lundqvistlookstiredgetty

Get ready for Lundqvist vs. Ovechkin Part III

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Even in times when they weren’t moderate underdogs, it seemed like the Washington Capitals had one team’s number in the Alex Ovechkin era: Henrik Lundqvist’s New York Rangers. King Henrik often kept over-matched Rangers teams in those series, yet the higher seed Caps won both series.*  The third part of that trilogy will happen in the 2012 semifinals after the Rangers and Capitals won insanely close first round series.

The third edition has some interesting new wrinkles even if Lundqvist’s and Ovechkin’s names remain on top of the marquee. This time around, the Rangers are the No. 1 seed while the Capitals are the dangerous underdogs.

After jostling with equally emphatic coach Bruce Boudreau before, John Tortorella will get to soak up all the attention if Dale Hunter gets his way. Tortorella didn’t have a whole lot to tell PHT’s Joe Yerdon about the upcoming series after Game 7 yet, though.

“I haven’t even got that far yet,” Tortorella said.

That coaching difference will likely represent as big a change as who has home ice. The Rangers might very well see a little bit of themselves – or maybe their old selves – in the increasingly scrappy Capitals.

So, with all that in mind, what are your early impressions? Can Washington thrive in its underdog role again or will the Rangers get some revenge? Will Braden Holtby top Lundqvist like he did to Tim Thomas? It should be a fun one.

* The Capitals took the 2009 series in seven games and topped New York in five last year.

Boudreau is “still pissed” at Halak

Jaroslav Halak, Alex Ovechkin
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Former Washington coach Bruce Boudreau hasn’t forgiven Jaroslav Halak for what he did to the Capitals.

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Boudreau’s Ducks host Halak and the Blues tonight. Thus, the question about 2010.

To refresh your memory, Halak led the underdog Canadiens to a shocking first-round upset of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals in 2010. He stopped all but three of the 134 shots he faced in In Games 5, 6 and 7, and was named first star in all three outings.

“I thought we had a good chance to win the Stanley Cup this year,” Boudreau said after Game 7, “and I would have bet my house that they wouldn’t have beaten us three games in a row and we would have only scored three goals in almost 140 shots.”

The Habs advanced to the second round where they pulled off another upset, this time over the defending champion Penguins, and once again in large part due to Halak.

So it wasn’t just the Caps who fell victim to brilliant goaltending.

But for Washington, the first-round elimination led to a major change in strategy. The next season Boudreau was preaching defense while eschewing run-and-gun hockey. The Capitals still won a lot of regular-season games, but they scored almost 100 fewer goals and were swept in the second round of the playoffs by Tampa Bay.

Along the way, Washington’s superstar, Alex Ovechkin, seemed to lose his zest for the game. Clearly the new, conservative approach wasn’t as fun to play. Or, for that matter, watch.

All of which begs the question, if Boudreau thought Halak was such a major factor in the series, why did he change his team’s style so dramatically? Not saying the Caps would’ve done any better if they kept running and gunning — just wondering which direction they would’ve taken if not for an unheralded goalie that went on an amazing run.

Caps GM admits Ovechkin has played at 242 pounds

Ovi
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Via D.C. Sports Bog (h/t Wysh), Capitals GM George McPhee spoke to ESPN 980 Tuesday and disclosed that Alex Ovechkin once played at 242 pounds. (You can download the podcast here.)

According to NHL.com, that would make him the 15th-heaviest player in the league, the same as Dustin Penner. (Though that doesn’t account for all the liars.)

McPhee noted that Ovechkin’s commitment to the game is “a lot better than it was,” but yikes – 242 pounds?

“He’s in terrific shape right now,” McPhee said. “And guys do different things in the summer. Ovi’s usually gotten by by just being a great athlete. Show up and play. And we’ve talked to him, that doesn’t happen in this league. At some point it has to kick in, you have to train, and he’s at 224 right now. And he hasn’t been at 224 in a few years.”

McPhee added: “He played at 242 once, and he got suspended for hitting a few people. And he was crushing guys, and he loved crushing guys, and we said you know what, Bruce [Boudreau] always thought he was a better player at about 227… And you can see it when he’s moving out there, he’s flying.”

It’s not clear whether Ovechkin bulked up to 242 pounds because “he loved crushing guys” or because he loved crushing booze and buffets. Teammate Brooks Laich said last year that Ovechkin is just “big boned”…

source:

Anyway, McPhee also said he wants Dale Hunter to keep coaching next season and – since he believes injuries to Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom are to blame for most of the team’s struggles – isn’t planning any big changes if the Caps miss the playoffs.

We wonder if owner Ted Leonsis feels the same way.

Ovechkin looks to repeat strong performance

Ovechkin scores
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Wednesday in Ottawa, Alex Ovechkin looked like Alex Ovechkin again. His spectacular goal late in the third period broke a 2-2 tie and catapulted the Capitals towards a 5-3 victory.

For Ovechkin, it was just his second goal in 14 games, a stretch that’s featured the firing of coach Bruce Boudreau, the hiring of coach Dale Hunter, and a whole heap of criticism directed towards Washington’s superstar and captain.

But Ovechkin maintains the recent dry spell wasn’t for a lack of effort or chances.

“Sometimes you try everything and it doesn’t work. Sometimes you shoot the puck from the redline and it goes in, you never know when pucks go in,” Ovechkin said, as per the Washington Post. “Especially against Ottawa like first period I have three, 100 percent chances to score goal but I didn’t score. Third period again, I have chances to shoot the puck perfectly and make the move but I didn’t score. I say … what’s going on? Why puck don’t want to go in the net?’ It’s just a moment. When you working hard, when you make some plays, when you have opportunity to score goals — puck goes in.”

First of all, hopefully you read that using a Russian accent in your head. You’d have had 100 percent chance to make laugh.

Secondly, it will be interesting to see if Ovechkin can put together another strong performance tonight versus the Leafs at the Verizon Center.

According to assistant coach Dean Evason, the Caps have been trying to get Ovechkin to mix up the repertoire once he gets in the attacking zone.

“We’re just trying to get him to have different looks,” Evason said, “show different looks, pull up a little more, shoot from different angles, go to different places on the ice and open himself up. He’s doing a real good job of recognizing that and fitting it into his game.”

We can’t be sure what Ovechkin was thinking at the time, but perhaps his goal in the Ottawa game was a good example of what Evason was talking about. There was no attempt to force a cut to the middle upon entering the zone on the left wing; instead he took the puck wide and waited for an opportunity to present itself. (And that opportunity was Erik Karlsson forgetting how to stop.)

Bruce Boudreau talks to the media in Anaheim

Bruce Boudreau

It only took about twelve hours for Randy Carlyle to be fired, Bruce Boudreau to be hired, and for the new coach to meet with the media in Anaheim. Pro Hockey Talk was there as Boudreau addressed the media, talked about his expectations for the rest of the season, and the Ducks players should still expect to make a run at the playoffs.

Here’s the transcript of Bruce Boudreau’s portion of the press conference:

Boudreau statement:

“It’s great to be here. It’s been a wild ride for me for the last week as well. Like Bob said, I sat there on Tuesday and I didn’t believe that this was a team that had the possibilities and the makings of something special, I think I would have sat at home and waited. But I don’t think opportunities like this come around every day with the talent we have here. I talked to my wife about it, I said: ‘I think we should jump at this.’ I know it’s only been a day basically since I got let go, it was something that I thought was a chance that I wouldn’t get again. So, I jumped at it and got in the plane yesterday, and here I am. It’s a new start, I’m looking forward to it, can’t wait to play, and let’s get going.”

Boudreau: “Salvaging the season is winning regularly. Every team has its warts; it’s a question of making less mistakes than the other team. I know it’s very basic, but we don’t get a chance, and I didn’t get a chance, to see Anaheim play as often as I’d like to being a) in the Eastern time zone, and b) the Eastern Conference; we didn’t pay that much attention to them. I do know a few of their players and I do know that they have some great players. They have the players in really prominent role positions that need to be to be a good team. So, not taking anything away from Randy [Carlyle], if we do it together, we should hopefully make strides. Every night and every day. And it’s going to take time, but I think it could be done within the next four months.

On the circumstances being very similar to when Boudreau took over the Caps, memories of first days and months when he took over Caps:

Boudreau: “I think the biggest thing I tried to instill in the Capitals was confidence. They were beaten down a little bit and they had lost for many years. They didn’t believe in themselves. This is a totally different story in that respect, is that they haven’t lost. They have been a really good team. They have just sort of lost their way a little bit. But I told them this morning, I believe in them. I think they’re a really good team and I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t believe that they have a really good shot of doing a lot of good things this year. I want them to believe in themselves. If they do, then good things can happen.”

On the Bobby Ryan rumors that have been floating around this week:

Boudreau: “I just got here. I haven’t paid too much attention to that. I’ll let the first day go before I address [the rumors]. You know, [I need to] talk to Bobby…

On his reputation of being an offensive coach and will he have defensemen jumping into the play?

Boudreau: “I don’t know. I’d like to walk before I can run a little bit. It doesn’t really matter if you win 8-7 or 2-1, I just want to win. If you know me, losing grates on me quite a lot. But I think it’s assessing where your strengths are, then work to your strengths.”

On the comments that said Boudreau had nothing left in the tank in Washington:

Boudreau: “No, I had told George [McPhee] that I had tried everything that I knew with this group right now and it wasn’t working right now. It didn’t mean that it wouldn’t work a week from now, it just didn’t work right then—for those two games I was talking about. It was the Buffalo game and the Winnipeg game. And that hadn’t happened in the previous 4+ years that I was there, so it was more of a surprise for me that it hadn’t worked. I was sort of taken aback by it and I told George that.”

About extracting Carlyle’s philosophies and instilling his own with the Ducks:

Boudreau: “Well, I just do what I do. I can’t say we’re not doing this. Randy is a great coach, good teammate, good friend—all of those things. But I just got to do what I’ve done and what I’ve been used to; what I’ve done has been successful. And those are the things that I know. So we integrate those things, we did a couple of things today. Systems—there’s no right system or wrong system. Coaches have faith in what they’ve done and has been successful for them. What I was doing today [at practice] may have been different from what Randy did, but at the same time, they were both successful. We’ll see if the group can do it, whether it was better for them what I’m showing or it isn’t and we’ll adjust accordingly. I mean, I’ve been with them for one practice, so we’ll see their strengths and their weakness. I just can’t go on and do things that aren’t me. I just have to be me and see how that works.”

On the mood of the team this morning:

Boudreau: “Like all team, when there’s a change, they’re waiting to see how it affects them. It’s hard to tell. They listened very well, I thought, and they looked [like] when they went on the ice they had some ‘jump.’ But I don’t know them individually well enough to know if that was the norm or if it was a different thing for them. Time will tell. But I thought, for me, it was OK.”

On everything moving quickly over the last week, if he would have hung around the house for a while:

Boudreau: “Oh, my wife wouldn’t have liked that very much. No, I was looking for something to do. It’s always important, for me anyway, to get out. I can’t lie around and [not] do anything. I was going to start watching games somewhere, going somewhere. At that time, I was making plans to go to Toronto and do some work with TSN or something. But, this was much better.”

On if any other teams contacted him (or the Capitals about him):

Boudreau: “No, not that I know of. Not with the Capitals, not that I know of; with me no.”

On which place was furthest way from Anaheim:

Boudreau: “…boy, I’ve been everywhere. I don’t know. Just distance-wise, Manchester was the furthest. But when I first started getting into coaching, when you’re coaching in Muskegon, Michigan or Biloxi, Mississippi, you really aren’t looking far enough ahead to think that you’re going to be coaching in Anaheim or Washington. I’ve been lucky.”

On the month (November) starting with his Capitals facing off with the Ducks:

Boudreau: “No, quite frankly I wouldn’t have laid [money on it]. If you could have a crystal ball, this wouldn’t have been something I thought was going to happen.”

On if he’s spoken to Randy Carlyle:

Boudreau: “No. It’s too early.”

On filling the coaching staff out:

Boudreau: “I think we’ll talk to Bob when this is done and we’ll see where it goes.”

GM Bob Murray: “We have some things in the fire that may happen fairly quickly.”

On how he can prevent the players from tuning him out:

Boudreau: “If I knew how to prevent it, I wouldn’t let it happen. So I just hope it doesn’t happen. I hope that they buy into the message and we just surge from here.”

On what his message is to the players:

Boudreau: “I want them to be very positive. I want to be aggressive, I want them to play the way they’re capable of playing. With energy and thinking that they’re going to be successful. The way they should be successful. This was a team that before the season started, if you read a lot of the clippings, they said they would really contend for the Pacific Division crown, and I think they’re very capable of doing it. I want them to believe in themselves. That’s the message for today. Believe in themselves.”

On Ryan/Getzlaf/Perry being linemates going forward:

Boudreau: “The first shift tomorrow they will be. Beyond that, we’ll have to see how they do.”

On any lessons he could take away from the Ovechkin/Semin stuff that went down over the last month in Washington:

Boudreau: “You know what; I mean a lot was blown out [of proportion]. I got along really well with both of those guys and I think I’ve said that for the last week that there was never a problem. With either one. But we all tend to want to make something out of nothing. And we did. So there’s really no story there.”

On the excitement to get started:

Boudreau: “I think nervous excitement goes hand-in-hand. I’m excited, don’t get me wrong. Any time you take a new challenge on, you get excited. And nervous. I’m trying to put a good analogy together—it’s like going to a new school. You want to put your first step, you want to make a good impression with everybody. And you’re following someone who had a lot of success and is really popular. So it’s tough.”