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No surprises in Olympic hockey openers: USA, Canada, Russia win easily


(Shaun Best/Reuters)


Morning roundup

Here's today's Olympic-inspired roundup of links:

*Alex Ovechkin scored twice to lead Russia to an easy 8-2 victory over Latvia. Postgame notes, quotes and other hockey odds and ends can be found on on Heavy Medal, our Olympics blog.

*Barry Svrluga wrote about the two earlier games, Team USA's win over Switzerland and Canada's thrashing of Norway. An Ovie-related excerpt:

By night's end, the Canadians' arch-nemesis, Russia, was scheduled to open with a game against Latvia. It is now 30 years after the "Miracle on Ice" in Lake Placid, N.Y., and only five members of the American team were even alive back then -- the oldest being veteran Brian Rafalski, who was 6 when the U.S. wrote one of the best stories in Olympic history, beating the powerful Soviet team en route to an absurdly unlikely gold medal.
But massive shifts in global geo-politics have a way of trickling into athletics, and so it is that the Washington area's biggest star at these Games is now a Russian -- Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, whose mere appearance on Olympic ice will likely draw boos. Russia beat Canada in each of the past two World Championships, a fact lost on exactly no one who walked through the turnstiles at Canada Hockey Place.
Both teams are ridiculously talented. Neither wanted to be the favorite.
"Every team is a dangerous opponent and it is going to be a pretty hard battle," Ovechkin said. | Full story »

Heavy Medal offerings

*Pavel Datsyuk on playing with the D.C. Alexes, Semin on golf-cart theft.

*Ovechkin is diplomatic.

*Ovechkin sends support via text message to a fellow Russian, figure skater Evgeni Plushenko:

About three hours before Ovechkin took the ice for Russia's opening hockey game, he wrote in Russian to Plushenko, "We are all holding hands and watching you right now."

More Olympic chatter

*Sergei Gonchar and Evgeni Malkin wear some new-edge skates (that don't have awesome blades). (Branded)

*Ted enjoys the Olympic experience. (Ted's Take)

*IOC can't mask its stupidity. (Puck Daddy)

*All about Olympic hockey rules. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

*Czech-Russia rivalry defines blood feud. (NHL.com)


Caps links of the non-Olympic variety

*Rocking for goals with the Caps. (On Frozen Blog)

*Caps lookalikes. (The Hockey Chronicles)

*Karl Alzner: Sophomore slumping. (Japers' Rink)

By Lindsay Applebaum  |  February 17, 2010; 5:41 AM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Alex Ovechkin, Russia breeze past Latvia
Next: Matt Bradley update

Comments

Very interesting thread in Japers on Karl Alzner. I am in the camp he needs more time. You look at Jeff Schultz, three years older, and he's just beginning to assert himself (interesting comment in the thread is that the japers people think they are Schultz backers while the CI posters are Schultz bashers. I guess they don't realize that we are pretty much objective supporters of 55, and that the mindless bashers have all been dispatched to the Brigade.)

I am thinking next year with cap issues and expiring contracts of ShaMo and Pothier, it is no stretch to see Alzner and Carlson join Green, Schultz, Poti and Erskine on the blueline with Sloan and Collins for depth. I think that's the best we can afford if we keep and sign all the forwards.

Posted by: tominfl1 | February 17, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Also, nobody watched USA yesterday. I fell asleep during Canada game which was good thing since they woke me up at midnight. Family very excitingly rooted for Russia. Great assist from Semin to Ovi. Feds played well too. Didn't see 3rd period (asleep again). Now I have to go and find the list of games again to find out for Sweden.

Posted by: tominfl1 | February 17, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

It wasn't long ago that Karl Alzner was widely considered the "best defensemen not playing in the NHL". Karl is young, and to be honest the salary cap situation probably had some bearing on his growth process, more mentally than physically. He'll be fine, he needs to toughen up a little and grow a thicker skin, that comes with age and experience. I still prefer him on the ice over Erskine and Sloan.

Posted by: JSchon | February 17, 2010 7:55 AM | Report abuse

@tominfl1

Hear hear! Schultz has lots of supporters over here too. Every message board has ranters but I will say with Schultz this year even the naysayers are much quieter. I'm a big Alzner fan especially after listening to the Laich/Alzner Hockey Diaries from last season. I think like Schultz he just needs more time. And I'm still hoping for an eventual Alzner/Carlson pairing on our team.

My son and I watched the US team yesterday. Once he got home from school (boy did he NOT want to return and boy was I READY for school to start), as well as the Canadian one. We recorded the game with Russia for today after school. He took it poorly when I wouldn't let him stay up for the game and I've promised not to let him know the results. Thank goodness for TiVo.

Posted by: Capsyoungguns | February 17, 2010 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Good read on Alzner.

I think there are greater expectations on Alzner because he is/was? considered a "blue chip" prospect (5th pick overall).

You pick a guy that high and you hope he develops quicker than most, and makes the most of the opportunities he gets. You want a guy like that to force you to keep him on the big club. Alzner has not done that.

Schultz and Carlson were both 27th picks overall, with perhaps lesser expectations. Doesnt help Alzner that Carlson is hot right now.

Then you look at that draft class after Alzner's with Doughty, Schenn, Bogosian (all top 5 picks)...those guys have a bunch of games under there belts already, and are looking pretty good.

I hope Alzner turns out to be what we all hoped he would be when he was drafted.

Posted by: wtf_e_fehr | February 17, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Alzner had a salary cap that prevented him from playing at the big boy level. Schenn, Bogo and Doughty didn't.

Posted by: JSchon | February 17, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Alzner had a salary cap that prevented him from playing at the big boy level. Schenn, Bogo and Doughty didn't.


Posted by: JSchon | February 17, 2010 8:45 AM |


This is true.

But could Alzner have played well enough by now to have convinced the organization to shed some salary to accomodate his presence on the team? I think so.

Posted by: wtf_e_fehr | February 17, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

@wtf

Actually, I believe it to be opposite. I think the mindset of this organization has been to not rush anybody. They have had the luxury to do this because of the talent at the NHL level. We have been against the cap for 2 years now, and the only move we have tried to make was Nylander. We were lucky to find a trading partner for Clark.

Alzner would've been playing a lot sooner in the NHL with virtually every other franchise with the exception of a few.

Posted by: JSchon | February 17, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

@JSchon

I'm not talking about being rushed at all, I like how we bring our guys along.

But we have had a perceived weakness on the defensive end of the ice since Alzner has been here. If Alzner came in and was exceptional, and proved he was better than one D-man we currently have on our roster. Wouldnt GMGM have to make the move (shrewdly as always) that gets him a spot at the NHL level, rather than going outside the organization?

Thats our philosophy, fill holes from within where possible.

Posted by: wtf_e_fehr | February 17, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

I'm all for playing Alzner over Erskine or Sloan.

The fact that he isn't makes me wonder if the coach/scouts/GMGM have noticed something to lower their expectations of him. I haven't (in my limited viewing of him) but maybe the coaches/scouts/GMGM no longer believe he will be a top flight defenseman. A lot of top prospects in the NHL do not reach the expectations so this is a possibility.

I hope this isn't true, but it still seems very odd that Alzner hasn't played more this year and has not been up for an extended period of time. I really hope it has to do with all the other stuff and not his talent level.

Posted by: sgm3 | February 17, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

Yes, he is moved up and down because he can without repercussion. Everyone else needs to pass through waivers.

My feeling is that there is loyalty given to players, rightfully or wrongfully. Vets are getting their time unless a guy like Alzner has completely blown away the competition, which he hasn't to be fair. But all things equal, Alzner should be on the ice with the big club.

Posted by: JSchon | February 17, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Well, the first impediment to Alzner being in DC was the Nylander contract. The second is we have a number of NHL contracts on the blueline. One got moved (Jurcina) but there's still seven. Sure, if Alzner had clearly outplayed Pothier or ShaMo, both UFAs after this season, a move might have been made. But, I said, "clearly outplayed." A rookie just playing equal to the vet doesn't necessarily displace the vet (unless you do it for money, and Alzner doesn't make significantly less).

Also, keeping an extra d-man is good in case of injuries. This year, we've been lucky on the injuries.

Anybody can answer this: If you were made GM for a day, would you trade Pothier or ShaMo just so you could replace them with Alzner? Has he been that good?

I myself think McPhee has done it right. And, rather than move someone and bring in Alzner, I think most agree that instead we need to upgrade from the outside for this year's Cup run.

Posted by: tominfl1 | February 17, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Interesting that two Penguins are using the new-edge skates, are there other Penguins wearing this type of skates? If this is preferred type for speed-skaters I would imagine that it must bring some advantages to speed and comfort. I wonder if the Caps have looked into it.

Posted by: nimes1 | February 17, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse

@tominfl1

I think we are on the same page.

I just wish the guy had "clearly outplayed" someone.

Posted by: wtf_e_fehr | February 17, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

I'm surprised the Semin bashing hasn't started yet. C'mon guys! He only got one assist! He must be cold! Trade him!

Posted by: BigMogilny | February 17, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

@tominfl1

I disagree that a rookie playing equal to a vet shouldn't replace a vet. The vet has usually reached their peak while the rookie has much more room to improve.

So if two guys are playing equally, one who won't improve anymore and the other who is likely to improve, and possibly improve signifcantly, wouldn't it make sense to play the guy who will improve since maybe after 50 games of playing he will be better than the guy he was equal to earlier.

I also would have Alzner replacing Erskine not Potheir or ShaMo. Jurcina has been gone for a while now and Alzner still hasn't seen significant time on the Caps ahead of Erskine and/or Sloan.

Posted by: sgm3 | February 17, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Also, there is no need to remove a D man to bring up Alzner. Alzner would make 7 defensemen, along with 13 forwards and half F/half D in Sloan. That is 23 roster spots (assuming they keep 2 goalies and not 3 on the team).

Posted by: sgm3 | February 17, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

sgm3: Yes, you can bring up Alzner as the 23rd player. Then you would be scratching three per night rather than two (again, assuming two goalies). That's an option, but you'd be sitting another player unless there's an injury. Also, by leaving the 23rd spot open, the club can bring up either a forward or defenseman (or goalie) on a game-by-game basis (if injury). If you tell Alzner he is #23 and staying, that flexibility is gone.

The reason I mentioned Pothier or ShaMo as player "to be replaced" by Alzner is that Erskine is less likely to be dealt (if anyone) than those two since Ersk has another year on contract.

Once Olympics are over, we'll see what happens. We all expect some roster tweaking. If McPhee brings in a veteran D, w/o moving anyone, there goes your roster spot.

Posted by: tominfl1 | February 17, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

One more thing on Alzner - let's compare him to Neuvy. Neuvy IMO has all but played his way out of Hershey. And I mean that in a good way. Neuvy has nothing left to prove in the AHL. Holtby, Alzner, Carlson, Bouchard, Osala et al have not played their way out of that league.

It never hurts a 21-year-old in sports to linger an extra half year or so at the lower level (I'm not talking about Lebron James or Ovechkin types, the regular guys). And, due to bonuses and service time required before UFA, it's usually in the club's interest to keep them down. The more they play at a young age, the more they get in arbitration too. I believe McPhee looks at the big picture and takes all this into account when making these decisions.

Posted by: tominfl1 | February 17, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

True, but I don't see the problem scratching Erskine and Sloan for long periods of time. They are expendable role players who can be scratched a lot. That's their role on the team and that's what they get paid to do.

Erskine and Sloan are your injury replacements if a D man gets hurt. Laing and Sloan are your injury replacements for injured forwards. Any injury lasting more than a few games, a guy can be put on IR creating a roster spot for another player.

I know Erskine has 1 more year left so him and Sloan can have the same role next year as extra D men for injury replacements. Unless the Caps could get something in return for Erskine, but I doubt they could really get much of anything (5th or 6th round pick, maybe).

Completely agree that any trade acquiring a D man will change this significantly so this could be moot.

But I'm more questioning on how the Caps have handled the situation because they could have had Alzner up since the Nylander situation was figured out, especially since Jurcina was traded. Since they haven't it makes me wonder if the coaches/scouts/GMGM are questioning Alzner's ability and future prospects.

Posted by: sgm3 | February 17, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I do agree completely about taking into consideration the contract repercussions.

However, in a goalie's case the Caps have Varly too (when healthy)so there just isn't much playing time available since you can only play 1 goalie at a time and the Caps have 3. I think having a veteran netminder on the team is good and when everyone is healthy a good chunk of playing time goes to Varly.

But 6 defenseman play and Erskine and Sloan are not the veteran presence on the blue line (Poti is) and their play has been lackluster.

The Caps are doing a wonderful job of developing their talent and if they think this is the best way to turn Alzner into the best possible player he can be then I'm all for it.

There just seems to be a lot of oddities with the situation that leads me to believe that the inside (and real) viewpoint of Alzner is not the same as the viewpoint the Caps say they have.

Posted by: sgm3 | February 17, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I still want semin traded!

to team USA.

Posted by: caps512 | February 17, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

sgm3: All that taken into consideration, I believe it's a virtual lock that Alzner and Carlson play full-time next year. Unless there's a major deal involving Semin or Flash, we have very little cap room to even re-sign, say, Pothier. Green, Poti and Schultz are expected back. Erskine and Sloan are signed. Ersk is a #6 at best and Sloan a 4th-pair d-man. There's really no choice but to have Alzner and Carlson fill the 4 and 5 slots. Ideally, you'd bring in a 1st-pair defensive, defenseman - but that would cost at least $3-4M and the money isn't there unless you move a forward. However, that player could be NEXT year's rental, so it isn't necessarily a big deal to allow Alzner and Carlson next year to grow on the job.

Posted by: tominfl1 | February 17, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

True, Carlson looks like he is going to be very good. In addition to his talent he brings another right handed shot to the blue line which has been needed. I would like to see both of them up next year full time.

There are many cap concerns as you stated. For some reason I just believe something will be done with Fehr to help overcome those. I think it is much like situations they've had in Detroit. A pretty good player value rises too much and they just have to let him go because of the cap ramifications. So getting value for him in a trade (prospects/draft picks)might be the way they go this offseason. Or even possibly for a high quality rental player at the deadline (I don't think that will happen unless GMGM makes multiple moves)

It will also be interesting to see if the cap rises at all for next year. I like Fehr and would like to see him stay but the ramifications of a $2M cap hit for him would be too much with the makeup of this team. If he can be had for $1.5M or less then maybe, but that might not happen.

Posted by: sgm3 | February 17, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I think we discussed this the other day. I was of the opinion that it could be Flash who is moved, if they move a high-end forward, as he will make likely $1.5-2M more than Fehr over the next few years.

Flash is RFA this off-season, one year from UFA. Same as Laich was a few years back. Laich got $2M and Flash is ahead of where Laich was then. I found about 10 Flash-like contracts for wingers and $3-4M is what you find on a 3-4/yr deal, which he would sign to avoid UFA.

If you keep Semin as your 2-line RW, Flash is a complimentary asset (a big if). You want two excellent scoring lines. That means two centers, Backstrom and fill-in-the-blank. Two snipers in Ovi and Semin. And two net crashers in ?Laich and Fehr?

So, my thought, if Semin stays, Flash maybe not. But, if they don't think they can keep Semin, you sign Flash long-term, Semin becomes UFA after next year, and the money for him buys you a UFA #1 defenseman.

Here's your question - who will score more goals over NHL career, Flash or Fehr? Would be nice too if others put opinions. Not that yours isn't good :).

Posted by: tominfl1 | February 17, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

You make good points about how Flash will earn significantly more than Fehr and that always has to be considered. I think that the BB and GMGM think much more highly of Flash and his ability and they don't want to lose him. That's why I don't see Flash being moved in the off-season, right or wrong.

Even though he has struggled early, maybe an entire off-season, pre-season and regular season will help Flash become a pretty good center. Remember it did take Crosby a few years to become very good at faceoffs. So Flash is pretty versatile.

Barring severe injury to either, I think Flash will be the better player with more goals and assists over his career.

But Fehr has some very valuable skills too, he creates many turnovers that lead to scoring chances and he has a nice shot. He has great size but does seem timid with using his body. His defensive ability seems to get worse the closer you get the Caps goalie (Fehr's great defensive plays almost always seem to occur in the offensive zone an offensive half of the neutral zone) too.

Both still are likely to improve more and have good NHL careers. IMO I think Flash's will be better.

Posted by: sgm3 | February 17, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

GO U.S.A.!! FORGET ALL YOU COUNTRY FLOPPERS!

U.S.A. FOR GOLD!

Posted by: Mike4169 | February 17, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Nice assists Cindy Crosby lol.

Posted by: Mike4169 | February 17, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

interesting read: http://sportscorridor.wordpress.com/2010/02/14/the-american-hockey-dilemma/

who are you rooting for caps fans?

Posted by: awsunder | February 17, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Since the Caps have a couple of horses in this race, this might be the only time you might enjoy this link:

http://community.post-gazette.com/blogs/winterolympics/default.aspx

Dejan used to cover the Pens, and I like the job he's doing of covering all of the Olympic hocket teams. If you missed the Russia-Latvia game, it's a nice "highlight reel."

Posted by: Jumpy66 | February 17, 2010 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Interesting thing on ESPN insider

What do you get for the team that seems to have everything? That's the question for Caps GM George McPhee. No, the Capitals aren't perfect. How can you be under a salary-cap system? But they've scored 70 more goals than they've allowed. That's pretty damn close to perfect in this league at this time.

If McPhee could find that clear-cut veteran goaltending upgrade, he might pull the trigger. I don't think that kind of upgrade is out there for him.

At this point, McPhee might be best-suited to add a dash of experience -- a player who has played in some big games. It would have to be a good fit, though. The Caps seem to have a pretty strong locker room. In the end, McPhee just might be wise to leave well enough alone. -- E.J. Hradek

Washington's problem: The blue line
As mentioned by E.J., Semyon Varlamov's effort has been dubious since his return from injury, Michal Neuvirth is inexperienced and Jose Theodore's play is sporadic. Some believe the Capitals need to add a netminder before the deadline. Although the team's goaltending may be suspect, Puck Prospectus thinks the Capitals need some work on the back end. With Mike Green more than capable of contributing offensively, the emergence of the solid stay-at-home type Jeff Schultz and Tom Poti's resurgence, the Capitals have some pieces but still could use one more top-level defenseman. The issue is whether the team should add a stay-at-home blueliner or another offensive puck mover. -- Richard Pollock

Rumor Central says: After Tomas Fleischmann struggled in the faceoff circle, the Caps moved him back to the wing, so they could chase C Ethan Moreau. On the back end, D Dan Hamhuis or D Andy Sutton is also a possibility. Also, G Dwayne Roloson has been on their radar.

The guy to get: D Marek Zidlicky
The Wild have a fair number of offensive defensemen, especially after acquiring Cam Barker from the Chicago Blackhawks. With the addition of Barker, the presence of Brent Burns and the pending unrestricted free agency of Zidlicky, it appears Zidlicky could be available in the land of 10,000 lakes. The Czech defender is a proven puck mover who makes a great first pass, can quarterback the power play and can help the team's already dynamite transition game. He would make a fast team even faster while helping the team clear the puck from its own zone. -- Pollock

What is the group's take on Marek Zidlicky?

Posted by: icehammer97 | February 17, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

First, I think a defensive blueliner comes first, then a center, and then a puck-moving blueliner. And the cost for obtaining matters and as does the contractual obligaitions.

Posted by: JIMALLCAPS1 | February 17, 2010 6:54 PM | Report abuse

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