Posts Tagged ‘Bruce Boudreau’

October 19th, 2010

Hockey Night in Washington: Caps vs. Bruins, October 19, 2010

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Tim Thomas with the save as Mike Green slides. File photo by Pete Silver

I’ll be at Verizon Center tonight tweeting live during tonight’s game between the Caps and Bruins.  Click here for a link to my Twitter feed.  I ought to be up and running between 6:45 and 7:00 p.m. U.S. EDT.  Hope you join me then.

POSTGAME THOUGHTS: Nobody like dropping a game at home (3-1), but there wasn’t a whole lot to complain about tonight when it came to effort.  The Caps got the lion’s share of the chances, outshooting Boston 36-21, and head coach Bruce Boudreau said after the game that the team played as hard in the first 10 minute as they had all season.  Unfortunately, the bounces weren’t going their way tonight—two great scoring chances melted away thanks to broken sticks—though you also need to tip your cap to Tim Thomas (18 saves in the 3rd period), who after all is a little more than a season removed from winning the Vezina Trophy.

I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Alexander Semin’s play.  He let loose with a team high 10 shots on goal, and seemed to create a scoring chance every time he touched the puck in the offensive zone.

A couple of weeks back, I wrote a post about why intimidation still has a place in hockey, and having defensemen who can engage in a physical battle in front of the net can be so incredibly important.  For an example of what I was writing about, be sure to watch the entire video of Milan Lucic’s goal.  I don’t mean to pick on Jeff Schultz, who is a solid all around defenseman.  He’s not a physical guy, and Lucic was able to take advantage in this instance.

Special teams continue to be a good news/bad news proposition.  The penalty kill continues to be perfect as Boston went scoreless on four chances with the extra man.  Without Mike Green in the lineup, Washington’s power play can’t help but be hobbled, and it went scoreless in four chances.

The big question tonight was about Michal Neuvirth, who was lifted just 12:42 into the game after giving up two goals.  It turns our Neuvirth has the flu, and Boudreau admitted after the game that he had no idea anything was wrong until Neuvirth complained of dizziness and a headache.  While Neuvirth didn’t say anything beforehand, it’s clear that Boudreau didn’t seem terribly upset, noting that he understood why a competitor like Neuvirth would prefer battling through an illness instead of sitting out.

Semyon Varlamov was more than adequate in relief, stopping 13 of 14 shots.  Only a Matt Hunwick shot from just inside the blue line eluded Varlamov, a shot that he simply couldn’t see through a Boston screen.  As for who will start Thursday in Boston, Boudreau wouldn’t say.

If there was one silver lining, it was seeing Marcus Johansson get his first NHL goal and first NHL point in the second period.  Matt Hendricks did a great job on the forecheck to keep the puck below the goal line. Jason Chimera picked up the loose puck and popped it onto Johansson’s stick as he the rookie cut to the net on the right wing side.  After the game, the kid said he didn’t know where the puck was, but that he’d be sure to keep it.

If you’re filling out a fight card, tonight’s game had what you were looking for with a pair of tilts: Matt Hendricks vs. Greg Campbell and John Erskine vs. Lucic.  With his fight, Lucic snagged a Gordie Howe hat trick.  We were almost treated to a heavyweight bout in the first period when it appeared that DJ King and Zdeno Chara might rumble, but it didn’t materialize.

April 23rd, 2010

Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Notebook: Day 10

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Ovie scored once, but a second goal eluded him and his teammates tonight.

If there was any word to take away from the postgame locker room or press conference tonight, it had to be frustration.  Before the playoffs even began, this team had identified disposing of their first round opponent in four or five games as a must if they were to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup.  But here we are after five games, and we’re headed back to Montreal for Game 6 after a 2-1 decision that was essentially lost in the game’s first 10 minutes.

The big mystery here is why a team that was so dominant in the regular season couldn’t seem to get their heads together in time for the drop of the puck, forgot how to execute on the power play, and lacked the sort of mental discipline you need to avoid taking stupid penalties that can hamstring any hope of coming back from an early two-goal deficit.

Not that Montreal doesn’t deserve some credit.  The Caps came out flat in the first period, just like they have all series long, and they took advantage twice on goals by Mike Cammalleri and Travis Moen.  As for Jaroslav Halak, he made the 37 saves he was supposed to make, but if you talked to Caps head coach Bruce Boudreau, there were more than a few opportunities his players should have buried.

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Halak made the saves he had to, but Washington’s scorers didn’t bury their chances.

For Boudreau, there was a pretty easy answer as to why this team his headed back to Montreal instead of resting up to get ready for the Philadelphia Flyers, and that’s because everyone isn’t giving a maximum effort.  Boudreau went to pains to point out that out of his 20 players, there were "five or six passengers," on the Washington bench who weren’t pulling their weight.  When asked about the play of Alexander Semin, who has been held without a goal this series, Boudreau, while acknowledging that Semin’s effort was better than it was earlier in the series, simply asked a reporter how many goals or assists Semin had on Friday night.

And then, right off the top of his head, Boudreau said that Semin had now been held without a goal for 12 straight playoff games.  "He did put in a better effort I thought than the last three or four games.  If we don’t get him scoring, then it is too easy to check certain guys.  He just has to come through," said Boudreau.

Now we get to wait two days for Game Six.  And the Philadelphia Flyers get two more days to rest.  Here at Verizon Center, they always seem to play the same clip of Al Pacino from Any Given Sunday in the third period, that locker room speech where he talks about how the inches a team needs to win are all around us.

Those inches were all around the Caps tonight.  And they left them all on the ice.

April 12th, 2010

Washington Capitals Stanley Cup Playoff Notebook: Preface

Heading into yesterday’s regular season finale with the Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals had little, if any, unfinished business.  For certain, the team was committed to helping Alex Ovechkin secure his 3rd straight Rocket Richard Trophy.  And there was little doubt in my mind that if the chance presented itself, the team would do everything it could to get Alex Semin his 40th goal and Mike Green his 20th.

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Mike Green failed to get his 20th goal, but there are bigger fish to fry this Spring in D.C.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your perspective, at this point in the organization’s development, individual goals count for little with everyone focused on bringing Washington its first Stanley Cup.  So yes, there was exaltation when Semin tallied his 40th goal in the first period.  But while it might be possible for somebody to have mixed feelings after Ovechkin and Green were kept scoreless during the balance of a 4-3 shootout loss, the overriding buzz in the locker room after the game was one of anticipation.

The preliminaries were over, and now the real business was at hand.

Standing in the locker room after the game, it was hard not to remember just how different the end of the regular season could look here in Washington, and just how far the organization has come in such a short amount of time.

For me, my mind wandered back to the scene following the regular season finale in 2007, the last year that the team failed to make the playoffs.  On April 7, 2007, the Caps went away quietly at home at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres by a score of 2-0.  Though it was only three years ago, and it was already apparent that Ovechkin was the sort of transcendent talent that would eventually catapult Washington back into playoff contention, the fans hadn’t come back yet.  Instead, the stands that day were filled with noisy Sabres fans, either folks from Western New York who decided to spend a long weekend in the nation’s capital, or just some of the many local residents who were transplants from the economically depressed Buffalo region.

In the bowels of Verizon Center after that game, the press gaggle around Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff was pretty deep — and why wouldn’t it be, with the team having just completed the regular season with the league’s best record.  That Sabres team was just one year removed from an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, and was one of the prohibitive favorites to win it all that Spring.

Unfortunately for those Sabres, the burden of increased expectations was too much for them to handle, and they went down meekly in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Ottawa Senators.

The postgame presser with then-Caps coach Glen Hanlon wasn’t as well attended.  Back then, Hanlon’s postgame comments were always delivered in a small room just off the entrance to the hallway that leads to the Caps locker room.  Even though there were few of us in attendance, I’ll never know how we all managed to fit into that room.  The mood there, like it had been in the Caps locker room, was actually pretty hopeful.  Talking to Hanlon, Olie Kolzig and Chris Clark that day, it was more than clear that the team had turned a corner, and that better days were just ahead.  And all of them were looking forward to being part of the fun.

Of course, none of them are around now that the party is really getting started. 

Today, Bruce Boudreau’s postage press conferences are now held in an interview off the main press lounge, a room big enough to handle rows of chairs and more camera crews than I ever remember seeing crowd into the broom closet where Hanlon used to take questions.  A locker room that used to be easy to navigate is always crowded, and its about to get even more crowded once Montreal comes to town for Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs on Thursday night.

Today, it’s the Capitals who posted the best record in the regular season, and now it’s this team that needs to work under the burden of increased expectations.

What will the result be?  We all know that the same kind of pressure that breaks most substances also turns coal into diamonds.  But we also need to know that not every ride to the Stanley Cup is an uninterrupted escalator ride to success.  Even the best team of the post-Original Six era, the Edmonton Oilers, experienced a dramatic setback before winning five Cups in a seven-year stretch.  In the Spring of 1983, Gretzky, Messier, Kurri and all the rest were the favorites heading into the finals against an aging and battered Islanders squad.  But only four games later, the same team that would write its name in history was left battered at the hands of the dynastic Islanders in a four-game sweep.

But if you talk to those players now, to a man, they’ll tell you how that loss made possible all of the victories that came later on.  Sometimes you need to take one step back to get that extra step up to be successful.

Over the past three years, the Caps have made multiple incremental improvements in all aspects of their on-ice performance, incremental improvements that have culminated in the best regular season performance in the team’s history.  They are the favorite to win it all, and anyone who tells you they aren’t is stone cold crazy.

I don’t have any doubt that we will see Alex Ovechkin lift the Cup above his head as a Stanley Cup champion here in Washington.  Will they do it this year?  My heart says yes, but my head, filled with decades of memories of other clubs with broken dreams, isn’t so certain.  I guess I’ll just have to stick around to find out.

September 10th, 2009

Some Caps Q&A

The fine folks at the DC Pro Sports Report asked me to fill out a questionnaire on the upcoming Washington Capitals season, and I was happy to oblige.

1. Will the Capitals three-peat as Southeast Division Champs?  If not, will they make the NHL playoffs?

Barring significant injuries, the team will repeat as SE Division champs.

2.  Do you foresee a Washington Capitals Stanley Cup appearance this season?

The potential is there.  Pittsburgh and Philadelphia will be the major roadblocks.

3. If and when will youngster Semyon Varlamov wrestle the starting goalie spot from Jose Theodore?

Since he became head coach, Bruce Boudreau has always gone with the hot hand in net.  At the same time, he’s not just going to hand this job to Varlamov, the kid is going to have to win it.  If Theodore manages to keep the job out of camp, I can’t see Boudreau letting him have two bad games in a row before going back to Varlamov.  Theodore will have to play the best hockey since his MVP/Vezina season in Montreal to keep the job.

4. Seems each year there is a surprise offensive player?  Who would you project to be that player this season for the Caps?

If I already knew it wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?  Then again, it would be nice to see Eric Fehr break out and justify the high pick that was spent on him.  Some of the stats I’ve seen on him based on production/ice time seem to indicate that the potential is there.

5.  What player or type of player do you think the Caps need to make the push to win the Stanley Cup? 

A lot of folks have bemoaned the loss of Donald Brashear, but every team in the NHL could use some more sandpaper along the boards and in front of the net.  Washington is no different.

6.  What impact do you think 2008 first rounder John Carlson will make this season with the Caps?

Washington is playing the long game in terms of player development.  They didn’t rush Karl Alzner last year, and they won’t rush Carlson this year.  He’ll see some time with the big club, show plenty of promise, but will probably top out somewhere around 25-30 games.

7.  Finally, predict the Southeast Division in order from top to bottom.

The rest of the teams in the division have show some incremental improvement, but not enough to upset the top two:

1. Washington
2. Carolina
3. Atlanta
4. Florida
5. Tampa Bay

August 28th, 2009

Is It Time For A New Captain In Washington?

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Washington Caps Captain Chris Clark.  Photo by Allen Clark.

Over at Japers’ Rink, Stephen Pepper is asking a question out loud that I’ve been wondering about for a couple of seasons — whether or not it might be time for the franchise to reward the captain’s "C" to a player other than the current holder of the title, veteran winger Chris Clark:

Back in late January, when Clark was shut down for the remainder of the season due to wrist surgery (the second straight season truncated by injury), all GM George McPhee would reveal about the effect of Clark’s absence on the captain’s position was that he and Coach Bruce Boudreau "would probably talk about it at a later point." Boudreau’s view at the time, however, was clear: "Clark is our captain. There’s no controversy there. When he gets healthy, he’ll come back and be our captain." And so he did. Uncle Ted loves him. We see no indication that the team has since changed its course and will change its captain. But should they?

As I wrote in his Rink Wrap, Captain Cadaver certainly provides the younger players on this Caps team with an inspirational example of the rugged determination required to succeed in the NHL. But since his impressive 2006-07 campaign, he’s been unable to consistently lead on the ice. And even Coach appeared to have called out El Capitan during a rough stretch of last season. More to the point, two of three Game 7 failures under his captain’s watch resulted in defeat, the most recent of which was a stupendous collapse that still leaves much of Caps country scratching their heads. Ultimately, results matter.

Whenever anyone has asked me privately over the past few years, I’ve always said that I was sure that the team would turn over the captaincy to Alex Ovechkin when the time was right. And after posting back-to-back seasons as NHL MVP, it would seem like taking on the "C" would be a logical progression in Ovechkin’s career.

Then again, maybe not. Over in the comments following Pepper’s post, there’s plenty of vocal support for not disrupting the chemistry in the room by stripping Clark of the "C". But if anything, there seems to be even more support that if a change is going to be made, the job ought to be awarded to veteran forward Brooks Laich.

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Is it time for Brooks Laich?

It’s easy to see how Laich, who is coming off the best season of his career, would be a popular choice given his performance on and off the ice.  When it came to the postgame last season, Laich was always front and center in the locker room whether the team won or lost, patiently answering every question for the media scrum, and coming back for more if/when a lone reporter would return looking for a little bit more.  I’m sure part of the reason for that was his season-long project with NPR, but it was always pretty clear to me that Laich was comfortable playing that role and was really good at it.

So, when it comes down to it, should the team make a change?  I guess the question I would need to have answered is whether or not Clark is healthy enough to become a regular contributor again.  Which of course, brings up another unavoidable fact: if Clark has missed so much time over the past two seasons, it’s only been because he’s been willing to do the sort of job on this team that others have yet to embrace.

Rewind the clock to October 26, 2007 at Verizon Center as the Caps host the Canucks.  It’s less than one year after Clark took a puck square in the mouth during a game against the Boston Bruins.  That injury cost him a couple of teeth and crushed his pallet, but at the time, all Clark could think about was staying with the play and finishing his shift.  Eventually, he’d need to have surgery to implant a cadaver bone in order to repair the pallet.  Despite the severity of the mishap Clark would only miss two games.

Back to the October 2007 game against the Canucks.  In the previous two seasons skating on Ovechkin’s wing, Clark consistently did the dirty work along the boards and in front of the net that a player like him needed to do to be successful.  The results — 50 goals in two seasons — were undeniable.

But on this night, Clark showed why not everyone has the guts to mix it up in front of the net — folks can get hurt doing it.  This time, Clark took a slap shot off the stick of Ovechkin to the side of his head.  In the process, Clark lost a piece of his left ear, but it was just the start of a pair of lost seasons for the Clarkson grad.

After taking in all of that, why not put yourself in the shoes of General Manager George McPhee or head coach Bruce Boudreau?  Could you look Clark in the face and tell him he didn’t deserve to be Captain anymore?

In my head, I can make that argument.  But in my guts and in my heart, I’m afraid it would be a non-starter.  Know this: I’m glad the decision isn’t in my hands.

POSTSCRIPT: One last thought that came to me a few minutes ago: Greg Wyshynski has mentioned before how he beleived that once Boudreau became Washington’s head coach, the center of gravity inside the franchise dramatically shifted from Olie Kolzig to the guys that Boudreau coached at Hershey — and Clark is decidedly not one of those guys.  Decisive?  Who knows, but it is something to consider.