Archive for December 2007

Ovie Named One of League’s Three Stars

December 31, 2007

This will come as no surprise to anyone, but Caps left winger Alex Ovechkin has been named one of the NHL’s Three Stars for the week ending Dec. 30. With five goals and seven points in three games, Ovechkin was named the league’s No. 1 star for the week. The Rangers’ Jaromir Jagr was named No. 2 star and San Jose goaltender Evgeni Nabokov earned No. 3 star honors. This marks Ovechkin’s second Three Star honor this season. He was named the league’s No. 3 star for the week of Oct. 29. 

How Sweep It Is!

December 31, 2007

The last Saturday of 2007 proved fruitful for the Washington Capitals’ organization as all three teams — the Caps, the Hershey Bears and the South Carolina Stingrays — picked up big wins. I was in Hershey to witness the Bears’ 6-1 win over Norfolk, so we’ll start with that one.   

Hershey netminder Daren Machesney was nicked for a goal on Norfolk’s first shot of the game, just 38 seconds into the contest. But Machesney and his mates didn’t stew about it any. Less than an hour after he hopped off a plane that took him from Philly to Harrisburg (after a previous flight brought him from Charleston, SC to Philly), Stephen Werner and linemate Andrew Gordon helped set up Grant Potulny’s tying goal on the line’s first shift of the game.  

After Ben Clymer drew a pair of penalties to give the Bears a two-man advantage, Joe Motzko fired a shot past Norfolk netminder Jonathan Boutin at 8:05 of the first. That was all the offense the Bears would need on this night, but there would be more.Clymer potted a power play goal of his own at 19:24 of the first to send the Bears into the locker room with a 3-1 lead and a 15-5 advantage in shots on goal. 

Early in the second, Machesney made a fabulous coast-to-coast save. He looked quick to me all night, quick on his feet and quick to his feet. The Bears started to get into some penalty trouble midway through the second, and the Admirals were sniffing about for a chance to get back in the game. Machesney never let them catch a whiff.Norfolk outshot the Bears 9-0 over a span of five and a half minutes midway through the contest, but the Hershey goaltender had the answer to all of them. Late in the second, the Ads took a bench minor for too many men on the ice. Clymer scored his second power play goal of the game just 22 seconds later, and that would be all for the Admirals on this night.

Norfolk got all of two shots on goal in the first 12 minutes of the third as the Bears whittled the clock. The visitors’ frustration deepened when Motzko stripped an Admiral in the neutral zone and patiently set up Chris Bourque for the latter’s first goal in 10 games.  A few minutes later, Hershey’s Sami Lepisto drove the net only to find David Schneider’s elbow in his face. Lepisto got fired up, dropped the gloves and handled the Norfolk defenseman capably in his first AHL bout. Bears defenseman Josef Boumedienne — still sidelined with a hand injury — told me after the game that Lepisto and Schneider have competed against each other for the last four seasons in Finland. 

A couple minutes after that fight, Norfolk’s Radek Smolenak tried to goad Motzko into a fight. Passing up the chance at a Gordie Howe hat trick. Motzko declined. But Louis Robitaille obliged Smolenak later, taking care of the Admirals forward just as he had already done earlier in the period with Norfolk’s Adam Henrich. 

All that was left was for the clock to run out, and before it did Scott Barney scored Hershey’s fourth power play goal of the night. It was the first time this season the Bears netted more than two power play strikes in a game. 

Gunning for a third straight 100-point season, the Bears are now on pace to finish with 95. They’re 10-5-0-2 under head coach Bob Woods, and they’re missing a load of key talent. I walked down the hall to catch up with some of the wounded during the second intermission and there were defensemen Tyler Sloan, Sean Collins and Boomer, forwards Andrew Joudrey, Jay Beagle, Malcolm MacMillan and Eric Fehr. Defenseman Dean Arsene hasn’t played yet this year; he was in the radio booth with my buddy John Walton.

There are a lot of talented players nursing ailments and itching to get back at it, and a lot of patchwork quilting going on down on the ice. But the Bears keep winning. And let’s not forget that goaltender Freddie Cassivi and forward Quintin Laing are currently up in Washington with the Caps. 

I was keeping an eye to the Caps’ game via the internet, and was astounded by what I “saw.” The goals kept coming for both teams, and the Caps wound up on the good end of an 8-6 decision thanks to Alex Ovechkin’s first four-goal game in the NHL. I was more astounded when I came home and saw the goals and Donald Brashear’s beatdown of Chris Neil.The Caps finished December 7-3-3.

At this exact moment one year ago I was riding a train home from New York with a sick and beleaguered bunch of Capitals who had just lost their fourth game in five nights, a 4-1 loss to the Rangers in New York. The loss dropped the Caps to 16-16-7, but they were already a couple weeks past what would prove to be their 2006-07 high water mark. 

This year’s model is four points behind at 15-19-5, but there seems to be more reason for optimism now than there did at this time last season. There are 14 other teams in the conference, and the Caps have yet to play Boston this season. Of their other 13 Eastern Conference foes, Washington has taken at least a point out of their most recent meeting with 11 of them (only Buffalo and Montreal fall on the outside of that list.). That’s how you move up in the standings, and the Caps are now out of the Eastern Conference Cellar for the first time since Nov. 9. 

Much work remains of course, but you also get the sense that some of the Caps still aren’t playing as well as they can. Get some of them up to more established levels of consistency, keep up the development of some of the young guys, and get Chris Clark, Brent Johnson and Fehr back to health and it’ll be interesting to see what they can accomplish over the season’s final 43 games. 

Here are a few noteworthy items from Saturday’s 8-6 win over the Sens in Ottawa: 

* Fourteen goals were scored in Saturday night’s game. In 1997-98, the Caps and Sens combined for 15 total goals in the four-game season series between the two teams.

 

* Six of Caps’ previous seven four-goal performances were from Peter Bondra. The most recent of those was on Dec. 27, 2000 against the Sens in Ottawa.

 

* The Caps’ last four-goal performance at home was also courtesy of Bondra, in a 10-1 win over the Lightning at MCI Center on Feb. 3, 1999.

 

* The last time the Caps and an opponent combined for as many as 14 goals in a game was Jan. 11, 2003 in a 12-2 Washington win over Florida.

 

* Washington is 5-2-3 in its last 10 games. Only one Eastern Conference team has accumulated more points than the Caps’ 13 in their last 10 games: Ottawa with 15.

 

 

* The Caps have swept the Sens on the road for first time since 1995-96 when they outscored them in two games by a combined 8-5 in Ottawa, one fewer goal than was scored on Saturday night.

 

* The Caps have a chance for their first winning season series vs. Ottawa since 1999-00 when Washington went 3-1 in four games, during which each team scored nine goals.  

Finally, how about a big shout out to coach Jared Bednar, captain Cail MacLean and the boys down in South Carolina? Despite losing goaltender Davis Parley, defenseman Grant McNeill and forwards Werner and Steve Pinizzotto to Hershey in the previous 36 hours, the Stingrays went into Charlotte on Saturday night and got four first-period goals on their way to a 5-2 win.The victory was South Carolina’s 10th in succession, matching a franchise record.  South Carolina set a new franchise mark on Sunday when it recorded its 11th straight win, a 13-round, 3-2 shootout win at home against Gwinnett. The Rays are now tied for third just four points behind second-place Gwinnett in the ECHL’s South Division standings. The juggernaut Texas Wildcatters lead that division comfortably with a stunning 24-2-1-4 record. 

Shorthanded And Sold Out

December 29, 2007

I’m sitting in what is going to be a sold-out Giant Center for tonight’s rematch between the Hershey Bears and the Norfolk Admirals. The Bears took the Admirals down in Norfolk last night, beating the hosts 4-1. The win did not come without cost, however. Defenseman Tyler Sloan and forwards Andrew Joudrey and Malcolm MacMillan all suffered injuries that will prevent them from playing tonight. The call for reinforcements from South Carolina of the ECHL went out this morning, but now we’re wondering whether Steven Werner, Steve Pinizzotto and Grant McNeil will be able to get to Giant Center in time for the game. Warm-ups start momentarily, and they’re not likely to be here by then. It’s gotta be tough to travel all day, hop out of a car and into an AHL rink and play a game a level up from where you thought you’d be playing tonight. And of course, South Carolina will have to adjust, too.  The Stingrays, winners of nine straight games in the ECHL, are in Charlotte to face the division rival Checkers tonight. The Rays have inked defenseman Tim Judy and emergency backup goaltender John Haverilack. South Carolina netminder Davis Parley is here in Hershey backing up Daren Machesney; that’s part of the organizational chain reaction that occurred in the wake of Caps goaltender Brent Johnson’s knee injury on Thursday in Pittsburgh. It’s 6:34 now, and the Bears have only 15 skaters on the ice for warm-ups. The South Carolina Three aren’t here yet, but they’re reportedly en route from the airport. Bears coach Bob Woods was talking earlier this afternoon about his playing days under Bruce Boudreau in Mississippi of the ECHL. After a rugged start to the season, the team was hit by a series of injuries right before a stretch in which it had to play four games in four nights in four buildings. The team played each of those games with 12 skaters, and won all four. It proved to be a catalyst to  a Kelly Cup championship that season.  Okay, now it’s 6:40 and warm-ups are about done. But the SC 3 are here and in the house. Just gotta get ’em suited up now. 

Clipping the Tag

December 26, 2007

As one opens Christmas presents, one frequently finds that some of the items received need to have tags and/or labels scissored off, once the assurance has been made that the item fits and/or the recipient is happy with the look and feel of the gift. A day after Christmas, the Washington Capitals have done some tag-clipping of their own. 

As we mentioned moments ago on our weekly Capitals Report podcast, the Caps today removed the “interim” tag from the title of head coach Bruce Boudreau. That’s great news for Bruce, obviously, but I think it is also a positive development for this team and this organization. 

I know there was a groundswell of support among Caps fans to bring in a “name” head coach, someone with more NHL experience and someone whose name and face would be familiar to hockey fans (think Pat Quinn, Bob Hartley and whomever else’s name you’d like to insert here). They conveniently forget that Scotty Bowman, Al Arbour and every other guy who has ever coached in this league started off with no NHL experience. 

I also know that among my media cohorts there were those who questioned the choice of Boudreau as coach strictly on cosmetic purposes. I’ve argued my point with them, and they’ve come around. You can have a polished-looking guy with fine suits and lots of hair product behind your bench, but it doesn’t mean anything if he can’t coach. Ken Hitchcock and Randy Carlyle don’t necessarily look the part either, but they’ve got rings on their fingers that say otherwise. 

I don’t agree with either line of thinking (“experience” or “cosmetic”), but then I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune of watching Boudreau work for the last few seasons and getting to know him personally. He’s a smart guy, a good coach and I have no doubt that he will succeed at this level. From the moment he was named interim head coach on Nov. 22, I was hoping he’d eventually be named the permanent coach. (As much as anyone can be “permanent” in the NHL coaching game.) 

I admit that I wondered how the players would respond to him when he came here. He can come across as a bit folksy if you don’t know him; not that that is a bad quality, it’s just something that’s more frequently associated with baseball managers than with hockey coaches. I also wondered how they’d take to him showing video of his AHL Hershey Bears to show how his system works, but it turns out I had nothing to worry about in that regard, either.  

A couple weeks into his tenure, I took a bit of an informal poll of the Caps’ locker room to see how some of the team’s vets felt about their new bench boss. I didn’t have to check with any of the players Boudreau had in Hershey, I already knew they were behind him all the way. Turns out that all the vets I talked to felt the same way, and more than a couple of them expressed hope then that Boudreau would soon have his interim label removed. 

I dutifully played devil’s advocate and brought up the concerns of others that I mentioned here in earlier paragraphs, and they were laughed off. None had any interest in playing for a recycled “name” head  coach, and none cared a lick about how a coach is supposed to “look” behind the bench. I couldn’t find anyone who wanted anyone besides Boudreau as this team’s head coach, not that it would matter if I did. 

Boudreau getting to the NHL after years and years of toiling and riding buses in lesser leagues makes for a great story. But it will make for a far greater story if he is able to do what he has done at every other level where he has coached: Win. 

Me, I think he will. 

So now it’s back to the business of trying to climb back into the Eastern Conference playoff chase. A run of five or six (or more) straight wins has vaulted some other teams back into the playoff picture (think New Jersey, Buffalo) and could do the same for the Caps. Forty-six games and a lot of work remains, starting tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning comes to town. 

Green Gives Back

December 20, 2007

I just got word of a really nice initiative involving Caps defenseman Mike Green. It’s easiest if I just cut and paste the press release, so here it is:

Washington, D.C. — Two prominent Washingtonians are lending their support to Children’s National Medical Center through two exciting online initiatives this holiday season. Sponsored by the Case Foundation, Facebook, and Parade.com, the campaigns are designed to show how simple technology can be a force for good.

• Defenseman Mike Green of the NHL’s Washington Capitals is supporting Children’s National as part of America’s Giving Challenge, sponsored by Parade.com. He has created a charity badge that others can post on their websites or blogs, or attach to their emails. Donations of $10 or more will count as a “vote” for his campaign.
http://www.networkforgood.org/Pca/Badge.aspx?BadgeId=108100

• Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House Watch column for washingtonpost.com, has developed a Facebook “cause” for Children’s National. Facebook members who donate $10 or more can help Children’s National qualify for additional dollars. The nonprofit with the most donations each day will receive another $1,000.
http://apps.facebook.com/causes/view_cause/47693

The Case Foundation is awarding a total of $750,000 for the most successful campaigns. Both challenges began Dec. 16, 2007, and continue through Jan. 31, 2008. Donations to Children’s National will go to the Kids Care Fund to advance pediatric care. For more information, visit http://giving.casefoundation.org/givingchallenge/home.

# # #

Children’s National Medical Center, located in Washington, DC, is a leader in the development of innovative new treatments for childhood illness and injury. Among the top pediatric hospitals in America, as ranked by both U.S. News & World Report and the prestigious Leapfrog Group, Children’s National has served the nation’s children for more than 135 years. For other ways to support Children’s National, visit http://www.dcchildrens.com/give.

Habs Here Tonight

December 20, 2007

Not much to report from Verizon Center today. The Capitals’ lineup will remain the same as it was for Monday’s shootout loss in Detroit, unless Bruce Boudreau opts to tweak his forward lines a bit. The sweatered personnel will remain the same.

Montreal starts a six-game road trip here tonight, because the Cirque de Soleil is currently occupying the Bell Centre. The Canadiens will play three on the road in four nights, then head home for the holidays before going right back out on the road on Dec. 26. Among the post-holiday road games is a late December date with the Panthers in Florida. The Cats usually schedule the Habs around that time of year because it’s an easy sellout for them with so many snowbirds from Quebec in the Miami area at that time of year.

Cristobal Huet will be in goal for the visitors here tonight, ending a stretch of seven straight starts for 20-year-old rookie netminder Carey Price.

More on Gabby, More on Caps

December 18, 2007

There are a lot of blogs out there that do a good job of pointing you to things that other people have written, so I’ve steered clear of that for the most part around here. I’ve never found much use in trying to do the same thing everyone else does, anyway.

That said, I feel compelled to point to this excellent nhl.com piece from John McGourty, who does a great job of writing for the league site. There are some terrific Bruce Boudreau stories and quotes in that piece.

The Caps were off today, and they’ll be back on the ice at Kettler tomorrow in preparation for Thursday’s game against Montreal at Verizon Center.

I’m still buzzing from last night’s game at the Joe. The hockey experience and game atmosphere and presentation were among the best I’ve ever encountered, and one that I would recommend for anyone who loves the game. The Wings certainly endured more than their share of hard times for a few decades, but they are and have been one of the classiest organizations in sports from the top down and it is reflected in everything they do. I was just peeking at the schedule to see if there was a time when I could take a trip out there with my son later this season.

I was downstairs when the Caps came off the ice after Monday night’s shootout loss to the Red Wings, and no one in a white sweater was happy or satisfied with the result. A year or two years ago, they might have been but it’s not the case anymore. The players I spoke with know they can’t be complacent and happy with the point and that they need to try to get the four points that are sitting out there between now and the holiday break, and goaltender Olie Kolzig mentioned it in a quote I used in my postgame notebook.

I also think it’s worth noting that Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock had some very complimentary things to say about the Caps’ performance after the game. He and Boudreau have faced off against one another before at the AHL level, and they spent a few minutes renewing acquaintances after the game. Here’s what Babcock said:

“It was a tough game for us. I didn’t think we were as good as we could be right at the start. And I thought they played well. They’ve got good players. I was impressed with their team. When you’ve been drafting as high as them for as long as they have, they have good players. It’s pretty evident they’ve been playing better since the last little while and I thought they were tough.”

“We didn’t get a forecheck going very often. They got the puck going out of their zone in a hurry and it was one of those games. I thought they played well. I was impressed, I really was. I thought it was a hard battle for us. There’s not many teams that keep us off-kilter all night long like they did tonight. I didn’t think we showed them enough respect at the start. I thought we got better but I thought they played hard. They amde it hard for us. Like I said, they’ve got good players. They’ve got real good hockey players and a good team. I was impressed with the Green kid on the back end. I thought he was excellent.”