Yesterday the Panthers outplayed the Capitals in just about every respect of the game. While according to the game sheet that doesn't look to be true, watching the game once the Panthers got up 3-1, they never looked back. During the first ten minutes of the second period, the Capitals tried to mount a comeback but the Panthers kept pace until it was they who struck with the only goal of the period. Once that happened, while as a Caps fan it hurts to say this, it was pretty much "all over except for the crying." Panthers' goaltender Craig Anderson played a solid game in net, through the first two and half periods, he came up with a couple of big saves when he was called on to keep his team in control of the game and I even felt sorry for him when up 6-1 he was victimized and yielded a cheapie to league leading scorer Alexander Ovechkin - his 46th of the season in the games final moments. The Panthers played a disciplined game and executed their game plan pretty much flawlessly and the scoresheet shows that; the Caps well as for discipline, they took six minor penalties and gave up four (4) power play goals to what had previously been one of the worst power play units in the league. I say previously because if Florida keeps the kind of puck movement and clogging the middle they showed against the Capitals up, there power play will do just fine down the rest of the streatch.
Going through the specifics or at least the first two periods before my attention span was taxed watching what had become a total foregone conclusion. The game started out lots of fun and with a lot of interesting events. During the first four minutes of the game the following occurred: 1) a truly beautiful power play goal by Alexander Semin (his 25th of the season) fed by Brooks Laich; 2) a failed penalty shot attempt by David Booth; and 3) a nice power play goal by the Panthers Stephen Weiss that was primarily due to uncharacteristically poor penalty killing by Caps forwards David Steckel and Boyd Gordon. Of course the second Panthers goal was almost identical to the first, except the play by the Caps penalty kill was worse then the first failure. In addition to the forwards (Nicklas Backstrom and Brooks Laich) failing to "set up the box" at all, defenseman Jeff Schultz decided to set up a really "excellent" screen on Jose Theodore that Bryan McCabe capitalized on. The Panthers third goal, another power play goal by the 29th "best" power play in the league, was another poor showing by the PK unit on a blistering slap shot on Theodore by Jay Bouwmeester. Next the Caps decided to spot the Panthers a 3 goal lead when the defensive pairing of Milan Jurcina - John Erskine decided to pretty much misplay a 3 on 2 breakaway and Theo decided to give ex-Cap Richard Zednick an empty net to shoot at. This being the only the third time so far this season the Caps let an opponent score 4 goals in a period, it was pretty much the low point of the game. The crowd seemed stunned and awfully quiet as the first period ended. Give the Panthers their due, they played a very solid twenty minutes of hockey and the Caps needed to get their act together between periods.
The Caps came out for the second period with a new goaltender in net - Michal Neuvirth and tried to turn things around but Florida hung tough. Through some see-saw back and forth play over the first 10 minutes of the period, the Caps failed to mount any real intense scoring threats on Panther goaltender Craig Andersen. At the 10:24 mark, the Panthers scored a fifth goal, their first against Neuvirth. The goal by the Panthers came against the Caps first line and two of their top four defensemen. Even "worse" it was scored by the Panthers 3rd line on a shift when they kept the Caps hemmed into their own zone. The third period was pretty much more of the same. Panthers rookie Center Michael Frolik scored his 14th goal of the season on a backhander that Michal Neuvirth pretty much didn't see at 7:20, an even strength goal that took the Panthers up 6-1. At the 19:38 mark, Craig Anderson misplayed a high shot by Alexander Ovechkin that somehow dribbled into the net for Ovechkin's 46th goal of the season. A poor play with just 42 seconds left in the game by a guy who had pretty much played flawlessly through the prior 59 minutes stopping 32 of 33 shots before that goal. So when it all ended the Panthers became the only team so far this seaso to beat the Capitals twice at Verizon Center. The Caps have two more games against the Panthers - both at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, FL.
Next up for the Caps - Carolina at Verizon Center, Tuesday Night...
LETS GO CAPS!!!!
Now for some of Mark's General Musings on a variety of specific topics in the Hockey World of late....
a) Don Cherry's Xenophobia ranging from his "calling out Ovechkin" for excessive celebrations to his complaints about Pavel Datsuyk's "hits from behind" and the "unemotional and boring play" of the Europeans on the Detroit Red Wings during Saturday night's "Hockey Night in Canada" telecast.
So because we're Caps fans we all want to react to Cherry's comments about Ovechkin's goal celebrations but the ones I found more controversial and offensive were his negative comments about Datsuyk. A lot of people are taking issue to the cockiness of the Capitals of late from Sidney Crosby to Claude Julien, so be it, the Caps probably do need to tone down the outward display of cockiness that their youthful confidence manifests itself in. Of course I totally disagree with Don Cherry about Ovechkin and his goal celebrations - Ovie's exuberance is natural and it isn't usually "out of bounds." How is what he does any sillier than when someone scores a goal while there team is down by more than a goal and goes over and "fist taps" every one on his bench? No, watch the replay of Cherry's comments from his intermission comments and all you see is xenophobia, sour grapes that right now many of the NHL's stars are Europeans, and unhappiness that right now none of the teams in the thick of things except Calgary are Canadian, all manifesting itself in toxic, and frankly surprisingly unfounded rants against the "European Influence" on Canada's National past time by one of the best known names in the sport.
b) Why when I "muse" about the Capitals roster looking ahead I cannot imagine a Caps team without Alexander Semin or with Michael Nylander at the start of the 2009-2010 season.
First let's look at Semin's statistics so far this year:
45 GP; 25 G; 34 A; 59P; +28; 63PIM; 4 PP; 6 GWG; 147 SOG; S% 17.0; 18:54 ATOI
Then let's look at Nylander's statisitcs this year:
31 GP; 11 G; 17 A; 28P; +3; 30PIM; 3 PP; 2 GWG; 76 SOG; S% 14.5; 14:29 ATOI
Now think about this the Capitals probably need $2M of Cap space so they can give Semin on the order of $6M/season to keep him in Capitals' red, white and blue the 2010 - 2011 season. Likewise if things keep going the way they are for Nicklas Backstrom they'll need $5-7M/year for him - that's 3-5M more than he is making right now. Sergei Federov is 39 years old, the Caps might get him to come back next season and play one more year but it's hard to see Federov wanting to play more than that - even with the reneed energy level he's found in Washington last year, the novelty will probably wear off sometime. Add to all that - the simple facts, Nylander is 36 years old, and his style of play really hasn't meshed with either of the top two Caps lines and $4.875M is just too much to spend for a third line center and probably too much to pay for a second line center anyway. Semin on the other hand is currently # 7 in the league in goals/game (0.56), 12th in assist/game (0.76) and #5 in points per game (1.31).
Now look at the Capitals who could and likely will be UFAs after this season ends (2008-2009 Cap hit in parentheses): 1) 39 Year Old Center Sergei Federov ($4M) ; 2) 34 year old Forward Viktor Kozlov ($2.5M); 3) 31 year old backup goaltender Brent Johnson ($813K); 4)28 year old minor league defenseman Tyler Sloan ($475K); and 5) 36 year old journeyman defenseman Bryan Helmer ($475K). Additionally minor leaguers Graham Mink (Salary $500K - 26 goals, 49 points, +18 in 55 AHL games this season), Quintin Laing (salary $488K, played a solid grinder rol in 2007-2008 for the Caps), and Alexandre Giroux ($475K, 28 year old forward, an AHL All-Star this year, 40 goals, 70 points, +15 so far this season). So what's that all say - it says the Capitals don't have a lot of guys who they want to deal to others as rental players and they don't have much cap space right now - actually, they have none. In the end the guy you have who you might deal is Nylander, he a mature, solid leader at 36 but his style of play doesn't mesh with the Caps, however on a team that plays the trap more, he's a no brainer with solid puck control who doesn't get impatient, in fact that's exactly why he doesn't mesh with the Caps new "North - South" game since Boudreau took over for Hanlon.
As far as RFAs at the end of this season here's who the Caps will need to negotiate or arbitrate with: 1) Eric Fehr ($735K); 2) Boyd Gordon ($725K); 3) Chris Bourque ($634K); 4) Shoane Morrisonn ($1.975K); 5) Milan Jurcina ($881K); 7) Jeff Schultz ($650K), 7) Sami Lepisto ($675K); 8) Staffan Kronvall ($250K). Of those the guy who might get dealt could be Morrisonn as he went to and through binding arbitration last season and the Caps seem to have settled on Jeff Schultz and John Erskine over ShaMo going forward but you never know how that will play out. Finally, Morrisonn might be the only guy the Caps could move to make cap room for a return to the lineup by Brian Pothier if that were to happen next season. The real questions here relate to what do the Caps do with Chris Bouque, Eric Fehr's latest coming of age combined with Tomas Fleischmann's good season and solid play by both David Steckel and Boyd Gordon make you wonder if the Caps might deal him as a solid prospect in a deal to get either a key rental player this year or a draft pick this summer or next. Bourque has shown NHL potential and talent but his size and the embassment of riches the Caps have at left wing and center make it possible to consider moving him in return for something of either immediate or future value.
In the end though that leaves Nylander as an odd man out this year. Look for the Caps to try and move him before the trade deadline and if they can't move him before the summer to buy him out. Then look for the Caps to at least start working to negotiate an extension to Semin's contract this offseason, they'll use Cap Room they create by moving or buying Nylander out to do that. GM George McPhee will then probably hold any Salary Cap space he'll get when Sergei Federov retires either at the end of this season or next to keep Nicklas Backstrom solidly in the fold and keep folks from making stupid offer sheets to him. Sure Semin's skill level, solid two way play this year and numbers mean that at his current salary of 4.2M this year and 5M next year he's more than earning his money; his cap hit each of these two seasons is 4.6M so there is no reason to think the Caps won't try and be successful in figuring out how to keep him here in DC for some time to come. For those reasons, I just can't see breaking up "The Young Guns" anytime before Mike Green enters restricted free agency in 2012-2013, the chemistry on the ice and in the stands is just too good to consider it.
c) Where I think Jay Boumeester will end up next year.
I'll make this short - Florida. Why because I don't think the Panthers' management is totally stupid and with the general concern around the league the salary cap will contract, Florida is in a good spot to retain him and build around him.
That's all I got today, hopefully everyone including the Capitals are getting into a real hockey mood because of the weather... I'll be at the game tomarrow and Rockin' the Red - How about you?