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Road Warriors

Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau cracked a smile when asked after last night's 2-1 win over the Flyers at Wachovia Center if the "funk" he referred to so often during his team's four-game losing streak was officially over.

"We've got to keep going," Boudreau said. "I don't know. We've got to have some success at home first."

Boudreau is a tough man to satisfy, but he certainly likes what he saw on the road this week.

While waiting for my train back to Washington I thought I would share some of my observations in the back-to-back wins over the Predators and Flyers, which I consider to be the Caps' most complete performances since last month:

Warming Up
Shift-to-shift, period-to-period, the Caps' effort level and intensity were high.

Most folks are excited about spring approaching. The Caps seem to be reinvigorated by something else that's just around the corner: the playoffs. The time is now to start ramping up for the postseason, and Alex Ovechkin acknowledged that it's been a focal point in the dressing room, saying last night, "We wanted to get back on track. It's getting close to playoffs."

Solid as a Rock
The most important player on the ice, Jose Theodore, was arguably the Caps' best player in both games. The veteran goalie has a history of stretch-drive surges, and he's in the midst of one now. Since being pulled against Florida on March 1, Theodore has yielded seven goals in four games and only two in his last seven periods. He's also looked steady and confident in doing it.

Helping Hand
Theodore, however, isn't the only reason the Caps' goals against are down. The defense in front of him has been much better. One of the issues addressed recently was the spacing between defensemen, and the need to tighten it up. The result has been fewer odd-man rushes created by long passes through the neutral zone. It's also forced opposing forwards to the outside.

While a lot went right for the Caps this week, there are still two areas where they must improve in the coming games: winning on home ice and scoring more. They've dropped four in a row at Verizon Center entering tomorrow's game against Carolina, and they've only produced an average of two goals the past six games.

I'm off the rest of today, so Katie will blog from practice this morning and write for tomorrow's paper.

By Tarik El-Bashir  |  March 13, 2009; 9:35 AM ET
 
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Next: Giroux Assigned to Hershey

Comments

With 13 games left, we are 7 points back from the Bruins. Im gonna give N.J 3 out of 4 points in the next two games for sake of forecasting...That makes us 4 back from them.

We would have to go 10-3 down the stretch to have a realistic chance of catching NJ or Boston, and that only if they level off a bit.

I think we are pretty much locked in for the 3 slot, and should make sure that guys are healthy, and rested. We should roll 4 lines, and try to keep ice time level for all players...

Posted by: SA-Town | March 13, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse

Good advice, SA-Town.

Posted by: uncatim | March 13, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

a quick repost, cause a new post went up:

@Kirg-

The Devils and Red Wings teams your talking about had fighters on their teams and didn't need goons because their pugilists were top flight players as well. Shanahan could kick anyones butt, Chelios would drop them, NJ had Stevens... and now I hit a blank..lets see, Claude Lemiuex...anyone care to help me out? Anyway, they didn't need simple enforcers. The Caps have Bradley and Erskine without Brashear in the lineup. If Ovechkin, Bradley and Erskine were great fighters (in comparison) we wouldn't need a goon either. If none of your fighters can win regularly, you're going to have problems against teams with pugilists.

For those who don't think fighters matter, the Ducks led the league in fights the year they won the cup. Other teams knew not to get too far out of line.

Posted by: oo7 | March 13, 2009 9:44 A

Posted by: oo7 | March 13, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Nice to win two road games with play-off intensity. Still have to work on finishing off on golden oppertunities,but we are on the right track.

This team has shown the ability to step up and play sound "D" this season, despite what quite a few people have said we cannot do.

Here is to getting back on track at home!
Rock the Red VS the Canes Saturday!!!

Posted by: Capsfannmiss | March 13, 2009 9:50 AM | Report abuse

I won't be surprised if Pittsburg jumps past montreal into 5th place and we play the Habs in the first round.

Bad night for for our callup Giroux - 2 penalties!

Posted by: stormblue | March 13, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I would be real happy with these first round match-ups

Jersey - Florida
Boston - Rangers
Caps - Habs
Flyers - Penguins

Posted by: SA-Town | March 13, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

I think BB is right. I'll be satisfied that they're back on track if they take out Carolina on Saturday and Atlanta on Monday with the same intensity.

@SA-Town: I don't think we catch Boston, but NJ isn't out of the question. 9-4 is a bit over 2 out of 3 games, so is 10-3 that unrealistic given our schedule? True that we need to work out the secondary scoring thing, but I'm not giving up on NJ yet. Anything can happen.

Posted by: kittypawz | March 13, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

@SA-Town - I like those matchups. That'd make me happy.

Posted by: kittypawz | March 13, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

I think we are pretty much locked in for the 3 slot, and should make sure that guys are healthy, and rested. We should roll 4 lines, and try to keep ice time level for all players...

Posted by: SA-Town | March 13, 2009 9:44 AM

Agreed. A good long playoff run is the most important thing.

Posted by: capsfan26 | March 13, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

" 9-4 is a bit over 2 out of 3 games, so is 10-3 that unrealistic given our schedule?"

You're talking about a team that just lost 4 straight, including 5-1 (or whatever) to teams like the Aves...

The 2 last wins have been great, but isn't it a little soon to be jumping back into predictions of 9-4/10-3 :) ?

Posted by: VTDuffman | March 13, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Im not saying we cant catch them...I dont think we should be leaning on the top 2 lines with a "win at all cost" attitude either though.

10-3 is definetly possible...but you also have to think we need to give Theo two or three games off in the last 13.

Expect Nuevirth vs Atlanta on Monday for sure. Possibly play 2 out of the next 5, and start a game or two in the final week.

Posted by: SA-Town | March 13, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

What a great game last night. There must have been about 12 minutes of running clock in the 3rd period that had me in knots as both teams skated like banshees. Very few penalties last night for both teams last night as the game was far too important for both to have players sitting in the bin.

That's the best overall game the Caps have played in months and hopefully can get back home to a riled crowd and blow out the 'Canes to lock down the division. It'd be nice for AO to get #50 at home - it's either two on Saturday or it'll happen on the road...

Well done, Caps.

Posted by: saintex | March 13, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

The D has looked better lately, but we still need to CLEAR THE PUCK. They did that really well last night, especially on the PK.

Posted by: LouLewis | March 13, 2009 10:15 AM | Report abuse

SA-Town,

Good matchups. I honestly wouldn't mind the Pens in the first round, just to put that stupid "curse" to rest.

Posted by: ModestProposal | March 13, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Hey hockey players, and experts. On Gagne's breakaway should there have been a penalty or not? As I was watching it didn't seem like it would be one to me - though I'm an amateur - because AO on his dive got the puck and Gagne's sticks cleanly as his first contact. What's the ruling? What can you do to defend on a breakaway from behind and not get a penalty? It seemed like a fantastic play and about the only option available. If you can't do that from behind, why not just slow down and let the player take a shot on the goalie? Just wondering.

Posted by: saintex | March 13, 2009 10:18 AM | Report abuse

if he gets the puck first then it isnt a penalty

Posted by: _stevo | March 13, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

@modest

While beating the Pens is great...Watching the Flyers and Pens kill each other is great entertainment.

Posted by: SA-Town | March 13, 2009 10:22 AM | Report abuse

on the breakaway, I don't have the benefit of a replay, but I think a hook could have been called on either Green or Ovi a second or two before Ovi's legit poke of the puck.

Posted by: billd2 | March 13, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

I can't remember how they seed for the 2nd Round. Does the highest remaining seed automatically play the lowest remaining seed, or does the winner of the match involving the first seed automatically play the winner of the match involving the 4th seed?

Posted by: tominfl1 | March 13, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

if he gets the puck first then it isnt a penalty

Posted by: _stevo | March 13, 2009 10:21 AM

I think this is correct, and that's why everyone went ballistic a couple of months ago when Green got called for a penalty on almost the same move even though he clearly got the puck first.

Posted by: capsfan26 | March 13, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Some of the writing seems to think that Green may have been hooking. Ovi didn't get his stick anywhere near Gagne until he made the dive for the puck...you could see him timing it. So, if we take about Green's play, and assume you're on your own chasing down a breakaway, as long as you get the puck first, you're okay? If the follow through trips the guy then it's not a penalty shot but you may bet two minutes for a trip?

Posted by: saintex | March 13, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

that is "take out Green's play"

Posted by: saintex | March 13, 2009 10:29 AM | Report abuse

That's pretty much it, Saintex. Getting the puck first does not guarantee you won't get a penalty - the whol play is taken into account.

Posted by: eggseronius | March 13, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

@tominfl

They re'seed. It is not like the NCAA tourney.

Posted by: SA-Town | March 13, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I disagree that we should be happy with 3rd. I think it would be a shame to be 15 point better than last year and finish in the same spot. If we finish 2nd, we are guaranteed home ice advantage for the first two rounds at least. We need to shoot for that.

The other thing to root for is for the Pennsylvania teams to finish 4-5 so they play each other.

Posted by: jhamond1 | March 13, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

tominfl1, NHL reseeds after every round

Posted by: koalatek | March 13, 2009 10:33 AM | Report abuse

saintex: I think we went through this back when Green got the penalty. Someone posted from the rulebook and I believe it says if you hit the puck first, and trip the player in the same motion, there's no penalty (just like in soccer with a slide tackle).

Now, I suppose, if a defensive player dives and knocks the puck away, and the offensive player makes a new move to re-obtain the puck, and you trip him then, it would be a penalty.

Posted by: tominfl1 | March 13, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Here are the remaining schedules:

Boston
13 games remaining
7 games vs +.500

New Jersey
15 games remaining
12 games vs +.500

Caps
13 games remaining
5 games vs +.500

Out of those 3 teams, the Caps have the easiest schedule remaining. So there is still a chance the Caps could catch Boston.

Posted by: Kevin9149 | March 13, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

@jhamond1: I don't think anyone's saying we should be happy with 3rd place, it's more a matter of not killing ourselves to try to move up at the expense of having a fresh, healthy team for the playoffs. Obviously we should still go out there and try to win every night. That's what professional teams should always do.

Posted by: capsfan26 | March 13, 2009 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Kevin9149: Are you suggesting we should be excited about the stretch run, even without a puck-moving defenseman?

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Posted by: tominfl1 | March 13, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

@capsfan

Exactly...I want #1 if we can...but that shouldnt mean Green and Poti playing 28 minutes a game, Ovie taking double shifts...and Theo starting every game down the stretch.

Posted by: SA-Town | March 13, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Think about it: the main reason for trying to move up in the standings would be to secure home ice advantage for the playoffs. But that won't count for nearly as much if our top guys are all worn down by the time the postseason starts.

Posted by: capsfan26 | March 13, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Great game...great effort by all. Here's my question, though...Nylander is leading the rush with a 3 on 2, yet he does his little circle, and waits for the entire Flyer team to catch up to the play. What up with that? It drives me crazy...sorry, that was my only issue with the game.

Carolina is hungary and potentially a dangerous team...hope we play our game and don't play down to teams from here on out.

Posted by: lylewimbledon | March 13, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Caps D looking better. however, Green has GOT to stop the dumb turnovers in the neutral zone (which led to the breakaway last night). no dumb turnover, no reason to talk about penalty shots or hooking calls.

Posted by: doughless | March 13, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

@SA-Town,

I'm more intereste in the second round match-ups. If the Caps are on the first tee, its a bust season.

Posted by: oldtimehockey | March 13, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I hope to God the Caps deactivate Nylander for the playoffs and find a way to get rid of him in the offseason.

Posted by: gaholtzman | March 13, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I am not a fan of Nylander, but thought that he played very well last night.

Posted by: 104_CapsFan | March 13, 2009 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Kodo's to the caps. They played inspired and had a total team effort. but looking at both teams and trying to be unbiased, I hate to say that I think the flyers are still the better team. They seem to be faster. they beat the caps to open pucks with regularity. They pass the puck and generally keep Washington on there heels way to much. Especially when bringing the puck up ice. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't like our chances in a 7 game series.

Posted by: pstotts15 | March 13, 2009 12:02 PM | Report abuse

lylewimbledon-

Seems there are quite a few Caps fans who have it in for Nylander and Schultz. They watch the game in anticipation of a screw up to validate their opinion. I think that's what is happening here. Last night, Nylander had a pretty strong game and won some pretty good individual battles. He is definitely not the type to go straight for the net, so the "circling" (while allowing some time for the defense to position) is his game, and in most cases helps keep the team in the offensive zone longer. Others enter the zone with a dump and chase, and quite often the result is a loss of the puck. The bottom line is Nylander is good at what he does and it certainly worked well as a set-up for Jagr in New York. I bet the fans loved him up there for the same thing he is chastized for down here.

Posted by: gonchpup | March 13, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

While we can pretend to be brave and there are actually teams that really would rather not face Washington in the playoffs I would love to see Philly and Pittsburgh play in round 1. Too often great teams lose playoffs because they do not get any breaks. Not having to face both the Pens and Flyers would be a break for the Caps. I hope we get Boston in round two - I think they are snake bit by Caps. Finally it looks like the stars are aligning as Cap-friendly.

Posted by: yesisaiditfirst | March 13, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Home ice advantage in the playoffs would be awesome, but let's not forget that we've lost our last 4 at home :-P

And yeah, as much as I'd love to knock out the Pens or Flyers in round 1, I'd like to make it past round 2. A series with either one of those teams would get ugly and our Caps would likely be banged up.

As for Nylander, I wouldn't mind him so much if he shot the puck every once in a while. Everyone on the ice knows he's passing the puck!

Posted by: Raber | March 13, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Theo is the ONLY thing scares me about the upcoming Playoffs. He gives up too many soft goals, and WAY too many rebounds (esp long rebounds). As a former goaltender, I notice that he is frequently out of position, and never quite cuts down the angle correctly. Of course, if I could do better, I'd be in the League, and not posting here. Perhaps we all need to remember that in our future criticisms.....

Posted by: dah1963 | March 13, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

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