capitals hockey, Sports Fix

Caps Fall to Penguins, 2-1

Photo courtesy of
Jason Chimera
courtesy of bridgetds

The calendar turned a page yesterday, but the Washington Capitals are still playing from their November playbook as they lost 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins last night at Verizon Center. Jason Chimera scored the lone goal for the Caps to continue his hot start to the season. It was the first time the Caps had lost to the Penguins in regulation in more than three years.

In the Caps’ second straight loss under new head coach Dale Hunter, the team played a physically aggressive game but were badly outshot, 35-17 for the game. “We played too much in our own end,” said Hunter after the game. “We have got to get the puck out much quicker.”

Call it “Dale Hunter Hockey” as it is emerging over the past four days. It starts with solid defense, the relentless pursuit of the puck, lots of hard hitting, and battles in the corners. The Caps had a strong forecheck all night, getting to the offensive corners and winning position battles. But they failed to control the puck and were not able to convert the aggressive play into scoring chances. Passes did not connect. Very few shots were directed toward the goal.

I am reminded of the days when Ollie Kolzig would routinely face 40 shots a night backstopping a scrappy, tight-checking team. I miss Bruce Boudreau already. Continue reading

capitals hockey, Sports Fix

Caps Come Back, Beat Coyotes 4-3

Photo courtesy of
Joel Ward with Puck at Center Ice
courtesy of clydeorama

The Caps did two things last night that they have been unable to do over the past several weeks: they came back from a two-goal deficit; and, they held a late lead. The result was a 4-3 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes to end a four-game losing streak.

Before the game even started, Coach Bruce Boudreau shook things up by benching superstar Alexander Semin as a “healthy scratch” for the first time since his rookie season. Adding to the drama, Semin failed to appear at the morning skate or the pre-game up warmup skate where healthy scratches typically join the team on the ice. Maybe Sasha don’t care.

Once the game was underway, the Caps got an early break when Phoenix took a penalty two minutes into the game. But on the ensuing power play the Coyotes’ leading scorer Radim Vrbata intercepted a pass and went the length of the ice to score on the first shot faced by Tomas Vokoun. The Coyotes are known to be very good when they take the lead so this was not an auspicious start. Continue reading

capitals hockey, The Daily Feed

Caps Continue Slide in Loss to Jets

Photo courtesy of
‘Boudreau Does Not Like the Call’
courtesy of ‘clydeorama’

Winnipeg Jets winger Evander Kane scored twice against Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth and shut down captain Alexander Ovechkin en route to a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals in Manitoba, Canada.

The good:

  • Alexander Semin scored the lone Caps tally early in the first period.

…and that’s about it.

The bad:

  • The Caps blew a 59 second 5-on-3 power play in the second period that could have turned things around after the Jets’ scoring spurt that saw three goals in just under five minutes.
  • Ovechkin had five shots on the night but remained scoreless for the third consecutive game. His current season tally of 7 goals, 14 points is a career low after 17 total games.
  • The third period was insipid.

The quote:
“The best way to slow it down is to score a goal,” said coach Bruce Boudreau. “The best way to stop a crowd from cheering is to not making stupid mistakes in your own zone and giving them opportunities to score.”

capitals hockey, The Daily Feed

Caps Overcome Devils 3-1

Photo courtesy of
‘IMG_3383.jpg’
courtesy of ‘bridgetds’

After the debacle against the Dallas Stars last week, the Washington Capitals needed a rebound. Coach Bruce Boudreau punished the team with some nasty practices and in the first of this home-and-home series against the New Jersey Devils, it seemed to have made an impact. The Caps finished strong in their 3-1 victory at Prudential Center.

The good:

  • The Caps overcame a sloppy and slow first half of the game, erasing the Devils’ early lead with a couple of opportunistic goals by Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson.
  • The game turned in the second period after some solid and consistent play by the Caps kept the Devils from capitalizing on any opportunities.
  • Jason Chimera’s game-winning goal was a combination of power and grace, plowing through a pair of Devils and outskating Devils’ rookie Adam Larsson to the goal mouth, then faking goalie Martin Brodeur to snap home a shorthanded goal. It’s easily the pivot moment of the game.

The bad:

  • Alexander Semin had just over 8 minutes of ice time in the game, with only 16 seconds coming in the final 35 minutes. Semin took a 2 minute hooking call halfway into he first period.
  • The first period start was hideous for the Caps, who took only 3 shots in the first 19:50.
  • Mike Green, who had just returned after missing six games with an ankle injury, went down late in the first period in a collision with New Jersey’s Ryan Carter. According to the Caps, the injury is not the ankle and Green will likely be out short-term.

The quote:
“If you look through history, and I wouldn’t want to do the calculating, but when you score a shorthanded goal in a tight game, that team almost always wins,” said Coach Boudreau when asked how important Chimera’s shorthanded goal was.

capitals hockey

Stars Shine, Caps Fall 5-2

Photo courtesy of
Neuvirth Makes a Save On a Tricky Puck
courtesy of ‘clydeorama’

They typically only face each other once a season, so a match-up between the Dallas Stars and the Washington Capitals is not one of the marquee rivalries in the NHL. Not like the salad days of the great Redskins and Cowboys teams over in the NFL. But coming into last night’s game, these two teams sported the best records in the league. Unfortunately, what promised to be fireworks turned to fizzle as the the Caps came undone in the third period. The Stars simply out-worked the Caps en route to a 5-2 victory in Washington. Continue reading

capitals hockey

Caps Shoot Down Ducks 5-4 in OT

Backstrom Takes a Shot
Backstrom Takes a Shot
courtesy of Clydeorama

With a minute to play in the game, it did not look good for the home team. Trailing the Anaheim Ducks by a goal, the Caps had pulled the goalie for an extra attacker in a last ditch effort to to tie the game. They needed a heroic effort and Nicklas Backstrom responded to the call. He snagged a long rebound and beat the diving goaltender to tie the game at 4-4 with 42 seconds left in the game. Minutes later, Backstrom scored again in overtime for the win, causing the Verizon Center to explode in jubilation.

It was not all so pretty. The Caps were back on their heels for the first 30 minutes as the speedy Ducks controlled both the tempo and the puck. Anaheim, who had scored only six goals in the previous four game, managed to score two goals on Tomas Vokoun in the first period and another early in the second to take a commanding 3-0 lead. Continue reading

capitals hockey, The Daily Feed

Caps Lose Wild West Shootout

Ovechkin Races for Puck
Ovechkin Races for Puck
courtesy of Clydeorama

When two high octane teams meet, goals will be scored. The Capitals got off to a slow start against the host Vancouver Canucks, then rallied to tie it after two periods, but were outgunned in the third to lose 7-4. Alex Ovechkin had a pair of goals to lead the Caps’ offense, but it wasn’t enough against the Stanley Cup finalist Canucks. Continue reading

capitals hockey

Capitals Declaw Panthers 3-0

Photo courtesy of
‘Vokoun Grabs Bouncing Puck’
courtesy of ‘clydeorama’

Newly acquired goaltender Tomas Vokoun was rock solid against his former team, leading the Caps to a 3-0 shutout (his first of the season) over the visiting, division rival Florida Panthers behind goals from Marcuss Johansson and Alex Semin in front of a large weeknight Verizon Center crowd. The Caps remain undefeated, moving to 5-0 on the season, their best regular season start in team history.
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capitals hockey, The Daily Feed

Caps Squeak Past Senators

IMG_6453.jpg
Nicklas Backstrom
courtesy of ‘bridgetds’

The Capitals got early goals from each of their dynamic duo of Swedish centers, then hung on for a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators last night at Verizon Center. Nicklas Backstrom scored a power play goal in the middle of the first period. Marcus Johansson lit the lamp with a nifty wrap-around three minutes later and the Caps looked like they were going to blow the doors off the Senators. But lackluster play by the Caps in the second and third periods allowed Ottawa to stay in the game. Continue reading

capitals hockey, The Daily Feed

Caps Top Pens 3-2 in OT

Photo courtesy of
‘IMG_7158.jpg’
courtesy of ‘bridgetds’

Whenever the Capitals take on the Penguins, the game is always an intense roller-coaster ride from start to finish. Last night’s contest in Pittsburgh was no different. The Caps squeaked out a 3-2 overtime win despite being dominated much of the game.

The good:

  • Forwards Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Knuble both posted their first goals of the season. Both players seem to come alive whenever this rivalry is in play. It seems this always-intense rivalry finally got Ovechkin’s motor running. The captain had one goal on three shots and collected five hits and a +1 on the evening.
  • Goalie Tomas Vokoun showed a much better side of himself, stopping 39 of 41 shots. He kept the Caps in the game in the first and third periods while the rest of the team lagged.
  • The Caps penalty kill shut down four of five Penguin power plays.
  • The lone power play for the Caps came in overtime. Dennis Wideman cracked in a nice Nicklas Backstrom pass from the slot. The goal is Wideman’s second of the year. Continue reading
capitals hockey, The Daily Feed

Caps, Pens to Raise Money for Lokomotiv Families

Photo courtesy of
‘Lokomotiv Yaroslavl’
courtesy of ‘HockeyBroad’

For many area hockey fans, the October 13 showdown between the Penguins and Capitals over in Pennsylvania is the start of this season’s perennial rivalry. But this year, it’s something a whole lot more.

Both the Caps and Pens announced a joint effort to raise money for the families of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, the KHL team that perished in a plane crash on September 7 in Russia. Caps and Pens players will wear jerseys with the commemorative Lokomotiv patch for the game, then autograph the game-worn and -issued jerseys for auction on nhl.com. All proceeds from the auction will benefit the Lokomotiv players’ children and families.

Russian players Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin will participate in a ceremonial face-off before the game. Wives and girlfriends of both teams’ players will also be selling remembrance bracelets at CONSOL Energy that evening.

Sports Fix, The Features

A Little Brains, Heart and Nerve: Say Goodnight, Washington Capitals

Photo courtesy of
‘IMG_1503.jpg’
courtesy of ‘bridgetds’

I could wile away the hours,
Conferrin’ with the flowers,
Consultin’ with the rain,
And my head I’d be scratchin,’
While my thoughts were busy hatchin’ …

The Bruce Boudreau Era is done.

Make no mistake about it. Heading into the postseason the question was not so much about how far the Caps would go but more about how they performed once they got out of the first round. “Does Boudreau lose his job if the Caps do not make it to the Stanley Cup Finals” was an unfair question. The Stanley Cup is perhaps the hardest trophy to win in all of American sports, outside of the horse racing Triple Crown.

Washington just needed to play respectably, up to its potential and level of talent. No choking, no dramatic series losses after being up big. From the Eastern Conference semifinals on, if the Caps played well but got beat, that would have been an acceptable outcome.

That is not what happened.

Getting swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning was simply appalling. There is no excuse for it. It looked like Washington had found a way to win in the playoffs after the New York series. They were motivated, they played tight defensively, were opportunistic when they needed to be and, most importantly, they looked like they were focused and playing together. Sheer talent and determination should have been enough to get them through the semifinals.

A very good friend of mine, Erin, said that the Caps would be swept. She is an evil genius. Most pundits picked Washington to win anywhere between five and seven games. Myself, I thought Washington could eke it out in seven. I was not going to be one of those writers who dismissed the Lightning as too young or too raw. Tampa has a superbly talented hockey team not to be underestimated.

What I did was overestimate the Washington Capitals.

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Sports Fix, The Features

Caps Dropped By Bolts In Overtime of Game 2

Photo courtesy of
‘Ovechkin Tosses First Star Puck to Crowd’
courtesy of ‘clydeorama’

A group of reporters huddled around a television in the press room at Verizon Center on Sunday night after the Capitals had lost Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs semifinals 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime. Deadlines momentarily forgotten, the drama of the night swirled up in wonder and emotion that has nothing to do with hockey.

Osama Bin Laden Is Dead.

Normally this would be the spot where I lay on the analytics. The logic of how the Caps have let two games at Verizon Center slip away after dominating much of the play only to come up short handed and staring the end of their season in the face. But, hockey is a game played by grown men. In the grand scheme of things, it is almost a trivial pursuit.

At the same time, it is anything but.

Continue reading

Sports Fix, The Features

Fire Missing As Caps Dropped By Lightning in Game 1

Photo courtesy of
‘Rock the Red’
courtesy of ‘theqspeaks’

There was something missing at Verizon Center on Friday night. It just did not feel right, neither with the fans in the stands or the Caps on the ice. All evening felt like one of those awkward dates where you end up holding hands because that is what you are supposed to do, not because that is what you want to do.

And the Caps lost. The Lightning played solid and steady for most of the game, did not panic when Washington scored two goals and dominated for a 25 minute stretch through the second period and used a little luck to beat the Caps 4-2 to take a one game to none lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“You can’t play river hockey and I am looking at this saying this isn’t the way we play. It was reverting back to an older day,” said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau.

It was like Verizon Center was asleep. The fans were loud when they were supposed to be loud, cheered when prompted, joined the chants when it was appropriate. About 15 minutes before Game 1 puck drop I found myself standing in the press box saying “this is a 7 o’clock start, right?” The stands were only about 40% full. It eventually filled out and the pre-game was very loud but once the lights came back on, the crowd zoned out. They played with their thunder-sticks and cowbells because it was what they are supposed to do.

I mean, who are these people?

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Sports Fix, The Features

How To Quench Lightning

Photo courtesy of
‘IMG_1717.jpg’
courtesy of ‘bridgetds’

In the NHL the rule is that the warmer it gets, the harder the competition becomes.

It is not just a matter of increased skill from the opponent. There is no doubt that the Tampa Bay Lightning have a lot more talent than the New York Rangers, but with increased intensity and stress, teams resort to all sorts of desperate measures.

To beat the Lightning and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in the Bruce Boudreau era, the Caps are going to have to learn to cope.

Take a look at the other playoff series that have just been completed. In the Eastern Conference, every team except the Caps that moved on had to come from behind in the series. The Flyers had to figure out All-World goaltender Ryan Miller and their own shortcomings in net. They played to their strengths, kept the high-energy forecheck on the Sabres and eventually Buffalo wilted because their strength – defensive traps in front of Miller – could not cope. Boston lost the first to game, at home no less, to Montreal because the Canadiens took a lead in each game and went into a 1-4 zone and started using their bodies as rubber scotch guards. The Bruins knew they had the talent to get to Habs’ netminder Carey Price, played physical but in control and took out their arch-nemesis in a dramatic seven games.
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capitals hockey, Sports Fix

Caps Top Rangers in Game 2

Photo courtesy of
Marcus Johannson digs in for a faceoff against Brandon Dubinsky of the Rangers.
courtesy of ‘bridgetds’

Is playoff hockey awesome, or what?

The Capitals went toe-to-toe with the New York Rangers in an intense physical game, scored two quick goals in the second period, then locked down the defense to hang on for the 2-0 victory and a 2-0 lead in the series. Michal Neuvirth made 22 saves to earn his first NHL post-season shutout in front of a lively and appreciative crowd last night at the Verizon Center.

The Rangers showed more fire and hustle in the first period, outshooting the Caps 13-7, outhitting by a margin of 18-11, and generally dominating puck possession. The bodies were flying, and more then one player took the short trip down the corridor to the locker room for repair, only to be back on the bench for the next shift. Continue reading

Sports Fix, The Features

Good Sasha: Caps prove they can take the Rangers in Game 1

Photo courtesy of
‘Alex and Alex’
courtesy of ‘jakarachuonyo’

Quit holding your breath.

That is what playoff hockey does to NHL fans. Without realizing it, they are sitting on the edge of their seats, swearing at the refs, yelling at the ice, screaming at their TVs.

Then, overtime comes and it is so intense that it seems like they have completely lost their senses.

The Caps did not lose their senses on Wednesday night, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Rangers. They could have, it would have been very easy to say ‘Henrik Lundqvist is a freaking monster, we are completely snake bitten, it is all happening over again.’

Washington held strong and were rewarded, taking the game 2-1 for a one game to none series lead as Alexander Semin scored for the first time in 15 playoff contests, racing a rocket from the slot to the back of the net in overtime.

“I think we were a little flappable,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We weren’t getting anywhere and it wasn’t until that last 10 minutes where we said on the bench ‘OK, let’s start sending the defensemen, taking more chances and going after it.’”

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Sports Fix, The Features

Caps vs. Rangers: What will it take to escape the first round?

Photo courtesy of
‘IMG_4766.jpg’
courtesy of ‘bridgetds’

If there are two days during the regular season when Caps were at their lowest, they were probably December 12th and February 25th. Those two days the Capitals, having dealt with recent struggles, were not just shut out by the New York Rangers …

They were buried.

New York beat Washington 7-0 in December and 6-0 in February while taking the season series from the Caps 3-1-0 (or 1-2-1 from the Washington perspective). The Rangers outscored Washington 17-6 and basically pestered the eventual top team in the Eastern Conference through four games.

Perhaps this is not the playoff matchup the Caps were hoping for. Continue reading

Sports Fix, The Features

What will it take for the Caps to win the Cup?

Photo courtesy of
’2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs Logo’
courtesy of ‘jpowers65′

Are you ready to rock?

The 2010-11 Washington Capitals regular season was just a long exercise in patience. It was never supposed to be a definitive statement of what the Caps are or where the franchise stands in the pantheon of almost-great NHL hockey teams.

If anything, it was an exercise in patience, humility, endurance, creative problem solving and transformation. The Caps were like a caterpillar that turned into a butterfly.

Washington started off the season a high-octane offense-first juggernaut – flying, big scoring, finesse and fragile. This was the version of the Caps that the fans had come to know and love and be continually frustrated by in the playoffs. Up until the last weekend of November, the MVP of the Caps was probably Alexander Semin. If you even thought of Semin as the MVP of this team now, they would laugh you out of the Green Turtle. Then there were the larval stages, December through most of March, where the Caps suffered through the changes of playing a different style of hockey, relying less on scoring (and scoring a lot less), integrating new players from outside the organization and folding in the prospects to the already young base of Alexander Ovechkin, Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green.

The Caps learned to play good defense. Not just the defensemen, but the entire team has gotten better on the back check, they are still aggressive on the forecheck if a bit tempered, and have the ability to trap and keep shots coming from the wings as opposed to the slot. It has not been a perfect transition – the inner offensive juggernaut wants to be free – but it has been effective enough where Washington was able to rally out of its doldrums, find some of it old offense and emerge the butterfly as the Eastern Conference top seed heading into the playoffs. The spinning wheels of waiting for the second season, the real season, are finished.

Now it is time to fly.

What do the Caps need to do to succeed in the chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup? Here are five items that will be important for Washington to get over its frustration and make a run deep into spring.

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The Daily Feed

Caps finish home schedule strong, anticipate playoffs

Photo courtesy of
‘The Gentleman’
courtesy of ‘Brian Isemann’

It is a Wednesday night in April. Washington, D.C. was about 65 degrees in the afternoon with a bit of a chill breeze coming from the water. The townsfolk are buzzing about cherry blossoms and how utterly bad the Nationals are going to be.

For years in D.C., this was not a time to be talking about hockey.

But, there is this red machine is like a fire in the middle of the city. People flock to it for the experience, for the cheers and the hits and the hope to see Alex Ovechkin light a lamp, hear a foghorn sound. For 101 straight regular season games, Verizon Center has been packed to the rafters with manic fans, unleashing fury and clamoring for chicken wings.

It was no different this Wednesday.

And their team didn’t disappoint.

The Caps were sloppy against the Panthers, but they certainly were the better team, claiming a 5-2 victory to finish off their home schedule (25-8-8) of the regular season. Washington is now a win away from claiming its second straight Eastern Conference regular season title and having home ice through a theoretical playoff run.

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