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  • Caps Recap 12/22/08

    It must be Monday, time for another Caps Recap.


    The Washington Capitals played only three games last week and went 2-1-0, giving them a record of 20-11-3 for the season. They are currently leading the Southeast division by six points, and are tied for third in the Eastern Conference.


    The Caps saw the return of Jose Theodore, but lost Alex Semin to the injury list this week. Let’s get to the games.


    @ The Islanders, 12/16/08 – The Caps jumped out to an early lead in this one, and were leading 4-2 at the end of the second period only to watch their lead dissolve in the third as New York tied the game with 2:13 left in regulation. Alex Ovechkin saved the game with 10.7 seconds left until the shootout when he ripped a shot from the top of the face-off circles past Joey MacDonald for the game winner.


    It was a good run – Tuesday’s game vs. the Islanders was the first time in four games that the Caps allowed more than a single goal by their opponent.


    Setting the bar high early – In only his fourth year, Alex Ovechkin has toppled a franchise record for most career overtime goals. His sixth career overtime goal came on Tuesday night and put him ahead of Peter Bondra and Kelly Miller for the franchise record.


    Vs. St. Louis, 12/18/08 – The Blues came into Verizon Center as the only team never to have faced the Bruce Boudreau-led Capitals. The Caps earned their 20th win of the season making them the fifth team in the league to reach 20 wins this season.


    If you look closely, you can tell he’s a rookie – If it weren’t for the plain white hockey mask, you’d be hard pressed to believe that Simeon Varlamov was a rookie goaltender as he stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced. He made several highlight reel saves and always seemed to be in good position. His only real flaw of the night was when he forgot about the trapezoid rule and received a delay-of-game penalty.


    Insult to injury – It was bad enough that the refs didn’t call a tripping penalty when Alex Semin first got knocked down, but then they didn’t call the cross-check he took right to his lower back.  The official was standing right there watching the event happen. Alex Semin lay contorting on the ice and did not return to the game. When the official explained to Coach Boudreau that he thought Semin was “milking it” Coach Boudreau most likely said what any of us would have.


    I’m not privy to what was actually said, but I can imagine it was profane. Apparently the official’s feelings were hurt, so he called a bench minor for “abuse of an official.”


    Note: Alex must really be selling his injury as he has yet to return from it. Hope the official is feeling better after his verbal thrashing.


    Yeah, well our web-producer is just as tall as you are – Ben Bishop entered the game as the league’s tallest goaltender. If that seems familiar, it’s because he was mentioned last week when web-producer Brett Leonhardt was called in to play bench-warming goalie for one period last week. Bishop is currently listed as the tallest goalie in NHL history at 6’7″.


    It just don’t seem right – Simeon Varlamov played two games in his fill in role with Washington and won them both. Thursday night he beat the St. Louis Blues, Friday morning he was sent back down the Hershey.


    @ Philadelphia, 12/20/08 – In a rare 1 o’clock game the Capitals were whipped 7-1 by the Flyers. Brent Johnson started the game and kept the Caps in it, down 3-0 at the end of the second. The real story of this game was the spectacular play of Flyers net minder Antero Nittymaki. The Caps added pressure early, matching a franchise record for most shots on goal in a single period with 25. By the end of the second period the Caps had peppered Nittymaki with 39 shots and had nothing to show for it. Jose Theodore stepped in to start the third period, and things went from bad to worse as he allowed the Flyers to score four more goals.


    Coulda, woulda, shoulda – The Caps made a few spectacular plays and were just beat by Nittymaki. On the rare occasion they did get one past Nittymaki, it would ring off the post. The Caps had at least two quality chances ripped from them by spectacular goalie-play as the score should have been 3-1 at the end of the first.


    The Wrap-up – Saturday’s game was hard to watch, especially in the third when the Caps really seemed to fall apart. Brooks Laich saved them the indignity of a shut-out with his third period tally, but this game really exposed a weakness in Jose Theodore. You never like to say that one player can be a difference maker, but I truly believe this team suffered a lot without the creativity that Alex Semin brings to the ice.

       The Caps were firing shots from everywhere (48 total), and that kind of pressure is usually rewarded, but what they really needed was the nimble moves that Semin brings in to help get the goaltender out of position.

       Semin may not score as much as Alex Ovechkin, but his real strength is in driving defenders, and subsequently, net minders crazy with his curl and drag capabilities, his quick back-hand, and his accurate passing.

       Pulling Brent Johnson may have been an attempt to ignite the team, but it appears to have backfired as the Caps looked like they had had all of the energy sucked out of them in the third period. The Caps had 25 shots in the first period, yet only nine in the third. Meanwhile, Johnson only faced 13 shots in the first two periods, while Theodore was peppered with 15 in the third. The Caps felt hopeless, and the Flyers took the momentum and ran with it.


    Coming up – It doesn’t get any easier for the Caps this week. They face off tomorrow night against the Rangers (currently second place in the Eastern conference) and round out their week with the Sabres and Leafs. Two of their three games are at home (where the Caps are still 13-1-1).


    This Sunday’s game at Verizon, the Caps will honor Mike Gartner as they retire his jersey in a pregame ceremony. Gartner, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame who ranks second in Capitals history in goals (397), assists (392) and points (789), will become the fourth player in Capitals history to have his number retired. Yvon Labre’s No. 7 was retired on Nov. 7, 1981, Rod Langway’s No. 5 was retired on Nov. 26, 1997, and Dale Hunter’s No. 32 was retired on March 11, 2000.


    Every fan in attendance will receive a commemorative Mike Gartner jersey pin, sponsored by Comcast SportsNet, upon entrance into the game, along with a special No. 11 signs to pay tribute to Gartner. Fans are encouraged to be in their seats early for the ceremony, which will start promptly at 7 p.m. The ceremony and the game will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet and will be available in high definition.


    Former Washington Capitals Greg Adams, Bob Carpenter, Bob Gould, Alan Hangsleben, Wes Jarvis, Labre, Langway, Craig Laughlin, Dennis Maruk, Paul Mulvey, Larry Murphy, Errol Rausse, Gary Rissling and Scott Stevens as well as former broadcaster Ron Weber will be in attendance to help share in this special night. Some of Gartner’s former teammates will be around the concourse before the game meeting fans and signing autographs and they will be introduced during the first intermission.


    Prior to the ceremony, the current Capitals will wear special white retro jerseys during pregame warmups. Each jersey will have No. 11 on them along with the current player’s name. The jerseys will be autographed by Gartner and each player and will be available at a silent auction during the game with a portion of the proceeds going to World Vision. World Vision, Gartner’s charity of choice, is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.


    The Caps will wear white jerseys during the game – as Gartner’s Capitals teams did at the Cap Centre – while Toronto will wear dark jerseys.

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    Caps Recap 12/15/08

    The Washington Capitals had a great week last week; let’s get to some recapping!


    First off, they went 3-0 this week against their three Northeastern Division opponents. One of those three was the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins.  The Capitals also started to get healthy as they welcomed back four of their starters in Alex Semin, Tom Poti, Mike Green, and Sergei Federov.


    The Caps extended their point lead in the Southeastern Division to 8 points with 39. Florida and Carolina are the closest division rivals with 31 points apiece.


    The Caps also showed their depth doesn’t just extend to Hershey; it goes all the way into their administrative offices.


    Vs. Boston 12/10/08 – The Boston Bruins skated into Verizon Center carrying the most impressive record in the Eastern Conference. The Caps meanwhile came limping in with a mind-boggling 10-players on the injured list. That number dropped to eight just before game-time as Alex Semin and Tom Poti were both cleared to return from their injuries. The difference was night and day.


    Alex Who? – Alexandre Giroux! In only his second NHL game, Alex not only notched his first NHL goal, but it was the GWG (game-winning-goal). With Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin also tallying on the score-sheet, that leaves three guys named Alex for teams to worry about when they play the Caps. How would you pluralize “Alex”? Alexes? Alexen?


    Believe me now? – I’ve always been a fan of Brent Johnson; largely because he and I share the same last name. I have a custom-made jersey from back when they wore the black home jerseys. Johnson earned his third straight win while facing one of the highest scoring teams in the league by stopping 33-of-34 shots against him. By the end of the night Johnson had stopped and 79 of 83 shots, and had a .952 save percentage and a 1.33 Goals Against Average in his last three games.


    Vs. Ottawa 12/12/08 – The Ottawa Senators came into Verizon Center dead last in the Northeastern Division. As the first of two back-to-back games, this had all the makings of a “trap game” as the Capitals had to fly immediately to Montreal after the game. While the Caps were able to welcome back Mike Green and Sergei Federov, they lost Jose Theodore that morning during practice.


    The Caps went to Plan B and called on Michael Neuvirth, but he was too far away to make it in time for game time.


    The Caps went to Plan C and called on Simeon Varlamov, but even he wasn’t going to be able to make it in time for the start of the game.


    Brent Johnson had taken some nasty hits in his matchup versus Boston, so putting him in there with no one to back him up was more than just a risky proposition; the Caps needed a new plan.


    Plan 9 from Outer Space – web producer Brett “Stretch” Leonhardt probably didn’t expect his NHL debut to ever come knocking on his door. A goalie in college, Brett now spent his days amassing video content for the Washington Capitals official website. At 6’7″, Brett is hard to miss in the locker-room, so when George McPhee came looking, I’m sure he was easy to find.


    The Greatest Player to Never Play – Brett had stepped in and fielded a few shots with the Caps during practice before, but I’m sure he never thought he’d see the day when he’d skate out onto the Ice during an actual NHL game. Even though no one was unhappy with Brent Johnson’s performance, I think secretly, everyone wanted to see the 26 year-old from Neumann College get at least a few minutes of game time.


    At least Brett got a standing ovation from the crowd at Verizon, and his 15-minutes in the spotlight.


    My bad – I have to apologize to Brent Johnson the next time I see him. The Caps had built a 5-0 lead and had only five minutes left in regulation. In my excitement I said to my wife “Now all Johnny needs is the shut-out.”


    Yeah, I know. With 2:23 left in regulation the Senators finally scored. I jinxed him. Johnny had identical stats on this game as he did versus Boston, stopping 33-of-34 shots. This gave him his fourth consecutive win and brought his four game totals to 112 of 117 shots stopped, for a 0.957 save percentage, and a 1.25 GAA. Johnny was given the first star of the night.


    @ Montreal 12/13/08 – I must confess that I wasn’t able to watch this game due to family obligations. I kept up with it by regularly checking my phone for updates. I got word that Varlamov was going to get the start in net, and was a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to get to see his NHL debut.


    Varlamov was the first NHL Player I had ever interviewed, when I met him at the Rookie Game versus Philadelphia. In my first ever report for THN I talked about how good he looked out on the ice, so it was nice to see that my early judgment call was vindicated as Varlamov stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced to help the Caps win a close one versus Montreal by a score of 2-1.


    Varlamov’s NHL debut got him a win, and the game’s first star honor.


    Coming Up – The Caps have three games this week, starting tomorrow night in New York on the nationally televised Versus Network when they face the 10-18-2 Islanders. Thursday they come back home to face the 16-7-6 Flyers, and then Saturday they’re off to St. Louis (that’s Saint Lewis, not San Lew-EE as some players like to be called) where they’ll face the 12-14-3 Blues in a rare one o’clock game (noon, local time).


    The Caps now have more potential injury woes as Tyler Sloan, Sergei Federov and Nicklas Backstrom are all listed as “status pending” by the Capitals as of this morning. The Caps will be looking to extend their three game winning streak, but losing Nicklas Backstrom will make that a considerable challenge.


    I guess we’ll see come Tuesday!

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    Varlamov Vexes Vermin

    Showing that they firmly believe in the concept of “instant offense”, the Hershey Bears jumped out to an early lead on Friday against the Albany River Rats, eventually cruising to a 3-0 win at Times Union Center.

    Starting the scoring trend early, Andrew Gordon netted the first goal of the game only 1:04 into the first period.  Gordon’s goal, his seventh of the year, marked the sixth time this season that the club has lit the lamp in the first three minutes of the game. 

    Oskar Osala, tallying for the third straight road game, scored at 3:53 of the second period.  Osala’s goal, his ninth of the season, was assisted by Mathieu Perreault and Francois Bouchard.  Perreault remains the only Bear to register a point in every road game in which the team has scored a goal. Bouchard, assisted by Perreault and Sami Lepisto, went on to score the third, and final, goal of the game, which came at 16:19 of the third period. 

    Friday’s contest marked the third start in net for Russian rookie, Simeon Varlamov, who was the Washington Capitals first round draft pick of 2006.  Varlamov, making his first start since October 17, made 19 saves to record his first professional shutout.

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    Capitals continue to make cuts to roster

    The Washington Capitals, just days away from opening night in the NHL, tweaked their roster on Thursday by assigning four players to the Hershey Bears of the AHL. Assigned to Hershey were defenseman Tyler Sloan, Grant McNeill and Sami Lepisto and goaltender Simeon Varlamov. Read the rest of this entry »

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