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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

John Carlson named to AHL All-Rookie Team

John Carlson was named to the AHL All-Rookie team today, following up his appearance in the AHL All-Star Game and his Calder Cup championship last season.

Carlson played in 48 games, with 4 goals, 35 assists, and 39 points with a +37 rating.  He finished 4th among all rookies in assists, 13th among all rookies in points, 2nd among all rookies and 4th overall in the league in +/-.

Caps Notes 3/30/10 - Perreault Continues to Impress

-Congratulations to Jason Chimera, who recorded his 100th NHL assist last night on Mike Green's goal.

-Mathieu Perreault continues to make his case:  he already has as many goals (4) and points (9) this season as Alexandre Giroux has in his entire NHL career.  I think I know which one won't be recalled again this year.

Perreault already knows how to celebrate like a pro.

-We'll need Boyd Gordon's 60.1% faceoff win percentage come playoff time. After Gordon and 4th line center David Steckel (59.7%, 609 of 1020), the Capitals faceoff leaders are Brendan Morrison (51.2%, 486 of 948) and Nicklas Backstrom (49.9%, 620 of 1242).   Yikes.

Senators 5, Capitals 4 (OT)

The Capitals had yet another poor start tonight, but something changed:  the Caps scored a goal in the first period, and that made a huge difference.  After falling behind 1-0, the Caps got a fancy goal on a silly individual effort by Alexander Semin, who ripped a shot through Ottawa goalie Brian Elliott while on the powerplay to even the score at 1.  Semin got himself across the blueline after the Caps had had trouble setting up on the powerplay and with a little subterfuge on a fake spin move, he got himself into space before ripping a shot 5 hole, off the wrong foot, of course.

The Caps then fell behind 3-1 before the end of the period.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Milestones

Alex Ovechkin reached the 100 point plateau for the fourth time in his five NHL seasons.  He matched his career high in assists with 54 and his career low of 46 goals.  Congrats, Alex!

Nicklas Backstrom recorded his 61st assist and 90th point on the season.  He's only the 5th Capital to ever record 90 points in a season, joining Alexander "The Gr8" Ovechkin, Bobby "The Can't Miss Kid" Carpenter, Mike "Mustache" Gartner, and Dennis "Dennis" Maruk.  This is in stark contrast to before Sunday's game when he was the 14th Cap to reach 80 points, which just doesn't have the same ring to it.  That 61st assist put him into a tie with Scott Stevens for the 5th best single season mark all-time in Caps history.

Friday, March 26, 2010

NHL Finally Penalizes Deliberate Head Shots

The NHL finally did something about the head-shot epidemic that has diseased the league this season.  It should seem like common sense that if you hit an unsuspecting opponent directly in the head, it should be illegal.  Some major injuries have resulted this year to marquee players, and these hits have cost players games and future contract money, not to mention the effect a head injury can have on the rest of your life.  It has cost teams their chance at the playoffs.  If Boston doesn't make the dance, we'll know why.  Florida might not have made it anyway, but it sure was a lot harder without their only 30 goal scorer from last season.  When the best players are on the ice, the best hockey gets played and the more fans pay attention, which means more money for the league and the players. 

While I am certainly in favor of punishment for players who deliberately target their opponents, punishment is not the name of the game:  the name of our game is hockey.  Sometimes it can be brutal, sometimes it can be violent, and players get hurt all the time in normal game play.  It happens, it's the nature of the game and it's part of why we love it so much.  Not everyone is trying to win the Lady Byng, either. 

My hope for this rule is that players will think twice before making that hit so fewer players get hurt.  Players sometimes forget just how much damage they can do, but there needs to be a level of respect for your opponent.  You never know, you might be teammates tomorrow, and the only thing separating you is the logo on the front, so if you can't see that, don't hit him.

These are just two of the players victimized by head shots this season:  Marc Savard and David Booth.

Capital Inflation - New Career Highs

Much has been made of the tremendous offensive season the Capitals are having collectively and the scoring exploits of certain team members, but I thought it would be instructive to show just how many career seasons are going on right now for the Caps:

-Nicklas Backstrom has set a new career high in Goals (29) and Points (89).  His previous highs set last season were 22 Goals and 88 Points.

-Eric Belanger has set new career highs in Assists (25) and Points (39).  His previous highs were 24 Assists and 37 Points.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Capitals 4, Penguins 3 (SO)

Since he has become the Washington Capitals head coach, we have come to trust Bruce Boudreau's hunches.  From sticking with Eric Fehr and Tomas Fleischmann when they were struggling to Fleischmann's move to center, to playing Alex Semin and Nick Backstrom on the penalty kill, Boudreau has shown time and again why he is the best hockey coach alive.  So when he sent Mike Knuble out in the shootout, we knew he had his reasons.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Jose Theodore: Money Goaltender (Part 1)

In this post I will examine the suitability of Jose Theodore to lead the Washington Capitals into the playoffs as the starting goaltender.  In this installment I will examine his past playoff performances and in the next installment I will take a look at his current situation against other historical comparables.

Taking a look at Theodore's playoff history, I am filled with confidence that he will be more than capable of carrying the Washington Capitals to a Stanley Cup victory this season.  Theodore's career numbers are:  49 Games, 19 Wins, 27 Losses, a 2.79 Goals Against Average, a .912 Save Percentage, with 1 Shutout.  His most important numbers, though, are 4 and 100%.  Four as in the number of playoff series he has won as the starter.  One hundred percent as in four times he has been the goalie of record for his team's entire playoff run, and four times he has won a playoff series.

Here are summaries of his four long post-season runs over the course of 6 NHL seasons.  I must emphasize here that Jose Theodore has never once enjoyed home-ice advantage as a playoff starter.  The major prevailing trend of these playoff runs is Jose Theodore throws the team on his back and upsets a higher seeded team in round one, draining his overachieving team in the process and setting up a rout against a much better team in the second round.  He always comes to play in the biggest games, and he almost always follows up a bad game with a great one.  With the Capitals set to enjoy home-ice throughout the playoffs and being a high-scoring team, Theodore should not encounter the same problems has has faced in the past.

Capitals 3, Lightning 1

Tonight Alex Ovechkin returned from a league-mandated hiatus of 2 games. He returned with a vengeance, scoring the game-winning goal on a breakaway from a bank-pass from Nicklas Backstrom at 10:47 of the first period to break a 1-1 tie.  He fired 7 shots on net, loosed 6 more that missed or were blocked, and he had 1 hit in 22:52 of ice time.  Ovie is back.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Nicklas Backstrom's Worth

Capitals #1 center Nicklas Backstrom is due a big pay raise come July 1 when he becomes a restricted free agent.  Talks on a new contract are in progress and the two sides appear relatively close to a deal.  Trying to figure out his worth based on recently awarded contracts for comparable players is an interesting exercise, but one must also consider the salary structure on the Capitals.  Next season, Alex Ovechkin is due $9 million, Alexander Semin is due $6 million, and Mike Green is due $5 million.

The next question is term:  Ovechkin is signed for another 11 seasons, Semin is UFA after next season, and Green is on for another 2 seasons.  Where does Backstrom fit in this scheme?  One could argue he's somewhere between Semin and Ovechkin based on his role and production.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hurricanes 4, Capitals 3 (OT)

The Hurricanes wanted it more tonight, scoring a goal in overtime to send the Caps to Tampa on a losing streak.  The game had a great tempo to start, few whistles and chances at both ends.  This was the game the Caps appeared to miss Alex Ovechkin, as they were not able to get the goals tonight.  It took a clutch goal from Eric Fehr with 10 seconds left to even get to overtime.  At least someone was celebrating:

It would have been nice to have some warning the Hurricanes would play so hard, but it was too late by the time Craig Laughlin made his pronouncement.  Admiral Ackbar wasn't happy:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Capital Killer Erik Cole Trying to Resurrect His Career

Carolina Hurricanes left winger Erik Cole enters tonight's game against the Washington Capitals coming off a two-goal performance last night against the Boston Bruins.

That brings his season total to 8 goals in 27 games in yet another broken season for him in the midst of a broken season for his beloved Canes.  Cole has missed 41 games this season with two separate injuries, symptoms of his rough and tumble style of play, and another game with an illness. That Cole is even still playing is a miracle, but Caps fans have more colorful words to describe it. He's the type of player you hate to play against but love to have on your team.

Erik Cole, who stands 6' 2 and weighs over 200 pounds, always seems to have something up his sleeve for games against the Capitals.  He has played 36 games against the Capitals and has scored 19 goals and 32 points, his best totals against any team.  He has scored two of his six career hat tricks against the Caps, too, including when we thought we thought we were free of him during his gulag in Edmonton. To put this in perspective, Cole has played 6.85% of his 525 career games against the Caps and has scored 12.25% of his 155 goals in those games and 9.61% of his 333 points.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Capitals 7, Panthers 3: It's Where Your Dad Always Tells You To Go

On a night when everything seemed to go right for the Capitals, one had to be reminded that the team's captain and best player was not on the ice.  The Capitals skated away with an easy victory in Sunrise, Florida tonight that ended with a football score after Brooks Laich kicked the extra point.  The toothless Panthers were able to score only on easy plays given to them by the occasionally careless Capitals as Jose Theodore shut the door time after time.

Panthers goalie Tomas Vokoun had a strong game with several highlight reel saves, but ultimately yielded the crease to backup Scott Clemmensen at 14:06 of the second period after allowing 5 goals.  That change yielded a goal for the Panthers 22 seconds later, but otherwise the Capitals seemed like the only hockey team in this game.

The Capitals went 2-4 on the powerplay and 3-3 on the penalty kill.  They were rewarded for crashing the crease and the Panthers couldn't put them on their rears so they had no fear of playing in the blue paint.  Jason Chimera, who charged the goal mouth and scored a goal on a rebound of a Brendan Morrison shot, said "It's where your dad always tells you to go."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pay that man his money

Nick Backstrom has another great game, amazing overtime goal, and I think it is time for Teddy to pay that man his money.

Colin Campbell Suspends Ovechkin For Games Against His Son, Hurricanes

Alexander Ovechkin has been suspended for two games for a hit on Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell on Sunday.  The aftermath of the hit was that Campbell suffered a broken collarbone, at least one broken rib, and reportedly a mild concussion.  The actual hit?

A push in the side from a forechecking Ovechkin that sent Campbell awkwardly into the boards after Campbell toepicked and tipped over. You can see Ovechkin's hands leaving Campbell's side and shoulder, and you can clearly see Campbell's numbers, which means Ovechkin's hands weren't there. There is no stickwork, there is no hit to the head or back, there is no particular violence associated with the contact, and Campbell had just released the puck, so Ovechkin did not make full contact. The violence occurred when Campbell hit the boards after losing his balance, and by the letter of the law, he was responsible for not putting himself in harm's way, too, which takes some of the blame off Ovechkin.

Moving On Up - Caps Records

Several Washington Capitals are posting Top-10 statistical seasons in franchise history.  Alexander Ovechkin is sitting at #7 on the single season scoring list this season after leapfrogging Mike Gartner and Bob Carpenter with 2 assists versus Tampa Bay.  Ovechkin now owns half of the top ten best point scoring seasons by a Capital, though with 10 more points this season, Nicklas Backstrom will make the list.

Points Year P
1 Dennis Maruk 1981-82 136
2 Alex Ovechkin 2007-08 112
3 Alex Ovechkin 2008-09 110
4 Alex Ovechkin* 2005-06 106
5 Mike Gartner 1984-85 102
6 Dennis Maruk 1980-81 97
7 Alex Ovechkin 2009-10 96
8 Bob Carpenter 1984-85 95
9 Mike Gartner 1980-81 94
10 Alex Ovechkin 2006-07 92
*Denotes rookie

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Capitals 4, Blackhawks 3 (OT)

The Washington Capitals came into Chicago for a rare morning game against a Blackhawks team chasing them in the race for the President's Trophy and a popular pick to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.  Suffering from the hangover of winning the division with 15 games to go, they had suffered a listless loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday night.  They had little to play for, and it showed.  They found themselves down three goals in the third period and without their captain after Alex Ovechkin was the recipient of another questionable ejection from the NHL on-ice officials, who were Dan O'Halloran and Frederick L'Ecuyer.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lightning 3, Capitals 2

The Capitals let a game slip through their grasp tonight.  They had the hangover of winning the Southeast Division with 15 games to go in their season, and didn't attack Tampa Bay nearly enough to score at even strength.  

Friday, March 12, 2010

Caps/Lightning Preview

-The Washington Capitals face off tonight against their Southeast Division rival, the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Rendering division rival status moot prior to the game tonight is the news that the Capitals have already clinched the division, with 15 games to go.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Could Ovechkin Break Another League Record?

When someone says the name Alexander Ovechkin, the immediate thought about him is what a great goal scorer he is.  He doesn't just score a lot of goals, he scores clutch goals, highlight reel goals, and clutch highlight-reel goals.  

Alex Ovechkin - NHL Record Holder

Milestone Achiever Awards

Last night against Carolina, the following Capitals achieved milestones:

-Tomas Fleischmann tied his career high in goals with 19.

-Alexander Ovechkin recorded his 250th career assist and 50th on the season. His 94th point moved him into a tie for 8th place with Mike Gartner on the team's single season point scoring list. 

-Brooks Laich recorded his 100th career assist.

-Eric Belanger recorded his first assist as a Capital.

The Big Lebowski would be proud.

Capitals 4, Hurricanes 3 (OT)

Capitals winger Tomas Fleischmann swung his stick against the boards in frustration early in the second period.  He had just missed a golden opportunity:  Hurricanes goalie Manny Legace was out of position and Fleischmann had the puck on his stick.  He had tried to thread the puck through defenseman Brian Pothier's skates, but his former teammate deflected the puck to Legace who smothered the chance.  This was Pothier's second defensive play on Fleischmann in less than a minute; he broke up a pass from Alexander Ovechkin that would have been an easy tap-in for Fleischmann if not for Pothier's quick stick.  Fleischmann was reaching a new level of frustration, only 1 goal in his last 15 games, not including 1 goal in 5 Olympic Games that ended with the Czech Republic bowing out much earlier than anyone had anticipated, never mind that the Hurricanes had two members of the Finnish Olympic Team that had knocked him out of the tournament.  

Fleischmann's streak of futility also did not include the previous game two nights ago when he was made a healthy scratch by the coach who had shown so much faith in him, and after Fleischmann had recorded an assist the game before.  Fleischmann had also been the recipient of an unfortunate tripping call in the first period when a Hurricane player had stepped on his stick, and he was on the ice when the Hurricanes scored their first goal of the game late in the first period, 18 seconds after the Caps had scored to make it 2-0.  So when Tomas Fleischmann fired his fifth shot on Legace 3:20 into overtime, he may not have been expecting his luck to change so quickly, but his one-time shot on a patient play by center Eric Belanger found the back of the net to end the game and a long period of frustration for the Caps winger-turned-center-turned-winger.  "Flash" made a statement to the coaching staff with his career best-tying 19th goal that he was back, ready for action, and would not be happy sitting on the bench.

The Carolina Hurricanes came to town armed with the knowledge that they were the last team to beat Washington in their own barn in regulation, and they were a desperate team trying to claw their way into playoff contention after appearing in the Eastern Conference Final last season.  They also had two players late of the Capitals on their roster who would be eager to show up their old team:  Pothier and Oskar Osala, both wearing numbers held sacred in DC (#5 and #32, respectively).  They walked away with a point to aid them in their chase of a playoff spot because the Capitals continuously allowed them back into the game.

Mike Green, named third star of the game for his two powerplay goals on the night, also gave the Hurricanes a couple goals back and had an amazing capacity to make strong parts of the team look bad.  On the Hurricanes second goal, Green, skating in the corner behind his own goal line, eschewed the safe breakout pass up the boards to an open Mike Knuble, instead trying to rifle a pass up the middle to center Nicklas Backstrom.  The pass was picked off by Chad LaRose who promptly victimized a flat-footed Jeff Schultz on a quick 2-on-1 with Tuomo Ruutu, fresh off a bronze medal performance with the Finnish Olympic Team.  Ruutu took LaRose's pass and buried it past Caps goalie Jose Theodore, who otherwise had a very strong outing.

The Hurricanes' third goal came on the powerplay on a night when the Caps had finally figured out how to pressure the opposing team and neutralize the man advantage.  Boyd Gordon, normally responsible for covering the point man, had tracked the puck carrying winger Ruutu along the half-boards.  As the puck made its way to the point, Gordon recovered and moved to the front of the net. With the puck at the point, Green turned his back to the play and skated toward the goal instead of challenging the point man.  At this point all four Capitals were within 20 feet of each other and within 10 feet of the goal, all covering one man.  Needless to say, Jussi Jokinen roofed Ruutu's pass past Theodore from the top of the circle, and he had all day to do it.

Green had other egregious errors on the night that his goaltender bailed him out on, perhaps leading to speculation that Mike Green was played too much at 26:22.  He pinched in on a powerplay and didn't recover in time to prevent a Brandon Sutter breakaway, nor did his teammates cover his vacant point.  Green tripped Sutter on the ensuing breakaway to give the young Hurricanes center a penalty shot, which Theodore denied.  Theodore also cleaned up the garbage when Green left Zach Boychuk wide open in front for an excellent scoring chance when he didn't check his surroundings and dickered with and ultimately missed a centering pass from the corner that went right past him to the deep slot about 10 feet from Theodore.  He also gave Eric Staal a wondrous scoring chance late in the second period when his clearing attempt ricocheted to the middle.  It almost seemed like he was thinking about getting a hat trick over playing defense.

Other notes on the night:

-Brendan Morrison looked good.  He had a nice bank-pass assist on Alex Semin's forehand-backhand cross-crease goal and he was buzzing around the crease all night and finished with a shot, a blocked shot, and was 9 for 17, or 53%, on faceoffs.

-Boudreau needs to keep David Steckel and Matt Bradley together.  They have great chemistry on offense and are very responsible in their own end.  Steckel also went 73% on faceoffs (8 for 11) and had a hilarious scoring chance while shorthanded that involved Manny Legace falling down behind his net.

-It was a nice gesture by Bruce Boudreau to start Scott Walker and Joe Corvo, recently of the Hurricanes.

-Boudreau also timed his timeout very well on the icing in overtime.  The Caps scored a minute and a half later.

-Ovechkin looked great on the powerplay, at least offensively.  He was as much to blame for the Sutter breakaway as Green was and left Theodore out to dry on another occasion, but his passing and shooting from the point reminded us why he's back there and why he led the league in powerplay scoring last season.  Ovie was also whistled for offsides a couple times when he got too eager and got involved in the physical play late in the game.  The rest of the top line looked good, too, they had good pressure and Backstrom had two assists, including a sublime saucer pass to set up Green's first goal.

-Was the Hurricanes' defense that slow tonight or was Brooks Laich that fast?  He got behind their defense for breakaways three separate times and drew a penalty and finished with 5 shots on the night.  Semin victimized their D for a goal, and drew a penalty with his hustle by getting around a defenseman.

-I liked having two net crashers on the powerplay.  Mike Green scored through a screen of Brooks Laich and Mike Knuble.

-As bad as Green was, Corvo was caught flat-footed at the blueline and let Ray Whitney have a glorious chance and also had a bad pinch in the second period on the powerplay.  Tom Poti let himself get boxed out on Carolina's first goal and couldn't recover to eliminate Patrick Dwyer, who had all day, it seemed, to bury his rebound.

-The Caps took their foot off the gas at the end of the first period and into the second and let Carolina back in the game.  The overlooked a worthy opponent, for whatever reason, with a 2 goal lead.  They have to realize there are no Cops to pull them over for speeding, they need to play hockey like they drive, pedal to the metal all the time, and coasting gets you in trouble.

-Is it just me or did Craig Laughlin's keys to the game remind you to do the dishes?  It sounded like he said to clean out the grease from the pressure cooker.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Matt Cooke Not Suspended

Matt Cooke will not be suspended by the NHL for "a lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and or the principal point of contact" on Boston Bruins star center Marc Savard.  Savard, who has scored 392 points in 361 games since the NHL Lockout, was carried off the ice on a stretcher after suffering a Grade 2 concussion and will miss significant time. Cooke, who has 127 points and 410 Penalty Minutes in 344 games since the lockout, is a repeat offender. Interesting to note their respective opinions on this matter in October of 2007.

Here's a look at Cooke's checkered past:

-Suspended for two games for a "deliberate check to the head area" on New York Rangers forward Artem Anisimov, 11/29/09. (Video)

-Suspended for two games for delivering a hit to the head of Carolina Hurricanes' forward Scott Walker, 1/20/09

-Fined $2,500 for a hit on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Vincent Lecavalier, who required surgery, 4/3/08. (More)

-Suspended for two games for spearing Minnesota Wild forward Matt Johnson, 02/21/04 (Hockeyfights info)

Here are hits he didn't get suspended for:

-Crosscheck to Andrei Markov, 2/6/10 (Video)

-Kick to the face of Chris Osgood, 6/2/09 (Video)

-Hit on Erik Cole, 5/19/09 ( recap) (Video)

I think this hit was worthy of a 10-game suspension.  Cooke made a deliberate attempt to injure an unsuspecting opponent, and he did a fine job of it, putting Savard, a player people pay to see, in the hospital and maybe injuring him for the season.  He has been suspended twice for that same offense, including once already this season.  Colin Campbell gave himself a pass on suspending him saying the letter of the law does not address this hit, just like it did not address the Mike Richards hit on David Booth earlier this season.

The circumstances are not the same, no matter how you slice it.  Mike Richards is an All-Star with no NHL history of dirty hits, and Florida hasn't been a playoff team since 2000, even if Booth was a 30-goal scorer last year.  Matt Cooke has 3 suspensions and at least one fine on his record to go with a history of dirty hits and he hit the leading scorer of a team he might face in the playoffs.

Colin Campbell, you just gave a free pass to players to make blindside hits for the rest of the season, though I applaud the NHL General Managers for finally taking some kind of action.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

George McPhee fights Rick Tocchet

  This moment captured by YouTube shows what was right with the hockey world in the 1980s.  A little guy, George McPhee (5'9, 170) fighting a much larger man, Rick Tocchet (6'0, 210) and doing more than just holding his own.  Rangers/Flyers is an old Patrick Division rivalry.  There's also Referee Kerry Fraser's coif (he uses Paul Mitchell Hair Freeze).  There's the hockey hairdos of the Philadelphia Flyers' coaches.  And last, but not least, is the jawing from the bench.  This is the greatest moment I have ever seen from Glen Hanlon, the man most famous for allowing Wayne Gretzky's first NHL goal.

    When Hanlon was a kid, his father worked for the Vancouver Canucks, and he took little Glen out on the ice.  Glen went over to the Canucks' bench, sat down, and told his dad, "When I'm older, I'm going to sit here."  That he did, as he was the backup goalie in Vancouver for 4 of his 5 seasons there.  My only question is why Glen couldn't have shown that kind of passion when he was behind the bench for the Washington Capitals.

Here's another fight between McPhee and Tocchet, just for fun: