Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Cardiac Caps Push It But Feds & Varly Win It 2-1

Simeon Varlamov - Tsarlamov, From Russia with Glove, Wallamov - whatever you want to call him, has been awesome in net, 2nd only to Roberto Luongo  in stats this playoff season and 1st star of the game 7 tonight.  He kept the Caps in it early in this game when they started out playing like shit - okay so let me define that - listless, not hustling, not battling, and generally not acting like it's a play or go home game.  Unbelievable, in fact.  The Caps believe their press clips way too much.  Much of the media handed the Caps the series on a silver platter.  That made me anxious all day.   Note - I agree that they Caps were way too anxious for this game - they just caused me a heart attack in the process. So my prior comments are reflective of being a frustrated, but passionate Washington Capitals.

Regardless, this game was all about Sergei Fedorov who got the 2nd star - he actually deserved the first star with the game winner. I was critical of his play during the first two periods because he seemed too slow and it seemed like Alex Ovechkin was always way ahead of Feds and Viktor Kozlov.  I wanted him off of Ovie's line and fast before the second period ended.  Don't get me wrong.  I love Sergei Fedorov and couldn't believe he ended up a Capital.  I mean, seriously, how did a legend end up as a Capital?  Sergei got the game winning goal on an absolutely beautiful shot at 15:01.  

In an eerily prescient moment, Craig Laughlin said on the broadcast something to the effect of Sergei will have something to say about how this series end. Wow.  He couldn't have been more right.

On a side note, Chris Clark played an up tempo, high energy game for his first game back since January.  

It took the Caps until the 3rd period to find their game.  They looked downright horrible during the first two periods.  And the last almost five minutes of that game after Feds scored were painful.  My heart raced way above normal during that time frame.  1998 was a long time ago, damn it, and I was tired of waiting.

Tonight, I don't have to wait anymore.  Thank you Washington Capitals.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are up next.

Let's go Caps!

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Poti torches former team to lead Caps in 5-3 win

Tom Poti torched his former team with 1 goal and 3 assists to lead the way in the Caps tying up this series.  The tape to tape pass play where David Steckel set Poti up for his goal was a thing of beauty.  Poti's holding his ear up for the fans on his way off the ice after his post game interview cracked me up, but the Caps need to win another game so it's no time for cockiness.  He played a great game.


  • I'm loving the line of Brooks Laich, Matt Bradley and David Steckel.  They are playing with high energy and fighting hard.  Steckel's been money in the bank on the penalty kill as he's clearing the puck regularly.

  • Viktor Kozlov looked Ovie like with his dipsy do around the Rangers on that goal.  The 4th puck that went glove high.  Caps finally figured out how to successfully shoot on King Henrik.
  • Nicklas Backstrom continues to hold onto the puck as if losing it would cost him his life. He gets playoff hockey.

  • Alex Ovechkin deflected in a  beautiful Poti pass to net his 3rd goal in three games.

  • John Erskine also gets playoff hockey.

  • We like it when Milan Jurcina lets that rocket of a shot go.  

  • Mike Green came alive today and potted his first playoff goal.  He apparently feels better which is certainly helpful.

  • Simeon Varlamov stayed strong in net and got the 2nd star even though he ultimately let in 3 Rangers goals.
  • But, why is it the Caps do the polar opposite of what their coach tells them to do sometimes?  They take stupid penalties (and, yes, the refs appeared to be hard on the Caps) and gave the Rangers not one, but two, 5 on 3s.  Ridiculous.
The Caps need to keep game 7 against Philadelphia last year in mind as they prepare for playing the Rangers Tuesday night.  It all ends in a second as Joffrey Lupul so painfully showed them and us fans.

Let's go Caps!

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fan favorite Brads solves Lundqvist in a 4-0 win

The phone booth rocked last night and not even the obnoxious NY Ranger fans behind me could ruin my night, thankfully, because the Caps showed up to play.  Matt Bradley scored short-handed 4:12 in the first period against Henrik Lundqvist, the Caps nemesis this series, and then got a lucky sharp angle shot past Lundqvist later in the first to put the Caps up 2-0.   Lundqvist should have had that puck and the crowd serenaded him after that.

Brads truly is a fan favorite because he's one of the hardest working players on the ice, he's gotten himself killed in fights against heavy weights just to get his team going and he won a shootout for the Caps being the 12th shooter to go out on the ice after practically jumping on the ice without his Coach's okay.  He's also funny and the beat up Saturn he drives cracks me up.  All of the fans I talked to last night wanted Brads to get a hat trick.  That would have been too cool.  He did get the first star, deservedly so.  

The next star was Alex Ovechkin, who made another highlight reel goal to make it 4-0 to close out the 2nd and run Lundqvist back to the Ranger's bench.  Ovie also had 5 hits, tied with David Steckel last night.

The third star was the spectacular and poised rookie, Sem-yon, Var-lam-ov, in net.  He only had to make 20 saves, but some of those were also highlight reel material.  His ability to do the splits and thrust his leg out to protect the far side of the net is fun to watch.

The other player I want to give props to is John Erskine.  He's playing spectacular defense.  Erskine will never be the quickest skater on the ice, but he's playing really hard and hustling out there.  

The Caps controlled the neutral zone well and stepped up their forechecking.  All in all it was a brilliant effort for the whole team.  It's just incredibly frustrating as a fan that they get lazy when their backs are not against the wall.  I give Ovie credit for promising us suicidal (kidding, but it's been rough) fans that this wasn't over yet.  Thank you for keeping your promise.

Caps managed to rattle both the Rangers and their coach, John Tortorella as he had altercations with the fans and threw a water bottle into the crowd.  Wow.  How unprofessional is that. Let's hope the Caps are now in the Rangers head.
Keep it up boys.

Let's go Caps!

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The definition of insanity...

... is being a Caps fan since 1974 and still hanging around waiting for a Cup (no, I didn't expect one this year).  The last and only time the Caps reached the Eastern Conference Finals was the last time the Caps won a playoff series.  In 1998.  11 long years ago.  Wayne Gretsky still played hockey for the New York Rangers (sigh) and got 90 points.

There probably isn't any particular hockey game that I remember with more clarity than the Caps first game against the Detroit Red Wings in that '98 finals.  The Caps made a glorious ride on the back of their work horse net minder, Olie Kolzig and got some help along the way that year because the #1 seed - New Jersey, the #2 - Pittsburgh and #3 - Philadelphia got knocked out and the Caps, the #4 seed, kept rolling past Boston, Ottawa and Buffalo on its way to the finals. 

That first game threw water over my oblivious love of the Capitals in spite of their flaws.  Ten minutes into the game and I knew the Caps were doomed in my heart even though I continued to cheer and root for them like a crazy person. Why? Because they simply were out skilled.  There was no way this Caps team would be capable of make those perfectly executed tape to tape passes up the ice that were a thing of beauty to watch if only I were a Detroit fan. (Hmmm, they still do that quite well today, 11 years later).  Detroit swept the Capitals 4-0 in that series.

The Caps ownership at that time, Abe Pollin, couldn't care less about hockey.  That Detroit series made me realize that he would never spend the money to field a competitive team.  When he finally sold the team to Ted Leonsis all that started to change.  And, then...

Fast forward to the summer I found out about Alex (Alexander at the time) Ovechkin.  I read about him all summer and hoped that the sudden flicker of hope in my heart wouldn't be crushed again.  When he scored "the goal" and I knew he meant to do that, my heart soared.  Wow , we have a bona fide star in the making here.  And, he is.  From rookie year winning the Calder to his bevy of hardware from last summer - Art, Ross, Richard, Pearson - there's no doubt Ovie is a force for the Washington Capitals.  

And, yet, the Caps are struggling again in this playoff series against the 7th seeded New York Rangers.  Not that Ovie isn't trying because he's been a beast and, most definitely, a force on the ice in these games even though he hasn't scored much.  Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Simeon Varlamov, the young guns, have played well.  Everyone else...not so much.

Ovie, I hear you and I'll be loud, proud, in red and probably losing my voice tomorrow.  Please, unleash the fury.

Let's go Caps!


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Monday, April 20, 2009

Caps & Varlamov Get It Done 4-0

Wow.  Simeon Varlamov.  Wow.  What else can I say.  The 20-year old net minder has been nothing but impressive.  A save he made with about 3 minutes left, a diving split, was a thing of beauty.  Deservedly, he got the first star of the game.  

I've seen this before with other young NHL goalies.  They burn out (see Cam Ward's sophomore slump) or they become inconsistent (see Carey Price).   

  • John Erskine played one of his best games that I've ever seen.  He pestered Sean Avery, got under his skin and forced him to take a couple of penalties.  That was fun to watch.
  • We should be celebrating Alexander Semin's hat trick, but we'll settle for his two goals in the first period.  Semin played an excellent game but he blew his first two scoring chances and he should have had them.
  • Nicklas Backstrom is one helluva a hockey player.  This young pivot is very difficult to move off the puck and he's winning the battles along the boards and he's quarterbacking plays..
  • Alex Ovechkin made some wonderful defensive plays tonight, in addition, to his 2 assists.  One of his sliding on the ice poke the puck off the defense man's stick was pretty (to be fair, he corrected his mistake of giving away the puck). His presence was felt.
  • Brian Pothier is sharp in his return from his long-term injury.  He's providing the Caps with a steadiness and level of the experience on the blue line that they need.  Their blue line is better with Pothier in it over Jeff Schultz.
  • The penalty kill performed killing off 7 of 7.
I was scared to watch this game. 

 Thanks Caps.

Let's go Caps!

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Caps stink it up, lose 1-0 to Rags and go down 0-2

I attended my first Caps game as a child in 1974 and have been sucker punched by them every year since then.  They've found every imaginable way to lose in the playoffs over the years or not make it, at all.  This game, the 2nd home ice game in the best of seven series against the New York Rangers was imperative for the Caps to win.  Instead, they put in a lackluster effort and are now down two games heading back to Madison Square Garden.   

The game was a disaster starting with the performance of Alex Ovechkin and including Mike Green, Viktor Kozlov, Alexander Semin, Michael Nylander, Sergei Fedorov, Tom Poti, Eric Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann.   The players on this team who showed up to play include Matt Bradley, David Steckel, Nicklas Backstrom and the rookie net minder Simeon Varlamov. Varlamov didn't make the only stop he needed to, but that was a 2 on 1 breakaway in his first NHL playoff game after only playing 6 regular season games. I'll give him a break on that one.  He was pretty composed for the most part and he had every right to be nervous.

  • Coach Boudreau needs to change it up.  The lines aren't working and they're not getting past Henrik Lundqvist's body in net.
  • Ovie needs to stop playing like he can do it all himself.  He can't and he needs to work better with his teammates.  His 5 giveaways were 2nd only to Mike Green.
  • Mike Green played horribly with 7 giveaways, 1 penalty, minus 1 hockey in only 23:44 of ice time compared to 30+ the first game.
  • Surprisingly, the penalty killing unit played really well, killing off all 5 of the Ranger opportunities.
  • The checking line played aggressively and I always noticed Matt Bradley and David Steckel for good reasons.
  • Nicklas Backstrom continues to impress me in the playoffs and it's amazing how much he flies under the radar screen in the NHL. He's one helluva a hockey player and he's getting impossible to get off the puck even in the grittier environment of the playoffs.
  • Henrik Lundqvist is an elite net minder and is playing the part, but the Caps need to create traffic in front of the net to get scoring.  The coach, writers and players have been saying this all season long and, yet, the Caps still don't do it because they do not have the players that are willing to do that except for Brooks Laich.  They will be playing golf in April again if they don't start doing it.
  • GM George McPhee hasn't won a playoff series in 10 years with the teams he built and it's not looking good this year either.  
  • The Caps are playing worse than last year in the playoffs, so far, and that's the part that is downright depressing. 
The series heads to New York on Monday.  I'm hoping to see a different team show up, like the one that gave the Boston Bruins fits this season.

Let's go Caps!

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Friday, April 17, 2009

Ugh...defense and goaltending kill the Caps

It was an intensely fought battle and, in the end, the Caps succumbed to poor defense and goaltending.  

Highlights and observations:
  • Jeff Schultz got owned by Brandon Dubinsky and then Jose Theodore muffed the save.  Just an unbelievably awful play. 
  • Alex Ovechkin came to play as he had 2 assists, 13 shots, 6 hits, 3 takeaways and played +2 hockey in 26:07.  Ovie got the first star for a reason.
  • Mike Green played 30:47 (a bit much in my opinion) and ended the night -2 with 3 hits.
  • Nicklas Backstrom won 72% of his faceoffs which is a huge improvement over his numbers in some games this season.  He learned how to play playoff hockey last year and I expect bigger things from him this year.  The Caps won 70% of their draws.  That's important in the playoffs.
  • Viktor Kozlov finally gets a goal in the playoffs.  It is about time.
Jose Theodore played unacceptable hockey in that game and everyone's talking about it.  Tomorrow night is probably one of the most important games of his career.

Let's go Caps!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Three more games...

Caps thankfully only have three more games left before the second season starts.  They played a good 3rd period against the Atlanta Thrashers the other night generating 4 goals in the last twenty to win 6-4.  Apparently, Coach Boudreau yelled at them for their lazy playing in the first two periods and they finally woke up!

Although the Caps have a win-loss record that I can't argue with and are the winners of the Southeast Division for the second year in a row they've played with a lack of energy over the last month or so.  The problem with that is that they still have something to play for and thats 2nd place in the Eastern Conference if they can stay ahead of the New Jersey Devils.  Today that means that the Caps would play the Montreal Canadiens versus the Pittsburgh Penguins.  It would be nice for the Caps to beat the Penguins in a playoff series, but my biggest hope is that the Caps get out of the first round of the playoffs.

The Caps are certainly capable of making a playoff push, but it depends on which Caps team shows up on any given day.  The one that's beaten the Eastern Conference leading Boston Bruins 3 times out of 4 (an OT loss) or the one that plays down to their level of competition and loses to teams near or at the bottom of the standings.  The team that can't seem to battle effectively against the gritty physical style of play that the Flyers play (also known as playoff hockey style) or the team that beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.  The team that makes blind cross ice passes that end in giveaways or the team that cycles the puck effectively for another top of the NHL leader board power play goal.   We'll find out soon enough.

Regardless of which team shows up in the playoffs, I've enjoyed the regular season. Some of my favorite highlights:

  • Alex Ovechkin's goal against the Habs where he banked the pass to himself and slide on the ice and got the puck to go into the net.  There are too many Ovie highlights to name as he is always a joy to watch on the ice.  I consider myself privileged to get to watch him night in and night out.
  • Participating in the standing ovation for Brian Pothier's first goal after a 14-month recovery from a concussion and eye problems.
  • Watching the rookie Karl Alzner play smart hockey as a call up for the too often injured Caps.  He has a bright future in the NHL.
  • Seeing Mike Green break a defensive NHL record for goals scored in 8 games in a row, plus seeing him pot 30 goals after missing 13 games due to an injury earlier in the season.  That injury gave me a great appreciation for Green's transition game as the Caps suffered without him on the blue line.  He may well end up being the Norris trophy winner this year, or at the very least, a runner up.
  • Watching two young rookie net minders make their impressive NHL debuts.  Simeon Varlamov and Michel Neuvirth make it easy for me to believe that the Caps have a long term solution to man the net.
  • Seeing Jose Theodore go from downright horrible his first two months to solid and, at times, spectacular in net where he often compensated for the Caps defensive lapses.
  • Following Nicklas Backstrom's development from a rookie into an elite class center in only his 2nd season. 
  • Cheering for the many, many Hershey Bears that made their NHL debuts and ongoing appearances with the big club as the Caps suffered through a rash of injuries early in the season.  They kept the Caps at the top of the league and it's testimony to the advantage of sharing playing systems between your AHL and NHL teams.   
  • Watching Alexander Semin becoming a force on the penalty kill.  He also played with such intensity early in the season that he was tearing up the league in scoring until he got injured.  Seeing him fight made me laugh for two days...sorry Semin, it's meant with affection.  
  • Cheering for the role guys, like Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley, who play their hearts out every shift.
  • Hoping to see more of next year....Milan Jurcina's slap shot with better accuracy, Tomas Fleischmann's scoring and Eric Fehr's ability to use his big body to crash the net and score more. 
BoldThe Caps finish out their season on a SE Division road tour starting with the Atlanta Thrashers again tonight, then, followed by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers to close the season out.

The second season is coming...time to step it up. 

Let's go Caps!

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