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  • Caps Recap 11/9/09

    The Washington Capitals entered this week without the services of their superstar playmaker Alex Ovechkin; though if you looked at the scores of their three games last week, you wouldn’t know it. Washington scored 13 goals in three games. Read the rest of this entry »

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    Islanders at Capitals – 10/30/2009

    The Capitals enter tonight’s contest seeking their seventh straight win following a victory over the Atlanta Thrashers last night. The team, especially Alexander Ovechkin, is on a tear and has brought about this winning streak with their continued offensive power and improved defense. Against Atlanta, Ovechkin tied an NHL record with six multi-goal games in one month. In 12 games, Ovechkin has 13 goals and 22 points, both tops in the NHL. Over the past week and a half, the team has also received positive contributions from young call-ups Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux, which is a great sign for a team already stacked with veteran star power. Read the rest of this entry »

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    Caps Steal One In Overtime

    It Was Over When:
    Mike Green decided that it was – see the goal notes on the overtime winner by Brooks Laich.

    THN Turning Point:
    Green’s goal in the third period – it gave the Capitals life, and seemed to subsequently put the Islanders back on their heels. Read the rest of this entry »

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    French Ready for Next Challenge

    Mark French in 2002.
    Mark French in 2002.

    The German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, famously said, “that which does not destroy us makes us stronger” and for new Hershey Bears head coach, Mark French, that statement could not ring any truer.

    After being fired in his only previous professional head coaching job by the Wichita Thunder of the Central Hockey League in December of 2007, and then serving a short stint as a volunteer coach with the Reading Royals of the East Coast Hockey League, French arrived as in Hershey in January of 2008 to begin his job as Bob Woods’ assistant coach.

    “You find out a lot about yourself in adverse situations. Everybody’s a good coach when things are going well and you have great players, but you truly find out a lot about your character and intestinal fortitude when things don’t go well,” said French.

    “I know I’ve become stronger as a person, and I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve taken from that experience, no matter what the circumstances are, I’ve been able to overcome it and land on my feet.”

    French, who played four years of college hockey and graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Psychology from Brock University in Canada, receiving the highly regarded “212 Degrees” award each year, presented to the athlete who demonstrates leadership, commitment and excellence on the ice, still benefits from the lessons learned at that institute.

    “I think the one thing that going to university and getting a degree, the biggest thing it taught me was how to learn; and the thirst for knowledge, and that’s how I’ve always been as a coach,” he reflected. “So, I think that’s what it’s provided me, always striving to learn a little more.”

    While it might seem that his degree would benefit him in his dealings with the multiple personalities that comprise a hockey club, French is not so sold on that line of thinking.

    “I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation with the psychology, but I’ve got a hunger for knowledge and I love the game of hockey and all of the nuances of the game of hockey and I always want to be learning.”

    After the recently concluded Washington Capitals prospect camp, French said the experience was like his previous ones, with one notable exception.

    “I don’t think it was much different, but certainly when I got a chance to introduce myself, it’s nice to put the head coach title beside it,” French said. “That was the only thing that was different, it was just nice to be here for a second year and get comfortable with the players and staff.”

    Unlike recent affiliations that Hershey has had, which saw them not always reading from the same book, their most recent union with the Capitals has saw the partners not only reading from the same book, but being on the same page. With that happy unison spurning two Calder Cups, French had a simple one word answer, “no”, when I asked him if fans should expect a discernable difference in the Bears’ style of play now that he has switched roles.

    “I think the one nice thing that has been done with Washington and Hershey is that we basically play the same style, and that’s dictated by the Caps. So, if there was a change in their philosophy, that would be mirrored in Hershey. Bruce’s system has proven to be very successful; we employed it last year in Hershey and were also very successful, so, there’s certainly no need to change our style.”

    French’s promotion opened up a spot for an assistant coach; and that position has been filled by Troy Mann, who previously turned down the position in the midst of the 2007-08 season, opening the door for French to join the organization.

    “Even prior to me getting the head-coaching job, the whole organization talked about getting him,” said French. “Bruce (Boudreau) has a very good relationship with him, Bob (Woods) played with him and I’ve known him for many years, as has Doug (Yingst, Hershey’s General Manager). Bruce probably knows him best, but at the same time everybody knows what values and type of work ethic he brings to the table.”

    Mark French and family, 2009.French and family in 2009.

    When asked what was his most cherished memory of last year’s title run, French, who had answered all of my previous questions with certainty and swiftness, pondered the question for a few seconds before offering up his response.

    “After Keith Aucoin scored that empty net goal late in game six. We had scored the three quick (first period) goals and then it was a long wait, where every second seemed like an eternity; and the game still seemed to be very much on the line up until that point, especially when Manitoba made it 3-1. When he scored that goal with just over a minute left, you could really start to bring yourself to enjoy it and reflect.”

    In French’s upcoming first season leading the boys from Chololatetown, Bears fans are hoping that the results will be a mirror image of last year’s successful campaign.

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    Woods Takes Winning Act to Washington

    As far as the long history of the Hershey Bears goes, Bob Woods will always be a “special” guy. After capturing his first Calder Cup with the Bears as a player in 1997, he proceeded to pounce upon his second as an assistant under Bruce Boudreau in 2006, where his duties included running the special teams, and finished off the “triple treat” by notching his third this season as the head coach, putting him in special company.

    “They’re all good and nice in their own way. I think the differences are, as a player it’s nice because you’re one of the guys, and as a coach, you’re kind of the leader of the guys.”

    Woods, who replaced Boudreau last season after Boudreau received the call to run the Washington Capitals’ bench, was well aware of the scrutiny he would be facing following up Boudreau’s highly successful run at the Hershey helm.

    “Those are big shoes to fill, and to be able to show that I could do it on my own, I was pretty proud of that; but I couldn’t have done it without the guidance from Bruce.”

    Despite the fact that he was leading a talented club with a heavy veteran presence in his first full season in Chocolatetown, Woods, a native of LeRoy, Saskatchewan, was confident that he could handle the challenge that awaited him.

    “This is my fourth championship now, so I think I’ve got a pretty good handle of what it takes to be a champion. I think I’m fair with the guys. As long as you’re talking to them and are fair with them, they’re going to play hard for you.”

    Lauded by Boudreau as a big reason why the 2006 Bears ascended to the top, Woods feted his assistant coach, Mark French as a huge factor in the 2009 triumph.

    “I’ve got a great assistant in Mark, he was a big bonus for me, and I don’t know what I’d do without him.”

    Peering through his crystal ball as he eyed up the 2009 campaign, Woods, who definitely knows a winning squad when he sees it, liked what he saw from the start.

    “Before anyone even got here, we saw the potential and knew that we had a team, if all would keep healthy, if we could keep them all together, we knew we had all the makings of a championship team.”

    Although the Bears struggled slightly, but eventually mowed down the Manitoba Moose in the finals, Woods said his charges’ chances took a pivotal turn much earlier in their playoff journey.

    “I think the turning point was when we beat Wilkes-Barre in game seven. We knew that was good, and that was what we were battling for, as much for the division championship because we knew home ice would be huge. Once we got through that and won that series, even though we knew Providence was going to be tough, we knew we had that chance.”

    Heading into the playoffs, with Daren Machesney faltering a bit down the stretch, and Simeon Varlamov securing a spot between the pipes for the Capitals in the NHL playoffs, many thought that Hershey’s goaltending looked to be its most problematic position. However, Woods knew that rookie, Michal Neuvirth, was capable of steadying the ship.

    “Once we really got to know Neuvy, I didn’t have any doubt because I just saw he was the type of kid that he is, and nothing really bothers him.

    “You think about a kid 20 years old being in an environment like Hershey, where there’s a lot of pressure, and he handled it well, under the circumstances. He showed emotion and the guys were fired up that he was doing what he was doing, and they battled hard for him.”

    Now that the 41-year-old Woods has accomplished everything one can accomplish in the AHL, the powers that be in Washington have decided to give him a chance to earn “one for the thumb” as Boudreau’s assistant coach after being named to that position yesterday.

    With the Capitals, he will have the opportunity to coach the defenseman, many of whom he helped develop in Hershey.

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    Varlamov Dazzling in Defeat

    In a game with few bright spots for Washington Capitals fan, Simeon Varlamov continued to shine.

    Varly faced 42 shots on the night – many of them quality chances – and turned away all but 3. The Caps were outplayed and outworked most of the night, but the outstanding young Russian kept the Caps in the game, allowing them to force overtime, and ultimately, put themselves in position to steal a win.

    History was not on their side last night. The Capitals have pulled out to a 2-0 lead in a best of seven series five times in franchise history. All five times, the Caps have gone on to lose game 3, and in all but one, they have gone on to lose the series. Notably, the series they did win, they won in 5 games en route to the Stanley Cup finals.

    As for last night’s game, the scoring got started early for the Caps. Mike Green dumped the puck into the Penguins zone to facilitate a line change. Alex Ovechkin drove in on the forecheck as Pens netminder Marc-Andre Fleury left the crease to corral the puck, dropping his stick in the process. Somehow, the puck bounced off the boards out in front of the net, directly in front of a charging Ovechkin. Ovie had the whole goal to shoot at, and didn’t miss on a diving shot, past a diving Fleury.

    Initially, it seemed to stun the Penguins, and Washington’s offense began to press, culminating in a wrap-around attempt by Nicklas Backstrom that slid across the crease past a wide-open net. From that point forward, the Penguins dominated the game, with the formula used in the regular season by teams like the San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Columbus Blue Jackets to beat the Caps: an ultra-aggressive forecheck and relentless physicality. If not for the Caps’ 21-year-old netminder, this game could easily have been a blow-out.

    The entire second period looked as if the Capitals were on the penalty kill. The Pens seemed to have possession of the puck for 70% of the period. When the Caps did get possession, they were lucky to get it out of their own zone, let alone create quality chances.

    On top of the offensive woes, the Caps couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. It seemed every time Evgeni Malkin touched the puck, the Caps were called for a penalty. The Penguins had six straight power plays, and again, Varlamov was there to save the day, stopping point blank shots, making diving saves and frustrating the fired up Pens at every turn. His magic ran out in the sixth, after Alexander Semin was called for hooking, as Evgeni Malkin, who dominated the Capitals all evening, finally found the back of the net.

    The Capitals finally got their chance with the man advantage for the second time with just under two minutes to play in the third period, and boy did they take advantage. Caps sophomore Nicklas Backstrom made up for his earlier miss with a goal off the back of Fleury, and just like that, the Caps found themselves tied at 2, in a game that could easily have been 6-1 at that point.

    The Caps came to life, and had several quality chances in the last two minutes of regulation, and in overtime, Ovechkin had two quality chances within seconds of each other, but fanned on one and lost the puck on the other.

    Unfortunately for Simeon, at 11:23 of the first OT, he made a stop on a full-court pass that just missed a driving Malkin, and the ensuing face-off was his undoing. In a play eerily similar to the one Ovechkin scored his second goal of game 2, Sidney Crosby beat David Steckel on the face off for only the third time all evening. The puck trickled back to Mark Eaton, who sent a cross-ice pass to the waiting Kris Letang. Letang, who had fanned on two quality chances of his own in OT, nailed this one. The puck careened off of defenseman Shaonne Morrisson over the glove of Varlamov, off the cross bar and in to end game 3.

    As mentioned before, the Capitals have had little success in series in which they hold a 2-0 lead, but as the history of this post-season has shown, the Caps are routinely re-writing their history. Hopefully the boys in red, white and blue will come back for game 4 a little more fired up and continue to distinguish themselves from previous Caps teams, en route to the finals. For now though, they need to focus on game 4.

    There’s a pretty good chance that Bruce Boudreau is telling his team that at this very moment. That, and telling George McPhee to sign Varlamov for a long, long time.

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    Clark: “It Feels Like a Rock Concert Out There.”

    Washington Capitals fans weren’t just Rocking the Red, they were rocking the Verizon Center. During a TV timeout with 5:56 left to play in the third period, the Caps gameday staff played “Unleash the Fury,” a video that got the already roucous crowd whipped up into a frenzy.

    At that point, the decibal level in the Verizon Center was deafening. In the arena, you could feel that something was going to happen for the Caps. When Sergei Federov, certainly no stranger to the playoff hero role, scored the game winning goal (and first of the series), the decibal level soared even higher, and remained there until well after the final horn blew.

    Feds believed the energy from the crowd helped will the team to victory: “It was a great atmosphere all around. I’m sure any player who plays in an atmosphere like that would enjoy it and work hard and play hard… It really was an amazing experience.”

    Bruce Boudreau agreed.

    “The last five minutes after we scored,they never sat down, they never stopped cheering. If you look at the energy we had just in checking. The people brought that out. They wouldn’t let us not continue skating,”  Boudreau said, adding, ” it was really a thing to watch.”

    Of course, going into the third period, it was an experience few thought would come to pass. For the first two periods, the Capitals were out-played and out-hustled. If not for the continued dominating play by the barely 21-year-old Simeon Varlamov, this game could easily have been 3-0  after five and a half minutes. 

    In the first period, the normally gifted Washington offense had only managed two shots on the Rangers Henrik Lunqvuist. Luckily, one of them went in after deflecting off two Rangers defenders.

    The second period was more of the same. It almost felt like the Caps were on penalty kill the entire period. Washington managed nine more shots on goal, but Lunqvuist looked to be back in form for this pivotal game 7.  The most telling stat of the second period was time of possession. While this isn’t an officially kept statistic, Mike Green mentioned in the locker room after the game that he felt like the Caps only had the puck for 2 of the 20 minutes in the period.

    After the second period ended, there was a weird vibe in the air. Some thought that this series was set to end like last year’s opening round defeat at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Still others thought that the Caps were lucky to be tied at 1, and that the third period was the Caps period, so anything could and would happen. Most though, believed the Capitals would prevail.

    Whatever the vibe in the building, the vibe in the locker room was much like the last. In his post-game presser, Coach Bruce Boudreau, when asked what was said between the dreadful second period and the fateful third, quipped:  “One of the messages was ’20 more minutes.’ How hard is that to work as hard as you can for one of the best feelings you’re ever going to have.”

    Besides the motivation, the Coaching staff went to work, as well, trying to solve the dominating play the Rangers brought to the rink.

    “We were used to them being a more passive team and they were very aggressive, in your face,” the Caps head coach stated. “We had to change what we were doing and I’m not that sharp. I took me two periods to figure it out.”

    Whatever was said or done, it paid off. The Caps came out in the third playing like themselves. The passing was crisp, the effort was phenomenal and the results were there. Everyone in the building began to feel like a Russian was going to send the Rangers packing. Of course, everyone assumed that Russian would be Ovechkin or Semin.

    Enter Sergei Federov. As Feds skated down the right side, pulling up to look for the trailer on the play for a pass, he noticed several things. First, Wayne Redden was playing way off, quite possibly because the ever-threatening Ovechkin was on the left side of the net. Second, there was no trailer on the play. Third, the top-shelf glove side of Lunqvuist, perhaps the outstanding goalies only weakness, was beakoning him. He let the shot go, kept a longer follow-through to get the shot up, and watched as the puck soared into the net for the eventual game winner with just under five minutes to go in the third.

    Fellow teammate and countryman Alex Ovechkin was the first on the scene leaping onto the 39-year-old’s back, squeezing him hard and slamming him into the boards.  Since Federov was the Red Wing that ended the Caps Stanley Cup hopes oh so many moons ago, perhaps this game seven winner will reverse the fortunes of this young, exciting team in their current pursuit.  

    Regardless of kharma and the existential side of the meaning of this goal, Federov has brought something the Capitals haven’t experienced since that 1998 run to the Cup finals and never since the best owner in Washington sports bought this team: a playoff series win.

    While many thought Ovie would play the role of hero, Boudreau was not as surprised. “Experience sometimes pays off. He knew what he had to do and… when to do it,” the Capitals coach said. “That’s what makes him one of the greatest players ever.”

    Washington Capitals fans everywhere sure think so.

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    Caps Recap 2/2/09

    The Washington Capitals came out of the All-Star break to face two of the top teams in the league in the Boston Bruins and the Detroit Redwings. They also had a match-up against the Ottawa Senators who had beaten them in their two previous meetings.


    The Caps returned to form as they went 2-0-1 last week, netting 5 out of a possible 6 points.


    The Caps are still where we left them prior to the All-Star break ranked 1st in the Southeast division (now with a 13-point lead), ranked 2nd in the Eastern Conference (now with only a 1-point lead), and still ranked fourth overall in the league (also with only a 1-point lead).


    The team nipping at their heels in the conference, and the league is the Caps next opponent; the New Jersey Devils. The Devils will be the Caps third opponent in four days.


    Let’s get to some recapping.


    1/27/09 – @ Boston – In a game that seemed like a chess match, these two heavyweights of the Eastern conference squared off for the second time in 11 days. The Caps had won their previous meeting at Verizon Center by a score of 2-1. This game started with the Caps leading 2-1 after the first period. The Bruins were able to tie the game up in the second period, and goaltending expedition by Jose Theodore and Tim Thomas in the third period carried the game into overtime with both teams tied at two. In the end, a costly penalty put the Capitals 23rd ranked penalty killers into a 4-on-3 situation and lead to the Bruins game winning goal.


    Losing in the worst way – The Bruins game winner in overtime came when Shaone Morrison attempted to disrupt a pass in front of the net, and had the puck ricochet off his skate past Theodore. This is the second time I’ve seen this happen to Morrison this season. Morrison was in good position; it was just an unlucky bounce.


    1/31/09 – vs. Detroit – The Washington Capitals have turned Verizon Center into the place that no one wants to play. Their sell-out crowds at Verizon have only seen four Capitals losses this season. Even the defending Stanley Cup Champion Redwings couldn’t overcome the Red-Out at Verizon as they fell 4-2 to their ungracious hosts.


    Call ‘em out, Bruce – After watching the Redwings tie the game near the end of the second period, thanks to a bone-headed and unnecessary penalty by Alex Semin, Coach Boudreau had some choice words for his two superstars Alex Semin and Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin’s response was immediate as he came out and scored two goals in the third period to give the Capitals the 4-2 win over Detroit.


    How many Caps can you fit into one penalty box? – To show you how much the NHL loves their dramatic finishes, I’ll need to paint you a bit of a picture. The Caps are up by two goals. Detroit has pulled their goalie with two minutes left to get the extra attacker and are skating 6-on-5. Victor Kozlov is given a questionable hooking penalty giving the Redwings a 6-on-4 advantage.


    The refs weren’t finished yet; 13 seconds later, Brooks Laich has the puck hit high on the glass and bounce over, but the refs call him for delay of game. Laich takes a seat next to Kozlov; Detroit replaces their goalie and now skate 5-on-3 with a minute-and-a-half left to go. The refs still weren’t done. Tom Poti, while clearing the puck, hit an attacker’s stick and the puck flew up over the glass. He was forced to stand in the box with Kozlov and Laich with a little less than a minute to go, knowing that the Redwings could be on the power-play for both the game tying, and game winning goals.


    Detroit failed to score, but I gotta tell you, a game where your team is leading by two goals with less than two minutes to go, should not be so nerve racking!


    2/1/09 – vs. Ottawa – It had been less than 24 hours since the Caps wrapped up their game versus the Bruins. During that time, the ice had been converted to a basketball court for the Wizards, and returned to an ice surface for the Capitals as they prepared to face Ottawa. This was the Caps fourth meeting with the Senators, and Ottawa had won the previous two matchups. Ottawa scored the game’s first goal, early in the first period, but it would be the last time they would lead in the game. Washington poured it on getting four straight goals before Ottawa was able to score their second. By the end of the second period, the Caps had a comfortable four-goal lead, and Alex Ovechkin had scored a hat trick. Ottawa was able to score two more goals in the third, but it was really too little, too late. The Caps went on to win 7-4.


    Five Goals in 24-hours – Alex’s two goal performance in the third period versus Detroit, plus his hat trick in the first and second periods versus Ottawa gave him a grand total of 36 goals for the season. I would be willing to bet if you asked people who hadn’t seen the game versus Ottawa to guess who had the hat trick in that game, they would all guess Ovechkin first.


    The Wrap up – Getting 5-out-of-6 points, considering the competition last week, is a great job by the Caps. They faced two of the top three teams last week and got three points for their efforts. A casual observer may see the Caps lose to some teams that they shouldn’t, but the more trained eye will notice that the Caps seem to play their best when they are facing the best.


    Looking forward – The Caps start this week tomorrow night in New Jersey as they try and fend off the Devils. The Caps need a win over New Jersey to keep their position in the conference standings. After that they get to come back home to welcome the Kings, and the Panthers. The Caps are the healthiest they’ve been since November but need to be careful this week. As noted in the wrap-up, the Caps are notorious for losing to teams they should beat, and L.A and Florida certainly fit that description.

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    Caps Recap 1/12/09

    It was a rough week for the Washington Capitals who went 1-2 on their three opponents. The Caps suffered only their second regulation loss at home and saw their seven-game winning streak come to an end.


    I’m going to do things a little differently for this week’s recapping by giving you the good and the bad.


    That’s good! – No Fly Zone – After the 7-1 thrashing the Caps had taken from the Flyers in their last meeting the Caps played a much more solid game of hockey this time. It quickly became apparent that the Caps were stressing defense this time around. After three periods, and the overtime the shots on goal were 34 apiece, and the score was still locked at 1-all. It was Victor Kozlov that scored the only goal in the shootout that sent the hated Flyers home with an OTL.


    That’s Bad – Love for Ovie – Alex Ovechkin had scored a goal in each of the previous nine home games prior to the Flyers game where he did not notch so much as an assist.


    That’s Good! – The All-Star Nod – Alex Ovechkin was officially named to the Eastern Conference All Star team this week. It was more of a formality as most knew he was going to be in last week, even if he was snubbed from the starting line-up.


    That’s Bad – 8 is not enough – Ovie was the only Capital to get an All-Star invite, even with the great play of Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green this season. It’s still amazing to me that the Canadiens get four players in the starting line-up while they are ranked fourth in the Eastern Conference, and the Caps are lucky to get the League MVP on the team while they are ranked second only to Boston.


    That’s Good! – Record shatters Record for Best Record – The Caps 27-11-3 and 57 points qualify for the best first half of a season in Caps’ history.


    That’s Bad – What’s worse than getting a tie for your birthday? – Getting a loss. The Caps got blanked 3-0 on the 54th anniversary of their bench boss’ birth when they faced Columbus at Verizon Center last week. I know you can’t get ties in the NHL anymore, but an OTL would have been better than a loss. Hopefully they do better when they play on my birthday on the 19th.


    That’s Good! – Healthy Returns – The Caps saw the return of Thomas Fleischmann and Sergei Federov this past Friday. Fleischmann apparently had the flu, and Federov was listed as injured for so long that he probably forgot why he listed as injured in the first place. I know I did. Was it something to do with his ankle?


    That’s Bad – Check that net for shrink wrap – The Caps may have been shut out versus Columbus but it certainly wasn’t for lack of effort. Washington poured the shots on goal, and outshot Columbus 45-23. They had at least four shots ring off the post but nothing seemed to bounce the Caps way.


    That’s Good! – The Capitals bounced back from their 3-0 loss by hanging four goals on their next opponent; The Montreal Canadiens.


    That’s Bad – Unfortunately the Canadiens scored five. The Caps entered the third period with a 2-1 lead, but let the Canadiens score four goals in the third while only scoring two themselves. The game appeared to be headed to Overtime, but that chance slipped away with 00:21 seconds left in regulation.


    That’s Good! – A pattern of Hope? – The Caps have been shut out three times this season. They have lost the next game after each shutout, but have gone on to win six of the next seven after that.


    That’s Bad – Unfortunately the Caps face the Bruins (twice) and Redwings as three of their next seven opponents. Boston is currently ranked second in the league standings followed by the Detroit Redwings at third, and Capitals at fourth.


    That’s Bad – Part Two – Who’s this friggin’ Guy? – The Caps only had to register a point to send their Coach Bruce Boudreau to the All-Star game as an assistant coach for the Eastern Conference. Montreal had to win to send their coach Guy (pronounced “Ghee”) Carbonneau. Bruce is going to watch the game at home with the rest of us; While Montreal gets yet another All-Star nod.


    Funny how the All-Star game is being played in Montreal; The Montreal Canadiens already have four starters for the All-Star game even though they are the fourth place team in the conference. The game that decides which coach gets the nod is decided in Montreal. The Canadiens are given two 5-on-3 power-plays after the Caps get the go-ahead goal in the second period and convert for two goals to start the third period….


    …I’m calling shenanigans!


    The Wrap up – Even though the Caps lost their last two games, they really didn’t play all that bad. There were a few times where a guy might be out of position, and a couple of times where guys bumped into each other, but some of that is to be expected when you shuffle up the line combinations as the Caps did when they got Fleischmann and Federov back.


    I’m not quite ready to hit the panic button just yet. Yes the Caps lost two in a row, but nobody wins them all. They are still in good shape and none of their rankings slid (they are still first in their division, second in their conference and fourth in the league). Their opponents did get to catch up on them a little though so they will need to get back on the winning track to keep their conference and league rankings in place. Otherwise, they are in no real danger in the Southeast as they still hold a 10-point lead there.


    Coming up – The Caps start their week off tomorrow at Verizon Center when they welcome in the 21st ranked Edmonton Oilers. Immediately after that they head up to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to face a Penguins team that has lost eight of their last ten games. They finish their week on Saturday by welcoming the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins to Verizon Center.


    Final Thought – The Capitals are one superstar goalie away from being the best team in the league. It’s hard to say anything bad about the work that Johnson and Theodore have been doing as of late, but I’m not ready to consider them “franchise goaltenders” just yet. My blood boils when I consider the burn left by Cristobal Huet as he spurned the Caps for Chicago. The thoughts of what could’ve been will really drive you crazy.


    The fact that Johnson and Theodore are playing so “on the bubble” makes it difficult to say the Caps should bring Varlamov up from the AHL for good, because he is still technically an unknown. So unless Caps GM George McPhee has any other magic tricks up his sleeve that can pull in a guy like Steve Mason or Roberto Luongo, I don’t think the Caps are true cup contenders this year.


    This doesn’t mean that they won’t be fun to watch in the meantime, and you never know when it comes to George McPhee, we’ve seen him pull rabbits out of hats before.

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    Caps Recap 1/5/09

    Happy New Year to all, and especially so for fans of what has rapidly become Washington’s favorite sports franchises; the Washington Capitals.


    The Caps had a great week last week going 3-0-0 against their opponents, gaining six valuable points, improving their hold on second place in the Eastern Conference by  5 points, and proving their team has what it takes to be a playoff contender with great repeat performances against Buffalo and the New York Rangers.


    The Caps are now on a six game winning streak and have won 11 of their last 12. Their current season record is now 26-11-3 and their home record is a spectacular 17-1-1. The Caps 26-11-3 record qualifies as the best in team history after 40 games (previous best: 25-11-4 in the ’85-’86 season).


    The Caps did see the return of Brent Johnson, Donald Brashear and Alex Semin this week but can still attribute a lot of their recent winning ways to the great goaltending of Jose Theodore and the continued playmaking abilities of one Alex Ovechkin. The Great 8 has now scored a goal in eight consecutive home games.


    Before we get to the recapping I would like to take a moment to say “WTF??!!” to the NHL All-Star balloting process. How in the word do Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malken get 1.2 million votes a piece and the reigning league MVP and number two scorer in the league not get even half a million?


    Really NHL? You seem to get some many other things right (centralized replay on questionable goals, uniformed web-sites for each team, great statistical access for even the casual fan); how do you screw up the NHL equivalent of the NFL Pro-Bowl by giving fans the only say in the balloting process?


    Sure Alex is in the game, but snubbing him from the starting line for four Canadiens and two Penguins only shows the farce of fan balloting.


    I’m not through with you on this, NHL. Let’s get to some recapping.


    12/30/08 @ Buffalo – The Caps travelled to Buffalo to face the Sabres for the second time in four days. Buffalo had a history of not being a gracious host to Washington, but the Caps managed to pull out a win for only the third time in the past 10 visits.


    Look who’s scoring now – After scoring a spectacular goal on Buffalo in their previous match-up, Alex Ovechkin didn’t notch so much as an assist in this one. If you were to look strictly at the score-card you might think he didn’t play at all. Washington’s four goals came from Brooks Laich (his 11th of the season), Chris Bourque (the first of his career), Nicklas Backstrom (on the power-play) and Boyd Gordon (on the empty net).


    That’s Ruff – Sabres’ Coach Lindy Ruff had this to say after the game: “If Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy and those kinds of guys aren’t our best players, you don’t have any chance of winning. We’ll take them out of the lineup. Some of them will come out, and that’s not an idle threat, either. You still have to put the work in, and I don’t think we did.” Yeah, he was a little upset.


    1/1/09 vs. Tampa Bay – The Caps welcomed back Brent Johnson from the injured list and helped him win by outscoring Tampa at every turn. The Caps jumped out to a three goal lead in the first period, but saw that lead diminish in the second when the Lightning scored two goals. On two occasions the Caps responded to a Lightning goal within 15 seconds with a goal of their own and went on to win by a final score of 7-4.


    Who hasn’t scored yet? – The Caps saw more goals from players not known for their scoring prowess. Sean Collins scored his first ever NHL goal, and Captain Chris Clark scored his first of the season, but the Caps also saw goals from David Steckel, Matt Bradley, and Boyd Gordon (the other goals came compliments of Mike Green, and some guy named Alex—I think he’s in the All Star game)


    Century milestones – Coach Boudreau was coaching his 100th game and got a win; Mike Green was playing in his 200th career game and scored a goal.


    1/3/09 vs. New York Rangers – In their previous meeting the Rangers jumped out to a four goal lead, only to see the Caps come back and beat them in overtime 5-4. This time the Caps were on their own home ice, and you had to imagine the Rangers were looking for payback. Jose Theodore showed that he still had the confidence that the Rangers had given him for Christmas as he stopped 30 of 31 shots to help the Caps to a 2-1 victory.


    Thank god he’s better with a stick than he is with his hands – Alex Semin was involved in the first fight of his NHL career and I laughed so hard I had to watch it three times. Do you remember the scene from “A Christmas Story” where Ralphie beats up on the bully?


    That’s what this looked like as Semin took Marc Staal down to the ice and began flailing on him with both hands. Kinda like you’d imagine someone beating on bongo drums. Semin was ultimately given a Game Misconduct (which is the equivalent of an ejection), not for the ferocity of the fight (which I think even Staal laughed at a little bit) but because he didn’t have his jersey properly tied down.


    The Wrap-Up – You can’t be unhappy with how the Caps are playing. They have given up 14 goals in their last six games, but have outscored their opponents by a margin of 25-14 during that period. They are seeing more scoring from their supporting players as well as their star talent. They still have looked a little confused at times on the back-check, and occasionally in transition through neutral ice, but when they get into the attacking zone, they are taking shots.


    Boudreau’s offense is high pressure as it calls for players to look for the shot first, and cycle if the shot isn’t there. This wears down defenders and eventually the net-minder. They have shown two styles of offensive creation where the attacker will hold up at the point, and look for the open man, or they will dump the puck in and play the forecheck to try and get the cycle going in the corner. These styles have both proven hard to defend against, especially with the Caps style of intuitive passing that put’s the puck where the attacker is going to be, not where he currently is.


    Coming up – The Caps have three games this week, but it isn’t going to be easy. Thankfully two of the games will be at Verizon where the Caps play extremely well, but they also play back to back games Friday and Saturday night with one opponent at home and another on the road.


    Their first opponent comes tomorrow night at Verizon against Philadelphia, who is currently tied for third in the Eastern Conference; The Caps started their six game winning streak after a 7-1 loss in Philly.


    Next the Caps welcome the Blue Jackets on Friday who are one of the only two teams to have shut the Caps out this year when they beat ‘em 3-0 back in November. The important stat here is that Columbus is 11-6-1 at home (where they were when they beat the Caps), but 7-11-3 on the road. Meanwhile the Caps are currently 17-1-1 at Verizon, so this should be a good game.


    Less than 24 hours after the Columbus game the Caps travel to Montreal where they face the other team tied for third in the Eastern Conference; the Canadiens. The Caps won their last meeting with the Canadiens back on December 13 (2-1). The similarities are curious as the Caps played them in Montreal, also less than 24 hours after playing another team.


    This week will be a good test of where the Caps are at as they seem to be playing strong but still have room for some slight improvement.

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