CAPS GAME DAY--Game 60: Caps. Pens. Let's Get It On

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, February 21, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (37-17-5-79, first in Southeast) host the Pittsburgh Penguins (29-25-6-64, fourth in Atlantic) at 12:30 pm from Verizon Center.

Volumes have been written about the personal agendas, vendettas, rivalries and grudges involved between these two hockey teams. On one hand, you have the reigning MVP and a quiet but opinionated ingenue, on the other hand you have the reluctant saviour and the brilliant tactician.

But all that aside, we have a hockey game to play.

The Caps are coming off a miserable performance Friday night against Colorado, losing 4-1 and getting dominated in every facet of the game. Previous to that game, Washington had won three consecutive.

Pittsburgh has played well of late, coinciding with the firing of head coach Michel Therrien on February 15, winning back-to-back 5-4 games over Montreal and Philadelphia. They are 2-0-1 since hiring new coach Dan Bylsma.

Evgeni Malkin has goals in three straight games, and Sidney Crosby had a two-goal game against Philly Saturday night.

Malkin and Crosby, of course, lead the Penguins on a nightly basis. Malkin has 84 points (26 goals, 58 assists, plus-20) and leads the league in scoring. Crosby is not far behind (21-53-74, plus-2). The pair sandwich Alex Ovechkin, Washington's Superman, who sits with 75 points in his attempt to become the first player to win back-to-back Hart Trophies since Dominik Hasek in 1997 and 1998.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 23 saves in the win over the Flyers and will likely start between the pipes. In 41 games this season, he's 20-15-4, with a 2.84 goals against and .910 save percentage.

Pittsburgh is currently 10th in the conference and really needs to pick up points wherever they can, and Verizon Center is a place they've had some success, winning their last five games to the "Phone Booth". The Caps returned the favor by winning a pair in Pittsburgh earlier this season.

The national television audience on NBC will get a healthy dose of Ovechkin-Malkin/Semin-Crosby drama. Drama sells tickets. But underneath all the drama, this game is filled with extremely talented hockey players trying to earn a critical two points as the season gets to crunch time.

WAS: PP-4th (23.6%, 57/242); PK-21st (79.6%, 58/284)
PIT: PP-25th (16.3%, 41/252; PK-19th (80.5%, 47/241)

WAS: RW Viktor Kozlov (Groin-IR); G Brent Johnson (Hip-IR); RW Chris Clark (Wrist-IR); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-IR)

PIT: D Philippe Boucher (Foot-IR); C Mike Zigomanis (Shoulder-IR)

Game 59 Review: Caps Have "Stinker" Against Avalanche

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, February 21, 2009 | , , , | 0 comments »

Ever have one of those days that start when you spill your coffee in your lap, and it just gets worse from there? That's what tonight's 4-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the last place team in the Western Conference, was like for the Washington Capitals (37-17-5-79, first in Southeast).

Case in point: Colorado got a goal from defenseman Adam Foote, who had not scored a goal in 105 games.

Goalie Andrew Raycroft shut the Caps high-powered offense down most of the night, swallowing up shots from the wings and points. Raycroft, owner of a 3.05 goals against and .895 save percentage, allowed one goal on 29 shots, and now owns two road victories over Detroit and one over the Caps among his 11 wins for the season.

And the dominance of the cellar-dwelling Avalanche was no more evident than their first goal, as Ryan Smyth had no fewer than four whacks at a puck that goalie Jose Theodore thought he had pinned against the post. Colorado had four clean wrap-around attempts, embarrassing the Capitals lack of defense almost at will.

Odd-man rushes for Colorado were the order of the day. On the Avs final goal, Tom Poti got caught in no man's land, where he was indecisive about trying to collect a loose puck; he failed to go full out for the puck and failed to get back, resulting in a two-on-one with Smyth and Wojtek Wolski, who got enough on the feed from Smyth to get the Avs' fourth goal to trickle through Theodore.

Theodore did not have a particularly strong night, though he did make a couple of nifty saves. But saying he had no help would be a drastic understatement.

But all the blame should not be placed upon the defense or Theodore. The Caps had a game plan to counter Colorado's trapping, tightly packed defensive scheme. They just didn't execute it. Most of the evening, the Caps spent futile efforts trying to stick-handle through the clogged middle, more often than not resulting in breakouts the other way.

And when the Caps were able to break free, they could not capitalize. Tomas Fleischmann twice missed wide open nets. Alexander Semin could not finish a breakaway attempt. And newcomer Staffan Kronwall missed an open net on a rebound as well.

Only a Niklas Backstrom wrist shot with 13 seconds remaining in the first period prevented a shut out. Credit Eric Fehr with drawing three defenders out of the crease, giving Backstrom all the net he needed to work with.

Neutral zone turnovers by veterans Michael Nylander and Donald Brashear led directly to Colorado goals as well.

Left to speak for his mates after the game, Theodore was candid in his assessment. "Bruce [Boudreau] said before the game that's what they were going to do: block the middle," he said. "That we would have to dump the puck and go get it ourselves. It seems that we didn't do it. We didn't listen to the game plan. They were blocking the middle so well that we couldn't get our speed, we couldn't get into the zone."

Coach Boudreau was succinct in his post-game notes.

"We had nothing; we were horrible out there," Boudreau snapped. "Everybody had their bad game at the same time. You win a lot of games in a row, you're going to have a stinker. Today was it."

Not many more questions were posed by the gathered media, perhaps still scalding form the tongue lashing Boudreau administered after the morning skate, when a reporter asked if his team "played down" to lesser competition.

"When was the last time we played down to our competition?" Boudreau asked. "We've lost two games [in regulation] in our last 14 and [the Kings] won [four] games in a row on that road trip against good teams. We weren't playing down to them -- they were playing really well. Colorado has won [two] games in a row and is desperate. Every team has sense of urgency, and it is the NHL -- there's no bad teams. Do we think we are holier than thou? We don't. We think we're a hard-working team that has had some success. That question is not a good question." --In the Room, Washington

So was the coach prepping the media for the "desperate" Avalanche? Was he bristling at the veiled notion that it's the coach's job to get his team to play through lesser competition? Or did he simply spill coffee on his slacks on his way to work?

Beating Pittsburgh on national television will go a long way in helping everyone forget this game ever happened.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2009.

Game Report: Caps v. Avs, 2/20/2009

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, February 20, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

Third Period

More good news, Colorado is 17-0-0 entering the third period with a lead.

Tucker made a nifty move at the post and Theo covered up safely. Tucker was alone as all three Caps in the zone chased the puck behind the net.

Colorado makes it 3-1 as Theo gets beat badly glove side on a soft wrist shot by Arnason at 3:33.

Schultz takes a lazy, lousy hooking penalty at 6:19 when he decides to reach instead of moving his feet. Bad time to take a bad penalty.

Caps get a call as Semin is knocked off his feet by Clark at 7:55. Caps have 24 second left and then a 1:40 power play.

Plenty of quailty chances so far in the PP, but Raycroft is in front of everything.

Caps typically playing much better here inthe third, but to no avail so far. 8:43 left.

I don't know how Fleischmann missed that wide open net either.

Poti got caught in no man's land, the Avs come down on a 2-on-1 and Wolski finishes it on a feed from Smyth. Thus ends the competitive portion of the evening. 4-1 Colorado.

Backstrom and Wolski mugging each other provides a comedic ending to an ugly game.

Second Period

A little more action up front to start the second. Theo made two nice saves in the first 4-plus minutes.

Semin stoned by Raycroft on a semi-breakaway.

Flash with a good shot swallowed by Raycroft.

Terrible turnover by Nylander leads to Adam Foote?!? scoring his first goal in 105 games. Just a terrible give-away. The original two-on-one was thwarted, but Colorado had the advantage and Foote sneaked in to beat Theo high blocker side. Time of goal 7:46.

Next shift, Ovie and Green rough up MacLeod a little bit. Someone's got to do it.

Raycroft with a great save on Federov. If Feds could have gotten some lift he had Raycroft dead to rights, but the goalie got it with his right pad.

Poti made a very nice sliding break up of a 3-on-1. The Caps are just not playing very well right now.

Six and a half left, and the Caps are still being outshot by 6.

Fehr couldn't get his stick turned to finish a sweet feed by Ovie through the slot. They had the D and Raycroft both beat.

Nyls takes a high stick at 16:32 trying to break up another 2-on-1. Back to the PK.

Gordon missed on a sharp angle shot on the PK. nice break out with the man down.

Theo makes a nice glove save on a shot from the circle. 30 seconds left on the kill. Job well done on the PK. Colorado is 0-for -3 so far on the PP.

And the period ends without a last minute goal. The last shift by the 8-19-28 line had trouble getting through the neutral zone. The Caps are skating through quicksand right now.

SOG: WAS-16, COL-20

First Period

Kinda slow start to this one as we're almost five minutes in and we have three shots on goal. Only real action was Ovie getting hauled down and dumped into the net.

Kronwall made his presence known, flattening Darcy Tucker at the Caps blue line. Kronwall is in the line up as Erskine was a scratch with the flu.

Nice save by Theo on a one timer at 6:19 from Guite from the left wing circle.

Theo stuffed Smyth on a wrap around attempt. and then flat robbed Wolski from point blank. Colorado is playing in the Caps zone an awful lot so far.

Jurcina with a big shot from the point that Raycroft swallowed up.

Flash missed a "puppet" at about 9:20. Wide open net and he fired high. best chance the Caps have had so far.

More good forechecking by Colorado leads to Smyth's wrap-around goal, the second time he's tried the move tonight. Theo thought he had the call, but the ref didn't hear it. Replay showed Theo had it pressed against the post, and Smyth's third whack at it pushed it in. Caps are being outshot 7-4 and getting outplayed.

Poti called for a interference at 15:07 when the Colorado player simply ran into him. Bad call.

Jurica called for tripping (16:12) a guy that didn't fall down. What's going on here?

Theo nice save on Salei on the 5-on-3. Salei then gets called for a hook at 16:55, making the job a little easier. First penalty ends clean. Theo with a glove save with 40 seconds remaining on Jucina's call.

Ovie gets flat-out tackled at the blue line on the power play with no call.

Backstrom wakes up the crowd with a shot off the inside of the post with 14 seconds remaining. Nice pass from Flash to set him up, with another Cap going through the crease.

The goal and the penalty killing give the Caps something to hang their hats on for the second period. They were generally outplayed in the first, but seemed to pick up some energy during the PK, then scoring with 14 seconds left.

SOG: WAS-8, COL-12

The Washington Capitals (37-16-5-79, first in Southeast) host the Colorado Avalanche (37-30-1-55, fifth in Northwest) at 7:00 pm from the Verizon Center.

The Capitals are red-hot once again, with just one regulation loss in their last 10 games (7-1-2). Washington defeated the reeling Montreal Canadiens, 4-3, in a shootout Wednesday before another capacity crowd, pushing their home record to an Eastern Conference-best 23-4-1 for the season.

Left wing Alex Ovechkin continued his march toward another Hart Trophy, notching his league-leading 42nd goal in the win in spectacular fashion, collecting a backhanded self-pass off the boards and beating All-Star goalie Corey Price short side from his rear end after being hauled down by a defender.

Ovechkin playfully shrugged off suggestions of the goal being an all-time top goal in the locker room after the game, but it's clear that he can do things with the puck no other in the game today can match.

The Great Eight has scored in 10 straight games, and has 11 goals and 16 points in that stretch, with 23 goals in his last 22 games at home. He leads Jeff Carter and Zach Parise by eight goals and has 20 third period goals, tops in the league.

Dominik Hasek was the last player to win back-to-back MVP awards, in 96-97 and 97-98 with the Buffalo Sabres. Heady company indeed.

Tonight's game is a big one for goalie Jose Theodore, who felt slighted when he was unceremoniously dumped from Colorado following last season.

He told Capitals Insider:
"I was surprised. With the way the GM told me I played the last three-quarters of last season, plus the playoff, and knowing that he felt that I had my game back [I thought] they wanted to keep me and that it would be easy and quick."

Any regrets?

"No, not really," Theodore said. "Look at the position I'm in now and where my game has been for the past two months. I think that pretty much speaks for itself."
Forward Viktor Kozlov will miss his seventh consecutive game with a groin pull. Staffan Kronwall is scheduled to replace John Erskine in the lineup tonight. Erskine is battling the flu.

Washington looks to record its eighth consecutive sellout for tonight's game. It would equal the team's record for straight sellouts in one season. The Caps were working on a similar streak earlier this season, but it was broken due to a quirk in the schedule and ticketing issues.

Colorado is having a very tough season, at the bottom of the Western Conference. They only have two players (Milan Hejduk and Ryan Smyth) with more than 15 goals, their goaltending has not been able to make up the difference, and they suffer from injuries to key players, including the talented Paul Stastny, following the footsteps of his famous father and uncle in the NHL.

They have won their last two games, however, knocking off Detroit (on the road), in a 6-5 shootout, and Ottawa at home in a 3-2 OT win.

WAS: PP-3rd (23.8%, 57/140); PK-22nd (79.3%, 58/280)
COL: PP-20th (17.2%, 41/239); PK-26th (77.8%, 49/221)

WAS: RW Viktor Kozlov (Groin-IR); G Brent Johnson (Hip-IR); RW Chris Clark (Wrist-IR); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-IR)

COL: C Joe Sakic (Back, fingers-IR); D Kyle Cumiskey (Shoulder-IR); LW David Jones (Shoulder-IR); D John-Michael Liles (Wrist-IR); C Paul Stastny (Forearm-IR); RW Darcy Tucker (Personal-Questionable)

Like it's predecessor, "The Phoenix Goal", the first period goal Alex Ovechkin scored to tie the game at one in last night's 4-3 shooutout win over Montreal will forever be immortalized, known simply as "The Self-Pass".

Ovechkin outraced Canadiens' defenseman Roman Hamrlik to a loose puck just past the Montreal blue line. Ovie backhanded the puck off the wall, deftly spun around Hamrlik and collected the puck, charging toward Canadiens' netminder Carey Price.

Forward Kyle Chipchura hustled back to haul Ovechkin down to the ice, but in a stunning display of concentration, the Great Eight still had the presence to beat Price short-side as his slid through the crease on his rear end.

Thus is born another YouTube moment.

"Normal goal. It's not sick," he tried to say with a straight face after the game.

And what about that pass to himself?

"You have to try something new."

The win keeps Washington (37-16-5-79, first in Southeast) in second place in the Eastern Conference, two points ahead of New Jersey and nine points behind Boston. Montreal (30-21-7-67) slips to sixth in the conference, one point ahead of both Florida and Buffalo for the last spot in the East.

The Caps increased their Eastern Conference-best home record to 23-4-1, and are 7-1-2 overall in their last ten games.

But the game wasn't all Ovechkin. There was a matter of two points to be awarded, and the issue still wasn't settled after 65 minutes of often end-to-end hockey.

While no where near as pretty, David Steckel's tip in goal with 2:39 remaining was every bit as critical. Steckel won the offensive zone faceoff to Brooks Laich, who passed back to Tom Poti at the point. Poti slid to his right before unleashing the high shot, which Steckel redirected right in front of Price to knot the score.

It was the unheralded centerman's seventh goal of the season, and came at a time when the outcome was still very much in doubt.

Overtime saw both teams have excellent scoring chances, none more so than Montreal ringing a shot off the post past Jose Theodore. But Theo did make a quality stop on Christopher Higgins, who one-timed a feed after camping in the slot during the four-on-four overtime.

Price answered at the other end, getting a leg pad on Michael Nylander's attempt to stuff one past the All-Star goalie.

The shootout saw Alexander Semin and Niklas Backstrom beat Price with Washignton's first two shots, and Theodore blanking Tomas Plekanec and Andrei Markov. Backstrom (14) had a goal in regulation as well.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2009. Video courtesy of Caps365 on

02:33 Power Play - Christopher Higgins (8), Snap Shot. Assist: Markov, D'Agostini
10:07 Alex Ovechkin (42), Wrist Shot, Unassisted.
13:42 Power Play - Nicklas Backstrom (14), Snap Shot. Assist: Fedorov, Green
17:03 Power Play - Andrei Kostitsyn (21), Tip-In. Assist: Markov, Schneider


08:57 Power Play - Tomas Plekanec (12), Slap Shot. Assist: Markov, Kostitsyn
17:21 Dave Steckel (7), Slap Shot. Assist: Poti, Laich


Alexander Semin (2), GOAL
Nicklas Backstrom (1), GOAL

1. A. Markov - MON (Goals: 0, Assists: 3)
2. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
3. D. Steckel - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)

Montreal went three-for-four on the power play, Washington one-for-three. Mathieu Schneider, acquired from Atlanta on Monday for a pair of draft picks, had one assist for the Canadiens. The Capitals have won 12 in a row at home against Eastern Conference opponents. Ovechkin has a 10-game point streak (11 goals, five assists). Viktor Kozlov missed his sixth straight game with a groin injury.

CAPS GAME NIGHT--Game 58: Sputtering Habs Crawl Into DC

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (36-16-5-77, first in Southeast) open a five-game homestand with the Montreal Canadiens (30-21-6-66, second in Northeast), losers of three of their last four games and 3-7 in their last 10 contests, from Verizon Center at 7:00 pm.

The Caps return to the "Phone Booth" after a successful 2-0-1 road trip, including winning both ends of a weekend jaunt across the Sunshine State, a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay Friday and a 4-2 over Florida Saturday.

The victory in Miami was propelled by Alex Ovechkin's third hat trick of the season, notching the tie-breaking goal with 2:31 remaining in the third period, and adding an empty netter with 10 seconds on the clock. The three tallies raised Ovie's league-leading total to 41 and gives him 74 points, now trailing just Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin (82) for the scoring title.

Washington places four skaters in the NHL's top 50 scorers, with Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom (13th, with 60 points), and Mike Green and Alexander Semin tied with others for 31st. Green leads all defensemen in goals (22) and points (50).

Jose Theodore will start in goal for the Caps tonight. He's 12-4-0 with a 2.11 goals-against average at home this season, and earned his 27th career shutout with 28 saves in a 3-0 win over Montreal on Nov. 28 at the Verizon Center.

Washington will once again be without the services of Viktor Kozlov. The Caps fifth leading scorer will miss his sixth straight game with a pulled groin. Staffan Kronwall will be scratched as well. Washington also sent Jay Beagle and Karl Alzner down AHL Hershey yesterday.

Montreal is in a free-fall, both on the ice and off. Not only have they been terrible of late, losing 10 of 13, but they sent their second leading scorer, Alex Kovalev, home from their season-high six game road trip for some "time off" to "rest his body and mind", according to a report from the AP.

Kovalev, you will recall, beat out Alex Ovechkin for the third starting forward spot in the NHL All-Star game, and was named the game's MVP following a two-goal performance. Canadiens' GM Bob Gainey said, "The team doesn't need him the way he's playing now."

Montreal made two other significant roster moves, acquiring veteran defenseman Mathieu Schneider from Atlanta, and demoting left winger Sergei Kostitsyn to AHL Hamilton.

Canadiens goalie Carey Price has struggles of late as well, and has ditched his new red pads in favor of the older white ones to try to change his luck.

Montreal is tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference, but only five points out of ninth place, leaving them vulnerable for a late-season collapse--right out of the playoffs.

WAS: PP-3rd (23.6%, 56/237); PK-21st (80.1%, 55/276)
MON: PP-25th (16.1%, 42/261); PK-12th (82.1%, 46/257)

WAS: G Brent Johnson (Hip-IR); RW Chris Clark (Wrist-IR); RW Viktor Kozlov (Groin-IR); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-IR)

MON: LW Guillaume Latendresse (Shoulder-IR); LW Alex Tanguay (Shoulder-IR); RW Alexei Kovalev (Healthy scratch-Out); C Robert Lang (Achilles'-IR); C Tomas Plekanec (Suspended)