August 18, 2018

D.C. United Picks Louisville’s Nick DeLeon In MLS SuperDraft

D.C. United selected Louisville midfielder Nick DeLeon with the 7th overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft Thursday afternoon.

DeLeon, a senior at Louisville who transferred from UNLV, started 22 games for the Cardinals in 2011 and scored six goals and recorded six assists. Louisville went 14-7-2 in 2011 and  reached the NCAA quarterfinals before falling to UCLA 1-0 in double overtime. DeLeon officially signed with MLS and became eligible for the SuperDraft on Dec. 29.

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Capitals vs. Penguins: The Thrill is Gone (For Now)

Caps Celebrating 2011 Winter Classic Victory! (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

As the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins prepare for their third of four meetings in this 2011-12 regular season Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, I invite you to cast your minds back to the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011.

As one year turned into another, the Capitals and Penguins played two of the most anticipated games of the season. The Dec. 23 meeting in Washington, which Pittsburgh won 3-2 in a shootout, was the best regular season game of that term, full of skill and energy. Nine days later, the teams met again at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field in front of 68,111 fans in the Winter Classic. This time, the Capitals won 3-1, and the whole crazy, glorious business was captured for posterity by HBO’s cameras.

Their meeting in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals aside, it was the biggest stage for what the NHL hoped would be its answer to Bird/Magic and Brady/Manning: Crosby/Ovechkin. [Read more…]

Game 40 Re-CAP–Kings 5, Caps 2: Crowned With Thorns

How soon can Nicklas return?  (photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Here’s how bad it got for the Washington Capitals Monday night at the Staples Center: Much of the last two periods was devoted to a social media guessing game regarding Capitals beat writer Mike Vogel‘s least favorite musical acts. As entertainments go, it certainly beat anything the Caps served up on the ice as they fell to the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 — their second straight loss — and ensured that they would return home from their two-game California swing empty-handed.

The game started well enough, as Marcus Johansson potted the first of his two goals 94 seconds in when he finished off a 2-on-1 break by wristing a shot past Jonathan Bernier to give Washington a 1-0 lead.  But despite their early deficit, Los Angeles had the better of the puck possession, scoring chances, and shots, and their pressure finally paid off with 8:19 left in the first period when Kyle Clifford banged a rebound past Tomas Vokoun to tie the game. [Read more…]

Game 39 Re-CAP–Sharks 5, Caps 2: Bitten Again

Tomas Vokoun allowed four goals on 38 shots Saturday night in San Jose (Stock Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

A night that began with promise ended familiarly — with the Washington Capitals losing a road game to the San Jose Sharks, as has now happened 11 times (with a single tie thrown in for good measure) since October 30, 1993.

Not content simply to have the Caps fall to a disappointing defeat, the hockey gods saw fit to throw an extra wrench into whatever optimism Washington might have been feeling entering Saturday night’s game. Mike Green, so recently returned from a prolonged absence with a groin injury, did not return to action after taking a hit from Andrew Desjardins behind Washington’s net early in the second period. In all Green could only managed 7:11 of ice time, and only nine shifts. [Read more…]

Game 36 Re-CAP: Ovechkin Restores Order, Caps Slam Sabres, 3-1

Alex Ovechkin during warmups at Verizon Center (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Just before the end of the Washington Capitals’ home schedule for the calendar year 2011, Alexander Ovechkin restored a little bit of order to the team’s individual statistics list. The captain’s breakaway goal with 5:50 remaining sealed a solid 3-1 win for the Caps over the Buffalo Sabres, and propelled Ovechkin past Nicklas Backstrom and Jason Chimera into the team lead in goals scored with 14.

The goal was Ovechkin’s second of the night, his sixth in the last 10 games, and gave the Capitals (19-15-2) and their fans some belief that maybe, just maybe, the highest-paid player on the team might be back to his old high-scoring ways.

“We just have to play it simple,” Ovechkin said after the game. “We made pretty plays by our simple plays.”

Ovechkin’s first goal came just 1:42 into the game on the simplest possible play in hockey. With Washington on a power play after Drew Weber was sent off for boarding Jason Chimera 27 seconds after the opening face-off, Ovechkin threw the puck at the net from the half-boards to the left of Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. The shot hit the stick of well-meaning Buffalo defender Christian Ehrhoff and ricocheted over Miller’s shoulder and into the net for a 1-0 Washington lead.

The Capitals should have added at least two more to their advantage by the end of the first 20 minutes (they outshot Buffalo 11-2), but they were plagued by bad luck and poor finishing. What the Capitals lacked in goals, they made up for in physicality. Chimera, upset that Weber had only been sent off for two minutes instead of five for boarding him earlier in the period, took matters into his own hands (quite literally), and the two sparred for a few seconds before Weber pinned Chimera to the ice. Less than four minutes later, Troy Brouwer and Ehrhoff, long on opposite sides in the Western Conference with Chicago and Vancouver, respectively, renewed acquaintances with a brief scrap that ended with Brouwer driving Ehrhoff’s head dangerously close to the ice. Ehrhoff later left the game with an upper-body injury and did not return.

The Sabres (17-17-3) came back into the game in the second period, gradually applying more and more pressure on Tomas Vokoun. But they were caught on the break early in the second period as the Caps completed a beautiful passing play. Alexander Semin intercepted a pass intended for Robyn Regehr in Washington’s defensive zone and dropped the puck back to Ovechkin in neutral ice. Ovechkin found Roman Hamrlik at the left point. Hamrlik sent a pass back across to Semin, who held the puck as long as he could before quickly flipping a pass to a streaking Backstrom, who no one on Buffalo had bothered to pick up as the Swede came steaming down the slot.

The goal was Backstrom’s 100th in the NHL and made the score 2-0 at 3:52 of the second period.

The Sabres heightened their efforts and were rewarded at the 15:02 mark of the second after a long period of offensive zone pressure. Jochen Hecht got his stick on a loose puck before any of the Capitals could clear it and popped the only Buffalo goal of the night past a sprawling Vokoun. The goal was a just reward for the 15 shots the Sabres put on Vokoun in the second period and suddenly, the game was back in the balance after 40 minutes.

The Sabres pressed for a tying goal in the third period and almost got one in bizarre circumstances when Marcus Johansson inadvertently shot the puck dangerously close to Vokoun’s net. But for the final seven minutes of the period, the Caps slowly re-took control, and Ovechkin’s clinching goal was the final triumph for the reunited line of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Semin, all of whom had two-point nights.

“They’re very good players,” Capitals coach Dale Hunter said, “and they’ve played together before and we put back a checking line together (Hendricks-Beagle-Knuble) and we put a scoring line together. So, it’s just that combination, I guess.

“We have been struggling a little bit,” Backstrom said, ” and finally we get the stuff going and we’re moving the puck pretty good, we’re shooting and I think we are creating a lot of good chances. That’s what we gotta do. Then you have to make sure you play good defense and I think we are all doing that the last two games.”

The Capitals close 2011 Saturday night with a 7:00 p.m. road game against Columbus.

Caps Recall Eakin, Put Green on Injured Reserve

After Friday night’s game, the Capitals announced that Cody Eakin had been recalled from Hershey of the AHL and would join the team in Columbus. To make space for Eakin on the roster, the Capitals placed defenseman Mike Green (groin) on the injured reserve list retroactive to November 11. Dale Hunter announced before the game that Green would travel with the team to Columbus and might return to the lineup next week.

Game 27 Re-CAP: Capitals 5, Senators 3: A Whole New Vintage

Remember him? He's still got it. (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

 

After a dismal loss on Monday, the Washington Capitals delivered the perfect response on Wednesday evening on the outskirts of Ottawa, rallying from a 2-1 third-period deficit to defeat the Senators 5-3 in a fascinating game that was full of incident.

The biggest talking point was (who else?) Alexander Ovechkin, who played one of his better games of the season in recording seven shots on goal and recorded his 9th tally of the season to put the Capitals ahead to stay at the 13:50 mark of the third period. The goal was downright Orr-like (as a native New Englander, that’s the highest compliment I can give any hockey player), as Ovechkin carried the puck into the offensive zone at the left point, circled behind the net to the far boards, put the brakes on at the half-boards, spun around to shake the Erik Karlsson and skated to the top of the circle before loosing a wrist shot past Craig Anderson to give Washington a 3-2 lead.

As occasionally happens, of course, Ovechkin made himself a talking point in a negative context as well. He should have received a penalty for spearing Chris Neil in the midsection in the second period. Not only was no penalty called, but Neil’s pain was compounded by being called for a dive. The official’s error wasn’t compounded on the scoreboard, as the Caps didn’t score on the resulting power play. However, there’s no doubt that the incident will be looked at again by the NHL and the possibility that Ovechkin will face supplemental discipline is a very real one.

But that was the worst thing to come out of a night where it appeared for a long time that the Capitals would have even more scrutiny heaped on them as the result of a tough loss. After outshooting Ottawa 15-6 in the first period and taking the lead through a Jeff Halpern tap-in early in the second, the Capitals allowed two very poor goals to surrender their lead.

The first, at 12:43 of the second, was a simple rebound goal by Erik Condra, who was in the right place at the right time to redirect the rebound of Karlsson’s point shot past Tomas Vokoun. Then, at 17:54, Nick Foligno scored a beautiful goal that highlighted many of the Capitals’ usual defensive frailties. After Foligno eluded a hip-check attempt by Dennis Wideman, he circled around a lame poke-check attempt by John Carlson, went wide of an over-committed Vokoun and gently slipped the puck of the goal line.

That made it 2-1, Ottawa after 40 minutes. Not for the first time under Dale Hunter, the Caps were required to rally from a deficit. But this time, they actually pulled the trick off. First, Nicklas Backstrom finished off a beautiful passing move with a power-play wrist shot to tie the game at 2-2 with 10:15 left to go in regulation. Then Ovechkin did his best Orr impression. Fifteen seconds after that, Marcus Johansson (remember him?) made a beautiful centering pass to Troy Brouwer, who made the score 4-2 with 5:55 left.

That should have ended the competitive portion of the game, but Alexander Semin took another step toward a return to Russia by committing a lazy, foolish hooking penalty. Ottawa scored five seconds into the resulting power play and only Carlson’s empty-net goal with 46 seconds left put the result beyond doubt.

Whether or not the four-goal third-period outburst will be an anomaly in the Hunter regime remains to be seen. Given the way the Caps have struggled against higher-caliber defenses so far this season, it seems likely that the road to the Stanley Cup Finals will be paved with 1-0 and 2-1 games. But even if that happens to be the case, Wednesday night’s game was a nice reminder of the team’s pure offensive talent, the main reason why so many fans fell in love (or back in love, in some cases) with the Washington Capitals.  It was a vintage performance, with a tough new style.

Nats Whiff On Buehrle; Move On to Oswalt

What, if any, new acquisitions will Nats Park see in 2012? (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

At last year’s Winter Meetings, the Washington Nationals got their main target, signing Jayson Werth to a seven-year/$126 million deal and making a statement about ownership’s ability to open the checkbook in future years.

This year, the Nationals were not so lucky, as word came through Wednesday night that Washington’s main offseason target, left-handed pitcher Mark Buehrle, had signed a four-year/$58 million deal with the big-spending Florida Marlins.

It’s easy to see why both the Nationals and Marlins were so covetous of Buehrle, 32, who has spent his entire professional life with the Chicago White Sox since being drafted in 1998. The native of St. Charles, Missouri is a famously fast worker on the mound and has recorded an ERA+ of 100 or more in all but one season in the American League. He’s also durable, starting at least 30 games and throwing at least 200 innings every year since 2000. The website Fangraphs has valued Buehrle’s year-by-year performances as being worth at least $15 million every year since 2007. With that in mind, the $14.5 average annual value of the Marlins deal actually looks like a bargain. Despite all this, Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has come out and  stated that he wasn’t comfortable with adding a fourth year to his bid for Buehrle’s services.

With Buehrle out of the mix, reports are that the Nationals are turning their attention to Roy Oswalt, who is coming off an average 2011 season with the Philadelphia Phillies (9-10 with a 3.69 ERA in only 139 innings pitched). Now, it’s true that the Nationals need another starter to complement Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and John Lannan. But Oswalt comes with significant red flags, particularly his durability. The 34-year-old Oswalt made just 23 starts in 2011, 10 below his average in a season.

Whether Oswalt signs with the Nationals or not, there is no question that Washington’s quest to be legitimate National League East contenders in 2012 took a significant hit today, and not just because the Marlins got stronger with the acquisitions of Buehrle and Jose Reyes. The starting pitching rotation currently consists of a front three of Strasburg, Zimmermann, Lannan, and two question marks (Chien-Ming Wang? Ross Detwiler? Tom Gorzelanny?), while the hoped-for center field upgrade likely won’t happen through external means. Whether that means a Jayson Werth move from right field to clear space for super-prospect Bryce Harper remains to be seen.

Entertainment, Drama, and Another Redskins Loss

On weekends, I work for a mainstream media website, where part of my job description on Sundays is to write a recap of Redskins games. I started working there in the beginning of October, which happened to coincide with the last time the Redskins won a game. That nearly changed during Sunday’s 27-24 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys. So nearly, in fact that on two separate occasions, I began mentally preparing myself to punch up a Redskins victory story. [Read more…]

GAME 18 RE-CAP: Caps Prove Shaky At Leafs; Wretched Road Trip Concludes

It doesn’t matter that it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. The Washington Capitals organization and their fans should be

Is Bruce Boudreau back on the hot seat so soon? (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

deeply, deeply concerned about what took place on this week’s three-game road trip, in which each game brought a worse performance than the one before (in all, Washington was outscored 14-3 in the three games against Nashville, Winnipeg, and Toronto) and which concluded with an abysmal 7-1 loss to the understrength Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre Saturday night.

The usual Toronto sellout crowd of 18,819, as well as a continent-wide audience watching on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, saw a game that blows right to the top of the list of worst Washington losses of the season. This one truly had it all: execrable defending, stagnant offense, and more than a pinch of bad luck.

It also had, it must be said, an excellent performance from the Leafs themselves, who jumped on top just 1:39 into the game when Tim Connolly flipped a wrist shot past Tomas Vokoun from the edge of the face-off circle. Washington appeared to restore normal service just 51 seconds later when Brooks Laich’s slap shot took a generous deflection off John-Michael Liles and sailed into the net past Jonas Gustavsson (40 saves) to tie the score at 1-1. But the Leafs carried the play for the rest of the first period, outshooting Washington 16-8 and re-taking the lead with 44 seconds to go before the first intermission as Matt

Frattin took a cross-ice pass from Joe Colborne and fired past Vokoun.

Washington fell completely apart in the second period as the Leafs went to the net more or less at will and had scoring chances in abundance. With Matt Hendricks in the box after being called for slashing just 17 seconds into the period, the Leafs increased their lead to 3-1 as Tyler Bozak banged home a close-range chance after a beautiful set-up by Joffrey Lupul at the 1:18 mark. The score became 4-1 at 5:29 when Lupul and Bozak combined to set up Phil Kessel to tap in his league-leading 14th goal from the edge of the crease.

That was the end of Vokoun’s evening as Michal Neuvirth entered the fray. Not that it mattered, as Dion Phaneuf sent a cross-ice pass to Lupul, who tapped into the open net to make the score 5-1 at 17:12 after the Caps had missed several golden power play chances to cut into their deficit moments earlier.

Lupul’s goal occurred with Nicklas Backstrom sitting in the penalty box after drawing a double-minor for cross-checking and unsportsmanlike conduct. Moments later, John Erskine put the puck over the glass  and drew a delay-of-game penalty. Cody Franson made the score 6-1 with 31 seconds to go as he slammed a point shot past the snapping catching glove of Neuvirth.

The third period was essentially a figure-skating exhibition, but there was time enough for former Capital David Steckel to add the coup de grace with a breakaway goal with 44 seconds left to tick the scoreboard over to a magnificent seven, at least for Toronto fans.

It’s tempting to look for subtly positive signs whenever a team suffers a heavy loss, but there are no positives to take from this particular showing. With the possible exception of the goalscorer Laich, no Capital distinguished themselves in a positive light. The defense was simply not good enough as a unit, with Jeff Schultz particularly responsible for Toronto’s first two goals. Vokoun had to endure the humiliation of skating to the bench in the middle of the second period, but in all honesty, there wasn’t very much he could do about any of the goals.

A win on Monday night against the Pacific Division-leading Coyotes will go some of the way toward relieving whatever pressure is on head coach Bruce Boudreau and his staff, but not completely. Questions will still be asked, and it will still be assumed that the Capitals will only be as good as the players allow themselves to be and not as good as Boudreau  pushes them to be. Saturday night’s loss is just another piece of evidence in support of that theory.

GAME 16 RE-CAP: Rinne, Defensive Breakdowns Doom Caps Against Nashville

Tomas Vokoun got little help from his teammates in the third period of Tuesday night's 3-1 loss to Nashville. (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Despite an outstanding goaltending performance by Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators Tuesday night, the Washington Capitals appeared to have secured themselves a place on the winning track when Troy Brouwer scored the game’s first goal with 4:46 remaining. But Nashville equalized just 28 seconds later through Martin Erat, and won the game with 24.3 seconds left when Erat used his quick hands to make a fool of Dennis Wideman before finding a streaking Colin Wilson to slam the puck into a wide-open net. Shea Weber added an empty-net goal five seconds later to complete a 3-1 Nashville victory in a game where the quality of play was not reflected by the very ordinary final score.

After a sluggish opening few minutes (the Caps found themselves being outshot 10-3 with just under eight minutes remaining in the first period), Washington made their way back into the game. They closed the period with five straight shots on goal, the last coming from Brooks Laich, whom Rinne denied with a pad save from point-blank range in the closing seconds of the period. Washington then outshot Nashville 15-8 in the second period and were only denied having the lead after 40 minutes due to the undeniable brilliance of Rinne, who finished the game with 39 saves, and the inside of the goalpost, which was all that kept out Roman Hamrlik’s attempt with just under five minutes to go in the second. So intense and disorienting was Washington’s pressure in the middle frame that at one point, Rinne was turned completely around and was facing into his own net as he and his defenders fought to clear his crease.

Rinne’s solid play continued in the third period as he denied several chances from in close. It was always going to take something special to beat the Finn and Brouwer finally provided it, skating onto a cross-ice pass from Marcus Johansson (who put in a solid shift with 17:35 ice time, the most of any Washington forward, and who had been cruelly denied a backhanded goal on an end-to-end rush moments earlier by Rinne) and wristing a shot over Rinne’s right shoulder.

Given the time  remaining and the solid performance to Tomas Vokoun at the other end of the ice, one goal should have been enough. But instead, the Capitals first line of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Brouwer and the defensive pairing of Jeff Schultz and  John Carlson suffered a catastrophic breakdown on the very next shift. Apparently believing the Predators to be offside, the Capitals stopped skating momentarily  and allowed Weber to cruise down the right-wing side and send a cross to Erat for a simple game-tying tap-in.

Conversely, the game-winning goal could be chalked up to a moment of pure effort and anticipation from Wilson and shear genius from Erat. After Wilson chased down a loose puck in the far corner and shrugged off a check  from Erskine, the forward found Erat at the side of the net. Faced with Wideman and Vokoun, the Czech faked a quick pass to his right before dragging his stick to his left and slipping a pass to the stick of a charging Erat, who bundled the puck into the net.

That, for all intents and purposes, was that, though Weber eliminated all doubts with a slap shot from the neutral zone. The Capitals, who continue their road trip against Winnipeg on Thursday night, were left to rue the third-period breakdowns as well as the absence of Mike Green, the particularly poor performance of the Carlson/Schultz defensive combination, and the ongoing offensive struggles of  Ovechkin, which prompted some intense Twitter reflections from one member of the Russian media.

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