Archive for April 2008

Accolades for Alzner

April 30, 2008

As we witnessed this season, most of the pieces of the next great Washington Capitals teams are already in place and merely need to ripen alongside each other for the next several seasons. The one notable exception is defenseman Karl Alzner, who spent this past season with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL.

Alzner was Washington’s top choice (fifth overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft and the second defensemen chosen in last year’s draft. He will celebrate his 20th birthday just days before the opening of the 2008-09 NHL season and has a much better than decent chance of cracking Washington’s opening night roster.

Today, Alzner was named both player of the year and defenseman of the year in the WHL. Additiionally, he is one of three finalists for the 2008 Canadian Hockey League MVP award which will be announced in late May.

Labre is Back in the Coaching Game

April 29, 2008

Ex-Caps defenseman Yvon Labre, whose No. 7 sweater hangs from the rafters of Verizon Center, is back behind the bench. Labre was named as the coach of the 16-and-under Baltimore Stars for 2008-09.

Congrats to Yvon, and to the lucky kids who will be learning the game from him.

No Surprise

April 29, 2008

The NHL announced today that Alex Ovechkin is among the three finalists for the NHL’s Hart Trophy, awarded annually to the league’s most valuable player. Ovechkin has already claimed the 2008 Art Ross and Maurice Richard Trophies, and is a likely finalist for the Lester Pearson Award as well.

Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin and Calgary’s Jarome Iginla are the other Hart finalists. Ovechkin would be the first member of the Capitals to win the Hart, just as he was the first Cap to claim the Ross and Richard Trophies.

The winner of the Hart Trophy and all the other 2008 NHL award and trophy recipients will be announced Thursday, June 12 at the 2008 NHL Awards Television Special from the Elgin Theatre in Toronto.

Russians Add Firepower for Worlds

April 28, 2008

Team Russia got a big-time injection of top level forward talent today when a trio of Capitals forwards signed on for the 2008 IIHF World Championships.

Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Sergei Fedorov were added to Team Russia’s roster today, as was Nashville forward Alexander Radulov.

Russia opens preliminary round play with a date against Italy on Friday. The Russian team will leave Moscow with 25 players tomorrow, embarking for Montreal where it will play exhibition games against Canada and Switzerland. The Russians currently have 29 players (three goaltenders, nine defensemen and 17 forwards), including their four additions of Monday. Only 20 of the 26 skaters can be registered for the preliminary round.

When I spoke with Fedorov last week after the Caps were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs, he indicated he might sign on for the Worlds.

“It’s still up in the air as far as I know,” said the veteran center last Wednesday. “There will be some communication between myself and the coaching staff. Maybe, maybe not. It sounds like my brother is going to make it, so that is exciting news. We’ll see if they have one more spot for me.”

Fedor Fedorov is more than a decade younger than his older, more famous brother. The younger Fedorov was a sixth round (182nd overall) draft choice of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. He did not sign with the Bolts, and was a third round (66th overall) draft choice of the Vancouver Canucks in the 2001 Entry Draft.

Fedor Fedorov has two assists in 18 career NHL games with Vancouver and the Rangers. He spent last season with Moscow Dynamo of the Russian Super League where he racked up a dozen goals, 25 points and 117 PIM in 49 games.

Sergei Fedorov will be skating in the World Championships for the first time in 18 years. He helped lead the Soviet Union to consecutive gold medal finishes in 1989 and 1990. The second gold medal came just months before he defected from the U.S.S.R. to join the Detroit Red Wings.

The Russian Federation was apparently able to overcome the obstacle of insuring Ovechkin’s 13-year, $124-million contract. The Caps star winger mentioned last Wednesday that his participation in the Worlds would hinge upon his team’s ability and willingness to insure his NHL contract.

Ovechkin played in the 2007 World Championships in his native Moscow, but was used as a fourth-line winger and on the team’s second power play unit. He had one goal and three points in his limited role on Team Russia. This marks the sixth consecutive spring in which Ovechkin has represented his country in the World Championships. He was named to the World Championship All-Star Team in 2006.

Semin was invited to the Russian team’s camp last spring, but was left off the team when he reported late. He has previous experience in four World Championships from 2003-06.

The three Washington forwards will be joined on the Russian roster by goaltender Simeon Varlamov, Washington’s first-round (23rd overall) choice in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

Rooting Against the Flyers and Sharks

April 25, 2008

There are plenty of folks out there who don’t need any additional reasons to root against the Philadelphia Flyers in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against Montreal. Here’s another one anyway.

Washington owns Philadelphia’s second round choice in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. The sooner the Flyers are out, the higher that pick will be. The Capitals also own San Jose’s second-rounder in this year’s draft.

The four teams that wind up as conference finalists in the 2008 Stanley Cup playoffs will draft 27-28-29-30 regardless of their regular season point totals, so it’s better for the Caps if the Flyers and Sharks exit before then.

Just sayin.

The Flyers are down 1-0 in the series after last night’s Game 1. Montreal got a goal that shouldn’t have counted and then benefited from a questionable late penalty on Philly center Mike Richards, taking a 3-2 overtime decision from the Flyers.

Cue John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.”

The Sharks and Stars hook up in Game 1 of their series tonight.

Odds and Ends

April 24, 2008

The second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs begins tonight. If you look at the first round stats, you’ll see Alex Ovechkin’s name prominently featured among the league leaders in several playoff categories.

He is tied for second in scoring with nine points, tied for second with four goals, and tied for the league lead with six power play points. Ovie had five assists, tied for fifth among first-round participants. His 32 hits are tied for fourth-most in the league. Ovechkin skated at average of 24:03 per contest, tops among all forwards in the league.

Except for his team’s result, it was a pretty good first foray into Stanley Cup play for the Caps’ star left wing. As I wrote in the Postgame Notebook on caps.com after Game 7, the history of similar stars points to great things in the future for both Ovechkin and the Caps.

Last night was a good one for both of Washington’s minor league affiliate clubs. The Hershey Bears got a vintage goaltending performance from Frederic Cassivi and an overtime game-winner from Alexandre Giroux to snap a six-game postseason losing streak and stave off elimination in their first-round playoff battle with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The Bears now trail the series 3-1 and Game 5 is Friday night at Wachovia Center.

Jared Bednar’s South Carolina Stingrays advanced to the third round of the ECHL playoffs with a 2-0 whitewashing of the Gwinnett Gladiators on Wednesday night at North Charleston Coliseum in the deciding game of the best-of-five series between the two teams. Stingrays netminder Davis Parley made 33 saves to support the offensive contributions of Matt Scherer (his first goal of the playoffs) and Travis Morin (his eighth).

The Stingrays now await the winner of the Columbia-Texas series to determine their opponent for the next round of the Kelly Cup playoffs. Columbia downed Texas in overtime on Wednesday to force a deciding Game 5 in Texas on Friday night.

Here are a few more items of note from around the NHL:
Detroit’s Pavel Datsyuk, Buffalo’s Jason Pominville and Tampa Bay’s Martin St. Louis were named finalists today for the 2008 Lady Byng Trophy. On Friday, the league will unveil the three finalists for the 2008 Selke Trophy.

FROM THE STAT WIZARDS AT ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU
The Avalanche and Red Wings have met in the playoffs five times before, all in the seven-year span from 1996 to 2002. Colorado won three of the five series and 17 of the 30 games. Patrick Roy started in goal for the Avs in every one of those games while Detroit’s goaltender varied from year to year: Chris Osgood in 1996, Mike Vernon in 1997, Bill Ranford (4 games) and Osgood (2) in 1999, Osgood in 2000, and Dominik Hasek in 2002.

Four current Red Wings and three current Avs played in all five previous Detroit-Colorado series: Nicklas Lidstrom (30 GP, 5-13–18); Darren McCarty (30 GP, 7-3–10); Kris Draper (29 GP, 0-2–2); Kirk Maltby (25 GP, 4-2–6); Joe Sakic (30 GP, 12-13–25); Adam Foote (30 GP, 1-3–4); and Peter Forsberg (29 GP, 12-16–28).

ON THIS DATE IN PLAYOFF HISTORY
April 24, 1994 - Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Gary Suter tallied three goals in a 4-3 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Four of their Western Conference Quarter-final series. Suter became the eighth defenseman in Stanley Cup playoffs history to post a hat trick, joining Bobby Orr, Dick Redmond, Denis Potvin, Doug Halward, Paul Reinhart (twice), Al Iafrate and Eric Desjardins.

April 24, 1996 - Petr Nedved of the Penguins scored at the 19:15 mark of the fourth overtime period to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 win over Washington in the third-longest (now fifth longest) game in NHL history. Washington’s Joe Juneau was stopped by Ken Wregget on the first penalty shot ever taken in overtime of an?NHL playoff game.

April 24, 1999 - Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy, the NHL’s all-time leader for postseason victories, earned his 100th career playoff win as the Avalanche defeated San Jose 3–1 to take a 1-0 lead in their Conference Quarter-final series.

April 24, 2003 - After having upset the Detroit Red Wings in four straight games, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim took the first game of their Western Conference Semifinal from the Dallas Stars with a 4–3 overtime victory. Petr Sykora scored the winning goal 48 seconds into the fifth overtime period. The 80:48 of overtime made it the fourth longest game in NHL history.

April 24, 2006 - Colorado Avalanche center Joe Sakic set an NHL playoff record by scoring his seventh career overtime goal in a 5-4 victory at Dallas in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal. Sakic passed the legendary Maurice Richard, who notched six playoff overtime goals in his 18-year Hall of Fame career. Richard had held or shared the League record since March 29, 1951, when he scored his third career playoff OT goal to tie Boston’s Mel Hill.

If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry

April 24, 2008

Like a tequila hangover, the pain of that particular Game 7 loss will be felt beyond the morning after.

It takes me an hour to get home after home games, and I always listen to music on the i-Pod during the ride. After Caps wins, I listen to the “Caps win” mix. After losses, I pick out something that feels appropriate.

After a bit of parking garage surreality in which seven or eight of us spent an hour trying to help a friend extract his keys from his locked car, I drove home in silence with the windows down.

As I was driving into the District for the break-up day stuff yesterday, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to hear. I shuffled the deck and let the musical cards fall where they would. Ironically enough, out of 3,163 songs presently on the Pod, this is what came up at the top of the deck:

“Demon of White Sadness”

I don’t know what I feel inside
The Demon sighs in the dashboard lights
He lights a cigarette with his fingernail
As he’s circling our block

Now I don’t quite understand about love
The Demon snacks on a pickled dove
He parks his Nova about behind your truck
And comes in without a knock

Chorus:

Bleeding out of small cuts in my skin
White sadness, the Demon, the demon
Hurt to hurt from hurt comes the new pain
White sadness, the Demon, my demon

Now I don’t feel like I wanna feel
The Demon waits as we finish our meal
He glares at photos of us on the fridge
And then he glares at us for real

I often dream about going back
The Demon’s eyes go from clear to skunk black
He gropes your breasts with necessary attack
As you suck his lips of fire

Chorus 2x

Fallin’ out of favor was my favorite thing
‘Til I took the pill that made you real

That song is one of many brilliant songs by a soulful, band called Marah. They’re from Philly, they’re one of that city’s greatest musical exports, IMO. “Demon of White Sadness” is from an album called “If You Didn’t Laugh, You’d Cry.”

As Homer Simpson likes to say, “Isn’t irony ironic?”

The Caps could have been swept in four straight and this would have been a pretty good year, IMO. They’ve got their heads held high as as well they should have.

Back with something more substantial later.

Explanation from the League

April 22, 2008

On the second Philly goal:

Explanation on Philadelphia’s second goal at 9:47 of the second period – Washington’s Shaone Morrisonn plays the puck and Philadelphia’s Patrick Thoresen lays a legal body check on Morrisonn.  No Philadelphia player makes contact with Washington goaltender Huet (Rule 69).  This play is not reviewable.

Best of One

April 22, 2008

A series this dramatic and compelling with this many storylines deserves to go the distance, and so it does. A few hours from now, Washington will host its first Game 7 Stanley Cup playoff game in nearly 16 years, and it will attempt to win its first Stanley Cup playoff Game 7 in more than 20 years.

The Caps fell into a 3-1 hole in this series, but Washington bench boss Bruce Boudreau made adjustments even before that, and those adjustments have been paying dividends for a few games now. Flyers coach John Stevens elected to put his top defensive duo of Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen on Caps star left wing Alex Ovechkin. That duo has done a wonderful job of keeping Ovechkin in check. Until last night, they had not been out on the ice for an even-strength goal against in the series.

But while the Flyers swarmed Ovechkin, players like Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin began to find their playoff legs. Brooks Laich put together the longest scoring streak of his NHL career. And with Ovechkin finding the range twice last night, the Caps now have two dangerously bona fide lines working.

Much was made of Philly’s scoring depth and physical play before the start of the series, but Washington has matched the Flyers in both those departments. The Flyers might have had a goaltending edge early in the series, but that pendulum has swung back in the Capitals’ direction over the last three games. Special teams seem fairly even. 

In a one game series, what will make the difference between these two teams?

We won’t profess to know, but here’s something that we’ve noticed. In the last few games, as the Capitals’ secondary scoring has heated up, Stevens has started to back off the ice time given to some of his veteran defenders. Derian Hatcher skated more than eight minutes in the first period of Game 6 to lead all Flyers defensemen. Some of us believed if he continued to see that much ice, he’d be a liability. He didn’t, but he was anyway. Hatcher got worked for Washington’s second goal, and he was on the ice for just 4:31 of the third period.

Jason Smith has been a frequent site on the ice after Washington goals in this series, skating off with sagging shoulders. He ranks among playoff leaders in blocked shots, but his minus-6 is worst on the team and second worst among all 323 playoff skaters (New Jersey’s Paul Martin finished at minus-8, good for the golf course, but not for the ice). Smith skated just 11:56 in Game 6, exactly six fewer minutes than he averaged during the regular season.

Now faced with a Game 7 just one night after his team dropped its second consecutive contest in Game 6, it will be interesting to see how Stevens handles his blueline tonight. Will he scratch Hatcher and/or Smith and go to youngster Ryan Parent (14:59 a night in 22 regular season games) and/or Jaroslav Modry (minus-15 in 24 regular season and playoff games combined)? Modry’s father just passed away in his native Czech Republic, and we’re not even sure if he’s available to play. But you can see the conundrum that faces Stevens.

On the other side of the coin, Boudreau’s confidence in the defensemen at the back of his depth chart seems to be going in the other direction. John Erskine averaged 15:43 in 51 regular season games, and Steve Eminger skated just 11:08 in 20 regular season tilts. Both players were plus-3 in Game 6, and both made significant contributions. Erskine led all skaters on both sides with five hits, and Eminger placed a perfect breakout pass on Laich’s stick to start the rush that led to Washington’s first goal in Game 6, the goal that started the comeback from a 2-0 deficit.

Erskine logged 19:10 in Game 6 and Eminger skated 17:36. Washington’s defensemen figure to be a bit fresher tonight, and they’re also younger. Philly’s defense could be vulnerable against the Caps forecheck and cycling game low in the offensive zone. They were in the first half of Game 5 and in the second half of Game 6. The trick for the Caps, who obviously also played last night, will be getting that hard forecheck going on a consistent basis.

Then there’s Philly’s power play. They’ve scored six times with the extra man in the series, including two times last night. They love that back door play and work it well. Washington has been “enduring” Flyers power plays almost as often as it has actually “killed” them in this series. That said, the Caps power play has struck on seven occasions. And both teams have been burned by having too many men on the ice. Discipline, as always, will be a factor.

Finally, the goaltending. Martin Biron is 0-5 in the second half of back-to-back starts this season, and he has not won a game in that situation since Nov. 11, 2006. Cristobal Huet is 1-2 in the second of back-to-back starts this season; his most recent win was a few months ago, on Dec. 28. Furthermore, Biron is 2-7-1 with a 4.85 GAA and an .845 save pct. in the second of starts on consecutive nights since the lockout.

Washington has allowed just one even strength goal in the last two games, and just two in the last nine periods of hockey. We mentioned that Biron might have had a goaltending edge early in the series, but Huet has a .929 save pct. in the last three games while Biron is at .907 over the same span.

None of the above matters, of course. Only what the coaches and players do behind the benches and on the ice in front of our anticipatory eyes a few hours from now does.

Game 7. It’s been a while. Savor it.

Back to Philly

April 20, 2008

It was important for the Caps to come out with a strong first period in Saturday’s Game 5, and they did. It was probably their best period of the series. They outshot the Flyers 12-4 and outhit them 22-9. Washington also held Philly without a shot for the final 15 minutes of the frame, but for all that dominance, the Caps held only a slim 1-0 after 20 minutes, and they needed a great Cristobal Huet save on a Danny Briere breakaway for that.

They’ll need six more periods like the first period of Saturday’s game if they’re to come back from the 1-3 hole they dug for themselves in this series, though. Game 6 is in Philly on Monday night, and we’re all headed back up that way later today.

I’d love to see the Caps completely eschew any idea of making a pass at the opposing blueline and just stick to dump and chase hockey, establishing a forecheck and forcing the Flyers’ defensemen to make quick, accurate passes. To me, that was the basis of a lot of Washington’s success yesterday, especially in the first period. And when they do make those cute passes at the line, they’re too often turned over and used as fuel for the dangerous Philly transition game.

I’ve been pointing out virtually since Game 1 that the Caps have had difficulty getting shots through and getting them on net. That was still the case on Saturday. During the regular season, the Caps had the fifth most shots on goal in the league, and the Flyers allowed the fourth most. But Washington has not been able to get enough shots on Flyers goaltender Martin Biron in this series. Through five game, the Caps have fired 137 shots on goal, they’ve had another 109 blocked en route, and they’ve missed the net altogether with 77 other bids. 

My podcast partner Brett Leonhardt summed this problem up neatly yesterday. “They’re shooting to score,” he said. Meaning that they’re trying to pick a corner, and more often than not missing, only to have the puck rattle around the glass and careen out into the neutral zone, where once again the danger exists of a Philly counter-attack. Brett recommends shooting on net, and getting traffic in front to create screens or having guys driving the net for rebounds. Makes sense to me, and I’d like to see some of that on Monday.

Game 6 will be a war, a battle of wills. The Flyers don’t want to come back to the District for a Game 7 on Tuesday, and the Caps want nothing more. If the Caps can bottle up that first period on Saturday in Game 5 and reproduce it a few times in Game 6, they can win it and even the series. But if they play the way they played in the third period — when too often it looked like they’d be content to get it to overtime even though they led throughout the frame — they’ll be in trouble.


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