April 24, 2014

Washington Capitals Game 39 Recap: Capitals fall 2-1 to Sabres in shootout

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 29: Matt Ellis #37 of the Buffalo Sabres defends against Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals at First Niagara Center on December 29, 2013 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

BUFFALO, NY – DECEMBER 29: Matt Ellis #37 of the Buffalo Sabres defends against Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals at First Niagara Center on December 29, 2013 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

This season, the Capitals have been lucky to win games solely on their goaltender’s merit on several occasions, and haven’t faced another truly “hot” goalie until their trip to Buffalo on Sunday night. They peppered Ryan Miller with 50 shots on goal, but lost 2-1 in a shootout to the struggling Sabres, who only managed 17 shots on goal. It was the first time the Capitals have outshot an opponent in their last six games.

Troy Brouwer answered the Sabres’ late second period tally with one of his own in the third, the Capitals’ only goal of the game. “I thought that was the best game I’ve seen (Troy) Brouwer play,” coach Adam Oates told reporters after the game. In addition to his goal, Brouwer had five shots on goal, and went 83 percent in the dot, winning 5 of 6 faceoffs. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals 2013-14 Preseason Season Roundtable, Part I

Opening night of the 2013-14 season for the Washington Capitals is less than a week away. With that in mind, the District Sports Page Caps staff and contributors will take a look at several key areas that will affect the Caps season as they get ready to start play in the newly-formed Metropolitan Division.

The second half of our roundtable will post Monday.

Our panelists: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page; Katie Brown, Caps Staff Writer for DSP; Abram Fox, former Caps Page Editor at DSP, Erika Schnure, RinkRebel.com and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, Caps author and contributor to DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.com. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals 2013-14 Season Preview: The Goalies

Braden Holtby -Practice April 27(Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Braden Holtby -Practice April 27, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Braden Holtby – Holtby enters the season as the unquestioned No. 1 between the pipes for Adam Oates and newly appointed goalies coach Olie Kolzig. Holtby was strong last season and into the playoffs, starting every single game in the second season. His athletic, almost hyper-aggressive style works for him, as he can dominate for long stretches of time.

On occasion, however that aggressiveness can be a hindrance. He’s terrific passing the puck, but he has a tendency to overplay the puck, which gets him in trouble now and again, as we saw in the Rangers series. He occasionally has a problem with positioning that sometimes he can make up with his athleticism, and sometime he can’t. He’s got a strong glove, but his unorthodox style of reaching for pucks with his glove instead of letting them come to him can also cause trouble.

This is a big year for Holtby. It’s rumored that he’s on the short list of goalies being considered for the Canadian Olympic team, and there would be no higher honor for Holtby, short of hoisting the Stanley Cup, than making that team and leading his countrymen to Sochi. Lots of eyes will be on his every start, and not just those of Caps fans this season.

Michal Neuvirth during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Michal Neuvirth during warmups at Verizon Center, May 2, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Michael Neuvirth – Neuvy has settled into his caddy role for Holtby, though he’s still young enough that he’d be considered many franchise’s future in the position. Neuvirth is technically sound, responsible and mild-mannered – everything that Holtby is not.

Unfortunately for him, every time Neuvirth has a chance to put his stamp on the position, something out of his control seems to get in the way. Usually, that’s been a nagging injury or a random spate of poor play. He has the talent to play in this league a long time, but perhaps he’s just not leading-man caliber.

Neuvirth continues to be the good soldier, there for the Caps when they need a back up to a veteran netminder (Theodore, Vokoun) or to be the goalie in waiting while the “next big thing” (Varlamov, Holtby) jumps past him on the depth chart.

Philipp Grubauer at Caps 2011 Training Camp (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Philipp Grubauer at Caps 2011 Training Camp (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Philipp Grubauer – The German native is the Caps current “next big thing” in goal. The Caps fourth round pick in the 2010 entry draft, Grubauer has extensive international experience, playing with the German national team in several tournaments, including the 2008 U18 Worlds, and the 2009 World Juniors. Grubauer was also a member of the 2010 Windsor Spitfires Memorial Cup Champion team.

Technically superior, Grubauer was named to the ECHL All-Rookie team with South Carolina in 2011-12. He split time in 2012-13 between Hershey and Reading, joining Hershey full-time after the NHL lockout ended.

Grubauer made his NHL debut in relief of Holtby on Feb. 27, stopping all 14 shots he faced in just over 25 minutes of play. He made his first start March 9, a 5-2 loss to the Islanders, stopping 40 of 45 shots.

Washington Capitals End-of-Season Roundtable, Part VI: How would you rate the goalies?

With the conclusion of Washington Capitals season, too early yet again, it’s time for appreciation, evaluation and critique. In this seven part series, the Caps staff at District Sports Page, and a few friends, will be taking an in-depth look at what went right, what could be better, suggest some changes and grade out the team position-by-position.

Our panel: Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief of DSP; Abram Fox, Caps Team Editor of DSP; Katie Brown, Caps Beat Writer for DSP; Sky Kerstein, 106.7 The Fan and DSP contributor; Ted Starkey, SBNation.com and DSP contributor, Adam Vingan, NBCWashington.com; and Harry Hawkings, RocktheRed.net.

PART I: What was the Capitals’ biggest accomplishment this season?

PART II: What was your biggest disappointment about the Caps this season?

PART III: What single adjustment would you advocate for next season?

PART IV: How would you rate the offense this season?

PART V: How would you rate the defense this season?

PART VI: How would you rate the goalies this season? [Read more...]

Washington Captials 2013 Positional Preview: The Goalies

Braden Holtby -Practice April 27(Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Braden Holtby -Practice April 27(Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Michal Neuvirth - Captials practice at Kettler, September 14, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Michal Neuvirth – Captials practice at Kettler, September 14, 2012 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)











Stop me if you’ve heard this one: The Washington Capitals split goaltending duties throughout the regular season with Michal Neuvirth and a veteran goalie, only to turn to an untested rookie once the playoff begins. Said rookie then stands on his head, leading most of the media and fans to believe that the rookie is the uncontested starter once training camp opens for the following season.

Substitute Tomas Vokoun for Jose Theodore and Braden Holtby for Semyon Varlamov and the scenarios from ’11-’12 and ’09-’10 were pretty darn close.

Well, not so fast my friends.

Yes, Holtby’s performance in last season’s playoff run was fairly terrific and the youngster is very talented — if still a bit raw. But new head coach Adam Oates indicated this week that he’ll need to lean on Neuvirth in this compressed, lockout-shortened season every bit as much as Holtby, the assumed starter.

“Forty-eight games — I think both guys are gonna play a lot,” Oates said. “I always say that when a guy is playing well, he’s playing well. He should play.”

For his part, Holtby realizes that it’s going to take two goalies this season with the high number of back-to-back games this season.

“No matter what the year’s like, it’s always a benefit to have two guys that are giving you a chance to win games,” Holtby said. “You know the way the NHL is now, a couple games costs you a playoff spot. As much as Michal and I can give our team a chance to win in net, that will be a benefit to us.”

Holtby, 23, started the season at AHL Hershey, putting up pedestrian numbers while waiting for the lockout to be settled. He picked up his game after a few weeks and over the 25 games he played for the Bears he put up a 2.14 GAA and .932 save percentage, numbers that reinforce his standing as a quality goaltending prospect in the NHL. Yet, Holtby has played in just 35 NHL games — including 14 playoff games last season – thus far in his career. In such a pivotal year for the Caps organization, it’s a lot of trust to put into a player with such little experience.

Of course, the other option is no graybeard. Neuvirth, 24, has 108 games to his credit spread over four seasons. Last year, his numbers (2.82, .903) weren’t as good as previous season. But his playing time was disjointed and he suffered through injury problems most of the season, playing in just 38 games. Neuvirth doesn’t want to concede the No. 1 spot, but he does acknowledge that Holtby probably has the leg up due to his playoff performance.

“It’s hard to say, he played last year in the playoffs and he deserves to start this season and if he will, I’ll cheer for him,” Neuvirth said. Asked what he needed to do to overtake Holtby on the depth chart, Neuvirth was succinct, “Play good, bring myself, whenever I get a chance. I want to play good,” he said.

“You’ve got 48 games, that’s still a lot of games, ups and downs, anything can happen.”

D.C. loves a goalie controversy. It seems like the Caps usually can’t avoid the situation. Maybe the nature of this season will benefit the team and both players such that it’s a 48-game schedule to settle on the one goalie that will lead them during the playoffs — if they qualify.

But perish the thought of injury or ineffectiveness at the NHL level, because the cupboard is bare now fro NHL-level talent in the lower levels. Dany Sabourin is the veteran down in Hershey, and it would be tough for the Caps to have to lean on a 32-year old with just 57 games and an NHL .898 save percentage. The other goalie in Hershey, Phillipp Grubauer, is another immensely talented youngster, but the 21-year old has just four games of AHL experience to fall back on.

So, regardless of who’s in net for the Caps, pray for health.

Neuvirth suffering from bruised foot, cuts practice short

Goalie Michal Neuvirth revealed this morning after an aborted attempt at practice for the Washington Capitals that he is suffering from a bruised right foot, injured during the morning skate before the Caps game with Tampa Bay on Oct. 10.  The 23-year old netminder has missed the last three games and from the sounds of his quotes after practice today, he won’t be back anytime soon.

Michal Neuvirth during a practice at Kettler (Stock Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

“It’s a lot of pain when I’m putting my skates on, and that’s the worst,” Neuvirth told reporters this morning.  “I can’t really push on the ice or anything like that. I feel a lot of pain right now.” [Read more...]

Caps Practice Update: Neuvy still out, Sabourin up

The Washington Capitals recalled Dany Sabourin from AHL Hershey today to back up Tomas Vokoun tonight against the Ottawa Senators.  Michal Neuvirth, still day-to-day with an undisclosed lower body injury, is not practicing and presumably won’t dress for the game.  Braden Holtby, who backed up Vokoun in Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win over Pittsburgh, where Vokoun knocked away 39 of 41 shots, will stay with Hershey to play against Norfolk tonight in Hershey.

Caps fans should read nothing into this latest turn on the goalie carousel.  The Caps want Holtby to play as much as possible, and he can’t do that backing up Vokoun here in Washington.  Sabourin is in this organization for this very purpose — to cover for minor injury on the big club and back up Holtby in Hershey.

Dany Sabourin at Training Camp wearing his "Hockey Fights Cancer" helmet (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Neuvirth doesn’t travel to Pittsburgh; Holtby recalled

The Washington Capitals recalled goalie Braden Holtby from AHL Hershey this morning in light of Michal Neuvirth not travelling with the team to Pittsburgh for tonight’s game against the Penguins.  Neuvirth is “day-to-day” with a lower body injury.

Braden Holtby during training camp (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

The roster move probably signals a start for veteran Tomas Vokoun, who surrendered five goals on 28 shots in Monday night’s shootout win over Carolina.

According to reports from the morning skate in Pittsburgh, both Evgeni Malkin (lower body) and Sidney Crosby (concussion symptoms) took the ice for the Penguins.  Crosby has been practicing with the team and apparently cleared for contact as he continues his recovery from concussion symptoms.  It’s unclear — and unlikely — that he will dress for tonight’s game so quickly after being cleared, but we’ll update as more information becomes available.

What is certain is that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma wants the Capitals to think both Crosby and Malkin are possible for the game tonight, an interesting little piece of gamesmanship for the third game of the NHL season.

Neuvirth misses practice; Boudreau shuffles lines

Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth missed Wednesday’s practice, calling into question his availability for Thursday’s matchup in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.  According to reports, Neuvirth suffered a minor off-ice injury and the team considers him “day-to-day” with a lower body injury.

Coach Bruce Boudreau said after practice that Neuvirth could still play tomorrow, or the team could recall Braden Holtby to back up Tomas Vokoun for the showdown with the Penguins.

Michal Neuvirth showing off his new red pads during warmups (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Neuvirth has been particularly effective against the Penguins in recent memory.  He enjoys an active shutout streak of 1:44.43 against Pittsburgh, pitching two February shutouts against them last season.Caps Director of Media Relations Sergey Kocharov suited up as the second goalie for the morning’s practice, following in the footsteps of former web producer Brett Leonhardt, who once dressed for a game when the Caps were without a backup at the start.  Kocharov has experience in these matter, having served as emergency practice goalie while serving in the Phoenix Coyotes media relations department before joining the Caps.

The other development from the morning’s practice was a shuffling of lines.  Boudreau moved Troy Brouwer to first line right wing and put Mike Knuble on the second line with Marcus Johansson and Alexander Semin.  Mathieu Perreault practiced on the fourth line with Matt Hendricks, Jeff Halpern and Jay Beagle.

Caps 2011-12 Preview: Trio of goalies an embarrassment of riches

Each day this week we’ll preview part of the Washington Capitals in our 2011-12 Season Preview.  Today, District Sports Page Editor-in-Chief Dave Nichols looks at the goaltenders.

Tomas Vokoun takes a break during training camp. (photo by Cheryl Nichols).

A funny thing happened on July 1, the day NHL free agency opened.  Capitals General Manager George McPhee traded former playoff goalie Semyon Varlamov to the Colorado Avalanche for a first round pick in the 2012 entry draft, plus a conditional second round pick.  It was a coup of major proportion, especially for  a player that had, for all intent and purposes, told the team he would not play for them in the upcoming season.

That left the Caps with Michal Neuvirth, who had just completed a stellar first full campaign in the NHL, and Braden Holtby, talented but largely NHL-untested, as the two top goalies in the system.  McPhee professed at the time of the trade that he was supremely confident in both goalies and felt the deal was too good to pass up — and he was right.  Colorado could very well be one of the worst teams in the NHL this season, and the return of a top five overall pick in next year’s draft, widely regarded as being very deep, could be a huge boon for the franchise.

Hello Neuvy. (photo by Cheryl NIchols)

Then came the frenzy of free agent day, netting the Capitals Jeff Halpern, Roman Hamrlik and Joel Ward, setting the Caps blogosphere buzzing with the news.  But McPhee wasn’t done yet.  In a move he described as the hockey gods smiling upon the team, the next day Tomas Vokoun’s agent contacted the Caps and let McPhee know his client would be interested in coming to D.C., and not on a multi-year deal either, but a ridiculously affordable, $1.5 million one-year contract.  Essentially, Vokoun dropped into McPhee’s lap at a serious discount because the veteran netminder felt this was his best shot at a Stanley Cup run, from which he would be sure to cash in if successful.

So the Caps now find themselves with an upgrade at the most demanding position on the ice.  Vokoun, 35, is routinely a top-five goalie, owning a lifetime 2.56 GAA and .917 save percentage in 13 seasons, playing for some dreadful Nashville and Florida teams.  Neuvirth, 23, went 27-12-4 with a 2.45 GAA and .914 save pct. in ’10-’11 while Holtby, 22, went 10-2-2 in 14 games with the big club last year, with a sparkling 1.79 GAA and .934 save pct

Braden Holtby during Caps training camp. (photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Vokoun is undeniably the starter.  His talent, veteran presence and determination to play for  a winner all put him at the top of the depth chart.  Neuvirth, who idolized Vokoun growing up in their native Czech Republic, wants the top spot and will play to prove it, but will start the season as Vokoun’s back-up.  Holtby was understandably bummed he went from NHLer one day, only to realize his future this season would be at AHL Hershey after Vokoun signed.  But he knows that another year of seasoning, with call-up duty with the Caps on occasion and perhaps a run at a Calder Cup in Chocolatetown, will be immeasurable in his overall development.

The team easily could have come into the season with the Neuvy/Holtby pair to start the season and made additions if they saw fit.  But in Vokoun, McPhee seized an opportunity to be pro-active and upgrade at a position that wasn’t even a priority.  Vokoun will bring his presence to the cage for the Caps.  Neuvirth and Holtby are both tremendously talented, and Vokoun is only on a one-year contract and is, after all, 35, so it’s not like the Caps are signalling that they are unhappy with their two young netminders.

It’s an embarrassment of riches for the team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference last season to have three goalies they can comfortably turn to at any time.

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