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Posted at 1:58 PM ET, 01/ 3/2011

Final Winter Classic thoughts from Capitals

By Gene Wang

The Washington Capitals wrapped up their first practice since beating Pittsburgh, 3-1, in Saturday night's much-hyped Winter Classic, and the mood in the locker room at KCI was as much relief as exultation.

"The win is nice," center Brooks Laich said. "If you lose that hockey game, you don't ever want to talk about the Winter Classic again because it's no fun. The feeling in the locker room [after beating the Penguins] was, I think, a different feeling than just your standard regular-season win. I think it was a little more special because of the event, but it's still only one hockey game."

It was a regular-season game watched by more viewers than any since 1975, according to NBC, which televised the Winter Classic at Heinz Field in prime time after originally scheduling it for a 1 p.m. start. Persistent rain on Saturday afternoon prompted the move, and the result was nearly 4.5 million viewers and a 22-percent spike from last season's game.

Eric Fehr scored twice after Mike Knuble tied the score at 6 minutes 54 seconds in the second period. Goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped 32 of 33 shots, and the Capitals won their third straight game. Washington is 5-0-1 since dropping a season-worst eight consecutive games. Its only loss over the past six games was to the Penguins in a shootout, 3-2, on Dec. 23.

"I think the most important thing for us was to get the win," Fehr said. "We didn't want to lose that game on the 23rd in a shootout. That kind of hurt, but to be able to redeem ourselves in the Winter Classic was special."

For veteran left wing Jason Chimera, it was the second outdoor NHL game of his career. When he was with Edmonton in 2003, Chimera played in the Heritage Classic against the Montreal Canadiens at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

The highlight for Chimera in the Heritage Classic was drawing a roughing call during the third period of Montreal's 4-3 victory that included two goals by the Canadiens' Richard Zednik, who spent a significant portion of his career with the Capitals.

"Cold and not cold," Chimera said when asked to compare the Winter Classic to the Heritage Classic, which factoring wind chill had temperatures reach minus-20. "It was damn cold in the Heritage Classic. It was a pleasant experience in [the Winter Classic] because you could actually hit people out there. I know guys were scared to hit people in the Heritage Classic because it was so damn cold. Both games were very unique and both very fun, and I think it was great to be part of both."

By Gene Wang  | January 3, 2011; 1:58 PM ET
Categories:  Brooks Laich, Winter Classic  
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Next: As Winter Classic rush wears off, Capitals turn focus to reclaiming Southeast Division

Comments

So on my way out of the garage after practice at Kettler, I accidentally cut off Brooks Laich! He was very nice about it and let my car pass...his Escalade needs a wash though.

sorry to post this again, but it was very exciting for me (one of my fav players)...my friend told me I should have faked a flat tire.

Posted by: capscoach | January 3, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse

While I know folks here seem to want to focus on who's playing worst among the Caps, it's worth noting that Varlymov was deemed the NHL's 1st star of the week. Also, that Evgeny Kutznesov, our first round pick, nearly single-handedly took the Russian juniors to the medal round, transforming a listless squad from down 4-2 with 3:46 to go to 5-4 OT winners over Finland, in what is being deemed one of the more awesome individual displays of talent and will ever seen in a game.

Posted by: Justafan | January 3, 2011 2:14 PM | Report abuse

...sorry, it's Kuznetsov.

Posted by: Justafan | January 3, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse

@FunkyGloveWash - sorry it's taken me a bit but honestly man it's been very quiet on the Caps front as far as "chatter" is concerned. I can however tell you that there is a lot of talk from a handful of teams (NYI, MON, LAK, NJD & OTT). In my experience a lot of the talk today is setting up for trades after the all-star break & deadline deals. Everything I'm hearing about the Caps is that we won't be doing anything anytime soon but GMGM is still kickin tires for a 2C. Still don't expect anything tho anytime soon.

Posted by: pokerface1208 | January 3, 2011 2:20 PM | Report abuse

@pokerface

They could be forced to make a trade or at least put someone on waivers very soon. With everyone coming back healthy very soon, we are going to be over the roster limit.

Posted by: ThePat | January 3, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

We need a nick name for Kuznetsov.
It is a bit of a mouthful. He was a beast last night against Finland!

Posted by: capscoach | January 3, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

@ThePat

I think it will be very interesting to see what the Caps do once BGordon and Bradley come back. If Beagle continues to play the way he has, he should not be benched, much less sent down. I know people want to bench Steckel, but his ability on the faceoffs is important. He won a bunch of draws on the PK, especially the initial draw, that led to a quick clear. In a lot of cases faceoffs are not very important, but they are important on the PK. So I can't see Steckel being benched unless BGordon went in for him.

We all expect Bradley to come back to the lineup, and why not, he has played well the entire season. But who do you bench? I don't think Steckel is an option for the reason above(unless Beagle or Hendricks can be a very good faceoff man, but they are better wingers than centers).

I do think Sloan will be waived/sent down once all the players start healing.

It is possible MP gets sent down with MJ moving to 2nd line duty and Beagle moving up to 3rd line center duty and Bradley playing 4th line RW. But I want to see more MP at 2nd line center and on the PP. His puck skills and ability to handle the puck in small spaces could be very helpful to the Caps PP. He also moves the puck quickly and accurately, and he also has the knack for finding the open space near the goal and cashing in on those opportunities(i.e. a Crosby type goal).

Posted by: sgm3 | January 3, 2011 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Am I the only one who's thinking: "Yeah, the Winter Classic was super double badass. Next!"

Especially seeing as how up next is a four-point game that the Caps need to win if they would like to take the division this year?

Posted by: kittypawz | January 3, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

@Capscoach - I'm amazed there aren't accidents in that garage on a regular basis. That layout sucks! I onced semi raced OV down PA Ave a while back after a game. He had his white 7 series BMW and I had my Toyota Highlander cause that's how I roll.

Posted by: Iceman10 | January 3, 2011 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Here's a suggestion for the Winter Classic: why not play future games at a fixed location with predictably winter weather (maybe even in Canada, where it all began)? Sure, there's the hope of someday seeing the Classic in your home town, but balance that against what you gain by playing the game with predictably solid ice and frosty weather, not to mention the reduced cost of constructing a rink at the same location every year and the chance of improved camera angles (without relying on dizzying overhead shots). The NHL has established the Classic as a New Year's Day institution, using it to raise the game's profile with fans and those who aren't yet fans. A permanent site would help ensure that the league shows off hockey's speed and beauty at its best, without running the risk that future games get slogged down in slush.

Posted by: theblitz | January 3, 2011 2:45 PM | Report abuse

@sgm3

Like I have said before if MP can play well against the good teams then he should stay. He has yet to do that. His points come against crap teams, have they been critical points against those teams yes, but still against bad teams. The two games against Pittsburgh I barely even noticed his line was on the ice.

I agree Beagle should be staying in the lineup the rest of the way no reason to send him down or bench him. Steckel has been playing very well in my opinion for about 3 weeks. The switching of styles has helped him a lot I believe.

Posted by: ThePat | January 3, 2011 2:49 PM | Report abuse

@ThePat

If you remember, on the Caps 1st goal against the Pens, MP snagged the puck with his hand over his head in the high slot, dropped it, made a sick move to beat the defenseman and let loose a backhand shot.

This got the Pens PK a little frazzled, Backstrom then sent the puck out to Ovie, who sent it to MP, who sent a perfect pass to Backstrom(it was an easy pass, but it still matters that it was on the tape) who then made his pass to Green. So while MP didn't receive an assist on that play, he was very involved in it.

Also, MP has only been a minus twice all year(both a -1).

Posted by: sgm3 | January 3, 2011 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Brooks was spot on in his comments. If makes the memory of the game so much better when you win the game.

We can reflect on that game after we win the cup!

Next up the Bolts- If not the hottest team in the league very very close to it. Plus they will be pissssssed from the last time we put a butt whooping on them. We need to be 100% on our "A" game tomorrow nite. A big 4 point game!!!!!

On the Southeast division- I would LOVE to see 4 teams from the southeast make the playoffs..........it is a good possibility too!!!

Posted by: Capsfannmiss | January 3, 2011 2:56 PM | Report abuse

@justafan

Russia beat Finland 4-3 in overtime, not 5-4, and came back from down 3-1, not 4-2.

Posted by: jcreech1 | January 3, 2011 2:59 PM | Report abuse

@sgm3

That was on the PP. The line at even strength hasnt done anything at all. I have told you before the +/- stat means very little to me. It doesnt tell the whole story of what happens on the ice.

Posted by: ThePat | January 3, 2011 3:04 PM | Report abuse

@Capsfaninmiss: More importantly, this is the team that holds the division lead. We don't DARE give them any ground. I'd love to see them make the playoffs. I wouldn't love to see them win the division. Definitely a four point game - plus remember that they just acquired a goaltender that doesn't completely suck. I think the boys are going to be in for the wrangle of their lives Tuesday night.

Posted by: kittypawz | January 3, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

@jcreech1, you're absolutely right.

There are loads of great write-ups on this, including the following:
http://www.puckworlds.com/2011/1/2/1910182/kuznetsov-turns-russian-storyline-upside-down ("Wow.")
http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=548202&cmpid=rss-roarke&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter ("a stunning dispaly of individual brilliance")

Posted by: Justafan | January 3, 2011 3:09 PM | Report abuse

sgm: re your positive comments on Steckel, you forgot to add the "huge" hit that laid out Crosby.

nicety: Hannan's "paw to the jaw move" - watch him skate backwards as opposing F come into Caps zone...Hannan takes his glove and puts it against opposing F upper chest or face...hence, paw to the jaw. Now in the last few weeks I see Alzner has learned it also.

sgm: On Semin, here are some comparables. Cammalleri 6.0, DSedin 6.1, Vanek 7.1, Gaborik 7.5, Briere 8+.

Vanek maybe doesn't count because his was a RFA matched deal. DSedin is a very important comparable because you generally look at past two years when comparing, and pts per game over that time I think they are very close. Semin will, say, "I want Briere money!" and McPhee will say, "We're offering Sedin money!" I forget what I have him in for now, it might be a little high since it was based on his start. I think 6.6 is the number.

I left off Kovalchuk as a comparable because it was a unique, one-time contract never to be duplicated.

Posted by: tominsocal1 | January 3, 2011 3:11 PM | Report abuse

@ThePat: Have you looked at scoring chances for / against while that line was on the ice? That gives you a much better idea of who is creating and who is not. You could also use Corsi and/or Fenwick.

Posted by: kittypawz | January 3, 2011 3:11 PM | Report abuse

That was on the PP. The line at even strength hasnt done anything at all. I have told you before the +/- stat means very little to me. It doesnt tell the whole story of what happens on the ice.

Posted by: ThePat

I know it was on the PP, but goals on the PP count just as much as goals at even strength, and the Caps definitely need some help on the PP.

MP had 2 assists and was a +2 in an OT win over Atlanta. He had 2 goals in Ottawa in probably the most important win of the Caps season considering the circumstances and the pressure the team was under. MP came up huge for them in that game.

I thought MP played well in the WC. His line wasn't outplaying their opponent, but they weren't getting outplayed either. So it was a wash at even strength and he was a + on the PP which results in an overall +.

Now I'm not saying he can't be sent down. MP clearly has to continue his good play, but I think he will.

Posted by: sgm3 | January 3, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

@tominsocal1

Part of the reason for having Semin a little lower(and that could change depending on what happens over the next few months) is that I think GMGM knows Semin wants to stay.

Semin seems like a quiet guy who has his small group of very good friends(Ovie, Varly, maybe Backstrom) and is not really interested in going to another city and having to make new ones. Especially with the lack of Russians in the NHL now, I really can't see Semin signing with another team and being happy(maybe Detroit, but Detroit doesn't have the room to sign him).

Briere's contract was signed too long ago to be a good comparison anymore(although you are right that Semin's agent will use it).

Posted by: sgm3 | January 3, 2011 3:18 PM | Report abuse

@kittypawz

I know about all those. My point on the whole thing is if MP is our 2C I dont think this team can go deep in the playoffs. If he steps up against the better teams and gets his line going then he can prove me wrong and I'll be happy to eat my words. I just dont believe he is an every day NHLer just like I didnt think Chris Bourque was last year.

Posted by: ThePat | January 3, 2011 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Question: Any significance to the color of the practice jersey a Caps player wears? At Kettler, I see red, green, black and grey practice jerseys on different players.
Thank you.

Posted by: phonesringing | January 3, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

@Funky et al - don't forget I said months ago Semin would be resigned & I'm stickin to that. At this point & time GMGM has ZERO intention of dealing him and is looking more towards locking him up for a few yrs vs. dealing him. I would go so far as to say other than the customary (we listen to everything to see if it improves our club) there is lil to no talk of dealing Semin. Trust me on this one, I'm a big Semin fan and if there was anything at all out there about him being moved I'd know about it! :)

I know he gets bashed on here a lot but it comes from people who don't understand. Very few elite goal scorers are actual physical players as well. OV is certainly the exception, Tkachuk being another but there are plenty of players who were great players, great goal scorers but weren't physical (P Bure, Sakic, Gretzky etc) the list goes on and on.

Posted by: pokerface1208 | January 3, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

sgm: Well, I'm not sure you can discount Briere deal...it's still active. But, maybe. Briere and Gaborik are examples of upper end forwards who took the biggest UFA deals they could. Sedins are unique examples of hometown discount to stay as a pair of twins. Cammalleri is a really good example of a player you could legitimately ask the question, which player would you rather have (esp Playoff time) and you could make a case for either. A "fair" deal maybe is to average a bunch of them, and that gets you in the mid 6s.

Interestingly, in the "new" style the Caps are employing, a guy like Cammalleri who has grit and scoring would be an asset, maybe a better asset for the Caps than Semin.

Posted by: tominsocal1 | January 3, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

If the Caps have to send down a C, it should be MJ90, I think. He still needs some seasoning. It's time to give MP85 a shot as the consistent 2C, unless the Caps trade for someone.

Posted by: CDon | January 3, 2011 3:40 PM | Report abuse

@Capscoach.....How about Kuzer as a nickname? I was using this during Development Camp.

In regards to possible moves. Given our log jam at forward I could see moving someone for a little more depth at D or for draft pics. Not sure who but possibly Brads or King. Although GMGM won't want to admit it, King is expendable given that Big John and Hendi are doing decent enforcement work and although I love Brads, he has become expendable given the arrival of Beagle, Hendrix, and A Gordon.

Posted by: congero | January 3, 2011 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Steckel didn't hit Crosby - Crosby hit him. He just made the mistake of leading with his head.

Posted by: tim-n-VA | January 3, 2011 3:42 PM | Report abuse

Question: Any significance to the color of the practice jersey a Caps player wears? At Kettler, I see red, green, black and grey practice jerseys on different players.
Thank you.

Posted by: phonesringing | January 3, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

black is usually for defensemen. the other colors are for different offensive lines. not sure if there is significance of the forward colors (ie. green is first line, red is second, etc).

Posted by: dcsportsfan1 | January 3, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Kuznetsov's nickname is "Kuzzy".

Posted by: pokerface1208 | January 3, 2011 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Kuznetsov's nickname is "Kuzzy".

Posted by: pokerface1208 | January 3, 2011 3:48 PM

like something you put your beer in to keep it cold?

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | January 3, 2011 3:54 PM | Report abuse

i'd take Calamari!

Posted by: doughless | January 3, 2011 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Kuznetzov is the man. I really can't believe Russia won that game, I switched it off [in deference to my g/f, and thinking ahead to USA-CAN tonight] because it seemed like Russia was totally done. He stood out in development camp - and even TSN was calling him the steal of the draft at #27 or wherever they got him.

Posted by: Timbo_1 | January 3, 2011 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Didn't they also nab Carlson at #27? If so, GMGM ought to trade down to try and keep drafting there, first Johnny C and now Kuznetzov, that's a pretty dang good track record [says the guy who's hammered GMGM for previous drafts!].

Posted by: Timbo_1 | January 3, 2011 4:54 PM | Report abuse

@poker- Thanks for the updates. re. Semin, I don't doubt your prediction that he will be re-signed but I still think it will ultimately be a mistake for the Caps. I've never been a Semin hater, rather just the opposite. I knew after watching him during his 10 goal rookie season, that we had an elite talent. His offensive skill shone then, even when the rest of the players on the Caps at that time couldn't come close to keeping up with him, and he has only gotten better since then. I just think that what he will demand to be re-signed will be too much versus what we could get via trade for a player of his talent level. I say so with trepidation of course, as it's never easy to let go of a player with his skills, but what we could get in return for Semin now, could be much greater than what we get by keeping him. If I thought for a second that he would give us a significant 'home team discount' to re-sign with us, I would think differently, but I don't see that happening. It will be interesting to see what happens with him.

Posted by: FunkyGloveFacewash | January 3, 2011 6:23 PM | Report abuse

@tominsnowfall
@pokerface
@funky

I would take Cammalleri in a heart beat. He just kept on "bringing it" when we lost to them. The guy is a smurf, but he's a playoff guy.

@funky. Semin is fun to watch. I just don't see him winning a cup. He's too fragile to make it to the end.

Vanek can be game changer, and he's rugged.

Posted by: Hunterforcoach | January 3, 2011 10:30 PM | Report abuse

@capsfanmis

We need to play like that for a month against four teams for 20 something games.

These guys have trouble putting together 60 minute games. To play at that level for a month MAY not be doable with this crowd. Which is one of the reasons I was thrilled to see Flush go. GMGM still needs more "playoff type guys" on this roster.

Posted by: Hunterforcoach | January 3, 2011 10:36 PM | Report abuse

@Hunter- Agree Semin is too fragile, I forgot to mention that as one of the reasons I think we should deal him now.

Posted by: FunkyGloveFacewash | January 4, 2011 12:34 PM | Report abuse

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