Alex Ovechkin

2011-12 season preview: Washington Capitals

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2010-11 record: 48-23-11, 107 points; 1st in Southeast; 1st in East

Playoffs: Defeated New York Rangers 4-1 in Eastern quarterfinals, lost to Tampa Bay 4-0 in Eastern semifinals

The Capitals’ recent history has been dominated by a common theme: great regular seasons deleted by playoff disappointments. To some, those postseason failures erase all of the good things that happened in those 82 games. Fair or not, casual fans will paste the “choker” label on this team until they win a Stanley Cup.

Even after coach Bruce Boudreau changed the game plan from all-out offense to a more traditional (read: conservative and boring) approach, the team still flopped in the big time after posting the top record in the Eastern Conference. This season won’t be the final straw for Alex Ovechkin and a few others, but it’s a make-or-break campaign for Boudreau, Mike Green and much of the team’s familiar faces.


The Capitals’ 224 regular-season goals was the second-lowest total of all Eastern playoff teams – only Montreal found the back of the net less frequently (216 goals).

While Washington might not be as high-flying as its once was, expect the top guns to soar again. Both Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom should bounce back after suffering from career-low shooting percentages. Alexander Semin must realize that this could be his last shot to stay in Washington (and he is only signed through the season, which should add more incentive for a strong campaign).

Along with likely bounce-back seasons for incumbent stars, the Capitals’ future should look different after GM George McPhee added a few helpings of elbow grease. Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward are two wingers who play physical styles, adding grit to their upper ranks along with returning garbage goal specialist Mike Knuble and two-way center Brooks Laich. Jeff Halpern is a blast from the past who might work out nicely if he can stay healthy.

Jason Arnott might have been a voice of reason, but the team probably won’t miss him, eternal injury-list member Marco Sturm, Eric Fehr and other departed forwards all that much.


The defense is an interesting mix of players whose strengths could surprise some.

Green should be a bigger factor after an injury-plagued second half last season. Health is a big hurdle for Dennis Wideman, who’s essentially a less potent (but more physical) version of Green. Those two offensive defensemen are complemented by the up-and-coming shutdown pair of youngsters in Karl Alzner and John Carlson.

While Tomas Vokoun ranks as a bombshell of an upgrade in goal and Ward covers the “slightly overspend for a missing piece” aspect of the offseason, Roman Hamrlik is a big upgrade over Scott Hannan. He might not be as physical, but still manages to slow scorers down. Hamrlik can provide some offense as well, which might earn him some time on the power play.

Overall, the Capitals have an interesting group that could round out to one of the better defense corps in the East – if they stay reasonably healthy.


Vokoun gives the Capitals something they haven’t had in their previous runs: a legitimate difference-maker in net. Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth had their moments and Jose Theodore did what he could, but none of them can match Vokoun’s impressive resume. Maybe big-time pressure might rattle a goalie who put up dominant numbers under the radar, but chances are good that he’ll thrive with the kind of goal support he’s never seen in Florida or Nashville.

The Capitals have fantastic insurance if Vokoun doesn’t work out (or shows his age a bit). Neuvirth’s individual numbers weren’t great in the regular season, but teammates and onlookers raved about his calm demeanor – something that shouldn’t be overlooked in a reactionary atmosphere. Even Braden Holtby showed some flashes of brilliance in spot duty last year, although fans should be warned about the dangers of small sample sizes.


Boudreau is a likeable guy who turned around a moribund franchise (with the help of an incredibly talented young cast, of course). That being said, people who constantly compare the Capitals to the Pittsburgh Penguins might view Boudreau as Washington’s Michel Therrien – a guy who bridged the gap from bad to good but couldn’t win a Cup. This might be Bellicose Bruce’s last chance to prove people wrong. It would be nice if he went out his way by playing a “guns blazing” style rather than last season’s compromised system, but either way, Boudreau needs some big results in the playoffs.

Breakout candidate

Alzner and especially Carlson could grab even more attention, but they played big enough minutes that they cannot be called breakout players. That title might go to the Capitals other Swedish center, Marcus Johansson. He looked solid (13 goals, 27 points) in his first 69 games at the NHL level and could provide valuable depth scoring for a team that might be a little top-heavy skill wise.

Best-case scenario

Vokoun proves he’s the real deal, finally giving the Capitals the hot goalie that felled them in postseasons past. Ovechkin and Backstrom go back to being, well, Ovechkin and Backstrom. Green, Semin and Boudreau silence their critics with a dominant run to earn that elusive Stanley Cup win. People who love calling professional athletes “chokers” turn their attention back to the San Jose Sharks – even if the Capitals beat them in the championship round.


The Capitals are loaded in almost every area, although they could use a better second-line center. Laich is a great checker but might be better off with a third-line role and Johansson might not be ready for that job either.

Things are looking pretty good if that’s your biggest trouble spot, although Semin and Green haters will probably disagree. Simply put, Vokoun pushes Washington to the level of genuine favorites.

Pens’ Pouliot on IR, after getting hurt in season debut

Derrick Pouliot
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Pretty lousy start to the campaign for Derrick Pouliot.

Pouliot, a healthy scratch for Pittsburgh’s first four games of the year, made his season debut in Thursday’s 3-2 win over San Jose — but played just over 12 minutes before getting knocked out with an injury.

And on Friday, the Pens put Pouliot on IR.

David Warsofsky has been recalled from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton as a replacement, and could suit up on Saturday when the Penguins visit Nashville.

The bigger story, of course, is Pouliot.

The eighth overall pick in 2012 — taken ahead of defensemen like Jacob Trouba, Olli Maatta, Michael Matheson and Brady Skjei — Pouliot has struggled to make his mark at the NHL level.

After appearing in 34 games as a rookie, he dressed just 22 times last year, and only twice during the playoffs as the Penguins captured the Stanley Cup.

This year, he was unable to crack a six-man defensive unit comprised of Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Ian Cole, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz. Letang missed the San Jose game with an upper-body ailment, which paved the way for Pouliot to draw in.



Dropped by Blues, Weber catches on with Wild’s AHL team

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 01: Mike Weber #6 of the Washington Capitals skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period at Verizon Center on March 1, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Mike Weber, the veteran blueliner who was dropped from his PTO in St. Louis earlier this month, has signed on with Minnesota’s AHL affiliate in Iowa, the club announced.

Weber, 28, has appeared in over 350 big league contests with Buffalo and Washington.

The move to the Minnesota organization is interesting. The club’s had some issues with its young defensemen lately — Mike Reilly has been up and down between the AHL and NHL, and head coach Bruce Boudreau nearly made Mathew Dumba a healthy scratch the other night, explaining that the 22-year-old is “trying to do too much.”

(Dumba was a late addition to the lineup after Marco Scandella went down with an illness.)

Jared Spurgeon, one of the club’s mainstays on defense, suffered an upper-body injury in Thursday’s win over Toronto on a big hit from Matt Martin. Spurgeon is currently listed as day-to-day.

Even with those developments in play, Weber still has to make some significant leaps to become a factor for the Wild. The team has eight d-men in its rotation.


A healthy Brandon Sutter has been a difference-maker for undefeated Vancouver

VANCOUVER, BC - OCTOBER 15: Brandon Sutter #20 of the Vancouver Canucks celebrates his game winning goal against the Calgary Flames during a shootout of their NHL game at Rogers Arena on October 15, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Ben Nelms/Getty Images)
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Brandon Sutter only got to play 20 games last season, his first as a Canuck, and the 33 games he missed with a hernia, quickly followed by the 29 games he missed with a broken jaw, were held up by the head coach and management as a prime reason that Vancouver struggled so badly.

Not everyone bought that excuse, but after four straight Canucks wins to start the current season, nobody can deny that Sutter has been a major factor. He has one goal and three assists, and his line, with wingers Jannik Hansen and Markus Granlund, has been Vancouver’s best.

“You always want to get a good start to the year,” Sutter said after last night’s 2-1 win over the Sabres. “You just want to be playing well. You don’t really pay much attention to the points of it all this early. I think the biggest thing, when you miss this much time, is just getting your timing back, and just getting back into form, and just playing your game the way you want to.”

If there’s a concern for the undefeated Canucks, it’s the play of the Sedins with new winger Loui Eriksson. They’ve had flashes of greatness together, but not the consistency. The twins were even split up for a short time last night, and that rarely happens.

Granted, Eriksson did set up Daniel Sedin for the winning goal on the power play, so it hasn’t been all bad. But the Canucks would love to see those three spend more time in the attacking zone together. At five on five, they spent most of their night defending the Sabres’ top line of Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, and Sam Reinhart.

“Some games are going to be like this,” said Daniel Sedin. “I mean, that’s a good team over there, you’re not going to create chances each and every shift.”

Next up for the Canucks is a two-game road road trip. In their first action away from Rogers Arena, they play the Kings Saturday and the Ducks Sunday.

“It’s never easy going down to California, so it’ll be a good test for us,” said Sutter. “We’ve played some good teams so far, but divisional games coming up here, so we’ll be ready.”

Related: Desjardins sticks up for Horvat, whose job has been tough with Sutter missing

The injury situation in Dallas is out of control

Lindy Ruff

Patrick Sharp, Patrick Eaves, Cody Eakin, Ales Hemsky, Jiri Hudler and Mattias Janmark.

Those are the six — count ’em, six — forwards Dallas is currently without, at least as of this morning, due to a myriad of ailments.

Sharp and Eaves were lost in last night’s controversial OT loss to L.A. According to head coach Lindy Ruff, Sharp is dealing with concussion symptoms and will be out “a while,” and the club is expected to know more about Eaves’ lower-body ailment today (per the Morning-News).

So, what about the rest of the suffering six?

Hemsky (groin) appears the closest to a return, and could possibly make his season debut in Saturday’s tilt against the Blue Jackets. Hudler, dealing with what appears to be a serious case of the flu, is still a ways away from recovering (remember, Montreal goalie Carey Price missed three games and lost 7-8 pounds with a similar illness to start the year.)

Hudler’s unlikely for the Columbus game.

Eakin, who’s been out since late September with a knee injury, was originally slated to miss six weeks. That would put his return somewhere in the beginning-to-middle of November, which is still a ways away.

Janmark is out 5-6 months following knee surgery.

Add it all up, and Lindy Ruff’s team could be severely shorthanded at a tough time — after home dates on Saturday and Tuesday, the club will head out on a three-game road swing through Winnipeg, Minnesota and Columbus.

Ruff did say he will have to recall a forward from AHL Texas.

Heck, he might have to recall a couple.