Saturday, November 13, 2010

Caps lose 3-2 in OT in Buffalo

 Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images
I have to apologise, I was hiking in the back country of West Virginia on the high peaks today. Staying at Canaan Valley Resort & Conference Center and we did not get the game up here. We tracked on line, and listened to the OT. Caps get caught in a line change and Buffalo capitalises and wins their first game on home ice. The Caps winning streak is stopped at 6 games.  At least the Caps got a point out of it. I kind of had a bad feeling about this when I saw that the Caps scored first. I mean, that is not like the Caps. In fact I said to David, when we looked at the score and saw the Caps scored first, that... "were going to lose". And we did.  I wish I could bring you more coverage, but alas we are on a weekend getaway amongst the Red Spruce trees, White Tailed Deer, and Black Bears in the highland wilderness of the beautiful West Virginia.  Left: Ex Cap Mike Grier and Steve Montador celebrate Buffalo's goal in the second period.  Oh well, at least the Caps got a point.  Good Night from the beautiful Canaan Valley Resort, Davis, West Virginia.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hats Off To Semin! Caps Win 6th Straight, Zap Bolts: Capitals 6-3 Lightning

The Washington Capitals did exactly what they needed to do last night, win a divisional game in regulation. This was the Caps 6th straight victory and they have propelled themselves to the top of the Southeast Division, and the NHL with a 12-4-0 record, and now lead the Southeast division by 6 points, and the NHL by just 2.

As usual, the Capitals came out with a somewhat off first period, appearing to yield the edge in play to the Lightning, and once again allowing the opposing team to score first. It is becoming such a regular occurrence, that it almost appears to be built into their game plan: come out flat, give up the first goal or two, let the other team get a little comfortable, then lower the boom. I'm still not sold on this though, especially against such a potent team as the Tampa Bay Lightning with Rocket Richard winning, and current NHL goal scoring leader Steven Stamkos. Last night, this game could have easily been been two or 3-0 in the Bolts favor in the first period had it not been for Michael Neuvirth's best friends, the goal posts. Neuvirth did have a hand in it as well though, stopping 38 shots last night. This was the first of 6 games between the two teams this season, in what is sure to become a heated battle for the division title this year, and for years to come as both clubs are continuing to improve while the rest of the division remains average or below.

Photo by Clyde Caplan,
The big story from Verizon Center last night however was not Stamkos, or even Alex Ovechkin, it was once again Alexander Semin who turned in his 5th career hat trick, 2nd in 9 games, and scored 5 points on the night, good for earning the NHL's #1 star for the night. 4 of his 5 hat tricks have come against Southeast Division teams. Semin is scoring at a torrid pace and is now with 7 goals, 6 assists in his last 6 games, and is in second place for the Richard trophy so far this season behind only Stamkos with 12 goals, 9 assists, for 21 points. Stamkos has 14 goals, and 26 points. Here are all 3 of Semin's goals.

photo: Nick Wass /AP
However the show was not to begin for the Caps until the second period, as Washington was shut out for the first 20 minutes of play last night. The Caps came out in the second with what appeared to be quite a bit more energy, and finally started to push back, get some chances, and dominate the play in stretches. As has been often the case the Caps also got some offence from the defence last night as well. Defencemen Tom Poti in his first game back from a long 11 game injury hiatus opened the scoring with nice backhand shot on a rebound from a shot Alex Semin from the opposite side. Mike Knuble got the Caps second tally with a great effort while standing virtually BEHIND the Bolts net. The Caps came down the ice on a 2 on 4, and somehow Brooks Laich ended up in front of the Tampa net almost alone. Steven Stamkos bothered Laich enough that he did not get a full shot off and it slithered just wide of a half empty net, but somehow, Knuble while moving from side to side behind the the goal line, and net, AND, being bothered by Pavel Kubina, got his stick on it and got it to go in the net.

photo: Nick Wass /AP
However it was the big 3 that really racked up the points last night combining for 12 total, with Semin's 5 points, Backstorm's 4, and Ovechkin's 3.The third period was the Caps, and Alexander Semins show. Semin got all 3 of his goals in the final frame, and it was 3/4ths of the Caps output for the period.  To the Lightning's credit, they never fully folded, coming back to tie the game twice. The caps were also good on the special teams again last night allowing only 1 power play goal in 5 Lightning chances, while scoring 1 power play goal themselves in the two chances they were given. The Caps improved power play is now ranked 7th in the NHL, while the PK has moved up to 12th.  Also of note last night was Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier, who did not return to the game for the third period and was a non factor in last nights game. It was announced after the game that Lecavalier had suffered a non displaced fracture in his right hand, and will be sidelined for 3-4 weeks. As usual, here is Bruce Boudreau's post game presser:

Hopefully all of this can continue for the Caps over what is going to be a busy weekend for them when they come up against two lesser teams. First up is the struggling Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo on Saturday night who have not won a game on their home ice yet this season, then its back home to Verizon Center for another Southeast Division tilt against the third place Atlanta Thrashers Sunday afternoon. The Caps play the Sabres twice in the next 5 days. With the way the Caps are playing of late, there really is no reason this winning streak cannot extend to 9 games, however the Caps must be ready, especially for Buffalo as they are likely going to be hungry to give the hometown crowd its first taste of victory at HSBC Arena.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Laich It Laich That! Caps Win 5th Straight in NYC: Capitals 5-3 Rangers

photo credit - Frank Franklin II - AP
In spite of the Capitals making a regular habit of giving up the first goal to the opposition, the Caps keep on rolling, this time beating the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden to take the NHL standings lead with 22 points. The Caps once again played a very solid game, but the nagging sloppy defencive play continues. Lately it always seems like its going to be a long night for the Caps, as they have given up the first goal 11 of the first 15 games played so far this season. Fortunately for the Caps it has not really mattered to much when it comes to wins vs losses. You almost get the feeling now that when the Caps give up the first goal, the "ahhh, we got em right where we want em!" I would almost even say that at times the Caps appear to play better, late in the game when they are down, or the game is tied. It certainly has appeared that way more often than not. While it doesn't necessarily feel as good as getting a lead in a game and keeping it for good, perhaps there is something to be said for being able to handle adversity and overcome it. I'm definitely liking that aspect.

photo credit - Nick Laham - Getty Images
Tonight the Caps relinquished the lead to the Rangers 3 different times in the game, finally pulling level for good mid way through the second period. The first period was a penalty filled affair with each team getting a power play tally and the Caps killing off an extended 5 on 3. There were a total of 28 minutes in penalties handed out to both teams, including a fighting major each to unlikely combatants Mike Green and Brandon Dubinsky for this nifty little bout, which we're going to call basically even, maybe the slight edge to Green:

Tonight the Caps got goals from where they have not been getting them of late, with Brooks Laich getting two, along with 1 each from Mike Knuble, who scored his first goal since Opening night, John Erskine, and Matt Hendricks. Both Alexander Semin and Green's 4 game goal scoring streaks came to and end tonight, but they were not held off the score sheet as Semin logged an assist and Green got 2 helpers. Alex Ovechkin also got on the scoring docket with an assist as well.

photo credit - Nick Laham - Getty Images
Somehow, even with the glaring defencive lapses, the Capitals are managing to find the offence they need night after night to keep putting 2 points on the board in the standings.  Michael Neuvirth made his first appearance since being yanked 2 games ago in the Caps 5-3 win at home Vs Boston after yielding 3 goals in just under 7 minutes, two of them less than 1 minute apart. Neuvirth once again got the W for the Caps, stopping 25 of 28 Rangers shots tonight.  Next up is another MUST WIN game when division rival, and the team you, the readers here voted as the biggest threat to the Caps in the southeast division this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning visits Verizon Center on Thursday night.

Caps Swat Flyers 3-2 In Overtime

 I,ve been pressed for time to update the blog the last couple days so this will be short and sweet. The Washington Capitals improved to 7-1 on Verizon Center Ice  on Saturday night with 3-2 overtime victory over long time rival and nemesis the Philadelphia Flyers. This was Capitals rookie goaltender Braden Holtby's first career NHL start in goal and he turned in a 23 save effort to get the job done for Washington. Holtby had gotten his first
photo credit - Luis M. Alverez / AP
 career NHL win the game prior against the Boston Bruins after coming on in relief of Michael Neuvirth in the third period of that contest. While the Caps once again allowed the opposition to score first, they never allowed the Flyers more than a one goal lead as they had the answer for each of their goals. The teams would trade markers in both the first and second period, playing to a scoreless tie in the third period in spite of having a two man advantage late in the game, one of which would carry over to the extra frame creating a rare 5 on 4 power play to start the overtime period. The Caps played a very solid game against the Flyers and the shot clock was indicative of the play for most of the game with Washington holding the large edge 39-25 for the game.  The Caps largely stayed out of penalty trouble, only giving up two power play opportunities to the visitors, and allowing no goals while shorthanded.  The Caps appeared to have the edge in play for large stretches of the first and second period, but couldn't break the game open. Philadelphia came at the Caps hard in the third intent on really testing the Caps rookie netminder, but could not solve him for the lead.  Philadelphia gave the Caps 5 power play opportunities on the evening with the Caps only scoring on two of them, but it was the one that carried over into overtime which would prove to be the most important. Just 29 seconds into the overtime there was a scramble around the Flyers net that started with Mike Knuble getting a close in chance. The Caps came away with the puck and got it to Mike green who was waiting all alone at the point. Green walked in to the top of the right wing circle and unleashed a slapshot that found its way to the back of the net, giving the Capitals the overtime win. The Caps got their other goals from Eric Fehr, and Alexander Semin. Both Semin and Green have goals in 4 straight games, and Alexander Ovechkin has 4 goals and 6 assists in 6 straight games. The Capitals power play has improved to 20%, going from 25th in the NHL, to 10th in about 1 weeks time. Great improvement Caps! Let's hope all of these good trends continue.

Here is Bruce Boudreaus's post game presser:

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Meltdown Avoided, Third Time's The Charm: Caps 5 - 3 Bruins

Photo Credit: Nick Wass / AP
For the most part the Washington Capitals played a very solid game last night. Outplaying the Boston Bruins in the first period, but coming away with nothing to show for it. It seemed like it was going to be another night of frustration for the Caps as they just could not solve Boston goaltender Tim Thomas, even with a two man advantage and outshooting Boston 8-3. The period would come to an end scoreless.  The second period would prove to be  much the same. Washington had the decided edge in play, and in shots, and finally would break the game open, not only scoring first, but scoring 3 goals while keeping Boston off the board all together to take a 3 to 0 lead into the second intermission. The Caps opened the scoring early in the period, scoring just 59 seconds in and would keep the pressure on for the remainder of the period getting goals from Tyler Sloan, Mike Green, and Alexander Semin.  Semin's goal was a particularly brilliant play catching the Boston defence off guard while they were on the power play by breaking up a pass at the Washington line and springing himself and Mike Green for a 2 on 1 break. The two had a nifty give and go exchange deep in the Boston zone and Semin whipped  the return pass from Green past Tim Thomas for the shorthanded goal to make the lead 3-0.

Photo by Clyde Caplan,
The Caps and their fans were feeling good going into the third period having chased Boston's top man between the pipes in favor of backup goaltender Tuuka Rask. However the 3-0 lead the Caps had built going into the third period would soon disappear and it looked like Washington was on its way to another monumental meltdown. This was the 2nd straight game the Caps would blow a multiple goal lead allowing Boston to score twice on the power play in less than a minute. Caps coach Bruce Boudreau had seen enough and used his time out to attempt to settle things down, but it appeared it was not going to do any good. though as just under 6 minutes later Boston come back to tie the game at 3 all, and chase the Caps NHL Rookie of the month goaltender Michael Neuvirth. This the second straight game that the Caps would allow the opposition to score 3 straight however The Caps 3 goals in the 2nd proved to be enough, where as the previous game against Toronto the lead was only two. Only this time the Caps would have the answer in regulation.  Enter defencemen John Carlson who at 13:25 of the final period would put the Caps back in the lead for good, scoring what would become the game winner with a blast past the Boston backup. Boston decided to lift their goaltender for the final minute and a half or so of the game but could not get much going. Boston became trapped in their own end with defencemen ending up playing goalie but that could not keep the Caps from scoring as Alex Ovechkin would eventually find the empty net at 19:-08, putting the game away for good. The Caps outshot the Bruins a whopping 39 to 18 for the game.  All I have to say is *PHEW*!   A great two first periods all but completely undone in the third by some lazy penalties and possibly some overconfidence, but the Caps were able to pull this one out. The Caps are now 6-1 on home ice, and have finally solved Tim Thomas and beaten the Bruins for the first time in 3 tries. Here are Bruce Boudreau's thoughts after the near meltdown turned win:

Friday, November 5, 2010

The B's Are Back In Town! The B's Are Back In Town! | Caps Look For First Win Against Bruins In Third Meeting

GAME 13: Caps VS Bruins
WHEN: 11/05/2010 - 7PM EDT 
WHERE: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.
RADIO: Caps Radio 1500 AM  <-- click to listen live

8-4-0 (16pts)


7-2-0 (14pts)

The Capitals will be looking for a way to solve Boston Goaltender Tim Thomas tonight when the Boston Bruins pay thier 2nd visit to Verizon Center in what will be the two teams 3rd meeting in 13 games. The Caps are winless against Boston in 2 games this season having been outscored a combined 7-2, scoring only once in each contest while Tim Thomas has stopped a combined 73 shots. Thomas has gone 7-0-0 so far this season and leads the NHL with a 0.72 GAA, allowing just 5 goals to date.  The Capitals are going to have to find a way to put pucks past Thomas, its that simple. Alex Ovechkin is going to have to find space to create, and will likely have to deal once again with Bostons top defencemen Zdeno Chara attempting to shut him down for the entire game. The Caps must also be better defencively if they are going to stop Boston's top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton, have combined for 29 points in nine games. Having Mike Green back for this game against them should be of some help at both ends of the ice. The Capitals are going to have to want this game, and play like it's a playoff game if they want to stay ahead of Boston in the Eastern Conference standings.  If they come out and play a game like that did on Wednesday against the Maple Leafs, they are probably going to have big problems getting a point, let alone winning the game outright, making for a long night for them, and the red clad Verizon Center faithful.

Both Defencemen Tyler Sloan, and Marcus Johansson will be available to play tonight. We'll see which one will get the jersey for tonight's game. The Caps also reassigned defenceman Brian Fahey to the AHL's Hershey Bears as Sloan will likely take his place. Tom Poti will not play this weekend. NHL Rookie Of The Month for October, Michael Neuvirth should get the start between the pipes for Washington.

Caps Vs Bruins pregame interviews:

Michael Neuvirth Named NHL Rookie Of The Month

 Washington Capitals 22 year old goaltender from the Czech Republic, Michael Neuvirth has been named the NHL's Rookie Of The Month for the month of October, 2010, to add to back to back AHL Calder Cup Championships he already has under his belt with Caps AHL Affiliate Hershey Bears. Nicklas Backstrom  was the last Capital to take this honor back in December of 2007. Neuvirth is only the 3rd Capitals goaltender to win the honor in franchise history and first in 15 years, joining Jim Carey who won it in March 1995, and Bob Mason who won it way back in December of 1984.

Neuvirth took the honor  by earning 7 wins, with only 3 losses, a 2.15 GAA (goals against average), and a .926 save percentage in that span. He has allowed two or fewer goals in 8 of his last 9 games. Neuvirth is tied for first in the NHL in wins with Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, and places 8th in both GAA and save percentage. Neuvirth has played the majority of the Capitals games this season while Semyon Varlamov has been recovering from a persistent groin injury. He has been particularly stingy with not leaving juicy rebounds for opponents to pick off and attempt a score, and is quickly becoming a fan favorite. Many of the goals that have been scored on him have been either deflections, or very poor defencive play in front of him, and have not been because of poor play in the net. If Neuvirth can keep up this level of play, and Varlamov can recover and return to his great form, the Capitals should be very tough to beat between the pipes for the remainder of the season.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

This Time, Inconsistent Caps Find A Way. Caps 5-4 Maple Leafs (SO)

             photo credit: Susan Walsh - AP
The inconsistency that has haunted the Washington Capitals of late again made an appearance at Verizon Center last night. This time however, the Capitals found a way to over come that and came away from their game with the Toronto Maple Leafs with the full 2 standings points. This pulls the Capitals into a tie for the Southeast Division lead with Tampa Bay, and a 3 way tie for the league lead in points in the NHL with Tampa and  the Los Angeles Kings of the Western Conference. The Caps could not put together a solid 60 minutes of good hockey again last night, allowing the opposition to score first for the 9th time in 12 games. They also allowed Toronto to come back from a two goal deficit in the third period to take the lead. The Capitals played fairly well in the first in spite of allowing the early goal, and had a great second period, outscoring their visitors 3-0 and looking like they had this one in hand. The penalty killing also held off 4 Leafs power plays, and the Caps were outshooting the Leafs 20-12 until about the 18:00 mark of the 2nd. But, there was the problem; it was only the second period. The Capitals came out flat in the third, and Toronto took advantage,  exploding for 3 goals in just a 3:03 span to come from down 3-1 at the start of the frame to take a 4-3 lead by the 7:17 mark.

photo credit: Susan Walsh - AP
It looked the another Capitals let down was going to cost them another game, and another 2 points. However the Capitals power play has begun to improve, and that continued last night scoring twice in 3 chances getting two timely goals. The first was Washington's first goal of the game from Mike Green, and the second was just as timely by Alexander Semin at 4:14 of the third period to tie the game up, and ultimately for overtime. At least this time the Caps did not give away a point to a divisional rival. It is worth noting that after being absent for much of the season, the Caps power play seems to have finally found its grove and has now converted on 5 of 8 chances in the last 2 games. We hope that trend continues as the Caps are going to need it to come away from games like tonight's game with the full 2 points. In spite of having the man advantage for 2 of the 5 minutes of the over time period, the Caps could not finish off the Leafs in the extra stanza. What they could not get done in the over time period however, the Caps finished off in the shootout. Michael Neuvirth held off both Toronto shooters, while both Alex Ovechkin and Semin found the twin behind Maple Leafs net minder Jonas Gustavsson to give the Caps the shootout win in front of another sellout crowd at the Phone Booth.  The Capitals also got goals from Jason Chimera and Tomas Fleischmann. While victory is sweet, it will be short lived as the Capitals play host to the Boston Bruins on Friday night. As always, Caps bench boss Bruce Boudreau had plenty of thoughts on last nights performance, so here is his post game presser:

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