April 19, 2014

NHL Free Agency: Washington Capitals leaving dance card open as veterans depart

Friday is the first day NHL GMs can start signing free agents, and the Washington Capitals have already seen three of their prominent free agents take employment elsewhere.

Mike Ribeiro, the long-awaited No. 2 center, signed a four-year deal with the Arizona (nee Phoenix) Coyotes and fan favorite winger Matt Hendricks got his own four-year deal with the Nashville Predators. D Jeff Schultz, who was waived earlier in the week, signed a one-year deal for $700,000.

Good for all, bad for the Caps.

Hendricks’ deal with Nashville will pay him $7.4M over the length of the contract ($1.85M per annum), while Ribeiro will make $22M on his contract, a $5.5M cap hit each season.

The Caps simply could not afford either player for their market value.

It leaves George McPhee in an interesting place, especially with his team poised to join a more competitive division next season. The team is still negotiating with RFA Karl Alzner, but sources indicate that negotiation could end up in arbitration.

One the Caps spots that could use bolstering is another top defensive contributor on their blue line to push John Erskine into more of a third pairing/situational seventh defenseman spot. They do have several youngsters that will compete for playing time on the back end, but most are the puck-moving variety.

Up front, Ribeiro’s exit once again creates a gaping hole at 2C.

The Caps expect Brooks Laich to enter camp completely healthy, but he’s much more suited to wing on the second line or center on the third line. His versatility is one thing the Caps really like about Laich, but he’s just not offensively gifted enough to be counted on as a playmaker on a scoring line, such as Ribeiro was. The Caps once hoped Marcus Johansson would be that player, but his ineffectiveness in the face-off circle and lack of presence on the defensive end makes him more suited to play wing, which we saw him do primarily last season.

To make matters worse, unlike with the defenseman, there are no prospects waiting in the wings to push veterans for playing time at center within the organization.

Many expected (hoped) the Caps would re-sign Ribeiro, eliminating the need to look outside the organization for that 2C as they have so often in the past. Now that Ribeiro has moved on to greener pastures officially, the Caps hand is finally forced. But among the free agent candidates, there are no logical solutions. The only player on the market that really suited their needs at the position is the one that just left.

The Caps will probably have Martin Erat skate with Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the top line next season. If the Caps don’t make a push and sign a free agent –or make a trade — to bolster that second line, it will be formed from a mish-mash of Troy Brouwer, Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr, Jason Chimera, Marcus Johansson and Mattieu Perreault, with the leftovers joining the third line with Joel Ward. Two-thirds of the the fourth line looks pretty set with Jay Beagle and Aaron Volpatti.

A third line of Brooks Laich centering Chimera and Ward is a line with a purpose — defensively responsible with speed on a wing, with two of the three also poised for lots of penalty kill time.

But unless the Caps are willing to get creative and make some deals, they won’t have that luxury. With the road to the playoffs that much more congested, it’s a bad time for the roster to be in such a state of flux.

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

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? [Read more...]

FIRST TAKE, GAME 5: Ribeiro goes to the bakery to win Game 5 in overtime

What, you expected something else in Game 5? No chance, as a crummy start turned into a dominant performance by the Washington Capitals, only to see them frustrated time and again by Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers. But the Caps had the last laugh, as Mike Ribeiro swept home a rebound in overtime to give the Caps a three games to two lead in the Quarterfinals matchup.

– The Caps could not have played worse in the first period. Outshot 10-8, and only a flurry at the end of the frame made it that close. But the chances were heavily in the Rangers favor. Bad penalties, defensive breakdowns and spotty puck possession. A total breakdown by John Erskine and Nick Backstrom allowed Brian Boyle to drift to the top of the crease to bang home a nice pass from Derek Brassard just 53 second into the game. Brassard has been the Rangers best offensive player in the series.

– Jason Chimera was laying the leather in the first couple of periods, and the hit he laid on Ryan Clowe behind the Caps net — which he received two minutes for roughing — knocked Clowe from the game. He skated one more shift and was done for the night.

– The Caps finally got a power play in the second period after Boyle whacked Mike Ribeiro across the back of the legs, and they made the Rangers pay for it. A beautiful tic-tac-toe from Backstrom-to-Johansson-to-Ward in the slot made it 1-1 at 7:44.

– Based on the Rangers having four power plays to the Caps’ one after two periods, Matt Hendricks led both teams with seven blocked shots after two.

– Through two periods, the Caps held a 40-19 advantage in shots attempts in 5-on-5 play, but the SOG total was 15-14 Rangers.

– The Caps owned the third period. Owned. But no goal.

– Ribeiro went to the right spot for the game-winner, earning that position with some uncharacteristic physical play. Eric Fehr did a great job keeping the play alive. He had a great game. Good work with Alzner getting the puck toward the net as well. Good things come when you shoot the puck.

– Ribs was a monster in the face-off circle, going 19-for-27 (70%) overall and 9-for-10 in the defensive zone. Monster.

Game 6 is Sunday at 4:30 pm at Madison Square Garden. Make sure you take your heart medicine between now and then.

Washington Capitals Game 45 Recap: Les Capitals frappent Les Habitent dans la nuit d’hockey

The Washington Capitals knew during Saturday night’s matchup in Montreal against the Canadiens that the Winnipeg Jets had cut their lead in the Southeast Division to a single point by virtue of a shootout loss to the New York Islanders. What was a big enough game already — a Saturday night game in Montreal is akin to a holiday festival — became even bigger, with Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg potentially setting up to be a game to decide the division.

With all that drama in mind, the Caps came out buzzing, took control of all three zones early, and spanked the Canadiens to the tune of a 5-1 final. As has been the case for the past 30 games, the team was led by their captain, Alex Ovechkin, who tallied twice to extend his league-leading goal total to 30, and their goalie, Braden Holtby, who made 35 saves look easy in the winning effort.

Washington is now 9-1-0 in the last 10 games.

The Caps jumped all over the Canadiens in the first period with a strong forecheck. That early attack paid dividends at 4:49 when Ovechkin corralled a turnover in the high slot, turned away from the defense, faked a pass to Marcus Johansson who was on the far post, and ripped a wrist shot past beleaguered Montreal goalie Carey Price to get on the board first.

Just over a minute later, Troy Brouwer scored the first of his two goals. Mike Ribeiro (three assists) won an offensive zone faceoff to Karl Alzner at the point. Alzner found Brouwer walking off the half-boards and the veteran forward found space between two Montreal defenders. Brouwer, from the top of the left-wing faceoff circle then whipped a shot toward net that eluded Price through a maze of bodies, including the aforementioned Ribeiro and winger Martin Erat to give the Caps a 2-0 lead not even six minutes into the contest.

With the normally rowdy Centre Bell crowd taken out of the game, the Caps turned up the forecheck even tighter, making the sledding for the slumping Canadiens almost too much to bear.

The Caps did not let up in the second stanza. Brouwer got his second of the night at 3:49 of the second frame. Ribeiro won a foot race to a puck in the corner and gained control over two Canadiens defenders and slid the puck up the boards to Marcus Johansson. The young Swede had the presence to know that Brouwer was drifting through the high slot, despite having his back to the play. Johansson hit Brouwer in stride and the veteran ripped a shot past Price for his 19th goal of the season, just three off his career high.

A little later, it was the power play’s turn to light the lamp again. Mike Green found Ovechkin in his “sweet spot” at the left-wing faceoff circle. This time, instead of unleashing his standard one-timer, the captain found Nick Backstrom at the far post for a tip-in which rattled off two posts. After a brief review, the goal stood for Backstrom’s seventh of the campaign.

Ovechkin himself closed the Capitals scoring onslaught in the third period with his 30th of the season with another power play marker. They used the same play that set up the Backstrom goal, with Ribeiro hitting Green at the top of the umbrella, who then fed to Ovi at the left-wing circle. This time, the captain was selfish and ripped the shot past Price to cap the scoring and brought a close to the competitive portion of the evening.

Through the festivities, Holtby was stellar again. Montreal broke up the shutout bid a third of the way through the third period, but the contest was well out of hand by that point. The young netminder has been dominant against Canadian teams and he was no less Saturday night, showing up the favorites of his countrymen time and again.

The Caps are off until Tuesday, when they host the Jets with a three-point lead in the division. Depending on Winnipeg’s result Monday against Buffalo, a win by the Caps Tuesday could clinch the division — and the No. 3 seed that comes with it – and put the Jets playoff hopes in peril.

The Caps have been playing in “elimination mode” pretty much since the first of February, owners of a 23-10-1 record (113 point pace) since Feb. 9 after the awful 2-8-1 start. They’ve lost in regulation just once in the past four weeks and for maybe the first time in the Ovechkin era, they have earned the mantel of “team no one wants to play in the playoffs.”

The Caps still haven’t qualified for the postseason yet, but they took one step closer Saturday night, destroying a very good team on their home ice in quite possibly the most hostile territory in the league. If the Caps can take care of their own business and qualify for the playoffs, with the East as seemingly open as it is, who knows? No one has played better in the past two months.

Washington Capitals Game 44 Recap: Rough night in Ottawa ends streak at eight

BACKSTROM HURT; WINNIPEG TRIMS DIVISION LEAD TO TWO POINTS

It had to end sometime.

The Washington Capitals, one of the hottest teams in hockey the last three weeks, rode into Ottawa to face a tough Senators team on the back on an eight-game winning streak, fueled by the league’s most dangerous power play and solid goaltending. Unfortunately, the team looked sluggish and was outplayed and beaten in just about every aspect of the game by a team that could very well be their first-round playoff draw — if the Caps can hold off the competition for first place in the Southeast.

Indicative of how badly the Caps were outplayed, they were outshot by the Senators 38-19 — including 11-4 in the first period.

To add injury to insult, center Nick Backstrom missed the last 7:16 of the game with an undisclosed upper body injury, thought to have been sustained when hit in the arm with an errant Mike Green shot midway through the final frame.

The teams played an ugly, uneven first period, with neither team generating any semblance of offense. In the second, the Sens started the scoring just 1:15 in, when Kyle Turris beat Braden Holtby from along the boards with an innocent-enough looking shot to his blocker side. Holtby appeared to look to the heavens in exasperation as the puck sailed past him.

The Caps knotted things up at 11;14, as Mike Ribeiro continued his career year by knocking in a bouncing puck past Sens goalie Craig Anderson. But the tie didn’t last long.

Two minutes after Ribeiro evened things up, Holtby tried to play a puck behind his net and back out the other side to Karl Alzner. Unfortunately, Holtby’s pass was off the mark and ended up right on the tape of Sens forward Cory Conacher, who snapped it into the unattended goal before Holtby could get back to his post.

That score stood until little more than one minute remaining, when Ottawa added an empty-net goal after the Caps lost the offensive-zone draw with six skaters. For the night, the Caps were beat in the faceoff circle, winning just 38 percent of the draws.

Though Holtby could be assigned direct blame on both goals, no one should hang the loss on the Caps goalie. This was a team-wide lackluster effort.

It’s bound to happen at some point after such a lengthy winning streak, but the Caps can ill afford to let up with the Winnipeg Jets breathing down their necks. The Jets cut the Caps lead in the division to two points with a 4-3 overtime win over Carolina. There is no rest for the weary, at the Caps travel to Montreal for a 7:00 pm Saturday showdown with Les Habitent before next Tuesday’s all-important head-to-head matchup with Winnipeg.

All hands on deck from here on out, but if Backstrom’s injury is anything more than a bruise…

Washington Capitals Game 41 Recap: Caps keep streaking, knock off Canes 3-1

The Washington Capitals know that all they need to do is take care of their own business the rest of the way to secure a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Thursday night, against a Carolina Hurricanes team that has nothing to play for, the Caps withstood a clunky start to put another two points to their total, beating the Canes 3-1 to extend their late-season win streak to six games.

Troy Brouwer had two goals, including the empty netter with five seconds left to put the final nail in the coffin. Mike Green scored his ninth of the season, and Braden Holtby was excellent yet again, registering 43 saves in the win.

Alzner, Beagle, Wolski, Ovechkin gather around Mike Green to celebrate his goal - Carolina Hurricanes v. Washington Capitals, 4/11/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

Alzner, Beagle, Wolski, Ovechkin gather around Mike Green to celebrate his goal – Carolina Hurricanes v. Washington Capitals, 4/11/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

The first period was a bit of a scramble. The Caps were granted an early power play on a delay of game call just 3:06 into the contest. The advantage lasted all of eight seconds though, as Troy Brouwer erased the power play with a high sticking infraction of his own. Things got worse as Jack Hillen was called for tripping while the teams skated four on four. It only took Carolina only 10 seconds to capitalize on the four-on-three, with Jeff Skinner beating Caps goalie Braden Holtby for the first goal of the game.

In fact, it took the first ten minutes of the game for the Caps to wake up for this one. They were outshot at one point 14-0. But a tripping call against Alexander Semin gave the Caps another power play in the middle of the frame. They did not score, but the advantage was enough for the Capitals to get their legs under them. The play the rest of the period was much more balanced, and the shot differential after 20 minutes was 15-8.

The hard work late in the first paid dividends in the second. The Caps were having the better of the play already, and were given their second man-advantage of the frame at 7:54 when Jordan Stall went off for slashing. The Caps finally took advantage of the situation, as Mike Ribeiro found Tory Brouwer in the low slot for a one-timer that eluded Canes goalie Justin Peters 28 saves) blocker side to knot the game at one.

It was Brouwer’s first goal in six games.

After a quick and uneventful fight between Matt Hendricks and Nicholas Blanchard, the Caps went back to work. After an extensive offensive zone possession from several lines, Jay Beagle found Mike Green floating into the offensive zone. Green took the pass near the blue line, eluded a soft attempt of a check from Jeff Skinner and walked in on Peters. With Alex Ovechkin distracting Peters at the top of the crease, Green rifled a wicked wrist shot over Peters’ blocker to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.

The Capitals mostly tried to play keep-away in the third period, and they managed the task primarily due to some excellent work by Holtby. After the two-game rest given to him by head coach Adam Oates, Holtby shook off any rust early and was stellar down the stretch, including a blocker save with about 1:30 left that could have forced the issue at the end of the game.

The Caps have a couple of days off to rest — and scoreboard watch — until they face Tampa Bay Saturday night. But with task at hand, they continue to excel as the regular season very quickly now is dwindling.

Washington Capitals Game 38 Recap: Ovechkin Nets Hat Trick, Caps Hold Off Late Panthers Push in 4-3 Victory

In a crucial game against a non-playoff team, the Washington Capitals staved off a late push from the Florida Panthers on Saturday night to escape Sunrise, FL with a 4-3 victory. Alexander Ovechkin recorded his second hat trick of the season as the Caps took a 4-0 lead inside the first two periods, only to allow three goals inside the final 14 minutes of regulation to the struggling Panthers.

Despite a shaky third frame, Braden Holtby earned his 17th win of the season in a 23-save effort. Mike Ribeiro also scored and Nicklas Backstrom earned three assists, while Marcus Johansson added two assists and Ribeiro and Mike Green also recorded helpers.

Capitals captain Ovechkin is peaking at perhaps the best possible time for his franchise as it attempts to slip into a playoff berth. His trio of goals has vaulted him into third in the NHL in goals, with 23, and more importantly has powered Washington’s offense over its past 13 games, with 14 goals in that span. [Read more...]

Washington Capitals Practice Update & Audio for April 3: Oates, Ribeiro, Schmidt

The Washington Capitals held an optional practice Wednesday morning in advance of the NHL trade deadline. Most of the heavy ice-time skaters took the day off, including Alex Ovehckin, Nick Backstrom and Braden Holtby.

Mike Ribeiro, who has been the discussion of trade rumors, also took the day off, but he did meet with the media following practice. He indicated that he felt he would not be traded — or signed — before the deadline and was concentrated more on winning tomorrow against the Islanders and getting into the playoffs.

It was also the Caps debut for defenseman Nate Schmidt, just signed from University of Minnesota. Schmidy wore No. 88 in practice and head coach Adam Oates said they haven’t decided how they’ll utilize the puck-moving defenseman.

Below please find audio from Oates, Ribeiro, Schmidt and Jason Chimera, who’s name was bandied about in the national media as potentially on the block as well.

04-03-13 Adam Oates Practice RAW

04-03-13 Jason Chimera Practice RAW

04-03-13 Mike Ribeiro Practice RAW

04-03-13 Nate Schmidt Practice RAW

04-03-13 Troy Brouwer Practice RAW

NHL Trade Deadline: All quiet on the Washington Capitals front?

What happens if you throw a party and no one comes? The NHL might be about to find out.

The NHL Trade Deadline is Wednesday at 3:00 pm, but thus far there’s been less action than at a Fancy Stat convention. The same holds true at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, where the Washington Capitals practiced in advance of the deadline. And by the looks of it, it’ll be as quiet here as it has been all around the league so far.

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

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

The Caps biggest trade chip, UFA Mike Ribeiro, did not practice in the Caps optional practice this morning, but he did meet the media. And if he’s a guy that had any inkling that he was about to be traded, he must be the world’s greatest poker player. He was very relaxed with the media and indicated a strong opinion that he would neither be traded — nor re-signed — by Caps GM George McPhee today.

“I don’t really see myself moved or signed today,” Ribeiro said matter of factly.

The veteran center was much more focused on the Caps game Thursday night against the Islanders as they continue to re-insert themselves into serious playoff contention despite being left for dead several times this season.

“I still have the rest of this year of my contract,” he continued. “Nothing changes. I still have a lot of time after today if they want to sign me or not. For me, it’s to keep playing and make the playoffs and at some point, we can talk and get things done and see where it goes from there.”

In fact, most of the players today seemed to brush off the trade talk. If any of them are concerned about being traded, they didn’t show it, or dismissed it as “part of the game.”

The Caps are in a tough spot, despite being more than $7 million under the salary cap. They have several restricted free agents — notably Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson – that will require a raise for next season. If McPhee decides to hold pat, play out the string and take his lumps either way this season, it’s completely understandable.

The Caps have three options with Ribeiro: trade him for assets and admit to a rebuild, re-sign him to a four or five year contract the player has indicated he will be looking for, or let him play through the season and allow him to walk as a free agent for no compensation. It’s a tough call either way.

Do you give a multi-million deal to a 33 year old who is enjoying a career year, yet is unlikely to come close to earning his paycheck at the end of the deal? Do you break up a team that could very well sneak into the playoffs? Or do you deal him for picks and prospects and weaken an already flawed team?

Only George McPhee can answer these questions, and we’ll find out a little after 3:00 pm today which way he’ll go.

PHOTOS: Washington Capitals Practice, March 28

Dave and I are back in DC for a visit so we went over to Kettler Iceplex on Thursday, March 28 to watch the Washington Capitals practice. The last time we saw the Caps on the ice in person was in September before the lockout. We’re looking forward to seeing a few games at Verizon Center in the next couple of weeks!

There was a scary moment when Alex Ovechkin left the ice after catching a puck with his chin. He didn’t return to practice and tweeted photos from the doctor’s office before and after the 22 stitches. Ouch.

Here are a handful of photos from practice. It was great to take hockey photos again! As always, please feel free to comment on the post. I really appreciate feedback. Thanks.

This is what hockey fans do on their spring break! - Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

This is what hockey fans do on their spring break! – Washington Capitals practice at Kettler, 3/28/2013 (Cheryl Nichols/District Sports Page)

 

[Read more...]

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