Archive for February 2008

The List

February 12, 2008

On Sunday against the Rangers, Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig became just the 20th goaltender in NHL history to play in 700 games. Here’s the list:

1. Patrick Roy — 1,029
2. Terry Sawchuk — 971
3. Ed Belfour — 963
4. Martin Brodeur — 942
5. Curtis Joseph — 914
6. Glenn Hall — 906
7. Tony Esposito — 886
8. John Vanbiesbrouck — 882
9. Grant Fuhr — 868
10. Gump Worsley — 861
11. Jacques Plante — 837
12. Sean Burke — 820
13. Harry Lumley — 803
14. Rogie Vachon — 795
15. Gilles Meloche — 788
16. Mike Vernon — 781
17. Tom Barasso — 777
18. Dominik Hasek — 724
19. Andy Moog — 713
20. Olie Kolzig — 700

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Check That …

February 12, 2008

Just as quickly as he arrived, Sami Lepisto has been returned to Hershey. He was recalled as a precautionary measure, but John Erskine skated at Kettler today and has been pronounced healthy enough to play tomorrow in Atlanta.

It’s Lepisto Time

February 12, 2008

If you’ve been paying attention to this spot and/or the Hershey Bears at all lately, this won’t come as any surprise to you. The Capitals today announced that they have recalled defenseman Sami Lepisto from Hershey. He will join the Caps at Kettler for practice today and will be on the trip when the Caps depart for their three-game tour through the Southeast Division later today.

More Good Kid News

February 11, 2008

This just in from Hershey Bears radio play-by-play voice John Walton: Bears forward Andrew Gordon has been named the AHL’s Player of the Week for the period ending Feb. 10. He had four goals — including a hat trick against Portland on Feb. 6 — and three assists on the week.

Also, got this missive from my friend Dmitry Chesnokov earlier in the day:

Simeon Varlamov made his debut for the Russian National Team in a tournament (the last leg of the Eurotour in Sweden) in a game against Finland. The debut went very well as Team Russia won 5:0, and Varlamov posted his first career shutout in his very first start for the National Team, as well as being named Player of the Game.

In his interview to SovSport, when asked about his first career game, Varlamov said:

“Of course I couldn’t imagine playing this good in my first game! I was shaking from being so nervous. It felt like my legs were 200 kilos each. The first shot on goal was deflected off my catching glove. I don’t know how I made that save.”

He also saw 20 minutes of action in Russia’s last game against the Czechs, coming in in the third period. In those 20 minutes he did not allow a goal either.Varlamov was named by the tournament organizers as the best goaltender of the tournament.

Finally, we noted Mathieu Perreault’s 23-game scoring streak here earlier in the week, but now comes the news that Acadie-Bathurst’s Perreault has been named Offensive Player of the Week in the QMJHL. Perreault is tied for second in the Q in scoring with 80 points. Oh, and he has extended his streak to 26 straight games with at least a point.Congrats to all three young Caps hopefuls.

Kid Stuff

February 9, 2008

I took a drive up to Hershey on Wednesday to check in on the Bears. The outcome wasn’t good; Hershey squandered a 3-1 third period lead and dropped a 4-3 decision to the Portland Pirates. But I came away with the impression that Washington’s 2004 draft class — already the best in franchise history — could get even better.

With the promotion of Eric Fehr to Washington on Monday, most of the core of the 2006 Calder Cup champion Hershey Bears team is now in Washington. Defensemen Mike Green and Jeff Schultz, and forwards Fehr, Tomas Fleischmann, Boyd Gordon, David Steckel and Brooks Laich are all in Washington now, with only Schultz and Fehr having spent any time in Hershey this season. Only four of the above seven players (Green, Schultz, Fehr and Gordon) were Capitals draft choices, but the next wave of prospects is heavy with Caps draftees.

Chris Bourque (second round, 33rd overall in 2004) had a cup of coffee with the Caps in November. He is the Bears’ third-leading scorer and is headed for a second straight 20-goal season with Hershey. Bourque is one of the few players remaining in Hershey who was part of the championship run two springs ago. He figures to get a longer look in the red, white and blue later this season or next.

It’s been a while since the Caps have turned up a gem in the late rounds of the Entry Draft, but the early returns on 22-year-old first year pro Andrew Gordon have been impressive. A solidly built (but not big) right wing, Gordon is as good a kid as you’d want to meet off the ice, “the kind of kid you’d want your daughter to marry,” as one scribe put it. On the ice, he has been a revelation. Gordon accounted for all three Hershey goals on Wednesday, his second hat trick in 11 days. Gordon has 10 goals and 26 points in 32 games, and ranks among the league’s top 20 in scoring by rookies despite missing a third of the Bears’ games to date.

Throw in the eight goals and 14 points Gordon recorded in an early season stint with South Carolina of the ECHL, and he has 18 goals and 40 points in 43 games in his first pro season. The scoring is nice, but the rest of Gordon’s game is also well-rounded.

Defenseman Sami Lepisto (third round, 66th overall) is playing his first season as a North American pro. The 23-year-old Finnish blueliner has played four seasons as a pro in his native country, and that polish is extremely evident in the game he has brought to North America in 2007-08. Lepisto is smooth and poised on the blueline. He possesses excellent hockey sense, and even though he is not a big defenseman (5-foot-11, 176 pounds), he handles himself well in high traffic areas. Lepisto has two goals and 24 points in 35 games with the Bears and is second among all rookie defensemen in the league in scoring.

Lepisto’s plus-23 is tied for second in the league and is tops among all AHL rookies. Gordon’s plus-17 is third among league freshmen.

Moving onto the 2005 draft, goaltender Daren Machesney (fifth round, 143rd overall in 2005) had the night off on Wednesday, but he has impressed me every time I’ve seen him this season. Most people talk about Simeon Varlamov (first round, 23rd overall in 2006) and/or Michal Neuvirth (second round, 34th overall in ’06) when they talk about the Caps’ goaltenders of the future, but I think it would be a mistake to dismiss Machesney summarily. He leads the AHL with a .931 save pct. and his 2.13 goals against average is fourth in the circuit. A second-year pro, he turned 21 in December.

Finally, there’s also some positive news on a 2006 Caps draftee.

Profiling Cup-Winning Goaltenders

February 5, 2008

The 2007-08 season is the Capitals’ 33rd in the National Hockey League. Thirty-two Stanley Cup titles have been won since Washington joined the league in 1974-75, and a total of just 16 different goaltenders have backstopped those teams to those titles. Including the up-to-date win totals of the goaltenders from that list who are still active, those 16 netminders have an average of 333 career regular season wins in the league.

If you weight that average, and give Patrick Roy’s 551 wins four times as much weight as Cam Ward’s 65 (because Roy accounted for four of those 32 Cups to Ward’s one), then the average climbs to 364. Roy didn’t have that many wins when he won his first Cup, of course, and neither did Ward. Goalies of various age, experience levels and pedigree have won Stanley Cups, but most who have won them have either had or have gone on to have stellar careers.

I’d argue that Ward, who turns 24 later this month, is a good bet to surpass 250 career wins simply because he was good enough to win a Cup so early in his career. Ward, J-S Giguere (177) and Bill Ranford (240) are the only three of the 16 goaltenders with fewer than 250 career wins. Giguere is likely to eventually surpass that figure, too.

Five of those goaltenders (Bernie Parent, Ken Dryden, Billy Smith, Grant Fuhr and Roy) are Hockey Hall of Famers. Three more (Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek and Eddie Belfour) are locks to join them once their playing careers are over and they’re eligible for enshrinement. Four others (Tom Barrasso, Mike Richter, Mike Vernon and Chris Osgood) have at least a shot at eventual enshrinement. The other four are Bill Ranford, Nikolai Khabibulin, Ward and J-S Giguere. Both Ranford and Ward won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVPs during their Cup seasons.

The last time a two goaltender tandem evenly backstopped a team to the Cup was in 1972 when Boston’s Gerry Cheevers (eight postseason games) and Eddie Johnston (seven) helped the Bruins to their second Cup title in three years. Cheevers was 31 years old and Johnston 36 at the time.

A split tandem also won the Cup in 1969 when 23-year-old Rogie Vachon and 39-year-old Gump Worsley led the Canadiens to the Cup; in 1967 when 41-year-old Johnny Bower and 37-year-old Terry Sawchuk split the net duties for the Leafs and in 1965 when Worsley (then 35) and Charlie Hodge (31) helped the Habs to a Cup.

In the modern era (since 1943-44) two goaltenders have backstopped their teams to the Cup only two other times: in 1951 when Turk Broda and Al Rollins did so for Toronto and in 1953 when the Habs needed both Jacques Plante and Gerry McNeil to win.

Of the 55 Stanley Cup titles won before Washington joined the league, Hall of Fame goaltenders won 46 of them, so far more than half of all Cup titles have had a Hall of Fame goaltender as their basis.

Of the 16 goaltenders who have won a Cup in the last 33 years, only Belfour and Parent were never drafted. Parent came up in the Bruins’ chain as did Dryden, who was chosen 14th overall in 1964, before the institution of what is considered the “modern” draft in 1969. Goaltenders taken as high as Barrasso (fifth overall) and as low as Hasek (207th) have won the Cup. In the fifties (Roy, 51st; Ranford, 52nd; Osgood, 54th; Vernon, 56th; and Smith, 59th) is where most were drafted. The twenties (Brodeur, 20th; Ward, 25th; and Richter, 28th) also represented well. Barrasso, Fuhr (eighth) and Giguere (13th) are the other high picks while Khabibulin (204th) is the only other late-rounder to win.

Hasek and Khabibulin are the only European goaltenders to win so far, but European goaltenders have become prominent in the league only in the last decade to decade and a half.

Only nine of those 32 Cups were won by goaltenders with their original NHL organizations, and Brodeur (three) and Roy (two) account for more than half of those.

Since the NHL opened for business in 1917-18, 21 different goaltenders have won more than one Stanley Cup title. Those 21 goaltenders account for 65 of the 88 Stanley Cups won over that span; 59 of those 65 were solo efforts (not split with another goaltender). Eleven goaltenders have won more than two Cups.

Currently, the last six Cups have been won by six different goaltenders. The last time a longer succession of different goaltenders won the Cup was from 1924-30 when seven Cups were awarded with no goalie winning more than one.

The most unlikely Cup-winning goaltenders were probably Frank McCool (Toronto, 1945) and Andy Aitkenhead (Rangers, 1933). McCool played two seasons and Aitkenhead three in the NHL. Those are the shortest careers for any Cup-winning goaltender.

McCool had Memorial Cup and collegiate (Gonzaga) experience before he won the Calder Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same season at the age of 26. Aitkenhead had played several seasons in minor leagues out west and had plenty of experience, including two Allan Cup finals runs. He was 29 when he won the Cup in his first NHL season.

Ulcers prematurely ended McCool’s career, while Aitkenhead went on to play several more seasons in the minors after losing his job in New York.

After McCool helped the Leafs to the 1945 championship (pitching three straight shutouts in the finals along the way), a quarter-century would pass before the NHL would see three different goaltenders win the Cup in as many seasons.

I think we all know that teams need great goaltending to win a Cup, and it looks like the only way to get great goaltending is to have a great goaltender. Easier said than done of course, and no way of knowing which 18- or 19-year-old is going to go on to become a great goaltender, great enough to win a Stanley Cup. The plus side is if you do manage to find that goaltender, he frequently wins more than one Cup.

Finally, Fehr

February 4, 2008

On a Friday morning last September, I stood beside Caps right wing Eric Fehr up against the glass at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. We were watching Caps rookie center Nicklas Backstrom go through his paces in his first official practice as a Washington Capital on this, the first day of on-ice activity at the Capitals’ 2007 training camp.

“Whaddya think?” I asked Fehr.

“I can’t wait to play with that guy,” Fehr responded. He didn’t need to be more specific about who he was referring to; I knew who he meant.

Tomorrow night in Columbus, Fehr will get that chance. As an added bonus, a guy named Alex Ovechkin will make up the third part of that forward line.

It was killing Fehr not to be out on the ice with Backstrom on that September morning, but that was because Fehr’s back was killing him, too. The personable winger played for the Caps in a home game against San Jose last Feb. 21, and then was forced to shut down for the rest of the season because of a troublesome back ailment that was later discovered to be a herniated disc.

Multiple cortisone shots, multiple visits to specialists, rest, rehab and an off-season wedding did nothing to curtail Fehr’s pain, and he started the 2007-08 season on a the sidelines. Just days past his 22nd birthday, he had no idea when he would play again.

In December, reports starting filtering down from Hershey that Fehr was feeling better. Then skating. Then practicing. Soon after that, he returned to the lineup in mid-January and has played 10 games since. The Winkler, Man. native has two goals and six points in those 10 days, and the reports on his performance were good enough to earn him a recall to Washington, just a few weeks after he had returned to the lineup.

I first met Fehr at the NHL Entry Draft in 2003, the day before the Caps made him their first-round (18th overall) choice that June in Nashville. I was present when the Caps interviewed Fehr, and was struck by his confidence. He told the Washington assemblage that he was going to score 50 goals (for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings) in 2003-04, and he did. Coming from a guy who had netted 26 the season before, this was a pretty big proclamation. Fehr followed up with 59 goals for the Wheat Kings in 2004-05, earning WHL player of the year honors in the process.

He turned pro in 2005-06, scored 25 goals and helped lead the Hershey Bears to the Calder Cup championship. In the key seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals series against the Portland Pirates, Fehr scored two goals — including the overtime game-winner — to propel the Bears to the Cup finals. Fehr totaled eight goals and 11 points in 19 playoff games that spring.

In 2006-07, Fehr potted 22 goals in 40 games with the Bears, and added his first two NHL tallies in 14 games with Washington. Then came the back problems.

Now Fehr re-joins the Caps, and re-joins his Calder Cup championship coach from Hershey and seven of his Bears teammates in Washington. In most of his previous trips to the District, he has skated sporadically (he has averaged just 8:32 over his 25 NHL games to date), getting fourth-line time and playing alongside less skilled players.

This trip will be different. He will join fellow first-rounders Ovechkin (22) and Backstrom (20) and hopes to help the Caps add some secondary scoring. Fehr will be the elder statesman on that line in terms of age — he’s 10 days older than Ovechkin — but he’s the baby of the group in terms of NHL experience.

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, Fehr has never been shy about going to the net. On a team that has lacked some scoring punch from the right side and that has struggled for secondary scoring, Fehr could be a tonic.

“I want to go out, I want to produce, and I want to help this team win,” said Fehr after his first practice with his new linemates on Monday. “I’m hoping to add a lot to this team. I like to stand in front of the net and I like to try to produce that way. Whatever I can do to help the team — whether it’s screening goalies or making plays, taking hits — whatever it is, I want to do it.

Fehr knows this recall is different in substance from his previous visits to Washington.

“I think this is a lot bigger for me,” he admits. “I came up and I played a few games here and there. I didn’t play a lot of minutes. Now it’s time to put up or shut up. I’ve got to go out and I’ve got to play, and that’s what I expect to do.”

This time, Fehr wil be on the right side of Backstrom, instead of being on the other side of the glass.

“It feels great. I watched those guys in practice today and they see the ice unbelievably well. I think it’s going to be an easy job for me; just try to get open and just try to give them the pick. It’s pretty simple stuff. Backstrom is an unbelievable player and Ovechkin, obviously everybody knows about Ovechkin. I’m just going to work as hard as I can and just try to help them produce.”

Finally, I’ll leave you with a testimonial to Fehr’s confidence and ability from former Bears teammate Graham Mink. In the jubilant moments immediately after the Bears won the Calder Cup in Milwaukee in June, 2006, Mink gave me this quote:

“We had different guys showing up every night. We had great players like Eric Fehr. He came in here at the beginning of the year and told us, ‘I only score big goals.’ I looked at him and thought, ‘Who is this guy?’ But it was absolutely the truth. The kid has a nose for the net and a flair for the dramatic. It’s players like him and Mike Green and Brooks Laich, Boyd Gordon, Dave Steckel. The list goes on. Just the chemistry and our experience was the biggest difference-maker. We have a lot of old guys and a lot of guys who have been around before and maybe haven’t won a championship, but could show us the way. That was the secret, I guess. Chemistry.”

It’s going to be fun to watch and see what kind of chemistry Fehr can produce with fellow first-rounders Backstrom and Ovechkin.