Saturday, January 26, 2008

Saturday Roundup

Is it just me or was anybody else having a hard time finding something to watch on tv last night with the NHL on it's All-Star break? However, a thrilling 3-3 tie between Boston College and Maine on NESN did get me through the evening.
(Photo courtesy Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Since the Capitals are making noise around the league, the first talks of Alexander Ovechkin and the Hart Trophy are being thrown around. From TSN:

Pierre McGuire: "I think it's Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals. When you think about what he's done with his 39 goals so far this year, it's a tremendous story he's writing there in Washington. When you watch Ovechkin play, it's like he's the Superman of the National Hockey League. He beats you with size, he beats you with speed and he beats you with skill and creativity. On top of that, he has a shot that's just lethal. You tell me about a player that has transformed a team the way he's done.

The Washington Capitals without Ovechkin would be the Los Angeles Kings of the Eastern Conference. If the Capitals don't make the playoffs, I would go with Daniel Alfredsson or Jarome Iginla, but how about Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit? Is there a player who does it better in two-way hockey?"

Mike Milbury: "The Washington Capitals will make the playoffs solely on Ovechkin carrying the team single-handedly since the coaching change to Bruce Boudreau. It's Alexander Ovechkin all the way."

People are also starting to take notice of coach Bruce Boudreau, and if the Capitals make the playoffs in any capacity, he should be a major player for the NHL coach of the year.

With his rumpled suits and odd-looking glasses, the balding Boudreau is not the NHL's version of Pat Riley behind the bench. There is nothing buttoned up about Boudreau. He looks like he could be a character from Slap Shot.

Leading all NHL rookies in points since Thanksgiving, Nicklas Backstrom is now a strong candidate for rookie of the year.

"(Backstrom) is the rookie of the year right now," says Ovechkin, a Calder winner himself in a marginal upset of Sidney Crosby two years ago. "He got eight points in two games – no rookie has ever done that."

Sean Collins, Patrick McNeill, and Steve Pinizzotto were all reassigned by Hershey on Friday to South Carolina of the ECHL. With their additions, the Caps now have four of their prospects playing with the Stingrays (Travis Morin is the other). In their first game back with the team, the Stingrays defeated the Florida Everblades in overtime 3-2.

With that note it's time to take a look at the top Capitals prospects and how they are performing this season. (As ranked by Hockey's Future)

  • Karl Alzner, D: 6 goals, 17 assists, 23 points, +16 in 37 games with the Calgary Hitmen
  • Eric Fehr, F: 1 goal, 3 assts, 4 points, even in 8 games with the Hershey Bears
  • Semen Varlamov, G: 15 GP, 2.63 GAA, .893 SV% with Yaroslavl
  • Francois Bouchard, F: 25 goals, 44 assists, 69 points, +10 in 50 games with Baie-Comeau
  • Michal Neuvirth, G: 13-5-2-0, 2.67 gaa, .915 SV% in 21 total games with Oshawa, Windsor, and Plymouth
  • Keith Seabrook, D: 3 goals, 8 assists, 11 points, -1 in 39 games with the Calgary Hitmen
  • Chris Bourque, F: 14 goals, 14 assists, 28 points, +9 in 39 games with the Hershey Bears
  • Oskar Osala, F: 13 goals, 15 assists, 28 points, 50 PIM in 40 games with the Espoo Blues
  • Mathieu Perreault, F: 24 goals, 44 assists, 68 points, +28 in 42 games with Acadie-Bathurst
  • Josh Godfrey, D: 15 goals, 21 assists, 36 points, +14 in 39 games with Sault Ste. Marie
  • Teddy Ruth, D: 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points, +11 in 24 games with Notre Dame
  • Patrick McNeill, D: 1 goal, 8 assists, 9 points, +3 in 25 games with the Hershey Bears, also 4 goals, 7 assists, 11 points, +5 in 10 games with the South Carolina Stingrays
  • Andrew Gordon, F: 7 goals, 14 assists, 21 points, +14 in 29 games with the Hershey Bears, also 8 goals, 6 assists, 14 points, +1 in 11 games with the South Carolina Stingrays
  • Phil DeSimone, F: 1 goal, 9 assists, 10 points, +2 in 22 games with New Hampshire
  • Sasha Pokulok, D: 0 goals, 5 assists, 5 points, +6 in 31 games with the Hershey Bears
  • Sami Lepisto, D: 1 goal, 19 assists, 20 points, +15 in 32 games with the Hershey Bears
  • Travis Morin, F: 18 goals, 26 assists, 44 points, +12 in 37 games with the South Carolina Stingrays
  • Viktor Dovgan, D: 0 points, +2 in 16 games with CSKA
  • Dan Dunn, G: 3-1-2, 2.25 gaa, .927 SV% in 8 games with St. Cloud State
  • Jeff Finley, D: 2 goals, 8 assists, 10 points, +19 in 24 games with North Dakota

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Electric Win in Pittsburgh

Regardless of the result, last night's game in Pittsburgh showed why this is the most exciting sport in the world. The Capitals and Penguins put on an absolute show at the Mellon Arena trading leads all night long. Fittingly enough, the shootout also lead up to the hype as Ovechkin and Semin, who have notoriously struggled in the discipline, both tallied goals to give the Caps their first victory in Pittsburgh in the "new" NHL.

With Sidney Crosby on the shelf, the game was hyped as "Russian vs Russian". And did they ever live up to the expections. Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin both had two goals and one assist. For Malkin the output raised his season totals to 26 goals and 30 assists for 56 points in 48 games. For Ovechkin, the two goals gave him 38 on the season, passing the Thrashers Ilya Kovolchuk for the NHL lead.

Despite those amazing performances from the Russian superstars, the night was stolen by a Swede. Nicklas Backstrom became the first rookie in NHL history to record back-to-back 4 assist games. He is now second in the league in scoring among first-year players just five points behind Patrick Kane.

If you missed it, shame on you, but even if you witnessed it live, you must relive the experience by checking out the highlights again.

Russian TV on Ovechkin's Contract Signing

Thanks to one of my readers "g-l-k" for alerting me of this video.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sunday Thoughts

The Capitals have won three straight and find themselves only three points back of the division leading Hurricanes. And with that important note, here are my "Sunday Thoughts":

  • What an important and opportunistic week this will be for the Caps. They go into Monday night's matchup in Pittsburgh having lost six straight games to the Penguins. However, this isn't the same Washington team and they won't be facing the same Pittsburgh team. Sidney Crosby is out indefinitely (a month, perhaps even more) with the dreaded high ankle sprain. Following that, the Caps begin a home-and-home series with the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs. Six more points adding up to a six game winning streak is not out of the question. My prediction: Washington will be the division leader by the end of the week.
  • Viktor Kozlov broke out of his season long goal scoring slump by tallying twice in last night's victory. The success of Washington's second half of the season can be helped dramatically by the improved scoring output of the big russian winger. My prediction: Kozlov will resemble the player he was with the Islanders last season and finish the year with 20 goals.
  • Michael Nylander's injury could be the best thing that has happened in Nicklas Backstrom's short career. Backstrom had a career high four points (all assists) in last night's victory, and is proving to everybody that he is already playing like a number one center in this league. With Nylander out for the season, Backstrom will receive more ice-time and will play the rest of the season with Ovechkin. My prediction: Backstrom goes on a tear during the second half of the season, finishes the year with 20 goals, 50 assists and the Calder Trophy.
  • The Capitals number two and three centers, Boyd Gordon and Dave Steckel, combined to win 70% (28-40) of their faceoffs last night. Gordon has provided the team with a defensive-minded second line option to complement the flashy Fleischmann and Semin, while Steckel makes up the team's shut down line with Matt Bradley and Quintin Laing. My prediction: these two lines make up the backbone of the Caps run to the playoffs which will see the team win the Southeast Division and host a 1st round matchup against the (Flyers?). How exciting would that be?
  • The Stingrays shut out the Augusta Lynx last night 2-0 in front of a record crowd of 10,565 in the North Charleston Coliseum. It was the team's 4th straight win. Capitals prospect Travis Morin added an assist on the team's 1st goal giving him 43 points in just 36 games in the ECHL. He'll be the team's lone representative in the All-Star game this Wednesday in Stockton, CA which can be seen live on the NHL Network.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Quintin Laing Honored

In a list of the top 10 players in the NHL that you don't know about, released by The Hockey News, Lang is ranked #6.

"6. Quintin Laing, LW, 28, Washington (18-1-3-4-2, 11:56 ice time). An eighth-year journeyman pro from Rosetown, Sask., he previously played in Delisle (SAHA), Kelowna (WHL), Jackson (ECHL) and Norfolk (AHL) and broke into the NHL with Chicago (three games) in 2003-04."

Congratulations Quintin on some long overdue recognition.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Stingrays Quietly Putting Together an Impressive Season

They are the little brother of the Washington Capitals, sometimes forgotten because of the success of their big brother, the Hershey Bears. But the Stingrays are making their case to receive more attention this season.

After missing out on the postseason last year for the first time in the franchise's 14-year history, the team is doing everything in it's power to get back there. First year head coach Jared Bednar led the Stingrays to a 12-game winning streak through December and early January. And after the streak ended in Florida, all the team did was win two out of three games in Texas against the best team in the league.

Coming into last Sunday's game, the Wildcatters had a 23 game point streak (18-0-5) and the ECHL's best record with a stunning mark of 27-3-2-4. The teams had already split the first two games of a three game weekend series with the Stingrays winning in overtime on Friday night 4-3, and the Wildcatters responding on Saturday with a 4-2 victory.

On Sunday, the Stingrays jumped out to a 3-0 lead on their way to a 4-2 victory officially ending the Wildcatters impressive unbeaten run. The third goal of that game was a shorthanded goal scored by Travis Morin, who has been impressive in his first professional season out of Minnesota State. He currently has 17 goals, 22 assists, for 39 points in 34 games with South Carolina, and he'll be a part of the ECHL All-Star game later this month on January 23rd.

Besides Morin, four other Capitals prospects have spent time this season with the ECHL club. Maryland native Stephen Werner, undrafted prospect Steve Pinizzotto, defensive prospect Patrick McNeill, and forward Andrew Gordon out of St. Cloud State.

After their impressive trip to Texas, the Stingrays returned home and defeated the Augusta Lynx 5-1 Tuesday night to move into sole possession of second place in the South Division. Veteran Cail MacLean and rookie Pierre-Luc O'Brien each had 3 assists in the win, and recent Hershey Bears callup Grant McNeill added his second goal of the season.

The partnership between the Capitals, Bears, and Stingrays has to be viewed as one of the best in hockey. So while the Bears are looking for their 3rd straight trip to the Calder Cup this spring, don't forget about the Stingrays down the stretch as they look for their 5th Kelly Cup Championship in team history.

Friday, January 11, 2008

On the Air Again

Thanks to Mike Tingle of ESPN Radio Charlottesville 840 AM who was kind enough to have me on to talk about the Ovechkin contract signing and everything Washington Capitals. Take a listen.