Thursday, September 16, 2010

Caps Rookie Camp Closes With a Bang! Caps 4 - Flyers 3

It might be September, it might be in Arlington, it might be rookies, but it is never, ever a bad day when the Caps beat the Flyers.  And the rookies did just that to their Flyer counterparts, riding a late Cody Eakin goal to a 4-3 win at Kettler Capitals Iceplex this afternoon before a packed house and many of the Caps vets in attendance.

The Caps, in addition to Eakin’s game-winner with less than 90 seconds left in the third period, got two goals from defenseman Josh Godfrey and a marker from Stanlslav Galiev.  Galiev’s first period goal was a pretty thing, a product of driving the net to take a feed from the side boards, itself a thing of beauty from Marcus Johansson. 

Godfrey’s goals – one in the second period and the other in the third – came as a product of his shot, a thing that had been long advertised since his being drafted, but unseen in these parts.  One was a slap shot that trickled through the wickets of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky after the goalie appeared to smother it in his pads.  The second was a wrister from the top of the slot on the power play that found its way to the back of the net through a maze of players.

Eakin’s goal was a solo effort with the clock ticking down to what was looking like an overtime session.  Carrying the puck down the right wing and behind the Flyers’ net, he came out the other side, stepped out to give himself a shooting angle on goalie Adam Morrison, then sent a backhander far side into the top corner of the net.

The Flyers got goals from Ben Holmstrom (shorthanded), Eric Wellwood, and Marc-Andre Bourdon.  And what’s with the names, anyway?  Is this sort of a poor-mans NHL celebrity roster of names?  Holmstrom, Wellwood, Marc-Andre… shoot, they even had their own “Gustafsson” (Erik).

This was what hockey should be in one respect – NO TV TIMEOUTS!!!  Yeah, we get it; you have to pay the bills, but heavens… the game was played in just over two hours.  It was just non-stop.  Well, sort of.  As one might expect, there wasn’t a lot of “chemistry” out there for either side, and it showed as a lack of really good chances for either side.  The Caps scored their goals as a product of superior talent (and there seemed to be quite a skill gap between these teams in terms of top-end talent).  But hey, who cares?  CAPS WIN!  CAPS WIN!! CAPS WIN!!!

Some other thoughts:

- It would be easy to make the comparison between Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom, but there were similarities evident.  Johansson is a responsible player.  An example.  On one shift, he fished out a puck behind his own net and started a play up ice.  He hustled the length to get into the play and managed to provide some effective forechecking to keep the Flyers pinned deep.  Might not sound like much, but it shows evidence of not taking shortcuts.  Johansson also seems to bend the play to his pace, similar to Backstrom.  When he had the puck, it was clear that he was, if not the best, than one of the best skaters on the ice.  There wasn’t anything flashy about his play, but he was quite efficient, much like his countryman.

-  Galiev has the face of a 14-year old, but he seems to play a lot older.  His goal was a product of taking advantage of an opening down the middle and the Flyer goaltender playing passively in his own net.  He jumped into it with authority and converted the opportunity that presented itself.  He otherwise had a very strong game in moving the puck and avoiding Flyer hits in doing so.  He might be a sleeper as a center down the road.

-  It’s hard what to make of Godfrey.  His shot certainly is impressive, but he just looked a tick behind much of the play.  It is unfortunate; he doesn’t seem to suffer a “hard work” problem, but the speed of the game seems to be a problem for him.  He doesn’t seem to make decisions quickly enough under pressure.

-  Patrick Cullity is not going to want the film of this game for the archives.  It just wasn’t a very solid game for him.

-  Samuel Carrier did a face plant skating out onto the ice to start the game.  Fortunately, he got the worst of it out of his system early.

-- Trevor Bruess and Zac Rinaldo dropped the gloves behind the Flyer net in the second period.  The dropping of the gloves was the high point of the bout.  The two wrestled to a draw, Bruess getting the extra minor for roughing.

-- Philip Grubauer has talent.  Even considering the level of play in this game, he was very economical with his movement in goal and never had to swim back from overplaying a shot or a pass.  It was a marked contrast to Bobrovsky, who spent a considerable amount of time, especially in the second period, diving to cover a post, or scrambling across his crease.  Speaking of whom, Dmitry Chesnokov tweeted that Bobrovsky thinks he is ready for the NHL… not on the basis of this game.  That he allowed only two goals was a product of the Caps’ inability to finish plays as much as anything.

-  Maybe it was just me, but Joe Finley spent entirely too much time off his feet in this game.  He wasn’t getting knocked down, but he was picking himself up off the ice an awful lot.

-  Anton Gustafsson was almost invisible out there, until he was clocked and had to leave the game for a spell. 

-  Dustin Stevenson had a very quiet, very effective game in a “Schultzian” sort of way.

Our Caps Three Stars:

First Star: Cody Eakin
Second Star: Marcus Johansson
Third Star: Stanislav Galiev
…and a slice o’ pie for Philip Grubauer.

It was a nice end to the week and a nice appetizer for what will begin on Saturday when the vets take the ice for the beginning of training camp.

2010-2011 Previews: Goaltenders -- Michal Neuvirth

Michal Neuvirth

Theme: "A lot of people give up just before they're about to make it. You know you never know when that next obstacle is going to be the last one."

– Chuck Norris

Imagine yourself a young goaltender.  A second round draft pick in 2006 (fourth goalie selected).  The next year, you record a 26-8-4 record in Canadian juniors (2.32, .932, four shutouts), followed up by a 14-4 post-season record (2.44, .932) that carries your team to the Memorial Cup semi-finals.  You have cemented yourself as a prospect to watch, except the next year you end up playing for three different teams in Canadian juniors (Plymouth, Windsor, Oshawa).  No matter – you still put up a combined 17-7-8 record and go 7-2, 2.49, .928 in the post-season with Oshawa.  Not much more to prove here.

In 2008-2009, the moving around continues.  South Carolina, Czech Republic, Washington, Hershey.  No matter; he became an all-star with the South Carolina Stingrays – his 6-7-0 record might not have been impressive, but his 2.28 goals against average, .911 save percentage, and two shutouts in 13 games was.  He was brought up for a cup o’ coffee with the Caps, playing in five games (2-1-0, 3.00, .892).  He also managed 17 games in Hershey, compiling a 9-5-2 record (2.70, .904), but saved the best for last.  In the post-season he went 16-6, 1.92, .932 and was the most valuable player of the playoffs as his Bears team captured the Calder Cup.

By now, you’re thinking two things.  First, nothing – at least insofar as moving all around the globe is concerned – seems to stop this kid.  And second, what more does he have to prove?  Well, whatever there was left, he would get his chance.  In 2009-2010 he split time between Washington (9-4-0, 2.75, .914 in 17 games) and Hershey (15-6-0, 2.24, .919).  He polished off the season with another Calder Cup, going 14-4, 2.07, .920 in the process.

Let’s recap… two years in Canadian juniors, where he was 64-21-12 (regular and post season), 2.63, .924, four shutouts)… partial season in the ECHL (6-7-0, 2.28, .911)… two partial seasons in Washington (11-5-0, 2.80, .910)… parts of two seasons in Hershey where he was 54-21-2, 2.20, .920, and seven shutouts (five of them in the post-season, including the only occurrence in AHL history in which a goalie clinched a series with shutouts in Games 6 and 7, as well as a shutout in the Calder Cup clinching game in 2010).  That is an overall record overall of 135-54-14, 2.46, .921, and 13 shutouts.  What is stopping this kid from being not only the top prospect goaltender for the Washington Capitals, but from being in the conversation about the top goaltending prospect in the NHL?

Semyon Varlamov.  Now, what team would not want this problem?

Fearless:  Did you know, cuz, that of the 26 goaltenders drafted in 2006, Neuvirth is already third in total NHL games played?  Only Steve Mason (119) and Semyon Varlamov (32) have more than the 22 that Neuvirth has.  And, he has the third best GAA of any 2006 draftee having played more than 1 game.

Cheerless:  It’s not a long list, cuz – five goalies drafted in 2006 have played more than one game; only seven have played at all.  But it is hard to find a negative here.  He has performed at a high level at each level he has played at from juniors on.  Even last year, facing 31.9 shots per 60 minutes, he had a better save percentage than did Varlamov with the Caps (Varlamov faced 28.2 shots per 60 minutes). But what he hasn’t done well is stop penalty shots.  He’s never stopped one at the NHL level (ok, three tries).  He has never participated in a shootout, so it’s hard to tell if this is a particular weakness he has.  Guess we’ll find out if he’s splitting time with Varlamov, eh cuz?

In the end…

For Caps coaches, this is the best of all possible problems to confront.  For those who cover the Caps on a daily basis, it is a font of neverending speculation as to which one has more potential.  For fans, it provides a neverending source for discussion of who is better (and the flip side, who the Caps should deal).  Varlamov…Neuvirth…Varlamov…Neuvirth.  Both drafted in 2006, both likely to get a big chunk of games to establish their bona fides for the playoffs and beyond, both on the last year of their respective entry level contracts.  Ever since the draft in 2006, Neuvirth has been a half-step in arrears of Varlamov in the pecking order of goaltenders, but he has toiled diligently and, more important, productively at every level at which he has played.

Each has had obstacles in his path to the nets for the Capitals.  With Varlamov it has been injuries.  With Neuvirth, it has been the unsettled nature of his playing location, plus having Varlamov in his windshield.  We noted that Varlamov doesn’t have to be otherworldly, just very good, very consistent, and very healthy.  He has to be because Neuvirth has been very good and at times otherworldly.  This race is not over and won’t be this year, or perhaps next, or perhaps the year after.  And that seems to be the thing about pro sports – there really never seems to be that last obstacle.  It’s always something, someone ahead of you on the depth chart, a particularly nettlesome opponent to conquer, the need to keep one’s skills and health at a high level, the onset of declining performance over time.  But Neuvirth has dealt quietly and effectively with every obstacle he has faced in his young career.  It is hard to bet against him emerging as the eventual front runner in his competition with Varlamov.  And that competition is going to be something that Caps fans hope will be wonderful to watch unfold.


38 games, 19-10-6, 2.61, .913, 1 shutout

Public Service Announcement -- Change in Preseason Game Schedule

This notice was sent to season ticket holders concerning the preseason game against Nashville on October 3rd:

In today's Planholder Update, the start time for the pre-season game on Sunday, October 3 vs. Nashville should have been listed as 12:30 p.m., not 7 p.m. The correct pre-season schedule is below.
  • Tuesday, September 28 vs. Boston at 7 p.m.
  • Friday, October 1 vs. Columbus at 7 p.m.
  • Sunday, October 3 vs. Nashville at 12:30 p.m. 
Thanks and sorry for the confusion.