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Steckel: 'We Can't Always Start Behind the Eight Ball'

Here are some notes from both practices today:

One of the topics of discussion at KCI is the Caps' penchant for starting slowly in the playoffs. It happened for the second straight game on Saturday, when the Penguins took the first six shots as well as an early lead on a goal by Sidney Crosby. In Game 7 against the Rangers, the Caps didn't register a shot on goal until 13:04 of the first period and had already yielded a goal.

Is it nerves, a lack of focus or both? Opinions on the matter varied.

"Whether it's an afternoon game or not, it seems like it takes a goal [against] or for the other team to take momentum away from us in the first 10-15 minutes for us to wake up," David Steckel said. "I don't know if it's guys not being ready or if we need to skate harder in warmups to get us going. But we can't always start behind the eight ball. We've talked about it until we're blue in the face. It's just about guys being ready and prepared. Whether it's the using the same routine or breaking it up and trying to find something else, we have to do it."

Coach Bruce Boudreau added: "I have to think it's a little bit nerves. Normally we're one of the best first-period teams in the league. But we're in new territory for a lot of these guys. Especially last game, we didn't have a clue what we were going to come up against [in the Penguins]. Maybe now we'll be able to relax a little bit. We'll get better, hopefully. We went through a Game 7 where we had lost our last Game 7 and we went through our first start to a second-round series. There's not a trend yet. I don't like it. But I can at least justify why that's happened."

Optional Attendance
Another lightly attended practice today for the Caps. Most of the big-minute players like Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Tom Poti and Nicklas Backstrom did not skate. The more rested Penguins, on the other hand, had everyone on the ice.

Power Down
After going 0 for 5 on the power play in Game 1, the Penguins spent some time working on it this afternoon at Verizon Center. The most noticeable tweak appeared to be -- based on practice -- the possible substitution of Bill Guerin for Chris Kunitz on the first unit.

Yesterday, the Penguins had trouble setting up in the Caps' end and managed only six shots on the five opportunities (29 shots on past 24 power plays). Any unit with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar should be able to do better.

Malkin Struggling
With 10 points, Malkin is tied for the league lead with Alexander Semin and Ryan Getzlaf. Malkin had an assist in Game 1, but the regular season scoring champ hasn't scored a goal in four games. Asked about his mini-slump, he acknowledged that needs to be more aggressive in the offensive zone after taking only two shots in Game 1.

"I'm not change my game," he said. "I play okay. Maybe more shoot the puck, play more aggressive. Next game I'll shoot [more]. I had a couple of chances score, and I'm not score. It's hockey."

New Gear for Varly
One day after saying his old catching glove wasn't getting the job done, rookie sensation Simeon Varlamov practiced with new leg pads, a new blocker and, of course, a new glove. It's unclear if he's going to use any of that gear tomorrow.

Johnson Improving
Although injured backup goalie Brent Johnson continues to take shots at the end of practice, he said today that he's still only 90 percent recovered from hip surgery. Johnson also said that he's still working hard to be ready just in case he's needed, even though at the moment he's the Caps' No. 3 goalie behind Varlamov and Jose Theodore.

"I still feel it a lot," Johnson said of his hip. "In the summer, it will probably heal right up."

Johnson said he hasn't had any discussions with team management about the future, other than a brief conversation before he got hurt. He'll be an unrestricted free agent in July, and his status with the team will largely depend on what happens with Theodore, who hasn't played since Game 1 of the first round. Theodore has one year remaining on a contract that will pay him $4.5 million.

"It really is getting complicated," he said. "In the offseason, we'll see what happens here. I would love to stay here. But it's getting to be a different game right now when you look at next year. I just need to show them that I'm ready and that I'm trying as much as I can to get back."

Stat of the Day
Since Sidney Crosby joined the Penguins, they have never won a playoff series after going down 0-1.

Today's Polls


By Tarik El-Bashir  |  May 3, 2009; 3:11 PM ET
 
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Comments

Very interesting stat of the day. I'll forward it to friends in pgh.

Posted by: uncatim | May 3, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

that stat is more relevant than the one where the caps are 7-1 or something in games 1's but 1-6 in series. i think only gonchar has played in a caps/pens playoff series and unfortunately that was for us.

Posted by: dcsportsfan1 | May 3, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

"Stat of the Day
Since Sidney Crosby joined the Penguins, they have never won a playoff series after going down 0-1."

And they're not going to this time either. If we win tomorrow, I'm confident we'll steal one in Pittsburgh and come home to close it out. Caps in 5. =)

Posted by: rachel216 | May 3, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

rachel216

I agree.

Posted by: sidehillman | May 3, 2009 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Interesting scenario, do the Caps buy out Theodore, save 2.25 million and then spend 1 million to resign Johnson as the back-up?

Net result, save 1.25 million of salary cap. Next year, it's possible a 60-40 split of games, Varly - Johnson, respectfully. I don't see Varly carrying a heavy load as it's a long season for a young goalie.

Posted by: puckman | May 3, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Since Alex Ovechkin joined the Capitals, they have never won the second game in a playoff series.

Tomorrow is a HUGE game... hope they can pull it off and steal one on Pittsburgh like rachel216 said. That would be nice.

Posted by: _828 | May 3, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Detroit just lost game 2 of their series 3-2 to the Ducks at home.

Posted by: MReilly9 | May 3, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

MReilly9.

It's going into the third period....it's 3-2 after 2 periods...game isn't over yet...??? Unless we only play 40 minutes in the playoffs???

hmmmmmmm?

Posted by: rdiehljr | May 3, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

MReilly9:
it's only the end of the second - plenty of time for det to come back

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | May 3, 2009 4:04 PM | Report abuse

@MReilly9

no rush, the 3rd period is still ahead.

Posted by: fnralch | May 3, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Rachel,

Hope you're right about Caps in 5. That would be nice.

Posted by: CapsFan75 | May 3, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

uh, no. It's only the end of the 2nd period in Wings/Ducks game.

Posted by: weberd | May 3, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Sorry about that...20 more minutes of hockey.

Posted by: MReilly9 | May 3, 2009 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Anyone have pictures of Varly's new pads?

Posted by: Thomas32 | May 3, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Upon hearing the stat from Tarik Pens decided to forfeit the series.

Posted by: CodePoetry | May 3, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse

So what do the Caps do about their veterans? We're stuck with Nylander for 2 more years (unless we buy him out and still take a cap hit). We have Theodore for one more year. If I remember correctly, we have Clark for 2 more years.

I know that the contracts of Kozlov, Fedorov, and Brash end this year. What should they do (and maximize the chances of signing Semin and Backstrom for after next year)?

Posted by: CapsFan75 | May 3, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

nice stay, 828. I as thinking the same thing and scratching my head.

Caps need to come out of the gate hard and not sit back. take of to them and have the pens holding on for dear life.

one of the poll options should be: Caps offense goes crazy and builds large lead; Varly only has to be mediocre.

That would me my vote. Be physical, boys, Crosby no likey.

Posted by: oo7 | May 3, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

*stat
**was

Posted by: oo7 | May 3, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

oh no!!! varly dont change your pads!! they are working great! :)

Posted by: dmwechs1 | May 3, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

I am so nervous about tomorrow's game, though I am feeling very optimistic about the Caps' chances for winning the series.

Questions for the serious hockey experts:

This optional practice bothers me (especially since the Pens were all participating) but I can't believe that BB is just acting stupidly. Do you know what is the standard for NHL teams and what is the philosophy for mandatory vs. optional practice?

Would they have to buy out Theo, trade him or what (assuming he goes)? How does everybody feel about the second (hopefully to Varly) goalie? Theo or Johnson?

Posted by: caraveli | May 3, 2009 4:32 PM | Report abuse

If I ran the team, I think Feds hangs it up (although I would maybe sign in for one more year but for 2.5 mil max). We'll keep Koz around and Brash might get a one year extension. If we can lose Theo and come out ahead, that may not be a bad option. It might be time to part ways with Nylander (if we can buy him out) and Clark has been pretty good. He's worth keeping for the duration of his contract.

Posted by: ejohnsto | May 3, 2009 4:34 PM | Report abuse

A little over 6 min left in Detroit game and it's 3-3. Go Ducks!

Posted by: JMinVA | May 3, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

caraveli:
if theo could be traded (not cut with a cap hit) i'd rather see johnson. he doesn't cost as much, did just as good (if not better) than theo and probably would not make a stink about being a backup to a 21 yr old

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | May 3, 2009 4:41 PM | Report abuse

How about trading Theodore and Nylander for a draft choices. There are enough young bodies coming up from Hersey that are going to be great. Then they could resign Koz and Brash for one more year if desired along with Johnson as backup to give the other young goalie one more year in Hersey before coming up to split time with Varlamof. Thisshould then free up cap funds to resign Semin, and others that will be free agents in the future.

Posted by: JMinVA | May 3, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

det/anh 3-3 1 minute to go

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | May 3, 2009 4:47 PM | Report abuse

OT for det/anh

Posted by: Capt_Kirk_in_AZ | May 3, 2009 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Good plans. Best case scenario would be to trade Nylander and Theo and free up some money. Maybe get rid of shultz and bring up Alzner. Varly and Johnson with Neuvy as an reserved 3rd would be a good, cost effective, netminding roster.

Posted by: ejohnsto | May 3, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Trading nyls or theo isn't as easy as just saying it.

Posted by: richmondphil | May 3, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

GO Caps!!!

Okay great win yesterday but am i the only one who sees "The Save" while a great one; a big one against the whinning lil baby SID.

But if SIDS the baby lifts the puck, is it a goal or still a save? Does Varmy stop it?

I hope they come out stronger and faster then game one!

Posted by: hunter32 | May 3, 2009 7:19 PM | Report abuse

I think the boys come out like game seven, period three v. the Rags. I think we score four and an empty netter. And then, YES, we win one in Pits, and clinch at home.

Posted by: kevbnyc | May 3, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

I feel very confident in the way the Caps prepare for road games. They have been great on the road for months. They turn the puck over less and seem sometimes to get nice leads heading into the third period. So game 2 is huge if the Caps win it they might be in for a quick series (for a change).

P.S. - With games 4 and 5 on back to back nights does that help the team that plays home on game 5 most?

Posted by: yesisaiditfirst | May 3, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Ok, Detroit lost in 3rd OT,4 to 3. Boston is losing in 3rd, 2 to 0. Looks good for Carolina so far.

Posted by: JMinVA | May 3, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

So to buy out Theo they only have to pay half of next year's salary? Maybe a good move unless they think he can be an effective backup. I think Theo can still be a starter on the right club - but that club ain't us.

the problem with trading Theo or Nyls is that both are "underwater" (to borrow that term). Both are not as valuable to any potential team as the cap space they'd lose, even if they got either for "free". Heck, the caps might even have to throw in a draft choice, because the space itself is such a valuable commodity.

Posted by: WritingLight | May 3, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

<that stat is more relevant than the one where the caps are 7-1 or something in games 1's but 1-6 in series. i think only gonchar has played in a caps/pens playoff series and unfortunately that was for us.>

So, the really important stat is this one:

Sergei Gonchar's team has lost every Pens/Caps series in which he has played.

:)

Posted by: chrisd3 | May 3, 2009 11:00 PM | Report abuse

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