Archive for November 2007

Patriot-News Says it’s Laing

November 29, 2007

According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, the Caps will recall left wing Quintin Laing from Hershey of the AHL to join the parent club this weekend on its two-game road trip to Carolina and Florida.

Laing, a 28-year-old native of Harris, Saskatchewan, is a gritty checking forward who is in his second season with the Bears. His previous NHL experience consists of three games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2003-04, a stint during which he registered one assist.

Injury Update

November 29, 2007

Just got some updated injury info from Nate Ewell. Alexander Semin is healthy. Chris Clark is day-to-day with a groin injury, and Boyd Gordon is week-to-week with an unspecified injury. We should expect some player movement from Hershey prior to Friday’s game with the Hurricanes in Raleigh.

Hope For Eminger

November 27, 2007

Caps defenseman Steve Eminger played in just one of the team’s first 21 games this season. Since Bruce Boudreau took over as Washington’s interim coach last week, Eminger has played in one of three games. Even though he will not be in the lineup for Wednesday’s game with Florida, Eminger finally sees a glimmer of hope for himself. Boudreau has said that he wants all 23 players to play, and wants all 23 to feel like they’re part of the team. After spending much of the first quarter of the season in limbo, that’s music to Eminger’s ears. Playing once or twice a week is far better than playing once a month.

“It’s a chance,” says Eminger, “and I guess that’s what I didn’t get in the first two months was a chance. That’s all that we could ask for. We have eight defense[men] here and everyone has to play. Everyone can contribute. If that’s the role that we’re going to be put into, I don’t think guys are going to complain. Obviously you want to be there every night and you want to be playing every night, but we have healthy bodies that are going to contribute so if that’s going to be the game plan, you’ve just got to be ready and be ready to step in when it’s your chance.”

Eminger played in Monday night’s 3-1 loss to the Sabres. It was just his second game this season and his first in the team’s last nine games. We wondered whether it was harder for him physically or mentally.

“Both,” says the 24-year-old rearguard. “I was talking to people, talking to my dad after the game, and I said, ‘Playing, you don’t know what to expect.’ It might be kind of silly listening to this, but you almost forget what a bodycheck feels like, you almost forget what a one-on-one is going to be like, what a two-on-one is going to be like. You can do it in a practice, but a game is completely different. You get what is referred to as tunnel vision where you just see straight ahead of you and that’s it. I’m not seeing guys on my side and that’s going to come by playing.

“When you’ve played two games in two months, I don’t care if you’re Scott Niedermayer coming back. I think you’re still going to need that time to get adjusted. Hopefully the coaches can bear with me. I know myself that we’re closing in on 30 games and you don’t have that time to have those mistakes and make those mistakes. But I might need some time to get into that groove. Already in practice today after [playing in] this game I felt better already.”

The first of Washington’s three first-round draft choices (12th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, Eminger made the Caps in the fall of 2002 as an 18-year-old kid on what was then a pretty good Capitals team. After 17 games with the parent club, the Caps excused Eminger to play in the World Junior Championships. He was then returned to his junior club, the Kitchener Rangers. Eminger helped lead Kitchener to a Memorial Cup championship, often playing 30-35 minutes a night. The book on him was that he would become a solid and steady NHL blueliner for a decade or so.

Eminger split the 2003-04 season between Washington and the club’s AHL Portland affiliate. After a strong start with the Caps in 2005-06, he leveled off and then suffered a bad ankle injury in mid-January. Just as he was hitting his stride again, the season ended. Last season, he was scratched several times, including six consecutive games in February. Washington won only one of those games, and was 2-9-3 in the 14 games in which Eminger did not play last season, regardless of the reason.

This fall, a training camp ankle injury limited him in the preseason and he started the regular season on injured reserve. The Caps started the season with three straight wins, but even after the losses began piling up, Eminger remained out of the lineup. He finally made his 2007-08 debut in Atlanta on Nov. 6, but was right back in the press box then next night and every game since since until Monday.

Hindsight is 20/20 and there will always be a debate about whether the Caps might have done more or might have done things differently with Eminger. You don’t see many 24-year-old former first-rounders being buried by teams that drafted them, especially when that team is at the bottom of the league standings. It can’t be good for a player’s confidence.

“I don’t think it’s a positive thing on your confidence,” he admits, “not playing and feeling that you’re not wanted. It’s a different feeling. It’s a frustrating feeling, because the only thing that you want to do is play and play for the team. The way that I always look at things and look at life is things work out for a reason. You still try to figure out what’s going to evolve around this, why did this happen, what’s going to happen with your career. But like I said, things always happen for a reason and hopefully something positive turns out out of this.

“I have confidence in myself. I know what I can do. When I get in that groove, when I get a shot, when I play games, when I get back into it, I know what I can do. It’s just a matter of — and it seems like I am — getting that shot. With Bruce here, he told us we were all going to play and I guess that’s the shot I need.”

Eminger skated just under 10 minutes against Buffalo. He appeared to be skating well, and he picked up an assist on Washington’s only goal. He was a minus-2 on the night, but about the worst thing you could say about is performance is that he was trying too hard to make an impression. It’s understandable.

“A couple of unlucky plays there,” he reflects. “I guess you can hold back on your first game or you can get involved. I was playing on a lot of adrenaline, I was really excited and I wanted to get after it and get involved.”

He would have been just minus-1, but he parked himself on the bench just as Alex Ovechkin scored. Although he assisted on the goal, Eminger did not get a plus-1 on the play.

“Yeah, I just stepped off,” he says. “[Defense partner John] Erskine and myself just stepped off as he scored.”

Eminger knows he can play better, and he knows the team can play better. Right now, he is happy to be feeling like he is part of the team again and looking forward to what the rest of the season holds.

“[I] definitely feel rejuvenated,” says Eminger. “It does feel like the start of the season to me in a way, because obviously I haven’t really started the season. This feels like a start to me, that’s the way I am looking at it. I woke up today and I felt good, even though I wasn’t in awe of my game [Monday]. But I felt good. I felt back with the team, and back with that hopefully winning attitude. I haven’t won this year, and I want to win.

“When we were losing, I felt bad. I felt bad for the guys. But it didn’t feel like I was really losing. When we won, it didn’t feel like I was winning. It wasn’t like the rotation that we’re going to be in now. I’m not in tomorrow, but when we lose or win, I am still going to feel it. I haven’t had that feeling this year. Getting that feeling, anyone who has been part of a team knows what I am talking about.”

Hartnell Gets Two

November 27, 2007

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but another Flyer has been suspended for a questionable hit. You can find the Scott Hartnell hit on Boston’s Andrew Alberts on YouTube, but I was more interested in Hartnell’s comments, as quoted by The Philadelphia Enquirer‘s Tim Panaccio:

“Lupul chipped the puck to that D-man and he went down low to block the puck,” Hartnell said. “I thought it was going to get by him. I let up a bit and finished my check. I think he put himself in a vulnerable position. I definitely didn’t intend to injure him.

“It wasn’t deliberate; I didn’t try to hurt him. I’m not that kind of player. If you look at the all games this year and past years, I’m a guy who finishes his check. He was close to boards. It wasn’t like he was two or three feet from the boards. . . . I let up. It’s unfortunate he stayed down.”

When I read that, I was reminded of Hartnell’s quote after he flattened Washington’s Boyd Gordon in a Friday afternoon game at Wachovia Center. Here’s what he had to say after he was asked if he wanted to make a big hit to get things going:

“Oh absolutely. There was nothing going on in the first 35 minutes and [Joffrey] Lupul said to me on the bench, ‘Let’s go get some big hits.’ The guy [Gordon] had his head down. It wasn’t a late hit, [I] just tried to finish my check really hard.”

As we’re finding out, that’s how they roll. Hartnell is the fourth Flyer to incur a league suspension for on-ice behavior since September.

Pregame Q&A with BB

November 26, 2007

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau held court for a few minutes before tonight’s game, and here’s what was said. And I apologize … I totally spaced out and forgot to ask how Alexander Semin would fit into the team’s power play. I guess we’ll find out in an hour or so.

For the first couple of games when a new coach comes in, guys generally play the best they can and try to impress you and earn some ice time. What happens when that novelty wears off for them?

“Well, then there’s somebody else who will hopefully want to do the same thing. and hopefully it doesn’t wear off. Because if they’re going to play like that and continue to have success they’ll say, ‘You know what? I like winning. This is fun.’ The bottom line is winning is the most fun thing you can do in sports. I hope it’s something that doesn’t wear off at all.”

More specifially, how do you keep it going?

“Keep pushing them, I believe anyway. You just keep pushing them and you don’t give them a chance to let up. Every game is a different goal. Every practice there is a different reason to do it well. As long as I don’t become mundane and the message doesn’t turn into, ‘Oh here we go again, I’ve heard that one before,’ I think they’ll get excited because they’re a great group of men.”

Steve Eminger is going to be in the lineup tonight. He doesn’t really have confidence, he doesn’t have no confidence. He hasn’t played, and he probably isn’t in real game shape; he has only played one game. What do you expect from him, and will it take a few games before you can really evaluate him?

“Quite frankly, it’s his job to be in shape and it’s his job to be ready. I expect him to play just as good as every other defenseman on the team. Because if we don’t [expect that] and we say, ‘Oh he’s got to take a few games,’ and this and that, then it’s an excuse. And if you’re a guy that doesn’t accept excuses, then that’s it. He’s got to play good. We’re going to use eight [defensemen]. Eight defensemen over a long season. And if he wants to get more ice time and he goes out there and plays good, he’ll continue to play.”

Bruce, do you think that using eight [defensemen] and also moving some forwards in and out is going to keep them motivated? Is that part of your master plan?

“I think the plan everywhere is that if you want to have a 23-man team, then you’ve got to play 23 guys. I’ve never seen guys that have been sat out for long periods of time [who feel like they’re part of the team]. As a hockey player, as much as you want to be part of it, you don’t feel part of it. We want everyone to feel part of it and we want everybody to feel part of success. If they can feel part of success, then tehy’ll pull for everybody. There are guys out of the lineup tonight that I thought played pretty well the last game and the last two games. But they have to understand that we’ll move around some people. And the other guy is going to come in and hopefully he is not going to want to let down the team or the guy [whose spot he is taking].”

The Matt Pettinger decision, is that performance based?

“We’ve got 13 forwards. I thought Petty played great in Philadelphia. Just because you don’t score, sometimes you have four chances. He had four good shots on net, he had a great chance with a minute and a half to go and he competed. [Saturday] he was looking a little down. I think sometimes when a guy is used to having more success than he is having, it’s not bad to watch a game, to see the game from above and watch video on himself. Sometimes you can spot something. But I anticipate him being back in the lineup soon.”

There are a lot of coaches who wouldn’t change anything when they’ve won a game or two games. Was there a certain point in your career when you came by that philosophy? Because I think it’s rare. I think most coaches, if they win, they don’t make the change.

“I don’t know. Sometimes when you’re coaching in the American League, it’s more being fair. And when you’re a player who was called up an awful lot and sat in the stands an awful lot, I know exactly what the players went through and it wasn’t conducive to winning. Because when you sit in the stands for an awful lot, whether you like it or not, human nature is, ‘I hope we don’t do well.’ And I want everybody to pull for everybody. I want when we come down [after the game] today if we’re lucky enough to win the game, that everybody is all pumped up, not just the 20 who played.”

28 is a Scratch

November 23, 2007

Alexander Semin did not make the trip and will not be in the lineup for Washington here in Philadelphia this afternoon. The Hershey contingent of general manager Doug Yingst, interim coach Bob Woods and radio voice John Walton arrived a few minutes ago. Yingst will join Woods behind the bench and help out as an assistant for the next few games. Hershey takes on the Phantoms here tonight after the Caps/Flyers game.

It Starts With One

November 23, 2007

For those of us associated with the Washington Capitals, the last few days have been very long and trying days. Thursday especially was like that, and a few of us were called away from family and friends for several hours on a holiday because a guy that we liked a lot lost his job. And seeing what Glen Hanlon endured up close the last few days wasn’t easy for any of us either, but especially not for him or his players, staff, management and ownership.

I’m back home now at the end of a great Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends. It’s the end of a very long day with two more very long days looming directly ahead, and with the Caps’ next game less than 12 hours away. I’ve had some to digest all these goings on, and to listen again to the comments of George McPhee, Bruce Boudreau and a handful of Caps players. I should be sleeping but I’m not, so here are a few of the things and comments from today that are kicking around in my head about now. This post will seem disjointed, because that’s how my thoughts are.

I’ve been around here long enough that I date back to Jim Schoenfeld’s days as the team’s head coach. I can honestly say that this was the only coaching change I’ve been through were the players were sincerely pained and anguished over the loss of their leader. The players feel like they let Glen down. That’s understandable, but they have to move forward and they will.

“I’m disappointed,” said team captain Chris Clark. “I take a lot of the responsibility on myself as one of the older guys on the team not coming through for a great guy like Glennie is. I’m taking this really hard. Bruce is going to do a great job; I know it. And we’re going to respond. But it’s tough losing someone like that. [He was] part of our team and part of my life the last couple of years.”

Because of Hershey’s geographical proximity to my Baltimore home, I’ve also had the good fortune to get to know Bruce Boudreau pretty well over the last two and a half years. He’s a straight-shooting guy who has quite literally seen and coached and played in thousands and thousands of hockey games. I’ve watched somewhere upwards of 60 Boudreau-coached games over the last few years dating back to his days behind the Manchester bench, and he’s a very cagey coach who has a great feel for the game as it is unfolding.

Bruce is also a great guy with a million terrific stories, because he has played with and/or against and coached or coached against damn near everyone who ever laced them up professionally. The game of hockey is teeming with great people, as I am reminded every time I walk into an arena anywhere on the globe and am greeted by a familiar face. Bruce ranks right up there near the top, and don’t take it from me. Take it from two guys who know him much better, Tim Leone and John Walton.

As difficult as it was to have Glen leave, I am happy that Bruce is finally getting a chance that is overdue in my opinion.

Of course, the burning question (okay, one of many) on the minds of you all out there is: Can the guys in the room turn things around and salvage the season?

“We have to win that first game first and that’s all we’re going to concentrate on right now,” says Clark, “maybe just that first period against Philly.”

“We think we have the right people in the room,” says McPhee, “and we’d like to start winning games and get on a roll. But it has to start with a game [Friday]. We just didn’t have the feeling that we were going to have any chance to win the game [Friday] based on the way the last two games went. So we had to make the change. Hopefully it will be enough to inspire us to win [Friday].”

If you listen to our frequent podcasts on washingtoncaps.com, you know that I’ve been talking myself hoarse about the Capitals needing to put together a sustained winning streak to prove that they’re a viable playoff contender for weeks now. At this point, being a viable playoff contender doesn’t even enter into the equation any longer. They’ve got to put together a streak not unlike the one the Atlanta Thrashers are currently enjoying, merely to get back to break-even level. It’s been more than six years (Mar. 3-11, 2001) since the Caps have won as many as five straight, which is why I brought it up in the first place, back on Nov. 1. The Caps were 5-6 then.

The streak has to start with one, and my sense is that most of you don’t believe this team is capable of such a streak. I understand that thinking. It’s been a while since you’ve had that feeling of going to the rink night after night, believing the Caps would win each night regardless of the opposition. I remember that feeling, but I also remember the last time I had it. It was only about 18 months ago, as I was reminded on Thursday afternoon. More on that in a bit.

I also remembered a day almost four years ago when I was summoned to a similar gathering of press and cameras on the day that Hanlon was named to replace Bruce Cassidy as Caps coach. I remember being eager to speak to Matt Pettinger that day, because he had played for Hanlon in Portland and had good firsthand knowledge of him as a head coach.

Thursday, I sought out Brooks Laich for largely the same reasons. He didn’t let me down.

“I think Bouds is awesome,” says Laich. “He’s very passionate about hockey first and foremost, always watching hockey and learning. I think he’ll be great for us. He is an up-tempo guy; he wants us to move our feet. We’ve got a young group of guys in here and we can skate. He wants us to move our feet and move the puck quick, think on your feet and make hockey reads.

“First and foremost, he demands a lot of hard work, but also he’s a player’s coach and he wants guys to have fun. We might not be in the best situation right now, but we have a great opportunity here. We have a great bunch of guys here, we still believe in ourselves and we believe in Bouds. There might be a couple subtle changes but other than that we’ll just keep going forward and hopefully start his tenure off here with a win [Friday].”

“He’s very prepared. Even though he’s in Hershey, I still talk to him. He watches our games, he likes to follow players he has coached before and he likes to watch our team. I think that will be a great asset for him coming in here. Obviously what he has done in the AHL speaks for itself. His first two years in Hershey he wins a Cup and the next year takes them back to the finals. A lot of the players in here are very familiar with him, so I think it will be an easy transition for us.

“Our record doesn’t indicate the talent that we have in this room. For some reason we haven’t been able to put it together. Bouds comes in here, he brings a different attitude and maybe it’s a wakeup call for us. Glennie did a great job, and he deserved better than what we gave him, for sure. We have to realize that it’s a tough day today but also it’s a day of moving forward and Bouds is our guy.

“I think we had a great practice today and it starts tomorrow. We’ll see how we play tomorrow. Hopefully guys will have an extra jump in their step and respond to the change that has been made. One win could turn to two and then to three. Guys start getting their confidence back and it can really snowball. You look at Bouds’ track record and his teams do that. They get on rolls and they’re really tough to beat. The reference is when we got on a 10-game winning streak in the playoffs. You show up to the rink and you know what’s going to happen. Everyone has a jump in their step and they’re having fun. The main thing we have is trust in each other. It’s not going to be an easy thing to win eight games out of 10 or whatever, but if you look around here we’ve got a lot of hard-working guys, great leadership and I think we’re capable of it.”

That 10-game winning streak Laich referred to was unreal. Different heroes every night. Guys picking each other up. They’d find a way to win every night, and there was a swagger to that team. It was fun. You went to the rink, and you knew they’d win, you didn’t know how, but you couldn’t wait to watch. Norfolk, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and then two games against Portland. Worthy foes all, and they all fell.

If he can bring that feeling back to the District, he really is Bruce Almighty.


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