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)