Game 38 Review: Caps Exorsize Demons in Buffalo

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, December 31, 2008 | , , , , , , | 0 comments »

Coach Bruce Boudreau's stated message before Tuesday night's game in Buffalo was simple: To be considered an elite team you have to win on the road in the tough buildings. And it does not get any tougher for the Caps than Buffalo's HSBC Arena, where they had lost seven of their last eight games.

His troops responded to the message, scoring early and holding down a mostly inept Buffalo offense until the final few moments, holding on to a 4-2 win and keeping the usually raucous pro-Sabres crowd out of the game.

Washington (24-11-3-51, first in Southeast) hushed the 18,000-plus very early, as Brooks Laich deposited a power play goal at 1:57 of the first period, on a rebound of a Niklas Backstrom shot. It was Laich's 11th of the season and sixth in nine games.

Chris Bourque, son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, scored his first NHL goal later in the period, converting a long rebound off a Ryan Miller kick save. He was reunited with David Steckel and Eric Fehr on a line that contributed heavily to Boudreau's AHL Calder Cup winning team in Hershey two years ago.

"I was lucky with the rebound right on my stick," Bourque said. "I wasn't going to miss that one."

Backstrom would make the score 3-0 midway through the second period, banging home a rebound of a Viktor Kozlov shot. Backstrom finished with a goal and assist, and Kozlov had two helpers.

Buffalo (17-15-5-39, third in Northeast) tried to make a go of it in the third, outshooting the Caps 16-11 in the frame. Adam Mair slipped one past Jose Theodore at 7:41 to briefly inspire the Buffalo faithful, but Jose Theodore (29 saves) proved up to the task, stopping Thomas Vanek and Nathan Gerbe at point blank range in the third.

Theodore continued his recent spate of good play and ended his own personal five game losing streak in Buffalo, dating back to his days with Montreal. Theo has won his last four games and seems to be gaining confidence every time out on the ice.

Boyd Gordon closed the Washington scoring with an opposite blue line empty netter with 43 seconds remaining while shorthanded. The Sabres added a consolation goal with 11 seconds, as Clarke MacArthur tapped in a rebound to conclude the power play.

Washington returns home to begin a four-game home stand against Tampa Thursday night at 7:00 PM. The Caps will also host the New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Columbus on the stand.

Photo by Getty Images.

WAS: Laich (11) from Backstrom and Kozlov (1-1:57-PP); Bourque (1) from Steckel and Fehr (1-9:02); Backstrom (11) from Kozlov and Green (2-12:11-PP); Gordon (4) unassisted (3-19:17-EN-SH)

BUF: Mair (5) from Gaustad and Lydman (3-7:41); MacArthur (11) from Hecht and Spacek (3-19:49-PP)

1. N. Backstrom - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 1)
2. V. Kozlov - WAS (Goals: 0, Assists: 2)
3. P. Gaustad - BUF (Goals: 0, Assists: 1)

Alex Ovechkin was held without a point for just the second time in 11 games. It was reported that his grandfather passed away over the weekend.

The Caps have won nine of their last 10 and 11-of-13 to open a 12-point lead over Carolina in the NHL's Southeast Division.

Backstrom has 38 points in his last 26 games.

Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn left the game late in the third after taking a shot off his lower leg.

Ovechkin Trails Badly in All-Star Voting

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, December 30, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

Reigning Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin, with 25 goals and 24 assists, third in the league in points and the only player in the top 15 in both goals and assists, currently ranks sixth among forward in fan voting for the NHL All-Star team.

Ovechkin, with 436,000+ votes, trail Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (both over 1,270,000 votes) and a trio of Canadiens (Alexi Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay, all over 1,000,000 votes).

That's right, Ovechkin has less than half the votes of Alex Tanguay.

Of course, the same knuckleheads that have Crosby and Malkin atop the forwards list also have Sergei Gonchar, who has yet to play this season, in second among defensemen with over 1,050,000 votes. And Ryan Whitney, another Penguin who has played in exactly three games, is fourth in votes among defensemen, with 1,010,000.

Now, I understand stuffing the ballot box for the home team, but isn't this just a little ridiculous?

Just another reason to despise the black and gold.

Game 38 Preview: Caps at Buffalo Sabres

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, December 30, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (23-11-3-49, first in Southeast) travel to upstate New York to visit the Buffalo Sabres (17-14-5, third in Northeast) at 7:00 PM from the HSBC Arena.

The Caps are one of the league's hottest teams in December having won 10 of their last 12 games, including Sunday night's dispatching of Toronto, 4-1, before a packed house. The sellout crowd was also treated to the retirement ceremony of Mike Gartner's number 11. Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin each had a pair of goals in the contest.

The Capitals' previous win to that was over these same Sabres, last Friday night, 3-2. Viktor Kozlov, Boyd Gordon, and Ovechkin all scored in that one, and Jose Theodore played well in the victory.

In fact, Theodore has experienced a renaissance of sorts in the last three games. Since being pulled in the first period against the Rangers last Tuesday, Theodore has stopped 64 out 68 shots on goal and has earned the win in each of the last three games.

Brent Johnson returns from injury to back up Theodore. Simeon Varlamov was returned to AHL Hershey following the Toronto game.

The revolving injury door keeps swinging for the Caps. Returning last game were defensemen Mike Green and Jeff Schultz, but Matt Bradley took a hard hit into the boards and left the game woozy, and Karl Alzner took a couple shots to his hand. Both are questionable for tonight's game.

Tyler Sloan was sent out to make room for Green and Schultz, but might be recalled if Alzner can not go.

Alex Ovechkin was named NHL first star of the week for last week. He tallied five goals and an assist in three games. For the season, he has 49 points (25 goals, 24 assists) in 35 games.

Buffalo is expected to start Ryan Miller in goal. He missed Friday night's game in DC. Miller is 15-9-5, 2.62, .911 in 29 games this season.

Thomas Vanek (25-7-32, -3), Derek Roy (11-20-31, even), and Jason Pominville (10-17-27, -2) pace the Sabres, who lost two of three last week.

WAS: PP-5th (22.9%, 35/153); PK-23rd (79.9%, 35/174)
BUF: PP-12th (19.6%, 32/163); PK-4th (87.0%, 19/146)

WAS: D John Erskine (Concussion-IR); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-OUT); C Sergei Federov (Ankle-IR); D Tom Poti (Groin-IR); LW Alexander Semin (Back-IR); Tomas Fleischmann (Pneumonia-OUT); Karl Alzner (Hand-Questionable); Matt Bradley (Head/Neck-Questionable)

BUF: D Craig Rivet (Upper body-IR); C Tim Connolly (Ribs-IR); C Paul Gaustad (Upper body-IR); C Nathan Gerbe (Upper body-IR); RW Patrick Kaleta (Head-Out)

Capitals Retire Mike Gartner's Number 11

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 29, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

In a moving tribute last night, the Washington Capitals raised Mike Gartner's number 11 to the Verizon Center rafters, to hang in perpetuity with the #7 of Yvon Labre, #5 of Rod Langway and #32 of Dale Hunter.

The ceremony did not have a formal emcee. Rather, two men with intimate knowledge of the speedy right winger, teammate and business partner Wes Jarvis and Caps' President Dick Patrick, spoke glowingly of the Hall of Famer. Jarvis' speech was laced with personal stories of life as teammates and housemates, while Patrick spoke about what Gartner meant to the young franchise, bringing an all-star presence to a organization trying to find its place in the sport--and market.
“I am proud to know that Number 11 is going to hang in Verizon Center as symbol of our franchise,” Patrick said. “It will be a constant reminder of your speed and power on the ice as well as your graciousness and dedication to the sport.” -- Dick Patrick
Gartner himself then took the microphone and spoke about his passion for the game, his family, and his many fond memories of his playing days in Washington. He also mentioned the current team, and how Caps' owner Ted Leonsis had "two goals" for the Caps: to become a class operation and to win a Stanley Cup.
“I always look back on my 10 years in Washington with great memories, great admiration and great thankfulness,” Gartner said. “I will always have a very special place in my heart for this area and for this franchise. I really became a hockey player here, and I also became a young man, and was shown the importance of being involved in the community.” --Mike Gartner

Events like last night attest to the first proposition, and games like last night may very well speak to the second.

During the pre-game skate, the Caps all wore retro jerseys with Gartner's #11, and the Caps conducted a silent auction through the first two periods. Ovechkin and Federov's jerseys both went for more than $3000, and Green, Semin and Laich all went for more than $1000. Part of the proceeds went to a charity of Gartner's choice.

And today's Caps made sure everyone went home extra happy, dispatching the Toronto Maple Leafs, another of Gartner's former teams, 4-1.

All photos (c) C. Nichols 2008.

Game 37 Review: Laich Leads Caps Past Leafs 4-1

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 29, 2008 | , , , , | 0 comments »

As December crawls to a close, the Washington Capitals (23-11-3-49) find themselves inching closer to the top of the NHL's Eastern Conference lead. The Caps have been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning 10 of their last 12 games.

With their 4-1 win last night over the Toronto Maple Leafs (14-6-6-34 fourth in Northeast), Washington extended their Southeast Division lead to ten points over Carolina, and find themselves alone in second place in the conference, nine points behind the Boston Bruins.

Before a capacity crowd that came to see Caps' great Mike Gartner's number 11 retired, and many other former Caps to honor the Hall of Famer, today's Capitals received two goals each from Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin, and goalie Jose Theodore was steady in goal, turning away 23 shots for his third straight victory.

Toronto struck first, as Niklas Hagstrom snapped a shot from the high slot past a partially screened Theodore late in the first period. Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala made several difficult saves in the period, and defenseman Mike Green also hit a screaming slap shot from the point off the far pipe. The lead would hold, in a fairly chippy game, until midway though the second.

On the power play, Laich took a feed in the right wing corner from Niklas Backstrom (two assists), walked in, and stuffed it between Toskala's pads to even the game. Then, with ten seconds remaining in the second period, Ovie made his mark.

Just moments after clinking one off the post, Ovechkin gathered a pass from Milan Jurcina and drilled the puck though Toskala, the puck dribbling across the goal line. Jurcina made an excellent play on the take-away, and pushed it ahead to Ovechkin who was still forechecking.

The red-clad crowd, still buzzing from the pre-game ceremonies, roared its approval.

Laich scored the insurance goal at 15:43 of the third period. Eric Fehr did some good work pinning the defense down in the left wing corner, and the puck popped out to Laich, who was streaking in behind the play. He went though the crease and got a soft shot on goal, but Toskala could not control the bounce, and on the second whack, Laich beat him.

Laich now has four goals in his last six games, and 10 for the season.

Ovechkin added an empty net goal for his 25th of the season.

The Capitals travel to Buffalo to face the Sabres Tuesday night at 7:00 PM. The Caps have split two games with the Sabres this season, a 5-0 shellacking in Buffalo and a 3-2 victory last Friday night at the Verizon Center.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008.

WAS: Laich (9) from Backstrom and Green (2-12:54-PP); Ovechkin (24) from Jurcina (2-19:50); Laich (10) unassisted (3-15:43); Ovechkin (25) from Backstrom and Green (3-19:26-EN)

TOR: Hagman (11) from Grabovski and Frogren (1-14:23)

1. B. Laich - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)
2. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)
3. J. Theodore - WAS (Saves: 23, Save Pct: .958)

Before the game, the Caps returned D Tyler Sloan to Hershey (AHL) and activated Mike Green and Jeff Schultz from the injured list. After the game, the team recalled forward Chris Bourque from Hershey.

Washington is 15-1-1 at Verizon Center this year, and 21-1-1 in its last 23 regular season games.

Forward Matt Bradley fell hard into the side boards after missing a check. He left the game with assistance and appeared woozy. The team said he is "ok", but has not elaborated.

Photos and Notes from Saturday's Practice

Posted by Dave Nichols | Sunday, December 28, 2008 | , | 0 comments »

We attended Saturday's practice at Kettler Iceplex.

Brent Johnson practiced for a little while but still looked slow from his head cold and hip strain.

Alexander Semin skated for a while, but did not take part in drills.

Brain Pothier practiced hard for quite a while by himself in full gear. He's got a ways to go, but he's making practice.

Mike Green and Jeff Schultz both practiced in full.

Please enjoy the photos by staff photographer Cheryl.

One of the appeals of professional sports is that every time you go to the arena, field or court, you might see something you've never seen before in your life. Alex Ovechkin's game-winning goal in the third period was one of those moments.

Defenseman Bryan Helmer pushed the puck along the boards where Ovechkin collected it. The reigning NHL MVP deked defenseman Henrik Tallinder, then while Tallender was regaining his balance, slid the puck off his back hand through Tallinder's legs just inside the blue line, putting the puck on Ovechkin's forehand.

Tallinder got part of a check on Ovechkin as the left winger was going by, and as he fell to his knees, the "Great Eight" got enough on his shot to beat goalie Patrick Lalime short side, taking a 3-1 lead.

The three goals would stand up, as the Caps held off a late third period flurry to defeat the Buffalo Sabres, 3-2, before 18,277 at the Verizon Center.

Ovechkin appeared to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead late in the second period, but a goalie interference call against teammate Brooks Laich negated it, motivating Ovechkin even further.

Washington (22-11-3-45, first in Southeast) received goals from Viktor Kozlov and Boyd Gordon in addition to Ovechkin's marker, and veteran minor leaguer Bryan Helmer chipped in two assists.

Helmer, 36, was recently named as one of the captains in the AHL All Star game in January, but he'll gladly trade that honor for more nights like tonight in the NHL.

Jose Theodore turned away 22 of the 24 shots he faced, but he certainly could not be faulted for the second goal.

Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman misfired on a slap shot from the point and the puck hit Maxim Afinogenov, who was trying to simply get out of the way. The puck then managed to bounce behind Theodore, pulling Buffalo (16-14-5-37, third in Northeast) to within one goal.

The Caps would stymie the Sabres for the remaining 1:49 and extend their home record to 14-1-1, best in the Eastern Conference. Carolina knocked off Atlanta, keeping pace with the Caps, eight back in the Southeast Division race.

Photo by AP.

WAS: Kozlov (9) from Backstrom and Helmer (2-17:46); Gordon (3) from Jurcina (3-1:58); Ovechkin (23) from Helmer (3-8:27)

BUF: Vanek (25) from Stafford and Spacek (3-6:13-PP); Afinogenov (2) from Lydman and Kotalik (3-18:11)

1. B. Helmer - WAS (Goals: 0, Assists: 2)
2. D. Brashear - WAS (Goals: 0, Assists: 0)
3. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)

Caps' Captain Chris Clark returned from the Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR) after missing 14 games with a stress fracture in his forearm.

Washington out shot Buffalo 34-24.

Sergei Fedorov has been put on LTIR, retroactive to Dec. 14th. He is eligible to return Jan. 9 vs. Columbus.

Game 36 Preview: Caps Host Buffalo Sabres

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, December 26, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (21-11-3-45, first in Southeast) host the Buffalo Sabres (16-13-5-37, third in Northeast) at 7:00 PM from Verizon Center.

The Capitals enter play tonight winners of nine of their last 11 games, including Tuesday's come-from-behind 5-4 OT win over the New York Rangers. Down 4-0, the Caps completed the comeback with the overtime winner from Shaone Morrisonn, the defenseman's first goal of the season.

Alex Ovechkin started and capped the comeback, netting the team's first and fourth goals, while Tomas Fleischmann and Viktor Kozlov chipped in as well.

Jose Theodore got the win, despite allowing goals on three of the first five shots he faced and being lifted in the first period. He would return to start the second period and give up one more goal, but thereafter shut the door on the Blueshirts, allowing his skaters to collect goals and, ultimately, victory.

The Caps continue to be plagued by injury. Brent Johnson becomes the latest addition to the injury list, as he will sit out tonight. The team recalled Simeon Varlamov from Hershey to back up Theodore tonight. With another game Sunday, Varlamov might stick around for a few games.

In addition to Johnson, also missing tonight are: Mike Green (shoulder), John Erskine (concussion), Jeff Schultz (broken finger), Sergei Fedorov (ankle), Alexander Semin (back), Tom Poti (groin) and Tomas Fleischmann (flu).

The team does benefit from the return of its captain, Chris Clark. Clark comes off the Long Term Injury List (LTIR) with the broken forearm. Donald Brashear also returns from an injured leg.

Andrew Gordon, Bryan Helmer and Alexander Giroux were all recalled from Hershey (AHL) to fill out the roster.

Buffalo has lost three out of their last four games, including back-to-back OT losses to Montreal and Pittsburgh their last two times out. They are hit pretty hard by the injury bug too, missing four of their regulars, including veteran defenseman Craig Rivet.

The Sabres are led on offense by Tomas Vanek, second in the league in goals scored with 24, though he has just 6 assists. Derek Roy (11-19-30, +1) and Jason Pominville (9-17-26, -1) are Vanek's set-up men.

Ryan Miller is the starting goalie for Buffalo. One of the league's best, Miller is 14-9-5 with a 2.61 GAA and .911 save percentage. Patrick Lalime (2-4-2, 3.09, .888) is the little-used veteran backup.

WAS: PP-5th (23.0%, 34/148); PK-24th (80.0%, 34/170)
BUF: PP-13th (18.7%, 19/155); PK-3rd (87.0%, 18/138)

WAS: D Jeff Schultz (Finger-IR); D John Erskine (Concussion-OUT); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-Out); C Sergei Federov (Ankle-OUT); G Brent Johnson (Hip-OUT); D Mike Green (Shoulder-OUT); D Tom Poti (Groin-OUT); LW Alexander Semin (Back-OUT)

BUF: D Craig Rivet (Upper body-IR); C Tim Connolly (Ribs-IR); C Paul Gaustad (Upper body-Questionable); C Nathan Gerbe (Upper body-IR); C Jochen Hecht (Ear-Questionable); RW Patrick Kaleta (Head-Out)

Game 35 Review: OT Goal Completes Stunning Comeback

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, December 24, 2008 | | 0 comments »

I won't have a full review today since a) I'm on vacation; b) I'm on a really lousy hotel internet connection; and c) I didn't see the game.

However, from all accounts the Caps played lousy in the beginning, stemming from poor goaltending, the Rangers folded, the Caps scored a bunch of third period goals and got an unlikely hero in OT.

Does that sum it up?

The most exciting team in hockey? Indeed.

If this team is going to be successful deep into the playoffs, they will need to address the goaltending situation. Theodore is a shell of what he once was. I didn't need to see today's game to be able to make that statement. All season he's played poorly and without confidence.

The Caps have proven over the last month or so that they can score and have some pretty impressive organizational depth. If they could ever get healthy they have a package of some of the most talented players in the league.

But they need to get better between the pipes. They can have all the talent in the world, but shoddy goaltending can derail any team's playoff aspirations. This team has too much talent to let that happen.

Game 34 Review: Caps Flattened In Philly 7-1

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, December 20, 2008 | , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (20-11-3-43, first in Southeast Division) dominated play in the first period, out shooting the Philadelphia Flyers 25-6 in the frame, but were beaten and beat up the rest of the way, falling 7-1 to an inspired Flyers squad.

Anterro Niittymaki was superb in that first period for the Flyers (18-8-6, 42, second in Atlantic Division), making several outstanding saves in the barrage, while Caps goalie Brent Johnson allowed a soft goal to Jeoffrey Lupul to exit the period down 1-0. Niittymaki made 47 saves for the game.

As well as the Caps played in the first with nothing to show for it, they came out flat in the second, and were flattened in the third.

Jeff Carter scored a pair of goals in the second for Philly, an even-strength goal at 15:11 and a short-handed one less tha a minute later that fairly well closed the door. Carter has 24 goals on the season, tying him with Tomas Vanek of Buffalo for the league lead.

Coach Bruce Boudreau lifted Johnson at the start of the third period for Jose Theodore, to no avail. The Caps took eight penalties and allowed four more goals, including a hat trick to forward Scott Hartnell. Theodore saved just 11 of 15 shots faced in the third period, his first appearance since suffering a hip flexor injury in practice two weeks ago.

Already missing Alexander Semin due to a cross-check in Thursday's win over St. Louis, Washington lost defenseman Tom Poti early in the first period after he tweaked his groin, an injury that kept him out of multiple games at the beginning of the month.

Brooks Laich collected the Caps only goal, with a nice backhander off a feed from Tomas Fleischmann. It was Laich's eighth goal of the season.

The game featured plenty of big hits and three fights, two with Donald Brashear squaring off with Philly tough guy Riley Cote. Matt Bradley mixed it up with Josh Gratton later in the third.

Carolina lost its matinee to Boston as well, 4-2, so the Caps retain their eight point lead in the division.

Washington travels to New York Tuesday to face the Rangers, leaders of the Atlantic Division.

WAS: Laich (8) from Fleischmann (3-5:09)

PHI: Lupul (11) from Hartnell and Carle (1-4:29); Carter (23) from Lupul and Albert (2-15:11); Carter (24) from Coburn and Knuble (2-16:05-SH); Hartnell (11) from Lupul (3-4:45); Hartnell (12) from Carle and Timonen (3-7:29-PP); Gagne (17) from Carter and Timonen (3-9:19-PP); Hartnell (13) from Lupul and Carter (3-16:25)

1. A. Niittymaki - PHI (Saves: 47, Save Pct: .979)
2. S. Hartnell - PHI (Goals: 3, Assists: 1)
3. J. Carter - PHI (Goals: 2, Assists: 2)

Off-Day Notebook

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, December 19, 2008 | , , , , , , , | 0 comments »

  • Simeon Varlamov (2-0-0, 1.50, .953) was sent back to AHL Hershey today. The teams pronounced Jose Theodore fit for action. In a brief interview posted by Capitals Insider, Varlamov was disappointed but resigned:

    "I'm a little bit disappointed," Varlamov [said, through the interpreter]. "But I was kind of expecting it because they told me in advance that it might happen. Of course, it's not very pleasant when you play well and you get sent back to the farm right away. But I understand what's going on."

  • Brent Johnson is scheduled to start tomorrow's grudge match against the Flyers in Philly.

  • D Mike Green practiced this morning and hopes to play tomorrow afternoon, depending on how sore his shoulder is in the morning.

  • F Alexander Semin, however, did not practice and he is listed under the dreaded "day-to-day". Aren't we all.

  • John Erskine didn't practice.

Apology Most Profound

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, December 19, 2008 | | 2 comments »

It has come to my attention that in the story I posted about last night's win over St. Louis an offensive and very inappropriate word slipped through spell check and ran in my story until just a few moments ago when I made the edit. I can only attribute the mistake to sloppy typing on a late night and an incredibly faulty spell checker, as I run spell check as the last thing I do on every post.

To any reader of this blog that might have seen the error before I corrected it, I apologize most deeply, and hopefully you'll realize--if you examine your computer keyboard, just how easily the transgression happened. How the word slipped though spell check is beyond me.

You have my assurances that I will be more diligent in the future should I choose to use the word I misspelled in a future story.

Please contact me directly at if you have any questions or further comments.

Game 33 Review: Caps Rally To Kick the Blues 4-2

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, December 19, 2008 | , , , , , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals played a largely uninterested, uninteresting game against an inferior opponent until late in the second period when Viktor Kozlov and Tomas Fleischmann scored just 40 seconds apart to spark the Caps to a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues before 18,277 at the Verizon Center.

The Caps (20-10-3-43, first in Southeast) have won five in a row, and 20 on the season, the fastest any Caps team has reached that mark since the 1992-93 season.

Kozlov had two goals and an assist to lead the Caps offense, but the big story was 20-year old goalie Simeon Varlamov. He made 29 saves, none bigger than the kick save he made against veteran Keith Tkachuk with just under six minutes to play.

It was just Varlamov's second NHL start, and this one came with his father in attendance. Varlamov will probably return to Hershey when Jose Theodore is pronounced fit, but he shown plenty in his two games, saving 61 of 64 shots (.953 save percentage) in two victories.

The win did have a cost, however. Both Alexander Semin and Mike Green left in the third period with injuries, and neither player returned. Reports have Green "tweaking" his sore shoulder, but Semin's discomfort was a direct result of being targeted by a rival player.

Blues winger David Backes gave Semin a hard--but legal--check, knocking Semin to the ice. As Semin tried to regain his feet, Backes gave him another two-handed cross-check to the small of the back, roughly the same area Semin had been nursing when he missed 12 games earlier this month. As Semin lay in pain on the ice, Alex Ovechkin came to the defense of his teammate and countryman, levelling Backes, and both teams came together for a scrum.

Remarkably, no penalties were meted out by referee Mike Leggo.

Ovechkin scored the team's fourth goal, his 20th of the season, on a power play just 13 seconds into the third period.

The Caps are off until Saturday afternoon, when they travel to face the Philadelphia Flyers at 1:00 PM from the Wachovia Center. Coach Bruce Boudreau just hopes Semin and Green can make the trip with the rest of the team.

1. V. Kozlov - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 1)
2. S. Varlamov - WAS (Saves: 29, Save Pct: .935)
3. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)

Game 33 Preview: Caps Host St. Louis Blues

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 18, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (19-10-3-41, first in Southeast) host the St. Louis Blues (12-15-3-27, fifth in Central) at 7:00 PM from Verizon Center. This is the two clubs' only meeting in 2008-09.

Both teams have an extensive injury list and both teams like to play an up-tempo game, but that's about all that they have in common these days. Washington has won a season-high four games straight, while the Blues have dropped four in a row.

Though the Caps pulled out a last second win against the New York Islanders Tuesday, they did not play particularly well, especially in the third period when they surrendered two goals allowing the game to go to overtime. Thankfully for coach Bruce Boudreau, superstar left winger Alex Ovechkin took matters over, netting the game winner with 10.7 seconds remaining, after ringing one off the post a few seconds earlier.

With two more goals Tuesday, Ovechkin has crept up the scoring leader board and sits in third overall with 42 points (19 goals, 23 assists, +12). He trails only Pittsburgh's dynamic duo of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, with 49 and 44 points respectively. Ovechkin is the only player, however, to be in the top ten in both goals and assists.

On the injury front, several players remain out with no timetable for return. The most prominent of those has to be future hall-of-famer Sergei Federov.

Feds is nursing a sprained ankle that previously kept him out of 12 games, and has now cost him two more. He did not participate in yesterday's practice, and team officials did not speculate as to how long he would be out. Also missing practice and unavailable tonight are Eric Fehr (shoulder) and John Erskine (concussion), though Erskine appears close to a return.

Tyler Sloan (heel) and Jose Theodore (hip) practiced, but are questionable for tonight. Simeon Varlamov and Sean Collins will replace the duo if they are unable to go.

In a bit of good news, defenseman Brian Pothier skated in full gear yesterday before practice for the first time since his severe concussion last December. He in making strides in hopes of returning the Caps at some point this season, but his road back is a long one as he recuperates from post-concussion syndrome.

St. Louis is one of the league's worst defensive teams, allowing an average of 3.33 goals this season, including 5.25 during its four-game losing streak. They have been beset by injuries as well, missing up to six of their top 10 regular skaters.

Missing from the active roster include LW Paul Kariya, C Andy McDonald, C T.J. Oshie and Ds Eric Brewer and Jay McKee. Also, starting goalie Manny Legace was placed in the injured list with a concussion and will miss considerable time.

Brad Boyes lead the Blues in scoring with 30 points (16 goals, 14 assists) but is a dismal -16, worst on the team. Veteran Keith Tkachuk has 12 goals.

Chris Mason handles the goalkeeping duties in Legace's place. Overall he's 3-10-1, 3.17, .903, and last time out on Tuesday versus Calgary he allowed six goals on 31 shots. He's 0-5-1 with a 4.45 GAA in his last six appearances.

WAS: PP-6th (23.3%, 31/133); PK-20th (80.3%, 31/157)
STL: PP-7th (22.6%, 31/137); PK-17th (81.0%, 26/137

WAS: RW Chris Clark (Forearm-Out); D Jeff Schultz (Finger-IR); D John Erskine (Concussion-OUT); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-Out); C Sergei Federov (Ankle-OUT); RW Eric Fehr (Shoulder-Questionable); D Tyler Sloan (Heel-Questionable); G Jose Theodore (Hip-Questionable)

STL: D Eric Brewer (Back-IR); D Jay McKee (Finger-IR); C T.J. Oshie (Ankle-IR); C Andy McDonald (Ankle-IR); LW Paul Kariya (Hip-IR); G Manny Legace (Head-IR); LW D.J. King (Shoulder-IR); D Erik Johnson (Knee-Out)

With less than eleven seconds remaining in overtime, Alex Ovechkin decided enough was enough. He had watched his team fritter away a 4-2 third period lead and he simply took the game over. After hitting the post just seconds before, Ovechkin made no mistake on his second attempt.

His linemate, Niklas Backstrom, kept a bouncing puck in the zone and shot the pass to Ovechkin, who had been forechecking, slicing through the high slot. A slight hesitation and a rocket wrist shot later, the Washington Capitals (19-10-3-41, first in Southeast) walked out of Nassau Coliseum with a 5-4 win over the New York Islanders (10-18-3-23, fifth in Atlantic).

The Capitals have won four straight games and eight of their last ten to open a ten point lead in the Southeast Division. The loss was New York's seventh straight and have dropped nine of their last ten.

Washington got out of the gate quickly. Boyd Gordon and Brooks Laich both scored "soft" goals against Islanders netminder Joey MacDonald in the first period to open a 2-0 lead. It was Gordon's first goal in 27 games.

Veteran center Doug Weight cut the lead in half just under two minutes later, beating Caps goalie Brent Johnson with a slap shot on a power play.

The second period would see two more goals from Washington sandwiched around another power play goal from New York, this time from Richard Park (6). Defenseman Milan Jurcina (3) banked a long wrist shot off an Islanders defender and Ovechkin took a beautiful no-look backward pass from Semin, who had drawn the defense--and MacDonald--away from the sniper, who buried the puck in a wide open net.

But the Islanders would not roll over despite facing a two-goal deficit. The Isles came out blazing in the third, outshooting the Caps 17-5 in the period, and scored twice on Any Sutton's snap shot and a tip-in from Jon Sim on a blast from the point from Mark Streit, just seconds after a power play had expired, with 2:13 left in regulation.

The teams traded opportunities in the four-on-four overtime until late in the frame when the Capitals got a sustained flurry as time wound down. That's when Backstrom did the grunt work and Ovechkin played Superman.

WAS: Gordon (2) from Brashear and Steckel (1-2:54); Laich (7) from Green and Johnson (1-14:18); Jurcina (3) from Alzner and Kozlov (2-6:07); Ovechkin (18) from Semin and Backstrom (2-16:35); Ovechkin (19) from Backstrom (OT-4:49)

NYI: Weight (7) from Park and Streit (1-16:14-PP); Park (6) from Guerin and Streit (2-14:32-PP); Sutton (2) from Hunter and Park (3-11:19); Sim (6) from Streit and Guerin (3-17:47)

1. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)
2. R. Park - NYI (Goals: 1, Assists: 2)
3. K. Alzner - WAS (Goals: 0, Assists: 1)

Washington had killed their last 18 penalties until Weight and Park's goals.

Ovechkin has five goals in his last three games.

Announced attendance was just 11,655 at Nassau Coliseum, but actual attendance was significantly less.

Matt Bradley dropped the gloves with Tim Jackman in the first period, both drawing five-minute majors.

Game 32 Preview: Caps at New York Islanders

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, December 16, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (18-10-3-39, first in Southeast) take to the road to face the New York Islanders (10-18-2-22, fifth in Atlantic) at 7:00 PM from the Nassau Coliseum.

The Caps hit Long Island winners of their last three games, over Boston, Ottawa, and Montreal. They surrendered just one goal in each of the three contests against Northeast Division foes. Starting goalie Brent Johnson defeated Boston and Ottawa and has nine wins this season, matching his career high with Washington and his most since 2002-03 with St. Louis, when he had 16.

Johnson has been playing with a sore hip, but he's better off than Jose Theodore, who will miss his second straight game with a hip injury of his own.

Rookie Simeon Varlamov, 20, made his NHL debut in the 2-1 victory over Montreal Saturday night. When asked if he was nervous making his first start in such hostile conditions he replied though an interpreter that after that experience "I will not be afraid of anything."

The Capitals' injury list still reads like a Russian novel despite getting several players back last week. But each time someone comes off the list, someone new goes on. This week, forwards Tomas Fleischmann (tied for third on the team in goals with 10) and Eric Fehr were added. The team is hopeful that they both can play tonight.

Sergei Federov, who played so well in the Ottawa game, went right back on the injury list however. Feds' latest injury is undisclosed, but he missed several weeks earlier with a sprained ankle. Tyler Sloan is questionable for the game tonight as well with a bruised heel.

Winger Alexander Semin and defenseman Mike Green have picked up from where they left off before missing time with injury though. Semin has points in all three games since returning to the lineup (1 goal, 2 assists) and Green had a goal and two assists in the Ottawa win.

The Islanders are struggling. They have lost six in a row dating back to the Caps 5-2 win on Dec. 4. New York has scored just 11 goals in those six games.

Trent Hunter and Bill Guerin both have 11 goals on the season to lead the Isles, and Doug Weight is the leading scorer with 27 points (6 goals, 21 assists).

Joey MacDonald is the top goalie for N.Y. with Rick DiPietro still out with his knee injury. MacDonald is 10-14-3, 3.20, .900 on the season.

WAS: PP-5th (23.8%, 31/130); PK-18th (80.9%, 29/152)
NYI: PP-18th (18.0%, 25/139); PK-24th (79.3%, 30/145)

WAS: RW Tomas Fleischmann (undisclosed-Questionable); RW Chris Clark (Forearm-Out); D Jeff Schultz (Finger-IR); D John Erskine (Concussion-OUT); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-Out); C Sergei Federov (Undisclosed-OUT); RW Eric Fehr (Shoulder-Questionable); D Tyler Sloan (Heel-Questionable); G Jose Theodore (Hip-OUT)

NYI: D Radek Martinek (Shoulder-IR); D Bruno Gervais (Leg-IR); C Mike Comrie (Hip-IR); G Rick DiPietro (Knee-IR); RW Kyle Okposo (Arm-IR); C Mike Sillinger (Groin-Questionable); C Frans Nielsen (Head, leg-IR)

Meet Caps Right Wing Matt Bradley!

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Tuesday, December 16, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

Washington Capitals right wing Matt Bradley will share his thoughts on everything happening on and off the ice in a Q&A hosted by the radio voice of the Capitals, Steve Kolbe. Throughout the Q&A, fans will be invited to answer team trivia to win great Caps memorabilia, and Bradley will close the event by signing autographs for all the fans in attendance.

WHO: Washington Capitals right wing Matt Bradley
WHAT: Question-and-answer session, autograph signing at ESPN Zone
WHEN: Wednesday, January 7th, 2009, 7- 8 p.m.
WHERE: ESPN Zone, 555 12th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20004

Monday's Off-Day Notebook

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 15, 2008 | , , , , , , , , | 0 comments »

  • Tomas Fleischmann, Jose Theodore and Eric Fehr all practiced today. Flash and Fehr will travel and expect to play, Theodore will not.

  • Simeon Varlamov will back up Brent Johnson tomorrow night.

  • Sergei Federov and Tyler Sloan, both of whom left Saturday's win over Montreal, did not practice. Nicklas Backstrom, who left the game with migraine, did practice.

  • Caps prospect Stefan Della Rovere made the 2009 Canadian World Junior Championships team.

  • Washington is 13-4-2 with Alexander Semin in the lineup this season.

Washington Capitals rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov recorded 32 saves and the Caps got goals from Niklas Backstrom and Michael Nylander to defeat the Montreal Canadiens before 21,273 faithful at Bell Centre.

The Caps extend their record to 18-10-3-39, first in the Southeast Division. Montreal is second in the Northeast at 16-8-5-37.

Nylander's game winner came with just 3:32 left in the game when he banked a shot off Canadien netminder Jaroslav Halak's leg pad from behind the goal line. Nylander must have felt like the goalie owed him something after robbing him with an outstanding glove save earlier in the game.

Halak finished with 24 saves in the loss.

The win did not come without a cost, however, as Sergei Federov, Tyler Sloan and Backstrom all left the game early with injury or illness. Federov and Sloan's problems were undisclosed, but Backstrom was reportedly suffering from a migraine.

Federov had just returned last night to the team after missing several weeks with an ankle injury. Sloan has been playing for several games with a bruised heel.

Backstrom netted the Caps first goal of the game on the power play in the first period on feeds from Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

Patrice Brisebois had Montreal's lone tally against Varlamov, making his NHL debut tonight.

The game was very chippy and both teams had plenty of opportunities on the power play. The Canadiens went 0-for-8 with the extra man, including a four-minute advantage when Ovechkin received a double minor for high sticking after clipping Tom Kostopoulos in the face.

Washington is off until Tuesday night, when they travel to face the New York Islanders at 7:00 PM from Nassau Colosseum. The Islanders are last in the Atlantic Division with just 22 points and lost a 5-2 decision to the Caps in Washington on Dec. 4.

Photo by AP.

WAS: Backstrom (10) from Ovechkin and Semin (1-10:19-PP); Nylander (3) from Giroux and Kozlov (3-17:28)
MON: Brisebois (3) from Tanguay and Lang (2-15:25)

1. S. Varlamov - WAS (Saves: 32, Save Pct: .970)
2. M. Nylander - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
3. J. Halak - MON (Saves: 24, Save Pct: .923)

Washington has won three in a row and five out of their last six. They are within three points for second in the Eastern Conference behind the New York Rangers.

Nylander's goal was his first in 26 games.

Backstrom's goal was his fifth in seven games.

Game 31 Preview: Caps at Montreal Canadiens

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, December 13, 2008 | , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (17-10-3-37, first in Southeast) travel to Montreal to face the Canadiens (16-7-5-37, second in Northeast) from Bell Centre at 7:00 PM.

The Caps should be flying high after trouncing the Ottawa Senators last evening 5-1, behind another stellar performance from goalie Brent Johnson, who made 34 saves in the effort.

Coach Bruce Boudreau announced this morning, however, that he was giving Johnson the night off and turning to 20-year old rookie Simeon Varlamov, recalled from Hershey yesterday following Jose Theodore's hip flexor injury suffered in the morning skate.

Washington is slowly getting its injured players back though, as Sergei Federov and Mike Green joined Tom Poti and Alexander Semin back on the ice after all missed significant time with various injuries.

The difference really showed last night against Ottawa. The recent call-ups did an admirable job filling in, but the talent level on the ice last night was readily apparent, as the passing was crisper and skating quite a bit more fluid.

Washington raised its record to 12-1-1 at home, the best in the Eastern Conference, with Friday's victory, but has played poorly on the road lately. The Capitals are 1-5-0 away from home since Nov. 20.

Montreal enters the game 5-2-3 in its last ten contests. They have five players with better than 20 points, and Robert Lang leads the squad with ten goals.

However, in Thursday's 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay, Montreal captain Saku Koivu left in the second period with a lower-body injury and didn't return. He was scheduled for an MRI and is expected to miss tonight's game.

Carey Price (13-4-7, 2.37, .920) is the Habs' starting netminder, but he in expected to miss the game as well with the flu. Jaroslav Halak (3-3-2, 2.42, .917) should be in net tonight.

Washington defeated Montreal at home 3-0 on Nov. 28 behind Jose Theodore's great game.

WAS: PP-5th (23.8%, 30/126); PK-22nd (79.9%, 29/144)
MON: PP-27th (13.8%, 18/130); PK-12th (82.3%, 23/130)

WAS: Tomas Fleischmann (undisclosed-Questionable); RW Chris Clark (Forearm-Out); D Jeff Schultz (Finger-IR); D John Erskine (Concussion-OUT); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-Out);

MON: D Mathieu Dandenault (Arm-Out); LW Christopher Higgins (Upper body-Questionable); C Saku Koivu (Lower body-Doubtful); G Carey Price (Flu-Doubtful); D Mike Komisarek (Upper body-IR)

Caps' Web Producer Dresses For Game

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, December 13, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

Imagine that you are a paralegal at a law firm and the partner gets sick, leaving you to argue in front of the Supreme Court. Or that you are a flight attendant and the pilot passes out and you have to land the plane.

That's how close Brett "Stretch" Leonhardt, a 26-year old website producer for the Washington Capitals, was to appearing in an NHL game.

That the Caps completely obliterated the Ottawa Senators, 5-1, before over 17,000 at Verizon Center tonight was almost an after thought after all the histrionics involved in finding a backup goaltender to Caps' starter Brent Johnson.

Washington goalie Jose Theodore injured his hip flexor during the morning skate and the Caps found themselves down a goalie. The player they wanted to recall, 20-year old phenom Simeon Varlamov of the AHL Hershey Bears, happened to be in transit to a road game in San Antonio, Texas. The Caps arranged to get him on a flight from that would have him landing at Reagan National Airport at 7:00 p.m.--gametime.

But it would take a while to get Varlamov from the airport to the arena, dressed and on the bench. That's where Leonhardt came in.

Leonhardt's normal job for the Caps is shooting and editing video for the club's website, one of the best in the league. He also happened to play Division III hockey at Oswego State and Neumann College. Occasionally, coach Bruce Boudreau has asked him to fill in at practice when one or the other of the teams goalies need a "maintenance day". But with Brent Johnson already nursing a painful hip injury himself, it was critical that the Caps had a goalie dressed for the game until Varlamov could arrive.

Caps General Manager George McPhee stopped by Leonhardt's cubical mid-day and according to Leonhardt, McPhee told him, "Be ready."

So Leonhardt signed an emergency tryout contract. The team received special dispensation from the league to dress three goalies. And just like that, a video editor turned into a backup NHL goaltender.

Leonhardt skated during pre-game warmups, and according to starting goalie Brent Johnson, "He stood on his head in warmups." He needed guidance in where to go and what to do, but acquitted himself honorably, despite fans--and media--trying to figure out who this No. 80 wearing goalie pads was.

When the game started, Johnson was indeed between the pipes, but Leonhardt was there on the bench, in a white Caps ball cap, just in case. During an early time-out they put him up on the high definition scoreboard and he sheepishly tugged the bill of his cap down and the capacity crowd gave his a rousing ovation.

But Varlamov made it to the arena and relieved Leonhardt mid-way through the first period, thus ending the 6'7" backup's NHL debut before it even started.

After the game, Leonhardt was back at his day job, shooting video during the post-game interviews. But while waiting for coach Boudreau to address the media, during a quiet moment in the locker room where just hours before he dressed as if to play in an NHL game, I asked him what he was going to do with his jersey.

"I'll put it in a nice display case and it'll make a nice Christmas gift for my father. I owe my father everything."

Photo by Getty Images.

Game 30 Preview: Caps Host Ottawa Senators

Posted by Dave Nichols | Friday, December 12, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (16-10-3-35, first in Southeast) face the Ottawa Senators (10-11-5-25, fifth in Northeast) at 7:00 pm from Verizon Center.

The Caps come off a big victory over Northeast-leading Boston Wednesday night, limiting one of the highest scoring teams in the league to just one goal in the 3-1 win. Despite a still-depleted blue line corp, the Caps managed to bottle up Phil Kessel (one assist) and the rest of Boston's high octane offense all night.

Washington is starting to see some of their walking wounded return to the line-up as well. Defenseman Tom Poti and LW Alexander Semin, the NHL's No. 1 Star for October, both played in the Boston game and assisted on goals. Poti's stability on defense really showed, while Semin's timing and energy still seemed a little off.

After this morning's skate, coach Bruce Boudreau speculated that D Mike Green and C Sergei Federov might return for this evening's tilt, though he would not confirm the news. Both skated in practice, as did Poti and Brent Johnson, who tweaked his sore hip making a spectacular save in Wednesday's game.

Johnson (8-4-3, 2.47, .918) was confirmed to start against the Senators.

Ottawa has been taking their lumps this season, as their last place standing would indicate. The Senators are dead last in the NHL in goal scoring with just 63 goals in 26 contests, certainly a departure from their high-flying team last season when they were second in the league in goals.

The Sens were shut out Wednesday by Cristobal Huet and the Chicago Black Hawks 2-0 and lost to Florida in OT Monday night 4-3. They were 0-for-6 on the power play in the shut out.

Stars Dany Heatley (14-14-28, +3) and Jason Spezza (12-10-22, +5) are having moderately successful seasons, and Daniel Alfredsson (7-18-25, +8) is making plays since his return from knee surgery early in the campaign. But the team has absolutely no secondary scoring, with the next highest goal scorers only at four tallies.

The Senators are keeping things close though with good goaltending. Both Alex Auld (9-6-7, 2.06, .924) and Martin Gerber (1-5-1, 2.86, .907) have been on their game with little to show by way of victories.

WAS: PP-6th (22.7%, 27/119); PK-23rd (79.3%, 29/140)
OTT: PP-17th (18.2%, 20/110); PK-4th (86.4%, 15/110)

WAS: D Tom Poti (Groin-Probable); D Mike Green (Shoulder-Probable); LW Alexander Semin (Back/Neck-Probable); C Sergei Fedorov (Ankle-Questionable); Tomas Fleishmann (undisclosed-Questionable); RW Chris Clark (Forearm-Out); D Jeff Schultz (Finger-IR); D John Erskine (Concussion-OUT); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-Out);

OTT: LW Dean McAmmond (Sore throat-Questionable)

Game 29 Review: Johnson Extra-Sharp In Win

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, December 10, 2008 | , , , , , | 0 comments »

Brent Johnson spent several minutes on the ice after doing a partial split to stop a follow-up shot from Chuck Kobasew after thwarting a break-away by Patrice Bergeron. He aggravated his nagging hip injury on the play, and you can't blame coach Bruce Boudreau if he was thinking the worst.

But the Washington goalie managed to get back to his skates and stay on, played perhaps his best game of the season, and carried the Capitals (16-10-3-35, first in Southeast) to a 3-1 victory over the Boston Bruins (19-5-4-42), leaders of the NHL's Northeast Division.

Johnson stood on his head several times during the game, but none more spectacularly than robbing Bruins rookie Blake Wheeler with a diving stick save. Wheeler made a nifty move to get to his backhand and tried to slide the puck under Johnson, which in reality gave Johnson the opportunity to get in front of it.

"He made a really, really good move," Johnson said. "I just got lucky there."

In truth, it was a highlight reel save on a night full of clutch saves for the long-time backup. Johnson allowed just one goal on 34 shots. He is riding a three-game win streak with a .952 save percentage during the streak.

For the season, Johnson improved to 8-4-2 with a 2.47 goals-against average and .918 save percentage.

The Caps received goals from Niklas Backstrom (9), Alexandre Giroux (1) and an empty netter from Alex Ovechkin (15). Milan Lucic was the only Bruin to dent Johnson, netting his eighth in the second period after a defensive end give-away.

Backstom redirected a shot from the point from Ovechkin on the power play in the first period and Giroux's goal was his first NHL goal since the 2006-07 season.

The Caps were bolstered by the return to the lineup of defenseman Tom Poti and Alexander Semin. Poti had missed the previous six games with a groin strain and Semin the past 12 games with an upper back/neck injury. The team hopes to get D Mike Green back for the weekend games.

But for one night, this collection of Caps and Hershey Bears held the third highest scoring the team in the league to just one goal for a much needed and well deserved home victory.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008.

WAS: Backstrom (9) from Ovechkin and Kozlov (1-3:53-PP); Giroux (1) from Kozlov and Poti (2-4:52); Ovechkin (15) from Semin and Backstrom (3-19:08-EN)
BOS: Lucic (8) from Kessel and Chara (2-19:25)

1. B. Johnson - WAS (Saves: 33, Save Pct: .971)
2. A. Giroux - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
3. P. Kessel - BOS (Goals: 0, Assists: 1)

Washington is 11-1-1 at the Verizon Center this season.

Tomas Fleischmann missed the game with a "lower body" injury. The team recalled Oskar Osala for his NHL debut.

The loss is just Boston's second regualtion loss in the last 17 games and first time the Bruins were held to one goal since an Oct. 28 1-0 win over Vancouver.

Game 29 Preview: Caps Host Boston Bruins

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, December 09, 2008 | , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (15-10-3-33, first in Southeast) host the Northeast-leading Boston Bruins (19-4-4-42) at 7:00 p.m. from Verizon Center.

The Caps have split their last four games, most recently dropping a 3-1 decision to Carolina last Saturday.

The injuries are taking their toll on the Capitals and they should be getting some help soon, but the Caps added Tomas Fleischmann to the list of walking wounded. He did not particiapate in this morning's skate. The team has recalled the very talented Oskar Osala from Hershey. Keith Aucoin and Bryan Helmer were also not at the morning skate, leading to specualtion that they were both sent back to the Bears.

Tyler Sloan, himself an injury call-up, should return for tonight's game. Mike Green said he was "90-percent", perhaps returning for games this weekend against Ottawa and Montreal.

Tom Poti practiced full strength on Tuesday and in the morning skate today but will be a game-time decision. Alexander Semin, Sergei Federov skated but will probably not play. Eric Fehr and John Erskine did not skate and will miss yet another game.

Brent Johnson (7-4-3, 2.59, .913) should get the start tonight.

The Bruins have won their last three games, over Tampa Bay twice and Florida. Phil Kessel leads Boston with 17 goals (third in the NHL) and eight assists for 25 points. Marc Savard is the overall scoring leader with 32 points (8 goals, 24 assists). They have eight skaters with a double digit plus/minus rating and all eight are in the top 25 in the NHL.

Boston is third in the NHL in goal scoring, behind just San Jose and Detroit.

Boston is particularly strong between the pipes, maybe with the best duo in the league. Tim Thomas has started 17 games with a 11-3-6 record, 1.90 GAA and .940 save percentage. Veteran Manny Fernandez (8-1-2, 2.09, .926 in 10 games) is the backup.

Fernandez's weekend shutout in Florida was his seventh win in a row, while starter Thomas ranks second overall in save percentage.

WAS: PP-8th (22.2%, 26/117); PK-25th (78.8%, 26/117)
BOS: PP-5th (23.5%, 23/98); PK-8th (83.8%, 17/105)

WAS: D John Erskine (Concussion-Questionable); C Sergei Fedorov (Ankle-Out); D Tom Poti (Groin-Out); RW Chris Clark (Forearm-Out); D Mike Green (Shoulder-IR); D Jeff Schultz (Finger-IR); LW Alexander Semin (Back-IR); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-Out); TOmas Fleishmann (undisclosed-Questionable)

BOS: D Andrew Ference (Leg-IR); LW Marco Sturm (Head/neck-Questionable); D Aaron Ward (Leg-Questionable); C Stephane Yelle (Ribs-Questionable)

Game 28 Review: Tired Caps Drop One in Carolina

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 08, 2008 | , | 0 comments »

A less-than-inspired Washington Capitals team, playing twice in less than 24 hours on the road, fell 3-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes on a pair of even-strength late third period goals by the hosts.

Washington (15-10-3-33, first place in Southeast) out shot Carolina (13-12-3-29, second place in Southeast) 39-25, but Hurricanes goalie Michael Leighton was up to the task. with 1.2 seconds remaining in the second period, he stoned Alex Ovechkin on a penalty shot, providing plenty of momentum heading into the intermission. Ovechkin is now 0-for-5 lifetime in penalty shots.

The only shot Leighton allowed to get past him was a rifle one-timer by Niklas Backstrom on a power play at 8:28 of the third period. The game tying goal was Backstrom's eighth of the season. The tie would be short-lived.

Seven minutes after Backstrom's goal, Hurricane center Eric Staal broke the deadlock as he dug the puck out from behind the Caps net and stuck it short side to beat a slow Jose Theodore. Theodore did not look particularly sharp all night and allowed the clincher with a little over two minutes to play as Ray Whitney netted his second of the game.

The Caps missed a chance to open an eight-point lead in the division and left the Tar Heel state clinging to a four-point advantage in early December. Coach Bruce Boudreau stated after the game that he's frustrated by the lack of intensity on a consistent basis.

Washington is off until Wednesday when they host the Boston Bruins at 7:00 p.m. from the Verizon Center.

Ovechkin stoned by Carolina's Michael Leighton. (Photo by AP)

WAS: Backstrom (8) from Ovechkin and Theodore (3-8:28)
CAR: Whitney (8) from Pitkanen and Brind'Amour (1-13:18); Staal (9) from Samsonov (3-15:51); Whitney (9) from Eaves and Conboy (17:58)

1. E. Staal - CAR (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
2. R. Whitney - CAR (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)
3. M. Leighton - CAR (Saves: 38, Save Pct: .974)

Game 27 Review: Caps Drop Leafs 2-1

Posted by Dave Nichols | Sunday, December 07, 2008 | , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (15-9-3-33, first in Southeast) defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs (9-12-6-24) in a tight, tense match before 19,416 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Caps defenseman Milan Jurcina broke a 1-1 tie at 7:12 of the third period just one minute after Nik Antropov had tied it up one a power play.

Toronto lost two players during the game to injury: D Luke Schenn and F Niklas Hagman. Coach Ron Wilson's bench was already worn down, as last night was their fourth game in six days. Schenn left with a lower body injury after being checked by Alex Ovechkin, while Hagman took a knee to the head and was still groggy after the game.

Washington got a goal and assist from rookie defenseman Karl Alzner, and he also blocked three shots and led the defense in shifts and minutes. Alzner's play has picked up considerably in the last couple of games, since a poor showing against Florida last week.

Ovechkin called the game "boring" after the game, but he tried to make the most of it during the game, leading the team in shots (7) and hits (6).

Goalie Brent Johnson (7-4-3, 2.59, .913) saved 19 of 20 shots he faced for the win. The Caps out shot the Leafs 30-20. Toronto G Vesa Toskala made 28 saves in the loss.

Forward Eric Fehr left the game after injuring his shoulder colliding with the end boards. He is listed day-to-day and the team recalled AHL leading goal scorer Alexandre Giroux from Hershey as a precaution.

The Caps are now missing eight players who started the season on the opening night roster, in addition to Tyler Sloan, himself an injury call-up, who missed last night's game with a foot injury. Sean Collins made his NHL debut last night in Sloan's place.

Washington faces the Carolina Hurricanes (12-12-3-27, second in Southeast) at 5:00 pm today from the RBC Center. Carolina has lost their last three games at home. Washington has won both matchups between the teams this season.
WAS: Alzner (1) unassisted (2-1:41); Jurcina (2) from Nylander and Alzner (3-7:12)
TOR: Antropov (10) from Stajan and Kaberle (3-6:12-PP)
1. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 0, Assists: 0)
2. K. Alzner - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 1)
3. V. Toskala - TOR (Saves: 28, Save Pct: .933)

Caps Weekend Preview

Posted by Dave Nichols | Saturday, December 06, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (14-9-3-31, first in Southeast) have a pair of games this weekend against Eastern Conference foes. Tonight at 7:00 p.m. from Air Canada Centre in Toronto the Caps face a Maple Leafs (9-11-6-24, fourth in Northeast) team still searching for its identity. Sunday, the Caps travel to Dixie to face Southeast Division rival Carolina Hurricanes (12-12-2-26, second in Southeast) from RBC Center at 5:00 p.m..

Washington's story over the last couple of weeks is well documented and nothing will change that status over the weekend. The team is still missing seven of its regulars due to injury, and while several are making progress toward returning to the ice, none are really ready.

The Caps got more injury news yesterday, as D Tyler Sloan was limping noticeably after taking a shot off his ankle in Thursday's win against New York. The team recalled D Sean Collins from Hershey and he is expected to make his NHL debut tonight. Collins, 25, went 0-4-4 with 10 PIM in 13 games with Hershey this season.

Collins will be the eleventh defenseman used by Washington this season.

Coach Bruce Boudreau will not use injuries as an excuse, and after calling his players out after a lopsided and boring loss against Florida Tuesday, the team responded with a complete game 5-2 victory over the Islanders. This two-game road trip should test their new-found resolve.

Toronto has been a team in turmoil this season so far. They've already turned their front office upside down and recently brought in long-time GM Brian Burke to attempt to lead them back to prominence. Along with the turnover comes the swirling Mats Sundin rumors.

The 37-year old all-star is without a contract and deciding if he wishes to return to the NHL, leaving the faithful Maple Leaf followers confused and frustrated that their team and 13-year centerman can't work something out.

On the ice has been as much as a struggle as the front office. The team is getting outscored nightly and has been attacked in the Toronto press. Goalies Vesa Toskala (-8-8. 3.24, .883) and Curtis Joseph (0-3-2, 3.95, .851) have been inconsistent and left mostly to fend for themselves.

Up front, the Leafs are paced by Mikhail Grabovski (10-8-18, -2), Matt Stajan (7-14-21, -5) and Nik Antropov (9-10-19, -2).

Players currently missing from coach Ron Wilson's lineup include D Mike Van Ryn (Head-IR); D Jonas Frogren (Arm-IR) and C Jamal Mayers (Hand-Out).

Carolina uses a team attack, as none of their skaters has more than nine goals, but six have at least seven goals to his credit. Tuomo Ruutu leads the way with nine (9-6-15, -1), while Eric Staal (8-7-15, +8) is their only leading scorer with a positive plus/minus rating.

Their number one goalie is Cam Ward. He is 8-7-3, 2.68, .911 in 18 games, however, is out with a groin injury. The backup is Michael Leighton (4-6-0, 3.22, .887).

Carolina's injury sheet lists several key players: D David Tanabe (Concussion-Out); D Tim Gleason (Lower-body-IR); D Frantisek Kaberle (Lower body-Questionable); D Dennis Seidenberg (Leg-IR); RW Scott Walker (Lower body-Questionable); G Cam Ward (Groin-Out)

The Washington Capitals (14-9-3-31, first in Southeast) got goals from five different players and goalie Brent Johnson made 27 saves as the Caps rebounded from a poor display Tuesday to defeat a similarly undermanned New York Islanders (10-13-2-22, fifth in Atlantic) team 5-3 before 18,130 fans at Verizon Center.

The Caps were 3-for-5 on the power play, getting goals from Alex Ovechkin (14), Viktor Kozlov (5) and Eric Fehr (3) with the man advantage. Donald Brashear scored his first goal since last March to break a 2-2 tie in the third period, and Nicklas Backstrom put the exclamation point on the win with an empty net goal with 50 seconds remaining.

Ovechkin finished with a goal and two assists.

Coach Bruce Boudreau preached the necessity of receiving "secondary" scoring after losing to Florida Tuesday night, and he got just what he was looking for from Brashear, who knocked in a rebound of a Karl Alzner shot into the back boards, and from Eric Fehr, who lifted a backhanded rebound past Islanders goalie Joey MacDonald.

The Fehr goal was made possible from Brooks Laich, doing the heavy lifting in front of the net on the power play, another long-time point of emphasis from Boudreau.

The game was full of penalties and both teams had their chances, but Washington held New York to 1-for 8 on the power play. The Caps out shot the Islanders 47-29.

Washington faces-off against the Toronto Maple Leafs (9-10-6) Saturday, December 6 at 7:00 p.m. ET from Air Canada Centre.

Photo courtesy of

WAS: Ovechkin (14) from Jurcina and Laich (1-11:31-PP); Kozlov (5) from Helmer and Lepisto (1-13:15-PP); Brashear (1) from Alzner and Jurcina (3-6:50); Fehr (3) from Laich and Ovechkin (3-16:14-PP); Backstrom (7) from Ovechkin (3-19:10-EN)

NYI: Streit (6) from Weight and Guerin (1-19:24-PP); Hunter (11) from Sutton (2-13:38)

1. V. Kozlov - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
2. K. Alzner - WAS (Goals: 0, Assists: 1)
3. D. Brashear - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)

The Islanders were the last Eastern Conference team coach Bruce Boudreau had not earned a victory against.

Ovechkin has 14 goals and 20 assists in 24 games.

Milan Jurcina had a multi-point night, assisting on the Ovechkin and Brashear goals.

Game 26 Preview: Caps Host New York Islanders

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 04, 2008 | 1 comments »

The Washington Capitals (13-9-3-29, first in Southeast) host the New York Islanders (10-12-2-22, fifth in Atlantic) for the first of four contests this season at 7:00 pm from Washington's Verizon Center.

The Capitals find themselves in the midst of their first extended slump of the season, losers of five of their last seven games--all in regulation time. Last time out, Tuesday against Florida, Washington suffered its first home regulation loss of the season, breaking a 16 game streak dating back to last year's playoff run.

Injuries and lost man-games seem to have caught up to the Capitals, and there does not appear to be any relief on the horizon. All of DC's walking wounded will miss the tilt with the Islanders, and the team doesn't expect any to return for the weekend either.

In fact, the Caps made another call-up from AHL's Hershey squad, center Keith Aucoin. Aucoin, 30, was the AHL's leading scorer with nine goals and 27 assists in 24 games, and he will center Tomas Fleischmann and Viktor Kozlov on the second line tonight.

Washington currently has five players skating that started the year in Hershey, including four of their six defensemen.

Fleischmann has been hot of late and his ten goals are good for third on the team.

Brent Johnson (5-4-3, 2.81, .909) will start for the Caps between the pipes.

The Islanders have split their last four games, most recently defeating Ottawa 4-2 Saturday night. Trent Hunter is the top goal scorer with ten (10-9-19, -3), and Doug Weight (5-17-22, -2) and Bill Guerin (9-7-16, -6) provide support. Defenseman Andy Sutton (+5) is the only regular to have a positive plus/minus rating.

Joey MacDonald will start in goal for New York. He has played fairly well replacing injured No. 1 goalie Rick DiPietro this season. MacDonald is 10-9-2 with a 2.89 GAA and .907 Sv%.

WAS: PP-10th (21.0%, 22/105); PK-25th (78.0%, 27/123)
NYI: PP-16th (17.9%, 20/112); PK-12th (82.5%, 20/114)

WAS: D John Erskine (Concussion-Questionable); C Sergei Fedorov (Ankle-Out); D Tom Poti (Groin-Out); RW Chris Clark (Forearm-Out); D Mike Green (Shoulder-IR); D Jeff Schultz (Finger-IR); LW Alexander Semin (Back-IR); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-Out)

NYI: D Bruno Gervais (Leg-IR); G Rick DiPietro (Knee-IR); D Radek Martinek Shoulder-Out); RW Kyle Okposo (Arm-IR); C Mike Sillinger (Hip-Probable); C Mike Comrie (Hip-IR); C Frans Nielsen (Head, leg-IR)

Game 25 Review: Panthers Down Listless Caps 5-3

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, December 03, 2008 | , , , , | 0 comments »

After several weeks of playing short-handed due to multiple injuries, it finally caught up to the Washington Capitals in a 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers last night, one of the lowest scoring teams in the league, missing two of their three top scorers themselves.

Washington was lethargic from the opening face-off, but managed to jump on the board first. After Donald Brashear did a great job drawing a tripping penalty with tough work down low, Nicklas Backstrom made the Panthers play for the transgression with his sixth goal of the season, a shot that redirected off Florida D Jay Bouwmeester.

Unfortunately, the Caps stopped skating after that goal, maybe surmising that one goal would be enough to stop the offensively challenged Panthers. That, obviously, was not the case.

Redirected pucks would be a recurring theme for the evening.

The second period was all Florida, and they got plenty of help from the depleted and inexperienced Washington blue liners. Ville Peltonen walked in alone and lifted a soft shot past goalie Jose Theodore to tie the game at 6:19, his fourth of the season. The next two goals were as strange as they were inexcusable.

With Alex Ovechkin off for goaltender interference, David Steckel attempted a cross ice pass in his own end, but instead of going behind the goal, he attempted it through the crease. The puck hit rookie Karl Alzner's skate and slid undetected between Theodore's pads for the go-ahead tally. The play was uncontested by Florida, so Steckel had no one to blame but himself.

Bouwmeester was the last Panther to touch the puck, getting undeserved credit for the "own goal."

Florida's second goal was a redirect as well, as D Bryan McCabe's power play shot from the point was deflected twice, off both Boyd Gordon and Shaone Morrisonn. The extra-man situation arose when Eric Fehr lazily lofted a clearing attempt off the ice for a delay of the game penalty.

Steckel and Fehr's poor plays were indicative of the Caps' performance last night. Despite the rash of injuries, until now the Caps have been able to hide the inconsistent and ragged play one would expect from a team playing without six to eight of their regular players. But there were enough turnovers, bad passes and miscommunication last night to make up for a week's worth of good play, and Coach Bruce Boudreau was not happy with the effort after the game.

The Caps added late third period goals from Viktor Kozlov (4) and Tomas Fleischmann (10) to draw within one, but an empty netter from Greg Campbell with one minute remaining sealed their fate.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008

WAS: Backstrom (6) from Fleischmann and Lepisto (1-15:57-PP); Kozlov (4) from Backstrom and Morrisonn (3-16:11); Fleischmann (10) from Ovechkin and Kozlov (3-17:02-PP)

FLA: Peltonen (4) from Radek and Dvorak (2-6:19); Bouwmeester (3) unassisted (2-7:28-PP); McCabe (4) from McLean and Frolik (2-12:09-PP); Dvorak (3) from Campbell and Peltonen (3-4:45); Campbell (5) from Skrastins (3-19:00)

1. V. Peltonen - FLA (Goals: 1, Assists: 1)
2. R. Dvorak - FLA (Goals: 1, Assists: 1)
3. N. Backstrom - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 1)

The loss was Washington's first regulation loss at home of the season and first in their past 16 home games dating back to last season.

D Sami Lepisto has a point in three of his four games played this season.

With a goal and assist, Fleischmann pulled into a tie with Mike Green as the team's fourth leading scored with 16 points (10 goals, 6 assists).

The Washington Capitals (13-8-3-29, first in Southeast) face the Florida Panthers (9-11-3-21, third in Southeast) in the first of six meetings between the two division rivals this season at 7:00 p.m. from Verizon Center.

The Caps closed out a very good month of November (8-5-2) with back-to-back shut outs--one for and one against--but look to continue their high scoring ways tonight versus the Panthers.

Alex Ovechkin on Monday was named the NHL's #1 Star for November after scoring 25 points in the month, including a 10-game point streak. After a slow start, Ovie is now tied for fifth in the league in scoring with a total of 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists). His +13 has him tied for third behind teammate and NHL #1 Star for October Alexander Semin.

Despite having missed the last eight games with back and shoulder problems, Semin is still tied for seventh in scoring with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists). The team has weathered the storm of injuries in the last couple of weeks but will still be without some of its most important players for tonight's game.

Along with Semin, Sergei Federov, Mike Green, Tom Poti and John Erskine are all expected to miss the Panthers game, and a decision about Boyd Gordon still had not been made. Karl Alzner, who left the game in Columbus Saturday after a hard hit into the side boards, practiced Monday and should suit up, along with fellow recent call-ups Bryan Helmer and Sami Lepisto. They join Tyler Sloan as players who started with AHL Hershey now manning the Washington blue line.

Winger Tomas Fleischmann has been hot of late, scoring six of his nine goals in the last 14 games. He has points in four of his last five games.

Coach Bruce Boudreau plans to start Jose Theodore in net after making 28 saves in a the shut out win versus Montreal on Friday. He was won three of his last four starts overall and owns a 1.77 GAA at home this season.

Tonight's lines, courtesy of Capitals Insider:


Florida enters this contest losers of two of their last three games, including an overtime loss to New Jersey and a shoot out loss to the New York Rangers. The Panthers rebounded, however, against those same Rangers to earn a 4-0 shut out Saturday behind goaltender Craig Anderson Saturday night.

Anderson, normally the backup behind Tomas Vokoun, has been stellar this season, going 4-1-3 (1.87 GAA, .948 Sv%) in his ten starts while Vokoun has struggled. His only regulation loss came to St. Louis back on October 25. Anderson is 0-3 in his career against Washington.

The Panthers are one of the league's lowest scoring teams, averaging just 2.39 goals per game. Their task may be tougher for a while as David Booth, their leading scorer with 12 goals, injured his shoulder in the win over the Rangers and is out for tonight's game. No other Panther has more than six goals.

Washington is 9-0-1 at home this season, averaging 3.6 goals per home game.

WAS: PP-11th (19.8%, 20/101); PK-24th (79.0%, 25/119)
FLA: PP-27th (13.6%, 12/88); PK-11th (83.0%, 17/100)

WAS: D Karl Alzner (Shoulder-PROB); RW Chris Clark (Forearm-OOU); D John Erskine (Concussion-OUT); C Sergei Fedorov (Ankle-QUES); D Mike Green (Shoulder-IR); D Tom Poti (Groin-QUES); D Jeff Schultz (Finger-IR ); LW Alexander Semin (Back-IR): D Brian Pothier (Concussion-OUT)

FLA: RW Nathan Horton (Leg-IR); LW Cory Stillman (Concussion-IR); LW Richard Zednik (Arm-IR); D Bryan Allen (Knee-IR); LW David Booth (Shoulder-OUT); D Cory Murphy (Shoulder-IR)