THE RESULT:  It would be easy to say that one of the best teams in the National Hockey League came into D.C. on a roll and took advantage of a Washington Capitals team that is struggling to score goals, both five-on-five and on the power play.

While that statement is true and accurate, the Caps 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, who Thursday night had a 17-game point streak snapped, was also just another example of the disappointment felt around "America's Hockey Capital", as the hopes of a once-promising season are now getting mired in an almost-desperation to find out "What's wrong with the Capitals?"

Until four days ago, the Caps seemed to have found life once again.  They had a nine-game point streak of their own -- going 6-0-3 during the stretch -- following the seemingly interminable eight-game losing stretch dating back to early December. They defeated arch-rival Pittsburgh in the highly publicized and even more highly dramatized Winter Classic New Year's Day (night).

They even tied for the top spot in their division, a place that no Caps fans thought they would ever have to worry about again in this era.

But the last four days, with an overtime loss to Florida, a butt-spanking shut out loss to division-leading Tampa the next night, and an agonizing 4-2 loss to the league's top team last night, all the "feel good" from that nine game stretch was thrown out the window.

All of the problems of the December swoon have come back to haunt this Washington Capitals team this past week (0-2-1) and in last night's loss.  An aimless and seemingly clueless power play (0-for-3).  Defensive indifference and ineptitude.  Lack of commitment to playing a 60-minute game.  An utter lack of urgency until trailing late in games.

And what's worst: a complete dearth of offensive production from this team's best players.

Don't let last night's furious third period almost-rally confuse you.  It came against a team playing the second of back-to-back road games three time zones from home.

The bottom line last night: two of the three goals allowed came as a direct result of Mike Green getting caught out of position, trying to press the play when he should have been manning his defensive zone.  When a team is struggling to score, they can't afford to have a skilled playmaker trying to join a rush up ice before the neutral zone is cleared.

The last couple of seasons, this team has always been able to rely on their firepower to bail them out of tough situations.  Even last season, during their President's Trophy run, they'd have nights where they didn't play very well, but a handful of overwhelmingly skillful possessions would end up in the back of the net and the team and fans would head home happy.

This year?  Not so much.

Through the first 26 games this season (18-6-2), the Capitals averaged over 3.30 goals per game.  Not quite their pace last season, but still good enough to have them at the top of the conference and top of the goals per game chart. 

Since?  38 goals in 19 games.  An average of exactly two goals per game.  It's remarkable that the team has managed a 6-8-5 record in those 19 games. 

What on Earth has happened to the Caps scoring?  Slumps are one thing.  But systematic shut-downs are a completely different animal.

It certainly doesn't help that Alexander Semin, who led the Caps in goals and was on pace for a career year early has missed the last three games due to injury.  But he stopped scoring goals much before he got hurt. 

Alex Ovechkin has five goals in his last 19 games.  Nicklas Backstrom has zero goals in the same time frame.  Semin hasn't scored in the Caps last 20 games.  Brooks Laich?  One goal in 19 games.  Mike Green's numbers look healthy next to these, but three goals and five helpers in 19 games is far below his career norms.

What was that game 19 games ago that broke the Washington Capitals?  The heartbreaking 2-1 loss at Dallas on Dec. 2, where a game-tying goal by John Carlson was waived off by referee Dan O'Rourke with 7.6 seconds remaining in the game, when Ovechkin was knocked into the paint by defenseman Karlis Skrastins and O'Rourke ruled Ovechkin interfered with the goalie's ability to play the puck, when it was the Dallas defenseman that actually contacted the Stars goalie, Andrew Raycroft.

It was a bad call then.  It apparently haunts the Capitals to this day.

What was another circumstance associated with that game?  It was the first game after the trade that sent Tomas Fleischmann to Colorado in exchange for defenseman Scott Hannan.  It would be remiss to blame Hannan for the Caps scoring drought, but it sure seems like the Caps could use a second-line forward known for having a scoring touch.

What's Flash done since the trade?  How about a point per game (7-12-19, minus-1).

I was all in favor of this trade when it was made.  It seemed like two teams dealing from a position of strength to address a weakness.  Maybe I was wrong.

What's wrong with the Caps?  Nothing a few more goals from their best players wouldn't solve.

But it wouldn't hurt to find a way to break the curse of the Dallas Stars and exorcise the ghost of Tomas Fleischmann.

THE GOOD:  I still think a season of the "A" would have been good for him, but Marcus Johansson has had his moments this season and his one-timer for the Caps second goal was one of those moments.  But it came courtesy of Nicklas Backstrom's best set-up in quite some time.  He drew the D and knew where MJ90 would be almost instinctively. 

Backstrom also had five shots on goal, including a play where Eric Fehr hit him in stride in the first period going hard to the net.  The shot wasn't great, banging into Luongo's pads, but the idea and execution by both players was excellent. 

THE BAD:  Jeff Schultz.  His play has been spotty at best since returning from his broken thumb, and last night was no exception.  He was minus-2 again, out of position on the third Vancouver goal, and he just looks, well, slow.  Maybe it's rust, but he's costing the Caps right now on the back end.

Oh, and did Mathieu Perreault even play in this game?

THE UGLY: Mike Green.  That was the worst game from a supposed All-Star we've seen in quite some time. 

I've largely held off on the Green bashing this season, because he's never really been fully healthy due to a litany of pain and injury, but those shouldn't keep someone out of position, make poor passes, and generally show no urgency on the ice until there's a two goal deficit with time winding down.

THE STATS: Matt Hendricks (5) from Boyd Gordon (4) and John Carlson (14) at 5:50 of 1st. Marcus Johansson (6) from Nick Backstrom (29) and Brooks Laich (18) at 9:21 of 3rd.

NEXT GAME: Sunday at 3:00 pm v. Ottawa Senators at Verizon Center.


3. Marcus Johansson.  Nice one-timer to get the Caps within one. Only took three draws, but won two.
2. Nicklas Backstrom. Quality assist on Johansson's goal. Five shots on goal. 79% in the dot.
1. Matt Hendricks.  He was flying all over the ice tonight.  He buried his opportunity.


Eric Fehr left the game in the third after colliding with teammate David Steckel at center ice on a change.  Boudreau called Fehr an "upper body injury", and would definitely not play Sunday.

Semyon Varlamov saved 31 of 34 shots on goal.

The Washington Capitals have played this season with a target on their backs as the reigning President's Trophy winner.  Tonight's opponent, the Vancouver Canucks, come into Verizon Center with the league's best record, and a 17-game point streak broken last night by the New York Rangers.

I canvassed the locker room this morning, asking how the Caps feel playing the role of underdog against a very hot, very talented Vancouver team.

"They're the best team in the league," Coach Bruce Boudreau said.  "It's a great test for us. Hopefully we can meet the test.  Last year when we went to Vancouver it was turned around and they ended up winning 3-2 in a great hockey game and I assume it's gonna be a great hockey game tonight with both teams playing as hard as they can."

Eric Fehr, do you think playing the role of underdog might help loosen this Caps team up?  "Yeah, I think that'll be good for us.  We get an opportunity to play one of the top teams in the league at home.  You know, they played last night and I think its going to be important for us to try to jump on them."

"It's a little strange, we definitely aren't used to [playing underdog]," said Karl Alzner. "It's nice to be on the opposite side now and get that feeling sometimes, maybe over the last few months here teams get pretty geared up to play us."

Nick Backstrom, on being ready for the league's top team: "Yeah, I think so.  Sometimes that's good.  We feel like we're ready for this challenge and they're a great team, so we have to be at the top of our game to get two points."

Boudreau addressed F Matt Bradley's injury status after practice, saying he thought there was a chance that the gritty winger could play at the end of next week, but more than likely he was still 10 days to to weeks from seeing game action.  Bradley practiced during the scratches skate this morning with D.J. King.

D Tyler Sloan was sent on a conditioning assignment to AHL Hershey.  The team has 14 days to recall Sloan or send him through waivers to assign him outright to the minors.

Washington Capitals Vice President of Communications Nate Ewell announced his resignation from the team this morning, effective Feb. 9.  Ewell has accepted the position of Director of Communications with College Hockey, Inc., in Newton MA.

Ewell has been instrumental in transforming the Capitals into one of the most technologically savvy organizations in all of sports.  His media relations department is a multiple award winner in hockey, and is renown for their professionalism and innovation.

He, along with Ted Leonsis, has revolutionized how the Capitals are covered on an independent level, and their influence has been felt throughout hockey.  Working with bloggers and independent journalists in the Washington, DC market, they have established a credentialing process for independents and an atmosphere of openness in the press box. 

The organization gets it, and Nate's been the one implementing it.  Caps News Network wishes nothing but the best for Nate in his future endevours, and good luck to his replacement.  Whoever takes the position has big shoes to fill, indeed.

GAME 44 RE-CAP: Bolts Blank Caps Again, Take SE Lead

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, January 13, 2011 | , , , , | 0 comments »

THE RESULT:  For the second time in a week, 41-year old goalie Dwayne Roloson shut out the Washington Capitals, leading his Tampa Bay Lightning to a 3-0 win, securing first place in the Southeast Division for the time being.

The loss is the fifth time the Caps have been shut out in their last 25 games.

Domonic Moore, Sean Bergenheim and Simon Gagne scored for the Lightning, who own the top spot in the division by two points over the Caps, and sit second in the Eastern Conference trailing Philadelphia by just two points.

It was Washington's first regulation loss in ten games.

The Capitals were simply outplayed all evening.  Continuing a theme we've noticed for a while, Tampa took the body early and often against the Caps and Washington just didn't respond until things were already well out of hand.

It was the second straight game the Caps got down 3-0, but unlike Tuesday's game in Florida where they stormed back to force overtime and earn a standings point, Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Caps couldn't muster enough energy for a comeback.

The Caps took just 23 shots on goal against Roloson, making his second appearance against the Caps since being traded to Tampa by the cellar-dwelling Islanders.  Roloson was rarely tested though, as most of the Caps shots against came from outside the circles, and the Caps managed just 12 shots on goal during five-on-five play.

Washington's forwards were content to fling shots from the perimeter, but unwilling or unable to find the requisite determination to crash the net looking for rebounds.

Playing on back-to-back nights on the road in the NHL is tough.  But no one wants to hear excuses.  The Caps did not come out to play last night and it showed, on the ice and on the scoresheet.

Veteran forward Mike Knuble tried to put it into perspective after the game. “It took a lot of energy [Tuesday] night to catch up and if you keep asking your team to do that all the time, it’s tough. Coming in back-to-back, you’ve got to get the lead. It’s pretty important because we chased so hard [Tuesday] night to scrape out a point.”

But despite the lackluster performance, it was just the first regulation loss in 10 games, and the Caps still own the league's seventh-nest record overall.

Are there problems?  Sure.  The power play went 0-for-2 last night and  is as anemic as it has ever been, going 8-for-75 (10.7%) with the extra man in its last 20 games.  The penalty kill is still working well, but the Caps are taking entirely too many penalties, especially in the offensive and neutral zones. 

And the Caps two best players, Ovechkin and Nick Backstrom, are having historically bad runs right now.

As bas as all that is, the Caps are still seventh overall in the league.  I'm sure there are a dozen teams that would LOVE to trade places, problems and all.

It's only Jan. 13.  There's plenty of time to get things sorted out.  They've already weathered an eight-game losing streak, rebounding with a 6-1-3 stretch.

It's not time to panic.  Yet.

THE GOOD:  John Carlson.  No goals allowed.  Led the team with five shots.  Caps killed all five extra-man opportunities for Tampa.

THE BAD: Jeff Schultz.  The Bolts scored three goals.  He was on the ice for all three.  Schultz looked lost last night. 

Dishonorable Mention: Tom Poti.  Scratched from the Florida game, he returned to play just 5:38 and didn't take a shift after the first period.  He was already minus-2 when he left.  If you're a puck-moving defenseman and you can't move, you're a liability.  He should be shut down.

THE UGLY:  I'm still wondering how Scott Downie only got two minutes for punching Scott Hannan in the face twice while another player was holding Hannan down -- and Hannan got four for roughing.  Miscarriage of justice.

THE STATS: No goals.

NEXT GAME: Friday night against Vancouver Canucks at 7:00 pm at Verizon Center.  Vancouver current owners of NHL's best record (28-8-6).


3. Scott Hannan.  No goals allowed, and his original check on Downie was a thing of beauty.
2. Semyon Varlamov.  35 saves on 38 shots.  Left to his own defense much of the night.
1. John Carlson.  No goals and five shots for.  Turning into a real leader on the blue line.

THE RESULTS: The Washington Capitals took too many penalties, went 0-for-5 on the power play, and was indifferent on defense too many times, as they fell behind early, rallied furiously, but fell in overtime to the Florida Panthers 4-3 before a sparse crowd in Sunrise, FL.

"If we're going to look this lethargic on the power play, that's where we are losing games," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It's not 5-on-5, it's not the penalty killing, it's the power play. I keep putting the same guys out thinking eventually it's going to turn around, but it's not. We're going to have to do something to shake the power play up."

The overtime goal was a microcosm for the entire game.  A lazy clearing attempt by Matt Hendricks led to Mike Green taking a penalty, then the Caps surrendering their third power play goal of the night to a team that entered play as the worst power play unit in the league.

The Capitals surrendered a five-on-three goal in both of the first two periods.

A bright spot for the Caps was the play of rookie center Marcus Johansson, who had two goals - and almost a third -- in what might have been his best game of the season.

The Caps were atrocious in the first period, being outshot 20-7 and dominated in just about every facet of the game and were down 2-0 after the frame.  They allowed a third goal 6:48 into the second, and looked every bit defeated.

But just like that the Caps turned it on and took over play, reeling off three straight goals to force overtime and take a point they had no really had no business earning after 30 minutes of play.

THE GOOD: Coming back from three goals showed a lot of heart and effort on the road.  Salvaging a point in a game they could have easily stopped skating is a big deal as we enter the second half of the season.

THE BAD: Six minor penalties.  Two five-on-threes.  Folks can complain all they want, but I didn't see a call I would have strenuously argued with.

THE UGLY: The freaking power play.  How can a team with this much offensive firepower be so, what's the right word?  Pathetic?  Is that too strong? 

THE STATS: Marcus Johansson (4) from Brooks Laich (17) and Brian Willsie (1) at 10:10 of 2nd.  Mike Knuble (10) from Alex Ovechkin (30) and Nick Backstrom (28) at 13:30 of 2nd.  Marcus Johansson (5) from Matt Hendricks (8) and Mike Green (13) at 7:12 of 3rd.

NEXT GAME: Wednesday in a battle for first place against Tampa Bay at 7:00 pm.


3. Brian Willsie.  Picked up an assist in his first game since 2005.  Good for him.
2. Michael Neuvirth.  Three goals allowed, yes.  But it could have been much, much worse.
1. Marcus Johansson.  Two goals.  A nice little breakout game.

Ovechkin, Green Invited to NHL All-Star Game

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, January 11, 2011 | , , , , | 0 comments »

The NHL announced today the list of players that will be available in the first ever All-Star team draft, and Alex Ovechkin and Mike Green of the Washington Capitals were both invited to participate.

In what has been a down year goal-scoring wise for Ovechkin, he is still tied for 11th in the league and leads the Caps in points (15-29-44, plus-10).  This is his fourth All-Star selection.

Green (8-12-20, plus-8) struggled early but has picked up the scoring pace lately, registering at least one point in each of the last six games for the Caps.  He is also fourth in the NHL in total ice time (26:10).  It is Green's first All-Star selection.

I have to admit, I am surprised by the Green selection.  He has had seasons where his points totals have been much more impressive, yet failed to earn a nod.  He ranks just 27th among defensemen in points this season.  One could argue that this has been his least impressive campaign on the offensive end until lately. 

His attention in the defensive zone has increased dramatically this season, but it's hard to imagine the justification of his All-Star selection based on what is undeniably the weakest part of his game, and the part which draws the most criticism and left him on the outside when the Canadian Olympic team was announced last season.

As for snubs, on the All-Star team it's hard to argue any Caps player that deserved got left behind.  But no Caps rookie was invited to the Rookie SuperSkills Competition.  It's fairly incredible that the NHL came up with a list of 12 rookeis to invite to its skills contest -- including three defenseman -- and left John Carlson off the list.

The rookie list does however include Florida forward Evgeni Dadonov, who has played a grand total of 14 games, and Phoenix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, with a total of seven assists, and whose TOI is going down as the season progresses. Both players are their team's lone representitive.

Caps Casino Night Photos

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Monday, January 10, 2011 | , , , | 0 comments »

Check out all of the fun photos of Caps Casino Night on the Caps News Network "Off the Ice" page.

Photos 2010 © Cheryl Nichols Photography/
Caps News Network. All Rights Reserved.

THE RESULT:  As has been the case most of the time on the current run of success for the Washington Capitals, this one didn't come easy.  But the Caps held on at the end to defeat a tired--but game--Florida Panthers team 3-2, before a capacity crowd at Verizon Center.

Florida was playing their third game in four nights and fifth in seven days.  The Caps had not played since Tuesday night's 1-0 overtime loss to Tampa Bay.

It also marked the first legitimate highlight reel goal of the season for the Washington captain, the Great Eight, Alex Ovechkin.  Mike Knuble sprung Ovechkin with a long head-man pass, allowing the superstar to break in on goalie Scott Clemmensen alone, with only Bryan McCabe trailing.

Ovi broke in at the face-off circle and got his wrist shot off just as McCabe's stick caught Ovechkin's right skate blade, sending the winger sprawling through the air and crashing into the goalie just after the puck sailed past his glove hand.

"It was one move, and puck goes in.  Finally." said a smiling Ovechkin in the media scrum after the game.

The tally gave the Caps a two-goal cushion, which was key as Florida drew within one 2:18 later as Evgeny Dadonov banged home a rebound past Semyon Varlamov (25 saves on 27 shots) while the Panthers were playing six-on-five. 

Nicklas Backstrom took an uncharacteristic bad penalty with just over one minute to go, but the Capitals penalty killers staved off the onslaught, and Washington was able to collect two more points within the division.

The win gives the Caps 54 points (24-12-6), and they are now 6-1-3 in their last 10 games.

"Just to get the lead in the third period was like a breath of fresh air,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau. “You come off of a shutout [Tuesday's 1-0 overtime loss to Tampa Bay] and it seems you’re never going to score and every goal you get is such a difficult goal. You wonder if you’re ever going to score again.”

The other heroes of this game were Mike Green and Eric Fehr, both of whom scored a goal and had a helper on the other's tally.

Fehr camped out in the crease and one-timed Green's feed past a defenseless Clemmensen, and Fehr returned the favor, leading Green perfectly into the high slot on the power play, where he deposited a backhand into the Florida goal.

Of Fehr, Boudreau said, "“He’s getting more confidence. He’s a guy that lives in confidence and he’s playing a little bit more. He started scoring a lot of his goals in the middle to latter half of the year last year too, so maybe he’s a naturally slow starter.”

"My confidence is pretty good," Fehr said from his locker room stall. "I thought Greener made a nice play to me out front--I really couldn't miss that one--and Green made a nice shot on the power play."

Green returned the compliment on Fehr's assist on the power play.  "“It was a great pass by Eric,” says Green. “It looked like he was going to shoot there for a second. I thought he was going to shoot, so I cut into the middle to maybe get a rebound or something. He made a great play and I just had to put it into the net.”

It was just Washington's eighth goal in their last 67 power play chances (11.9 %), but it could not have come at a more opportune time--13:07 of the third period in a tie game, and just 16 seconds after killing off a Florida extra-man opportunity.  The Caps killed all four Florida power plays, and have killed 33 of 34 over the last nine games (97.1 %).

The Capitals now have a couple days off before a two-game road trip on consecutive nights through the state of Florida, facing these Panthers on Tuesday and the Lightning on Wednesday.  There are no easy games in the Southeast Division anymore, and the Caps will look to keep the momentum they've generated the last ten games into the short road trip.

Every two points matter from here on out.

THE GOOD: It's a POWER PLAY GOAL!  Caps finally get one with the extra-man, and a nice finish from Green with good, honest hard work from Fehr. "I thought we were getting pretty good entries," Fehr said. "When you're doing that you're going to get a chance to score. Luckily we were able to get one at the end when we really needed one."

THE BAD:  Tom Poti and Jeff Schultz.  Both struggling in return from injury, paired together they really needed to be managed all night.  Poti is still not right--his mobility is severely limited and it's reducing his effectiveness.  He's supposed to be the puck-handler in that pairing and he just doesn't have the wheels yet.

THE UGLY: Nick Backstrom's cross-checking penalty with 1:05 remaining in a one-goal game.  Already playing 6-on-5, Nicky let his emotions get to him and he leveled a Panthers player along the side boards.  It was an easy call, and as he left the ice, he was yelling at someone, just hard to say whom.  A Panther player?  The referee?  Himself?  Regardless, a veteran can't take that penalty in a one-goal game.

THE STATS: Eric Fehr (8) from Mike Green (12) and Mathieu Perreault (3) at 5:32 of 2nd.  Mike Green (8) from Eric Fehr and Alex Ovechkin (29) at 13:07 of 3rd (PP). Alex Ovechkin (15) from Mike Knuble (9) and Nick Backstrom (27) at 18:23 of 3rd.

NEXT GAME: Tuesday at Florida Panthers at 7:30 pm from Sunrise, FL.


3. Alex Ovechkin.  Goal and assist. Didn't look so hot in the first playing with strange linemates, but once paired up with 19 and 22 in the third, did some damage.  First real highlight reel goal of the season.
2. Mike Green.  Goal and assist.  Insinuating himself in the play offensively while still minding his own end. It was Green's first multi-point game since Nov. 14 against Atlanta.  Feeling better?
1. Eric Fehr.  Goal and assist.  F-16 is making himself a presence in front of the net.  The new baker in town.