Game 40 Preview: Caps Host New York Rangers

Posted by Cheryl Nichols | Saturday, January 03, 2009 | , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (25-11-3, first in Southeast) host the New York Rangers (23-13-3, second in Atlantic) at 7:00 PM from Verizon Center.

The Capitals continue their RED hot streak with five wins in a row and 12 of their last 14 games. The Rangers have yet to play a game in 2009 as their last game was a third period come from behind victory over the New York Islanders.

Washington leads the New York by four points in the Eastern Conference standings.

Winger Chris Bourque was sent back to the minors on Friday.


WAS: PP-5th (23.1%, 37/160); PK-22nd (80.1%, 36/181)
NYR: PP-25th (14.2%, 25/176); PK-2nd (88.2%, 18/152)


WAS: D John Erskine (Concussion-IR); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-OUT); C Sergei Federov (Ankle-IR); D Tom Poti (Groin-IR); LW Alexander Semin (Back-IR); Tomas Fleischmann (Pneumonia-OUT); Donald Brashear (Leg-Questionable)
NYR: None Reported
Update on Former Capital and now with Tampa Bay Lightning, Jamie Heward - Jamie Heward was diagnosed with a concussion after being hit head-first into the boards by a clean Ovechkin check during Thursday's game against Washington. He was released from Sidley Hospital on Friday and returned to Tampa Bay where he will be out indefinitely.

Sad Hockey News -
Don Sanderson, a 21-year-old rookie defenceman with the senior AAA Whitby Dunlops of the Ontario Hockey Association, died on Friday three weeks after hitting his unprotected head on the ice during a fight in a December 12th game. His death has renewed calls for tougher rules governing the use of helmets.

Game 39 Review: Caps Handle Lightning 7-4

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, January 01, 2009 | , , , , , , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals scored early and often, getting goals from seven different players, and handed the Tampa Bay Lightning a 7-4 defeat before a capacity New Year's Day crowd at the Verizon Center. It was Washington's fifth straight victory and 12th out of 14 games.

The game was not without incident, however, as play was delayed several minutes with 13:15 left after Lightning defenseman Jamie Heward was checked awkwardly into the boards by Alex Ovechkin, hitting his head and neck.

Heward was face-down and motionless while doctors attended to him, and he was eventually rolled onto a backboard and taken from the rink on a stretcher. He was taken to the hospital because of a concussion, but his eyes were open as he was leaving the arena.

Heward, who played with the Capitals from 2005 to 2007, sustained a major injury while with the Caps, as his face was sliced open with a skate. Many of the Caps, including Ovechkin and Matt Bradley, skated over to check on their former teammate.

As for the game, the Caps got balanced scoring and just enough saves from goalie Brent Johnson in a chippy, sloppy game. Johnson's biggest save was on a penalty shot by Adam Hall midway through the second period while the score was 4-2.

Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith, however, was particularly sloppy, directly costing his squad several goals.

Washington took a 3-0 lead in the first period on goals from Sean Collins, his first NHL goal, Dave Steckel and Mike Green. Collins' goal was a wrist shot from the point that trickled through Smith's pads. It would not be Smith's last mistake of the game.

After Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone cut the lead to 3-2 in the beginning of the second period, Matt Bradley answered 11 seconds later when Boyd Gordon intercepted Smith's pass attempt behind the net and slipped the puck between his legs to a wide open Bradley in the slot, who dumped it into a wide open net to extended the lead to two.

Lecavalier scored his second of the game with 16 seconds remaining in the period, though, making the score 4-3 and setting up a wild third period.

Gordon pushed the lead to two as Smith inexplicably left the net and misplayed the puck again, trying to pass out of the zone, instead putting the puck right onto Gordon's tape, who buried it as Smith dove head-first trying to get back into the net.

Mark Recchi responded at 12:22 of the period to get the Lightning back within reach, but Chris Clark netted his first of the season just 25 seconds later. It seemed like the Caps could just turn it back on whenever Tampa Bay would score.

Alex Ovechkin would put the icing on the cake, as he used defenseman Steve Eminger as a screen and whipped a wrist shot past Smith to cap the scoring late in the third period. Ovechkin had two helpers as well.

Washington has a day off tomorrow before hosting the New York Rangers Saturday night at 7:00 PM from Verizon Center.

Photo by Getty Images.

WAS: Collins (1) from Ovechkin and Morrisonn (1-3:58); Steckel (5) from Bradley and Jurcina (1-8:02); Green (9) from Ovechkin and Backstrom (1-18:29); Bradley (4) from Gordon (2-2:48); Gordon (5) unassisted (3-8:07); Clark (1) from Nylander and Green (3-12:47); Ovechkin (26) from Backstrom (3-18:14)

TBY: Lecavalier (15) from Prospal and St. Louis (2-0:58); Malone (9) from Halpern (2-2:37); Lecavalier (16) from Prospal and St Louis (2-19:44); Recchi (9) from St. Louis and Meszaros (3-12:22)

1. M. Bradley - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 1)
2. C. Clark - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 0)
3. V. Lecavalier - TB (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)

All 11 goals on the evening were at full strength.

Bradley, Gordon, and Green all had a goal and assist. Niklas Backstrom had two assists. Martin St. Louis had three assists for Tampa Bay.

Washington out shot Tampa Bay 35-26.

Game 39 Preview: Caps Host Tampa Bay Lightning

Posted by Dave Nichols | Thursday, January 01, 2009 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (24-11-3, first in Southeast) host the Tampa Bay Lightning (10-16-10, fourth in Southeast) at 7:00 PM from Verizon Center.

The Capitals continue to be one of the hottest teams in the NHL, winners of four in a row and 11 of their last 13 games.

Goalie Jose Theodore has been one of the big reasons for the current streak, as he's been in net for each of the previous four wins. Coach Bruce Boudreau, however, will start Brent Johnson against the Bolts tonight, citing the need to keep both netminders sharp.

In the most recent victory, the Caps travelled to Buffalo, a place that has traditionally been a house of horrors for them, and defeated the Sabres 4-2. Winger Chris Bourque, recalled due to Matt Bradley's awkward spill into the boards in the Toronto game and Donald Brashear's lingering leg bruise, scored his first NHL goal, knocking in a long rebound on Buffalo's Ryan Miller.

Center Niklas Backstrom has been outstanding lately, registering 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists) in his last 14 games, and has 38 points in 29 games. He is ninth in the league in scoring for the season (11-31-42, plus-5).

Tampa Bay has struggled to recover from their horrendous start that saw former coach Barry Melrose fired just a few weeks into the season and replaced with Rick Tocchet.

The Lightning dropped their last contest, a 2-1 shootout loss to Montreal, but had won their previous three before that loss. Before the recent spate of good play, Tampa had lost 12 of 13, dating back to Thanksgiving. They are 3-10 in shootouts and 4-13 overall in overtime.

Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier pace Tampa Bay in scoring. St. Louis has 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists), while Lecavalier is just two points behind (14-16-30).

The Lightning's number one goalie is Mike Smith. His tema's record belie his excellent play so far this season. He is the owner of an 8-12-16 record with a 2.42 goals against average and .923 save percentage. Olaf Kolzig, owner of most of Washington's goaltending records, is the normal backup, but will miss the game with an upper body injury.

WAS: PP-4th (23.6%, 37/157); PK-24th (79.9%, 36/179)
TBY: PP-24th (14.6%, 24/164); PK-19th (81.1%, 36/190)

WAS: D John Erskine (Concussion-IR); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-OUT); C Sergei Federov (Ankle-IR); D Tom Poti (Groin-IR); LW Alexander Semin (Back-IR); Tomas Fleischmann (Pneumonia-OUT); Matt Bradley (Head/Neck-Questionable); Donald Brashear (Leg-Questionable)

TB: D David Koci (Hand-IR); LW Gary Roberts (Groin-IR); G Olaf Kolzig (Upper body-Questionable); D Marek Malik (Flu-Questionable)

Game 38 Review: Caps Exorsize Demons in Buffalo

Posted by Dave Nichols | Wednesday, December 31, 2008 | , , , , , , | 0 comments »

Coach Bruce Boudreau's stated message before Tuesday night's game in Buffalo was simple: To be considered an elite team you have to win on the road in the tough buildings. And it does not get any tougher for the Caps than Buffalo's HSBC Arena, where they had lost seven of their last eight games.

His troops responded to the message, scoring early and holding down a mostly inept Buffalo offense until the final few moments, holding on to a 4-2 win and keeping the usually raucous pro-Sabres crowd out of the game.

Washington (24-11-3-51, first in Southeast) hushed the 18,000-plus very early, as Brooks Laich deposited a power play goal at 1:57 of the first period, on a rebound of a Niklas Backstrom shot. It was Laich's 11th of the season and sixth in nine games.

Chris Bourque, son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque, scored his first NHL goal later in the period, converting a long rebound off a Ryan Miller kick save. He was reunited with David Steckel and Eric Fehr on a line that contributed heavily to Boudreau's AHL Calder Cup winning team in Hershey two years ago.

"I was lucky with the rebound right on my stick," Bourque said. "I wasn't going to miss that one."

Backstrom would make the score 3-0 midway through the second period, banging home a rebound of a Viktor Kozlov shot. Backstrom finished with a goal and assist, and Kozlov had two helpers.

Buffalo (17-15-5-39, third in Northeast) tried to make a go of it in the third, outshooting the Caps 16-11 in the frame. Adam Mair slipped one past Jose Theodore at 7:41 to briefly inspire the Buffalo faithful, but Jose Theodore (29 saves) proved up to the task, stopping Thomas Vanek and Nathan Gerbe at point blank range in the third.

Theodore continued his recent spate of good play and ended his own personal five game losing streak in Buffalo, dating back to his days with Montreal. Theo has won his last four games and seems to be gaining confidence every time out on the ice.

Boyd Gordon closed the Washington scoring with an opposite blue line empty netter with 43 seconds remaining while shorthanded. The Sabres added a consolation goal with 11 seconds, as Clarke MacArthur tapped in a rebound to conclude the power play.

Washington returns home to begin a four-game home stand against Tampa Thursday night at 7:00 PM. The Caps will also host the New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Columbus on the stand.

Photo by Getty Images.

WAS: Laich (11) from Backstrom and Kozlov (1-1:57-PP); Bourque (1) from Steckel and Fehr (1-9:02); Backstrom (11) from Kozlov and Green (2-12:11-PP); Gordon (4) unassisted (3-19:17-EN-SH)

BUF: Mair (5) from Gaustad and Lydman (3-7:41); MacArthur (11) from Hecht and Spacek (3-19:49-PP)

1. N. Backstrom - WAS (Goals: 1, Assists: 1)
2. V. Kozlov - WAS (Goals: 0, Assists: 2)
3. P. Gaustad - BUF (Goals: 0, Assists: 1)

Alex Ovechkin was held without a point for just the second time in 11 games. It was reported that his grandfather passed away over the weekend.

The Caps have won nine of their last 10 and 11-of-13 to open a 12-point lead over Carolina in the NHL's Southeast Division.

Backstrom has 38 points in his last 26 games.

Defenseman Shaone Morrisonn left the game late in the third after taking a shot off his lower leg.

Ovechkin Trails Badly in All-Star Voting

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, December 30, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

Reigning Hart Trophy winner Alex Ovechkin, with 25 goals and 24 assists, third in the league in points and the only player in the top 15 in both goals and assists, currently ranks sixth among forward in fan voting for the NHL All-Star team.

Ovechkin, with 436,000+ votes, trail Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin (both over 1,270,000 votes) and a trio of Canadiens (Alexi Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay, all over 1,000,000 votes).

That's right, Ovechkin has less than half the votes of Alex Tanguay.

Of course, the same knuckleheads that have Crosby and Malkin atop the forwards list also have Sergei Gonchar, who has yet to play this season, in second among defensemen with over 1,050,000 votes. And Ryan Whitney, another Penguin who has played in exactly three games, is fourth in votes among defensemen, with 1,010,000.

Now, I understand stuffing the ballot box for the home team, but isn't this just a little ridiculous?

Just another reason to despise the black and gold.

Game 38 Preview: Caps at Buffalo Sabres

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, December 30, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

The Washington Capitals (23-11-3-49, first in Southeast) travel to upstate New York to visit the Buffalo Sabres (17-14-5, third in Northeast) at 7:00 PM from the HSBC Arena.

The Caps are one of the league's hottest teams in December having won 10 of their last 12 games, including Sunday night's dispatching of Toronto, 4-1, before a packed house. The sellout crowd was also treated to the retirement ceremony of Mike Gartner's number 11. Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin each had a pair of goals in the contest.

The Capitals' previous win to that was over these same Sabres, last Friday night, 3-2. Viktor Kozlov, Boyd Gordon, and Ovechkin all scored in that one, and Jose Theodore played well in the victory.

In fact, Theodore has experienced a renaissance of sorts in the last three games. Since being pulled in the first period against the Rangers last Tuesday, Theodore has stopped 64 out 68 shots on goal and has earned the win in each of the last three games.

Brent Johnson returns from injury to back up Theodore. Simeon Varlamov was returned to AHL Hershey following the Toronto game.

The revolving injury door keeps swinging for the Caps. Returning last game were defensemen Mike Green and Jeff Schultz, but Matt Bradley took a hard hit into the boards and left the game woozy, and Karl Alzner took a couple shots to his hand. Both are questionable for tonight's game.

Tyler Sloan was sent out to make room for Green and Schultz, but might be recalled if Alzner can not go.

Alex Ovechkin was named NHL first star of the week for last week. He tallied five goals and an assist in three games. For the season, he has 49 points (25 goals, 24 assists) in 35 games.

Buffalo is expected to start Ryan Miller in goal. He missed Friday night's game in DC. Miller is 15-9-5, 2.62, .911 in 29 games this season.

Thomas Vanek (25-7-32, -3), Derek Roy (11-20-31, even), and Jason Pominville (10-17-27, -2) pace the Sabres, who lost two of three last week.

WAS: PP-5th (22.9%, 35/153); PK-23rd (79.9%, 35/174)
BUF: PP-12th (19.6%, 32/163); PK-4th (87.0%, 19/146)

WAS: D John Erskine (Concussion-IR); D Brian Pothier (Concussion-OUT); C Sergei Federov (Ankle-IR); D Tom Poti (Groin-IR); LW Alexander Semin (Back-IR); Tomas Fleischmann (Pneumonia-OUT); Karl Alzner (Hand-Questionable); Matt Bradley (Head/Neck-Questionable)

BUF: D Craig Rivet (Upper body-IR); C Tim Connolly (Ribs-IR); C Paul Gaustad (Upper body-IR); C Nathan Gerbe (Upper body-IR); RW Patrick Kaleta (Head-Out)

Capitals Retire Mike Gartner's Number 11

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 29, 2008 | , , | 0 comments »

In a moving tribute last night, the Washington Capitals raised Mike Gartner's number 11 to the Verizon Center rafters, to hang in perpetuity with the #7 of Yvon Labre, #5 of Rod Langway and #32 of Dale Hunter.

The ceremony did not have a formal emcee. Rather, two men with intimate knowledge of the speedy right winger, teammate and business partner Wes Jarvis and Caps' President Dick Patrick, spoke glowingly of the Hall of Famer. Jarvis' speech was laced with personal stories of life as teammates and housemates, while Patrick spoke about what Gartner meant to the young franchise, bringing an all-star presence to a organization trying to find its place in the sport--and market.
“I am proud to know that Number 11 is going to hang in Verizon Center as symbol of our franchise,” Patrick said. “It will be a constant reminder of your speed and power on the ice as well as your graciousness and dedication to the sport.” -- Dick Patrick
Gartner himself then took the microphone and spoke about his passion for the game, his family, and his many fond memories of his playing days in Washington. He also mentioned the current team, and how Caps' owner Ted Leonsis had "two goals" for the Caps: to become a class operation and to win a Stanley Cup.
“I always look back on my 10 years in Washington with great memories, great admiration and great thankfulness,” Gartner said. “I will always have a very special place in my heart for this area and for this franchise. I really became a hockey player here, and I also became a young man, and was shown the importance of being involved in the community.” --Mike Gartner

Events like last night attest to the first proposition, and games like last night may very well speak to the second.

During the pre-game skate, the Caps all wore retro jerseys with Gartner's #11, and the Caps conducted a silent auction through the first two periods. Ovechkin and Federov's jerseys both went for more than $3000, and Green, Semin and Laich all went for more than $1000. Part of the proceeds went to a charity of Gartner's choice.

And today's Caps made sure everyone went home extra happy, dispatching the Toronto Maple Leafs, another of Gartner's former teams, 4-1.

All photos (c) C. Nichols 2008.

Game 37 Review: Laich Leads Caps Past Leafs 4-1

Posted by Dave Nichols | Monday, December 29, 2008 | , , , , | 0 comments »

As December crawls to a close, the Washington Capitals (23-11-3-49) find themselves inching closer to the top of the NHL's Eastern Conference lead. The Caps have been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning 10 of their last 12 games.

With their 4-1 win last night over the Toronto Maple Leafs (14-6-6-34 fourth in Northeast), Washington extended their Southeast Division lead to ten points over Carolina, and find themselves alone in second place in the conference, nine points behind the Boston Bruins.

Before a capacity crowd that came to see Caps' great Mike Gartner's number 11 retired, and many other former Caps to honor the Hall of Famer, today's Capitals received two goals each from Brooks Laich and Alex Ovechkin, and goalie Jose Theodore was steady in goal, turning away 23 shots for his third straight victory.

Toronto struck first, as Niklas Hagstrom snapped a shot from the high slot past a partially screened Theodore late in the first period. Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala made several difficult saves in the period, and defenseman Mike Green also hit a screaming slap shot from the point off the far pipe. The lead would hold, in a fairly chippy game, until midway though the second.

On the power play, Laich took a feed in the right wing corner from Niklas Backstrom (two assists), walked in, and stuffed it between Toskala's pads to even the game. Then, with ten seconds remaining in the second period, Ovie made his mark.

Just moments after clinking one off the post, Ovechkin gathered a pass from Milan Jurcina and drilled the puck though Toskala, the puck dribbling across the goal line. Jurcina made an excellent play on the take-away, and pushed it ahead to Ovechkin who was still forechecking.

The red-clad crowd, still buzzing from the pre-game ceremonies, roared its approval.

Laich scored the insurance goal at 15:43 of the third period. Eric Fehr did some good work pinning the defense down in the left wing corner, and the puck popped out to Laich, who was streaking in behind the play. He went though the crease and got a soft shot on goal, but Toskala could not control the bounce, and on the second whack, Laich beat him.

Laich now has four goals in his last six games, and 10 for the season.

Ovechkin added an empty net goal for his 25th of the season.

The Capitals travel to Buffalo to face the Sabres Tuesday night at 7:00 PM. The Caps have split two games with the Sabres this season, a 5-0 shellacking in Buffalo and a 3-2 victory last Friday night at the Verizon Center.

Photos (c) C. Nichols 2008.

WAS: Laich (9) from Backstrom and Green (2-12:54-PP); Ovechkin (24) from Jurcina (2-19:50); Laich (10) unassisted (3-15:43); Ovechkin (25) from Backstrom and Green (3-19:26-EN)

TOR: Hagman (11) from Grabovski and Frogren (1-14:23)

1. B. Laich - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)
2. A. Ovechkin - WAS (Goals: 2, Assists: 0)
3. J. Theodore - WAS (Saves: 23, Save Pct: .958)

Before the game, the Caps returned D Tyler Sloan to Hershey (AHL) and activated Mike Green and Jeff Schultz from the injured list. After the game, the team recalled forward Chris Bourque from Hershey.

Washington is 15-1-1 at Verizon Center this year, and 21-1-1 in its last 23 regular season games.

Forward Matt Bradley fell hard into the side boards after missing a check. He left the game with assistance and appeared woozy. The team said he is "ok", but has not elaborated.

Photos and Notes from Saturday's Practice

Posted by Dave Nichols | Sunday, December 28, 2008 | , | 0 comments »

We attended Saturday's practice at Kettler Iceplex.

Brent Johnson practiced for a little while but still looked slow from his head cold and hip strain.

Alexander Semin skated for a while, but did not take part in drills.

Brain Pothier practiced hard for quite a while by himself in full gear. He's got a ways to go, but he's making practice.

Mike Green and Jeff Schultz both practiced in full.

Please enjoy the photos by staff photographer Cheryl.