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From atop the standings, Caps watch the playoff race unfold

With the Caps on the verge of clinching the top spot in the Eastern Conference, Coach Bruce Boudreau is anxiously waiting to find out who his team will face in the first round of the playoffs.

"Believe me, it's what I do. It's all I do," Boudreau said.

Click here to read the story.

By Lindsay Applebaum  |  March 26, 2010; 5:20 PM ET
 
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Next: Laich skates, B. Morrison leaves practice

Comments

Leave it to me to kill a thread.

Posted by: AleksanderOMunchkin | March 26, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

The 8th seed probably won't get decided until the last game of the season so there's little use stressing about it.

Except for Buffalo and Washington, none of the top eight teams has much to feel very good about. Few hot streaks and no dominating play. They're all beating each other up jockeying for playoff position. Washington appears to be in cruise control.

Posted by: AleksanderOMunchkin | March 26, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Leave it to me to kill a thread.

Posted by: AleksanderOMunchkin | March 26, 2010 5:34 PM

applebaums - cute
that one just might have ended the fun :)

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | March 26, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Things are as crazy in the West as well.

Both San Jose and Chicago have been struggling big time.

While Phoenix, Nashville, Detroit, and Vancouver are cleaning up.

Posted by: CapsFan75 | March 26, 2010 7:10 PM | Report abuse

from earlier thread and other persona:

Clinching scenarios

1) Caps get 1 pt or NJ not getting 1 pt and Caps get 2 pts or Buf not getting 2 pts and the Caps win the East. The magic number for the Caps to win the East is 2 pts.

2) Caps go 4-3-1 and they win Pres Trophy no matter what SJ or Chi do. The magic number for the Caps to win the Pres Trophy is 9 pts. Each regulation loss by both SJ and Chi lowers the Caps magic number by 2.

GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: fromthebeginning | March 26, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

am on work computer

Posted by: fromthebeginning | March 26, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

I think the team really misses Laich.

I'd pick him as our most improved forward this season by a wide margin, even over Fehr, who is second on that list. Schultz has to be the MIP on defense.

You always hear that Laich is the hardest worker on the team when it comes to practice and I think that is becoming more and more evident in games. It seems like he's adding something new to his game every few weeks. That, or improving on existing skills.

He came into the season faster on his skates. He's been going to the net more and more consistently. He's handling the puck better and getting more patient and creative with the puck on his stick. I'm sure there is a bunch of other stuff you can add to this list.

The bottom line is that you can't have enough players like Laich. Coaches love players with his kind of attitude and work ethic. He's cerebral and always trying to improve or add to his game. He has to be a great influence on his teammates.

I really hope they keep him around for the long run. He's the type of player that will continue to get better and will always be an outstanding role model for younger players coming up through the ranks.

I'm happy with Ovechkin as captain but I would have had no problem had they chosen Laich.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 26, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

More specifically, I think that the team would noticeably miss Laich if he were out for a long stretch of games. You don't want to draw too many conclusions from only a couple of games, esp. when we were pretty close to taking all 4 points.

I just think that Laich has been a very important part of our success in recent seasons even though he's not one of the first players that comes to mind when you think of the Capitals.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 26, 2010 8:11 PM | Report abuse

The Caps have lost only 14 games all season and are 50:50 in OT. Most of these teams they will play in the first two rounds have almost 30 losses in regulation. The key to their success will be to continue to win in regulation and make playoff series short. They shouldn't have any 7 game series...and 6 games are a poor performance for this team. They need to get a jump and make the opponent think beating the Caps is a daunting task.

Posted by: yesisaiditfirst | March 26, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse

My fiance agrees; Laich has improved the most. And she just added Backstrom.

I would say it's Fehr. Laich has improved greatly, but he's also doing what he did last year and then some. Fehr has totally turned his game around. Laich's improvements probably have a greater impact on the team though, but individually, I think Fehr has finally found his niche in the NHL. He finally realized he has a big body to go along with his skill.

Posted by: richmondphil | March 26, 2010 10:12 PM | Report abuse

Except for Buffalo and Washington, none of the top eight teams has much to feel very good about. Few hot streaks and no dominating play. They're all beating each other up jockeying for playoff position. Washington appears to be in cruise control.

Posted by: AleksanderOMunchkin | March 26, 2010 5:46 PM |

No way. Buffalo is easily the weakest of the top 4 teams. Pens look like they need to work on a lot of things too.

Posted by: richmondphil | March 26, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Sabres have their problems, and they have Miller. I thing there's plenty to be concerned about in later rounds from any of the 2-4 teams.

Posted by: Sonyask | March 26, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

If memory serves, the Sabres have not been the easiest opponent for us in the last few years.

Posted by: Sonyask | March 26, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

Buffalo Miller's.

Posted by: richmondphil | March 26, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Am I correct that if the Devils lose tomorrow night, even in overtime, the Caps clinch first in the East?

Posted by: DevilsCapsGal | March 26, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

In no way am I saying the team is bad. Out of the top 4 teams (WSH, PITT, BUF, NJD), BUF is easily the weakest. This doesn't mean we'd win a series against them or anything like that.

Posted by: richmondphil | March 26, 2010 10:41 PM | Report abuse

And I know that a lot of people think the Devils are weak, but if I was a fan of a bottom-seeded team, that's the team I wouldn't want the most.

Posted by: richmondphil | March 26, 2010 10:43 PM | Report abuse

Yea, Fehr is just as good of a choice for most improved forward. He and Laich are probably 1a and 1b. Fleischmann dropped off after playing well for a good stretch.

And Fehr is averaging just 12:07 of ice time. Among players that are still on the team with at least 30 games played, only Gordon and Laing average less time.

Imagine what kind of numbers Fehr could put up in this system if he was getting consistent time on one of the top two lines.

Beyond the stats, like richmondphil said, he's playing with more physicality this season and has improved his overall game. There is still plenty of room for improvement but he has definitely started to put some of the question marks behind him.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 26, 2010 11:03 PM | Report abuse

And I know that a lot of people think the Devils are weak, but if I was a fan of a bottom-seeded team, that's the team I wouldn't want the most.

Posted by: richmondphil

yeah, since the late 80s no one has really wanted to see the Devils in the playoffs. I just want to see a Western Conference team. I don't care who it is.

Posted by: ccCapsfan | March 26, 2010 11:12 PM | Report abuse

A couple of Hershey questions for those who follow the Bears closely:

1. How is Alzner playing these days?

I know some people are down on him but from what I've seen during his NHL stints, I still think that he's going to be a very good player for us and probably quite a bit better than Schultz. I know that he looked not ready at times but I really like his composure and how he uses his stick. I think he'll have a very positive effect on our defense once he gets adjusted to NHL hockey.

2. I saw that Gustafsson finished his season and came over to the Bears. Is he going to get ant playing time or will he be sitting for the most part?

All I've heard for the last year and a half is that Gustafsson is injury prone and was a reach of a pick. My father was a big fan of Bengt so I'm really hoping that Anton turns it around or is just a late bloomer. I just think it would be neat to see another Gustafsson in a Caps jersey.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 26, 2010 11:14 PM | Report abuse

you don't know what's gonna happen once the playoffs start, that's the beauty of the SC playoffs... it's the second most unpredictable tournament in all of sports, second only to the march madness.

if you have a hot goalie, you can beat almost any team... a hot goalie could also be just about any goalie, not necessarily a household name such as Brodeur or Miller... I can think of two average Vancouver goalies who took their very ordinary Canucks to the SC finals in 1982 and 1994.

Richard Brodeur and Kirk McLean... and the year John Vanbiesbrouck took the very ordinary Panthers to the finals against the Avs.

Posted by: joek443 | March 26, 2010 11:21 PM | Report abuse

@tmac2yao: For what it's worth, hockeysfuture.com has Gustafsson as the Caps 17th best prospect, right behind Bourque and Beagle.

Posted by: ccCapsfan | March 26, 2010 11:21 PM | Report abuse

One way or another, we need to get stronger up the middle.

You look at the Penguins and their 3rd line center was drafted ahead of Backstrom. I'm not saying Staal is better than Backstrom but he's become a very good player while playing mostly on the 3rd line. Who knows what he'll do once he finally gets to play on a top line consistently? He's already become a defensive stud while barely tapping into his offensive upside.

I hear that Johansson is a better prospect than Gustafsson at this point but I hear that both are tabbed as 3rd line centers in terms of potential. We really need to find a good 2nd line center whether we do it internally or through free agency.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 26, 2010 11:21 PM | Report abuse

@ccCapsfan

Yea, I saw that a couple of days ago. I'm hoping that changes in the future but I'm not hearing much good about A. Gustafsson.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 26, 2010 11:24 PM | Report abuse

you can also add the 98 Caps to that list... that wasn't a great team but Kolzig took them to the finals

they usually run outta gas once they reach the finals but at least they can take you there

Posted by: joek443 | March 26, 2010 11:27 PM | Report abuse

@richmondphil

I notice that Yahoo had an article on the Pens recent poor play.

Posted by: CapsFan75 | March 26, 2010 11:31 PM | Report abuse

@tmac2yao: I wouldn't be surprised to see the Caps work hard with Flash on his faceoffs in the offseason and give him a full shot at center. I also expect that GMGM will try to find next year's Knuble at center.

Posted by: ccCapsfan | March 26, 2010 11:33 PM | Report abuse

RE: the Pens poor play recently

They may genuinely be gearing up for a first round loss. But, I also think it is not uncommon for a defending champ in any sport to look a little unmotivated late in the season expecting they can turn it on in the playoffs. We'll know pretty soon whether they can.

Posted by: ccCapsfan | March 26, 2010 11:36 PM | Report abuse

We do compensate for some our center deficiencies with good to great playmaking wings in Semin, Laich and Fleischmann.

In my opinion, if Semin was committed and encouraged more, he could be mentioned with Datsyuk as one of the best two-way forwards in the league. He definitely has all the ability in the world to be that kind of player.

It would be great if Flash takes another step forward because he has great vision to go along with his ability to score goals. He needs to get tougher, mentally and physically or he'll never reach his full potential, in my opinion.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 26, 2010 11:37 PM | Report abuse

there's more to being a NHL center than just the ability to take faceoffs... there have been wingers great on faceoffs and centers bad on faceoffs such as Gretzky

Posted by: joek443 | March 26, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

It's much more than faceoffs preventing Flash from being a good center at this point.

He has to get better at playing in all 3 zones and along the boards. I'm much more concerned about his defensive play than his struggles in the faceoff circles when it comes to him playing center.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 26, 2010 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Agree completely on Semin. You never know what causes different guys to develop their games at different paces. But, I see in Semin a guy who still has a big upside. I'd love to see a study that shows the relationship between English language skills in foreign players and how quickly their games progress. My gut is that guys who have trouble with the language develop their games more slowly.

Posted by: ccCapsfan | March 26, 2010 11:45 PM | Report abuse

Yea, what joek said.

Malkin is one of the top few centers in the league but is horrible at faceoffs.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 26, 2010 11:47 PM | Report abuse

heck, I've seen Rod Langway take occasional faceoffs as well...

Posted by: joek443 | March 26, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

@tmac2yao

I was reading an article talking about the fact that Staal as 3rd line center is one of the unique strengths that Pittsburgh has.

While for us, our third line wings (i.e. Fehr and his wing partner of the day) are a unique strength of ours.

If nothing else, Semin has improved a lot as a two way player over the last two years. Two years ago, he was a minus player in the Plus/Minus department. While both last year and this year, he's a significant Plus player. He led the team last year with +25. While not the team leader in that department this year, he's maintained a good figure and has a good chance of ending up with a better Plus/Minus than last year. (He's actually ahead of Zach Parise.)

Posted by: CapsFan75 | March 26, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

I think plus/minus is one of the most overrated statistics in hockey.

There are so many variables that can impact an individual player's plus/minus both positively and negatively. I try to never use that particular statistic as an argument for or against a player.

Even over time, it's not a reliable statisitc. If anything, you need to look at some of the more advanced statistics like adjusted plus/minus if you want to evaluate the overall impact of a player on his team.

If Semin was -10 this season, I'd still say that he had all the potential in the world as a two-way forward. I'm simply looking at the way he is able to backcheck and defend when he puts his mind to it. He's incredible at using his speed, his body and his stick when he wants to take the puck away from an opposing player. His hand/eye coordination is phenomenal as is his anticipation and ability to read the play.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 27, 2010 12:08 AM | Report abuse

@ccCapsfan

Language issues aside, it also sounds like Semin reached his full height comparatively late. McPhee was scouting him when he was still only 5'11" (at age 17). He was 6'0" and 180 lbs when drafted at age 18. By the time he was 22, he had finally reached his full height of 6'2" and had filled out to about 200 pounds.

Ovi was already 6'2" at age 18.

Posted by: CapsFan75 | March 27, 2010 12:08 AM | Report abuse

If you put a player like Semin on the Wings, where they put more of an emphasis on their forwards playing in all 3 zones, he would quickly start to realize his full potential as a two-way forward. Out of all our players, I think Semin and Backstrom could best fit on some of those dominant wing teams of recent years.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 27, 2010 12:10 AM | Report abuse

@tmac2yao

Yes, there are certainly weaknesses in the Plus/Minus statistic. It's one of these stats that means more for the long haul than the short run. In individual plays, sometimes it's a player's luck that they just got on the ice when a goal scored (or bad luck, when a goal scored against them).

Posted by: CapsFan75 | March 27, 2010 12:11 AM | Report abuse

@CapsFan75

Yea, that is one of the lesser examples of why raw plus/minus is such a weak and overused statistic. Those plays where a player gets on or off the ice right before or after a goal is scored occur relatively infrequently so they are the least of my concern.

There are just too many variables that make the statistic a poor one for evaluating individual players. The value for any given player is so heavily influenced by all the other players on the ice on both teams that it is hard to come anywhere close to accurately knowing how much of the value should be attributed to his individual impact on the game.

I much prefer to just watch a player and pay attention to how he plays in all 3 zones and what he is able to do both offensively and defensively.

For someone like Semin, he simply has the natural gifts (hockey IQ, skill, physical ability, etc...) to be an elite two-way player. With him, it's merely a matter of being encouraged to play that way and remaining focused on a consistent basis. A lot of the bad penalties he takes are the result of him trying to do too much or letting his emotions get the best of him. When he's focused, working hard and using his best judgment, he is an incredible weapon for his team in all 3 zones.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 27, 2010 12:27 AM | Report abuse

Backstrom isn't as physically gifted as Ovechkin or Semin but what makes him our MVP in my mind is his combination of skill, hockey smarts and decision-making.

It's so rare to see Backstrom make a bad decision despite handling the puck more than any of our other forwards.

He works hard and smart in all 3 zones and he's the only player on the team who I feel absolutely comfortable with when the puck is on his stick, particularly in the defensive and neutral zones, where giveaways can be most costly.

Posted by: tmac2yao | March 27, 2010 12:34 AM | Report abuse

bruce "Kyle reese" boudreau

"that's what he does! that's all he does!"

(sorry, just saw the original terminator)

Posted by: dukster | March 27, 2010 12:54 AM | Report abuse

As of earlier tonight, all the Caps need to clinch the East is to gain 1 point on the Devils - whether it be by a Devils loss (either regulation or OT), a Caps win, or a Caps OT loss.

As for the earlier discussion about most improved forward on the Caps, I would say there can't be an argument that it is Fehr. Last season, in 61 games, he had 12 goals and 13 assists. This season, in the 62 games he has played so far, he has had 21 goals and 16 assists. And that is on 1 less shot than all of last season - he has a 15.8% shooting percentage this season. Personally, I would say his improvements are mainly thanks to Knuble - you can see his influence on Fehr's game. Laich has been playing quite a bit better than last year, but his numbers are hardly better - although it is already a career year, and the season still isn't over. But Laich is definitely turning into an impact player, one who can change a game in a hurry.

Posted by: timmyv38 | March 27, 2010 1:24 AM | Report abuse

The Caps magic number is now 1 to clinch the East.

GO CAPS!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: fromthebeginning | March 27, 2010 1:40 AM | Report abuse

Win it all baby - the East, the President's trophy and the Cup.

Posted by: FloridaCapsFan | March 27, 2010 5:33 AM | Report abuse

... this would be terrific ...

"Three Peat" ;-)

Go Caps!

Posted by: FCKoeln1 | March 27, 2010 9:08 AM | Report abuse

@FloridaCapsFan

Caps To Do List

1) Clinch division -- check

2) Clinch conference -- nearly a check. One more win for that.

3) Clinch President's Trophy (Not that that's the trophy we really want but having home field advantage all the way is a great one to have)

4) Win Round 1 of Playoffs

5) Win Round 2 of Playoffs

6) Win Round 3 of Playoffs

7) Win Stanley Cup!

Posted by: CapsFan75 | March 27, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

@richmondphil

I also feel that Fehr is our most improved forward this year. Last year he had just made it into double figures. This year, over 20 goals and he's been one of our best scorers since the break (although I haven't looked back at the stats to prove it yet).

Laich has done well but it was a more incremental improvement.

Flash has improved too but also more incremental.

Posted by: CapsFan75 | March 27, 2010 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Please I can only take, one incremental a day!

Posted by: bhound69 | March 27, 2010 9:45 AM | Report abuse

does the NHL still has a president? didn't they change the title of the position from president to commissioner when Bettman took over?

the last president they had was John Ziegler I think... why still call it the president's trophy when no such title even exists??

better yet, they should have gotten rid of the meaningless trophy when they got rid of president

Posted by: joek443 | March 27, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

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