Florida Panthers Pregame: Raise the Titanic!

Doug Johnson, Puck Buddy. Twitter. Didja read their latest thing? It was terrific.

The Pregame: “Oh dear.”  Oh, d-d-dearie dear me. Gosh and darn it all.

Remember that funny little wiggly piglet from your childhood stories named…um, Piglet? The one who worried about everything x 2? Oh, the one who was really needy?  We do. Specifically, we remember that Piglet, for all his kindness, was prone to needless worry.

“SEO!” yell our overlords at RMNB (not really.) (Kinda.) “Optimize key items! Fast and tight! Key words! Search items for hits!”

“Caps Fail!” screech the bloglines. “Disaster!” “Pull The Plug”*

We’re ignoring both.

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The Value of Joel Rechlicz

Photo credit: Kyle Mace

Known fighter Joel Rechlicz has played 5 minutes and 25 seconds of Capitals hockey this year. In his six shifts, he saw one shot go on his net and zero at the other. He has amassed no penalties and recorded no turnovers. He did ice the puck once though. That was fun.

Rechlicz’s one-year contract is for $525,000– which will count towards the Capitals’ already stressed salary cap. Rechlicz is a pure fighter, a dying breed in pro hockey. Adding him to the roster of the Washington Capitals (whose woes include a lacking offense, malformed defense, and poor road performances– but not fighting) seemed like an arbitrary acquisition– one that does not improve their prospects for winning and fritters away precious salary cap space just before the trade deadline.

But for all his detractors, Wrecker also has some defenders. On Wednesday’s edition of the Capitals Report podcast, Mike Vogel of WashingtonCaps.com and radio play-by-play guy John Walton discussed and defended the value of Rechlicz.

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Must-Win Game… Lost: Panthers beat Caps 4-2

Photo credit: Alan Diaz

The Washington Capitals have three dates with the Florida Panthers in February, and these games will determine their chances for a postseason. This one was a so-called “four-point game”, and the Capitals came up tragically short.

After a scoreless first period, Mikael Samuelsson faked a hardaround and then fired a shot to Neuvirth’s far side– hitting the post then net. It was a fluke-y, no-look shot from almost 90 feet out, but it caught Neuvirth being lazy, and that’s what matters. Brooks Laich tied it up with a feisty top-shelfer from the crease during 4-on-4 play. Samuelsson got his second of the night with the go-ahead goal on a third period power play. After a long adjudication, Stephen Weiss was awarded a goal that had been washed out at first.

John Carlson made it a one-goal game with a leisurely slapper from the high slot, but Shawn Matthias grabbed an empty netter a few moments later. Panthers beat Caps 4-2.

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Cats beat Caps 5-4, Realignment is Happening

Eliot J. Schechter

Alex Ovechkin does nothing in particular. (Photo credit: Eliot J. Schechter)

Apparently it had been too long since a mortifying loss. The Washington Capitals’ pummeling at the paws of the Florida Panthers fixed that– despite a strong effort in the closing minutes. We don’t care. The realignment thing is happening, so let’s talk about that instead.

Goals went like this: Weiss deflects off Wideman on the PP. 13 seconds later, Santorelli goes 7-hole on Neuvy. Kulikov gets one on the PP. Mike Knuble slaps one under Clemmenson. Bergenheim converts on the PP when Neuvy can’t cover the puck.  Weiss gets a layup when Flash draws 4 Caps and the 5th one (Ovechkin) can’t be bothered to play D. Eakin scores thanks to a huge Knuble screen and Perreault assist. Brooks Laich topshelfed it from traffic. Jason Chimera deflected a John Carlson shot. Big flurry at the end, but ran outta time. Cats beat Caps 5-4.

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Kris Versteeg wipes out. (Photo credit: Thearon W. Henderson)

How was your weekend? The Caps won. That was cool. I bet Coach Hunter is psyched. I lost my cell phone. That sucked.

On Monday night, the Capitals hit the road again, leaving a tumultuous three-game home stand behind them. They’ll be suiting up in Sunrise, Florida, which is a ludicrous name for a city. The hosting team? The Florida Capitals.

Marjory the Trash Heap was also assembled from other people's refuse.

Ahh, shoot! Florida Panthers. Sorry. But the Florida roster does sport four ex-Caps: Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Bradley, Jose Theodore, and Marco Sturm (who shouldn’t really count). How did so many Caps players end up in Florida? Over the summer, Panthers GM Dale Tallon got his checkbook out and started signing free agents all willy nilly just to reach the salary floor.

And now– somehow– the Panthers are at the top of the Southeast Division. No one saw that coming. This team was assembled from spare parts. We had joked that it was a retirement home. These guys shouldn’t have a cohesive personality, let alone a winning record. Instead, they’re 14-8-4 and they’ve commited the fewest minor penalties in the league. It’s disciplined and effective hockey they’re playing in Sunrise, which is still is a stupid name for a city.

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Photo credit: Joel Auerbach

Ever since the Panthers beat the tar out of the Lightning 7-4 on Monday, they’ve struggled to put the puck in the net. On Tuesday, they traveled up to DC to face former teammate Tomas Vokoun and got blanked 3-0. Thursday, the trend continued.  Down one goal to the Sabres after 30 minutes of listless hockey, Florida was  looking for momentum.

Enter Matt Bradley.

After a neutral zone faceoff, the former Capital skated with purpose towards Paul Gaustad and shoved him. You know what happened next.

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First rule of hockey writing: if there’s a photo of a guy hit in the junk, USE IT. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

The Florida Panthers were still coming down off blowing out Tampa 7-4 when they showed up for their game with the Washington Capitals. That big win must have taken a lot out of them, ’cause they just didn’t show up to play on Tuesday.

Three penalty killers gravitated to Alex Ovechkin, leaving Marcus Johansson enough space to score his third of the season. Early in the third period, Alex Semin effortlessly ripped the puck far side to make it 2-0. With an empty net, Alex Semin fed goal-scoring leader Jason Chimera, who lobbed it in for the coup de graceCaps beat Cats 3-0.

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Photo credit: Scott Audette

Photo credit: Scott Audette

The Florida Panthers spent their Monday night trouncing the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-4. The Cats used five powerplay goals to fend off a third period rally from their rivals in America’s groin. By now the Panthers are probably already on their way up to Washington.

Here we go. This is the game you’ve been looking forward to. Not the rematch with Tampa, the date with Pittsburgh, or Thursday’s face-off with Jagr. You have been amped for this game: Matt Bradley, Jose Theodore, Tomas Fleischmann– all your exes are coming over for a dinner party and it’s going to be AWKWARD.

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At 35, Tomas Vokoun knows he doesn’t have much time left be on a winning team with a chance at the Stanley Cup. And for the Czech netminder, Washington, DC is the place be as he signed a one-year, $1.5 million deal to come to the Caps Saturday.

“The money side, it’s not great but, you know, I think the opportunity is unbelievable,” he said on a conference call Sunday morning. “I decided that this chance for me to extend my career and play for a great team and have fun playing.”

Vokoun, who has at total of 262 big league wins, has been in the playoffs just twice in his NHL career, spending the last four seasons with the cellar-welling Florida Panthers. In those years in the Southeast Division with the Cats, Vokoun got an up close look at the resurgence of the Capitals in the Alex Ovechkin era and liked what he saw.

“I know how good that team is,” said Vokoun, who turned down a three-year offer from the Panthers. “I know I’m going to have fun. I’ve been on winning teams before but nothing like Washington. … I just felt I wanted to move on and try something different.”
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Neuvirth lets in the game's only goal

The game’s only goal. Whatever. (Photo credit: Alan Diaz)

The Capitals will face the Rangers -- who won 5-2 Saturday -- in the first round of the playoffs. (Photo credit: Jonathan Klein)

The Capitals will face the Rangers -- who won 5-2 Saturday -- in the first round of the playoffs. (Photo credit: Jonathan Klein)

The game that impacted the Capitals the most Saturday night didn’t involve Washington at all. In fact, it took place 13 hours away from them in Raleigh, North Carolina.

With the New York Rangers beating the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Saturday afternoon, the Carolina Hurricanes had to get the victory Saturday night to tie New York at 93 standings points. By virtue of holding the tie-breaker Carolina would pick-up the eighth and final playoff spot, getting themselves a date with the Caps.
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