October 30, 2014

Caps Quick Take: Game 4 vs. Hurricanes

If you have a third period lead against a division opponent, and you have any aspiration of making the playoffs and competing to be the best in the league, you have to win those games. Thursday night, the Washington Capitals failed to take care of their business, as they allowed two third period goals, including a power play marker to old friend Alexander Semin, and lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2, to fall to 1-3 so far this season. Not ideal.

1)  Here’s the thing: the Caps dominated the first period in this one, and by every account the score should have been more like three or four to zero after 20 minutes. Alas, Jason Chimera’s fluky marker was the only tally that counted, and the Caps would rue not finishing on a couple more terrific possessions. The third line of Chimera-Eric Fehr-Joel Ward was clearly the best of the crew in that frame.

2) In their first three games the Caps have struggled playing at five a side, but in this one the power play really let them down. Five shots on goal in 6:01 of extra-man isn’t going to cut it. On the other side of the spectrum, the Caps committed seven minor infractions which is bad enough. But John Erskine’s interference — while already down a man — led to Semin’s game-tying PPG.

3) The Erskine/John Carlson duo had a standout game, and not in the good way. They were on the ice for Carolina’s first goal, a puck that bounced off Carlson and redirected over Braden Holtby’s glove hand, while Erskine was tying up no one in particular in front of the Caps net. On Nathan Gerbe’s game-winner, Carlson fumbled the puck in the corner and turned it over, leading to the original shot. Gerbe was on the far post, unmolested and unchallenged by Erskine, who was content to watch pucks bouncing around in the crease.

4) Alex Ovechkin continues to be a dominant force whenever he’s on the ice, despite having only one linemate. Goal, eight shots on goal, two more blocked. The goal was a rarity too, as Ovechkin was occupying the high slot and redirected Steve Oleksy’s shot past Anton Khubodin.

5) Time to play everyone’s favorite game show — Where’s Martin Erat? Tonight, the very expensive fourth-liner skated a season-high 9:15. However, he got just two shifts in the third period for a total of 1:23. The longer Erat plays on the fourth line the worse the trade looks and the calls for a philosophy change will just keep growing louder.

Washington Capitals Game 18 Recap: Caps Dominate Offense, Holtby Rarely Tested in 3-0 Victory Over Division-Leading Hurricanes

Buoyed by a strong performance in their previous game and excited at the prospect of facing former teammate Alexander Semin, the Washington Capitals dominated play from start to finish Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes and recorded a much-needed 3-0 shutout over the injury-stricken visitors.

Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson both had one-goal, one-assists nights, while John Erskine also scored and Braden Holtby recorded  33 saves for his first shutout of the season, while the Caps put 40 shots on Carolina’s net and its star goaltender Cam Ward. Mike Ribeiro, Alex Ovechkin, Joel Ward, and Mathieu Perreault recorded a single assist.

[Read more...]

OPINION: Brouwer’s comments shed further light on Caps dark secrets

“It can be frustrating. I know there’s a lot of guys that work really, really hard to get where they are, playing in the NHL. And some guys it’s a little bit easier because of their skill set. Every player’s different, everyone’s attitude is different. Every personality is different, and that’s why the world is the way it is.” — Troy Brouwer, on former teammate Alexander Semin

You had to know that the first time the Washington Capitals faced the Carolina Hurricanes this season, there would be some emotion — at least from the Caps side of things. Indeed, Caps backup alternate captain Troy Brouwer, often hailed as a leader of the club, went off unprovoked on former teammate Alexander Semin, who makes his first trip to D.C. as a visiting player Tuesday night with his new team.

“It was tough to lose his scoring ability, when he wanted to play,” Brouwer said. “But all in all I think we’ve been doing well without him. Some nights you didn’t even know if he was going to come to the rink. It’s tough to play alongside guys like those because you don’t know what you’re going to get out of ‘em.”

Brouwer also made comments about the lack of accountability under former head coach Bruce Boudreau, and that’s probably another not-so-veiled attack on the perceived preferential treatment for certain players in the room — of which Semin was almost certainly included.

On playing under Boudreau, Brouwer said, “It was very laxidasical…kind of guys were able to do whatever they pleased. There wasn’t a whole lot of accountability and then when we had a little bit of trouble and there needed to be accountability it wasn’t received exactly with open arms, I’ll say.”

The feelings Brouwer made public today are not new and every single person in that room — player, reporter and staff — were well aware of them, whether they are an accurate representation of what was going on or not.

Mercurial. Enigmatic. Lazy. Aloof. All words that have been used to describe the ultra-talented Semin by members of the D.C. media, both in the past and some resurfacing today in the wake of Brouwer tearing the scab off a still-fresh wound. Brouwer becomes yet another former teammate of Semin’s to rip the player after they were no longer teammates.

Semin certainly made himself an easy target, taking off optional skates, leaving the room before media could question him, almost always using a translator when his English was at least passable. Then there’s the perception by fans, media, and apparently Semin’s teammates that he didn’t always play hard on the ice and couldn’t get more out of his considerable talent that he did.

Making these comments today, largely unprovoked by the media, signifies that Brouwer is still carrying the baggage from a problem that has been eradicated. Who knows how many others feel the same? It seems to me that if Brouwer had such a problem with Semin he should have said something to him or the team at the time instead of muttering things under his breath or behind Semin’s back.

One has to wonder if these feelings were ever discussed behind closed doors before being aired in the public. And if not, why not?

All these comments do today is let Brouwer feel a little better about himself and serve the media with juicy sound bites. They also give Semin and his Hurricanes teammates extra motivation to come into Verizon Center Tuesday night and rip two more points away from the Caps. It further reinforces the perception of dysfunctionality of the Caps room and organization, at least at that time.

Washington Capitals Re-Sign Holtby & Erskine; Brouwer goes off as Caps prepare for Canes

ARLINGTON, VA–Crazy day today in Arlington as the Washington Capitals re-signed goalie Braden Holtby and defenseman John Erskine to two-year deals as they prepare for the return of Alexander Semin and the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow.

Braden Holtby, 23, signed a two-year contract extension worth $3.7 million.  Holtby has has played in eleven games this season, has a  5-6-0 record with a 3.37 GAA and a .896 Save pct. plus one shut out.  Holtby had a 1.95 GAA, .935 save pct. in the playoffs last season.  Holtby will start his seventh game in a row tomorrow night.

“Just trying to do it ahead of time,”  Capitals General Manager George McPhee said.  “We all believe there is a lot of upside there, good young goalie.”

John Erskine, 32, signed a two-year contract extension worth $3.925 million.  Erskine has played in eleven games this season and has one goal and one assist.  This is John Erskine’s eleventh NHL season and has been playing with John Carlson for the majority of the year.

“I thought he should’ve played more last year,”  McPhee said on Erskine.  “Unfortunately he didn’t.”

The veteran defenseman is very happy with his current role.

“Things have worked out this season and I’m glad to be here a couple more years,”  Erskine said.

If that wasn’t enough, forward Troy Brouwer went off on Alexander Semin and the system they played under Bruce Boudreau.

“Some nights you didn’t even know if he was gonna come to the rink,”  Brouwer said on Semin.

On playing under Bruce Boudreau, Brouwer said, “It was very laxidasical…kind of guys were able to do whatever they pleased. There wasn’t a whole lot of accountability and then when we had a little bit of trouble and there needed to be accountability it wasn’t received exactly with open arms, I’ll say.”

Brouwer does though enjoy playing under Adam Oates, “Everyone’s still accountable. Everyone has to do their job, but he’s letting guys play the way that makes them successful.”

Capitals Captain Alex Ovechkin says he still talks to Semin once a week and wishes he was still playing here.

“Yeah. Of course. He’s great player, good guy, but you know it’s a business.”

On the injury front…Mike Green (groin) says he’s “100 percent” and ready to go for tomorrow.

Marcus Johansson (upper body) is still not ready to go.  “Marcus is progressing,”  McPhee said.  “We’ll see how he is the next few days.”

Nicklas Backstrom (sick) missed practice today and went to go see the doctor.   “A little under the weather, we’ll see how he is tomorrow morning,”  McPhee said.

Jason Chimera (lower body) left practice early today.  “Nothing major, should be fine. Just being careful,”  McPhee said.

Brooks Laich (groin) hasn’t skated in nine days.  McPhee says he is “concerned about it” and has his “fingers crossed”.  McPhee added that Laich’s current treatment that he is on takes two weeks.

McPhee said “we’ll see” if they’ll need to make a recall tomorrow and added that “it’s already been discussed and what we might do if we need to recall”.

The Caps forward lines today looked like Chimera-Ribeiro-Ovechkin, Fehr-Johansson-Brouwer, Wolski-Perreault-Ward, Hendricks-Beagle-Crabb.

Oates said we could see Michal Neuvirth in net on Wednesday in Philadelphia on the second game of a back-to-back.

Listen here to what George McPhee, Adam Oates, Troy Brouwer, Braden Holtby, John Erskine, Mike Green, Karl Alzner, Alex Ovechkin & Michal Neuvirth.

George McPhee Practice Audio

02-25-13 George McPhee Presser RAW

Adam Oates Practice Audio

02-25-13 Adam Oates Practice RAW

Troy Brouwer Practice Audio

02-25-13 Troy Brouwer Practice RAW

Braden Holtby Practice Audio

02-25-13 Braden Holtby Practice RAW

John Erskine Practice Audio

02-25-13 John Erskine Practice RAW

Mike Green Practice Audio

02-25-13 Mike Green Practice RAW

Karl Alzner Practice Audio

02-25-13 Karl Alzner Practice RAW

Alex Ovechkin Practice Audio

02-25-13 Alex Ovechkin Practice RAW

Michal Neuvirth Practice Audio

02-25-13 Michal Neuvirth Practice RAW

 

CAPS: 2012-13 Southeast Division Preview

With the lockout-shortened season upon us, there have been a few additions and subtractions to a Washington Capitals roster that finished second place in the Southeast Division a season ago. Similarly, there are a few new faces elsewhere in the division, and new expectations for each team. District Sports Page provides a primer for the remainder of the Southeast Division and offers its predictions for how things will pan out.

Carolina Hurricanes
Last season: 33-33-16, 82 pts, 5th Southeast Division, 12th Eastern Conference
Head Coach: Kirk Muller
Key Additions: Alexander Semin, Jordan Staal, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Joe Corvo
Key Losses: Brandon Sutter, Bryan Allen

Last year, a slow start doomed the employment of then-Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice and were never able to recover, finishing last place in the Southeast Division, 12 points out of the division lead.

Nonetheless, under new head coach Kirk Muller the ‘Canes played inspired hockey. Captain Eric Staal (24 goals, 46 assists, 70 points) overcame a horrendous +/- to lead the team in goals, assists, and points. The veteran Staal had as many assists as the next highest scorer, Jussi Jokinen, had total points.

For many years, Staal has been a one-man show in Raleigh. The development of young phenom Jeff Skinner has improved things, and this season GM Jeff Rutherford has added a pair of offensive studs: Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin. Washington Capitals fans are well acquainted with Semin, who plied his trade in D.C. for seven seasons before signing a one-year, $7 million deal in Carolina. In recent years Semin has disappointed, but Rutherford is hoping to get the 40-goal scorer of 2009-10, not the 21-goal scorer of 2011-12.

Jordan Staal, formerly of the Pittsburgh Penguins, is also a familiar face in Washington. Due a huge contract, Staal was dealt over the offseason to the Hurricanes, who inked him to an extension for 10 seasons and $60 million. Both Staal and Semin are top six forwards, adding legitimate scoring options to a roster that finished in the bottom half of the NHL in goals and power play percentage last season.

In general, Carolina looks to be a much stronger offensive team in 2012-13, swapping out steady defensive-minded players in Brandon Sutter and Bryan Allen in favor of Semin, Jordan Staal, and defensemen Joe Corvo and Marc-Andre Gragnani. If goaltender Cam Ward plays well the Hurricanes will certainly qualify for a playoff berth, and a return to potential by both Ward and Semin will see the ‘Canes in the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket.

Florida Panthers
Last season: 38-26-18, 94 pts, 1st Southeast Division, 3rd Eastern Conference
Head Coach: Kevin Dineen
Key Additions: Filip Kuba, Peter Mueller
Key Losses: Jason Garrison, Wojtek Wolski, Mikael Samuelsson

Chances are few people even in the Panthers organization expected this squad to win a division title in 2011-12. After years of mediocrity GM Dale Tallon completely overhauled the squad, and his ragtag bunch captured the Southeast Division on the strength of the shootout. Florida only won seven games in overtime or the shootout, but the 18 games they lost after the end of regulation provided just enough of a margin to keep them ahead of the Caps when the season closed.

Florida’s biggest revelation on the ice was Tomas Fleischmann, the erstwhile Capital whose four-year, $18 million dollar contract was mocked until he responded with a 27 goal, 34 assist campaign was a career best. More importantly, after missing significant time for blood clots in his legs, Flash played in all 82 games for the first time in his career.

Also surprising on the ice for the Cats was the emergence of perhaps the best offensive defense pairing in Brian Campbell (4 goals, 49 assists) and Jason Garrison (16 goals, 17 assists). Garrison has since departed for a hefty free agent contract in Vancouver, and shootout specialist Wojtek Wolski is now on Washington’s roster.

In free agent signing Peter Mueller, Tallon hopes to strike gold again with a new addition to the roster. After missing all of 2010-11 and 50 games of 2011-12 with a concussion, Mueller likely benefited from the extra recovery time due to the lockout. He scored 22 goals in his rookie season with Phoenix but has only potted 33 goals in 173 games since.

On paper, this squad looks like a marginal playoff team, not a division winner. Then again, the same was true last season. There’s no way they get quite so lucky when it comes to the loser point from extra play in 2012-13, so look for them to be a bubble playoff team come April.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Last season: 38-38-8, 84 pts, 3rd Southeast Division, 10th Eastern Conference
Head Coach: Guy Boucher
Key Additions: Anders Lindback, Sami Salo, Matt Carle
Key Losses: Dwayne Roloson

Shrewd offseason moves position the Lightning to be a Southeast Division contender in 2012-13. Adding two defensemen and a goalie aren’t particularly flashy pickups, but combined with no losses of note, this is a dangerous roster. Tampa Bay returns its top 12 point scorers from last year, including the best goal scorer in the league, 22-year-old Steven Stamkos (60 goals, 37 assists).

Tampa Bay finished ninth in the NHL and tops in the Southeast in goals, averaging 2.83 goals a game. That was more than offset, however, by allowing a league-worst 3.39 goals/game. In 2010-11, 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson was a revelation in net, backstopping the Lightning to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals. In 2011-12, 42-year-old Roloson (3.66 GAA, .886 Sv%) was a trainwreck, finishing in 45th place, dead last, in Goals Against Average and Save Percentage for goalies who played at least 25 games. By the end of the season he ceded the job to Mathieu Garon, whose 2.85 GAA and .901 Sv% were both outside the top 37 for goalies.

This season Roloson is still an unrestricted free agent and reinforcements have arrived in the form of 24-year-old goalie Anders Lindback, whose massive 6’6” frame was stuck behind workhorse netminder Pekka Rinne in Nashville the past two seasons, as well as defensemen Sami Salo and Matt Carle. At this point in his career Lindback is mostly potential with very little proven, but at the least he represents a new direction for Tampa’s netminding.

Salo, formerly of Vancouver, brings necessary pop to Tampa Bay’s stagnant power play, which was 25th in the league at 15.2% rate. He slots into the Lightning’s second defensive pairing, while Carle, a 28-year-old who was part of Philadelphia’s dominating defense the past four seasons, should form a stifling shutdown pairing that will rival Washington’s Karl Alzner and John Carlson for effectiveness.

Of the three teams stuck in the bottom of the Southeast last year, Tampa Bay is most likely to make the leap to the top of the division. If Lindback or Garon can prove to be serviceable NHL starters, the Lightning will be sitting pretty in the division. If not, it’ll be another wasted season for Stamkos down in Florida.

Winnipeg Jets
Last season: 37-35-10, 84 pts, 4th Southeast Division, 11th Eastern Conference
Head Coach: Claude Noel
Key Additions: Olli Jokinen, Alexei Ponikarovsky
Key Losses: Chris Mason

At one point in the CBA talks, rumor was that the league would swap Winnipeg out of the Southeast Division in favor of Columbus, just for 2013 season, to alleviate travel concerns. Sadly for Ted Leonsis’s pocketbook that never came to pass, so the Caps will be making at least a handful of cross-country flights to play the Jets.

For almost the entire 2011-12 season Winnipeg battled Washington for one of the last spots in the Eastern Conference playoff field, the Jets falling just short while the Caps snuck into the seventh spot. Forward Evander Kane built a reputation as a new Cap-killer, with three goals and one assist, including a game-winning goal, in six games.

The Jets, like the Lightning, made a significant addition without much in the way of subtraction. Olli Jokinen was the top center available from an admittedly weak class at that position, and the Caps are well-acquainted with him from his time with the Panthers. Backup goaltender Chris Mason is gone, putting more pressure on the shoulders of Ondrej Pavelec, who inked a five-year contract extension over the summer prior to becoming a restricted free agent. Last season Pavelec played a career high 68 games, recording a 29-28-0-9 record.

Former Cap Eric Fehr, who had a disappointing two-goal, one-assist season cut short by continued shoulder injuries. Fehr, a Manitoba native, was the type of good-vibes story the Jets were looking for last season in the NHL’s return to Winnipeg. With a year under their belt the team is now just an organization with a five-year playoff drought. The Jets got a little bit stronger this offseason, but so did the rest of the division. Most importantly, the shortened season and therefore the division-only schedule will crush Winnipeg, who will have to fly across the continent for every road game this season. That will be too much to overcome and will see the Jets finish at the bottom of the Southeast, though not in the dregs of the Eastern Conference.

Abram Fox is the Washington Capitals Page Editor for District Sports Page.  He has been covering the Capitals from the press box since the 2007-08 season.

Washington Capitals: Alexander Semin signs one-year deal with Carolina

Alex Semin during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The Carolina Hurricanes announced Thursday afternoon they signed winger Alexander Semin to a one-year deal worth $7 million. Semin, 28, scored 21 goals with 33 assists in 77 games for the Washington Capitals last season. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals End-of-Season Roundtable, Part III: Overachiever and underachiever

Part three of our Washington Capitals end-of-season roundtable will focus on the players our panel thought were the biggest surprises and biggest disappointments this year.

Once again, our panelists are Dave Nichols (DSP Editor-in-Chief), Abram Fox (DSP Caps Page Editor), Erika Schnure (Ravings of a Rink Rebel and DSP’s Caps minor league contributor), Andrew Tomlinson (DSP Caps contributor) and respected Caps media Ted Starkey (author of Transition Game and Red Rising), Peter Hassett (Russian Machine Never Breaks) and Adam Vingan (NBCWashington.com and Kings of Leonsis). [Read more...]

Washington Capitals End-of-Season Roundtable Part I: Disappointed or encouraged?

When the Washington Capitals lost Game 7 of their second round matchup with the New York Rangers, another chapter in this franchise’s history came to a close. With the uncertainty of a new head coach entering the organization, a bevy of free agents — both unrestricted and restricted, and the decline of Alex Ovechkin’s scoring dominance, the Caps could very well have also closed the book on an entire era.

The “Young Guns” (Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green) grew up playing NHL hockey in D.C., bringing an offensive excitement to the game rarely seen in the league. For several seasons, they were the fastest, most prolific offense in North America. Now, with Semin a UFA, Green an RFA, Ovechkin a shell of the happy-go-lucky player he once was, and Backstrom still not completely back on his game after missing half of last season with concussion symptoms, one has to wonder if this group have achieved all they will together.

Over the next several days, District Sports Page will take a look at the 2011-2012 Capitals season. We’ll assess their achievements, analyze the shortcomings, and do a bit of projection. Our panelists are Dave Nichols (DSP Editor-in-Chief), Abram Fox (DSP Caps Page Editor), Erika Schnure (Ravings of a Rink Rebel and DSP’s Caps minor league contributor), Andrew Tomlinson (DSP Caps contributor) and respected Caps media Ted Starkey (author of Transition Game and Red Rising), Peter Hassett (Russian Machine Never Breaks) and Adam Vingan (NBCWashington.com and Kings of Leonsis). [Read more...]

Washington Capitals Game Five Recap: Hustle Plays and Dirty Goals Give Caps 4-3 Win, Chance to Clinch at Home

Skill goes a long way in the NHL playoffs, but experience even more so.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the two members of the Washington Capitals whose names are engraved on the steely facade of the Stanley Cup, Mike Knuble and Troy Brouwer, netted lead-taking goals in the third period of Saturday’s Game 5 in hostile Boston.

Brouwer’s power play slapshot with 1:27 left in regulation held up as the game-winner, giving the Capitals a 4-3 victory on the road to take a 3-2 series lead in their first round match-up with the Boston Bruins. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals Game 80 Recap: Lightning Score in Bunches, Caps Blow Lead in 4-2 Loss

With a golden opportunity to all but guarantee a playoff berth with a win over the last non-playoff team in their regular season schedule, the Washington Capitals allowed two goals by NHL leading scorer Steven Stamkos in the final 63 seconds of Monday night’s game to fall to the Tampa Bay Lightning by the score of 4-2.

Alexander Semin opened the scoring at 12:47 of the second period to give Washington a one-goal lead, but a pair of Tampa Bay strikes 25 seconds apart at the tail end of that frame knocked the Caps back on their heels and into panic mode.

A late goal by Jason Chimera to knot things up again with under four minutes remaining in regulation gave Washington brief hope, but Stamkos’s outburst put a stop to that and sent the Caps home disappointed. [Read more...]

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