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Sep
1

George McPhee Owns the NHL: Washington Capitals 2011 Offseason

George McPhee has sent a message to the NHL and to Caps fans – the time to win is now.

It’s been an exciting offseason for the Capitals. After another playoff disappointment, a lot of fans were looking for the team to make major changes. Most were hoping the changes would start with head coach Bruce Boudreau. I was not of those fans. I’m glad to see coach Boudreau get another year. But I also know this is his last shot to take this team deep into the playoffs.

General Manager George McPhee went out this offseason and used free agency to help get Boudreau and the Caps get over the hump. McPhee’s nickname is the Undertaker but after this offseason should it be changed it to Yoda? The guy pulled off the biggest Jedi mind trick in history.

It was pretty obvious that goalie Semyon Varlamov was not going to be re-signing with the Capitals. His agent was making it clear that Varly would rather play in the KHL then backup Michael Neuvirth. So McPhee got on the phone and somehow convinced the Colorado Avalanche to give the Capitals a first and second round draft pick in 2012. If the Avalanche fail to make the playoffs that first pick has potential to be a lottery pick. The Caps received these picks for an unproven goalie that hasn’t played a full season in his short, injury-riddled career. As details of the trade made their way around the hockey community, Twitter exploded with comments on how McPhee had hoodwinked the Avalanche into a terrible trade.

The beauty about the Varlamov trade is that it took away the market for Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun to the Capitals had been rumored for nearly two years and when he finally became a free agent, the Capitals were there to sign him. Trading Varly to the Avalanche eliminated all other teams in need of a goaltender. The Capitals were then able to sign Vokoun to a meager one year deal worth only 1.5 millions dollars. Vokoun is an obvious and instant upgrade at goalie and gives the Capitals one of a top five NHL goaltenders.

The additions of defenseman Roman Hamrlik and right winger Troy Brouwer bring Stanley Cup experience to the team. But the Capitals didn’t need to completely overhaul their line-up. They’re still the winningest team in the regular season over the last 3 years. They resigned center Brooks Laich to a six year deal. The offensive core of winger Alex Ovechkin, center Nicklas Backstrom, and Laich will be around for a while. Consistency is key if you want to be a cup contender for years to come. The team also signed former captain center Jeff Halpern to a one year deal. Long time Caps fans loved that signing but nearly as much as the team bringing back former goalie Olaf Kolzig as an associate goalie coach.

This offseason the Caps kept their core roster intact while adding Stanley Cup experienced players and upgrading the goalie position. George McPhee improved what was already one of the best teams in the NHL. Will it translate into a Stanley Cup Championship? I hope so.

May
7

R.I.P. Washington Capitals 2010-2011

Another year, another playoff disappointment for the Washington Capitals. But should we really be surprised? The Caps weren’t the favorite to make it out of the Eastern Conference going into the playoffs, despite finishing first overall in the Eastern Conference. It wasn’t until after game one against the New York Rangers that people started to call the Capitals the best team in the East. But after a quick series win in round one fans wanted more. Just when it seemed like this team had turned the corner, they fell flat.

The biggest question now that the season is over is whether or not head coach Bruce Boudreau should get fired. In my opinion, no. The playoff failure is hard to overlook, especially after being swept by the Tampa Bay Lightning. His playoff record is 17-19, and he has only won two of six playoff series. Not good. But I’m going to argue that this was Boudreau’s best season as a head coach. After an eight game losing streak (all caught on tape during HBO’s 24/7), most people had written this year’s team off. The Caps weren’t going anywhere and Boudreau’s head was being called for. Still, General Manager George McPhee and owner Ted Leonsis had faith in the coach and didn’t fire him.

After being destroyed 6-0 by the New York Rangers in February, Boudreau changed the team’s style of play. The once offensive juggernaut became a defense oriented team. The Caps were blocking shots and getting back to stifle odd man rushes from the opposing teams. In a month the Washington Capitals went from fifth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Southeast division to first. Boudreau should have been nominated for the Jack Adams award. To change the team’s style of play midseason and bounce back to take first place in the second half of the season is impressive.

If you believe McPhee and Leonsis when they say the team is still ahead of schedule then there should be no questions about Boudreau’s job security. Despite the playoff loss, the Capitals had a great season. They were able to overcome a tough losing streak midseason, hang another Southeast Division banner in the Verizon Center rafters, and finish first overall in Eastern Conference. And the future is bright for Caps.

For the first time since trading goalie Olaf Kolzig the Capitals are finally stable in net. Goaltender Michael Neuvirth has proven himself worthy to be the Caps number one goalie. Neuvirth had a great regular season followed by an incredible series against the Rangers. While Neuvirth didn’t help the Caps win any games against the Lightning, he was able to come up with big save after big save to keep the Caps in games. Goalies Semyon Varlamov and Braden Holtby are both quality backups and have proven they can start and win games for the Caps. Goaltending is not an issue this offseason.

The Capitals young players will have more experience next year. Defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner were the Caps best defensive pairing all year and were in their first full season together. Carlson did struggle in the playoffs but next year we will see a continuation of improved play. Center Marcus Johansson’s play improved all season. The Caps will look for him to step up into that second line center role next season.

Players who were brought in at the trade deadline like center Jason Arnott and left winger Marco Sturm will most likely not be back with the team next year. Defenseman Scott Hannan is a question. He played well but with Dennis Wideman under contract for next year, Hannan might not be brought back. It would be nice to have these players back, but they may not be needed with the younger talent stepping up.

The Capitals will have to stick top Boudreau’s new defensive minded scheme next season to be successful in the playoffs. But they also need to find their heart. Yes the power play was woeful. Yes, their stellar penalty kill let them down in the playoffs. Yes, center Nick Backstrom was a nonfactor in the playoffs. But this team just didn’t have the drive to win a championship this year. It’s not just in the playoffs. Too many times this season the Capitals didn’t even show up to play until the third period. By the time the team turned it on and played hard, it was too late. The Caps didn’t come close to being a good as they could’ve been because they just don’t try hard all the time.

It was a fun hockey season and a frustrating one. And for another year, it ends in disappointment for Caps fans. But I want to say thank you the Washington Capitals for another year of hockey. It was a season of highs and lows and while it ended on a low note, it was still a great season.

I can’t wait for the 2011-2012 season to start.

Apr
29

2011 NHL Playoffs: Second Round Picks

Bryan here with my second round picks.

Eastern Conference:

No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 5 Tampa Bay Lightning

The Capitals seem to draw the “worst” match-ups for them. The Rangers were the team fans didn’t want to see in the first round and the Lightning wasn’t fans first choice for most favorable match-up in the second round. The Caps did go four and two against the Lightning during the regular season but both of the Caps losses were shutouts.

Tampa Bay showed a lot of heart coming back and beating Pittsburgh after being down 3-1 in the series. Center Steven Stamkos seems to have found his shot again and right winger Martin St. Louis continues to come up with big goals. In Game 5 The Lightning went four of seven on the power play against the Penguins. That lead to an 8-2 route that changed the series.

The Washington Capitals were able to close out their series in five games. The Rangers played them hard. But the Caps were able to find ways to win. Left winger Jason Chimera’s double overtime game winning goal in game four brought excitement to DC. The Capitals showed their killer instinct in game five and sent the Rangers packing. But The Caps have some big issues. Penalties cost the team game three and nearly cost them game four. The Caps were in the penalty box seven times in both games three and four. Compare that to a combined six times in the box for games one, two, and five. But despite the penalties in games three and four the Rangers only went two for fourteen on the power play and that’s a credit to how good the Capitals penalty kill has been all year.

The key for this series is whose stars show up bigger. The Caps should get defenseman Dennis Wideman back this series and there seems to be nothing wrong with fellow defenseman Mike Green, both of whom will be key on the power play. The Caps need better defensive play from the John Carlson and Karl Alzner pairing. The Caps also need center Nicklas Backstrom to be more involved offensively.

Prediction: Even though Stamkos and St. Louis are playing great and the Lightning are riding high after a great comeback against the Penguins, the Capitals will be well rested and healthy. Alex Semin and Mike Green had a great series against the Rangers and left winger Alex Ovechkin has yet to play his best hockey of the playoffs. Talent will win out.

Washington Capitals in Six.

No. 2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No 3 Boston Bruins

The Flyers have a huge problem. Their goaltending has disappeared. All three netminders, Sergei Bobrovsky, Michael Leighton, and Brian Boucher, were pulled at some point during their seven game series against the Sabres.  While the Flyers were impressive in their game seven victory they were shutout twice by Buffalo.  Their inconsistency in the series was on par with their play for the last month.

After dropping the first two games at home Boston managed to find their footing and take of Montreal in seven. Goalie Tom Thomas was stellar at times in net and right wingers Michael Ryder and Brad Marchand really picked up their play. But, the top line of left winger Milan Lucic, center David Krejci, and right winger Nathan Horton struggled all series. Horton’s series winning overtime goal aside the top line needs to be better if the Bruins are going to take down the Flyers

The key in this series is who will be better in goal. Boston’s Tim Thomas is clearly better then any of the Flyers three goaltending options and if the Bruins can score early and play shutdown defense, they’ll have a chance. The Flyers have a huge advantage offensively. If center Jeff Carter is healthy and left winger Scott Hartnell can find his shot, the Flyers will be tough to stop.

Prediction: The Flyers have been too hit or miss lately and with the situation in net being so unsettled I’m not willing to give them the nod. Tim Thomas is going to be key for a Bruins win in this series.

Boston Bruins in Seven
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Apr
12

2011 NHL Playoff Preview – Western Conference

Here are our Western Conference predictions.

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks

Bryan

Vancouver stormed out of the gate and never looked back.  This years President’s Trophy winners have drawn comparisons to last year’s Capitals team but that’s not any reason to look for an early exit for the Canucks. The Blackhawks might come into the playoffs as defending Stanley Cup Champions but they won’t repeat. Even though the Blackhawks core from last year is intact they weren’t able to replace the role players they lost in the offseason. A lack of consistency in net will hurt the Hawks and Vancouver’s offensive talent will overpower Chicago.

Prediction: Vancouver Canucks in four.

Jake

Headline Matchup: Vancouver’s Sheer Awesomeness vs. Chicago’s History against Vancouver

If I were a Canucks fan I would be of two minds right now. I would be dreading this series because the Blackhawks have bounced the Canucks from the postseason the last two years. However, I would be excited to finally take it to a team that had terrorized Vancouver for what seems like an eternity. I know President Cup winners have not fared well in the postseason recently (see Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks), but it is hard not to see the Canucks coming out on top. They lead the league in pretty much every offensive category and have two players in the top five for points, left winger Daniel Sedin and his brother center Henrik. They also have goalie Roberto Luongo, who has only been outdone this year by the probable Vezina trophy winner Tim Thomas.

Chicago is good but they are missing two key parts from their championship run last year. Those parts are defenseman Dustin Byfuglien who was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers and goalie Antti Niemi who is now a part of the San Jose Sharks. Without those two pieces it is hard to see a world where the Blackhawks succeed.

Ready for a bold pick?

Prediction: Vancouver Canucks in a sweep 4-0.

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Apr
12

2011 NHL Playoff Preview – Eastern Conference

The 2010-2011 NHL regular season has come to a close and its playoff time. Time for razors to be put away and beards to be grown. It’s the time of year that ESPN actually covers hockey. This year we’re doing a playoff breakdown for the 2010-2011 playoffs. Jake and I will be giving our assessment of each series and pick the winners. Here is our Eastern Conference Preview and Predictions.

No. 1 Washington Capitals vs. No. 8 New York Rangers

Bryan

This is the series no Caps fan wanted to see happen. The Rangers took three out of the four games played, including a 7-0 and 6-0 victory. But since that 6-0 loss the Capitals are 16-3-1 and a different team then the one the Rangers last saw. The big questions are how good will defenseman Mike Green be in his return to line-up and how will the Caps young goaltenders handle the pressure? Despite the Capitals lack of success against the Rangers this season I’m still willing to give the Caps an edge in this series. After last year’s embarrassment this team is more focused and won’t let off the throttle if they’re up in the series.

Prediction: Washington Capitals in five.

Jake

Headline Matchup: Henrik Lundqvist vs. the Capitals offense

As a Caps fan, it’s hard not be a little upset that the Rangers are the Caps first round matchup. On their way to winning the season series, the New York Rangers gave the Washington Capitals a 7-0 beating and a 6-0 drubbing. During that series Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist held an amazing .955 save percentage and almost singlehandedly defeated the Caps. King Henrik, the Rangers, and the butt-whippings they put on the Capitals are the reason head coach Bruce Boudreau changed the system his boys in red deploy.

And on that note I say thank you! By switching to a more defensive-minded approach the Caps are more playoff ready than they ever have been under Boudreau. Caps players have shown themselves up to the task of playing tight, one-goal games that the playoffs offer time and time again. Plus the Caps have two wildcards that give them the real advantage. First is the underrated goaltending. Both goalies Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov have been stellar when healthy. The second wildcard is the health of the Washington Caps. The Capitals are getting healthier at the right time. Defenseman Mike Green is expected back for Game 1 as is 2nd line Center Jason Arnott. If they come back at 100% the Capital offensive depth becomes scarier by the day. Adding them to the firepower of left wingers Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, and center Nicholas Backstrom it will be hard for the Blue Bombers to match the Boys in Red.

Prediction: Washington Capitals in six.
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