Most of the Washington Capitals didn't hear about their captain being traded away until they reached Verizon Center for Monday night's game against the last-place Carolina Hurricanes. 

Once they took the ice, they played exactly like a team that had their heart ripped out, as they played sloppy, mistake-filled hockey for much of the first half of the game.  Carolina (10-22-7) scored the first three goals of the game en route to a convincing 6-3 win over the current NHL points leader.

Eric Staal had two goals and three assists to lead the worst team in the league to just their second road win of the season -- their tenth overall.

The Capitals traded captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina to Columbus in exchange for forward Jason Chimera.

The move surprised not just those left behind, but Clark himself.  "I'm shocked," Clark told the Washington Post. "But then you start looking to the team where you're going. So now I'm trying to put all my energy into who's on the team, how they're doing and where I'll be playing my next game."

Washington (24-9-6) played terribly flat early, and managed only four shots on goal in the first period.  Additionally, Nicklas Backstrom took a four minute high-stick, followed by Mike Green's hooking call, which resulted in a five-on-three for Carolina.

The Caps, including Karl Alzner, played tremendously trying to kill the 5-on-3, but seconds before it would expire, Tuomo Ruutu banged home a rebound of a Stall shot to break the ice.  Staal made it 2-0 less than three minutes later knocking a puck out of the air -- baseball style -- past a dazed Jose Theodore. 

Jussi Jokinen beat Theodore three minutes later, and the onslaught was on.

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau did not want to use the trade as an excuse for the poor play, but it was was obvious the Caps were not on their game, after handling top-of-their division New Jersey and Buffalo their previous games.

"But I've been in that situation, and it can bother some people. I don't know if it did with our guys, even if it was a two great guys who were leaving."

"I don't know if [the trade] did or it didn't [bother the players], usually we're a lot better in the first period."

Goalie Theodore had a rough night.  In his first start since Dec. 18 he gave up five goals on 26 shots and several of the goals came on rebounds.  He made a couple of good saves in the opening minutes, but after the two early goals he looked like he lost focus, and ultimately control of the game.

"I thought he fought the puck a little bit at the end," Boudreau siad.  "Once the first two goals went by him, I thought his confidence [lacked]. But at no time was I thinking about pulling him."

This, after an episode at practice at the end of last week where Theodore broke a stick and said "I just work here" when responding to Michel Neuvirth receiving three straight starts.

The Caps got power play goals from Mike Green and Alex Ovechkin, and a fluky goal from Eric Fehr, where a Hurricane defensemen tried to play the puck with his hand and basically threw the puck past goalie Cam Ward (28 saves).

The loss is the first to a Southeast Division foe this season, putting the Caps' mark in the division at 8-1-0.
After the game, Washington loaded up to head out west, where they face San Jose on Wednesday night.  They expect newly acquired Chimera to accompany the team on the road trip.

Highlights from McPhee Press Conference on Trade, Captaincy

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 28, 2009 | , , , | 0 comments »

Bullet-point style!

On trade:
  • "Thought it was the right trade for us right now"
  • Felt like they could move an extra defenseman
  • Will likely move Laich to a center spot
  • The trade "helps both teams" with Columbus acquiring veteran presence
On Chimera, specifically:
  • Chimera has "good size" and "tremendous speed" and thinks he's a 15-goal a year scorer
  • "Don't mind" the edge Chimera plays with
On Clark:
  • "Clarkie was a terrific captain."
Why now?
  • The deal was "discussed in September" but these things "have a way of resurrecting themselves." 
  • He felt the team had "a hole we wanted to fill on the left side."
On getting cap relief (the Caps save over $2 million on the cap):
  • The move was "not necessarily about cap space"
  • But acknowledged that the team could be a major player at the deadline "if we wanted to be."
On the vacant captaincy:
  • Out of respect for Clark, the team will "take our time and do things right."
  • Will "address it in the near future."

Capitals Acquire Chimera for Clark and Jurcina

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 28, 2009 | , , , , | 0 comments »

It's a big deal when a team deals its captain mid-season, especially when that team currently holds the best record in the league and is playing at the top of its game. But that's exactly what the Washington Capitals did today, sending four-year captain Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina to Columbus in exchange for speedy winger Jason Chimera.

Clark, 33, a one-time 30-goal scorer, never regained that touch after injuries ravaged the better part of two seasons for him.  Clark had four goals and 11 assists this season with 27 penalty minutes.

Chimera, 30, has eight goals and nine assists with 47 penalty minutes with Columbus this season.  He brings size and speed and -- what can't be ignored -- a bit of toughness to the 2nd/3rd line mix.  In addition, Washington saves considerable space (over two million) under the salary cap with the move.

Speculation is rampant as to who should succeed Clark as captain.  On a team that should be making a serious run at going deep into the playoffs, it would be tough for the Caps to go without naming a captain. 

This season has seen four players -- Alex Ovechkin, Mike Knuble, Tom Poti and Brendan Morrison -- wearing the alternate captain's A at times, and Brooks Laich has always been a fan favorite to assume the mantel if'when the position became available.

For now, we wait and see on that question.

But one question that has been answered is this:  Will GM George McPhee be willing to make a trade to increase the Caps chances at chasing the Cup.  The answer is a resounding "yes".

From 2008.11.25 Chris Clark at ESPN Zone

Photo 2008 © Cheryl Nichols. All Rights Reserved.