 to zero after 2.  #TeamNeuvy.

Jason Chimera played a great game tonight, and not just because he scored the game winning goal.  Number 25 used his speed well all night and he was a huge factor once he was moved to the third line with Johansson and Fehr.  That line has great potential and we saw why for the final 50 or so minutes of this game.  I do hope jolly old Santa Claus keeps them together.

Without a doubt, the Capitals have earned a day off and will likely not practice tomorrow.  They will return to the ice Friday in preparation for Saturday's game five, which will be back inside the friendly, loud, confines of the Phone Booth.

Go Time

This is it, Caps fans.  The journey continues tonight inside Madison Square Garden.  It's game time. Two wins down, fourteen to go.

Updates From the Morning Skate

The Washington Capitals were on ice this morning for their pre-game skate as they prepare to meet the Rangers tonight.  Some updates from Madison Square:

It looks as though veteran right winger Mike Knuble will be absent from the Caps' lineup tonight, a big blow to Washington.  Knuble did not skate, and though Bruce Boudreau would not divulge his official status, he has not skated in three days and the players spoke to the media afterwards like they are preparing to be without him.  He is believed to be suffering from a hand injury.
As a result, Jason Chimera will take his spot on the top line, while Eric Fehr will slide into the third line right wing role previously occupied by Chimera.  The other two units will remain the same; Jay Beagle, DJ King, Tyler Sloan, and Sean Collins will be healthy scratches.
Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Marco Sturm all took their options but are expected to play tonight. Michal Neuvirth will receive his fourth consecutive start in goal.

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

Gameday: at NY Rangers, Apr. 20: Round One, Game Four

Alex Ovechkin's Caps look to get back on track tonight.
The Washington Capitals are back in New York City this evening to take on the Rangers in game four of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.  The Capitals currently hold a two games to one edge in the series, having won games one and two on home ice but falling on Sunday afternoon to a late goal by Brandon Dubinsky inside Madison Square Garden.  The Capitals had a tough time matching the physicality of John Tortorella's men throughout Sunday's game, and it ended up coming back to bite them in the end.  Tonight is a pivotal game in the series, as the Caps look to stomp out any Ranger momentum and take control once again, while the Rangers aim to put all of the pressure back on the Capitals, and guarantee one more game at the Garden.

To no one's surprise, John Tortorella will give the start in goal to Henrik Lundqvist, who has started all three games in the series, and allowed six goals in those three contests.  Lundqvist made 23 saves on 25 shots in game three, and has played very well this entire series.  On the injury front, New York is still missing right winger and alternate captain Ryan Callahan, who has a broken leg. The Rangers sent winger Mats Zuccarello down on Monday, so only one healthy scratch is expected, and that is defenseman Steve Eminger.

For the Caps, Michal Neuvirth is the more than likely starter for tonight's game. The Czech rookie has allowed five goals in three games this series and made 32 stops in a strong losing effort on Sunday.  The Capitals will need Neuvirth to play well between the pipes in order to get this split that they are seeking.  Outside the crease, Dennis Wideman and Tom Poti will both miss tonight's game with hematoma and a groin injury, respectively.  The definite healthy scratches for Boudreau will be Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins, DJ King, and Jay Beagle.  Eric Fehr, who has watched from the press box in both games so far, may be in line to see his first action tonight, though it remains to be seen who he would replace.

Puck drops for this one 7:10-ish.  Check back later this morning for updates from the morning skates.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

History Will Be Red

So if you missed it, yesterday, the NHL came out with a "History Will Be Made" commercial about Brandon Dubinsky's game-winning goal on Sunday afternoon. I'll spare you linking it because I don't want anyone else to have to look at that stache of his.
In response, Caps fan Max Duchaine made one of his own - for Alexander Semin's game-winning goal in game one.  Check it out.

Thanks to Russian Machine Never Breaks for passing this along.

Practice: Apr. 19

The Washington Capitals were on ice today for a practice as they prepare for tomorrow night's pivotal game 4 in New York.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Mike Knuble was not present at the skate, but his absence was written off as a maintenance day, and he is expected to play tomorrow, according to Bruce Boudreau.  It is believed that Knuble took a shot off his hand on Sunday.
Dennis Wideman skated before the rest of his teammates took to the ice for the second time in three days and is improving well.  Wideman skated without pads again, but his ability to be on the ice is certainly encouraging.
Other than Wideman and Knuble, everyone else was present for practice.  Jason Chimera took Knuble's spot on the top line withe Ovechkin and Backstrom; the other lines were Sturm-Arnott-Semin, Laich-Johansson-Fehr-Beagle, and King-Bradley-Hendricks-Gordon.
The Capitals will fly back to New York this afternoon in preparation for tomorrow night's game.

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

Monday, April 18, 2011

Practice: Apr. 18

The Washington Capitals were on ice this morning for a skate following yesterday's disappointing 3-2 loss in New York.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Today was an optional skate, with only four players who played yesterday participating. Those players were Hendricks, Bradley, Chimera, and Erskine, and they were joined by Poti, Varlamov, Sloan, Fehr, King, and Collins.  Not much was done in terms of practice with so few players present; it was more like a skate to keep people in shape.
Even if there was a lack of action on the ice, there certainly was not off of it. Bruce Boudreau made his displeasure with the Rangers' tactics quite clear during his post-practice media availability.  Boudreau called out Marc Staal's high hit on Mike Green, as well as the Rangers' constant battering of Michal Neuvirth, despite being warned to not do what they were doing.  It remains to be seen how these comments will be taken in context, and the firestorm they will inevitably create.

That's all from a relatively quiet day at KCI.  Check back later.
Information from Sky Kerstein was used in this post.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

That Was Not the Plan

Here we go again?  Not yet.
After watching Sunday afternoon's disappointing 3-2 loss in New York, which cut the Capitals' lead in their opening playoff series to 2-1, I will admit I was quite rattled.  I was upset with the way the game had ended, and I made my displeasure known quite clearly on Twitter.  I began to forecast impending doom, that the Capitals would drop everything, including their game plan, and end up on the losing end of another incredible upset.  If that Caps had won that game, everything would have been so much easier.  The Caps would have the Rangers pinned up against a wall, and three wins in a row would mean that DC had all of the momentum.
Thing is, though, we didn't win.  The Rangers are back in this series, and now they have the momentum.  There is no denying that.  But it is not time to panic. As I slowly cooled down from my forecasts of collapse, however, I began to realize a couple of things.
No team has ever won sixteen consecutive games on the way to the Stanley Cup.  The Capitals, at least on paper, still have the deeper lineup and the more explosive offensive players.  Michal Neuvirth is playing well.  Washington came back twice to tie the game, despite several questionable calls which resulted in a mountain of shorthanded ice to kill off.  And it took a fluky goal after an awful retaliation penalty by John Carlson for the Caps to actually lose the game.
That is not to say that the Rangers got lucky.  They came out hard, they stuck to their game plan, and they earned Sunday's victory.  They used their raucous home crowd as a boost.  They continue to block shots and they continue to establish a physical advantage early in games.  Their game is not going to change.  Neither can Washington's.
Now, with two days off, before an absolutely critical game four, it is the Capitals' chance to regroup.  They need to get that loss out of their heads, and they need to find new ways to respond to the physicality of John Tortorella's men.  They need to find a way to win game four.  Because right now, there is just a little bit of pressure on the Capitals.  If they falter on Wednesday, it will be time to wonder if we may be left hanging...again.

Rapid Rewind: Power Shift

The Washington Capitals let one slip away Sunday, falling to the New York Rangers 3-2 inside of Madison Square Garden.  The Rangers struck first early in the second period, and the teams traded goals until late in the third, when Brandon Dubinksy broke through for the winner with only 1:39 left in the game past Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth made 32 saves in the DC net, and Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble both scored for Washington. With the loss, the Capitals failed to put the Rangers in a very deep hole, and now New York only trails the series by one game.  Plus, the Rangers have the momentum.  Game four will be very interesting.

The game got off to a rather slow start, as both teams aimed to get their footing early.  The Caps got a good chance two minutes in when a Mike Green shot caromed around in front, but Henrik Lundqvist was able to cover up. Michal Neuvirth was forced into action immediately after when Matt Gilroy got a two-on-one break, but the rookie was able to swallow his shot in his chest protector.  As the period continued, the Caps began to slow play down again, but the Rangers came at Washington with a fierce rush inside 12 minutes left that had the Caps on their heels.  New York kept coming at the Caps full tilt, and it took some nice plays from the DC defense and Neuvirth to keep them off the board through the middle part of the frame.  The Caps then came pressing with about six minutes left, and a flurry in front yielded them a power at 15:01 when Matt Gilroy was called for holding Boyd Gordon.  On their power play, Washington got some zone time early and some quality chances, but were unable to break through as Lundqvist also made some quality saves.  After the expiration of the penalty, the Caps took a penalty of their own at 17:20 when Matt Hendricks was whistled for interference.  Mike Knuble then took a delay of game call only 35 second later, giving the Rangers a lengthly 5-on-3.  But Washington got some heroic goaltending from Neuvirth to hold off the two man advantage, and then New York was called for another penalty when Erik Christensen was boxed for goalie interference at 19:43.  The last 17 seconds of the period expired without incident, and the first period ended tied at zero.
On the power play for 1:44 to start the second period, the Capitals got very little zone time and wasted the first minute and ten seconds before Mike Green was called for a penalty of his own, a hooking minor at 1:29.  After some uneventful four on four, the Rangers set up a power play and got some brilliant chances, but could not hit the net.  Marcus Johansson then got a great shorthanded chance, but Lundqvist got his glove up in time to make a brilliant save.  John Carlson was then called for cross-checking at 4:41, giving the Rangers another power play. Erik Christensen broke the deadlock at 5:30 with an impossible angle shot that beat Neuvirth short side, giving the Rangers the lead.  DC had a great chance to break even under minute later, but Lundqvist was able to get across and make a great save on Alexander Semin to keep it 1-0.  Washington got no breaks after that, getting called for another penalty when Alex Ovechkin was sent off for hooking at 8:50.  DC was able to kill off the first part of the power play, but Scott Hannan was given the gate for holding with nine seconds left in the first penalty. Somehow, the Caps were able to kill off the penalties, and got a great chance as soon as the penalty expired but the shot was blocked by Dan Girardi.  The Capitals continued to press, but were denied by Lundqvist twice more.  But with a minute left, Alex Ovechkin tied the game with a nice tip in close off a Mike Green shot.  But the Rangers came back hard, and it looked like Ruslan Fedotenko had scored to take the lead with one tenth of a second left.  After a lengthly video review, however, the goal was waved off, and the period ended tied at 1.
The Rangers came out hard in the third, getting a great chance in the opening minute as Vinny Prospal let one go that was deflected in front but went just wide. The Rangers kept coming, clearly desperate, but slowly Washington was able to gain a little momentum.  With about 15 minutes left, both teams got brilliant chances in close, including a 2-on-1 for the Caps, but great defensive plays at both ends kept the score tied.  Inside thirteen minutes left, the Rangers set up a dominant offensive zone shift that finally ended with a goal when Prospal banged home a rebound from a Marc Staal shot at 8:41.  And soon after, the referees called another penalty on the Caps, this one for tripping on Nicklas Backstrom at 9:13. Washington was able to kill off the minor, however, and began their charge to try and equalize once more.  The Caps began to come full tilt at the Rangers, and finally were awarded their third power play of the game when Marian Gaborik was boxed for cross-checking at 13:38.  After a bad first half of the man advantage, however, the Caps were able to equalize when Mike Knuble popped one home from his office at 14:48.  With fewer than five minutes left, the game got a little chippy, and both John Carlson and Brian Boyle were called for matching minors at 16:45; the calls resulted in 4-on-4 hockey.  With the extra space, the Rangers pressed in the offensive zone and broke through for a 3-2 lead when Brandon Dubinsky cashed a weird rebound with 1:39 left.  Despite some desperation from the Caps late in the game, they could not draw even and the Rangers skated away with a critical game 3.

Observations:

I am not usually one to complain about referees, but this was ridiculous.  The Caps were called for several bush-league penalties that let the Rangers get the first goal and keep the Caps hemmed in their own zone for long stretches.  This made it difficult for the Caps to get their big guns on the ice and gain momentum. Yes, the Caps got their second equalizer on a power play, but it was a blatant call and the Rangers at that point had already reaped the benefits of the calls.

The Caps' top defensive pairing did not have a good day.  John Carlson was fighting the puck all day and took a stupid penalty late in the game that led to the four on four, which led to the winning goal for the Rangers.  Karl Alzner was caught out of position twice on Rangers' goals as well.  These two have been their best defensive unit all season long, and DC cannot afford a meltdown from them right now.

Overall, this was a slightly disappointing effort from the Capitals.  They had some things go against them, and showed some resolve in the third period, but the fact remains that on paper, they are a better team than the Rangers, and they have to beat them.  New York is missing their best skater in Ryan Callahan, as well.  The Caps had a chance to put the series away, and they blew it with soft defensive coverage and an inability to cash good chances.  Make no mistake, this is a series, and the Caps cannot let it go long.  No lead is safe.  Heaven forbid we find that out again.

The Capitals will return home this evening for the next two days to try and recover from this loss.  They will practice the next two days at Kettler Capitals Iceplex before returning to New York for game three, which will be Wednesday night.

Go Time

This is it, Caps fans.  New York, New York.  The journey continues this afternoon inside the World's Most Famous Arena.  Less than twenty minutes until puck drop. Two wins down, fourteen to go.

Gameday: at NY Rangers, Apr. 17 - Round One, Game Three

Karl Alzner and Brooks Laich have played very well so far.
The Washington Capitals are in New York this afternoon to take on the Rangers inside Madison Square Garden.  Today's game will be game three of the best-of-seven series; Washington holds a 2-0 lead, having won game one 2-1 and game two 2-0.  The Capitals have been playing well in the series, playing sound defensive hockey and limiting the Rangers' opportunities, and it has led them to two wins so far.  Today is a huge game as the Caps look to take further control and the Rangers try to get back on the horse and keep from falling down a very hard hole to get out of.

John Tortorella will roll with Henrik Lundqvist in goal for the twenty-ninth consecutive game this afternoon.  Lundqvist has played well this series, allowing four goals on 51 shots.  He played well in game two, making some great saves out of his 16, and could not be faulted on either goal that he allowed.  On the injury front, alternate captain Ryan Callahan is still out with his broken leg, and has not yet resumed skating.  It is believed that Sean Avery will stay in the lineup for Tortorella, which means that Mats Zuccarello and Steve Eminger will be healthy scratches.

For the Capitals, Michal Neuvirth will get the nod in goal for the third game in a row of these 2011 playoffs.  Neuvirth has been excellent so far this series, stopping 46 of 47 shots and allowing one goal in 138 minutes of play.  He posted a 22-save shutout in game two.  Outside of the crease, Dennis Wideman and Tom Poti are both still out on the back end with hematoma and a groin injury, respectively.  Aside from his injured players, Bruce Boudreau is expected to keep the same lineup from games one and two, which means that Jay Beagle, DJ King, Eric Fehr, Tyler Sloan, and Sean Collins will all be healthy scratches.

Puck drops for this one 3:08-ish.  Check back after the game, as there are no morning skates because of the afternoon start time.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Practice: Apr. 16

The Washington Capitals were on ice this afternoon at 12 for a practice following last night's 2-0 playoff win over the Rangers.  Some notes from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

Dennis Wideman skated alone before practice for the second day in a row.  The defenseman skated without pads, and out himself through a little bit of skating and shooting before leaving the ice after about 15 minutes.
The entire team except for Wideman took part in the full skate.  This included Mike Green, who scared many when he took a high hit late last night and immediately left the ice.  Tom Poti also skated after missing the previous morning skate.  There is still no timetable for his return.
There was one curious change up top, however, as Jason Arnott centered Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble while Nicklas Backstrom centered Marco Sturm and Alexander Semin.  It remains to be seen whether these changes will go into effect tomorrow.

That's all from a very short practice at Kettler today.  Check back later.
Information from Sky Kerstein was used in this post.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rapid Rewind: Operation Shutdown

Michal Neuvirth and the Caps shut out the Rangers Friday.
The Washington Capitals pulled out another game Friday night, knocking off the New York Rangers 2-0 at Verizon Center in game two of their best-of-seven series. Jason Chimera and Jason Arnott scored twice in a timeframe of just under two minutes in the second period and Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves for his first career NHL postseason shutout for the Capitals.  With the win, the Capitals take a 2-0 lead in  the series, which will move to New York and Madison Square Garden over the weekend and then into next week for games three and four.

The Rangers got off to a good start, getting the first scoring chance on a two-on-one that Michal Neuvirth had to do well with his blocker to deny.  The Capitals tried to come back with a rush of their own soon after, but were not able to get much going and New York began to really carry the play.  Washington was not able to get their first shot on goal until 6:05, but it was a good one, as Henrik Lundqvist had to make a nice save on Jason Chimera.  The Caps slowly gained their footing, however, and were awarded the first power play of the game at 8:04 when Ryan McDonagh was boxed for interference.  Despite some good looks on the man advantage, the Caps were not able to get any shots on goal.  New York kept to take advantage of some sloppy zone play by the Capitals in the middle stages of the period, but Neuvirth continued to look strong in countering them. Inside five minutes remaining, Washington got some pressure off a nice shift from the Chimera-Laich-Johansson line, but could not convert as Lundqvist made another nice save.  The Capitals were penalized at 17:52 when Matt Bradley was called for charging in the offensive zone, and they got a great chance from Mike Knuble on a shorthanded rush that the winger simply could not convert. Washington was able to kill of the rest of the penalty effectively, and the first period ended with deadlocked at 0.
The Capitals came out hard in the second, taking advantage of some New York turnovers to get some chances in front that were either blocked or missed the net.  But Washington kept coming early, and Jason Chimers was able to pot a goal at 2:11 off some great work down low by Brooks Laich and Marcus Johansson.  New York then took a penalty when Ryan McDonagh was given another penalty, a roughing call, at 2:59.  The Caps took full advantage this time as Jason Arnott banged home a rebound of a Mike Green shot at 4:08 to extend the Washington lead to 2-0.  With those two goals in just under two minutes, John Tortorella was forced to call his timeout to try and calm his men down. Washington then really picked up their defensive zone play, keeping the Rangers to the outside, and the frustrated New Yorkers took another penalty at 10:45 when Ruslan Fedotenko was sent off for high-sticking.  Given a chance to really stop on the Rangers, however, the Caps were not able to convert again as Lundqvist regained his footing and made a few nice saves.  As the period continued, the Caps kept frustrating the Rangers with excellent play in their own zone, not letting New York get anything to the middle and giving Michal Neuvirth ample time to see everything.  However, they were called for a penalty at 18:11 when Alexander Semin was boxed for hooking.  The Capitals had no trouble with the first minute and 49 seconds of the penalty, however, and the second period ended with DC up 2-0.
After killing off the final 11 seconds of the Ranger power play to open the third period, the Capitals continued to control puck possession and set the tempo of the game in the early stages of the stanza.  With about four minutes gone, the Rangers got a nice chance in front, but it was eaten up by Matt Hendricks.  The Rangers then really ramped up their  pressure, throwing bodies and shots at the net and really putting Washington on their heels, but the defense and Neuvirth were able to fend them off despite a few very close chances.  The speed of the game picked up rapidly, and Neuvirth was called on again with nine minutes remaining to make a nice save on Marian Gaborik point-blank; the Czech responded admirably with a fantastic challenge.  Immediately after, Alex Ovechkin was sprung by Karl Alzner on a breakaway, but Lundvist was able to get his pad across in time to deny the Captain.  Clearly desperate now, New York began to come at the Caps in waves, throwing men forward and pulling their goaltender with 2:14 remaining.  The Capitals defense held firm, however, and the Caps skated away with a 2-0 series lead.

Observations:

Another amazing game from Michal Neuvirth.  The rookie recorded his sixth professional playoff shutout, and first one at the NHL level, making 22 saves. Among those 22 were several huge ones in the middle frame and towards the end of the game when the Rangers got desperate and really started to come at the Capital defense.  Again, he showed why he was given game one and he has, for now, vanquished all doubters.  This is his net, and he is not keen on giving it away.

It's been said forever that teams willing to do the dirty work win in the playoffs. Both Capitals goals tonight and now three of the four have been scored from below the faceoff circles.  Coincidence?  Um, no.  Washington has guys who are willing to go down in front of the net, and it is paying off.  Now, they just have to keep doing it, and they will continue to reap the rewards.

Overall, this was another rock-solid playoff hockey game from the Caps.  They came out rather slow, but picked it up admirably in the second period, which they dominated from start to finish.  By the time the Rangers had a chance to pick it up again, it was too late, and the Caps frustrated them tremendously with their shot-blocking and excellent zone play.  This is how you do it.

The Capitals will practice at 12 noon tomorrow off before they travel to New York City and prepare for Sunday's game three.  That game is scheduled for 3 PM and will be broadcast nationally by NBC.

Go Time

This is it, Caps fans.  The journey continues tonight.  It's game time. One win down, fifteen to go.

Updates from the Morning Skate

The Washington Capitals were on ice this morning at 10 for their pre-game skate before tonight's game two against the Rangers.  Some updates from Kettler Capitals Iceplex:

The big news out of the morning skate today is that Dennis Wideman skated for the first time since his injury before the rest of his teammates.  Wideman was not in full pads, but he was able to shoot and put himself through some skating maneuvers. Bruce Boudreau sounded very optimistic about a possible return, saying he could come back by the end of this series if it goes long enough.
As expected, Michal Neuvirth has been confirmed as the starter in goal for the Caps tonight.
Bruce Boudreau will keep the same lineup from Wednesday night's win.  That means that DJ King, Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins, Jay Beagle, and Eric Fehr will all be healthy scratches.  Tom Poti and Dennis Wideman are still out.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
On the New York side, Henrik Lundqvist has been confirmed as tonight's starter (in other breaking news, the sky is blue today).
There is one big lineup change, as Mats Zuccarello will be scratched after playing in game one.  He will be replaced by pest Sean Avery.  Steve Eminger will be remain a healthy scratch.

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