Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pushed To The Brink Once Again, The Cardiac Caps Find A Way, Finally, In Overtime.



Series tied 3-3

There was no write up on the previous game yesterday, because me being at times superstitious as I am during the playoffs, wanted to change many things up yesterday. So, one of those changes also included no pre game write up. That may once again be the case for tomorrows game.

Once again, the Cardiac Capitals pushed themselves and their fans to the brink. The Capitals facing yet another elimination game in this years NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Caps also once again, found a way to extend the season, even if it is only for one more game. It was a must win once again, and once again the Capitals found themselves going into a sudden death, deciding overtime. The Caps have gone to overtime twice in this series, and lost both of those games. Not this time. It was game 3 of this series when the Capitals David Steckel had a fantastic chance to end that game and take the Caps up 3 games to nothing on the Pens in this series. Steckel found himself alone, in front of a gaping wide open Penguins net, with the puck on his stick, and some how, missed the net. Steckel vowed if he had that chance again, that it would end differently. He had that rare second chance last night, perhaps not in such grand fashion, but he did exactly what he vowed to do. In stead of letting an opportunity slip by, Steckel tipped a shot from Brooks Laich, past Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 6:22 of the first overtime. The Capitals bench erupted and flooded the ice, in front of the stunned Pens fans at Mellon Arena, much to the delight of Caps fans all across the country.

The Capitals did play better once gain, but still not quite good enough for comfort. The Caps were once again outshot in the game 42-25, and had just 5 shots on goal in a very disappointing first period that would see the Pens jump out to the lead first. Had it not been for Simeon Varlamov who made 17 saves in that first period, the Penguins might have buried Washington for good before the end of it. Once again, it looked to be a long and sad night for the Caps and their fans against their long time nemesis. However, the Caps had other things in mind, and true to form in elimination games, came out for the 2nd and third periods at time s controlling play, and taking the lead for themselves twice. It was the Pens who were backed into a corner at home in the third period, and it was the Pens who would force the over time period. Once again, the deciding factor in this game has to be Simeon Varlamov. Varlamov played a fantastic game, and perhaps if it were not for him, the Caps may not be looking forward to game 7 at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. tomrrow night.

While it was David Steckel who played the overtime hero and scored the winner, there were several other Capitals who stepped up and deserve credit for their contributions. Viktor Kozlov picked up his first two goals of the series, Alexander Semin had two assists, while Alex Ovechkin had 3 assists.

The Capitals now find themselves with the chance to advance to the Eastern Conference finals with a victory on home ice tomorrow night. A win in game 7 would also would give Washington only its second series victory over Pittsburgh in eight all-time meetings. Finally, maybe, something is starting to go right. In the Capitals last 7 elimination games under coach Bruce Boudreau, they are 6 wins, and one loss. Could this trend finally mean things are turning a corner for the Caps and their faithful? Could the ghosts of choking dogs past be fading away? Tomorrow night will go along way in determining if that is the case, or if those old playoff ghosts of choking dogs past, are still haunting this franchise. Get out there and ROCK THE RED and support our beloved Caps, wherever you are!


Saturday, May 9, 2009

Capitals Return Home For Game 5 Tonight With Series Now Deadlocked At 2.


Series tied 2-2

The Washington Capitals return home finding themselves once again in a MUST WIN situation. After being up 2-0 in the NHL's Eastern Conference Semifinal series vs the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Capitals have played poorly, and dropped both road games at the Igloo in Pittsburgh. Hopefully the Caps will have learned some valuable lessons from the past two games, and also once again use the home ice, and loud, red rockin Capitals faithful that pack Verizon Center, to their advantage. If the history of this series is to dictate anything, so far the home team as one all games, which puts the Capitals at a slight advantage for this game. However, it is going to take more than just a little luck this time. Defencemen Mike Green will need to come out of hiding, as will forwards Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin. The Caps will also need to see Simeon Varlamov once again take control of the game, as he had done for 5 staright games until game 3 in Pittsburgh. Varlamov had his first "bad" game of the playoffs last night in steel town, surrendering 5 goals on 28 shots, and allowing two goals which were pretty soft. Our offence needs to step it up once again, and our defence needs to clamp down in our own zone in order to give Varlamov a chance to do just that.

Also of note, it appears the NHL is NOT going to fine and / or suspend Alexander Ovechkin for his unfortunate knee on knee hit with Pens defencemen Sergei Gonchar. The hit appeared to be accidental and there was no evidence of Ovechkin intentionally moving his leg to hit Gonchar's leg. Gonchar left the game and did not return, and is doubtful for tonights game 5 in D.C. I posted a video of the hit in m previous post, for you to be the judge. It can be found here in this post.

Your's truly is now heading out to Verizon Center for tonights game, and I will be back later on tonight or tomrrow morning with my post game thoughts and write up. Until then...


And The Choke Is On...



Series tied 2-2

Once again, the Caps came out flying. Nicklas Backstrom scored just 36 seconds into the game to put the Caps up 1-0. From there out, it was just about all Pens. Pittsburgh scored just a few minutes later to tie, and never looked back. At the end of the 1st period, the score was 3-1 Pens. Washington, in spite of scoring a short handed goal, would not fare any better for the remaining two periods, and would ultimately fall by the final score of 5-3. Not even Simeon Varlamov could salvage this one, as even he had his first "bad" game of the playoffs. Three Capitals star players, were nonfactors in this game as well, including Alex Ovechkin, who mustered just two shots on goal this game, and a total of 7 in his last two games. The other Caps of note, who had disappearing acts this game were Alexander Semin, and Mike Green.

The Caps looked sluggish shortly after scoring the first goal, and almost never picked up. It would only get worse for the Capitals after what would become the most controversial play of the night, and possibly of this whole series. At 14:55 of the period, with Washington on it's first power play of the night Brooks Laich carried the puck in behind the Pens goal. The Pens would regain control and attempt to being the break out, with Alex Ovechkin streaking in down the left wing boards. Ovechkin went straight for the puck that Pens defencemen Sergei Goncahr had poked away. Ovechkin kept going straight for the puck and ended up colliding with Gonchar, in what some are calling a dirty knee on knee hit. Upon watching the replays, it appared that Ovechkin was going for the puck, and was intending to hit Gonchar, but not with his knee. Ovechkin did make a move towards gonchar, however from the replays it appeared he led with his shoulder. Ovechkin's leg never moved, however it did land knee on knee with Gonchars right leg. Gonchar went down in a heap, and had to be helped from the ice and did not return for the game. Ovechkin was assesed a minor penalty on the play for "tripping".

After the game, Ovechkin had this to say regarding the hit:

"I tried to hit him and he tried to move to his left, and I don't have time to realize what is going on and I hit [him with] my knee. It was accident. I'm not the kind of guy who wants to injure a player like this, especially [because] I know Gonch. I tried to hit him with my shoulder and he moved left, but his legs were in the same spot."
You decide for yourself if you think the hit was dirty. I personally think it was accidental. It appears in the video that Ovechkin is in fact attempting to head with his shoulder. Here is the video:

While the Capitals did get fewer power play chances than the Pens, it can hardly be said the Caps did not get their power play chances. The Caps had 4 power plays, to the Penguins 6. Once again, the Caps were out shot for the game 28-22, although the Caps did outshoot the Pens 5-4 in the middle period, the first time the Capitals had outshot the Pens in a period this series. The Caps are getting decent scoring from their other sources, however if the Capitals want to silence the critics, they are going to need scoring from thier superstar players, in a more consisent level. Washington Can no longer afford to rest on its collective laures as it has the past two games, the series is now on the line. The Caps must do some serious soul searching, and find the strengh, determineation, heart, desire, chemisty, and wear with all, in order not to end up like the club they just knocked out in the first round, the NY Rangers. Thus far in the playoffs, it has seemed as if the Capitals play thier best when they are up against the wallk when the pressure is on, and when they are in danger. Let's hope that holds true tomrrow night at Verizon Center, for the team that wins game five will likely be the team that advances to the Stanley Cup Semifinals. And the ghosts of choking dogs past wich were slowly starting to find thier way in, are now looming arge over the Capitals, thier loyal fans, and Washington. Its up to the Caps to learn from history, and not allow history to repeat itself, for the 6th time.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Amid Complaints, Death Threats, Fan Internet Wars... Caps Vs Pens Resumes In Pittsburgh Tonight


Capitals lead series 2-1

The very much hyped NHL Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, and thier respective Stars Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, thus far has lived up to all the hype, and then some. Replete with complaints from both sides, raging from accusations / allegations of cheating, to complaints about officiating, to whining from Penguins fans about the ticket sales tactics used by the Washington Capitals to limit sales as much as possible to Caps fans only, right down to a death threat against Washington's superstar winger, Alexander Ovechkin. The threat was discovered on the Penguins official message boards, and was reported to authorities in PA, as well as to both clubs, and to the NHL, all of which took the threat seriously, sparking more drama, which now includes police involvement, in this already dramatic series. The death threat, which as now been highly publicized on both the internet, and on local television news outlets in both cities, was apparently made by a 17 year old male from Chambersburg, PA. I will not post this persons name since he is a minor, but it has been posted on several news outlets websites. Police were investigating the thread, and have questioned the person, and confiscated the computer used to post the message. The threat, (pictured at left) which was posted was simply this:

"I'm killing Ovechkin. I'll go to jail. I don't care anymore."

The subsequent media frenzy has now sparked what could be dubbed an internet messagboard war between Caps and Pens fans. The Pens fans are apparently firing back by attempting to invade the Capitals Official Message Boards and look for questionable posts to report to authorities. There are multiple threads on both the Caps and Pens message boards regarding the subject. This has prompted the administrators of the Caps boards to close the boards to any new registrations until after the current playoff series is over. It has almost gotten comical at this point. Never a dull moment in this series thus far.

Now, onto the game. The Capitals will be looking to regain a 2 game lead in this best of 7 series once again tonight in Pittsburgh. The Caps who did not play very well in game 4, with the exception of goaltender Simeon Varlamov, will be looking to rebound and once again take control of this series. The Capitals, who have faced a spate of injuries, are once again making some lineup ajustments. The biggest news of the day was the Washington Capitals star forward Alexander Semin (pictured left) did not skate in this mornings practice. It is possible that he is nursing an injury, but there have been no outward signs of anything too serious. He was seen leaving Mellon Areana this morning, and appared to move just fine. Alexander Ovechkin seems to think he will be ok to play in tonights game. The Caps also made another lineup adjustmet today, returning defencemen Karl Alzner, and recalling forward Jay Beagle (pictured lower left) from thier AHL affiliate, Hershey Bears. It is unclear who Beagle will replace, but it appears there will be shakes ups throughout the Caps 4 foward lines. Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau is known for his willingness to change things up in the lineup if things do not go as planed for the Capitals. It will be interesting to see who gets in and who sits, and who is placed on what lines. The Capitals are already without the services of defencemen John Erskine, who did skate this morning but its still questionable for tonights game, and forward Eric Fehr. Erskine has not played since taking a hard shot to the leg in game one of this series. Eric Fehr has missed games 2 and 3 with an undisclosed upper body injury, and is likely to be out again tonight. It is unclear if Boudreau will use Beagle in tonights game, or if he will once again go with veteran forward Micael Nylander. Tyler Sloan has replaced Erskine in both games he has missed thus far, and presumably will be in the lineup again this evening. Here is Caps Washington Post beat writer, and author of the blog Capitals Insider, Tarik El-Basir in his video update from Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh:

If the Capitals hope to regain thier 2 game lead in this series, and afford themselves the opportunity to close things out on home ice Saturday night at Verizon Center, theyw ill need to play a much different game than they did in game three. The Caps will need to pick up thier speed, and have much more control of the puck. They will also need to keep themselved out of the pentalty box. In the last game, the Capitals recieved only two power plays to Pittsburgh's 7.
Personally I feel confident the Capitals will rebound tonight, and once again regain a commanding 2 game lead in this series. Off to prepare for watching tonights game!


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Capitals, In An All To Familiar Script, Fall to the Penguins



Capitals lead series 2-1

No apologies here, you are being fore warned now that this write up is going to be weak. Once again, the Capitals found themselves up 2 games to 0 going into tonight's game 3 of the NHL's Stanley Cup Palyoff, Eastern Conference Semi Final series VS the Pittsburgh Penguins. Once again, the Capitals allowed the opposition to get right back into the series, and find themselves asking the same old questions that dogged the Caps of playoffs long gone by. The ringing echos of those old ghosts of "choking dogs" past, suddenly, and once again, have some creedence, and some life yet still, here. However, there are some differences between those times, and now. First and foremost, this still, in spite of the result, is a diffferent team than those of "choking dogs" past. This team has something special, something no one can put a finger on. Yes they have that "Superstar Player" they were always lacking in the past, but this time, there is just something different.

The Capitals did not play that great of a game tonight. the Penguins did. Both teams played like their lives were on the line at times, and for the Capitals, that very well may have been the case, if the past is to live up to hits own history. But it was ultimately the Penguins who played with more desperation, and got the goal when it counted most. It should also be noted the the Capitals were given only 2 power place, the the Pens 7, 1 of which was in over time. Suffice it to say, the officiating could have been more even, but that is still no excuse.

Somehow, I personally feel that it wont. When the Pittsburgh Penguins scored in overtime to send the Caps to their first defeat this series, and unlike those series past where the Caps were up by 2 only to ultimately surrender the series, a sudden calm came over me. As the Pens fans roared and cheered their team, I slowly bowed my head and thought..." this is ok... this is fine, this is right this time". I can not explain this difference in my personal reaction this time, but there is just something there. Some gut feeling that this team, this time, is just somehow different. The Caps, in spite of this defeat, somehow, will just find the way. I wish I had some answer for you as to why this feeling came over me, and why I feel this is just different this time, but I dont. I just have this gut feeling, it just is. The other thing that almost immediately came to mind tonight as the Pens were celebrating their glorious, come from behind, over time victory, was that little song I mentioned in the previous post. You know the one, the one that has the line... "Don't Stop.. Believein"...

So, with that I will let sleeping dogs lie tonight. There will be no game write up, no links, no photos, no names mentioned, no blame, no exulation. In stead, I will follow my heart, and my gut, and believe what, I somehow, STILL believe... and that is... that the Caps will find a way. Somehow, some way, the Caps will overcome this. The Caps will come back, and.. the Caps will ultimately use this experience to propel them on to win this series. Maybe I am living in a fantasy world, but I have seen this same thing unfold time and time again. However, as I said before, this time, it is different. With that, I congratulate the Pens on their win, and I bid you all good night, and as I lay my head down to sleep this all off there is still that one little line stuck deep in the recesses of my mind. Yet, somehow, I can still here it clear as day...

"Don't Stop... Believein"


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Series Shifts To Pittsburg For game 3.


The Washington Capitals took advantage of home ice thus far in this series, winning both games at Verizon Center to take a 2-o series lead over the Pittsburgh Penguins in their Stanley Cup Playoff Eastern Conference semi final match up. Tonight, the series shifts up to the Igloo in steel town, amid a spate of activity from both clubs. From the Penguins side, the Penguins are now starting to complain more. This time about the Capitals tactics on face offs, setting picks and / or interfering with their players, and also about the curvature of Alex Ovechkin's stick. Concerns are being raised from multiple sources with the Penguins orgainsation.

On the Capitals side of things, the Caps are dealing with some injury issues. Apparently Eric Fehr did not skate this morning, and will not be in the line up for tonight's game. In his place will likely be NHL veteran and Caps center Michael Nylander, who has been a healthy scratch for the first two games of this series. John Erskine, who is nursing a lower body injury persumably from taking a hard shot to the leg in game one, will also likely sit out for the 2nd straghit game. Likely to be in his place will be either Karl Alzner, or Tyler Sloan, who made his first NHL playoff appearance in Monday nights game two victory, playing a great game and also picking up an assist on David Steckle's goal in the 2nd period.

The Caps beat writer, Tarik El-Bashir filed this video report covering both sides on his blog, Capitals Insider:

Thanks Tarik.

And so it continues tonight. The much hyped, epic battle of the NHL's two top superstars, Alex Ovechkin and Sydney Crosby once again takes center stage with the Capitals up by two games once again. As I am sure ALL Caps fans, both long time such as myself, and new alike, are now well aware of the Capitals playoff history Vs the Penguins. As I sated in this post, the Capitals have been up by two games on the Pens multiple times in the past, and just like the Rangers did when they were up 2-0 and 3-1 over the Caps last round, the Caps folded to lose the series. Tonight is an extremely important point in this series, and may just go a long way to show just how far the Caps have come, and just how different of a team these "new Caps" are compared to those great prennial playoff appearing, but also choking Caps teams of old. The Capitals must take some pages and some notes from the past, in order to look towards the future here. To win this game tonight would go along way in proving to themselves, and thier loyal fans, and the rest of the world that this Capitals team is not only as good as those of old, but is in fact better. It is my hope that after tonight, those old "choking dogs" ghosts that have plagued the Capitals for much of thier collective playoff career. From what I have seen thus far this playoff season, that little Journey song I was humming a while back, seems to be creaping into my thoughts more and more....

..."Don't stop, Believin"...


Apparently Crosby Has A Case Of The "Whine-FLU"

So browsing around the net today, in specifically Dan Steinberg's D.C. Sports Bog over at the Washington Post, it occurred to me that I left one item out from Monday nights game 2 at Verizon Center. After the Caps Alexander Ovechkin scored his third goal of the game to put the Capitals up 4-2, there was a delay of a few minutes as the fans went nuts, and hundreds of hats rained down onto the Verizon Center ice. During this delay, Sidney Crosby of the Penguins (pictured left, photo by Toni Sandys - Wash Post) decided to skate over to the officials to have a little chat. We all know all too well Crosby has been documented as being a bit on the whiney side, and has a reputaion as being a whiney player.Well, after the was askedby a reporter what exactly he was "discussing" with the officials during the dealay. As it turns out, he was complaing about the hats being thrown on the ice, and the ensuing delay in getting them all cleaned up. Regarding his discussion with the officials Crosby was reported as saying:

"People kept throwing hats. I was just asking if he could make an announcement to ask them to stop. I mean, the first wave came and then I think they were all pretty much picked up, and then more started coming. So for us, we just wanted to make sure we kept kind of moving and kept the game going, wanted to try to get back in it. So wasn't complaining about anything."

So once again, Crosby makes a statement that, not surprisingly, could easily be percieved as "Whining", and belive me, thats exactly how many saw it. But his reputation for such comments has been on going for a while now. There is more than likely a whole treasure trove of quotes from Crosby, which come across as fairly whiney in nature. Its no surpise that fans from other clubs, including us Caps fans have taken notice over the past couple seasons. The evidence can be found all around. Here are a few photos I took from Monday nights game of fans who have grown tired of it. Keep in mind, these photos were taken BEFORE his comments to the press that are quoted above were made.

Spotted on the Jumbo Tron during warm ups:

On the metro ride home after the game:

The back side of the same shirt:

In case you cant tell what it is, its the back of the penguin thats on the front of this little guy's T-shirt.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Comeback Capitals Find Themselves In Famillair Place - Jump Out To 2-0 Series Lead Over Penguins




The Wa
shington Capitals apparently have a penchant for falling behind. The Caps fell behind 2-0, and again 3-1 in their 1st round Stanley Cup Playoff series Vs the NY Rangers. The Capitals fell behind early against Pittsburgh in game one, but would come back to go on to win that game. Last night at another sold out, red rockin Verizon Center largely devoid of Penguins supporters, the Capitals once again fell behind early on. In fact, the Capitals would fall behind twice in this game, but as in games before, and the series before, they would find a way to come back and ultimately come out on top. Once again, tonight's heroics were from familiar faces. For Washington, 3 of their 4 goals were provided by the game's #1 star, Alex Ovechkin, scoring his first ever NHL Playoff hat trick. Unsung hero David Steckel provided the other tally for Washington. Once again, Simeon Varlamov proved superior with his extraordinary athletic ability making 33 saves, some of which were once again epic in nature. His efforts would earn him the third star of the game. Sidney Crosby provided the entire offencive output for Penguins for this game. Alex Ovechkin scored his fith, sixth, and seventh goals of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Sidney Crosby maintained his league lead in goals with his sixth, seventh, and eighth.

Once again the Capitals appeared pensive at times, allowing Pittsburgh the slight advantage in play for stretches in the game. Simeon Varlamov also ha
d to come up large again this game as the Penguins continued to pressure the Capitals, and get some great scoring opportunites. The Penguins would hold the edge in play, and on the scoreboard for a the first period, and for a good portion of the game. Crosby would open the scoring with his first goal of the game at 6:38 of the period with a Pittsburghs first power play goal of the series. That was the lone goal of the game and the Caps were down after the first period by the score of 1-0. They were also now short of 1 forward as well, as Eric Fehr would leave the game mid way through the perid and would not return. He is now listed as questionable for game two, along with defencemen John Erskine, who took a hard shot to the leg in game one, and was scratched from game 2.

The second period things would even out a bit more. The two teams would trade goals this period with the the Capitals opening the scoring and leveling things at 1 a piece with Ovechkin's first goal of the night at 2:18 of the period. The play would start in the Caps own end with Milan Jurcina making a head man pass from deep in the Caps zone to Sergei Fedorov at center ice on the right hand side. Fedorov would carry the puck into the Pens zone on the right side and would find both Viktor Kozlov and Alex Oveckin streaking in the zone with him. Fedorov turned and whipped the puck cross ice to Kozlove high in the slot who almost immediately passed it over to a wide open Oveckin on the left side, who unleashed his signature one timer that sailed passed Marc-Andre Fleury. Pittsburgh would come answer about 8 minutes later with Crosby's second goal of the night at 10:57. However it was the Capitals that would get the last score of the period at 15:49 when David Steckel would once again be johnny on the spot and pick up a rebound off of a shot from Tyler Sloan, and bury it in the Pittsburgh net behind Marc-Andre Fleury for the 2-2 tie. The Caps would take that score, and the momentum in their favor into the locker room for the second intermission.

The third period would see Washington continue to control the play, and at 12:49 would get an important power play opportunity with Evgeni Malkin sent off for tripping. It took the Caps just 4 seconds to make the power play count. The Caps would win the faceoff back to Mike Green at the right point who would immediately find Ovechkin cross ice high in the left circle who would one time a hard slapshot past Marc-Andre Fleury, and just like that, the Caps were ahead for the first time in the game, and for good. Less than 3 minutes later, the red clad Capitals faaithful would get whipped into a frenzy once again, as Ovechkin completed his hat trick at 15:22 of the period picking up a pass from Sergei Fedorov near center ice and going the distance by himself to whip a hard snap shot past both defencemen Sergei Gonchar and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Verizon Center erupted into an ear splitting roar, and the hats, hundreds of them rained down from the stands in celebration and exultation, and the chants of "MVP! MVP! began. So many hats rained down onto the ice that it took several minutes, and a few large rubber trash cans to clean them up. During the delay the Caitals red rockin faithful remained on thier feet cheering and were treated to something they have not been able to do for several seasons. The song Rock & Roll Part II began over the PA system much to the delight of the fans who have long yearned to have that back. The crowd quickly picked up and chanted what used to be the mantra after Caps goals, shouting in unison "HEY... YOU SUCK!" For reasons unknown the song was nixed as the Caps "goal song" several seasons ago, although it is speculated that there were some complaints that the crowed would chant "HEY... YOU SUCK!" so loudly that it could clearly be heard both in the arena and over the television. It was definately a very appropriate moment to bring back the fan favorite, as it just added to the inhospitibilty of playing at Verizon Center for the visting team. The Pittsburgh Penguins could not recover and lost what little momentum they had. Crosby however would complete his hat trick as well, when the Penguins got a late power play with 1:41 left in the game. Pittsburgh would pull thier goaltender, and would have a two man advantage for the remainder of the game. The Capitals did a good job keeping Pittsburg at bay and nearly scored a couple of times on the Pens now empty net as they were free from icing calls since they were on the penalty kill. Ultimately the Caps could not hold them off completely. Crosby would get his hat trick with just 30 seconds to play. The Pens would keep thier goaltender out of the nets, and would have the extra man for the final 30 seconds, but to no avail. The raucous Verizon Center crowd remained on its feet as Caps prevented the Pens from getting much of anything going. Each attempt by the Pens the Caps would thwart, the crowd would grow ever louder, ultimately being able to wildly celebrate a Caps victory and 2-0 series lead over our long time nemisis and hated rivals. One thing of note that happend just seconds before Crosby's last minute goal , was a vicious cross check to the neck of Capitals goaltender Simeon Varlamov, by Pittsburghs Chris Kunitz. Not only did the crosscheck probably help lead to the Pens goal, but it was a very visious and dangerous play. It is my understanding the the NHL has reviewed this play, and Kunitz had a telephone hearing with the NHL's director of hockey operations, and disciplinarian Colin Campbell. It is also my undererstanding that no suspension will be handed out to Kunitz, however he will be fined. Both Washington Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau, and Alexander Ovechkin were upset by the dangerous play, and rightfully so. Ovechkin called the play "dirty" and said,

"I think the League has to do something about it. It's a cheap shot and it's not good for hockey. It's a cheap shot and Brash got six games but why not Kunitz? It's all about being fair. It's a serious problem I think. Can you imagine if he gave (Varlamov) an injury, what are we going to do? If it's not going to be called it's going to be a terrible decision and I'm going to be (mad) about it."
Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau was more tempered in his remarks:

"It happened so quick you sometimes don't realize it. But if you look at the clip and slow it down, I mean, he's aiming right for the throat."

I am going to post the video twice. The first will be in real time, and subsequent replays somewhat slowed down. The second will be in slow motion. First, here is the real time video with some replays of the cross check:

Here is the video of the cross check in slow motion.

Although Varlamov was not hurt on the play, that easily could not have been the case. I find it very hard to believe that the NHL will only slap Kunitz with a minor fine of purportedly a few thousand dollars. The NHL is continuing to shoot itself in the foot here. This was a dangerous play that could have resulted in a serious injury, and , it was a blatantly ILLEGAL play under league rules. The NHL is really starting to make itself look bad, and has already begun to piss off some long time fans to the point of no return. What is it going to take for the NHL to finally show some kind of consistency? Shame on the NHL for this one as well.

Now, back to the game 2 wrap:

This game definintely lived up to the huge hype that has been placed on this series, with the NHL's top two superstar players, who by all appearances do not care too much for one another, facing off, as well as a plethora of high powered houshold names among hockey fans The NHL could not have dreamed for a better marketing gimick for itself, and in the first two games, but espeically in game 2, it has lived up to and surpassed anyones wildest dreams. It isnt often you get to see two top superstars in thier leagues face off head to head, let alone both put on the prolific talent show that has been on display from both Ovechkin and Crosby. There is also the rivalry, and history between these two clubs, and thier fan bases. The history has largely been in the Penguins favor, but the Caps are looking to rewrite that history in a different directing starting with this series.

Once again, the Capitals find themselves in familiar territory, being up 2 games to 0 on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Although the Penguins now find themselves in a two-game hole, long time fans and followers of the Pittsburgh-Washington rivalry might be tempted to say that the Penguins have the Capitals right where they want them. From 1991-2001, the Capitals lost five series in which they led the Penguins, including 2 series in which they held 2-0 leads, in 1992 and 1996. Granted, the players on both clubs are all different now, but for the fans, and those with both clubs since that time, cannot forget, nor ignore this fact. It might also behoove the Capitals to pay at least some attention to this history, and use it as a motivating factor to put this series away. However, were I the Penguins and thier faithful, I would also keep some things in mind...

The "new" Capitals have some similar things going for them that they also have had in the past. They have had a hot goal tender, and Simeon Varlamov is most definately living up to that billing thus far this playoff season. They have had hard working, lunch pail type guys who could grined it out with the best of them. They even have had some heart and determination in the past, but never enough to take them to the promised land. But the Penguins have seen that from Washington all before. Ahhh but there is one thing that the Penguins have NOT seen from the Capitals in t he past. The Capitals of now, have all of these things going for them as well, and then some, but they also have one thing that no Capitals team has ever had in franshise history. A Bona-fide NHL SUPERSTAR, along the calibre of Wayne Gretzky / Mario Lemieux. A "once in a lifetime", generaltion / era definaing player, in Alexander Ovechkin. This could be the one peiece of the puzzle that just might finally put the Capitals over the top.


Monday, May 4, 2009

No Flu For You, On To Game Two. Erskine Possibly Out, Alzner Possibly in?


So I wake up this morning and start my reading and what do I find? Tarik El-Bashir, of Washington Post fame, is reporting on his blog, Capitals Insider, that two top Capitals prospects with the Caps AHL affilate, the Hershey Bears had been held out from last nights Bears playoff game vs the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, Pittsburgh's AHL affiliate, due to an "illness". Hmmm... Flu? Worse... swine Flue? Oddly enough the two players in question are defencemen Karl Alzner (left top) and Tyler Sloan. (lower left) They just also happen to be the Bears top D paring. At the same time, we also learned that the Caps had recalled them both to the big club. It gets more interesting by the minute. Something was definitely amiss here. Why would the Caps recall two sick defencemen, and risk getting thier entire roster infected with the secret "illness" that was plaguing the two baby caps? was it worth the risk? Something was definately not right here. As we would later learn, it was all a big cover up. A ploy to throw off both the Bears and the Caps enemies. The baby Caps were never in fact "sick" with anything, and were on the ice practicing this morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington. Tyler Sloan told Bashir...

"I don't know anything right now. We've just been told that it's precautionary in case anything happens. I was going to rink for meetings, then went home for some rest and a nap and got a phone call saying, 'Stay home, you're sick. And your partner caught the flu."
The more menacing thing behind all of this was, why they were called up. As it turns out, they were called up largely as a precautionary measure. However, it is also now clear that John Erskine is "questionable" for tonights game 2 of the Caps Eastern Conference Semifinal series VS the Pittsburgh Penguins. Erskin did take a hard shot to the leg and limpped back to the bench during game one on Saturday. It is being reported that Erskin has some type of leg injury, and may need to rest for a game. The Caps are already without the services of defencemen Jeff Schultz, which has them with 6 healthy defencemen currently available. Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau told Tarik...

"We've only had six healthy defensemen up here and I think we were playing with fire if someone would go down in warm-up. We've got John banged up a little bit. He's going to try it and see if he can go. But we figured we take precautionary measures and call up a couple of guys just in case. If we had to go to one, they both know our systems as well as anyone."

So at least one of the baby Caps may likely get a shot at thier first NHL playoff game tonight against the Penguins. My guess, and hope, is that it will likely be Alzner. Alzner is a highly touted, big, speedy, and agile defencemen, and is considered by many to be the Capitals top prospect at the position. Alzner was drafted by the Caps in the 2007 NHL entry draft, 5th over all, and has had a great career thus far for Hershey. He has also gotten some NHL time under his belt with the Caps as well, appearing in 30 games for them over this past season, scoring 1 goal, getting 4 assists, and taking one penalty. His plus / minus rating was -1.

So that brings us to game 2. The series, and the matchup the whole world has uber hyped up and had been hoping for, Ovechkin vs Crosby, Caps vs Pens, resumes tonight @ 7PM on the Verizon Center ice. The Washington Capitals are looking to take full advantage of thier home ice and extend thier series lead to 2-0. If that is to happen, the Capitals MUST play a better game than they did in game one, where they were outshot, and were often out skated, out hustled, and also made many bad mistakes and givaways. David Steckel was quoted as saying regarding his goal, and the game...
"I think it was a wake-up call. We were getting our [butts] handed to us, pretty much. It was a joke. I don't know if it was because it was an afternoon, [but] we didn't come ready to play."
Pittsburgh is a dangerous team for sure, and it will only be a matter of time before a team that good takes advantage of the Capitals mistakes. Hopefully the Caps have identified where they could have improved from game one, and will take that to heart tonight and get on top of this game early, to stay. If they can do that, and Simeon Varlamov can continue his goaltending heroics, with the Caps getting scoring from all available sources, they should be just fine, and should once again come out on top.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Capitals Take Game One. Caps 3 - 2 Pens



My apologies for being late with this article. I did not have much time between the Caps game, and the D.C. United home match which I attended at RFK yesterday evening. I also was unable to get to a computer to do this until this evening. I did get the mojority of this written on Saturday afternoon however. So, with that, here is my writeup.

The Washington Capitals, and their legions of red rockin fans such as myself have 4 people to directly thank for Saturdays game 1of the NHL Eastern Conference Semifinal series victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at sold out, and deafeningly loud Verizon Center. They are, in order:

1. Simeon Varlamov (Pictured at left)

2. David Steckel

3. Alex Ovechkin

4. Tomas Fleischmann

More on why Simeon Varlamov gets top billing for being due thanks, and why he got the games #1 star in a bit. Now onto the game.

In the matchup that the NHL, and the rest of the sporting world has been waiting for and hoping to see, Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby went head to head for the first time in the playoffs at last. Both players had good games, and both players scored for their teams, but there was little more fanfare between the two players of any kind. By and large, scoring aside, this game was uneventful between Ovechkin and Crosby.

The Washington Capitals started this game off on the wrong foot, looking very sluggish, lazy, and giving the puck away to the Penguins who were peppering Simeon Varlamov, left and right. For the first 4 minutes or so of the game, the Capitals were sleepwalking, all too familiar of the Capitals past. And as the scripts of old would have it, the Capitals surrendered an early go to none other than the Penguins star, Sidney Crosby at 4:09 of the first period. The only difference this time, was that there were very few Penguins fans in the stands to make any noise. Crosby came in unfedered and unleashed a fantastic wrist shot that easily beat Varlamov. The Capitals would remain flat and largely on their heels for almost the next 10 minutes of the game. Suddenly, things began clicking for the Caps, and they came to life. Dave Stekel, Matt Bradley, and Brooks Laich rushed into the Penguins zone and got the puck in deep along the right wing boards. Then, Dave Steckel did something most Caps fans have been emploring the Capitals to do since game 1 of round 1, and that is go straight to the net. As soon as he arrived in front of Marc-Andre Fleury, Matt Bradly threw the puck towards the front of the net, and it found the blade of Stekel's stick, and he buried it the net behind Fleury, becoming Washingtons first hero of the series tying the game at 1 a peice at 13:50. The leigons of red clad Caps fans erupted, and finally could breathe a sigh of relief. The first goal was out of the way. It was a gritty goal that was not necessarily pretty, but even those goals count too. Good things happen when you throw the puck on the net, and when you go to the net. Not only did Bradly tie the game, but he changed the momentum drastically for the reaminder of the period to the Caps favor. About 2 minutes later at 15:14, the Capitals would get what would be thier only power play chance of the game when former Capital Sergei Gonchar was sent to the box for sending the puck over the glass in his own zone, delay of game. The pressure was mounting on the Penguins, and the Capitals were pushing hard for the score. Then, things turned even more favorable for the home team when Matt Cooke was sent off for hooking at 16:15. The Caps were given a rare opportunity, thier first two man advantage of this playoff season. Washington kept the pressure on, and just 48 seconds after the call on Cooke, and with just 11 seconds left on the 5 on 3 advantage, the Caps Alex Ovechkin made certain that Caps took full advantage of the Penguins penalties and slammed hope a hard one timer slapshot from the left wing circle that blured past Fleury and into the far side of the net for the Caps first lead of the game , and of the series. The momentum continued in the Caps favor for the rest of the period, however at 19:47 Chris Clark was sent off for holding, giving the Penguins thier second power play chance of the game. The Pens could not score in the remaining 13 seconds of the period and the Capitals would go into the locker room still with some momentum on thier side, and to a standing ovation from the sold out red crowd.

The second period started off fairly well for Washington, even though the Penguins had the carry over power play for the first 1:47 of the period. The Caps killed the pentaly and things continued looking fairly good, however play was evening out, and the Penguins were once again getting chances, and starting to dictate the tempo of play. Midway through the 2nd period, Evgeni Malkin would find Mark eaton who scored form the top of the left circle on a slap shot that appeared to be just slightly deflected. Varlamov got a peice of it, but it somehow just squeezed through his gloved hand, arm, and torso, and once again the game was tied. The rest of the period saw Pittsburgh get one more power play chance at 6:29 when Chris Clark was once again set off, this time for a trip. The Capitals manged to kill off this penatly as well, with help from Varlamov who at times stood on his head and made some spectacular saves. Varlamov was once again fantastic between the pipes for Washington. With about 2 minutes left in the period, Crosby recieved a fantastic pass and was open all alone in front of a gaping net at the left side, and shot the puck for what appared to be the easy lay up goal. Simeon Varlamov had other ideas. Somehow, while facing the opposite direction he saw Crosby, and slid over just in time, and reached his stick back behind him and pulled the puck which was bound for the back of the net, off of the goal line and out, for what arguably is the save of the entire NHL playoffs thus far, and possibly of this entire NHL season. Truely an unbeliveable save. As Capitals TV announcer Joe Bennanati would say, "simply sensational!". The period would end with the score knotted at 2 each.

Here is the must see video of "The Save":

The Capitals came out to start the third like a team with a purpose. The uptick in thier play very early this period would pay off at 1:46. Alexander Semin picked up a pass just above the Penguins blue line on the right wing side. He had both Nickalas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann streaking into the Pens zone with him and he found Backstrom open in the left side face off circle and fed a pass to him. Meanwhile Fleischmann dashed to the right side of the net just in front of Fleury. Backstrom would thread a perfect pass past the falling and sprawling Sergei Gonchar to him, that Fleischmann would bang home past a sliding Fleury for the lead, and what would ultimately become the game winning goal.

The penguins continued pushing hard for the tie, but once again Simeon Varlamov who was called upon to come up big, and delivered. Penguins pressed and pressed, and ended up out shooting the Capitals once again this period, 13-6, and ultimately for the game by 37-26. But shots do not mean a thing if they do not go in. It also should be pointed out that shots that beat the goaltender but hit the post and do not go in, do not count on the shot clock. The Penguins had plenty of help from the pipe surrounding the goal behind Fleury as the Capitals hit 2 or 3 posts during the game. The Penguines also had plenty of help in the form of power play chances, as they were given a total of 5 for the game, to the Capitals 1. However the Penguins could not get past the Capitals penalty killing unit, which was perfect for this game. As time wound down do the last minute and 1/2, the Penguins pulled Marc-Andre Fleury in favor of a 6th attacker, but to no avail. The Capitals red clad faithful rose to thier feet and watched standing the rest of the game as the Capitals kept the Pens from setting up much of any offence, and missed the empty Penguins net by only a few inches twice. Finally, the countdown was on at the final 10 seconds, but it could hardly be heard becuase of the deafening cheers comeing from the stands. And thus the Capitals find themselves in familliar territory in the post season once again, leading the Penguins 1 game to 0 in a best of 7 Stanley Cup Playoff series. The series, rivalry, and persuit of the Caps first ever Stanly Cup resumes once again monday night in front of another sold out, red rockin crowd at Verizon Center.

Lets Go Caps ! ! !

Ducks Brown Not Suspended

According to NHL.com, Anaheim Ducks forward Mike Brown will not face a suspension for his hit on Detroit Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler in game 1 of the NHL's Western Conference Semifinal series between the two teams. Just last week, the NHL suspended Washington Capitals forward Donald Brashear for a hit on the New York Rangers Blair Betts during game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series, which Washington won 4 games to 3. Brashear's hit was almost identical in nature to the hit doled out by Mike Brown. I stated it was my opinion that the NHL needed to show consistency here, and suspend Brown, and that it should be the same length of time as the suspension handed down to Brashear. That said, It is also my opinon that the NHL's suspension of Brashear was a mistake. Both hits appeared to be clean, and the NHL should have left well enough alone on this to begin with, and there would be no question. The problem that myself, and many others have with the league, is the inconsistency shown by the league in both its officiating, and its discipline. Brashear recieved no penalty on his play, however, Mike Brown recieved a 5 minute major penalty for "interferance", and a game misconduct. (ejection). The one big difference between the two hits was the injuries sustained by the players who were hit. Blair Betts was left out of the series with a broken orbital bone, while Jiri Hudler only suffered a nasty cut to his face, requiring 10 stitches. Hudler would return to the game.

Colin Campbell the NHL's Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations, and disciplinarian was quoted saying the following regarding Brashear's hit:
"Brashear delivered a shoulder hit to an unsuspecting player. It is also my opinion that the hit was delivered late and targeted the head of his opponent, causing significant injury."
Take a look at the hits for yourself, they are shown here side by side in this post. There really was no difference between the two. Both were high, both were late, yet the NHL decides that one is worthy of a hefty 6 game suspension, while the other was worth only the calls made on the play by the game official. This inconsistency by the NHL and its officials is one reason why I personally feel the NHL has significant problems appealing to a wider audience. I would personally ask the NHL what the reason for this inconsistency is. Was it the fact that the Caps / Rangers game was nationally televised and had more viewers so the NHL felt compelled to show "the world" something? If that is the case, then why would the NHL not discipline another player on another team for an almost identical action? This is just one of the problems I have with the Gary Bettman era of the NHL. The NHL is making itself look indecisive and inconsistent in front of EVERYONE. Long time fans of hockey and the NHL mostly agree. I will not list them here, but there are numerous websites and blogs out there calling for Bettman to leave the NHL. I can not say that I fully disagree with them. Sure, Bettman has done some good, but so far it seems to me that he has done more harm than anything else. Is it any wonder why Bettmen is heckeled and boooo'ed every time he addresses any venue full of hockey fans? The man is hated by hockey fans about as much as the United States last president was hated by Democrats, and the rest of the planet earth.

Which team is the Capitals biggest threat in the Southeast division this season?