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Capital Observations 12/8/08

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The Washington Capitals had an up and down week, going 2-2 in their four games. Even though the Caps only came away with four of the possible eight points from last week, they still managed to improve their lead in the Southeast by one point.


The Caps also increased their already impressive injury list from eight players to ten; adding Eric Fehr and Tyler Sloan to the ranks of the walking wounded. Considering that the Caps injured list contains Alex Semin, Mike Green and Chris Clark most (rational) people find it easy to forgive the Caps if they drop a few games here or there; as long as they continue to win more than they lose.


Vs. Florida vs. Versus 12/2/08 – The Caps were blacked out on Tuesday night thanks to the Versus channel’s exclusivity agreement with the NHL. The Caps started off their December with their first regulation-loss of the season at home.


In a game that was very reminiscent of their loss to the Minnesota Wild, the Caps spent most of the game losing only to get two quick goals in the third period to bring the game to within a goal of overtime by a score of 3-4. The Caps pulled Jose Theodore to gain the extra attacker with 1:19 left, only to see their hopes dashed when the Panthers scored on the empty net.


The Caps almost seemed cursed as two of Florida’s initial four goals came off Caps players; one of which was scored when David Steckel made an unwise cross-ice pass only to hit Karl Alzner in the skate and watch the puck rebound to beat Theodore, five-hole.


The Best of What’s Left – As if to prove my point that most (rational) people are ready to forgive the Caps the occasional bad game, the media tried to supply Coach Boudreau with all the excuses he needed for their loss. Their questions were about the “bad luck” of having two goals scored off Caps players, and the impact of so many injuries.


To their credit, Coach Boudreau and the team would have none of it. The players took responsibility for not stepping up for the injured players and Coach Boudreau refused to take the bait on the offered excuses and instead seemed angry at the loss.


Is there any question why Coach Boudreau wins so many games and why he’s so loved by the fan base?


Vs. New York Islanders and vs. Hot Dogs Everywhere 12/4/08 – The Caps came into Thursday’s game hungry for a win; the fans came to “Dollar Dog Night” just plain hungry; both came away satisfied. The Caps pasted the Islanders by a score of 5-3 and the fans devoured a record 13,700 hot dogs.


The Caps jumped out to a two goal lead, and ended the first period with a score of 2-1. New York scored the lone goal in the second period to tie the game at two all, but the Caps unleashed the fury scoring three goals in the third and sending the Verizon faithful home fat and happy.


Heeeeeere’s Johnny – Brent Johnson broke his four-game losing streak by having a solid performance against the Isles. Johnny stopped 27 of the 29 shots he faced. The Caps helped Johnny’s cause by playing sound defense and peppering Islanders Goaltender Joey MacDonald with 47 shots on goal.


And another one bites the dust – The New York Islanders were the only team in the Eastern Conference not to have been beaten by Coach Boudreau prior to Thursday’s game. The Caps had not beaten the Islanders in Verizon since March 6th, 2006.


Sharing is caring – The Caps final goal came on the empty net. Alex Ovechkin took off with a rebound and skated through center ice two-on-one against Mark Streit with Nicklas Backstrom as his wingman. While most players might try and take the risky shot around the defenseman, Alex simply passed the puck over to Nick and let the young Swede get the goal.


@ Toronto vs. the Past 12/6/08 – The Caps came into Air Canada center and found their former Coach Ron Wilson and his Maple Leafs. These two teams showed how evenly they were matched as the game came right down to the wire with the go ahead goal of a 2-1 game being scored in the third period.


Way to go, Rook – Karl Alzner scored the game’s first goal, and the first of his career, on a shot from the blue-line that would’ve made Mike Green proud.


Canadian for BS, eh? – Brooks Laich scored a goal shortly after Alzner and looked to have the two-goal lead, only to have it waved off after review. The Refs claimed Laich “kicked” the puck into the net. Now, I have a copy of the Official Rules, and it does say that kicking the puck is a no-goal, but it also says “a distinct kicking motion.” In the Laich’s case he was on top of the goalie, and swiveled toward the net trying to address the puck on the rebound. The puck bounced off his skate as he was moving towards the net, but his foot never left the ice, which I feel, would be an essential part of a “distinct kicking motion.”


Heeeeeere’s Johnny; part two – Brent Johnson had a relatively quiet night stopping 19 of 20 shots and getting his second consecutive win. Johnny was obviously having fun Saturday night and even registered a shot on goal!


First Star, with no goals and no assists – Alex Ovechkin. If that doesn’t give you an idea how big a star he is in Canada, nothing will.


@ Carolina vs. Jet Lag 12/7/08 – By the time the final horn sounded on the Caps and Maple Leafs the Caps had 19.5 hours before their next game in Carolina; Less than that if you count all of the other post game stuff they do. To add insult to injury, the Caps added more injuries to their list with Tyler Sloan (who took a nasty shot to the skate boot) and Eric Fehr (who jammed his shoulder while finishing a check).


The Caps came into Carolina with a six point lead in the division, unfortunately they left with only a four-point lead as the ‘Canes dropped the Caps 3-1.


Carolina held a 1-0 lead throughout most of the game until the third period when the caps really turned up the heat. Washington came out of the dressing room fired up and launched a salvo of shots at Carolina goaltender Michael Leighton. The Caps persistence paid off when Nicklas Backstrom finally scored just shy of the midway mark of the third period to make the game 1-1.


The Caps looked like they were on the power-play for the first 15-minutes of period three; unfortunately they looked exhausted for the final five and allowed Carolina to score the go-ahead goal, and the game ending goal in those five.


It doesn’t get any easier – The Caps have only three games this week, with their first being at home versus Eastern-Conference-leading Boston (18-4-4) on Wednesday, then a home and away Friday and Saturday which will feature Ottawa (10-10-4) at Verizon and 2nd-place-in-the-Northeast Montreal (15-6-5) on the road.


It’s amazing the Caps are doing as well as they are with as much talent as they have injured, but they will need to get healthy soon as they get ready to face the toughest team in the Eastern Conference in the Boston Bruins.

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Capital Observations 12/1/08

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The Washington Capitals started last week off with the last of their five-game road swing in a 3-4 loss to Minnesota. They brought in some much needed help on Wednesday and kept their record of no regulation losses at home in tact by winning the next two at Verizon. They then ended their week with a shutout loss in Columbus.


@ Minnesota, Monday 11/24 – The Caps loss to Minnesota last Monday was not nearly as close as the score would imply. The Caps looked dog tired and beat up for most of the game before finally turning it back on for the last six minutes of the game, while Minnesota was already enjoying a 4-0 lead.


Matt Bradley started the Caps’ comeback with 5:17 seconds left in the game when he scored off the backhand on a feed by Eric Fehr. Alex Ovechkin added to his point scoring streak when he fired his trademark slap shot from the point, but the goal everyone was waiting for happened 2:09 later when Caps’ center Nicklas Backstrom beat Wild goalie Nicklas Backstrom on the power play to bring the Caps to within a goal of overtime with 1:53 left to play.


Unfortunately the Caps would come up just a little short.


Clutter-what?! – The Wild’s first two goals of the night were scored by Cal Clutterbuck. All I could think of whenever they said his name on TV (which was often because everyone seemed to enjoy saying it) was that old SNL sketch for celebrity jeopardy when Sean Connery shouted “Buck-Futter!” for no particular reason.


The Perfect-Timing Award goes to… – James Sheppard of Minnesota. While his family was being interviewed from the stands, and talking about how many thousands of miles they had driven to see their son’s first NHL game, James Sheppard opened up on a two-on-one and scored his first NHL goal.


Boudreau after 82 games – Monday night’s game marked Boudreau’s 82nd game as the team’s bench boss. His 82 game record? 48-24-10.


The Caps returned home Tuesday and were given the day off from practice, but Wednesday morning brought in the fresh troops in Chris Bourque, Karl Alzner, Sami Lepisto, and Graham Mink.


Vs. Atlanta, Wednesday 11/26 – The Caps new legs may not have made a lot of noise on the scoreboard (with Sami Lepisto registering the only point on the assist) but their impact was clearly apparent. After allowing 30-plus shots per game in each of their last five games Jose Theodore faced a meager 18 shots. Meanwhile Ondrej Pavelec was peppered with 33 shots at the other end of the ice. Alex Ovechkin got his career 6th hat trick less than a minute into the second period as the Caps looked to be totally in control of Atlanta the entire game winning 5-3.


Most impressive goal of the night – had to be Eric Fehr on the three-on-one breakaway. Fehr passed the puck to Fleischmann, who passed to Nylander, who passed it right back to Fehr who put the puck in the net.


An old friend for dinner – This marked the third straight year the Caps had faced Atlanta on the day before Thanksgiving. The Thrashers had won the previous two Thanksgiving-eve match-ups by scores of 4-2 and 5-1 respectively.


Some new friends for dinner – Three Washington Capitals players – Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Brooks Laich – spent Thanksgiving Day with more than 400 underprivileged children and their families as part of the Miracle on Seventh Street at District ChopHouse & Brewery in Washington, D.C.. The Caps players joined volunteers from organizations throughout the city to help out at this event. The Capitals have participated in Miracle on Seventh Street all six years that it has taken place. Backstrom, Green and Laich signed autographs, served food and spent time with the families.


Vs. Montreal, Friday 11/28 – The Caps came back Friday night and beat the Montreal Canadiens with their first shutout victory since Cristobal Huet blanked the Florida Panthers in South Florida on March 29, 2008. It was Washington’s first shutout at home in more than a year, since Olie Kolzig blanked the Carolina Hurricanes in Washington’s 2007-08 home opener on Oct. 6, 2007.


The Caps scored midway through the first period when Tomas Fleischmann scored his ninth goal of the year. Fleischmann should have been given a goal and an assist on this play. Fleischmann, who had positioned himself on the right of the net, intercepted a pass from behind the net. He passed the puck to a waiting Michael Nylander who was on the left side of the net, which drew Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak off the post. Nylander passed the puck immediately back to Fleischmann who popped it in the net.


The Caps would cling to their one goal lead throughout the second period until Alex Ovechkin and David Steckel scored the Caps second and third goals in the third.


For Ovechkin, it would be his 13th goal in 10 games. For Theodore it would be his first win against his former team, and his first shutout as a Washington Capital. Theodore earned his shutout facing 28 total shots.


Fastest to 50 – Friday night’s victory over Montreal gave Coach Boudreau his 50th career victory as the Capitals’ bench boss. His 50 wins in 84 games erases a team mark that has stood since Jim Schoenfeld reached 50 in 98 games.


Smitty reaches a milestone – Head trainer for the Capitals, Greg Smith marked his 1,000th career game Friday night.


@ Columbus, Saturday 11/29 – The Caps finished their week with a disappointing shutout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, thus ending Ovechkin’s point scoring streak at 10 games.


The Caps went 2-2-0 this past week, and hold the lead in the Southeast by three points.


November’s first star – Alex Ovechkin, having broken out of his October scoring slump scored 13 goals and 25-points to be named the NHL’s first star of November.


The Caps went 8-5-2 in November after going 5-3-1 in October. The Capitals have still not lost in regulation at home (9-0-1) and are setting new attendance records. Friday night’s sellout crowd of 18,277 was their second straight sellout at home, and their fourth of the season. The Capitals average attendance after 10 games is now 17,862. That’s a 29.1% increase over the attendance from last year (13,389) and a franchise record for average attendance after 10 games.


The Caps have four games coming up this week. The first is this tomorrow at Verizon, and is blacked out from TV coverage.

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Capital Observations 11/24/08

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The Capitals had a tough week last week as they began their tour of the Pacific Division on Wednesday with the Anaheim Ducks. The Capitals went 1-2-0 versus the top three teams in the Pacific Division, playing three road games in four nights.


The Caps started their road swing with a 6-2 victory over Anaheim, but the win had a steep price as the Caps lost star defensemen Mike Green to a back injury late in the first period.


The Caps may have won the game, but they were beat up by the Ducks who lead all of their body checks with their elbows. Green’s injury may have come from a clean hit, that knocked him off his feet and sent him flying butt-first into the boards, but the Ducks certainly took their fair share of cheap shots including a spear to the groin for Alex Ovechkin.


Washington, battered and bruised, had to face off against the Los Angeles Kings the very next night. Unlike Washington, Los Angeles had been off for the past three days and were playing at home, which presented obvious advantages. Even with Washington being battered, bruised and obviously tired, the game was much closer than the 5-2 score would lead you to believe as the Kings’ final two goals came on the empty net.


Jose Theodore was given the night off in favor of Brent Johnson, and the Caps were able to welcome Shaone Morrison back to the line-up after his injury, but it just wasn’t enough to stop the well rested Kings.


The Caps didn’t get much time off as they had one day to practice (while still on the road) and had to turn right back around and face the division leading San Jose Sharks.


San Jose, much like LA, had been given four days off preceding their home game versus the Capitals. Unlike the game versus LA, this game was not even close. The Caps thought they were going into this game with a healthy Sergei Federov, but after about four and a half minutes of ice time, in the first period, Federov did not return to the bench for the rest of the game.


To give you an idea as to how tired the Capitals really were, the Sharks second goal of the game came from Shaone Morrison when he tried to go forehand to backhand while still in the crease and inadvertently knocked the puck in behind Brent Johnson.


It was very difficult not to begin to think that the schedule makers didn’t have it out for the Caps this past week. I began to search the Caps upcoming schedule to see when they would be playing the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies (assuming that it would be within the next couple of days, and most likely on the road).


The Capitals game tonight versus the Minnesota Wild will be their fifth straight road game. The Caps will have played four of those games within the past six days.


Tonight’s game will be the end of their road stretch as they will be back home Tuesday to get ready for the Thrashers Wednesday night. The Capitals past two losses have allowed Carolina to close within one point of tying the Caps for the South East division lead. Carolina has played one more game than Washington has so far this season and face off versus the 7-11-1 Florida Panthers tonight.


Meanwhile, in Minnesota, the Capitals will be facing the 11-6-1 Wild.


If there is any upside it’s that the Caps have not lost more than two games in regulation under Coach Bruce Boudreau, who marked his one-year anniversary as the Capitals Head Coach this past Saturday. Can the Caps keep that streak alive?

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Capital Observations 11/17/08

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The Capitals started off this past week welcoming back longtime goaltender Olie Kolzig, now with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Monday night at Verizon Center. The match-up featured Kolzig versus his former back-up Brent Johnson. The strangest part for me was hearing Caps announcer Joe Beninati say things like “great save by Kolzig” and having to remind myself that it wasn’t a good thing anymore.

Goaltenders typically work very closely with their defensemen, so it should be little surprise if those defensemen know where a goalie is weakest. To prove that point the Capitals first two goals came from Kolzig’s former blue-liners Tom Poti and Mike Green.

The Caps also saw the end of a nine-game scoring drought for Alex Ovechkin, the longest of his career.

The Caps polished off the Lightning 4-2.

The Caps next game came Wednesday on the road versus division rival Carolina. Both teams were tied for the division lead at 18-points. The winner would claim sole possession of the Southeast division.

This was the second meeting between these two clubs within the past seven days. The Caps had won that previous meeting by a final score of 3-2, now they were facing Carolina, in Carolina. This time the Caps left no question as to who was in charge, winning 5-1.

The Caps saw goals from all of their “young guns” as all five goals were scored by Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom, and Green (1, 2, 1, and 1 respectively). Alex Semin had a hand in all five goals.

Brent Johnson’s night ended early after a hip injury sent him to the locker room late in the first period and brought out Jose Theodore for the second. Theodore went on to stop 13 shots over the next two periods and finally began to look like the starter the Capitals had picked him to be.

Johnson, who had gone 3-0-1 in his four starts, was given credit for the win versus Carolina where he had stopped 14 shots in the first period alone.

The Caps final two games of the week came Friday and Saturday night in a home and home series versus New Jersey. The Capitals started the series at home where they have not lost in regulation this season. The Caps had gone 6-0-1 at home when the Devils came to town, and improved that record to 7-0-1 by the end of the night.

Brent Johnson, listed as day-to-day with the hip injury, watched from the bench as Jose Theodore put on a performance that may have cemented him back into the starting position as he stopped 32 of 33 shots to help the Capitals to a 3-1 victory.

Alex Semin left the game in the second period after taking an uncalled high stick to the face, and Alex Ovechkin scored his third goal in three games on a last second empty netter.

The Caps certainly looked to be the more dominant team Friday night, and were given the morning off before Saturday night’s rematch in New Jersey.

Even with the break, the Caps looked tired Saturday night. Alex Semin did not play, and the Caps seemed to miss his playmaking ability on the stick-handle. The Caps did not fore-check very well and seemed to struggle getting into the attacking zone.

Things didn’t seem much better in their own zone as the Caps seemed to have trouble clearing allowing the Devils to set up several shooting galleries versus Theodore, who had a better night than his six-goals-against would seem to imply.

Things really began to look scary for the Caps when Theodore was slow to get up after taking a hit from Jamie Langenbrunner early in the second period. Brent Johnson, who was not listed on the injury report for Saturday’s game, did not exactly look anxious to head out to the ice in relief of Theodore. After a few minutes, Theodore seemed to shake-it-off and managed to finish the game.

Even with the Devils seeming to dominate the game, the Caps managed to tie the game on a last second (literally at 19:59) wrist shot by Alex Ovechkin from point-blank range which carried the game into overtime.

The Capitals went on to lose in the shoot-out giving them a 3-0-1 record for the week. The Caps increased their points standing from 16 to 23 last week and now have a three point lead over second-place Carolina in the Southeast Division.

The Caps have now gone 5-0-2 in their last seven games and have not lost in regulation since they fell to the Sabres in a 0-5 shutout on November 1st. The Caps have now won 10 games this season, with five wins apiece for both of their goaltenders.

The Capitals have looked real strong this past week, with the exception of Saturday night. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom have both seemed to have finally found their games. Ovie has now scored a goal in each of the Caps last four games and has 5 goals and 5 assists in that same time-frame. Nicklas Backstrom has tallied 2 goals and 9 assists in the last four games after getting no goals and 5 assists for the first 13 games.

The Caps spend this week on the west coast with all three games starting after 10pm here on the east coast. The Capitals tour of the Western Conference pits them against two division leaders in the San Jose Sharks (currently leading the Pacific Division 15-3-1) and Minnesota Wild (currently leading the Northwest Division 10-4-1)

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