Archive for September 2007

Lineup for Preseason Finale

September 30, 2007

Here’s how the Caps will look tonight against Ottawa:

Forwards:
8-Ovechkin, 25-Kozlov, 43-Fleischmann
19-Backstrom, 92-Nylander, 17-Clark
18-Pettinger, 15-Gordon, 39-Steckel
87-Brashear, 21-Laich, 10-Bradley

Defensemen:
3-Poti, 52-Green
26-Morrisonn, 23-Jurcina
4-Erskine, 2-Pothier

Goaltenders
1-Johnson, 37-Kolzig

Not sure who is in goal tonight, but I believe it’s Kolzig.

EDIT: Erskine is a late scratch (game-time decision) and Schultz is in.

The Plan to Expand

September 28, 2007

I’m not one to advocate NHL expansion, but I believe it is going to happen and that it will happen in the next few years. The allure of millions and millions of dollars in expansion fees that go directly into NHL owners’ pockets (bypassing the players) will ultimately prove to be too much to resist. There are those who would argue that contraction makes more sense than expansion, but it won’t happen.

Of all the pros and cons that come with the addition of a couple of teams to the Original 30, the biggest positive is that it provides the league a golden opportunity to fix the schedule. My best guess is that we’d see teams added in Las Vegas and Kansas City, though certainly cases could (and should) be made for Hamilton and/or Winnipeg as well.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s going to be KC and Vegas. Here’s how I’d realign the divisions (East and North would be in one conference; Central and West in the other):

EAST: Florida, Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Carolina, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Columbus
NORTH: Boston, Buffalo, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, New Jersey
CENTRAL: Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Minnesota, Dallas, Nashville, Kansas City, Colorado
WEST: San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary

You could make the necessary tweaks to accomodate Hamilton and/or Winnipeg if the expansion dice came up in favor of one or both. You could also go back to using the old Norris, Smythe, Patrick and Adams Division tags, and Wales and Campbell Conferences, if you wanted to.

Here’s how the schedule would work. Each team would play the seven other teams within its division six times for a total of 42 division games. That’s slightly more than half the schedule, so those games and those rivalries would certainly have meaning.

Each team would face the other eight teams in its conference three times, for a total of 24 games. It would play four of those teams twice at home and once on the road, and the other four teams once at home and twice on the road. The schedule against conference opponents would flip-flop each season, so that each club would visit each team in its conference (but not in its division) three times over each two-season span.

Finally, each team would face each of the 16 teams in the opposite conference once, playing eight at home and eight on the road. The following season, the schedule would flip-flop. So for example, every team in the “other” conference would visit Verizon Center every other season.

That’s 42 games within the division, another 24 within the conference and 16 outside the conference. Eighty-two games, with 41 at home and 41 on the road. I’d also have the top eight teams in each conference in the playoffs, regardless of which division they represent.

With that out of the way, I’m off to see what I can do about arranging for peace on Earth.

Friday Night Lineup

September 28, 2007

Here’s how the Caps will lineup for tonight’s preseason contest against the Flyers at The Phone Booth:

Forwards
8-Ovechkin, 25-Kozlov, 43-Fleischmann
19-Backstrom, 92-Nylander, 28-Semin
18-Pettinger, 15-Gordon, 17-Clark
87-Brashear, 39-Steckel, 21-Laich

Defense
3-Poti, 52-Green
26-Morrisonn, 23-Jurcina
55-Schultz, 2-Pothier

Goaltenders
1-Johnson, 37 Kolzig

Kolzig will start and is expected to go the distance. Don’t forget that you can see the Caps take on the Sens live at Verizon Center on Sunday for free. Simply present any ticket stub for a DC United game (used or unused) and you’ll be given a free ducat for the Capitals’ final preseason game of 2007.

Roster Trim

September 28, 2007

The Caps made a small trim to their roster on Friday morning, sending left wing Chris Bourque to Hershey of the AHL. The 21-year-old third-year pro skated in four preseason games with Washington this year, picking up an assist. He will likely play on one of the top two lines in Hershey and could see some point duty on the power play there, as well.

Bourque’s reassignment leaves Washington with 30 players on its training camp roster, including injured right wing Eric Fehr. The Caps must still trim at least half a dozen more players from their roster before Tuesday at 3 p.m. when opening night rosters must be filed with the league offices.

Decision Day Looms

September 27, 2007

Roster decisions are never easy for any coach in any sport at any level. Telling a player he didn’t make the team is a tough thing to do, and it never gets easier. For Caps coach Glen Hanlon, the time is drawing near where his team must settle it’s opening night roster, and he will be faced with the unpleasant task of telling a handful of players that they’re headed for Hershey, or elsewhere. Players who need to clear waivers for re-assignment purposes must be placed on waivers by noon on Monday, Oct. 1. The team’s 23-man opening night roster must be set and turned into the league office by 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 2.

“It’s hard,” Hanlon admitted prior to Wednesday’s 2-1 preseason loss at Philadelphia. “It’s hard to tell someone at 18 that they’re going back to junior. And it’s hard to tell someone at 21 that they’re going to Hershey. It’s always hard to give someone bad news and it just gets harder and harder the closer you get to that final cut-off date and the older they are and the more kids they have in school. All of these things make this next week or so not something that you look forward to.”

With only two games remaining in the preseason (there were still three when I spoke with Hanlon yesterday), there are still 18 forwards and 10 defensemen vying for jobs. Many jobs are already set in stone, but all we really know is this: those 28 players will have to shrink to 21 (plus the two goaltenders, who are already set). There could be 13 forwards and eight defensemen, or there could be 14 forwards and seven defensemen. Trades could also be a factor.

“This is maybe a question that lends itself more towards George’s area,” says Hanlon. “But I would think we’ll have a conversation and I think we’ll keep the 21 best assets. I don’t think you play them all by position. At the end of this, the 23rd spot could be a forward or a defenseman. I think it’s whoever has played better. Maybe age will become a factor in terms of if one was 31 and was your 23rd player and one was 24, you’d likely try to factor that in. I think there are a lot of things we’ll take a look at before this is over. I think the bottom line on all of this is that our organization is improving.”

The organization is improving, as evidenced by the fact that several members of the 2006 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears and the 2007 Bears team that advanced to the Cup finals are among those competing for jobs. Forwards Chris Bourque, Tomas Fleischmann, Jakub Klepis and Dave Steckel and defensemen Mike Green and Jeff Schultz all played for both of those Bears playoff teams, and all are among the remaining combatants for jobs in Washington this fall.

“The easiest way of saying it is that we have three games left here,” says Hanlon. “Everyone who is fighting for a position will likely play all three games. At the end of those games we’ll take a look at the players that we’re keeping a close eye on and we’ll keep the 12 best forwards; we can find a way to arrange them. The other couple of forwards and defenseman or two defensemen and one forward, we’ll keep and we’ll make those decisions for the long-term success of the team.”

The last statement could offer a window into Washington’s thinking. It’s easy to discern that the forwards who did not play in Phily last night will clearly be on the opening night roster. The same can be said for defensemen Tom Poti and Brian Pothier. The other defensemen left back were Mike Green and Jeff Schultz. Their absence from last night’s lineup might mean they’ve secured spots, too.

Moving captain Chris Clark from the right side of a line with Alex Ovechkin to the right side of what would be a checking unit with Boyd Gordon and Matt Pettinger could create a spot for Tomas Fleischmann among the team’s top six forwards. Hanlon also knows he can always slide Clark back into his old slot with Ovechkin, possibly creating a slot for a guy like Steckel on the Gordon line. There are also scenarios under which both Fleischmann and Steckel would make the roster.

It is evident that Hanlon is attaching a lot of emphasis, effort and importance on forming a strong checking line this season, and that he doesn’t at all see Clark’s possible move as a demotion of any sort. In fact, he sees it the opposite way.

“With Clarkie, it seems natural to say ‘move down,’” Hanlon admits. “We don’t look at it as moving down. I look at it as giving him more responsibility and the responsibility of being the leader of a line that is going to set some good habits and some good systems and to be able to play real quality minutes every single night.

“Those types of players, there has to be consistency in their game. We find that we’re finally happy with that type of group. We think it’s real important. We use the example of Anaheim, with [Travis] Moen and [Sami] Pahlsson and [Rob] Niedermayer, we think they played a large part in that hockey club winning the Stanley Cup. If that’s the case, we think it’s a movement up.”

Getting down to 21 skaters will be hard enough, but then Hanlon will have to decide on a game-by-game basis which of the 18 skaters will get a sweater. The Caps figure to have some quality depth here in D.C., nevermind Hershey.

“The way it looks now,” Hanlon begins, “we’ve got enough players remaining that I’ll have a lot of NHL experience. In the past we’ve had players on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd spots who have been call-up players from the American League who have had previous American League experience. It’s going to be real tough times here in the next week to figure out the last couple of spots. We like to think that that’s a sign of success of our hockey team and how it’s been structured here in the last couple of years.”

Nearly two weeks into training camp and with only two preseason games remaining, Hanlon likes what he’s seeing on the ice and says only a few decisions remain.

“We have a fairly good idea of what we’re going to do,” he says. “We seem fairly structured now with our penalty kill groups. We like where we are with our power play groups; they’re set. We kind of know where our defense partners are. These last games here, we’re just trying to come down to a couple of decisions. I don’t think you ever get to a point in time during the season where all your players are healthy and everything is just picture perfect.”

Caps Fall in Philly

September 27, 2007

Without the members of their regular power play unit the Capitals were unable to take advantage of some extra-man chances late in Wednesday night’s preseason contest with the Philadelphia Flyers. As a result, the Caps dropped a 2-1 decision to leave their preseason record at 2-2-1. The Flyers visit Verizon Center on Friday night and then Washington closes out its preseason slate on Sunday with a 5 p.m. game against the Ottawa Senators.

The game against the Flyers didn’t do much to help with the team’s pressing roster decisions, at least not to these eyes. The Caps limited the Flyers to just 20 shots on goal, and Brent Johnson turned in another solid effort between the pipes. Five of those Flyer shots came in the game’s first five minutes, when Washington had trouble getting on track in its own end. The Caps settled in nicely thereafter, but were unable to do much offensively. The Capitals traded deflection goals with the Flyers; Boyd Kane tipping a Braydon Coburn shot for Philly and Brian Sutherby deflecting a Steve Eminger shot for Washington.

As close games so often do, this one turned on one of the “little things.” Namely, a defensive zone draw. Veteran center Jim Dowd beat Washington’s Dave Steckel (the Caps’ top face-off man this preseason) cleanly, drawing the puck right to Ben Eager. Eager fired a quick shot past Johnson and that was all the scoring for the night.

Nothing in the way of game stats to peruse and pore over, and I’m not sure why. We were given old school (circa mid-90s) scoresheets between periods, so no ice time, face-off and other detailed stats were tracked in Philly tonight.

The penalty kill was once again terrific, and I’m getting more personal satisfaction from the improved defense and penalty killing than from the promise of a more potent offense. Holding the opposition to an average of fewer than three goals per game is a virtual must if you have serious playoff aspirations, which means the Caps will need to lop off nearly a half goal per game off last season’s total. So far, so good. Washington has surrendered only five goals in its last three games and 14 in five preseason games this year.

The penalty killing has been even better. By my unofficial count, the Caps have killed off 25 of the last 26 shorthanded situations they’ve faced. They’ve allowed three power play goals in five preseason games, and two of those came while the opposition had a two-man advantage.

Tomorrow is a day off, but I’ll have some quotes from Glen Hanlon about the difficulty of the final cuts.

Lineup in Philly

September 26, 2007

Here’s what we’ll be looking at tonight in Philadelphia:

WASHINGTON
Forwards
43-Fleischmann, 19-Backstrom, 38-Klepis
50-Motzko, 15-Gordon, 21-Laich
87-Brashear, 39-Steckel, 27-Clymer
56-Bourque, 16-Sutherby, 10-Bradley

Defensemen
26-Morrisonn, 23-Jurcina
4-Erskine, 44-Eminger
78-Boumedienne, 9-Pollock

Goaltenders
1-Johnson, 37 Kolzig

Johnson will start and go all the way in goal. Lots of bubble guys in the lineup today, so effort should not be a problem against the Flyers.

And because I know you all want to know, here are the pertinent times and dates for upcoming roster machinations around the league (Anaheim and Los Angeles notwithstanding). The final time for players to be put on waivers before the final roster is set is Monday Oct. 1 at noon. Those players will have 24 hours to clear waivers, and then the final 23-man rosters are due on Tuesday, Oct. 2 at 3 p.m.

Also, just got an update from Johnny Walton up in Bingo where the Bears are playing the Binghamton Senators in a morning preseason contest (11 a.m. start). He reports that Hershey is up 2-0 after the first frame. Daren Machesney has made a dozen stops while Scott Barney and Kyle Wilson have provided the lamp-lighters.

I am awaiting the arrival of the Corey Masisak chariot. He, Tarik and myself are car-pooling up to Philly this afternoon. More from Wachovia Center later.

UPDATE: Bears win 4-2, Wilson adds an empty netter for his second of the game, Paul McIlveen had the other at even strength. Sasha Pokulok had three assists in the game.

The Lineup

September 25, 2007

Here’s what we’ve got for tonight:
WASHINGTON
Forwards:
8-Ovechkin, 25-Kozlov, 43-Fleischmann
19-Backstrom, 92-Nylander, 28-Semin
18-Pettinger, 39-Steckel, 15-Gordon
56-Bourque, 21-Laich, 38-Klepis

Defense:
3-Poti, 52-Green
26-Morrisonn, 44-Eminger
55-Schultz, 2-Pothier

Goaltenders
37-Kolzig, 1-Johnson

Kolzig will start and judging by past patterns, will go all the way. And it may not mean anything, but I’ll note it anyway. This is the fourth time in as many games that each of Washington’s three defensive pairings has gone lefty-righty.

Not sure exactly how the Canes will line up, as they gave us a roster of 20 skaters. Eighteen of those guys will dress, and I’m told Cam Ward will start in goal.

More on the PP

September 25, 2007

Tarik has a bit on the Caps’ power play in today’s Post, but this is another one of those instances where much more was said than would fit in the paper. So here’s the rest:

Caps coach Glen Hanlon started out talking about last season’s unit:
“If you look at personnel, for us to finish at over 16%, I thought it was fairly decent. That’s why we weren’t overly upset at times. We weren’t good enough to have that 3-for-5 night. We just seemed a lot of nights to get one goal, which was pretty good. But now we have options. We want to be like the teams that we feel are hard to defend against, the ones with two really even power play groups. We think the group that we could put out there … we could really, really stack one and then have a drop-off on the other. But we want to make sure we have two groups. And we liked the fact that lots of times these guys are playing with each other [at even strength]. So it sort of makes it easier on your line rotations and your changes.”

Although Tomas Fleischmann is currently slotted on the right side of a line with Alex Ovechkin and Viktor Kozlov, Clark will play alongside that duo in power play formation.

“We really like Clarkie on that group,” says Hanlon, “because he is sort of the [Tomas] Holmstrom type of player who can be right in front and create some havoc and create some problems. If you don’t occupy yourself with him, he’ll score on tips and he’s really good at pursuing pucks. So I think that really makes it nice.

Hanlon also likes wht he has seen from former Islander teammates Kozlov and Tom Poti.

“Right now you’ve got Tommy [Poti] back there with [Kozlov],” he says. “And Kozzie has done a good job with those guys. We watched it first-hand; they scored three power play goals against us last year with [Marc-Andre] Bergeron on the off side. So Kozzie is with Poti. That really helps, that extra stick in there for some interaction and some playing and some moving. I think the one thing with Ovechkin and Kozlov and the way that they can come off the wall and shoot the puck and Tommy getting to the middle of the ice, it really lends itself to having [success]. I don’t want to go too much into tactics, but the strength of the other power play group with Nylander and Semin is that we can set it up on either side. Semin is as good on the half-wall as Nylander is. We can work it off of Semin’s side, and we can work it off of Nylander’s side. So it becomes a difficult power play to defend in that regard.”

And that’s a good thing.

Ovechkin Transcript

September 24, 2007

Washington left wing Alex Ovechkin made himself available for a conference call this afternoon, and the league’s media site posted a transcript of the call afterwards. Here’s what Alex had to say:

Q. Lots of good stats but are you at the point where you want the team to make the playoffs? I can’t imagine it’s much fun if the team doesn’t make the playoffs.

ALEX OVECHKIN: My goal is to make the playoffs and I have to score goals and everybody has to score goals. So my goal is to score goals and try to win games.

Q. How is it going to be playing with Michael Nylander?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Right now I’m playing with Viktor Kozlov.

Q. How is it going to be playing with him?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Good (indiscernible).

Q. Do you need a center that can get you the puck?

ALEX OVECHKIN: The center gets me the puck all the time. I feel good right now, our line.

Q. Thanks for taking the time today. You trained with Viktor Kozlov in Russia in the summer; is that right?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Yeah, Kozlov and Evgeni Malkin, Sergei Gonchar, Andrei Nikolishin, Alexei Semenov.

Q. Did you get some chemistry with Viktor over the summer, or did you start feeling very comfortable with him on the ice?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Well, I feel comfortable with everybody, but with Kozlov, it’s like Zubi (Dainius Zubrus) in my first year. He was my center and a big difference when you can run defense in Russian language.

Q. Why do you think the Washington Capitals are going to be better this year?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Well, I think the good reason is we signed a lot of experienced guys, Kozlov, Nylander, Poti. The young guys, we have more experience; two years we’ve been playing in the NHL and we have great experience.

Q. Did you get a sense last year that the team was ready to make a step forward?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Well, I think everybody understands we have to move forward. That’s why we signed a lot of good players, and I think we are playing well and just play our system and the coaches right now feel pretty excited.

Q. What are your expectations? Do you feel this is a playoff team?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Why not? You never know. We have to win all the games and we have to win and try in every game. And if you win the games, you make the playoffs. If you have a great team and you lose, you don’t go to the playoffs.

Q. Your team has a goalie that’s well known out here in British Columbia, Olaf Kolzig. You get to see him all the time. I think he’s one of the better goalies in the league, but what is your thoughts on Olaf as a teammate, and how good of a goalie is he?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Well, he’s our leader on the ice, off the ice, and you know, we listen to him because he’s good.

Right now he’s one of the best players in the league, one of best goalies, and in the locker room he’s our leader, too. He tells us what we have to do in practice and what we have to do, and then we go to him. So it’s great to have that guy in our locker room.

Q. A lot of fans out here are really wanting to see yourself and Sidney and other stars in the East. What are your thoughts about traveling around the NHL, as opposed to the schedule they have now which only has you out here every once in awhile? Are you in favor of coming out here every year?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Well, I like travel. I like going to go to different cities. I like to see different people, different teams, and I like it. It’s experience and it’s great to see different teams. We played last year in Ottawa and in Minnesota and I love it.

Q. Good memories here in Vancouver?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Oh yeah, great sushi over there.

Q. What in your opinion makes you a better player than a couple of years ago when you first broke into the League?

ALEX OVECHKIN: You know, I have to concentrate about my shots. I have lots of shots in the game but sometimes my shots, I have great moments to shoot but my shots aren’t perfect. I just have to practice more my shots and my make my shots well, the puck goes to the net. So I think I have to make more shots.

Q. Let me ask you about the Southeast Division. Tampa Bay and Carolina won the Stanley Cup the last couple of years and Atlanta made the playoffs this past season. How competitive is the Southeast Division? You’re trying to crack into the playoffs, but that division seems to be pretty tough. How do you view that division?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Well, it’s a hard division and every team wants to go to the playoffs. The first year had a chance to go to playoffs and we didn’t unfortunately and did not make the playoffs and the next year we did not make the playoffs. I felt like we have a good team and great players, and it’s all about us. It doesn’t matter what team you play. You just have to go to the ice and play hard and try and win the game.

Q. How do you feel foreign players like yourself are marketed in the United States, and are you happy with the way you’ve been marketed in Washington?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Yeah, I’m happy. I’m glad to be here and also we have a great team. It’s nice position and I feel pretty comfortable here.

Q. Sidney Crosby just got a new contract. Are you looking for a new contract, as well?

ALEX OVECHKIN: New contract, I cannot talk because the season did not start.

Q. Did you see what Sidney Crosby got? Do you want to make that kind of money?

ALEX OVECHKIN: I don’t know. We have to talk with George and we’ll see.

Q. There was though incident, wasn’t there, in Russia, between you and Gennady Ushakov?

ALEX OVECHKIN: No.

Q. They just made it up?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Yeah.

Q. Do they do that over there?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Yeah, a lot.

Q. They don’t do that over here.

ALEX OVECHKIN: No.

Q. Can you just talk about what Tom Poti’s addition means for the Capitals and how he might make your job a little easier?

ALEX OVECHKIN: He’s a great D and he can control the puck the puck well. We got him in our first line D in power play, so he’s pretty good. He can pass and it’s very important to us to move forward if you have a guy that can pass. I think the Capitals are in good position after signing this guy.

Q. Last year your team was basically a playoff contender, at least until Christmas, and then things kind of fell off in the second half, games got tougher. Just wondering what you think the team learned from that second half?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Well, the reason that we don’t make the playoffs at all last year was we had lots of injuries; Clark was injured, Kolzig was injured; our leaders were injured. And sometimes we don’t have the guys to play in the games. So made some calls to bring some guys from Hershey, and it was very hard for us to win games because most of the year we weren’t in good shape, we were injured.

Q. You expressed some frustration about the talent level and that the team needed to get new players. Given it’s not always easy to turn a team around one year to the next, are you satisfied with the changes?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Well, you can see the level like with the players coming to our team, younger, Backstrom, (Josef) Boumedienne coming. It’s nice we have lots of great guys and great players on our team.

Q. You recently started a blog. Granted, it won’t help too many of us, as it’s in Russian. Is this something that you did on your own, and how often do you plan on updating it throughout the year?

ALEX OVECHKIN: Well, I make decision to make my blog because the Russian fans want to know something about me and it gives some questions. The Russian media call me and this is an answer for these questions.

I think it’s nice when you are on the ice and you do some talking with the fans, because, you know, I love my fans and I love Russian fans. They are asking lots of things and I just try and answer.


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