GAME 27 RE-CAP: Late Goal Waived Off, Caps Fall to Stars 2-1

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 02, 2010 | , , , , | 0 comments »

THE RESULT:  With less than ten seconds remaining, Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson scored what appeared to be the game tying goal against the Dallas Stars, pushing a tight game into overtime.

Unfortunately, the referees ruled that Alex Ovechkin committed goaltender interference by checking a player into his own goalie, and the goal was waived off.  An unreviewable play, despite all of coach Bruce Boudreau's protestations, sent the Caps to a bitter 2-1 loss in the Lone Star State.

Problem was, Ovechkin did not check the player that collided with Stars goalie Andrew Raycroft, defenseman Karlis Skrastins.  Rather, the Washington captain was tied up with Dallas' other defenseman, Stephane Robidas.  Regardless, all three players ended up in the Dallas crease, and referee Dan O'Rourke ruled on the interference.

It's an unfortunate ending to a tough, tight hockey game.

The Capitals brought a four-game winning streak into this one, just as Dallas had.  Both teams played like they were defending a streak, playing close to the vest, tough checking hockey all night.  The big difference?  Well, there were two.

First, Dallas was awarded five power plays to Washington's three.  Both teams scored on the power play, with Mike Ribiero tallying on the second of consecutive calls against the Caps in the middle of the second period, and Mike Knuble ramming home a perfect pass from Mike Green mid-way through the third.

The second difference was the Stars second goal, scored just 20 seconds after the Caps tied things up in the third.

On the play, Dallas tough guy Brandon Segal collected a pass from Brenden Morrow and lofted it toward the Capitals goal.  Goalie Michal Neuvirth went down into a butterfly even though the shot came from the top of the right wing circle, and he waived at it with his blocker. 

He whiffed, and the puck went over his shoulder and into the net.

Neuvirth dropped his head, knowing that was a shot he must knock down.  Replays showed that defenseman Karl Alzner tipped the shot, but it was still so far out that Neuvy should have made the stop.  It was a rare mistake from a young goalie that carried the Caps through October and early November.

THE GOOD:  The Capitals dominated the latter stages of the third period, flying around the Dallas zone and getting all sorts of shots on net.  Too bad it took until then for them to really get going against a tough Dallas team.

THE BAD:  In a one goal game, one mistake can doom you, and Michal Neuvirth's misplay on Dallas' second goal in one he will tell you he should have 100 times out of 100.

THE UGLY:  The waived goal.  Essentially, this rule allows defenders to run into their own goalies and prohibit goals from being scored.  It's a lousy rule.  Either an offensive player is guilty of a penalty, or it's incidental contact.  It's ridiculous that the play is not reviewable.

THE STATS:  Mike Knuble (4) from Mike Green (9) and Eric Fehr (6) at 10:18 of 3rd.   (PP).

NEXT GAME:  Saturday at 7:00 pm against Atlanta Thrashers at Verizon Center.


3. Alex Ovechkin.  He did everything but score.  Five shots, three hits, all over the ice.  Stood up for Marcus Johansson when he got run at the end of the second period.
2. Eric Fehr.  He was engaged a night after he was transparent. Four shots on goal, another five blocked and four misses and an assist on the lone goal.
1. Mike Knuble.  The lone goal scorer has been playing better lately, and you get the feeling he's just about getting ready to burst.  The tally was a great shot off a great pass.

CAPS GAME NIGHT, GAME 27: Two Streaks Enter, One Will End

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, December 02, 2010 | , , | 0 comments »

Washington Capitals (18-6-2-38, 1st in SE) v. Dallas Stars (14-8-1-29, 1st PAC)
8:30 pm EST, American Airlines Center, Dallas TX


The Washington Capitals bring a four-game winning streak into Dallas to face the Pacific Divsion leading Stars tonight.

The Stars have won four in a row in their own right, including a 4-1 win at Carolina Monday night.  In their streak, they've surrendered just five goals in four games.  Kari Lehtonen helmed the last three wins, but news from this morning's skate had backup Andrew Raycroft off the ice first for coach Marc Crawford.

Lehtonen is 12-7-1 with a 2.61 GAA and .914 save percentage.  In limited action this season (four games), Raycroft is 2-1-0, 1.85, .943.

Dallas is led up front by Brad Richards, often associated with the Capitals when talks of trades are bandied about.  Richards (11-17-28, +11) is a gifted offensive player and responsible on his own end, and as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, could prove to be a much-discussed trade option for clubs during the stretch drive.

But if Dallas remains at the top of the Pacific Division and striking distance in the Western Conference, Richards' services could prove quite costly, if he becomes available at all.

Thursday night marks the debut of Scott Hannan, acquired Tuesday from the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for forward Tomas Flesichmann.  Hannan is a durable, rugged, stay-at-home defenseman, something General Manager George McPhee professed to be trying to acquire for "two to three years." 

Hannan should be paired tonight with John Erskine, who is playing some of his best hockey of his career in the recent weeks.  Coach Bruce Boudreau stated that he thinks Tom Poti will be the best pairing for Hannan in the future, but Poti will miss tonight's game with an aggrevation of the groin injury that forced him to miss several games in November.

"You'd like to see [Poti] play the next 60 games or 50 games, but our whole goal is to make sure he's healthy and it doesn't happen again," Boudreau said. "He's worked really hard off the ice since he first pulled the groin and hopefully it's more maintenance today than anything else."

Captain Alex Ovechkin comes into this contest in an eight-game goal scoring drought, but has eight assists in that period.  Ovechkin has really showcased his playmaking abilities recently, and passed up a sure empty net goal in last night's 4-1 win over St. Louis in order to pad teammate Nicklas Backstrom's totals.

Michal Neuvirth will start in goal tonight for the Caps.  Neuvy has been tremendous for the Capitals this season, but over the last week Boudreau has been resting the young Czech netminder and riding the hot hand of Semyon Varlamov, who won four games in a row. 

"People forget now that Varlamov's played four good games in a row [that Neuvirth] was unreal for us and he won games for us at the beginning, and he's got 12 wins under his belt," Boudreau said. "He's not losing his spot just because somebody's playing good. He's getting back in there and getting a chance to compete for that No. 1 spot."

Through four meetings against the Western Conference thus far the Caps are 3-1-0 and have allowed just 1.75 goals per game.

Washington has killed 12 consecutive shorthanded situations to improve its penalty kill to 85.3%, eighth-best in the league. Washington is 10-3-0 when it holds the opposition without a power-play goal and 6-0-0 when it also scores a PPG of its own.


DAL:  C Brad Richards 911-17-28, +11), LW Loui Eriksson (10-15-25, +14), LW James Neal (10-11-21, +12), G Kari Lehtonen (12-7-1, 2.61, .914)
WAS:  LW Alex Ovechkin (10-23-33, +10), LW Alexander Semin (18-13-31, +8), C Nicklas Backstrom (11-19-30, +11), G Semyon Varlamov (4-1-0, 1.72, .939)


DAL:  GF/G: 2.87 (13th); GA/G: 2.65 (11th); PP: 15.0% (22nd); PK: 78.2% (27th) FO: 48.8% (23rd)
WAS:   GF/G: 3.38 (3rd); GA/G: 2.62 (9th); PP: 24.4% (2nd); PK: 85.3% (8th) FO: 51.6% (11th)


DAL:  D Mark Fistric (Groin-IR), RW Krys Barch (LBI-DTD)
WAS:  D Tom Poti (Groin-DTD), Tyler Sloan (UNK-IR)

Information and quotes for this preview were culled from published reports and Capitals press releases

THE RESULTS:  Semyon Varlamov made 37 saves, leading the Washington Capitals to their fourth consecutive victory, over Yaroslav Halak and the St. Louis Blues, 4-1.  The Caps extend their league-leading record to 18-6-2 (38 points) and now have a four point lead over Philadelphia for the conference lead.

It's little solice defeating the goalie that single-handedly ousted the Caps from last year's playoffs in the first round with his new team.  But every win for this team is important -- especially on the road --  whether it's exorcizing old demons or not.

It's the first time the Caps have won in the Gateway since Oct. 26, 1996, a stretch of eight games (0-7-1).

What else happened in 1996?

--Federal minimum wage raised to $4.75.
--Prince Charles and Lady Diana got divorced.
--Ebay started online auction and shopping website.
--Gas cost $1.22 on nationwide average.
--Summer Olympics in Atlanta marred by explosion.
--O.J. Simpson trial started.
--DVDs launched in Japan.
--Independence Day and Jerry Maguire ruled the box office.
--Bill Clinton re-elected, defeating Bob Dole and Ross Perot for President.

That's how long it's been since the Caps won in St. Louis.

Wednesday night, Washington got goals from Brooks Laich and Boyd Gordon, and Nicklas Backstrom had a pair and an assist in a good road win.

But the story was Varlamov.  He played his best game of the season, much better than even his shutout against Tampa Bay.  He was challenged thoughout the game, and made several spectacular saves, robbing Blues players with every part of his equipment -- including his facemask.

One particular great save was on Blues winger Brad Boyes on a power play.  A long shot from the point was kicked out to Boyes, standing alone at the bottom of the left wing dot.  Boyes flipped the puck into a seemingly empty net, but Varlamov sprung to the opposite side of the net to get his right pad on the post and blocker pad in the way of the unchallenged shot.

In his last four games, Varlamov is 4-0-0 with a 1.28 goals against average. 

It's a good sign that Varlamov has played so well during this winning streak with Michal Neuvirth a little banged up and needing a rest, having pulled the bulk of duty while Varlamov was out with a groin injury.  One of coach Bruce Boudreau's biggest challenge this season will be finding enough playing time for both of his 22-year old goaltenders to keep them both sharp throughout the season.

It's a good problem to have, two young, good goaltenders on the big club, and another one at the AHL level.  What many thought might be a problem coming into the season is turning out to be one of the team's biggest strengths.

THE GOOD:  As time was expiring and playing five-on-six, Alex Ovechkin picked up a puck at mid-ice and weaved through the neutral zone and took the puck to the far wall until Backstrom could catch up with the play, where Ovi hit his center streaking to the net for an empty net goal. 

It was a classy move by the captain who hasn't scored a goal in two weeks now.  He easily could have gotten off the schneid, but chose to give the opportunity to his teammate.  Strong.

THE BAD:  Eric Fehr.  I didn't hear his name called all night.  Had the two quietest shots on goal this season.

THE UGLY:  Tom Poti missed most of the third period with an undisclosed problem.  Nice to have some depth on the blue line now, eh?

THE STATS:  Laich (7) from Backstrom (19) and Semin (13) at 8:12 of 1st (PP).  Gordon (1) from Poti (1) and King (1) at 10:02 of 1st.  Backstrom (10) from Knuble (6) and Carlson (9) at 7:06 of 3rd.  Backstrom (11) from Ovechkin (23) and Erskine (4) at 19:25 of 3rd (EN).

NEXT GAME:  Thursday night in Dallas against the Stars at 8:30 pm EST.


3. John Erskine.  Assist and plus-2.  Five hits and two blocks.  He wants to stay in the lineup once new d-man Scott Hannan gets a sweater. Good work on final kill with Jeff Schultz in the box and Tom Poti in the locker room with an undisclosed problem.
2. Nicklas Backstrom.  Two goals and an assist.  Plus-2.  Six shots on goal.  Even had three hits.  Only knock was 38% face off percentage.
1. Semyon Varlamov.  37 saves. many spectacular.  The Caps played a pretty good game, but he was clearly their best player in this one.

Hannan Brings Size, Grit, Experience to Capitals

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, November 30, 2010 | , , , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals today traded forward Tomas Fleischmann to the Colorado Avalache for 31-year old defensive defenseman Scott Hannan, a man Alex Ovechkin once described as "the toughest defenseman to play against." 

Hannan, in his first words as a Capital, said he was "really excited, going to a team in first place with a great chance to make a run for the Stanley Cup."  Hannan waived a no-trade clause to come to D.C.

The 6'1", 225 left-handed stay-at-home defenseman was a piece to a puzzle GM George McPhee had been looking for for several seasons. 

"He's at the point in his career where he's been in the league a long time and wants to win a [Stanley] Cup, and I think it completes our defense," McPhee said. "We're really happy with the way our defense has been playing, but to add one more guy like this helps. Our defense moves the puck pretty well -- we can generate offense from back there -- but to have one more shut-down guy that can block shots, that can do all the little things that would make a difference, we thought was important to add."

Hannan was selected in the first round of the 1997 HNL Entry Draft by the San Jose Sharks, where he spent the first eight years of his career, building a reputation as a tough, gritty defenseman, willing to block shots and rough it up in the crease with the opponent's top forwards. 

He signed a four-year, $18 million free agent contract with the Colorado Avalache in 2007 (which expires at the end of this season), and some in the Denver media felt like he never lived up to the terms of the deal.

Hannan will count almost $3.2 million against the salary cap for the rest of the season, but, "We're in good shape," said McPhee.  "As I've said many times, we've managed our cap really well and it allows us to do a deal like this. He has an expensive contract but we have the room to do it."  Even taking on Hannan's contract, the Caps will still have significant room under the cap for future deals.

McPhee also indicated that the Caps have been trying to acquire Hannan since August.

Regardless of his contract status, Hannan is one of the most durable players in the NHL.  He has played no fewer than 75 games in a regular season since becoming a full-time player in the 2000-01 season, and has 73 playoff games to his credit.

The combination of size, strength and experience should be a boon to the Caps' back line.  The acquisition really bolsters a defensive corps that has seen its share of injuries already this season, with Tom Poti, Mike Green and Tyler Sloan all missing significant playing time.

It's easy to project Hannan playing with Poti on a pairing, allowing coach Bruce Boudreau to use John Erskine, who himself has stepped up his play this season, in more of a matchup role.  It also allows the Capitals to not have to rely on Sloan or Brian Fahey, player that have struggled as much as anyone that has pulled on a red sweater this season, as their injury replacements.

Fleischmann posted career numbers in 2009-2010, but disappeared in the playoff for the second straight season, and was a healthy scratch in the deciding game with the Montreal Canadiens in the first round last year.  He was re-signed in the off-season on a one-year deal, but has struggled this season in a  transition to center, prompting Boudreau last week to say, "He's a natural wing.  I think that's where he belongs." 

Fleischmann recorded just four goals and six assists in 23 games this season with the Caps after a 23-28-51 (+9) campaign in 2009-10.  He was a healthy scratch in Friday's shutout win over Tampa Bay, widely considered the Caps' most complete game of the season.

Confirmed by team officials, the Washington Capitals have traded forward Tomas Fleischmann to the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Scott Hannan.

Hannan is a 31-year old left-handed defenseman.  He is dependable, having skated in the most games of any defenseman in the league since the 2002-03 season.  He had appeared in 267 of 269 regular season games since singing with Colorado in 2007.

Hannan is in the final year of a four-year, $18 million contract. Hannan has most notably played for the Avalanche and San Jose Sharks.

We'll have much more on this deal as details become available.

The Captain with your game winner. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
THE RESULT:  For 59 minutes and 52 seconds, the Washington Capitals looked like they would eke out a hard-fought victory over their division opponent Carolina Hurricanes.  Then, potential disaster struck, as a combination of Caps weaknesses allowed a game-tying goal with just 2.2 seconds remaining on the clock, forcing overtime.

There was nail-biting aplenty after Eric Staal outmuscled Tom Poti to flick a bouncing puck past Varlamov to knot the game with under three seconds in regulation.

In the overtime, the biggest play was a left leg pad/catcher combo save by Semyon Varlamov on Sergei Samsonov to preserve the tie.

On to the shootout then.  Alex Ovechkin tallied on the Caps first shot, Varlamov made that lone goal stand, and the capacity crowd was finally able to exhale with a 3-2 win and a full two points.

Easy as that.  Yeah, right.

The Capitals third win in a row gives them 36 points and a 17-6-2 record, tops in the NHL.

Any other result would have been devestating, considering the way the Capitals dominated the first period of this game, racing out to a 2-0 lead after one frame that could have been much bigger were it not for the media's No. 1 star of the game, Carolina goalie Cam Ward.

"The second period they took over a little bit.  It's tough; they're a great team," center Nicklas Backstrom acknowledged afterward.  "But I think we should have won this game in regulation anyway.  I think we're the better team."

Ward was clearly the best player in this game, as he made 15 saves in the first period (en route to a 38 save game), keeping his team in the game.  The Hurricanes simply had no energy whatsoever in that beginning frame, and were lucky to get out trailing by just two.

“He played well," Coach Bruce Boudreau begrudgingly said after the game.  "I didn’t think he had to make as many great saves as I have seen him make in the past, but Cam Ward always plays well.”

The coach was somewhat prickly in his post-game comments, perhaps still stewing about how Carolina tied things up rather than the final outcome.

Ovechkin was a bit more effusive in praise of the opposing netminder.  “I think [Ward] played tremendous game today. I think we dominated them almost all game, but he played unbelievable."

The Caps first goal, by rookie Marcus Johansson, was an example of Carolina's lackluster performance in the first.  Eric Fehr outworked Joni Pitkanen in the corner and fed a streaking Johansson in the slot, and the Swede had time to deke Ward and slide the puck five-hole on him.  Ian White, the other Carolina D-man, was late in helping after misplaying the puck behind the goal to begin with.

“It’s always good to get a good start, but it doesn’t matter if it is the first or last goal," Johansson said.  "It is always good to get us going and it turned out to be a pretty important goal, since there only were two.”

The second goal was a thing of beauty, as Ovechkin made a perfect pass to Alexander Semin on a two-on-one with less than two minutes remaining in the frame.  The play started with Nicklas Backstrom, backchecking on the play, making a blind outlet pass to spring Ovechkin and Semin on the breakaway.

The assist ties Ovechkin with Sidney Crosby (of course) for second in the league in assists.  Asked if he found that surprising, Boudreau said, "He’s always been a great passer – he’s just never been noted for being a great passer.”

Boudreau does not seemed concerned that his sniper is collecting assists at a much faster clip than goals this season.  "He’s struggling scoring goals, and you can see he’s pressing a little bit, but the good news is he’s getting chances.  He’s not losing the puck off his stick like he was a week ago, and he’s driving. You just know once it breaks, it’s gonna break."

Late in the game, defenseman Mike Green blocked a shot off his right knee, and left the ice on one leg and was assisted down the tunnel back to the Caps locker room.  He returned to the bench for the shootout.  Boudreau wouldn't let the question get finished before he cut off:  “You ever block a shot? They freakin hurt! He’s gonna be fine, but they hurt!”

THE GOOD:  The Caps first second goal was a masterpiece.  First, Backstrom's backcheck and blind pass to Ovechkin on the left wing was something only players extremely comfortable with one another could pull off.  Then, Ovi made a great drag move around the defender and hit Semin perfectly for the shot.

"You have to work on defense to score goals, I think," Backstrom said from the comfort of the home locker room after the game.  No truer words have been spoken.

THE BAD:  David Steckel had a great night in the dot (8 of 11), but on the crucial final draw with less than eight seconds, Eric Staal got a completely clean draw off him to the point, where Pitkanen had a good look at the goal unemcumbered.  Varlamov lost the shot from the point, then Olli Jokinen got the puck bouncing back toward Staal.  For the rest of the story, keep reading.

THE UGLY:  For the "Caps need a physical defenseman" crowd, Exhibit A was the game-tying goal.  Tom Poti had position on Eric Staal, but could not tie up the forward in any way, leading to the goal.  Poti tried to lift Staal's stick, but Staal (6'4", 205) just outmuscled Poti.

THE STATS:  Johansson (3) from Fehr (5) at 7:00 of 1st.  Semin (18) from Ovechkin (22) and Backstrom (18) at 18:49 of 1st.  Ovechkin in SO.

NEXT GAME:  Wednesday at 8:00 pm at St. Louis Blues


3. Semyon Varlamov.  26 saves, including the game-saver in overtime.
2. Marcus Johansson.  Another strong game from the rook.  Went hard to the net for his goal.
1. Alex Ovechkin.  Perfect pass on the assist to Semin.  Seven shots on goal.  Noticeable effort on backchecking all night.  Was on the bottom of the scrum at the end of the third period.  Earned the hard hat.  A very captain-like evening. 

CAPS NOTES:  The Capitals improved their NHL-best home record to 12-1-1 after recording their second shootout victory of the season.

The Capitals have scored first in seven of their last nine games after tallying the first goal only four times in their first 16 games of the season.

The Capitals, who won 33 of 59 faceoffs (56%) tonight vs. Carolina, have been over the 50% mark in the face-off circle for 12 straight games. David Steckel led the team winning 8 of 11 faceoffs (73%) despite losing the critical draw leading to the game-tying goal.
Building off a 5-for-5 performance on Friday vs. Tampa Bay, the penalty killing unit went 3-for-3 tonight. Washington’s penalty kill has killed off 20 of the last 23 shorthanded situations (87%) and is currently ranked eighth in the league at 84.3%.


Scrum at the end of the third period before the game-tying goal. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)
Marcus Johansson during pre-game skate. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)

Varlamov making a save in the shootout. (C.Nichols/Caps News Network)