Tag-Archive for ◊ Washington Capitals ◊

18 Aug 2011 Caps: Airing Some Dirty Laundry

Since the brutal play-off exit of the Washington Capitals in April by the sticks of the Tampa Bay Lightning in an embarrassing 4 game sweep in the Semi-Finals, a lot of fingers have been pointed and a lot of blame has been shifted on what went wrong YET AGAIN. I don’t want to beat a dead horse here. I’m tired of talking about, tired of reading about it, and tired of people trying to tell me I’m not a true Caps fan for bashing my own team.

I think most will agree after digesting that embarrassment and hearing what the players and team personnel had to say, it is obvious this team has problems. I think the biggest problem is the stars of this team are coddled and not called out by the proper authorities when they need it. ALEXANDER SEMIN I AM LOOKING AT YOU. However, I’m not just talking about coming into practice when they feel like it, I mean, let’s face it they are still human and the grueling schedules they keep is enough to run everyone down at some point. My point is letting certain star players play when they need to be benched for their own good.

Now, I’m not on the inside exactly, I don’t know all the things that go on behind the scenes, but I can tell you that Alex Ovechkin was not suffering from one ailment this season, but three.

Yes, count them: One, Two, Three.

A wrist injury (which got one giant cortisone shot before every game for months), a groin injury, and a knee injury. Now, I’m no expert, but after a pitiful showing in the playoffs most likely due to said injuries, why would you let this guy go play for Worlds knowing he could injure himself further and potentially put him in the press box for months? Maybe it’s the old Soviet mindset clouding my judgment on this, but I’d tell him he was going to sit Worlds out.

I’ve also heard what was wrong with the lackluster Nicklas Backstrom this year… let’s just say I hope he stops hanging out with a certain defenseman who is known for his alcohol consumption and has gotten himself back together over the summer. Have I said too much by saying this? Potentially. I’m just still surprised even though I really shouldn’t be.

On that note, I might not have said this much before, but I am a HUGE Mathieu Perreault fan. I can’t get enough of Mighty Mouse and his perfect flow. I was interested to find out that the apparent reason he was suddenly sent back down to the minors back in mid-spring was that he showed up to practice still intoxicated from the night before. Do I insert a “Short French-Canadian Lightweight” joke here? Or do I once again shake my head?

All I know is, I’m happier than a hornet we have Matty P for another year, got my other hockey love in Chris Bourque back, and that we acquired Troy Brouwer so I can ask him to do the Kaner Shuffle with me, Brouwer Style!

 

 

 



12 Feb 2011 Where in the World are the Washington Capitals?

Is the Caps

Just like the awesome vintage 1990s computer game, television show and book series “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” the location of the Washington Capitals has become a game fans are tired of playing. They will play balls-to-the-wall one game, disappear for long stretches, then reappear in period-long spurts before bombing out again. Going from a team that would battle back from a two-goal deficit, to a team that can’t beat the worst teams in the league on a good night, this is a far cry from what I was thinking they’d be going into this season. That said, there is still plenty of hockey left to change my mind, but how much is too little?

With trade deadline not two weeks away, time is of the essence and the outcome continues to look rather bleak for this highly talented Caps team. The recent 4-1 loss to a struggling Los Angeles Kings team being another bullet to the brigade. A good game here and there is not enough to convince me this team is “getting better.” Maybe a couple new player acquisitions can shake things up. I’m hoping to see the very first coaching trade on the busiest day of the year for National Hockey League GMs.

There have been a few rumblings on if the Caps will be buyers or sellers come February 28, and right now I’m kind of wondering about this myself. Why? Call it a fan wanting some answers or maybe a fan who is beginning to get fed up with people in the Caps front office sitting on their hands and wishing for a solution instead of actively trying to find one.

People have been talking about it since the team failed to snap a dismal multi-game losing streak back in November. I’ve been talking about it; NHL press conferences have been abuzz about it. What has gone wrong with the Washington Capitals?

The answer is about as simple as it is complex.

A lot has gone wrong and these problems were there long before the puck dropped on the regular season back in October. So what are the most obvious and over-used reasons (excuses?) that the team is failing? Let me see if I can sum it up in one sentence.

Alexander Ovechkin is a horrible captain who competes with Backstrom for fattest player on the team, which means Alexander Semin is a useless sack of bones who flat out sucks as much as Jeff Schultz does trying to play hockey or defense, while Bruce Boudreau, Ted Leonsis and George McPhee are the irreplaceable blowhards who reinforce optional practices that pilots this team of partiers who repeatedly fail on power plays and can’t hold onto leads to save their lives.

That about cover it?

Personally, I’ve finally jumped on the Fire Boudreau bandwagon. I tried to defend him, I tried to stay positive, but now it’s clearly not working with him behind the bench. After last year we screamed for him to change the system to focus more on defense. He did that. I’m satisfied. Unfortunately that system squeezed the offensive prowess out of the team to where they have forgotten how to take control of hockey games. They can’t balance offensive spark with defensive grit and they wind up floating around the ice for at least 40 minutes a game like headless chickens. That is where the coach needs to step in, and Bruce can’t do that anymore. You can tell by the look on the players faces that he’s lost them.

People like to argue with me when I say he’s lost the team. “But, but … the players say they like him and don’t want him to leave. They don’t think he’s the problem.” Well do you really expect them to openly criticize the guy? Most of them have been with him since his Hershey glory days; others since he picked up a losing team and turned them into playoff contenders. How could you openly criticize a guy who has made you into a winning team — even though he has taken you as far as he can? Simply put, I think the players realize Boudreau has taken them as far as he can, but respect him too much from all that he is done to say so. Put yourself in the players shoes, doesn’t it seem a little audacious to say that about him? Some may see it, some may deny it, some may not even care, but they know it — whether they’ll say it to reporters or not.

What is interesting to me is that the Philadelphia Flyers fired their coach and made it to the Stanley Cups Finals. Tampa got rid of John Tortorella and now they are a commanding force again in the East. Sure none of them have won cups since their coaching changes, but the team I’d most compare the Caps with fired their coach and went on to win the Stanley Cup the same year. In professional sports, if you don’t win, you fire your coach and bring in someone else.

The University of Michigan lost to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl this year by a record score of 52-14. Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez was fired even after a “good” season because they didn’t produce when it mattered. What will it take for Leonsis to see things from this perspective? Sure it’s college football vs. professional hockey. Apples to oranges, I know. Bottom line is, Bruce has yet to get this team to win in the post-season and now he can’t get them to win in the regular season. What more needs to happen before this season is completely wasted too? At the current rate, if they manage to squeak into the play-offs they’ll crash out in no time from being out-coached. Hate to be negative, but sometimes the truth ain’t pretty folks.

To sum it up comically (paraphrasing the words of an Adam Sandler movie): This team has all them teeth and no toothbrush and something is going to have to stop these cavities from getting worse. Whether it be firing the dentist or getting a root canal, a few teeth might need to be pulled before we can think about flashing these pearly whites again.

I just hope it’s not too late.

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12 Jan 2011 Caps’ Swedish Centers Scoring Update

Is Marcus Johansson poised to create a buzz in Washington?

It is now past the halfway mark of the 2010-2011 season (where’d the time go?) and in light of tonights impressive game by Marcus Johansson in the OT loss to the Florida Panthers, I felt a mid-season update on the Capitals’ 3 Swedes was in order.

The game against the Panthers in Sunrise, FL started like most recent games by the Capitals: falling behind early. They left the first period down 2-0 and found themselves down 3-0 in the first half of the second period. I admit, the game looked bleak in terms of mounting a comeback. But recent efforts by the Boston Bruins in a game where they scored 2 goals in 12 seconds to tie the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third — and then the B’s potting the eventual game winner shortly before the end of the 3rd period to win it in regulation — gave me hope the Caps would rally back in a flurry themselves.

That rally started with the Capital’s Swedish rookie, Marcus Johansson at 10:10 of the second.  From then on out, it was all Caps in the second half of the game, with Johansson leading the charge. The Swedish rookie notched the tying goal at 7:12 of the 3rd and nearly added a third moments later.

I have a strong belief that if Mike Green hadn’t tripped up a Panther in OT, the Caps would have won the game with the momentum they had gained. The PK in OT was definitely looking good, despite the well-placed shot that ended the Caps’ hope of leaving with 2 points.

Still, the superb effort and play by Johansson restored my confidence in the young rookie. So far this season I can’t say I’ve been disappointed in him. I knew what type of player we were getting.  And no offense to “Mojo”, as Johansson has come to be nicknamed, but I knew he would be a less-effective version of his Swedish counter-part, Nicklas Backstrom, in his rookie season.

At times he has been entirely invisible during games, which is not entirely a bad thing as it means he is not making mistakes, but he isn’t really doing what he needs to at times either. Don’t get me wrong, he hasn’t been abysmal by any means because he is after all still a rookie with a long way to go and a lot to learn.

I wanted him to make the Caps right out of training camp, and he did against my better hockey judgment. Even after tonights impressive comeback effort to erase a 3 goal deficit created by Johansson, it is clear the fanatical side of me wanted something that didn’t coincide with what might have been best for the rookie in the long run. I personally believe it is becoming clear that he would have benefited greatly from further development in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, a la teammates John Carlson and Karl Alzner.

To say he is our 2nd line center is a bit of a stretch at this point. I believe he has the potential to be our 2nd line center, but I’m afraid him being thrown into the NHL his first year in North America will stunt his growth in the long run. Not all players are Nicklas Backstroms, and as much as I love Mojo, he isn’t a Backstrom … yet. Games like that against the Panthers show what he is capable of, and for that I hope he will continue this uptrend. He is highly talented, plays defensive beyond his years, has impeccable speed, has done well when put on PK special teams, and his puck possession and passing is superb.

Overall performance thus far:  Solid B

Is Nicklas Backstrom threatening to sink into the shadows this season?

Speaking of Backstrom … where has he gone? What has happened to him? 39 points through 43 games puts him on pace to score less than 80 points this season. Following a career-high season of 101 points through 82 games last year, this current pace would give him the second-lowest point total since he entered the NHL. His rookie season in 2007-2008 being the lowest with 69 points. Normally I would say personal stats aren’t everything if the team is winning, but when they aren’t, you tend to look at your star players when they aren’t producing and question why. Alex Ovechkin is on pace for 30 goals this season and 90 points — if he’s lucky. I have no doubt that Ovechkin’s lack of production goes hand-in-hand with Backstrom’s scoring drought.

Backstrom just hasn’t seemed like himself this season. He’s become a turnover machine, can’t win face-offs to save his life or gets kicked out of the dot half the time, and simply doesn’t have that same strength to drop the shoulder and protect the puck. He’s had his moments this year, but nothing compared to what he should be doing on the ice.

Overall performance thus far: C-

Gustafsson at Capital's training camp in 2009.

Right now you might be scratching your head wondering who the 3rd Swede was I introduced you to back before the start of training camp. Remember the legendary Capital, Bengt Gustafsson? Well he didn’t try to re-enter the NHL, but his son was drafted by the Capitals in 2008 at 21st overall. Caps fans did not initially disagree with General Manager George McPhee’s first pick in taking Anton Gustafsson. If he was anything like his dad, we’d be fortunate to have him.

Sadly, Anton’s injury-plagued career and overall seeming disinterest to play hockey actually pushed Anton to quit hockey altogether in October of 2010. After spending just one game with the Hershey Bears in which he recorded 2 assists, he was assigned to the ECHL affiliate the South Carolina Stingrays. He played one pre-season game with the Stingrays before telling the Capitals he had decided to go back to Sweden and subsequently quit playing hockey altogether.

He has since recanted of his desire to no longer play hockey and is currently playing for a no-name league on a no-name team in Swissland.

Overall performance thus far:  W (for Withdrawl).

Photos courtesy of BridgetDS and Annalisk19 via Flickr.com. Copyright 2009-2011. All rights reserved.

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03 Jan 2011 Winter Classic Hangover?

Backstrom and the Caps steal the show in Pittsburgh.

I have to admit, even though I am obviously a Caps fan, I really did not expect the Capitals to find themselves victorious in the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh. Call me a pessimist, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who dreaded the puck drop for the much-hyped Winter Classic.

It’s no secret the weeks leading up to the highly touted match-up on New Years Day were abysmal for the Capitals. Ovechkin scoring only two goals in a 19 game stretch and the Capitals dropping 8 games in a row is enough to make those ever-increasing bandwagon fans fall off by the dozens. Discussions increased on the problem and everyone had their own solution to the problem. “Fire Boudreau!”, being the most prevalent solution of them all.

With the addition of dozens of HBO camera’s filming every step the Capitals took on the road the Winter Classic, it became clear from hearing Capital’s General Manager George McPhee, that he believed in the team and coaching staff as it was. This came much to the dismay of countless Caps fans and understandably so. It’s sort of the unwritten rule in sports: if the team is failing, fire the coach. Perhaps after the first episode of the anticipated documentary of the Capitals and Winter Classic opponent, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the argument for relieving Boudreau of his tenure seemed to be gaining ground.

The team had been failing and the only sights HBO gave Bruce were not entirely flattering. Interviews with apparent food stains on his mouth, locker room speeches fit for abusive proportions, and little to no mention of the Caps playing as a team certainly gave the Boudreau Naysayers fuel to their already blazing fire for him to be let go.

Thankfully, just as the Pens ended their lengthy winning streak (which came close to challenging the Capitals’ impressive winning streak last season of 14 games) the Capitals broke their losing streak and the team was uplifted, if only for a moment. Whether the team got back on track because of, or in spite of Bruce Boudreau, the important thing here is they did.

Now that they have proved what might have seemed impossible not a week ago, the real test will happen when the Capitals face the Tampa Bay Lightning on January 4th. Now that the Winter Classic high has worn off, will that same team show up to defeat their next opponent for the much needed 2 points that will put the Caps and Pens in a two-way tie at 53 points? Not to mention that beating Tampa Bay on the 4th would put them back atop the Southeast Division and back to the top 3 teams in the Eastern Conference.

Make no mistake, I’m not trying to take away from what beating the Pens in their home town in the Winter Classic means to the Caps, but it will all be worthless if the team can’t keep moving forward. As a very notable boxing movie once told us:  ”It ain’t about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

If they can remember that, hopefully this team will begin playing back to the level they are capable of. I’d like the Caps to be the Blackhawks of the East, and not the Sharks (sorry Sharks fans, but it’s true).

Photo: By Annalisk19 at Flickr.com. Copyright 2010-11. All rights reserved.

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14 Dec 2010 Why the Capitals Can’t Win

I think this picture does not require a caption...

Six in a row? Say it ain’t so! No, you didn’t read that incorrectly, the Caps have lost six games in a row and have been shut out four times in the last 13 games. The latest shellacking coming at the hands of the New York Rangers by a lopsided score of 7-0.

Is it safe to start panicking? Is it safe to say the team is doomed to another post-season failure (assuming at their current pace that they even make it to the playoffs)? Is it safe to say that head Capitals’ bench boss, Bruce Boudreau, might need to start looking for a new coaching position?

Who knows? Right now, what I think we need to do is not think so negatively. Let’s chill out, Caps fans, with some much needed comedic relief. Here are my top reasons (excuses) the Capitals are really failing (and I will admit, you might need to be a Caps fan to get some of these and find them funny).

  • Nicklas Backstrom stopped dying his hair blond(er).

  • Epic Fehl returned to the second line … Wait, what’s that? No player by that name? Oh I’m sorry I meant “Eric Fehr”.

  • Since the Caps flushed Flash (Tomas Fleischmann) out to Colorado, the Caps are flashing back to resemble the dreadful 2003-04 Capitals team — full of talent, and yet so full of fail.

  • This team is doomed without Jeff Schultz and Tyler Sloan to hold down the blue line.

  • We just keep running into “hot goaltenders” … and make all of them look like Vezina Trophy winners.

  • Bruce Boudreau hasn’t made enough completely moronic TV commercials … YET.

  • The team doesn’t have enough optional practices.

  • Marcus Johansson beat them all at “iPad poker” on the ride up to NYC. This pissed Alex Ovechkin off so much he had to jump Brandon Dubinsky to vent his frustrations.

  • Mike Green doesn’t party enough anymore and stopped stocking his fridge with foods that are only the color green.

  • Brooks Laich finally allowed himself a girlfriend after a millennia of celibacy.

  • Alexander Semin actually started playing hockey like he cares.

  • Semyon Varlamov admitted he really likes American girls.

  • Boudreau is really focused on becoming a contestant on “The Biggest Loser” and not on being the Caps’ head coach … and I’m not talking about the weight-loss reality TV show.

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  • 24 Nov 2010 Semin and Skywalker — The Forceful Stare is With Them

    Alex Semin a Luke Skywalker look-a-like?

    Semin and Skywalker: Intense look-a-likes?

    It’s always a joy to check out some of the terms people are using to search our site. Today there was a truly nifty one that warrants immediate comment. Thank you anonymous web surfer from Lanham, Maryland for searching for “Alex Semin + Luke Skywalker”!

    Made my day you did.

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    19 Nov 2010 Semin + Caps = Good Sense
    Alexander Semin - rookie

    Semin at training camp in 2003.

    As a longtime Washington Capitals fan, I’ve had the sometimes rough duty of sticking up for a certain player (Alexander Semin) who, incidentally, was the main reason I became a Caps fan back in 2003. My first Capitals game on the 12th of November 2003 gave me my first glimpse of him. I fell in love with his playing style immediately. His stick-handling skills were enchanting and, to this day, he still makes my jaw drop at some of the dekes he can pull rushing up the ice. His lone goal in the 7-1 shellacking of the Carolina Hurricanes during my inaugural game was a sneaky little deke around a veteran defenseman and a total undressing of the goalie. (Check it out for yourself.)

    Semin joined the team at one of the most trying times for the Capitals organization. That year the team was dismantled at the trade deadline. Fans bid farewell to iconic winger Peter Bondra, as well as Robert Lang, Sergei Gonchar, and the man fans love to hate: Jaromir Jagr. At the end of the 2003-04 season, majority owner Ted Leonsis declared the team was going to rebuild from within. He started later that summer by selecting Alexander Ovechkin and Mike Green in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

    By all accounts, Semin’s rookie season was anything but pleasant. Rumored dissension inside the Caps locker room did not create a healthy atmosphere for the young Russian, who was still trying to adjust to life in North America. And, his lack of English skills created a natural barrier between him and most of the team. Semin missed the final game of the regular season, oversleeping and missing the team flight out of Washington. When the season ended, he was sent to Portland, Maine to play for the Capitals’ American Hockey League farm team, the Pirates, to help with their unsuccessful Calder Cup run. Semin ended the season with 10 goals and 22 points in 52 games, playing mostly on the third and fourth lines.

    Semin plays for Lada Togliatti of the Russian Super League.

    The following season, the NHL lockout forced Semin to find work elsewhere. He signed a one-year deal with Lada Togliatti of the Russian Super League, opting not to report to the Hershey Bears (the Capitals’ new AHL affiliate). The Capitals subsequently suspended his contract for failing to report to Hershey. He finished the season Togliatti.

    When the NHL labor dispute ended and the 2005-06 season was on the horizon, Semin was expected to return to the Capitals for the final year of his entry-level contract. However, Semin and his agent, Mark Gandler, were sued by the Capitals for more contract violations after he signed a 1-year extension with Lada. Gandler managed to have the suit nullified by claiming Semin’s contract with Lada was satisfying his two-year military obligation to the Russian Federation.

    Whether it really was Russian military obligations or something else is unclear, but Lada gave him numerous incentives to stay. He was given a car, an apartment and a $2 million (USD) contract to play for the team. At just 21 years old, $2 million was much more than the chump change the Capitals were offering, and for that reason alone, I can’t blame him for wanting to stay in Russia where he also didn’t have to deal with a struggling team and language barrier.

    Semin’s decision ultimately backfired as he fell victim to the unstable system in which the RSL governed itself by before the league revamped in 2007. Semin was let go by Lada a month into the season as the team salary was cut by 50 percent. The team avoided folding altogether by letting go of multiple players and loaning some out to other RSL teams.

    Semin (in gold and blue) skates with Khimik.

    At that time, Semin’s was the highest contract on the Lada roster. He was the first to be let go along with his car, apartment and contract. He didn’t stay unemployed for long as he signed with Khimik Mytischi, taking a pay cut. He finished the season with Khimik only notching 3 goals and 10 points in 26 games.

    At the conclusion of his two-year stint back in Russia, Semin managed to mend fences with Capitals management and returned to Washington for the 2006-07 season, signing a 2-year deal.

    Semin may have returned to Washington ready to get his NHL career back on track, but much of the Capitals’ fan base and media were more than a little annoyed by his antics. Critics saw Semin’s “military obligations” as a farce and Semin faced a backlash from fans who felt they had been spurned. He was labeled as the stereotypical “Mother Russia” player from then on out. His actions prior to rejoining the team reduced his popularity among the core Caps fans and heavily tarnished his reputation.  To this day he is still seen by many fans as a ticking (two-time) Russian defector.

    Semin did his best to let his play do the talking where his still limited English could not. He amassed 38 goals and 73 points in the 2006-07 season. While his efforts were a step in the right direction, his reputation among fans was still fairly dismal. He was routinely criticized for his lazy style of play and his tendency to take costly penalties.

    In 2007-08, Semin only notched 26 goals and 42 points in an injury-plagued year. The 2008-09 season saw Semin struggle yet again with injuries, but he finished with a career-high 79 points and a dramatic improvement in the plus/minus column at +25.

    Alexander Semin and Alex Ovechkin

    Semin and Alexander Ovechkin seem ready to take over the NHL -- one city at a time.

    In 2009-10, Semin showed he was beginning to mature as a player, scoring a career-high 40 goals. Management took notice of Semin’s improved play and signed him to a 1-year contract extension that will expire when he becomes a free agent at the end of the 2010-11 season.

    Most of the ill will from his controversial return to the Capitals has dissipated, but his faults in the eyes of fans have shifted to his poor performance in the playoffs. Much of the anger stems from the playoff embarrassment the Capitals suffered against the Montreal Canadiens last April. Semin ended the series scoreless, though he pounded 40 shots on goal. His lack of desire to talk to the North American media and his insistence on not saying three words in English (at least publicly), add fuel to the arguments of those who want Semin out of D.C.

    Now we find ourselves nearly a quarter of the way into the 2010-11 season, and Semin is atop leaderboard, outplaying his fellow Russian teammate, Alex Ovechkin. He has already scored two hat tricks this season and shows no sign of letting up. This is, after all, a contract year for Semin and while his out-of-this-world play is beyond entertaining for Caps fans to watch, it is bittersweet. With his elevated level of play, will come elevated salary expectations — expectations the Capitals simply cannot afford with the current roster and the possibility of a lower salary cap.

    In a recent interview with Russia’s Sport Express, Semin made a simple statement on his future in Washington that might put to rest the argument among Caps fans on Semin’s agenda:

    “I don’t agree that Washington can not afford me. If I want to play here, we’ll resolve it.”

    Alexander Semin

    Semin shows off his signature style.

    Since day one, I have said this kid could be the best player in the league if he gave half the effort most forth-line grinders give game-in and game-out. His pure talent, world-class stickhandling skills, pinpoint accuracy and superb skating, would put him among the top five players in the league should he stay healthy. He is a unique combination of smooth skating and raw, unrivaled skill that transforms NHL players into legends.

    The fans who cheer for him, love him for his dazzling performances on the ice, as well as his flamboyant off-ice personality. We look forward to his zany, trademark facial expressions. We love to see what sort of remarkable outfit he’ll throw together (we can assume these wild designer looks cost him thousands of dollars, yet they also make us wonder if he got dressed in the dark or in the wrong house). Whether he’s streaking across the ice or cruising down the road in one of his many ultra-expensive sports cars, we can’t help but take notice of him.

    Perhaps this season will finally put an end to the disagreement about Semin among Capitals fans, as we all fall in love with the quirky Russian.

    Here’s my bold prediction.

    Semin is in the best shape of his life and is entering the prime of his career. He will reach the 45 goal plateau and, if he stays on his current pace, will break 50. I expect him to sign with the Capitals for $6.5-$7 million a season for at least five years. If we are lucky and Semin truly wants to stay and play alongside Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin for the remainder of their decade-long contracts, he may take a hometown discount and sign for $6 million a season for a longer contract.

    Bottom line: I don’t see Semin leaving the Capitals. Period.

    Photos: Alexander Semin rookie year, and Semin and Alex Ovechkin from Getty Images; Semin with Lada Togliatti from The Associated Press; Semin with Khimik from the team’s official team site; Semin portrait by Kyle Christy Photgraphy.

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    12 Oct 2010 Wild Weekend For Washington

    The Atlanta Thrashers mascot heckles Alex Ovechkin.

    After a lengthy summer of twiddling our thumbs, Washington Capitals fans finally got to see their boys back in action Friday evening. There was much anticipation surrounding the regular season opener in Atlanta against the Thrashers and their new head coach Craig Ramsey. Most fans expected a blowout win to start the season. The excitement and anticipation was met with a sub-par performance by the Capitals and a disheartening 2-4 loss in Blueland and the news that the Capitals No. 1 goalie, Semyon Varlamov, had been placed on injured reserve.

    Caps fans never fear! This team has a knack for winning at home and for putting on shows that won’t soon be forgotten. That was certainly the case the next day back home in D.C. where the Caps pummeled the New Jersey Devils 7-2, with Michal Neuvirth in net.  The last give minutes of the game were perhaps the most exciting, as the Capitals took the pummeling from the scoreboard to the faces and bodies of the Devils players. Not often in the “new NHL” do you see five fights in one game — with four of them being within 10 seconds of playing time.

    Out of all the frays, New Jersey Devil Pierre-Luc Leblond got himself a one game suspension for instigating a fight with the Caps’ Swedish Rookie, Marcus Johansson, in the final five minutes of the 3rd period. This sparked quite a bit of outrage on the Caps bench as the young Swede refused to drop the gloves with Leblond seconds earlier before being chased across the ice and lassoed to the ground by the collar of his jersey by the Devils Forward. Capitals Rookie Defensemen, John Carlson, willingly stepped in for his teammate and found himself hitting the showers early because of it. Caps Head Coach Bruce Boudreau tried his best to keep the rest of his players from hopping over the boards before it turned into an all out bench clearing brawl.

    Mike Green taking a swing at Devil's Captain Ilya Kovalchuk. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

    Not only did the evening nearly end in an all out brawl, but most surprisingly — and perhaps the most bizzare fight yet of the young season followed by Pavel Datsyuk and Corey Perry’s spat on October 8th —  2010 Norris Trophy candidate Mike Green and Devil’s Captain Ilya Kovalchuk squared off with 4:17 left to go in the 3rd period.  For the sake of both their manhoods, I will refrain from commenting on either of their interesting fighting styles. Although I’m sure Caps forward Alexander Semin will still take more heat in the dressing room for his innovative fighting style at the expense of Rangers Defenseman, Marc Staal two seasons ago.

    In the 2009-2010 season alone the Caps only amounted 20 regular season fighting majors over a span of 82 games. So far for the 2010-2011 campaign, the Caps managed to knock out 1/4 of last years total in a single outing. For a game with so much knuckle-to-knuckle action, perhaps this is an early indicator this team is not just about lighting the lamp anymore. With the off-season addition of DJ King — who was ironically a healthy scratch for the fighting bonanza against the Devils — it is easy to assume Caps General Manager George McPhee had the idea of adding more grit to his line-up. Perhaps this is his way of saying the Caps won’t only beat you on the scoreboard, but in hand-to-hand combat as well now? Can’t say I can complain about that, the team needs to evolve its’ overall playing style *Cough*PowerPlay*Cough* and learn to be more dynamic. Be careful NHL, this isn’t the same Washington Capitals team who will shy away from the rough stuff.

    One thing’s for sure, I’m 99.99 percent positive Mr. King will be given a sweater the next time the Caps face the Devils on November 22.

    Oh and Neuvirth, I think you are already starting to prove me correct, even if Varlamov has succumbed already to his wonky groin. I still say out of our two young talented goalies, Neuvirth will be the better of the two at the end of the day.

    Photos: From Getty Images.

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    21 Sep 2010 Hey Caps! Stay Angry Boys

    Marcus Johansson gets down to business.

    This past weekend ushered in the Washington Capitals 2010 training camp nestled eight stories in the air in Arlington, Virginia. Slowly but surely the opening games of the 2010-2011 NHL regular season creeps ever closer. It’s a time of newness, excitement, and acknowledgment of wounds still not entirely healed for 29 NHL teams.

    The week prior featured the annual rookie camp for those trying to make a name for themselves inside the Caps organization. A lucky few earn a spot in the official team training camp, which can make or break their chances of seeing real NHL playing time within the near future.

    This years notable rookie camp standouts were the fiery redhead Cody Eakin, highly touted Swedish center Marcus Johansson, and the talented Russian winger Dmitri Kugryshev. Each played a key role in the 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers top rookies in their traditional intra-rookie camp scrimmage. The highlight of the intense game being Kugryshev’s fantastic backhand goal to put the Caps rookies ahead of the Flyers rookies 4-3 in the dying seconds of the 3rd period. The Caps rookies managed to stave off the Flyers rookies to win the annual scrimmage and leave KCI with the first Caps victory of the season.

    Cody Eakin scans the ice.

    With the talented crop of young Caps players stockpiled from within, one can’t help but feel bright about this season and seasons to come. However, after last seasons demoralizing first round exit in the 2010 play-offs, fans and players alike enter this season with a heavy sense of mixed excitement and frustration. Head coach Bruce Boudreau put it best in his summation of how the team — and arguably their loyal fans — feels going into this season.

    “We’ve got an anger still of what went on and how we lost,” Boudreau said. “And I hope we’re carrying that chip on our shoulder throughout the course of the year. … We think we’re a better team than what we got credit for, when it’s all said and done.”

    Alex Ovechkin waits for another shot.

    Many of the Capital’s players echoed these sentiments from Captain Alex Ovechkin, to NHL vets Mike Knuble and Tom Poti. In fact, the entire organization seems like they are playing to prove something to the NHL, their fans, and themselves. The whole atmosphere in the building is clearly tainted with the memories of last season. You can see it in the players faces, in the way they skate, the way they talk to each other. They know what happened and they won’t soon forget. They will carry with them this season a small sense of shame knowing how far they fell at the end of the 2010 play-off campaign. They finally know what they have to do to get back that intensity, they have to change the way they think.

    Evidence of that mindset is clearly stated as you watch the team repeat drill after drill. You see a different team than what we saw last season. This isn’t the same happy-go-lucky group of young guys with a dream of winning trophy’s and setting records, this is a group of determined and focused young men finally realizing nothing else matters but winning the Cup in the NHL.

    Nicklas Backstrom.

    Perhaps they will put that hard learned lesson to use in understanding it’s not the team that puts up the most dominating regular season showcase that wins a Cup, but one that never lets up and never backs down. A passion to win is burning the eyes of the Capitals, and if they had it their way, the play-offs would start tomorrow to skate towards redemption.

    It’s all there, written on the back of their team shirts for training camp, sending a message to everyone. A message of understanding of what a season ending in heartbreak can only bring to a team:

    “Stay angry … believe in yourselves.”

    Photos: Marcus Johansson, Alexander Ovechkin, and Nicklas Backstrom courtesy of BridgetDS; Cody Eakin courtesy of Sarahm19. Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved.

        One Comment


    21 Aug 2010 Semin in ‘Small’ Wreck and More Russian Hockey News

    Semin's car accident - lifesports.ru

    Semin's car accident - lifesports.ru

    Washington Capitals star Alexander Semin got in a very small car accident last week in Krasnoyarsk — reportedly, his car was slightly hit by another. Semin said he even hadn’t realized what had happened. No one was hurt.

    Here’s a small video in which a person tries to learn what has happened and is told not to take the video – Semin car accident

    More Hockey News — Straight Outta Russia …

  • Former Thrasher Maxim Afinogenov scored for SKA Saint Petersburg at a summer tournament in Switzerland. As for his return to Russia, Afinogenov said: “I realized – it’s time to go back home.” He promised not to change his style of play and to stay himself. Max also said he’s living in the same hotel as former San Jose Sharks netminder Evgeny Nabokov, noting that they often go out together. And, finally, Max insists he’s forgotten about the NHL already.

  • One of Russia’s most talented young players, Nikita Filatov, is going back to Columbus. Again. Filatov promised to work hard and to play his brand of hockey.

  • Little Viktor Tikhonov is going to move his way into Phoenix and the NHL. His agent admitted — it’s the main goal for Viktor.

  • Slava Kozlov will be waiting for offers from the NHL til the end, but if he doesn’t get them, “we’ll start talks with him,” said CSKA president Slava Fetisov.

  • Finally, the ‘unfriendly ghost’ and current SKA coach Darius Kasparaitis has got a son! His girlfriend gave birth to their son in Saint Petersburg. Kasparaitis already has three daughters.

    via Russian press

        2 Comments


  • 03 Aug 2010 Caps’ Goalies: Head To Head
    Jose Theodore

    Jose Theodore will take his good looks and flowing mane elsewhere this season.

    Hi everyone, hope your summer has been good! Mine’s been eventful to say the least. It’s been pretty quiet on the Caps corner of the hockey world this summer. Then again, perhaps not.

    The Caps have signed DJ King and Danny Sabourin, re-signed Ovechkin’s English tutor in Brian Willsie, watched Joe Corvo and Shoane Morrisonn sign elsewhere, and have said Au Revoir to Jose Theodore in these dog days in the lives of us hockey fans.  All of our signings are expected to be on the Hershey roster come opening night for the regular NHL season. This is somewhat to the disgruntlement of that hockey fan who loves a good free agent splash or blockbuster trade in the off-season. Or perhaps that fan who wishes the GM would have addressed some glaring issues on the roster (as last year’s roster clearly didn’t get it done) by now.

    *Cough*Defense*Cough*

    With the departure of Jose Theodore and the signing of Sabourin, this solidifies the rumor the Capitals are planning on having the net minded by their two young goalies for the 2010-2011 season. Russian Semyon Varlamov and the Czech Michal Neuvirth can rest easy now… or should they?

    Semyon Varlamov

    Has Semyon Varlamov's time come?

    Most Caps fans would be lying if they said they were totally comfortable with this idea. Placing the fate of the team in an unproven goalie and a another unproven goalie doesn’t sit well with fans of any team. Is it a bit harsh to call Varlamov an unproven goalie? Perhaps, but I’m going on the whole fact that in two consecutive play-off runs Varlamov has been booted from being the starting goalie by that same goalie we just let walk. One doesn’t exactly want to start planning the parade route with that in mind. Is Varlamov only coming off his first full season as an NHL goalie? Yes, and one must remember that, but two play-off runs have not treated Varlamov kindly. Then again the team in front of him didn’t show up to help some nights, so more leniency must be given with that also in mind.

    I also hate to stamp Neuvirth with that same stigma as an unproven goalie with his impressive resumé in the AHL and excellent play in net for the Capitals as a call-up. But truth be told, we’ve not seen what he looks like long-term as an NHL goalie, and until we do, the jury will remain silent. All arrows point to a winner in Neuvirth and for that most fans are excited to see how he will shape up with the responsibility and duty of being our back-up. For all intents and purposes the kid has earned his shot in Washington, and we hope it turns out to win us a Cup before the apocalypse occurs.

    Michal Neuvirth

    Is it Neuvirth time?

    This also begs the conversation of which of our two young talents will turn out to be the better goalie? Personally I’ve come to the conclusion that the Czech will beat out the Russian by the time they both hang up the skates (put down the glove?). While I think Varlamov possess the more raw talent of the two, his sometimes jittery play and scrambling in the net will ultimately be his personal evil. He can either dazzle you with the athletic highlight reel save, or make you cringe in horror and disbelief he let in such a soft goal (again) even a person who has never put on skates could have stopped. In some ways I feel his play-off benchings are a warning sign to us all not to pin our hopes and dreams on the young Russian.  While I don’t think he will be a bust by any means, I don’t think we should butter our bread just yet with him.

    Neuvirth might not possess that same raw talent, but being so technically sound and such a calming presence in net will make him the better of the two if Varlamov does not learn to settle down in games.  The team feeds off that calmness and plays better, which in turn makes us fans breathe a little sigh of relief (and lets us actually sit and enjoy the games once in a while). His two consecutive AHL Calder Cup winning seasons in Hershey — while also snagging the play-off MVP trophy in 2009 I might add, Chris Bourque grabbed that honor this past season — certainly makes one pay attention. In short: Neuvirth is the more complete player of the two.

    Don’t get me wrong, both goalies are going to be highly successful in their NHL careers. As a Caps fan who has been through the Jagr Debacle and ensuing team firesale,  you tend to brace for the worst. However, this is one argument or problem I’d take any day of the week: two young promising young goalies fighting for command of the #1 spot?

    Priceless.

    Just as they always say, hockey is 20% physical and 80% mental and this is one of those cases where that cliché applies perfectly. So who will win this battle of will?

    Photos:  Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov by Annalisk19 at Flickr.com.  Copyright 2010.  All Rights Reserved.  Jose Theodore by Reuters.

        3 Comments


    13 Jul 2010 Russian Media Roundup: Datsyuk to College and More
    Slava Kozlov

    Kozlov reportedly has his sights set on the KHL.

    Here’s a brief summary of some of the hot hockey stories making the rounds in the Russian press this week.

    - SKA Saint Petersburg signed ex-San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov to a 4-year, $24 million (USD) contract.

    - Reportedly, former Atlanta Thrashers player Slava Kozlov wants to play in Russia. He is in talks with several clubs.

    - Kontinental Hockey League studies details on 23-year-old SKA player Igor Misko’s sudden death.

    -  The Washington Capitals took four Russians to their summer camp.

    -  Detroit Red Wings and team Russia forward Pavel Datsyuk has entered the university in his native city of Ekaterinburg.  He will study sports management.

    Photo: Vyacheslav Kozlov by Goddess Kaatiya. Copyright 2009-2010. All Rights Reserved.

        2 Comments


    22 May 2010 They’re (Not Always) Coming to America
    Alex Ovechkin

    Russian Alexander Ovechkin is one of the NHL

    While perusing the web yesterday I came across an article at Bleacher Report by a “Featured Columnist” that I just couldn’t ignore.  The claim was that Russia is no longer producing quality hockey players.  The author’s proof?  There are very few Russians and even fewer Russian superstars in the National Hockey League.    He supports this claim with a superficial glance at recent NHL draft history, and the fact that Russians aren’t being highly drafted, if at all.

    And I thought only First Nations hockey players were victims of such bigoted and irresponsible “journalism.”  Pretty shallow reporting from someone who has written for NHL.com and other big online sites.

    Anyone who follows the NHL, the draft and developing talent is well aware of the shift in the paradigm in international talent.  The talent in Russia is obviously still there.  Newer players such as Alexander Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexander Semin are clear examples of the type of talent the Motherland is still producing.

    So why are there fewer Russians in the NHL? The answer is simple:  The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL).  Unfortunately, the author tries to deflect any attention from the KHL by saying that he doesn’t want to hear that there is talent in the KHL, because it’s not the NHL, the best league in the world.  This superficial claim insults the intelligence of knowledgeable hockey devotees and only serves to feed the xenophobia of lay hockey fans — something that does not behoove a sport that is trying to grow its popularity in the United States.

    Dmitry Kulikov

    Russian-born Dmitry Kulikov, a first round pick of the Florida Panthers, plays in the NHL.

    To refute these claims, one doesn’t have to look too far into the dynamics between the KHL and NHL.  The KHL may not be quite NHL caliber (as I discussed last month in another HockeyGoddess.com exclusive) but the money is, and that has kept many a Russian NHL prospect at home.  Why leave the comfortable confines of your homeland, where your dollar goes further, you don’t have to worry about learning a language you have zero knowledge of and your chances of getting hurt are a fraction of what they would be in North America?

    Similarly, if you are an NHL general manager drafting talented hockey players why take a chance on a guy who might look at his options: To scratch and claw in the AHL for a couple and make a whole lot less money, or to stay home and have a higher salary?  Why squander a high-round pick on a player who may never come play in North America? (Ever hear of Ilya Nikulin, a highly touted defensive prospect who was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers?  Didn’t think so.) Even some of the young kids who have come and played Junior hockey in North America, claiming the NHL is their end goal, have bolted back to the KHL after being sent down to the minors.  And really, I can’t completely fault them for that decision.

    Remember, Russia is no longer the Soviet Union.  Top talent doesn’t have to defect to America to make their millions — they can do it at home.  While the standard of living in most of Russia is still well behind North America, it’s a familiar and stable culture.  Why not stay there?

    Of course, we have seen some financial difficulty in recent times in Russia, with teams folding or merging under the stress of the international economic crisis.  We’ve heard rumors of some teams unable to pay their players.  This all may contribute to an increase in Russian talent in the NHL.  And while I wish the best for the Russians, I secretly hope to see more of them here in North America.  We have large Russian-speaking communities, a great standard of living, health care that far exceeds the level in the former Soviet states and a fair system to live under.  So you may not be a big fish in a little pond, but you’ll have a chance to prove you’re one of the best hockey players in the world.

    Photos: Alexander Ovechkin and Dmitry Kulikov by Goddess Sasha. Copyright 2009-2010. All Rights Reserved.

        5 Comments


    17 May 2010 Smokin’ Semin Has Team Russia Under Fire

    Alexander Semin

    The Russian press caught Caps LW Alexander Semin enjoying a smoke.

    The Russian tabloids went crazy this week after several members of the Russian national hockey team were captured on film smoking outside a restaurant in Germany at the World Championships – the most familiar being Alexander Semin of the Washington Capitals.  Other “guilty” parties shown in the video are Ilya Nikulin, whose rights belong to the Atlanta Thrashers, and 2002 NHL draftees Sergei Mozyakin (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Vitaly Atyushov (Ottawa Senators).  Late in the video one can also see soon-to-be UFA Ilya Kovalchuk hanging out with the naughty smokers and acting a little “off” while being escorted into a waiting car.

    It seems ironic that in a country where just about everyone smokes that something like this would spark such controversy and outrage.  Or not.

    During Soviet times, Russia took its athletes’ development very seriously.  Hockey players were closely monitored and were strictly forbidden from smoking and drinking.   Athletes were highly revered and their jobs were taken very seriously.  They were seen as more than just mere mortals, having an amazing ability and will to resist outside distractions.  After all, they were living representations of the Soviet ideal. Most of the players from that era still maintain a strict policy of abstinence when it comes to tobacco and alcohol.

    Of course, there are always the exceptions.  We’ve all heard the stories about Sergei Zubov smoking in the showers between periods or Nikolai Khabibulin having a clause written in his contract allowing him to smoke, but the majority of the old-school players didn’t and still don’t.

    Alexander Semin, left, lights up with his Russian teammates.

    Yet in the new Russia things are different.  While players are still closely watched by their teams, attitudes definitely seem to have relaxed in many areas.  Smoking, it turns out, is one of them.  A current KHL player told us it’s the nature of being a hockey player:  You either smoke or dip (chewing tobacco).  In Russia, smoking is definitely the mode of choice.  Still, hockey is one of the most popular sports in Russia, with world competitions being big news.  So much so that in response to the media frenzy, the team has decided to boycott the press, a move which, of course, has created even more controversy in the Motherland.

    Yet to be fair, we have to mention that smoking and chewing is also part of the scene in the NHL, the minor leagues and college in North America.  Don’t let the media fool you.  It may be more hidden these days, but believe me, it’s quite pervasive –- especially chewing tobacco — at just about every level.  Even superstar Alex Ovechkin has been known to indulge in a little bit of snuff.

    While the Russian population is shocked, North American fans seem to be saying “big deal” (although I wonder what the reaction in Canada would be if, say, Sidney Crosby was caught doing either). Here, we have to shake our heads at the stupidity, naivete or audacity of these players: Standing outside a restaurant smoking in full view of the public practically begging someone to bust them; and then give a little chuckle when they boycott the media for daring to report it when someone catches them red handed.

    Poll-o-Rama: What Do You Think?



    Talk Back!
    What do you think? Much ado about nothing? Or something worth talking about? Leave a comment and tell us what YOU think!

    Photos: From LifeSports.ru.

        15 Comments


    17 May 2010 Calling All Swedes

    Hello all! I was going to use my first post as a Hockey Goddess to introduce myself, but I have more important hockey-related things to discuss as of now!

    Nicklas Backstrom (Annalisk19@flickr.com)

    The big news in the World of the Washington Capitals is the press conference to be held at Kettler Capitals Iceplex later today (5/17/2010) at 10:30 A.M., to make “an important announcement.” Well, the rumor is, of course, that it will be the glorious announcement of the long-anticipated contract extension for the Caps’ elite first-line center, Nicklas Backstrom.  Any and all hockey fans should know this is a critical signing that is practically the key to the Capitals’ success. Caps fans — myself obviously included — have been biting our nails all season long watching the young Swedish Center put up career numbers.

    Nicklas Backstrom (Annalisk19@flickr.com)

    It was almost bittersweet for me, knowing with every point he put on the board this past season, it seemed like the cost of his contract would go up simultaneously a few more dollars. I began to wonder if we were going to be able to pay Backstrom what he deserves after taking a quick look at Washington’s salary cap…. $30+ million potentially wrapped up in four players alone, with Varlamov and Neuvirth coming up for contract extensions as well next season? Ai yai yai…. but I’m not going to fret over such things any longer.  As a fan, such matters are out of my hands. I believe Backstrom will stay and take a discount, but the waiting is always murder on one’s mental stability.

    I do believe this means Alexander Semin will be out the door by the trade deadline of 2011, or perhaps after the 2010-2011 season has come to a close and he officially becomes a UFA. This alone will free up the $6.5 million he’s slated to make this upcoming season until summer 2011 when his contract expires. However, that doesn’t really help the fact that whatever Backstrom’s contract extension will be (because we all know he can’t leave or Caps fans might burn Capitol Hill and McPhee’s house) will take effect this coming season though… nauseated yet? My bets are he goes to the Rangers, or a West Coast Canadian team. If not, he will skip home to the KHL. Mark my words. But back to the potential excitement tomorrow may bring….

    Marcus Johansson, Draft Day 2009 (Getty Images)

    Spoke with Anders Backstrom, Nicklas’ father, on Saturday along with Caps prospect and fellow Swede, Marcus Johansson. Mr. Backstrom was very pleased to tell me the Capitals would be signing him to a standard three-year entry-level contract this highly anticipated Monday morning with a blushing Johansson off to the side.  As a shameless supporter of all Swedish Caps, I was beyond happy to have him officially within the grasp of the Caps.

    Besides being a Swede, Johansson possesses very good hands, speed, and vision on the ice much like Nicklas Backstrom.  The young center played with both the 2009 and 2010 Swedish National Teams in the World Junior Championships. The Swedes won silver in 2009 and in 2010, with Johansson as Team Captain, took home bronze. Marcus has all the talent to have a bright future in the NHL, and I’m hoping it will be in a Capitals uniform as our second line center. I must add he was much shorter in person than I thought he would be. Go figure. Oh, but you didn’t hear from me we are signing him before it is supposed to be officially announced…

    Perhaps another young Swedish prospect of the Caps most have forgotten about is the son of legendary Capitals player (and current Team Sweden Head Coach) Bengt Gustafsson,  Anton Gustafsson. Taken by the Caps in the first round of the 2008 draft  at 21st overall, Anton was hoped to be a mirror of his father where hockey smarts and talent are concerned. Unfortunately, the 20 year old has not shown much of this in his short career thanks to being plagued with numerous injuries (including a concussion sustained during the Capitals’ Rookie Camp in July of 2009 – courtesy of the crossbar).

    Anton and Bengt Gustafsson (AP)

    Anton or “AnGus”, was signed to an entry level contract in May 2009, and played for Borås HC of the Swedish Second Tier League, HockeyAllsvenskan. He was assigned to the Capitals’ AHL affiliate Hershey Bears for the entirety of the 2009-2010 pre-season. However, it was quickly decided Gustafsson wouldn’t receive ample ice time playing for the Bears, and was loaned out in October 2009 to his current team, Borås HC. He played 34 games and netted 6 goals for 18 points for the 2009-10 season. Hopefully he can overcome injuries and expectations to become an NHL player like his father, but only time will tell.

    In the meantime, let us all pray that by the time 10:30 A.M. comes and goes today, the Caps will be (re)signing not one, but two Swedes.

    Let it be so George McPhee, let it be so.

    - Goddess Annika

    Photos: Nicklas Backstrom by Goddess Annika. Anton and Bengt Gustafsson from The Associated Press. Marcus Johansson from Getty Images.

        4 Comments


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